Category: Romantic Suspense

Rocky Ground by Kaylea Cross

Rocky Ground by Kaylea CrossRocky Ground by Kaylea Cross
Series: Crimson Point #4
Published by Kaylea Cross Inc. on 26th March 2019
Pages: 203
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two-half-stars

She’s been hurt too many times…

Single mom Tiana Fitzgerald has sworn off all romantic relationships to protect herself and her daughter. Her track record is disastrous and she’s done getting hurt. But a certain sexy Scotsman in Crimson Point has other ideas, and somehow manages to sneak past her defenses at every turn. As the hits keep coming and her life implodes, she begins to see he’s unlike any man she’s ever known. Now he’s become the greatest threat to her heart, because there’s no possible future for them. Not when he’s leaving the country in a few weeks. And when her worst fears are realized, she must risk everything by placing her trust in in his hands.

He’s determined to capture her heart.

Scotsman Aidan MacIntyre never saw the fiery, beautiful Tiana coming. The prickly redhead has gotten under his skin as badly as he wants to get under hers. But she’s determined to keep walls between them. Luckily the former Royal Marine doesn’t know how to give up. Someone from her past wants to hurt her, but Aidan will stand between her and any threat. He’ll stop at nothing to protect her and the little girl who have completely stolen his heart—and fight for them to have a future together.

‘Rocky Ground’ didn’t appeal personally for reasons that I’ll readily admit are formed out of my own biases: that the whole story is built around bad, past relationships and exes, where the conflict has more to do with confronting one’s own bad decision making even with the small town support rather than the military-type, global-conspiracy kind of suspense I’m so used to Kaylea Cross producing over the years.

Never more so does it look more so like Hallmark with sexy times in Cross’s Crimson Point series; where issues that flare up are more domestic but everything is neatly wrapped up in a neat bow. The good and bad guys are so clearly delineated that an obvious volcanic vent in the rock separates them, where good and evil even more clearly separated. And that’s all well and good I guess, since it’s more than arguable—or at least blindingly obvious—that many people do turn to romantic fiction for the HEAs, the clear sense of good guys winning and the cosy, wrapped-up, feel-good endings when real life tends to offer the opposite…and that much I understand.

I can’t say that Aiden and Tiana HEA wasn’t hard won really, yet I couldn’t help but want a bit more grit/dark elements (or dare I say, tragedy or death, and not just for the bad guys?) where this series was concerned—where the protagonists have to deal with something more brutal that’s not written off the pages but on it, where picking things up in the most painful of ways should mirror some of the struggles faced in real life.

But I digress, as bent as I am on this somewhat sadistic path, even for fictional characters.

The bottomline is, I read ‘Rocky Ground’ through very easily (in fact, the Crimson Point books didn’t fare all too well with me), but wasn’t as moved as I have been by Cross’s other books. Tiana didn’t seem like a character I liked too much, while Aiden’s charming self—along with his persistence and his integrity—fared just a bit better. For the stalwart Kaylea Cross fan however, ‘Rocky Ground’ does have a variety of inserts to make the story flow: an evil ex, a natural disaster, a predictable but rather absorbing climax before the confetti-throwing, fairy-tale ending. It’s just not a story that stayed with me much.

two-half-stars

In Dark Water by Leslie Tentler

In Dark Water by Leslie TentlerIn Dark Water by Leslie Tentler
Series: Rarity Cove #3
Published by Left Field Press on February 5th 2019
Pages: 236
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four-half-stars

One year after the tragic loss of her husband, Mercer Leighton returns home to Rarity Cove to be near family and resume her former job at the St. Clair resort. Feeling adrift in life, what she doesn’t count on is being witness to a double murder in nearby Charleston’s French Quarter.

Charleston Homicide Detective Noah Ford is no stranger to the dark, violent side of humanity. Nor is he happy about the lone eyewitness in his investigation being part of one of the South Carolina Lowcountry’s most prominent families. However, when an attempt is made on the beautiful widow’s life, Noah vows to protect her.

As it becomes increasingly clear that the killer will stop at nothing to eliminate the witness, Noah also begins to suspect the presence of a traitor in his own department. After a stunning betrayal, he is forced to take Mercer into hiding to keep her alive. As the two fight for survival, they also fight the simmering attraction between them.

But the killer is out there, and he refuses to give up.

A return to Leslie Tentler’s Rarity Cove after so long took a bit of re-orienting, a bit of catching up, but the slow build-up of ‘In Dark Water’ makes it very easy to jump into Mercer Leighton’s and Noah Ford’s story after Mercer unwittingly witnesses a murder and eventually finds herself at the hands of law enforcement as they scramble to take her into protection when it becomes evident that she’s next on the hit list.

There isn’t much unpredictable about the plot however: the homicide detective and widowed witness fall for each other, the leak in the law enforcement ranks, a criminal out for revenge, but I thought the execution of it was quite well done and that alone made the story worth savouring. Mercer and Noah were not just believable together, but Tentler’s measured pacing, the explosive action in the last quarter and the sensitive way she writes of their progressing relationship—adulting is done pretty well here, so no complaints from me—probably made ‘In Dark Water’ my favourite in this series.

My preference for more explicit, lusty smut between them and higher-octane action—essentially higher highs and more breathtaking swoops of passion I guess—that most likely stems from B-grade movie leftovers is probably a petty one, considering how much I liked this.

By and large, this latest offering from Tentler reminded me why I do wish her new books could some somewhat faster. I do like her law enforcement heroes and Noah’s one whom I immediately grouped into this odd, cop-sized shape compartment that I have for them. And while it might be a story that’s probably done in some variation or other, ‘In Dark Water’ is one I’ll remember for some time.

four-half-stars

Taken by Rebecca Zanetti

Taken by Rebecca ZanettiTaken by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: Deep Ops #1.5
Published by Zebra on 30th April 2019
Pages: 111
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three-stars

Hunter Holt might be the most stubborn ex-soldier ever born, but when he’s called on to help find a lost foster kid, he jumps into action. Even if it means working with the woman who broke his heart five years ago—the woman who still haunts his dreams . . .

Faye Smith has spent five long years trying to get her life back on track. She knows she should’ve turned toward Hunter and not away from him. But they both had too many demons to destroy. Maybe now they’ll get another chance—and save someone else’s life too . . .

But first they’ll have to stop arguing long enough to trust the Deep Ops team. Hunter was a lost boy himself once. In fact, he ran away from the exact same man, their monster of a father. Now he and Faye will have to unite to find the brother he never knew—and maybe each other . . .

As a side-story of Rebecca Zanetti’s Deep Ops series, ‘Taken’ is pretty much a compact standalone as Raider Tanaka’s old friends take the stage in a short, second-chance romance.

In this case however, the brevity of the story probably made me less engaged than I could have been, since this felt as though it could have been a full-length book and had lost so much because it wasn’t. All we know is that Hunter Holt and Faye Smith had once been together; she’d split five years ago and is now back to get him to search for his teenage half-brother he’d never known existed. In fact, I felt as though I’d been missing a big chunk of their backstory—the breakup, the —even though it was sort of told in a few lines what had happened to Faye and Hunter.

Coming back together in the midst of the search, then pledging themselves to each other again after scorching sexy times or talking things through to re-cement their broken bond just seemed too easy, too soon…too coincidental. Would Faye really have searched Hunter back out had it not been for this incident when she’d done nothing for five years? As a result, Faye/Hunter were a pairing that seemed to happen only again because unexpected circumstances forced them back again, rather than a pairing that actively wanted to solve the problems that had first rent them apart while finding their way back to each other again—a rather common occurrence in the second-chance romance trope that typically leaves me feeling scratchy on the inside.

There’s no denying that Zanetti writes pretty well though, but what constantly threw me off were the strange and awkward inserts of humour that broke the intensity of what would have been otherwise an enthralling narrative. In here, it come in the form of out-of-the-blue humour, even odder animal behaviour and weird pick-up lines that bad-ass characters spout, incongruous to what you think they might behave.

In short, ‘Taken’ was pretty much what I thought it would be—no big surprises and not entirely a let-down either but not something I could really get excited about…at least not while Raider’s story is in the making.

three-stars

Stone Cold Heart by Laura Griffin

Stone Cold Heart by Laura GriffinStone Cold Heart by Laura Griffin
Series: Tracers #13
Published by Pocket Books on 26th March 2019
Pages: 384
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four-stars

When local rock climbers stumble upon abandoned human bones in a remote Texas gorge, Sara Lockhart is the first to get the call. She has a reputation as one of the nation’s top forensic anthropologists, and police detective Nolan Hess knows she is just the expert he needs to help unravel this case. Although evidence is scarce, Nolan suspects the bones belong to a teenage climber who vanished last summer.

But as Sara unearths strange clues, she finds chilling similarities to a case from her past—a case that now threatens to rock Nolan’s community. While Sara digs deep for answers, the stakes rise higher as another young woman disappears without a trace. Investigators work against the clock as Sara races to discover the truth, even if her harrowing search brings her face to face with a stone-cold killer.

Laura Griffin returns with a classic ‘Bones’-episode thriller, when a series of missing persons start to bring an unlikely connection to a serial killer lurking in the midst of them.

For readers who like a suspense-heavy, romance-that-skims-the-surface read, ‘Stone Cold Heart’ delivers superbly. Nolan Hess and Sara Lockhart hold their own individually as protagonists; both are competent in their own fields, established in their own circles.

But as the case progressed and these circles overlapped, it did feel as though Griffin did the small, budding romance a bit of a disservice. I was hoping for a more developed working relationship between Sara and Nolan beyond intense glances, not-so-secret shared smiles and an impulsive kiss or two which were then put aside in favour of work. I did get that they liked each other despite Sara’s half-in, half-out stance—along with the tingly feels that came across more like an infatuation than anything more—though the sudden, almost obligatory slide into sex surprised me given how muted their dancing around each other had been. Still, they were ultimately not too convincing as a pair and the uncertain ending (for the romance at least) didn’t cement their status as one that could go the distance.

From canvassing to questioning to the science behind the bones, the action surged through after the halfway mark and that got me excited, even when forensic anthropologists trying to play trained cops was what tipped the hand. The plot’s admittedly yet another iteration of a whodunnit mystery—for this reason, some of the Tracers books aren’t that much differentiated from each other—but Griffin’s way with words, getting the devil snared in the small details and the setup of the suspense nonetheless made ‘Stone Cold Heart’ an engrossing read as the case came together.

four-stars

London Calling by Veronica Forand

London Calling by Veronica ForandLondon Calling by Veronica Forand
Published by Entangled Publishing. LLC (Amara) on 25th March 2019
Pages: 275
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one-star

Small town police officer Emma Ross loves her simple life––but it takes a hard turn into crazy when she’s kidnapped by MI6 and is put under the protection of an over-bearing, albeit sexy, Scotsman. A man who believes she’s lying to protect her father—a father whom she had no idea worked for British Intelligence and is now missing.

Liam Macknight’s partner was assassinated and he’s certain Emma’s father had something to do with it. But the stubborn woman isn’t talking, and she’s determined to get herself killed trying to find out the truth. Locking her in a room does no good––he tried that. So he’s forced to work with her, even if he’s not sure he’ll ever be able to trust her.

When he’s assigned to kill her dad to protect the identity of British spies in the Kremlin, he knows what little trust they’ve gained is about to be destroyed forever...

I struggled with this. Hard. Put it down, walked away, then found a burst of inspiration and went a few chapters at a time, before the whole cycle began again.

And I had an even harder time writing this review of ‘London Calling’, because in every way, this should be the kind of read I dig my claws into but instead turned out to be a book that threw me into the deep end of the pool.

The setup in the beginning—confusing, straight into action, with names and a context that was neck-deep into some honey-trap—left me flailing. And that ominously, set the tone for ‘London Calling’.

Honestly, the plot was one that I could see gaining traction—a woman caught in the middle of spies and their super-secretive ways, the inevitable romance and attraction that comes out of it, the conflict of interest, a couple at odds—but I think it was the execution of it that didn’t work well for me.

Isolated and thrust into a nightmare that she has no part in, Emma Ross kind of made up for this by miraculously transforming from small-town cop to superwoman who beat people at chess and outshot trained snipers…essentially, things that made me incredulous.

Bu up to half way through, I found that Liam Macknight and Emma were not fully in each other’s orbits, and with a superficial relationship built on uncertainty and distrust, there wasn’t enough for me to ‘ship them as a pairing at all. Furthermore, given the periods of separation, I found their connection cursory at best, non-existent at worst. That Macknight thought of Emma as his anchor felt instead more like a crutch based on the sheer number of losses he’d endured, rather than any bond that they’re supposed to share. Essentially, their lack of chemistry and the reluctant romance (if this could even be called a romance) made me skim through the scenes and what I simply felt by the time I started blowing through the pages was just regret for what could have been.

one-star

Mission: Her Defense by Anna Hackett

Mission: Her Defense by Anna HackettMission: Her Defense by Anna Hackett
Series: Team 52, #4
Published by Anna Hackett on 10th February 2019
Pages: 149
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three-half-stars

One former special forces Marine. One tall, handsome police detective who pushes all her buttons. One dangerous investigation that forces them to work together.

Blair Mason is badass to the bone. She’s no stranger to loss and barely survived the mission that ended her military career. Now, as part of Team 52, she never shies away from a fight to ensure pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, she’s often forced to “liaise” with the team’s contact at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police. The tall, hard-bodied detective ignites her temper quicker than any man she’s ever known…and after a terrible massacre, she’s horrified to find that she and MacKade are being ordered to work together.

Detective Luke MacKade was born a protector. He takes care of his family, and as a dedicated homicide detective, he protects his city. He is less thrilled with his job of cleaning up after Team 52 after they tear through Vegas on a mission. Blair is a woman who sets him off just by breathing, but even he can’t deny the powerful attraction he feels to her strength and skill. When several cursed samurai swords are stolen in a bloody attack, it is up to Luke and Blair to get them back…before more blood is shed.

But others are after the swords and their hidden powers.

As Luke and Blair’s dangerous investigation intensifies, they face danger at every turn. Luke battles his intense need to protect the woman he’s falling for, a woman who neither wants or needs his protection. But as their desire burns white-hot, Luke will learn that the toughest defenses are the ones around Blair’s heart.

‘Mission: Her Defense’ starts off as Kill Bill on steroids as cursed Japanese swords find themselves in the wrong hands, thus necessitating the need for Team 52 to step in. Though since it encroaches on Las Vegas Metropolitan Police turf, it means that Blair Mason and Luke Kincade cross paths (and later, body fluids) once again.

It’s not quite a rivalry between them that’s been sufficiently explained, but Blair/Luke’s fractious relationship is one that has been building for some time and is rather similar to Darcy Ward’s and Alastair Burke’s rival-to-lovers tale in the neighbouring ‘Treasure Hunter series’. Blair straddles the line between being fearless and foolhardy—the definition of bad-assery doesn’t necessarily have to extend to impulsively jumping into every fight scene—and there were too many moments when I thought ‘Slow down, woman, stop pushing away and stop being stupid!’ needed to be her mantra.

The story does start off awesomely exciting, though. With more blood-lust than the usual action blood-spilling scenes, incorporating mythology from Japanese sword-making, I was absorbed in the setup immediately, though it went a little flat for me later when the plausible scientific explanation that Hackett gave for the strange phenomenon occurring became a little too thick to swallow.

As with the typical Hackett read these days, there’s more than a hint of a quick slide into love (or lust?) before before both protagonists really get to know each other…but perhaps, the brevity of every story she puts out has made every pairing inevitably so, unless it has been one that has been hinted at over the course of several books. Still, I can’t deny that there are bits about Hackett’s other series that I miss more than her latest books, even if her imaginative writing is as strong as ever.

three-half-stars

Cold & Deadly by Toni Anderson

Cold & Deadly by Toni AndersonCold & Deadly by Toni Anderson
Series: Cold Justice: Crossfire #1
Published by Toni Anderson on 12th February 2019
Pages: 400
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four-stars

Hostage Negotiators can talk themselves out of anything—except falling in love.

FBI Supervisory Special Agent Dominic Sheridan is an accomplished expert in the Crisis Negotiation Unit. Practiced, professional, used to dealing with high-stake situations under tense conditions, Dominic is a master at manipulating people. Everyone, that is, but the headstrong rookie agent bent on destroying her fledgling career.

As a child, Ava Kanas put her life on the line when the mob executed her father. Now someone has killed her mentor, the man who inspired her to become an FBI agent—and she’s the only one who recognizes it was anything but a tragic accident.

When another agent is murdered and Dominic nearly dies, it becomes obvious a serial killer is targeting the FBI. Together Dominic and Ava search for clues in the investigation, all the while fighting a forbidden attraction that will complicate everything, especially when the predator sets their sights on Ava.

The marvellous Toni Anderson scores again. ‘Cold & Deadly’ is the latest incarnation or rather, the first of the spin-off books of her FBI agents series, and with it comes the same fantastic, faultless type of writing that reminds me why I love romantic suspense so much.

SSA Dominic Sheridan and rookie agent Ava Kanas find themselves embroiled what apparently looked like a simple case of a retired agent committing suicide, where soon it becomes clear that  someone is targeting the FBI agents themselves as Dominic soon finds himself in the crosshairs of an investigation that blows up beyond his imagination.

From the onset, it becomes clear that the case is a winding, gritty and absorbing one, so vividly painted—even with the sub-plot/diversion that was equally hair-raising—with the bleak but brutal shadow of violent deaths and the warped minds of serial killers. There’s no doubt at all that Anderson can write and does it superbly (I think I can’t say this enough about the quality of her prose), as her protagonists and secondary characters are so cohesively put together that any prerequisite knowledge of her previous books isn’t needed to get lost in this tale of grand revenge, edgy paranoia, spellbinding action sequences and unintended (or forbidden?) attraction.

Yet my only gripe, strangely, is about the romance, which I found sidelined amidst the rocking suspense. Dominic and Ava, pushed together incidentally, and their growing attraction is predictable though not without the amount of cold water each pours on the future of this so-called relationship. There’re so many reasons why this pairing wouldn’t work—Anderson herself provides these reasons in the protagonists’ individual musings—and I was left ironically convinced that ‘Cold & Deadly’ would still have been a brilliant (or perhaps, even superb?) read if the romance hadn’t been even included at all.

The shining light here however, was probably Ava Kanas herself. My perspective on her went from dour to admiring to uncertain, but what remained consistent was that Anderson had drawn up a pretty complex, passionate and multi-faceted protagonist who felt like a contradictory piece of work on so many levels, yet owned a big heart that made it impossible not to feel for her when push came to shove. Dominic Sheridan in contrast, felt like he was left a little paler in the shade: more remote, more like the poor rich boy who shunned commitment, who made a name for himself independently in law enforcement in spite of his rich family’s connections, suddenly questioning what he can commit to.

If length tends to become and issue of contention for several authors that I do like, ‘Cold & Deadly’, at around 400 pages, made me grateful that Anderson took her time to weave everything together with intricate detail. Surfacing from this a few days later, I’m just happy to say that I had a bloody good time.

four-stars