Category: Romantic Suspense

Desperate Girls by Laura Griffin

Desperate Girls by Laura GriffinDesperate Girls by Laura Griffin
Series: Wolfe Security #1
Published by Gallery Books on 7th August 2018
Pages: 368
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four-stars

Defense attorney Brynn Holloran is right at home among cops, criminals, and tough-as-nails prosecutors. With her sharp wit and pointed words, she has a tendency to intimidate, and she likes it that way. She’s a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom, but in her personal life, she’s a mess.

When a vicious murderer she once helped prosecute resurfaces and starts a killing spree to wipeout those who put him behind bars, one thing becomes clear: Brynn needs to run for her life.

With no help from the police, Brynn is forced to take matters into her own hands, turning to a private security firm for protection. But when Brynn defies advice and gets involved in the investigation, even the former Secret Service agent assigned to protect her may not be able to keep her safe. With every new clue she discovers, Brynn is pulled back into the vortex of a disturbing case from her past.

As the clock ticks down on a manhunt, Brynn’s desperate search for the truth unearths long-buried secrets and reignites a killer’s fury.

‘Desperate Girls’ isn’t a title I’d immediately associated with the blurb of the story and it became quite clear from the onset that the story is so much more than the rather irrelevant-sounding title. As a sort-of offshoot of Laura Griffin’s Tracers series, I was eager nonetheless to take a closer look into Liam Wolfe’s Security company staffed by supersized heroes and the different kind of romantic suspense revolving around security that Griffin was going to write.

The stoic bodyguard who eventually falls for his principal when they are paired up—typically reluctantly on the latter’s part—as a threat escalates isn’t a new idea, but Griffin’s take on it is a unique, intriguing one, going further than the usual bodyguard-type romance. The standout as always, is Griffin’s writing, her ability to juggle so many elements at once while revealing the intricate details about the security business that simply go beyond shadowing a principal. The complexity of the police case, the red-herrings, solid protagonists and the well-researched and fantastic writing made ‘Desperate Girls’ an entertaining read, even though my rather shallow way of measuring this had partially to do with the amount of sleep I had the past few nights at night as I got lost in Griffin’s writing.

My only gripes were the few TSTL moments early on, the courtroom drama that proved a bit of a lull (I was more caught up in the danger of a psychopathic, escaped convict and the slow, amping up of the action) and the final plot-twist feeling like a last-gasp attempt at drama that proved to be downers for me. I did feel that characterisation suffered a little under the hyper-focus on the court case and the overall suspense but these however, weighed against how much I enjoyed the developing action nonetheless, probably seem somewhat churlish to include. Still, the pulse-pounding moments, all leading up to the action-movie-type ending (complete with the exotic location) seemed to be over too soon, leaving me eager for the next book in this promising series and its fresh, new cast of characters.

four-stars

Deep Cover by Scarlett Cole

Deep Cover by Scarlett ColeDeep Cover by Scarlett Cole
Series: Love Over Duty, #3
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on 31st July 2018
Pages: 336
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three-stars

ARE THEY IN TOO DEEP?

Ex-Navy SEAL Cabe Moss always comes when called to duty―at all costs. Even though the death of his fiancée nearly destroyed him, Cabe won’t let his past interfere with any work that has to get done. When his latest task pushes him to team up with FBI Agent Amy Murray, a fierce beauty with the undercover skills to match, Cabe must admit that, for the first time in years, he wants to do more than just complete their mission together…

Amy was born ready for this assignment, but working side-by-side with the the strong, silent, and frustratingly professional Cabe seems to be the biggest challenge of all. But when the sparks begin to fly―and the stakes rise to dangerous heights―the only thing Amy is left worrying about is how she can resist him. Their lives may be in danger, but their hearts hold the biggest risk of all…

‘Deep Cover’ has an irresistible blurb, and even if Scarlett Cole’s works haven’t always agreed with me, such is the power of blurbs that it has gotten me willing to give her books another go.

Still reeling from the loss of his military fiancée, the thought of getting truly involved again is one that he shuns (not being sure of whether he can give that much to another person yet again). So the mess of guilt, pining and uncertainty is the cloud that hangs over Cabe’s and Amy’s burgeoning relationship, and much of the angst emanates from Cabe’s inability to fathom being with a woman who has the potential to be killed in the line of duty.

After a dud meeting in a bar, Cabe and Amy meet again on an undercover op organised by a joint task force and the rest is as they say, either kismet or cliché. Cue the bone-deep attraction that’s forbidden on so many counts, along with Cabe’s own tragic backstory that has a stranglehold on his emotions, I expected a lot of angst, tied in with the taut suspense in this op. But the angst is mostly smoothed out, the emotional bumps in the road overridden instead by the developing case which take precedence over the romance.

That said, Cabe/Amy do kind of form a believable pair; Amy’s confidence and competence (her ability to put things down on the table when it mattered) drew me in most of all, since I tend to forget the pleasure that comes with reading about a fantastic or at least, well-formed protagonist. Her foil is perfect to Cabe’s hesitation in any case, and having a good female lead never fails to brighten my day.

After a decent start however, I got frustrated at times. Some parts were unevenly paced—the storytelling lingered too much in some bits and rushed through others which I wanted to see drawn out—so I came out of this more nonplussed about the repetitive nature of the writing and Cole’s tendency to draw some details out more than I liked which resulted in a bit of skimming. Switches in POVs however, could definitely be demarcated a lot better too, which I suspect has more to do with an ARC’s formatting than anything else.

There are as well, a fair number of secondary characters—along with names and acronyms that may or may not be incidental to the plot—given the nature of the suspense and the operation, with hints of several backstories in the previous books leading up to this one, which could either prove a distraction or be motivation for reading the rest of the books in the series first. It also probably means ‘Deep Cover’ can work as a standalone…though it might pose a few difficulties when dealing with the overall narrative arc.

In short, ‘Deep Cover’ is a decent read, though not a perfect, spine-tingling one for me—I’m not entirely sold on the style of storytelling which I’ve rapidly come to recognise as Cole’s here, but it’s certainly one that I can see appealing more broadly to other RS fans.

three-stars

Cold Blooded by Toni Anderson

Cold Blooded by Toni AndersonCold Blooded by Toni Anderson
Series: Cold Justice
Published by Toni Anderson on June 12th 2018
Pages: 311
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three-half-stars

Searching for the truth…

Disgraced investigative journalist Pip West is devastated when she discovers her best friend’s body face-down in a tranquil lake. When cops and federal agents determine that her friend overdosed then drowned, Pip knows they’re mistaken and intends to prove it.

Special Agent Hunt Kincaid doesn’t trust journalists and has no patience for Pip’s delusions, especially since her meddling could reveal why the FBI is interested in her friend’s last days. The dead scientist worked at the cutting edge of vaccine research and might have a connection to a new, weaponized, vaccine-resistant anthrax strain that just hit the black market.

…just turned deadly.

Pip is thrown off her game by grief and her unexpected attraction to the handsome federal agent. Hunt battles the same unwelcome pull, determined to resist the heat that threatens to consume them both. But the more Pip digs, the closer she gets to both the sexy FBI agent, and to a bioweapons terrorist who’s more than capable of cold-bloodedly sacrificing anyone who gets in his way.

Toni Anderson’s poised writing is always finely balanced between intricate details, action and intriguing development—well, this is no different. But it’s good to see ‘Cold-Blooded’ starting afresh (either that, or I really can’t seem to remember these protagonists popping up anywhere else) with an entirely new pairing without the strong links to the rest of the characters in Anderson’s previous books as it reads like a proper standalone.

The uneasy relationship between journalists and law enforcement is the crux of Pip’s and Hunt’s initial conflict here and like oil and water, they don’t mix. Both Pip and Hunt get off on the wrong foot and their incompatible goals, along with the secrets kept—not to mention the cloud of grief and mourning that surrounds Pip from the start—pretty much define first half of their bumpy ride together.

Pip and Hunt as a pairing however, does feel like an optional ‘add-on’ in some ways, put together because of their own different inroads into the same investigation with mere hints of attraction and tension that stretch past the halfway mark. That this happens over the course of an intense few days, so much so that it causes Hunt to reevaluate his no-commitment stance after good sex, does make their instalove/connection more implausible and unconvincing (this much is admitted by the characters themselves).

Bottomline is, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was always some kind of wall separating them—Hunt’s indirect way of using Pip to further his investigation, Pip’s grief and her own uncertainty about Hunt as a law enforcement officer and what he represents, the implicit but telling lack of trust on both sides even towards the end of the story—and this barrier didn’t feel as though it’d been overcome by the end of the story, given how they’d only gotten to know each other incidentally (and in bits and pieces) while working the case.

Minus the romance however, Anderson’s storytelling nonetheless, is compelling. Weaving the elements of what appear to be shady circumstances of related homicides and drug use as both Pip and Hunt dig unrelentingly deeper into this tangled web…well, this is Anderson in her element. These are the bits I’ve always enjoyed about Anderson’s writing, even if I thought the romantic relationship between Pip/Hunt could have been left out and ‘Cold Blooded’ would have come out as tighter, more focused story.

But my being less sceptical about the romance doesn’t make ‘Cold Blooded’ a bad book. Far from it, in fact, despite the small conflict I had buying into Pip and Hunt together. I definitely enjoyed this more as a mystery/suspense novel rather than one classified as romantic suspense, but perhaps the base line that matters here is that Toni Anderson writes well enough for me to stayed glued to the pages.

three-half-stars

Free Fall by Emmy Curtis

Free Fall by Emmy CurtisFree Fall by Emmy Curtis
Series: Elite Ops #3
Published by Forever Yours on 10th July 2018
Pages: 240
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two-stars

A legend among black ops teams, Col. Duke Cameron can't wait to get back in action again-no matter how high the risk. Two of the world's best military pilots are missing after a midair collision, and he's made it his job to find out why.

U.S. Air Force veteran Casey Jacobs loves working for a cutting-edge, high-tech company - until she suspects their newest design might have caused a horrible plane crash. But after a few "accidents," it's clear no one wants her asking too many questions. The only person she trusts to help her is Duke, the sexy secret crush from her flying days who still turns her on like no one ever has.

But someone is watching their every move, making sure they don't uncover the truth. And when the danger turns physical, it's not just their love that's on the line. It's their lives.

‘Free Fall’ has a very tempting burb and I couldn’t wait to dive into it.

But my excitement turned to confusion as I flailed about in the opening few chapters, feeling as though I’d plunged straight into a conspiracy mystery without knowing the head or tail of its context (I’d actually flipped the pages wondering if I’d missed a chunk of the beginning of it).

I felt too scattered, too lost, in short, with the first and foremost question running through my mind being: is ‘Free Fall’ meant to be a standalone? Do I actually need to backtrack to read the rest of the books in the series before embarking on this? There were bits of a backstory that came through dialogue or inner monologues but it was difficult to piece even that together when my attention was already flagging, when I was trying hard to simply stay in the story with a level of confusion that showed no signs of abating.

So what really stood out for me were random actions scenes (written like movie action scenes which were quite thrilling), followed then by the lulls of the talk of the conspiracy involving Casey’s employer (which had me struggling to piece together) and then steamy times (which required no introduction)—in all, not quite sufficient to say that I could enjoy the overall flow of the story. I gave up, in the end, despite trying to power through.

two-stars

Bloodtree River by Sarah Barrie

Bloodtree River by Sarah BarrieBloodtree River by Sarah Barrie
Published by HQ Fiction on 23rd April 2018
Pages: 352
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three-half-stars

From the author of the bestselling Hunters Ridge series comes this stand-alone twisty rural suspense, this time set against the dark backdrop of Tasmanian mountains. Indiana O'Meara is no stranger to the forces of evil.

Her own past is full of violence. Now a policewoman, Indy is always fighting to redeem herself and defeat the dark. So when girls begin to go missing at a remote cattle station in Tasmania, she is quick to agree to go undercover to investigate chief suspect, the owner of Calico Mountain Lodge, Logan Atherton, even though last time she went undercover it came to a bloody end. But her early encounter with Logan Atherton reveals a man full of contradictions. His deep empathy for horses and those he cares for is obvious but he is also taciturn to the point of rudeness, and there is a strange atmosphere at the lodge. It doesn't add up. As Indy begins to dig deeper into the secrets at the Lodge, she finds herself embroiled in a murderous web more complex and terrifying than she could ever have imagined...

Sarah Barrie writes a rather slow but steadily-building mystery of disappearing girls in a remote part of Tasmania and an undercover stint that goes badly awry. Still, it’s a spin-off book for Indy O’Meara, tough cop and determined woman—who’d initially turned up in Barrie’s Hunters Ridge series—in the wilds of Tassie to work under a man who’s the suspect in this case…well, who could resist?

‘Bloodtree River’ however, has a plot that requires you to actively (or make the effort at least) stay engaged in the story nonetheless. Written mostly from Indy’s perspective, I was conscious of her status as an outlier but by extension, felt like a reader who was merely tangentially observing the action happening through an outlier’s eyes.

Still, it was easy to get swept along once I had the names and the context of the Athertons’s screwed up family business straightened out in my head—this much was imperative to understanding and getting caught up in the drama. There were twists and turns that got exponentially more interesting—more suspension of disbelief required though—in the last quarter of the story, though I did find the romantic bits less than convincing because of the circumstances that dictated the slow burn and the eventual rift between Indy and Logan. Indy’s undercover duties did prove to be a barrier—one that didn’t at least allow for Indy to be honest with Logan and the push-pull that resulted because of this—though having her walk the tight rope between being a cop and an employee under Logan was a balance that Sarah Barrie did sort of handle quite well. It was deception for a legitimate reason, so to speak, with the complications arising only when attraction and emotions started to get involved.

Simply put, Logan/Indy was a pairing that didn’t quite get off the ground sufficiently for me, lost as it was in the flurry of the drama and the web of lies spun in Calico Mountain Lodge, to the point where ‘Bloodtree River’ would have functioned equally well without the romance. It was a pretty decent read nonetheless, with a large enough story arc and an established base that can be stretched over a few books—which I hope Barrie does.

three-half-stars

Imperial Stout by Layla Reyne

Imperial Stout by Layla ReyneImperial Stout by Layla Reyne
Series: Trouble Brewing #1
Published by Carina Press on 23rd July 2018
Pages: 268
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two-stars

It’s a good thing assistant US attorney Dominic Price co-owns a brewery. He could use a cold one. Nic’s star witness has just been kidnapped, his joint operation with the FBI is in jeopardy, his father’s shady past is catching up with him and the hot new special agent in San Francisco is the kind of distraction best handled with a stiff drink.

Kidnap and rescue expert Cameron Byrne has his own ideas about how to handle Nic, but his skills are currently needed elsewhere. The by-the-book FBI agent goes deep undercover as a member of an infamous heist crew in order to save Nic’s witness, break up the crew and close the case before anyone else gets hurt. Nic in particular.

Things heat up when Cam falls for Nic, and the witness falls for Cam. As the crew’s suspicions grow, Cam must decide how far he’s willing to go—and how far into his own dark past he’s willing to dive—to get everyone out alive.

‘Imperial Stout’ is me stepping out of my comfort zone when it comes to M/M fiction, though Layla Reyne isn’t a new author to me. Written in a fairly different style from what I’m used to, and not having read Reyne’s ‘Agents Irish and Whiskey’ series, this is me coming in as a newbie. So with a very busy first chapter that included not only an action scene but a load of history between the protagonists which sort of involved also a best friend’s partner and ex-flame, I was a little lost, though duly warned about the kind of romance this path would take.

Still, I found it hard to engage with this one with the convoluted way the plot was initially presented, not like the way I was engaged in Reyne’s ‘Changing Lanes’ series, with my attention constantly pulled between the intrigue, the brewery, the huge number of characters mentioned or dropping in and the romance that was supposedly building. The pairing—between a US Attorney and a kidnap and rescue specialist with the FBI—, while intriguing, seemed to fade behind the never-ceasing activity that kept going on and I never quite lost the feeling of trying to play catch up having walked straight into a tv-series mid-season just as the action was heating up.

‘Imperial Stout’ is safe to say, probably more a book for Reyne’s stalwart followers of her previous series who want to continue into this spin-off in this particular world of whiskey, agents and lawyers. That said, while I still do like Reyne’s writing, I’m going to take a pass on this book and the series. I did try to get into Nic/Cam as much as possible, skimming the pages just to see how things finally fell into place for them, but ultimately, I just didn’t feel as though I made any headway into them at all. And without the base appeal of the main pairing in this romance, I couldn’t quite see the point going on.

two-stars

A Matter of Justice by Christy Reece

A Matter of Justice by Christy ReeceA Matter Of Justice by Christy Reece
Series: Grey Justice, #4
Published by Christy Reece on 17th April 2018
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four-stars

Their past is complicated, their future is deadly.

She came from nothing and was no one until an evil man formed her into the perfect weapon, a beautiful creature of destruction. Capturing her prey held few challenges, until her target and her heart collided, and then the world came down around her. Irelyn Raine has worked hard to bury her past, but escape isn’t always possible, especially when the one man she trusts above all others throws her back into the hell she swore she’d never revisit. Now Irelyn has no choice but to face down her demons.

Grey Justice lives by a standard few would approve or understand. Gaining justice for victims can be a messy business, and the outcome isn’t always pretty. One woman knows all his secrets—the one woman who could break him. Irelyn Raine is his weakness and his strength, his shame and his redemption.

Someone else knows all their secrets, all their sins, and he’ll use everything within his power to destroy what they’ve built together.

Surviving alone isn’t possible, but can they find their way back to each other in time? Or will one of them be left behind? This time, forever?

No one escapes justice.

‘A Matter of Justice’ closes Christy Reece’s ‘Grey Justice’ series and is a gratifying read given that it finally uncovers the odd relationship between Irelyn and Grey, who have only always been each other’s. In this aspect ‘A Matter of Justice’ is unusual for a romance, seeing as Irelyn/Grey is never a pairing in question even as the book starts after a time of personal conflict and separation. For this reason, there’s little emotional angst when Irelyn and Grey simply talk to get their problems sorted then move forward as a pair, the driving force of the plot coming instead from an external source in Irelyn’s past that they can’t quite outrun.

So much of Grey/Irelyn’s relationship has been shrouded in vague terms, with bits of their history floating in and out of Reece’s previous books that it can be difficult to put together this weird relationship that ranges the entire spectrum from love to hate. In any case, reconstructing their relationship from my perspective was an exercise in frustration, even when I was one-thirds through the book. With all the hints that Reece has been dropping about them having spent so much time together, having hurt each other so brutally, I needed the details. Their story is finally told in the later parts of the book but I still found too many gaps in Grey/Irelyn’s history—the intricacies of how they got to where the are now—that I wanted to know, which I felt Reece glossed over or didn’t address.

In fact, the main failing of the story is that there were many things that Reece expected us to take at face value, which I found I couldn’t. Battling implausibility has always been the largest obstacle in romantic suspense anyway, as it takes this part of the brain to switch off each time I watch an action/thriller film, and as always, some more so than others. Maybe a flashback or 2 in the beginning would have helped, otherwise, their history felt more like recounting/telling rather than the immersive experience that I was hoping for.

That said, it’s a pretty good end to the series, even it probably doesn’t work too well as a standalone—Reece gives a lock-and-loaded type situation, with a journey that hops all over the globe (exotic locations seem par for the course) and one that finally puts Grey Justice in action. That Grey/Justice’s HEA is done before the climax is yet another unusual thing for this story, but Reece can do the unexpected while providing the fairytale-ish ending…which is always a pleasant surprise.

four-stars