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The Negotiator by HelenKayDimon

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 8th November 2017
The Negotiator by HelenKayDimonThe Negotiator by HelenKay Dimon
Series: Games People Play #2.5
Published by Avon Impulse on November 14th 2017
Pages: 128
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one-star

Lauren Gallagher’s life changed almost three years ago. After her husband disappeared at sea, she was left with a failing pleasure boat company and more than a few secrets. Now, after years spent rebuilding the business and paying off the pile of debts, she finally feels in control. But when she finds her husband, actually dead, on the floor, she becomes the leading suspect in his murder investigation.

Garrett McGrath wants Lauren in his bed, not his heart. He doesn’t do emotions, but every time he sees her, holding himself back gets harder and harder. When Lauren comes under suspicion for killing her previously presumed-dead husband, he knows he has to help her, any way he can.

But as the danger becomes more intense and Garret and Lauren grow closer than either planned, they’re in danger of losing everything…including their hearts.

HelenKay Dimon’s ‘Games People Play’ series is an odd one. Mostly about men who’d grown up disenfranchised, emotionally stunted but wealthy, their HEAs come in such unexpected ways that I don’t really know what to expect in each book. And that arguably, can either be the series’ selling point or its glaring flaw, because it hasn’t quite worked too well for me so far.

Having seen Garrett flit in and out of the series and from the odd, charming way he’d done so, I’ve known from the start that I wanted his story told. But ‘The Negotiator’ was however, a disappointing one—all the more so because I was hoping for a more heart-pounding ride—and I struggled quite a bit to get into it. I’m not too sure what it was, but there was something about the way the narrative—nothing with Dimon’s writing style really—unfolded that just couldn’t hold my attention. There were just insufficient spikes/drops and excitement to keep my interest in the story, a lack of driving focus slowing the pace down even, from the odd way it started to the way it developed with so many details and names stuffed into the first few pages.

I couldn’t finish the story as a result and perhaps it’s also time to say that this series isn’t one I’ll be continuing any longer.

one-star

The Pretender by HelenKay Dimon

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 23rd September 2017
The Pretender by HelenKay DimonThe Pretender by HelenKay Dimon
Series: Games People Play #3
Published by Avon on December 26th 2017
Pages: 368
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two-stars

They say it takes a thief to catch a thief, and Harrison Tate is proof. Once a professional burglar, he now makes a lawful living tracking down stolen art. No one needs to know about his secret sideline, “liberating” artifacts acquired through underhanded methods. At least until one of those jobs sees him walking in on a murder.

Gabrielle Wright has long been estranged from her wealthy family, but she didn’t kill her sister. Trouble is, the only person who can prove it is the sexy, elusive criminal who shouldn’t have been at the island estate on that terrible night. She’s not expecting honor among thieves—or for their mutual attraction to spark into an intense inferno of desire.

Under the guise of evaluating her family’s art, Harris comes back to the estate hoping to clear Gabby’s name. But returning to the scene of the crime has never been riskier, with their hearts and lives on the line.

‘The Pretender’ is HelenKay Dimon’s third foray into a group of mysterious men who do mysterious things and it’s one of those books that tend to leave me (as the previous books in this series have) with a very unfulfilled sense of ending, because of the very nature of these men and women who are frankly, difficult to get into.

It isn’t a slight on Dimon’s writing at all, because that itself is quite polished and I love this particular bit about Dimon that keeps me coming back for her books. In fact, the beginning chapter sucked me in straight as a watching art thief gets embroiled in a vicious murder, whose presence—should he confirm it—would exonerate a woman accused of many things. But from there onwards I found myself putting down and picking up the story so many times over the span of about a week or so, just unable to get deeper into the mystery that didn’t unfold as quickly for me as I liked.

There is a boat load of things going on, as there is a weird claustrophobic feel of the island setting as characters find themselves as potential pawns and suspects, but the pieces of this puzzle are doled out piecemeal and very sparingly in the first half.

It was tooth-clenchingly hard to get them put together, and I was frustrated when the pacing stuttered because the protagonists chose sex over talking too often, leaving half-truths on the table as trust is treated almost as secondary to passion. There is some form of continuing deception and dishonesty on both Harris and Gabby’s sides while a murderer is running loose, and this proves ultimately not only distracting but puts the whole relationship on shaky foundation that consequently made it hard to get invested in.

But because ‘The Pretender’ tried to juggle the whodunnit element of a mystery thriller with the obstacles of what deception might to do a relationship that began on the wrong footing, there were parts where the mystery was going nowhere when motives didn’t generally become that much clearer even as the story went on. Unfortunately, I found myself disappointed with this one—the difficulty in finishing the book was enough proof of it.

two-stars

Guarding Mr. Fine

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 20th January 2017
Guarding Mr. FineGuarding Mr. Fine by HelenKay Dimon
Series: Tough Love #3
Published by Loveswept on February 14th 2017
Pages: 213
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two-stars

As an agent with the CIA’s special activities division, Seth Lang lives for risk—and yet he’s stuck playing bodyguard to the U.S. consul general in Munich. Although Seth’s last assignment nearly killed him, babysitting some desk jockey in a suit sounds way too easy. But when he lays eyes on the new top man, tactical expert Rick Fine, Seth’s thrilled to see just how hard this job is going to get. Mr. Tall, Dark, and Quiet has a body worth guarding—and he requires hands-on attention day and night.   Dispatched to a German consulate to expose the murder of his predecessor, Rick finds himself in an extremely vulnerable position. He needs a man like Seth—in so many ways. This mission will inevitably plunge them both into jeopardy, but each new threat only brings them closer. Rick just hopes that he can keep his deepest, darkest secret hidden—or else risk imperiling a relationship they’re both fighting for their lives to protect.

This is far from a bad read, because HelenKay Dimon does the cloak and dagger business all too well. The setup itself should have been intriguing: a mysterious death, an ongoing investigation and an insider doing illegal jobs that clearly has dire consequences. Personally, I found the story hard to get into because I didn’t quite know the direction it was heading in and most of the time, it was as though I was taking round and round for a joyride without knowing what would happen next. But this is on me and not a reflection on Dimon’s solid writing.

In fact, I think Dimon does M/M romance with quite a bit of nuance and subtlety, cataloguing the interactions between men differently as when she writes men/women romances—and these are differences that I definitely look out for and appreciate. Seth and Rick did make a believable pair as a result, and I liked the start of the book very much, but the action and the multiple dangling threads of the story lost me close to the halfway mark.

two-stars

The Fixer by HelenKay Dimon

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 4th January 2017
The Fixer by HelenKay DimonThe Fixer by HelenKay Dimon
Series: Games People Play #1
Published by Avon on December 27th 2016
Pages: 384
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three-stars

He’s known only as Wren. A wealthy, dangerously secretive man, he specializes in making problems disappear. A professional fixer, Wren hides a dark past, but his privacy is shattered when Emery Finn seeks him out—and what she wants from him is very personal.
Some people disappear against their will. Emery’s job is to find them and bring closure. Wren is the only person who can help solve Emery’s own personal mystery: the long-ago disappearance of her cousin. Just tracking down the sexy, brooding Wren is difficult enough. Resisting her body’s response to him will prove completely impossible.
Anonymity is essential to Wren’s success, yet drawn by Emery’s loyalty and sensuality, he’s pulled out of the shadows. But her digging is getting noticed by the wrong people. And as the clues start to point to someone terrifyingly close, Wren will have to put his haunted past aside to protect the woman he loves.

This is far from a bad book and the rating hardly reflects this, but I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time trying to clear the fuzzy feeling from my head when it comes to ‘The Fixer’, because so much of it feels blurry and shadowy where pasts and context don’t quite exist beyond the pages of what’s been given to us. At the very start, there’s already an established relationship with a Senator, a network of bodyguards and spies in place and suddenly, meetings that simply felt…off, leaving me unable to make head or tail of the story. It threw me quite a fair bit, confounding me with the supposed importance of a cold case that’s 13 years old which actually forms the crux of the mystery and suspense just as it brings an odd couple together. But it all came so tangentially that I found myself stumbling and struggling with the very odd development of a relationship between a walled-off fixer and determined woman that somehow worked despite the lack of urgency/sexual tension between them.

HelenKay Dimon’s writing shines through nonetheless; I loved her characterisation of Wren and the challenge he faces as he comes out of his own reclusive shell. But he is a rare type as well that I can definitely appreciate and am intrigued by—calm, anti-social, so deliberate with a way of hedging and so different from the younger self that he says is the opposite of him that there’s still so much of him that I can’t seem to grasp by the end. He talks about his sad past, yet still see him more in suits like a mafia boss than in actual action and that proved to be more of a disappointment than I thought…or maybe I just like to see such alpha males waling the talk? Emery Finn is by and large, a good match for him, though her stinging betrayal at the end is frankly, difficult to forgive. That Wren does so easily made me wonder for a moment, if he deserved something better.

It’s a series I can definitely see myself continuing however; the equally shadowy and secretive ‘Quint Five’ that Wren mentions makes me wonder if they will form the rest of the books to come.

three-stars

The Talented Mr. Rivers by HelenKay Dimon

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 17th June 2016
The Talented Mr. Rivers by HelenKay DimonThe Talented Mr. Rivers by HelenKay Dimon
Series: End of the Line #2
Published by Loveswept on September 13th 2016
Pages: 176
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four-stars

As the son of an international crime lord, Will Rivers only inherited one thing after his father died: trouble. The Pentasus organization deals in kidnapping and murder, and Will wants no part of the power grab that’s tearing leadership apart. But the only way he’ll be able to escape is with some help from his former bodyguard, Hunter Cain, whose sculpted body and brooding looks keep Will awake at night. Somehow, Hunter has resisted the tension between them . . . until, suddenly, he gives in.
As a German intelligence officer working deep undercover, Hunter has a very good reason to keep Will in the dark about his identity and his intentions. Although the sex is hot, Hunter’s true feelings are a growing liability. Now the only way to save Will from his old life is to push him deeper into danger. But when two strong men are each determined to protect the other, the heat isn’t just combustible—it’s a firestorm.

For all of two months, Hunter Cain never broke his cover, until an incident that puts his mission on the line. Becoming the bodyguard of the son of an international crime lord is equally incidental, and for all his ability to put his mission above all, his mark this time around, makes him stray into deeper shades of grey that he has never quite known.

I must admit that reading a same-gender romance requires a bit of adjustment on my part. Always. Particular after months or weeks of M/F couples whose dynamics and relationships have been cut crystal clear in all the romance tropes available in the market these days, unlike the more fluid ones here, which I personally find alluring because of this marked difference. There isn’t a person who assumes or mimics the feminine role, no conventional structure to follow with the sexual dynamics that come into play, but rather, just the tumble into carnal desire between two men.

There’s a harder edge to HelenKay Dimon’s End of the Line series that drew me into the first book and continues to draw me in even now, more so perhaps because it’s an M/M story, of two men who circles each other warily in the games only males can play. The ‘softer’ emotions are absent here, just as you’d expect two hard men to react, never quite talking or acknowledging their feelings straight on. I found Hunter and Will more fascinating than bosom-buddy characters for these reasons, as though they existed on a different plane than I do. Yet there’s this dark thread of attraction and the zing of chemistry that makes this unusual bodyguard/charge relationship really sing, coupled with Dimon’s punchy writing, which makes the story a surprising but memorable standout for me.

four-stars

Mr. and Mr. Smith by HelenKay Dimon

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 10th March 2016
Mr. and Mr. Smith by HelenKay DimonMr. and Mr. Smith by HelenKay Dimon
Series: End of the Line #1
Published by Loveswept on May 24th 2016
Pages: 210
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three-stars

Fisher Braun knows how to keep a secret. As a covert paramilitary operative, his job—and his life—depends on it. He’s at the top of his game, ready for action and always in control. No enemy has ever brought him to his knees, but one lover has: Zachary Allen, the man currently sharing his bed. The perfect package of brains and brawn, Zach is someone worth coming home to, and Fisher hates keeping him in the dark about what he does. But the lies keep Zach safe. Until the day Fisher loses everything. . . .   Zachary Allen is no innocent civilian. Although he plays the tech geek, in reality he’s deep undercover for the CIA. In a horrible twist of fate, the criminal enterprise he’s infiltrated has set its sights on the man whose touch drives him wild. Zach would do anything for Fisher—except blow his own cover. Now, in order to save him, Zach must betray him first. And he needs Fisher to trust him with all his heart if they want to make it out alive.

Even as a one-night stand in a bar slips unexpectedly into a routine of living together, Fisher Braun doesn’t question this too much until a kidnapping goes wrong and betrayal hits him square in the face of Zach Allen with whom he thought he’d something real. In a case of double crossings, undercover identities and an operation gone wrong, Zach and Fisher (both hardened men) must learn the hard way what happens beyond trust is shattered and the difficult consequences of keeping a personal life apart from the soul-sucking demands of their CIA superiors.

I requested for this not particularly for a HEA as I usually do, but rather to satisfy a burning curiosity about how men in a partnership dealt with their emotions – away from a sports setting – and how women authors perceived and wrote them. And how, apart from the M/M sex – which I wasn’t entirely too interested in, to be honest -, the tone and voice would differ had this been a M/F book.

It turned out that my initial suspicion about the male form of emotional repression was right (regardless of gender orientation) and this book confirms it when 2 men punch out their frustration rather than articulate what’s exactly wrong in their relationship. The hard-edge, grittier, more unforgiving bits of alpha male personalities came to the fore in Zach and Fisher, lending the story a weightier, gruffer and sombre feel than the usual kind of crackling chemistry that runs through the usual M/F pairings that I always read about.

Clearly, ‘Mr. and Mr. Smith’ isn’t a book for everyone despite the ongoing action and suspense; the whole clandestine operation feels a little dopey at times, and the main characters are clearly too stubborn for their own sakes, but it has already left me wondering about the direction in which HelenKay Dimon will take this series.

three-stars

Line of Fire by HelenKay Dimon

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Young Adult 24th September 2015
Line of Fire by HelenKay DimonLine of Fire by HelenKay Dimon
Series: Greenway Range #2
Published by Carina on October 26th 2015
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three-stars

With his military career over and his ego bruised, Jason McAdams is ready to start over. As a founding partner in Greenway Range, his new life is everything he'd ever dared to dream about, but it also puts him in constant contact with the one woman he can't have: his best friend's little sister.

Molly Cain has loved Jason for as long as she can remember, and seeing him now—damaged and self-destructive—is a constant heartache. Watching him numbly work his way through woman after woman is damn near intolerable. Until one summer night changes everything.

After a rocky start, the sex is hot and naughty and all Molly knew it would be. And when he makes another pass at her, Molly doesn't say no. Or the many times after that, either. But Jason carries a secret—one that's kept him away from Molly for all these years, one that could ruin everything. He's been shot at and seen death, but letting the woman he loves find out the truth is the real worst-case scenario…

Heartbroken and deeply wounded by Jason McAdams’s unforgivable ways over the years as he went through woman after woman, Molly Cain made herself a decision to close herself off from him, putting paid to years of jagged history and friendship. Ironically, it’s only then that Jason feels that loss sharply and decides that he wants a do-over. He made a sudden, complete turnaround after years of self-destructive behaviour, and understandably, Molly is wary and on the edge counting down the days to see if their newfound stability – which includes hot sex – has an expiry date. Their newfound intimacy however, is also peppered with psychological and emotional tests that Molly puts out for Jason to fail – obstacles which he at least tries to overcome.

I found it refreshing to read HelenKay Dimon’s interpretation of the ‘older brother’s best friend trope’ and the gritty, hard-core wrestling with the emotional issues of unrequited love that had been trampled upon time and again. It’s hard to forgive Jason’s behaviour (look at my profile for this) towards Molly, but Ms. Dimon’s treatment of the self-preservation instinct had me gravitating towards Molly in sympathy (Jason had lost my vote long ago) whose actions have been very much shaped by their turbulent past where she has always turned out the loser. The acknowledgement however, that there is no easy way to overcome years of loss, guilt and pain impressed me and perhaps, their tentative ending where the happy-ever-after isn’t quite a shining, golden one yet is exactly what I needed.

three-stars
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