Author: Janie Crouch

Eagle by Janie Crouch

Eagle by Janie CrouchEagle by Janie Crouch
Series: Linear Tactical #2
Published by Calamity Jane Publishing, Jane Crouch on 10th October 2018
Pages: 278
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three-stars

He's fighting for what's right... She's fighting just to survive...

When former Special Forces soldier Finn Bollinger is asked to help with a deadly government mission, he's up for the task. His job teaching survival skills to civilians at Linear Tactical keeps him sharp, and he can still handle himself in the field.

But the Army damn well didn't teach Finn how to handle Charlotte Devereux. She's back and she's all sorts of bad news.

Charlotte can't change the past. Can't change the choices she made or the fact that they cost her everything. All she can do is endure the fallout. Even if that means putting her future in the hands of Finn, the man who has every right to want to destroy her.

And can in so many more ways than he thinks.

When the undercover mission goes impossibly wrong, they'll all have to depend on Charlotte's strength in order to survive. But everyone has a breaking point...

What I’ve found so unusual about Linear Tactical is how Janie Crouch has found a way of getting her characters peripherally involved in huge governmental-level-type espionage incidents even if they aren’t actually neck-deep in the deep-end of things and jet-setting all over the world to prevent a nuclear meltdown. It’s romantic suspense done somewhat differently (there’s still plenty of action, deception and loose ends in the small place that they’re all based) and it’s something I’m new to.

Crouch tackles Finn Bollinger’s and Charlie Devereux’s second-chance story in ‘Eagle’, where their history is hinted at in the first book of her Linear Tactical series as an unhappy one. But as it becomes evident that Charlie had left Finn to marry someone else and left him in bad shape 8 years ago, the twist of fate that brings them back together (the former as the special needs tutor of Finn’s son) is more than just one that rekindles their burnt-out relationship. Throw in a boy (who’s got more than meets the eye), a sleazy strip club, a quasi-military operation and a private security firm and a perfect storm starts to brew.

Much of Finn/Charlie’s story came from the anticipation of reading what really happened all those years ago and Crouch certainly took some time to build up to this. Yet the slow trickle of information that filtered through in the form of Charlie’s lack of willingness to be upfront with Finn about her secrets and problems, did make it hard for me to get behind their second-chance romance, let alone a female protagonist whom I wasn’t entirely sure I could support.

I probably would have liked Charlie a lot more had she been more remorseful and upfront about her own hard-headed decisions that she’d taken without seemingly fully considering the damage she’d wrought. In fact, for someone who’d tackled everything else head-on in the swath of destruction she’d left in her wake, I’d expected Charlie to be less cowardly in the way she still chose to assume the worst of Finn and of them when she’d never quite picked him over her own family to begin with.

But a caveat here: I’ll admit readily that the second-chance romance trope isn’t one that I typically like, so my review of ‘Eagle’ (and my rather stinging critique of Charlie) are definitely skewed because of this certain bent.

Despite my own reservations, I did find ‘Eagle’ quite compelling, the last quarter ramping up to be the most intense and heart-pounding part of the story. Crouch does pull all of it together in a way that’s quite neatly tied up—the suspension of disbelief comes into play, of course—while leaving a hook for Aiden’s story to come and that’s already what I’m looking forward to.

three-stars

Cyclone by Jamie Crouch

Cyclone by Jamie CrouchCyclone by Janie Crouch
Series: Linear Tactical #1
Published by Calamity Jane Publishing on September 25th 2018
Pages: 280
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four-stars

The past haunts her. . .

Doctor Anne Nichols is only back in Oak Creek, Wyoming because she has no other options. She left years ago, broken and bleeding, without anyone really noticing. So she’s not surprised nobody here recognizes her as the stuttering, socially awkward girl she used to be.

Except Zac Mackay. The very reason she ran in the first place.

The present hunts her. . .

Zac’s years in special forces taught him the skills to stay alive in the most dangerous of circumstances. Now he has dedicated his life and built a company—Linear Tactical—to teach those same survival skills to others, so they don’t have to live in fear.

Then why is Annie, the last person he’d ever want to hurt, afraid of him?

Zac’s determined to wipe the fear from the eyes of the woman who has never been far from his mind. And fix the mistakes—his mistakes—that put that look there in the first place. But Zac's not the only one who's set his sights on Annie. Survival skills become much more than lessons when a predator starts prowling the streets of Oak Creek . . . and puts Anne in his crosshairs.

Reading ‘Cyclone’, or rather, getting into the first book of Linear Tactical, is strangely akin to seeing Janie Crouch freed of her writing restraints, and there’s no blunter way of putting it especially when it showcases the writing in fine form. ‘Cyclone’ is a full-length, more colourful, more explicit (hooray) story and simply a lot more compelling than the ‘tamer’ novellas Crouch has done for the Harlequin Intrigue/Suspense imprint in contrast, and begins with a huge misunderstanding and a painful event that neither of the main protagonists have quite gotten over.

Justifiably skittish, broken and gun-shy, Anne Nichols’s return to her small hometown brings her back into contact with the man she’d never wanted to see again, though Zac Mackay isn’t even aware of what exactly had put the rift between them that Anne wouldn’t talk about. And that’s where the pieces slowly come together, as I sat in with spiteful glee and got on the grovelling journey Zac took in trying to make up for his abysmal misdeeds 6 years ago, more so because I found myself sympathising and identifying with Anne’s insecurities, her wariness and even her quiet bravery and the strength that are so easily looked over. That she’s too forgiving made me a little outraged, even.

The element of the forbidden isn’t as strong as I thought here—Anne being the good friend of Zac’s long-dead wife, even if they’d known each other for a long time—and that Anne had always loved him yet tamped it down always made it feel as though Zac had a long way to go before getting up to speed with her. Apart from feeling that Anne was a little short-changed for the longest time, colour me surprised when Zac was able to move forward rather easily with her, as I’d expected some kind of accounting for how he finally had eyes for Anne when he never quite did before.

Still, ‘Cyclone’ is less angsty than I thought it would be, less drawn-out with the push-pull that happens between with a couple so weighed down by their pasts (this is not a NA novel after all), especially after the growing relationship between Anne/Zac is gradually overshadowed by the growing suspense plot that inevitably snares Anne in its trap.

Nonetheless, if ‘Cyclone’ is the standard-setting benchmark for the rest of the books to come—I was impatient to get back to the book each time my attention was called away—, then wherever or however Crouch might take this entire series is something I’m really looking forward to.

four-stars

Major Crimes by Janie Crouch

Major Crimes by Janie CrouchMajor Crimes by Janie Crouch
Series: Omega Sector: Under Siege #4
Published by Harlequin Intrigue on 19th June 2018
Pages: 288
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three-stars

Working together would bring down a killer

But her secrets could tear them apart…

Hayley Green never wanted to see Omega special agent Cain Bennett again. Ever. He seduced her, then sent her to prison for hacking, and Hayley’s only just started piecing her life back together. Except now Cain needs Hayley’s help to catch a murderer. Their past is colliding with their still-smoldering attraction…and the only thing more dangerous than the killer is the secrets Hayley’s been keeping.

It isn’t often that I do up a review for a category book, not because they don’t work for me, but because the formulaic writing that seems to be dictated by length also tends to bring what could have been a stellar story down to a mediocre read. Too often this happens, even with authors that I like writing under such particular imprints.

The blurb of Janie Crouch’s ‘Major Crimes’ is exactly what I wanted to read—there was I knew, a huge amount of emotional distance to cover and loads of trust to regain on one side—because I had a gut feeling that I could sympathise strongly with a female protagonist who’d already gone through so much. And that happened in fact, to the point where I wondered if Hayley should have been stronger to fight off her attraction to the man who’d thrown her in jail and did nothing but hang on to his righteous attitude for the whole time.

Sailing through this however, left me a little less than satisfied. This is where the brevity of a typical Harlequin read works against the story: for Hayley’s traumatic past and her (rightful) hurt and anger at Cain, I’d expected more grovelling, more insight, more regret; instead, these were relegated to single-sentence telling rather than showing, leaving out the bits that could have made the emotions rawer and the forgiveness less easy to come by. (Vindictive self speaking here)

Coupled with the suspense and the action which overtook the emotional weight of their past that I badly wanted to read about, ‘Major Crimes’ wrapped up too easily and quickly for me, particularly when it came to kissing and making up. The wrongs were righted, the bad guy was shot and the HEA were all delivered of course, but I couldn’t nevertheless, imagine Hayley/Cain moving forward without the huge load of past hurts and resentment popping up from often in their future…and that sort of dragged the happy ending from under my feet.

three-stars

Critical Instinct by Janie Crouch

Critical Instinct by Janie CrouchCritical Instinct by Janie Crouch
Series: Instinct #2
Published by Calamity Jane Publishing on April 10th 2017
Pages: 212
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four-stars

Every single person Paige has drawn has ended up dead. And now she’s drawn herself.
Paige Jeffries is the darling of the art world. Her works are original, compelling. But after a brutal attack two years ago —a savage beating from an unknown assailant—Paige has become all but a recluse. She knows her mind is broken. In her sleep she’s drawing scenes of violence. Murders. Going to the cops isn’t an option because they already think she’s crazy. And they may be right.
Seasoned homicide detective Brett Wagner is asked to look into a cold case nobody wants: the assault and battery of a local artist who claims to have drawn a picture of her own attack before it even happened. He remembers shy Paige from high school, and is driven to find her attacker, to believe her when nobody else does, to protect the innocent beauty.
Because when he witnesses firsthand what Paige is drawing in her sleep, Brett realizes they are scenes from actual cases. Cases that had no connection until now. Portland has a secret serial killer, and Paige is somehow linked to his mind.
And he’s coming for her.

‘Primal Instinct’ was my first-ever read by Janie Crouch and I’d always hoped that she would continue that very unusual series which, for a time, plunged me into paranormal crime-solving-type thrillers.

‘Critical Instinct’ is pretty much quite the answer to my pagan prayers and sacrificial offering, with a rather creepy introduction of a victim – a famous artist – who has actually drawn the picture of her own assault weeks before it really happened. It’s a combination as well of art, auras and people with special abilities (without going too much into quirky voodoo that gives me the creeps) and whether these have their place at all in law enforcement, which is based on the opposing part of the spectrum dealing with rational and logical problem-solving. But I liked the esoteric part simply because it was an original perspective on paranormal suspense for me, as much as I liked the chemistry between Brett and Paige.

Paige’s and Brett’s romance did come a little quickly for me nonetheless – I think I could have liked more UST as well as a bit more explosive steam when it finally breaks – but the focus is as always, and typical of this genre, the crime and the race to nail down the perpetrator before the heroine gets taken down. The psychic link between Paige and the perp also wasn’t exactly explained fully enough for me to believe, as was the strange reason for the latter’s choice of victims, but it’s definitely a breath of fresh air from the type of romantic thrillers that I’ve come across in a long, long time.

I’m simply glad I didn’t put off this book the moment I discovered Crouch was continuing this series. There’s just so much here to plumb and I’m hoping Crouch takes it all the way.

four-stars

Armored Attraction by Janie Crouch

Armored Attraction by Janie CrouchArmored Attraction by Janie Crouch
Series: Omega Sector: Critical Response #3
Published by Harlequin on June 1st 2016
Pages: 224
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two-stars

One secret can change everything 
It's been eight years since Liam Goetz has seen his ex-fiancé. Vanessa Epperson had everything: beauty, brains…and a family fortune. He chose her, while she chose a life of luxury and never imagined their paths would cross again. An unexpected phone call from Vanessa—desperate for his help in a human trafficking case—ressurects old longings. As they work together to save hostages and catch a predator, Liam begins to learn some shocking truths—about himself and the woman he thought he once knew so well…

Stumbling onto a body on a beach leads Vanessa Epperson into a human trafficking ring and the shady dealings in her hometown that involves the local law enforcement. The only person she can turn to is an ex-fiancé, who thought the worst of her when she apparently chose money and breeding over him.

While I liked the suspense and the storyline well enough, this book caught me out in a classic case of liking the heroine but hating the ‘hero’, as well as the pace at which they fell back into a relationship too easily and without much friction at all. I barely found Liam’s actions and behaviour acceptable, especially because Vanessa had paid the heavier price for the misunderstanding that had torn them apart for years. In the meantime the ‘hero’ went off womanising for the next 8 years, yet claimed that he was still coming back to the woman he apparently never stopped loving, except for the fact that it was her reaching out to him that gave him that kick in the arse – the flimsiest excuse I’ve ever seen and I was astounded at Vanessa for giving into him so easily.

Granted, it is my own intolerance for manwhores that finds this behaviour irksome, particularly when the heroine had clearly changed for the better and the male protagonist for the worse. In fact, it was difficult to stomach their HEA when I felt that Vanessa deserved way better than Liam after all that she’d endured while he lifted skirts everywhere else.

two-stars

Countermeasures by Janie Crouch

Countermeasures by Janie CrouchCountermeasures (Omega Sector #2) by Janie Crouch
Published by Harlequin on January 20th 2015
Pages: 224
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four-stars


THE CLOCK WAS TICKING, THE ENEMY WAS WATCHING…

At first it looked like a glorified babysitting job: safeguard a scientist while she created a countermeasure to neutralize a dangerous weapon that had fallen into the wrong hands. But when Dr. Megan Fuller's life was threatened, undercover agent Sawyer Branson knew the enemy was closing in. Sticking by Megan 24/7 wasn't something he took lightly, even if Megan didn't seem to appreciate his constant presence. For a man used to getting any woman he wanted, Megan was a challenge he was coming to enjoy. Because beneath her boxy lab coat and pinned-back hair lay a brilliant and beautiful warrior. And before long, Sawyer's determination to save the world was matched only by the sudden need to make Megan his.

Sawyer Branson accidentally tripped and punched his boss, or at least, that’s how the official line goes. The punishment befits the crime and he’s sent to babysit a computer scientist who’s suddenly at risk because of her ability to develop a countermeasure for a piece of equipment that can potentially ruin the entirety of law enforcement. It’s all a hack job that’s way below of his abilities…until he meets Dr. Zane Megan Fuller, whom he mistakes as a receptionist. The stakes have never been higher when Megan suddenly finds herself the target of several attacks and amidst the escalating violence she and Sawyer get a lot closer than they had ever anticipated.

I definitely liked the second parter in what should be called the Branson series a lot better and Megan is a great heroine (an alluring mix of geek, uncertainty and bravery) as well as a good complement to the charming playboy whose charms just can’t quite function normally with her. My only complaint is the abrupt end and the sudden jump from attraction to love that leaves me rather unconvinced about them not quite having yet worked out their issues about trust.

four-stars