Author: Mandy Baxter

Locked and Loaded by Mandy Baxter

Locked and Loaded by Mandy BaxterLocked and Loaded by Mandy Baxter
Series: U.S. Marshals, #5
Published by Zebra on September 27th 2016
Pages: 352
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four-stars

Charlotte Cahill intends to take down an infamous diamond smuggler on the FBI’s Most Wanted list—and she intends to do it by the book.  That won’t be easy with the cocky new temporary deputy on her task force. Mason Decker feels like trouble, especially when his cool gaze wanders across her hot body . . .   After his time as a Customs officer, Decker has enough experience hanging out with criminals to know that working undercover means following your instincts, not the rules. It doesn’t take long for him to lock horns with Cahill. But when the sexy assistant U.S. attorney is accidentally dragged out of her orderly world and into the turn-on-a-dime tension of Decker’s deceptive games, she’ll find that nothing is as seductive as playing a new role . . .

The unusual plot of diamond smuggling, cons and undercover work in ‘Locked and Loaded’ has been entertaining from the get go – and is possibly the best of the U.S. Marshal series to date. It’s currently my antidote for listless, clichéd-ridden summer reads and a perfect choice for a high-octane action flick in narrative form, to the extent where I was sorry when it all ended so quickly.

What starts out as a man sidelined in law enforcement for his infamous family and a prickly U.S. Attorney turns into an elaborate con with twists and turns I didn’t see coming. Mandy Baxter has written a sufficiently complex plot to keep the action going, with very strong lead characters who are compelling in their own right without crossing the line into smarmy or super-human…along with a cast of shady secondary ones who themselves aren’t caricatures. But it’s also a showing of diamond valuation, the stones’ shady origins and the bloody politics involved from raw material to production and selling – a complex minefield that Mason Decker and Charlie Cahill find themselves in with their necks barely above water. That the story covered issues like the moral grey areas of going undercover – and betraying one’s own family and principles while doing so – dramatised the plot and the main characters more sharply than ever and frankly, was a treat to read as Mason walked these painful steps to dissociate himself once again, from a life he’d never known.

Watching Mason’s and Charlie’s relationship grow degree by degree as their interactions turned from hostile to wary and finally to scorching was beyond entertaining and enjoyable. I liked seeing how their mutual admiration of each other grew through a situation that neither could get out of and how they managed to find common ground together.

It’s definitely a plot that could keep going on – even if all the books in the series are standalone books – and I hope it does. With an ending that seems a little rushed and a loose end that isn’t quite so tied up, maybe…just maybe…we’ll see Mason and Charlie again.

It’s too soon to say goodbye.

four-stars

At Any Cost by Mandy Baxter

At Any Cost by Mandy BaxterAt Any Cost by Mandy Baxter
Series: U.S. Marshals #4
Published by Zebra on May 31st 2016
Pages: 352
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three-stars

She can't remember when she wasn't afraid. She can't go to the police. And "Olivia Gallagher" is only a day away from fleeing her Idaho wilderness life before biker gang leader Joel Meecum finally catches up with her. So keeping her rugged new neighbor at arm's length is the only safe play. Until Livy can't resist one last hungry chance to feel alive…
For U.S. Marshal Nick Brady, taking his vacation next door to Meecum's ex-girlfriend seemed the smartest way to find him. But suddenly, nothing is making sense. How could this feisty, straight-talking brunette ever get mixed up with Meecum's brutal crew? And why is he breaking his oath and getting so close that all he wants is to keep her safe? Now as the clock ticks, Nick and Livy's only chance at escape may be the one they can't survive…

A mandatory ‘vacation’ isn’t something Nick Brady will willingly go into and forcibly removed from his favourite activity of hunting criminals, he decides to poke his nose into something he has no business in: catching one of the top 15 crime lords. But that trail leads to a woman in hiding and it’s just pure bad luck that his person-of-interest soon becomes Nick’s personal investment when the initial attraction slides into something more.

I thought the story somewhat predictable as far as a relationship forged under pretense and deception can be. There’s doubt and second-guessing on both sides, procrastination with the truth-telling because of the need to prolong the good times and then the final blow-up when the truth gets revealed – coinciding with the climatic action scene when the bad guys start showing up. Even if I couldn’t exactly quite feel the soul-deep connection between Nick and Livy (much less the love after several hot rounds in bed), I found both characters decent enough, albeit dramatically sex-starved, judging from the amount of lust-soaked thoughts that they each have.

The ending however, feels rather abrupt, as though a Happy-For-Now closure should suffice. Even so, I personally think that injects a little more realism, counterbalancing the need to suspend my disbelief when it comes to Nick/Livy’s zero-to-hundred relationship.

‘At Any Cost’ requires absolutely no prior knowledge of Mandy Baxter’s previous U.S Marshal books (previous characters aren’t even mentioned), which leads me to think that an entirely new story-arc and/or character-arc might be in progress. If that’s really the case, I’d love to see what’s in store in the coming months.

three-stars

One Touch More by Mandy Baxter

One Touch More by Mandy BaxterOne Touch More by Mandy Baxter
Series: U.S. Marshals #3
Published by Zebra on October 27th 2015
Pages: 352
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four-stars

Strong, relentless, and lethal, he plays every angle to trap the worst criminals. But for the one woman he can't resist, he'll break all the rules…
For hotel manager Tabitha Martin, bad boys usually spell disaster. And her new guest promises just that, with his formidable build, tattooed biceps, and quiet take-no-mess attitude. Tabitha is already putting everything on the line to escape her vicious drug-dealing ex's control for good—but a single sizzling moment in “Damien Evans'” arms has her wanting all the trouble he can give…
He's been undercover too long and likes living dangerously too much. U.S. Marshal Parker Evans figures maybe that's why he doesn't immediately put Tabitha in custody. Sure, she's his one chance to finally take down a major drug ring. But every minute he protects this mostly innocent blonde leaves his heart all too vulnerable. And the cost of desire could be a deadly endgame…

Parker Damien Evans finally gets another undercover assignment after wheedling his way through months of therapy, until he’s suddenly accosted by a vision in the form of a hotel manager named Tabitha Martin, who clearly has some secrets of her own. Going back to pretending to be a low-life is nothing new to Parker/Damien but he’s also starting to question the blurred lines between his real identity and the fake ones he slips into so easily. When push comes to shove, Parker/Damien and Tabitha have to make some decisions that will not only affect the course of their lives, but also the task he’d originally set out to do.

I didn’t like or hate Tabitha Martin, Park’s chosen heroine, and found her rather nondescript and not as memorable as Parker, despite Ms. Baxter’s effort to position her as a sympathetic character caught in between a rock and a hard place. In the course of the book, Parker/Damien proves to be the shining star of the show, his angsty struggles with the duality precipitated by his undercover work offset by the hilarious meta thoughts that made me laugh.

four-stars

One Kiss More by Mandy Baxter

One Kiss More by Mandy BaxterOne Kiss More by Mandy Baxter
Series: U.S. Marshals, #2
Published by Zebra on February 24th 2015
Pages: 352
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three-stars

Emma Ruiz knows her father is innocent. But that doesn’t help her convince the law—not even smoking hot U.S. Marshal Landon McCabe. When McCabe bangs on her door demanding information about how her cancer-stricken father escaped from federal prison, she’ll have to distract him somehow—it may as well be with a stolen kiss.
Landon gets why Emma isn’t saying all she knows. What he doesn’t understand is why he’s putting his reputation, his case, and his badge on the line for a gorgeous person of interest. Much as he’d love to, he can’t let Emma play him. The stakes are higher than either of them can guess. The only way to survive is to trust their instincts. But their instincts want more than one kiss…

And again, I’m rueing the lack of fulfilled potential of this story because it could have been a tighter, heart-pounding thriller with just that sizzling dose of passion and romance. The characters’ ability to function under the sexual tension would have been truly fun to read about but…unfortunately, the constant blowing hot-and-cold simply signalled a lack of emotional maturity that was quite a turn-off by the time I got halfway into the story.

It’s admittedly hard to write a heroine who is plucky and determined without falling past the line into stupidity and petulant stubbornness. Emma Ruiz…sort of fits the profile. Ish.

Especially when it comes to light that a lot of the mess she finds herself in is pretty much her own doing despite her doing so with the best of intentions. I can definitely admire her loyalty to her father and the created facade of the party girl vs. the real Emma but somehow I couldn’t really connect with her, or even Landon and their attraction to each other – which is apparently so overwhelming and debilitating that it’s miraculously interpreted as love by the time the sex rolls around because of their shared history which I’d been led to think was simply attraction and nothing really much more.

three-stars

One Night More by Mandy Baxter

One Night More by Mandy BaxterOne Night More by Mandy Baxter
Series: U.S. Marshals, #1
Published by Zebra on September 2nd 2014
Pages: 352
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two-stars

Getting saved from disaster by a handsome stranger—Harper Allen has no problem with that. But when he leaves without a word or a clue to his real identity, the newbie reporter writes it off as the best one-night-stand she’ll never have again. Until a year later, when Harper comes face to face with the man assigned to hide her from a senator’s killer…
Galen Kelly hasn’t forgotten a single sensual minute of his night with Harper... or that she betrayed him. But with the FBI also on their trail, he’s got to pretend he’s never met her or risk both their lives. But as danger closes in, Galen may not be able to protect himself from taking the biggest risk of all…


I’d give this book a higher rating if not for an annoying and idiotic heroine (for the record, sneaking out, ditching your protective detail, withholding information isn’t ‘feisty’ or ‘determined’, but rather the definition of moronic) who can’t seem to step back from a line called “being too stupid to live”. Many of her actions – which nearly made me bite my tongue off – are selfish, reckless and childish and typically, only realised too late.

I wonder if authors, in their eagerness to portray a strong, independent female, unknowingly but ironically slip them into a neat, cliched category where they’re more disliked than admired.


It isn’t going to make me give up on this series, but I’m certainly hoping that the second book wouldn’t be like this.

two-stars