The Drowned Girls by Loreth Anne White

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 11th June 2017
The Drowned Girls by Loreth Anne WhiteThe Drowned Girls by Loreth Anne White
Series: Angie Pallorino #1
Published by Montlake Romance on June 20th 2017
Pages: 524
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He surfaced two years ago. Then he disappeared ...

But Detective Angie Pallorino never forgot the violent rapist who left a distinctive calling card—crosses etched into the flesh of his victim’s foreheads.
When a comatose Jane Doe is found in a local cemetery, sexually assaulted, mutilated, and nearly drowned, Angie is struck by the eerie similarities to her earlier unsolved rapes. Could he be back?​Then the body of a drowned young woman floats up in the Gorge, also bearing the marks of the serial rapist, and the hunt for a predator becomes a hunt for a killer. Assigned to the joint investigative task force, Angie is more than ready to prove that she has what it takes to break into the all-male homicide division. But her private life collides with her professional ambitions when she’s introduced to her temporary partner, James Maddocks—a man she’d met the night before in an intense, anonymous encounter.
Together, Angie and Maddocks agree to put that night behind them. But as their search for the killer intensifies so does their mutual desire. And Angie’s forays into the mind of a monster shake lose some unsettling secrets about her own past . . .
How can she fight for the truth when it turns out her whole life is a lie?

There’s no doubt that Loreth Anne White writes excellent police procedurals in their gritty, brutal glory. Her angst-ridden characters, worn down by the nature of their work, are jaded and cynical with nary an ounce of optimism in them and as we tend to learn at the start of the book, wrestle with their own broken lives as they keep disappointing their families before they find some kind of equilibrium by the end of it. Their behaviours tend to mirror the nature of the crimes they’re investigating, stopping short of going past the grey areas into the forbidden and while the psychology behind it all is intriguing, I always find myself coming out of every White suspense read unsure, uncertain and strangely in need of a thorough cleaning.

Irascible, combative and abrasive, Angie Pallorino is straight out, a character difficult to like or side with, unlike a typical romance heroine for whom an author tries to get the readers to have an affinity. Everything about her, like White’s protagonists, can and does rub me the wrong way especially in the manner she uses people and men. But her tenacity is also what makes her a good detective and her career is probably all she has.  Like Angie, James Maddocks is running on his own fumes, rebuilding his life in a place where he can hopefully also rebuild his relationship with his daughter. They don’t get off to the best start: a one night stand that ends in coitus interruptus followed by a hostile meeting at the work place. But Maddocks is the upstanding, strong one who’s got his head on relatively straight in contrast and I liked that steadying presence he seems to provide throughout.

There’s very little on the romance in White’s latest suspense books and this is no different. The multiple POVs and the doubts cast on each and every character does a good job of distancing you from them, bringing into focus instead, the complicated but excellent set up of the crime scenes. The search for justice and laborious police work are White’s focal points—along with the superb Hitchcockian suspense kind of writing—and her characters merely players as they try to untangle this web of brutal deaths. It’s packed with tons of details that makes it a difficult read in that sense, and heavy-going in a way gritty crime fiction can be, which naturally brings me to the question that I’ve always struggled with when it comes to romantic suspense that’s heavy on the suspense: is it possible to ‘love’ a read when it’s simply about the case (that’s fantastically set up, no doubt), even if there are characters you don’t exactly connect with or feel for?

Angie’s story however, is pretty much unfinished. ‘The Drowned Girls’ seems to end on tenterhooks, on a tipsy toast that hopes for a better tomorrow, but with the sequel in store, you just know it’s going to unravel once more, until you’re back down through the looking glass, as dislocated as the characters who themselves don’t know any better but to screw things up.


Say You’re Sorry by Melinda Leigh

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 13th April 2017
Say You’re Sorry by Melinda LeighSay You're Sorry by Melinda Leigh
Series: Morgan Dane #1
Published by Montlake Romance on May 16th 2017
Pages: 336
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After the devastating loss of her husband in Iraq, Morgan Dane returns to Scarlet Falls, seeking the comfort of her hometown. Now, surrounded by family, she’s finally found peace and a promising career opportunity—until her babysitter is killed and her neighbor asks her to defend his son, Nick, who stands accused of the murder.
Tessa was the ultimate girl next door, and the community is outraged by her death. But Morgan has known Nick for years and can’t believe he’s guilty, despite the damning evidence stacked against him. She asks her friend Lance Kruger, an ex-cop turned private eye, for help. Taking on the town, the police, and a zealous DA, Morgan and Lance plunge into the investigation, determined to find the real killer. But as they uncover secrets that rock the community, they become targets for the madman hiding in plain sight.

As a huge fan of Leigh’s Scarlet Falls series, I was so thrilled to learn about this spin-off and even more excited to revisit Lance and Morgan, both of whom were said to have a brief history in Stella and Mac’s story. But Melinda Leigh is an author I can always count on for fantastic reads and ‘Say You’re Sorry’ more than lives up to this billing. But I love Leigh’s heroines and heroes for so many reasons: they use their smarts and wits and intelligence to get ahead (sometimes without even needing to fire a gun), they generally don’t have immature meltdowns that are out of character and aren’t afraid to admit their uncertainty and doubts even when cornered. The all-round maturity certainly helps.

‘Say You’re Sorry’ introduces us to Morgan Dane, a district attorney whose life was blown wide open when her husband died during his deployment, leaving her to sort herself out back home with 3 young children. But the fragility and vulnerability never quite go away no matter how much she convinces herself that the time to move on has arrived, up until a case convinces her to do what’s right rather than what’s convenient.

Leigh ratchets up the tension from the start and very much like every episode of a TV crime series, begins the show with the panicked pants of a potential victim who flees an unknown killer, who surprisingly, acts uncontrollably because of his own self-preservation instincts. But what looks like a simple teenage case of murder unearths a whole load of secrets and several twists that I didn’t see coming, which made the ride more exciting.

I liked both Morgan and Lance together, and loved their partnership which seems to bode very well for the next few books that Leigh has in mind. Morgan’s strong sense of justice appealed to me deeply, especially when it came to her determination to see a falsely-accused teenager out of jail for a crime he didn’t commit while tanking her career in the process. Lance’s solid character was as well, a perfect complement for Morgan’s. His broken dreams have left him a position where he hasn’t been able to be anything other than the police officer he once was, but there’s a sense of untouchable integrity and dignity about him that makes him quite a shining example of what a romantic hero should be.

’Say You’re Sorry’ is however, more focused on the suspense than romance, heavy with the potential of Morgan/Lance which sort of remains unfulfilled by the end of the book, but I’m hoping there’re more to come that will deepen this relationship between the both of them. I’m still vacillating between feeling a little cheated out of hot and heavy times and satisfied because justice is finally served, but as long as Leigh delivers these in the next few books, I’d be happy as a clam.


Crossing Hearts by Kimberly Kincaid

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 12th January 2017
Crossing Hearts by Kimberly KincaidCrossing Hearts by Kimberly Kincaid
Series: Cross Creek #1
Published by Montlake Romance on February 7th 2017
Pages: 342
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Hunter Cross has no regrets. Having left his football prospects behind the day he graduated high school, he’s happy to carry out his legacy on his family’s farm in the foothills of the Shenandoah. But when a shoulder injury puts him face-to-face with the high school sweetheart who abandoned town—and him—twelve years ago, Hunter’s simple life gets a lot more complicated.
Emerson Montgomery has secrets. Refusing to divulge why she left her job as a hotshot physical therapist for a pro football team, she struggles to readjust to life in the hometown she left behind. The more time she spends with Hunter, the more Emerson finds herself wanting to trust him with the diagnosis of MS that has turned her world upside down.
But revealing secrets comes with a price. Can Hunter and Emerson rekindle their past love? Or will the realities of the present—and the trust that goes with them—burn that bridge for good?

Kimberly Kincaid’s new series is quite a charming, heartfelt one and definitely one of the more engaging small-town stories that I’ve read for some time.

Hunter Cross—farmer extraordinaire—captured my imagination from the start and as foreign as this farming thing is to me, he’s vividly drawn enough that his bond to the farm and family cannot be disputed even as he struggles with an own injury and problems that threaten to weigh him down. An old flame returns though, for reasons that she will not disclose, but as things go, attraction and a shared history might trump that even.

There are many things to like about this book, undoubtedly: the assured writing, the small town feel that Kincaid creates so superbly and the great pacing and development of the relationship that’s supposed to be the HEA this time around. But What I found hard to accept though, was Emerson’s pushing away of the man she walked away from—under the erroneous but ultimately patronising claim that was pretty much ‘I did it for your own good’—12 years ago and her present-day lashing out at him because of her fear of her illness becoming public.

And yet that it was Hunter who has to grovel in the end to fight for their relationship. Far be it from me to dictate how a character deals with the traumatic news of a debilitating illness but I thought Emerson had mostly treated Hunter atrociously from the beginning. Illness or not (which incidentally, doesn’t provide a legitimate excuse for behaving badly), I found it hard to like her as a bona fide heroine because of this.

Kincaid does portray all too well how much less brave (and perhaps irrational) an illness can make a person, but I’d hoped for a less clichéd sort of conflict however, but it seemed as though it was always Hunter who had to make active inroads for the both of them which I hadn’t liked, each time Emerson retreated behind her growing fears.

This is a good start nonetheless; I liked the familial conflict laid out in the Cross family and the brothers’ stories that already lie in wait.


The Devil’s Daughter by Katee Robert

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 8th January 2017
The Devil’s Daughter by Katee RobertThe Devil's Daughter by Katee Robert
Published by Montlake Romance on January 24th 2017
Pages: 301
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Growing up in a small town isn’t easy, especially when you’re the daughter of a local cult leader. Ten years ago, Eden Collins left Clear Springs, Montana, and never once looked back. But when the bodies of murdered young women surface, their corpses violated and marked with tattoos worn by her mother’s followers, Eden, now an FBI agent, can’t turn a blind eye. To catch the killer, she’s going to have to return to the fold.
Sheriff Zach Owens isn’t comfortable putting Eden in danger, even if she is an elite agent. And he certainly wasn’t expecting to be so attracted to her. As calm and cool as she appears, he knows this can’t be a happy homecoming. Zach wants to protect her—from her mother, the cult, and the evil that lurks behind its locked gates. But Eden is his only key to the tight-lipped group, and she may just be closer to the killer than either one of them suspects…

Unlike Katee Robert’s other books that I’ve had the pleasure of reading, ‘The Devil’s Daughter’ is mystery-driven, set in the suffocating confines of a small-town that sits in the shade of a cult whose influence is larger than perceived. It’s a book that’s very different from what I’ve come to associate with Robert and not knowing what to expect, I find myself firmly caught between giving a 3- and 4-star review. There’s a guess-the perpetrator, whodunnit question throughout and the cult, built around the myth of Persephone and Demeter (combined weirdly with some Christian undertones), its proceedings and its shady people, act as the smokescreen concealing the truth from being discovered.

Not that the writing isn’t good (it is), or that the suspense isn’t sufficient (it is), but that the romance takes such a back seat to the story that it could have actually been superfluous because it felt like an addition only for the sake of bringing 2 leads together, even when their chemistry didn’t seem there at all. The romance could have not existed and the book would have worked; consequently, Eden’s and Zach’s pairing seemed forced, as both seemed rather snippy to each other—but not something I’d really mistake for sexual tension when it felt more like the case wearing on them—so the mild case of attraction that first bloomed into a kiss early on took me by surprise and disbelief, because both hadn’t moved past the ‘unwilling co-worker’ stage yet. The potential romantic interest, in short, barely came across and the later sex scene felt more like an obligatory prerequisite rather than a natural progression.

The ending almost mirrors the grim subject matter: an abrupt, a happy-for-now kind of resolution, like a scene in a crime movie when it end as with the police cruiser driving away while the good guys are left staring at the villain’s dead body on the ground. I think I had a problem with how rushed and incomplete it all felt—even when the big reveal came which wasn’t too hard to guess—even when it ended. If this is the start to a series, then I’m eager to see how it goes and how the arc set up here is going to end. But if it isn’t, then ‘The Devil’s Daughter’ might just be a tad bit disappointing.


Tangled Up by Erin Nicholas

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 5th January 2017
Tangled Up by Erin NicholasTangled Up by Erin Nicholas
Published by Montlake Romance on January 17th 2017
Pages: 310
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Storm chaser Max Grady can already feel it: there’s a tornado coming to his hometown of Chance, Nebraska. Max is going after it, and the only person he wants by his side is police officer Bree McDermott, fellow adrenaline junkie, his best friend, and the woman Max has secretly been in love with for years. But when a close call with a tornado leaves them lip-locked, Max knows that the danger is only beginning.
Bree is always up for excitement. Her close and sexy encounter with Max is unlike anything she’s felt before, and she wants more. As they work together to help clean up Chance, the air between them crackles with sexual tension. But Bree has a tendency to look ahead to the next thrill, and Max knows it. Now they’re all tangled up as they chase the strongest force of nature on earth: love.

I’m going to call this my first real read of 2017, not because I’m an old coot who turns a nose up at near everything that comes my way (although it sometimes seems like it) but because I’d found myself engaged and absorbed in Max/Bree’s story for most of it.

Bree McDermott lives for the adrenaline thrill and at first glance, I’d associated her with someone who has that kind of compulsive behaviour that needs therapy at the very least. I’m glad to see Erin Nicholas pinpointing the complications of problematic risk-taking behaviour early on: that her restless nature cannot and will not permit the supposed attraction for Max to last beyond a tornado episode. That she was always seeking a newer, riskier high however, was an issue I’d waited to see if that would have been sufficiently addressed, because it seemed necessary before she and Max could move on together. But I also liked that Bree had some sense of self-awareness, that she wasn’t completely steeped in self-denial, or that she wasn’t a reckless, all-in female character who went on and on without a care for anyone else, although I thought there was definitely more to explained about when it came to the psychological issues behind how the death of her brother had affected her behaviour up until now.

For Max Grady, the attraction to Bree had always been there. Gut-deep, visceral and yearning…even though being tied to him, as Bree had once cruelly said, would have been ‘boring’. I could appreciate how Max was acutely aware of his desire never to hold her back, while recognising that she needed to see him for who he was rather than as the next high to conquer.

I was—pleasantly—thrown for a loop really: I’d expected the consequences of chasing the next high to be dire, leading to an equally, shouting-match dire climax, but Nicholas surprised me with that. Bree knew her own mind, had some personal epiphanies and while I kept waiting for her to run when the thrill wore off, she surprised me by not being afraid to see what she had been missing all along. Suddenly, it became about Max and his own gun-shy insecurities about not being able to keep up with her because he has made Bree’s noncommittal stance to be everything he didn’t want. Add to the strange ice-cream analogy, the story took off in a direction that didn’t quite conform to my expectations. And that wasn’t a bad thing, because I’d wondered whether this was going to be a straight-up story about unrequited love when it really wasn’t quite one after all.

But what I think I’m really looking forward to? Kit/Dillon’s story and judging from about of sparks generated here, well, let’s just say I’m more than up for it.


Midnight Obsession by Melinda Leigh

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 3rd December 2016
Midnight Obsession by Melinda LeighMidnight Obsession by Melinda Leigh
Series: Midnight #4
Published by Montlake Romance on January 3rd 2017
Pages: 336
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In Wall Street Journal bestselling author Melinda Leigh’s edgy new thriller, Louisa Hancock thought she was safe…but there’s a new killer in town.
When a mysterious package lands on Louisa Hancock’s doorstep, the Philadelphia museum curator can hardly anticipate the nightmare that’s about to envelop her. The package is addressed to her father—an expert in Viking culture—and inside is a ninth-century sword, a chilling thank-you note, and photos of two dead bodies in a tableau evoking a Nordic funeral. The gruesome images match a recent crime scene. But before the police can investigate the killer’s connection to Louisa’s father, Ward Hancock vanishes.
Sports bar owner Conor Sullivan wants nothing more than to spend his life with Louisa. Devoted and protective, he refuses to leave her side after her father’s disappearance. When a troubled young boxer he’s been coaching is suspected of the murders, Conor is pulled in even deeper. Desperate, Louisa and Conor take it upon themselves to find her father, but soon another ritualistic slaying makes it clear there’s a Viking-obsessed serial killer on the loose. And he has a new target: Louisa.

A spate of murders based on Viking rituals somehow involves Louisa Hancock once again, not long after the trauma she suffered at the hands of a deranged killer a few months ago. Similar to ‘Midnight Betrayal’ in format, ‘Midnight Obsession’ delivers the same thrilling ride, with the key difference being that Louisa and Conor are an established couple here, even if their hard-won HEA in the previous book comes with more bumps along the way. That said, it’s definitely good enough as a standalone, though reading the previous installment would definitely provide a fuller picture both Louisa’s and Conor’s history.

The romance certainly isn’t quite the focus here—there is no relationship conflict or angst to get through—leaving the suspense and gang-wars to drive the narrative. Yet Melinda Leigh writes Conor and Louisa in a fashion where there’s mutual admiration and much loved-up feelings on both sides, leaving us with no doubt that their relationship is rock-solid through this ordeal. The pacing as well, is steady, without dramatic lurches from breathlessness to sluggishness, perhaps it’s a little slow at the start but it picks up as each murder and/or tragic event start piling on top on one another as the noose tightens around Louisa and Conor. But because the story’s pretty light on the romance, I had expected more gore or at least a greater immersion in the Viking rituals already laid out in the plot; instead the book doesn’t quite deliver these, yet what it does however, is reaffirm the rightness of this couple with many statements on how far they’ve come with each other, right up to the very end.

A huge part of the draw in reading mystery/crime novels is the wild goose chase we’re led on as we’re teased about the identity of the suspect. Leigh does this and more, but most importantly, I felt as though I’d had an entertaining time.


Gone by Elisabeth Naughton

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 27th November 2016
Gone by Elisabeth NaughtonGone by Elisabeth Naughton
Series: Deadly Secrets #2
Published by Montlake Romance on January 10th 2017
Pages: 303
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Three years ago, Alec and Raegan Devereaux lived every parent’s worst nightmare: their one-year-old daughter, Emma, was abducted from a park when Alec turned his back for just a moment. Emma was never found, and presumed dead. The crushing trauma, plus Alec’s unbearable guilt, ended the couple’s marriage.
Now a four-year-old girl matching Emma’s profile is found wandering a local park. Alec and Raegan are heartbroken to discover she’s not their daughter but are newly motivated to find closure…and each secretly feels desperate to be in the other’s presence again.
Alec suspects his vengeful biological father is behind Emma’s disappearance. But as Raegan investigates other abductions in the area, she sees a pattern—and begins to wonder if Emma’s kidnapping is actually linked to something more sinister.
As Alec and Raegan race to uncover the truth, a long-burning spark rekindles into smoldering passion, and they realize they need each other now more than ever.

Alex McClane struggles with more than disappointing his wife and family; he also battles a severe drinking addiction and the notion that his erratic, violent behaviour might be genetically inherited from a man whom he calls his biological father. This much—along with the overwhelming guilt—bring him to end a short-lived marriage that died when his daughter goes missing. Three years later, he isn’t in a better place until a call from the FBI brings his ex-wife back into his life, who incidentally, seems to be compiling research on child-abductions that indicate their daughter’s disappearance is anything but a coincidence.

I’d always wondered how Elisabeth Naughton was going to continue the ‘Dearly Secrets’ series, and ‘Gone’ seemed to be a good indication that the books would be about the adopted family members of the McClane family, with Alex’s story being the second book—and completely unrelated to his brother’s one. It works well as a standalone and quite possibly lies on a trigger fault-line for some as it deals with child abduction and addiction and the devastating effect it could have on a marriage.

The protagonists were clearly flawed in some ways that left narrative space for character growth: Alex’s constant denial and guilt—which devolve into self-pity after a while—destroying people and relationships around him, while Reagen seemed to be a bit of a spineless twit and a damsel in distress from the start (admirable as her determination not to believe her daughter is dead) as she pined for a man who’d not only walked cruelly away from her but also called for the divorce as he sought comfort in alcohol. It eventually did get better though, with some twists that hinted at a bigger conspiracy which still stretched my ability to suspend disbelief even as the plot trundled along from time to time.

‘Gone’ is a decent read nonetheless, and I’d be interested in knowing who’s (or what’s) next in this series.

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