Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca

Running the Risk by Lea Griffith

Running the Risk by Lea GriffithRunning the Risk by Lea Griffith
Series: Endgame Ops #2
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on April 3rd 2018
Pages: 347
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Survival is crucial. Trust is optional. Love is unstoppable.

Jude Dagan's life as he knew it ended a year ago. On a mission gone wrong, he was forced to watch as Ella Banning, the only woman he's ever loved, was killed. Or so he thought.

Jude wasn't the only one who lost something on the day Ella was presumed dead. She sacrificed Endgame Ops, the love of her life, and parts of herself she can never get back. Now she's determined to take down the world's most dangerous terrorist--even if it means working for him. When Jude and Ella are reunited, they'll battle the lies Ella has been forced to tell...and struggle to save a love that knows no bounds.

How do you love a woman who has, supposedly, for the greater good, betrayed you? A woman whom you’ve thought dead, coming back from the grave, who’d actually walked away willingly?

‘Running the Risk’ is a hard one to swallow, but then again, books about betrayal, second chances, big-time conspiracies and a high-stakes game are never easy to get through because they demand for sides to be taken and thereafter, leave you there and then bank on your (romantic) capacity to overlook the gravity and/or the cost of betrayal and proclaim that scarred love still conquers all.

Jude Dagan has found himself in a cruel twist of events that brought him back face to face with a one-time love, and the story unfolds with him learning about the depth and the breadth of her deception, even though it has been done for the sake of pursuing the same goal: eliminating a dangerous player in the international-arms dealing arena. Ella Banning on the other hand, is unable to outrun Jude’s crafty determination, torn between duty and mistaken loyalty (perhaps even stupidity)…and for this reason, it was easier to love Jude more than Ella. Without a good reason given for her actions until later, it was difficult to sympathise with her position in the book for the first half at least, but what do you really say about a woman who made this decision mistakenly believing she was protecting him?

Thankfully, that angst isn’t drawn out too much. The second half is relentless action, a consolidation of sorts, a reaffirmation of team effort, along with sex that sometimes happens in places and situations that seem rather inappropriate and unbelievable—that’s where the suspension of disbelief kicks in.

Still, Lea Griffiths’s effortless writing swept me through it all, unravelling the complex network of arms trade, the shady players and the constant jetting from one locale to the next, where nothing is as it seems—this is the type of high-octane romantic suspense I dig. There’re moves and counter-moves on a chessboard and the dangerous game that’s played has a price that’s typically too high for anyone to afford…all of which Griffith manages very well. But the whole largeness of the entire conspiracy that Griffiths has built here means that only a part of it is resolved in this book and there’re still too many things that haven’t yet fallen into place.

‘Running the Risk’ can of course, be read as a standalone. There are however, references to what happened in the previous book in the secretive and high-strung world of covert ops (and some recap for the reader’s sake here) which can be a confounding—I think the secret-keeping and the classified stuff sometimes work against the story—and the epilogue that’s like a trailer for the next book to come is merely a stark reminder that the whole arc is far from over. I’m always itchy for more (particularly when it comes to world-domination-type things), but the wait for the next one looks to be long.


Her Dark Half by Paige Tyler

Her Dark Half by Paige TylerHer Dark Half by Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops #7
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on September 5th 2017
Pages: 348
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Trevor MaxwellCoyote shifter with an attitudeCovert operatorTrusts no one, especially his devastatingly beautiful new partner

Alina BoschFormer CIA, newest operative on the covert teamHired to spy on her partnerMotto: "Never be deceived again."

Coyote shifter Trevor Maxwell is teamed up with CIA agent Alina Bosch to catch a killer. But when the mission becomes much more dangerous than they expected, they're going to have to ignore the attraction between them and learn how to trust one another to come out on the other side...

‘Her Dark Half’ is a book that has been coming for a long time, or at least the revelations in it, where the narrative arc comes to an end, so to speak, before another begins.

There’s clearly too much to recount here, but along with Alina’s and Trevor’s romance, Paige Tyler finally answers the questions (at least many of them) that I’d ranted about not being addressed in her previous books’ narratives that simply coasted along. For this reason, I’m not sure if this book would work as a standalone, because the more critical parts of the backstory and the buildup that happen in some of her past stories definitely would contribute to a fuller reading experience in this one.

I did like Alina/Trevor for most part, but most importantly, Alina’s deception wasn’t one that was held to the very end and then becoming the major conflict between her and Trevor. Paige Tyler simply had bigger fish to fry, too much action to write, more hybrids/shifters to put through the wringer and more bombs to drop on the unsuspecting reader. The opening up of the X-Ops world after this major shakeup is one that I’m definitely looking forward to and I’m really curious to see what else Tyler has in store after this.


Her True Match by Paige Tyler

Her True Match by Paige TylerHer True Match by Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops, #6
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on March 7th 2017
Pages: 352
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After a long game of cat-and-mouse

Feline shifter Dreya Clark picks the wrong penthouse to rob and ends up arrested by sexy detective Braden Hayes. But Braden isn’t the only one who’s been watching the cat burglar. Agents from the Department of Covert Operations swoop in to offer her a deal. If she wants to stay out of jail, she’ll have to work with them—and pair up with the hot cop. Great.

Danger throws this unlikely pair together

Braden isn’t thrilled about the DCO meddling in his investigation. He’s been chasing Dreya for years. Thrown together on a dangerous covert mission, fur flies and temperatures flare. But when danger closes in on them, their game of cat and mouse turns deadly-serious, and they’ll have to rely on each other to make it out alive.

The menagerie of animal shifters that I thought I’d be reading about so early in the series hasn’t yet come to pass and as I suspect, won’t ever. The shifters here merely shift partially, and Tyler does provide a believable-enough explanation for their genetic makeup and behaviour. The pairing of a shifter with a law-enforcement/ex-military character seems to be the default pairing here, though I’ve largely enjoyed the ways that they get together, and ‘Her True Match’ follows this self-same pattern. The cat thief and the cop is a pairing that had been set up in the previous book, so ‘Her True Match’ feels like a natural step for Braden and Dreya to come together.

I was nevertheless surprised to see how Braden and Dreya get on without the bumps I’d expected, but this—this relatively angst-free, easy get together—is probably a defining point as well of this series. Like others before them, Tyler made Braden/Dreya a pairing that get together without much difficulty, particularly since many of her her male heroes don’t seem to have any difficulty accepting that their heroines are part-feline with enhanced senses. The plot itself is interesting, as is the sub-plot and Trevor’s undercover role, though I thought Tyler’s focus on Ivy/Landon here as in all the other books gets tiring in a way that felt as if they are a pairing Tyler can’t let go of.

There are parts as well, that don’t seem to be addressed sufficiently or satisfactorily—Dreya being let off with stupid actions that seem to be beyond reproach, for instance. Keeping secrets from Braden despite the pledge of trust and partnership they make—with this indirectly leading to consequences that no one could have foreseen—yet having Braden think it is his fault (with his unfailing loyalty to a woman who might not fully deserve it) when Dreya hadn’t owned her own part in it put me off her quite a bit.

Still, that far down this series, I’m still not entire sure what to say about it. The villain’s villany grows—this does drag on as each book uncovers the villainy just a little bit more—as are there as well, parallel events that are anchored by Ivy/Landon as well as the hero/heroine of the next book to come. I’m invested enough to want to continue, though not jumping in excitement with the rather slow-moving overall narrative arc where the main characters still don’t seem to catch on quickly enough about the true motives of the bad guys.


Her Rogue Alpha by Paige Tyler

Her Rogue Alpha by Paige TylerHer Rogue Alpha by Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops #5
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on September 6th 2016
Pages: 320
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Former Special Forces Lieutenant Jayson Harmon can't believe that his war scars don't matter to beautiful feline shifter Layla Halliwell. Why would she saddle herself with a broken man?

But Layla knows that Jayson is a hero to the core, and that only she can heal his wounded soul. So when Jayson is deployed on another deadly mission, no way is Layla staying behind...

Layla and Jayson have been ‘teased’ as a pairing throughout this series, though their introduction is a soft one: Paige Tyler doesn’t do the whole pining-after-each-other rigmarole here and their first meeting and their (somewhat chaste) getting together take place off-screen, so to speak. But the time their book rolls around, they’re a couple with obstacles to overcome and ‘Her Rogue Alpha’ is partially that.

Unfortunately, the book proved to be quite a disappointment. Perhaps the most glaring point was the split between Layla/Jayson’s jaunt in Donetsk and a separate plot involving Ivy, Landon and a shifter thief. Set up more like a separate developing plots in an episode of a tv series, having this in print simply made it more distracting than engaging.

I was also left sceptically wondering whether a person with rather severe back injuries could do what Jayson did and continue to do some superhuman feats just because he’d believed he could. Whether the shifter hybrid serum worked or him or not wasn’t clear – even the extent to which it worked was deliberately left out – but it felt as though Tyler wanted us to believe that Jayson would and could live with the pain in his back (while doing whatever he could do without a magic cure), exacerbating it on missions and still watch Layla’s back like he used to be in the Special Forces.

I wished this could have been a more satisfying read – the potential was certainly there – but so much was set up in a way that had me alternating between frustration and incredulity that I found myself putting down the book and taking it up way too many times.


Her Wild Hero by Paige Tyler

Her Wild Hero by Paige TylerHer Wild Hero by Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops #3
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on May 5th 2015
Pages: 352
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Name: Kendra CarlsenRank: Trainer, Dept. of Covert OpsObjective: Get out of the office and into the field

Name: Declan MacBrideRank: Munitions Expert, Dept. of Covert OpsStatus: Bear ShifterObjective: Protect Kendra at all costs

The steamy Costa Rican jungle brings out the bear in Declan MacBride when he and new operative Kendra Carlsen are ambushed. In the midst of relying on each other to survive, and fighting his explosive attraction to Kendra, this shifter is about to lose control...

When Kendra and Declan were introduced in Paige Tyler’s X-Ops series in the first book, I had high hopes. Until I realised Tyler had set up a situation where Declan hankered after Kendra while Kendra hankered after Clayne (who’s the hero in the second) book, slept with him, and never quite gave up the infatuation, and someone else now hankers after her.

Call my idea of romance a narrow-minded one, but this setup inevitably made Kendra/Declan a pairing that was hard to swallow, let alone get invested in.

This alone made ‘Her Wild Hero’ a hard read to go through, though I was starting to feel as though the series was lagging, with the introduction of hybrids and ‘micro-situations’ that felt like filler scenarios to get a particular paring together, as well as provide opportunities for Landon’s ex-Special Forces team to get involved in DCO tasks.

Still, the biggest problem I have with this series so far however,—and it’s a glaring one—is the number of ‘unrequited’ pairings and the trial-and-error basis that some non-couples go through before ending up with their mates. Thankfully, it isn’t the grating idea of finding the only one destined for themselves as in Tyler’s Werewolf series, but that there’s just much more room for occasions where ‘second chances’—where one party finally notices another, for instance—just never live up to my own expectations.

If I thought Declan was an adorable gentle giant, I actually loathed Kendra. Not for her stunning abilities to take care of herself in the field, but that her obsession with Clayne, her sleeping with him, only to find out that they had no chemistry, her deliberate keeping it from Declan when she knew he and Clayne didn’t like each other, her subsequent rising interest in Declan only when her crush on Clayne didn’t work out…just weren’t sufficiently dealt with, at least enough to be satisfactory.

Throw in her stubborn and stupid comparisons of Declan to Clayne and I actually thought Declan was her backup option, despite declaration that he was the only man she should be with when he’d been in front of her all this time. Her refusal to see Declan on his own terms (it had to take sleeping with Clayne to show her that?!) until getting stuck in a jungle with him just didn’t seem to give her all-in with Declan any credence. And then the sudden switch 7 years later from Clayne, Clayne and Clayne to Declan simply made her indiscretion more unforgivable.

I wished ‘Her Wild Hero’ was a book that I could get on with, but the ranting above probably shows that I really thought of the pairing—loved the H, hated the Hr. Everything was just details, which in the end, I found myself skimming. Clearly the glowing reviews show that I’m probably the only one who feels this way, but this is going to make me tread more cautiously with this series from here onward.


Her Perfect Mate by Paige Tyler

Her Perfect Mate by Paige TylerHer Perfect Mate (X-Ops, #1) by Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on May 6th 2014
Pages: 316
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He's a High-Octane Special Ops Pro
When Special Forces Captain Landon Donovan is pulled from an op in Afghanistan, he is surprised to discover he's been hand-picked for a special assignment with the Department of Covert Operations (DCO), a secret division he's never heard of. Terrorists are kidnapping biologists and he and his partner have to stop them. But his new partner is a beautiful, sexy woman who looks like she couldn't hurt a fly-never mind take down a terrorist.

She's Not Your Average Covert Operative
Ivy Halliwell is no kitten. She's a feline shifter, and more dangerous than she looks. She's worked with a string of hotheaded military guys who've underestimated her special skills in the past. But when she's partnered with special agent Donovan, a man sexy enough to make any girl purr, things begin to heat up...

Shapeshifter mythology isn’t a new one to me, but the queasy thought of having a menagerie of animals (when I’d previously been selective of the type of shifter romances I’ve been reading) squawking around was probably the sole reason held me back from going into Paige Tyler’s X-ops series. But I’m glad I dived in nonetheless—even if this is to be considered my personal, baby step into expanding my idea of a shifter universe.

That said, the first book of a series can be a hard one to rate: there’s the introduction of a multitude of characters (all of whom you know will get a story of their own), a backstory, context and world-building, all of which, if not handled properly, can probably cause the book to go down quite spectacularly even before it has even begun. ‘Her Perfect Mate’ is a ‘soft’ introduction so to speak, with a feline shapeshifter paired with a military alpha hero who thankfully doesn’t mansplain or behave in a way that makes you want to swing a block of concrete in his face. By and large, I did buy into Landon’s and Ivy’s romance, though I think I’m probably looking forward to the other pairings that have already been hinted at here.

As with romantic suspense however, villainy and heroism tend to be juxtaposed as extremes—bad is bad, good is good—with no in-betweens. Here, it does get laughable at times, where the cliché is stretched so far that I started to wonder if the bad guys should start wearing faux moustaches and announce their arrivals with evil-sounding snickers. Tyler however, does inject some bits with her trademark, understated humour and that went a long way in making the story a lot more enjoyable.

That said, the good part of getting into a series so late is that there isn’t a wait between books and yes, I’m already diving into the next one.


The Ones Who Got Away by Roni Loren

The Ones Who Got Away by Roni LorenThe Ones Who Got Away by Roni Loren
Series: The Ones Who Got Away #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on January 2nd 2018
Pages: 384
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Liv's words cut off as Finn got closer. The man approaching was nothing like the boy she'd known. The bulky football muscles had streamlined into a harder, leaner package and the look in his deep green eyes held no trace of boyish innocence.

It's been twelve years since tragedy struck the senior class of Long Acre High School. Only a few students survived that fateful night—a group the media dubbed The Ones Who Got Away.

Liv Arias thought she'd never return to Long Acre—until a documentary brings her and the other survivors back home. Suddenly her old flame, Finn Dorsey, is closer than ever, and their attraction is still white-hot. When a searing kiss reignites their passion, Liv realizes this rough-around-the-edges cop might be exactly what she needs...

I’d be hard-pressed to say that the second-chance romance trope is one that’s always believable or easy to swallow. Roni Loren however, presents one of the most unusual and unique premises for reconciliation and reunion that this particular trope gains firm standing in circumstances wrought by extreme trauma that you can’t help but accept and understand why people can and do go their separate ways.

PTSD isn’t a cut and dried issue according to Loren and not typically confined to just the military heroes that seem to walk around bearing this tag in romantic fiction. It’s complicated and not just something that’s shrugged away. Reactions to trauma differ and for this reason, Liv and Finn struggle in their own ways (she through the self-destructive habits of drunkenness and promiscuity and Finn by channelling his efforts into law enforcement) to cope. Yet both are realistically flawed and behave in a way that shows a type of maturity that goes beyond just growing up.

I liked Finn more than I liked Liv and clearly my own preference is rearing its head here—I generally find it hard to sympathise with characters who are self-destructive in the way that they use people sexually to self-medicate while lacking the self-respect and dignity to get therapy until they hit rock bottom. Liv’s reckless, loose-cannon-type personality that was a front for running away (Loren reminds us of this quite a few times about the many men she went through), in contrast to Finn’s driving need to right this particular aspect of society’s wrongs, felt more self-indulgent than beneficial (in the way Finn had centred his own career around it) even though those demons driving the both of them were essentially the same.

If the first quarter of the story was stellar however, I thought the pacing lagged a little in the middle as Finn and Liv danced around the same issues of wanting more but not wanting to step out to make the out-of-the-comfort-zone decision. After Finn/Liv agreeing to spend the weekends together, I thought the plot didn’t seem to move forward very much, up until the point at the end where they finally decided to give a real relationship a go.

Loren’s evocative writing nonetheless, brings to light the complexity of these struggles and the impossibility of outrunning these traumatic memories. It’s a series I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for and I can’t wait to see what tropes Loren will write into her next few books.