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A Cold Dark Promise by Toni Anderson

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 21st November 2017
A Cold Dark Promise by Toni AndersonA Cold Dark Promise by Toni Anderson
Series: Cold Justice #8.5
on November 14th 2017
Pages: 144
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five-stars

In the midst of wedding preparations, a shadowy figure from Alex Parker's past reappears and threatens the joy he’s found with Mallory Rooney.

Four years ago, Jane Sanders’s rich and powerful ex-husband kidnapped their young daughter and Jane hasn’t seen her since. Now she finally has a lead on her location and she knows just the man to help her get her daughter back. Trouble is, he’s an assassin. And he terrifies her.

Despite his upcoming nuptials, Alex agrees to help, but it doesn’t take long for the routine operation to turn complicated—and deadly. Can the former CIA operative make it home in time to marry the woman he loves, or will his dark past destroy all hope for their future?

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect of ‘A Cold Dark Promise’—the wedding novella of Alex Parker and Mal Rooney—except for the fact that it was a long time in coming, circling back to the original couple that sparked off the whole Cold Justice series. After all, Mal’s unending pregnancy was starting to feel like the official ‘measurement’ for the time it took for all of the series’s characters to fall in love and get their HEA.

‘A Cold Dark Promise’ is nonetheless a special one: Alex Parker is the enigmatic, mysterious brooding man who started it all and I’m pleasantly surprised to see him as the more compassionate man who had grown some funnies along the way as the rest of the Cold Justice books went by. Despite him popping up here and there in other books as a supporting character, I simply liked seeing him taking centre stage again after all this time.

Anderson’s dry British humour flexes its mighty muscles here (unless I’m not supposed to laugh, which means I’ve gotten it so wrong), and that definitely made the book more lighthearted and fun read than the rest of her other Cold Justice books. Her characters were pulled out of their usual comfort zones to do things they didn’t normally do (the Parker/Frazer bromance!) in a last-minute op that had the characters flying by the seat of their pants. Now this was a thoroughly enjoyable experience to read about, all the more so with the slight comedic elements thrown in with the suspense and thrills.

The reunion of all the cast members simply shows how far we’ve come in the series and I think I simply fangirled each time my favourite couples poked their noses out and came out to play, even for a sentence or two. For a novella and a sort-of roundup to the series (though Anderson promises it isn’t the end), ‘A Cold Dark Promise’ packs a huge punch—it’s brilliant, hilarious in parts and proof positive that a wedding could still go off without a hitch (barely) because it took a village for that to happen.

five-stars

Cold Malice by Toni Anderson

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 17th September 2017
Cold Malice by Toni AndersonCold Malice by Toni Anderson
Series: Cold Justice #8
Published by Toni Anderson on September 12th 2017
Pages: 326
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four-stars

ASAC Steve (Mac) McKenzie is out to prove himself by leading a task force investigating a series of murders in the heart of Washington, DC. His undercover work in an antigovernment compound twenty years earlier is related—as is the sweet, innocent girl he befriended back then. Now that girl is a beautiful woman, and she has something to hide.

Tess Fallon spent a lifetime trying to outrun her family’s brand of bigotry, but someone is threatening her anonymity by using the anniversary of her father’s death to carry out evil crimes and she’s terrified her younger brother is involved. She sets out to find the truth and comes face-to-face with a man she once idolized, a man she thought long dead. As the crimes escalate it becomes obvious the killer has an agenda, and Tess and Mac are running out of time to stop him.

Will the perpetrator use a decades-old dream of revolution to attack the federal government? And will the fact that Tess and Mac have fallen hard for each other give a cold-hearted killer the power to destroy them both?

What begins as seemingly unrelated, cold-blooded murders appears to be an act of white supremacist leanings and at the heart of it would be a woman whose father was the leader of such a group, who also, twenty years ago, had been freed of that life when Steve McKenzie worked undercover at their complex. But 2 decades isn’t long enough apparently, for some ghosts to stay buried and this time, Mac’s reentry into Tess Fallon’s life is anything but coincidence when the resurrection of the dogmas of white nationalists begins with a rising body count of specifically targeted individuals.

I’m going to say from the start that ‘Cold Malice’ is a jaw-dropping, romantic-suspense-at-its-finest type of read. With multifaceted, fully fleshed out protagonists at its helm, the conflict around which the plot is centred has such chilling relevance for the times we live in, lending the whole story a believability that makes Anderson’s brand of fiction as large as reality. In fact, it’s so intricately plotted, so heart-poundingly intense and just so well done that I couldn’t put the book down, even when sleep was calling.

And where do I even begin with Toni Anderson’s characters? Tess Fallon in this case, had wholly won me over. She’s everything I love in a heroine: brave, loyal, protective and so strong as she fights a parentage anyone would be ashamed of. I couldn’t blame her at all for not fully trusting Mac for simply showing up 20 years with a different identity then demanding her cooperation; coupled with the fact that she had to pay for her family’s sins and run from a past that wasn’t even quite her own—compounded by the FBI who vilified her—felt like a massively unfair position she’d been put in. That she’d dealt with it the only way she knew how to—by protecting her brother, by keeping some walls up—was not only understandable, but justified.

On the other hand, it was harder to like Mac, whose own conflict about his job and Tess’s involvement in the case left him indecisive about her. Using their connection to further his investigations merely served to confirm how much of an arse he could be and there were numerous instances when I thought Tess deserved better for the crap she’d been dealt from all sides.

My only complaint (which probably seems like a petty one given how excellent everything else is) is that as a romance, the speedy conclusion seems to do a disservice to Tess, where Mac’s major grovelling session which I absolutely needed to see never really happened at all. I didn’t think he’d redeemed himself enough to earn back her affection when all he’d done was to put his job above her, with his doubts blindingly overshadowing what he really felt for her. With a fairly quick resolution, I felt that this important bit where broken parts of a relationship are repaired had been glossed over, leaving me with a pairing that seemed to have done their making up and talking behind closed doors.

Then again, it isn’t as if this should throw any shade on Anderson’s fantastic writing. ‘Cold Malice’ is yet another masterpiece of hers and I’m actually convinced that this author does RS so well that she’s actually suited to writing for the big screen. Needless to say, I’m already asking, when’s the next full novel coming?

four-stars

Cold Secrets by Toni Anderson

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 7th February 2017
Cold Secrets by Toni AndersonCold Secrets by Toni Anderson
Series: Cold Justice #7
Published by Toni Anderson on January 31st 2017
Pages: 360
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four-stars

When an international ring of sex traffickers kidnaps an eight-year-old girl in Boston, FBI Agent Lucas Randall heads undercover. But his rescue operation goes disastrously wrong and Lucas barely escapes with his life. Now the ruthless traffickers are hunting him down, along with everyone else who threatens their operation.
Computer expert Ashley Chen joined the FBI to fight against evil in the world—evil she experienced firsthand. She has mad skills, and deadly secrets, and once she starts working with Lucas, she also has big trouble, because after years of pushing people away, she’s falling for the guy. The feeling is more than mutual, but as Ashley intensifies her online pursuit of the trafficking ring, her traumatic past collides with her present and suddenly Lucas can’t tell which side she’s on. And as the case escalates into a high-stakes game of cat and mouse, it turns out Ashley isn’t the only one with something to hide.
If neither can trust the other with their secrets, how can they trust each other with their hearts?

It has been a while since the last Cold Justice book, but I’m glad this one came just as the year began.

It’s best to say right out that I’ve always admired Toni Anderson’s writing. Her stories are always credible, well-plotted, well-written and so realistic as they deal with issues that we face today—thrown in with a very hot dose of romance and steamy times. I’ve more or less liked her protagonists as well (some of them clearly more than others) in the Cold Justice series, but ‘Cold Secrets’ is special because I’ve wait so long for Lucas Randall’s book and this good guy didn’t disappoint. I loved his compassion, his need to always do the right thing even as he struggled with his growing feelings for Ashley Chen and her deception and most of all, just how forthright and directly about what he really wanted. Ashley however, was a little harder to like, even though there is a lot to admire about her: strong, determined, headstrong yet these very qualities did eventually lead to unforeseen consequences where others were affected negatively because of her actions.

Yet the biggest surprise I’ve had so far, is the consistent (but never unwelcome) involvement of Alex Parker, the shadowy figure who really spearheaded this series. He remains one of the most standout romantic heroes that I’ve ever read, and I can only say that I’ve more than enjoyed how he keeps popping up even though he’s on the periphery of all the FBI action.

Anderson’s deft handling of gangs and cultural knowledge of the Asian community definitely came through here and I was fascinated to not just go through the twists and turns of the suspense, but also her nuanced representation of this group of people which didn’t fall into any stereotypical depictions at all. Even her villains are as memorable as her heroes/heroines, multifaceted and smart enough to present a challenge.

Overall, ‘Cold Secrets’ is a very satisfying read, but that’s probably because I loved every moment with Lucas and Alex in it.

four-stars

Cold Hearted by Toni Anderson

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 2nd June 2016
Cold Hearted by Toni AndersonCold Hearted by Toni Anderson
Series: Cold Justice, #6
Published by Toni Anderson on May 31st 2016
Pages: 333
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three-stars

Detective Erin Donovan expects life to quiet down after the arrest and conviction of a serial rapist who terrified her university town last summer. Then two young women are brutally slain and the murders bear all the hallmarks of the campus rapist. Did Erin arrest an innocent man? Now her job is at stake and tensions are high and just when it looks like things can’t get worse, her department gets the help it needs to solve the double homicide—in the form of a man Erin has never been able to forget.

FBI Agent Darsh Singh has no interest in reliving the past. Three years ago, his feelings for Erin Donovan had him breaking all his rules about getting involved. Now his only interest in the former NYPD detective is figuring out if she screwed up a rape investigation and helped send an innocent man to prison. But being forced to work together rekindles their old attraction, and as Darsh and Erin fall for each other, the campus predator fixates on Erin. The race is on to identify the ruthless killer before he makes Erin his final victim.

Darsh Singh and Erin Donovan have a short history: a brief hook-up that ended spectacularly in flames when a revelation thereafter shook both their worlds. Their reunion three years later happens in the powder-keg of a crime case to which Darsh is assigned; two women are brutally assaulted in the wake of a conviction a few months earlier, a repeat of a crime that has everyone thinking that Erin Donovan had in fact, thrown the wrong person in jail. Darsh and Erin need to get to the bottom of the case fast, while fighting the intense attraction that had never really gone away.

Like with most of Toni Anderson’s books, I liked several bits and struggled with others. Much of the book is the grind of hard-core police work: canvassing around, dealing with red-herrings and suspects who may or may not be the perpetrator. Like a driven, intense police procedural that tends to pepper the small screen these days, ‘Cold Hearted’ magically weaves that spell of dread and mystery. Yet the story, constructed around campus crime, is also about a multitude of topics: diversity along ethnic lines, domestic violence and abuse, all reflected in varying shades in the the characters that grace its pages. Perhaps what is most surprising is that I found myself more taken with the secondary characters than the main ones at times; college kids in the foreground as well as the periphery caught up in the scandal who had a core of loyalty (but a juvenile way of showing it) and a huge sense of justice that made me like them a lot.

Yet if Ms. Anderson’s characters are strong and capable, they were flawed in a way that challenged my own personal tolerance limits. Dark, brooding, tortured hero? Tick. With a temper problem that doesn’t quite cross into violence? Sure. Has OCD? Bring it on. Has a problem with stunted emotions? I’d say we play for the same team. The list could go on, until we hit something from which I’ll walk away. There are a few hard limits that I have even in fiction but cheating – even if it’s weakly justified in the book – raises every red flag for me. For this reason, I did have issues with what Erin had done, yet I understood and even admired her grit for doing what she did. Darsh on the other hand, is an easier character to place and categorise for his strong moral core – rightfully furious about having been complicit, unwittingly or not in adultery – and his dedication to his work.

Despite my personal reservations, ‘Cold Hearted’ is gifted storytelling at work, engaging and compelling in spite of what I didn’t like about the pairing. The unfolding murder mystery beckoned to me more than the sometimes farcical drama that Darsh/Erin were caught in and somehow, even that was enough.

three-stars
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