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Catalyst by Rachel Grant

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 24th October 2017
Catalyst by Rachel GrantCatalyst by Rachel Grant
Series: Flashpoint #2
Published by Janus Publishing on November 21st 2017
Pages: 350
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three-stars

When a food storage depot in famine-struck South Sudan is torched, American aid worker Brie Stewart flees, only to land in a market where she’s the next item up for auction. Is the attack on the aid facility another assault upon the war-torn fledgling democracy, or has her family set her up as a pawn in their quest for oil rights?

Chief Warrant Officer Sebastian Ford crossed paths with Brie years ago when she was a shill for her family’s company, pushing a pipeline that threatened his tribe’s land. Determined to lead the rescue operation to save her, he won’t let her abduction—or the attraction that flares between them—get in the way of settling their unfinished business.

The Green Beret’s skills are put to the test in the flooded grasslands of South Sudan, where they must battle nature and dangerous factions who are after more than oil. Bastian and Brie put their hearts on the line as they find themselves embroiled in a conflict that extends beyond country and continent. Together they must douse the spark before it reaches the flashpoint and engulfs everything they hold dear.

I’ve always thought of Rachel Grant as the romantic suspense author who goes where good authors of this sub-genre go, then where most books actually end, takes it a breath-stealing mile further. Where entire books would have been written around a sex-trafficking plot, Grant integrates hers with a smartly-written overview of cultural anthropology, native American issues and the knife-edge balance of the socio-political situation in Africa that makes her Flashpoint series beyond excellent.

‘Catalyst’ is written pretty much in the same vein as its predecessor: thrilling, engaging and entirely absorbing, particularly if you love the kind of geopolitical background (with some corporate dirt thrown in) that Grant painstakingly unravels—which I do—in a part of the world that’s hardly written about in such books. For that alone, I can’t wax lyrical enough about this series, which is akin to seeing a complex chess-piece that’s put together in a narrative arc that makes it feel as though there’s yet unfinished business to conclude.

It’s also almost a given that her characters are equally multifaceted, and it’s my own fault that I didn’t quite warm to Brie and Bastian at all, with the former being more manipulatively needy and self-pitying because of her past than I expected, while the latter was too careless with people and unashamedly being Bastian the bastard about it. The games they later played with each other because neither of them could get a handle on commitment also didn’t help my ability to like Brie/Bastian as a pairing while as Brie’s ‘rich girl’s woe-is-me penance’ got tiring after a while. That said, the first half of ‘Catalyst’ enthralled me more than the second, where I found I needed to suspend disbelief a bit more when it seemed that many of the mysterious threads laid out so intricately in the first half were actually tied together by an obsessive man in Brie’s past.

The action and suspense are nonetheless very well-done and I was especially taken by the hostile tension between Savannah James and Cal whose book I hope Grant tackles next, as much as I loved the appearance of one of Grant’s best heroes in the Evidence series here.

three-stars

Tinderbox by Rachel Grant

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 2nd March 2017
Tinderbox by Rachel GrantTinderbox by Rachel Grant
Series: Flashpoint, #1
Published by Janus Publishing on February 14th 2017
Pages: 302
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four-stars

In the volatile tinderbox of the Horn of Africa, Morgan Adler has made the paleoanthropological find of a lifetime. The discovery brings her to the attention of a warlord eager to claim both Morgan and the fossils, forcing her to make a desperate dash to the nearby US military base to beg for protection.
Master Sergeant Pax Blanchard has orders to intercept Dr. Adler before she reaches the base, and in so doing saves her life. After a harrowing afternoon he safely delivers her to his commanders, only to find his responsibilities toward protecting the obstinate archaeologist have only just begun.
Morgan and Pax are forced to work together in the Djiboutian desert heat, but it is the fire that ignites between them that threatens to combust them both. For the Green Beret, involvement with the woman he must protect is a threat to his career, while for the archaeologist, the soldier is everything she never wanted but somehow can’t resist. When Morgan uncovers a mystery surrounding Djibouti’s most scarce and vital resource, the danger to her reaches the flashpoint. For Pax, protecting her is no longer a matter of following orders, and he’ll risk everything to bring her back alive.

Rachel Grant’s stories—academically-inclined with scorching hot romance and suspense— simply satisfy the geek lurking in me, to be honest. The talk of paleoanthropology, archaeology and every geek thing out there gets my juices going and ‘Tinderbox’ made me lap it all up, wide-eyed. All of it. Including the detailed explanations of the volatile geopolitics of the Horn of Africa and the warring interests of the US, China and the surrounding African states that came through the characters’ dialogues. Grant’s intelligent writing is just that riveting really, with compelling characters and even smarter villains whose endgames aren’t revealed until after a series of twists and turns that will get any romantic suspense fan enthralled.

In fact, I’d call it fictional-realism for the blend that we get of Grant’s own archaeological experiences and her fantastic storytelling.

‘Tinderbox’ starts like any summer blockbuster movie: we are thrust straight into explosive action, characters at odds with each other and a location where few people would venture voluntarily. From there onwards, it’s a journey of mind-bending turns and slow cranks of the screw as the tension rackets up both in the region and for both Pax Blanchard and Morgan Adler. Perhaps the better question would be: how large would the blast radius be when it all finally ignites? And at the centre of it all, are Grant’s protagonists whose push-pull relationship finally reaches a point where some kind of stand needs to be made because the kind of circumstances they face simply don’t allow for anything else.

I did like Pax and the quiet competence that he showed, though it was harder to take to Morgan. So competent academically and physically, yet like a rebellious, immature teenager when it comes to mastering her own emotions and daddy-issues, she came across at times too much as a pushy, petulant teen than a knowledgeable PhD holder who should have known better than to bait Pax for sex (her lowest point for me) simply because her pride had taken a hit when she couldn’t accept Pax’s reasons for not wanting to pursue their relationship.

Fighting hard for women’s equality to be in a man’s world has been a recurring theme in Grant’s books and I do think it’s something that definitely resonates with me, though not if it results in a female lead sacrificing good sense and maturity in the process which I felt Morgan had done. Yet there’s no denying how much of a badass she could be when it all culminated in a thrilling and drawn-out action-packed climax that kept me turning the pages.

My own personal bias states that Grant isn’t an author to be passed up. ‘Tinderbox’ merely confirms this.

four-stars
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