Tag: mystery-crime

Deadly Intent by Pamela Clare

Deadly Intent by Pamela ClareDeadly Intent by Pamela Clare
Series: I-Team, #8
Published by Pamela Clare on February 21st 2018
Pages: 238
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four-stars

Secrets buried in the sand…

Former US Army Captain Mia Starr has built a new life for herself in Denver, far away from camel spiders and sand—and the terrible secrets of her first deployment to Iraq. She isn’t looking for a relationship, especially not with an intrusive photojournalist. Joaquin Ramirez might be sexy, but in her experience, photojournalists only want to make a buck off other people’s suffering. Still, the universe must have a sick sense of humor because it keeps throwing her together with Joaquin, making the desire she feels for him harder and harder to resist.

An undeniable attraction…

As a Pulitzer Prize-winning news photographer, Joaquin has everything a single straight guy could want—except the right woman. When he meets Mia while shooting a crime scene, he immediately sees beyond her cold exterior to the vulnerable woman beneath. Though the police consider her a suspect, he’s sure she’s innocent. Someone is killing soldiers—and trying to pin the blame on her. Unable to resist the pull between them, Joaquin stands by her only to find himself snared in the killer’s net as well.

A twisted soul hungry for revenge…

Mia can’t help it when the heat between her and Joaquin melts away her preconceptions. As their passion explodes, danger draws ever closer. When it becomes clear that Mia is the killer’s true target, she must trust Joaquin with a secret that could ruin her … or risk losing the love of a lifetime.

‘Deadly Intent’ is a reminder of how much I’ve missed Pamela Clare’s I-Team series, or rather the kind of romantic suspense that I’ve always associated Clare with, given the sharp ring of authenticity that comes from the author’s own journalistic background.

A bit of a confession here: it did take me a while to warm up to the idea of Joaquin Ramirez having his own story—I’d frankly forgotten about him after Zach/Natalie’s book—but Clare has a way of shaping him into a romantic hero that I championed wholly by the first quarter of the story.

And how far he’d come since then.

As a photojournalist, Joaquin broke some moulds which won me over quickly: instead of the gun-toting alpha male with bulging muscles who was ex-military (nor did he occupy expensive real estate in a security company while running around jaded and cynical), we got red-hot salsa moves and an impressive amount of heart he had for people around him. For that alone, I was sold on this very compelling protagonist whom I knew needed someone special to see him for who he was.

For all the heroines I’d ever imagined for Joaquin, I never expected the idea of a former military Captain as his other half but had no problem falling straight into this pairing hook, line and sinker once their relationship progressed beyond their rocky start. Much of their story was riveting enough—from their first dance that had me fanning myself to the seamless buildup and their crackling chemistry—that I got through ‘Deadly Intent’ in a matter of hours, then itched immediately to go back and re-read it.

The writing style is a little different here but ‘Deadly Intent’ is an excellent example of a more straight-forward RS read, not quite carrying the same complexity or unpredictability (plot-wise) as a few of Clare’s other I-team books, yet still well-paced with multifaceted protagonists whom I knew I could cheer for. It also bears the hallmarks of Clare’s collaborative efforts with another RS writer Kaylea Cross (another author whom I follow) and consequently, has a different feel to it, carrying a mesh of styles and subject-matter, along with the darker overtones of sexual assault and harassment of women in the military resonating deeply in the wake of the #MeToo hashtag dominating the media of late.

All things considered, I thought this was still a fabulous read. Revisiting the I-Team simply reminded me how much I liked Marc/Julian’s bromance and while catching up with Clare’s other couples was a hoot, I’m hoping that even with Joaquin/Mia’s iron-clad HEA, Clare has more in the works to come.

four-stars

Watching You by Leslie A. Kelly

Watching You by Leslie A. KellyWatching You by Leslie A. Kelly
Series: Hollywood Heat #1
Published by Forever Yours on March 13th 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars

In the shadows, someone is always watchingAspiring screenwriter Jessica Jensen grew up on movies starring heartthrob Reece Winchester, the eldest brother of a Hollywood dynasty. She never thought she'd meet the man in person, though. Actor, director, millionaire, and gorgeous mystery man-he's every woman's fantasy.

Reece wants Jessica the moment he sees her, and he's a man who always gets what he wants. At first he was only after a night in her bed, but as he comes to know the smart, confident woman beneath the stunning exterior, he realizes once will never be enough.

Unfortunately, Jessica's real-life Cinderella story is about to take a deadly turn...

Reece's world is filled with fierce ambition and dark family secrets the Winchesters desperately want to hide. But he and his brothers aren't the only ones who know those secrets. Someone else is out there, waiting to strike. Waiting-and always watching.

When danger finally steps out of the shadows, Reece will have to face his past. And Jessica will have to decide just how far she can trust the man she loves with her heart...and her life.

‘Watching You’ reads like the establishing book of a series that it is: there’s a big back story kept under lock and key for ages, loose hanging threads that don’t necessarily come together, multiple POVs that aren’t confined to the male/female protagonists and possibly a cliffhanger which no one’s fond of.

And it’s tricky business, I understand, because the first book always needs to get the narrative arc just right without compromising the romance while leaving too many loose ends. A little of the Cinderella story is also written into this by nature of the plot (top director with an unknown, aspiring screenwriter), though Leslie A. Kelly’s version of Hollywood is one that’s filled with backstabbing nasties, sudden danger, numerous characters with their own less-than-noble agendas and the putrid stink of catty insincerity.

The start was admittedly a hard one for me, and made me question the ‘legitimacy’ of the pairing, so to speak. I found it difficult to understand Reece’s sudden, inexplicable obsession over a woman whom he’d first seen through security cameras, let alone his setting up a first meeting in such a calculated way that it simply came out as creepy.

Love at first sight seemed a rather mild way of putting what felt like a stalkerish situation, given the manipulatively controlling manner that Reece used to manoeuvre Jessica into his planned seduction. I was mollified however, as the author acknowledged this misstep of his and then later rectified it with several twists in the story that sort of helped tilt my worldview upright again. Kudos as well, to a heroine who pushed back and called Reeces out for behaviour that can’t and shouldn’t be excused.

I found myself absorbed nonetheless, as the story came slowly (maybe a little too slowly) together. There were many loose, hanging threads, multiple POVs that came in later in the book, which merely expanded the puzzle that I thought would have started coming together by the three-quarter-mark of the story. What I also thought of as interlinked incidents turned out to be somewhat entirely separate issues and not tied together in the greater mystery of Reece’s shady past that Kelly had been constantly hinting at, and that was somewhat disconcerting given the build-up. It did however, come out as a flood of revelations at the end worthy of a Hollywood climax, though it shouldn’t have been too much of a shock considering what has been dominating the celebrity-world headlines in the past few months.

As the first book in the series, ‘Watching You’ is more than a decent read. There were parts I couldn’t totally get on board with, but there is a goodly amount of suspense, intrigue and mystery to keep me past my bedtime, and Kelly has sunk the 3 Winchester brothers deep enough in my book psyche for me to be wanting the rest of their stories.

three-stars

Bones Don’t Lie by Melinda Leigh

Bones Don’t Lie by Melinda LeighBones Don't Lie by Melinda Leigh
Series: Morgan Dane #3
Published by Montlake Romance on March 13th 2018
Pages: 348
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five-stars

Private investigator Lance Kruger was just a boy when his father vanished twenty-three years ago. Since then he’s lived under the weight of that disappearance—until his father’s car is finally dredged up from the bottom of Grey Lake. It should be a time for closure, except for the skeleton found in the trunk. A missing person case gone cold has become one of murder, and Lance and attorney Morgan Dane must face the deadly past that’s risen to the surface.

For Lance, the investigation yields troubling questions about a man he thought he knew. But memories can play dirty tricks. For Morgan, uncovering each new lie comes with a disquieting fear that someone is out there watching, because someone is killing every witness tied to this decades-old crime. Morgan and Lance follow in the shadows of a relentless killer and walk right into the cross fire.

Melinda Leigh’s ‘Morgan Dane’ books are always gripping and suspenseful, locking you down with a twisty case and protagonists who work together so well that you can’t help but love them. I’ve enjoyed every one of those as much as I loved Morgan and Lance, and Leigh certainly doesn’t disappoint with ‘Bones Don’t Lie’, with a case that strikes too close to home for Lance.

Every time I think Leigh can’t do any better, she manages to surprise me once again, starting with pushing Morgan/Lance (somewhat) quietly to the top of my best fictional couples list. Individually, Lance and Morgan are fascinating, complex characters; together, their connection to each other simply feels like a solid entity that is the only constant in this maelstrom. In fact, the tense, unfolding murder mystery is contrasted with the respect and love Morgan/Lance had for each other, even as their slowly maturing relationship is tested with a significant discovery linked to Lance’s unresolved past.

The romance is slight, given that Lance and Morgan are already involved, so the focus in ‘Bones Don’t Lie’ is solely on the murder mystery which is, in itself, remarkable and creepy in its own right as it makes you question all you know about law enforcement  and the contradictions so inherent in human personalities.

Still, I inhaled every line that detailed Morgan/Lance’s interactions—Leigh infuses so much depth and subtlety in crafting these characters—that it’s merely a foregone conclusion that this pairing would only come out stronger and better for it. I love Morgan’s unwavering sense of justice, her own protectiveness towards her children as much as I love Lance’s ability to listen and pull back while not compromising his own integrity and honour. Reading about the other characters in the Scarlet Falls series made me only giddier, though that merely reinforces just how much I need more of Morgan and Lance.

five-stars

True to You by Jennifer Ryan

True to You by Jennifer RyanTrue to You by Jennifer Ryan
Series: Montana Heat #2
Published by Avon on February 27th 2018
Pages: 384
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three-half-stars

A Montana Man risks everything for the woman he loves . . .

Undercover DEA Special Agent Dawson King spent five months in a Montana prison establishing a fake identity to take down a ruthless drug dealer and put him behind bars. Except there’s a wild card . . . the killer’s beloved daughter. Cara Potter may appear to be on the right side of the law, but King has learned the hard way to trust no one—even someone as tantalizing as the coffee shop owner. She’s irresistible . . . but is she also dangerous?

From the moment he enters her life, King makes Cara . . . nervous. The handsome drifter says he wants to get his life together . . . but there is something about him that doesn’t quite ring true. Cara wants to believe in him, yet she holds back despite the way he awakens dormant dreams and leaves her breathless with his sexy smile, steamy kisses, his every touch.

When the explosive truth comes out and she’s betrayed by the ones she loves, Cara must decide—can she trust her heart, or should she listen to her head?

Sometimes book covers can be deceiving, which do a great disservice to the stories in them. What looks like a cowboy romance is in fact, a romantic suspense (yay for me) novel that I would have missed out if I hadn’t taken the time to pick the blurb apart.

Jennifer Ryan is a new author to me, but ‘True to You’ is a fantastic introduction to her writing style; the story is an articulate read, done for most part, in a way where I didn’t find myself bored or skimming through what I usually call ‘filler pages’.

Cara and King were relatable protagonists and good together, and Ryan certainly didn’t waste any time setting up the scene for their paths to intersect. The on-the-edge, delicious tension between them tightened with each fine line that King crossed, as he desperately juggled his attraction to Cara and his work, while trying to be the good guy in the whole thing. But the usual problem with undercover work as a plot device is as always, the extent and depth of the deception (no matter how King tried to mitigate the damage) that cuts to the core, particularly when Cara paid yet again for it, with her already eroded trust in people who had betrayed her in the past.

The story was a little roundabout however—I did have some questions swirling around that weren’t satisfactorily addressed from the start, as were the lack of differentiation of speech/characters at times—and it did take me a while to unravel the facts on my own and get the whole plot straight before I could fully get on board with it. There were also several repetitive lines profiling the characters that didn’t feel necessary, as was the choppy pacing towards the end.

The climax happened at the 3/4 mark, leaving quite a long resolution that was filled with angst, inner monologues and huge emotional turmoil in both Cara and King, the latter of whom seemed to have ‘softened’ so much from the hardline, driven guy we saw in the breathtaking first few chapters. I’d hoped to see more action—more DEA agents scurrying around and King working in his element—in my romantic suspense reads in any case, which simply stopped after the climax took place after a short build-up. Also, with King referred to as ‘Flash’ and ‘Dawson’ as well, then Bennett as ‘Jay’ (all in the same scene) so the name changes threw me off sometimes.

‘True to You’ was in all, a good read, though not a perfect one. Still, Ryan is someone I’d be looking out for the next time something of hers gets published.

three-half-stars

The Longest Silence by Debra Webb

The Longest Silence by Debra WebbThe Longest Silence by Debra Webb
Series: Shades of Death #4
Published by Mira Books on March 6th 2018
Pages: 336
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three-stars

Joanna Guthrie was free. She had been for eleven years--or so she needed everyone to believe. What really happened during the longest eighteen days of her life, when she and two other women were held captive by a dangerous serial killer, wasn't something she could talk about. Not with him watching. Not unless she wanted to end up like the ones who didn't make it out.

But when more women go missing in an eerily similar manner, Jo knows her prolonged silence will only seal their fates. She's finally ready to talk; she just needs someone to listen. FBI special agent Tony LeDoux can't deny he finds Jo compelling--he's just not sure he believes her story. But with the clock ticking, Jo will do anything to convince him, even if it means unearthing long-buried secrets that will land them squarely in the crosshairs of the killer...

Anthony LeDoux is a familiar character to those who have been following Debra Webb’s ‘Shades of Death’ series. Here, he’s a pale and rather pathetic version of his uptight self in the previous 3 books—a jobless alcoholic after the breakdown of his marriage and an emblem, so to speak, of an FBI hero who, because of his hubris, has fallen far and in sore need of redemption. The latest case that involves his missing niece might just offer him that, but not before he encounters a survivor of a long-ago crime that bears a chilling similarity to this case.

‘The Longest Silence’ sits in the suspense/thriller genre than in the romantic suspense one: LeDoux and Jo’s relationship is superficial and one that’s established because of a common motive they have in wanting to solve the mystery. Their hookup is made out to be a meaningless one from the start and thereafter, not entirely mentioned again; the hot-and-heavy never quite happens and neither do their growing feelings for each other. Their interactions thereafter consist of LeDoux trying to uncover what Joanna has been hiding from him as well as his running from place to place in desperation to form a credible picture of the entire crime scene and timeline.

Unlike Webb’s previous books in this series, I found myself less captivated by LeDoux and Jo than I was with Bobbie Gentry and Nick Shade. If I admired Bobbie’s immense strength and fortitude and was somewhat seduced by Nick’s enigmatic personality and the demons that haunted him, I couldn’t quite say the same for Ledoux and Jo as a pair. Webb’s superb writing kept me engrossed in the growing mystery and suspense and after I started looking at this book without its romantic elements—which was easy to do—LeDoux and Jo simply became protagonists that I didn’t find myself personally getting invested in. I was instead, thrilled to see cameos by Bobbie and Nick—their presence and rare HEA made this book for me—whose introduction towards the end of the book also proved its turning point.

‘The Longest Silence’ is nonetheless an engrossing read as it keeps you guessing how the connections are eventually going to work out. There are parts of the story that left me sceptical, but there’s no denying that Webb’s storytelling is masterful, but those who are looking for the tiniest speck of romance however, might find themselves disappointed.

three-stars

Protected by Elisabeth Naughton

Protected by Elisabeth NaughtonProtected by Elisabeth Naughton
Series: Deadly Secrets #3
Published by Montlake Romance on March 20th 2018
Pages: 304
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four-stars

Up-and-coming designer Kelsey McClane is on the cusp of success. Recently divorced, she should be enjoying her newfound freedom and glamorous future. Instead, she’s living in fear of the past. When she returns home to Portland on a press tour, danger creeps closer than ever. As threatening messages from her bitter ex-husband leave her vulnerable, a new man in her life makes her feel protected.

Former Army Ranger turned security professional Hunter O’Donnell is hired to guard Kelsey. When a shattering explosion rocks her world, Kelsey’s ex is the prime suspect, but Hunter speculates there’s more to the situation than Kelsey’s letting on. Intent on keeping her safe, he delves into Kelsey’s past. As the two work together to unmask her stalker’s identity, a fire ignites between them that they both struggle to contain.

While the investigation proceeds, it draws them closer not only to each other but also to a lethal plot that’s been in the works behind their backs. And with each new secret unveiled, it’s not just temptation putting them at risk—it’s a madman who will not stop until Kelsey is dead.

What I like so much about Romantic Suspense sub-genre is the blend of heart-pounding action and steamy romance (sometimes with a little mystery written into it) and when written well, provides a bum-clenching, fuck-the-world kind of escape that almost nothing comes close to. ‘Protected’ is one of those reads, reeling me in from the start with unresolved tension that’s almost immediately followed by an explosion that throws the life Kelsey McClane has been rebuilding back into chaos.

There’s a huge backstory to go into once the dust settles but I’ve found it an engaging read that was hard to put down, with several turns that were surprising but needed a little more suspension of disbelief. ‘Protected’ is nonetheless a good standalone, with minimal links to the rest of the series.

Elisabeth Naughton did write Kelsey and Hunter mostly as sympathetic characters: I understood Kelsey’s insecurities, empathised with the emotional abuse and the past she had and her reasons for drawing back from Hunter when she distrusted her own judgement. Warming up to Hunter took a little more time for me—the apparent two-timing act early on didn’t quite endear me to him—but seeing him stepping into his role as protector later on, strapping in despite his own reservations did make him and Kelsey a pairing that I thought I could get behind. There were waffling moments between them however, flawed as they were, and the HFN ending when the wounds have barely healed might seem somewhat unsatisfactory.

That said, ‘Protected’ was a thoroughly absorbing afternoon diversion, and didn’t get any better than the straight-up romantic suspense read.

four-stars

Claimed by Alexa Riley

Claimed by Alexa RileyClaimed by Alexa Riley
Series: For Her #3
Published by Carina Press on March 27th 2018
Pages: 314
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three-stars

Jordan Chen is the man behind the screen. As part of the elite security team for Osbourne Corporation, he has an iron grip on protection, all without having to make close connections with people. Until he meets the beautiful Jay, and suddenly his quiet life doesn't seem so perfect anymore. He needs more. He needs her.

A workaholic to her core, Jay Rose doesn't have a lot of men in her life. Smiling in the face of her enemies gets her the results she wants at work, but doesn't exactly project a warm, welcoming vibe. So she's surprised when the enigmatic security expert strikes up a friendship with her—surprised but flattered, and maybe a little bit turned on.

A company as powerful as Osbourne Corporation has powerful enemies, and when Jay becomes a target, Jordan realizes there's nothing he won't do to bring her home safe.

It’s no surprise that I’ve often complained about the brevity of the dynamic (and instalove) duo Alexa Riley’s stories. The novella-length and even shorter tales they weave have tended to be—in part due to the length—full of alpha males who take over their women so thoroughly that they sometimes consume them whole, developing tunnel, caveman vision to the point where they see nothing but the words ‘mine, mine, mine’. It’s ‘crazy love’, as a villain in ‘Claimed’ says, or devotion so complete it could well be religious—a style that any Alexa Riley reader needs to get accustomed to first.

But Riley’s full-length stories, in the ‘For Her’ series at least, have gone a long way to ease this somewhat extreme vision of theirs, as the plot—as well as the action—unfolded and stretched over chapters rather than mere paragraphs. The drawn-out storytelling is a boon in this case and the burn between Jay/Jordan more believable because of it.

Yet if I thought ‘Claimed’ started out quite well, the story and characterisation faltered for me as the pages wore on. I liked the initial awkwardness between Jay and Jordan, even as Riley pushed their relationship straight into the deep end rather quickly without much angst at all. And while Jordan was quite the bossy protagonist to remember, what I couldn’t quite get was Jay’s seeming inability to use her brains around Jordan—her total dependence on him, her concealment of the threat pushing her into TSTL behaviour, her helplessness later on—and her sudden pliancy when it came to just becoming a passive taker as she got in deeper with Jordan. That said, a caveat: my confessed preference for stronger, take-charge heroines is definitely showing up here however, particularly since Riley has written some suspense into the story but not too much that it overwhelms the romantic elements in it.

While ‘Claimed’ isn’t my favourite of the series, it’s one I jumped onto because just the thought of a full-length Alexa Riley story is irresistible. Riley’s iron-clad reaffirmations of HEAs (multiple epilogues!), over the top as they might be, do sometimes work out after all quite nicely—this book’s tooth-achingly sweet, drawn-out ending fits the bill.

three-stars