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Mystery/Crime

Love Thy Enemy by Katie Reus

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 10th June 2016
Love Thy Enemy by Katie ReusLove Thy Enemy by Katie Reus
Series: Red Stone Security #13
on June 1st 2016
Pages: 300
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four-stars

She refuses to trust him.
Red Stone Security employee Dominique Castle knows all too well that there are people in this world she just can't trust. After losing both her parents, Dominique keeps her distance from anyone tied to her past—especially the man she's hated for years. And Viktor Ivanov isn't going to change her mind about who he really is—no matter how determined the infuriatingly sexy Russian is.
He's determined to win her over.
She may hate him and not trust him, but Viktor is determined to crack through Dominique's icy exterior one way or another—even if it means taking the game into his own hands. With a past like Viktor's, he's made more than a few enemies along the way—enemies who'll stop at nothing to take him down. When Viktor realizes Dominique's life is in danger because of him, he’ll stop at nothing to protect her—whether she likes it or not. Now it's up to Dominique to trust the one man who's linked to the agony of her past. Can she find a way to love the enemy she always loathed?
Length: 55,000 words

Two Russians, two sassy women and a whole lot of shady business in between, with a little cheese and smut thrown in.

It’s a winning combination strangely, put together in a self-contained, compact romantic suspense type of story I crave from time to time, which Katie Reus can and does provide. The male protagonists walk in the shades of grey – there’re hints of previous illegal activities – unlike the ‘Boy Scouts’ at Red Stone Security, made the book more alluringly forbidden somehow. Even as similar as Viktor and Abram are as brothers and somewhat alike even in their speech and mannerisms, I found myself liking both Dominique and Lucy who aren’t pushovers themselves.

I’m simply compelled to write something about this series now because it seems Reus has taken a step up in her game. The sheer boldness of handling two developing love stories (and both enemies to lovers – employee/friends to lovers tropes) amidst the pounding suspense floored me, perhaps all the more so because Reus pulls if off well enough that I didn’t feel as though I’d been short-changed or wanting more by the end of the novella.

four-stars

Running Scared by Christy Reece

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 1st June 2016
Running Scared by Christy ReeceRunning Scared by Christy Reece
Series: LCR Elite #3
Published by Christy Reece on May 31st 2016
Pages: 305
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four-stars

To Have A Future, They Must Face The Past Together
Riley Ingram escaped hell, taking secrets with her that could get her killed. As an Elite operative for Last Chance Rescue, Riley’s single-minded focus is on saving others from a similar fate. A survivor of unspeakable horror, she hides behind a cool mask of indifference, vowing to never let her guard down again.
A family tragedy brought Justin Kelly to LCR. Saving lives and protecting others is a way of life for him. The phenomenal connection he shares with his intensely private LCR partner surprises everyone but Justin. He knows that beneath Riley’s icy façade is a warm, caring woman with tremendous depth.
When the past comes calling, colliding with the present, the LCR duo have no choice but to face it together. Relying on each other’s strength and courage, they’ll work to destroy one of the most horrific monsters LCR has ever faced.
But some secrets can’t stay hidden. And sometimes plans fall apart. It’ll take every bit of their grit and fortitude for Riley and Justin to stay alive to have the future together they’re just now realizing they want more than anything.

Christy Reece has consistently mentioned the unusual, unspeaking partnership between Riley and Justin in her previous LCR books and to get their story finally breaks this mystery in a way that is both expected and unexpected.

If all the LCR operatives that Reece writes about have shady, difficult pasts, Riley’s one is particularly traumatic and seeing how far she has come is nothing short of an amazing journey. Having Justin as her support and reading about the eventual change in their relationship is gratifying, though not as dramatically so or unpredictably or as tension-filled as I’d expected. Instead, their connection is written almost as preternaturally natural and one that doesn’t require words when communicating.

The pacing of the story itself was steady; I knew from the start that Riley needed to confront her past and it was what she did, in an admirable manner at least. Her mistake of running scared at the end irked me a little because I did think that Justin had proven himself way more deserving of such treatment.

‘Running Scared’ deals with sexual assault and human trafficking, brutal topics with which I normally struggle a lot – and rightfully so. Yet it suddenly struck me mid-way through that there are very little shades of grey in the LCR books; good and evil are delineated as clearly as night and day. While the multiple POVS – sometimes within a scene – could get distracting at times, but many of the LCR characters do show the common thread of having overcome a multitude of hugely mitigating circumstances while the bad guys were written with demeanours so evil that they slipped into stereotypes which (incidentally and unwittingly, I’m certain) sometimes got funny. For obvious reasons, I’m adamant that ‘Running Scared’ should not be an easy read because of the issues that Reece has raised in it. Yet my slight disappointment is merely targeted inwards because I found that it did get a little too ‘easy’ at times – when the good guys get their good ending and the bad guys are killed off.

four-stars

Forgotten Secrets by Robin Perini

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 27th May 2016
Forgotten Secrets by Robin PeriniForgotten Secrets by Robin Perini
Published by Montlake Romance on July 19th 2016
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four-stars

At age ten, Riley Lambert watched helplessly as her sister was abducted from her bedroom. Fifteen years later, she’s channeled the pain of her past into a career as an FBI profiler. Riley devotes her life to bringing violent criminals to justice…and secretly uses government resources to search for her sister, who was never found.
When Riley gets a call from the only man who’s ever swept her off her feet with a killer two-step and dangerous smile—ex-Navy SEAL Thayne Blackwood of Singing River, Wyoming—it stirs up dark memories. Thayne’s sister, Cheyenne, has been kidnapped. There are no leads, and the only witness is the victim’s Alzheimer’s-afflicted grandmother.
Desperate to find Cheyenne, Thayne needs Riley’s expertise. With time running short, they delve into dangerous small-town secrets while fighting against an increasingly ruthless adversary. But when her past and his present collide in a shocking revelation, can they overcome the secrets that have kept them apart?

A growing number of missing women – disparate, done years apart and seemingly unconnected – is the only certainty that ties a very complicated mystery together. Caught up in it all is the very unusual pairing of a SEAL on leave and an FBI Agent whose brief affair a year ago had turned into something deeper after an accidental string of phone calls that have solidified a relationship of close friendship apart from physical intimacy.

Riley Lambert’s drug of choice is throwing herself wholeheartedly into her work, driven only by a 15-year long search for her missing sister and the belief that no one can truly understand that obsession. Not even Thayne Blackwood, the hookup who has become so much more. But the game changes when Thayne calls her about his sister’s sudden disappearance and together, they unravel a town’s menacing secrets just as the unfolding events force them both to evaluate their preconceived ideas of family, love and commitment.

The story is far heavier going than I expected, the plot twisty and windy enough to lead you into shadowy woods, the darkened corners of an isolated town and places so off the grid that bodies – decomposed or freshly dumped – merely give incomplete clues to solving it all. As enthralled as I was, I needed constant breaks to review the information in my own head before going on. Yet taking up where I left off again was no hardship when the characters were engaging and multidimensional to the extent where I found myself hoping for their stories to be told – apart from Riley’s and Thayne’s. Even at the halfway mark, every additional scene served to complicate rather than clarify, each revelation as mind-boggling as the next, which, I have to admit, started to frustrate me sooner rather than later.

There’s nonetheless plenty of intelligence and style in the plot, quite a bit of which is carried by Robin Perini’s sharp writing. But for all the dropping bodies, the pessimist in me was surprised – and perhaps even disappointed – to see the core group of characters coming out of the ordeal relatively unscathed, even when the jigsaw finally assembled itself by the end, dangling subplots, hooks and all.

four-stars

Deep Dark by Laura Griffin

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 25th May 2016
Deep Dark by Laura GriffinDeep Dark (Tracers, #10) by Laura Griffin
Series: Tracers #10
Published by Pocket Books on May 24th 2016
Pages: 368
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two-stars

The moment detective Reed Novak steps onto the crime scene, he knows the case is going to rock his world. A beautiful young woman murdered at home. No sign of forced entry. No motive. She’s obviously not the killer’s first victim, and Reed’s instincts tell him she won’t be his last. Reed’s first clue comes via a mysterious text that links to a dating profile, but even more intriguing than the clue is the person who sent it.
As a white-hat hacker in the Delphi Center’s cyber investigation unit, Laney Knox sneaks into some of the deepest, darkest corners of the Internet looking for predators. Laney would prefer to stay away from Austin PD’s most recent murder case, but she can’t ignore the chilling similarities between that crime and her own brutal attack years ago. Laney offers to help the sexy lead detective, but he wants more from her than just a promising tip—Reed wants her trust. Laney resists, but as their relationship deepens she’s tempted to reveal the closely guarded secrets that could make her a key witness…or the killer’s next victim.

I’m frankly at a loss when it comes to rating this book.

Laura Griffin writes fantastically detailed police procedurals and much of the developing drama in ’Deep Dark’ reads like a gorgeous and thrilling novelisation of a ‘Bones’ and/or a ‘Castle’ episode. But if I appreciated the complexity of the crime and the unfolding mystery of the whodunnit, I was less than impressed with the female protagonist, who’d slipped from tenacious and dedicated into the stupid and petulant categories too quickly for my liking.

The pairing in question here is a much older divorced detective and a young, headstrong upstart, the former of whom I simply felt sorry for because of the frustration and the road blocks he encounters by way of the latter. The problem was that for most of the book, their relationship was on unequal footing, built on deception – mostly on Laney’s part – and resolved in a way that makes a mockery of trust and moral integrity in it.

In fact, I’d be the first to admit that ‘Deep Dark’ hits several hard limits for me, which clearly, is just my personal beef with the sort of flaws written into protagonists that I cannot tolerate, curtailing as a consequence, my overall enjoyment of the whole mystery.

My preference of heroines who put themselves out there both physically and emotionally is clearly showing up here and I found myself unable to put any faith in a relationship that, most of the time, was characterised by lies, use of leverage and sex as distraction, even if we are told the reasons for Laney’s closed-off, untrusting, TSTL behaviour. That she behaved in a manner, time and again, that emphasised her age instead of showing she was beyond it – and the constant, intolerable lying when it was unnecessary – didn’t do her any favours at all, except to highlight her immaturity and deliberate evasiveness even when it was to her detriment, which made this pairing and the glaring age-gap even more disappointing and questionable than I hoped it’d be.

Characterisation-rant aside however, I’m never ready to give up on Laura Griffin’s writing and can only hope that she might return to the bigger military-political conspiracies (such as ‘Scorched and ‘Beyond Limits’) that had me at the word ‘go’.

two-stars

Armored Attraction by Janie Crouch

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 20th May 2016
Armored Attraction by Janie CrouchArmored Attraction by Janie Crouch
Series: Omega Sector: Critical Response #3
Published by Harlequin on June 1st 2016
Pages: 224
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two-stars

One secret can change everything 
It's been eight years since Liam Goetz has seen his ex-fiancé. Vanessa Epperson had everything: beauty, brains…and a family fortune. He chose her, while she chose a life of luxury and never imagined their paths would cross again. An unexpected phone call from Vanessa—desperate for his help in a human trafficking case—ressurects old longings. As they work together to save hostages and catch a predator, Liam begins to learn some shocking truths—about himself and the woman he thought he once knew so well…

Stumbling onto a body on a beach leads Vanessa Epperson into a human trafficking ring and the shady dealings in her hometown that involves the local law enforcement. The only person she can turn to is an ex-fiancé, who thought the worst of her when she apparently chose money and breeding over him.

While I liked the suspense and the storyline well enough, this book caught me out in a classic case of liking the heroine but hating the ‘hero’, as well as the pace at which they fell back into a relationship too easily and without much friction at all. I barely found Liam’s actions and behaviour acceptable, especially because Vanessa had paid the heavier price for the misunderstanding that had torn them apart for years. In the meantime the ‘hero’ went off womanising for the next 8 years, yet claimed that he was still coming back to the woman he apparently never stopped loving, except for the fact that it was her reaching out to him that gave him that kick in the arse – the flimsiest excuse I’ve ever seen and I was astounded at Vanessa for giving into him so easily.

Granted, it is my own intolerance for manwhores that finds this behaviour irksome, particularly when the heroine had clearly changed for the better and the male protagonist for the worse. In fact, it was difficult to stomach their HEA when I felt that Vanessa deserved way better than Liam after all that she’d endured while he lifted skirts everywhere else.

two-stars

Troublemaker by Linda Howard

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 20th May 2016
Troublemaker by Linda HowardTroublemaker by Linda Howard
Published by HarperCollins on May 10th 2016
Pages: 400
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two-stars

A thrilling, fast-paced novel of romantic suspense from sensational New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Linda Howard.
For Morgan Yancy, an operative and team leader in a paramilitary group, nothing comes before his job. But when he’s ambushed and almost killed, his supervisor is determined to find out who’s after the members of his elite squad—and why. Due to worries that this unknown enemy will strike again, Morgan is sent to a remote location and told to lay low and stay vigilant. But between a tempting housemate he’s determined to protect and a deadly threat waiting in the shadows, keeping under the radar is proving to be his most dangerous mission yet.
The part-time police chief of a small West Virginian mountain town, Isabeau “Bo” Maran finally has her life figured out. She’s got friends, a dog, and a little money in the bank. Then Morgan Yancy shows up on her doorstep. Bo doesn’t need a mysterious man in her life—especially a troublemaker as enticing and secretive as Morgan.
The harder they fight the intense heat between them, the closer Morgan and Bo become, even though she knows he’s hiding from something. But discovering the truth could cost Bo more than she’s willing to give. And when Morgan’s cover is blown, it might just cost her life.

An utter disappointment.

I don’t have much experience with Linda Howard’s books but this one has gone a long way to put me off them.

There’s something rather old-fashioned about the narrative – the omniscient, sweeping POV that simply follows a character through every thought and action, most of which can be superfluous – which simply didn’t sit too well with me. Apart from these details (which didn’t seem to tie into the bigger picture), the lack of explanation in the bizarre twist of events where the female protagonist suddenly gets saddled with a wounded operative because her long-estranged stepbrother orchestrated it is more bewildering than I can accept without question.

Waiting for that grand plan to unravel from this strange set-up however, didn’t quite materialise in the way I hoped it would. The pages that followed simply veered off into documenting the quirky behaviour of Isabeau’s smart but spoilt and rather annoying Golden Retriever rather than the injured hero and the mystery behind the attempt on his life. And as much cute as these dogs could be, reading page after page of the dog’s antics made me give this up halfway, when everything that mattered – the suspense, the mystery, the relationship – just seemed too long in coming.

two-stars

Deadly Testimony by Piper L. Drake

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 21st April 2016
Deadly Testimony by Piper L. DrakeDeadly Testimony by Piper J. Drake
Series: Safeguard #2
Published by Carina Press on May 9th 2016
Pages: 213
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two-stars

The stakes have never been higher as an elite team member must outwit a dangerous killer and save the man she's sworn to protect. The second installment of the exhilarating Safeguard series from Piper J. Drake.
Kyle Yeun didn't start out bad and he doesn't intend to end his life while on the wrong side of the law, either. His testimony to his former employer's environmental misdeeds has earned him a protection detail compliments of the US government. But due to a dark international conspiracy Kyle was unaware of, his former employers have made ending his life a top priority. Realizing he needs more protection than the US Marshals can provide, he turns to Safeguard after seeing the beautiful, deadly Lizzy Scott in action.
One look at Kyle, and sniper Lizzy Scott knows this isn't going to be an easy protection job. He's arrogant, irritating and almost irresistible. Instead of being put off by her hardened attitude, Kyle seems to thrive off the challenge. And she's slowly giving in to his charms.
After narrowly escaping the latest assassination attempt, Lizzy starts taking dangerous risks to keep him safe. But the last thing Kyle wants is another life ruined because of his actions. He found his redemption in Lizzy's arms and he'll risk everything to make sure they both make it out alive. As will she, even if it means walking away from him to keep him safe.
Book two of the Safeguard series
This book is approximately 72,000 words

Piper Drake takes on the protector/target relationship with a twist, pairing a man in need of professional protection with an ex-military, no-nonsense woman when he finally decides to rat on a company with questionable practices – and risks his life in the process.

Even while writing this review, I’m not too sure what to say about a story that I’d expected to be a bit more straightforward in setting, action and adventure. Perhaps the best way to put it is that ‘Deadly Testimony’ is a wordy read, with every action explained, questioned and drawn out with some odd almost-Victorian-English turn of phrases (“Ah, the woman was delightfully uncommon”, “Your thought process is singularly unique”) between both the main characters, which is atypical of a suspense novel.

What strikes me immediately is the sheer amount of…forced diplomacy in the dialogue – sometimes superfluous even – when both characters try for an almost intellectual, near-academic politeness to explain away their own and each other’s behaviour: for Kyle’s womanising ways (‘active lifestyle’, ‘companions’, ‘pleasure of entertaining close friends’), his use of escorts, or even Isabelle’s brusqueness and her difficulty in working with anyone but herself for instance. Character-wise, Drake gives us hints of some depth to Kyle’s smarmy arrogance and vain, hedonistic personality but I couldn’t quite see past the superficial veneer enough to like him as a romantic hero. The insistence on remaining vapid and shallow even as he eggs Isabella on because of their mutual attraction felt more sleazy than anticipatory and the manipulative manner with which he does it is (player)admirable but ultimately off-putting.

Consequently, I couldn’t muster up any enthusiasm for Isabelle and Kyle as a pairing; not only are they drawn together by the adrenaline and danger in the few days that they spend in and out of the bedroom, but what hit me time and again was their incompatibility despite the constant, overriding cliché that opposites can attract espoused in too many romantic suspense novels.

two-stars
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