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Romantic Suspense

Stay With Me by Cynthia Eden

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Fantasy/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 16th December 2017
Stay With Me by Cynthia EdenStay With Me by Cynthia Eden
Series: Lazarus Rising #3
Published by Hocus Pocus Publishing, Hocus Pocus Publishing inc. on December 12th 2017
Pages: 165
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three-stars

Shelly Hampton intends to spend the holidays alone in her family’s mountain cabin, but when a snow-covered stranger appears on her door-step, her plans are shot straight to hell. The man before her seems oddly familiar, and he stirs a dark need within her.

It’s soon apparent that John Smith is far more than a normal man—he’s too strong, too fast, and she could swear that he seems to read her thoughts…and know her most secret desires.

But is John a man that she could love…or is he someone she should fear? Because even as the snow fall deepens, a deadly threat is closing in on her little cabin. And soon, Shelly will be trapped on the mountain with a dangerous man…a man who swears that he has come back from the dead, just to be with her.

There’s always something about this series that I find constantly hovers on the edge of the hysterical. I think my biggest problem really, is the gradual departure from the realism that the story starts out with. Everything is writ so large, sometimes to the point where I can lose that ability to suspend disbelief: the insane villains so stylised that they can be out of an opera, the alpha, over-the-top hero and a heroine can sometimes manage the miraculous and whose greatest enemies are her previous lovers.

Not to say that it isn’t entertaining—Cynthia Eden can cook up a mystery and resolve it very well—but the idea of super-soldiers becoming possessive primates (the growling, snorting and rough sex included) because of their programming somehow seems more laughable than stirring.

‘Stay With Me’ reminded me of a cross between Robocop/Terminator and Pet Sematary as Christmas decorations and celebrations go on—a slice of the paranormal inserted into the holiday season, which was a tad too batty for me.

Over all, Eden’s Lazarus Rising is definitely a series I’d be continuing with, but at the same time, I’ll be taking it all in with a heaping amount of salt…more than I normally do with such sub-genres.

three-stars

In the Line of Fire by Joss Wood

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 15th December 2017
In the Line of Fire by Joss WoodIn the Line of Fire by Joss Wood
Series: Pytheon Security #3
Published by Tule Publishing on February 8th 2018
Pages: 154
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two-stars

It just got personal…

As the Delta Force legend at Pytheon International, security expert Jett Smith-Jones has run out of leads in his effort to capture criminal mastermind, The Recruiter, the head of a notorious, international human trafficking and recruitment ring. The Recruiter remains one step ahead but when he threatens the principal players at Pytheon, including Dr Samantha Stone, the game is back on. Jett, while valiantly trying to ignore his visceral attraction to the fiery red head, is determined that she have the best protective detail Pytheon can provide. He is the best they have.

PhD Samantha Stone has been tasked to profile The Recruiter’s next move as a consultant of the psychology of criminal behavior. Too bad she can’t discern her attraction to the hard-eyed Delta Force legend. She avoids men who chase danger, but she can’t stop dreaming of falling into Jett’s very muscular arms. Unfortunately for Sam, The Recruiter isn’t the only criminal wanting a piece of her…

As they tighten the net around The Recruiter, the risk to Sam increases. Jett vows he will keep her safe, but who will protect his heart? And will Jett prove to pose the biggest danger to Sam of all?

I starting reading ‘In the Line of Fire’ not knowing this was the third book in Joss Wood’s Pytheon Security series so it took a while to unravel the supporting characters and what had happened previously. With the assumption that it was a standalone, there was a bit of a mess when it came to unravelling the threats that Sam faced and I got the feeling that I’d actually been thrown deep into a situation that had its beginnings somewhere off-stage, so sorting out the context took a bit of effort.

Joss Wood definitely has a different style of writing that’s a little quirky but one that jumps out at you—the distinct lack of North American vocabulary can be a bit jarring particularly when the story is about American characters working on American soil—and her characters do and say things I don’t expect. But along with the suspense came a scene with Jett’s ex-fiancée that made me cringe, just as I couldn’t fathom how a strong, take-charge woman like Sam Stone devolved into a clingy, needy, near-TSTL heroine just as Jett blew hot and cold and was plain unkind at several moments when the danger really kicked in. In fact, I found myself barely over the distasteful way Jett sometimes treated Sam and the easy way she managed to let it go before they were already talking about their HEA.

The way the action was set-up (along with the revelation of who the baddies were made guessing somewhat easy) and the behaviour of the characters weren’t elements I could get on board with unfortunately. If ‘In the Line of Fire’ started out great, it fell flat for me by the end…but who knows? It could simply just be me and my prickly tastes.

two-stars

Dangerous Promise by Megan Hart

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance/ Urban Fantasy 14th December 2017
Dangerous Promise by Megan HartDangerous Promise by Megan Hart
Series: The Protector #1
Published by Swerve on January 2nd 2018
Pages: 300
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three-stars

A female bodyguard with enhanced abilities. A billionaire playboy committed to destroying people like her. A romance they didn’t expect…

Nina Bronson used to be all human -- until the experimental surgeries and internal technology that saved her life and enhanced her as a soldier also forced her to leave the army for private service. Now she and her peers are facing slow, painful deaths unless their technology is upgraded, and the one man keeping those upgrades illegal and unavailable is an obnoxious billionaire. A man too gorgeous for his own good.

A man she’s supposed to guard with her life.

Ewan Donahue is the public voice speaking out against the enhancement procedures of injured soldiers. But when his lobbying leads to death threats, he needs someone to protect him around the clock. He doesn’t want to rely on an enhanced soldier—Nina’s tech goes against everything he stands for. But he really doesn’t want her to be beautiful like she is. Doesn’t want her to suffer like she will.

Doesn’t want to succumb to the searing desire he feels for her.

As a series of attacks on his life send them to a remote cabin, their close proximity brings them together in ways they never imagined. They know they must prevent the need simmering between them, resist each other at all costs. But when tensions are high and danger is close, passion burns hottest of all…

‘Dangerous Promise’ is quite a unique, somewhat futuristic take on the bodyguard cyborg and the client, or at least it’s probably one that will appeal to readers who are hungry for a kickass, enhanced, ex-military female who conducts her personal life like the stereotypical no-strings military alpha hero that are dime a dozen in this genre.

Not that a role reversal is uncommon in the plethora of romance stories today, but Nina Bronson is a female protagonist unusual enough to make anyone sit up and take note. That’s the book’s standout feature, along with the immediate conflict posed by Nina’s very own abilities being the very issue the billionaire womaniser Ewan Donohue has aggressively fought against. As the female mirror image of the alpha hero, Nina is an unmistakably strong female lead with technological enhancements that only elevate her above a ‘normal’ book-heroine, right down to her own casual hookups and her willingness to sleep with clients if that would protect them (if that even makes sense).

Unafraid to call out misogyny and the double standards that women like her face, Nina might just be a loudspeaker for what many might feel about the double standards and the complaints voiced against the romance genre today as she kicks and punches her way out of things/issues both verbally and physically. Next to her, Ewan can only be the beta hero, dimmed and outshone in every way by Nina’s wonder-woman abilities until he’s a grovelling mess, their only tussling happening in bed after he yields to her judgement when it comes to his protecting his life.

Upping the sexual tension with Ewan as they circle each other in a game that’s akin to a 2-steps-forward-one-step-back dance is perhaps the form of foreplay that Hart wants to bring across, but somehow, Nina’s relationship with Ewan seems unequal in so many ways. Ewan’s own history with women and the way he treated them until Nina didn’t exactly made me a huge fan of his; the constant comparison of how awfully selfish he used to be with others and with Nina proved more of a turn-off than a revelation of how special she is supposed to be. Moreover, for all of Nina’s insistence about owning her own sexuality, her sudden insistence that sex should only happen between consensual adults who want and like each other equally is the argument she uses to keep Ewan at arms’s length. As much as the inevitable sex scenes are hot, I can’t quite get on board with the subtly manipulative and contradictory sides of Nina and Ewan, the former of whom can seem to do no wrong even as she blows hot and cold.

As the first of a 3-book series, ‘Dangerous Promise’ draws out the dialogue and the threats much longer than I expected. The plot advances, albeit slowly and what would be typically resolved in the last three-quarters of the book reads instead like the end of a tv episode, where the characters return for round 2 and subsequently, round 3 as the series goes on. Hart definitely delivers very well-written action scenes, though these are short and brief and interspersed with a lot of dialogue-turned-flirty-banter that can get repetitive, inevitably slowing the pacing of the story. There’s also sort of a cliffhanger but there’s very much the sense that whatever resolution that Hart gives is a temporary one. Nina’s and Ewan’s story is far from over, that much is clear.

It’s kind of tough to write a review for a book which I wanted so much to like but fell a bit short of expectations, and that’s only because I prefer the type of relationships where both the h/hr need each other in equal ways, where both aren’t beyond reproach. But if the alpha female dominating the headlines, so to speak is what you’re after (Nina is a feminist’s wet dream after all), then ‘Dangerous Promise’ is the type of read that will be your catnip.

three-stars

Final Siege by Scarlett Cole

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 10th December 2017
Final Siege by Scarlett ColeFinal Siege by Scarlett Cole
Series: Love Over Duty #2
Published by St. Martin's Press on January 30th 2018
Pages: 300
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two-stars

IN THE LINE OF FIRE…

Former SEAL Malachai “Mac” MacCarrick is all about the future he’s created with his Navy brothers in Eagle Securities, taking assignments in the most dangerous places, and doing things no one but ex-military would attempt. But when an urgent phone call brings his troubled past—and the woman he once loved—into the present, it’s a chance to redeem himself that he can’t refuse.

STRAIGHT TO THE HEART…

An investigative journalist researching an explosive story, Delaney Shapiro tells herself she got over Mac—and his role in her brother’s death—a long time ago. But the first moment she sees him at her bedside in an overseas hospital, she knows it’s not true. Every moment together rekindles the desire that once burned between them, and now that she’s a target for an emerging Russian arms dealer, Mac won’t let her out of his sight. To protect her, he’ll risk it all—including his life…

A separation caused by tragedy, and a coincidental ‘rescue’ so to speak, 14 years later, leading to a second-chance romance did sound like the kind of story I wanted to dig into. Delaney and Mac do have weighted history and I was eager to see what Scarlett Cole would write about such a story and second chances, particularly after I got a sniff of what happened in their past.

But as an RS reader, I’m admittedly used to a style of writing that has gotten ingrained over the years, so these are my own preferences that I’m highlighting here—preferences that perhaps show how unused to Cole’s style I am.

For this reason, ‘Final Siege’ was hard to get into despite the enticing blurb, and these were mostly structural (narrative-wise) quibbles for me. Cole’s writing did throw me off in the instances of head-hopping—when the perspectives sometimes switched without warning—and the lack of demarcating in spots where scenes and dialogues just didn’t break or signal any time passing. With the lack of paragraphing and breaks, the whole narrative felt a little rambly, along with some awkward insertions of sentences that didn’t quite seem to flow with the development of a scene or aid in characterisation. Some parts, however, were well-written, though it was hard to get past the uneven way the whole story was laid out, particularly at the beginning of chapters where I found myself scrambling to make sense of context.

By and large, Delaney and Mac danced around the biggest ghost in their past that haunt them. Delaney did turn out frustrating at times: her inability to get over Mac’s supposed part in her brother’s death felt like something she hung onto simply so that she had a reason to keep on hating Mac. There was also a large focus on the push-pull happening between Delaney and Mac that got cloyingly repetitive when I’d expected the suspense to take priority after they meet again. That however, only kicked in somewhere near the halfway point, which made ‘Final Siege’ seem rather slow-paced for an RS book and in some way, like a game that went a step forward and 2 steps back.

That said, I’m not too sure how much of final revisions ARCs actually undergo. ‘Final Siege’ does unfortunately, look like a book that still needs a bit of editing; otherwise, it’ll be left as a story that’s got a potential which it never quite reached.

two-stars

Zero Hour by Megan Erickson

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 10th December 2017
Zero Hour by Megan EricksonZero Hour by Megan Erickson
Series: Wired & Dangerous #1
Published by Forever on January 30th 2018
Pages: 320
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three-stars

Hacker extraordinaire Roarke Brennan lives each hour - each breath - to avenge his brother's murder. His first move: put together a team of the best coders he knows. They're all brilliant, specialized, and every one an epic pain in his ass. Only now Wren Lee wants in too, threatening to upset their delicate balance. The girl Roarke never allowed himself to want is all grown up with sexy confidence and a dark past ... and she's the wild card he can't control.

Roarke might still think she's a kid, but Wren's been to hell and back. Nothing and nobody can stop her - especially the tatted-up, cocky-as-all-hell hacker. But when years of longing and chemistry collide, Wren and Roarke discover that revenge may be a dish best served blazing hot.

‘Zero Hour’ spoke directly to the geek in me. I blank out at many things technical, so hackers (whether they be black/white hats) written as heroes/heroines of romances are relatively new in this genre but so welcome.

I love the lingo, the geek side of things, the stuff that the deep, dark web is made of, most probably because I’ve never been able to get my mind around it. That Megan Erickson has jumped wholly on this subject has made me more than moist with excitement, with the underlying classic tropes of the forbidden best friend’s younger sister while a high-stakes hacker-style investigation into a murder brings it all together. There’s a lot of beguiling intrigue to be explored in this arena after all, and I’ve always wondered why not many authors have chosen to use this very contemporary setting along with the realistic and contemporary threats we face today to weave a pretty little tale.

Unsure as I was about how hackers would appear in this series, I was nonetheless surprised by the tattooed protagonists who sometimes acted more like members of an MC at times instead of thickly-spectacled people who were glued to their computers and surfaced bleary-eyed only for meals and sleep. Yet Erickson gets the anti-social, loner-types pat-down though, by introducing a varied, unpredictable put-together team of characters whose questionable histories are still veiled to us.

Roarke and Wren do have a hell of a backstory and a decade of separate lives that Erickson didn’t make too much of, except for the fact that pining (on both sides) went on while they moved on with others instead. Their sudden reunion—spurred on by the death of his brother and Wren’s own personal motive for revenge—however, felt almost like a coincidence, along with the hidden skills that they’d each picked up which didn’t seem to fit the hacker-skill set. Where had they had weapons training, for instance, at least enough that they would carry guns around? What sort of jobs had they done in the past 10 years that made them what they were today? Why did Wren only return now, at a time when Roarke sought revenge when the tragedy that she and her friend suffered happened years ago?

I think the questions that kept popping up dipped my enjoyment of the story somewhat and the brother’s-best-friend-to-lover trope was less convincing especially after knowing that Roarke and Wren had always wanted each other but never actively did anything about it. The ending, for all the gritty, edgy build-up, seemed a little anti-climatic with the rather convenient end of the mastermind, and the several loose threads hanging, while understandably left deliberately to set up the sequel, didn’t give the story a proper sense of closure.

In many ways, ‘Zero Hour’ reads like the establishing novel it is and while I did like how this narrative arc—the mesh of thriller and digital espionage really gets me going—seemed to be shaping up, I’m already eager to see how Erickson would explore the unstable dynamics of the ad-hoc group brought together by chance and the pairings that will come out of that.

three-stars

Pulled Under by Lisa Renee Jones

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 2nd December 2017
Pulled Under by Lisa Renee JonesPulled Under by Lisa Renee Jones
Series: Walker Security #2
Published by Everafter Romance on November 28th 2017
Pages: 267
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three-stars

Born into a wealthy family he rebelled against, Asher dived into the world of rock n roll, drugs, and women. A blond, tattooed, bad boy, he is the chameleon of Walker Security. A man who manages to switch from rocker leather hotness to perfectly fitted suits. Even effortlessly blending into the underground grunge of the cities. Because he’s lived that world, almost lost himself to that world, until he ends up helping Royce Walker, then a Federal Agent, and now his boss at Walker Security. Royce thinks Asher has conquered his darkness. Some days he thinks he has, too. Some days, he knows he never will.

Present day: When several women end up dead from a new drug on the streets, Walker Security is hired to help the police solve the crimes that have the city in turmoil. Asher goes undercover in the club scene for answers, easily calling on that darkness to fit right in. Why is it that only women are dying? What is this drug they’ve never seen before? Who is behind it? And why does everything lead back to a prima donna on the Upper East Side, whom Asher just saw in a nightclub in leather and lace? The very same woman he took to his bed?

Asher will face a woman seeking vengeance, whose past is a little too similar to his to feel right. Or maybe it’s a little too similar to be anything but right. But he’ll have to keep her alive to find out, despite her best efforts to put herself in harm’s way at every chance.

A woman on the run, a shadowy undercover bartender who decides he’s on her side the moment he pegs her wrongly to be a bar dancer. Cue the sparks, the banter and the near-immediate fall into bed because of the overwhelming attraction, while what appears like separate threats draw ever closer and start dovetailing.

‘Pulled Under’ sounds like the kind of read that’s up my alley and taking a chance on Lisa Renee Jones (a new author for me) simply means there’s another romantic suspense-author on my list to watch out for. And by and large, it was an engaging story and fairly well-paced despite the instant love/lust, with many characters who’d gained their HEAs appearing from Jones’s other books (though they’re foreign to me).

I’m still on the fence with the protagonists however, and there were parts of the book that had me raising my brows in scepticism. Sierra and Asher tussled over the past that hung over her life but they were mostly adults about it, despite the same argument about Asher keeping her safe vs. Sierra not wanting to endanger him coming up ad nauseum. But for a man who had never done relationships, for whom women were mere fuck-buddies, Asher’s sudden, unwavering all-in status with Sierra from the very moment he saw her—the flip of the switch so to speak—and the effusive words of commitment made it all the harder to believe, as was his explanation that it was just that way with him and his other Waker security mates. In addition, the threat to Sierra—elevated to be almost near-untouchable and all-powerful, drawn out tautly over most of the book—was simply wrapped up with an anti-climatic gun-shot that seemed to cancel out all that meticulous planning for an explosive takedown I’d been gearing myself up for.

In all, ‘Pulled Under’ wasn’t quite the perfect read for me, but a good one and yes, it’s probably enough to make me curious about Jones’s other books and the next Walker Security story.

three-stars

Pretty Dead Girls by Monica Murphy

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Young Adult 1st December 2017
Pretty Dead Girls by Monica MurphyPretty Dead Girls by Monica Murphy
Published by Entangled: Teen on January 2nd 2018
Pages: 300
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three-stars

Beautiful. Perfect. Dead.

In the peaceful seaside town of Cape Bonita, wicked secrets and lies are hidden just beneath the surface. But all it takes is one tragedy for them to be exposed.

The most popular girls in school are turning up dead, and Penelope Malone is terrified she's next. All the victims so far have been linked to Penelope—and to a boy from her physics class. The one she's never really noticed before, with the rumored dark past and a brooding stare that cuts right through her.

There's something he isn't telling her. But there's something she's not telling him, either.

Everyone has secrets, and theirs might get them killed.

Imagine a group of privileged girls—all of whom sort of conform to the rich, aloof, snooty and somewhat mean stereotype—suddenly being swamped by a mysterious but vengeful serial killer who throws their ordered but small world into chaos. In the midst of them is the head cheerleader and a quiet, mysterious boy who find themselves in the centre of the maelstrom as the noose tightens around them while they play amateur detectives.

There aren’t too many of these sort of YA-thriller, high-school-centric books that I’ve read (or the kind of movies that I’ve watched) and it takes an adjustment every time I read a book like ‘Pretty Dead Girls’. Jumping into a YA book can be hard at times, not least because it’s a throwback into the mean, teenage girl mindset—where everything is exaggerated, pulled apart and then reacted to in an over-the-top fashion—but also because it’s one which I have the hardest time connecting with as well.

This is sort of a step outside my usual reading habits, but I still did have a good time in a way as a distant spectator would with teenage shenanigans, alternating between cringing at the sensibilities of the self-absorbed and petty girls (and wondering if I was as bad as them or worse?) and trying to do the whodunnit game that I normally do with the adult mystery-thrillers I sometimes read. If anything, Monica Murphy gets those behavioural traits pat down and pitches the story perfectly for teens, though it’s honestly difficult to like the characters you want to yell at to grow up before you realise they’re acting exactly their ages…and can’t be expected to do anything differently.

However, there are some questions that don’t seem to be satisfactorily answered, where secrets that you think are soul-destroying turn up to be mere storms in tea cups. Still, it was kind of a fun ride, given the unholy glee I felt when these girls had their comeuppance and almost wished the body count got higher just to up the thrill factor for my bloodthirsty and mean soul.

three-stars
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