Tag: Romantic Suspense

Imperial Stout by Layla Reyne

Imperial Stout by Layla ReyneImperial Stout by Layla Reyne
Series: Trouble Brewing #1
Published by Carina Press on 23rd July 2018
Pages: 268
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two-stars

It’s a good thing assistant US attorney Dominic Price co-owns a brewery. He could use a cold one. Nic’s star witness has just been kidnapped, his joint operation with the FBI is in jeopardy, his father’s shady past is catching up with him and the hot new special agent in San Francisco is the kind of distraction best handled with a stiff drink.

Kidnap and rescue expert Cameron Byrne has his own ideas about how to handle Nic, but his skills are currently needed elsewhere. The by-the-book FBI agent goes deep undercover as a member of an infamous heist crew in order to save Nic’s witness, break up the crew and close the case before anyone else gets hurt. Nic in particular.

Things heat up when Cam falls for Nic, and the witness falls for Cam. As the crew’s suspicions grow, Cam must decide how far he’s willing to go—and how far into his own dark past he’s willing to dive—to get everyone out alive.

‘Imperial Stout’ is me stepping out of my comfort zone when it comes to M/M fiction, though Layla Reyne isn’t a new author to me. Written in a fairly different style from what I’m used to, and not having read Reyne’s ‘Agents Irish and Whiskey’ series, this is me coming in as a newbie. So with a very busy first chapter that included not only an action scene but a load of history between the protagonists which sort of involved also a best friend’s partner and ex-flame, I was a little lost, though duly warned about the kind of romance this path would take.

Still, I found it hard to engage with this one with the convoluted way the plot was initially presented, not like the way I was engaged in Reyne’s ‘Changing Lanes’ series, with my attention constantly pulled between the intrigue, the brewery, the huge number of characters mentioned or dropping in and the romance that was supposedly building. The pairing—between a US Attorney and a kidnap and rescue specialist with the FBI—, while intriguing, seemed to fade behind the never-ceasing activity that kept going on and I never quite lost the feeling of trying to play catch up having walked straight into a tv-series mid-season just as the action was heating up.

‘Imperial Stout’ is safe to say, probably more a book for Reyne’s stalwart followers of her previous series who want to continue into this spin-off in this particular world of whiskey, agents and lawyers. That said, while I still do like Reyne’s writing, I’m going to take a pass on this book and the series. I did try to get into Nic/Cam as much as possible, skimming the pages just to see how things finally fell into place for them, but ultimately, I just didn’t feel as though I made any headway into them at all. And without the base appeal of the main pairing in this romance, I couldn’t quite see the point going on.

two-stars

A Matter of Justice by Christy Reece

A Matter of Justice by Christy ReeceA Matter Of Justice by Christy Reece
Series: Grey Justice, #4
Published by Christy Reece on 17th April 2018
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four-stars

Their past is complicated, their future is deadly.

She came from nothing and was no one until an evil man formed her into the perfect weapon, a beautiful creature of destruction. Capturing her prey held few challenges, until her target and her heart collided, and then the world came down around her. Irelyn Raine has worked hard to bury her past, but escape isn’t always possible, especially when the one man she trusts above all others throws her back into the hell she swore she’d never revisit. Now Irelyn has no choice but to face down her demons.

Grey Justice lives by a standard few would approve or understand. Gaining justice for victims can be a messy business, and the outcome isn’t always pretty. One woman knows all his secrets—the one woman who could break him. Irelyn Raine is his weakness and his strength, his shame and his redemption.

Someone else knows all their secrets, all their sins, and he’ll use everything within his power to destroy what they’ve built together.

Surviving alone isn’t possible, but can they find their way back to each other in time? Or will one of them be left behind? This time, forever?

No one escapes justice.

‘A Matter of Justice’ closes Christy Reece’s ‘Grey Justice’ series and is a gratifying read given that it finally uncovers the odd relationship between Irelyn and Grey, who have only always been each other’s. In this aspect ‘A Matter of Justice’ is unusual for a romance, seeing as Irelyn/Grey is never a pairing in question even as the book starts after a time of personal conflict and separation. For this reason, there’s little emotional angst when Irelyn and Grey simply talk to get their problems sorted then move forward as a pair, the driving force of the plot coming instead from an external source in Irelyn’s past that they can’t quite outrun.

So much of Grey/Irelyn’s relationship has been shrouded in vague terms, with bits of their history floating in and out of Reece’s previous books that it can be difficult to put together this weird relationship that ranges the entire spectrum from love to hate. In any case, reconstructing their relationship from my perspective was an exercise in frustration, even when I was one-thirds through the book. With all the hints that Reece has been dropping about them having spent so much time together, having hurt each other so brutally, I needed the details. Their story is finally told in the later parts of the book but I still found too many gaps in Grey/Irelyn’s history—the intricacies of how they got to where the are now—that I wanted to know, which I felt Reece glossed over or didn’t address.

In fact, the main failing of the story is that there were many things that Reece expected us to take at face value, which I found I couldn’t. Battling implausibility has always been the largest obstacle in romantic suspense anyway, as it takes this part of the brain to switch off each time I watch an action/thriller film, and as always, some more so than others. Maybe a flashback or 2 in the beginning would have helped, otherwise, their history felt more like recounting/telling rather than the immersive experience that I was hoping for.

That said, it’s a pretty good end to the series, even it probably doesn’t work too well as a standalone—Reece gives a lock-and-loaded type situation, with a journey that hops all over the globe (exotic locations seem par for the course) and one that finally puts Grey Justice in action. That Grey/Justice’s HEA is done before the climax is yet another unusual thing for this story, but Reece can do the unexpected while providing the fairytale-ish ending…which is always a pleasant surprise.

four-stars

Darkest Night by Megan Erickson

Darkest Night by Megan EricksonDarkest Night by Megan Erickson
Series: Wired & Dangerous, #2
Published by Forever on 31st July 2018
Pages: 320
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two-stars

Bodyguard Jock Bosh has one job: keep Fiona Madden safe. Safe from the men who've been hunting her. Safe from the bastard responsible for ruining her life. And with the attraction sizzling white-hot between them, that means keeping Fiona safe from him too.

Fiona has spent the past decade on the run. Her survival is the single greatest weapon she's had against the men out to destroy her. Until Jock. Now, with him by her side, she finally has a chance to bring them down. But when her enemies make their next move and Jock puts himself in the line of fire, Fiona realizes that there's more at stake than just her life-she's also risking her heart.

There has been drama. There have been words (some very virulent ones) that have been flung around. I’m sort of aware of the drama that has surrounded Megan Erickson in the past few months, but not having any involvement in the debate that had ignited the entire community (and pretty much blew up over the course of a few days) means that I’m still kind of bewildered over the whole thing.

But that really isn’t a disclaimer on my part in any case. I’ve been graciously handed an ARC and that’s what this is going to be about—an assessment of what I felt about the plot, characters and the style. This review is going to be just that: a book review and nothing more as all my reviews have been.

So off we got onto a start that felt somewhat abrupt where ‘Darkest Night’ left me flailing for purchase. With the barest of context alluded to about the history of Fiona Madden and Wren Lee, to the magical and mysterious appearance of a stoic bodyguard named Jock, I struggled for the first quarter for some kind of purchase. With too many questions in mind—how this was related to the previous book being the first and foremost—it was hard not to feel as though I’d come in late to the game where a huge chunk of the back story had been reduced to a few sentences of vague explanation that Jock provided for his presence as well as the danger that Fiona was in. For this reason I’m not entirely sure if ‘Darkest Night’ worked well as a standalone; needing to go back to the first book for details can be tiresome but the appearance of Roarke’s hacker crew and the story arc that seemed to be carried over in this half necessitated it.

There wasn’t the geek-heavy type of plot with hardcore coding and tech-speak that I expected with a first half slowly revolving mostly around Fiona getting used to Jock’s towering presence. With a more traditional take on the bodyguard-type (who also happened to be a hacker) story, Erickson focused on character building that came to a road block when both their pasts were brought into question. Still, Jock remained remote for most of the time, while Fiona trying her best to cut through his walls felt merely like an exercise in futility and this holding pattern (along with wildly vacillating emotions on both sides) made their connection difficult to buy into.

I could certainly appreciate the issues that Erickson wrote about—PTSD being the primary one—as much as I could ‘appreciate’ (is there a better word here?) how ‘Darkest Night’ was written around the problem of sex crimes and its victims. But having been left without solid footing for so long, along with the inability to read the protagonists or feel the depth of horror that these crimes normally elicit, I found myself more disconnected than invested nonetheless.

two-stars

Threat of Danger by Dana Marton

Threat of Danger by Dana MartonThreat of Danger by Dana Marton
Published by Montlake Romance on June 5th 2018
Pages: 304
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four-stars

Jess Taylor and Derek Daley were in the throes of first love in a small Vermont town when they were kidnapped by a serial killer. They escaped his clutches—but not the trauma of the unsolved crime. With their lives changed forever and their romance cut short, they went their separate ways to exorcise their fears.

Jess is living on the edge as Hollywood’s hottest stuntwoman. It’s no longer terror thrumming through her veins. It’s adrenaline. Derek is a former Navy SEAL spinning his ordeals into heart-pounding bestselling thrillers. But when Jess is called home on a family emergency, she must face the past—and face the man she left behind, who is just as haunted and, like her, still so much in love.

Now, as an old flame reignites, Jess and Derek are taking advantage of second chances and putting their bad memories behind them. But here, in the quiet town of Taylorville, a killer is getting a second chance as well.

With Dana Marton, each book is radically different: characters, histories and backstories, all of it and it’s this kind of unpredictability that makes Marton a compelling writer. In fact, ‘Threat of Danger’ is nothing like its predecessor (save the good writing), is only very marginally linked to it and a solid standalone in its own right.

‘Threat of Danger’ is in essence, a whodunnit mystery that builds up to the revelatory moment and it’s closer to a typical ‘crime’ story rather than a military one that I’d expected. Jess/Derek’s story unfolds slowly, almost painfully as the memories return, the irrational blame that Jess places on Derek for their ordeal in the woods a decade ago coming to light as she’s forced to revisit her hometown. Jess’s family business of sugaring fascinated me, as did Marton’s deliberate but unusual pairing of a stuntwoman who lives on adrenaline highs (yet stays anonymous) and a retired SEAL who’s now a bestselling thriller writer.

Jess’s and Derek’s story is also a second-chance one that, because of the circumstances laid out, is more or less a believable one, though it does seem as though Jess and Derek come together incidentally because of her return. This pairing would absolutely not have existed otherwise save for the hand of fate so to speak, and the quick fall back in love (was it ever?) felt a mite bit forced, especially over the few weeks that Jess stayed.

The biggest issue I have is the perp’s (somewhat weak) motivation for committing crimes which didn’t entirely make too much sense, but then again, should there really be expecting a solid, logical reason for characters doing what they do? Maybe. Nonetheless, I would have liked to be more convinced about the deeper, more twisted psychological rationale behind the string of serial killings that the perp committed at least, particularly in a story that’s all about shoring up the moments until the momentous climax.

There’s no doubt that Dana Marton’s writing is thrilling, her opening scene superbly crafted, as dreaded anticipation cuts the knife edge of a vague menace that we never quite find out about. That much I knew from the prologue that I’d better buckle in for the ride that awaited me and I was right. ‘Threat of Danger’ is engrossing, compelling and thankfully, filled with mature characters (some of whom act as tragic parallels to Jess/Derek’s relationship) who add rather than detract from the entire storytelling. It’s in all, an entertaining read that had the time passing without me even knowing it, and I finished the book moist with anticipation with what else Marton has up her sleeve in the rest of this series.

four-stars

Nothing to Lose by Christy Reece

Nothing to Lose by Christy ReeceNothing To Lose by Christy Reece
Series: Grey Justice, #1
Published by Christy Reece on 28th March 2014
Pages: 400
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four-stars

Choices Are Easy When You Have Nothing Left To Lose

Kennedy O’Connell had all the happiness she’d ever dreamed—until someone stole it away. Now on the run for her life, she has a choice to make—disappear forever or make those responsible pay. Her choice is easy.

Two men want to help her, each with their own agenda.

Detective Nick Gallagher is accustomed to pursuing killers within the law. Targeted for death, his life turned inside out, Nick vows to bring down those responsible, no matter the cost. But the beautiful and innocent Kennedy O’Connell brings out every protective instinct. Putting aside his own need for vengeance, he’ll do whatever is necessary to keep her safe and help her achieve her goals.

Billionaire philanthropist Grey Justice has a mission, too. Dubbed the ‘White Knight’ of those in need of a champion, few people are aware of his dark side. Having seen and experienced injustice—Grey knows its bitter taste. Gaining justice for those who have been wronged is a small price to pay for a man’s humanity.

With the help of a surprising accomplice, the three embark on a dangerous game of cat and mouse. The stage is set, the players are ready…the game is on. But someone is playing with another set of rules and survivors are not an option.

Mea culpa, I wish I had gotten to this sooner, having mistakenly thought this was a legal romance that I typically drag my feet into. But Christy Reece’s ‘Nothing to Lose’ surprised me when I began and couldn’t stop. The concept here is somewhat similar to Reece’s LCR series—victim advocacy, to put it in very, very broad terms—, only that it’s funded by a billionaire who wears many hats, carries a messiah complex and tries to remain shrouded in mystery as he goes along picking out people to help. But Grey Justice, the shadowy figure who pulls the strings of many puppets, is thankfully one of the good guys, or so we think, and his job is to help a detective and a woman who has lost everything to get to their goals, because it serves his own hidden agenda.

By and large, ’Nothing to Lose’ unravels a sweeping plot with enough hooks and tendrils to stretch over a series of books and written into this is a quasi-forbidden-type romance which I was pleasantly surprised with. Kennedy and Nick—the best friend of her murdered husband—are a solid-enough pairing that I could get invested in, despite the speed bumps along the way in a journey that stretches nearly 2 years.

Admittedly I do have a few, somewhat minor issues with Reece’s writing that typically prevent me from jumping straight into a book of hers. There’s the tendency to head-hop being one as we get deeper into the storytelling that confuses me (Reece holds a single POV at the start before this control slips from time to time), the almost-magical happening of things because money is no issue, the villains getting so laughingly evil/infantile they might as well be cut out of cardboard and the shades of grey that tend to divide themselves neatly into black and white as I read on.

As I said, subtle changes that bother me a mite bit, though it’s nitpicking on my part. The story’s well-written, with a heroine who shows remarkable strength after all that she’s lost, and a hero who is only slightly prone to stupid fits when it comes to overprotectiveness and jealousy. The (anti?)climax feels a little over the top in a popcorn-throwing movie, requiring a larger amount than usual of suspension of disbelief, though there’s always the sense that there’s too much unfinished business—a good enough hook to keep coming back—even as Kennedy/Nick rush off into their sunset.

four-stars

Forged in Ember by Trish McCallan

Forged in Ember by Trish McCallanForged in Ember by Trish McCallan
Series: Red-Hot SEALS #4
Published by Montlake Romance on 15th May 2018
Pages: 394
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three-stars

In the final novel in the scorching Red-Hot SEALs series, a desperate mother and a Navy SEAL fight fire with fire to protect their love and save the world…

Amy Chastain has made a lot of enemies—none so ruthless as the insanely powerful New Ruling Order (NRO). When they killed her husband, it was hell. Then they targeted her children by injecting them with a dangerous, experimental isotope. Now Amy trusts only one man to help her: the ex-commander of SEAL Team 7.

In the company of Navy SEALs, Jace “Mac” Mackenzie was in his physical element. Now he’s on the run from the same cabal that poisoned Amy’s children. That doesn’t stop him from launching a mission to bring down the NRO—and find an antidote. But the clock is ticking. And as the sparks fly between him and Amy, Mac realizes he has more to lose than ever before.

As Mac closes in on the NRO, he uncovers a plot that threatens more than Amy’s children. Now it’s a race against time to stop a global conspiracy, save the woman he loves, and protect the family that’s starting to feel like his.

Driven by hate, Amy Chastain seeks vengeance for her children who have been used as scientific subjects. She’s not the only one part of the collateral damage when a flight was hijacked months ago, though that critical event has made it obvious that there are bigger things at play. Smack in the middle of the instability are new bonds that are made (though not without much friction in the process) and with a revelation of a Dan-Brown-type conspiracy, 4 SEALs manage to fall in love along the way. That, in a nutshell, is how far we’ve come.

‘Forged in Ember’ closes the whole series as the bad guys are dispatched, only with a loose thread or so left hanging so that there’s room for a sequel. There’s also a helpful recap of the entire story-arc in the beginning, which makes ‘Forged in Ember’ a passable standalone, but the odd bits of paranormal activity, coupled with the suspense, would probably mean that the rest of the books in this series are best read in order before tackling this one.

There’s no bigger relief than this—to see the final book in Trish McCallan’s ‘Red-Hot SEALs’ series appear, especially since the wait time for it has stretched an excruciating number of years. But I’ve held out, unable to forget that the series contains an odd but good mix of conspiracy theories, military suspense and paranormal happenings that form a cocktail potent enough to keep me constantly lapping at the pages. That McCallan’s writing style is exactly what I go for in this particular genre for doesn’t hurt either.

I’ve always been intrigued by the tension between Jace McKenzie and Amy Chastain after their very unusual meeting (in rather tragic circumstances) in the first book, anyway, and ‘Forged in Ember’ finally tells their story. Amy Chastain has always stood out like a beacon of unflagging courage and fortitude—the horrors of what she’d suffered from the first book have made me want her story from the start, as McCallan pairs a woman whose strength can’t afford to waver with a rough-hewn, temperamentally impulsive commander who’s as brutish, gruff and blunt as they come. Still, their coming together is more muted that I thought, hindered many times, by the race to save her son.

As a result, the HEA in the uneasy aftermath feels like shaky foundation on which this book ends. McCallan’s SEALs get their happy rides into the sunset, banished as they are from active duty as they know it, reinstated into another secretive order that will probably see the light of day again. There are things that I thought somewhat bizarre and out of place—the large insertion of native Indian tribal rites and rituals, the super-secret, well-stocked military base off the official lines, the influence of the supernatural here—which also takes a great amount of the suspension of disbelief. Or that paranormal abilities, which defy all attempts at rational explanation anyway, conveniently pop up at times give a deus-ex-machina cop-out to prevent more characters from dropping dead like flies and help save the day.
three-stars

Stripped by Tara Wyatt

Stripped by Tara WyattStripped by Tara Wyatt
Series: Blue HEAT, #1
Published by Avon Impulse on 15th May 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Detective Sawyer Matthews isn’t just having a bad day—he’s having the worst day. His hunt for the criminal who killed his team member has stalled and now… he’s got to play nice with his new, totally unwanted partner. It’s not that she isn’t qualified, or that he doesn’t like her—it’s because he knows what she looks like naked. So very, very naked.

Brooke Simmons finally landed her dream job working for H.E.A.T, an elite undercover detective squad, and she’s not giving up simply because she had a one-night-stand with her sullen—but undeniably sexy—new partner. They’ll just have to keep it professional. Easier said than done, considering their first case requires Sawyer to infiltrate a drug cartel operating out of a male strip show. Watching him do his best Magic Mike impression every night isn’t just hot—it’s torture.

Sawyer doesn’t need any distractions, yet his attraction to Brooke is explosive and he can’t resist going for round two. Or three. Or four. But as their investigation progresses and danger mounts, they’ll have to put their jobs, hearts, and lives on the line to fight… for each other, for survival, and for justice.

Tara Wyatt’s newest law enforcement series sounded like the kind of romantic suspense I wanted to dig my heels into and ‘Stripped’—in more ways than one—is the introduction to a trio of detectives seeking to avenge the death of their friend, while finding their HEA along the way.

It’s not quite a workplace romance gone wrong, but Brooke and Sawyer went at it in reverse—from a one-night stand to the mortifying discovery that they actually work together—with Brooke as a replacement for Sawyer’s fallen best friend. As they got very hot and extremely heavy in the opening scenes for what was meant to be a one-nighter, I felt a tad bit cheated out of the usual play of tension that I normally like before they actually fall into bed, then felt equally off-centre as both Brooke and Sawyer did as I didn’t know where the direction of ‘Stripped’ was going.

My own expectations of a high-octane, non-stop police drama weren’t quite fulfilled; instead we had Sawyer and Brooke sniping post-hookup (and basically being jerks to each other) that got annoying at times instead of the heavy and heated glances that typically build. Then it got weirdly comical when Sawyer went undercover as a male stripper, kicking off a raunchiness that rivalled a porno given the amount of sexy times in it when I wanted to read more about hard-core police work.

There were overly-used clichéd phrases written in that made me cringe as well, and some unwelcome development of secondary characters whose future stories I know I might not be looking forward to read. In all, there was certainly action that kept me going (of the actual road-rash-giving kind) and I did, for most of it, liked Brooke’s no-nonsense character save for the last, somewhat out-of-character TSTL move on her part.

But there were lulls in the pacing that made the whole story move along in a jerky fashion and I did at times, feel somewhat untethered to the plot that just didn’t build or move when I thought it would, in a direction I thought it would. That said, ‘Stripped’ is far from a bad read, only that I wished I enjoyed it more.

three-stars