Tag: Romantic Suspense

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

Run to Me by Cynthia Eden

Run to Me by Cynthia EdenRun To Me by Cynthia Eden
Series: Lazarus Rising #4
Published by Hocus Pocus Publishing, Hocus Pocus Publishing inc. on January 23rd 2018
Pages: 223
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two-stars

He’s used to getting what he wants…

Jennings “Jay” Maverick is a tech billionaire. He has the world at his feet, and he thinks he can buy anything…but he can’t buy her. One look at the mysterious Willow, and Jay knows that he is a goner. He wants to give her anything and everything she desires, but he’s the man responsible for the pain in Willow’s life, and getting close to her—well, that’s not going to be easy.

Her life is a nightmare that she can’t escape.

Willow woke up in one of the “Lazarus” research facilities. She now has increased strength, incredible speed, and some scary psychic bonuses. Because of the danger associated with her new gifts, she’s afraid to touch anyone. One touch from her, and a man’s darkest fears will seemingly turn into reality. But Jay isn’t afraid of her touch. Instead, he seems to…crave it. To crave her.

She can’t trust him, and he won’t let her go.

Willow knows that Jay has been involved with Lazarus in the past, but he swears he only wants to help her. She never expects the white-hot desire that burns between them, a desire that grows more with every moment that passes. Thrust together as allies, Willow finds herself wanting to put her faith in Jay, wanting to find someone she can rely on, but Jay may still be keeping secrets from her. Secrets that could get them both killed.

When darkness and danger close in…RUN TO ME.

There’s undoubtedly a darkly seductive, nightmarish insane edge to Cynthia Eden’s super soldiers engineered to always come back from the dead. And that keeps <i>me</i> coming back.

However, this far down the series, I’ve found things that I both like and dislike about the narrative arc and Eden’s peculiar characterisation of her protagonists here in particular—which I suspect I’ve mentioned in previous reviews of this series—bugs me quite a bit. So this puts me in the minority (what’s new?), having found ‘Run To Me’ a disappointment, all the more so because I was looking forward to Willow’s and Jay’s book.

Willow runs; Jay tries to chase and atone; the baddies aren’t too clear-cut and the race for ‘normalcy’, if there’s ever such a thing, continues—my gross oversimplification, of course. The non-stop action is a draw, as are the twists and turns in this story, though having gone through all the books in the series thus far, I find myself running into several issues that I can’t seem to ignore.

One thing that personally irks me in this book is that there are entanglements or conflicts built around ex-lovers who are still in the picture, and that these drive a wedge—no matter how big or small—between the pairing that Eden tries to bring together. Somehow the involvement of other women/other men diminishes the impact or the force of the pairing that I want to get behind…and now can’t exactly quite because of this particular white elephant that shines rather brightly in the room with them.

For this reason, I actually think it’s darkly ironic that all the other characters kept inadvertently saying things that further damned Jay in Willow’s eyes, when all he wanted was to protect her and atone for his misdeeds in the Lazarus project. Jay/Willow’s relationship is an uphill battle as a result, which after a while, becomes a repetitive push-pull of chasing and running away. Yet if I expected a hard, kickarse heroine, Willow seemed the opposite, never quite able to get past her own demons to rise above them.

Something else that niggles: there isn’t much that differentiates one alpha male from another, apart from the possession of a super power or whether they wear a suit or not. I find myself struggling here Eden’s heroes after a while, as they tend to meld into each other. Jay Maverick—who isn’t a super soldier—suddenly acts like one instead of the technological-baron billionaire he is and his stepping up as alpha—not that I don’t appreciate the possessive and protective vibes he gives out—just didn’t set him apart anymore from the behaviour of other protagonists like Sawyer or Flynn, minus the superpower.

I think I keep coming back to this series in the hope that the overall plot would get better and better, but they haven’t yet worked out too well yet. ‘Run To Me’ is the weakest of the series so far however, and I’m still wishing—or is it wishful thinking?—that the waters would be less muddied the next time around.

two-stars

Seek by Mia Sheridan

Seek by Mia SheridanSeek by Mia Sheridan
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on January 22nd 2018
Pages: 157
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three-stars

Wealthy socialite Olivia Barton never imagined her fiancé would disappear on what was supposed to be a routine business trip. She's even more heartbroken and confused when a hired private investigator tracks him half a world away, to a seaside town in Colombia. But the country has recently been ravaged by a massive earthquake and deadly tsunami, shutting down outside communication and making travel all but impossible. Still, Olivia is determined to make it to Colombia to find the answers she so desperately seeks. What she needs is a guide—a mercenary.

The man named Thomas arrives in shadows, an unmistakable air of danger about him, promising to help lead her through the ruined, crime-infested country. But when Thomas and Olivia find themselves fighting an undeniable attraction, danger takes on a whole new meaning. Then again, in the lush jungles of South America, all the rules are different and Thomas and Olivia are about to discover that sometimes the thing you seek, isn't necessarily the thing you find.

‘Stinger’ was my first Mia Sheridan read and if it’s odd to return to the world—even if it’s only a small step back into it—that Sheridan had built, it’s only because ‘Stinger’ stood out quite strongly in my memory and getting back into it felt almost like a shock (but an anticipatory, pleasant one) to the system.

‘Seek’, unlike ‘Stinger’ however, is a way shorter story incorporating the same type of romance and suspense that I love, though it’s still full of the sharp emotions that jump out at you. The journey that Olivia and Brody undertake is an unusual one, and the answers that Olivia seeks somehow have the power to unravel everything she knows.

I do like Sheridan’s writing in fact; the play of emotions, romance and suspense is typically well done (particularly when the tension between Olivia/Brody finally broke), but my own reservations here lay with how easily Olivia caved to the man who’d been part of the deception. I felt for the depth of the betrayal she’d suffered while admiring her strength in moving forward, though not liking how Brody got to make the choice whether to return or not to Olivia, with the easy assumption that she’d be waiting for him after 6 months of silence (woman, where is thy pride and dignity?)…which she seemed to be, judging from how easily she fell back in his arms.

The rushed conclusion and the all-too-easy HEA I think, were what ultimately made me a little unsure about the book. I would have preferred a more drawn-out ending-with maybe more grovelling-that didn’t just occupy a few pages of hasty declarations of ‘wanting it all’, which probably would have a more satisfactory wrap-up for me.

three-stars

No Saint by Mallory Kane

No Saint by Mallory KaneNo Saint by Mallory Kane
Series: Louisiana Lawmen #2
Published by Tule Publishing on January 29th 2018
Pages: 227
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two-stars

New Orleans Police Detective Rick Easterling is no saint. He’s the NOPD’s best undercover cop. Known as the Man of a Thousand Faces, he’s a rogue–breaking rules to solve cases his way. But when his brother dies of a drug overdose and he’s suspected of being a dirty cop, Rick vows to clear his name and avenge his brother’s death.

Rookie police officer Lusinda Johnson has a personal axe to grind with dirty cops, so she volunteers to work undercover and shadow Rick. She tells herself she can remain immune to his sexy, brooding demeanor, but the longer they work together, the harder it is to see him as anything other than a hero.

As “Sin” and Rick investigate the corrupt underbelly of New Orleans night life, the lies they must tell each other imperil them almost as much as the drug lords closing in. Will they learn to trust each other in time to save themselves and explore their growing love?

‘No Saint’ was a mixed bag for me, though I thought the premise sounded intriguing: sending a rookie officer undercover to investigate another, who might have turned dirty in all his years of experience working in the underbelly of society.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t really buy into the characters at all, even though the beginning started out quite well. I did find Rick easier to sympathise with; his personal vendetta of avenging his brother’s death, his regret about their relationship and his compassion he showed for others when he didn’t need to made him a likeable protagonist.

I couldn’t quite say the same for Lusinda. For a rookie cop, she seemed painfully naive and amateurish with the lack of experience showing up in sharp contrast to Rick’s hardened undercover mien. Her neurotic act with roaches, the constant monologue about her uncertainty and wavering emotions made her out to be almost like a teenager playing cop, consequently making it harder to believe Rick’s fascination with her, let alone his willingness to break his own rule about getting involved while undercover.

I also thought the writing was also somewhat uneven: well-written, descriptive at times, then repetitive/simplistic at other times to the point where I found myself skimming. ‘No Saint’ had good action however; it was also a gritty romantic suspense drawing out the violence of such work and the thin lines of good and bad, particularly if you’re into books that deal with the shifting identities of undercover cops and the struggle to inhabit separate personas and the surprises that will come your way.

two-stars

Running the Risk by Lea Griffith

Running the Risk by Lea GriffithRunning the Risk by Lea Griffith
Series: Endgame Ops #2
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on April 3rd 2018
Pages: 347
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three-half-stars

Survival is crucial. Trust is optional. Love is unstoppable.

Jude Dagan's life as he knew it ended a year ago. On a mission gone wrong, he was forced to watch as Ella Banning, the only woman he's ever loved, was killed. Or so he thought.

Jude wasn't the only one who lost something on the day Ella was presumed dead. She sacrificed Endgame Ops, the love of her life, and parts of herself she can never get back. Now she's determined to take down the world's most dangerous terrorist--even if it means working for him. When Jude and Ella are reunited, they'll battle the lies Ella has been forced to tell...and struggle to save a love that knows no bounds.

How do you love a woman who has, supposedly, for the greater good, betrayed you? A woman whom you’ve thought dead, coming back from the grave, who’d actually walked away willingly?

‘Running the Risk’ is a hard one to swallow, but then again, books about betrayal, second chances, big-time conspiracies and a high-stakes game are never easy to get through because they demand for sides to be taken and thereafter, leave you there and then bank on your (romantic) capacity to overlook the gravity and/or the cost of betrayal and proclaim that scarred love still conquers all.

Jude Dagan has found himself in a cruel twist of events that brought him back face to face with a one-time love, and the story unfolds with him learning about the depth and the breadth of her deception, even though it has been done for the sake of pursuing the same goal: eliminating a dangerous player in the international-arms dealing arena. Ella Banning on the other hand, is unable to outrun Jude’s crafty determination, torn between duty and mistaken loyalty (perhaps even stupidity)…and for this reason, it was easier to love Jude more than Ella. Without a good reason given for her actions until later, it was difficult to sympathise with her position in the book for the first half at least, but what do you really say about a woman who made this decision mistakenly believing she was protecting him?

Thankfully, that angst isn’t drawn out too much. The second half is relentless action, a consolidation of sorts, a reaffirmation of team effort, along with sex that sometimes happens in places and situations that seem rather inappropriate and unbelievable—that’s where the suspension of disbelief kicks in.

Still, Lea Griffiths’s effortless writing swept me through it all, unravelling the complex network of arms trade, the shady players and the constant jetting from one locale to the next, where nothing is as it seems—this is the type of high-octane romantic suspense I dig. There’re moves and counter-moves on a chessboard and the dangerous game that’s played has a price that’s typically too high for anyone to afford…all of which Griffith manages very well. But the whole largeness of the entire conspiracy that Griffiths has built here means that only a part of it is resolved in this book and there’re still too many things that haven’t yet fallen into place.

‘Running the Risk’ can of course, be read as a standalone. There are however, references to what happened in the previous book in the secretive and high-strung world of covert ops (and some recap for the reader’s sake here) which can be a confounding—I think the secret-keeping and the classified stuff sometimes work against the story—and the epilogue that’s like a trailer for the next book to come is merely a stark reminder that the whole arc is far from over. I’m always itchy for more (particularly when it comes to world-domination-type things), but the wait for the next one looks to be long.

three-half-stars

HOT Seal Bride by Lynn Raye Harris

HOT Seal Bride by Lynn Raye HarrisHOT SEAL Bride by Lynn Raye Harris
Series: HOT SEAL Team #4
Published by H.O.T. Publishing, H.O.T. Publishing, LLC on January 16th 2018
Pages: 255
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two-stars

Sold to the highest bidder…

For the past fourteen years, Princess Antonella Rossi has been a virtual prisoner. She has no friends, no fun, and she’s not allowed to leave her aunt and uncle’s Virginia compound without an escort.

But today is her wedding day. A rich sheikh has bought her virginity, and with it her freedom. Any hope of independence Ella’s ever cherished will disappear the instant she faces him across the altar. With time running out and the wedding party gathering, Ella seizes the opportunity to run as far and fast as she can.

Navy SEAL Cash “Money” McQuaid isn’t looking for trouble, but trouble always seems to find him. This time trouble is five foot four and wearing a wedding dress. Rescuing a runaway princess has consequences though, and with his face plastered on the evening news and his career on the line, he realizes there’s only one way out of this mess—he has to marry her!

It’s a marriage in name only, just until he can clear his name and win Ella the freedom she seeks. But shacking up with a gorgeous virgin isn’t as easy as it seems, especially when the sparks snapping between them are hotter and more dangerous than anything Cash has ever experienced. By the time he realizes it’s too late to resist his virgin bride, an unseen enemy is intent on taking her away from him.

Cash is gonna need all his skills—and his friends on the Hostile Operations Team—in order to rescue his princess bride and give her the happily-ever-after she deserves.

What do you do when a man is allergic to love, not to mention marriage? You force and trap him into one, in a twist of circumstances that apparently leaves him no other way out, then hem him in with reasons to do with ‘doing the honourable thing’ because this simply has to extend to his rescuing-people-in-need white knight syndrome. In this case, an escapee virgin princess, kept in her gilded tower or prison.

I got into this with trepidation, because of the virginity and the royal-angle that can go so wrong in many ways. And for me, it did.

‘HOT Seal Bride’ reads like a traditional, old-school Harlequin story (with a title that could have well been ’Tempted by a Virgin’), with very set gender-defined roles (complete with several, infuriating sexist stances the male protagonist typically exhibits)—the manwhore-soldier and the innocent, helpless virgin princess—and that was the most excruciating thing I had to get over because by and large, I actually do like quite a few books in Lynn Raye Harris’s HOT series despite the stereotypes that could be perpetuated in them.

But Cash McQuaid, who understood that love was merely fiction and indignantly sprouted arguments (paraphrased in different ways through the story) why virgins were a no-go and how jaded non-virgin women knew the score just…left me enraged. The many repeated references about how he’d slept with ‘innumerable’ women as was his routine and wanted nothing to with any virgin certainly didn’t leave me too hot either.

I do know that there are many readers who love seeing such bed-hoppers ‘tamed’ and finally acknowledging that yes, the fairytale is also for them. However, I don’t count myself among them, the rather…unenlightened attitude of such male protagonists being the primary issue here. And along with it, the rather simplistic assumption that a woman who hasn’t has sex would in fact, confuse sex with love and want a relationship felt like an enormous step back from the other contemporary romances that I’ve read.

Along with the disrespectful instances of ‘locker room’ talk that I actually found offensive – go ahead, argue that that’s normal, unfiltered and honest talk anyway – Cash’s so-called falling in love with Ella felt superficial because he wanted her in his bed and couldn’t well imagine other men taking his place.

Whether this is merely a view that Harris puts across of her protagonist or whether the author subscribes to it didn’t matter here. That the notion itself existed in a book meant for women written by a woman rubbed me the wrong way.

Plainly put, it’s a peculiar notion of virginity and sex that I can’t subscribe to at all, because it should not have been a big deal at all, particularly after having read books which didn’t deal with virginity like a central commodity to be argued about or the primary source of conflict. But because ‘HOT Seal bride’ took this route, the events that happened in the book followed like clockwork, as was the ultimate ‘downfall’ of the eternal bachelor because holy matrimony was the sole solution—again, this left me very sceptical—out of Ella’s conundrum.

I’d hoped that Harris’s HOT SEAL series would have worked for me as well as some books in the actual HOT series did. So far, it hasn’t seemed that way unfortunately and I’m not so sure right now, if it would get better.

two-stars

Her Dark Half by Paige Tyler

Her Dark Half by Paige TylerHer Dark Half by Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops #7
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on September 5th 2017
Pages: 348
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four-stars

Trevor MaxwellCoyote shifter with an attitudeCovert operatorTrusts no one, especially his devastatingly beautiful new partner

Alina BoschFormer CIA, newest operative on the covert teamHired to spy on her partnerMotto: "Never be deceived again."

Coyote shifter Trevor Maxwell is teamed up with CIA agent Alina Bosch to catch a killer. But when the mission becomes much more dangerous than they expected, they're going to have to ignore the attraction between them and learn how to trust one another to come out on the other side...

‘Her Dark Half’ is a book that has been coming for a long time, or at least the revelations in it, where the narrative arc comes to an end, so to speak, before another begins.

There’s clearly too much to recount here, but along with Alina’s and Trevor’s romance, Paige Tyler finally answers the questions (at least many of them) that I’d ranted about not being addressed in her previous books’ narratives that simply coasted along. For this reason, I’m not sure if this book would work as a standalone, because the more critical parts of the backstory and the buildup that happen in some of her past stories definitely would contribute to a fuller reading experience in this one.

I did like Alina/Trevor for most part, but most importantly, Alina’s deception wasn’t one that was held to the very end and then becoming the major conflict between her and Trevor. Paige Tyler simply had bigger fish to fry, too much action to write, more hybrids/shifters to put through the wringer and more bombs to drop on the unsuspecting reader. The opening up of the X-Ops world after this major shakeup is one that I’m definitely looking forward to and I’m really curious to see what else Tyler has in store after this.

four-stars