Tag: spooks-spies-n-such

Ghost by Janie Crouch

Ghost by Janie CrouchGhost by Janie Crouch
Series: Linear Tactical #5
Published by Calamity Jane Publishing on May 21st 2019
Pages: 251
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three-stars

Everyone eventually breaks under torture.

It’s a truth elite solider and government agent Dorian Lindstrom, codename Ghost, knows firsthand. His body may have recovered from what was done to him in that Afghani prison six years ago, but his mind…not quite so much.

He’s seeing dead people.

Grace Brandt, government codename Wraith, knows her past can’t be forgiven. She has stayed “dead” for as long as she could, but now the forces she’s been fighting, the secrets slowly suffocating her, won’t stay hidden any longer.

And the man she helped break—the man she's always loved—is the only one who can stop the danger threatening them all.

When it comes to keeping the people he loves safe, including the one who thinks she’s not worthy of it, there is no danger—past, present or future—Dorian won’t battle.


The Ghost will rise.

I’m in a bind.

What do you do, when the basis of romance—the believable pairing of 2 characters you need to root for and believe in—doesn’t quite work for you, even though the premise of the story itself is quite intriguing?

If I were to approach ‘Ghost’ from a non-romantic perspective, then the whole covert-spying, black-ops stuff with tons of brain-washing involved is one that can—and did—keep me on my toes. I loved the twists and turns; rather, I liked how Janie Crouch didn’t simply stop but kept going past the point where I expected the climax and resolution to be.

But as acknowledged in the afterword, Crouch recognises that the female protagonist—Grace Brandt, aka Ray (what the hell kind of name is that?)—isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. And she definitely isn’t mine, more so because she’s written to be the other half of a damaged character whose story I’ve always hankered after from the very start.

Wary, suspicious, morally suspect and prone to simply run with Dorian always chasing after her…that she was Ghost’s, or rather, Dorian’s other half, was frankly a hard pill to swallow. This time, the repetitive arguments of her not being good enough for him seemed spot-on, and I’d spent the whole time wishing Crouch had simply chosen a different protagonist for Dorian. It also seemed inevitable that Dorian/Grace’s HEA didn’t feel sufficiently set in stone, even if it were a touch of the realistic that Crouch was aiming for after all that both had gone through.

My rating of ‘Ghost’ is probably quite an arbitrary one. I’d be the first to admit that it turned out as ‘average’ because I was weighing the romance against the plot and while the latter was not bad, it was weighed down completely by the former that I didn’t buy into at all.

three-stars

Stealing Vengeance by Kaylea Cross

Stealing Vengeance by Kaylea CrossStealing Vengeance by Kaylea Cross
Series: Vengeance, #1
Published by Kaylea Cross Inc. on 28th May 2019
Pages: 269
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three-stars

She’s an expert at getting into places she doesn’t belong.

The government created Megan, transforming her into a Valkyrie—a deadly operative only whispered about in certain circles. They took everything from her and made her into a weapon. Now someone is leaking secret information about her sisters-in-arms, betraying them for money. Loyal Unto Death is the Valkyrie motto. So when Megan is recruited to find who leaked the files, she takes the high-risk assignment. Even if it means working with the man who betrayed her trust long ago. Even if it means giving her life. Because she’ll do whatever it takes to find justice.

But this is one situation she can’t escape from on her own.

Tyler Bergstrom never forgot the resourceful woman who escaped during the toughest phase of SERE school. So when he learns the stunning truth about her and his unwitting part in her past, he volunteers to work alongside Megan for a chance at redemption. Except she doesn’t want a partner. Doesn’t want to let anyone into her life, including him—hell, especially him. Yet whether she likes it or not, for this mission they’re partners. Now it’s a race against the clock to bring down the shadowy figure targeting Valkyries. But the threat goes deeper than they ever imagined. No one is safe. And if they can’t overcome the past and learn to trust each other, they’re both dead.

A super-secret government program taking orphaned young girls and turning them into black-ops assassins is the basis for Kaylea Cross’s new Valkyrie series.

Having graced graced the pages of her books from time to time, there’s a particular mould that these women seem to fit: doing all that it takes to get the job done, staying solitary, emotionless and distrustful while they’re at it. So similar are they, that it feels like a calculated risk that Cross takes as she finally puts all of them in the spotlight in order to give the Valkyries their own HEAs.

‘Stealing Vengeance’ nonetheless, is a good establishing book, with a slightly different tone and flavour to her previous books and it’s not bad so far. It’s a lot more cloak and dagger, more furtive and evasive though admittedly pushing past the point of suspending disbelief at times, all with the overarching theme of revenge and weeding those responsible for their inhumane actions.

Cross pairs Megan with Ty Bergstrom here in a mission to sniff out traitors—2 characters who only have a fleeting brush with each other over a decade ago, though that was apparently enough to help reignite a spark between them. And given the women’s kind of covert history, there’s also a bit of a role reversal here as the women act pretty much like many male protagonists in the romance genre: distrustful, putting the mission above all and inevitably throwing a wrench in a developing relationship.

Megan did frustrate me from time to time: I didn’t know where her ultimate loyalties lay; that it was inexplicably to a long-lost sister in custody who hadn’t yet proven herself simply made her judgement seem even more dodgy (and not copping any punishment for insubordination seemed somewhat naive…and a constant thing that Cross seems to gloss over in most of her books). And instead of voicing regrets and wishing things could have gone differently, I wished she’d been brave enough at least emotionally to sort herself instead of being a coward—while justifying it with arguments like he deserved better—where Ty was concerned.

There’s not too much we know about Ty’s history on the other hand, only that Cross writes him as far gone over Megan, with an attraction that’s simmering, and apparently so deep that he decides he can’t live without her…and would pay almost any price to keep their relationship. But any conflict between them is quickly resolved and the story ends (almost abruptly) before I could get a convincing feel of the both of them beyond fervent reiterations that Ty really, really wanted to be with Megan, the latter of whom tearfully reciprocates at the last minute.

In all, ‘Stealing Vengeance’ is more than a decent start, even if it didn’t come off as breath-stealing as I’d hope it be. Where Cross takes the story arc however, is something to look forward to.

three-stars

Black List by Lynn Raye Harris

Black List by Lynn Raye HarrisBlack List by Lynn Raye Harris
Series: Black's Bandits #1
Published by H.O.T. Publishing, LLC on 26th March 2019
Pages: 300
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three-stars

Jace Kaiser is a man without a country, without connection. His only loyalty is to the group who saved him, and the man who leads them.
Until her...

The assignment should have been easy. Capture a deadly assassin and take her to HQ. But flawed intel leads to disaster, and Jace abducts a beautiful art appraiser instead. Intrigued by her courage, he's drawn to her in ways he can't explain. Dr. Madeline Cole stood up to him, fought for her identity, and never backed down. She's the kind of woman he could fall for if it wasn't so dangerous--for her.

Then Maddy is targeted for elimination because she's the sole person who can identify the mysterious female assassin--and the only thing standing between her and certain death is the sexy mercenary who swears he'll die before he lets anything happen to her. As the passion between them ignites, it seems clear that keeping Maddy safe has become the most important assignment of Jace's life.

Even then, protecting her might not be enough--because Jace has secrets that could destroy them both. And someone is determined to unmask them all...

Ian Black has always been an enigmatic character in Lynn Raye Harris’s canon of H.O.T. men and the call for his book that has instead led to a whole new series—hopefully leading up to Black’s own story—that actually has me intrigued. The tone’s slightly different here, along with a lot more tight-lipped head nodding, the telling of lies and covert operations, just as the suspense and action are toned down a little more.

But the ‘Black List’, however, despite it revolving around Black’s shenanigans, his pivotal and black-op dabbling in international affairs and his merry group of men, was just a little more than lukewarm for me, despite the initial, exciting premise of mistaken identity, spies and double agents.

It was made clear that Jace Kaiser had a fractured history, but I think I would have liked a greater insight into his past than just the short retelling of what happened to him and his sister—a story that did in the end, turn out central to the entire plot. The focus however, on surveilling Madeline Cole and Jace’s very brazen attempt to seduce her instead, made the middle of the book flat for me, and pulled the story towards more instant lust than love. Or at least the journey from the former to the latter seemed to typically involve a streak of protective behaviour first that somehow translated into love after a very short period of time.

A main issue I’ve struggled with here, especially with a classic Lynn Raye Harris male protagonist is the sudden impetus to put roots down after a sudden, intense burst of action and adrenaline. How had Maddy’s blowjob ranked differently from the rest of the other women for Jace, despite the fact that he’d been given many blowjobs by women (which has got to be one of the most distasteful things I’ve ever read)? Had he simply fallen for her because he’d had a bit more time with her and had developed a need to protect her (keeping in mind that he’d had another one night stand just before meeting her)?

In any case, Maddy/Jace’s romance didn’t feel the most convincing of the lot that Harris had done so far—unbelievability played a huge part of it for me, at least like they hadn’t gone through enough together to be a rock-solid pairing I could get behind. The cloak and dagger business of Ian Black’s activities was also something I wanted more of but didn’t really get so it’s something I can only hope to see more in the next few books.

three-stars

London Calling by Veronica Forand

London Calling by Veronica ForandLondon Calling by Veronica Forand
Published by Entangled Publishing. LLC (Amara) on 25th March 2019
Pages: 275
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one-star

Small town police officer Emma Ross loves her simple life––but it takes a hard turn into crazy when she’s kidnapped by MI6 and is put under the protection of an over-bearing, albeit sexy, Scotsman. A man who believes she’s lying to protect her father—a father whom she had no idea worked for British Intelligence and is now missing.

Liam Macknight’s partner was assassinated and he’s certain Emma’s father had something to do with it. But the stubborn woman isn’t talking, and she’s determined to get herself killed trying to find out the truth. Locking her in a room does no good––he tried that. So he’s forced to work with her, even if he’s not sure he’ll ever be able to trust her.

When he’s assigned to kill her dad to protect the identity of British spies in the Kremlin, he knows what little trust they’ve gained is about to be destroyed forever...

I struggled with this. Hard. Put it down, walked away, then found a burst of inspiration and went a few chapters at a time, before the whole cycle began again.

And I had an even harder time writing this review of ‘London Calling’, because in every way, this should be the kind of read I dig my claws into but instead turned out to be a book that threw me into the deep end of the pool.

The setup in the beginning—confusing, straight into action, with names and a context that was neck-deep into some honey-trap—left me flailing. And that ominously, set the tone for ‘London Calling’.

Honestly, the plot was one that I could see gaining traction—a woman caught in the middle of spies and their super-secretive ways, the inevitable romance and attraction that comes out of it, the conflict of interest, a couple at odds—but I think it was the execution of it that didn’t work well for me.

Isolated and thrust into a nightmare that she has no part in, Emma Ross kind of made up for this by miraculously transforming from small-town cop to superwoman who beat people at chess and outshot trained snipers…essentially, things that made me incredulous.

Bu up to half way through, I found that Liam Macknight and Emma were not fully in each other’s orbits, and with a superficial relationship built on uncertainty and distrust, there wasn’t enough for me to ‘ship them as a pairing at all. Furthermore, given the periods of separation, I found their connection cursory at best, non-existent at worst. That Macknight thought of Emma as his anchor felt instead more like a crutch based on the sheer number of losses he’d endured, rather than any bond that they’re supposed to share. Essentially, their lack of chemistry and the reluctant romance (if this could even be called a romance) made me skim through the scenes and what I simply felt by the time I started blowing through the pages was just regret for what could have been.

one-star

The Savior by Cristin Harber

The Savior by Cristin HarberThe Savior by Cristin Harber
Series: Aces #1
Published by Mill Creek Press on 19th December 2018
Pages: 299
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four-stars

A man loses the woman he intends to marry.A woman loses her best friend.
Retired Army Captain Liam Brosnan and US Marshal Chelsea Kilpatrick are forced to question what they know about a murder that forces them together. Uncertain connections from Liam’s military career rope them into a cloak-and-dagger investigation that offers more questions than answers.

Being duty-bound while in the throes of grief is a dangerous mixture. They struggle with unexpected sparks of passion and question their loyalty to a woman they loved while a murderer closes in on his next target.

Will the explosive solace Liam and Chelsea find in one another lead to a love neither expected? Or will it blind them to looming danger and death?

Cristin Harber’s larger-than-life military/terrorism conspiracy plots often skirt closer to the edge of the unbelievable than many of the books I’ve gone through but then again, that’s part of the basis of the romantic suspense genre: the homing in on particular individuals upon whom the fate of the country or the world hangs, no matter how ludicrous the situation might be (even when the connections are far from water-tight).

Yet ‘The Savior’ is an intriguing start to a new series that I’m curious enough to want to continue: the somewhat taboo attraction between a retired army captain and a federal agent, brought together ironically by the death of the death of his girlfriend (who also happened to be latter’s best friend).

Chelsea Kilpatrick and Liam Brosnan do make a good pairing somehow, especially so after Liam learns that the tragedy they’d both lived through was in fact, premeditated…and carefully planned over a few years.

Pile on the guilt, the hesitation, the electric sexual tension and a mite bit of push-pull. The icky dead-partner as the third party vibe isn’t altogether absent, nonetheless. We’re not quite given much of their history together however, only that they knew each other marginally through Julia, yet Liam and Chelsea ‘adulted’ quite well and I liked their inadvertent (and fairly mature) way of dealing with their burgeoning attraction to each other.

What was strangely surprising was the lack of action that brought the steady pace to a sort of lull until the last quarter of the book as things pulled together. (I didn’t get the Vietnamese-sounding terrorist names, by the way.) Harber’s writing style did feel somewhat ‘off’ and uneven at times though: some collocations didn’t quite make sense logically if you actually think carefully about it, or the moments where more was needed but wasn’t given and vice versa. Some were even jarring enough to kick me out of the narrative; well, the whole point being, I did think a finer-toothed comb was necessary in weeding out these errors, developmental or otherwise.

Being cautiously optimistic about this new series is what I’m left with by the end, abrupt as it seemed.

four-stars

Silent Evidence by Rachel Grant

Silent Evidence by Rachel GrantSilent Evidence by Rachel Grant
Series: Evidence,
Published by Janus Publishing on 28th December 2018
Pages: 436
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four-stars


The man of her fantasies is finally hers. Sort of…

Two things haunt forensic anthropologist Hazel MacLeod: the bones of victims of genocide she examines for her work, and former SEAL Sean Logan’s rejection. But within days of moving to her cousin’s estate to take a much needed break, she finds herself faced with both.

First, she’s called in to examine a mass grave in Virginia, then, her politician cousin receives a threatening letter and insists Hazel needs around the clock protection—from none other than Sean Logan. To make matters worse, because the threat to her is classified, Hazel and Sean must pretend to be lovers to hide that he’s her bodyguard.

Sean has spent years trying to avoid his boss’s sexy cousin, but now he’s guarding her twenty-four/seven and even bringing her as his date to a romantic destination wedding. As the heat between them intensifies, Sean can’t lose sight of the danger that brought them together. But when bullets start flying, new questions arise. Are the senator’s political rivals really behind the threat, or is someone trying to silence Hazel from speaking for the dead?

The unfulfilled, unrequited type stories are what I tend to go after and ‘Silent Evidence’—touted by Rachel Grant as such—was one that I immediately pounced on when it came. Then again, reading Grant’s works is always an enthralling, absorbing experience.

‘Silent Evidence’ isn’t exactly a standalone to begin with. Characters from Grant’s previous books do play a substantial part in here—with the many references to the events of previous books providing much-needed context for how well we can understand what’s really going on—this far into the series where Grant’s speculative ‘world-building’ so to speak, is sufficiently developed to entangle everyone else apart from her protagonists in the building mystery and suspense.

The romance itself however, is fairly straightforward: Hazel MacLeod has always wanted Sean Logan, whose rebuffs have not only put her on edge and eager to avoid him, but that circumstances have somehow conspired to put them back in each other’s orbits when it becomes clear that there are odds and ends that don’t add up—with more than a touch of danger that sweeps in.

Like all Grant books, her plot and characters are layered and complex, with a hard, detailed look into fascinating fields such forensic anthropology, political manoeuvrings and a thread of racial tension woven through it all. But it did take a while to get to the meat of the story and the conspiracy as Sean and Hazel did their will-they-won’t-they dance in a fake boyfriend/bodyguard ruse that felt somewhat amateurish for this high-octane story. If Hazel suffered from all the pining, Sean’s own indecision got rather aggravating until a near-fatal accident took it all out of him and got him to buckle down for the ride.

The big reveal and the unravelling of the conspiracy did seem kind of a let down after the elaborate setup however, when it all peaked and then wrapped in the last 15 or so pages of the long, long read where telling took over showing. Left with the niggling feeling that I’d been taken for a huge, circular joyride with political and human-experimentation inserts from time to time, I finished ‘Silent Evidence’ semi-content that Sean/Hazel rode off into their HEA but wondered if the story could have been shorter and tighter.

four-stars

When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton

When We Left Cuba by Chanel CleetonWhen We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton
Published by Berkley Books on 9th April 2019
Pages: 368
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three-stars

Beautiful. Daring. Deadly.

The Cuban Revolution took everything from sugar heiress Beatriz Perez--her family, her people, her country. Recruited by the CIA to infiltrate Fidel Castro's inner circle and pulled into the dangerous world of espionage, Beatriz is consumed by her quest for revenge and her desire to reclaim the life she lost.

As the Cold War swells like a hurricane over the shores of the Florida Strait, Beatriz is caught between the clash of Cuban American politics and the perils of a forbidden affair with a powerful man driven by ambitions of his own. When the ever-changing tides of history threaten everything she has fought for, she must make a choice between her past and future--but the wrong move could cost Beatriz everything--not just the island she loves, but also the man who has stolen her heart...

‘When we left Cuba’ isn’t quite a sequel to Chanel Cleeton’s much-loved ’Next Year in Havana’, the latter of which I do consider one of my best reads of the year. Still, it’s a book that stands on its own feet even if it’s less sweeping than its predecessor. Still, ‘When we left Cuba’ is a compellingly written story of the oldest Perez sister who struts her way through the pages, armed with the thirst for revenge as she somehow moseys her way into the clutches of the CIA while tangling with a senator whose a player in politics and in every sense of the word.

Within the fodder material of the fabled and many attempts of the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro is where Cleeton posits Beatriz Perez after her escape from Cuba, navigating the thorny issues of policy and politics of the time. Bold, hot-headed and reckless, Beatriz carves a path for herself that’s as treacherous as you’d expect, resulting in having her loyalties sorely tested as her decisions change the course of her life.
Cleeton writes in favour of long, descriptive passages of place and emotion; the pace is slower as a result, the plot a little more convoluted. The romance isn’t quite the focus here; rather, Beatriz herself is the star of the show, front and centre. Her long, longstanding affair with a powerful senator is carried out amidst society’s expectations and the uncertain political climate, a subplot that runs alongside her involvement with the CIA.

I’ll admit though, that it is harder to be singularly or emotionally invested in Beatriz completely as I was in Cleeton’s first book about Elisa and her granddaughter. Undoubtedly, Beatriz is a colourful character who stands out sharply—sometimes too painfully sharply like a woman cut from a different cloth—not just by means of her birth but also her life experiences, but ultimately, she’s still a protagonist whose story I read about from a distance as she made her own small stamp on history, for better or worse.

Cleeton’s impactful writing carries it all here, despite the odd hollowness I felt about Beatriz by the end. It’s what took me through the politics, the lies, the dirty games and the passing of time within the pages after all and it’s what keeps me coming back.
three-stars