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spooks-spies-n-such

Risky Redemption by Marissa Garner

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 11th October 2017
Risky Redemption by Marissa GarnerRisky Redemption by Marissa Garner
Published by Forever Yours on November 7th 2017
Pages: 416
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one-star

Four years ago, Angela Reardon was brutally attacked, and she still bears the physical scars and traumatic memories. While she's worked hard to overcome her fears and build a successful business, she's still haunted by her inability to identify her assailant. Now Angela only wants to be left alone-until a shadowy stranger reignites her desire to be loved. But their time together may be brief...because someone wants her dead.

CIA assassin Jake Stone's targets deserved to die. Until now. Until he falls in love with the innocent woman he's been hired to kill. Jake can't fight his attraction to Angela, and he knows that someone else will be sent to finish the job. So can he save Angela and redeem himself by uncovering who wants her killed? When the trail leads him into the carnal underbelly of L.A., the truth is more shocking than even he could ever imagine.

From the blurb, ‘Risky Redemption’ sounds exactly like the type of read that’s up my alley: a woman with amnesia, mistaken for a mark for treasonous activity and is put as a target for a honey trap, until she really disappears when her innocence is proven. Angela Reardon’s secrets however, aren’t the type that should concern the CIA at all and in a case that’s not just about mistaken identity, the rot in the system appears too little too late, until she looks to be the kind of collateral damage swept under a rug unless a valiant, truth-seeking hero uncovers the dirt.

That was as much as I could put together for the first half of the book given the constant and numerous flashbacks interspersed with the present which made it difficult to get the timeline straight in my head. With a time gap that the storytelling struggled to bridge (the number of events that’d led us to this point only unfurl through flashbacks), the hints that were dished out merely left me with an increasing stockpile of questions that weren’t addressed as the pages turned.

With the narrative was constantly broken up between Jake/Angela’s first few meetings and the point where she apparently disappears, I had a hard time grasping the story’s coherence—it felt more like a jigsaw that frustratingly, couldn’t be put together at all—with the constant refrain of Jake’s self-recrimination, the lamenting of his lack of moral compass and generally, the weight of his regrets that seemed to pour off the pages instead of a hard, forward momentum that I’d expected of this genre. Unevenly paced, the middle-half of the book dealt solely with Jake’s investigations and Angela’s absence was starkly felt, except for her appearances in the flashbacks.

But throughout, I couldn’t get over the fact that Jake acted like a man-child who blew hot and cold with his emotions and was generally petty in a manner that I associated more with tantrum-throwing children than a grown adult. Too many lines about how easy he had it with women throwing themselves at him which he took every advantage of cemented my impression of him as a highly-reactive protagonist whose uncontrolled moods swings above all, just didn’t seem to fit the bill of the cold contract killer that Marissa Garner was trying to flesh out. Proudly proclaiming that he hadn’t had sex since he’d met her a mere 2-3 weeks ago, then trying to take on the mantle early on as her sex ‘helper’ to escape her past as a rape victim and get her to enjoy sex again—before getting frustrated because his own sexual needs weren’t satisfied when she hesitated—just upped the creep factor…and pretty much made me stop reading after this.

There were secrets to uncover and too many gaps to fill, without a doubt. But having found the protagonists generally unlikable and having struggled so much with the style of the storytelling, I can only say this just isn’t the book for me when I found I couldn’t pay attention long enough to discover what those secrets were.

one-star

Going Dark by Monica McCarty

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 12th August 2017
Going Dark by Monica McCartyGoing Dark by Monica McCarty
Series: The Lost Platoon #1
Published by Berkley Books on September 5th 2017
Pages: 352
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three-stars

Like Rome's Lost Legion, a SEAL platoon goes on a mission and vanishes without a trace.
After walking into a trap on a covert op in Russia, the men from top secret SEAL Team Nine are presumed dead. Not knowing whom they can trust, and with war hanging in the balance, the survivors must go dark and scatter around the globe.
Marine ecologist Annie Henderson joins her new boyfriend on a trip to the Western Isles of Scotland to protest a hazardous offshore drilling venture. When she realizes that she may be swept up in something far more dangerous than she'd intended, there is only one man she can turn to. . . .
She and the mysterious but sexy dive boat captain haven't exactly gotten off to the best start, but something about his quiet confidence makes her think that he's the kind of man she can depend on. Because he's gruff and guarded, she can tell Dan Warren has secrets. But she could never imagine how high the stakes are for him to keep his cover, even as he risks everything to protect her. . . .

A SEAL team paralleling the lost Roman Legion is a mouthwatering prospect. A covert op that had gone so wrong has led to the remaining few scattered around the globe and off the grid, waiting for justice to be served? It’s catnip on a platter. As someone who isn’t really into historicals, Monica McCarty’s a new author for me and any addition to the RS sub-genre is something I’m typically happy to pounce on.

Yet the opening was at best, shaky with an overwhelming info-dump that got my head swirling, all in the midst of an op that was going to go bust. Filled with with too many names, ranks and explanations of how the team worked, the first chapter was also oddly anchored by a character who also wasn’t the protagonist, which was bewildering to say the least as you only learn of one of the secondary SEALs peripherally mentioned was going to be the hero instead in the next few chapters.

But ‘Going Dark’ hits its stride halfway in, as Dean Baylor (the once Senior Chief)—hiding away in the Hebrides two months after the botched Russian job—gets inadvertently involved in an ecoterrorist plot with a woman who could very well be collateral damage. Nevertheless, I was drawn in by the intrigue and the suspense more than the characters with whom I felt less of an affinity.

Dean/Annie weren’t quite a couple that I could see together—their fiercely opposing ideals aside—as their skin-deep connection simply felt like an adrenaline-fuelled product that would burn bright and hot, but eventually burn out. Dean’s constant rumination about his casual hookups, his usual type of women and Annie not fitting the bill were off-putting to say the least, even when these comparisons were supposed to serve as his internal monologues about Annie’s break from the mould. The latter’s environmental-saving, emotional liberalism is the still furthest from his military beliefs however, though attraction comes at the worst possible timing especially since “casual” has always defined Dean’s so-called social life to a tee. Yet Annie’s insecure naïveté—some TSTL lines were crossed—and her need to keep clinging when all they agreed to was a fling that would end when they separated got annoying when she went from a seeming no-nonsense PhD graduate to a weepy, needy woman when she near begs him to stay.

That said though, this is a thoroughly promising series; the other characters definitely intrigue me and Monica McCarty provides enough of a backstory of them as a teaser that makes me enthusiastic for the sequels to come. Action specific to each couple is the focus of every book it seems, though as of now, investigations of the overall mystery crawl on, which make the ending unsatisfactory as none of the pieces have yet fallen into place. But the bright side? There’s still more to look forward to.

three-stars

Delta: Redemption by Cristin Harber

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 28th July 2017
Delta: Redemption by Cristin HarberDelta: Redemption by Cristin Harber
Series: Delta #4
Published by Mill Creek Press on July 25th 2017
Pages: 306
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two-stars

“My name’s Victoria—No last name. Don’t ask.”

That was all that the woman would share when Delta team’s expert trigger man, an Australian named Ryder, pulled her from the pits of a human trafficking nightmare and took the gun from her hand.

He didn’t mean to steal her revenge but survival was the priority. Now that Victoria was home? She had a past he was trying to understand while keeping a secret from her that might tear her apart.

But he’s not the only one. When she goes missing, Delta team discovers that Victoria No Name was a one-woman vigilante force, taking on whoever crossed her path, from gun runners to a drug pushing motorcycle club.

She was exactly who Ryder thought she might be, and now he was coming in to help—whether she wanted backup or not.

Cristin Harber’s books used to be like crack for me, though I’ve got to admit that I’ve been disappointed in them as the Titan series grows. Harber does write good suspense; everything that involves Titan is typically drawn out, fairly complex and what they do actually rolls out hypothetical scenarios that aren’t too hard to envision coming true of late. ‘Delta: Redemption’ is Victoria/Ryder’s book, 2 secondary characters that I’d long forgotten about in Harber’s previous book, but it wasn’t hard to get caught up in the hostile Russian conspiracy in middle-America and the shady link to the brutal world of human trafficking.

I liked the start of the story, as Cristin Harber portrayed a victim of circumstances and rape who’d lost her self-confidence and her perceived standing in her small-town community. Both Ryder and Victoria’s connection was…for the want of a better word…a sympathetic one which I thought I could relate to. Both had lost something/someone and Harber certainly writes that soul-deep connection between the both of them especially well as Victoria was recovering from her ordeal.

But it went downhill for me from that point onwards and yes, was Victoria herself who rubbed me the wrong way. Upfront, I felt the problem was her TSTL behaviour that proved to be the costly catalyst that helped account for the action that happened in the rest of the book. Insisting on going at things alone when she knew full well that she needed help on this was stupidity of epic proportions; going ahead full steam while actually condemning herself–which shows some amount of perception that she wasn’t doing it right–for keeping things secret made it worse.

The need for revenge is always explained away as a lone-wolf, bloodthirsty, cannot-be-ignored trait and it’s simply reiterated here with her PTSD seemed swept under the rug with a softly-softly approach that Titan gave her, as did her friend Seven, ironically proving exactly what she never wanted others to think of her from the start: helpless when it came to crunch time yet having no issues eluding and deceiving when it suited her, only to lead Titan/Delta to her rescue a second time.

I’m all for assertion of independence, though all too often it’s done without thought, which then crosses the line straight into idiocy for me. ‘Delta: Redemption’ was to say the least, a read that didn’t go down too well, though clearly, what I ranted above has been one of my personal beefs for a long time. I couldn’t stop my eye-rolling for a long time, but as I’ve always said, just because it didn’t go too well for me, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t for others as well. In fact, I’m quite happy to say the opposite, in fact, happens.

two-stars

Hot Valor by Lynn Raye Harris

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 19th July 2017
Hot Valor by Lynn Raye HarrisHot Valor by Lynn Raye Harris
Series: Hostile Operations Team #11
Published by H.O.T. Publishing, H.O.T. Publishing, LLC on July 18th 2017
Pages: 316
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five-stars

Colonel John "Viper" Mendez searches for a ghost from his past... and when he finds her, nothing will be the same!

They told him she was dead. They lied...

Colonel John "Viper" Mendez is having the second-worst day of his life. Accused of using the Hostile Operations Team to assassinate a foreign official, he's gone from being a respected military black-ops commander to a fugitive in the space of an hour. On the run, hunted, and stripped of his honor, Mendez has nowhere to go--and few people he can trust.

Russian spy Ekaterina "Kat" Kasharin is a carbon copy of the woman Mendez once loved. Twenty-one years ago, Valentina vanished from his life. Kat claims to be her twin--but Kat's lying. Ordered by her superiors in Russian Intelligence to abandon the man she loved--or watch him die--Kat had no choice but to obey.

But twenty-one years is a long time to love a man from afar, and Kat won't stand by as a traitor plans his death--even if it means risking her heart and her life to save him. She can never reveal her true identity--or the secrets she keeps locked away. Secrets he would hate her for. Working with him is strictly business, and she won't let emotions get in the way. But the attraction between them is smoking hot--and it's not long before they're burning up the sheets.

When the truth comes out, the mission implodes. Everything Mendez thought he knew was a lie. He'll have to pull it together though before a deadly foe succeeds in taking away all he loves. By the time he realizes Kat might be most important of all? It could be too late to save her...

Now then, just spank me silly. Who knew Mendez had it in him?


‘Hot Valor’ is one of the better HOT books I’ve read by Lynn Raye Harris in a long while.

John Mendez has been the grumpy, terse guy in charge since the beginning and I’ve never had any inclination to read his story (if he even had one) but Harris has made him grow as a compelling character as time went by. ‘Hot Valor’ is simply the culmination of all those glimpses that we’ve had of him throughout, unveiling the layers of Mendez and I loved that he was paired with a ghost from his past—a woman as deadly and competent as he is, but with the calmness and toughness of an operative worthy of HOT. I hadn’t an inkling of what would happen in this installment but the ride was a good one nonetheless, with an uneasy nod to the politics of Russian meddling taking the headlines these days.

But ‘Hot Valor’ stands out mostly because it defies the majority of the books that have 20- or 30-something heroes/heroines by putting a silver fox and a woman in her forties at the forefront. It’s also a story of 2 people who have fallen down a long time ago, gotten up, dusted themselves off and learned the meaning of carrying on.

And maybe that’s where the prickly issue of age might come in for some people, but having an older pairing here simply showed the finer points of romantic suspense with a distinct lack of TSTL moments and hormonal tantrums. Both Mendez and Kat should be over the hill, but they aren’t and as Harris shows in such a brassy fashion, competence and coolness—acquired only through pain and tragedy—are actually sexier than the typical hot-headed traits that seem imbued in the romance genre’s many alpha men (and women).

Mendez and Kat do have an intriguing history that I knew I wanted uncovered immediately and it was frankly, easier to sympathise with the both of them and what they’d gone through in their private lives. Kat/Valentina hadn’t disappeared from Mendez’s life on a whim because she had personal issues; she’d left only because there was a danger to Mendez and her dedication to someone who hadn’t been a part of her life for 2 decades in the way she rushed to keep him alive was top class. That Mendez could, by the end, get over it enough to get his own HEA was probably icing on the cake.

I had hell of a time, to say the least, drawn in as I was to the romance as well as the intrigue and the politics of the HOT universe. ‘Hot Valor’ did make my day and while Harris’s books are typically a hit or miss for me, I’m actually quite grateful to say that this made me one happy girl.

five-stars

Say No More by Liliana Hart

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 14th July 2017
Say No More by Liliana HartSay No More by Liliana Hart
Series: Gravediggers #3
Published by Pocket Books on July 25th 2017
Pages: 368
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two-stars

Dante Malcolm is a man of refined tastes. He was once a part of Britain's Elite Intelligence Force, but there was a reason he'd never been able to capture Simon Locke, the notorious thief who always seemed to be one step ahead. That's because Dante and Simon were one and the same, until Dante's double life eventually caught up with him and now he belongs to the Gravediggers. Eva Rothschild is a Detective Inspector with Interpol and is the one responsible for catching MI-6's most notorious agent in his final heist--except the heist killed him. But something has never felt right about his death, and it's haunted her for months. It was too easy, and Dante Malcolm was too smart to go down that way. Dante might belong to the Gravediggers in body, but his heart and soul will always belong to the next job. The rest of the team doesn't know about his alter ego because he made sure the information went missing from his file. So when the job he's always waited for seems like a possibility, he sneaks out of the country like a thief in the night, only to run into the only woman who's ever been able to match him in wit--and passion--for the job. Except they're standing on opposite sides of the law--and only one of them can walk away with the prize.

’Say No More’ had loads to deliver after I read its blurb.

Slap an arrogant, self-absorbed man who only lives for only himself and his pleasures without any consideration for others on the table and I’m going to want a redemption story and a hard but rewarding way out of the morass he’d found himself in. Put a woman whom he’d wronged so badly that I expect grovelling and a hard time by the end of it.

Instead, all I got was more cocky smugness, inflated self-confidence and the constant pompous justification of why he acts the way he does, amid the backdrop of child-smuggling and a missing twin that could have been more prominent but wasn’t. The action and the suspense somehow took a backseat to the meandering story of Dante’s womanising habits, his history with Liv and the Gravediggers mission that stood in the way of the plot moving forward.

Of all the books in the Gravediggers series, ‘Say No More’ is unfortunately the weakest of the lot in terms of plot and characterisation. It didn’t have the intensity and quirk of the first book nor did it have the same humour and surprises of the second, and I found myself sorely disappointed (and infuriated) in what could have really been a great read.

There was nothing redeemable I found of Dante, for starters. Privileged, unapologetically superficial and self-absorbed as he goes in search of thrills beyond working in MI6, his own selfishness and cowardice leads him to eventually become a Gravedigger, all because he’d no care for anyone but himself, not even the woman he gives up because he was afraid of giving up his lifestyle more. But he merely remains insufferably unrepentant even throughout the 2 years he left Liv—despite the claims he makes about wanting only her—and somehow thinks that a declaration of love at the end without any tangible measure of self-sacrifice would solve all problems between them in his small-minded universe.

Liv, the woman he spurned for the sake of his own skin, is understandably angry but apparently not angry enough that she jumps easily into bed with him despite the enormous amount of hurt he’d caused. Lust, or rather, sex, it seems, is overpowering to the point where Dante and Liv get it on as though 2 years of pain can be brushed aside like nothing. I still liked her better nonetheless—liked her unrelenting determination to search for a sister (whose story feels like a ship passing in the night) and sympathised even the pain she’d gone through.

Still, ‘Say No More’ isn’t a book I’d warmed up to at all, considering the optimism I felt after Elias/Miller’s story. But it’s been long established that my reviews mostly run contrary to what’s found here, so maybe it’ll be right up someone else’s alley. Just not mine.

two-stars

Resurrection by Katie Reus

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 13th July 2017
Resurrection by Katie ReusResurrection by Katie Reus
Series: Resurrection Harbor #1
Published by KR Press, LLC on July 11th 2017
Pages: 189
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four-stars

She faked her own death…

Skye Arévalo left the CIA and faked her death to protect Colt Stuart, the only man she ever loved. Months later, a brutal kidnapping draws her to quietly infiltrate a dangerous cartel. Just when she thinks she’s home free, things go horribly wrong and she escapes with bloodthirsty enemies on her heels…only to find herself face to face with a bewildered and angry Colt.

He’ll cross every line to save her…

When Colt, a former Marine, finds out the woman he loved betrayed him, he’s shocked and hurt, but it doesn’t stop him from breaking every law on the books to keep her alive. Unfortunately, it might not be enough to stop a powerful enemy who will do anything to see the world burn and Skye dead.

There’s always a sense of excitement and trepidation each time I begin a new series, particularly what looks like a whole new set of novellas—akin to the Red Stone Security series—that Katie Reus is starting. It’s fresh meat to devour, crudely speaking, and sinking my teeth into a romantic suspense book just knowing there’s more to come is always an unforgettable feeling that I seek over and over again.

I liked the unusual dynamics of the group of good friends in Redemption Harbor, as I did the setup for this story. The prologue was hilarious and Skye/Colt were off to a fantastic start before we find out what really happened to them. Reus writes more than a credible heroine in Skye Arévalo—scared but not too scared, gutsy when it mattered and never too TSTL to run away—and a hero who is pretty much the mirror image of her, which makes me think that Redemption Harbor is off to a good start.

It’s also only lately that Reus has been dabbling with setting up 2 couples in her books and so far, I think that it has been working, for me at least. Reus tries this here once more (sort of) and once again, I liked it very much as this particular technique just amps up the plot, the stakes and the characters you get to be invested in.

There are parts of course, that pushed my ability to suspend disbelief, but in all, ‘Resurrection’ is as much focused on sharpening the fuzzy lines of supporting characters as it is with developing the relationship between Skye/Colt and a little between Mercer and Mary Grace. And it’s here that the story stutters a little, as too many POVs spoil the broth as did the flashbacks that broke the narrative with interspersed scenes of the time Skye and Colt shared before she disappeared.

That said though, I was fully entertained for the few hours it took me to finish this novella. It’s action-packed, fairly solid for an establishing book and I think I’m already a fan.

four-stars

Cover Fire by Jess Anastasi

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 9th June 2017
Cover Fire by Jess AnastasiCover Fire by Jess Anastasi
Series: Valiant Knox #3
Published by Entangled Publishing, Entangled: Select Otherworld on June 19th 2017
Pages: 267
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four-stars

He'll protect her with his life...but who will protect his heart?

If the assignment is crazy, dangerous, or a little of both, Sub-Lieutenant Sebastian Rayne can’t help but take on the challenge. So when Command Intelligence tags him to fly one of their agents behind enemy lines, it seems like just another routine death-defying mission. Crash landing on the planet was a piece of cake, but the gorgeous agent he delivered safely to her meeting is now believed dead and he must return to retrieve her body.

After Agent Jenna Maxwell realizes her own people attempted to have her killed, she enlists the hot stick jockey’s help. His new mission? Sneak her back onto his ship to ferret out who wanted to get rid of her and why. But she fears her growing feelings for Seb have blinded her to his reckless insistence on helping her stay alive, and his rash behavior will cause them both to lose their lives.

Coming back to the Valiant Knox series is like peeking back into the lives of old friends through a small, open doorway. But it’s also plain fun to see how some of the loveable heroes of the fighter pilot force go down, sometimes literally, then wonder, how the hell they’d been so dumb to get themselves into such situations.

‘Cover Fire’ is one of those reads, as cocksure, flirty, impulsive but honourable-at-his-core fighter pilot Sebastian Rayne meets more than his match in intelligence officer Jenna Maxwell, never once believing that it would bring him down one of the most reckless paths he’s ever been down yet. But since he’s no stranger to going balls-deep into danger and finding every experience exhilarating, what’s one more hole in his belt to get that adrenaline going?

By and large, it has been a fun ride. It was amusing too, to see Seb lurching from disaster to disaster with nothing but wits (that fail at times) and reckless impulse, all of which ends badly for him when most situations call for skills he doesn’t have outside that of being a fighter pilot. And it’s a refreshing change as well to have Jenna as the competent one, or at least as the cool spy who knows what’s she doing more than Seb. The romance did seem a little rushed for me, and their penchant for having sex in inappropriate places and at inopportune times—in a cramped cargo hold of a ship, or while barely recovering from a bad injury— left me more incredulous than turned-on as I wondered how the hell Seb really got it up while injured and in pain.

Superman-tendencies aside, Seb and Jenna proved somehow that desire can trump pain and injury as they get their happy ending for now and a promotion to boot. I only wished we saw more of the crew working together instead of Seb/Jenna vs. the rest of them, but that’s merely a minor quibble as I’d always loved the team dynamics in the Valiant Knox anyway.

There’s such a strong visual element in Jess Anastasi’s writing such that reading every book of hers is akin to watching a novelisation of a fast-paced tv episode that’s a combination of a space opera and a summer blockbuster. And it rings every bell that I have and for most part, the action, intrigue and romance make me a happy camper by the end of it.

four-stars
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