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Spooks/spies

Fatal Courage by Misty Evans

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 24th August 2016
Fatal Courage by Misty EvansFatal Courage by Misty Evans
Series: Shadow Force International, #3
Published by BeachPath Publishing on August 20th 2016
Pages: 297
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three-stars

He ruined her career…
In twenty-one missions, CIA golden girl Ruby McKellen has failed only once. Thanks to Navy SEAL Jaxon Sloan, the man who stole her heart and forced her to choose between him and her partner Elliot, she’s on probation and Elliot is in prison for national security crimes. To prove Elliot’s innocence and save her damaged career, Ruby is running an unsanctioned mission—but the only way to get the proof she needs is to go to Jax with her tail between her legs.
She wrecked his heart…
Jaxon left the Navy after the mission with Ruby in Morocco went south, but that one hot, unbelievable night with her will haunt him forever. Working for Shadow Force International now, his new assignment has brought him full circle—the CIA operative Jax’s testimony sent to prison has escaped and Jax has been ordered to hunt him down. Just like in Morocco, the one thing standing in his way is Ruby.
A second chance at love could prove fatal…
When Ruby’s life is threatened and Jax stumbles on information that might prove Elliot is innocent, guilt over putting the man in prison compels him to join her unsanctioned mission. What really happened that night six months ago? Is Elliot an honorable spy or a mastermind at manipulation? Ruby is the only one who can help Jax navigate the world of undercover lies and betrayal to find the truth.
In a battle of wills—and of hearts—Jax and Ruby must have the courage to face the truth about themselves, their past, and what it really means to betray someone you love.

Misty Evans knows how to plot a book – with such élan that it’s clear it’s not her first rodeo dealing with this particular sub-genre of romantic suspense. In that shadowy world of spies, counterterrorism, misleading intelligence and double agents, she takes us for a merry ride through characters who live and thrive in the grey areas and well, sort of fall in love (or lust).

Jax’s and Ruby’s story however, isn’t a simple one. There’s loads of history between them and a huge information dump that I found distracting – the first installment of SFI was an excellent example of suspense that subsequent books moved away from – and while the action merely amped up as the pages wore on, Jax and Ruby struggle to find their HEA, not least because of conflicting interests and motivations that could seem more selfish than noble.

I’m neutral about this one; there were bits I liked and bits I didn’t, so those cancel each other out fairly evenly. The action was entertaining as hell, if a little hard to believe because it inches closer to Mission Impossible or the Bourne movies complete with the special effects and superhuman feats. But for the characters and the changing POVs (why was it necessary to have one in Elliot’s POV when he’s a secondary character who faded out towards the end?) were harder to get into. Jaxon’s own personality quirks and temper issues gave him that knife’s edge, I found Ruby’s insistence on prioritising the job, doing things only her way, keeping her plans secret and her quickness to shift blame onto others – to the extent where people got hurt because of it – more difficult to like. And perhaps there is nothing worse than a self-aware heroine who knows that she has treated the male lead badly (but does nothing about it), then asks in self-recrimination why he’s still being so good to her when there is only one night of unforgettable sex between them. Somehow working on the assumption that asking for forgiveness is better than giving collaboration a chance, Ruby irked me so much at times that I wondered if Jax would indeed be better off without her.

My other quibble is the rather abrupt closure…or lack thereof, rather. Loose ends didn’t seem fully tied up and while we’re given a hint of where and how things would wrap up, the ending wasn’t as unequivocally certain as i’d hoped it would be.

three-stars

The Talented Mr. Rivers by HelenKay Dimon

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 17th June 2016
The Talented Mr. Rivers by HelenKay DimonThe Talented Mr. Rivers by HelenKay Dimon
Series: End of the Line #2
Published by Loveswept on September 13th 2016
Pages: 176
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four-stars

As the son of an international crime lord, Will Rivers only inherited one thing after his father died: trouble. The Pentasus organization deals in kidnapping and murder, and Will wants no part of the power grab that’s tearing leadership apart. But the only way he’ll be able to escape is with some help from his former bodyguard, Hunter Cain, whose sculpted body and brooding looks keep Will awake at night. Somehow, Hunter has resisted the tension between them . . . until, suddenly, he gives in.
As a German intelligence officer working deep undercover, Hunter has a very good reason to keep Will in the dark about his identity and his intentions. Although the sex is hot, Hunter’s true feelings are a growing liability. Now the only way to save Will from his old life is to push him deeper into danger. But when two strong men are each determined to protect the other, the heat isn’t just combustible—it’s a firestorm.

For all of two months, Hunter Cain never broke his cover, until an incident that puts his mission on the line. Becoming the bodyguard of the son of an international crime lord is equally incidental, and for all his ability to put his mission above all, his mark this time around, makes him stray into deeper shades of grey that he has never quite known.

I must admit that reading a same-gender romance requires a bit of adjustment on my part. Always. Particular after months or weeks of M/F couples whose dynamics and relationships have been cut crystal clear in all the romance tropes available in the market these days, unlike the more fluid ones here, which I personally find alluring because of this marked difference. There isn’t a person who assumes or mimics the feminine role, no conventional structure to follow with the sexual dynamics that come into play, but rather, just the tumble into carnal desire between two men.

There’s a harder edge to HelenKay Dimon’s End of the Line series that drew me into the first book and continues to draw me in even now, more so perhaps because it’s an M/M story, of two men who circles each other warily in the games only males can play. The ‘softer’ emotions are absent here, just as you’d expect two hard men to react, never quite talking or acknowledging their feelings straight on. I found Hunter and Will more fascinating than bosom-buddy characters for these reasons, as though they existed on a different plane than I do. Yet there’s this dark thread of attraction and the zing of chemistry that makes this unusual bodyguard/charge relationship really sing, coupled with Dimon’s punchy writing, which makes the story a surprising but memorable standout for me.

four-stars

Risk of Exposure by Emmy Curtis

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 5th May 2016
Risk of Exposure by Emmy CurtisRisk of Exposure by Emmy Curtis
Series: Alpha Ops #6
Published by Forever Yours on May 3rd 2016
Pages: 224
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two-stars

He is a trained professional—but nothing can prepare him for the hottest mission of his life. Assigned to protect his boss’s daughter, British former SAS operative Malone Garrett breaks the first rule of covert surveillance—don’t make contact. And especially don’t take your mark out to dinner, then agree to a rooftop quickie. But now that Mal has Abby in his arms, he has no intention of ever letting her go.Abby Baston told herself it was a hit and quit, a one-nighter with a hot, handsome stranger whose hands were trained to take action. Working undercover for the CIA, she can’t risk anything more. But when an international crisis ignites, Abby must make a call: trust Mal with her secret—and her heart—and partner up, or lose everything in a split second . . .

While it all started out quite well and witty, I eventually found it hard to go on soon enough. Unfortunately, it was characterisation that tanked the story for me, made all the more disappointing because of the fantastic blurb, but mostly because it was difficult for me get a read on the lead characters who behaved so oddly and almost with artifice, like they were in some play on stage acting out for an audience with dramatic hand gestures and movements. Nothing much around them seemed real enough to like at least and while I understand the need for covers, illusions and protective shells, both Malone Garrett and Abby Baston made the incredible but unbelievable leap from that to ‘true love’ like trapeze champs.

The ‘sparks’ between Malone and Abby came in the form of sniping, temper tantrums, blackmail and sudden bouts of emotional outpourings, interspersed with hot sex and quite a bit of it at inappropriate times, which makes me wonder about their self-preservation instincts.

Great, if that’s your thing, but it clearly isn’t mine.

Usually it’s a special sort of banter that makes a growing relationship fun to pursue and great to read, but everything about Malone/Abby simply came off as bizarre and forced. Consequently, all I wanted to do by the time I hit midway was to give their flimsy, changeable-as-weather personalities and that volatile joke of a relationship a wide berth; they were arses in their own special ways most of the time and not likeable enough for me to cheer for their own HEA.

Or maybe it’s just my inability to appreciate that form of humour and that sex really is a clearing path to a happy ending.

two-stars

Allegiances by Cynthia Eden

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Romantic Suspense 5th April 2016
Allegiances by Cynthia EdenAllegiances by Cynthia Eden
Series: The Battling McGuire Boys #6
Published by Harlequin on April 19th 2016
Pages: 288
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four-stars

Private investigator Sullivan "Sully" McGuire has a reputation for danger. He's spent most of his life tracking the men who murdered his parents. The one woman who sees past Sully's predatorial pursuit is the wife he abandoned years ago. But Celia James has returned, this time with a target on her back. In order to save Celia, Sully is forced to resurrect old demons. New dangers—and dormant desires—bring Sully and Celia closew…and old enemies even closer.

A thrilling conclusion to the series, albeit rather similar to book 5 that seamlessly led straight into this. The central mystery of the McGuire parents’ murder is finally solved, but not without twists and turns and some shocking revelations that hint at a larger conspiracy – and with it, a well of corruption – within the Alphabet agencies.

I did like Cynthia Eden’s no-nonsense approach to Sully’s and Celia’s estrangement; there’s no time wasted getting a divorced couple back together again, even though Celia seemed to forgive what Sullivan had done rather easily all those years ago. Sully’s sudden need for his ex-wife however, is a hundred and eighty turnaround, considering he didn’t seem to want to have anything to do with her years after he’d pushed her away. Skeptical as I am of the slippery slope of lust and carnal want (and the promises of forever) that both of them slide down, I’m already stubbornly hoping for Monroe Blake’s story…because he deserves much more than what he got in here.

four-stars

Deceptions by Cynthia Eden

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 4th April 2016
Deceptions by Cynthia EdenDeceptions by Cynthia Eden
Series: The Battling McGuire Boys #5
Published by Harlequin on March 22nd 2016
Pages: 288
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four-stars

Old sins explode in New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Eden's new Battling McGuire Boys! 
People called Elizabeth Snow wild, and once she was. Now she's the straitlaced librarian with no interest in the wildest, sexiest McGuire…until she needs him to protect her from a murderous stalker. But former Delta Force Mac does more than protect—he quickly unleashes her untamed side again, taking their attraction to the furthest edge of desire! 
Secrets from their pasts threaten Elizabeth and Mac—as much as"The Fixer," who seems to know their every move as they hunt this monstrous killer. Can they trust each other enough to go forward? Or will a shocking truth prove fatal?

The ‘wildman’ of the group, former Delta-force soldier Mac McGuire shifts into high gear when his frequent visits to the library – and his secret crush on the librarian – lead to an unexpected case that brings Elizabeth Snow into the crosshairs of a killer and his master. But this also finally brings Elizabeth up close and personal, right to where he wants her and where he hopes she wants to be as well.

It’s hard not to like the typical Cynthia Eden male (or at least what I’ve read thus far from several of her books): gruffly protective, pore-oozingly alpha, yet movingly unafraid to admit his feelings before going all the way to convince the woman in question to take that chance on him. Mac McGuire fits the bill perfectly and after the wishy-washy manwhores that have been perpetuating the pages of way too many books, I’m ready to throw my hat (and clothes) at him.

Consider my standards sort of restored.

But even as Mac’s and Elizabeth’s story unfolded, I particularly waited with bated breath the deliciously intriguing setup for Sullivan’s and Celia’s story and a promising shift back to the focus of the series – the McGuire boys’ parents’ murder – which I’d thought the series had lost along the way. So much that I bought that book straight off Harlequin and am impatient to dive right in – right after this review.

four-stars

Mr. and Mr. Smith by HelenKay Dimon

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 10th March 2016
Mr. and Mr. Smith by HelenKay DimonMr. and Mr. Smith by HelenKay Dimon
Series: End of the Line #1
Published by Loveswept on May 24th 2016
Pages: 210
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three-stars

Fisher Braun knows how to keep a secret. As a covert paramilitary operative, his job—and his life—depends on it. He’s at the top of his game, ready for action and always in control. No enemy has ever brought him to his knees, but one lover has: Zachary Allen, the man currently sharing his bed. The perfect package of brains and brawn, Zach is someone worth coming home to, and Fisher hates keeping him in the dark about what he does. But the lies keep Zach safe. Until the day Fisher loses everything. . . .   Zachary Allen is no innocent civilian. Although he plays the tech geek, in reality he’s deep undercover for the CIA. In a horrible twist of fate, the criminal enterprise he’s infiltrated has set its sights on the man whose touch drives him wild. Zach would do anything for Fisher—except blow his own cover. Now, in order to save him, Zach must betray him first. And he needs Fisher to trust him with all his heart if they want to make it out alive.

Even as a one-night stand in a bar slips unexpectedly into a routine of living together, Fisher Braun doesn’t question this too much until a kidnapping goes wrong and betrayal hits him square in the face of Zach Allen with whom he thought he’d something real. In a case of double crossings, undercover identities and an operation gone wrong, Zach and Fisher (both hardened men) must learn the hard way what happens beyond trust is shattered and the difficult consequences of keeping a personal life apart from the soul-sucking demands of their CIA superiors.

I requested for this not particularly for a HEA as I usually do, but rather to satisfy a burning curiosity about how men in a partnership dealt with their emotions – away from a sports setting – and how women authors perceived and wrote them. And how, apart from the M/M sex – which I wasn’t entirely too interested in, to be honest -, the tone and voice would differ had this been a M/F book.

It turned out that my initial suspicion about the male form of emotional repression was right (regardless of gender orientation) and this book confirms it when 2 men punch out their frustration rather than articulate what’s exactly wrong in their relationship. The hard-edge, grittier, more unforgiving bits of alpha male personalities came to the fore in Zach and Fisher, lending the story a weightier, gruffer and sombre feel than the usual kind of crackling chemistry that runs through the usual M/F pairings that I always read about.

Clearly, ‘Mr. and Mr. Smith’ isn’t a book for everyone despite the ongoing action and suspense; the whole clandestine operation feels a little dopey at times, and the main characters are clearly too stubborn for their own sakes, but it has already left me wondering about the direction in which HelenKay Dimon will take this series.

three-stars

Edge of Courage by Trish Loye

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 8th March 2016
Edge of Courage by Trish LoyeEdge of Courage by Trish Loye
Series: Edge Security, #5
Published by Tough Girl Press on March 1st 2016
Pages: 248
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three-stars

E.D.G.E. Security is a covert international organization that handles jobs most governments won’t. The operators are the elite of the elite, soldiers and spies, chosen for their skills and secrecy, and their ability to go beyond the edge.
Ex-CIA operative Sarah ‘Ghost’ Ramirez likes to work alone. Life has taught her not to depend on anyone. So she has no problem when EDGE sends her to Iraq to infiltrate ISIS, the terrorist organization. But living undercover in a war-torn city overseen by brutal fanatics takes its toll on her. Sarah wants out, but can’t bring herself to leave the people who need her despite the personal cost to her spirit. Only her cherished memories of the man she left behind lets her endure the burden.

Dylan ‘Cowboy’ Richards is a hotshot helicopter pilot for EDGE. He’s been raised to protect others, even when they don’t want protecting. He’s on a rescue op in Mosul, Iraq when he finds out his contact is the woman who walked away from him five months ago without saying goodbye. He wants nothing more to do with Sarah Ramirez, but can’t stop his instinctive need to help her.

When the rescue goes wrong, Sarah puts her life on the line so Dylan’s team can escape. Dylan refuses to leave her behind and ends up caught in her dangerous mission that threatens not just their lives, but their hearts and will take them to the edge of their courage.

Deeply embedded in Syria for E.D.G.E, Sarah Ramirez’s latest assignment is also partially one where she gets to forget about a terrifying connection that she’d forged months before with Dylan Richards. But E.D.G.E’s retrieval of another operative brings both Sarah and Dylan back into each other’s spheres once more and Dylan’s staying behind tests Sarah’s resolve not to break under the promise of much more that he can offer – past this desolate, thankless life.

I found ‘Edge of Courage’ vividly immersing for its fictional account of undercover life in ISIS-controlled Syria, but much less so for a pairing where one side always seemed to be scaling an immovable mountain to get to the other – and failing. Agent Ice, or as Sarah is also known by, is a fitting name for her personality: one who freezes out everyone and is meagre with any outpouring of affection that goes beyond the physical. Seeing her push Dylan away time and again and her constant insistence that she wasn’t made for anything emotional eventually made me wonder if she was beyond redemption. By the time her change of heart came in the last chapter, it was difficult not to wonder if this was simply yet another impermanent realisation that would later turn tail on her supposed decision to be with Dylan.

Yet extremely frustrating characters aside – which I’m not always able to do -, ‘Edge of Courage’ is worth the read just for the action and for the very contemporary take on a woman’s effort in penetrating the brutal regime spreading in the Middle-East on her own terms.

three-stars
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