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suspense-thriller

Pretty Dead Girls by Monica Murphy

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Young Adult 1st December 2017
Pretty Dead Girls by Monica MurphyPretty Dead Girls by Monica Murphy
Published by Entangled: Teen on January 2nd 2018
Pages: 300
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three-stars

Beautiful. Perfect. Dead.

In the peaceful seaside town of Cape Bonita, wicked secrets and lies are hidden just beneath the surface. But all it takes is one tragedy for them to be exposed.

The most popular girls in school are turning up dead, and Penelope Malone is terrified she's next. All the victims so far have been linked to Penelope—and to a boy from her physics class. The one she's never really noticed before, with the rumored dark past and a brooding stare that cuts right through her.

There's something he isn't telling her. But there's something she's not telling him, either.

Everyone has secrets, and theirs might get them killed.

Imagine a group of privileged girls—all of whom sort of conform to the rich, aloof, snooty and somewhat mean stereotype—suddenly being swamped by a mysterious but vengeful serial killer who throws their ordered but small world into chaos. In the midst of them is the head cheerleader and a quiet, mysterious boy who find themselves in the centre of the maelstrom as the noose tightens around them while they play amateur detectives.

There aren’t too many of these sort of YA-thriller, high-school-centric books that I’ve read (or the kind of movies that I’ve watched) and it takes an adjustment every time I read a book like ‘Pretty Dead Girls’. Jumping into a YA book can be hard at times, not least because it’s a throwback into the mean, teenage girl mindset—where everything is exaggerated, pulled apart and then reacted to in an over-the-top fashion—but also because it’s one which I have the hardest time connecting with as well.

This is sort of a step outside my usual reading habits, but I still did have a good time in a way as a distant spectator would with teenage shenanigans, alternating between cringing at the sensibilities of the self-absorbed and petty girls (and wondering if I was as bad as them or worse?) and trying to do the whodunnit game that I normally do with the adult mystery-thrillers I sometimes read. If anything, Monica Murphy gets those behavioural traits pat down and pitches the story perfectly for teens, though it’s honestly difficult to like the characters you want to yell at to grow up before you realise they’re acting exactly their ages…and can’t be expected to do anything differently.

However, there are some questions that don’t seem to be satisfactorily answered, where secrets that you think are soul-destroying turn up to be mere storms in tea cups. Still, it was kind of a fun ride, given the unholy glee I felt when these girls had their comeuppance and almost wished the body count got higher just to up the thrill factor for my bloodthirsty and mean soul.

three-stars

A Cold Dark Promise by Toni Anderson

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 21st November 2017
A Cold Dark Promise by Toni AndersonA Cold Dark Promise by Toni Anderson
Series: Cold Justice #8.5
on November 14th 2017
Pages: 144
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five-stars

In the midst of wedding preparations, a shadowy figure from Alex Parker's past reappears and threatens the joy he’s found with Mallory Rooney.

Four years ago, Jane Sanders’s rich and powerful ex-husband kidnapped their young daughter and Jane hasn’t seen her since. Now she finally has a lead on her location and she knows just the man to help her get her daughter back. Trouble is, he’s an assassin. And he terrifies her.

Despite his upcoming nuptials, Alex agrees to help, but it doesn’t take long for the routine operation to turn complicated—and deadly. Can the former CIA operative make it home in time to marry the woman he loves, or will his dark past destroy all hope for their future?

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect of ‘A Cold Dark Promise’—the wedding novella of Alex Parker and Mal Rooney—except for the fact that it was a long time in coming, circling back to the original couple that sparked off the whole Cold Justice series. After all, Mal’s unending pregnancy was starting to feel like the official ‘measurement’ for the time it took for all of the series’s characters to fall in love and get their HEA.

‘A Cold Dark Promise’ is nonetheless a special one: Alex Parker is the enigmatic, mysterious brooding man who started it all and I’m pleasantly surprised to see him as the more compassionate man who had grown some funnies along the way as the rest of the Cold Justice books went by. Despite him popping up here and there in other books as a supporting character, I simply liked seeing him taking centre stage again after all this time.

Anderson’s dry British humour flexes its mighty muscles here (unless I’m not supposed to laugh, which means I’ve gotten it so wrong), and that definitely made the book more lighthearted and fun read than the rest of her other Cold Justice books. Her characters were pulled out of their usual comfort zones to do things they didn’t normally do (the Parker/Frazer bromance!) in a last-minute op that had the characters flying by the seat of their pants. Now this was a thoroughly enjoyable experience to read about, all the more so with the slight comedic elements thrown in with the suspense and thrills.

The reunion of all the cast members simply shows how far we’ve come in the series and I think I simply fangirled each time my favourite couples poked their noses out and came out to play, even for a sentence or two. For a novella and a sort-of roundup to the series (though Anderson promises it isn’t the end), ‘A Cold Dark Promise’ packs a huge punch—it’s brilliant, hilarious in parts and proof positive that a wedding could still go off without a hitch (barely) because it took a village for that to happen.

five-stars

Keep Me Close by Cynthia Eden

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 27th October 2017
Keep Me Close by Cynthia EdenKeep Me Close by Cynthia Eden
Series: Lazarus Rising #2
Published by Hocus Pocus Publishing inc. on October 24th 2017
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four-stars

Flynn Haddox is a dead man. Literally.

As a highly trained Navy SEAL, Flynn once worked covert missions for the U.S. government, but then his life was stolen away. Killed and placed in the secretive “Lazarus” program, Flynn was brought back from the dead and turned into a super-soldier. Now he has increased strength, enhanced senses, and a few psychic bonuses that he fights hard to keep hidden from the rest of the world. He also has no memory of his past…and a new, twisting darkness seems to be growing inside of Flynn.

Cecelia Gregory escaped death once. Can she do it again?

Dr. Cecelia Gregory was supposed to help the Lazarus test subjects. They didn’t have control of their emotions after the experiment, and her job as a psychiatrist was to break through the walls that the men had created. Too late, Cecelia realized that the Lazarus subjects were far more dangerous than she could ever imagine. The men came back from the dead, but some of them came back…wrong. Now one of the subjects has a dark obsession with Cecelia. The man known as Subject Five is hunting her. And he wants her dead.

One man wants to kill her, but another just…wants her.

Flynn feels a connection to Cecelia that he can’t deny. Not some sweet, innocent attraction—a consuming lust that makes him crave her all the time. Flynn knows that his feelings aren’t normal, but protecting her is his mission now. The man hunting Cecelia is just like Flynn—all the same enhancements, all the same strengths. And no weaknesses. One big difference, though—Flynn doesn’t plan to lose Cecelia. And he’ll fight his own darkness to prove his worth to her.

In ‘Keep Me Close’, Flynn Haddox and Cecelia Gregory battle an old nemesis whose powers and ‘unkillability’ seem to stake the odds against them. Like the vampire that can only die with a stake through the heart, Bryce the villain torments the hell out of everyone before he finally dies, but not without the menacing laughter echoing in his wake.

Cynthia Eden’s ‘Keep Me Close’ is no doubt, an overload of the senses: a popcorn throwing mish-mash of zombie and vampire lore, serial-killer-type suspense with top-secret military experiments—and is a return to the sequel that’s typically known to be bigger, bloodier, more brutal (and sometimes cheesier) than ever.

But it’s a hell of a ride that reads like part horror and suspense with some erotica thrown in to amp up the steam level, where most male characters, because of the nature of the experiments, are given free rein to be over-the-top alpha super-soldiers who are very in-tune with their primal side, with single-minded beliefs that narrow down to protecting the woman at all costs.

With Flynn/Cece’s story, there are some similarities with Sawyer/Elizabeth’s one and at some parts, it does feel like rehashing of what we’ve gotten thus far, as a super-soldier hitting the ground hard with his female doctor, then fleeing before taking the fight to the enemy. But as with any Eden book, there are also some twists and revelations that have given more depth about the experiment these soldiers have undergone, the long-term effects that we don’t know about, as well as the introduction of additional characters that have given this series scope for expansion. I’m intrigued to see where Eden will take the direction of this narrative arc in fact; it seems as though Eden herself is aware of the similarities between these 2 books, and the vein of change that’s hinted at is more than welcome.

four-stars

Winnawarra by Elizabeth M. Darcy

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 26th October 2017
Winnawarra by Elizabeth M. DarcyWinnawarra by Elizabeth M. Darcy
Published by Luminosity Publishing LLP on December 8th 2017
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two-stars

Emily Perkins is over the moon to learn Jock Macgregor has left her a share in Winnawarra Station in the magnificent Kimberly region of Outback Australia. The bonus comes when she realises, his handsome grandson, Doug is the man of her dreams. She loves working beside him and every day is an adventure.

After receiving a letter from Jock, she discovers he was convinced the accident that killed his son and daughter-in-law was actually murder, and he included her in his will to investigate the deaths.

When accidents start happening to Emily, and she hears footsteps outside her room at night, she is convinced someone is stalking her.

Is she next on the killer’s list?

Isolated on an Outback cattle ranch, will strong, dependable Doug be able to keep her safe?

A murderer is loose at Winnawarra Station, and she must race against time to identify the killer before he strikes again.

The Australian rural romance is a sub-genre that I like quite a bit, so ‘Winnawarra’ sounded like a thing straight up my alley, particularly with some romantic suspense thrown in. But I’m frankly, struggling to write a review of a story where the bits that appealed equalled the parts that didn’t.

I did like the numerous cultural references in the book—the Australian rural ranching practices never fail to fascinate me—and Elizabeth M. Darcy’s style of writing is different in a way that takes a while getting used to. The premise for Emily’s arrival “Winnawarra” was as well, an unconventional one, as was the suspense that really amped up the tension and thrills when things went bump in the night.

However, I had a few issues with the inconsistencies in characterisation, writing and pacing, and that did affect my ability to get absorbed fully in the suspense. In fact, the protagonists didn’t seem to be the adults they were, while several bits of dialogues took on an odd archaic sheen that didn’t seem to fit with the contemporary tone of the story.

Emily seemed childishly impatient with crazy mood swings at times (not to mention the easy jealousy), blaming her fear on Doug’s inability to ‘keep her safe’, then getting close to accusing him of murder in her haste to uncover the mystery surrounding Winnawarra. To be fair however, Doug never looked as though he’d managed his PTSD at all and that did spill over in actions that were self-destructive to the point where it struck Emily precisely where her nerves were rubbed raw by her past relationship. And…no condoms? Seriously? When Doug had all but admitted he’d slept with way too many women when he was drunk and on a bender?

At the same time, the murder mystery that Emily was investigating also seemed quite tangential, involving characters that still seemed to steer the plot from beyond the grave, leaving me like the disconnected outsider trying to look in through a dusty window. The story did however, hit its stride past the halfway mark, though it led to a climax where the villain was revealed to be whom I suspected he was all along.

‘Winnawarra’ would be a decent read particularly if the rural traditions of ranching (along with hot cowboys) down under interests anyone looking to get into rural romance. Unfortunately, the story fell rather flat for me despite its potential.

two-stars

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy 16th October 2017
Into the Drowning Deep by Mira GrantInto the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
Series: Rolling in the Deep #1
Published by Orbit on November 14th 2017
Pages: 512
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three-stars

Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.

Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.

Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves.

But the secrets of the deep come with a price.

‘Into the Drowning Deep’ delivers a potent cocktail of bloodthirsty monstrous mermaids, blood spatter and gore with aplomb. It’s also that kind of popcorn-throwing syfy-horror-fantasy I expect at a viewing of any apex-predator movie—a thrilling, entertaining and highly campy ride up until the credits roll—which the book delivers.

Just don’t take it too seriously, which, with the aid of popcorn and a few laughs along the way, is rather easy to do.

The writing is visually striking, though distant and sometimes cynical with a tendency to go off rambling tangents in the way I would associate with authors like Michael Crichton, Steve Alten or Peter Benchley. Despite the premise, it is rather slow-going and the introductions to all the other characters (with the parenthesis of their background lives happening too often, just like this) so it means that things don’t really get underway until half the book’s gone by. But once the ship sets sail, expect the blood and gore to splash everywhere thanks to mermaids that are the furthest from Disney’s red-haired Ariel and her trusty sidekicks; these ones eat man for their delicious flesh and won’t stop till they get their fill.

Fighting, dissection and loads of chomping ensue, which might be one of the best bits for me, the other being Mira Grant’s ability to slip into various writing styles. Innocent animals as well as people are taken apart in grisly glory courtesy of very sharp teeth, amid the frantic guesswork behind the evolutionary path of the fanged-tooth sirens/mermaids, along with (some moralising science-speak) about humanity’s whirlwind path of destruction and how everything is interpreted through a framework only we can understand and deem superior.

With constantly changing POVs, Grant doesn’t make out any clear hero but neither are they particularly likeable enough that you get invested in them. The story is after all, more plot- than character-driven as the ultimate goal here is to uncover the mystery of the strange happenings deep in the Mariana Trench. Still, it suddenly comes to a climax after a slow build, before quickly plunging to a half-hearted resolution, leaving the dismembered body parts, gore and some very angry humans and sirens in their wake. The clean-up and aftermath happen ‘backstage’, but the idea of man’s survival typically hangs in the balance with a conclusion that suggests there might be room for a sequel—this much we’re simply told as the sun sets yet again on the impasse of man vs. the deep.

three-stars

Code of Honor by Tonya Burrows

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 2nd October 2017
Code of Honor by Tonya BurrowsCode of Honor by Tonya Burrows
Series: HORNET #4
Published by Entangled Publishing. LLC (Amara) on October 23rd 2017
Pages: 224
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three-stars

Jesse Warrick used to consider himself a kickass medic, but a teammate’s brush with death has him questioning everything. Now he’s been promoted to field commander of HORNET. How can he lead when he can’t get his shit together? And how can he focus when the sexy new recruit makes him want to break the rules?

Lanie Delcambre can’t seem to find solid footing within the elite hostage rescue team. Worse, the man she’s loved for most of her life is now her boss. She’d kill to act on the chemistry between her and Jesse, but she can’t risk ruining her career.

It was only supposed to be a training mission. No live ammo, no hostages, and no real bad guys—only someone didn’t give the bad guys that memo. When their hotel is taken hostage with half of HORNET inside, Jesse and Lanie are the team’s only hope of escaping alive…

Tonya Burrows’s long-running HORNET series has so far, been a breath of fresh air. ‘Code of Honor’ is Jesse/Lanie’s story and as newly-minted team leader, Jesse’s off to a bad start, burdened by his self-doubts, his desire for a childhood friend and a son who doesn’t give him any time of day. A hostage situation at the end of their training however, exacerbates this, throwing the group as well as his teetering confidence into chaos.

Unlike the other paramilitary or security companies formed by a tight group of ex-military buddies, Burrows’s HORNET men are openly broken, psychopathically quirky and badly damaged—physically and mentally—that it’s a wonder they can ever be functioning as individuals let alone as a cohesive security group. But they stumble along, badly might I add, flying by the seat of their pants from a disaster to another while trying to hold themselves together, not dissimilar to a boy-band put together by an executive producer and told to sing/dance in harmony in front of squealing fangirls from the onset.

This bunch of misfits and their antics however, keep me coming back to this series, because it’s entertaining (with some bit of schadenfreude on my part thrown in) to see how they get themselves into deep water (yet again) and then fight their way out of it with nary a thing but their wits and pocket knives.

For most part, I liked the action and the suspense, and the introduction of a kickass former Texas Ranger and Jesse’s blast from the past brought a different dynamic to the misfits of HORNET. Yet while the action flowed, along with an overarching plot that reeled me in, the romance bit gave me pause, because it wasn’t something I could envision at all, or at least, found difficult to buy into.

Had Lanie really never stopped loving Jesse from afar, even though Jesse had moved on so thoroughly that he’d married 3 women after having feeling something for her as a teenager, then only confessing at the end that he’d only wanted her? That it had taken over a decade to make this happen seemed like an unfair deal for Lanie, who didn’t seem to question Jesse’s faux-pas, his personal angst, his inability to see past his own issues and his circling around the block for nearly 20 years before coming back to her.

Admittedly, the second-chance romance is a trope that’s problematic for me. A character tends to struggle more than the other with unrequited feelings and resentment, and sometimes even the admission of having ‘loved’ a person for so long yet doing the opposite thing about it (in Jesse’s case at least) makes it more unforgivable. The story’s focus on suspense meant that Lanie/Jesse’s romance was too easily squared away with love declarations and a simple apology to Lanie about having broke her heart all those years ago seemed to resolve it all for them, even when seen in the light of how easily they could lose their lives in the most unexpected of ways. With an epilogue that quickly shifted the focus away from them and onto Jean-Luc’s half-cocked effort to save a woman he barely knew, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed in how Jesse/Lanie was handled as a pairing.

It isn’t to say that the other aspects of romantic suspense weren’t handled well, because those parts of ‘Code of Honor’ were engaging with some emotional twists and turns that secondary characters inadvertently revealed about themselves when they’re thrust into critical situations. So while I’m mixed about this book, I’m hanging onto the HORNET series for that alone, then crossing my fingers for a romance that I can actually get fully invested in.

three-stars

The Pretender by HelenKay Dimon

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 23rd September 2017
The Pretender by HelenKay DimonThe Pretender by HelenKay Dimon
Series: Games People Play #3
Published by Avon on December 26th 2017
Pages: 368
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two-stars

They say it takes a thief to catch a thief, and Harrison Tate is proof. Once a professional burglar, he now makes a lawful living tracking down stolen art. No one needs to know about his secret sideline, “liberating” artifacts acquired through underhanded methods. At least until one of those jobs sees him walking in on a murder.

Gabrielle Wright has long been estranged from her wealthy family, but she didn’t kill her sister. Trouble is, the only person who can prove it is the sexy, elusive criminal who shouldn’t have been at the island estate on that terrible night. She’s not expecting honor among thieves—or for their mutual attraction to spark into an intense inferno of desire.

Under the guise of evaluating her family’s art, Harris comes back to the estate hoping to clear Gabby’s name. But returning to the scene of the crime has never been riskier, with their hearts and lives on the line.

‘The Pretender’ is HelenKay Dimon’s third foray into a group of mysterious men who do mysterious things and it’s one of those books that tend to leave me (as the previous books in this series have) with a very unfulfilled sense of ending, because of the very nature of these men and women who are frankly, difficult to get into.

It isn’t a slight on Dimon’s writing at all, because that itself is quite polished and I love this particular bit about Dimon that keeps me coming back for her books. In fact, the beginning chapter sucked me in straight as a watching art thief gets embroiled in a vicious murder, whose presence—should he confirm it—would exonerate a woman accused of many things. But from there onwards I found myself putting down and picking up the story so many times over the span of about a week or so, just unable to get deeper into the mystery that didn’t unfold as quickly for me as I liked.

There is a boat load of things going on, as there is a weird claustrophobic feel of the island setting as characters find themselves as potential pawns and suspects, but the pieces of this puzzle are doled out piecemeal and very sparingly in the first half.

It was tooth-clenchingly hard to get them put together, and I was frustrated when the pacing stuttered because the protagonists chose sex over talking too often, leaving half-truths on the table as trust is treated almost as secondary to passion. There is some form of continuing deception and dishonesty on both Harris and Gabby’s sides while a murderer is running loose, and this proves ultimately not only distracting but puts the whole relationship on shaky foundation that consequently made it hard to get invested in.

But because ‘The Pretender’ tried to juggle the whodunnit element of a mystery thriller with the obstacles of what deception might to do a relationship that began on the wrong footing, there were parts where the mystery was going nowhere when motives didn’t generally become that much clearer even as the story went on. Unfortunately, I found myself disappointed with this one—the difficulty in finishing the book was enough proof of it.

two-stars
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