Buried Lies by Kaylea Cross

Buried Lies by Kaylea CrossBuried Lies by Kaylea Cross
Series: Crimson Point, #2
Published by Kaylea Cross Inc. on 27th November 2018
Pages: 228
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three-stars

She left her painful past behind.

Poppy Larsen is finally free. She moved to Crimson Point to make a new life for herself, full of bright possibilities. A whole new world awaits her, if she can find the courage to trust again—even her gorgeous neighbor, the town sheriff. But darkness lurks in the picturesque Oregon Coast town, concealing a deadly threat that’s closer than she ever imagined.

Now a killer is watching her from the shadows.

Sheriff Noah Buchanan can’t help but be intrigued by his new neighbor. She’s hard working, sexy as hell, and unlike most of the women in town, she hasn’t thrown herself at him. After it becomes clear that she plans to put down roots here, he finds himself falling more and more for Poppy and her big heart. When someone from her past tries to hurt her, it triggers all his protective instincts. But the real danger is hiding in plain sight. When the unthinkable happens, Noah is thrust into a race against time to save her before it’s too late.

‘Buried lies’ continues Kaylea Cross’s small-town romantic suspense series and it’s quite a departure from her usual offerings of military romance thrillers in war-torn places and high-level conspiracy that I’m still not too sure what to make of it. Noah Buchanan and Poppy Larsen are next in line after Sierra and Beckett to get their HEA, as Cross sets up a series that’s gentler than the fare she typically offers up and is a bit more focused on family and friendship where reaffirmation and new starts bound.

These close friendships and ties also mean that there are continual hints and setups of pairings apart from Noah/Poppy here, as Cross juggles some (tragic) drama that continues its run as part of the narrative arc of this series. There’s still some suspense that keeps you guessing nonetheless—newcomer and new shop owner Poppy is gun-shy and hiding something in her past when she moved to Crimson Point to start anew—but overall, ‘Buried Lies’ is slower paced, with a leisurely build-up that doesn’t rush into instant lust or love.

Poppy/Noah’s story is easy to read, though more predictable than I thought. Frankly, Poppy/Noah weren’t exactly standout protagonists that imprint themselves indelibly in my memory and neither was the suspense that I was hoping would leave me gasping in the wake of its high-octane fumes. I couldn’t quite tell what Noah found special about Poppy—after being a serial dater after having been dumped by his fiancée years ago—but that he suddenly wanted everything with her made it bewildering, more so because Cross uses the experienced man (or player?) versus the inexperienced woman trope here and made me cringe, even with the understandable circumstances that Poppy had found herself in.

Neither could I quite get the bizarre motivation behind Poppy being a target of a mysterious serial killer, which ultimately made the climax fall a little flat.

‘Buried Lies’ ended up as a middle-of-the-road type of read. It’s not enough for me to give up on this series, though I’ll have to say it’s probably more suited to readers who prefer romances that aren’t always going full-steam ahead with the world’s fate hanging in balance.

three-stars

Captain Rourke by Helena Newbury

Captain Rourke by Helena NewburyCaptain Rourke by Helena Newbury
Published by Foster & Black on 1st September 2017
Pages: 440
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three-stars

Captain Rourke. A brooding Scottish treasure hunter who carries a sword, lives on his boat and bears the scars of a shark attack on his muscled torso. He’s the only man who can help me. A mystery disease is attacking my family and the only cure lies on a pirate ship that sank three hundred years ago. Rourke’s a loner, determined to push everyone away...but when he looks at me, he melts my clothes right off my body.

I’m a small-town girl from Nebraska. But to save my family I’ll have to take to the sea with Rourke and enter a whole new world of smugglers, sunken gold and deadly storms. In the close confines of his boat, there’s no way I can ignore that smoldering gaze, or the way my legs go weak whenever he takes hold of me. He claims he’s no hero yet he protects me like no other. ..can I save him from the pain that’s tearing him apart? I’m from the prairies; he’s from the sea. But I need to learn his world, fast, because others want what’s on that sunken ship...and they’ll kill both of us to get it.

‘Captain Rourke’ captured my imagination in a way that few contemporary romances these days do: it felt mortifyingly like an old bodice-ripper pirate romance (the sword’s included as well) only with updated technology, a mysterious and science-defying genetic illness, treasure hunts, grizzled (and clichéd) bad guys rushing after gold and multiple instances of heaving bosoms, tight nipples, bare chests and fluttering groins.

Yet Helene Newbury pulls this off with that panache typically associated with such pirate acts anyway and it’s sort of…fascinating to go through the book with a rather naive heroine who romanticises 17th century pirate affairs, a seemingly impossible (and hard to believe) quest and a jaded, crippled captain who keeps reminding himself to push away from the woman he wants.

Apart from Newbury’s trademark use of the protagonists’ exaggerated lust and extreme sexual reactions to each other, ‘Captain Rourke’ is quite the audacious (sometimes cheesy and incredible) take on the treasure-hunting tale. Repetitive phrases however, do make the story longer than I thought necessary: Rourke’s insistence that he’s just waiting to die at sea and that Hannah deserves someone better than him; both seem to have overly long meditative monologues about how their bodies stir when they are near each other, just to begin with.

The sheer amount of action makes this an easy story to go through. I did cringe many times, reminded as I was from time to time of the historical romances that I used to read quite a long, long time ago where clichés knew no bounds. But this works solely on actively suspending any sense of disbelief, so leave every last shred of reality at the door before you start.

three-stars

The Conspiracy by Kat Martin

The Conspiracy by Kat MartinThe Conspiracy by Kat Martin
Series: Maximum Security #1
Published by HQN on 22nd January 2019
Pages: 368
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two-stars

Harper Winston’s brother has disappeared. Pursuing his dream of sailing the Caribbean, Michael hasn’t responded to texts or emails in days. When even the Coast Guard can’t find him, Harper is forced to take desperate measures. Which means going to Chase Garrett, once her brother’s best friend, now the only man she can trust…or so she hopes.

As the successful owner of Maximum Security, Chase has learned to trust his gut. He knows Harper’s father is mixed up in a deadly business, and suspects there’s more to Michael’s disappearance than meets the eye. Getting involved again with the Winstons goes against everything he stands for, yet old loyalties die hard. As the case draws him closer to Harper and deeper into the Winstons’ snarled crime family, he is forced to put everything on the line to keep Harper safe…and both of them alive.

I thought ‘The Conspiracy’ started off quite well, with the plot quickly and decisively set up: Harper Winston’s brother has gone missing and her desperation to get him back leads her to his former best friend (and the man she’d always wanted) though they haven’t been in contact for years. That this has ties to their powerful father who has shady dealings—who might have something to do with her brother’s disappearance—upped the ante from the start.

After an exciting start however, it was towards the middle that my interest started to flag. The insertions of multiple POVs, long descriptions of place, secondary characters, their personal histories and scattered pieces of the overall puzzle, simply detracted from the momentum of the main story. I skimmed, then read on when the story got back on track (rinse and repeat)—this pretty much described the entire experience throughout the book.

The initial attraction between Harper and Chase consisted mostly of individual internal monologues revolving around their lust for each other and their indecision about making a move. Still, there’s action, some twists involved and a case of major pushing away…which also happens only to a certain extent because neither Harper nor Chase can stop wanting sex with each other.

I’m not entirely sure how to put a finger on this, but reading ’The Conspiracy’ feels curiously akin to reading an older style of romance (outfitted with contemporary themes of RS and the technology of the day) with a more erotic hook, with Kat Martin’s characterisation steeping her protagonists in more ‘traditional’ roles that historical (?) romantic fiction tends to perpetuate.

In this case, Harper cried a lot, turned pale a fair bit, gasped each time as she stared at Chase’s body, was somehow naive as hell at the heart of it yet magically transformed into someone who knew how to be part of a military op. On the other hand, Chase’s eyes burned with hunger constantly as though he was on the verge of ravishing her, got hard with the slightest thought of her and pretty much played the macho man throughout. That he used their sexual attraction to get back into her good graces felt like manipulation: did Chase have to really do stupid things while knowing it would cause Harper some pain, then bend over backwards to make it up? That it had to take something so monumental for him to turnaround to decide that he wanted her permanently when he’d initially wanted a clean break with her?

Most probably it’s Kat Martin’s style that doesn’t gel with me personally. I simply thought ‘The Conspiracy’ could have been so much more (a leaner, meaner read that could have left me reeling the good way, essentially) but fell far short of my own expectations.

This isn’t a book for me clearly; from style to characters, there were quite a few things that I couldn’t really get on board with, though I can imagine that this would be a typical offering for the RS crowd from a staple RS author.

two-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

Saving the Princess by Helena Newbury

Saving the Princess by Helena NewburySaving the Princess by Helena Newbury
Published by Foster & Black on 23rd January 2018
Pages: 430
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She's a princess. I'm a 6'6" former Marine who grew up on a farm. I know I've got no business being around someone like her. But she's so gorgeous, so gentle and sweet, I can't look away. Then someone tries to kill her. And for the first time in years, I find something worth fighting for.

She's no spoiled brat. She's brave and smart...she's the leader her country needs. But powerful people want her dead. To keep her safe, I have to go on the run with her. But every time I say "your highness," all I can think about is kissing those sweet lips and tearing that dress right off her. Neither of us can resist...but if I let her get close, she's going to see how broken I am inside. As her country spins towards war, I'm the only one who can protect her. I'm no prince. But I *will* save my princess.

I’m typically hesitant to read about fictional countries and royalty because my own mental map of Europe is set in reality as it is. Implausibility is what I struggle with the most in such romances that involve contemporary aristocrats who hail from yet another European country that doesn’t exist and the hard-to-believe factor shoots way up. So ‘Saving the Princess’ was a book that I waded in softly, softly, even when the world of difference between Kristina and Garrett became blindingly painful to read about, even as we’re plunged straight into the aftermath of an ill-fated flight that brings a jaded American ex-Marine into the path of an innocent princess.

I did think this imbalance between them needed some addressing however, at least for them to be considered equals before I could buy into them as a pairing. Helena Newbury’s enthusiasm in highlighting the rough-hewn vs. the royal, the naive innocent vs. the cynical, the protector and the victim—essentially polar opposites—also had the unwitting effect of creating a huge and nearly insurmountable gap in terms of experience between Garrett and Kristina.

Instead, there were paragraphs dedicated to their initial and relentless attraction and how much Garrett and Kristina wanted to get hot and heavy with each other (too many long descriptions of bulging biceps, smooth skin, how they wanted to rip each other’s clothes off), which detracted from the growing emotional connection that could have been more clearly brought out. So there was instant lust, but also unbending loyalty from the start and not a small amount of wanting body parts wanting to merge and wobble, but there was also a fairytale element in here as Garrett and Kristina were repeatedly put in situations where she simply needed constant rescuing.

The surprising thing however, was that it didn’t just end there. Where most books end after a building conflict, Newbury pushes it a step further with a whodunnit-mystery, adding impossibility for both Garrett and Kristina to be together after they left US soil to face yet more insurgents in her home country. As absorbing as some scenes were, ultimately, I still had a problem with the believability factor: some events and circumstances were too coincidental and too easy at times to pave the way forward for both Kristina and Garrett. By the end, I finished the book with an eyebrow still cocked in reluctant scepticism instead of waving a ‘kerchief saying ‘long live the princess (and Garrett)’.

Clint by Debra Webb

Clint by Debra WebbClint by Debra Webb
Published by Pink House Press on November 16th 2018
Pages: 297
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four-stars

ALL SHE WANTS IS JUSTICE...

Who killed Emily Wallace's best friend ten years ago? Emily is certain it was Clint Austin, the town bad boy. As the key witness, Emily ensured Clint was convicted and sentenced for the crime. When he is released on parole, Emily is determined that he never forget what he has done.

HE WILL HAVE HIS REVENGE...

Clint Austin served ten years for a crime he did not commit. No one or nothing is going to stand in his way of finding the truth and clearing his name--not even the naive young girl he once loved from afar.

When the fire between them blazes out of control, will either one survive? Or will the real killer strike again?

The toxicity of small towns—where everyone it seems, is guilty of one thing or another—and the massive cover-up is the focus of ‘Clint’, as Debra Webb unravels the poison that people have been living with the past decade, since the murder of Heather Baker.

Finally getting parole after a decade in prison, Clint Austin’s release stirs up Pine Bluff’s anger and ruffles more than a few feathers and brings all the dirty secrets to light that most people need to see buried. Rough-hewn, cynically bitter but determined to clear his name, Clint bulldozes his way through a hometown hell-bent on getting him back in jail where they think he belongs,

I couldn’t figure out how the pieces added up somehow: there are affairs, rumours of cheating, ruthless ambitions, a corrupt police force, sideways glances that hide so many things, and dialogues that bring you to the brink of some kind of breakthrough but don’t reveal much more. A bunch of red-herrings in the multiple POVs that Webb provides certainly contributes to the confusion and the continual guessing.

That it involves a bunch of adults (still living in the same town) trying to cover their high-school depravities however, makes this feel more petty than the usual high-octane and high-level crime stories because of the subject matter and circumstances.

Nonetheless, I’ve always liked Webb’s writing and ‘Clint’ is yet another reminder why I do. Gritty, emotion-laden and full of suspense, Webb spins a web (pun intended?) of mystery that’s easy to get caught up in from the first chapter onwards, with a vivid picture of the wrongly accused man who’d wasted 10 years of his life. The complicated relationship between Clint and his unlikely enemy-turned-accomplice Emily Wallace was as intriguing—and almost forbiddingly hot—as it was unexpected, and I grew to admire Emily’s steely core as the story progressed.

I did wish however, for a conclusion that didn’t skip the HEA that Clint/Emily had ‘off-stage’ so to speak; their alliance throughout the book lasted a mere week and in that short time, I felt like I’d missed out on their enemies-to-lovers tale which did deserve a little more drawn-out attention than what was given in any case. The gripe aside, ‘Clint’—as a re-release of the story formerly known as ’Traceless’ all those years ago—is like re-discovering an old friend: it’s a reminder of the older but solid and classic romantic suspense titles (when RS was at its peak) of which I couldn’t get enough.

four-stars

Mount Mercy by Helena Newbury

Mount Mercy by Helena NewburyMount Mercy by Helena Newbury
Published by Foster & Black on 30th November 2018
Pages: 368
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two-stars

Doctor Dominic Corrigan. He’s tattooed, cocky and gorgeous, with bullet scars from working in war zones. I’m a geeky surgeon who hides away in the quiet of her operating theater. We couldn’t be more different but from the second we meet, he pursues me...and when I look into those blue eyes, I’m lost. But I know his reputation and I’m determined not to be his next one-night stand. Then disaster strikes our small town...and the two of us become our patients’ only hope.

Suddenly, I’m thrown into the chaos of an ER stretched to breaking point. We need to work together but the closer we get, the harder it is to resist. We’re one look, one touch away from tearing each other’s clothes off. I start to see the pain he hides behind that cocky exterior. What happened to this man, and can I help him break free of his past? And our problems are only just beginning. A criminal gang means to take advantage of the chaos...and the hospital, and everyone I care about, are right in their sights.

‘Mount Mercy’ was something I picked up because the blurb—the promise of romantic suspense in some isolated mountain town—sounded like my sort of thing. Unfortunately, the suspense alone was the only factor that had me powering through when I was tempted to call time on the characters early on.

Corrigan and Amy didn’t stray far from stereotypical protagonists in romantic fiction. Bring in the typical tortured male protagonist who’s lost something/someone and is now actively losing himself in reckless behaviour and a shy, almost-wimpy heroine (whose relationships are few and far between) determined to fix him while he kept saying he needed to keep away from her?

That same old story gets grating.

In addition, their tendency to imagine each other in bed at inappropriate times easily characterised every encounter they had when their paths crossed. In fact, the instant lust—that never really let up—hit me full in the face at their first meeting, where I was treated to a rather cringe-worthy scene of body parts hardening and getting wet in the middle of an life-threatening emergency.

Really? All I could think of as a result, was about the near-flat-lining patient as they argued over him with their mouths while their nether bits made happy, squishy noises.

In fact, Corrigan’s supposed-silver-tinged Irish accent (an oft-repeated word that Newbury likes to use) and a few slight touches from him had Amy stuttering like a dumbstruck teenager so easily, which soon enough translated abruptly into a sexual boldness and freedom that she thought he’d brought out of her.

And all of this came from nothing but surface interactions and hooded looks?

That this instant lust soon after, jumped madly to ‘love’ when they barely knew each other apart from some hot and heavy looks, unresolved sexual tension and some medical emergencies had me gritting my teeth.

To be fair, aside from the over-the-top porny bits that made this book read more like erotica than high-octane suspense, there was a sort of decent plot in there…buried as it was under all the talk and thoughts of sex, which really seemed like the dominant theme of the story. I would have enjoyed this much more had the emotional aspects of Corrigan/Amy’s relationship been dwelled upon, instead of their mutual fixation on each other’s bits.

In all however, this was a disappointment, though it seems Newbury’s style is now entrenched in this pattern from the few books I’ve read of hers.

two-stars