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Fallen by Rebecca Zanetti

Fallen by Rebecca ZanettiFallen by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: Deep Ops, #2
Published by Zebra on 24th September 2019
Pages: 368
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three-stars

Too quiet.
A talented hacker who got caught, Brigid Banaghan is now forced to work with a secret Deep Ops unit. But she won't reveal any more to these renegade Feds than she has to. Especially not to Raider Tanaka, her control freak of a bodyguard and handler. It's enough that his body is tensed for action and his heated gaze is always on her . . .

Too sharp.
Raider knows there's more to his new assignment than he's been told. Why send a deadly agent of his experience to guard a computer genius—even a gorgeous, unpredictable, undisciplined one? But when Brigid's estranged father is named in an investigation into Boston's organized crime, Raider's mind switches onto high alert, just like his senses . . .

Too close.
To clear her father's name, Brigid needs Raider's help. The Unit's idea that she bring a strait-laced Fed in as her "fiancé" won't fly, though—not unless Raider can release his inner bad boy and become the rebel Brigid can't resist . . .

‘Fallen’ is Rebecca Zanetti’s second instalment of her ‘Deep Ops’ series and one that, if you’ve not read the first book, could be difficult to wade into from the beginning as you struggle to make sense of events, characters and context. But it isn’t an impossible task to figure out that this ragtag team of covert government agents operating off the fly, will do off-the-record missions barely held together by duct tape despite the individual competencies and shady backgrounds of its agents.

I know that Raider Tanaka’s story has been long-awaited, and I was hoping ‘Fallen’ would do justice to it with a pairing of handler and former ex-con. But there’s pretence on several levels as Brigid and Raider go undercover, but perhaps the strongest betrayal is yet to come as Brigid keeps her own secrets from him. That all seems to be suddenly forgiven when things come to a climactic finish however, does feel like a cop-out without Brigid paying her dues, so to speak.

Zanetti’s writing style, in itself, is sometimes, hard to pin down and this had me stumbling particularly in the middle. There are driving, satisfying moments where you could literally see the jigsaw puzzles sliding seamlessly into place, just as there are moments of high-riding tension, only to be broken by odd pockets of humour that surface within the storytelling—unwarranted, unexpected but sometimes enough to jerk you into a bark of laughter—with characters who have at least a quirk or 2 that become their calling card. And that, never fails to leave me either breathless, or scratching my head in bewilderment at the absurdity of the very different aspects of storytelling that Zanetti seems to incorporate in all her works. Suspension of disbelief aside, there were scenes (particularly the ones with anthropomorphism) that were probably meant to be funny but had me painfully grimacing instead.

‘Fallen’ is a not bad read, though not a fantastic one. There are hints of future pairings (though it seems the rest of the books are a long time in coming) and I wish it’d left more of an impression nonetheless, given how much I was looking forward to Raider’s story and how much I like Zanetti’s storylines.

three-stars

Ryan by Debra Webb

Ryan by Debra WebbRyan by Debra Webb
Series: Dark and Dangerous Romantic Suspense #2
Published by Pink House Press on 5th February 2008
Pages: 275
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SHE WILL NEVER BE A VICTIM AGAIN...
Special Agent Vivian Grace needs to find the truth before the next victim dies. Her own past as a kidnapping victim of a serial killer still haunts her. She will do whatever it takes to make sure she is never a victim again and she will do all within her power to save others... even if it means working with a burned out ex-agent who could get them both killed.

ALL HE WANTS IS TO FORGET THE PAST...
Ex-special agent Ryan McBride lost everything three years ago when a case went fatally wrong. He has spent every minute since then drinking himself into oblivion to forget. When Vivian Grace knocks on his door demanding his help, he is certain of only one thing--he cannot help her. But someone is using their dark pasts to lure them into a game and neither Ryan nor Vivian can stop the momentum.
The only certainty is that someone is going to die.

Disgraced former-FBI man Ryan McBride is in the worst state of his life since it spiralled down the drain in a case gone wrong 3 years ago, until rookie Vivian Grace stumbles into it with a case she needs to close.

It’s interesting sometimes, to read a writer’s early work to see how much of the writing has changed in the years. And I’ve found Debra Webb’s writing as always, to be faultless and very easy to get lost in. Objectively, it’s an interesting and absorbing story—if ‘Ryan’ is taken as a thriller and not as romantic suspense book—that’s well-written, with just enough development of the police procedural balanced with sufficient character-insights to keep me a happy reader.

But still, I found Ryan to be smarmy and slimy and actually cheered every time Vivian coolly responded to his filthy and inappropriate advances which felt more lecherous and disgusting than seductive. He pushed relentlessly to strip her down emotionally, yet stayed hypocritically enmeshed in his own mantrum of having his life upended while playing head games with anything or anyone associated with the FBI.

On the romantic front however, I didn’t get Ryan/Vivian’s chemistry at all. Sure, they’re flawed, they’re nowhere near the forced rainbow-HEA that we sometimes get from the unrealistic romantic fiction type endings. Yet everything between them felt antagonistic with the splash of attraction as both were ultimately, too caught up in their own self-absorbed lives to really get down to the hard part of the relationship.

I didn’t quite like this as much as I liked the first one in this series, but it’s probably more for those who don’t need things nicely tied up in a bow by the end of it all.

White Hot by Ilona Andrews

White Hot by Ilona AndrewsWhite Hot by Ilona Andrews
Series: Hidden Legacy #2
Published by Avon on May 30th 2017
Pages: 389
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three-stars

Nevada Baylor has a unique and secret skill—she knows when people are lying—and she's used that magic (along with plain, hard work) to keep her colorful and close-knit family's detective agency afloat. But her new case pits her against the shadowy forces that almost destroyed the city of Houston once before, bringing Nevada back into contact with Connor "Mad" Rogan.

Rogan is a billionaire Prime—the highest rank of magic user—and as unreadable as ever, despite Nevada’s “talent.” But there’s no hiding the sparks between them. Now that the stakes are even higher, both professionally and personally, and their foes are unimaginably powerful, Rogan and Nevada will find that nothing burns like ice …

After the exhilarating read of ‘Burn for Me’, ‘White Hot’ took the development of Nevada and Rogan in a direction I can’t exactly say I liked.

There were parts that overwhelmed me: the visceral depictions of the brutality that exists when a magical realm is inserted into this alternate world were breathtaking (the feeling’s akin to reading Harry Potter for the first time), as was the soft spot I’d developed for secondary characters like Bug, Cornelius and his animals.

But there were also parts that didn’t—a lot of those had to do with the ‘heroic’ shaping of the protagonists—,which oddly disappointed me because I’d expected Ilona Andrews to eschew the archetypes of fantasy somehow, after the refreshing take on Nevada in the first book. The premium placed on character growth is evident, with Nevada taking on responsibilities (as unwanted as they are) that come with her unleashed power, her learning to play that game while manoeuvring the complexities of the magical families in the process and redefining what lines of morality she’d draw. Yet as enamoured as I was of Nevada in the first book—the underdog who’d been content to be that PI, relying on her sharp shooting instead of her hidden magic—I somehow wished that we hadn’t seen the typical journey of the fantasy hero/heroine growing in power until her skills matched those in the great standing Houses, her own methods of manipulation and mind-violation seemingly justified by the rationale to protect her family as she struggles to live with the magnitude of her skills.

Yet the old Nevada stood out more than the new, reforged one. I found myself constantly missing the cocksure, rough diamond of a woman who relied on her wits, leaned on her compassion and nothing more but the support of her family—that made her greater to me, rather than this new, untouchable truthseeker with powers that suddenly seemed to put her way beyond any mage, who always teetered on the slippery slope to ruthlessness.

On the other hand, Mad Rogan as always, remained frustratingly out of reach (the numerous cock-blocking moments notwithstanding) as every supposed step towards their long, drawn out sexual tension with Nevada was interrupted quite timely with an explosion or an urgent phone call. I wasn’t entirely convinced of the kind of hero he could be since he still seemed alarmingly inclined towards destroying first, negotiating later, if at all. While a small revelation of what made him that way did unravel Rogan a little, he felt cardboard flimsy next to the more multifaceted Nevada, which might be the only minus of the book being wholly written in Nevada’s POV.

At the risk of this entire review sounding like a rant, I’m going to say right now that it isn’t…really. My enthusiasm might have dimmed somewhat for the protagonists, but there’s enough driving force behind the secondary characters whom I like enough to want to carry on. Here’s to hoping ‘Wild Fire’ might bring something back to the fervour I had for the first book.

three-stars

Last First Kiss by Sidney Halston

Last First Kiss by Sidney HalstonLast First Kiss by Sidney Halston
Series: Iron Clad Security #2
Published by Swerve on August 29th 2017
Pages: 202
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two-stars

He's an A-list Hollywood heartthrob. She's trying to prove herself in a man's world.

For this female bodyguard, protecting her client is simply business, but what happens when sparks fly and the danger heats up?

A woman bodyguard and a male celebrity in a reversal of roles sounded exciting and ‘Last First Kiss’ did seem at first, like The Bodyguard, except that a kickass woman is taking the reins and showing the world’s who’s boss. But I found myself struggling very early on, and that was mostly with characterisation.

I had a problem with the characters not acting their ages from the start; the squabbling between the siblings of Iron Clad Security felt like a college-project quarrel, as did Rocco’s constant sexualisation of every movement that Annie made that made him like a creep than a swoonworthy hero. But Annie lashed out as well, like a teenager instead of a professional bodyguard as well in so many instances that it was hard to take her seriously, let alone a pairing that couldn’t seem to act like the adults they were. Rocco later insisted on trying to be the protector instead, and that lack of respect for Annie’s job—when all he wanted was to see her as his girlfriend and he the alpha male sort—was frustrating beyond measure when most of the squabbling was about Annie’s supposed inability to do her job.

Unfortunately, that was what did it for me. I couldn’t quite continue when both Annie and Rocco didn’t get past this issue without any more of the arguments along the lines of ‘I can’t lose you’ said by males who seem to love nothing but smothering the women.

two-stars

Fast Kill by Kaylea Cross

Fast Kill by Kaylea CrossFast Kill by Kaylea Cross
Series: DEA FAST #2
Published by Kaylea Cross Inc. on April 20th 2017
Pages: 270
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four-stars

The past has come back to haunt her. Having battled long and hard to put her painful past behind her, DEA Special Agent Taylor Kennedy has done everything in her power to make a new life for herself. She never dreamed that same past would suddenly show up on her doorstep one night, or that its reappearance would threaten everything she’s built for herself. Faced with the unthinkable, she’ll have to make the agonizing choice between her trusted childhood friend, and the man who’s managed to steal her wary heart. And the consequences could be fatal. FAST Bravo member Logan Granger knows Taylor was hurt badly by something in her past. He never expected to fall for a straight-laced, uptight forensic accountant, but Taylor has managed to redefine his definition of sexy, and now he wants to uncover all her secrets. Though they’re opposites in almost every way, Logan is determined to break through her barriers and show her just how good things can be between them. Then their worst nightmare is realized when Taylor becomes the target of the merciless Veneno cartel, and Logan will risk everything to save her—including his life.

Opposites do attract in Kaylea Cross’s ‘Fast Kill’ as Taylor Kennedy and Logan Granger – who have only known each other for a short time – are thrown together in a case that inadvertently drags Taylor into a mess. With the return of a childhood friend, Taylor’s quiet, introverted life is upended and Logan finds that he’ll do anything to help her pick up the pieces, even when it puts him at risk.

I do like ‘Fast Kill’s’ storyline, even though I’m still more partial to Cross’s military thrillers. Despite the focus on the drug war and cartels, the story is fast-paced, full of intrigue and as always, written around a central pairing that I did find believable and likeable. Taylor and Logan are express opposites in every way, from their careers to their hobbies, but I liked how they find common ground together, particularly when Logan never stops coaxing Taylor into doing things out of her comfort zone.

There’s also a kind of sympathy that Cross builds up for the villain and that’s the case here, particularly when he’s also someone from Taylor’s past who in fact, cared for and took care of her. It’s a little hard to believe that he turned so evil at the blink of an eye, but it’s this change that drives the conflict and indirectly, the relationship between Logan and Taylor.

Overall, I did find myself entertained, though part of me wishes for a continuation of her past series instead! Cross however, always delivers a HEA – whether it takes place immediately after the action or a few weeks or months down the road – and that kind of resolution goes a long way in cementing quite emphatically, how much a particular pairing ought to be together. In the case of Logan and Taylor, I didn’t need much convincing.

four-stars