Tag: spooks-spies-n-such

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

Covert Vengeance by Kaylea Cross

Covert Vengeance by Kaylea CrossCovert Vengeance by Kaylea Cross
Series: Vengeance, #2
Published by Kaylea Cross Inc. on 30th July 2019
Pages: 232
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one-half-stars

Revenge came at a heavy price.

Valkyrie hacker Amber Brown is deadly in her own right, but her preferred weapon is a keyboard. So after her teammates left her for dead, she took her revenge the way she was trained to—swiftly and brutally. Except one of her targets might be innocent. To right that wrong, Amber vows to rescue the at-risk Valkyrie no matter the cost, and this time she’s working alone. So when a sexy stranger shows up in the middle of a firefight and announces he’s been sent by her sister, it’s going to take a whole lot more than his word to make her trust him.

Chasing redemption may prove deadly.

Elite gun for hire Jesse Cordova lives on the edge of the law. When a new job offer sets off warning bells, he digs deeper and finds the startling truth. The woman he’s been tasked with capturing is a secret government assassin, and Amber Brown is unlike any target he’s gone after before. But bringing her in opens them up to a whole new level of danger, pitting them against one of the most ruthless assassins in the world. Now that the sexy Valkyrie has stolen his heart, Jesse will risk everything to see their mission through—knowing that the only way this ends is with one of them dying.

I’m taking extraordinarily long with a Kaylea Cross book, which is unusual to say the least, which really meant that ‘Covert Vengeance’ was a massive disappointment on a scale that horrifies me, seeing how Cross used to be a staple of mine.

The series of avenging women out for blood is an intriguing one, but thus far, I think I’m simply reading variations on a theme about closed-off, distrustful and distant women who operate alone (aren’t bred for relationships and commitment, naturally) who finally find someone to trust—after a series of suspenseful events that typically involve some life-or-death scenarios. Like ‘Stealing Vengeance’, ‘Covert Vengeance’ traverses the same blurred lines of conspiracy theories and secret dealings though it’s a lot more toned down here without the particular rough edge that I associate with suspense writers.

Cross’s Valkyrie characters didn’t seem to carry the cloaking weight of tragedy or angst that I’d expected them to have; instead, Amber and Megan felt like brashly petulant characters bulldozing their way around to kill everyone who’d wronged them, to the point where they trampled over their own partners in their blazing self-righteousness to be judge, jury and executioner.

Jesse/Amber as a pairing was as well, a lukewarm one that felt forced and emotionless (though Cross does write steamy scenes) and a connection that, like Tyler/Megan, was made with inexplicable near-instant love—somehow, they are right for each other because they have similar occupations—because this is after all, romantic suspense. In short, I just didn’t feel it and no amount of espousing a character’s beauty/strength/determination—traits that could as well, be negatively interpreted as headstrong, foolish and plainly TSTL at times—helped change my mind about them.

Maybe the Valkyrie sisterhood is one that Cross attempts to highlight, though the bonds weren’t so tangible that I felt moved by them; neither did I even like the women characters at all, much less Amber, which kind of defeated the whole point of the book and the romance which was clearly meant to take centre-stage.

one-half-stars

Ghost by Janie Crouch

Ghost by Janie CrouchGhost by Janie Crouch
Series: Linear Tactical #5
Published by Calamity Jane Publishing on May 21st 2019
Pages: 251
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three-stars

Everyone eventually breaks under torture.

It’s a truth elite solider and government agent Dorian Lindstrom, codename Ghost, knows firsthand. His body may have recovered from what was done to him in that Afghani prison six years ago, but his mind…not quite so much.

He’s seeing dead people.

Grace Brandt, government codename Wraith, knows her past can’t be forgiven. She has stayed “dead” for as long as she could, but now the forces she’s been fighting, the secrets slowly suffocating her, won’t stay hidden any longer.

And the man she helped break—the man she's always loved—is the only one who can stop the danger threatening them all.

When it comes to keeping the people he loves safe, including the one who thinks she’s not worthy of it, there is no danger—past, present or future—Dorian won’t battle.


The Ghost will rise.

I’m in a bind.

What do you do, when the basis of romance—the believable pairing of 2 characters you need to root for and believe in—doesn’t quite work for you, even though the premise of the story itself is quite intriguing?

If I were to approach ‘Ghost’ from a non-romantic perspective, then the whole covert-spying, black-ops stuff with tons of brain-washing involved is one that can—and did—keep me on my toes. I loved the twists and turns; rather, I liked how Janie Crouch didn’t simply stop but kept going past the point where I expected the climax and resolution to be.

But as acknowledged in the afterword, Crouch recognises that the female protagonist—Grace Brandt, aka Ray (what the hell kind of name is that?)—isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. And she definitely isn’t mine, more so because she’s written to be the other half of a damaged character whose story I’ve always hankered after from the very start.

Wary, suspicious, morally suspect and prone to simply run with Dorian always chasing after her…that she was Ghost’s, or rather, Dorian’s other half, was frankly a hard pill to swallow. This time, the repetitive arguments of her not being good enough for him seemed spot-on, and I’d spent the whole time wishing Crouch had simply chosen a different protagonist for Dorian. It also seemed inevitable that Dorian/Grace’s HEA didn’t feel sufficiently set in stone, even if it were a touch of the realistic that Crouch was aiming for after all that both had gone through.

My rating of ‘Ghost’ is probably quite an arbitrary one. I’d be the first to admit that it turned out as ‘average’ because I was weighing the romance against the plot and while the latter was not bad, it was weighed down completely by the former that I didn’t buy into at all.

three-stars

Stealing Vengeance by Kaylea Cross

Stealing Vengeance by Kaylea CrossStealing Vengeance by Kaylea Cross
Series: Vengeance, #1
Published by Kaylea Cross Inc. on 28th May 2019
Pages: 269
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three-stars

She’s an expert at getting into places she doesn’t belong.

The government created Megan, transforming her into a Valkyrie—a deadly operative only whispered about in certain circles. They took everything from her and made her into a weapon. Now someone is leaking secret information about her sisters-in-arms, betraying them for money. Loyal Unto Death is the Valkyrie motto. So when Megan is recruited to find who leaked the files, she takes the high-risk assignment. Even if it means working with the man who betrayed her trust long ago. Even if it means giving her life. Because she’ll do whatever it takes to find justice.

But this is one situation she can’t escape from on her own.

Tyler Bergstrom never forgot the resourceful woman who escaped during the toughest phase of SERE school. So when he learns the stunning truth about her and his unwitting part in her past, he volunteers to work alongside Megan for a chance at redemption. Except she doesn’t want a partner. Doesn’t want to let anyone into her life, including him—hell, especially him. Yet whether she likes it or not, for this mission they’re partners. Now it’s a race against the clock to bring down the shadowy figure targeting Valkyries. But the threat goes deeper than they ever imagined. No one is safe. And if they can’t overcome the past and learn to trust each other, they’re both dead.

A super-secret government program taking orphaned young girls and turning them into black-ops assassins is the basis for Kaylea Cross’s new Valkyrie series.

Having graced graced the pages of her books from time to time, there’s a particular mould that these women seem to fit: doing all that it takes to get the job done, staying solitary, emotionless and distrustful while they’re at it. So similar are they, that it feels like a calculated risk that Cross takes as she finally puts all of them in the spotlight in order to give the Valkyries their own HEAs.

‘Stealing Vengeance’ nonetheless, is a good establishing book, with a slightly different tone and flavour to her previous books and it’s not bad so far. It’s a lot more cloak and dagger, more furtive and evasive though admittedly pushing past the point of suspending disbelief at times, all with the overarching theme of revenge and weeding those responsible for their inhumane actions.

Cross pairs Megan with Ty Bergstrom here in a mission to sniff out traitors—2 characters who only have a fleeting brush with each other over a decade ago, though that was apparently enough to help reignite a spark between them. And given the women’s kind of covert history, there’s also a bit of a role reversal here as the women act pretty much like many male protagonists in the romance genre: distrustful, putting the mission above all and inevitably throwing a wrench in a developing relationship.

Megan did frustrate me from time to time: I didn’t know where her ultimate loyalties lay; that it was inexplicably to a long-lost sister in custody who hadn’t yet proven herself simply made her judgement seem even more dodgy (and not copping any punishment for insubordination seemed somewhat naive…and a constant thing that Cross seems to gloss over in most of her books). And instead of voicing regrets and wishing things could have gone differently, I wished she’d been brave enough at least emotionally to sort herself instead of being a coward—while justifying it with arguments like he deserved better—where Ty was concerned.

There’s not too much we know about Ty’s history on the other hand, only that Cross writes him as far gone over Megan, with an attraction that’s simmering, and apparently so deep that he decides he can’t live without her…and would pay almost any price to keep their relationship. But any conflict between them is quickly resolved and the story ends (almost abruptly) before I could get a convincing feel of the both of them beyond fervent reiterations that Ty really, really wanted to be with Megan, the latter of whom tearfully reciprocates at the last minute.

In all, ‘Stealing Vengeance’ is more than a decent start, even if it didn’t come off as breath-stealing as I’d hope it be. Where Cross takes the story arc however, is something to look forward to.

three-stars

Black List by Lynn Raye Harris

Black List by Lynn Raye HarrisBlack List by Lynn Raye Harris
Series: Black's Bandits #1
Published by H.O.T. Publishing, LLC on 26th March 2019
Pages: 300
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three-stars

Jace Kaiser is a man without a country, without connection. His only loyalty is to the group who saved him, and the man who leads them.
Until her...

The assignment should have been easy. Capture a deadly assassin and take her to HQ. But flawed intel leads to disaster, and Jace abducts a beautiful art appraiser instead. Intrigued by her courage, he's drawn to her in ways he can't explain. Dr. Madeline Cole stood up to him, fought for her identity, and never backed down. She's the kind of woman he could fall for if it wasn't so dangerous--for her.

Then Maddy is targeted for elimination because she's the sole person who can identify the mysterious female assassin--and the only thing standing between her and certain death is the sexy mercenary who swears he'll die before he lets anything happen to her. As the passion between them ignites, it seems clear that keeping Maddy safe has become the most important assignment of Jace's life.

Even then, protecting her might not be enough--because Jace has secrets that could destroy them both. And someone is determined to unmask them all...

Ian Black has always been an enigmatic character in Lynn Raye Harris’s canon of H.O.T. men and the call for his book that has instead led to a whole new series—hopefully leading up to Black’s own story—that actually has me intrigued. The tone’s slightly different here, along with a lot more tight-lipped head nodding, the telling of lies and covert operations, just as the suspense and action are toned down a little more.

But the ‘Black List’, however, despite it revolving around Black’s shenanigans, his pivotal and black-op dabbling in international affairs and his merry group of men, was just a little more than lukewarm for me, despite the initial, exciting premise of mistaken identity, spies and double agents.

It was made clear that Jace Kaiser had a fractured history, but I think I would have liked a greater insight into his past than just the short retelling of what happened to him and his sister—a story that did in the end, turn out central to the entire plot. The focus however, on surveilling Madeline Cole and Jace’s very brazen attempt to seduce her instead, made the middle of the book flat for me, and pulled the story towards more instant lust than love. Or at least the journey from the former to the latter seemed to typically involve a streak of protective behaviour first that somehow translated into love after a very short period of time.

A main issue I’ve struggled with here, especially with a classic Lynn Raye Harris male protagonist is the sudden impetus to put roots down after a sudden, intense burst of action and adrenaline. How had Maddy’s blowjob ranked differently from the rest of the other women for Jace, despite the fact that he’d been given many blowjobs by women (which has got to be one of the most distasteful things I’ve ever read)? Had he simply fallen for her because he’d had a bit more time with her and had developed a need to protect her (keeping in mind that he’d had another one night stand just before meeting her)?

In any case, Maddy/Jace’s romance didn’t feel the most convincing of the lot that Harris had done so far—unbelievability played a huge part of it for me, at least like they hadn’t gone through enough together to be a rock-solid pairing I could get behind. The cloak and dagger business of Ian Black’s activities was also something I wanted more of but didn’t really get so it’s something I can only hope to see more in the next few books.

three-stars

London Calling by Veronica Forand

London Calling by Veronica ForandLondon Calling by Veronica Forand
Published by Entangled Publishing. LLC (Amara) on 25th March 2019
Pages: 275
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one-star

Small town police officer Emma Ross loves her simple life––but it takes a hard turn into crazy when she’s kidnapped by MI6 and is put under the protection of an over-bearing, albeit sexy, Scotsman. A man who believes she’s lying to protect her father—a father whom she had no idea worked for British Intelligence and is now missing.

Liam Macknight’s partner was assassinated and he’s certain Emma’s father had something to do with it. But the stubborn woman isn’t talking, and she’s determined to get herself killed trying to find out the truth. Locking her in a room does no good––he tried that. So he’s forced to work with her, even if he’s not sure he’ll ever be able to trust her.

When he’s assigned to kill her dad to protect the identity of British spies in the Kremlin, he knows what little trust they’ve gained is about to be destroyed forever...

I struggled with this. Hard. Put it down, walked away, then found a burst of inspiration and went a few chapters at a time, before the whole cycle began again.

And I had an even harder time writing this review of ‘London Calling’, because in every way, this should be the kind of read I dig my claws into but instead turned out to be a book that threw me into the deep end of the pool.

The setup in the beginning—confusing, straight into action, with names and a context that was neck-deep into some honey-trap—left me flailing. And that ominously, set the tone for ‘London Calling’.

Honestly, the plot was one that I could see gaining traction—a woman caught in the middle of spies and their super-secretive ways, the inevitable romance and attraction that comes out of it, the conflict of interest, a couple at odds—but I think it was the execution of it that didn’t work well for me.

Isolated and thrust into a nightmare that she has no part in, Emma Ross kind of made up for this by miraculously transforming from small-town cop to superwoman who beat people at chess and outshot trained snipers…essentially, things that made me incredulous.

Bu up to half way through, I found that Liam Macknight and Emma were not fully in each other’s orbits, and with a superficial relationship built on uncertainty and distrust, there wasn’t enough for me to ‘ship them as a pairing at all. Furthermore, given the periods of separation, I found their connection cursory at best, non-existent at worst. That Macknight thought of Emma as his anchor felt instead more like a crutch based on the sheer number of losses he’d endured, rather than any bond that they’re supposed to share. Essentially, their lack of chemistry and the reluctant romance (if this could even be called a romance) made me skim through the scenes and what I simply felt by the time I started blowing through the pages was just regret for what could have been.

one-star

The Savior by Cristin Harber

The Savior by Cristin HarberThe Savior by Cristin Harber
Series: Aces #1
Published by Mill Creek Press on 19th December 2018
Pages: 299
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four-stars

A man loses the woman he intends to marry.A woman loses her best friend.
Retired Army Captain Liam Brosnan and US Marshal Chelsea Kilpatrick are forced to question what they know about a murder that forces them together. Uncertain connections from Liam’s military career rope them into a cloak-and-dagger investigation that offers more questions than answers.

Being duty-bound while in the throes of grief is a dangerous mixture. They struggle with unexpected sparks of passion and question their loyalty to a woman they loved while a murderer closes in on his next target.

Will the explosive solace Liam and Chelsea find in one another lead to a love neither expected? Or will it blind them to looming danger and death?

Cristin Harber’s larger-than-life military/terrorism conspiracy plots often skirt closer to the edge of the unbelievable than many of the books I’ve gone through but then again, that’s part of the basis of the romantic suspense genre: the homing in on particular individuals upon whom the fate of the country or the world hangs, no matter how ludicrous the situation might be (even when the connections are far from water-tight).

Yet ‘The Savior’ is an intriguing start to a new series that I’m curious enough to want to continue: the somewhat taboo attraction between a retired army captain and a federal agent, brought together ironically by the death of the death of his girlfriend (who also happened to be latter’s best friend).

Chelsea Kilpatrick and Liam Brosnan do make a good pairing somehow, especially so after Liam learns that the tragedy they’d both lived through was in fact, premeditated…and carefully planned over a few years.

Pile on the guilt, the hesitation, the electric sexual tension and a mite bit of push-pull. The icky dead-partner as the third party vibe isn’t altogether absent, nonetheless. We’re not quite given much of their history together however, only that they knew each other marginally through Julia, yet Liam and Chelsea ‘adulted’ quite well and I liked their inadvertent (and fairly mature) way of dealing with their burgeoning attraction to each other.

What was strangely surprising was the lack of action that brought the steady pace to a sort of lull until the last quarter of the book as things pulled together. (I didn’t get the Vietnamese-sounding terrorist names, by the way.) Harber’s writing style did feel somewhat ‘off’ and uneven at times though: some collocations didn’t quite make sense logically if you actually think carefully about it, or the moments where more was needed but wasn’t given and vice versa. Some were even jarring enough to kick me out of the narrative; well, the whole point being, I did think a finer-toothed comb was necessary in weeding out these errors, developmental or otherwise.

Being cautiously optimistic about this new series is what I’m left with by the end, abrupt as it seemed.

four-stars