~* 3.5 Stars *~ The first in this two-story anthology by Foster, Body Heat, a contemporary romance novella with a kind of friends/enemies-to-lovers the...more~* 3.5 Stars *~ The first in this two-story anthology by Foster, Body Heat, a contemporary romance novella with a kind of friends/enemies-to-lovers theme, didn't work for me very well (2 Stars). On the other hand, I really enjoyed the second, longer story, Caught in the Act, a solid romantic suspense read with strong characters and the more traditional Foster sexiness (4 Stars).
Because Caught in the Act was significantly longer than Body Heat, the majority of the read was a fun good time.
Uneven Tone Hurts the Read When the father of a good friend is murdered and her friend is viciously attacked, MSA operations manager Vicky Hastings is...moreUneven Tone Hurts the Read When the father of a good friend is murdered and her friend is viciously attacked, MSA operations manager Vicky Hastings is determined to have her first field assignment be the undercover investigation that will identify and catch the perpetrators. There's just one small problem. Her partner for the mission is Ryan Brennan.
Okay...the MSA agent and undercover specialist is not a small problem. Sinfully sexy problem, yes. Small, no. Unfortunately, the gorgeous but frustrating man sees her only as a friend and is completely dismissive of her talents and her contributions to the agency. He's none too thrilled with the idea of being her partner on this assignment, either.
Well he'll just have to suck it up and deal with it, because Vicky is determined to catch the killers and gain Ryan's respect as a valued member of the MSA team. She just hopes she doesn't die trying.
There were things I liked about this third installment of Curtis' McCormack Security Agency series. Despite a limited amount of exposition to set this book into the series and a perplexing setup for the plot conflict (why was a security agency doing what police are supposed to do?), the story starts with a vicious killing that sets the sort of dark, edgy tone that I like in romantic suspense, and there's no doubt that the killers are Bad Guys riding the Crazy Train. That worked for me, as did several crafty, well-conceived and executed plot points in the suspense thread. Overall, I was surprised and pleased by the big picture of the conflict when it's finally revealed late in the book as it reaches its climax.
There were also elements of the romance that amused and charmed, and the cute, sometimes goofy, sexy heat between Vicky and Ryan made up for some of the less favorable points in their relationship. Despite a hearty dose of emotional immaturity on both their parts, and the confusing, difficult-to-believe premise of friendship between them (I never bought that setup, no matter what they said), they sort of worked for me as a romantic couple.
Unfortunately, the lighter tone of their relationship was at such odds with the severity of the opening sequences and the seriousness of the suspense, that I found the two elements jarring when taken together in context. Instead of blending and weaving together cohesively, the suspense threads and the romance threads never came together for me and ended up feeling very disparate throughout the book.
And I'm sorry, but I have to vent. When you and your partner have just found a viciously assaulted young woman bleeding out and dangerously near death, then you have to toss the dying woman over your shoulder to race away from the scene before the bomb that was planted kills you all, the very last thing on your mind should be the fine bum of your friend/partner.
I think Ryan having to tell himself not to stare at Vic's ass mere moments after bearing witness to horrific brutality and nearly getting blown to bits was supposed to be cute, but to me, it was so completely inappropriate in the moment that it didn't give me much of a first impression of Ryan's character.
That situation wasn't helped by the borderline incompetence and lack of professionalism evidenced by Vicky and Ryan once they were undercover. The whole premise of them going undercover as a married couple was a pretty heavy-handed and overused romantic suspense trope to begin with. And once they've inserted into the scenario, they spent so much time bickering at each other and flagrantly one-upping each other with ridiculous cover story that the investigation got lost in the shuffle.
I was also a little unhappy with Vicky's naiveté, nerves, and discomfort with Ryan's proximity once they were under. For someone who fought so hard to get where she was, claiming over and over that she was ready and more than able to do the job, desperate to prove herself, she came off as a complete powder puff at crunch time, or worse, a very disappointing gender stereotype.
Truth is, though, for me it was really all about the tone. Because of how the story started, the lighter elements weren't as successful for me as they could have been. On their own and in a different setting, I could really have enjoyed the romance arc and would have had more patience for the characters and their quirks.
Had the lighter romance been more in line with the darker suspense threads, this could have been a very solid read for me. As it is, the disparate pieces just didn't quite fit right. There were good points for sure, just not enough of them to elevate the story as a whole.
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Carina Press via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own. ~*~*~*~ Reviewed for One Good Book Deserves Another. (less)
Struggled with the Romance There is nothing Juliana Paris wouldn't do to protect her younger brother, even if it means withholding information from the...moreStruggled with the Romance There is nothing Juliana Paris wouldn't do to protect her younger brother, even if it means withholding information from the sexiest man she's ever seen, DEA Agent Ricardo Cruz. Juliana doesn't trust cops and the DEA is just another type of cop agency as far as she's concerned. If her brother is in trouble, and it looks like he definitely is, Juliana will find him and she'll keep him safe. Keep him free. Fix whatever it is he's done wrong this time.
Except this time, Juliana discovers, there are worse things than sexy DEA agents looking to imprison her brother on drug trafficking charges. There is a vicious drug cartel who think she's got something that would incriminate them, and they're coming for her hard. With her brother on the run and Agent Rick Cruz breathing down her neck, Juliana may need to rethink a few of her trust issues. Her life - and the life of her brother - may depend on it.
This book started out okay for me. It didn't break any new ground in the genre, the story as a whole is a bit too generic and lacking in complexity and the suspense plotline is a bit too predictable, but both Juliana and Rick had moments when they really shone as characters, and I enjoyed their contentious interplay in the first half of the book. They made that part of the ride worth the trip.
I liked the solid foundation of personal history that shaped each of them as characters. Rick's loss of his brother was the source of his zeal to stop the cartel and take down its evil leader and Juliana's overprotective fervor for her brother and the desperation that drives most of her actions was born out of her own childhood traumas. Those were nice, organic touches that helped define the characters and added a layer of believability.
That didn't necessarily make them consistently appealing, though. Rick was a bit of a dog, actually. He's a good looking guy who appreciates all women...especially the ones he can charm into bed. And he's very charming. Just ask him. I liked him most of the time, but have to admit, there were times when he came off rather shallow and manipulative with that charm of his.
Juliana frustrated me. I can't say I disliked her, exactly, but she seemed to have a stubborn resistance to anything resembling sense in the first half of the book and it made her seem very immature. I understood, even sympathized at times with her desire to keep her brother safe, but I can't say she went about it in the best ways. Unfortunately, my biggest problem with her - and the book - came at just past the halfway mark, when out of nowhere she suddenly realizes she's in love with Rick - the same guy she's been openly distrustful of and withholding evidence from at every turn up to that point...and beyond.
I'm all for a healthy bit of lusty good times, but her love for him at that point in the story was way too abrupt and lacking in necessary foundation for my taste. In fact, I think I got a little whiplash from the shocking about-face.
Still, I think I could have accepted that shocker and still mostly enjoyed the second half of the book if the romance had been handled better from that point. Unfortunately, the chemistry between Juliana and Rick worked better for me before they got together than it ever did after. The relationship-centric scenes suffered from stilted, awkward dialogue that made me cringe in places and what little sexuality was included stayed closer to tepid, child-friendly levels of description. For fans of the more circumspect sex scene this might be a big plus for the book, but that's not where my preferences lie.
Too many other things went wrong for me from there, too. The brother Juliana is trying to protect comes off as selfish and a bit stupid, the thugs causing most of the trouble never really seemed all that threatening to me, and the plot threads surrounding the leak in the DEA office and the identity of the cartel's American partner were so anemic they offered nothing of substance to the plot. Between that and Rick's team, who lacked the definition necessary to give them any impact on the story at all, far too many of the golden opportunities to broaden the scope of the story or better layer the plot went unexplored and unrealized.
Had the romance not put such a damper on the read for me, maybe I would have been more forgiving of the limited suspense plot. This isn't a long book, so I'm less of a stickler in that regard. I may not have loved it, but I wouldn't have ended up as dissatisfied as I was. Unfortunately, too much of my overall impression of the story is hampered by what was, to me, a sometimes painful and odd romance arc. There were good points to both the characters and the story in this book, but the bad outweighed them for me this time.
Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided to me by the author for review. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own. ~*~*~*~*~ Reviewed for One Good Book Deserves Another.(less)
Savage. It's more than a name, it's a way of life.
Police Detective Nickie Savage had that brutal truth carve...more~* 3.5 Stars *~ Deception Needs Black Creek
Savage. It's more than a name, it's a way of life.
Police Detective Nickie Savage had that brutal truth carved into her skin and burned into her mind when she was a child stolen from her home and forced to do things no child should ever have to do. But that was fifteen years ago, her past a bloody, jagged-edged crucible that forged her into the cop she is today.
She knows that's the reason the Feds have approached her to consult on a case surrounding a child prostitution ring. As suspicious as that makes her, she's quick to fly out to the crime scene in Vegas with Duncan Reed, famous artist, former military explosives expert, sometimes-hacker boyfriend by her side. Walking through the crime scene stirs echoes from her own tragedy, but that's not the worst of it.
With Duncan providing an assist, Nickie discovers evidence that suggests the perps behind the case are the same sick bastards who stole her from her own bed when she was only fourteen. With the implications of that connection rocking Nickie to the core and dark, painful secrets slowly rising to the surface after over a decade of suppression, it will take everything Nickie has just to stay sane.
And every trick in Duncan's well-stocked arsenal to keep the woman he loves alive.
Lately it seems I'm plagued with series debuts that don't read like series debuts. It's frustrating. At least in this case, there's a clear reason for it. Main characters Nickie and Duncan are featured in both Wolfe's Black Creek series and in Savage Echoes, a prequel novella for this series. I'm certain I would have had an easier time with this book had I read those, because there just wasn't enough exposition in this one to sufficiently introduce the characters or explain important story elements before the meat of the plot got going.
That was a problem for me, as the majority of the plot conflict revolves around Nickie's past, and there are a plethora of references to events and situations that I could only assume took place in one of those other two stories. As a result, I spent most of the first half of the book (and in places in the second half) feeling a general sense of disconnect and varying levels of confused.
I think my understanding was hampered by the third person limited point of view in which it's written. Though the character focus in the narrative shifts back and forth between Nickie and Duncan, which helped me get better acquainted with each of them, the lack of an omniscient voice didn't allow for a broader picture of their world and their past, and neither character deigned to reminisce on previously established information in a way that would have helped me find and keep my footing with the story.
That's a shame, too, because I think if I'd had that previously laid groundwork to build on, I could have loved this book.
I know I loved Duncan and I enjoyed Nickie most of the time - which is saying a lot for me, as I'm very tough on my fictional heroines. There were times when Nickie totally shut down and seemed more the victimized damsel than was comfortable for me, but most of the time she was a tough-as-nails, gritty chick I admired.
The best parts of the book for me were the scenes that featured both Duncan and Nickie. I absolutely adored them as a couple. Between Duncan's stalwart and unflagging devotion to Nickie and her fierce love for him, despite her myriad issues and their very different personalities, their scenes together stole the show for me. Before I was even sure I liked either character, I loved them together.
I also liked that their relationship, while obviously new, was already established. I don't read a lot of romance fiction in which that's the case, but I think the romantic suspense genre is a good fit for that particular relationship dynamic. Too, both Duncan and Nickie are very damaged characters, another point that appeals. Characters just seem more realistic to me when they have damage or flaws that impact their lives. We are all, to a one of us, walking wounded.
The external conflict in the plot was solid and meaty, even though some of the context was lost on me, but a few elements left me perplexed. I couldn't quite get a handle on Nickie's roll on the police force, as she seemed to spend more time investigating the connection between the evidence recovered in Vegas and her own childhood trauma than working any current day-to-day cases.
Don't get me wrong, I liked the story elements in the book and thought the investigative/police procedural end was nicely done. I just wasn't clear on how she could spend so much time on it over her open, active cases and more recent local crimes. I ended up feeling a little perplexed but mostly entertained by it all.
Hell, any attempt to end what was going on with the Bad Guys in this book is considered a solid win for me, story-wise.
Now that I've spent time with Nickie and Duncan and gotten a feel for their personal histories and their relationship, I want to read more, but to be completely honest, it wasn't always easy getting here. I would recommend this book only to readers familiar with the third book in Wolfe's Black Creek series or that prequel novella I mentioned. I certainly wish I had read those, because Savage Deception is listed as the first book in what has the potential to be a gangbusters romantic suspense series. It just doesn't read like it.
Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided to me by the author for review. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own. ~*~*~*~ Reviewed for One Good Book Deserves Another.(less)
~* 4.5 Stars *~ Totally Righteous Read They call him John the Baptist, the serial killer who likes to nail young women to a cross and stab them in the s...more~* 4.5 Stars *~ Totally Righteous Read They call him John the Baptist, the serial killer who likes to nail young women to a cross and stab them in the side before dumping them into one of Portland's rivers. FBI Special Agent Luca Ramirez has been hunting him for months, driven to stop a madman before he can kill again.
He is just coming off a fourteen hour shift when he gets the call. Another body has been found at the river. She's been crucified like the others. Stabbed like the others. But unlike those poor lost girls, John the Baptist's latest victim is still alive.
Hero Katrova-Connor survived a nightmarish hell against all odds, but survival and safety are two different things, and the Baptist isn't done with her yet. Going undercover to keep her alive is just another part of Luca's job, but the longer the investigation goes on, his growing feelings for the woman get harder and harder to ignore. She becomes more than just a job to him. She's the woman he'll die to protect.
This series debut by new-to-me author Byrne hit so many of my Happy Reader buttons I was practically vibrating with book-crack bliss. The wealth of solid plot-driven suspense kept me on the edge of my seat, the humor that peppered the narrative was right up my alley, and Luca and Hero had so much sexual chemistry sizzling between them that I was glad I was reading on my Kindle. No worry about the pages going up in flames that way.
Hey, it was a legitimate concern. Yowza.
The uber-alpha male Luca stole this show. He was rockin' the personal demons and aggression management disorder. Often grim, sometimes broody, with a fairly bleak self image, he thought himself little better than the monsters he is so good at catching. That would have been more than enough to appeal to me, but in Luca's case, there was this whole other level to him that completely stole my heart.
He was just so completely and obviously butt over brains for Hero from the moment they met, fighting it every step of the way (of course) out of a mix of professionalism (or, you know, fear) and male stupidity, and was utterly endearing for all of it. Well...if a gun-toting, foul-mouthed, hot-tempered, four-hundred-dollar-shoes-wearing alpha male can be called endearing. His struggle with his desire for Hero was the source of many humorous moments in the book and I savored them all.
Then there's Hero. Artist. Yoga instructor. A little bit of a hippy. She celebrates her individuality and embraces her sexuality. Strong, independent, spirited, maybe a little sheltered, she is the best thing to ever happen to Luca and she knocks him for a loop, tickling me pink in the process. Her personality was a breath of fresh air and I loved how she acts and reacts to things in the story.
And there was nothing I loved more than the fact that while Hero may have been victimized by a serial killer, at no point in the book was she ever a victim.
Serial killers are my favorite type of Bad Guy in romantic suspense fiction and there was a very solid plot arc surrounding John the Baptist in the book. It could have been given a bit more prevalence in the story at times. There were a few places I thought the story was focusing a bit too much on the evolving relationship of the main characters and not quite enough on the murder investigation. To be honest, though, that's not really a complaint. I loved Luca and Hero so much that it didn't really bother me their relationship arc got more of the story's focus, but I would have liked just a bit more balance in places.
That said, if it came down to choosing between better balance and giving up a single moment of the several stellar scenes with Hero's family, then I'm happy to live with the imbalance, because the Katrova-Connor clan stole every scene in which they were included. Admittedly, the book's prologue threw me a little at first, but when Bryne ties that scene to Hero's family dynamic further into the book, I was totally sold and seriously crushing on every single person in the Katrova-Connor clan.
Frankly, there just wasn't anything in the book that I didn't like. It was a fun, sometimes serious, suspenseful, dangerous, smoking hot read with characters that explode across the pages with vibrant intensity. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for the next book in the series, anxious to get those Happy Reader buttons pushed yet again.
Okay, now she was just being a bitch, but at least she could fortify the moral high ground by avoiding being childish. Because he started it.
"I thought you were a vegetarian." "I am." Hero closed her eyes to savor the smell. "Thus the Tofurkey." "But there's bacon in it." She shrugged. "Well yeah, but it's bacon." Knox nodded his agreement. "Bacon is meat. It comes from a pig," Luca said. "It doesn't count as meat because it's bacon." She was looking at him as though he was the one who'd lost his mind. "That makes no sense." "It doesn't have to make sense, bro," Knox said sagely. "It's bacon."
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by the author for review. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own. ~*~*~*~ Reviewed for One Good Book Deserves Another.(less)
~* 4.5 Stars *~ Unique and Intriguing British Mystery Series Debut First-year Detective Constable Kathleen Doyle knows she's in a rare spot. Those in he...more~* 4.5 Stars *~ Unique and Intriguing British Mystery Series Debut First-year Detective Constable Kathleen Doyle knows she's in a rare spot. Those in her position don't normally get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity she had drop in her lap the day the titled and much-lauded Chief Inspector Acton personally requested her presence on his high-profile murder case. For the three months they've partnered since then, Doyle has been on tenterhooks, desperate not to screw up what she knows is a fantastic opportunity for her career. Equally desperate not to lose the respect of the stoic and brilliant DCI Acton.
Unfortunately, making a hideous first-year mistake and winding up locked in a tack room by a murder witness while said witness flees their most recent scene isn't quite the way to go about avoiding either, but there it was.
Her error is mortifying, and Doyle is certain Acton's going to toss her back into the quagmire of first-year tedium, no matter how many times she heartily apologizes...and she can't say she'd blame him if he did. The fact that he does no such thing is perplexing, but that's only the beginning of Acton's mind-boggling behavior. And given the doozy of a murder mystery they're having such a hard time sussing out, Doyle is starting to feel overwhelmed by both the case and the man.
As it happens, the complex mystery of a murdered horse trainer and subsequent killings around London turns out to be the least complicated aspect of Doyle's life from the moment Acton, in a highly uncharacteristic move, offers Doyle a completely different sort of lifetime opportunity entirely.
But it's one that may just put them both in the crosshairs of a vicious killer.
Brilliantly conceived and flawlessly executed, this series debut by Cleeland drew me in from the first page and held me captivated to the very last word. I loved almost every single thing about it, especially the phenomenal Kathleen Doyle, who has become perhaps my favorite female lead character in this genre. She is so exquisitely prosaic, a common Irish lass of meager education but fierce determination. Impetuous, occasionally rash, young and ambitious, but also kind and generous of spirit with a gift for sensing truth that serves her well in her job, her personality is a bright beacon shining across every page and was a large part of what hooked me at the start and kept me enthralled.
I just loved her. I loved Acton, too, but I'll get back to him in a minute.
I do want to caution readers expecting a gritty British mystery with this book. That's not the whole of the picture in this case. There is an utterly unique but inescapable romantic thread that more than wends its way through the narrative of this tale, it drives a significant portion of the plot. So much so that I would feel much more comfortable if this were labeled a romantic suspense (albeit an nontraditional one) rather than a mystery. Fortunately I prefer a little romance in everything I read, so the evolving relationship between Doyle and Acton did nothing but elevate the read to near dizzying heights for me and I wouldn't trade a second of it.
In fact, I enjoyed their relationship so much that it sort of overshadowed the actual case Doyle and Acton were working on. It was just so deftly written, so slowly and subtly woven into the lives of her two characters, with such a delicious element of darkness that added a wealth of conflicting emotions, that I couldn't help but remain riveted by it. The endearing relationship (with, okay, some creepy moments) between the charming Irish commoner and her highfalutin DCI Extraordinaire, Lord Acton made me a happy, happy reader.
To be fair to the mystery elements of the plot, the whole book was so well-written that I went back and reread a goodly portion of it when I got through it the first time. Only then did I truly appreciate some of the more subtle intricacies in the writing, and I saw so very many wonderful moments of foreshadow and attention to minute detail that I was literally wowed by the sheer authorial talent it took to pull it all off. So very, very well done.
Now back to Acton. On one hand, he has a very British uppercrust side to him. Stoic and taciturn to the extreme, he practically oozes stiff-upper-lip propriety. But that's just the surface, because underneath all of that he's a cauldron of intensity, and his brilliant detective public persona is just a few steps removed from the nearly pathological interest he has in the fair Kathleen.
He is the epitome of alpha male, but to be frank, not always in the most healthy of ways. In fact, the snippets that start each chapter provide an eerie look at the scope of his interest in her. It was creepy at times, and definitely obsessive, but it was also humanizing and intensely personal, a side of him readers do not see from the Doyle-centric point of view of the narrative. The fact that he freely offers her the truth about his less-than-legal activities before they start any sort of personal relationship, and that it's so clearly rooted in his vulnerability, went a long way to helping keep him out of my too-creepy-to-like category.
Honestly, though, I have an extensive reading history rife with the sort of borderline-disturbing alpha-male shenanigans Acton got up to in this book, so I may have been more accepting of it from the beginning. Readers of paranormal romance in particular (like me) will definitely recognize his type. If Acton had been a werepanther or sprouted fangs around anyone with a paper cut, his behavior would be positively common - even expected.
There really was only one thing about the whole of this book that didn't work for me. In fact, I hated it...at first. There is a massive plot twist that crops up late in the book that more than took me by surprise, it completely poleaxed me. And it made me mad, because up until then, everything had been so flawlessly, carefully written that it seemed grossly out of place and cacophonous against the symphony of preceding developments. It just seemed like such a flagrant abuse of a deus ex machina that I wanted to stomp on my Kindle.
It wasn't until I'd gone back and reread some things, mulled some other things over that I realized that I should have seen it coming. Everything was there to let me know it was coming, in fact. Subtle, and out of context at the time, but with the added vision of hindsight, it really could have been no other way, given what we know of Kathleen as a character, what we learn about Acton, and what is there in some of their dialogue. I still can't say I liked it but could no longer hate it, either. The manner in which it was introduced was just too out-of-left-field for me to really embrace it, but I do have to admire Cleeland for the brilliant way the story built up to that point. The sophistication and intelligence in all the small pieces of information that went into that twist and big reveal were truly spot-on.
Careful and sophisticated, this story was a feast for the brain and a treat for the heart. I didn't think the mystery was as strong as the relationship between the characters, but I didn't need it to be. It was, in short, almost perfect just as it is. I can't wait to spend more time with Doyle and Acton, either, because their story is far, far from over.
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by the author for review. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own. ~*~*~*~ Reviewed for One Good Book Deserves Another.(less)
~* 1.5 Stars *~ A Hot Mess Peyton Lockhart was six years old when she met Finn MacBain. She was dying at the time. Though he was only fourteen, he dove...more~* 1.5 Stars *~ A Hot Mess Peyton Lockhart was six years old when she met Finn MacBain. She was dying at the time. Though he was only fourteen, he dove into the pool in which she was drowning and pulled her out, then gave her CPR to get her breathing again. She owes him her life, and for every one of the birthdays she's had since that fateful day, she's thanked him for it.
Now all grown up and working on making a career in the food industry, Peyton lands herself a job at a prestigious foodie magazine. Unfortunately that job puts her in the crosshairs of a sexual predator. Her boss. When efforts to handle the issue within the company prove fruitless, Peyton takes control of her own fate and gets out.
She doesn't get far before it becomes clear that she's in a lot more danger than she realized. Her boss has no intention of letting her go and risk ruining his power-grabbing plans for the future. He wants her dead. And he's got the power and money to make it so.
It's been years since Finn has actually laid eyes on Peyton, and seeing her again at his brother's wedding knocks him for a loop. She's definitely grown up, and she's incredibly beautiful with it. Since the night he saved her life, Finn has achieved much. He's won Olympic gold medals, earned a law degree. He's even become a decorated FBI agent. Through all of it he's never been as affected by anything as he is by Peyton Lockhart's smile when she walks up to him before the wedding.
Or by her request to do what he has done once before: save her life.
This installment of Garwood's long-running Buchanan-Renard series had a few cute moments and a few nice scenes, but for me, they were way too few and far between. There were several times throughout the book, especially in the middle, when I got so frustrated with the manner in which the story is told I seriously contemplated putting it down and not finishing it. I ended up persevering, but I'm not actually sure if that's a good thing or not.
I'm leaning towards not.
It started so well, which was one of the reasons I slogged through it to the end. I loved the beginning. The prologue caught my attention and sucked me in. I enjoyed meeting the young Finn, his beleaguered parents, and his audacious brothers. I loved the scene where Finn saves Peyton, and the subsequent scene in which Peyton's parents go to Finn's parents to tell them what happened was awesome.
The narrative of the prologue was fast-paced and the storyline concise, but with just enough detail to flesh out the backstory and give some surface definition to the characters. I thought it was the perfect execution of a short prologue. Things started to go bad for me relatively quickly after that, though, when the book switched over to a present timeline and started to introduce the plot arc of Peyton's trouble with her boss.
The narrative style which worked so well for the prologue was far less successful throughout the rest of the book. Plot points and story elements continued to breeze by at a break-neck pace, lacking depth or anything resembling detail. Occasionally the story would jerk to a stop and toss some more badness Peyton's way, but then it raced off again, twisting and turning along a path that was laden with superfluous silliness and downright odd developments.
Honestly, throughout most of the book I just felt like I was being pummeled by a chaotic mess of wildly divergent, often random plot threads and heavy-handed attempts to instill a lighter tone to the external conflicts and the relationship arc. The concept of the plot was solid, the beginning impressed me, but man, the execution throughout the rest of it drove me crazy.
When things go that bad for me during a book, I try to focus on other elements, but even the characters made me struggle. I like Finn well enough, I suppose. He wasn't exactly a well-rounded character, but he wasn't bad. Peyton's inconsistency bugged me. Her character wobbled and tottered back and forth between displaying an appalling lack of intelligence and wisdom to being decisive and competent or playful and witty.
Plus, she was a virgin before Finn got a hold of her, which rarely appeals to me in this genre. And there was no good reason given for such a stunningly beautiful (according to the male contingent in the book), supposedly intelligent, world-traveled young woman to still be a virgin at that point of her life beyond providing Finn a pristine landscape to plunder.
A couple of the secondary characters provided some color to the story, and I even liked one or two of them, but none of them had any more depth or detail than anything else in the story. In fact, Peyton's sister Lucy was such a painful caricature of a shrieking harpy whenever faced with the minutest amount of stress that I loathed her intensely. I won't even get started on the wing nut of a cousin, whose behavior went past absurd to beyond the pale.
Despite the great start and the potential in the story concept, too much about this book either didn't work for me or ticked me off. There were brighter glimmers here and there, even a few passages that made me smile, but overall, I just ended up thinking Hotshot was one hot mess.
The Cute Moments:
"You might need to stay another night." "No, I won't stay. People die in hospitals. They check in just fine, and - wham - they get some horrible disease and die." Finn was trying not to smile. "If they're just fine, why would they check into a hospital?" He was being logical, and she was having none of it. She wanted to go home. "It happens," she insisted.
"I'm here because you need me." It was an outrageously arrogant thing to say, and he knew it was going to rile her, but he didn't care how upset she became. She did need him. "I do not need you. I'm a capable adult, and I can take care of myself." "Where's your car?" "You know it blew up. I just told you." "And where are you now?" "In the hospital, but--" "So, taking care of yourself... How's that working out for you?"
"You have to set a trap," Peyton told them. Both men looked at her, and Finn asked, "What do you have in mind?" "I don't know. That's your area of expertise. I'm a chef. If you catch him, I'll make you a soufflé."
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Dutton Adult publisher Penguin Group via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own. ~*~*~*~ Reviewed for One Good Book Deserves Another.(less)
Action-Packed Series Debut Spending seven years in prison for a crime he didn't commit gave Tanner Bryant plenty of time to plan his revenge on the man...moreAction-Packed Series Debut Spending seven years in prison for a crime he didn't commit gave Tanner Bryant plenty of time to plan his revenge on the man who put him there. He wanted...needed Maurice Juneau to suffer as he suffered, and Tanner had every intention of making sure that happens.
Unfortunately, he hadn't planned on the young woman who stepped into his line of fire and took the bullet meant for Juneau. Nor had he planned on kidnapping her after he shot her. He's pretty sure that will come back to bite him, too, because Jess St. James may be tiny, but she is a force of nature. And he hasn't the first idea what to do with her.
Jess is frantic. Not only didn't her slimy boss give her the eight million dollars she needs to save her family, she got shot then kidnapped by the lunatic who shot her. Frankly, she shares Tanner Bryant's animosity for her boss. It's Maurice's fault her family has been abducted by a vicious criminal. But unlike Tanner, she needs the man alive to save her family.
Now she's got to partner up with the guy who put a bullet in her so she can get money from the man she works for. And she's running out of time. If she doesn't produce eight million dollars soon, her family will die. She's just going to have to convince Tanner that his revenge, however deserved it may be, is going to have to wait a little longer.
There are few things as nice for an avid reader like myself than having a favored author come out with a new series. I've been a fan of Adams' Adrenaline Highs series since the first book, so finding out about her new series made my day. I love Adams' writing style and her characters tend to be some of the best and most unique in the genre. Tanner and Jess were no exception.
Tanner was certainly a layered almost-antihero. It's not every day you get a hero that starts off a book shooting his heroine, but I sympathized with his past. His reaction to Jess, though, is what really charmed me. For all that he tried to be nothing more than a big, bad ex-con with an ax to grind, he was also a damaged guy who had lost everything. Jess' fateful stumble turned his carefully laid plans on their ear and kept him completely off balance, giving his initial attraction to her and his sympathy for her plight time to work on his conscience and reawaken his sense of integrity and honor.
I liked him a lot, and I appreciated the evolution of his character as the story progressed.
Jess was another bright spot. Though tiny in stature, she was fierce in her fight for her family and had no problem standing up for herself. I wasn't always thrilled with some of her emotional outbursts, but she was a nice fit for the more stoic Tanner. They had great chemistry and that was due in large part to the balance of strength and vulnerability she brought to the mix in their relationship.
As great as they were, though, had they been the sole focus of the narrative, I'm not sure I would have liked this book as much as I did. Oh, don't get me wrong, they were very likable, and they had some scorching sexy times I heartily enjoyed, but with a few exceptions, their storyline was fairly standard for what I've come to expect from Adams. What I didn't expect, and what really thrilled me, were the scenes with Jess' family.
Though they had secondary roles, Jess' family provided almost all of the more disturbing and suspenseful points of the plot. I loved Jess' parents, Jay and Terry. Their scenes were narrated with a slant from Jay's point of view and they stole the whole book. Between Jay's pride and love for Terry and their kids and Terry's indomitable strength of will, the characters and their scenes held me enthralled and drove all the darker elements of the suspense arc. They had so much presence on the page that they very well could have been the main characters. I loved them.
This was an action-packed and pulse-pounding read with some surprising, gasp-worthy twists and turns. I was caught off guard more than once by developments I hadn't seen coming and moved by characters who left an impression. I even had a total fan-girl squee moment with an awesome Adrenaline Highs series tie-in. Rock on Seger Hughes!
I can't say I was totally sold on every element in the story's premise, the family kidnapping in particular strained my willing suspension of disbelief given the motivation of the Bad Guy and sheer logistics, but the action itself, the scenes with Jess' family, and the arc of the romance between Tanner and Jess combined to provide a thrilling, sexy, and sometimes horrifying romantic suspense that kept me highly entertained. Adams may just have another hit series on her hands. One I plan on reading along with until the end.
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me for review. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own. ~*~*~*~ Reviewed for One Good Book Deserves Another.(less)
Adrenaline Low Private Investigator Troy Mills enjoys his job, cheating spouse cases notwithstanding. Unfortunately, he's on one such case, working und...moreAdrenaline Low Private Investigator Troy Mills enjoys his job, cheating spouse cases notwithstanding. Unfortunately, he's on one such case, working undercover as a bodyguard for a popular movie producer while he waits to get the proof that the wife hired him to find. Proof that her husband is sleeping with America's Sweetheart, actress Julie Fraser.
He hadn't been working undercover long when he first meets the former child star under less than auspicious circumstances. He's "guarding" the producer at a red carpet event when Julie arrives, but she doesn't make it into the building before the shots ring out, sending the crowd into chaos and knocking the star off her feet. Racing to her side to pull her bleeding body out of the line of fire, he manages to help save her life and takes a bullet for his efforts.
Julie has been an actress long enough to have no more illusions about the darker side of fame, but she never expected to be gunned down for it. Recovering in the same hospital as the man responsible for that very recovery gives her a chance to thank him personally. Not only is he her hero, but he's also the sort of decent, honest man she wants to get to know even better.
When repeated attempts to end her life prove Julie wasn't just a victim of random violence, Troy finds himself on shaky ground. Telling her who he really is will do more than just piss her off and ruin any good feelings she may have towards him, it could very well put her in the crosshairs of a determined killer.
I've been a big fan of the Adrenaline Highs series since its inception, and the previous book, Dangerously Close, was my favorite to date. That's why it sucks so much to have to say that this one didn't appeal to me. I struggled with the narrative and the characters, as well as several elements of the plot, throughout most of the book.
Adams has always brought vibrantly flawed or damaged, believable, three-dimensional characters to life on the pages, characters who are uniquely individual and original. I just wasn't getting any of those vibes from either Julie or Troy in this book. Julie was a little too sweet, nice, caring, and perfect for my taste (which isn't bad so much as it is uninteresting) and Troy was a lying douchebag.
Um...yeah...there may be some personal bias bleeding over into that opinion, but I'm sorry, there were a dozen times he could have come clean with Julie before they slept together and the fact that he not only didn't tell her the truth, but perpetuated the lie throughout the story, made me very uncomfortable with him as the romantic hero and set up what felt like a cliched and predictable suspense climax late in the book
And that's beside the point that I thought the premise for his investigation was a stretch. He's been hired by producer Ari's unhappy wife to get proof he's sleeping with Julie so the wife can divorce Ari's lecherous ass. That's fine on the surface, but I kept wondering why the wife's focus was so specific. Her husband is a sleaze who apparently bounces so many wannabe starlets on the "acting couch" that if extramarital sex were an Olympic event he'd have had the gold. If Troy was even remotely competent as an investigator he should have been able to provide proof of infidelity in no time. Mandating that the proof be her husband's adultery with Julie never made sense to me.
That was a pretty big stumbling block for my willing suspension of disbelief, and it caused problems for me as it related to the entire setup of the plot. There were also several plot threads, like what was going on between Julie's and Troy's assistants and the backstory of Troy's childhood, that weren't fleshed out enough to have any positive impact on the story. They just served to muddy the waters and bog down the pace of the suspense, and that pace was already pretty slow because of a narrative that was heavy on narration and light on dialogue.
There were good points, too, though. I did love the repartee between Troy and Julie in the beginning of the book, and I didn't dislike Julie as a character. She was cute and harmless, she just wasn't all that complex. My only issue with her as the romantic heroine, really, is that when compared to the other female leads in the series, she wasn't nearly as compelling or memorable.
Actually, that pretty much sums up my feelings about this book in general.
I've enjoyed this series, and have been highly entertained by Adams' deft talent for creating pulse-pounding romantic suspense. This book may not have been for me, but even the most adrenaline-pounding thrill ride in the world has its moments of down time. I have no doubt that the next in the series will have my adrenaline racing just as fast and high as did the three previous books.
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Carina Press via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own. ~*~*~*~ Reviewed for One Good Book Deserves Another.(less)
~* 2.5 Stars *~ Too Much and Not Enough From the moment he met his new neighbor, Detective Reese Bareden knew two things about the quiet and reserved Al...more~* 2.5 Stars *~ Too Much and Not Enough From the moment he met his new neighbor, Detective Reese Bareden knew two things about the quiet and reserved Alice Appleton: he wants her, and she's had the sort of trouble in her past that put shadows in her eyes and motivates her to keep several deadly weapons in easy reach. That sort of baggage makes it difficult to get close to the woman, but with the help of his new dog Cash and the fact that his apartment is still a crime scene, at least he has an in.
And once in, Reece has no intention of letting Alice kick him out.
She has been through hell and survived, though Alice still bears the scars of her past on her psyche. Those scars keep her vigilant, keep her cautious, and keep her as far off the grid as she can be. Having the handsome Reese sleeping on her couch presents a host of issues to her composure, but she can't honestly say she minds. In fact, she'd be even happier if she could get him from her couch to her bed.
When her hyperawareness thrusts Alice into a dangerous world of drug running, human trafficking, and murder to save a young woman in trouble, Reese practically loses his mind with fear for her safety. He doesn't care if he has to bend a few rules or pull in every favor he's owed, he'll do whatever it takes to keep her safe. And if the cost is the risk to his own life, so be it.
I've been reading and enjoying Lori Foster books for years, but I have to admit, this one didn't work for me. I can't say I disliked it, really, but there were more than a few elements that didn't appeal. Alice was one of them. Her personality rubbed me the wrong way. I liked her sincerity and honesty even in awkward situations, but the prim ingenue aspects of her character drove me nuts.
The woman draws gorgeous alpha males to her like bees to pollen, each one feeling the overwhelming urge to protect and defend her from the big bad world that done her wrong. Her emotional baggage lent her an air of fragility and every male in the story keyed on it. I like my protagonists flawed and/or damaged, but I prefer strength in the face of adversity, and more independent, self-reliant heroines. I also prefer a more emotionally equal partnership in romance relationships. Alice was a bit too much the damsel in distress.
Sure, she kept telling everyone she could handle herself. Repeatedly, in fact. I just never bought it. For good reason, as it turns out, as she managed to insert herself into more than one dangerous situation she didn't see coming - despite her vaunted situational awareness.
Reese didn't bother me. In fact, he's one of the things I liked about the book. While he was fairly stereotypical, I don't mind the alpha male stereotype, and his jealous reactions to...well...every male in Alice's life but him amused me. He had such a big soft spot for Alice from the very beginning and if I'd liked her more, I would've loved his fall into love.
I also enjoyed Rowdy, Pepper's brother from the first book in the series. Even when he was being a lecherous slimeball incapable of keeping his junk in his pants and unwilling to even try, I liked his contribution to the story. I'm really looking forward to his impending tumble into monogamy (hopefully) with love interest Avery, who we meet again in this book. Call me twisted, but I hope that tumble is fast and hard and gives him all sorts of bumps and bruises along the way.
As much as I enjoyed him, though, I thought the reason behind his appearance in this story was extremely shaky. I just couldn't quite buy that Rowdy was so motivated by his alpha male savior complex that in the absence of the need to keep protecting his sister, who is now happily engaged to Reese's partner Logan, he takes it upon himself to approach complete stranger Alice out of the blue and worms his way into her apartment and her life to become her newest champion.
That more than stretched my willing suspension of disbelief, it chewed it up and spit it out. I'll wait until his book to deal with the fact that he's a disrespectful asshat bordering on rampant misogyny when it comes to the legion of women he beds, but in this one, a much more believable and realistic reason for his initial involvement and subsequent solid contribution to the story would have been much appreciated.
Several problems with various other story elements, like the sparsely detailed and anticlimactic reveal of Alice's past, the too-quick and convenient resolution of her emotional issues, and the anemic and inconsistent suspense plotline also hampered my enjoyment of the read.
In the end, I felt the book was more palatable to me as a romance than as a romantic suspense, even with my issues with Alice. It was really Reese's headlong and enthusiastic tumble into love and my interest in Rowdy that kept me reading, because I couldn't begin to engage in the plot threads surrounding the Bad Guy and the danger he posed for the characters.
Fortunately, I've read enough books by the author to know my impressions of this one were extremely atypical. One book that didn't appeal to me hasn't turned me off Foster, it's just made me doubly interested in trying the next.
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by HQN publisher Harlequin via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own. ~*~*~*~ Reviewed for One Good Book Deserves Another.(less)
Liked It...Despite Myself From the moment she learns the CIA has put out a burn and delete notice on Richard "Rock" Babineaux, Black Knights operator a...moreLiked It...Despite Myself From the moment she learns the CIA has put out a burn and delete notice on Richard "Rock" Babineaux, Black Knights operator and, apparently, CIA spy, everything in communication specialist Vanessa Cordova rebels. She's had feelings for the man since the first time she heard his slow Cajun drawl, but more than that, she partnered with him on a recent undercover op and she just can't believe the man she knows has committed the heinous crimes the CIA is accusing him of committing.
With the full weight of the Black Knights' support behind her, Vanessa is determined to help Rock clear his name. She just has to find him first.
He's been in the wind for six months and Rock knows he has to keep his head down as he scrambles to figure out who screwed him and set him up. Practically buried in a South American jungle, alone, he's running out of options, resources, and leads, but he's resolute about not risking his friends. Until one fiery and magnificent woman crashes into his jungle and blows his best intentions straight to the same hell he'll likely be getting an up close and personal tour of all too soon.
The dangerously tempting Vanessa has found him, but by doing so, Rock knows unless he manages a miracle, she's likely doomed them both.
This fourth book in a series that has posed varying problems for me since its debut is definitely my favorite, though it's not without some large issues. Unlike its predecessors, however, I found myself entertained despite them. Walker's humor, which is sometimes silly but usually geeky and cute, is more prevalent in the narrative, and there were none of the darker, sadistic scenes I found so jarring in previous books. There's a ton of action which appealed, and plenty of sexy goodness to raise the temperature. The plot wasn't quite as layered as some of the previous books, but sometimes simple is, if not better, at least no worse.
All in all, I liked this book, though there were definitely elements that made me cringe a little. Or a lot.
I loved Rock, even with his persistent and repetitive warning against Vanessa loving him. He was strong and self-sacrificing, sexy and absolutely delicious. Vanessa, frankly, couldn't hold a candle to him, which is a huge shame, because I thought she was going to when she was first introduced in the previous book. Unfortunately, instead of strengthening her character in this book, broadening it and intensifying it, Walker went another route.
From competent and savvy communications specialist to crying (and oh my god, the crying!), wailing, screaming, stumbling, scared of the dark, horny emotional idiot whose entire existence seemed to revolve around her desire to make Rock love her, Vanessa's character went through a serious deconstruction in this book. I was completely boggled by it, and her personality grated on me before I was into the third chapter.
So did Rock going on and on to himself about how magnificent she was every single time he sees her. Like telling us he thought she was all things hot, courageous, and brilliant was supposed to convince us she was all those things despite all manner of evidence to the contrary. I'm not quite so easy to convince. One single scene in which she was faced with a difficult situation and didn't burst into tears or have some sort of emotional meltdown would've been far more effective. So would having her alleged excellence in her field serve as more than a transitory benefit in the story.
Unfortunately, it didn't happen.
Other than Becky, featured romantic heroine of the second book and a strong secondary character in this one, there hasn't been a female character that hasn't been a weeping, weak, nervous, shy, innocent stereotype of every bad romance novel cliche. And while that's normally a huge hot button of mine and slams the brakes on my interest in a book or a series, there has so far been enough good in these books to keep me reading. And there was enough in this one to actually entertain me regardless.
I'm worried about the next book, though. Nothing about Becky's friend and Wild Bill's former (and obviously not-so-former) crush Eve has indicated she's not exactly that same sort of weak heroine that's been bugging me since the beginning of the series. In fact, she's been drawn as a shy, nervous, uber-rich debutante, and I'm not exactly brimming with enthusiasm about that personality type filling out a main plot arc.
With this book, Walker seems to have finished straddling the line between light and serious romantic suspense and has come down on the lighter side. That works for me, as I've always thought the straddling was doing the series no favors. Plus I like humor and several scenes in this book made me chuckle to myself. Personally, I hope this is indicative of how the series intends to continue from this point. Now, if it could just put forth a heroine that doesn't make me roll my eyes, piss me off, or embarrass the hell out of me to be a woman, we'll be golden. But I won't hold my breath.
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Sourcebooks Casablanca publisher Sourcebooks via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own. ~*~*~*~ Reviewed for One Good Book Deserves Another. (less)
When she was a child, Shay Morgan survived the sort of brutality that leaves the deepest scars and the most terror...moreShe fled to the end of the earth...
When she was a child, Shay Morgan survived the sort of brutality that leaves the deepest scars and the most terrorizing nightmares. To protect herself, she stays off the grid, living in Earth's End, Alaska. She has few true friends and the one man she loved dumped her because she could never open up to him, no matter how much she wanted to. Her life is a lie told to perpetual strangers, the truth too shattering to ever be revealed.
Two weeks after a serious car accident, Shay has finally recovered enough to start to getting back to her life, but a trip to a friend's bookstore brings her face to face with her ex-boyfriend Elliot Winter. On its own, their conversation has the power to leave her hurting and shaken, but it's what she sees on the bookshelf beside the man that rocks her to her core. A signed copy of the latest thriller by author Shane Neil.
The problem with that seemingly innocuous discovery is twofold. Shane Neil is a very carefully guarded secret of Shay's. The name is her nom de plume. But she sure as hell didn't sign any of her new books...for that bookstore or any other.
...it wasn't far enough.
The closer Shay looks into the mystery of who signed the books she authored, the more troubling her life becomes. Facebook, Twitter, and online outlets everywhere have been impacted by this impostor in a detailed and disturbing case of identity theft that threatens to expose Shay to the very man she's been hiding from her entire adult life even as it targets Elliot, the man she still loves. But when identity theft turns out to be the very least of the perpetrator's crimes, Shay may no longer have the luxury of worrying about her past. Her present has become deadly enough.
One of my favorite things about Shiloh Walker's books is her gift for creating truly damaged characters who have been through hell and are flawed and/or broken as a result, who are then, through the plot of the book, put through more hell before they get a chance at redemption or happiness. That gift is sometimes a double-edged sword, though, because occasionally her characters have gone through so much and are going through so much more that I can sometimes find the journey from Point A to Point HEA a little too dark and depressing, or the level of damage a character has is so severe that it makes it hard to relate to them and really embrace them in their full role.
That was the case for me in this book.
I struggled quite a lot with Shay as the main character. I loved the concept of the story, and could understand and sympathize with why she is where she is geographically as well as emotionally at the start of the book, but somewhere around the middle it started to really drag me down. I couldn't quite connect with the story or the romance because of just how much Shay was going through and how deeply damaged she was.
I liked Elliot, and I thought the story was scary for just how easy it was for the Big Bad to infiltrate Shay's life and completely take it over. She had worked so hard to hide that she managed to create the perfect opportunity to be victimized yet again. Given the proliferation of social media in our daily lives, it's eerily easy to imagine everything that the Big Bad was able to do. That's actually a little terrifying.
It didn't create a good foundation for the romance for me, though, and I need to be on board with both the romantic elements and the suspense elements for a romantic suspense novel to really work for me. I just think Shay needed some serious therapy and as good as Elliot was to her (eventually) and for her, I don't think he was enough to truly heal the sort of wounds Shay has.
None of that makes this a bad book. Walker writes extremely good suspense and very hot romance, and the combination of the two couldn't possibly be bad, as far as I'm concerned. It just wasn't quite something I could fully connect to and enjoy, either. Walker's Ash Trilogy worked much better for me in that regard.
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Ballantine Books publisher Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own. ~*~*~*~ Reviewed for One Good Book Deserves Another.(less)