Reviewed for THC Reviews It's been a really long time since I've read one of Julie Garwood's romantic suspense novels, since before I started writing rReviewed for THC Reviews It's been a really long time since I've read one of Julie Garwood's romantic suspense novels, since before I started writing reviews to be exact. Murder List was a pretty good read, and about on par with what I remembered of the other books in the Buchanan series, but not quite up to the caliber of some other romantic suspense authors I've read more recently. Having a killer on the loose, who seems to be obsessing on the heroine, worked reasonably well from a suspense/thriller perspective, but the mystery surrounding this part of the story was a little weak in my opinion. I'd be quite surprised if readers figure it out before the reveal, as the breadcrumb trail leading to the culprit was pretty sparse. I really prefer when the author can engage me in actively trying to solve the mystery rather then being a passive bystander. The romance needed a little more pizazz too. Other than a mutual attraction, not much happens between Alec and Regan for more than half the book. They don't even kiss. Then about ¾ of the way in, things finally get moving, but it all kind of happens at once. There is only one moderately descriptive love scene which I did find romantic, but then things cooled down as Alec prepares to move and Regan believes it was just a one-night stand. I could tell that they really liked one another, but I wasn't entirely convinced that it was enough to build a lifetime commitment on.
Alec and Regan were pretty typical of Julie Garwood's heroes and heroines. Alec is what I like to call the alpha with a heart. He's attractive in a messy, un-put-together sort of way. He's a cop who's good at what he does and knows it, but is about to make a move to the FBI. His lieutenant gave him the job of bodyguard to Regan for his last few weeks in town as retaliation for him leaving the force and for making the guy look bad during a confrontation. Once Alec gets to know Regan, he seems rather amused and endeared by her quirks and intensely possessive and protective of her. I thought it was very sweet that he didn't want to spend the night at her hotel suite after they made love, because he was concerned about her reputation. Regan is a hotel heiress ala Paris Hilton, but much, much nicer and more intelligent. While her two older brothers run the family business, she runs the family's philanthropic efforts. Being so much younger than her brothers and not having involved parents, Regan has kind of gotten lost in her brothers' shadows, so it was rather funny when she started fighting back against their overbearing natures. Regan is not unlike most of Julie Garwood's other heroines in that she can by turns be a little too emotional, a little too nosy, and a little clumsy, while still being kind-hearted, and underneath it all, she's strong when she needs to be. She's also quite attractive, but mostly unaware of her physical beauty. Alec and Regan are both very likable characters, but I wouldn't exactly call them stand-outs. There just wasn't enough character development for that.
There were a number of secondary characters in the story. I enjoyed the breezy interactions between Regan and her two best friends, Sophie and Cordie. Sophie is an outgoing journalist who is trying to get an investigative beat. I thought it was rather interesting that she was the daughter of an infamous con-man, and it looks like she gets her own book, Fire and Ice, later in the series. The most intriguing of the three to me though was Cordie. I think this was because of her dichotomy, or perhaps trichotomy as the case may be. She's a girlie girl, who as a science teacher is a bit of a geek, but she also does auto mechanic work on the side as something of a hobby. As I mentioned earlier, Regan's two oldest brothers, Aiden and Spencer can be pretty overbearing and overprotective, and tend to try Regan's patience. The youngest of the brothers, Walker, is a jet-setting race-car driver who we don't see much of in the story, but he still factors into it. I think any of these three might make good hero material, and in fact, it seemed like something might be brewing between Aiden and Cordie, but nothing ever came of their seeming attraction. It might be interesting for these two to get together, but as of yet, it doesn't look like Ms. Garwood as written any books for them or the other Madison brothers. Since Alec is part of the large Buchanan clan, I was a little disappointed that we didn't get to see more of them. In fact, his brothers and sisters are really only mentioned in passing, but friend of the family, Noah Clayborne who has his own book, Shadow Dance, does get to have a couple of phone conversations with Alec.
Murder List has a rather leisurely beginning as the author introduces the reader to the hero, heroine and killer separately. At the time, they seemed to all be doing completely unrelated things, but gradually, their lives begin to intertwine. At that point, it became more involving, although at times the pacing was still a little slow for a mystery/suspense novel, in my opinion. Overall the story was pretty good and the writing itself fairly solid. Even with its flaws, Murder List still held my attention which is probably why I consider Julie Garwood to be a good author. Even when she's not at the top of her game, her books are still quite readable. Murder List is the fourth book in her Buchanan series, and I'll be looking forward to meeting and getting to know more of the Buchanan family in future books....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Extreme Exposure is my first read by Pamela Clare, and I have to say that she is a good story-teller. The book had a nice balaReviewed for THC Reviews Extreme Exposure is my first read by Pamela Clare, and I have to say that she is a good story-teller. The book had a nice balance of elements too. I had all the bad guys fairly well figured out by the reveal, so nothing was too big of a surprise in that respect. However, the suspenseful nature of the denouement and some of the earlier scenes were still well done, and there were even some lighter, humorous moments as well. Kara's drunken sex interview with Reece was pretty amusing (apparently she is a dedicated journalist even under the influence ;-)), as was her son producing Mommy's vibrator at an extremely inopportune time. The romance didn't fully produce a deep, swoon-worthy emotional connection for me, but it did have some memorable moments, such as when Reece brought his planned dinner to Kara, cooking for her, and when he loyally sat by her bedside after she'd been severely injured. Although not quite as steamy as I was expecting based on other's reviews (most of the love scenes were a little too short and not very detailed), there was one scene in particular that was definitely scorching hot. Overall, Extreme Exposure was a pretty enjoyable read, but the author has some odd quirks in her writing style which kept the book from being the perfect 5-star read for me that I thought it could have been.
Just like Kara, the heroine of Extreme Exposure, Pamela Clare has an extensive background as an award-winning journalist. However, authoring a newspaper article and authoring a novel require two very different writing styles, and I couldn't help but feel that her journalistic style kept seeping into the novel, giving me something of a roller-coaster experience with the narrative. Sometimes, I was engaged in the story and really enjoying it, and other times, it just simply didn't catch my attention and draw me in the way a romantic suspense tale should. I think this was owing to a large part of the book being written in a rather passive way with quite a bit of telling and not enough showing. Ms. Clare also has a tendency to write most of the introspective passages in past perfect tense as the characters basically relive something that has already happened. I've never really seen this in a romance novel before, or at least not to this extent, and in my opinion, it added to the passivity. In general, I think it is a good rule of thumb to keep the reader in the here and now, especially when trying to build a romantic relationship and a suspenseful plot, rather than reliving events after the fact. As written, it was almost like having dozens of mini flashbacks in the narrative. I also wasn't very fond of her repeating certain phrases and passages during introspective moments either. I just didn't feel the need to be reminded of what another character had said or something the person who was ruminating had read, often just mere pages after it had occurred the first time. In my opinion, it only served to slow things down. While some parts of Ms. Clare's writing style may not have been entirely to my liking, I do want to give credit where credit is due. I thought she was great with describing the settings and environmental details which made me see them clearly in my mind's eye. She also did a good job with the dialog which had a snappy, concise and natural flow. In addition, she created some likable characters in Reece and Kara, as well as Kara's son, Connor, who actually acted like the small child he was and not just a tiny adult.
Before starting Extreme Exposure, I have to admit that I was a little skeptical of a politician making good romantic hero material as they tend to have a bad reputation. Well, I couldn't have been more wrong. Reece was one of those rare “good guy” politicians, someone who got into it because he truly wanted to make a difference both in the lives of his students, who had encouraged him toward this temporary career change, and in the lives of his constituents. He had a moral compass that kept him from doing things that could be misconstrued, and he and his office were about as transparent as government gets. Because of this, I wish the author hadn't felt the need to justify Reece's actions by frequently reminding the reader that he wasn't abusing his power when he occasionally pulled some strings to get information. I think it was already pretty obvious that he was only doing it for the greater good. Ultimately, Reece was a fabulous guy who made a wonderful romance hero. I loved the way he was a perfect gentleman at their first meeting when Kara was drunk, how he verbally defended Kara, tried to physically protect her, and refused to leave her side when all the bad stuff started happening. And all this, while still being an amazing lover who could make her body sing, a talented cook who could make a delicious meal without breaking a sweat, a great handyman, and he loved kids too. Where can I sign up for my own Reece? (Oops, forgot, I'm a married woman for a second there.;-)) The two things about him that were slightly troublesome were his lack of judgment in previously sleeping with a lobbyist, and that he seemed to fall in love with Kara a little too easily and without a lot of explanation. However, I can't fault the latter too much, because I love when the hero recognizes his feelings early in the story.
Kara was an admirable heroine. She was obviously dedicated to her job and very good at what she did. She was a wonderful mother in spite of sometimes not feeling like she was. Even though I'm a stay-at-home mom, I could still relate to her worries about balancing work and motherhood. I think most moms have days where they feel inadequate. I admired her for her journalistic ethics, and for how she stood up to her boss for being a jerk and to the bad guys when they started coming after her. I can't say that I always agreed with her choice of actions (a couple leaned toward the TSTL side), but I guess they at least made some sense. I sympathized with her being a little leery of trusting men, but I think the author could have presented that aspect in a bit more subtle way instead of it being in the reader's face right from the start. Even Reece instantaneously knew she had issues after only going on one date with her. I just have a preference for these types of past hurts to come out more slowly, because I feel it adds to the intimacy of the relationship when the couple gradually share with one another. At the same time, I felt like Kara needed a little more depth in this area, because she did occasionally irritate me with how long it took her to give into her feelings for him, as well as with her suspicions about Reece's motives for dating her and again later with his involvement in the investigation. Reece was just such a great guy I thought he deserved better than that, but at least she wasn't as bad as some romance heroines I've read.
Extreme Exposure has a plethora of secondary characters, some who have only bit parts and some whose roles are a little meatier, but they all contributed to the story in their own way. Two of the supporting characters we meet in this story, Kara's friends and fellow I-Team members, Tessa and Sophie, become the heroines of the next two books in the series, Hard Evidence and Unlawful Contact respectively. The overall premise for the series, that of a group of investigative reporters digging into various crimes is a new and unique idea for romantic suspense which I like. I can say that Ms. Clare's background in this field certainly shows through in her portrayal of the heroine's profession and descriptions of the newspaper business, even though the technical aspects of the newsroom weren't my favorite parts. Extreme Exposure is the first story in the I-Team series which currently has five books. I may have had a few issues with Ms. Clare's writing style, but I liked the characters and plot well enough that I'm certainly willing to keep going with the series....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" For the second time in a row, I have finished a book and been left waffling over how to rate it, which is very unuReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" For the second time in a row, I have finished a book and been left waffling over how to rate it, which is very unusual for me. There were things that I liked about Dangerous Lover, but quite frankly, there were also things that I thought could have been greatly improved too. Lisa Marie Rice has a very languid writing style characterized by extended passages of descriptive or introspective prose punctuated by brief snippets of dialog. In my opinion, this gave the story a rather slow and uneven pace, but I wouldn't really characterize it as dull or boring or say that I entirely disliked it. Since this is my first read by Ms. Rice, I can't say if this is her usual writing style or a peculiarity of this book, but my personal preference would have been that there be more dialog especially between the hero and heroine. In spite of being inside their heads almost constantly, I still felt like I was lacking a full and complete understanding of their feelings and motivations. Often I felt like the author was telling me things instead of showing me, and I think that at times it was a bit too wordy and simply didn't get to the point quickly enough for me to grasp it.
To say that Jack was the strong, silent type would probably be an understatement. Although I've already mentioned the general lack of dialog throughout the story, it seemed to me that Jack had the least of anyone. I suppose in some ways this added to the aura of mystery and danger surrounding him, but I still like my heroes to be a tad more talkative. Jack was a tortured hero and a hardened ex-military guy who was an ultra-protective alpha male. What I really liked about him though was that when it came to Caroline, he definitely discovered his softer side and always treated her very gently. However, what impressed me the most was his gentlemanly behavior towards her such as opening doors, pulling out chairs, etc. I may be in the minority, but I love it when a man does these sorts of things for a lady. Jack may have engaged in combat in some of the world's worst hellholes but around Caroline he was never uncouth, right down to watching his language, which I found to be a really neat dichotomy. I also found his frequent kissing of her hand to be a swoon-worthy gesture.
Caroline was an interesting heroine who is extremely kindhearted and trusting of others, but perhaps too much so. She was certainly a tortured heroine and an emotionally strong one to have lived through the deaths of her entire family, but I thought that having all her friends and neighbors basically ignore her because they were uncomfortable with the tragedy was a little overkill. I guess it added to her sense of isolation and vulnerability, but one would think that there would be a few people who would offer up some kind words or support during that difficult time. While I like a heroine who isn't afraid to let the hero take care of her, I also think that ideally she should have a little spunk as well. I thought that her previous on-again, off-again relationship with Sanders, especially when she didn't enjoy the sex and didn't really even seem to like him all that much, made her seem weak and indecisive. I also would have liked to see her defend herself a little better against his unwanted advances. Overall, Caroline was a nice, sweet heroine, but I would have preferred that she exhibit a bit more backbone.
While Dangerous Lover had quite a few romantic moments between Jack and Caroline that I enjoyed, there were also some things about the story that bothered me. I am not usually a fan of the instant “meeting and mating,” but I was able to overlook it to some degree in this book since I understood Caroline's loneliness, and she and Jack had a previous connection, even though she wasn't initially aware of it. Nevertheless, I do tend to be a proponent of safe sex especially in contemporary romance, and the lack of it in this book did bug me. Even though Jack was certainly a prepared, plan-ahead kind of guy, I maybe could have lived with neither of them having any condoms available in the middle of a snowstorm, and I probably could have accepted the flimsy reasons for Caroline fortuitously being on birth control. However, when she said, “You look healthy” I couldn't help but roll my eyes and have a WTH moment, since careless assumptions like that in real life would likely end in an STD. Sometimes I can live with the condoms being left behind if there seems to be a decent reason for it, but in this case, I didn't really see any compelling rationale for the author to write it that way. The safe sex argument aside, I also found some of the violence a little off-putting. I'm generally not overly squeamish, but I found the descriptions of the atrocities being committed against the women and children in Sierra Leone to be somewhat disturbing. I think this was probably due to the realism of it and the fact that these things are actually happening on a daily basis rather than just being committed by some fictional, warped, psycho villain. Lastly, there were also quite a number of continuity errors as well as incorrect or incomplete word choices. While these errors weren't totally egregious, they were sometimes distracting and should have been caught by a good editor.
Out of all the reader complaints I've heard about Dangerous Lover so far, the most common one seems to be that many hated the ending. While I'll admit that it was pretty abrupt, I didn't find it to be absolutely terrible. This may have been due to my expectations being lower because of the complaints, so I can definitely see how those who didn't have prior knowledge of a potentially unsatisfying ending might be very disappointed or even upset by the way things wrapped up. It was happy, but certainly left a lot to the reader's imagination. For those who aren't aware, there is something of an epilogue to the story exclusively available online at Just Erotic Romance Reviews, but it doesn't really add anything to the plot of the main novel. The epilogue also isn't written in a story format, but instead, has more of the feel of a timeline documenting all the major events in Jack and Caroline's lives from the end of Dangerous Lover until they both take their final breath on this mortal plane.
Dangerous Lover was marketed as an erotic romance, but the sexual content of the book did not include anything unusual or kinky. In my opinion, the love scenes were pretty vanilla and comparable to hot, steamy mainstream romances, but sensitive readers show know that they are more frequent and do contain explicit language. In a different vein, Dangerous Lover was not marketed as a Christmas romance, but the entire story takes place in four days over the Christmas holiday which might make it an appealing read for that time of the year. In spite of that, I would not necessarily call it a Christmas-themed romance, since none of the traditional trappings or celebrations of the holiday are present in the narrative. Dangerous Lover is the first book in the Dangerous series, followed by Dangerous Secrets and Dangerous Passion which is due to be released this summer. Lisa Marie Rice does not have a website and information on her books elsewhere is spotty, so I am not certain at this time what the character or plot connections between books might be. Even though there were a number of things about Dangerous Lover that I thought could have been better, I still found it to be a worthwhile read that also had a number of appealing elements too. I liked it well enough and have heard enough good things about Lisa Marie Rice that I will undoubtedly read the next book in the series and also try some of her other books, since I already have a few on my TBR pile....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Issue of Trust has been sitting on my TBR pile for quite a while. I finally decided to pick it up, partly because it fit two rReviewed for THC Reviews Issue of Trust has been sitting on my TBR pile for quite a while. I finally decided to pick it up, partly because it fit two reading challenges I'm working on and partly because I was in the mood for a nice “hot” book. Ellora's Cave books rarely disappoint when it comes to producing lots of steam, but unfortunately, on this count and several others this story ended up being a rather lackluster read for me. To begin with, I thought the premise was intriguing and had promise, but it lacked in execution. Joanna escaped her life with a covert ops agency, where she presumably worked as some sort of spy or mercenary six years ago, because she was artificially inseminated without her knowledge or consent. Since then she's been on the run trying to make a life for herself and her gifted young son, Alex. Then she unexpectedly runs into a man who's almost a dead-ringer for her former commander and the only man who has ever held her heart. This could have developed into a nail-biting romantic suspense novel, but the mystery and suspense parts fell flat. There is a certain degree of mystery as to whether or not Hunter is Jonathan, but that's pretty much all there was to it. The backstory of Joanna and Jonathan's time working for Alpha Corp was definitely underdeveloped. The author gives few clues as to what exactly they did for the company or what the company did other than some type of covert ops that mysteriously morphed into sci-fi style genetics altering experimentation. She also tells us that the company wanted Joanna dead, but not really why except that she carried a genetically enhanced child that they wanted for their experiments. Even when we finally get to the “big reveal,” the author still never explained how on earth Joanna was artificially inseminated without knowing it, and the reason for why it was done (“I was under orders.”) was pretty lame. I still don't see how that made any difference. It seems to me that Jonathan could have just impregnated her the “old-fashioned” way.
Joanna and Hunter both appeared to be good people, and I think I could have really liked them if I'd gotten to know them a little better. Joanna was a good and devoted mother to Alex. She had spent the last six years trying to ensure he was kept safe and out of the reach of Alpha Corp. She also tried to treat him as normally as possible even though he was obviously a little prodigy. She was a good friend to her neighbors/landlords, Jimmy and Susie, as well as their troubled teenage daughter, Heidi. The author dropped some tantalizing tidbits about Joanna's background prior to working for Alpha Corp that I thought was going to make her a very tortured and sympathetic heroine, but then never really went anywhere with it except to simply say that these things happened to her. Hunter had a certain appeal as the mysterious alpha hero, but with the story written entirely from Joanna's POV, I never felt like I got to know him as a person at all. Having no male perspective left a big hole in the story. I imagine the author did this to maintain the ambiguity regarding Hunter's identity, but I think that a more skillful writer could have managed to give the reader his POV while still maintaining the mystery.
As a couple, I had a hard time becoming invested in Joanna and Hunter's relationship. As with the rest of Joanna's backstory, the author tells virtually nothing of her time with Jonathan while they were with Alpha Corp or exactly why she fell for him back then. The few clues she does give about Jonathan make him seem like a man to be feared, not one who would engender loving feelings. Consequently, when Joanna meets Hunter and thinks he may be Jonathan, I don't really understand why she's so attracted to him. All we know is that Hunter is extremely handsome, but Joanna doesn't trust him if he is Jonathan nor does she trust him enough to ask. Without this trust, I don't know what kind of relationship they have other than a physical one. Not to mention, without that all-important male POV, I had no idea what Hunter might be feeling for Joanna or what his motives might be for wanting to get close to her. I also wasn't too thrilled with the fact that Hunter had a live-in girlfriend when Joanna came to town. I suppose that with a hot-blooded man like him that's not too surprising, but he breaks up with her and kicks her out of his house the minute he sees Joanna. I thought this made him seem cold, like he'd just been biding his time with the woman until something better came along and then started a rebound fling with Joanna. It just didn't sit very well with me, and I would have preferred he simply be unattached. If this wasn't bad enough, the author threw in a real zinger at the end by revealing a shocking one-night stand he had when he first came to town that didn't add anything at all to the story, and in fact, I felt detracted from it.
Another reason I had a hard time connecting to the characters and their relationship was that the narrative has a decided lack of feeling words and expressions of emotion. Joanna went through hell, both growing up and while working for Alpha Corp, which could have made her an excellent tortured heroine, but she never came off that way at all. She just kind of took it all in stride and did what she had to do in a relatively dispassionate manner. Now, she thinks that the man who stirs her desires may be the same one she left years ago, and the presumed father of her child, but I can't say I ever knew how she felt about any of it. A few times, I even skimmed over parts I'd already read to see if I'd missed something, but couldn't find any real clues as to her emotional responses. This all made it very difficult to buy into the idea that Joanna supposedly loved Jonathan very deeply all those years ago. Normally, I can at least expect some hot, steamy sex, but without that deep emotional connection, even the love scenes felt like nothing more than a physical manifestation of need rather than the intense longing finally fulfilled that it should have been.
The final issue I had with the book is that Ms. O'Clare has a rather rambling and repetitious writing style that I didn't find to be very conducive to immersing myself in the story. I myself am a writer and have always been told that every event in your novel should help propel the plot forward, yet there were several occurrences in Issue of Trust that didn't seem to have any real bearing on the main part of the story and a few plot points that were simply dropped and didn't go anywhere. First, there was Joanna killing a mountain lion which as an animal lover kind of bothered me. In spite of that, it wouldn't have been a problem for me, except that there didn't really seem to be a good reason for killing it. She and her son were safely inside the house, and although the cat was scratching on the screen door, it seems like it would have been a fairly simple matter to just close the door and windows so it couldn't get in. Next, there was the whole side-plot involving her neighbor's daughter, Heidi. Since Heidi had loving parents and a good home, the reasons for her actions seemed rather weak to me. The girl was also drugged and raped by some friends of her boyfriend which definitely wasn't given the attention something of this magnitude deserved. At the end, Heidi thinks she's seen her abusers in town, so Joanna starts to go after them on her own. Then this part of the story is abruptly dropped, and we never do find out if they were the rapists or if they were arrested. This sub-plot didn't seem to serve much purpose except to give Joanna something to do, since she didn't have a job and also to fill up space, since we don't get to see what Hunter is up to. Lastly, there was a sweet local guy who asked Joanna out, but all she did was passively put him off, never really giving him an answer. I guess maybe this was intended to stir up jealousy in Hunter, because he eventually said something to the guy who was never heard from again. Exactly what Hunter said was a complete mystery since Joanna wasn't close enough to hear. In my opinion, all this served to do was make a make a nice guy look like a wimp and Hunter look like he's trying to control Joanna's life. The author also likes to go into lengthy details about nearly everything, especially home design and decorations, as well as the specific articles of clothing each character is wearing, which I didn't think was necessary. Just enough to create ambiance and explain a particular character's style would have been sufficient. She also repeats details of Hunter's appearance and physique over and over. Mentions of his curly black hair, chocolate brown eyes, and roped muscles were starting to get annoying. I think I got it the first time that the guy is gorgeous and ripped.
Considering all the criticisms I've had of this book, readers may be wondering why I didn't give it a lower rating, and there were a few reasons for that. In spite of sometimes being bothered by certain story elements and feeling that the overall writing quality could have been better, I did like the characters for as well as I got to know them. I was particularly taken with Joanna's son, Alex. He's such a cute, smart and polite kid, it would be impossible not to like him. He's like a miniature grown up who still knows how to act like a kid with his occasional whining and temper tantrums. In fact, he was probably the best character in the book. I can also see why it might appeal to some readers. It's erotic language, plentiful sexual tension and a few explicit love scenes might be just enough to satisfy those readers for whom a deep emotional connection isn't a must. I'm also giving Ms. O'Clare some credit for coming up with an interesting premise even if I thought the execution could have been better. And last but not least, I'm also giving credit for the fact that the story didn't completely bore me, so I think it could be classified as a worthwhile read.
I have to admit that I'm a little confused about whether Issue of Trust is part of a larger series or not. It is definitely the first in a duet about these same two characters with the second book being titled, Taking It All. Where the confusion comes in is that Taking It All is listed by several sites, including Ellora's Cave, as part of the Torrid Love series, but I can't discern any connection between the books of that series. It also doesn't make much sense that Taking It All is part of the series while Issue of Trust isn't, so I'm still scratching my head over that one. In any case, Issue of Trust reads fine as a stand-alone story, and since it didn't exactly have the strongest ending, I might be persuaded to take a chance on Taking It All at some point just to find out what happens next for Joanna and Hunter. I'll simply have to remember not to expect a whole lot from it.
Note:Issue of Trust was rated S-ensuous by Ellora's Cave, so it isn't as erotic as most of their titles tend to be. It does contain quite a bit of explicit language that is typically reserved for the erotic romance genre, but it only has three full love scenes that are on par with most steamy mainstream romance, nothing kinky....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Born to Be BAD is an anthology of three contemporary novellas that include some light suspense elements. They comprise the firReviewed for THC Reviews Born to Be BAD is an anthology of three contemporary novellas that include some light suspense elements. They comprise the first three stories (a prequel of sorts) in Sherrilyn Kenyon's B.A.D. Agency series.
One BAD Night "4 stars" In my opinion, One BAD Night was the most well-written of the original trio of B.A.D. stories with respect to the plot. It has a little something for everyone, action, adventure, suspense, romance and passion. It may not have been entirely believable, but it was highly entertaining. One BAD Night was somewhat reminiscent of watching an episode of the television show, Alias. Reading about Jason and Sam and the intrigue of them trying to elude the bad guys was great fun. I didn't think the characterizations were quite as well fleshed out as they were in the first two novellas, but the fast pace of the narrative helped to make up for this deficiency. In the short story format, there usually isn't a lot of space for both plot and characters to be thoroughly developed anyway.
Sam was a rather feisty, spitfire heroine, who was initially ready to kill Jason, but quickly warmed up to his charming personality. I really enjoyed their bantering. It was not only humorous, but usually charged with sexual innuendos, which made it all the more fun. I thought that Jason and Sam were a very well-matched couple who had great chemistry. Their love scenes were quite steamy, while still being sweet and tender, which seems to be a Sherrilyn Kenyon trademark.
The main secondary character, Renate, an unassuming, middle-aged woman who can fight like a commando, was a hoot. Readers are treated to brief appearances by Agent Retter and B.A.D. co-directors, Joe and Tee, who also appeared in the first two novellas. I sense a story for Joe and Tee sometime in the future, and greatly look forward to Ms. Kenyon eventually writing it. One BAD Night is the third story in the B.A.D. Agency series. I found it to be yet another enjoyable tale, and a great wrap-up to this anthology.
BAD to the Bone "4 stars" BAD to the Bone was a pure fantasy that was very fun and enjoyable to read. I thought that the beginning and ending of the story could have benefited from a bit more clarity and tighter plotting, but the rest of the story really helped to make up for these deficiencies. The premise of a woman living out her romance novel fantasies in real life with a hunky hero was very entertaining. I especially liked that Kyle actually read Marianne's favorite book and was trying to make it all come to life for her. It just made him seem so caring and thoughtful.
I found both characters to be likable, relatable, and well-drawn. Marianne, as an average, ordinary woman, just couldn't have been sweeter, yet she was passionate and adventurous enough to step outside her comfort zone. Kyle was a tough guy with a tortured past, yet he accepted Marianne's tenderness toward him as something that was missing from his life instead of being suspicious or shutting down emotionally. In fact, she was able to fulfill his fantasies every bit as much as he fulfilled hers. I loved the way the author built a beautiful relationship between these two characters in such a short time mainly with the use of communication, a seeming rarity in romance novels. This made for some extremely sexy and sensuous love scenes that were still very sweet and romantic. Overall, I found this novella to be a delightful read that even showcased a little humor, a great story for anyone looking for a bit of escapism.
BAD to the Bone along with its two companion novellas in Born to Be BAD are something of a prequel to the main B.A.D. Agency series. It was first published in the Big Guns Out of Uniform anthology, and was later reprinted in this single-volume anthology. BAD to the Bone was my first read by Sherrilyn Kenyon, but it certainly won't be my last. I am looking forward to continuing the B.A.D. series as well as exploring her other books.
"Captivated" by You "4 stars" "Captivated" by You was another fun-filled offering in the B.A.D. Agency series that I found very enjoyable to read. The hero and heroine, Ace and Rhea are both very likable and relatable characters. They begin the story with lots of humorous sharp-witted banter that is laced with sexual innuendo, but quickly evolves into passion when they are thrown together on a mission that involves some sizzling hot situations. Their love scenes involved some light bondage and domination which may not be some readers cup of tea, but in my opinion they were very mild and written very tastefully. In fact, I thought these scenes were quite nice, with Ace and Rhea showing a beautiful level of trust in each other and lots of playful sensuality. I loved that Ace was full of bluster and then seemed almost as out of his element in the B&D atmosphere as Rhea was. There was just enough character development to make their fast-moving relationship at least somewhat believable, and I liked how the author took the time to explain why each of them chose to work for B.A.D. which also added a bit of depth. Ace and Rhea's actual mission ended up being more humorous than suspenseful, but overall I found this novella to be another delightful, escapist read. My only complaint would be that it simply wasn't long enough.
"Captivated" by You is the second story in the B.A.D. Agency series. It was first published in the Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down anthology, and was later reprinted in this single-volume anthology. Secondary characters Joe and Tee, the leaders of B.A.D., as well as agents Dieter and Retter from BAD to the Bone, make another appearance, with a few more details being added to their characters. I really look forward to continuing this entertaining series.
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" The Witness was my first read by Sandra Brown, and overall, it did not disappoint. The suspense/thriller aspect ofReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" The Witness was my first read by Sandra Brown, and overall, it did not disappoint. The suspense/thriller aspect of the story was excellent. It did take a little while to get going for me, and during the first half or so, I didn't necessarily find it to be un-put-downable. I think this was mainly owing to the scenes in the present not being as compelling, due to the reader not really knowing what's going on. The scenes from the heroine's past, however, were very intriguing as the story built up to explain how she got to where she is in the present. The first half piqued my curiosity, but the second half had me on the edge of my seat, wondering what would happen next. The author also threw in a few surprise twists that I didn't really see coming. All in all, The Witness was a very satisfying read.
Kendall is a very strong heroine. She lost her parents when she was quite young, but was raised by a loving grandmother who taught her to be independent and to think for herself. She's an attorney who realized pretty quickly that the corporate life wasn't for her, so she took a job as the public defender in a small community in South Carolina. The author alludes early on to Kendall having lied to get the job, but exactly what she lied about is one of those twists I mentioned that the reader isn't made privy to until the end. Kendall sometimes lies about other things too. She's a consummate storyteller, who is good at making things up on the fly. I had mixed feelings about this part of her personality. I understood why she did what she did, and oftentimes, it was for the greater good. I also have to admit that her ability to lie served her well in managing to get away from the villains, but her dishonesty in general took a little of the polish off of an otherwise admirable character. I liked that Kendall was committed to seeking justice for her clients and providing them with the best defense possible. She hated to see miscarriages of justice and worked hard to prevent that from happening. I also like that she stood up for herself and didn't allow her husband and father-in-law to run roughshod over her. Kendall never lost her independent spirit which helped her to fight back when the time came for that. She also could have allowed the hero to die in the car wreck, which would have left her free and clear to make a run for it, but her conscience wouldn't allow her to let an innocent man pay with his life. Best of all, she was a excellent mother to her baby boy and would have literally done anything to protect him even if it meant making herself a fugitive for the rest of her life. Kendall may not have made it onto my all-time favorite heroines list, but she was a good one whose actions always made sense.
I can't really say who the hero of this story is without giving away a huge spoiler. His identity remains a secret for more than half the book, which is another reason why that first half was a little slow for me. I was eagerly wanting to know who he was and whether I could root for him. I suspected he was a good guy, but Kendall isn't all that enamored of him at first, which makes the reader wonder if he did something bad to her. The hero has temporary amnesia from a bonk to the head during the car crash, so he doesn't know who he is. Although Kendall does knows, she doesn't let us in on that bit of information through her introspections. The only information the reader is privy to is that Kendall alternates between being attracted to him and trying to ditch him. I had rather mixed feeling about all this. I guess it was a good ploy on the author's part to keep the reader reading, but at the same time, it made it difficult to have meaningful character development when the identity of the hero is kept shrouded in mystery for so long. Once we know who he is, I was able to become more invested in his parts of the story. While he was perhaps a bit too alpha for my taste, I admired his sense of duty and his commitment to protecting Kendall and her baby. Events from his past make him sympathetic as well, so overall, he was a pretty good character once I started to get to know him. I just couldn't help wishing it had been a little sooner.
The main thing that knocked off the half star was the romance. I felt it was on the weak side. Because the identity of the man who the reader assumes will be the hero remains a mystery for so long, it was also a little difficult to have meaningful relationship development between him and Kendall. During that time, she claims him as her husband, so there is some sexual tension between them. However, I thought it was kind of on the mild side, as were their love scenes, which were relatively short and not overly descriptive. They both come to the point of knowing they're in love with the other with little fanfare leading up to it. They share some nice, but not particularly emotional or deeply romantic moments before getting to that point. They also both lie to the other to some extent and neither fully trusts the other, which is usually a must for me in romance, but I guess there's something to be said for them still being together when everything finally comes out in the end.
One thing Ms. Brown excelled at was creating some truly evil and frightening villains. I don't think I've read a romantic suspense with villains this scary outside of Karen Rose's novels. On the outside, Kendall's husband, Matt, is a perfect Southern gentleman, but I could tell almost right away that he wasn't quite the catch he seems to be at first glance. Matt's father, Gibb, also possesses that gentlemanly veneer, but at the same time, is pretty creepy in the way that he's always hovering around Matt and Kendall and seems to have Matt wrapped around his little finger. It's also easy to tell that the men of the small town of Prosper are probably corrupt, but we don't know just how utterly evil they are and how widespread that corruption is until Kendall stumbles upon their dark secret and bears witness to something horrific. At that point, it becomes very easy to see why she was so terrified of them that she didn't even trust the FBI.
Overall, The Witness was a very good read despite the weaknesses in the romance. I did have a bit of trouble following things because the author jumps back and forth between events in the present and events in the past as she builds her story. Perhaps some chapter headers to indicate the time frame might have been helpful. As is, I had to read a few lines into the chapter to figure out whether it was past or present. Otherwise, I enjoyed The Witness and think it was a very well-put-together story. This may have been my first book by Sandra Brown, but it certainly won't be my last....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews This Side of Heaven was my first read by Beverly Barton, and I found to be a generally well-written and enjoyable romantic susReviewed for THC Reviews This Side of Heaven was my first read by Beverly Barton, and I found to be a generally well-written and enjoyable romantic suspense. It embodies a touch of the paranormal in two ways. One is that the hero and heroine have been dreaming about each other since they were teenagers. The other is that they are the contemporary counterparts of a pair of ghostly lovers from centuries past who are cursed to remain on “this side of heaven,” walking the beach where they were murdered, until another couple is united in a way that they never were. By doing so, they will release the lover's spirits into the afterlife. Both of these elements were rather interesting and unusual, and precipitated the hero and heroine being drawn together the moment they first see each other. I think this allowed a certain degree of intimacy to exist between them right from the start without it seeming too forced, but even still, they fell in love a little too quickly to be entirely believable for me. Overall, it wasn't too bad. I just didn't feel as deep of an emotional connection with them as I would have liked.
Nate was a rare, over-forty romance hero, who was an uber-alpha. Normally, I don't go for the more intense guys, but he was a little easier for me to take than most. Admittedly, Nate's alpha-ness could be rather irritating such as when he's ordering Cyn around or calling her "woman," but at the same time he could be somewhat amusing, particularly when he was trying to mask his feelings for her. He created this push and pull relationship, because he simply couldn't resist her, but also knew that to allow her to mean anything to him would be to his detriment. Emotions were a distraction he just couldn't afford. Nate was also a pretty tortured hero who had a lousy childhood, never knowing his father and being raised by an abusive uncle after his mother died. He had also led a very violent life, spending twenty years in the Navy SEALs, including a stint in Vietnam. He seemed to be seeking peace for his battered heart and freedom from the brutality that had almost become second-nature to him. The only time Nate had felt any solace or joy was in his early childhood when his mother was still alive, and in his dreams of a mysterious woman. Unfortunately, the tranquility he was looking for was not to be found easily with a crazed, psycho killer on the loose who was trying to end his life. Out of necessity, he had had to be tough and now just needed someone to nurture him, and Cyn was a woman willing to give him her heart and soul. I wish that Nate had exhibited a little more vulnerability, as his alpha nature was still just a bit too much for me, but overall he was a pretty good guy and one that fans of intense alphas would probably like.
Cyn was a woman who had always been the strong rock to everyone around her. She just couldn't say “no” to a soul in need, and Nate was obviously very much in need of someone to lean on. I think she was courageous to carry on with her husband's work at the shelter for runaways after he was murdered by a drug-addicted teen whom he tried to help. She was also pretty brave to go into a bad area of town in an attempt to help a couple of wayward kids from the shelter. Cyn is basically a pacifist who abhors violence, so when she first meets Nate, she is a little afraid of the fierceness that emanates from him as well as his huge knife collection. It is that same intensity though that draws her to him, because she knows that he is a man who will love with his whole being. She is a sensitive, kindhearted woman who senses Nate's deep loneliness and wants very much to help him, but in spite of her gentleness, she is no pushover. Cyn can go toe-to-toe with Nate, and be every bit as obstinate as he is. One of the things I liked best about her is that she may have been stubborn and insisted on staying with Nate, but in the end, she always listened to him and didn't try anything stupid. The other great thing about her is that she intuitively understands that Nate is in trouble, even though he doesn't fully explain his situation to her for safety reasons. She also figures out that his prickliness is just part of his armor, and never gets offended like other romance heroines might. There were many times when the author could have easily resorted to the dreaded “big misunderstanding,” but she never did which was a nice change of pace.
Overall, I found Beverly Barton's writing to be fairly strong and descriptive with pretty good character and plot development for the shorter Silhouette length. She managed to create some good intrigue surrounding a secondary character with ties to both Nate and Cyn. I went back and forth in my mind several times over whether he truly was villainous or not. The final showdown was engaging and included a twist that I didn't really see coming. I wasn't entirely thrilled with the constantly alternating points-of-view, as I'm just more used to whole scenes coming from one character's perspective. I think perhaps this and some passages being written more passively may have contributed to my lack of emotional connection.
Although the author's website doesn't list it as such, This Side of Heaven appears to be widely considered as the first book in The Protectors series. From the research I've done, it seems that the discrepancy is simply that this and the next two connected books are kind of prequels to the main series. This Side of Heaven introduces bodyguard, Sam Dundee, who I assume is the head of Dundee's Protection Agency (aka The Protectors) who becomes the hero of Guarding Jeannie four books later. Readers also get to know DEA agent, Nick Romero, Nate's best friend and fellow former SEAL who is the hero of the next book, Paladin's Woman. I liked Nick as a secondary character. He was injured in the line of duty in this book, and I look forward to seeing what's in store for him next. This Side of Heaven was first published as part of the Silhouette Intimate Moments line, but was later reprinted in the anthology The Protectors: The Beginning along with book #3, The Outcast....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews An Unforgettable Lady is another solid story from Jessica Bird aka J. R. Ward. It's kind of a hybrid of a standard contemporarReviewed for THC Reviews An Unforgettable Lady is another solid story from Jessica Bird aka J. R. Ward. It's kind of a hybrid of a standard contemporary romance and a romantic suspense. I say this because the suspense element is present but somewhat in the background as a group of high society ladies who were all featured in the same newspaper article are picked off by a serial killer one-by-one. The heroine is one of the women from the article, so she rather reluctantly hires the hero to act as her personal bodyguard. However, there are no direct attempts made against her until the end of the story, and I have to admit that it was pretty easy to figure out who the bad guy was. In between the murders, there is a nice romance with the hero and heroine experiencing a strong, immediate attraction that eventually leads to a steamy affair.
Grace was a very strong woman who never backed down from John's caveman act when they first met and she subsequently hired him to protect her. She was controlled most of her life, first by her parents and later her husband, and she's not about to let John waltz in and take over too. She's struggling to find her footing as an independently wealthy woman who has just taken the helm of her father's charitable foundation upon his recent death, while the sexist, old-school boy's club is trying to push her out. I like that she runs the family foundation differently than her father and avoids spending money on frivolous things like any good charitable organization should, even though the men in power disagree with her methods. Outwardly, Grace is very controlled, but inwardly, she's sometimes falling apart as she suffers from anxiety and self-doubt. She has a very complicated and strained relationship with her mother that obviously contributes to her self-esteem issues, which I would have liked to have seen explored in a little more depth. Grace also later discovers that there were things about her father she thought were true, but weren't. It would have been nice to see her feelings on that subject brought out a little more too.
Initially, John seems to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder where the rich and powerful are concerned. I think this is because, although his job is to protect them, he sees into their personal lives in a way that few others do and generally doesn't like the reality of what most of these types are like. It takes him a little while to figure out that Grace is different. To her, John seems a little too much like her controlling parents and husband, so he has to find the delicate balance between lightening up a little in their personal dealings and still being hard-nosed from the bodyguard angle in order to effectively protect her. John can definitely come off as being quite arrogant at times, but Grace often surprises him and occasionally makes him smile. He possesses an iron grip of self-control and cares enough about Grace to not want to hurt her even though he's caught up in an intense desire for her. Despite his passion though, John is still pretty closed off throughout most of the story. I really would have loved to see him open up a little more. He also has a pretty tortured past that was only briefly touched upon, and I would have liked to have seen explored in more detail.
Grace and John have both been deeply hurt in their pasts, and I think each of them recognizes that hurt in one another as well as the need to be in control. I really enjoyed the opposite sides of the track characterization and how Grace is a poised, society lady while John is a rough around the edges former special ops guy who doesn't put much stock in wealth and prestige. They didn't exactly start off on the right foot, but in spite of their early bickering, the sexual tension was high from the beginning. It was never a question of will they or won't they, but when. And when they finally do give into their attraction, the love scenes were very sensual, though nowhere near as hot as the author writes in her more recent books. The one thing I have noticed in these early books of Ms. Bird's is that her heroes have a tendency to hold out on expressing their feelings until the final pages of the novel which doesn't always lend itself well to building and maintaining an emotional connection, but despite this, it was still a very good story.
Although the author's website doesn't officially connect any of her contemporary books as a series, I've seen An Unforgettable Lady grouped with Heart of Gold and An Irresistible Bachelor as The Walking Papers Trilogy, although I have no idea where that series title came from. Other sites simply have An Unforgettable Lady and An Irresistible Bachelor paired as a duet. In any case, all three books contain common characters. Grace is best friends with Carter, the heroine of Heart of Gold, and was first introduced in that book. Carter and her hero, Nick, appear in the early part of An Unforgettable Lady when Grace goes to visit them, and Nick is instrumental in Grace hiring John as her bodyguard. An Unforgettable Lady also introduces Grace's good friend, Jack, and another young woman, Callie, who become the hero and heroine of An Irresistible Bachelor. At the very least, I would recommend reading these latter two books in order, otherwise, readers will get one fairly significant spoiler.
Overall, I enjoyed reading An Unforgettable Lady. I loved Ms. Bird's little shout out within the narrative to Gaelen Foley, another of my favorite authors. Other than my few minor complaints, this book was very well-written and in my opinion, reflects an earlier version of the style that Jessica Bird has developed in her highly successful J. R. Ward persona. Anyone who has enjoyed her Black Dagger Brotherhood and Fallen Angels books will probably like this one too. ...more
Reviewed for THC Reviews For a shorter Harlequin-length book, I found Hannah's Hero to be a pretty entertaining romantic suspense. I usually enjoy bodyReviewed for THC Reviews For a shorter Harlequin-length book, I found Hannah's Hero to be a pretty entertaining romantic suspense. I usually enjoy bodyguard stories and this one had that as well as a prior connection between the hero and heroine which is another favorite theme of mine. I'll stop short of calling it a reunion romance though, because while they have loved each other from afar and did share a passionate kiss years ago, they never had an actual relationship. Instead Hannah was a girlfriend to Kane's brother and eventually became his wife of ten years, while Kane went deep undercover as a DEA agent. The agency had even gone so far as to fake his death, so when he turns up in Hannah's basement, trying to protect her from the drug lord who has her in his crosshairs, she's stunned to say the least. She is the only eyewitness to her husband's murder and therefore the only person who can put him in prison, so Kane has made it his life's mission to protect her until she can testify in court. I'm really not sure why the few ratings this book has on GoodReads are pretty mediocre. While it wasn't perhaps the most meticulously plotted romantic suspense I've ever read and it did have a few small issues that might not hold up to a truly critical eye, I did, nonetheless, find it enjoyable and pretty well-written overall.
After her husband was gunned down in front of her eyes, Hannah felt a need to get away from the big city, so she returned to her grandparent's rural farm. She lives a quiet life, enjoying her independence, unaware that her husband's murderer is out to get her, until the brother-in-law she thought was dead turns up in her basement. She fell in love with Kane almost from the moment she met him over a decade earlier, but she was already involved with his brother Seth. She ended up marrying Seth, and while she did love him, she always felt their relationship lacked the fiery passion she'd felt with Kane. Not to mention, she felt like Seth largely kept her in the dark about his work. Now that Kane is back in her life, she wants to try to rekindle that spark, but doesn't even know if he feels the same way about her. Probably partly because of when this book was written (the early 1990's), Hannah takes on a more traditional female role of cook and housekeeper to the men in her life, which includes her best friend and local sheriff, Eli. She's also a schoolteacher who loves kids. Being in law enforcement, her husband did teach her how to use a gun, which is a skill she appreciates when she thinks someone may be prowling around her property and when it becomes clear that her life is in danger. Early on though, Hannah does have a few moments of stubbornness that border on being TSTL. I could understand her wanting to be independent, but at the same time, I felt like someone who had witnessed her own husband's brutal murder at the hands of the man who was now after her, would have a greater sense of self-preservation. Luckily it doesn't last long before she finally starts listening to Kane better, although she does still have a few issues with taking direct orders without questioning him. However, I was mostly able to forgive her for that, because I would have wanted to know what was going on too. In the end, I thought she proved to be a strong and brave heroine.
Kane fell for Hannah all those years ago. As a deep cover DEA agent, he had tried to eradicate any vulnerability within himself, but she spoke to that part of him he no longer wanted to acknowledge. He knew he couldn't be what she needed at the time, but on some level, he envied his brother for making her his wife. Kane hated that he had to allow his family to believe he was dead, but when he discovered that his sister-in-law's life was in danger, he defied his superiors, determined to do whatever it took to keep her safe. Even though Hannah is no longer a married woman, he feels somewhat guilty about wanting his brother's wife. He's resolved to simply protecting her until she can testify, but he can't help being drawn to her again. Kane is the type of alpha male I can appreciate. He has a tough, no-nonsense exterior and an almost single-minded focus on the job at hand, but he doesn't try too hard to fight the feelings Hannah's arouses in him. By the time his mission is completed, he realizes he's tired of living the lonely life of an agent and is ready to settle down, and doing that with Hannah sounds like a very inviting prospect.
Sometimes, romantic suspense novels can be top-heavy one way or the other, but I thought that Hannah's Hero had a nice balance between the romance and suspense. At first, the villain is merely toying with Hannah in an attempt to frighten her out of testifying. During this part of the story, the suspense is a little more low-key, giving Hannah and Kane time to solidify their relationship. It isn't until the bad guys sneak into Hannah's house to leave a calling card right under their noses that Kane insists on taking her to a DEA safe house. At that point, the suspense begins to ramp up with some “cloak and dagger” action, but Kane and Hannah's romance still simmers as he plays the part of the jealous lover when one of his fellow agents starts flirting with her. The climax was pretty intense too with some life or death moments. Overall, Hannah's Hero was a nice, easy read that kept me pretty well engaged throughout. This was my first book by Denise Richards, and one that I'd call a very agreeable reading experience. While it appears that she only has a few published books, I'd definitely be open to reading her others....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews It’s been ages since I read the first three novellas in Sherrilyn Kenyon’s B.A.D. Agency series, almost eight years to be exacReviewed for THC Reviews It’s been ages since I read the first three novellas in Sherrilyn Kenyon’s B.A.D. Agency series, almost eight years to be exact, a shocker when I looked it up. I enjoyed those stories, but I ended up putting them on the back burner in favor of reading her Dark-Hunter series instead. I decided it was finally time to give the B.A.D. agents a chance again, and with Bad Attitude, I had another positive reading experience overall. I seem to recall those first stories were a littler lighter and perhaps a tad cheesy but in a good way. This one takes a little more serious approach and is definitely a romantic suspense. It has great action and is a fast-paced story that kept me engaged. It does have some weaknesses, mainly in it’s characterizations and relationship development, which I’ll address as I go along, but otherwise I’d recommend it for anyone who enjoys high-octane adventure and virtually non-stop action. It was a little like watching an action/adventure movie in my mind’s eye.
I did like both the hero and heroine, but I felt like Ms. Kenyon could have dug a little deeper with their characterizations. Steele (aka J.D. or Josh, but almost everyone calls him by his last name), was probably the best defined and he has an interesting backstory. His father was an Army sniper who taught Steele everything he knew, but he was also a hard man, who insisted Steele had to follow in his footsteps. Steele also became an Army sniper and went to Iraq, where he ended up taking a pot-shot at his CO after his best friend and spotter died right next to him in a mission gone bad that was based on faulty intelligence. As one might expect, he’s serving a lengthy sentence in Leavenworth for his misdeed, while his family has basically disowned him for it. Then B.A.D. (the Bureau of American Defense), an agency that works outside normal parameters, flags him as the perfect candidate for a sensitive mission that requires his skill set. After much persuasion they bring him in and throw him right into an undercover job that requires him to get hired by a security group that’s a front for paid guns for hire, whose employees are about to assassinate a foreign dignitary. Steele is a smart guy, who knows what he’s doing, but he prefers to be the one calling the shots. It’s not out of a sense of arrogance, but because after what happened to his friend, he trusts his gut more than other people’s intelligence. The one thing I liked about Steele is that he realizes pretty quickly that he’s lost his stomach for killing. There were a lot of things in Steele’s background that would have lent themselves well to the emotional development of the character, but unfortunately, we don’t get much of that. He’s kind of a what you see is what you get kind of character, who rarely shows a more vulnerable side. I liked him, but he didn’t necessarily stand out to me in a strong way.
IMHO, Sydney was even less developed than Steele. She had a pretty normal, stable upbringing with a dad in finance and a mom who left a successful career in the business world to raise her kids. As such, the thing that really drove Sydney into her line of work as a spy was her brother-in-law and nephew being killed by an ecoterrorist’s bomb. She wanted to make sure no one else would be hurt by terrorism of any kind, so she’s a dedicated agent, who prides herself on getting it right the first time. Syd is described as being on the short side, with a plump curvaceous body and a face that could double for Angelina Jolie. She’s attracted to Steele almost from the moment they meet, and given that she apparently had a former relationship gone bad, she comes to trust him a little too quickly. I would have preferred a bit more conflict in this area. Syd tends to play it close to the vest with her emotions, and much like Steele, rarely shows much vulnerability. Again, I liked her, but she wasn’t a stand-out heroine for me, due to the lack of emotional development for her character.
The other thing I felt was weak is the romantic relationship. Steele and Sydney are pretty much in lust at first sight. They share some intimacy only a day after meeting and have sex after only two, which was a little quick for me. There’s not much build-up to it and since their individual emotions aren’t brought out very well, there isn’t a whole lot of emotion in the love scene either. The entire story spans less than a week with most of the action taking place in the first three days. After the case is closed, the narrative fast-forwards six months to show where the couple is in their relationship at that time, and the I Love Yous don’t come until then. On the one hand, it would have been unrealistic for them to fall in love in only a few days, but on the other, having it wait until the very end left a little something to be desired. Also since there wasn’t a lot of relationship development in the main part of the story, the things that happen in the epilogue didn’t carry as much weight for me.
Overall, Bad Attitude was an entertaining read for the action and adventure. If the characterizations and relationship development had been better, I could easily have seen it having the potential to be a keeper. As is, it was still a good read. It’s been so long since I read the original three novellas, I can’t recall if there are any common secondary characters other than Joe and Tee who I remember pretty well. They’re an entertaining pair who really should get their own book, especially since Joe is very sexy to me and they almost act like a married couple already just without the mushy stuff.:-) Considering the sheer number of secondary characters present in this book, I was surprised to find that only one, Carlos, goes on to get his own book (Whispered Lies), unless others are featured in the remaining novellas. Bad Attitude is the first full-length book of the B.A.D. Agency series. All the rest of the full-length books and at least one of the remaining novellas was co-authored with Dianna Love, so I’ll be interested to see if that in any way changes the style of the stories from here on out....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Open Season was my first read by Linda Howard. It’s been on my TBR pile for a while, and I’m glad I finally got arReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Open Season was my first read by Linda Howard. It’s been on my TBR pile for a while, and I’m glad I finally got around to reading it. The story has an interesting mix of flavors. It’s part straight-up contemporary romance and part romantic suspense. The contemporary parts lean toward the humorous side with Daisy’s transformation having something of a chick-lit vibe to it. While I hesitate to call it a romantic comedy, some of her scenes with Jack do end up being laugh-out-loud funny. The suspense portion is intense but perhaps not in quite the same way as a Karen Rose novel for example. It’s a small-town romance with that sense of tight-knit community, where everybody knows everybody else, but then you have Jack who’s a big-city transplant. It might seem like all these different elements are too disparate to work together, but somehow they all did, because Open Season ended up being a very good read for me.
I greatly enjoyed Daisy’s character. You could transplant me into the story, and I could easily double for Daisy. That’s how much she and I are alike, maybe not exact duplicates but very, very close. She considers herself to be plain and boring, and so do I. She thinks she’s very average looking, as do I, and the way her pre-makeover physical appearance is described is very similar to my own. She’s the head librarian in her small town of Hillsboro, and in another life, that most definitely could have been me. Put me anywhere near books and I’m happy as a clam just like Daisy. Also like me, she’s pretty intelligent and well-read, learning a lot of things from the books she loves so much. Daisy is a very good girl, who goes to church on Sundays and never, ever breaks the rules (Yup, ditto. :-)). But on the day of her thirty-fourth birthday, she decides she’s never going to get what she wants in life, namely a husband and kids, if she doesn’t step out of her comfort zone and do something, live on the edge a little. So she sets about getting a makeover of her physical appearance as well as trying things like going out to a nightclub to meet eligible men. The whole transformation process was pretty humorous. I loved how she was completely inept at putting on makeup, which is totally me too. LOL! I don’t necessarily want to say that Daisy is naive, but she does have a very innocent way of looking at life and a certain trustfulness in other people’s innate goodness. I liked that in spite of putting herself out there and trying new things, she never really loses that side of her personality. That’s not to say that she’s a pushover or that she does stupid stuff. She’s a really smart girl and I had to laugh when Jack thought that maybe she’d not followed his instructions to stay put for her own safety and she responded by telling him she wasn’t an idiot like the characters in movies who do that and get themselves killed. It was really refreshing to see a heroine who wasn’t acting the least bit TSTL.
Jack is kind of the opposite of Daisy. He’s a big-city cop who’s seen the dregs of society and has become somewhat jaded by it. After a failed marriage, he decided a move to the small town where he used to spend summers with his great aunt was in order, and he was lucky enough to get the job as chief of police in Hillsboro. It’s a sleepy little town where nothing ever happens except the occasional domestic disturbance or drunk and disorderly, until a couple of dead bodies show up and Daisy thinks she knows one of the people who was murdered. Then it leads to a huge human trafficking conspiracy, involving pillars of the community that no one ever expected. I have to admit, when Jack was first introduced I wasn’t sure if he was the intended hero or not. Daisy thinks of him in a pretty unfavorable way that didn’t endear me to him at all, but much like he gradually grew on Daisy, he grew on me as well. He could occasionally have his demanding alpha moments, but overall, he wasn’t as bad as many alpha heroes I’ve read. There were several things that I admired him for, such as his protectiveness of Daisy. Much like her, he’s sharp as a tack and puts his investigative ability to work, figuring things out. He doesn’t take anything for granted and meets everything with a healthy does of skepticism without being a total downer. I love how he’s drawn to Daisy’s innocence and goodness, how she can sometimes drive him just a little crazy, but that deep down, he enjoys bantering with her. He may have initially thought that he only wanted a short-term affair with the buttoned-up librarian, but she changed his mind in very short order. I also liked that, while Jack could be a little gruff at times, he has a good heart, and that shows not only in his interactions with Daisy but also with her new puppy.
Overall, Open Season was a very enjoyable read. The supporting cast, from the townspeople to the villains, were all very well-crafted with strong individual personalities and motivations. Sometimes, it’s the little things that are memorable, such as the mystery behind how Jack’s secretary, Eva Fay, always manages to be there before him and have a piping hot cup of coffee ready to hand him as he walks in the door or the gossipy pharmacist’s wife who spreads it all over town that Daisy and Jack are seeing each other and purchased a Party Pack of condoms after a hilarious encounter in the store. It’s small-town life at it’s best. Then there’s the suspense that was also well-written. It’s not so much a mystery, as we know who the bad guys are early on, as it is about their evil plans unraveling and them getting caught, but it still kept me engaged. Everything somehow worked together to create a fun story that I’d definitely recommend. It may have been my first Linda Howard book, but it certainly won’t be my last. I’m now looking forward to exploring more of her backlist soon....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Apache Fire is my first read by Elizabeth Lane and a good introduction to her work. It’s an American frontier/western story thReviewed for THC Reviews Apache Fire is my first read by Elizabeth Lane and a good introduction to her work. It’s an American frontier/western story that also contains an element of mystery and suspense. The hero is shot while guiding two U. S. government agents on a tour of the San Carlos Apache Reservation. The agents were killed, and knowing that he would be blamed, our intrepid hero goes on the run. The only person he thinks he might be able to trust is a man whose life he’d saved a few years earlier, so he heads for the man’s ranch, not knowing the man had recently passed away. Instead, he finds the man’s lovely widow, who is extremely wary of Apaches. The two forge a tentative friendship that gradually turns into something more as they investigate her dead husband’s connection to illegal activities being committed by a group known as the Indian Ring and try to clear the hero’s name. Apache Fire is chock full of action and adventure with a lot happening to keep the reader engaged. There’s also a mystery that slowly unravels. While the reader will know right away who the bad guy is, it takes our hero and heroine a while longer to figure things out. Also, the extent of the villain’s treachery and how they expose his unscrupulous activities, as well as how they avoid falling victim to the Ring themselves, leads to a lot of edge-of-you-seat suspense. While not a perfect read for me, this was still a good book that kept me reading and engaged my attention throughout.
Latigo is half Apache/half Spanish Basque. Of course, he’s considered a half-breed and doesn’t really fit neatly into any one cultural world. As a very young child, he spent some time in Mexico, but never really knew his father. Later he and his mother returned to her people in the Arizona Territory, where he spent most of his childhood until she died. Then he was sent to live in the White world with a minister and his wife, which was a traumatic experience for him. Despite suffering abuse at their hands, the opportunity to learn to read and write inspired big dreams in him of doing something significant for the Apaches. That was all dashed, though, by the need to make a hasty escape from his living situation. After that Latigo became a scout for the U. S. Army, which eventually led to where he is when the story opens, wounded and riding toward the ranch of a man who owes him a debt of gratitude in hopes that he’ll help. I liked Latigo. He’s smart, very conscientious, and good at what he does. He deserved far better than what life has handed him, but like most Native Americans and half-breeds of that era, he found himself the object of gross racism and discrimination. Just being near Rose was a huge risk, as he could have been hung simply for touching her. Although it was very hard to read other characters in the story expressing extreme racist views, I felt that it made the story more realistic.
Rose is a brave and feisty heroine, who still has moments of vulnerability. She came west with her parents when she was just seventeen, but they were killed in an Apache raid on their wagon train. She was found a couple of days later by John, the man who became her husband, wandering the desert in shock. John took her to his ranch and later married her. He was a good man in his own way, whom Rose deeply respected, but he definitely wasn’t a particularly good husband. He was considerably older than Rose, and only cared about her as someone who could keep house for him and produce the heirs he wanted, so when she failed to do so, he blamed her. One day while he was out riding alone, John sustained a serious head injury from presumably being thrown by his horse. He became an invalid who Rose nursed until he passed away. Not long after that, Rose finally gave birth to the son he’d always wanted. She viewed her husband as a hero, and wanted to keep his legacy alive for their child, but when Latigo shows up, he tells her things that begin to place John’s goodness and respectability in doubt. Not too surprisingly, Rose is afraid of Latigo at first and doesn’t like him much, but I liked that her Quaker upbringing helps her to gradually come to accept him. As Latigo helps her around the ranch and offers his protection, she comes to realize that not all Apaches are bad, just like not all Whites are good. He’s also able to give her the passion and gentleness that were missing in her marriage to John, and cares deeply for her infant son as well.
Apache Fire was a well-put-together story, albeit one that is more plot driven than character driven. There were a few times I thought perhaps the author could have let up a little on the suspenseful tension, in favor of more romance, but I can’t deny that it kept me reading. The characters had interesting backstories, but their pasts didn’t come into play in the story in an emotional way as much as I would have liked. The relationship also develops pretty quickly over only a week or two, so the declarations of love came pretty fast. There is some decent sexual tension, but not a whole lot of tender emotions or romantic interludes, so that’s the main reason I knocked off one star. However, there was just enough for me to believe in their HEA. On the upside, I could tell as I read along that the author had done her research very well. Although I didn’t know until looking them up later that some of the background characters mentioned, as well as the Indian Ring itself, were real, I could sense that they were, because there was an authenticity to those parts of the story. Also as someone who lives in the desert southwest, I felt that the author did a good job of making the setting come alive with her environmental descriptions. So, kudos to Elizabeth Lane for doing her homework and for her attention to detail. Overall, this first foray into her writing was a satisfying one that has left me open to trying more of her work in the future....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews One Summer has been sitting on my TBR pile for quite some time, and I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it. I’d heardReviewed for THC Reviews One Summer has been sitting on my TBR pile for quite some time, and I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it. I’d heard great things about it, and I’m pleased to report that they’re all true. The story is a nice mix of contemporary romance and mystery/suspense. I’d say that the romance is definitely more prominent, but the mystery is always there, lurking in the background and slowly unfolding. It just doesn’t overwhelm the romance, which to my way of thinking is a good thing. The author does a great job of developing the relationship between the hero and heroine as they navigate the treacherous waters of potential scandal that could be brought about by him being an ex-con convicted of murder and her being his former high school teacher, as well as her being five years older than him. The mystery was well done too, with the author dropping little clues along the way, except it was done in such a subtle way that I almost didn’t realize it. Apparently my sub-conscious did, though, because I managed to figure out who the killer was just before it was revealed, which is a rarity for me. The author did surprise me with a nice little plot twist right at the end, which I didn’t see coming. The story contains many of my favorite romance tropes too, such as older woman/younger man and opposite sides of the track, so all the elements came together to make One Summer an excellent read for me.
Straight out of high school, Johnny was convicted of the brutal murder of a girl with whom he was romantically involved. There was little physical evidence to connect him to the crime. He basically got railroaded because his semen was found inside her body and he admitted to being the last person to see her alive. Not to mention, he’d been a bit of a troublemaker in his teen years and everyone in his small hometown considered him and his family to be white trash from the wrong side of the tracks. Johnny ended up spending ten years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and the only reason he’s out on parole is because his former high school teacher agreed to give him a job in her family’s hardware store. Johnny had a terrible life growing up, so it's no wonder he fell in with the wrong crowd as a teenager. None of the “decent” people in town would even associate with him. He went into prison little more than a kid and comes out a full-grown man with a bad boy attitude and a major chip on his shoulder. Rachel is one of the few people who believed in Johnny, and not just in his innocence, but also in his goodness, intelligence, and humanity. He’s been in love with her from afar since high school, but always thought he was far beneath her and that she would never take notice of him in the way he wanted. It’s Rachel's kindness and patience that gradually gets Johnny to open up and trust her, and throughout that process he shows some deeply moving vulnerability. He soaks up her love and acceptance like a sponge and discovers that he’d do just about anything for her. That includes transforming from his bad boy persona into a more respectable young man.
As I mentioned Rachel was Johnny’s high school English teacher. She got to know him pretty well in that capacity and they even formed a friendship of sorts over their shared love of poetry and literature. Before Johnny’s life fell apart, they spent hours discussing the written word and other deep topics. Rachel was always aware of Johnny’s attractiveness and that many of the girls in school admired him, but as his teacher she never would have dreamed of becoming involved with him. When Johnny was convicted of murdering his girlfriend, Rachel was one of the few people who staunchly believed in his innocence, which is why she offered him a job so he could make parole. The intense, brooding man who returns home after ten years is far more dangerous and sexy than the teenager who left, affecting her in unexpected ways. Even though she’s now wildly attracted to him, she’s keenly aware of his status as an ex-con and hers as his ex-teacher and what that might look like to the residents of their small town. She also can hardly believe that a gorgeous man like him would even give an ordinary woman like her, and an older one to boot, a second glance. I could totally relate to Rachel as the introverted bookworm who doesn't feel like anyone fully understands her, as well as her having friends but still searching for that one kindred spirit. She definitely finds that in Johnny. I especially love that her belief in Johnny's innocence never wavered. Even though he does intimidate her a little at first, she’s strong enough to not let him get the upper hand, and I think he respected her for it. I also like how she stands up for him, defending him to her family and even the whole town, anytime someone tries to put him down.
Rachel and Johnny share a beautiful and deeply emotional romance. Rachel has been in a few previous relationships, but by and large, they were dull and boring, never truly lighting a fire of passion within her. She lost her first serious boyfriend to her younger sister, although as it turns out, in hindsight, that wasn’t much of a loss. She wants to get married, settle down, and have kids, and she feels her biological clock ticking. Rachel is convinced she’s going to have to settle for a lackluster marriage in order to fulfill her dream of being a wife and mother, until Johnny comes back to town. He’s everything she wants in a man, but he comes with more than a few complications and a whole lot of baggage. Once she overcomes the idea that he might only be using her to fulfill his own high school sex fantasies, she’s willing to brave those issues with him for the excitement and passion he engenders in her just by being around. Johnny was known as a bit of a player in his youth, but there’s no one he truly wants more than Rachel. So when he finally gets her, his single-minded focus on her and his willingness to do anything for her is very romantic to me. There’s a wealth of emotion in their every interaction. Their love scenes are deeply sensual and also rather steamy for a romance written in the mid-90’s, which was the icing on the cake.
Since One Summer is a stand-alone novel, there aren’t any secondary characters that are deliberately being built up in preparation for their own stories, but the supporting cast is still stellar. There are a lot of them and each play their own roles. The most memorable ones were Rachel’s family and Johnny's old friend, Glenda, who was also from the wrong side of the tracks, and her son, Jeremy. What I really liked about the supporting players, though, is how they bring the little town of Tylerville to life. Small-town romances have become pretty commonplace these days, but in most cases, the town is a mini-utopia where people are kind and helpful to one another. You may get one or two bad apples in the bunch to stir up a little trouble here and there, but by and large the townspeople are good and trustworthy. In this book, the author takes a look at the darker side of small-town life in which everyone knowing every else’s business isn’t such a good thing. Gossip and rumors spread like wildfire, and in some cases contribute to ruining lives or at the very least, making them difficult. Johnny in particular finds it very hard to live in Tylerville anymore, because nearly everyone is convinced that he’s guilty as charged and even though he paid his debt to society, the townspeople aren’t particularly inclined to let bygones be bygones, which of course, as an innocent man, he doesn’t deserve. So this was an interesting twist on small-town dynamics that I enjoyed exploring.
For me, One Summer ended up being a perfect read. I related extremely well to both Rachel and Johnny. Even though I’m not often a big fan of bad boys in romance, I fell for Johnny, because even though he starts the story with an angry attitude problem, the author builds his character in such a way that it’s easy to see that his anger is fueled by issues in his past. Not to mention, he grows and changes throughout the story, becoming a better person because of Rachel’s influence. The mystery is well-done, keeping me engaged in trying to figure out who the real killer was. I also very much enjoyed the romance, which was my favorite part. In spite of the age difference and the problems they faced, it was obvious that Rachel and Johnny were made for each other. One Summer was my first read by Karen Robards, but it most definitely won’t be my last. I very much look forward to reading more of her books in the future....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews For quite some time, my fellow romance readers have been telling me how good Karen Rose's novels are, and now that I've finallReviewed for THC Reviews For quite some time, my fellow romance readers have been telling me how good Karen Rose's novels are, and now that I've finally read my first one, I have to whole-heartedly agree. Don't Tell had everything I could have possibly asked for and more. There was a wonderful hero and heroine who are sure to take their place among some of my favorites, and an amazing cast of secondary characters to back them up that I couldn't help falling in love with too. The main couple share a tender, swoon-worthy romance against nearly impossible odds that had me rooting for them every step of the way. They were pitted against an evil, sadistic villain who was about the nastiest piece of work I've ever read. The story arc was a taut, suspense thriller that had me feeling just about every emotion possible. There was even a dash of humor to keep things from getting too intense. Don't Tell is quite simply one of the most well-crafted and engaging books I've ever read. I wanted to scream in frustration every time I had to put it down and couldn't wait to pick it back up again.
Caroline Stewart (aka Mary Grace Winters) is one of the strongest heroines I have ever read, but also one of the most tortured. She was about as beaten down as a woman could possibly get, both physically and emotionally, after enduring years of abuse at the hands of her barbaric cop husband. The courage and determination she showed in getting herself well enough to leave him, and then faking her and her son's deaths to start a new life in secret, was absolutely inspiring. Once she was away from the people who tore her down (namely her husband), that innate strength grew and blossomed into something utterly beautiful. She was a fabulous mother too, with an extraordinary love for her son, Tom. What I loved and admired most about Caroline though, is that after all the years of torment she suffered, she still hadn't lost her sense of humor and perhaps more importantly, she hadn't given up on the notion of someday finding someone who would love her in the way she so richly deserved. Of course, her patience and persistence was rewarded with all that and more when she met Max.
Max is a brainy history professor, but that wasn't his first choice for a career. He was a talented basketball player whose dreams were cut short by a tragic accident that left him severely injured. I admired his determination to walk again, although admittedly it took a lot of prodding from his brother, David, to make that happen. Initially, Max seems like the absolute perfect guy, but it soon becomes apparent that he still harbors a lot of guilt and self-pity over the loss of his career and the fact that he's now scarred and walks with a cane. I was almost taken aback by his angry outburst about all of this, but it turned out to be a good thing in that it gave Caroline a chance to show her mettle by standing up to him and calling him out on it. I also realized it was a way to build his trust with both Caroline and Tom by showing them that a man could get upset without resorting to violence. Other than that one character flaw, Max is a fabulous hero. He is a gentle, caring man who isn't afraid to express his feelings. He's confident without being cocky, and the man absolutely oozes sex appeal with a very controlled lust that I found irresistible. He also comes with a wonderfully loving family who embrace his relationship with Caroline without reservation.
Max and Caroline together make a marvelous couple. Everything isn't always wine and roses between them, because they both bring a lot of baggage into the relationship. Caroline is understandably rather afraid to tell Max the truth about her past and because of his own past hurts, Max sometimes misconstrues her intentions. They occasionally say or do things that hurt each other which would normally not be my cup of tea, but here it works quite well. They always find their way back to communicating and apologizing in fairly short order, and I thought the tensions in their relationship were very realistically rendered. Mostly, I was very impressed with how often they take the time to observe each other's body language and are pretty intuitive of the other's feelings. The sexual tension is positively exquisite and so much more than I was expecting. Karen Rose is very talented at using simple things like smoldering looks and tender touches to convey so much meaning. This book is a great example of how an author can use only mildly to moderately descriptive love scenes, but make it feel much hotter by expressing such an intense emotional connection.
Don't Tell also has an incredible cast of supporting characters who are loaded with depth and whom I fell in love with almost instantly. Many of them pop up again in later books and/or become the hero or heroine of their own book. Steven Thatcher is the special agent assigned to investigate the disappearance of Mary Grace Winters when her car is finally found in a lake. It only took a moment for me to start wondering if this guy was going to be a future hero, and I was thrilled to find out that he is in the very next book, Have You Seen Her?. I loved his determination to bring Rob Winters to justice and that he never wavered in his belief that the man was as guilty as sin even though others did. Caroline's son, Tom, is such a good kid. He's very protective of his mother, and understandably has a hard time trusting men, especially around her. I admired his strength and maturity in the face of everything that happened both in the past and the present. Once he ages and matures, I think he would make great hero material. Caroline's best friend, Dana, is another strong woman who has been through a lot in her life. I really enjoyed the banter between this pair and how Dana is always the voice of reason. She also becomes the heroine of Nothing to Fear. Max's brother, David, is an out-going charmer who would be nearly impossible not to like. His loyalty to Max is absolutely endearing, and what he did to get a predatory co-worker to leave Max alone was utterly hilarious as it was, but even more so because I wasn't expecting such a funny scene in an otherwise pretty serious book. David gets to be in a couple more books before finally becoming the hero of Silent Scream. Caroline's friend and Dana's roommate, Evie initially didn't win points with me because of some bad choices she made, but I couldn't help sympathizing with her anyway. It seems she had as bad of a life as Caroline and Dana but is still rather young and naïve and hasn't quite learned the lessons that the other two women have yet. She also paid for her mistakes in the worst way imaginable. I'll be looking forward to seeing her redemption in I Can See You. These and a whole host of other secondary characters, all of whom were very well-written, made this a tight and well-rounded story.
I also have to give the author kudos for writing the best (read nastiest and vilest) villain I've ever read. I'm not sure how Karen Rose got inside the head of this animalistic psycho, but she somehow managed to portray him in a very real and frightening way. He's a classic abuser and sociopath who truly thinks he's right and has no conscience whatsoever. He's made everyone around him believe that he's the perfect husband and father even though nothing could possibly be further from the truth, and he gets crazier and crazier as the story goes on. I went back and forth between feeling the sheer terror that he instilled in his victims and wanting to jump into the story and kill him myself. In my opinion, it's the mark of a truly good writer when she can make me feel the bad emotions equally as intensely as the good.
Don't Tell made me feel such a plethora of emotions I'm not sure I'm really doing it justice in my descriptions. My stomach turned and I felt anger and horror for all the victims sufferings. I cried for what they went though but was also joyous at the love Caroline found with Max. I read the climax with my heart in my throat and through a blur of tears, but rejoiced in Caroline's victory over her abuser, not only physically, but emotionally as well. I don't think the author could have chosen a better way to empower Caroline, Tom and Max than the way the suspense portion of the book wrapped up, and I thought she managed to perfectly tread the fine line between defending oneself and avoiding becoming what they despised. I've heard that some of Karen Rose's books can become rather descriptive of the violence, but in this one, I felt that she took the psychological thriller approach. While there were some violent scenes, in my opinion, it was more the anticipation and/or knowledge of what was happening off the canvas that made the story so intense. It was so good, I had a hard time believing this was the author's debut novel. My edition of Don't Tell was nearly 500 pages, but it never felt that long. In fact, I was quite sad when it ended, and think I may have a hard time moving on to another book. I'm so glad that I'll get to visit with these characters again, including Max and Caroline, as I work my way through the rest of Karen Rose's books. After a positively stellar first read like this, I am more than eager to pick up another of her books as soon as possible.
Note: Karen Rose has a highly interconnected character web throughout all of her books, and they are considered something of an unofficial series. Although it appears that each book stands well on it's own story-wise, I think the reading experience would probably be enhanced by reading the books in the chronological order in which they were written, which is what I intend to do. A complete list including the recommended reading order and character connections can be found on Karen Rose's website....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" The Healer is a combination romantic suspense and light paranormal romance. I call it “light,” because there are nReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" The Healer is a combination romantic suspense and light paranormal romance. I call it “light,” because there are no supernatural creatures like vampires or werewolves, no witches or wizards, no fantasy worlds, or anything else that would make it wholly paranormal. All the characters are human, although the hero’s origins are admittedly unknown. He possesses a tremendous gift for healing any living thing, human or animal. He can also communicate with animals and can emit a type of psychic pulse that can temporarily control another person and make them do things they don’t necessarily want to do, but he only uses this part of his power in self-defense. Finally, he can track via scent much like a canine and also has a sixth sense about when things are going to happen or when a certain person is nearby. While the hero’s powers are fairly extensive, he inhabits a world that is of the contemporary small-town variety with lots of suspense. The heroine has a stalker who has every intention of raping and killing her, while the hero is on the run from a major baddie who wants the hero’s power for his own gain. So there’s plenty going on to keep the story moving at a fairly fast pace that kept me engaged throughout.
As a toddler, Jonah was walked into the small town of Snow Valley, Alaska by a female wolf. No one knew where he came from or how he came to be with the wolves, but he has an obvious connection with them. When no parents or relatives could be found, the local doctor adopted and raised him. Even as a child, Jonah exhibited the ability to heal animals. After Jonah was grown but still a very young man, Major Bourdain, a millionaire, came to town on a hunting trip and was attacked by a grizzly. Jonah’s father was away delivering a baby, so Bourdain’s friend came to get Jonah, who healed him. It became the only time in his life that he regretted healing someone, because once Bourdain realized what had happened, he decided that he had to control Jonah’s power for his own financial gain and so that he could live forever. He sent hunters after Jonah who ended up murdering his father, and Jonah has been on the run from him ever since. For the past ten years, it’s been a lonely, solitary existence, always trying to stay one step ahead of the men Bourdain sent after him, until he ends up in the small town of Little Top, West Virginia, where he meets and falls in love with Lucia, the heroine. Then he realizes that the running has to stop, so he decides to make a stand.
I loved Jonah. I’m a huge fan of Native American heroes, especially those with long hair, and that’s certainly Jonah. He’s also another one of my favorite hero types, the gentle giant. He’s a big man, but so very kind and gentle, particularly with women, children and animals. He’s no pushover, though. When he’s angry, his powers can make him a very dangerous man to be around for the person who riles him up. I also love the fact that he can communicate with animals. Even the most ferocious beasts turn into pussycats around him. Not to mention his incredible healing abilities, which has always been one of my favorite “superpowers.” Oh yeah, and a man who can give a woman the Big O just by touching her? Yes, please! ;-) Jonah, quite simply, hit many of my favorite tropes, which is also going to put him high on my list of favorite romance heroes. The only thing about Jonah that made me go, hmmm…, is that he has this deep connection with the animals and even tried to protect a tiny field mouse from being eaten by predatory birds, but he himself eats meat, which seemed a little strange and at odds with his abilities, but this isn’t explained.
Lucia was the sole survivor of a car accident that claimed the lives of the rest of her family when she was only a teenager. After that she went to live with an aunt and uncle, but when she couldn’t deal with the uncle’s unwanted advanced any longer, she ran away. Eventually she settled in Little Top, where she works as a waitress at the local diner and lives in a rustic mountain cabin owned by an elderly lady. Lately she seems to have picked up a stalker who has been leaving notes for her. At first, they were merely a little creepy, so the local sheriff refused to do anything about it, but they’ve gradually gotten more threatening over time. After Lucia’s dog, Hobo, was caught in a trap that she suspected was set by the stalker, she ran to the gas station looking for help. Jonah had just arrived in town and offered to come with her. By the time he got Hobo out of the trap, the dog was pretty badly injured, so Jonah healed him, leaving Lucia stunned by what she witnessed. However, she can’t help feeling a connection with the man and a sense that he can be trusted, so when she finds out he has no place to go, she offers him the spare room in her cabin and sets him up working as a handyman for her elderly landlady. Not to mention, she figures that having a man close by might dissuade her stalker from coming around anymore.
I really liked Lucia. She’s a strong Latina woman, who is very open-minded and accepting of Jonah for what he is. She’s impressed and in constant awe of his power, rather than being afraid of it. Her landlady, Bridie, thinks of her as a daughter, and pretty much everyone in town likes her and knows she’s a hard worker. Luce is just an all-around likable heroine, so the only small issue I had was that I felt like her characterization could have been a little more developed. I thought perhaps her past and her feelings surrounding that could have been brought out a bit more, but at the same time, I recognize that this was primarily Jonah’s story and between that and everything else going on, there wasn’t a lot of extra room. So in the end, I wasn’t too perturbed by this.
Overall, I very much enjoyed The Healer. It’s a unique story that really drew me in and definitely kept me reading. I waffled a bit on my rating between giving it 4.5 stars and the full five, but went with 4.5. Aside from Lucia’s weaker characterization there were a few other minor things that bothered me just enough to drop the half-star. Jonah and Lucia fall in love very quickly, within only a couple of days, which kind of pushes the bounds of credibility a bit. But the two things that helped to mitigate this some is the paranormal element which implies that they are somehow soul mates and also the author is very good at expressing the deep emotional connection between these characters. One other thing that I wasn’t overly fond of is that the author engages in head-hopping narration. Especially in scenes involving multiple characters, she may change the POV every paragraph or two. I was still able to keep up with it, but I couldn’t help wondering what it might have been like to get that deep POV that’s only afforded by staying in one character’s perspective for an entire scene. Lastly, I did pick up on a tiny bit of repetition, but it wasn’t too bad. Although together, these things were enough for me knock off the half-star, they didn’t really detract much from my overall enjoyment of the book. It was my first read by the prolific Sharon Sala, but it definitely won’t be my last. I look forward to exploring more of her backlist soon....more
The Devil and Ms. Johnson was a fun bit of escapist reading, but I have to say that I enjoyed the first book in this duet, Jane and the Sneaky Dom a lThe Devil and Ms. Johnson was a fun bit of escapist reading, but I have to say that I enjoyed the first book in this duet, Jane and the Sneaky Dom a little more. The Devil and Ms. Johnson continues the series with the story of Devon and Lacey, the best friends of the hero and heroine of Jane and the Sneaky Dom. Woven in between bouts of hot, steamy sex was a romantic suspense plot that had Devon and Lacey trying to outwit an international terrorist and an FBI mole. This part added some action, light mystery and a bit more substance to the story than one typically finds in erotic romance, but I thought that the bad guys were a little too easy to spot. With this being an erotic romance, the ratio of sex to suspense, at least in the beginning of the book, is probably about 2 or 3:1. Later when it gets into the meatier part of the suspense storyline, several chapters actually go by without a love scene until the very end. As far as the love scenes go, they are quite steamy and very descriptive with some explicit language used, but considering the spicy nature of the book, there was nothing that I would really call kinky. Any readers who can handle lots of heat with some naughty words should be OK with it. There are also some fun scenes that border on romantic comedy which had me smiling on occasion. I particularly enjoyed Devon and Lacey's first meeting when Devon found a drunk Lacey in “his” bed and accidentally woke her up, leading to lots of mayhem which made me laugh.
Devon and Lacey were entertaining characters who spent a lot of time engaging in witty bantering both of a general and a more sexual nature. Many of their love scenes together involve amusing verbal sparring and each of them competing to get the upper hand in the seduction. For this pair, it was definitely a case of opposites attract, as they were often at odds over one thing or another. Unfortunately, I felt that they could have benefited from a little more depth in characterization, and also things just seemed to move too quickly between them to be believable for me. Granted, Lacey had spent a lot of time having hot fantasies while staring at a picture of Devon before they ever met, but Devon knew almost nothing of Lacey except that she was his best friend's wife's best friend. I'm just not a big fan of instant hook-ups or what amounts to stranger sex. I can buy into it if the author creates some kind of palpable connection between the characters, but in this case it didn't really work well for me. I could to some extent sense their feelings beginning to build later in the story, but for me it was too little too late. By then all their steamy encounters had seemed like “just sex,” and the extremely brief three day time span of the story reduced the credibility of their burgeoning love for me. Overall, Devon and Lacey were fun characters, but I simply didn't feel like I got to know them very well or that the all-important emotional bond that is necessary for me to truly love a romantic story was fully established.
The Devil and Ms. Johnson had a few other ups and downs for me. I loved the fact that Lacey was a computer geek, which is kind of a rarity in romance especially when it's the heroine. Regrettably though, the author didn't really allow her geekiness to show through enough to suit me. First of all Lacey is far more outgoing and self-confident that most geeks I know, but the most disappointing part was that she never got to show off her alleged mad hacker skills at any point in the book. Another downside was that I thought the story had too much dialog and not enough introspection and descriptive narration. I really think that more of these two things would have gone a long way toward establishing that missing connection I mentioned earlier. Also, based on the two Hannah Murray books that I've read to far, she seems to have a certain buzz word in her novels that tends to get overused. In this one it was, “What?”. On the upside, about half the narrative takes place on Mackinac Island, Michigan, at the Grand Hotel no less. The author says on her website that this was a favorite childhood vacation spot, but fans of the romantic fantasy, Somewhere in Time, will recognize this as the setting for that movie too. Even with a bit of suspense in the plot, The Devil and Ms. Johnson was basically a light, breezy read, and in spite of any perceived weaknesses, I did find it to be a reasonably pleasant diversion. So far, Hannah Murray has proven to be a pretty entertaining author, and I look forward to checking out her other works in the future....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" Much like Zack's up-and-down relationship with Sky, I also had a roller coaster relationship with this book. ThereReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" Much like Zack's up-and-down relationship with Sky, I also had a roller coaster relationship with this book. There were some elements that I enjoyed reading and thought had earned at least four stars, but there were others that I thought were weak and probably didn't warrant any more than three stars. Hence, why I went with the in between rating. Being an Arizonan, I enjoyed reading a story set in my home state. I happen to be an urbanite, but I thought Ms. McCray did a good job with describing rural and small town life in Arizona, which is probably a testament to her writing what she knows. Even though cattle rustling wouldn't necessarily be my first choice for a mystery/suspense plot, I thought that it was pretty well done. The author set up a number of suspects, and although I had a feeling I knew who the bad guy was about halfway through, she did make me second-guess myself a couple of times. The love scenes were very hot and spicy, borderline erotic, and for the most part I enjoyed reading them. My only issue is that the one scene that actually took place in the bedroom was, in my opinion, pretty rushed and unsatisfying, almost as though the author didn't quite know how to write a “normal” love scene that didn't involve living on the edge. Not that I'm complaining about the variety, and otherwise, these scenes were probably one of the best things about the book.
Normally, I'm a big fan of reunion romances, but this one just didn't quite touch me in the same way that most do. The author started to develop the character's backstories, but then the relationship stuff seemed to peter out in favor of the mystery/suspense plot and hot sex scenes. I just felt like Zack's reasons for leaving ten years earlier and breaking Sky's heart were rather weak (or perhaps just not explained to my satisfaction). Then Zack comes back to town doing his best caveman impression, determined to make Sky his again with absolutely no plan of what he'll do if she's married or involved with someone else. Of course, when he finds out she's still unattached, he couldn't be happier. There's an instant magnetic re-attraction, and the clothes start flying off within a couple of days with no apologies, explanations or real reconnection of any sort, which was rather disappointing to me and hard to believe, in spite of the hotness factor.
Zack is a sexy Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent with a dangerous-looking scar on his face and a bad-boy past to back it up. He begins the story being pretty arrogant and extremely po-ssessive almost to the point of being ob-sessive about Sky. I was a little worried that Zack might end up irritating me with his uber-alpha-ness, but thankfully he never quite tipped the scales. In fact, he seemed to soften up a little as the story progressed. I can honestly say that in his seductive moments, he could be quite appealing in spite of his intense alpha nature. Zack had a pretty horrific past, having watched both his father and step-father regularly beat up his mother, and then becoming the recipient of some of that abuse himself. This would normally be something I would sympathize with very deeply, but I didn't feel like the author created enough of an emotional connection to the character for him to become one of those tortured heroes that I'd love nothing more than to wrap up in my arms. The only reason that was ever given for his abruptly leaving town ten years earlier was that he didn't feel worthy of Sky after he nearly killed his step-father in defense of his mother. This just didn't seem like an insurmountable obstacle to me, and I felt that if he and Sky had just had a good old-fashioned heart-to-heart, they could have worked things out instead of pining after each other for a decade. At one point, Sky mused about how their earlier relationship had lacked maturity, and I would definitely agree, but even after Zack returned there still wasn't much communication going on between them, at least not of the verbal variety.;-)
Sky was a tough cowgirl who had continued to successfully run her family's ranch after her father's retirement, which was something I could admire. She could be as stubborn as Zack at times and pretty insistent upon taking care of herself, but I liked that when she came across the rustlers near the end, she didn't go rushing headlong into the fray like a TSTL heroine would. Instead she used her brain and tried to call for help. Sky definitely had her good points, but there were a couple of things that bothered me about her and made her loose some of my respect. The first is that when Zack comes back, she is as hot for him as he is for her, and she ends up allowing him to have sex with her without ever discussing why he left and how much he hurt her, even though she's obviously and understandably still angry with him about that. In this respect, Sky was one of those contradictory heroines who keeps telling herself in her head all the reasons she shouldn't want the hero, but just can't seem to keep her panties on when he's around. The other thing that irritated me about her was that she was willing to use Zack for hot sex without making a commitment to giving their relationship another try, even though Zack was completely up front about that being what he truly wanted from her. Although I can't say that Zack necessarily did anything spectacular to earn her trust back at any point in the story, Sky at least finally came to her senses and didn't end up acting completely cold and insensitive. Oh yeah, and I sure would like to know what Sky was doing to have half the male population panting and salivating after her, or more accurately obsessing to the point that they think they own her. When Zack and her ex boyfriend, Wade, got into a fight over her, there was so much testosterone flying, I had to duck.;-)
For me, Zack ended up being one of those OK stories that I thought could have been really good with a little more TLC. If the author had given a bit more attention to Zack and Sky working out the problems that broke them up the first time, instead of them being so obsessed with sex, I would have liked the book a lot more. As it was written, I felt plenty of lust emanating from the pages, but not a whole lot of love. Without the resolution of their prior conflict, I just wasn't entirely convinced that these two could have a long happy life together even with the HEA ending. I also had a couple of minor issues with the writing itself in that I didn't feel like the narrative flowed quite as well as it could have, and even though I don't drink, I know I could have made a great drinking game out of the repetitious words and phrases I found. Still, in spite of all my criticisms, I probably would have given the book four stars, except that I frequently found my mind wandering throughout my entire reading of it, which is never a good sign. I think this may have had a lot to do with me feeling like the author was telling me too much and not showing me enough, therefore it didn't fully engage my imagination. Overall, Zack was a worthwhile read, and anyone who likes a combination of hot, steamy love scenes with a decent suspense plot, but is more forgiving of character flaws and lack of relationship development than I am, will probably enjoy it. Zack is the first book in Cheyenne McCray's Armed and Dangerous series, and the first I've read by her. Even though it wasn't an entirely satisfying read for me, I will likely give her another chance, perhaps when the next book of the series, Luke, featuring secondary character, Luke Rider, as the hero, comes out next month (10-27-09).
Note:Zack reads very much like an extra-steamy, traditional, contemporary romance, but the inclusion of some mild exhibitionism (a couple of the love scenes take place in public or semi-public places) and some explicit language give it a borderline erotic feel.
I also discovered that Zack is basically a re-titled version of Wildfire which was originally released by Ellora's Cave Publishers. The names of the characters have been changed and it has been expanded by about 50 pages, but the storyline is basically the same. I'm beginning to suspect that the entire Armed and Dangerous series may just be a re-tooled version of Ms. McCray's Wild series....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews I met Vijaya Schartz at an event almost a year ago, and she recently sent me a copy of her latest e-book novella, Coyote GorgeReviewed for THC Reviews I met Vijaya Schartz at an event almost a year ago, and she recently sent me a copy of her latest e-book novella, Coyote Gorgeous, for review. The story is a hybrid of paranormal romance and romantic suspense combining the heroine's investigation of the mysterious killings of domestic animals on a local ranch with Native American skinwalker legends. I typically enjoy Native American stories, and Coyote Gorgeous was no exception. I love learning about their culture and customs, and I came away from reading this novella feeling as though that knowledge had been enriched. Even though this is a fictional story in which some creative license was taken, Ms. Schartz wove in interesting factual information about a Hopi ritual sacrifice of golden eaglets (I felt pretty much the same way about it as Madison did: barbaric but culturally fascinating) and the skinwalker legends which are very similar to the were-creature legends of other cultures. I found myself intrigued enough by the unusual subject matter to do a little research of my own online. The descriptions of the Southwestern setting were very well done, making them clearly visible in my mind's eye, although I readily admit that it may be easier for me than the average reader since I live in the area that was being depicted. The suspense element was also well written. I got nearly all the way through the story thinking I knew who the “bad guy” was, only to get a surprise twist at the end. I also don't think I've ever read suspense paired with the supernatural in quite the way that it was here, so that was something unique and different for me as a reader too.
I really liked both the hero and heroine. I'm not sure Kaletaka could have been more scrumptious if he tried. He's a sexy Hopi Indian with long dark hair who rides a motorcycle, is an incredibly talented sculptor, and knows his way around a kitchen to boot. All I have to say is, “Yummmm!” Madison was a great match for Kaletaka. She's a spunky lady who is a law enforcement officer of a different sort, a ranger with the Arizona Department of Game and Fish. I love how she deftly handles herself, both in the field (guns included) and against the unwanted advances of her boss/ex-boyfriend, but also knows how to be gentle and feminine. I liked that in spite of her being raised by a father and brother who took her on their hunting trips, that she disdains the practice and instead is an animal lover who has dedicated herself to protecting all creatures. The only thing that would have made these two better for me would have been more exploration of their backstories. Even though they were pretty well-defined characters and there was enough information to build my liking for them, I tend to prefer getting inside the hero and heroine's heads a little more than I was allowed to here. There were also several doubts raised about their cultural backgrounds being incompatible, but that all seemed to magically disappear. Additionally, I felt that the paranormal and suspense elements overshadowed the romance a bit. I would have liked to see a few more romantic scenes, although I must say that the candlelight, “not-a-date” dinner that Kal cooked for Madison was particularly wonderful and probably my favorite scene in the entire novella. Overall, Coyote Gorgeous was a fast-paced, action-packed and enjoyable read. It was my first story by Vijaya Schartz, and has certainly left me open to trying some of her other works in the future....more
I've always been a fan of Native American themed romances, but most of them tend to fall into the historical category. Secret Shadows is the first fulI've always been a fan of Native American themed romances, but most of them tend to fall into the historical category. Secret Shadows is the first fully contemporary Native American themed romance that I've read, and pairing that with a suspense plot, made the story unique and engaging. Judie Aitken is the best author I've read to date at rendering the Native American culture and lifestyle in a very realistic way. I really appreciate this and actually feel like I'm learning things from her writing. In fact, the book begins with a letter from the author which includes a recipe for frybread and notes on specific aspects of Native American culture that are mentioned in the story. Lakota words and phrases are also peppered throughout the narrative. The majority of the novel takes place on a fictional Indian reservation and a very poor one at that. I felt that the author really conveyed the pride these people have in their culture and the close bonds within the tribe, which evoked empathy in me, but not pity as some might feel, in spite of some heartbreaking living conditions. The author keeps the plot moving steadily forward, but at a rather languid pace, which gave the story the feel of what I imagine the pace of life on an Indian reservation to really be. Actually, no matter what type of scenes Judie Aitken is writing, she seems to have a knack for keeping it real. Whether it's courtroom action, prison scenes, undercover action, or medical scenes, Ms. Aitken either has personal knowledge of these things or has done her research well, because everything seemed very authentic to me.
Dane was a very sexy hero. He is an undercover FBI agent, working to bring down an illegal drug operation on the reservation. Even though it brings pain to both him and his family and friends, he isn't able to tell them who and what he really is, leaving some, including his own mother, thinking that he has betrayed his own people. Dane even allowed himself to be wrongly imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit, and one that personally affected him in a profound way at that, in order keep up the pretense of being a drug dealer. I personally know someone who used to work deep cover narcotics, just like Dane, so I really liked the way that the author brought out Dane's feelings of loosing his sense of self in his undercover work, which was another very genuine aspect of the story. I also really enjoyed reading about Dane's commitment to his culture and tribe, and how everything about him was so very “Indian”. I also throughly enjoyed Dane's sense of humor and the way he teased Claire. Most of the time he was very serious, but these subtle exchanges showed another side of his personality, the “real” him, which often made me smile.
Claire is a very admirable heroine. She is a talented ER doctor whose testimony helped put Dane in prison, which sets up an intriguing conflict. She desires a change of pace and the ability to build real relationships with her patients, rather than seeing them just one time, which drives her to apply for a job as the Indian Health Services doctor on the reservation. In my own personal experience, it is very rare for a doctor to have this level of care and commitment for their patients, and as such, I thoroughly liked and deeply respected Claire for this. I thought she also exhibited a certain braveness of spirit to enter a culture that was very different from her own, and to move from the conveniences of city life to a tiny town on a reservation where some don't even have running water. I love that she wasn't scared away by the filthy house that came with the job, and how she threw herself into her work with gusto, wanting to get to know everyone and treat the whole person, not just their illnesses. There was one thing about Claire that I felt the author left as a hanging thread, and that was her former marriage and history of domestic abuse. I had thought that this might become a bigger part of Claire's characterization, and help build relationship intimacy between her and Dane, but aside from mentioning that she was divorced, she never even told him about it during the course of the story. I really would have liked to see more come of this element, but in the end, it didn't really add anything to the plot, making it rather unnecessary.
I'm sure that it is very difficult for an author to find the right balance between suspense and romance in a romantic suspense novel. There isn't much of a mystery to be solved (in my mind, the motive was really the only question), but the suspense aspect of Secret Shadows was very well done, in my opinion. It held my interest and kept me reading, but I did feel that it somewhat overshadowed the romance. There is an instant attraction and a decent amount of sexual tension between Dane and Claire. They also repeatedly have the same shared dream and are both mysteriously being followed around by wild rez dogs. All of these things helped to build a connection and the latter two added just a hint of the paranormal, however, they don't even kiss until nearly 2/3 of the way into the story. I guess this was all rather understandable since Dane couldn't tell her who and what he really was, and he was reluctant to get involved while he was working undercover for fear that it might endanger her. Still, I couldn't help but be a little disappointed by the rather low-key nature of their romance.
Aside from a few continuity errors, Ms. Aitken managed to create a strong story with a likable hero and heroine. There was a large group of supporting characters too, my favorite of whom was probably Clement, a wise old Indian who becomes Dane's staunchest defender. The book gets off to a heartbreaking start right in the first chapter, and then builds into an interesting cat-and-mouse game between Dane and the bad guys. Secret Shadows is the second book by Ms. Aitken that I've read and I thought both were very well-written. Although she has only authored a total of four books, I look forward to trying the other two at some point. Anyone who enjoys romantic suspense and/or Native American stories should definitely give Secret Shadows a try....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Ronda Gibb Hinrichsen recently sent me a copy of her new novel, Trapped, that was just released this month (May 2010). I'm glaReviewed for THC Reviews Ronda Gibb Hinrichsen recently sent me a copy of her new novel, Trapped, that was just released this month (May 2010). I'm glad she gave me the opportunity to read it, because it was an interesting story that I generally enjoyed and might not have taken notice of otherwise. Trapped is primarily a mystery/suspense/thriller with a little romance on the side and a light paranormal element in the form of a family curse which only the heroine can break. The narrative starts off a little slow, and I initially had a hard time feeling connected to the characters. However, once Emi and Daniel arrived in Austria, bits and pieces of the mystery began to surface, gradually drawing me into the story. From there, it steadily built some pretty good momentum into an exciting climax. There were a number of twists and turns along the way that kept me guessing. Some things I figured out right before they happened and others were a big surprise. Overall, I would say the mystery/suspense aspect was well-done. I even wondered for a short time if the “good guys” and “bad guys” were actually as good and bad as they seemed.
The whole mystery is wrapped within a paranormal element that was intriguing too. Centuries ago, the Tillman family warred against the Traugott family in an effort to gain control of a golden vial known as the Kuhati which purportedly contained an elixir akin to the fountain of youth. When the Tillmans finally breached the Traugott castle, the head of the Traugott family placed a curse upon the Tillmans with his last breath. Legend said that every member of the Tillman line would die a hideous death at the hands of a flesh-eating disease until the Firstborn She came to break the curse. Emi, the heroine, is the Firstborn She (the first female to be firstborn in all the generations since the curse), but her parents kept her heritage and true identity a secret from her until a trap was set to draw her out. Now she must figure out where the Kuhati is and how to use it, while evading a mafia-like family who wish to take it for evil purposes. The fantasy-style puzzle which leads the heroine on a grand adventure reminded me a little of an Indiana Jones or National Treasure type of tale.
In my opinion, the romance was probably the weakest of the three main aspects of the novel. Emi begins the story supposedly having been deeply in love with her friend Daniel for years, but he hasn't really given her any indication that he feels the same way about her. I was never quite sure why she hadn't ever simply told Daniel how she felt in the five+ years since they met in high school. Daniel's feelings for Emi are pretty ambiguous throughout the narrative, and the reader isn't really given any insights into what he's been thinking all these years until near the end of the book. In the meantime, Emi meets the handsome, charming Lucas, a distant cousin by marriage who sufficiently sweeps her off her feet in just a day to have everyone around them thinking they've instantly fallen in love which just lacked credibility for me. Granted it did add a bit of conflict in the form of a love triangle and also played into the idea of good and bad guys possibly being reversed, but I thought it also made Emi seem rather fickle if her head could be turned from Daniel so easily.
As I mentioned earlier, I had a little trouble connecting with the characters in the beginning. This did get better as the story progressed and more things were revealed about them, but I still didn't feel like I got any truly deep insights into what made them tick per se. I think the reasons for this were two-fold. First, 99% of the book is told in first person perspective from Emi's point of view, and there is very little in her conversations with the other characters that reveal much about their personalities. Second, the narrative is primarily plot-driven, so it doesn't really focus as much on the character development to begin with. That said, over time, I did develop a liking for Emi, Daniel and some of the other secondary characters. Emi was raised in a very sheltered environment by her mother who we, of course, find out was merely trying to protect her. Considering that she previously had no experience with dangerous situations, I thought she showed some guts and handled herself pretty well under the circumstances. There were times though when I thought a little more insight into what she was thinking at the time would have been helpful in understanding some of her actions. In my opinion, she was a bit too easily accepting of her role as the Firstborn She and some other pretty big revelations about her family in general. Character introspection is something that tends to be pretty important to me in my reading, and I was a somewhat surprised that there wasn't more of it, at least for Emi, since the book was written in first-person.
There were a few other things I thought could have been better. In my opinion, it would have been beneficial for the details to be fleshed out a bit more. There were some passages that just didn't flow as well as I thought they could have or didn't quite make sense without a little more information to back them up. One particular example: There was a brief two-page chapter in third person POV concerning a character named Gamma. I think I know who Gamma was supposed to be, but I don't believe his identity was ever specifically revealed. Consequently, I wasn't quite sure what the point of the chapter was, except perhaps to show how ruthless the family could be. There were also times when I think more details and the aforementioned introspection would have aided with the emotional connection between Emi and the reader. At times, I felt like the author was telling how she felt rather than showing it. I also found some continuity errors and typographical errors including a huge one where a new chapter started in the middle of a sentence. I realize the publisher is probably to blame for that one and not the author, but it was a little jarring nonetheless.
The first ¾ of Trapped has a very innocent feel to it, but things got a little more intense during the last ¼ of the book. Early on, I had to double-check that it wasn't marketed for a young adult audience as sometime it felt more like that genre. I didn't find any indication that it was specifically written for teens, and I'm sure adults will enjoy the book. It's just much sweeter than most romantic suspense out there. There are absolutely no profanities, and the sensual content is limited to kisses and chaste touches only. Aside from some menacing behavior and mention of killings in the past, no actual violence occurs until the climactic chapters. Even then I would characterize it more as moderately frightening and suspenseful rather than graphic. Even with the added intensity in the latter part of the story, I would say that the book is probably suitable for most teens and sensitive readers. In general, I think that anyone who likes an adventurous plot-driven suspense story wrapped in a paranormal mystery that is written with a lighter touch would probably appreciate Trapped. Once I got past the first few chapters, I became fairly well engaged for the remainder of the book and thought that it was an interesting tale. Trapped is Ronda Gibb Hinrichsen's second published novel, and I enjoyed the story well enough to be interested in reading more by her.
Note: The author told me in a later interview that the book was indeed written for a young adult/adult cross-over audience in mind. Ms. Hinrichsen also informed me that she had contacted her publisher regarding the big chapter break error I mentioned, and they said it will be fixed in future printings of the novel.
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" For quite some time now, I've been seeing rave reviews for Suzanne Brockmann's Troubleshooters series, so I finallReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" For quite some time now, I've been seeing rave reviews for Suzanne Brockmann's Troubleshooters series, so I finally decided to pick up The Unsung Hero. Unfortunately, when I finished reading it, I was left with very mixed feelings about nearly every aspect of the book. Rather than being a romance in which there is one primary hero and heroine with secondary characters to support them, it felt like there was an ensemble cast. The book has three separate “love” stories going on at the same time written from no less than six points-of-view (POV). The narrative alternates between the three plots with a fourth suspense thriller plot and a few other minor points tying the trio of stories together. Normally, I don't have a problem with multiple plot-lines, but I usually prefer for them to be part of a larger story arc within both the book and series. In this case, the ties between them were so minimal that I felt each story could have been told independently of one another. I would no sooner be getting into one storyline and then it would switch to a different one which made the book feel rather choppy to me. I also typically have no difficulties with following multiple POVs, but some of the scene transitions were written in a way that was confusing to me. I occasionally found myself several paragraphs into a scene before I even realized in whose POV it was being told.
Another thing that bothered me about The Unsung Hero was the dreary, depressing overtone that permeated nearly the entire book. I usually enjoy emotion-laden stories with characters who have difficulties to overcome on the road to finding their HEA, but in this case, there were, in my opinion, too many characters going through challenging circumstances with an overabundance of repressed emotions and virtually no humor to ever lighten the mood. I also prefer for the characters to grow and change while overcoming their challenges as the story progresses rather than making peace or having an instant epiphany at the eleventh hour. Even the ending was pretty bittersweet and didn't exactly leave me with warm, fuzzy feelings.
Tom and Kelly were the supposed “main” hero and heroine, but in my mind, they never emerged as such, but instead were just 1/3 of the whole picture. In many ways, I didn't feel like I ever got to know them well enough for them to truly stand out. For me, they ended up being mostly likable but rather bland characters in spite of Tom's profession. Tom is a Navy SEAL in charge of an elite special ops force who received a serious head injury while on a mission. He is now on leave and has returned home to recover. Kelly is a caring pediatrician, but she had a lousy role model in her dad who was an alcoholic that shut out everyone, making Kelly feel like she couldn't express her emotions around him or anyone else. Her dad is now dying and she has moved home to care for him, hoping that perhaps they can reconcile before it's too late. Tom and Kelly were teenage friends who fell for each other, but when things started to heat up between them, Tom skipped town to join the Navy with hardly a word of explanation to Kelly. Now that they're back together in such close proximity, they realize that their love for one another never died, but rather than embracing those feelings, they fight them tooth and nail for the entire book which is always frustrating to me. The thing that annoyed me the most though was that Kelly decided she was going to live on the edge and have the summer fling with Tom that she had wanted all those years ago. Once things heat up between them, she flat-out tells him it's just about the sex, but then gets upset when he reacts badly to that declaration. As it was, Tom and Kelly had few enough scenes together to rebuild their relationship, but then they had to go and have some serious communication issues on top of it all. In some ways, I thought they still acted like the teenagers they once were, dancing around one another and being too afraid to express how they really felt which just aggravated me to no end. I can't even say that I was left with 100% certainly that this couple was going to make it for the long haul.
The second plot, and the saddest, revolves around the sixty-year friendship between Kelly's dad, Charles, a wealthy man who is dying of cancer and Tom's uncle, Joe, who works as his groundskeeper. They met each other during World War II in France where they both served in the military and both fell in love with the same woman, Cybele, a member of the French Resistance. A large part of their story is told in flashbacks to the time when they all first met. It was very difficult for me to like Charles at all. He's extremely emotionally repressed and a hardened, grouchy old man who can be very rude and abrasive. He spent most of his life after the war as an alcoholic, ignoring his only daughter, and running through a string of failed marriages. As a young man in WWII, he was pretty cocky and for some reason I couldn't seem to fathom, he didn't want to take credit for anything good he did accomplish. I adored Joe, a caring, mild-mannered man both in the present and the past. He is a loyal friend to Charles, but it took nearly the entire book for me to figure out why Joe would want to hang around with someone like him. Joe was also a very courageous young man to volunteer to be a spy behind enemy lines during the war. I sympathized with Cybele because of the terrible tragedy she endured, but I didn't feel like it excused what she did to Charles and Joe, especially Joe, because he was such a good man who wanted nothing more than to love and protect her. I admired her pluck in going up against the Nazis, but she was a serious psychological mess who sadly, only seemed to be living to see their downfall. I also found it very depressing that Charles and Joe were both still affected so deeply by her actions that they had, in my opinion, essentially wasted their lives. The whole tale of these three friends was an interesting one but also an extremely morose one.
The final romance, and also my favorite, was that of Tom's young niece, Mallory, and a geeky comic book artist named David who wants her to model as his latest super-hero character, Nightshade. Suzanne Brockmann gets a few extra points for writing a true geek hero who actually looks and acts like many geeks I know. Intelligence is sexy to me, and not only is David smart, he's also very sweet and gentle. He takes the time to look beneath the surface with Mallory and break down the walls that hide her vulnerable heart, while behaving like a true gentleman. David was my favorite character in the book, and the only thing about him that I even found questionable was his choice of friends. It took me a while to warm up to Mallory, because she treats David rather rudely in the beginning. With every thoughtful little thing David did for her, I could see the wheels turning in her head, but even after she agrees to model for him, she could still be rather icy and condescending toward him. It isn't until David comes to her rescue that she really starts to see him for what he truly is inside rather than just his nerdy exterior. At least, I can say that Mallory changed throughout the story, but she was the only character who really did, in my opinion. Her romance with David was a sweet, tender one, and although a few days isn't very long to fall in love, I came away feeling like they had as much or better chance of still being together down the road as the “main” couple did.
The suspense portion of the plot involving Tom's sighting of a presumed dead terrorist and his struggle to get anyone in authority to believe him was scattered throughout the book and led to a literally explosive finale. Once again, it wasn't the focus of the story, but it did bring into play a few of Tom's fellow officers, some of whom get their own books later in the series, mainly Sam Starrett and Alyssa Locke (Gone too Far) and Ken "WildCard" Karmody (Out of Control). John Nilsson (The Defiant Hero) and Mark Jenkins (Into the Storm) were briefly introduced in the prologue as part of Tom's SEAL team but didn't have anything to do with the terrorist plot. The one team member who did have a decent supporting role but doesn't appear to have a book of his own yet though, is Casper “Jazz” Jacquette which is a little disappointing, because I though he was a rather interesting character.
Overall, The Unsung Hero was a decent and worthwhile read. Each plotline had it's own intriguing points, but I felt like they were spread too thin with too little of each one, especially Tom and Kelly's story, to be truly satisfying. It was also difficult to connect on an emotional level with many of the characters because of their intensely guarded feelings. The love scenes weren't as steamy as I was expecting either, although the lack of “hot sex” wouldn't have been a detractor for me if the emotional connection had been stronger. The love scenes also got a little too chatty for my taste which I thought interrupted the flow of sexual tension. Some of the dialog in general, could get a little long-winded too and occasionally repetitive, which made things drag a bit, and the author used some military abbreviations and lingo with which I was not familiar, making me think that perhaps a glossary might have been helpful. I guess the bottom line for me was that sometimes I enjoyed what I was reading and wanted to know what would happen next, while other times, I couldn't muster much enthusiasm for it. The Unsung Hero is the first book in the Troubleshooters series and my first read by Ms. Brockmann. I've heard from other readers though that it isn't necessarily the best, so with this in mind, I do intend to continue with the series and hope that it only gets better from here on out. There are currently fifteen books in the Troubleshooters series, with at least one more in the works. Readers can find a complete list of the titles and their recommended reading order on Suzanne Brockmann's website....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Have You Seen Her? was another exciting romantic suspense from Karen Rose. The serial killer mystery part of the bReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Have You Seen Her? was another exciting romantic suspense from Karen Rose. The serial killer mystery part of the book was taut with suspense. Although the real killer was definitely at the top of my suspect list, Ms. Rose certainly made me second guess myself several times, making the journey to discovering his identity enjoyable. She also threw in a little twist that I didn't see coming. I thought the romance aspect could have been just a wee bit better. For some reason I can't quite put my finger on, I didn't feel the connection between the hero and heroine quite as deeply as I would have liked. Perhaps it was because their relationship developed rather quickly over the course of only a few weeks, which isn't really my favorite way for a couple to fall in love. However, their romance was still good. Stephen and Jenna are both wounded souls who very much need each other, but they're also both rather stubborn and after being deeply hurt in the past, don't want to feel needy. As a consequence, this led to some amusing arguments, as well as intense passion. I felt that Stephen held back the truth about his first wife from Jenna a little too long, but otherwise, they communicated quite well for two people who had just met and were still getting to know each other.
I had really liked Stephen in Karen Rose's first book, Don't Tell. When he's on a case, he's more than just a cop. He truly cares about the victims and their families. It's what drives him to be a great detective, but it also puts a strain on his family relationships, especially with his kids. Stephen is definitely not a perfect dad, but he is a great one, nonetheless. He really loves his boys and although he has some problems with them, it just made him all the more relatable to me. Stephen was a very nice guy who certainly didn't deserve the cruel way in which his first wife abandoned him and their children. Because of that, Stephen has issues with trusting women, but that was understandable. However, it does lead to some problems with Jenna, and even I got a little miffed with him when he got jealous and spitefully left Jenna alone at the school even though he supposedly feared for her safety. That seemed like a rather dumb move for such a smart man, and I couldn't help but side with her when she temporarily broke off their relationship because of it. Luckily, Jenna was a pretty patient woman and eventually heard him out and forgave him. On the up side, the thing I really loved about Stephen was that he is a rare celibate hero who actually believes that if he has sex with a woman he better be prepared to marry her, and so consequently doesn't sleep around. The romance seas are brimming with playboy heroes, so I couldn't help but find Stephen's perspective utterly refreshing.
Jenna is a wonderfully caring woman who is struggling emotionally as the second anniversary of her fiancé's death approaches. As a teacher, she truly desires to give her students the best education she possibly can and always looks out for their well-being. It's her mindful attitude regarding Stephen's son, Brad that led to her meeting Stephen in the first place. She's fabulous with all of Stephen's boys, especially little Nicky who was still recovering from the trauma of being abducted just six months earlier (Don't Tell). I really enjoyed their scenes together as Jenna gave Nicky lots of love and special attention. She has a major soft spot for animals too and has two dogs that she saved from being euthanized and then trained them to guard her extremely well. She also does plenty of volunteer work at the animal shelter and the hospice where her fiancé passed away. Jenna may be a very nice person, but underneath it all, she's a tough-as-nails lady with a brown belt in karate. I love how she stood up to a bullying parent and wouldn't back down on the failing grade she gave his son even though her weaselly principle wouldn't support her in that decision and she started receiving threats because of it. All throughout the story, but especially when she had to go up against the killer, Jenna showed great courage, fortitude and strength of spirit.
Have You Seen Her? boasts a plethora of supporting players that I occasionally had a hard time keeping straight. In spite of that, I have to say that they were all rendered extremely well and each had his or her own very important role to play. Stephen's family is warm and wonderful. Brad is initially quite sullen, but I figured out very quickly what his problem was. Nicky is as cute as a button. It's sweet how Aunt Helen is always trying to play matchmaker to Stephen, and her banter with Matt was LOL funny. Stephen's priest friend, Mike was a good sounding board for Stephen's problems with both his boys and Jenna. Jenna's fiancé's family has become hers, and although she doesn't get along so well with her almost sister-in-law, everyone still loves and cares about her very much, as does her “nosy” neighbor, Mrs. Kasselbaum, who was a funny old lady. Stephen assembles an extremely talented investigative team to solve the string of murders, and each person on the team has their own personality and abilities that they bring to the table to get the job done. Neil Davies the lead investigator for the murders in Seattle joins them too. I had to admire his determination to put the killer behind bars after his own investigation went south, but on the other hand, he irritated me a bit when he tried to put the moves on Jenna. Then of course there was the Lutz family who give a whole new meaning to creepy. Unlike with most of Karen Rose's books, it doesn't look like the characters from Have You Seen Her? carry over to future books at this time, the only exception being Stephen who it appears may have a secondary role in Kill for Me. All in all, everything came together to make Have You Seen Her? a great read. With two winners in a row, Karen Rose has earned a spot on my favorite authors list, and I'm really looking forward to reading more of her novels soon.
Note: Karen Rose has a highly interconnected character web throughout all of her books, and they are considered something of an unofficial series. Although it appears that each book stands well on it's own story-wise, I think the reading experience would probably be enhanced by reading the books in the chronological order in which they were written, which is what I intend to do. A complete list including the recommended reading order and character connections can be found on Karen Rose's website....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews I can't believe it's been almost three years since I last read a Karen Rose novel. I have no idea why it's taken me so long, eReviewed for THC Reviews I can't believe it's been almost three years since I last read a Karen Rose novel. I have no idea why it's taken me so long, except that her books tend to be longer and I oftentimes have trouble fitting long books into my reading schedule. Her books have not disappointed me yet though, and I'm Watching You was no exception. It is a meticulously plotted story that unfolds slowly and methodically as it gradually builds to that final nail-biting climax. As I've come to expect from Ms. Rose, the body count is quite high, but despite the sheer number of deaths, for some reason, this one didn't seem quite as gory as the last one. Perhaps that was owing to the author using a different type of villain this time, who wasn't as utterly frightening, which I'll discuss later. In any case, I loved everything about this book, the characters, the plot, everything, and I wouldn't have changed a thing.
The heroine, Kristen is the primary focus character. She's a talented prosecuting attorney, who is a determined bull-dog in the courtroom. She's driven to seek justice for victims of violent crimes, because of painful events in her own past. In fact, it hurts her like she's reliving her own past every time she loses a case, but when that happens, the victims and their families often end up blaming her. As a result, she's admired and envied by some for her tenaciousness, but has become a convenient scapegoat for others. One of her admirers has become a vigilante serial killer, carefully choosing his victims from the list of perpetrators she unsuccessfully prosecuted, as well as the weaselly defense attorneys who represented them, and then dedicating his kills to her. Kristen is a very courageous woman. I greatly admired her strength and outward composure, even though inside, she felt like falling apart. She's been through so much in her life already and although her vigilante admirer would never hurt her personally, his actions end up causing her more pain and suffering. I was so glad that Abe was there to help her through everything. Kristen is a beautiful and compassionate woman who is anything but the frigid female she's been accused of being. If anything she's a woman with underlying passions that can only be tapped by one man.
Abe is a prince among men. He experienced his own personal pain when his pregnant wife was shot in the head by a bullet that was meant for him. She spent the next five years in a persistent vegetative state, before finally succumbing to death. Abe has lost so much, and he coped primarily by burying himself in his work. Throughout the years that his wife was on life-support, he worked undercover narcotics, only surfacing occasionally to visit his family. Now that she's gone, he's transferred to the homicide division. Abe first saw Kristen two years earlier and was extremely attracted to her. Of course, he felt guilty for that, given the state his wife was in, but since he was deep undercover at the time, nothing ever came of it. He hadn't seen her again, except on TV, until the vigilante killer case comes across his desk. As they start working in close proximity, the old attraction burns hot. Karen Rose really knows how to create some delectable heroes. I loved that Abe has been celibate all those years. It shows how committed he is in relationships and how much he truly loved his wife. Yet, when things start heating up between him and Kristen, he's very patient, never pushing her to do more than she's comfortable with. Abe is a true gentleman in every sense of the word, and I adore how he sees into Kristen. He intuitively knows what she's been through and wants to be the man to tear down the walls she's erected around herself and draw her out. Family means a great deal to Abe. He's always there to support them and vice versa, and they readily accept Kristen into their fold, which is exactly what she needs in her life. Abe is very protective of Kristen but at the same time he's a gentle man who cares for her tenderly. In fact, Abe is so sweet, I'm half-tempted to classify him as a beta hero, except that he is a cop after all.;-)
It takes a while for things to heat up between Abe and Kristen, but I had no problem with that. Sometimes slower is better, and this was one of those cases. Their attraction is immediate and palpable, yet their romance progresses at a languid though steady pace. Given Kristen's history this made perfect sense. In the meantime, Karen Rose is masterful at building that romance and sexual tension with mere looks and touches which is something I can deeply appreciate. There's so much meaning in their every interaction, and Ms. Rose doesn't waste a single opportunity to explore their budding relationship. It was very nicely woven into the fabric of the mystery, such that I was never anxious while waiting to get back to the romance. The love scenes, while not overly descriptive, were very sweet and sensual. Even though the story unfolds within a mere ten day period, it felt like Abe and Kristen had known each other half their lives, which made the speed at which their relationship blossomed much more believable.
The main villain in I'm Watching You is the vigilante serial killer. He's an interesting departure from the terrifyingly cold-blooded murderers of the previous two books I read. Not only was I scared to death of those villains, I hated, loathed and despised them. I recall that one was so evil I even wanted to jump into the story and off him myself. The vigilante in this book is entirely different in that he actually comes off as somewhat sympathetic. We know from the prologue what's driving him to take such extreme actions, and he only targets individuals who, in his mind, and often in reality, have done something wrong but never been justly punished. Therefore, he's set himself up as their judge, jury and executioner. While his actions unintentionally end up hurting innocents, including Kristen, he never actually sets out to do those who aren't culpable any harm, and when he realizes that his actions are having unintended consequences, he has the decency to feel guilty about it. While what he was doing was definitely wrong, I'm not the only one who kind of sympathized with him. Some of the victims and their families wanted to throw him a party for ridding the streets of such evil, and even Kristen and the cops had a hard time condemning his choice of victims to target. Perhaps to give readers someone to truly fear, the author set up secondary villains in the form of a mob boss and his lackey who start meting out their own brand of vigilante justice after the mobster's son is killed by the real vigilante. Then there was Zoe, the mean-spirited, self-serving newshound readers will love to hate, who got far more than she bargained for in the end.
I've been reading Karen Rose's books in the chronological order in which they were published so that I can get the full effect of her complex character web. While all the characters in I'm Watching You are brand new to the character palette, many of the ones in this book will appear again in future books. Abe and Kristen themselves will pop up as secondary characters in several other books that take place in the Chicago area. Abe's brother, Aidan, seems like almost as good of a guy as Abe. He'll be a supporting character in the next book, Nothing to Fear, before becoming the hero of the following book, You Can't Hide. Abe's partner, Mia, can't seem to find Mr. Right, but she'll get her chance as the heroine of Count to Ten after playing supporting roles in the next two books as well as the later book, I Can See You. I was slightly disappointed to find that Jack, the head of the CSI team, and Julia, the ME, don't have their own book. I kept thinking these two needed a romance of their own. I guess they kind of got together, but it was little more than a mention. The rest of the police force and Abe's gregarious, close-knit family round out a superb cast.
I honestly can't say enough good things about I'm Watching You and Karen Rose's books in general. I love how she delves deep into the psyche of her characters, both good and bad, and allows the reader to really feel like she knows them. Reading this book has reminded me of all the reasons why Karen Rose became one of my favorite authors so quickly. I'm really looking forward to continuing my foray into her work, so I'll try not to wait so long this time to get to the next story....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Zombies for Breakfast was a light, entertaining read that was part paranormal romance and part romantic suspense with a liberaReviewed for THC Reviews Zombies for Breakfast was a light, entertaining read that was part paranormal romance and part romantic suspense with a liberal splash of comedy thrown in for fun. It even has some slight chick lit leanings as well, so it should appeal to a fairly broad audience. It took me a little while to get into it. I think this is mainly because it is written in first-person perspective in the present tense. I believe this marks the first time I've ever read a book written in this style, so it took some getting used to. I still don't think it will become a favorite style of mine, but once I got to the know the characters a little more and got into the meat of the story, I enjoyed it. It was also the first time I had read a paranormal romance centering around zombies, so I thought the premise was very unique and interesting. Much like the glut of vampires, werewolves, demons and other creatures of the night who inhabit paranormal romance, the zombies here are not the inherently evil, flesh-eating creatures of legend. Although their eating habits are a bit strange at times, their craving for human flesh is more of the sexual variety. They also don't appear grotesque, with rotting flesh falling from their bones, until they've reached a certain age or unless they don't get their “beauty sleep.” Then they can start to literally fall apart. There are also some older and less well cared for zombies who develop troublesome medical conditions which can make them rather hideous, but it's mostly played for laughs rather than being gross or disturbing. The zombies were created through the use of a special embalming fluid used only by one funeral home. Once resurrected, they are still similar to humans with a few caveats. Although they have a long life-span, it isn't infinite like with most paranormal creatures. Overall, Zombies for Breakfast was an intriguing and different kind of paranormal romance.
Payson is a pharmacist who got into her field of work to help people. Her job isn't all she thought it would be though, and she's tired of essentially being nothing but a pill pusher. She has a strong interest in natural remedies and tries to recommend them to her customers whenever she can. Payson has a zombie roommate and is one of the few humans who know of their existence. Despite this, she leads a rather bland, boring life, just trying to pay the bills, but everything changes for her when the pharmacy gets robbed twice in one night while she's closing, her roommate gets tasked with babysitting a hot newborn zombie who is having trouble adjusting to life after death, and one of Payson's co-workers turns up dead in a basement storage room of her apartment building. Suddenly, Payson finds herself as the focus of a murder investigation that's sure to make her look guilty and the target of a zombie drug cartel run by the oldest known zombie. She instantly goes from dulls-ville to more excitement than she ever wanted, but Sean helps to make all the trouble and life-threatening situations worthwhile.
Sean is a good man... err... zombie, who was a member of the military before dying way too young. Now that he's been reanimated, he has a serious case of claustrophobia, which is a big problem since zombies need to regenerate in a small, dark place for at least eight hours a day. I liked Sean's kind nature and that he didn't hesitate to step up and protect Payson from the dangers lurking in the shadows. In his human life, Sean was a very caring man and that nature carried over to his zombie life too. My only small complaint about Sean is that I don't feel like I got to know him very well. There isn't a whole lot of depth to his character until toward the end when he begins to tell Payson a little more about his human life and remember how he died. However, I recognize that this is sometimes a weakness inherent in stories written in first-person narrative, and otherwise Sean was a very likable hero.
The murder mystery was an intriguing element which kept me guessing as to exactly what was going on, and I was surprised by how it turned out. Payson's roommate, Eileen, is a hoot, as are some of the human pharmacy patrons and a few of the nicer zombies. I enjoyed the Arizona setting, although I have to admit that it felt a little more like small-town Arizona than Phoenix, so I had to imagine it being more on the outskirts of the city. With a familiar setting, likable characters, an unusual premise, a little suspense and lots of light-hearted fun, Zombies for Breakfast was an entertaining read that definitely left a memorable impression.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews A Touch of Darkness is an intriguing story that crosses several literary sub-genres. I would say that first and foremost it isReviewed for THC Reviews A Touch of Darkness is an intriguing story that crosses several literary sub-genres. I would say that first and foremost it is a tale of supernatural mystery and suspense as Abbey, the heroine, uses her paranormal talents to try to find and stop a serial killer of children with otherworldly abilities of his own. I thought that Abbey's jaded cynical attitude gave the book a touch of tart noir as well. A decent romantic element develops when Abbey meets her hunky new neighbor, just enough so that I would also be comfortable classifying the story as romantic suspense. But no matter which category the reader prefers, I found it to be an enjoyable read overall.
Abbey is the first-person narrator of the story who frequently engages in snarky asides. She is a former cop who now works as a police consultant using her gift as a tactile clairvoyant (meaning every time she touches a person or object, she gets visions of other people's lives) to help them solve crimes. Abbey has had her gift since childhood, but didn't come into her full powers until a traumatic event in her life a few years before. At that point, the department sent her on a “vacation” to an institute in Mexico which specializes in helping psychic individuals deal with their gifts. Around that same time, she also lost her unborn baby and her marriage crumbled, two events that have had a profound impact on her life. Unable to bear touching or being touched by anyone, Abbey essentially lives the life of a hermit. When she's not working, she spends all her free time engaged in geeky pastimes, like gaming, surfing the web, watching movies, and consuming copious amounts of junk food.
Abbey's abilities are very interesting. She and the other gifted people she mentions or runs into have X-Men type qualities such as telekinesis, pyrokinesis, empaths, etc. For some reason, stories like this which explore the possibilities of the psychic realm have always fascinated me. In many ways, Abbey views her gift as more of a curse, because of how painful it is to touch another human being and the convolutions she has to go through to avoid that discomfort. Every time she leaves her house, she must wear multiple layers of clothing and gloves even in the summer, and her housekeeper must clean to a specific set of instructions that make Abbey seem OCD. Every time she helps the police on a case, it is traumatic for her, not only because touching dead bodies and objects at a crime scene can really throw her for an emotional loop, but also because she can't ever get though it without tossing her cookies too. It did make me wonder why she would keep torturing herself like that, but nothing ever came to light except a desire to catch the bad guys. That's certainly a valid reason, but I guess I was hoping for some deeper motivation, perhaps something in her past that drives her to get criminals off the streets.
Abbey's neighbor and love interest, Nikolas, is absolutely scrumptious. He has hot, dark good looks, can cook up a storm, and even owns his own restaurant. He also really knows how to treat a lady with gentleness and respect, all qualities which make him a keeper in my book. I love the way he pursues Abbey both in the beginning and later, when Abbey is trying to avoid him. I don't think any woman could resist the kind of overtures he was making. Nik is almost perfect in every way, which is why I was kind of disappointed in Abbey for thinking the worst of him when she discovers the secret he's harboring. How she could even imagine a sweet, wonderful guy like him capable of something so heinous I'm not sure. When he realizes what she's thinking, Nik is understandably hurt. I'm not certain I could have forgiven her quite so easily. Their reconciliation is very brief as well, so not entirely satisfying from a romantic angle. I'm hoping there will be more development to their relationship in the next book of the series.
A Touch of Darkness was a fast-paced story that held my interest quite well. While the storytelling was good, I thought that the technical aspects of the writing could have been a bit more polished. There are numerous typos and incorrect word choices, as well as some repetition that could have been pared down with better editing. Overall though, it was a good book that I could easily recommend to any reader who is interested in paranormal mystery/suspense or romantic suspense, and it has left me open to trying the next book in the Abigail St. Michael Mysteries series, A Touch of Madness.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Apparently this is the year that I finally move forward on a few romance series where I loved the first book of the series, buReviewed for THC Reviews Apparently this is the year that I finally move forward on a few romance series where I loved the first book of the series, but for whatever reason, ended up putting it on the back burner. ACRO is one of those series. I loved Riding the Storm, but was appalled to discover that it’s been four years since I read it. Now I’ve finally gotten around to reading Unleashing the Storm. I love the whole premise of this series, which I would term X-Men meets erotic romance, in which people with special abilities have banded together into the organization known as ACRO (Agency for Covert Rare Operatives) to fight their evil nemesis, Itor. It makes for some exciting and action-packed story-telling. Then there’s the additional premise of one or both characters’ abilities either increasing their libido or somehow using sex to keep their powers under control, which brings in the erotic element with lots of steamy, hot sex. So for the unique premise and the way in which the authors combine these themes into interesting stories they get some extra points. However, I will say that while I did enjoy Unleashing the Storm, I didn’t like it quite as well as Riding the Storm, and I’ll get to my reasons for that in a moment.
The heroine, Kira, is a new character to the series. After ACRO finds out about her and her ability to communicate with animals, they send an operative to either bring her in or kill her. Itor is also after her and has been for some time, and ACRO can’t risk her falling into the wrong hands. However, the reasons for why Itor wants her and why she’s so dangerous are murky until the very end. Even then it’s only cursorily explained, so I felt like that part could have been a little better. I did like Kira, though. She has the ability to communicate with animals psychically, and she also has some animal physiology. This causes her to go into a yearly heat cycle that’s basically a mating frenzy, lasting for an entire month, and if she doesn’t mate every four hours during that time, she’ll die. Why she would die isn’t explained very well either, but I’m willing to give the authors a pass on that one. Although it takes nearly halfway into the book, we do learn enough about Kira’s backstory to make her a sympathetic character. In spite of mating with numerous men during her spring fever, and being a seductive sex kitten, she has an air of innocence about her as well. When she’s not in the throes of spring fever, she feels like something of a slut, bearing some guilty feelings over all the men she’s used during that time of the year, but she simply couldn’t find a single man who could keep up with her sexual needs until meeting her Tommy. Additionally she had a traumatic experience during one of her heat cycles in which several men took cruel advantage of her. I wish this part of her backstory had been developed a little more. She’s also a strict vegan for whom touching meat is a painful experience. There was much to like about Kira, and IMHO, she’s a good and relatable heroine.
To Kira, our hero is known as Tom, but to his fellow ACRO agents, he’s known as Ender. He was introduced in the first book of the series, but because his nickname doesn’t appear in the cover blurb, I didn’t realize it was going to be him until I started reading. Tom’s abilities place him in the ACRO sub-group known as excedosapiens. Physiologically, they aren’t that much different from normal humans except that they have certain traits that exceed those of normal humans. In Tom’s case, he can see long distances and he can run like the wind. Tom is also an intense alpha who doesn’t really do love or relationships. He has a troubled past, of which we don’t learn the full extent until near the end of the book. I really wish the authors had let us in on some of that a bit earlier, because I think it might have helped me to understand him better. He’s such a closed off character throughout most of the story, it made it difficult for me to like him, much less fall for him. I did start to soften toward him near the end, when we not only learn more about his past, but he also does some things that show how much he’s come to care about Kira. However, he’s not a particularly romantic hero, IMHO. Readers who love uber-alpahs who keep their hearts locked up tight until the very end will probably like and appreciate Tom more than I did.
The main reason I knocked a star off my rating is for the romance and relationship building or lack thereof. I didn’t start feeling any connection between Kira and Tom until over halfway into the book. By then, they’ve had hot sex numerous times, but in my estimation, sex doesn’t necessarily equal romance. Their first umpteen times together, Kira is merely scratching her yearly itch, while Tom is just doing his job. He goes into it knowing that she’s going to need sex, but still prepared to kill her if she doesn’t cooperate even after they’ve mated. During those times, they never kiss or share any romantic interludes as part of the sex, which IMHO shows that it was indeed nothing more than merely sex for both of them. When Kira begins to share a little of her past, the connection starts to improve a bit, but Tom remains locked up tight until the very end. To the best of my recollection, they also still don’t kiss until they finally reach the ACRO headquarters, which doesn’t happen until over 2/3 of the way into the story. Then they suddenly and magically realize they’re in love, which didn’t work well for me. Some of the events during the last 100 pages or so helped to mitigate this deficiency and in the end, made me believe that they did belong together, but it took way too long to get there for my taste.
Much like with the first book of the series, Unleashing the Storm has some intriguing secondary characters. I like Annika and Creed and look forward to further development in their relationship, which seems like it’s going to be a side plot in the main stories. Interestingly, their emotions are rather swapped from what one would typically find in a romance, which is different for me. Don’t get me wrong, Creed is a hot alpha male, but he’s the one having deeper feelings for Annika and trying to pursue a real relationship with her that isn’t just about sex, while she’s the one whose emotions are buried deep and is more or less happy with their sex-only pairing. Creed must make a life-altering decision involving Annika, which I assume will play out in the next book. Dev, the head of ACRO, also discovers intriguing new information about his past, the ghost that’s been haunting him, and the identity of the mole inside ACRO. His old lover, Oz, who I’m pretty sure was introduced for the first time in this book, returns, and Dev must also make a weighty decision that affects the future of ACRO. Remy and Haley (Riding the Storm) show up at the end of the book to help Kira and Tom, and it was nice to see them again.
Overall, I enjoyed Unleashing the Storm. If only the main romantic pairing had expressed a deeper connection sooner, I could easily have seen this book becoming a keeper for me like the first book of the series is. I only had a couple of other more minor issues. The first was the need for a little more detail in certain scenes, particularly action scenes. I sometimes had trouble envisioning what was going on because the character might be in one position during one line and then in a completely different position in the next line with no explanation of how they got there except that it just happened. Also I occasionally had problems with the authors’ writing style in which they leave out things like prepositions and conjunctions that made the narrative a little choppy and lacking a smooth flow. But in general it wasn’t too bad and I mostly got used to it. As I mentioned earlier, I love the uniqueness of the series, so I look forward to continuing at some point, hopefully much sooner than it took me to get around to reading this book.:-)
Note: The love scenes in this book are very frequent, creative and ultra-spicy, but other than one very brief spanking scene, one scene involving the light use of a riding crop, and the implication that Tom has some interest in BDSM practices, there isn’t much else that I would describe as particularly kinky. There is also one scene of M/M sensuality that may offend some readers....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Angel Tears is an intriguing story of paranormal romance and suspense. It appears to be marketed toward a young adult audienceReviewed for THC Reviews Angel Tears is an intriguing story of paranormal romance and suspense. It appears to be marketed toward a young adult audience, and in my opinion would be completely suitable for teens. There is no profanity or sexual content and the violence isn't overly graphic. However, the protagonists are a bit older, ostensibly in their early to mid-twenties, so it could be versatile, perhaps falling into the new adult genre or simply “clean” romance for adults. Angel Tears is stated to be a work of fiction, but it is written as though the characters are real, and this is the hero's memoir. It certainly does come off feeling like it could be real. The author also does a great job with the suspense. When I got to the last couple of chapters, I couldn't stop reading. The romance is very sweet and lovely too. As a whole, reading this book was like having a movie playing out in my mind. The story admittedly leaves a lot of unanswered questions in the end, but perhaps that's the beauty of it. The loose threads can be taken up by the reader's imagination, so that each individual can fill in the blanks for themselves. In any case, Angel Tears was an undeniably enjoyable read.
I loved the relationship between Ezra and Ana. They are essentially from opposite sides of the track. She is a doctor, specifically an obstetrician specializing in difficult pregnancies, while he is a homeless drifter, working at day labor and living in a shelter or on the street. Despite their obvious differences, Ezra and Ana immediately connect from the moment they first meet, forming an almost instant bond of friendship, when he lands in the hospital where she works after an accident. Their first kiss is imbued with incredible chemistry too. It's like they were simply made for one other and are meant to be together. Both characters can be a little emotionally intense at times, as they have a tendency to take offense easily. It's in these moments that I was reminded of the classic teen angst to which I think young adult readers could relate. Given Ezra's background, his moments of emotional volatility are completely understandable. Ana, on the other hand, is more of a mystery. We don't really know much about her, such as where she comes from or whether she has a family and so forth, just that she's something of a drifter herself, never staying in one place or one job for too long. Normally, this lack of information on the characters would be a detractor for me, but for some reason, it didn't really bother me so much here. Maybe it's because it simply added to the mysteriousness of the story. Suffice it to say that despite there being a lot of holes in their backgrounds, I felt very connected to both Ezra and Ana, and was very engaged by their tale.
The technical aspects of the writing could have been a little better. Some of the descriptive details and connecting transitions are a bit rough around the edges, making the narrative a tad confusing at times. There were also lots of mistakes: typos, missing/incorrect words and such, which could be rather distracting. However, in spite of these small weaknesses, I was captivated by Ezra and Ana's story. It was by turns sweetly romantic and edge-of-your-seat suspenseful, while overall, being intriguing and engaging. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would, and would recommend Angel Tears to fans of young adult suspense, featuring star-crossed lovers and a supernatural twist.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author's publicist in exchange for an honest review....more