Monday, June 29, 2015

Review: Where Evil Waits by Kate Brady

Title: Where Evil Waits
Series: Mann Family
Author: Kate Brady
Read copy: eBook
Published: February 25, 2014
Publisher: Forever
ISBN: 1455576344
ISBN-13: 9781455576340

Special Prosecutor Kara Chandler made a name for herself putting violent criminals behind bars. But now, she'll face one of the world's most dangerous assassins...and put her life in his hands.
A killer is hunting Kara Chandler and her son, and systematically taking out anyone she turns to for help. Her only hope for escape is Luke Varon, a hitman for a powerful drug cartel. She's met Luke several times in the courtroom but he's always beaten the system. She's counting on him to do the same now, as he helps Kara fake her death and catch a killer.

But Luke isn't who Kara thinks he is. He's actually a secret agent under deep cover. The last thing he needs is a beautiful distraction like Kara Chandler. But the fear in her eyes is too real to ignore.

Luke assumes the assassin is somehow linked to Kara's late husband, a man who had a hand in several shady business deals. But soon they learn his connection to Kara is even more chilling. This killer has been waiting years for his chance to possess Kara, and now Luke will have only days to stop him.

My rating:

Kara Chandler is at her wits' end. Someone is sending her gifts, taunting her with messages of what she's supposedly done...But when the creep kills the policeman she's turned to for help and threatens her son, Kara knows she needs to take drastic measures. Enter Luke Varon, a hitman for a drug cartel, Kara had unsuccessfully prosecuted for murder. He has the resources to make her and her son disappear...But he's not who he appears to be.

This wasn't as strong as its predecessor which was a bit disappointing, since I've loved Luke, Nick's (hero from the previous book) brother, from the moment he appeared on the scene. Pity, he wasn't as "alive" and "real" in his own book. I just didn't connect with him—no matter what persona he chose to portray. He didn't seem believable as a hitman (maybe because I knew he wasn't really one), and he seemed even less so as the good guy. I guess he was somewhere in between, in that gray area that could've worked wonderfully, but was somewhat unexplored. He wasn't ambiguous, rather he was just bland.

The heroine unfortunately didn't work any better for me. She was rather trusting, and ready to hire a criminal and murdered and then more than willing to follow his every lead, for a prosecutor, no matter how dire her circumstances were. And then, despite what she knew about the guy, she ended up hoping he was actually a good guy. Her hunch proved right, but still. The whole thing needed quite a lot of belief to be suspended.
And in the end, Luke didn't even have to explain much about anything. She just believed him. What if he was lying? What if he was leading her on a merry chase?

I guess what was really "off-putting" with this story was that it was the complete opposite of the first book in the series. While everything the characters in the first book did, whatever they said, however they acted and reasoned, it was believable, realistic. It was something anyone of us could or would do in such circumstances. (Almost) everything the characters did in this one, whatever they said, however they acted and reasoned, was anything but believable and realistic.

Even the villain was a bit over the top. Okay, I got the need for revenge, but the entire plot of how he got to there, the guest list, the reenactment...If was a tad too far-fetched for me. I love a decently twisted villain, but this one had a twist or two too many for my taste. And I never glimpsed any explanation of his skills (or maybe I just wasn't paying attention).

The only saving grace was the secondary aspects, I guess. The investigation into Kara's "stalker" and the progression of the investigation. Yes, the procedural part of the story is what worked very well for me, the rest not so much.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Review: Where Angels Rest by Kate Brady

Title: Where Angels Rest
Series: Mann Family
Author: Kate Brady
Read copy: eBook
Published: November 20, 2012
Publisher: Forever
ISBN: 145551778X
ISBN-13: 9781455517787


For the past decade, psychologist Erin Sims has been helping victims of violent crimes move on with life...but the one person she can't save is the one who matters most. In only seven days, her brother will be executed for a murder he didn't commit. Convinced she knows the identity of the real killer, Erin is determined to find the man and bring him to justice.


Sheriff Nick Mann moved to rural Ohio hoping to forget the tragedies of his past. When Erin shows up in town, bringing scandal and unwanted media attention with her, Nick knows she's trouble. No one believes sleepy Hopewell could harbor a serial killer...until residents begin to disappear. Now as Nick untangles the dark secrets plaguing his town, he can't help falling for the beautiful woman with the warm heart and iron will. And, as the days tick by, the truth becomes clear: Erin is hunting a vicious murderer—one whose only escape is to silence her forever.

My rating:

For the past twelve years, dr. Erin Sims has tried (in vein) to get someone, anyone, to reexamine her brother’s case. Justin didn’t kill anyone, yet he was sitting on Death Row, waiting for execution. Now, Erin has finally found the real murderer, hiding in plain sight, running a B&B in a small town in Ohio under another name. Unfortunately, that only gets her brother a stay of a week...For the sheriff to determine the man’s true identity.

But Erin has no intention of sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the bumbling sheriff to do his work. Her brother doesn’t have a lifetime to wait. So she boards the plane and heads to Ohio, determined to do what she does best—destroy the murderer’s reputation. Which isn’t hard in a small town. One word and rumors fly.

But Erin has obviously stirred a hornet’s nest, since someone is determined to either run her out of town, deter her just enough to waste time or get rid of her. Permanently. Lucky for her, the sheriff isn’t bumbling at all. Nick Mann knows what he’s doing, and although he’s at first adamant that nothing bad happens in his town, not on his watch, he quickly discovers just how wrong he was. Nothing is as it seems, especially not an out-of-towner determined to prove her brother’s innocence. And small towns can be as bad as big cities. Sometimes even worse.

God, how I loved this story. Just loved it.

I especially loved Erin Sims, the heroine. She was dogged, she had gumption, she was a stubborn, unstoppable force, willing and able to do just about anything to get her brother exonerated. Yet, underneath that core of steel, there was fear and terror, keeping her sharp, keeping her on the edge, keeping her treading forward no matter what.
She was strong, yet vulnerable, stubborn, yet pliant, with a soft heart, and a core of steel. She was far from perfect, she had her flaws, and that’s what made her realistic. She wasn’t a Mary Sue and she wasn’t a damsel in distress, and that made her come through as a “person”. Someone who could be a neighbor or friend, or just someone passing us on the street.

Nick Mann was just the same. A fictitious character, but “real”. Like someone we could know in real life. Stubborn, tough, rough-around-the-edges, but with a protective streak a mile wide, and once you got into the close circle of his, once he determined someone needed protecting, he’d do it no matter the cost.
I loved how he was the only one (at first) who saw the true Erin Sims. He saw through the mask of bravado to the core beneath, a core enveloped by fear. Yet that glimpse didn’t diminish his respect for her, it enforced it, morphed it into something more. Something stronger. And lasting.
Their first meeting was strange. She was bruised and tired, he was half-drunk and pissed off, yet they somehow kicked it off. And though he didn’t want to believe her at first, he soon realized she was probably the only one telling the truth. So he forgo the memos and reports, and followed his gut, earning her respect in return. And her trust, which, for just reasons, didn’t come easy.

I loved these two to bits, I couldn’t help it. Everything about them seemed “real”. From their personalities, their interactions with each other and everybody else, their relationship, how it progressed from animosity through admiration and gradual earning of trust and respect, to attraction and romance. But the latter, which is a requisite in a romantic suspense, didn’t seem forced or rushed (despite the short amount of time they knew each other). It progressed gradually, at just the right tempo and pace to keep it believable.
Because the reader was there every step of the way, alongside them, the reader was shown (and not told, bravo!) about the two, the reader was shown one through the eyes of the other. That’s what made us understand these two, made us understand what they saw when they looked at the other one, why they felt the way they felt. We were there. We saw it happen.

For me, the characters and their characterization is what’s important in a story. The plot has to be character-driven. I need to empathize, I need to feel something for the characters, about the characters (be it good or bad) to enjoy the story. And since I absolutely adored Erin and Nick, I adored the story.
It didn’t only have these two amazing lead characters, the supporting cast was also wonderfully painted (I loved Nick’s brother, Luke), there was the small town where bad people lived behind masks of civility and did bad things yet everybody refused to believe it could be, there was the wicked, wicked villain (whose identity I actually nailed on the spot, yet wasn’t sure until the end, bravo again Ms Brady), the mystery and suspense was masterfully woven into the story.
And although toward the end the whole thing slowed down quite a lot (a few pages could’ve been shaved off, if you ask me), the overall pacing was absolutely perfect, keeping the story progressing steadily.

If I have a minor problem with this story is the fact I didn’t quite get the villain’s motive. Maybe it got lost in the breakneck action in the end, but I just don’t get it. How and why did the murdered chose its victims? What did they see, hear or know that they had to become angels? No idea. But then the Angelmaker was bonkers. No other explanation needed.

Oh well, despite that minor hiccup...I LOVED THIS STORY! Shouting-from-the-rooftops LOVED it.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Review: Sinful Surrender by Elisabeth Naughton

Title: Sinful Surrender
Series: Aegis Security
Author: Elisabeth Naughton
Read copy: eBook (Kindle)
Published: April 19, 2014
Publisher: Elisabeth Naughton Publishing LLC

One night of sin...
He’s been watching her—from the slopes, in the restaurant—and now he’s here, in the dimly lit bar of the swanky Vail resort, pretending not to notice her from across the crowded room. Songwriter Grace Ryder has never liked the spotlight, but her skin tingles whenever his mysteriously sexy gaze drifts her way. His muscular body may be built for danger, but those tempting lips scream sweet relief. Only one night will prove whether he’s safety or sin.

...will lead to a dangerous game of surrender.
Aegis operative Brian Walker’s orders are clear: observe, but don’t touch. Grace Ryder is off limits in every way possible. Things change, though, the moment the leggy brunette makes him an offer he can’t refuse. Desire leads to seduction and one night of surrender that will test both Brian’s personal and professional limits. And though his dark cravings win out, the cost could be more than he’s ready to accept. Because lurking in the shadows, a stalker’s waiting for the moment to strike, and if Brian’s not careful, his obsession for a woman he never should have touched could get them both killed.

My rating:

His boss' sister is being stalked, so Brian Walker, being the closest to her vacation spot, is assigned to keep an eye on her. Unfortunately, Grace's friend convinces her to jump the sexy stranger's bones, and Brian soon finds it really hard to keep his hands off her.

The premise with the stalker was good, but everything else wasn't. The stalker was too predictable, Brian's pretense screamed trouble later in the story, both leads were one-dimensional, and the plot, beside the stalker (and that was minor), was nonexistent.

And since there was no plot, the "story" had to be filled with something to fill the pages. Why not make it sex. And since it was just filler, the sex read like PWP, there was no chemistry, no heat, nothing...The characters just went through with the moves.
This story had absolutely no "soul".

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Review: First Exposure by Elisabeth Naughton

Title: First Exposure
Series: Aegis Security
Author: Elisabeth Naughton
Read copy: eBook (Kindle)
Published: September 29, 2013
Publisher: Elisabeth Naughton Publishing LLC

A film that could make her career...

America’s sweetheart, Avery Scott, is up for the biggest role of her life, one with Oscar potential. When her girl-next-door fame prevents Avery from doing the in-depth research for the sensual role herself, her assistant insists on traveling to an exclusive couples resort to handle the job. But when her friend goes missing, Avery’s focus shifts from landing the role of a lifetime to finding out what happened on the sultry Caribbean island.

A weekend that will change her life

Avery contacts Aegis Securities and hires one of their elite operatives to accompany her to the resort. She just doesn't expect to get former undercover FBI agent Cade Blackwell—the man who ripped out her teenage heart twelve years before. Avery’s a good actress. With a little work and a convincing disguise, she’s confident she can fool the staff at the resort. The question is...can she fool Cade? Because one weekend at the sexiest resort in the world with the only man she’s ever loved will expose her to more than just a kinky new lifestyle. It’ll expose her to numerous wicked firsts that will test every ounce of her self-control. And if she’s not careful, she could lose her heart—and her life—in the process.

My rating:

Avery Scott's assistant went on a research trip to an exotic swinger's resort in the Caribbean...and promptly disappeared. After three weeks, Avery is ready to find out what happened to Melody and go look for her, but she needs a cover. She needs the second half of a couple. And who better to ask than a top-notch security firm with excellent references.

But her plan doesn't seem to be working that well, since she's paired with Mr. Dark and Dangerous, a man eerily similar to the love of her life...Who turns out to be the love of her life, the man who's broken her heart twelve years ago. Now, she has two choices while looking for her assistant. Either keep Cade at a safe distance and protect what's left of her heart, or finally get getting Cade (in the sack).

I got the third book in the series as a freebie from Netgalley, so I had to read the rest of the series first (I'm just made that way).

It started great. A young actress determined to find out what happened to her assistant/friend, but knowing she's out of her depths, so she hires a security agency to help her out, only to end up paired with the man she's been pining after for almost half her life.
And this is where her issues started. And boy, did she have issues. I had no idea if it was self-esteem, self-preservation, naiveté, innocence, stubbornness...or everything meshed into one, the girl was all over the place. The guy luckily didn't have as many issues, for a former rebel, he was the saner of the two, but for a highly-skilled operative (former military and FBI, current security expert), he didn't seem to be able to use his upper head. Which is great when you're alone with the one you love and there's nothing keeping you back or nothing else keeping you occupied, but seemed a bit out of place during a mission that involved missing people and potential drug-trafficking.

Also, thinking with his lower head prevented him from seeing evidence of Avery having had her drink spiked (hello, the morning after amnesia clearly spelled roofie, but maybe that was just me). And don't get me started on a couple of TSTL moments on the heroine's part. Okay, I understand you're not skilled in subterfuge, but you don't rush away in a snit (no matter what the discussion was about or what memories it has provoked) alone, into the same bar where you've drunk the night before (and blanked out later, and lost all memories of the night), heading straight for a drink, and spilling the beans on the phone for everybody around you to hear. WTF?!

Yes, it started great, but quickly lost the pace (it really dragged in some places), the hero and heroine had some very stupid moments, the suspense didn't deliver, and everything was resolved too quickly (it worked for the issues between the h/H, but the suspense part needed some extra pages).

I'm looking forward to the full-length books.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Review: Beauty or Brains? by Barbara Cartland

Title: Beauty or Brains?
Author: Barbara Cartland

Read copy: eBook
Published: January 11, 2013
Publisher: M-y Books
ISBN: 1782130551
ISBN-13: 9781782130550

When the Marquis of Sherwood declines her invitation to a Society occasion with the scathing comment that he has no wish to spend his time with débutantes, whom he believes are "half-witted, gauche, stupid and not well-educated", Lady Katherine Wick is incensed. Even more so when she discovers that he apparently prefers the company of the Gaiety Girls, the femmes fatals of the theatrical set.

So she resolves to teach him a lesson by enlisting dear friend Lavina Vernon and her most beautiful, talented and witty friends to pose as Gaiety Girls at an unchaperoned party at the Marquis' country mansion—there to prove that Society girls are intelligent as well as glamorous. Kind, demure country parson's daughter Lavina is uncomfortable with this deceit—all the more so as she comes to realize that her heart belongs utterly to the Marquis. The question, once the pretense has been exposed, is whether he will treasure it...Or break it.

My rating:

The Marquis of Sherwood had the gall to "mock" the debutantes, now they want their "revenge". He called them stupid and gauche, and prefers to keep company with theater people? They'll show the dastardly person!

Only they're one short, so Katherine, their leader, decides to ask her cousin, and a neighbor on her father's country estate, to help make their group an even number. It helps Lavina is pretty, innocent, guileless, loves to read, knows all there is to know about architecture, and wants to visit Tibet and India.

Somehow that's the perfect combination to enchant the Marquis.

Sometimes I surprise myself. I really do. I read this one (a translation) many, many years ago (where I live, a Barbara Cartland story is released every month like clockwork), and I rather liked it, despite the template-y plot, and rehashed characters. In most stories, it seems Ms Cartland simply changed the setting, names, and the title of the hero, everything else reads pretty much the same.
But, I've obviously forgotten how humorous (not in a good way) reading a BC story can be, so I decided to try it in its original language.

I must say, it was even worse.

The hero was pretty much the only saving grace this story had. Yes, he was an asshole, but he had a plausible reason to be one. Everything else was just downright stupid. The heroine was a mess. I guess reading historicals by more "modern" authors has spoiled me for everything else, and I missed a more "developed" female lead. Lavina was just bleh. And the contrast between her academic mind and her inexperience with everything else in life was glaring. And bothersome.
Don't get me started on the plot. You take away the idiotic premise of eight young girls attending an unchaperoned party at a bachelor's house (with many bachelors in attending), pretending to be experienced theater girls, and you don't have a plot. And I'd rather not contemplate what could've gone wrong if the plan backfired or if the bachelors at the party weren't gentlemen.

I missed some intrigue, a murder or two...Anything to keep it lively. Instead, all I got was blabbing by the heroine, puzzling by the hero, racing horses, a stolen Emerald Buddha, and lots of yammering about India and Tibet. The latter was probably only thrown into the mix to increase the word-count and give the hero and heroine something to talk about, since they didn't have a lot (read: nothing) in common.

Still, it was a quick (brainless) read with the added bonus of loud laughter in the end with the hero's kisses carrying the heroine "into a special Heaven" and the "stars in her heart becoming little flames".


Monday, June 1, 2015

Review: Three Fates by Nora Roberts

Title: Three Fates
Author: Nora Roberts

Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: April 1, 2003
Publisher: Piatkus Books
ISBN: 0749933550
ISBN-13: 9780749933555

MALACHI, GIDEON, AND REBECCA SULLIVAN are determined to recover a precious family heirloom, one of a priceless, long-separated set of three Fates that their great-great-grandfather liberated from the Lusitania.

The quest will take them from their home in Ireland to Helsinki, Prague, and New York—and introduce them to a formidable female professor; to a daring exotic dancer who sees the Fates as her chance at a new life; and to a seductive security expert who knows how to play high-tech cat-and-mouse. And it will pit them in a suspenseful fight against an ambitious woman who will stop at nothing to acquire the Fates...

My rating:

The three fates of Greek mythology, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. United, they hold the fate of the human life in their hands—one spins the thread of life, the other measures it, the third cuts it.

Yet their statues have been separated for ages. One was stolen, only to be saved by being lost forever at the bottom of the ocean, and two were passed on through generation. Yet the thread continues to spin, waiting to be measured, and cut. Waiting for the three Fates to reunite once again.

It will take three couples, three siblings, and their fated ones, to bring the Fates back together. Their threads have been spun, and connected, and nothing and no one can stand in their way.

I started to read this book a few years back, but after finishing chapter two, I put it back on my shelf. I have no idea why, maybe I wasn't in the right mood. Or maybe it was my first NR book and I haven't gotten used to her yet. ;)

Anyway, I picked this story up once again, and I couldn't put it down until I was finished. It reads like one of NR's trilogies, just condensed into one story. Which is both a pity (because I love her trilogies), and a blessing (because some of the main characters were rather annoying). I usually like NR heroines, but the three in this one were just a bit too much for me to handle, the shy, phobic hypochondriac, and the "reckless" Irish gal were okay, I guess, but I just can't get over the idiotic exotic dancer that has pretty much put everybody in danger, because she foolishly thought she could handle it. Yeah, right. The guys should've been made saints, especially the younger Sullivan brother.

Once I got past the heroines, it took some time and work to do that, everything else was spot on. The suspense, the romance, the pacing, the plot, the final resolution...It was great, tight, gripping, and intense. As a NR story should be.