Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Review: Blowback by Emmy Curtis

Title: Blowback
Series: Alpha Ops
Author: Emmy Curtis
Read copy: eBook (Kindle)
Published: November 3, 2015
Publisher: Forever Yours

One year ago, David Church kissed a beautiful, brilliant woman on an airfield in Iraq—and hasn't stopped thinking about her ever since. Now, the military veteran gets a chance to rekindle that fire when he sees his lost love again—looking sexier than ever—at an international conference in Athens. David yearns to take her in his arms, to hold her close and never let go. But when the bullets begin to fly, it's not just his heart on the line. It's his life.

When Molly Solent agreed to deliver intelligence for the U.S. government, she didn't realize she'd be caught in the crossfire of a surprise ambush—and underneath the hard-muscled body of David Church. Shielding her from harm and swearing to protect her, the elite bodyguard reignites a searing passion that Molly can't resist. But with unforeseen danger around every corner—and unquenchable desire in every embrace—falling in love could be the greatest risk of all...

My rating:

Yet another disappointment in this series that hasn't had a "hit" since the first novella.

Bland characters thinking with their reproductive organs instead of using their brains, a very flimsy excuse for a romance, mediocre suspense...The whole "story" was just one long sex scene (with changing setting) with a few action scenes and a little (bland) mystery thrown in.

Hole-y plot, slow pacing, uninteresting characters...A poor excuse of a story.

Review: Force of Nature by Suzanne Brockmann

Title: Force of Nature
Series: Troubleshooters
Author: Suzanne Brockmann
Read copy: eBook
Published: August 14, 2007
Publisher: Ballantine Books
ISBN: 0345500466
ISBN-13: 9780345500465

Florida private investigator and ex-cop Ric Alvarado’s life is spiraling out of control. His beautiful new girl Friday, Annie Dugan, is far more interested in fieldwork than filing, and despite Ric’s best efforts to ignore the attraction, sparks are flying between them. Then one of Ric’s clients turns femme fatale and tries to gun down an innocent man. Thanks to quick thinking and even quicker reflexes, Ric comes to the rescue, only to learn he’s done a very good deed for some very bad people.

Suddenly Ric finds himself deep undercover with Annie, working for notorious crime boss Gordon Burns. One mistake from Ric’s painfully inexperienced partner and they’re both dead.

FBI agent Jules Cassidy’s life isn’t in much better shape. For years the FBI has been trying to prove Gordon Burns’s ties to terrorist activity. Now, thanks to Ric and Annie, Jules has found a way into the lion’s den. But in the course of his investigation he comes face-to-face with Robin Chadwick, the charismatic but self-destructive and closeted movie star for whom Jules feels a powerful attraction. Robin’s in town promoting his latest film—and Gordon Burns is a star-struck movie buff.

With Robin and Jules’s help, Ric and Annie are soon entrenched in Burns’s organization, surrounded by killers who may already have executed an FBI infiltrator. Before long the couple realizes that many more lives besides their own will be at stake if they make a false move. As the heat between them reaches dangerous levels, so do the risks they’re willing to take—in the line of duty, for the sake of loyalty, and in the name of something that runs even deeper.

My rating:

Ex-cop turned PI, Ric Alvarado is hired for a simple job, find a girl so the client can give her a memento from her dead daughter. But as soon as Ric, and his unwanted partner, Annie Dugan, find the girl, bullets start flying, and suddenly Ric and Annie are very cozy with a crime boss. A crime boss that apparently has ties with terrorists, so the FBI, namely Jules Cassidy, recruits Ric and Annie for some undercover work...And then Robin Chadwick appears.

This would've gotten a five-star rating if it weren't for the Annie/Ric distraction, and the suspense was a bit more developed. For a romantic suspense series, this one has rather mellow suspense/mystery plots, oftentimes serving as backdrop to the romance drama so things don't get too angst-y and/or boring.

Anyway, Annie/Ric did absolutely nothing for me, except wanting them to not exist. They bickered constantly, and while some might consider that simple UST, to me it was just too annoying to care about their story, their characters, and what actually happened to them...But since their story was intertwined with the romance/love-saga that is Jules and Robin, I had to endure, because I just love Jules (and Robin), even though I still don't thing the movie star deserves our sweetie.
So if it were just these two, a five-star rating would've been a guarantee, since they're up there along Sam and Alyssa (minus the overdone initial toxicity, angst and drama of that particular pairing). It's a love story, written in the "era" before mainstream M/M romances, but that's not why I love these two. I love them, because their story is relatable (be it straight, gay, a or bi we all had someone like Robin, a self-destructive, repressed, scared, hiding something from someone, person in our lives, knowing he/she's not good for us, yet unable to quit them), sad, dramatic, angst-y, and yes, happy. It teaches us self-acceptance, the power of love and friendship, and never to quit...And the HEA, that continues in the next installment in this series, is just the right amount of bittersweet to not end up cheesy and unrealistic. Life and love is a struggle, and requires constant work and dedication.

And this love story also brought back a few of old friends which is always a plus. How sweet for Sam to sign his emails to Jules with SpongeBob. ;)

As said before, the suspense could've been better, its plot tighter, and somehow more prominent in the story where romantic drama reigned. And yes, Annie/Ric could've been toned down (a lot).

5 stars for Jules/Robin and everything these two brought with them (drama and heart-break included)
2 stars for Ric/Annie, and the mediocre (the finale excluded) suspense

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Review: Into the Storm by Suzanne Brockmann

Title: Into the Storm
Series: Troubleshooters
Author: Suzanne Brockmann
Read copy: eBook
Published: August 15, 2006
Publisher: Ballantine Books
ISBN: 0345495284
ISBN-13: 9780345495280

In a remote, frozen corner of New Hampshire, a Navy SEAL team and the elite security experts of Troubleshooters, Incorporated are going head-to-head as fierce but friendly rivals in a raid-and-rescue training exercise. Despite the frigid winter temperatures, tension smolders between veteran SEAL Petty Officer Mark “Jenk” Jenkins and former cop turned Troubleshooter Lindsey Fontaine after an impulsive night goes awry. And then, suddenly, Tracy Shapiro, the Troubleshooters’ new receptionist, vanishes while playing the role of hostage during a mock rescue operation.

Teaming up with the FBI to launch a manhunt in the treacherous wilderness, Jenk and Lindsey must put aside their feelings as a record snowstorm approaches, dramatically reducing any hope of finding Tracy alive. The trail is colder than the biting New England climate until a lucky break leads to a horrifying discovery—a brutally murdered young woman wearing the jacket Tracy wore when she disappeared. Suddenly there is a chilling certainty that Tracy has fallen prey to a serial killer—one who knows the backwoods terrain and who doesn’t play by the rules of engagement.

In a race against time, a raging blizzard, and a cunning opponent, Jenk and Lindsey are put to the ultimate test. Rising everything, they must finally come together in a desperate attempt to save Tracy—and each other.

My rating:

The first time the SEALs and the Troubleshooters tried this exercise, Lindsey played the part of the hostage, and succeeded in evading everybody...But Mark "Jenk" Jenkins, whose bed she ended in that night, only to leave it quickly, when Jenk's "ideal wife" called.

Now, Tracy Shapiro, the TS rather incompetent, air-headed receptionist, who is not longer in contention for Jenk's heart, must do the hostage honors, only to disappear as well as Lindsay did. Only Tracy has no training and no skills to survive the upcoming snowstorm...And she just might be the mutilated body they fished out of a frozen pond.

This one started well. Very well, with me immediately taking to both protagonists, Lindsey and Mark. They were funny, they were snarky, there were cute, but he was also the biggest idiot known to man for pining after a woman who barely knew he existed. And then, to add insult to injury, just when he realized he was being an idiot for pining after an imaginary woman, Lindsey turns into an idiot of an emotional-cripple variety.
I could've bought the romance if the idiotic parts of their characters didn't come out to play, but once they did, I just couldn't put my rose-colored glasses on any more, and in the end they felt to me more like friends-with-benefits than two people in love.

A question arose, is it really so much to ask for a "romance" story in this series without conflict? I know it creates tension, angst, and "suspense", but wouldn't it be fun and a breath of fresh air to put two characters together who then go: okay, we like each other, the sex is good, let's see how this goes. No pressure, no issues, no baggage, no idiotism. I'm not asking for too much, am I?

Instead, we usually get interesting characters with solid, sizzling chemistry destroyed because of whatever-the-hell issue or emotional baggage they happen to have hidden somewhere in their subconscious and/or past.
And this doesn't happen only to the main protagonists. This particular book was filled with such dare-I-call-them tropes.
At some point in the story everybody (and their uncle) acted like teenagers. Jenk/Lindsey, Izzy/Tracy, Sophia/everybody-who-happened-to-be-in-her-vicinity. Is it only me, or is the supposed love-story between Sophia and Decker dragging on too long? It has now turned into a love-triangle that has, in the end, gone and turned itself into a square. And I thought Alyssa/Sam saga was long, but at least those two had chemistry, while Sophia and Decker only have constipation, it seems.

The saving grace of this story could've been the serial killer angle, but thanks to all the teenage romantic drama going on, it was pushed into the sidelines, and the conclusion was too swift and rather easy. The villain reminded me a lot of a Karen Rose baddie, but unlike a KR villain who always has second billing, this one was a very secondary character, his motive remained a mystery, the "investigation" was lacking, and even the rescue sequence was loaded with teenage angst, and multiple scene jumps between different characters and their dramas, ruining the effect and the suspense.

So, instead of using its potential, this story, as most in this series remained safely in the middle ground, never even attempting to reach higher.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Review: Breaking Point by Suzanne Brockmann

Title: Breaking Point
Series: Troubleshooters
Author: Suzanne Brockmann
Read copy: eBook
Published: July 12, 2005
Publisher: Ballantine Books
ISBN: 0345484746
ISBN-13: 9780345484741

As commander of the nation’s most elite FBI counterterrorism unit, agent Max Bhagat leads by hard-driving example: pushing himself to the limit and beyond, taking no excuses, and putting absolutely nothing ahead of his work. That includes his deep feelings for Gina Vitagliano, the woman who won his admiration and his heart with her courage under fire. But when the shocking news reaches him that Gina has been killed in a terrorist bombing, nothing can keep Max from making a full investigation—and retribution—his top priority.

At the scene of the attack, however, Max gets an even bigger shock. Gina is still very much alive—but facing a fate even worse than death. Along with Molly Anderson, a fellow overseas relief worker, Gina has fallen into the hands of a killer who is bent on using both women to bait a deadly trap. His quarry? Grady Morant, a.k.a “Jones,” a notorious ex-Special Forces operative turned smuggler who made some very deadly enemies in the jungles of Southeast Asia...and has been running ever since. But with Molly’s life on the line, Jones is willing to forfeit his own to save the woman he loves.

Together with Max’s top agent Jules Cassidy as their only backup, the unlikely allies plunge into a global hot zone of violence and corruption to make a deal with the devil. Not even Jones knows which ghosts from his past want him dead. But there’s one thing he’s sure of–there’s very little his bloodthirsty enemies aren’t willing to do.

My rating:

Gina Vitagliano is dead and Max Bhagat is full of regrets...But as he flies to Germany to recover the body of the only woman he's ever truly loved and bring her home, it's not Gina underneath the sheet in the morgue. The real Gina's been kidnapped, alongside one of her friends, to lure Grady Morant a.k.a. Jones to Indonesia.

Retribution for her death forgotten, the job that was his life forgotten, regrets forgotten, Max only has one goal—get to Gina and hope he's not too late.

What a disappointment this conclusion in the Gina/Max love story was. I was hoping for more. I was expecting more, and instead got a flashback filled first half of the book (flashbacks that detailed almost the minutiae of Max and Gina's failed relationship a year and a half ago, which was pointless, because we all knew that the asshole that Max turned into had pushed her away—no news there). And once the flashbacks were over, and Max and Gina were finally reunited, what does the girl (not woman, because if she was a woman she'd make him grovel, I know I would) do? She readily forgives him because he thought she was dead and he had tears in his eyes when he told her.
Sheesh! Talk about a doormat. The man treated her like crap, used her for sex, shut her out of his life and his emotions (although she did give up too easily, if you ask me), and she just forgives him because she loves him.

Yes, forgiveness was a given in this case (I wanted her to forgive him), but she gave in too easily in my opinion, swayed by his charm, his telling her what he truly felt for her, and those pesky tears.
The space given to the flashbacks could've been spent telling the story in the present, to solve the conflict more satisfyingly (with Max groveling), and make the suspense a little more gripping. As it was, the whole kidnapping plot was solved too easily, and the stand-off looked to be a piece of cake as well.

I didn't really care about the secondary romance, except for the fact it served to bring Max and Gina together and solve their (pointless) conflict...And Jules, as always, saved the day.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Review: Hot Target by Suzanne Brockmann

Title: Hot Target
Series: Troubleshooters
Author: Suzanne Brockmann
Read copy: eBook
Published: December 28, 2004
Publisher: Ballantine Books
ISBN: 0345480775
ISBN-13: 9780345480774

Like most men of action, Navy SEAL Chief Cosmo Richter never learned how to take a vacation. So when he finds himself facing a month’s leave, he offers his services to Troubleshooters Incorporated. Founded by a former SEAL, the private-sector security firm is a major player in the ongoing war against terrorism, known for carrying out covert missions too volatile for official U.S. military action. But the first case Richter takes on is anything but under the radar.

High-profile maverick movie producer Jane Mercedes Chadwick hasn’t quite completed her newest film, but she’s already courting controversy. The World War II epic frankly portrays the homosexuality of a real-life hero—and the storm of advance media buzz surrounding it has drawn the fury of extremist groups. But despite a relentless campaign of angry E-mails, phone calls, and smear tactics, Chadwick won’t be pressured into abandoning the project. Then the harassment turns to death threats.

While the FBI appears on the scene, nervous Hollywood associates call in Troubleshooters, and now Chadwick has an army of round-the-clock bodyguards, whether she likes it or not. And she definitely doesn’t. But her stubbornness doesn’t make FBI agent Jules Cassidy’s job any easier. The fiercely independent filmmaker presents yet another emotional obstacle that Cassidy doesn’t need—he’s already in the midst of a personal tug-of-war with his ex-lover, while fighting a growing attraction to Chadwick’s brother.

Determined to succeed–and survive–on her own terms, Chadwick will face off with enemies and allies alike. But she doesn’t count on the bond she forms with the quiet, capable Cosmo Richter. Yet even as their feelings bring them closer, the noose of deadly terror all around them draws tighter. And when all hell erupts, desire and desperate choices will collide on a killing ground that may trap them both in the crossfire.

My rating:

Someone is sending a Hollywood produced death threats because she's making a movie they don't want to be made, and her studio hires Troubleshooters Inc. to protect her. Since he's on leave, Chief Cosmo Richter offers his expertise to his former CO, Tom Paoletti, and nothing will ever be the same.

Once again, the story was good, and the plot, especially the suspense/mystery part, was tight, though the pacing was once more hampered by flashbacks and (too) many side plots and secondary characters, and the mystery/suspense conclusion left much to be desired in terms of actually making any sort of sense in concern with the villain and his motives. But maybe that's just me.

And once again, the characters almost ruined the whole thing. Jane was a publicity-seeking, emotionally-handicapped, sometimes TSTL idiot. Her brother was also an emotional cripple with image issues, and a huge drinking problem that stemmed from repression of his true nature and feelings. I loved the message Ms. Brockmann inserted into this story about self-acceptance being necessary to have a normal life (Robin) and the importance of knowing one's self-worth and not allowing oneself to be anyone's doormat (Jules).
But these two annoying creatures were counterbalanced nicely by the two leading men of this book. Cosmo with his taciturn nature that was finally given a worthy story (if not a worthy heroine), and through it the reader was offered a rare insight into his psyche and life. I love the men Ms. Brockmann has created in this series. They're "real" men, strong, courageous, resilient, capable, and despite having seen and done things that would give lesser mortals nightmares or worse, they don't let those things rule them, and they're not afraid of accepting or showing their feelings or even tears.

And now we come to the second leading man of this story, one of my favorite characters in this series, Jules Cassidy. I loved watching his growth throughout the stories, from sidekick, best friend, confidant, and sometimes comic relief, to the leading man we got to meet at the end of this book. He got his heart-broken, mended it, and gotten it broken again (much more this second time around, because he knew it was the real deal), yet he stood up, dusted himself off, and went forward, stronger, more mature, more confident, and finally knowing what he deserved. And yes, Jules deserves the best. His story (not the repeated fling with Adam or the budding went-nowhere thing with Robin, but the story of Jules as an individual) in this book, stole the spotlights from the main "romance" between Cosmo and Jane (which didn't push any of my buttons and left me completely cold). Jules being Jules was more interesting, and more intense than everything else that happened and I'm looking forward to reading what happens next. ;)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Review: Flashpoint by Suzanne Brockmann

Title: Flashpoint
Series: Troubleshooters
Author: Suzanne Brockmann
Read copy: eBook
Published: March 30, 2004
Publisher: Ballantine Books
ISBN: 0345472160
ISBN-13: 9780345472168

Jimmy Nash has already lived two lives—and he can’t talk about either of them. Formerly an operative of a top secret government agency, he has found a new job with a shadowy company called Troubleshooters Inc. Created by a former Navy SEAL, Troubleshooters Inc. helps anyone in desperate need—which provides a perfect cover for its other, more perilous objective: covert special operations.

Now Nash and a quickly assembled team of expert operators have come to the earthquake-ravaged country of Kazbekistan in the guise of relief workers. There, amid the dust and death, in a land of blood red sunsets and ancient blood feuds, they must track down a missing laptop computer that may hold secrets vital to national security.

To get it done, Nash does what he does best: break every rule in the book and manipulate those who can help him get what he needs. But this time, Nash may have met his match in Tess Bailey, a Troubleshooters operative with all the right instincts—and zero field experience. The deep attraction between them is immediate...and potentially explosive, with risk at every turn. Now these two professionals must play out their dangerous games in the world’s most dangerous place—cut off from their own government, cutting deals with people they can’t trust, and guarding forbidden passions that threaten to compromise their crucial mission.

My rating:

Kazbekistan has been hit by an earthquake and the powers that be of the country are finally letting in the West in the form of relief workers. A perfect cover for a small team of the newly founded Troubleshooters Inc. to get in and get out with a precious cargo in the form of a terrorist's laptop. But this is far from an easy mission...

The suspense/action was great, and there were no flashbacks (except for a scene or two describing what happened between Nash and Tess two months ago)...But those were the only things that actually worked in the story's favor.

The characters were the major problem working against it. Tess was rather bland (and sometimes really annoying), Nash remained a mystery even at story's end, Decker was "meh" at best, and Sophia would've worked better as a villain (at least she'd have something to do). The romance was nonexistent, and utterly unbelievable at the end...

A very disappointing start of the "civilian" arc of the Troubleshooters.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Review: Gone Too Far by Suzanne Brockmann

Title: Gone Too Far
Series: Troubleshooters
Author: Suzanne Brockmann
Read copy: eBook
Published: July 1, 2003
Publisher: Ballantine Books
ISBN: 0345464362
ISBN-13: 9780345464361

In his career as one of America’s elite warriors, Lt. Sam Starrett can do no wrong. In his private life, Sam—the king of one night stands—has done little right. Now, he’s waiting for a divorce and determined to stay active in his young daughter’s life. But when Sam shows up at the door of his ex-wife’s home in Sarasota, Florida, he makes a grisly discovery. His daughter is gone and the body of a woman lies brutally murdered on the floor.

FBI agent Alyssa Locke’s relationship with Sam has been overwhelmingly intense and nearly catastrophic, yet it refuses to end. The last time she saw Sam was six months earlier, when they worked together to stop terrorists from assassinating the U.S. President. Much to her dismay, Alyssa is assigned to lead the murder investigation and once again the two are face to face. When explosive information surfaces linking Sam to the still unsolved assassination plot, the stakes are raised. With her reputation hanging in the balance, and her loyalties in question, Alyssa is faced with an impossible dilemma:arrest a man she believes to be innocent, or risk her career.

While Alyssa tries to fight their intense attraction, Sam is determined to heat things up between them once again. And the complex case pushes them both to the wrong side of the law—and on the run to discover the truth. As more agents step into the chase, and with Sam’s daughter still unaccounted for, neither Alyssa nor Sam can predict just how deadly hot this situation is about to become...

My rating:

Lieutenant Roger "Sam" Starrett will soon be a free man. After marrying the woman he'd gotten pregnant, but never loved, and leaving the woman he did love behind to "do the right thing", he's finally closing that chapter of his life...Well, as soon as his soon-to-be ex-wife signs the divorce papers, which she was supposed to do three weeks ago. Now, Sam's in Florida to remind her...Only to find her murdered in her house, apparently dead for three weeks, and his infant daughter unaccounted for.

Alyssa Locke is almost certain she left her star-crossed affair with Sam Starrett behind. The guy left her to get married to the woman he'd knocked up, and the man she should love is right there, even though their relationship hasn't progressed past the kissing stage. But one phone call from Sam, informing her he's found his wife dead and his daughter is missing, brings Alyssa running to his side.

Well...Finally. It took me six books (two I didn't even finish) to get to his point where I finally feel like I'm connecting to the series. Because despite its highs and lows and all its bumps, this one actually worked as a whole.

Everything was connected—the goings on on the west coast, the race against time in Florida, the loose ends left from the previous book, the loose romantic ends left from all the previous books...It all came together nicely, and although not everything ended just yet (Gina and Max still have a few more books to go), the main story arc of the first five books in the series was nicely wrapped up in the sixth one, with the big witch-hunts creating a lovely (albeit rather convenient) groundwork for the Troubleshooter team as they embrace civilian life.

But let's get down to real business, shall we? Mainly, the Sam and Alyssa soap opera love story. Because although I didn't particularly care about them in the previous books, their story was indeed a love story. Spanning time and space, filled with difficulties, heartbreak and separation, but as love stories do, it endured, it matured, and it got stronger, holding on, and enduring.
They actually talked in this one (and we all know, communication is the foundation of any lasting relationship), and as they got to really know each other (past the you-rock-my-world-when-you're-naked stage), so did the reader. The flashbacks in this one actually weren't annoying, telling the story of Roger/Ringo/Sam and his family, showing and telling us what makes him tick and why he is the way he is. I felt we didn't get as deep an insight into Alyssa, but I'm happy with what we got.
And I'm happy they managed to get over their difficulties, mainly stemming from Alyssa trying to protect herself from getting hurt and failing miserably provoking Sam into acting like an even bigger asshole than he actually was, and it was rather lovely seeing that progression from animosity to reluctant trust while the love that was always there, right under the surface, slowly yet inexorably leaked through.
I can't wait to see them as partners, both in private and at work.

There were two secondary romances, both leftovers from previous books. The one between Mary Lou and Ibraham had its lovely resolution, firmly redeeming Mary Lou in my eyes, while the other, the one between Gina and Max firmly put the guy in the asshole territory for me. I didn't get his reservations—first it was the age thing, then there was the "transference" thing (which, after all this time, was complete bullshit), then there was his fear of hurting her (which he did anyway). Coupled with the "strange" relationship he had with Alyssa, Max Bhagat turned from the awesome FBI agent/superhero to a total douche in the space of a couple of chapters. I sure hope he can redeem himself in his own book.
Oh, and let's not forget the HEA of the first Troubleshooter couple, Tom and Kelly. It took a while, and it took some extreme circumstances for the woman to finally see reason, but they finally got there. Only to almost lose it all, but yeah...HEA all the way.

The rest worked as well. Since the plot was much tighter and the flashbacks actually relating closely to the story, the pacing was great, the mystery intriguing (although a tad too convoluted when everything was revealed), and the action scenes gripping. The entire thing packed quite a punch, and made for a very entertaining, page-turning read.


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Review: Out of Control & Into the Night by Suzanne Brockmann

Title: Out of Control
Series: Troubleshooters
Author: Suzanne Brockmann
Read copy: eBook
Published: May 7, 2002
Publisher: Ballantine Books
ISBN: 0345455088
ISBN-13: 9780345455086

Savannah von Hopf has no choice. To save her uncle’s life, she goes in search of Ken “WildCard” Karmody, a guy she barely knew in college who is now a military operative. She must convince him to help her deliver a cache of ransom money into the hands of terrorists halfway around the world. What she doesn’t expect is to end up in WildCard’s arms before she can even ask for his help.

WildCard has always had a soft spot for beautiful women. But when he discovers Savannah’s hidden agenda, he is determined to end the affair. But Savannah is bound for Indonesia with or without his protection, and he can’t just walk away. When her plan goes horribly wrong, they are trapped in the forsaken jungle of a hostile country, stalked by a lethal enemy. As time is running out, they scramble to escape, risking their lives to stop a nightmare from spinning even further out of control...

My rating:

This series looks like to be hit-and-miss for me. There are characters and plot lines that are interesting, and sometimes grow to be even more interesting through time, and there are characters that failed to leave a good impression the first time around, and their story suffers because of it.

Ken "WildCard" Karmody is one of those characters for me. We never really "clicked"; he was either a whiny brat because his girlfriend left him and he doesn't want to be alone or an asshole to his friends and/or superiors. But I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt in his story, only for him to be an obnoxious jackass with a one-track mind from the very beginning.
Add to it the rather bland heroine, spice it up with her "secret" to create conflict, and I just couldn't keep reading.

Title: Into the Night
Series: Troubleshooters
Author: Suzanne Brockmann
Read copy: eBook
Published: November 14, 2006
Publisher: Ballantine Books
ISBN: 0345498682
ISBN-13: 9780345498687

It was supposed to be a “dog and pony show”—an elaborate demonstration of SEAL rescue techniques—to celebrate a presidential visit to a California naval base. Professional, no-nonsense White House staffer Joan DaCosta arrives early to scope out the area. Assigned to be her SEAL liaison is Lt. (jg) Mike Muldoon, a born leader—strong, decisive, tough, and fearless.

Against her better judgment, Joan finds herself drawn to the handsome young officer. Skilled at being “one of the guys” in the mostly male world of politics, she is dismayed when Muldoon breaks through her defenses. While the tension mounts between them, fueling their growing attraction, a far more sinister danger is lurking, as terrorists plot a daring attack against the president. To protect their commander in chief, Joan and Muldoon must not only risk their hearts—but their very lives...

My rating:

Oh, God...Yet another "Team Sixteen" member that I didn't particularly care for (Mike Muldoon came across as not overly bright in Over the Edge, and obnoxious at the same time with his bragging how easy is for him to get laid). In his book he was coupled with an annoying (older) heroine with issues about "dating" younger guys, but actually had no idea what she wanted, except when it was time to throw the young "gigolo" under the bus for her career.

The "romance" was dull and bland, the suspense so diluted it made my teeth hurt, the pacing could've (yet again) been better by throwing out the unnecessary fillers...The only reason I actually read this one through was (I can't believe I'm saying this!) the Sam/Alyssa soap-opera. This so-called saga of their on/off-again romance has been a pain in my butt since the beginning, since it kept intruding on other characters' stories, and whatever happened was entirely their fault (she acting like a bitch that brought out his inner asshole, and once they finally saw reason, he decides to be noble and marries the chick he got pregnant getting trapped in a loveless marriage while still pining away for the icy bitch), but those few words WildCard said to Mike in the beginning of this book clicked a switch or something, and I wanted to see how that side-plot ended.
And because their story is next, and I'm actually (once again, I can't believe I'm saying this!) looking forward to it and hope they work it out without descending into their default personalities (bitch/asshole) when dealing with each other. I'm also looking forward to getting the answer to the question that's been bugging me—are Alyssa and Max actually together (while being in love with other people), or are they just friends-with-benefits, or just friends-without-benefits to keep the people they love at arms' length.

So yes, if it weren't for the whole Sam/Alyssa thing, this one would've been DNFd as well.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Review: Over the Edge by Suzanne Brockmann

Title: Over the Edge
Series: Troubleshooters
Author: Suzanne Brockmann
Read copy: eBook
Published: September 1, 2001
Publisher: Ballantine Books
ISBN: 0345449487
ISBN-13: 9780345449481

Her passion is flying. As one of the best helicopter pilots in the naval reserves, Lieutenant Teri Howe is strong, dedicated, and highly skilled—until a past mistake surfaces, jeopardizing everything she’s worked for.

Rock steady Senior Chief Stan Wolchonok has made a career of tackling difficult challenges. So it’s no surprise when he comes to Teri’s aid, knowing that his personal code of honor—and perhaps his heart—will be at risk. But when a jet carrying an American senator’s daughter is hijacked, Stan’s unflinching determination and Teri’s steadfast courage are put to the ultimate test. The rescue mission will be daring and dangerous. But somewhere between peril and resolution, the line between friends and lovers begins to blur, pushing both their lives over the edge...

My rating:

Senior Chief Stan Wolchonok is Mr. Fix-It. He prevents his SEALs from getting into a bar fight, he consoles them when they're nursing a broken heart, he yells at them when they're not performing at the peak of their abilities...And he saves young Lieutenants from persistent gropers by whisking them away on a training mission.

But before they get to the training part, they have to take a detour as a plane, with a senator's daughter on board, is hijacked. But Stan has obviously too much time on his hands while they're waiting for the go signal from the powers that be, because he can't stop thinking about Teri Howe. And the only way to stop her from seeing him as some sort of hero, is to set her up with one of his SEALs...But Teri just might have other ideas...

After the utter and complete disappointment that was Book #2, and a slightly less disappointing Book #1, this one was almost perfect. Not counting the bothersome WWII flashbacks (which I don't even bother to fully read anymore, I must confess) and the whole Sam/Alyssa saga that's turned into a soap opera at the end of this third installment in the series. Will it ever end?...Although I must confess, I actually got to like Sam and Alyssa by the end of the book, because they actually talked.

Speaking of talking, the romantic conflict could've been solved by a simple conversation, but since both Stan and Teri were a bit dense, we got to enjoy the long road to it. Everything in the story (some thankfully, some not so much) took the backseat to the cuteness that were these two together. Awkward, dense, slightly idiotic sometimes, but incredibly sweet at the same time. They were adorable in their missteps, and their romance was so incredibly cute, I couldn't help but grin while reading their scenes. This was a truly feel-good love story.

There was also another love story budding, although in times of adversity, between Gina a.k.a. Karen the terrorist victim and Max Bhagat, the FBI hostage negotiator. I'm really looking forward to their story, since it all began during a hostage crisis, when they didn't see each other and his voice being the only thing keeping her strong, and the way the hostage crisis ended...It was chilling, yet empowering in the end. And with that baggage, yes, I'm looking forward to reading their book.

This one was well-written, well-paced (if you skim over the slow flashback-y parts), intense, yet so unbelievably cute. It just made me want to hug someone. :)

Review: Cold Memory by Leslie A. Kelly

Title: Cold Memory
Series: Extrasensory Agents
Author: Leslie A. Kelly
Read copy: eBook
Published: January 31, 2017
Publisher: LK Books
ISBN: 0998145327
ISBN-13: 9780998145327

Mick Tanner's ability to touch an item and know its entire history made him a hit in the sideshow, but has made personal relationships difficult. The closest one he's ever had is with the uncle who raised him in the carnival. So when members of that community begin to die in mysterious ways, there's nothing he won't do to help.

Chief of Police Gypsy Bell remembers Mick as a smug pain-in-the-ass, but he's grown up to be a very sexy, fascinating man. And like it or not, she needs his help to figure out the mystery that's plaguing her tiny town. Because this killer has a plan, a motive, and several targets. He's out to right a wrong...no matter how many people he has to kill to do it.

My rating:

Mick Tanner has grown up in the carny community (not counting the few years in between living with his abusive grandfather that helped his gift of psycometry even worse), and now, as members of the community, members of his family, are falling victim of a brutal killer, there's nothing stopping him from helping the local chief of police, his childhood frenemy Gipsy Bell, to uncover the truth.

After two (almost) perfect books, this one was quite a disappointment. The premise was good, and the suspense awesome with the mystery of why the murderer was killing those he was killing, the voice in his head, his craziness, the way he killed...Unfortunately, the rest didn't contribute to the reading experience.

The pacing was slow thanks to many filler scenes that didn't lead anywhere and didn't contribute much to the story. The many characters were too many, stealing the thunder of the two leads, who actually made the romance much more believable than in the first two books, due to their past connection, but it, as everything else good in the story, was pushed to the sidelines by everything else (the plethora of characters, side-stories, and filler scenes).

I also have to admit, I could've done without Mick's story, since I never "connected" with him in the previous two books, making him my least favorite Extrasensory agent. I'm certainly looking forward to Derek's book...and Julia's too, even though I'm skeptical how someone can compare to her ghost.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Review: Cold Touch by Leslie A. Kelly

Title: Cold Touch
Series: Extrasensory Agents
Author: Leslie A. Kelly
Read copy: eBook
Published: November 30, 2016
Publisher: LK Books
ISBN: 0998145319
ISBN-13: 9780998145310

Gifted with the ability to relive a murder victim's final minutes, Olivia Wainwright isn't sure if her powers are a blessing or a curse. She is haunted by the things she's seen, heard, and felt...but takes comfort in the fact that she is helping to solve murders and save lives.

Savannah Detective Gabe Cooper isn't sure about Olivia's abilities, but he knows she's an amazing woman. And the more he gets to know her, the more he wants to protect her from any danger...including her own dark power.

Now the two of them must team up to catch a killer. The monster has been taking children for years...and time is running out to save his latest victim.

My rating:

Twelve years ago, Olivia Wainwright was kidnapped from her bed, held for ransom and drowned. One hundred and thirty seconds she was revived by her captor’s other captive, a small, malnourished boy named Jack, and hasn’t been the same since.

In the present, a structural fire has revealed human remains, a small skeleton hidden behind a drywall for the past twelve years, and thanks to a police sketch, Olivia knows the skeleton belongs to her little savior, the boy she’s spent the past twelve years searching for.

The least she can do now, is find out what happened to him, and bring his killer to justice.

I loved this new installment in this series. A great mix of romance (still a rather quick development, but somehow it worked), drama, paranormal and thriller. Because there was no “pussy” suspense in this book, it jumped right into the thriller realm with a villain with no space left in his head (if you want to know what I mean, you’ll have to read the book, and if you're anything like me, you won’t be sorry).

This time it was the heroine that worked for the Extrasensory Agents, and what a special ability the chick had. Olivia could touch dead remains and know exactly what happened in the last two minutes and ten seconds of that person’s life. Stuff of nightmares, you’d think. And you’d be right.
Lucky for our girl, she met a man. The right man. A tough cop with a heart of gold and a weakness for this redhead with green eyes and a strange affinity to death.
And she wasn’t just lucky to meet him for her peace of mind, but for her own well-being as well.

You know what the problem with Ms. Kelly’s books is? I cannot talk/write/rant about them without revealing spoilers, so I find it really hard to gush about how much I love her books without revealing too much. And it’s tough to gush when people don’t know what you’re gushing about…

I’ll keep it brief and simple. If you like your reading material to have a lovely mix of genres (equal amount of each), great pacing (although once more not so smooth on the re-read, maybe due to some added scenes), wonderful characters, thrilling suspense, intense tension, chillingly delicious villains, amazing chemistry, tight plot lines, and twists and turns galore, this is the book for you. Despite its “predictability” (I’m not talking about page-to-page know-it-all, but the certainty of a happy ending) it was decidedly unpredictable.
I’ve grown weary of books where you can see everything that’s about to happen from a few scenes before, know the identity of the villain when he/she first makes an appearance etc. Cold Touch kept me on my toes and on the edge of my seat. And that twist (not the accomplice one, because I saw that one coming!) toward the end really threw me. Was it necessary? Yes, to solve the mystery, but that could’ve been solved without that particular sacrifice. And I would’ve loved to see two happy endings instead of one, but it wasn’t meant to be.
I’m not saying that final twist ruined the book for me, because it didn’t, it just added another layer to the whole story, I’m just saying I could’ve done happily without it. But then, we wouldn’t have an “interesting” epilogue. ;) Hopefully, we’ll see how that evolves.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Review: Cold Sight by Leslie A. Kelly

Title: Cold Sight
Series: Extrasensory Agents
Author: Leslie A. Kelly
Read copy: eBook
Published: September 29, 2016
Publisher: LK Books
UPC: 2940156725632

Aidan McConnell once used his special psychic abilities to help find the missing. But after the media made him the scapegoat for a child’s death, he retreated from the world and became a recluse.

Lexie Nolan is a small-town reporter with big vision. She was the first to connect a series of disappearances among teenage girls to a serial killer...but nobody will listen to her.

Lexie is in desperate need of help from the sexy psychic who's an expert in finding people. And even though Aidan loathes the media, he can’t help being drawn in to the passionate, beautiful reporter.

Nor can he resist helping her on this particular case. Because he knows the latest missing girl.

And he knows time to save her is running out.

My rating:

Granville, Georgia is plagued by a serial killer...Or is it? When reporter Lexie Nolan ran the story of several teenage girl gone missing, she was shut down, and almost lost her job, while the chief of police and all the prominent citizens claimed the missing teens were just runaways. Especially since they were from the “bad part of town”.

Well, the Ghoul, as some have dubbed the presumed serial killer, has struck again. This time kidnapping a girl from the bad part of town going to school in the good part of town. The police and the public can no longer hide from the truth...Or can they? Just to be sure, Lexie enlists the help of Aidan McConnell, a psychic investigator ran out of Savannah after a case gone bad, resulting in the death of a child. It’s tough getting him on board, but once he’s hooked, there’s no chance he won’t see this through.

But someone doesn’t want Lexie and Aidan poking around. Because something is obviously wrong in this quaint little town, something that just might put the serial killer to shame with its darkness and longevity. Because Granville reeks of dark secrets, and the serial killer just might expose them all.

Though this is categorized as romantic suspense, I’d say this is more along the lines of a thriller with some (rather strong) romantic undertones. It was dark, compelling, chilling, edgy, intriguing, a little sick (especially in that basement and clubhouse), and a lot twisted. I thought Ms. Parrish’s Black CATs trilogy was dark, but it has nothing on this book. Also, the Black CATs stories were sort of 50-50 on romance and suspense, while here the percentage was highly in favor of the suspense.

The driving force, at least for me, wasn’t the “less-exposed” romance, though it played a major role, bringing Lexie and Aidan together, binding them, creating a powerful team, it wasn’t the aforementioned two leads, it wasn’t even the twisted killer or the sick and dark “little town secret”, it was the strong, determined, unbreakable personality of the Ghoul’s latest victim, Yvonne “Vonnie” Jackson. Though a secondary character, relegated into the role of the victim, she was the glue that brought everything together, she was the catalyst for this story, and its true heart.
The reader gets to know the killer, observe her prison through her eyes, experiences everything as she experiences it, and has no choice but admire the strength of her character, her determination to get free no matter what, her stubborn refusal to let the villain win. And it is also her slight connection to Aidan that pulls him into the investigation, gets him to trust Lexie, makes him forget all his misgivings and self-doubt, and dive into the case head-on. Yes, the killer started it all by kidnapping her, but it was Vonnie that drove the story forward.
Ms. Kelly did an amazing job in creating such a realistic character and giving her the opportunity to (almost) outshine the leads. Despite everything, to me, this was more Vonnie’s story than anything else.

Not that I didn’t love the romance subplot. Far from it. The sparks between Lexie and Aidan flew from the get-go, the tension and attraction was almost palpable and it was just a matter of time before they both gave in. Their “psychic” connection gave their story a little otherworldly feel (and a little "explanation" to the rushed-in feeling, but still it retained an elusive believability. Marvelously done.
The same goes for the main suspense arc. The killer was deliciously twisted, a complete psycho with a sadistic streak a mile wide, but it was still a true pleasure to read, and the villain’s identity remained a secret until Ms. Kelly decided to reveal it, which was a nice respite from the usual suspense fare where the bad guy is obvious from the first chapter.
The “Hellfire Club” sub-sub-plot was sick and twisted as well, though the resolution was rather lacking, but maybe we haven’t seen the end of the Club just yet. Here’s hoping.

And now to the whole series stuff. Unlike many first-book-in-a-series books, this one wasn’t rife with world building and introductions of characters, but instead provided mere tidbits of the characters’ pasts and abilities, but that was enough to get to know them and whet the reader’s appetite for more. I’m already itching to read more about the EA investigative team and their abilities.

Lastly, despite the “darkness”, I don’t think this is a “mood book”, having to read it when the mood is just right. You can pick it up at any time, it’ll pull you in from the first page and won’t spit you out until the very end. Even when a scene was a bit too much to take and I wanted to put it down, I simply couldn’t. Something compelled me to keep reading, although the pacing was a bit slower on the re-read.

I also liked the short story in the end, about Aidan's first meeting Julia and getting “invited” into the Extrasensory Agents team.