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Mystery and Murder in a Private School Setting Makes You Again by Ashlee Mallory a Page Turner

2 Apr
You Again by Ashlee Mallory (Entangled Ignite, March 24, 2014)

You Again by Ashlee Mallory (Entangled Ignite, March 24, 2014)

One of the reasons I am so faithful at trying out Entangled Publishing’s new authors is because they do such a good job picking new talent that I am rarely disappointed. Ashlee Mallory, with her debut book, You Again, is just such a talent, combining strong writing, excellent plot structure, and a unique voice to give readers a wonderful romantic suspense novel, yet one completely devoid of the military/mercenary/investigative reporter characters so overdone in that genre.

Having worked at private schools for most of my working life, You Again‘s setting of a private school in the heart of Salt Lake City was downright juicy and immediately sucked me in. The heroine, Allie McBride, patiently waits with her extended family for a relative to get back from his two-year mission. While Allie is Catholic, her stepmother and sister are Mormon and everyone has come to terms with loving each other while not necessarily sharing the same faith. With her mind wandering, she’s shocked to see none other than her high school crush Sam Fratto walk through the airport. He’s now a best-selling true crime author and any heart flutters she experiences upon looking at his still-athletic body are quickly quashed when he 1) doesn’t recognize her and 2) makes a dick comment about one of Allie’s nephews.

Sam is less than thrilled to be back in Utah. His distant father died a few years ago and when his mother was recently diagnosed with Stage Three breast cancer, Sam made the decision to take time away from his teenage son and come home at least for a while. Disillusioned about his parents marriage years ago, his own experience with women has only bolstered his distrust of the fairer sex, yet he can’t help having a strong reaction to seeing the blonde from the airport. Unfortunately, it’s in the principal’s office at Sam’s alma mater, St. Andrews, and the gorgeous and understandably icy blonde in question is his fellow English teacher. Sam was happy to fill in when he heard one of the older teachers had some health issues, but the lovely Allie does not appear to be welcoming.

A lovely shot of Salt Lake City with the surrounding mountains and distinctive architecture. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

A lovely shot of Salt Lake City with the surrounding mountains and distinctive architecture. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Both of them are shocked the next day, along with the entire community, when the school’s under construction Peace Garden reveals the dead body of a former English teacher – one who had been a mentor to both Allie and Sam. Allie’s proposal to include a short tribute video as part of the school’s upcoming centennial celebration is met with a mixed response and her digging quickly results in a series of threats and attacks, a circumstance that has all Sam’s protective instincts rushing to the fore. Yet with his track record of not trusting women, he’s not sure he can negotiate the many feelings he’s having for Allie, particularly when what she uncovers opens up the closet on some family secrets.

I loved the eccentric secondary characters as well as the well-drawn hero and heroine with their strengths and weaknesses. Mallory’s writing has a clear, distinctive personality and I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a range of Mormon characters handled in such an honest and respectful way. Of course, being an Ignite book means that the entire, single love scene is behind a very closed bedroom door, but that’s what their readers enjoy. The romance in an Ignite book is always secondary to the suspense plot, but Mallory handles the mystery element with such aplomb that I sincerely hope she keeps writing them. I’ll keep reading them!

What a great debut novel for a wonderful writer who has clearly found a supportive home with Entangled. I look forward to reading her future books and hope she has a terrific response from readers! She made this one quite happy. :-)

 

 

High-Heeled Wonder by Avery Flynn Combines Fashion and Revenge in a Suspenseful Love Story

27 Jan

High-Heeled Wonder (A Killer Style novel) by Avery Flynn (Entangled Ignite, January 27, 2014)

I have got to hand it to the editors of Entangled’s Ignite line, they know how to choose romantic suspense stories that have me yelling out things unhelpful to the hero and heroine during the last few pages (things like “No, look out!” and “Oh my God, be careful!”). You should see me at a Jaws viewing.

With a clear emphasis on fashion, I worried that High-Heeled Wonder would be the typical bodyguard falls for fluffy woman with a heart of gold. It’s not that there is anything wrong with this trope per se, but I did not expect the emotional and extremely well-crafted story I actually got from Avery Flynn (thank you, Avery!). Having never had the pleasure of reading anything by her before, I have my eyes fully open now. This is an author who offers the reader deep characters carting a complete Samsonite set of baggage behind them, not all of which is dealt with in the course of the novel (which I appreciate).

Sylvie Bissette is having a phenomenally bad 24 hours. She’s supposed to be a cheerful, serene bridesmaid for her sister Anya, but in actuality she’s about to yak into a potted plant due to the whiskey bender she chose after catching her boyfriend going down on a waiter…a male waiter. With two dads, she thought her gaydar was well-developed but apparently not. Being the daughter of famous fashion designers means Sylvie is as much a target of public attention as the bride, so she’s trying to put a pleasant smile on her face and just tough it out. It’s hard to do when her anonymous fashion blog, High-Heeled Wonder, is getting increasingly more violent threats. But for Sylvie, she is going to tell it like it is and operate business as usual, putting out of her mind deceptive boyfriends and someone who hates her enough to possibly hurt her.

I was worried this novel would be an homage to fashion, but it's really pays due to women who enjoy looking good and feeling confident. Who can't get behind that? (Public domain image via Pixabay)

I was worried this novel would be an homage to fashion, but it’s really pays due to women who enjoy looking good and feeling confident. Who can’t get behind that? (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Those unpleasant emails are the reason that her fathers have asked her to take on a bodyguard, none other that the uber-hottie she almost kissed on Anya’s wedding day. Tony Falcon has been hired by her family to watch over Sylvie and hopefully discover who this mystery threat is. With a list as long as her arm of important people she’s pissed off, this is not an easy job, particularly when you could boil water with the heat between them. However, Tony not only doesn’t succumb to lust for his clients (no matter how hot they are) but he also doesn’t begin to fall for a woman when he’s secretly investigating her family for murder, right?

This situation was like watching a freight train crash, yet Sylvie and Tony have so much to offer each other you just can’t look away. While my favorite character was undoubtedly the 150 pound Newfoundland dog with a hankering for peanut butter, Sylvie was the perfect blend of vulnerable and smart, a fact Tony caught on to pretty quickly. He was an excellent hero, blinded to doing things the right way by his sense of guilt and desire for vengeance. With revenge the point of the mystery antagonist bent on destroying Sylvie’s work and taking her life, there were actually some pretty big themes in this novel, all of which were well-executed.

Based on the fact that the book is being marketed as “a Killer Style novel,” I can only hope that this is the first of a series since Tony has a few security firm compatriots I’d like to see more of and Sylvie’s friends are pretty winning as well. Please note that Avery Flynn’s excellent website is having a TERRIFIC giveaway in honor of the book’s debut, with a Rafflecopter giveaway for a $100 DSW gift card, swag, and several ebooks that are part of Entangled Ignite’s recent releases.

Happy reading!

You’ll Sweat in the Desert Heat Reading Molly Gets Her Man by Julie Rowe

27 Jan

Molly Gets Her Man by Julie Rowe (Entangled Ignite: January 27, 2014)

Entangled’s Ignite line for romantic suspense (or mysteries or thrillers) appears well named. Despite absolutely frigid temperatures outside, I found myself reaching for a cold beverage while vicariously sweating in the Las Vegas heat with the new novel from Julie Rowe, Molly Gets Her Man.

This came as a surprise to me since I had only heard Rowe’s name in association with a trilogy of interesting historical romances set in Europe during World War I (they are on my to-read shelf). A Canadian with a medical background, I gather that Rowe has had success with some medical romance stories and even her historicals utilize her knowledge base as the characters are often doctors and nurses, albeit with a different level of medicine available to them in their era.

After reading Molly Gets Her Man, I was impressed that someone without a suspense background could write such an excellent debut in this subgenre. Rowe managed to have a relentless plot pace which had me turning the pages to figure out how our hero and heroine were not only going to work through their emotional baggage to find love, but how they were just going to survive all the twists and turns of their predicament.

Molly McLaren cannot seem to catch a break. With some demons in her past in the form of an abusive father and an ex-boyfriend who wanted to follow in his footsteps, she’s shy of large men, especially angry ones. Her anxiety actually led to the loss of her last job as an interpreter for the court system when she was deliberately intimidated by a convict, an incident that frightened her so badly that she quit her job. Now she’s dressed in uber-tight capri pants, a glittering top and enough make-up to work a department store counter in order to be a hair dresser, albeit one that speaks seven languages fluently.

The seamy backdrop of Las Vegas is perfect for this tale of drugs and organized crime. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

The seamy backdrop of Las Vegas is perfect for this tale of drugs and organized crime. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

That unusual ability has just bitten her in the ass as she overheard a client arrange the assassination of a congressman three days from now. Although she reported it to the police, she’s got a bad feeling, enough that she called her former military brother in California to ask for help. He’s relayed that help will be appearing on her doorstep in the form of a truck driven by his friend and it’s none too soon as two Russian enforcers are searching for her in a deserted parking garage. She manages to get away, not before they get off a few shots at her, only to find herself trapped in the cab of a semi, with the biggest, angriest guy she’s ever seen. Cue anxiety.

Grey Wilson is trying to redeem his career from the major cock-up that was his last mission, one that involved discovering his former girlfriend was a drug addicted woman using him for information and resulted in his almost losing his leg after getting shot. He’s currently on the path of a Russian group smuggling drugs in and out of Vegas, using the cover of a truck driver to gather information. Helping a former military buddy’s bimbo sister is not what he signed up for, but it quickly becomes apparent that the nervous Molly is no intellectual lightweight and that she is in really deep trouble, trouble that intersects with his mission. As the two of them succumb to the attraction between them, can they each work through their past betrayals to find something real before they have to part from one another?

This was a great story about two people forced by circumstances to look beneath their surface and discover the error of their first impressions. Molly is obviously a brilliant linguist and Grey a gentle soul around Molly who would shoot his good leg before her hurt her (he’s a badass around a perp, however). The suspense plot was well done with a few really good red herrings and twists I enjoyed, and I’m hoping that Molly’s brother crops up in a future book. If I have any criticism, it’s that Rowe’s sex scenes are rather brief and seem to be more about releasing sexual tension rather than about revealing more character development or inspiring a closer connection between the hero and heroine.

I would definitely encourage Julie Rowe to continue to develop her astonishing versatility between subgenres and continue to write romantic suspense since her first offering was such a good one. I’m glad Molly got her man and hope that Julie Rowe continues to get her contracts so I can enjoy more books by her.

Happy reading!

Tonya Burrows Has Not One But TWO Great Series in HORNET and Wilde Security

5 Nov

SEAL of Honor (HORNET #1) by Tonya Burrows (Entangled Select, May 28, 2013)

I’m beginning to make Entangled a go-to publisher since I’ve yet to read a bad (or even a mediocre) book from these folks. With authors like Tessa Bailey, Gina Maxwell, Laura Kaye, and Samanthe Beck, they’ve earned quite a bit of my trust in finding outstanding fresh new voices in romance fiction, writers who combine emotion, intelligence, and singe the sheets sex for an unbeatable combination. Bless you, Entangled!

I now have another author to add to my pre-order pile, the wonderful Tonya Burrows. While I am classifying her under romantic suspense since each of her books has a strongly written suspense plot, military romance fans will find much to love as each hero is a former member of the armed forces.

But this author, who only began publishing this past May, has emerged with one not but TWO interrelated series – her HORNET series featuring a mercenary group made up of a hodge-podge of wounded males practically bleeding testosterone (yum) and her Wilde Security series about five brothers, orphaned at a young age, who one-by-one finally find the women meant to cut through their respective shells.

Let’s cover these in order, shall we?

SEAL of Honor – #1 in the HORNET series

Gabe Bristow definitely feels like his life is scraping rock bottom. Surviving a horrible car accident along with his best friend has left both of them without the direction of their SEAL careers and Gabe has to get around with a cane much of the time adding insult to his injury. Goaded by that same best friend, Quinn, Gabe agrees to take a job with a private mercenary hostage rescue group and quickly finds himself with a job.

Unfortunately he also has a motley team (at least Quinn is his XO), many with rather checkered pasts, who have had zero training time together. A billionaire has been kidnapped in Columbia and the insurance company has hired HORNET to get him back so they won’t have to pay his hefty $60 million insurance policy. Praying that his fledgling team can work well together, Gabe is astonished when he arrives on the ground to come face to face with a gorgeous and terrified woman, the victim’s baby sister, Audrey Van Amee.

Honor Reclaimed (HORNET #2) by Tonya Burrows (Entangled, May 27, 2014)

Audrey may be a free spirited artist living on the beach in Costa Rica and shunning all her brother’s attempts to support her, but he and his family are still all the family she’s got. With her fluency in Spanish and possessing the last clues of his disappearance (they were videoconferencing when he was taken), she wants to figure out how she can best help. Scared out of her mind after a group of burly military types break into her brother’s apartment and then knock her unconscious was not how she pictured the calvary arriving, but now that she knows of their existence, she’s determined to stick close. And sticking close to their leader, Gabe, is hardly a problem. She’s not sure she even likes him, but, boy, do they have chemistry in spades.

Gabe is more than aware of his chemistry with Audrey but getting involved with her while on a mission would not only be unprofessional but she’s the forever type and his outlook won’t let that be part of his future. He may be an okay brother, but with parents like his, he has no role model for being a good husband in a relationship. Yet as the case tightens around them both, they can’t help but succumb to the heat between them, even knowing that Gabe will feel the need to just walk away.

Gabe is the uptight, uber-Alpha with a mushy center when it comes to the right woman, and the fun, direct, artistic Audrey is definitely the right woman. It’s impossible not to fall for them both, particularly when, from the moment they meet, the air between them becomes combustible. Don’t believe me? Check out the entry I made for Entangled Brazen’s #dirtytalker Appreciation Month (and this book didn’t even come out under the Brazen line, but it should have):

Burrows, SEAL of Honor

*Fans self* Don’t worry, I’ll wait for you to get a glass of water. Feeling better? Great. But there is going to be more, so I’m just warning you to brace yourself. :-)

The first novel does an outstanding job setting up the rest of the series, with clear personality sketches for each member of the crew – a crew who carries so much collective baggage that it’s a wonder their mercenary group doesn’t need an additional plane for missions. SEAL of Honor not only possesses two smokin’ hot, sympathetic lead characters, but secondary characters to drool over while a taut romantic suspense plot unravels in interesting directions. What’s not to love? The next book will feature the man not even on the team roster yet, the much debated Seth Harlan, a phenomenal sniper just about broken from his torture and captivity. His book is entitled Honor Reclaimed and will come out in May 2014. And yes, I have already pre-ordered it.

Wilde Nights in Paradise (Wilde Security #1)

Wilde Nights in Paradise (Wilde Security #1 – Jude and Libby) by Tonya Burrows (Entangled Brazen, June 2013)

Jude Wilde is the baby of the family and it shows in his devil-may-care attitude and his shit-starting ability. While he acts like nothing ever affects him and he’s not about to get serious about life, there was one thing in his life he was once incredibly serious about, Libby Pruitt. A beautiful college student when he met her, he screwed their relationship up royally and has had to live without the one person he wanted more than anything for eight years. Now out of the Marines and working with his brothers, he’s startled to see her father and his former commander walk through the door with the announcement that Jude is the only one who can protect his daughter.

Libby is a successful assistant ADA but somewhere along the line she seems to have acquired a determined stalker. Believing it to be tied to a case soon to go to trial (and whose defendant is currently out on bail), her high-handed father has taken it upon himself to hire a bodyguard. Once Libby would have no problem handing over her body to Jude Wilde for guarding (or anything else), but his cheating on her after he had proposed two days before put the kibosh on her girlish dreams. Yet her father is right – being seen in Jude’s company simply looks like they’ve gotten back together – and an obvious attempt on her life while with Jude convinces her to accept his protection. But she doesn’t have to like it.

Yet both of them head to the house of Gabe’s sniper friend Seth Harlan (see the second book in the HORNET series above) in Key West to wait out Libby’s case posing undercover as a reclusive honeymooning couple. Despite her firm intentions, Libby can’t be around Jude without having him awaken all those lustful feelings like when she first met him. That’s exactly what Jude wants, and he’s determined to break down all Libby’s defenses in order to have a second chance at a relationship with her. She’s determined that any physical fling between them would be “just sex” and he’s just as determined to use all his talents to prove to her that they are meant to be together. And that eight-year-old fire between them? If anything it’s hotter. Here’s my entry for the #DirtyTalker entry for this book:

Burrows Wilde Nights 1

Oh, it is so worth it, let me tell you! Jude was as much a victim as Libby was all those years ago, and seeing these two fight to get Libby’s trust back is nothing short of heart-warming. As seen above, the sex scenes are certainly sheets-warming, ;-) so you get everything with Wilde Nights in Paradise – a reunion romance, hot sex in a romantic setting, and some pulse-pounding moments when the real danger to Libby emerges.

Wilde for Her (Wilde Security #2)

Wilde for Her (Wilde Security #2 - Eva and Cam) by Tonya Burrows (Entangled Brazen, October 28, 2013)

Wilde for Her actually opens on Libby and Jude’s wedding in Key West (and you’ll be interested to note that Gabe and Audrey from SEAL of Honor as well as Seth Harlan are all in attendance) with Cam Wilde standing up as groomsman with Jude as Libby comes down the aisle. Cam has brought his best friend and former cop partner, Eva Cardoso as his date, and seeing Eva dressed uncharacteristically in a sexy dress is twisting Cam up inside, giving him all kinds of naughty ideas. But he’s a player and Eva means too much to him to mess up their relationship. Right?

Eva had all her naughty thoughts about Cam when he first became her partner years ago, but after determining he wasn’t interested she put them all aside and simply valued him as her best friend. Having recently broken up with her boyfriend after realizing that he didn’t want to get married, she wants everything her mother never valued – marriage, children and security – and doesn’t plan on being with a man who doesn’t feel the same way. But being confronted with that same ex in the hotel bar – with his fiancee – deals her a serious blow to the ego. He just didn’t want to marry her and Cam decides to take her mind off her problems by daring her to a round of the most horrifying shots she can swallow. She accepts and, their inhibitions lowered, you can guess what takes place:

Burrows Wilde for Her

The sex between them is mind-blowing, but Eva – completely freaked out by how amazing it was – sneaks off the next morning, leaving a naked Cam to get kicked out by housekeeping, making him totally livid. Back in DC, he realizes that he is going to have to play it cool to make sure Eva doesn’t bolt on everything they might be able to be to each other. But wooing her takes backstage to the fact that someone has taken out a hit on Cam, and when that fact intersects with a case Eva is working, Cam is in a tight spot of wanting to protect the woman who means everything to him while not losing her with his deception.

Ohmigod. Where to begin with this one? Friends to lovers is one of my favorite tropes so this was actually the first Tonya Burrows book I read (and I think I was a third of the way through it when I went and bought the other two), so I was so on board with Eva and Cam getting together. We get to know the brothers much better in this book, particularly Cam’s dickish alpha twin, Vaughn (who I’m praying will be the love interest of the next book!) and it’s clear Cam and Eva are perfect for each other. This is in part because they are two of the most oblivious, stubborn people I know, so I’m really pulling for pre-marital counseling that helps them work out their communication issues. I swear, there were so many times I wanted to smack Cam – he of all people must understand Eva’s background and her insecurities yet he never comes out and says he (the notorious player) actually wants a serious relationship with her? WTF, Cam? It’s a good thing you are so freaking sexy and such a good guy otherwise I’d be pulling for the hit man. (Do yourself a favor and go over to Burrows’ website to take a look at her dossier – complete with pictures – of the various brothers. But take that cold drink you got a few paragraphs ago with you.)

There is no way that you don’t want more (lots more) of this series, with Vaughn clearly entangled with the woman Eva’s ex left her for and Eva’s just-pulling-it-together younger sister, Shelby, identifying the mystery man in the coffee shop who regularly eye-fucks her as being none other than Cam’s brother, Reece. Nice connections, and Burrows establishes enough sizzle between these parties that I find myself getting extremely impatient for their stories.

Tonya Burrows has taken her place in the stable of tremendous (often debut) talent at Entangled with these three books which were so excellent that I have clearly added her to my “pre-order it, dammit!” list. I’m grateful that her unique voice is added to the wonderful world of romance fiction and thank her for adding not one but TWO terrific series to the world of romantic suspense. Thanks, Tonya!!! :-)

Operation Blind Date Brings Tenacious Romance and One Canny Dog to Romantic Suspense

18 Oct

Operation Blind Date (Cutter’s Code #3 – Teague and Laney) by Justine Davis (Harlequin, July 1, 2013)

I’m going to admit it, if you build a romantic suspense series around a dog with a sixth sense, it’s going to get read.

By me, that is!

That is the premise of prolific author Justine Davis’ Cutter’s Code series (which is sadly not properly linked on Goodreads, so I can’t connect to a nice string of all three books for you). Since the woman has published over 80 books since the 1980s, mostly in category romance, the fact that this book is a nice, tight, highly suspenseful read really shouldn’t come as a surprise.

In Operation Blind Date, private operative Teague Johnson is happy to go pick up his boss’ dog Cutter from the groomers. When he arrives, he’s surprised to discover that the lovely groomer, Laney Adams, has clearly been crying. While a woman’s tears make him distinctly uncomfortable, Teague realizes from Cutter’s behavior that the dog expects him to find out more, and while that seems crazy to anyone else, for the men who work for the Foxworths it means a new case is at hand.

Laney is incredibly worried about her best friend, Amber. Having inadvertently introduced her to a man that Laney repeatedly turned down for a date but who seemed innocuous enough, Laney has been getting strange texts and zero phone calls from her best friend since grade school – a woman who has never been out of regular contact for even a day. She’s gone to the police but they’ve told her that Amber is obviously blowing her off for the new guy in her life, but she knows something is very, very wrong. Her gut is telling her that Amber is in danger and that she’s responsible for it.

The gorgeous Belgian Malinois dogs are known for being outstanding police and military dogs due to their agile frame, high energy levels, and keen intelligence.

Fortunately for Laney, the Foxworths run an agency that gives help to people who can’t otherwise afford it. Even though Laney is astonished that the beautiful Belgian Malinois and his owner, the lovely fiancee of the head of the agency, take her concerns seriously, she’s not sorry to spend more time with Teague while investigating what happened to her friend. But Laney and Teague are blindsided by their attraction during what seems like the worst possible time, since Laney has to find her friend before it’s too late.

Because of the limited page length of a category romantic suspense novel, I usually go into them with low expectations. Davis startled me with her strong writing and good characterization in this novel, however, with a plot that kept twisting in expected (and very pleasurable) ways regarding what happened to Amber. There is definite heat between Teague and Laney, an attraction they try to fight, yet both are similar in that they aren’t used to that feeling, which is far outside the caution they normally exercise around the opposite sex.

My only complaint was with the ending, which I felt could have been more emotional than the calm, rather anti-climactic revelation it was. Nevertheless, I thought this book a delight for anyone who enjoys a quick dose of romantic suspense and I plan on reading the other books in the series. With great additional characters including the enigmatic sniper Rafe and the boss’ powerful and feared brother, Charlie, the author gives us a clear indication that other great love stories are coming down the pike (a fact Davis confirms on her website). Yay!

Cutter more than deserves a series built around his nose for someone who needs help. Let him lead you to the next book destined for your romantic suspense pile!

A Lady’s Secret Weapon by Tracey Devlyn Combines Old-Fashioned Spy Thrillers with Hot Historical Romance

16 Oct

A Lady’s Secret Weapon (Nexus #3 – Ethan and Sydney) by Tracey Devlyn (Sourcebooks, October 1, 2013)

Back when I was cutting my teeth on historical romance in the 80s, there were many novels that heavily featured spies bent on foiling Napoleonic agents during the height of the Peninsular Wars. These books had complex spy plots and incorporated plenty of history in addition to the romance developing between the hero and heroine.

I loved them, but as Regency became modernized (and thank heavens it did) for some reason the spy piece seemed to suddenly take a back burner. Oh, it was still there, clearly, but not in the same smart way it existed before. The romance piece got better as well, and since I really did read them for the romance, that was a reasonable exchange, although I found myself still wistful for the well-written spies and villains.

Enter talented author Tracey Devlyn and I have no more reason to pine for the days of those page-turning plots. With her excellent Nexus series, readers manage three books in one: a pitch-perfect historical romance, a mystery as a new angle of the story arc is uncovered, and a thriller to heighten anticipation and keep those pages turning. Yum!

The Nexus is an elite group of British spies heavily involved with uncovering the next move of the Napoleonic network, either in France or right on England’s shores, and readers have already met several operatives in the first two books of the series. A Lady’s Secret Weapon in fact stars Ethan deBeau, the rogue Viscount renowned for charming one woman after another into his bed, only to ferret out their secrets for his cause. Less well-known are the many deaths for which he is responsible and the knowledge of the often innocent lives he’s compromised – as well as the dirty feeling he carries from his meaningless sexual encounters – have made him not just jaded, but someone who regularly takes refuge in alcohol and whores when frustrations arise.

Ethan made these sacrifices for his country so he can attain one goal, taking over the Nexus network and finally filling his dead father’s shoes in service to England. But when it seems that’s not going to happen, he’s not just thrown but resentful. A helpful distraction takes the form of one Sydney Hunt, a stunning young woman who Ethan feels he knows from somewhere although she’s not telling. Her focus on an orphanage that has come onto the Nexus’ radar is more than a coincidence and it quickly becomes apparent that there is much more to Miss Hunt than meets the eye.

A Lady’s Revenge (Nexus #1 – Cora and Guy) by Tracey Devlyn (Sourcebooks, April 2012)

That’s the truth. Sydney hides her own painful past and while her work as the proprietress of an employment agency helping servants find safe positions in noble households is a priority, her secret work as “the Specter” has her using a network of underground spies to help the Nexus anonymously. Her time with Ethan has her rethinking her opinions about noblemen but she’s uncertain as to whether he won’t run just like other men in her past when he finds out the nature of her ghosts. For this man, Sydney realizes she might just be willing to take her stolen moments when she can, as his layers clearly hide more than just a talented rogue and spy.

It was a little hard for me to like Ethan initially as Devlyn shows him making the decision to pursue alcohol and visit a whorehouse after he’s met our heroine. Tsk, tsk. Granted, there’s nothing yet between them, but I always find myself having to overcome that mental hurdle (and sometimes, not managing it) when an author decides to show that side of the hero. Yet she manages to help him come back from it, with the incident simply illustrating just how damaged Ethan is that he needs this form of escape. He’s literally never let himself be in love and Sydney is really his first in many ways, despite all his experience of women.

Sydney was enormously easy to love, surrounded by people who care about her and with a deeply admirable mission, but she never strays into goody two-shoes territory. That she has channelled much of herself into both her day job and her secret spy work clearly is due to her being convinced that she will never have a romantic future due to her childhood. Ethan’s patient uncovering of each of her secrets breaches her walls one by one and his lack of judgement at each hurdle helps grow the trust between them. It’s actually quite lovely to witness, with their climatic love scene one of the most tender I’ve read in a while.

Checkmate, My Lord (Nexus #2 – Sebastian and Catherine) by Tracey Devlyn (Sourcebooks, February 2013)

For readers who have enjoyed the first two books in the series, there is plenty of time to revel in those characters (when exactly are they all getting married, anyway?) since they make regular appearances. But for people who want to try this book out first before making the investment, fear not – Devlyn’s writing is so deft that you will lack no understanding or appreciation if you start with A Lady’s Secret Weapon. Playing catch up is effortless regarding both story arc and characters in the hands of this talented author.

The important thing to keep in mind when reading a Devlyn book is that the spy element drives the romance. I initially found myself very impatient as a good portion of the book progressed before my hero and heroine began inching toward one another even though there was a strong attraction. Partly this was their personalities and backgrounds coming into play but it was also because the various elements of the plot had to be well-established. The delay has the nice side effect of making the descent into a relationship more natural in terms of the timeframe (no insta-love here) and – once I realized the intent – I was able to relax and enjoy it.

Keep in mind also that Devlyn’s intelligence, immediately apparent after just a few pages, bleeds into other areas of her professional life. She’s got an excellent website and strong social media presence, and is also a founder of the Romance University website which I follow religiously. How cool is that? I love it when an author’s talent is matched by her professional savvy, so yay for me at finding another woman who is cleverly making an impact on the world of romance publishing.

Tracey Devlyn’s entire Nexus series, but A Lady’s Secret Weapon in particular, combines outstanding writing with cross-genre appeal. Mystery, thriller, and historical romance lovers fear not – you’ve just got another author to add to your end table. Enjoy!

Fatal Strike by Shannon McKenna Shoots for Heart with Pulse-Pounding Romantic Suspense

11 Oct

Fatal Strike (McClouds & Friends #10) by Shannon McKenna (Kensington, September 24, 2013)

I’m finding that the authors who emerge as some of my favorite writers are ones who aren’t afraid to push the category envelope. Whether it’s the explosion of ebooks which allows publishers to promote new novels under a variety of categories (versus the bookstore model where there was only one shelf a book could sit upon) or just reader demand, stories that involve multiple elements make me putty in the hands of a good writer.

Shannon McKenna’s McClouds & Friends series is just such an example. I fell in love with a NetGalley copy of One Wrong Move, instantly intrigued by her combination of romantic suspense, paranormal elements and an alpha hero teetering on the edge of asshole. Her writing is tight and suspenseful with McKenna unhesitant in continuing detailed story arcs of villainous bad guys and their evil henchmen who must fall (or at least retreat) in the face of the McClouds and their allies in each book in the series.

Fatal Strike not only met all my expectations but it melted my inner marshmallow with the evolved hero, Miles. It’s been easy to love gentle Miles over the series as he assisted the McClouds with his high tech wizardry and suffered at the hands of McCloud in-law, the slutty Cindy, who would always cheat on him until he cut her loose. But the final showdown in One Wrong Move left Miles in a coma after brutal torture with psi-powers and he has emerged a changed man.

In his opinion, it’s not been a change for the better. His psi-ability is now off the charts, and while he has invented an elaborate shield in his mind in an attempt to initially protect himself (and now to control his ability), he nevertheless is constantly being fed physical and environmental data that has elevated him from techno-geek to official badass, finally unleashing all the skills the McClouds have attempted to teach him for his own protection over the years.

The only thing that makes him feel better as he lives in the wild and hide from his friends is when the image of Lara Kirk – the woman Miles searched for over the course of months and never found – slips right through his defenses and comes to visit. She’s a beautiful dream and one so erotic that their encounters exceed any actual physical sex he’s ever had, but she’s also a symbol of how crazy he’s become and her recurring presence has him pondering how long he has before his friends have to commit him to a mental hospital.

One Wrong Move (McClouds & Friends #9) by Shannon McKenna (Kensington, June 2013)

A major wrinkle in his thinking is that Lara is not a dream. By focusing on her over all those months of searching, Miles unknowingly created a back door for her to enter his mental refuge and his shield is just that – a refuge of safety – to Lara as well. She’s being held and tortured with psi-drugs developed by a man bent on “saving humanity” from itself, and part of that plan appears to be unleashing Lara’s powers. She doesn’t know who the erotic sex god who occupies this lovely Citadel is exactly, but he’s the only thing that helps her cling to sanity.

It’s only when a series of events reveals to each of them that this isn’t fantasy – the realization which helps Miles free Lara from her prison – that their dream world becomes a living nightmare. Because even with their strong psychic connection and intense physical attraction, a man continues to stalk them, bent on using both of them to kill thousands if not millions of people.

Is there anything sexier than the geek turned total alpha hottie? (Don’t answer. That was a rhetorical question.) Of course not! Miles, who we know is a love of a guy, is so damaged and yet trying to do the right thing even when no one around him understands, that your heart breaks right at the beginning of this book. I found myself clinging to Lara as much as Miles did because I understood that to each of these broken people, the other person was going to be their refuge and their salvation.

McKenna’s ebook bundles of the early books in the series are terrific deals in your local library isn’t carrying them (or you just want them on your ereader!).

Lara was a terrific heroine who had just as pure a heart as Miles and yet whose fragility masks intense strength, even when she wasn’t ready to see it herself. I love it that she always called Miles on his bullshit (McKenna never writes a hero who doesn’t at some point turn into a complete asshole – for good reasons in his head, but still) and that she could love him even when she was angry at his behavior. There are a few scenes that make you want them both to see a therapist, but they are luckily the work of the situation and hardly a permanent dynamic. McKenna also possess a real talent for the three-dimensional villain, who has you understanding his twisted motives even while you’re busy hating his nefarious plans.

I’m sure with Fatal Strike the tenth book in this long-running series some readers might be hesitant about jumping in. Don’t be. McKenna has the talent of writing each of her books in such a way that while you recognize other characters clearly have their own back story, you do not need to have read those books in order to appreciate the novel in question. Fans of the series will love the appearance of so many of the previous couples and their burgeoning families, however, with their presence much more visible than in One Wrong Move.

It’s worth mentioning that McKenna has bundles of the first books in the series available for ereaders, with the first five going for under $15 or the first seven books costing a smidgen over $20, both excellent deals as her books run in the 350 to 400 page range. I think readers who love paranormal psychic storylines and/or lovers of romantic suspense will both find so much to admire and enjoy in Shannon McKenna’s McClouds & Friends series. Walk don’t run to your bookseller or library to pick up a copy!

Kaylea Cross’ Latest, Lethal Pursuit, Puts Her Among the Best Writers of Military Suspense

1 Oct

Lethal Pursuit (Bagram Special Ops #3 – Maya and Jackson) by Kaylea Cross (Carina Press, September 16, 2013)

There are times where some authors become my best kept secret, and that’s totally unfair. The point of this blog is to highlight the best romance writing (in my humble opinion) and Kaylea Cross definitely falls into that category. In terms of military romance, Cross is on par with the powerhouses of Catherine Mann and M. L. Buchman, so if you enjoy those authors, take a look at one of Cross’ many military romantic suspense series.

The latest book in her wonderful Bagram Ops series, is Lethal Pursuit, and – wow – was I impressed! I literally could not put this book down because of the unbelievable suspense plot which parallels the growing feelings of the hero and heroine.

Lethal Pursuit stars the tough Security Forces Lt. Maya Lopez, who is an utter badass as she breaks up fights and provides security detail, despite her petite frame. Maya has come from an extremely tough background and only through the sacrifices of her dead sister did she manage to excel in school and win a place at the Air Force Academy. She believes strongly in her warrior code and wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize the respect she has earned, respect she exercises every day at her post in Afghanistan.

Deadly Descent (Bagram Special Ops #1 – Devon and Cam) by Kaylea Cross (Carina Press, 2011)

But temptation exists in the form of Pararescueman and Texas hottie Jackson Thatcher. There has been serious sexual tension between these two in the previous books in the series, but it all explodes on these pages. Unfortunatley Jackson is enlisted, and the military has a pretty firm no-fraternization rule. Maya doesn’t think this is a problem since she has a brief fling in mind, just enough to get this slow-talking, Spanish-speaking man out of her system.

Jackson naturally has other ideas. He’s a romantic and even though he feels used by their first encounter, he can see through Maya enough to understand that whatever baggage she’s carrying, she needs to understand what the two of them could be together. Before they can even get a real relationship off the ground, they are captured along with a major government official and held hostage. Their fight for survival will either bind them together or drive them apart as they battle to escape from the heart of enemy territory.

Tactical Strike (Bagram Special Ops #2 – Candace and Ryan) by Kaylea Cross (Carina Press, March 2013)

Oh. My. God. I want to say off the bat that I enjoyed the previous two books in this series so much – Deadly Descent and Tactical Strike – and I love Cross’ trope of a tough, capable female officer finding a (enlisted) man who finally pushes all her buttons physically and emotionally. But this book was off the charts, not just for the two characters who I adored but for the pulse-pounding hostage story. Be warned, there is some scary torture in this book, but it’s worth reading as it gives amazing insight into the heart of what defines Maya and Jackson as individuals. From a feminist standpoint, it was terrific to read a book in which the man didn’t ultimately become the rescuer – Maya was the real hero, even though they leaned on each other a lot at various points. It’s only right that he calls her a superhero to his nephews and they look at her with such awe and respect.

While you by no means need to read the previous books in the series, I think you would 1) enjoy them tremendously and 2) find them incredibly affordable. Right now, Deadly Descent is on deep discount at only $.99 (whoo-hoo!) and Tactical Strike is a mere $2.99. Lethal Pursuit is a few cents more at $3.03 on Amazon, so you are looking at 700+ pages for the cost of one traditionally priced paperback from Mann or Buchman (granted each of their novels is probably longer, but mainly their cost comes from the bigger publishers they work through). Carina Press thankfully always keeps their books affordable, so Kaylea Cross ends up being an cost-effective indulgence.

The reason that I put Kaylea Cross on the same plane as Catherine Mann or M. L. Buchman is due to her fantastic research regarding the military piece of her writing. There are more than a few military romances where the author is just phoning in the details and you can tell as a reader, even when you aren’t an expert. Maybe this is my librarian showing, but Kaylea Cross seamlessly utilizes her research until I’m ready to believe her home base is somewhere in Kandahar in a repurposed shipping container with other military women. You can get a small inkling of her enthusiasm, particularly for pararescuemen, with her recent post on Carina’s blog “Why I Have  a Crush on All Pararescuemen.” This is someone with a strong respect and love for the military.

Please, if you enjoy military romance and have not had the opportunity to read any of Kaylea Cross’ books, run, don’t walk to your nearest ebookstore and download a few of them. You will be as thrilled as I was to find such an amazing writer turning out one terrific book after another, starring the men and women of our military.

You’ll Find Yourself Getting Rowdy With Lori Foster’s Latest Addition to Her Love Undercover Series

24 Sep

Getting Rowdy (Love Undercover #3 – Rowdy and Avery) by Lori Foster (Harlequin, September 24, 2013) – ebook version out October 1, 2013

Oh, boy. I have been waiting for this book to come out ever since I read the first novel in Lori Foster‘s Love Undercover series, Run the Risk, starring the oh-so-sexy Logan Riske, a detective pretending to be a construction worker in order to seduce the mousy Pepper Yates into revealing her brother’s location.

Far from a wallflower (although she cultures that appearance), Pepper turns out to be a sexy firecracker and Logan falls hard and fast for her. But one of the best parts of the book is the close relationship Pepper has to her brother, Rowdy Yates (aren’t these great names?). Rowdy is an unparalleled manwhore happy to drown past demons in the women who regularly throw themselves at his feet.

Run the Risk (Love Undercover #1 – Logan and Pepper) by Lori Foster (Harlequin, October 2012)

Yet Foster’s brilliance is the slow development of Rowdy over the course of the first two books. In Run the Risk, we see Rowdy simultaneously as the police see him (through Logan’s eyes) as a smart, shady guy with a crappy childhood who has walked both sides of legality with his business dealings, but also through Pepper’s point of view, as a big brother who has literally protected and cared for his sister against the neglect of alcoholic parents since she was a child, all the way through to the threats she faces as an adult.

Rowdy’s anger at Logan’s ignorance of the actual situation (and how that lack of knowledge endangers Pepper) stems from worrying about his sister’s safety, as well as the fact that Logan is a cop. Rowdy and Pepper have had enough experience with corrupt cops and neglectful social workers to be wary of anyone claiming to be an authority. His anti-authority attitude is an important piece of Rowdy, as he’s found it far more effective to skirt the law and take matters into his own hands.

Bare It All (Love Underground #2; Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor #5 – Reese and Alice) by Lori Foster (Harlequin, May 2013)

Further character development of Rowdy takes place in the second book of the series, Bare It All, which Foster has connect to her equally as wonderful Men Who Walk The Edge of Honor series (about a private group who goes after human traffickers). Its hero, Reese Bareden, is also a good cop who is friends with Logan Riske. The one woman in his new building not throwing herself at him is the one he most wants to know, but Alice Appleton is only beginning to recover her life after being kidnapped and held for months. Reese must slowly win her trust, both physically and emotionally, and he is oh-so-patient while doing it that you can’t help but fall in love with him.

Throughout Bare It All, Rowdy is the peripheral character who not only provides comic relief (along with Reese’s dog) but also ends up – almost against his better judgement – counseling Alice through some of the sexual decisions and moves she wants to make with Reese. It’s not long before it’s incredibly obvious that this man – for all his good looks, charm, and bad boy persona – has the soul of an avenging angel when it comes to children or women who have been set up by life to be hurt. His friendship with Alice, who sees right to the heart of Rowdy, demonstrates that women can be more than relatives or booty calls for him, even if he doesn’t see that yet.

With there being so much to Rowdy in the early books of the series, fans of Love Undercover have been waiting with bated breath to see how his HEA could possibly play out. Enter Getting Rowdy, the novel devoted to Rowdy and his feisty, red-haired bartender Avery – a woman who has been resisting his advances and forced to watch him hook up night after night with the latest floozy. Once Rowdy gets it into his thick head that Avery has been refusing him because she wants to not be replaceable, that she wants him to show her that she’s worth a little bit of a wait, he’s more than willing to do it. For this woman who he thinks about all day and night, he realizes his “once and done” rule regarding women and sex is not going to apply.

When You Dare (Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor #1 – Dare and Molly) by Lori Foster (Harlequin, April 2011) – Since the second book of Love Undercover is the fifth book of Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor, readers who enjoy one will undoubtedly enjoy the other. Cross pollinate your shelves!!

I’ll admit that I was more than a little worried (Was Rowdy a sex addict? Could he be monogamous?) but it became clear that sex for him was more a confluence of learned behavior and ready accessibility with so many woman falling into his hands like ripe plums. Avery changes all Rowdy’s rules, and that’s as it should be.

Yet the beauty in this book comes primarily from Avery, who – despite her worries that a piece of her past has resurfaced at the worst time – really sees Rowdy in all his damage and takes that understanding a step further in giving him the kind of space he needs. She knows that their time together will end because he doesn’t do relationships, but she also knows that he’s special enough that she refuses to do anything but treasure their time together. She doesn’t lie to him (and we understand why she holds on as long as she can to what happened to her) or prevaricate and I love when he keeps demanding that she tell him she loves him, even when he’s incapable of saying it back.

Lori Foster has managed to push every emotional button in this novel, succeeding in living up to my extremely high expectations of this novel, which is saying something because for this character, I wanted everything. I’m interested to see the theme of love undercover continue with Logan’s brother Dash pushing his luck with Logan and Reese’s Lieutenant, Margo Petersen, in the next book of the series, Dash of Peril, due out at the end of March 2014.

This is a fantastic series worth reading (and re-reading in my case), with Getting Rowdy currently holding the “best book” title in it. Do yourself a favor and get a little rowdy while reading this series. You will not be sorry you did. :-)

Diamond Bras and Men Out of Uniform Make Rhonda Nelson’s The Closer a Winner

19 Aug

The Closer (Men Out of Uniform #15 – Griffin and Jessalyn) by Rhonda Nelson (Harlequin Blaze, August 20, 2013)

It is my intense pleasure to let you know that Rhonda Nelson has a new addition to her wonderful Men Out of Uniform series coming out tomorrow, August 20th entitled The Closer. I’ve yet to be disappointed with any of the previous 14 books in this series. The men are wicked hot and just a little bit damaged, the women are quirky and electrifying, and Nelson always places them in interesting settings and predicaments, often with more than a little humor present.

For those of you wondering about other books in the series, check out the Goodreads page detailing all of them (as of the writing of this blog post, The Closer wasn’t on there – a source of great frustration from me since every book in the series should have a click through series name next to it) or take a look at my reviews of the Christmas novella His First Noelle or the wonderful full-length novel, The Professional.

Griffin Wicklow thinks he’s just a responsible guy doing a job but he’s always lived up to his obligations no matter how hard they are. Starting in middle school when his father left him and his mother and sister to start a new family with the woman he made pregnant, Griff’s purpose in life has been to step in and provide where he was needed.

Did you know that there really are jewel encrusted bras?

His life in the special forces went along the same lines, until he was contacted by his father seventeen years after he abandoned his family. Griff’s half-brother Justin desperately needed a kidney transplant at age 17 and although he hated his father, he wasn’t about to jeopardize a kid’s life out of bitterness. Discovering he was a match meant an operation and long-term recovery, one that had him rethinking going back to the military. Discovering a great security firm stateside in Atlanta meant he could be close to his mother and sister while doing work he was meant to do.

What he did not expect was his first assignment guarding a diamond encrusted bra. Meeting the representative of the creator, none other than the stunning jeweler/stock car racer Jessalyn Rossi, rocks him further back on his heels. She’s beautiful, but her beauty is surpassed by her lively demeanor and good heart. It doesn’t take long before Griff realizes that she is a much bigger risk than the thief who has declared his intention of stealing the jewels.

Jessalyn can’t believe her violent reaction to the auburn-haired man hunk calling himself a security guard. She expected “mall cop” and got “male underwear model,” but she’s more impressed by Griff’s understated sense of duty and how he was willing to give up his chosen career for the family he loves. As they find themselves dealing with thieves, naughty elevator music and sparkling underwear, the couple succumb to the attraction between them, even knowing they live too far away to make a real relationship between them.

I’m only sorry I didn’t get to see Jessalyn race stock cars! These were two terrific people and I actually thought the suspense plot was exceedingly clever as well as being the perfect set up for the next book (and the next hero). Griff was a smoking hot guy whose sense of duty made him even sexier and I adore the way he and Jessalyn went “all in” for each other without the usual self-defensive, distancing behavior other couples feel the need to do in order to safeguard their hearts. This was a fantastic addition to an already outstanding series, so many thanks to Rhonda Nelson for getting each of these men out of their uniform!

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