Review: The Cottages on Silver Beach by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

Review: The Cottages on Silver Beach by RaeAnne Thayne + GiveawayThe Cottages on Silver Beach by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Haven Point #8
Pages: 384
Published by Hqn on June 19, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Years after betraying her, he’s back in Haven Point…and ready to learn the truth.

Megan Hamilton never really liked Elliot Bailey. He turned his back on her family when they needed him the most and it almost tore them all apart. So she’s shocked when Elliot arrives at her family’s inn, needing a place to stay and asking questions that dredge up the past. Megan will rent him a cottage, but that’s where it ends—no matter how gorgeous Elliot has become.

Coming back home to Haven Point was the last thing bestselling writer Elliot Bailey thought he’d ever do. But the book he’s writing now is his most personal one yet and it’s drawn him back to the woman he can’t get out of his mind. Seeing Megan again is harder than he expected and it brings up feelings he’d thought were long buried. Could this be his chance to win over his first love?

My Review:

First of all, the story bears almost no resemblance to the blurb. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a good story or a lovely romance, because it’s both. But the story as written is only tangentially similar to the blurb.

The romance is between Megan Hamilton and Elliot Bailey. And he does come to stay at her family’s inn. But does the story ever diverge from those points!

Once upon a time, Megan Hamilton was dating Elliot’s younger brother Wayne. We’ve met the rest of the Bailey family in the course of the Haven Point series. But Megan and Wayne’s romance never went anywhere because Wayne was killed while helping a stranded motorist during a blizzard.

So she never officially became part of the Bailey family, but in tiny Haven Point, where everyone’s lives are intertwined, the Hamiltons and the Baileys have remained close. Then again, pretty much everyone in Haven Point is close.

Megan and Elliot also remember each other from growing up in Haven Point. Megan and her friends called Elliot, Mr. Roboto. The name was not intended to flatter. Elliot was a bit older, very, very serious, and did everything by the book.

Those tendencies have made him an absolutely stellar FBI agent. But are a bit ironic for the other side of Elliot’s life, because he is also a best-selling true-crime author. And he seems to invest all of his caring and understanding into his books.

Megan is even a fan of his writing – in spite of the fact that she never believed that Elliot thought she was good enough for his brother. And particularly in spite of the fact that when her brother’s wife disappeared 7 years ago, leaving him to raise their two children, Elliot was one of many people in Haven Point who believed that Luke Hamilton had murdered his wife and hidden her body.

When Elliot returns to Haven Point, he’s on leave from the FBI. He disobeyed orders, got himself shot, killed an informant, messed up a DEA case and is now on suspension while he heals from the bullet wound.

He’s also working on his next book. And he’s booked himself into Megan’s inn to work on it. He’s not quite willing to admit to himself that he’s staying at the inn in the hopes of running into Megan – and he’s surprised to discover that she’s living in the cabin next to his.

And that the undercurrents between them are as strong as ever – in spite of all the skeletons in their respective closets.. The question is whether they can lay those bones to rest, or whether the past will continue to stand between them and the future they might have – together.

Escape Rating B+: The Cottages on Silver Beach feels like its about two things. One is trust, and the other is about just how much the baggage of the past holds you back from your brightest future.

The baggage that both Megan and Elliot carry from their birth families is pretty heavy. Megan’s father was both physically and emotionally abusive. While he reserved his physical abuse for his wife, he doled out the emotional abuse to everyone in the house. All Megan ever heard from her dad was that she was plain, dumb and useless. The bastard is long dead, and good riddance to bad rubbish, but she still hears his voice in her head whenever she steps outside her comfort zone.

And it’s that disparaging voice that has kept her from realizing her dream of being an art photographer. She has the skill, but lacks the confidence to put her work out there.

Elliot, on the other hand, is hyper-responsible. In a big family of drama kings and queens, Elliot was expected to take care of everyone and everything – and he’s internalized that message to the point where he suppresses his own emotions and personality.

They can help each other get past their fears, but only if they can get rid of the elephant-sized baggage that’s always in the room with them. Seven years ago Megan’s sister-in-law disappeared after a fight with her husband, Megan’s brother Luke. Neither she nor her body were ever found, and there are many in town who believe that Luke got away with murder.

As a law enforcement officer, Elliot feels duty-bound to admit that it is entirely possible that Luke killed his wife. He may not want to believe it, but it is possible as far as the evidence shows. Megan believes in her brother unconditionally, and as long as they are on opposite sides of this fence, they have no future. Even though they can’t seem to trust themselves when they’re together, as long as Elliot has even a glimmer of an idea that Luke might be guilty, Megan can’t trust him with her heart.

But resolving the issue may reveal Luke’s guilt. Or it may reveal that the previous police chief, Elliot’s late father, mishandled his last big case. That’s a lot of real, painful stuff to get in the way of a romance.

It’s up to Elliot to find a way for all of them to move forward, not just his romance with Megan, but his former friendship with Luke, closure for Luke’s kids, and finally removing the dark cloud over the town. If he can. If he should.

In the end, it’s that dilemma that drives the story much more than the romance. And it felt right.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I am giving away a copy of The Cottages on Silver Beach to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: Echo Moon by Laura Spinella + Giveaway

Review: Echo Moon by Laura Spinella + GiveawayEcho Moon by Laura Spinella
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, romantic suspense
Series: Ghost Gifts #3
Pages: 428
Published by Montlake Romance on May 22, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

A past life, a past war, and a past love. Peter St John can’t foresee a future until he confronts his past sins.

When photojournalist Peter St John returns home after a two-year absence, the life he’s been running from catches up. For years his mother’s presence, coupled with Pete’s own psychic gift, has triggered visits to 1917. There, he relives battles of the Great War, captures the heyday of Coney Island on canvas, and falls in love with an enchanting and enigmatic songstress named Esme. Present-day Pete still pines for Esme, and his love endures…but so does his vivid memory of killing her.

When he discovers family heirlooms that serve as proof of his crimes, Pete will have to finally confront his former life. He also meets a young woman—who is more than what she seems—with a curious connection to his family. As century-old secrets unravel, can Pete reconcile a murder from his past before it destroys his future?

My Review:

Echo Moon is a haunting story about the way that the past can quite literally haunt the present. Or at least Peter St. John’s present. And fair warning, I’m going to use the word “haunting” a lot in this review, because it’s the only one that really fits.

Pete has a gift, or a curse depending on one’s perspective, of being able to speak to the dead. He receives messages, and his receipt is beyond his control. As this story opens, Pete himself is running out the edges of his control.

While his mother Aubrey receives what they call “ghost gifts” from the past, Pete remembers his entire previous life – or at least his previous life up to the point where he murdered the woman he loved.

He can’t escape his visions of that past, and he can’t manage to escape his love for the beautiful, talented and ultimately doomed Esme Moon. Esme was a singer and medium in World War I era New York City, and Pete vividly remembers both loving her and killing her.

When his mother inherits a New Jersey beach shack from his grandmother, who worked the traveling carnivals in her own youth, Pete’s past and his present collide. In the uncertainty of whether he’s losing control or losing his mind, Pete finally lets himself explore the history that he has refused to acknowledge, no matter where it leads.

They say the truth will set you free. Pete needs the truth to make him whole – in one century or another.

Escape Rating B+: Although this is not strictly a time-travel story, the atmosphere in Echo Moon reminds me an awful lot of that classic, lyrical work of time travel, Time and Again by Jack Finney. It’s not the time period, but both stories have that strong bittersweet sense of the past haunting and looming over the present. Richard Matheson’s equally classic Bid Time Return (filmed as Somewhere in Time) also has that same bittersweet romantic feel.

But more than the time travel, Echo Moon reminds me of Robin D. Owens’ Ghost Seer series, which begins (naturally enough) with Ghost Seer. Clare Cermak’s gifts are very similar to Pete St. John’s, without the overwhelming sense of guilt that haunts Pete. After all, while Clare can lay the ghosts of her assigned era to rest, she isn’t responsible for turning them into ghosts in the first place.

Echo Moon is the third book in the Ghost Gifts series, although those first two books (Ghost Gifts and Foretold) feature Pete’s mother Aubrey and not Pete himself. Not having read those first two books, it took me a while to get into this one. It’s not that the action doesn’t pick up easily, or that what happens to Pete is truly reliant on what happened to his mother – or at least not exactly and certainly not at the beginning.

But not having already been immersed in the family’s history, the events here didn’t have quite the resonance they otherwise might have. We know that Pete is running from himself, but the reasons why aren’t as deep as they eventually become once the reader becomes invested in Pete’s story and especially Pete’s trauma.

Having PTSD because of events one experienced in a previous life is not the way that textbook definitions of PTSD usually go – and that makes it all the more difficult to treat or resolve.

In the end, the story does suck even the newbie reader into its web of romance, intrigue and mysticism. Once that happens, the story moves fast, as neither Pete nor the reader are ever quite sure whether the past is merely influencing the present or actively impinging on it or whether Pete has just finally lost it altogether.

When he finds it, and himself, it makes for a lovely ending.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I am giving away a signed copy of Echo Moon to one lucky US/Canadian commenter on this tour!

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Review: I Am Justice by Diana Munoz Stewart + Giveaway

Review: I Am Justice by Diana Munoz Stewart + GiveawayI Am Justice (Band of Sisters, #1) by Diana Munoz Stewart
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Band of Sisters #1
Pages: 384
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on May 1, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This bad-ass band of sisters plays for keeps.


She's ready to start a warJustice Parish takes down bad guys. Rescued from the streets by the world-renowned Parish family, she joined their covert sisterhood of vigilante assassins. Her next target: a sex-trafficking ring in the war-torn Middle East. She just needs to get close enough to take them down...

He just wants peaceSandesh Ross left Special Forces to found a humanitarian group to aid war-torn countries. But saving the world isn't cheap. Enter Parish Industries and limitless funding, with one catch— their hot, prickly PR specialist', Justice Parish. Their chemistry is instant and off-the-charts. But when Justice is injured and her cover blown, Sandesh has to figure out if he can reconcile their missions. With danger dogging their every move, their white-hot passion can change the world— if it doesn't destroy them first.

My Review:

Think of this story as a big message about paying it forward – backed up with bullets. Or as a 21st century league-of-extraordinary-but-not-in-the-least-bit-gentle women. Or perhaps as the story of a group of contemporary Amazons who specialize in giving people who abuse women and girls every single thing that they deserve – with extreme prejudice.

The Parish family has a secret. Or is a secret. Actually it’s a little bit of both. On the surface it looks like Mukta Parish runs an elite boarding school for girls. She has also adopted a number of young girls from heartbreaking circumstances. And both of those things are true.

But it is also a front. The Parish family rescues girls and women being abused and trafficked, just as Mukta herself was once abused. The foundation she founded continues to rescue girls and women in those horrible circumstances, all over the world. And some of those girls she adopts into her family – and trains them to be covert operators and assassins, who go in and rescue women in countries and situations where official authorities won’t go – or don’t care to even try.

Justice Parish is one of her daughters. But someone in Justice’s family has betrayed her, so she’s sent, undercover, with a charitable organization that can get her where she needs to be without relying on her family’s resources.

In the process of exposing the traitor in her own home, Justice finds herself leaning on, or falling for, the ex-special forces soldier who thinks that she’s just a PR flack. When all of their plans go completely pear-shaped – they realize that the only person that each of them can really count on is the other.

And that so much of what they’ve always believed is a lie.

Escape Rating B+: As the saying goes, this story is not for the faint of heart. Justice was herself rescued from horrific circumstances – circumstances which still haunt her days and disrupt her nights. In turn, she spends her life rescuing others from hells that would be neverending if not for her family’s operations.

She has no doubt that she is a vigilante operating outside the law. And the same time, in most of the places where she operates, the law either turns a blind eye to the abuses or is corrupt to the point of being part of the problem.

But whatever her mission ostensibly is in Jordan, the truth is that she is out for revenge. The traffickers that she intends to kill are the same men who killed her sister Hope. And she wants to make them suffer. But she’ll settle for making them dead – no matter what it takes.

She hasn’t factored falling in love into her plans. Nor has she counted on questioning not just the loyalties of those who have betrayed her, but also her own. It’s a hard journey for Justice. It begins in a difficult place and mostly gets worse – as well as more torturous.

Justice reminds me of some of the more tortured and less busty versions of Lara Croft in that both are fighters and neither have pretty background stories. I like her loyalty to her family, and at the same time I like the way she finally wakes up and starts to question what she’s always believes. This story is a wake-up call for her. But it’s also a very gritty story, and lots of bad things happen to both good and bad people, described in graphic ways that do not make for easy bedtime reading.

Yes, this is a romance and her hero is both drool-worthy and worthy of her. Sandesh Ross is a man who will fight beside her, and never try to keep her safe – especially as they both know that safety is an illusion. They make a great team.

But it’s Justice Parish’ story all the way. And if you like your heroines very gritty and extremely kick-ass, it’s a damn good one.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I am giving away a copy of I Am Justice to one lucky US/CAN commenter.

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Review: Sin and Tonic by Rhys Ford

Review: Sin and Tonic by Rhys FordSin and Tonic (Sinners, #6) by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, romantic suspense
Series: Sinners #6
Pages: 270
Published by Dreamspinner Press on May 15, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Miki St. John believed happy endings only existed in fairy tales until his life took a few unexpected turns… and now he’s found his own.

His best friend, Damien, is back from the dead, and their new band, Crossroads Gin, is soaring up the charts. Miki’s got a solid, loving partner named Kane Morgan—an Inspector with SFPD whose enormous Irish family has embraced him as one of their own—and his dog, Dude, at his side.

It’s a pity someone’s trying to kill him.

Old loyalties and even older grudges emerge from Chinatown’s murky, mysterious past, and Miki struggles to deal with his dead mother’s abandonment, her secrets, and her brutal murder while he’s hunted by an enigmatic killer who may have ties to her.

The case lands in Kane’s lap, and he and Miki are caught in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse. When Miki is forced to face his personal demons and the horrors of his childhood, only one thing is certain: the rock star and his cop are determined to fight for their future and survive the evils lurking in Miki’s past.

My Review:

If you are a fan of this series, this finale is going to seriously cut you up emotionally. And if you’re not a fan, or at least not yet, I suggest starting with the first book, Sinner’s Gin. Be prepared for one hell of a ride.

This is also a giant hint that Sin and Tonic is not the place to start reading the Sinners series. This is where it ends, and the emotional resonance of that ending will be completely lost if you start here. This one packs a hell of an emotional wallop, along with the solutions to all the mysteries that stand at the heart of Miki St. John, but only if you go back to where it all began in Sinner’s Gin.

You might need one – or more – of the drinks that all the titles are based on before you finish.

In the end, this entire series is the story of one man learning over and over again to become strong in all of his many, many broken places. And that in order for that to happen, he needs to let people (and a dog named Dude) into his life and his heart.

In this series finale, Miki thinks he has everything he needs to step into his future, when his past blasts into his life and tries to end it, once and for all. And nearly succeeds, Again. But with the help of his lover, his new-found family and finally his old-found family, Miki is the one left standing.

After one hell of a lot of tragedy, there’s finally triumph. And a happy ending.

Escape Rating B+: As much as loved Sin and Tonic, and in fact the entire Sinners series, I also have to admit that the first 2/3 of this book wasn’t as absorbing as some of the other books in the series, and I think that has to do with its length and what it took to make it as long as it was.

And it feels long. I have an eARC in my kindle app, and at 5156 kindle locations, this book is considerably longer than the 270 pages that Goodreads and Amazon claim that it is. I’d estimate that it is closer to 400 pages if not more. And as much as I hate to admit this, too much of those extra 130 or so pages is sex. While I enjoy a good sex scene as much as the next romance reader, for me at least there is a limit to how much of other people’s sex lives I find interesting. I was completely invested in solving the riddle of Miki’s origins and all of the truly awful things that have happened to him, and the sheer volume of sex scenes got in my way.

It’s not that each individual scene isn’t well written, because they are. But there were so many that they got in the way of the story. At least for me. Your mileage, and certainly Miki and Kane’s mileage, definitely may vary.

However, and in this case it’s a great big however, once past that ⅔ mark, the story kicks into high gear with a series of gut-wrenching revelations and a hail of bullets. More than one hail.

From the point where Miki finally learns the truth about his own origin story until the end, the story races in high gear from one crisis to the next, and the hits just keep on coming until the hitter is finally taken out.

That last third leaves the reader reeling, as all the secrets that have been powering this book, and in fact the entire series, are revealed and shot away, one after another. And that ending is glorious.

There is a tour for this book, and even though I’m not part of the tour, I loved this series so much that I can’t resist linking to it. I really want to share the love for this awesome series. So if you want to learn more about the book and the series, check out the tour. Rhys Ford’s site has all the details.

Review: The Other Lady Vanishes by Amanda Quick

Review: The Other Lady Vanishes by Amanda QuickThe Other Lady Vanishes by Amanda Quick, Jayne Ann Krentz
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, romantic suspense
Series: Burning Cove #2
Pages: 368
Published by Berkley on May 8, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Knew Too Much sweeps readers back to 1930s California--where the most dazzling of illusions can't hide the darkest secrets...

After escaping from a private sanitarium, Adelaide Blake arrives in Burning Cove, California, desperate to start over.

Working at an herbal tea shop puts her on the radar of those who frequent the seaside resort town: Hollywood movers and shakers always in need of hangover cures and tonics. One such customer is Jake Truett, a recently widowed businessman in town for a therapeutic rest. But unbeknownst to Adelaide, his exhaustion is just a cover.

In Burning Cove, no one is who they seem. Behind facades of glamour and power hide drug dealers, gangsters, and grifters. Into this make-believe world comes psychic to the stars Madame Zolanda. Adelaide and Jake know better than to fall for her kind of con. But when the medium becomes a victim of her own dire prediction and is killed, they'll be drawn into a murky world of duplicity and misdirection.

Neither Adelaide or Jake can predict that in the shadowy underground they'll find connections to the woman Adelaide used to be--and uncover the specter of a killer who's been real all along...

My Review:

Now that I’ve finished the second book in the Burning Cove series, after last year’s terrific The Girl Who Knew Too Much, I still want to know if Burning Cove is just down the road from Scargill Cove.

While this series does not have the same paranormal elements that the author’s Arcane Society series(s) do, it still has a lot of the same feel. In the case of The Other Lady Vanishes, that feeling includes a surprising touch of the Gothic, particularly for a book set in the 1920s and not the Victorian Era.

The Gothic influence is provided by remote Rushbrook Sanitarium, designed as a creepy Gothic Victorian castle, but situated in a small town in California. And the awful things that happen there are enough to give anyone nightmares.

We meet Adelaide Blake on the night of her desperate escape from Rushbrook. Adelaide is pretty sure she knows exactly why she’s in Rushbrook, and it’s not because she’s crazy. And not in the way that people in asylums say they’re not crazy when they really are.

She is a bit paranoid. But then again, they really are out to get her.

Her parents, a botanist and a chemist, created a hallucinogenic drug that they called “Daydream”, even though its effects turn out to be more of a nightmare. And anyone it is administered too certainly sees nightmares. But while under the influence of Daydream people not only experience terrible hallucinations, but are also highly suggestible – and incapable of lying.

Adelaide was kidnapped and locked up in Rushbrook so that someone could get hold of the fortune she inherited, and so that no one would look too carefully at her parents’ deaths in a lab accident. And so that the unscrupulous people who stole their research would have a guinea pig on whom to test the drug and who would not be missed.

Her escape screws up everything – at least for everyone involved except Adelaide. She may be on the run, nervous and rightfully afraid, but she’s also free. At least as long as she avoids detection by her pursuers. And her paranoia is certainly justified, because she is being pursued.

She’s made a good life for herself, and made friends, in the small town of Burning Cove, where Hollywood stars come to play at the resort and casino. Adelaide has even become a minor local celebrity, developing medicinal tea blends not just for the stars but also for the residents.

And businessman Jake Truett, supposedly in Burning Cove to calm his shattered nerves, comes to her tea room every day for a cup of calming green tea and the opportunity to watch the beautiful waitress with the shadows in her eyes.

When their first date results in the two of them being lured to the scene of a grisly murder, they discover that there’s something rotten in Burning Cove – and that whoever is behind it wants to add both of them to the list of victims.

Escape Rating B+: The Other Lady Vanishes has a much darker tone than The Girl Who Knew Too Much – even though they both begin with fairly grisly death scenes and feature heroines on the run for their lives.

Rushbrook is a very dark place. It sounds like it would make a marvelous setting for a horror movie, one that I personally would not want to watch. Everything that happens there, and not just to Adelaide, is terrible beyond description – even at the beginning where we don’t know the half of it.

The circumstances that placed Adelaide in Rushbrook have left her with a great many doubts about herself and her own judgment. At the beginning of the story, she constantly second guesses herself about her own sanity. And she rightfully fears that if she attempts to contact anyone to investigate her claims, or worse, if she is located by her pursuers, that no one will believe her because she was a patient in a mental institution. And she’s right to worry.

But it makes for a bit of rough reading at the beginning.

It’s only when Jake enters the picture that Adelaide really starts reclaiming her authentic self. But in order for them to have any kind of relationship, even the partnership necessary to investigate all the deadly chaos that surrounds them, they will have to accept each other’s truths.

For Adelaide to reveal her true story feels fraught with as much peril as her pursuers are attempting to drive her into. And it turns out that Jake is in Burning Cove under multiple false pretenses, not just about who he is, but also about why he’s there and what he’s after.

He’s pursuing a blackmailer – she’s running from a conman who locked her up to control her fortune. Those two cases do not seem to be connected – until they are. And while I didn’t totally buy the romance in this one, I certainly enjoyed the way that they worked together to wrap up everything that had gone wrong – for both of them.

At every turn, Adelaide and Jake are confronted by one twist after another. Just when they think they’ve figured everything out, they discover that they haven’t. Just when they, and the reader, think it’s over – it isn’t.

Those twists and turns will keep you turning pages until the very last word.

Review: Total Bravery by Piper J Drake + Giveaway

Review: Total Bravery by Piper J Drake + GiveawayTotal Bravery by Piper J. Drake
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: True Heroes #4
Pages: 304
Published by Forever on April 24, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

True heroes will do anything to protect the women they love...

As the newest recruit at Search and Protect, Raul has a lot to prove. Luckily, he's got the best friend and partner a man could ask for: a highly trained, fiercely loyal German Shepherd Dog named Taz. Together, Raul and Taz make an unbeatable team. But their first mission in Hawaii really puts them to the test when an international kidnapping ring sets its sights on the bravest woman Raul's ever met . . .

Mali knows her latest job has put one hell of a target on her back. And on this small island paradise, there's nowhere to hide. With a service dog like Taz, Mali feels safe. Sharing close quarters with a smoldering muscle-for-hire like Raul, she feels something else - an unexpected wave of desire. Raul feels it too. But when the kidnappers make their move, he's got to turn that slow-burning passion into hard-hitting action - and save the life of the woman he loves.

My Review:

Although I read the previous book in this series, Absolute Trust, this book does not feel like it followed from that one. At all.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a good time with the people and dogs of Total Bravery, but it does mean that if you want to get into this series and haven’t read the previous books – no problem at all. They are equally good (more on that later) but don’t seem to connect up.

There is one way in which Total Bravery is very much like the previous book in this series. In both cases, while the heroine is in jeopardy and needs the hero’s help to stay safe and alive, said heroine is not the victim of a stalker, or a evil ex (evilex™) or any man with a sexual agenda directed at her. Nor were either of them in danger merely because they are women.

In both cases, the suspense part of the plot revolves around what the heroine does, specifically what she does for a living. It’s her agency that gets her into trouble, and it’s her agency that helps get her out. Nor in either case is the heroine TSTL (that’s Too Stupid To Live) so that she puts herself in unnecessary trouble.

Mali in particular is smart and savvy and knows just what to do when her research partners are suddenly swept off the streets of Hawaii by overheated men in tailored suits. No one wears dark suits in Paradise – unless they are up to something no good and are willing to advertise that fact.

While Mali follows the safety protocols set up by her research team, but she also has an ace in the hole – her sister Arin is part of Search and Protect, a private security and investigation firm that does just what the name implies – and is located in Hawaii.

So Mali doesn’t just hide out – she calls for help from people she knows can definitely help her. In fact, they are experts at it. But with her sister Arin off the island, Mali’s rescue falls to the company’s newest recruits, Raul Sai and his German Shepherd Dog Taz. Once Raul and Taz meet Mali, the three of them form an almost instant team – even in the face of big sister Arin’s confused disapproval.

Arin still sees Mali as the little girl she once protected from bullies, while Mali still sees Arin as the scary big sister who took care of her by displaying her dark side to anyone who threatened little Mali.

Mali may still be a lot smaller than her big sis – but she’s a grown up now with a job that takes her into places as dark and dangerous in their own way as her sister’s military service. Mali and her team are researching human trafficking on the streets of Hawaii, and they’ve gotten into someone’s way.

It’s up to Search and Protect to find her missing team and rescue them, and protect Mali from bad people who want to kill or kidnap her, without trying to shove her into a tight little box the way that her sister wants.

And while Raul and Mali do their best to alternately ignore and explore the explosive chemistry between them – before they have to go their separate ways.

Escape Rating B+: I really, really like the fact that Mali never loses her agency in this story. It’s refreshing, because so often in romantic suspense the heroine gives up her ability to act for herself in order to get rescued, and Mali never does.

I also loved the way that Raul and Taz, along with the other teams in Search and Protect, are so obviously a team. It is a joy to read the way that the two of them work together and are growing towards each other in a true partnership – and that both of them, in obviously different ways, see Mali as a part of their “pack”. Taz is possibly even more protective of Mali than Raul is, but then again, Taz has considerably less emotional baggage to deal with.

In spite of the obvious physical differences, one of the things that is emphasized in this romance is that Raul and Mali, if they pursue a relationship, can hurt each other. All too often it’s all about the woman getting hurt, and about her giving up essential pieces of herself to stay with the man. That doesn’t happen here.

And it’s both that Mali will have to deal with Raul’s focused and deadly military side, as well as the things he has to do and the acts that he has committed to stay alive, and that Raul will have to deal with the fact that Mali will put herself in danger for her work. It’s also that they live as far apart in the U.S. as possible (Boston vs. Hawaii) and that they will have to compromise to be together, but without giving up anything essential to either of them. The author makes it work.

Another thing that worked for me in this story is that Raul never minimizes or discounts anything that Mali says. Not only does that happen too often in fiction, it happens entirely too damn often in real life, where women’s words, intelligence, warnings and gut instincts are ignored or discounted because they are women. He takes her seriously every step of the way, and by example makes sure that the rest of the team does too.

The romance in this story takes a bit of a back burner to finding and rescuing Mali’s teammates, and that’s as it should be. That both sides of the story do resolve happily is what made this one so much fun.

As much as I am a cat person in real life, I love this trend of smart, protective dogs as characters in military romance and romantic suspense. Bring on the puppies!

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Review: Fast Burn by Lori Foster

Review: Fast Burn by Lori FosterFast Burn (Body Armor, #4) by Lori Foster
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Body Armor #4
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on March 20th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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For the woman who’s his perfect match, he’s willing to break the rules…

The moment Brand Berry meets beautiful, driven Sahara Silver, the connection between them is electric. It’s also something he can’t pursue. Sahara wants him, sure—to join Body Armor, where his MMA skills, size and cocky attitude make him perfect for her elite crew of bodyguards. For Sahara, the agency always comes first, and Brand needs more. Yet when she’s kidnapped by men searching for her missing brother, he doesn’t hesitate.

Somewhere along the way, flirting with Brand for the sake of business turned very personal. Despite his refusal to join Body Armor, it’s Brand who steps up when Sahara needs him most. Now there’s no more time for games, and no point denying the hunger they both feel. They’ll escape together or not at all. But if they survive, can Sahara finally surrender control to claim this blazing passion?

My Review:

Fast Burn is the fourth and it looks like final book in the Body Armor series. I’ve had a mixed reaction to the books in this series. I loved books two and three, Hard Justice and Close Contact, but had a lukewarm reaction to the first book in the series, Under Pressure.

My feelings about Fast Burn are all too similar to my feelings about Under Pressure. Let me explain…

This series is romantic suspense. That has meant that the bodyguards from the Body Armor Agency, former MMA fighters all, have a tendency to fall in love with the body they are guarding. But Fast Burn is a bit different, because the body that needs protection in this case is the owner of the agency, Sahara Silver.

And the man who wants to guard her is not part of Body Armor. Not that she hasn’t tried to recruit Brand Berry, but that Brand has refused to be recruited, in spite of Sahara’s patented full-court press.

Brand is interested in Sahara and not her Agency. He does not want to work for a woman that he wants to date. And a whole lot more. It makes sense to this reader. They can either have a personal relationship or a working one, but not both – especially not in their case, where both of them have the need to be in control of absolutely everything all the time. Compromise is not going to be easy for either of them.

One of the underlying plot threads in this entire series revolves around Sahara’s missing brother Scott. Scott has been missing and presumed dead for a couple of years now, after his boat was found with his girlfriend’s dead body on it and plenty of his own spilled blood along with hers. But his body was never found, and Sahara believes that Scott is out there, still alive.

When a bunch of thugs kidnap Sahara in order to get back the money that Scott owes them, one way or another, their leader believes that putting Sahara in danger will bring Scott out of the woodwork. He might be right, but before that can happen, it brings out the protective instincts of every one of the guys that Sahara has hired at Body Armor. As well as the one that she hasn’t, Brand Berry.

Sahara is now the person with the target on her back, and Brand is more than willing to step up and protect her – 24/7. But not as a member of her staff. Not at all. He just wants to protect her, and wipe the floor with the guys who are after her. Sahara isn’t sure that she can give up being in charge 24/7 in order to let someone take care of her, even for a second.

But the sharks are circling, and it’s a race to the finish. But whose?

Escape Rating C+: One of the things that made the Body Armor series so good was the character of Sahara Silver. As the owner of the agency, she has been part of every single book, and generally a fairly large part. She’s been the person that many of the women in the stories initially turn to, and she’s been kind, understanding and helpful without either giving up any of her femininity or any of her take charge agency. Either the actual agency, Body Armor, or her own personal agency as a mover and shaker in each story.

She loses all of that in Fast Burn. The whole story is all about all the guys, but particularly Brand, patting her on the head and letting her know that they’ve got this and that she really should let them take over and not worry her pretty little head. Whenever she tries to contradict or correct them, they pretty much ignore whatever she says.

While the possibility of her missing brother not only being alive but protecting her from the sidelines is certainly enough to make anyone just a bit crazy, Sahara seems to go off the rails and fall apart, giving Brand the chance to swoop in and protect her – whether she needs it or not.

As one of the characters says in one of my favorite video games, “swooping is bad”.

The men, but particularly Brand, do their level best to keep Sahara from participating in an operation that is all hers – it’s both all about her brother and all about a gang of idiots that keep trying to kidnap her and even succeed more than once. She also runs off half-cocked and puts herself in danger in ways that are definitely outside her character until this book.

This included an added filip of a trope I dislike, the one where the villain has a hard on for the female in danger and has the strong desire to take her and break her. This particular villain was much less vile than most, but that added element wasn’t necessary to ramp up the amount of danger Sahara kept landing herself in.

At the same time, I really love the character of Sahara, and I wanted to see her get her HEA as well as solve the mystery of what happened to her brother. I’ve liked all of the men that she has recruited for Body Armor, and it was fun to catch up with them a bit and see just how much they all care about her boss. I just wish it hadn’t been necessary to take away so much of Sahara’s agency to protect her.

I hope we see more characters like Sahara has been in the previous books, women who are intelligent, capable and very much in charge while still being happy and proud to be women. And we shouldn’t have to watch them sacrifice who they are to get their HEA.

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Review: A Dangerous Game by Heather Graham

Review: A Dangerous Game by Heather GrahamA Dangerous Game (New York Confidential #3) by Heather Graham
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: New York Confidential #3
Pages: 336
Published by Mira Books on March 13th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The third novel in the New York Confidential series by long-established NYT bestselling romantic suspense author Heather Graham. This is the author's romantic-suspense stream, in addition to her successful ongoing mass market paperback paranormal romantic suspense series.

Psychologist Kieran Finnegan is thrust into the middle of an investigation into human trafficking when a desperate woman shoves an infant into her arms and then flees...only to be murdered minutes later on a busy Manhattan street. Despite the fact that it isn't an FBI case, Special Agent Craig Frasier starts poking around, because Kieran can't stop thinking about the child and the victim. Their one lead comes through the pub, Finnegan's on Broadway. One of the waitresses also volunteers at a church outreach center, and had been in contact with a distraught young pregnant woman, whom she recommended Kieran to as someone who might be able to help her. When Kieran goes to the outreach center to do some off-the-books investigating of her own, she is approached by two women who are worried for their missing friend, and who reveal that they were part of a human trafficking ring that did business in babies. As Craig and Kieran delve deeper into the underbelly of NYC trying to find out more, the dangerous elements of the ring come to the surface, hoping to silence Kieran before she exposes them.

My Review:

A Dangerous Game is romantic suspense of the “established couples” variety of romantic suspense. FBI Special Agent Craig Frasier and therapist/pub owner Kieran Finnegan met and fell in love in the first book in the series, Flawless, while Craig was undercover. By the time this third book in the series takes place, after last year’s A Perfect Obsession, the two of them are very much in love and are at the stage of living together without actually deciding to live together. In other words, they spend their nights together, but still have two apartments.

They have been together more than long enough to know each other all too well, including each other’s bad habits and the tells they each exhibit when one or the other is covering something up. What they are covering up is usually a case, because Craig’s FBI work seems to run into either Kieran’s patients or her pub with well-beyond-coincidental frequency.

Kieran is a trouble magnet, and that is what begins this story.

A woman comes to Kieran’s office, calls her by name, and hands her a baby. Then the woman rushes out the door and is murdered within steps after she gets outside. It’s obvious that there is way more going on here than meets the eye, and there is plenty going on from that beginning.

The baby and the woman, both Jane Does, lead the police and the FBI to the seamy underground world of human trafficking and baby harvesting. And their investigation links to an all too similar five year old cold case.

Equally coincidentally, Kieran’s soon-to-be-sister-in-law, an Irish immigrant herself, is contacted by two young women, one of them also Irish, who are on the run from a human trafficking organization controlled by an unnamed but ruthless “King” and “Queen”.

As Craig, the FBI, the NYPD, Homeland Security AND the U.S. Marshalls’ office all investigate the various aspects of what seems to be an extremely well organized criminal enterprise that has eyes and ears virtually everywhere, Kieran strikes out on her own, putting herself in danger over and over again.

Not that Craig is ever exactly safe, but he is, at least trained for this. Kieran just can’t seem to resist putting herself in harm’s way, repeatedly and perhaps just a little too often.

In the end, they manage to cut off the head of this particular snake. And they decide to get married. All in a day’s work.

Escape Rating B: I have not read the previous books in this series, but I did read Law and Disorder, which seems to be part of a side-series to New York Confidential. It gave me enough background to be able to slide right into Kieran’s and Craig’s “adventures”, and into the terrific atmosphere of Finnegan’s Pub.
But I think a reader could come into A Dangerous Game without having read any of the previous books. Events from those earlier stories are certainly referred to, but don’t actually impact current events, except in the sense that they provide a pattern. It’s pretty clear that both Finnegan’s Pub and Kieran Finnegan herself attract trouble the way that certain lights attract bugs, as in they don’t exactly go looking for trouble, but they can’t resist it once they find it, and they willing dash themselves against it no matter how much damage it does to themselves or others.

The case that they have become involved in has a “ripped from the headlines” feel to it. In spite of our problems, the United States is still a country that many people in terrible situations want to come to. And the situations they are often fleeing are so terrible that they believe that any circumstance here, no matter how awful, must be better than the place they are so desperate to leave. The more the screws tighten on legal immigration, the more desperate people become, and the easier it is for the desperate to become prey to monsters in human form.

The human traffickers in this particular story have eyes and ears everywhere, and tentacles in every organization that can help them find more victims and cover up their crimes. Early on in the story, Craig is aware that someone close to the investigation, if not multiple someones, must be in the pay of the criminals. Figuring out who those person or persons might be takes place over a good chunk of the story. In the end, readers will find that the characters they have suspected all along are actually the guilty parties.

In spite of the frenetic beginning, the case as a whole takes a while to ramp up to speed. I found the first third of the book a bit slow going, but once past that point, events occur at breakneck speed and the reader gets caught up in the chase. In spite of the predictable elements to some parts of the ending, the story does keep you glued to your seat from that point forward. In the end, a good time is had by all, including the reader, and evil does get its just desserts. As it should be.

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Review: Fatal Chaos by Marie Force

Review: Fatal Chaos by Marie ForceFatal Chaos by Marie Force
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Fatal #12
Pages: 416
Published by Hqn on February 27th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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First the calm. Then the storm...Escaping DC during the dog days of summer is one of the smartest moves Washington metro police lieutenant Samantha Holland ever made. Beach walks aren't quite as romantic with the Secret Service in tow, but Sam and her husband, Vice President Nick Cappuano, cherish the chance to recharge and reconnect--especially with a scandal swirling around the administration.No sooner are they back home than a fatal drive-by shooting sets the city on edge. The teenage victim is barely older than Sam and Nick's son, Scotty. As more deaths follow, Sam and her team play beat the clock to stop the ruthless killers. With Nick facing his greatest challenge--one that could drastically change all their lives and even end Sam's career--will the mounting pressure deepen or damage their bond?

My Review:

I read the first two books in this series (Fatal Affair and Fatal Justice) a couple of years ago. I always intended to go back, but couldn’t seem to get a round tuit. So when Fatal Chaos came up on my radar, in spite of it coming ten books after my first foray in this series, I decided to see if I could pick this Washington DC power couple back up where I left off, without reading the intervening books in the series.

And it turns out that I could. And that they remind me even more of an early 21st century Dallas and Roarke than they did upon earlier reading. And that’s still marvelous company to be solving crimes in.

(And yes, I realize that’s an awful lot of ANDS.)

There’s enough backstory to get new or new-ish readers right into the action. Sam Hollands is a Detective Lieutenant with the slightly fictional DC Metro Police Department. Her husband, Nick Cappuano, who was a senator’s chief of staff when first we met our heroes, has moved up in the world, mostly reluctantly. Nick is now Vice-President, after a series of deaths and scandals not dissimilar to the way he became Senator in the first place.

Nick is VP the same way that Gerald Ford was, or perhaps the way that Nelson Rockefeller was, albeit a whole lot better looking than either. He was appointed by the President after the office was vacated mid-term. I think I remember that the President who appointed Nick was also appointed rather than elected, hence the reference to Nelson Rockefeller, the appointed VP of an appointed P.

Come to think of it, this series also begins with a scandalous crime at the Watergate. Hmmm.

But as seems to always be the case with this series, Nick and Sam are under a lot of pressure, both separately and together. The President is in big trouble over the events in Fatal Threat. His son was on a murderous campaign to get Nick and Sam out of the way. Even though said son was well into adulthood, the press and the Democratic Party are having a difficult time believing that he knew nothing of what his son was up to. Impeachment is on the horizon, something that Nick and Sam dread possibly even more than the President does.

Nick isn’t sure he wants to ever be President, and he’s dead certain he doesn’t want to be President right now. Sam is absolutely sure that she doesn’t want to be First Lady, which will require her to have a Secret Service detail and force her to give up her career as a homicide detective.

Speaking of homicide, the case that Sam and her department are desperate to solve involves what initially appear to be a series of random drive-by shootings. However, those shootings are so accurate that the squad can only locate one person capable of committing the crime – a retired Metro PD sharpshooter who has been missing during the entire crime spree.

So Sam has to do what Sam does best – see just how many of her brothers and sisters in blue she can royally piss off before she catches the killers. All while burying her head in the sand over all the other threats to her life and happiness that loom on the horizon.

Escape Rating B+: When I read the first two books in this series, I said then that they were reading crack, and I’ll stand by that description. They are excellent reading crack. I finished this one in an evening, because I couldn’t put it down.

Sam and Nick are marvelous protagonists. They have found true love in the midst of extreme chaos, are not the least bit shy about showing it, and absolutely refuse to let it go, no matter what.

But there are an awful lot of those “whats” in their life together.

The big elephant in the room is the possibility that Nick might become President, with all of the changes that will cause in their life. Sam, like Eve Dallas in the In Death series, was made to be a cop. While there is a possibility that some day she might be willing to give up being a homicide detective, she is relatively young and that day is definitely not yet. It’s pretty obvious that it will kill an important part of her if she has to stop. So the threat to their happiness is very real, and hangs over most of the story.

The immediate problem is Sam’s case. Someone is killing at random, including children. Nothing seems to link the victims. But the method of the crime begins to narrow down the possibilities, and that’s where Sam gets herself in trouble. Again.

There’s a long history of some of Sam’s colleagues resenting her for her relatively quick rise through the ranks. And an unfortunate history of those same resentful colleagues exhibiting the kind of behavior that gets them thrown off them force, usually after Sam discovers what they’ve been up to. She’s already dealing with two different past incidents during this book, and at least two more crop up. Sam’s a busy woman, and does not let anything stand in her way when she’s on a case, not even the demands of her own body to get some rest after more than 24 hours on duty.

She’s certainly not about to let a philandering detective or an overly cautious commander protecting an old friend get in her way – not that she won’t pay for both of those incidents later, in another book.

And a big part of what makes this book and series so good, and also deepens the resemblance to the In Death series, is the way that Sam’s squad has developed into a terrific unit of friends as well as colleagues, and the way that they always have each other’s backs, especially hers.

While Sam may be the star, in the end it’s the team and their teamwork that solve the case. And that’s awesome.

I suspect that for readers who have kept up with the entire series, there is a lot more depth in the scenes that focus on the team and their friends and loved ones, as there are clearly lots of looks back at previous books and previous couples who have found their HEAs within Sam and Nick’s orbit. But even without having that deep background, and in spite of all the curveballs and crises that life keeps throwing Sam and Nick’s way, this is still a terrific piece of romantic suspense.

I’m looking forward to going back for more.

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Review: Off the Leash by M.L. Buchman

Review: Off the Leash by M.L. BuchmanOff the Leash (White House Protection Force #1) by M L Buchman
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: White House Protection Force #1
Pages: 210
Published by Buchman Bookworks on January 26th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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-White House Protection Force Romance #1-

The White House Protection Force Saves the Day! Come meet the behind-the-scenes specialists who keep our White House safe—even while they lose their hearts.

White House Chocolatier Clive Andrews takes pride in the subliminal messages hidden in his State Dinner showstoppers. But there’s more than sensual sweets at risk when his heart begins to melt.

Sergeant Linda Hamlin left the Army after a decade of service. As the newest member of the U.S. Secret Service K-9 Team she expected flak. She didn’t expect to be paired with a misfit mutt named Thor. Together they face down bombers, master spies, and a teenage genius.

All of which might be manageable, if not for the handsome chocolatier who teaches her that a little indulgence can be a very good thing.

My Review:

This was so much fun!

I don’t know what I was expecting when I opened this book, but whatever it was, I was absolutely charmed by the book itself. The opening scenes sucked me right in, where Sergeant Linda Hamlin meets her new dog, Thor, as part of her final exam for the Secret Service K-9 corps.

Linda was just honorably discharged from the Army Rangers K-9 unit after over a decade of very meritorious service. Now she’s a bit burned out and totally at loose ends.

Thor is not what she thought she needed, and neither is White House chocolate chef Clive Andrews.

First there’s poor little Thor. I know it’s difficult to attach the name “Thor” to something little, but this mutt seems to have gotten the name as a very bad joke. He’s a mish-mash of small terrier breeds, and not exactly the prettiest mix of them either. He looks like a purse dog, and he’s not much bigger – maybe 30 pounds. That’s not just small for a police dog, it’s downright tiny.

But he comes with one hell of a training pedigree, if not much of an actual one. Thor and Linda bond instantly, and pass the final exam course with flying colors – much to the chagrin of the exam proctor.

There’s nothing about Clive’s job as a White House chef that should have him watching Linda’s final exam. But when the mysterious Miss Watson, who occupies a hidden office in the White House sub-basement and seems to be on no known org chart whatsoever, says go here and do thus-and-such, people go there and do whatever she said. She “asked” Clive to watch Linda’s final test, so he does.

And he’s instantly captivated.

As Linda gets settled into her new duties as part of the White House Secret Service, she and Thor find themselves in the middle of a case that begins with diplomatic repercussions, but just gets weirder and weirder as it goes along.

It’s possible that two career Japanese diplomats are attempting to smuggle explosives into or near the White House – but that makes no sense whatsoever. And the more that Linda looks into the things that don’t fit about that puzzle, the stranger things seem.

When the likeliest, but oddest, conclusion is that someone is planning to disrupt a state dinner that brings Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian and Philippine diplomats to the table to discuss the real-life situation in the South China Sea, there’s still no clue as to why, who, or what the purpose of the disruption is.

It’s only when Linda, with a bit of help from Thor (and Clive) figures out the who that the why and the what become clear. And in the process, Linda, who has never really felt she belonged anywhere or with anyone, finally realizes that she’s come home.

Escape Rating A-: This was fun. In fact, it was way more fun that I was expecting, and I was certainly expecting good things. This is the second book I’ve received as a member of the M.L. Buchman Special Mission Review Team, and based on the two examples (the other was Big Sky, Loyal Heart) I’m really, really glad I’m in it.

(I received this book in exchange for an honest review. And honestly, I loved it!)

Big Sky, Loyal Heart turns out to be the precursor for Off the Leash and the entire White House Protection Force series, of which this is the first book. But many of Buchman’s series are loosely interconnected, from his first series, Night Stalkers, through Firehawks, Delta Force and Henderson’s Ranch, among others. You don’t have to read them all to enjoy any one of them, but they are all terrific.

There are two plot threads going on in Off the Leash. One is the case that Linda finds herself in the middle of, and the other is her unexpected romance with Clive. Well, it’s certainly unexpected to her, if not to the reader after their first meeting.

While I want to say the romance is a bit of “opposites attract” the more I think about it, the less that feels right. Their careers are certainly nothing alike. Linda has gone from the military to the Secret Service, so effectively into yet another protective role that involves a lot of potential danger. Clive’s career is a totally peacetime operation – he’s a chef! But both of them are driven to be the best at what they do, and both of their jobs, in very different ways, are high pressure, high stress and frequently all consuming. They have similar perspectives on their work, even if the work is very different.

They also have entirely different feelings about love and family and well, feelings. While Clive has not exactly been looking for Ms. Right when he meets Linda, he is very aware that love exists and that families are built upon that foundation. Linda, on the other hand, was a poor little rich girl with a nightmare of a family, and is certain that love is merely a hormonal imbalance that will right itself with time. Their differing beliefs on love and even its existence become the shoals on which their relationship nearly crashes and burns.

The case feels just a bit made-for-television. It was a lot of fun to watch Linda figure it all out, but the resolution was just a bit over the top. We don’t really see enough of the villain or his motivations for the crime to make sense in context. Which didn’t make it any less interesting seeing the whole thing come together.

One final note. That secondary character, Miss Watson, absolutely fascinates me. A long time ago, when I read the author’s first book, The Night is Mine, I said then that the story reminded me of some of the best Jack/Sam fanfiction from Stargate SG-1. Miss Watson, on the other hand, reminds me very much of the inimitable character of Henrietta “Hetty” Lange, the mysterious operations manager in NCIS: Los Angeles. Making the character of Miss Watson tall with her hair in a bun feels like the cosmetic equivalent of filing off the serial number. This is a character I am really looking forward to seeing a whole lot more of. She’ll never be the focus of one of the romances, except possibly in flashback, but she certainly is the proverbial mystery wrapped in an enigma, and I’d love to know more.

I’m also definitely looking forward to seeing more of this series. Off the Leash was both a heartfelt romance and a page-turning bit of romantic suspense. And Thor is a scene-stealer at every turn. I can’t wait for more!