Review: Sentinel Security: Steel by Anna Hackett

Review: Sentinel Security: Steel by Anna HackettSteel (Sentinel Security #4) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Sentinel Security #4
Pages: 272
Published by Anna Hackett on January 26, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

His skills and ruthlessness made him a legend.

The dark, dangerous former spy.

Now the operative turned billionaire known as Steel collides with fiery agent Hellfire when they discover they’re both on the kill list of a deadly assassin.

CIA agent Devyn “Hellfire” Hayden came from nothing and made herself into one of the CIA’s best deep-cover agents. She’s dedicated to her country. She’s always on the move. She’s a loner. Just the way she likes it. Letting people close is a weakness and she’ll never be weak again.

But when she finds herself under attack by an assassin targeting the world’s best intelligence agents, it sends her straight into the path of the only man who tempts her. The dark, lethal Killian “Steel” Hawke.

Killian Hawke rose through the ranks of the CIA, and knows his name is whispered in fear by his enemies. But when his sister needed him, he left and started Sentinel Security. He protects all those he considers his: his sister, his friends, his employees, and his clients.

But there is one stubborn redhead he also wants to claim.

As Devyn and Killian work together to unmask the assassin hunting them, they are forced to confront their white-hot attraction and their violent need to protect each other. Killian is tired of dancing around what he feels for her. Now that she’s in danger, he’ll do whatever it takes to make her safe, claim her heart, and possess her soul.

My Review:

Lovers of the Sentinel Security series have been teased with the inevitability of this story from the very beginning of the series, every bit as much as Killian “Steel” Hawke and Devyn “Hellfire” Hayden have been teasing each other from the first time they met. Back in the day when they were both among the CIA’s best agents.

But when they first laid eyes on each other, Hellfire was an agent on the rise, and Steel was all too aware that he was on the edge of burnout and that his days with the agency were numbered. He didn’t need the temptation, and she couldn’t afford the distraction. Or the other way around. Or both.

Definitely both.

So he turned away and went on his way, out of the CIA and into building his own top-flight, high-end, security business, Sentinel Security. While she continued her rise through the ranks of the CIA to become the best of the best – just as he once was. And still very much is, just in a slightly different and frequently adjacent sphere.

Every time they’ve run into each other – occasionally just about literally – since the Sentinel Security series began, they’ve drawn the kind of sparks off of each other that were bound to lead to one hell of a fire.

If they can just get out of their own ways. As long as they can get themselves out of the sights of an assassin who only thinks he can claim to be the best by taking down the best.

He thinks he can prove he’s in their league. Hellfire and Steel are about to show him just how much he’s not.

Escape Rating A-: First and foremost, I adore this author and her work and am always thrilled to have a new story in whichever series she happens to be working on.

Second, I always love the romance that features the leader of whatever group that series happens to be featuring, so I’ve been waiting for Killian’s story since the series began. (I’m just grateful I didn’t have to bite my nails through quite as many stories as in some of her previous series.)

Third, while I was always intending to read Steel this week I had one book absolutely disappointingly fail, so I was both thrilled and grateful to pick up Steel and dive right in. I knew I would enjoy it, but it turned out to be the perfect book at the perfect time.

Just as Killian Hawke turned out to be, not the perfect man but the perfect man for Hayden. Someone she could trust to have her back in a firefight, who would pull her up when she needed it instead of beating her down when she was already there. Someone who loved her and appreciated her for the kickass woman she was instead of trying to make her be less than in any way, shape or form.

Because she’s perfect for him just as she is. If she was anything less or anything different, she wouldn’t be the woman, the person he needed at his side.

But it isn’t ever going to be easy – and neither is this operation. Someone has a list of the top agents for every spy agency around the world and is planning to assassinate the “Top Ten” on the list. A list that Hellfire and Steel are both on.

The assassin has already eliminated two of their colleagues, had a go at a third, and now they are next. Which means that they are following the trail of their would-be assassin while he’s trying to pull them into his trap. The stakes are the highest, the tension is off the charts and the pages are turning as fast as the reader can flip them.

It’s a race to the finish; either his – or theirs. But together they can conquer anything. Even each other’s doubts, fears and demons. It’s a wild ride from beginning to end. Yet another terrific action adventure romance from an equally terrific author.

As always, I’m already looking forward to her next book, Knightmaster, the first in the Oronis Knights series. I’m always up for good science fiction romance and I know that’s just what I’ll get in March. And Sentinel Security will be back in April, and I’m sure it will be another pulse-pounding romantic adventure!

Review: Sleep No More by Jayne Ann Krentz

Review: Sleep No More by Jayne Ann KrentzSleep No More by Jayne Ann Krentz
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, romantic suspense
Series: Lost Night Files #1
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley Books on January 3, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Seven months ago, Pallas Llewellyn, Talia March, and Amelia Rivers were strangers, until their fateful stay at the Lucent Springs Hotel. An earthquake and a fire partially destroyed the hotel, but the women have no memory of their time there. Now close friends, the three women co-host a podcast called the Lost Night Files, where they investigate cold cases and hope to connect with others who may have had a similar experience to theirs—an experience that has somehow enhanced the psychic abilities already present in each woman.

After receiving a tip for their podcast, Pallas travels to the small college town of Carnelian, California, to explore an abandoned asylum. Shaken by the dark energy she feels in the building, she is rushing out when she’s stopped by a dark figure—who turns out to be the women's mysterious tipster.

Ambrose Drake is certain he’s a witness to a murder, but without a body, everyone thinks he’s having delusions caused by extreme sleep deprivation. But Ambrose is positive something terrible happened at the Carnelian Sleep Institute the night he was there. Unable to find proof on his own, he approaches Pallas for help, only for her to realize that Ambrose, too, has a lost night that he can’t remember—one that may be connected to Pallas. Pallas and Ambrose conduct their investigation using the podcast as a cover, and while the townsfolk are eager to share what they know, it turns out there are others who are not so happy about their questions—and someone is willing to kill to keep the truth from coming out.

My Review:

Our story begins before it begins. Seven months before, specifically. Three women, Pallas Llewellyn, Talia March and Amelia Rivers, complete strangers to each other, were all invited to the Lucent Springs Hotel for a meeting about restoring the old hotel in this quaint California town. They were woken in the morning – not by a wake up call or an alarm – but by an earthquake. There was hospital equipment all around them, the hotel was on fire, and not a single one of them had any memory of the evening before after entering the hotel.

Officials chalked it up to a girls’ night out party ending in a drunken blackout. But those three women knew that wasn’t the case. They had all undergone a traumatic experience, they all had transient global amnesia (yes, it really does exist) about the events, and they all had their various forms of ‘strong intuition’ ramped up to the point of being honest-to-goodness psychic powers.

They banded together to search for the truth about what happened to them, starting their podcast, The Lost Night Files, to investigate their own and other people’s experiences of having lost a night – or more – to an experience they can’t remember and can’t explain.

And all of their collective families are sure they’ve each gone a bit off the deep end – but they have each other.

Ambrose Drake looks into The Lost Night Files because his experience mirrors theirs. He went to a meeting, has no recollection of the entire night it was supposed to happen, woke up in the morning to discover there were no records of the people or organization that invited him. And his own ‘intuition’ suddenly ramped up to eleven. Alone, he was coping so badly that his family staged an intervention and sent him to have his resulting extreme insomnia studied at a sleep disorder clinic – where he believes he witnessed a murder.

Ambrose needs help, and Pallas Llewellyn and her friends are just the right people to help him. At least once Pallas and Ambrose get past their mutual distrust. After all, they’ve each dealt with plenty of crazies on their way to this rather precarious point in their lives. To survive, they’ll have to learn to trust each other.

Or they won’t survive at all.

Escape Rating A-: The fascinating thing about this very fun read is that it is very much a three-pronged story, and all those prongs come together to hold a rather lovely gem of a book.

The author’s trademark blend of paranormal vibes and psychic powers forms what initially seems like a backdrop to the whole thing. Ambrose, as well as Pallas and her friends, all have some sort of strong intuition that they have mostly kept to themselves – because in the 21st century people who claim to read auras or rebalance energies are generally considered crackpots.

And no one wants THAT on their resume.

(Long time readers of the ‘Jayneverse’ may wonder if this book links up to her vast, sprawling Arcane Society series. The answer is probably, yes, eventually, but at the moment that link is tangential. There’s a tiny, explicit reference to Burning Cove (series begins with The Girl Who Knew Too Much) but it’s a blink and you’ll miss it and doesn’t affect anything in the book in hand at this point.)

The second prong holding the gem is, of course, the slow-burning romance between Pallas and Ambrose. And it’s appropriately slow burn because they don’t initially trust each other one little bit. But they’re stuck together in a rather dangerous ‘foxhole’ and they have to develop that trust in order to, for one thing, just get through the night.

(There’s another form of amnesia, Korsakoff’s syndrome, that results from extremes of alcoholism or malnutrition. Ambrose is courting this version with a combination of insomnia and complete loss of appetite. Honestly, he’s a mess.)

But the third prong was the hook for me. As many vibes and auras surround Pallas and Ambrose, it really seems like the motives for everything that happens to them in the story itself are rather mundane criminal activities even if they are conducted at higher stakes than usual. It seems like the events that brought them to Carnelian California all revolve around people behaving badly because of money and then covering it up. Following the money is a tried and true investigative principle for damn good reasons, after all.

And just when you think that’s where the story is going – the bottom drops out and it all gets just so much bigger that I can’t wait to see where The Lost Night Files goes from here. Hopefully this time next year if not a bit sooner? But first we’ll be taking a trip back to Burning Cove this May in The Bride Wore White.

Review: Sentinel Security: Striker by Anna Hackett

Review: Sentinel Security: Striker by Anna HackettStriker (Sentinel Security #3) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Sentinel Security #3
Pages: 276
Published by Anna Hackett on December 17, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & Noble
Goodreads

He's a hot British billionaire.
The rich, muscled, former special forces soldier.
He's a temptation she doesn't want and can't afford, but now she's working undercover in his company to catch a rogue arms dealer.
Former MI6 agent Hadley "Striker" Lockwood found a new life in New York working for Sentinel Security. Her work fills a tired, jaded hole inside her. Life is just how she likes it, and she definitely has no desire for a man to mess that up.
When her next assignment sends her back to London to hunt a dangerous arms dealer, she finds herself not only face to face with a darkly tempting billionaire, but going undercover as his newest employee.
Bennett Knightley left the SAS with dark scars scratched on his soul and a determination to help in different ways. His successful company Secura makes high-tech gear for soldiers around the world, but now it's under attack. Shipments are going missing, and his people are being targeted.
Enter Hadley-intelligent, stubborn, beautiful, and with walls a mile thick. Bennett's never been tempted to mix business and pleasure, but with Hadley in the office he's torn between their mission and claiming the maddening woman for himself.As Hadley and Bennett close in on their enemy, they fight hard against their overwhelming attraction. She's been burned before but the hot billionaire is getting under her skin. With Hadley, Bennett feels parts of himself coming back to life-now he has to not only convince her to trust him, but convince himself he deserves her.

My Review:

Once a member of Britain’s elite SAS (Special Air Service (the UK’s equivalent – more of less – of the US SEAL Teams), when Bennett Knightley retired from service he took his skills and determination from the front lines and created a highly profitable, high-tech company that specialized in the business of making the best protective equipment on the market for the military and the people who support them who are fighting the same good fight that he once did.

It’s also his way of exorcising his own demons. In honor of the friends he couldn’t protect in the past, because there was never enough good equipment to go around, he’s providing the best protection he can in the present and the future and making sure it goes where it will do the most good.

But someone has Bennett’s company in their sights, diverting his shipments and corrupting his people, putting that same protective gear in the hands of the very forces that Bennett is desperate to protect people from.

And swaying the court of public opinion to make it seem like Bennett is just another money-hungry capitalist selling out to the highest bidder no matter how dirty their money might be.

That’s where Sentinel Security, in the person of Hadley Lockwood, codename Striker, comes into the picture. And into Bennett’s company Secura, working undercover as a communications executive so she can see where the place has been infiltrated and hopefully get a lead on who has a serious desire to hang Bennett out to dry in as many ways as possible.

They’re supposed to work together. And they do. Entirely too well and not just in the office. But Hadley refuses to trust any man with her heart, while Bennett is still paying penance for all the people that he could not save.

All the while, there’s clearly someone out there who thinks Bennett hasn’t paid nearly enough. In spite of the threat, neither Hadley nor Bennett can resist reaching out for a present neither of them ever expected – even though they both know that any future is far from guaranteed.

Escape Rating A-: The two types of this author’s stories that I like best, whether they are science fiction romances like her Galactic Kings series or action adventure romances like Sentinel Security. The first, and the one I always await eagerly, is the romance that features the leader of whatever group the series is following. In the case of Sentinel Security that’s Killian “Steel” Hawke and his book is up NEXT! YAY!

But the other type, and one that manages to happen more than once in each series – after all, when it comes to leaders there can usually be only one – are the romances where the female half of the impending duo is every single bit the elite operator that the male half is – if not a bit more so as in The Medic.

Those elite operators who are so deliciously often the hero of her romances are just so kickass and badass that any woman who tangles romantically with them who is not just as badass in her own right sometimes gets a bit damselfied. Not because she really is, but because in comparison she really does need protection and a lot of it for whatever fix she’s stuck in.

Sentinel Security agent, formerly of MI6, Hadley “Striker” Lockwood does not need protection. She’s an expert either in providing that protection or in making sure that the villains wish they had a whole lot more of it than they actually do.

So Hadley doesn’t need Bennett to protect her from danger just as he doesn’t need Hadley to protect him. But they each are more than capable of watching each other’s backs in the middle of an operation as well as stealing each other’s hearts in their all too brief downtime.

Which makes Striker just the kind of romance of equals that I always enjoy. In this story, they’re both equally capable of taking down the villains. And they are both equally wary of putting their hearts on the line.

So if you love the kind of romance where everyone kicks ass, takes names and puts down the villains on their way to a well-earned happy ever after, Striker is a winner.

And I’m utterly thrilled that the head badass at Sentinel Security, Killian Hawke, is going to be forced to acknowledge that he’s met his match in every possible way in Steel, coming in January. That’s next month. YAY!

Review: Mission: Uncovered by Anna Hackett

Review: Mission: Uncovered by Anna HackettMission: Uncovered by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, romantic suspense
Series: Treasure Hunter Security, Team 52, Norcross Security
Pages: 150
Published by Anna Hackett on 11-1-2022
Purchasing Info: Author's Website
Goodreads

Amber Butler is out to prove herself: to her sister, herself, and especially to her bosses at Treasure Hunter Security. If her mission involves trekking into the desert with someone from the covert black ops Team 52, she’ll do it.

But what she doesn’t expect is for that someone to be her smoking hot Vegas one-night stand.

My Review:

Amber Butler is good at what she does – she just believes she has a difficult time making good choices. She’s having a difficult time letting go of the fact that one of her choices went so very wrong that her sister Peri had to hire Treasure Hunter Security (that story is in Unmapped) to rescue her from the deadly black-market antiquities ring, Silk Road.

Amber believed the job they hired her for, to trek to Antarctica to locate a buried treasure that was a lot more than it seemed – even as her current employers turned out to be a lot worse than they seemed.

Amber took a few hits to her confidence, but in the end Treasure Hunter Security saved the day, Peri met the love of her life, and Amber got herself a new job with people she can trust – that very same Treasure Hunter Security.

After all, she’s an accomplished wilderness guide and occasional treasure hunter. She’s a perfect fit for their organization. Not to mention her about-to-be brother-in-law wants to keep an eye on his future sister-in-law, and her sister wants her working with people who can be trusted.

It should be a win-win-win, but Amber’s still not quite trusting herself. She wants to be seen as a responsible adult and earn her place at THS. But as Amber isn’t currently trusting her judgment or her choices, her plan is to put her nose to the proverbial grindstone, keep her eyes on that prize, and swear off relationships until she feels like she has her act together.

A set of resolutions that flies out the window at escape velocity when THS sends her on THE perfect job for her with the man she never expected to see again. Her last wild one-night stand before she started her new job and made all those oh-so-responsible resolutions.

Treasure Hunter Security has teamed up with their friendly rivals at Team 52 to hunt down a deadly ancient relic in the desert surrounding Lake Mead. Team 52 has brought their newest recruit to team up with Amber and reach Montezuma’s real – and really toxic – revenge before the villains can reverse engineer the old formula and create a weapon of bioterrorism like the world has never seen.

All Amber has to do is guide the hottest man she’s ever slept with to find a relic that’s been lost for centuries in a cave that’s been underwater for decades while resisting every impulse in her body to jump him again. And again.

But Team 52 agent Garrett Webb has plans of his own. His resolution is to tempt Amber to break every single one of hers. Before, during and after they get the villains put down.

Escape Rating A-: If you’ve followed Anna Hackett’s interconnected series, or at least her contemporary action adventure romances, Mission: Uncovered is a terrific coda for all of them. It’s not just that the mission is a joint operation between Team 52 and Treasure Hunter Security, but the Norcross Security folks get to mix in a bit as well. So for fans, this novella is a real treat.

For readers new to the author, Mission: Uncovered is a terrific introduction. While the references to the previous series are fun, the main story is completely new. Amber and Garrett are both new to their respective organizations, still trying to find their places.

Including, they each secretly hope, with each other.

The relic they have to retrieve is itself both old and new. On the one hand, yes, it’s THAT Montezuma. On the other, the cave in which the relic has been hiding all these centuries was at least partially submerged by the construction of Hoover Dam. Falling lake levels may have revealed the formerly hidden entrance.

What makes the story so much fun – in addition to the historical references which I always love – is the romance between Amber and Garrett. They’re both emotionally wounded and neither completely trusts their own judgment when they first meet. It takes them both time and trust to realize that they’re better together than either would be separately, and then they have to be able to trust themselves to decide to give it a go.

So a lovely romance where two people rescue each other into an HEA that is very much earned.

If the author’s work intrigues you, and I hope it does, there are plenty to choose from and all of them are terrific. If you’re specifically interested in Mission: Uncovered, there’s a lovely little bit of a dilemma to get it. This story was written specifically to be a free offering from the Protector Romance Book Club, and if you want it RIGHT NOW you’ll need to join the Book Club to get it – along with the December introductory novellas from another author contributing to the club. Which does sound like a whole lot of win. If you are willing to wait and/or work your binge reading way through Treasure Hunter Security and Team 52 and Norcross Security first, Mission: Uncovered will probably be available at some point in the future. But why wait?

Review: Sweetwater and the Witch by Jayne Castle

Review: Sweetwater and the Witch by Jayne CastleSweetwater and the Witch by Jayne Castle
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure romance, futuristic, paranormal romance, romantic suspense, science fiction romance
Series: Harmony #15
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on September 20, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Welcome to the world of Harmony, where--despite its name, things are anything but--danger lurks just beneath the surface in this new novel by New York Times bestselling author, Jayne Castle.
If there's something Ravenna Chastain knows, it's when to end things. And after she almost winds up the victim of a cult that believes she's a witch, it's easy to walk away from her dead-end career, ready for a new start. But where to find a job that would allow her to use her very specialized skill set? The answer is clear: she becomes a matchmaker.
But even a successful matchmaker can't find someone for everyone, and Ravenna considers Ethan Sweetwater her first professional failure. After nine failed dates, Ravenna knows it's time to cut Ethan loose. But Ethan refuses to be fired as a client--he needs one final date to a business function. Since Ravenna needs a date herself to a family event, they agree to a deal: she will be his (business) date if he will be her (fake) date to her grandparents' anniversary celebration.
What Ethan fails to mention is that attending the business function is a cover for some industrial espionage that he's doing as a favor to the new Illusion Town Guild boss. Ravenna is happy to help, but their relationship gets even more complicated when things heat up--the chemistry between them is explosive, as explosive as the danger that's stalking Ravenna. Lucky for her, Ethan isn't just an engineer--he's also a Sweetwater, and Sweetwaters are known for hunting down monsters...

My Review:

When I originally saw the title of this latest entry in the Harmony series, at first I thought it was going to be a Western – or at least a Weird West – kind of story. (The rhythm of the words in the title keeps taking me back to the movie McCabe & Mrs .Miller which was a sort of Western. I digress. Again. I know.) Harmony is absolutely wild enough and definitely weird enough to resemble the Weird West, but it’s a far-future lost colony world that presented some unique challenges to the first settlers and still does to their descendants even two centuries later.

The planet of Harmony – which doesn’t generally exhibit all that much harmony or we wouldn’t have this marvelous series – was settled by a group of human colonists that included members of the Arcane Society and their allies back on Earth. Who were people with psi powers as portrayed in the Victorian and contemporary set Arcane Society series and its offshoots, which were published under the author’s Amanda Quick and Jayne Ann Krentz pen names.

(If the setup sounds a bit familiar, it’s also the setup for the Celta series by Robin D. Owens, so if you like one you’ll like the other.)

By the time in Harmony’s history when this story takes place, Harmony has lost all contact with Earth, and the upheavals of that loss have settled back into a history that is still well-remembered but no longer as influential as it once was. Not that there aren’t some people looking to recreate the past glories of their ancestors. Even if those so-called glories are only in the minds of past – and present – psychopaths.

Which is what this entry in the series turns out to be about. Two people who think they can do their criminal predecessors one better, and two people who stand in their way. And eventually stand together to do it.

Escape Rating A-: What makes this entry in the series so much fun is the witty banter and slowly building romance between Ethan Sweetwater and Ravenna Chastain. She’s a police profiler turned matchmaker, and he’s the client she’s supposed to find a match for but it’s not working. At all. Which he refuses to acknowledge or let the project go for reasons that Ravenna doesn’t see but the reader probably does.

It’s only when Ethan helps her take out the trash – by which I mean the comatose body of her first stalker – that Ravenna gets the idea that there’s more to Ethan than initially appeared. Which is, of course, more than true.

He presented himself as a mild-mannered, kind of dorky engineer. And he is. But underneath that unassuming persona lurks a man who knows just who to call and how to dispose of a not-quite dead body. Ravenna is worried that he might be connected to the mob.

Ethan, on the other hand, knows that she’s his match. Lucky for him – in a twisted sort of way – the deadly adventures that keep finding them give them plenty of chances to bond into a relationship where they both know they’ll have each other’s backs through thick, thin, nightmares and flame-throwers.

All they have to do is convince each other it’s for keeps. And keep fighting to make sure that they will be a “keeps” to have.

That this turns out to be a delightful romance to go with the deadly danger has to do with the personalities of the three protagonists; Ethan, Ravenna, and Ravenna’s dust bunny Harriet. They make one hell of a team where each has a crucial part to play in taking down the villains and having a bit of fun along the way.

Dust bunnies excel at finding the fun in EVERYTHING!

One final note; there is obviously a long and storied history to Harmony but each book stands pretty much on its own. The necessary parts of the background history are always explained, while the occasional mention of a particular person or incident is more in the form of an “Easter Egg” that brings a smile if you know but lack of that knowledge does not detract from enjoyment of the book in hand. The romances are always self-contained to the individual book. That being said, the books in the series are a bit like potato chips in that you won’t want to read just one.

And I guarantee you’ll wish you had your own dust bunny to chortle at your side as you read!

Review: Hades: Sentinel Security #2 by Anna Hackett

Review: Hades: Sentinel Security #2 by Anna HackettHades (Sentinel Security #2) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, romantic suspense
Series: Sentinel Security #2
Pages: 245
Published by Anna Hackett on September 20th 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

He’s a gorgeous former Interpol agent.
Tall, dark, and Italian.
He’s way out of her league, but when danger explodes around them, she finds herself on the run with the sexiest man she’s ever met.
CIA analyst Gabbi Hansley has a plan—escape her dysfunctional family, excel at her job, and build a safe, stable life for herself. Boring? Maybe, but she likes boring. When tasked to meet a security contractor and give him an encrypted drive, a quick, simple job goes terribly wrong.
Gabbi didn’t expect her contact to be the hottest man she’s ever seen. Nor was she expecting the bad guys who turn up and spray the restaurant with bullets.
After years of wading through the muck, dismantling mafia crime syndicates in Italy, former Anti-Mafia officer and Interpol agent Matteo “Hades” Mancini likes his job at Sentinel Security. He also knows he has nothing permanent to offer any woman, so he keeps things fun and temporary.
But when his dangerous past rears its head, he finds himself trapped with the tough, no-nonsense Gabbi, and on a second glance, he sees past her sensible exterior to the tempting woman beneath.
Now Gabbi and Matteo are in a race for survival. While they work to track down who’s after them, attraction burns hot and bright. Gabbi knows a man like Matteo won’t be interested in her for long, and she asks him to show her all the things she’s been missing in the bedroom. But the possessive need to keep her safe is growing in Matteo, and soon he has two mission objectives: take down the bad guys, and convince Gabbi Hansley that she’s his.
*** An action-packed standalone romantic suspense.

My Review:

CIA analyst Gabbi Hansley is a “feel the fear and do it anyway” kind of person and I love her for it. As does Hades himself. Not that either is remotely what the other expected when they first meet. It’s not just that they didn’t expect the sparks between them – they didn’t expect the bullets flying around either.

And not that Sentinel Security agency Matteo Mancini hasn’t experienced plenty of bullets flying in his general vicinity – some of them even aimed directly at him – in his work with Sentinel Security or in his previous life as an undercover anti-Mafia agent in Italy. It’s that Gabbi’s job consists of boring desk-and-computer work. Gabbi may work for the CIA but what she’s looking for out of her job is safety and financial security and as much of a buffer as she can manage to maintain between herself and her sometimes criminally dysfunctional family.

But when what was supposed to be a routine handoff from the CIA to Sentinel turns into an escape from a hail of bullets in what was – and probably will be again – one of the most expensive and exclusive restaurants in DC, Gabbi’s safe and boring life is blown to smithereens.

Especially after her mind gets blown by the sexiest man she’s ever met making her come on the floor of a stranded elevator in the aftermath. As the best method of dealing with the adrenaline crash from their escape, Matteo’s method is an absolute winner. As the final blow – pun intended – to her formerly safe and moderately sane and frequently boring life it’s just the beginning of negotiations between a man who thinks he’s not worthy of love and a woman who doesn’t believe love even exists.

He needs to keep her safe from the enemies who have reached out across the years and miles to come after him. She’s desperate to keep her heart safe from a man she is certain is utterly out of her league.

While in the background his family is worried that his work will get them killed, and hers does its level worst to keep her from escaping their determination that she continue to be their meal ticket – even if they have to sell her out to the bad guys to make it happen.

Escape Rating B+: Even though I’m still on tenterhooks waiting for Killian Hawke’s romance with the CIA agent we now know to be Devyn “Hellfire” Hayden (Gabbi’s best friend at the Agency), Gabbi and Matteo’s romance still worked for me.

And that’s all down to Gabbi’s attitude. She’s afraid. She’s very, very afraid. There are bullets flying! Her job was not ever supposed to include bullets flying – and especially not flying at her. But instead of hiding in a corner or getting behind Matteo and letting the sexy security agent protect her, she stands up and helps get other people to safety and out of the way of those flying bullets.

It’s easy to identify with Gabbi because of that attitude. Most of us probably would cower. Few people are equipped or trained to fight back in the situation in which she finds herself. But putting on her big girl panties and dealing with it, feeling that fear and doing what she can anyway? That’s a response we can all identify with and hope to emulate.

Which makes Gabbi feel within reach and her relationship with Matteo feel equally possible – even if she doesn’t see it that way.

So while Matteo is the latest in a very long lineup of the author’s sexy badasses who don’t feel worthy of being loved, Gabbi feels like something fresh, a woman who is afraid but still rises up to meet the challenge and I loved that about her character.

Her dysfunctional family, on the other hand, seriously qualified as a piece of work. Dirty, nasty work at that. The reader can see how their dysfunction played into Gabbi’s self-doubt, so it made for icing on top of an already delicious cake when they get their comeuppance at the end. As Gabbi makes tracks for a job that she will love with a man that she does love and a found family who are ready, willing and able to welcome her with open arms and a boost when she needs it.

And into that lovely bargain, Matteo manages to put his demons to rest – whether that’s in the form of putting them six feet under, into long prison sentences, or simply putting the psychological damage behind him, it makes for a lovely ending to a fun action adventure romance.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the next book will be Killian’s, but based on the hints at the end of this entry in the series, it does look like it will be a lot of sexy, romantic, adventurous fun. But in the meantime I have the next book in the Galactic Kings series, Conqueror, to look forward to!

Review: Desperation in Death by J.D. Robb

Review: Desperation in Death by J.D. RobbDesperation in Death (In Death, #55) by J.D. Robb
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: futuristic, mystery, romantic suspense, thriller
Series: In Death #55
Pages: 368
Published by St. Martin's Press on September 6, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

The #1 New York Times bestselling author presents a gripping new thriller that pits homicide detective Eve Dallas against a conspiracy of exploitation and evil…
New York, 2061: The place called the Pleasure Academy is a living nightmare where abducted girls are trapped, trained for a life of abject service while their souls are slowly but surely destroyed. Dorian, a thirteen-year-old runaway who’d been imprisoned there, might never have made it out if not for her fellow inmate Mina, who’d hatched the escape plan. Mina was the more daring of the two—but they’d been equally desperate.
Unfortunately, they didn’t get away fast enough. Now Dorian is injured, terrified, and wandering the streets of New York, and Mina lies dead near the waterfront while Lt. Eve Dallas looks over the scene.
Mina’s expensive, elegant clothes and beauty products convince Dallas that she was being groomed, literally and figuratively, for sex trafficking—and that whoever is investing in this high-overhead operation expects windfall profits. Her billionaire husband, Roarke, may be able to help, considering his ties to the city’s ultra-rich. But Roarke is also worried about the effect this case is having on Dallas, as it brings a rage to the surface she can barely control. No matter what, she must keep her head clear--because above all, she is desperate for justice and to take down those who prey on and torment the innocent.

My Review:

The desperation that leads to the death that brings Eve Dallas and her ever-expanding crew onto this case is one that Eve is entirely too familiar with. It’s the desperation of a girl who has been trapped into a life where she is merely an object for other people’s abuse and other people’s pleasure.

In Eve’s case, the “person” who kept her trapped and bound was her father Richard Troy. He’s dead. He’s dead because Eve’s desperation led to her killing the bastard at a point when she just couldn’t take it anymore. She was eight years old.

Mina and Dorian were kidnapped as preteens and whisked away to the Pleasure Academy, where they are being groomed and indoctrinated to become sex slaves for wealthy, influential and disgusting people, mostly men, who will take pleasure in raping them, beating them, and quite possibly even killing them if it strikes their or their so-called friends’ fancies.

In desperation, these two girls band together and attempt to escape from their well-appointed prison. Only one of them makes it. But the discovery of the other girl’s body opens up the kind of far-reaching case that will bring closure to bunch of families, freedom to a bunch of trafficked women, and visit justice upon a bunch of scumbags, one way or another, while letting Eve exorcize one or two of her own ghosts.

If she can just get one runaway girl to trust her with the truth. No matter how dangerous for the girl, and no matter how many nightmares it will give Eve along the way.

Escape Rating B+: Desperation in Death is a solid and compelling entry in the long-running In Death series – even if it is a trip to Eve and Roarke’s personal angst-factories by proxy. Or maybe because of that fact, as we get to see them work through a few more of their demons without the case reaching directly into either of their traumatizing childhoods.

Not that what Dorian Gregg and all the other girls the Pleasure Academy trafficked have experienced isn’t more than traumatic enough to give pretty much everyone on the team a few nightmares. But the lack of a specific personal connection to either Eve or Roarke makes the story a bit easier – just a tiny bit considering the subject – for the reader to get caught up in. But we’re caught the way the rest of the team is caught – wanting to catch the really, really disgustingly awful villains rather than caught up in the unspooling of yet more of either Eve or Roarke’s personal demons.

I follow this series, all 55 books and counting! because I love the found family that surrounds Eve and Roarke – including just how endlessly surprised Eve is that she has gathered a family of any kind around herself. So one of the things that made this entry in the series so much fun to read was the way that the gang really pulled together to nab the villains.

It also helped that in this case the villains were not just truly, despicably villainous, but that their villainy had nothing to do with any mental illness or trauma. They’re just awful people who need to get their just desserts. And if those just desserts get served in hell, so much the better.

This is in contrast with the previous book in the series, Abandoned in Death, which dealt with some similar crimes but came at them from an angle where everyone was traumatized including the perpetrator. I found that one hard-going because the villain’s head was one I didn’t want to be in at all and couldn’t read the parts from their perspective.

The villains in this case are so cold and dispassionate about the whole thing, and their points of view are both few and equally icy that the only peeks we needed into their heads were superficial.

In a way, this story was at one remove from both its villains and its heroes, and that made it easier to follow the action without diving too deeply into the motivations.

All of that is a way to loop back around and say this is a solid and solidly entertaining entry in the series for long-time fans. If you love Dallas and Roarke you’ll enjoy this season’s peek into their lives as much as I did.

And I’m already looking forward to the next book in the series, Encore in Death, coming out in February. A little murder among the rich and famous should be just the ticket to warm up a winter night or two!

Review: Ruby Fever by Ilona Andrews

Review: Ruby Fever by Ilona AndrewsRuby Fever (Hidden Legacy, #6) by Ilona Andrews
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, romantic suspense, urban fantasy
Series: Hidden Legacy #6
Pages: 384
Published by Avon Books on August 23, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

#1 New York Times bestselling author Ilona Andrews is back with the newest book in the exciting Hidden Legacy series—the thrilling conclusion to her trilogy featuring fierce and beautiful Prime magic user Catalina Baylor.
An escaped spider, the unexpected arrival of an Imperial Russian Prince, the senseless assassination of a powerful figure, a shocking attack on the supposedly invincible Warden of Texas, Catalina’s boss... And it’s only Monday.
Within hours, the fate of Houston—not to mention the House of Baylor—now rests on Catalina, who will have to harness her powers as never before. But even with her fellow Prime and fiancé Alessandro Sagredo by her side, she may not be able to expose who’s responsible before all hell really breaks loose.

My Review:

It is – much too nearly – the end of the world as the extended Baylor family knows it – entirely too many times. And they do not feel fine at all. But things will get better. Or they will die trying. Or both.

All too often it looks like both are barreling through the front door AND the back.

Ruby Fever is the sixth book in the awesome, urban fantasy/paranormal romantic suspense Hidden Legacy series that started with Burn for Me. As part of that series, it’s also the third and final book in the second trilogy, Catalina’s trilogy, that began with the interstitial novella Diamond Fire.

As the series chronicles the romantic and other adventures and misadventures of the Primes of House Baylor, there is hopefully another trilogy on the way featuring the youngest Baylor sister, Arabella.

That’s a long way of saying for pity’s sake don’t start here. There’s a whole lot of drama, worldbuilding and family manipulation with the best and worst motives packed into the story so far and it won’t make much sense without starting at one of the entry points, either Burn for Me or Diamond Fire.

Speaking of burning and fires, it feels like Ruby Fever opens in a fire fight. Not exactly, but pretty damn close. Because it’s not just a battle, House Baylor is at war with a rogue Russian Prime on one hand – and quite possibly the Russian Imperial House on the other.

And that’s where all the worldbuilding starts coming in.

The Hidden Legacy series takes place in an alternate version of the 21st century. One where, sometime in the 19th century, a mad Victorian chemist invented a serum that was intended to create supersoldiers.

And it sorta/kinda did. BUUUUT, as so often happens with mad scientists, things did not exactly go according to plan. Those superpowers turned out to be hereditary, and the resulting superpowered families had no loyalty to anyone but themselves and their families.

Over the intervening centuries, those superpowered families, now called Houses, pretty much came to control the world and are outside of any law except their own. It’s a dog-eat-dog, power corrupts absolutely kind of world. But there are rules that govern behavior – even bad behavior like outright warfare – between the Houses.

And the highest crime among the Houses – the one that is so verboten that no one even talks about it, is the theft of the superserum formula and any serum developed from it.

So of course that’s the war that House Baylor and their allies are right in the middle of. The question is whether they can manage to get out.

Escape Rating B: The premise of the Hidden Legacy series might sound a bit familiar. The world of the Arcane Society and its spinoffs (by Amanda Quick/Jayne Ann Krentz/Jayne Castle) has the same origin story. A Victorian era mad scientist develops a serum that gives some people super powers. What makes the series so different from one another is what happens after that.

The Arcane Society remained in the shadows. They are powerful but that power seldom manifests – or is allowed to manifest – as political power. (At least not until their descendants take to the stars in the Harmony series.)

In the Hidden Legacy version, the Primes take control of the world. No one can stop them except themselves and they rule everything. Not precisely in a political sense as it relates to mundanes, but the world is absolutely their oyster and they operate above any law but their own.

The result is not surprising but it is fascinating. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The only way to oppose such an absolute power is to have absolute power of one’s own. Which is pretty much what happens in Ruby Fever.

Or to put it another way, this entry in the series is about a lot of rich and powerful people behaving very, very badly – and being called to account for it by the only means possible. Bigger brains and superior firepower.

Howsomever, Ruby Fever is the culmination of pretty much everything that has happened in all the previous books in this series. Which does mean that a new reader can’t start here. But even for an long-time reader, it means that the pace of this story is absolutely relentless and quite frequently fairly grim – as there’s just so damn much to resolve in order to get all the open plot threads wrapped up.

A lot happens, a lot happens very fast, and if the last time you read the previous book in this series was when it came out back in 2020 (remember 2020, the year from hell?) it takes more than a bit to get oneself stuck back into this world.

At least for me, it felt like the constant barrage of serious shit going down and being blasted by the fan all over the Baylors went past being too much and into absolutely brutal. I think I’d have gotten the point with just a bit less of shit everywhere all the time or perhaps a bit more of something a bit lighter, like the escaped superpowered spider.

It does all come together, and once it finally does it’s a fantastic roller-coaster ride until the end. But getting there was kind of a rough ride.

If this turns out to be the last book in the series, it does wrap up everything – some of it in a bow, some of it in a shroud, but wrapped all the same. There is an opening left for Arabella’s story, and I wouldn’t mind seeing that at all. But if we don’t get it, we have plenty of closure for what has been a compelling series from the very first page.

Review: Wolf (Sentinel Security #1) by Anna Hackett

Review: Wolf (Sentinel Security #1) by Anna HackettWolf (Sentinel Security #1) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, romantic suspense
Series: Sentinel Security #1
Pages: 306
Published by Anna Hackett on August 9, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

He’s her best friend’s older brother.

The hot, tough former Navy SEAL.

The man she’s had a crush on her entire life and now the man pretending to be her lover to keep her safe.

CEO Lainie Madden has her hands full. In charge of a growing tech company, her work and her employees are her life. She’s sworn off love, because the sad reality is that she stinks at choosing men who aren’t self-absorbed cheaters. But when she starts receiving disturbing death threats and her company’s website gets hit with relentless cyber-attacks, she’s in over her head.

What she never expected was her best friend’s bossy, rugged brother to steamroll in to play her fake boyfriend and very real protector.

Former SEAL and CIA agent Nick “Wolf” Garrick is second in command at Sentinel Security. He’s spent most of his life fighting and protecting others, proving he’s nothing like the ex-con who fathered him. He’s also spent years ignoring his scorching attraction to his little sister’s best friend. Lainie is sweet, fresh, smart…and off limits.

But when he finds out she’s in danger, it flips a switch inside him. Whatever the risk, whatever it takes, even pretending that they’re lovers, he’ll protect Lainie and take down the person hunting her.

The more time Lainie and Nick spend together, the more the lines blur. As danger swirls around them, their pretend relationship starts to feel very real. But Nick doesn’t do relationships and Lainie doesn’t want to get hurt again…

My Review:

Sentinel Security picks up where Norcross Security leaves off. At least in time. As this first book in the Sentinel Security series opens, the action moves from the Norcross’ West Coast to Killian Hawke’s East Coast. But the story does not pick up with whatever Killian Hawke does or doesn’t have going on with the frenemy/nemesis Federal Agent who has him gritting his teeth and cursing her name whenever she inserts herself into one of his cases.

I believe that the author is torturing all of her fans, including this one, by teasing the leader’s romance – the one I always like best – while drawing out the anticipation. Because this first book in the Sentinel Security series is all about Killian’s second-in-command and the woman who has had him wrapped around the axle for a whole lot longer than he’s ever been willing to admit.

Lainie Madden is the CEO of a growing tech company. A company which is suffering from an escalating series of cyber attacks just as Lainie is receiving an equally escalating series of threatening messages. Thinking those two escalations are connected does not take the services of an elite security company like Sentinel Security.

But Lainie Madden is, and has been since childhood, Nola Garrick’s best friend. And Nola Garrick is Nick Garrick’s little sister. Lainie has had a crush on Nick since she was 12 – when Nick was 18 and before he started his career with the SEALs and the CIA doing things that he’d have to kill someone if they learned about them.

That 6-year age gap loomed large when Lainie was growing up, but she’s all grown up now and has been for quite some time. She’s never forgotten her feelings for Nick, and has never found a man even remotely his equal. Nick’s never gotten Lainie out of his head or his heart.

The problem there, of course, is that if they start anything and it doesn’t work out – something that honestly neither Lainie or Nick expects because neither of them have all that great a track record with relationships – the person who will be hurt the most is Nola.

And neither of them wants that – even more than they want each other.

But those threats scare Nola a whole lot more than they do Lainie. So Nola calls her big brother and assigns him the task of protecting her bestie, whether that bestie believes she needs protection or not, whether she can bear to be that close to Nick or not, whether she and Nick can resist jumping each other’s bones long enough to get the villain caught or not.

Because they can’t. And they don’t really want to resist, either. The question is whether they can calm their own demons long enough to see if what has been simmering between them for so long has even half a chance of lasting longer than it takes to bring Lainie’s stalker to justice.

Escape Rating B+: As much as I referenced the author’s earlier series at the top, it’s not required to read the earlier series to get into this one. But it is fun! Especially when, as occurs in the climactic takedown in this book, characters from previous series show up to help save the day. It’s always lovely to see how everyone is doing after becoming so involved in all their lives.

But the first book in any of her series is always a great place to start – and to get hooked so that you can’t resist picking up the rest. Any one of Anna Hackett’s books should be considered as a gateway drug for ALL the others! This particular dark side has both cookies and yummy books!

I digress just a bit.

This is an action adventure romance series, so it’s not a surprise that someone – usually, admittedly, the heroine but not always – ends up in danger and the hero – or a team of heroes – has to rescue her. And that in the end, there is a happy ever after where that heroine falls for one member of that team and very much vice versa – after a bit of resistance, of course.

What makes this entry in the author’s lineup so much fun, at least for this reader, are two things. One is the delicious taboo-yet-not-really nature of the romance. Now that they are unattached adults, there’s absolutely no reason why Lainie and Nick can’t get together and scratch their mutual itch. But once upon a time there very much was. And the slightly forbidden yet not nature of their relationship adds just that little bit of delicious extra tension to the mix.

The second thing is the character of Lainie herself. I loved that she was a workaholic to the max who was dedicated to her company and her career. I loved her ambition and her drive and her putting her work first in her life. Not because it’s healthy, as Lainie has definitely taken her workaholism way too far for that. But because it’s so very real and it made Lainie real as well.

And it also ran a bit counter to stereotype, as we see PLENTY of workaholic heroes, and see them being celebrated for it, in fiction and in real life. But women – not so much. So I really loved that part.

Speaking of Lainie, I also liked that she was never damselfied. She’s in danger, and she hadn’t planned to ask Nick for help. Not because she had her head in the sand, as so many damsels do, but because she was working on it with very good people, and trusted her own people to have her back. That her stalker was seriously next-level put the situation out of her control – but not because she was being stupid about it.

Lainie also doesn’t do anything to sabotage her protection once it’s established. Again, things happen out of her control, because that’s the point of the whole story, but she doesn’t go wandering around on her own after ditching her bodyguard – or anything else equally stupid.

In other words, I enjoyed this because I really liked Lainie as a character and absolutely wanted her to get her HEA – which she earns, deserves and very much does. Nick seems like very yummy icing for a cake she’s already baked herself, and that’s my favorite flavor of romance.

But speaking of yummy, I was just a teensy bit disappointed that I didn’t get Killian’s romance to kick off the series. And I’m probably not going to get it in the next book either, as Killian sends one of Sentinel Security’s other agents, Matteo, off to DC to pick up something from the CIA at the end of Wolf. But it could be a case of Killian avoiding contact with his Federal nemesis. We’ll see next month!

Review: The Lost and Found Girl by Maisey Yates

Review: The Lost and Found Girl by Maisey YatesThe Lost and Found Girl by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, romantic suspense, women's fiction
Pages: 400
Published by Hqn on July 26, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

"Yates packs an emotional punch with this masterful, multilayered contemporary…pitch-perfect plotting and carefully crafted characters make for a story that’s sure to linger in readers’ minds.” —Publishers Weekly
New York Times bestselling author Maisey Yates dazzles with this powerful novel of sisterhood, secrets and how far you’d go to protect someone you love…
Ruby McKee is a miracle. Found abandoned on a bridge as a newborn baby by the McKee sisters, she’s become the unofficial mascot of Pear Blossom, Oregon, a symbol of hope in the wake of a devastating loss. Ruby has lived a charmed life, and when she returns home after traveling abroad, she’s expecting to settle into that charm. But an encounter with the town’s black sheep makes her question the truth about her mysterious past.
Dahlia McKee knows it’s not right to resent Ruby for being special. But uncovering the truth about Ruby’s origins could allow Dahlia to carve her own place in Pear Blossom history.
Recently widowed Lydia McKee has enough on her plate without taking on Ruby’s quest for answers. Especially when her husband’s best friend, Chase, is beginning to become a complication she doesn’t want or need.
Marianne Martin is glad her youngest sister is back in town, but it’s hard to support Ruby’s crusade when her own life is imploding.
When the quest for the truth about Ruby’s origins uncovers a devastating secret, will the McKee sisters fall apart or band together? 

My Review:

This story about the importance of stories is wrapped around the four McKee sisters, Marianne, Lydia, Dahlia and Ruby. They are all adults as the story opens, and for the first time as adults, all four of them now live in the tiny town of Pear Blossom, Oregon. It’s Ruby’s return home that precipitates all the crises in the story.

And are there ever plenty of those!

There are also four themes or plot threads running through the story, but not, as you might expect, one per sister. Rather they are all being put through the same set of wringers at the same time. It can be a lot. And it frequently is for one or more of them.

Ruby’s return home sets all the wheels in motion, just as Ruby’s original advent set Pear Blossom on its current trajectory as a well-known tourist destination. Because Ruby wasn’t born to the McKee family, she was found by them. A tiny baby, abandoned on the historic, picturesque Sentinel footbridge, on a cold December evening. The young McKee sisters found Ruby as they walked home from Christmas choir practice. Nothing about her origins was ever discovered and she was adopted by the McKee family as the youngest sister.

The town saw her as a miracle, and she kind of was. But her miraculous appearance provided a weird sense of catharsis for a tragic event the winter before. A young woman went missing and was never found. She was presumed dead, but with no body and very little evidence of any kind, the boy who was assumed to be her killer was charged – and imprisoned – but the state had to eventually drop the case.

He became the town bogeyman – at all of 15 – just as Ruby became the town’s savior – at least in an emotional sense. Those reputations remain tied to both of their lives, deserved or not, in both cases.

So one thread of this story is about some of the less-lovable aspects of small town living, that everyone knows everyone’s business, and that lives and reputations can be made or ruined by the sins of the parents – because everyone knows just what they are. Ruby can’t step out of her role as the sunshine bringer, while Nathan Brewer was condemned because his father was a violent drunk with a mean streak and the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree. But sometimes Miss Mary Sunshine has rain clouds in her life, and sometimes the apple throws itself as far from that parent tree as it can get.

The second thread is the driving power of stories, and the power of the past to impact the present. Because of the great mystery around Ruby’s origins and the way her adoption affected the McKee family, both Ruby and her sister Dahlia have made careers out of questioning and investigating the past.

Ruby is a historian, and the job she has just taken in Pear Blossom is to serve as the local museum’s archivist. Dahlia is a newspaper reporter. Together, they decide to do a series of newspaper stories and museum exhibits about the history of Pear Blossom. And it’s impossible to look back at the history of the town without taking a hard look at its two biggest stories; the disappearance and presumed death of Caitlin Groves, and the mysterious arrival of Ruby the following year.

But those events are just over 20 years in the past. There are plenty of people in town who remember what happened. And among those memories might be the key to unlocking one or both mysteries.

All four sisters are going through romantic crises, all at the same time. Marianne fears her husband is having an affair, Lydia is recently widowed and is still trying to figure out what happens next for herself and her children, Dahlia’s self-imposed inferiority complex is keeping her from pursuing the man she’s always loved. And Ruby herself, Miss Mary Sunshine, has fallen for the town’s biggest villain – because she realizes that he’s not the villain after all.

Which means that someone else is – and that they might still be around.

And that leads inexorably to the power of telling the truth, whether in big ways or small ones, and how the lies we tell ourselves are the hardest ones to let go of. Even if they are destroying not just ourselves but all those we love.

Escape Rating B-: One of the things I like about this author’s contemporary romances is that the situations that her protagonists are in tend to be fairly plausible. The dramatic tension in the romance is never a misunderstandammit, but rather two people honestly coming from different places that are, in real life, hard to resolve. (My personal favorite of hers is last year’s Confessions from the Quilting Circle.)

That plausibility was a bit lacking in The Lost and Found Girl. Any of the individual situations could easily happen, but all of them at once in the same family was a bit over the top. Honestly, more than a bit. Out of four sisters it seems like the odds would be that one of them would be doing okay – and not just think she was only to have the rug pulled out from under her.

And I have to say that the surprising conclusion to the more suspenseful elements of this story, particularly as there were two of them, seriously tested my willing suspension of disbelief. One felt plausible if barely. The second headed towards paranormal – which was both surprising and heading towards unbelievable.

Howsomever, I did like the overall concept of the story, about the importance of history and keeping it alive. That the stories we tell about ourselves and about who we came from matter and should be preserved. I loved the idea that Ruby and Dahlia were working together, from their entirely different angles, to create a living history for the town that everyone could enjoy.

That turning over rocks in the not-so-distant past uncovered some snakes in the grass pushed the story forwards and brought the sisters together. But the combination of that suspenseful part of the plot with all of the various forms of romantic angst went a bit over the top for me.

Your reading mileage may definitely vary.