Review: The Protector by Anna Hackett

Review: The Protector by Anna HackettThe Protector (Norcross Security #9) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Norcross Security #9
Pages: 245
Published by Anna Hackett on June 28th 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

For a ballerina in the line of fire, the only man who can keep her safe is a scarred, battle-hardened soldier.

One minute Saskia Hawke is dancing on stage, and the next she’s been abducted by a very wealthy, very powerful man with connections. Whisked away to a country estate, she’ll do anything to escape, and prays the former soldier she can’t stop thinking about will come to rescue her.

What she doesn’t know is that her disappearance will light a protective fury inside Camden Morgan, and he’ll tear down the country to find her.

After a final mission leaves former Ghost Ops soldier Camden Morgan injured, scarred, and riddled with guilt, he comes home to San Francisco. Surrounded by his family and working at Norcross Security, he still can’t settle. He definitely knows he’s too broken to offer anything to the beautiful, raven-haired Saskia.

When she goes missing, Cam knows something is very wrong. He’s the man with the right skill set to bring her home, even as he knows he must protect her from himself and push her away.

But saving Saskia is just the beginning, as her abductor isn’t letting go of his obsession. Cam must go all in, be the protector Saskia needs, and risk his scarred heart. With the help of his brothers and Norcross Security, not to mention Saskia’s dangerous brother and his team, they’ll put everything on the line. And for Saskia, she’ll fight with everything she has to survive…and to prove to Cam that he’s capable and worthy of love.

My Review:

As is usual for Anna Hackett’s series, we saw the opening of The Protector in the close of the previous book in the series, The Medic. That’s when Camden Morgan first met ballerina Saskia Hawke and decided that he had too much damage to be the kind of man that Saskia deserved.

And as is also usual for the combat veterans of Norcross Security, he neglected to ask Saskia what she thought about his holding himself away from her for her own good.

As Saskia lived in NYC, and Norcross was based in San Francisco, Cam let himself believe that friendship was all he could give and the occasional late night phone call wasn’t more than either of them could handle.

Which was fine until Saskia was kidnapped by a Russian mobster with a taste for special, exotic women and an organization fine tuned in the ugly business of sex trafficking. A man who refuses to take no for an answer – even after he’s brought down again, and again, and again.

The first time Saskia escapes his clutches, the evil dude manages to slip through theirs. And Cam, being a fool, turns Saskia away even though he’s the only person making her feel safe.

But when he rescues her the second time, he starts thinking with his heart and stops trying to push her away. Only for her to get taken yet a third time by an obsessive villain who can’t afford to let anyone get away from him without punishment.

It’s an edge-of-the-seat adventure every step of the way as Cam and Norcross Security chase down Saskia’s latest prison – not just before her smart mouth and defiance gets her killed, but before she and Cam finally have the chance to admit what they’ve always felt for each other.

And before Saskia’s even more badass big brother sweeps in and eliminates ALL the threats to his sister’s life and happiness – no matter what she or anyone else has to say about any of it.

Escape Rating B: While The Protector was not my favorite book in this series – that honor is reserved for The Medic followed by The Specialist – it was a fitting wrap up for the Norcross Security series as a whole. We at least had the chance to touch base with all the members of the team and the Norcross family, and even had a glimpse of The Hacker’s new baby. Everybody’s fine and everyone, no matter how reluctant in the beginning, found their HEA.

The reason I like The Medic best of the whole series, is that in that story the heroine is an even bigger badass than the hero, and that he celebrates her badassery at every turn. Saskia is cast from a somewhat more traditional mold in the sense that she does need someone to rescue her from the repeated kidnap attempts. She does her best to stay strong and defiant, but she needs a hero in a way that Siv did not.

Also, I have to say that the “kidnapped by a mobster to be a sex slave” plotline is one that leaves me totally cold. Sex trafficking is real and terrible, but in fiction this particular villain type goes over the top into bwahaha territory, at least for this reader. It was too personal and this dude was just too much of a caricature. Your reading mileage of course may vary. This trope is popular with a lot of readers, I’m just not one of them.

The Protector is the final book in the Norcross Security series. The handoff from this series to the next, which will be Sentinel Security, looks like it starts with Saskia’s badass big brother Killian Hawke. The first book in the series is coming in August. I’m curious to see how Killian’s nemesis and frenemy, a federal agent who isn’t exactly FBI and isn’t exactly CIA but who certainly is going to finally bring him down. Or tie him up. Possibly both!

Review: When She Dreams by Amanda Quick

Review: When She Dreams by Amanda QuickWhen She Dreams (Burning Cove, #6) by Amanda Quick
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, paranormal, romantic suspense
Series: Burning Cove #6
Pages: 320
Published by Berkley Books on May 3, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Return to 1930s Burning Cove, California, the glamorous seaside playground for Hollywood stars, mobsters, spies, and a host of others who find more than they bargain for in this mysterious town.
Maggie Lodge, assistant to the reclusive advice columnist known only as Dear Aunt Cornelia to her readers, hires down-but-not-quite-out private eye Sam Sage to help track down the person who is blackmailing her employer. Maggie and Sam are a mismatched pair. As far as Sam is concerned, Maggie is reckless and in over her head. She is not what he had in mind for a client but he can't afford to be choosy. Maggie, on the other hand, is convinced that Sam is badly in need of guidance and good advice. She does not hesitate to give him both.
In spite of the verbal fireworks between them, they are fiercely attracted to each other, but each is convinced it would be a mistake to let passion take over. They are, after all, keeping secrets from each other. Sam is haunted by his past, which includes a marriage shattered by betrayal and violence. Maggie is troubled by intense and vivid dreams--dreams that she can sometimes control. There are those who want to run experiments on her and use her for their own purposes, while others think she should be committed to an asylum.
When the pair discovers someone is impersonating Aunt Cornelia at a conference on psychic dreaming and a woman dies at the conference, the door is opened to a dangerous web of blackmail and murder. Secrets from the past are revealed, leaving Maggie and Sam in the path of a ruthless killer who will stop at nothing to exact vengeance.

My Review:

When I first visited Burning Cove, back in The Girl Who Knew Too Much, I wasn’t expecting it to become a series – but I’m very glad that it did!

Burning Cove is kind of a liminal place, and the 1930s were a liminal time. Burning Cove is in California, a place where dreams are made and lost and found. It is an offshoot of Los Angeles and Hollywood, the heart of all that dream making machinery at a time when movies and their magic were blossoming into their heyday.

While the 1930s were a time when the world was holding its breath. WW1 was in the rearview mirror, but its avatars are men and women in their 30s – in the prime of their powers and their adulthood – no matter what shadows darken their pasts or their futures. But the world is also on the brink of war, at least for those with eyes to see, while the world’s economy is still in shambles, feeding the causes and hatreds of the war about to be born.

Among all those dreams, visions and nightmares, it seems fitting that Burning Cove has become a center of dream powers, dream research and possibly dream control. Or, in this particular entry in the series, fulfilling a couple of con artists’ dreams of avarice.

And onto that stage, in this 6th entry in the series, step Maggie Lodge and Sam Sage. Maggie is a lucid dreamer with a realistically cynical view of the pros and cons of her talent. In control, she can wield it like a weapon, out of control it can be used as a weapon against her. As too many in her past have already attempted.

Sam is a private detective, still reeling from the hard knocks of divorce from a woman he never should have married, and being fired from his job as an LA police detective for being too good and too incorruptible at his job. He also happens to be the only private detective in Maggie’s tiny California town who is sober at 9 in the morning. He’s sure the job, whatever it is, will be better than divorce work.

Maggie hires Sam to investigate the blackmail attempt directed at her employer, the advice columnist known as “Dear Aunt Cornelia” in newspapers all around the country. Cornelia is out of the country on an around the world cruise, leaving Maggie with her house, her column and her checkbook to take care of any business while Aunt Cornelia, AKA Lillian Dewherst, is away from home.

Sam, Maggie and the erstwhile blackmailer converge on Burning Cove, where a dream research conference – or con game – is being held under the auspices of the suspiciously glitzy Guilfoyle Institute.

Maggie’s suspicions are already heightened, as the scientific legitimacy of what is obviously a con game or even a pyramid scheme is being shored up by the participation of a real dream scientist who once attempted to drug Maggie and experiment on her talents under the guise of “therapy”.

Sam is just as suspicious, because the Guilfoyles are so obvious about their intentions to fleece the attendees – at least according to a hunch that is so strong that it might well be a talent on its own.

And because the would-be blackmailer is found dead of a drug injection on opening night.

Escape Rating B+: Burning Cove straddles a whole bunch of genre lines. In a nutshell it’s historical paranormal romantic suspense, with pretty much the entire kitchen sink encompassed by those genres in evidence.

When She Dreams is the 6th book in this series, but I don’t think you need to have read the previous books to get into this one. While a couple of main characters from previous entries in the series turn up as side characters in this book, they are far from the focus and are not an intimate part of any of the events. The true continuing element of this series is the location, and since it neither has any dialog nor participates in any romance, not having visited before isn’t a problem for first time visitors.

The paranormal element to this series, as it is to much of the Jayneverse as the author (Amanda Quick/Jayne Castle/Jayne Ann Krentz) calls it, revolves around Maggie’s dream talent. She’s not the first character in these interconnected worlds to manifest a psychic power related to dreams and nightmares, and I’d be willing to bet she won’t be the last, either.

It’s not like that particular talent isn’t hotly debated in real life, after all.

What makes Maggie, and the other women in Burning Cove so fascinating is her realistic grasp on what it means to be a woman in a man’s world at a time when it’s all too easy for a woman to be overlooked, ignored, or in Maggie’s case, locked up for “her own good” by people who claim to love her and have her best interests at heart.

Maggie is a fighter who comes by her distrust of the world in general and men in particular unflinchingly honestly. She has carved out an independent life for herself against the odds, and she’s determined to maintain that independence, and the reader likes her all the better for it.

Sam is not as interesting a character as Maggie is. Maggie sparkles, and it’s easy to see why Sam is attracted to her, even if we don’t see a whole lot of evidence of that attraction until fairly far into the book. But he is a worthy partner for her in the investigation, and not just because he’s able to reluctantly admit that they are partners whether that’s what he planned on or not.

What does sparkle is the way that Sam and Maggie close in on this case that did not originally look like a whole, entire case. It goes from blackmail to murder to fraud to murder to obsession and then reaches back into the past to yet more murder. Following in Maggie’s footsteps as she and Sam unravel the clues one dark and dangerous step at a time makes for a terrific, page-turning thriller, clinging to the edge of one nightmare after another.

Review: The Wrong Victim by Allison Brennan

Review: The Wrong Victim by Allison BrennanThe Wrong Victim (Quinn & Costa, #3) by Allison Brennan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, romantic suspense, suspense, thriller
Series: Quinn & Costa #3
Pages: 464
Published by Mira Books on April 26, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A bomb explodes on a sunset charter cruise out of Friday Harbor at the height of tourist season and kills everyone on board. Now this fishing and boating community is in shock and asking who would commit such a heinous crime—the largest act of mass murder in the history of the San Juan Islands.
Forensic profilers know there are two types of domestic terrorists: those who use violence to instill fear for political purposes but stop at murder because it detracts from the cause, and those who crave attention and are willing to maim and murder for their own agenda.
Accused of putting profits before people after leaking fuel that caused a massive fish kill, the West End Charter company may itself have been the target. But as special agent Matt Costa, detective Kara Quinn and the rest of the FBI team begin their investigation, they discover that plenty of people might have wanted someone dead on that yacht. Now they must track down who is responsible and stop them before they strike again.

My Review:

If this book went looking for a subtitle, let me suggest ‘Game of Queens’ as an alternative. Because that’s what this one is, the contention among three women who are used to taking control of whatever sphere in which they find themselves – no matter who or what stands in their way.

And it’s a contest that is only partly resolved when The Wrong Victim wraps up the case of its final – and ultimately correct in the end – victim.

The beginning of this one is literally explosive. A charter yacht explodes in the waters around San Juan Island leaving 9 people dead and a whole lot of unanswered questions. Big questions, like whodunnit, along with why and how. And the biggie – which of the 9 people on the boat was the real target?

San Juan Island is just barely part of the U.S., one of over 400 islands in an archipelago that sits between Bellingham Washington and Victoria, British Columbia. The island has a population of 7,000, most of whom live in the town of Friday Harbor. The small police department knows everyone in town, and everyone knows them. Most issues are property crimes or tourists getting rowdy. They are neither prepared for nor objective enough to deal with a crime of this magnitude.

The FBI sends Mathias Costa and his Mobile Response Team, including LAPD Detective Kara Quinn, seconded to the MRT at the end of the second book in the series, Tell No Lies. Not that that was the first time Costa and Quinn met – that would be the case of the ‘Triple Killer’ in The Third to Die (which I have yet to read and really, really WANT to. I didn’t need to in order to have gotten into Tell No Lies, but that was great and so is this and now I want to very much indeed.)

Kara isn’t sure exactly where she fits in Costa’s team. Being a cop is her core identity, and the mess in LA that has forced her to leave her city to outrun the people – and contracts – that are after her. Her tenuous situation has made her question a lot about herself and how well she’s doing her job. Along with what happens next depending on how everything works out.

In Tell No Lies, the one thing that Kara was sure about was that Matt Costa trusted her judgment and was in her corner, that he respected her skills and opinions as an experienced cop and undercover detective. But all of that confidence is shaken with the return of FBI profiler Catherine Jones, who has profiled Kara and believes that she is a loose cannon who is insubordinate, takes unnecessary risks, makes snap judgments and is sure to endanger both the case and the team.

Catherine and Matt are old and dear friends, he’s even the godfather of her daughter. Kara and Matt, at least in their off-duty hours, have become friends with benefits, although Matt wants more. The conflict between the two women, who are both important to his life but in totally different ways, is messing with his head and his heart, making him a less than effective leader of a team that must produce results and solve the explosion before anyone else gets killed.

Which leads back to the question of who the real target among the 9 victims was. There are plenty of possibilities. With environmentalists making trouble for the charter company, the bomb might not have been meant for anyone in particular, but to make trouble for the ship’s owners.

Too many victims, too many possible motives, and too many ways for Kara and Catherine to butt heads. But as much as Catherine believes that Kara’s lack of formal education makes her less capable and her skills less trustworthy, it’s Kara’s instinct for people’s behavior, rather than Catherine’s careful analysis, that ultimately leads to whodunnit.

And it’s Catherine’s lack of trust in Kara that nearly gets both of them killed.

Escape Rating A+: I made a terrible mistake with this book. I started reading it when I went to bed, and absolutely could not put it down until I finished at 3:30 in the morning. I cursed my alarm when it woke me in the morning, but it was SO worth it. I needed a book to suck me into its pages, and The Wrong Victim did a fantastic job of taking me to the San Juan Islands and spinning me all around this compelling story.

This book, and this series, seem to sit at the crossroads between mystery, thriller and romantic suspense. Although again, there’s more suspense than romance – and that’s probably a good thing. The relationship between Quinn and Costa is not really healthy for either of them or their careers – a fact that profiler Catherine weaponizes during this entry in the series. They can’t be openly together as long as Kara is part of Matt’s team, no matter how temporary that might be. And yet they can’t manage to stay away from each other no matter how much of a mess it might make in the long term. I expect the horns of this particular dilemma are going to be sharp and pointy for much of the series. We’ll see.

But what makes this story so compelling is the combination of the sheer number of possible motives and the determined way that the team works through them. Out of the 9 people on the boat, there’s a wealthy man whose much younger wife left the boat just before it left the dock, a retired FBI agent still investigating a cold case he can’t let go of, a man dating one of the owners of the charter company, a slimy businessman and his equally slimy wife and four tech geniuses. All that’s needed is a partridge in a pear tree to make a very bad song.

And it could have been none of them. It could be a strike against the charter company. It could even have been an accident, the result of negligence, or even pilot error, but those possibilities get nixed very early on. As does terrorism.

So it’s murder. The FBI team are outsiders that no one trusts, but the local P.D. are much too close to every single possible suspect to be remotely objective.

For this reader, it was the investigation that fascinated. Not just looking into each of the victims, but also the town, the environmentalists, the charter company, and then the intricate work of fitting all the puzzle pieces together.

Also that the story breaks one of the unwritten rules of mystery, in that this is a rare occasion where there is more than one perpetrator, and more than one set of linkages to the crimes committed.

The team hasn’t quite gelled yet, although the process is ongoing. The way that the team is working – and occasionally not – reminded me a lot of Andrea Kane’s Forensic Instincts series, which gets involved in the same types of crimes and had the same feel of being competence porn conducted as a high-wire act.

So in addition to throwing that first book in the Quinn & Costa series, The Third to Die, onto the upper and more accessible reaches of the towering TBR pile, I need to go pick up where I left off with Forensic Instincts. So many books, so little time.

In spite of just how tall that towering TBR pile is, I’ll be looking for the next Quinn & Costa book whenever it appears – hopefully this time next year if not sooner.

Review: The Medic by Anna Hackett + Giveaway

Review: The Medic by Anna Hackett + GiveawayThe Medic (Norcross Security #8) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Norcross Security #8
Pages: 282
Published by Anna Hackett on April 5, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

She’s a tough former soldier trying to resist the charming medic who’s going all in to claim her.
Former Norwegian special forces soldier Siv Pederson is making a new start in San Francisco. New country, new job at Norcross Security, and her new rule: no men. She’s left her annoying ex behind and her only goal is to prove herself in her new job, especially when she’s assigned to her own investigation.
What she didn’t count on was having to work with one handsome, charming, and far-too-tempting former combat medic.
After a career as an Air Force combat medic, Ryder Morgan is happy with his life. He likes working part time as a paramedic and donating the rest of his time at a free clinic in the toughest part of the city. He always thought finding “the one” wasn’t for him…until he sees gorgeous, tough Siv in a killer red dress.
Now he’ll do anything to break through her prickly shell and convince her that he’s the man for her.
As homeless people start dying, and Ryder loses a good friend, Siv and Ryder must work together to find a killer. Going undercover as husband and wife, they have to discover who’s preying on the city’s most vulnerable before more people die. As they uncover a vast web of lies, Ryder has his work cut out for him. Not only to find justice, but to prove to Siv that he’ll protect both her body and her heart.

My Review:

This OMG 8th book in the Norcross Security series reminded me just how much I love a story when the heroine kicks ass and takes names every bit as well as the hero – or even just a bit better as it proves in The Medic.

After all, that’s what Ryder Morgan is, a medic. He was a combat medic when he served, and now that he’s back in civilian life he’s a paramedic who is serving, protecting and patching up on not just one but three different fronts.

He’s a part-time paramedic with the city of San Francisco who could be full-time if he wanted to. But he’s doing his bit of paying it both back and forward by working part-time at a clinic in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, providing free medical care to people whose circumstances have either led them or left them to life on the occasionally mean streets of this generally temperate (climatologically) city. It gives him an opportunity to treat some of the men and women who served just like he did, in places and circumstances that leave scars on the soul.

And he also works part-time and on call for Norcross Security whenever one of their agents needs more patching up than a first aid kit can handle. Which happens a lot more than he’d like, particularly since one of those agents is his brother Cam, newly returned from a war he hasn’t quite managed to leave behind just yet.

But those agents also include Norcross Security’s newest agent, Siv Pederson from Norway, a former member of Norway’s Special Forces. She’s come to San Francisco to make a fresh start in a place with no memories of a relationship that went bad. It’s not that she’s grieving or mourning her ex – more that she’s kicking herself for ever getting involved with an arsehole just like her dear old (absentee) dad. In other words, a lying, cheating, empty charmer who has nothing underneath and is threatened by her strength and abilities.

At the end of the previous book in this series, The Detective, readers had a ringside seat to Ryder’s first meeting with Siv. He tried to charm her – like he has so many women before – only to find himself measuring his own length on the floor after she showed him exactly where he could stick that charm and what he could do with it when he got it there. She decked him.

He never recovered – and neither did she. This is the story of how she got past her initial impression of Ryder, while he just kept leaning into his first impression of her. All the while, in the usual Norcross Security mix of action, adventure and car chases, they manage to bring down some bad people who thought they had the right to mess with Ryder Morgan’s friends – and Vander Norcross’ city.

Escape Rating A: One of the things that love in any romance is a relationship of equals – and that’s just what we get in The Medic. It’s not just that Siv can hold her own under any circumstances with the best of Norcross Security’s agents. The icing on this particular cake is that Ryder loves her for it just as she is. That he thinks it’s hot when she takes down the bad guys. It’s not a reaction that she’s used to from either her insecure ex or her love-em-and-leave-em sperm donor who is still harping on her to be more “feminine” and less capable of taking men down and seeing through their bullshit. Quite possibly because he’s afraid that she’s seen all the way through his.

But the strength those previous men in her life have tried to control, tame and even eliminate is the thing that draws Ryder to her like iron filings to a magnet. It’s something that is refreshing to see – to say the least – because so many women are stuck dealing with entirely too many people in their lives who see a woman’s strength of any kind as something to be denigrated at every turn.

I also loved in this particular entry in the series that Siv is always proactive and not reactive. It helps that the plot of this story does not start out with Siv being in jeopardy and requiring rescue. She is never a damsel in distress – not that she can’t be in distress but that she’s never damselfied.

One of the hallmarks of this series as a whole is that the Norcross Security operators are all former military in various stages of coming all the way back home – and both Ryder and Siv are part of that. This particular story in the series extends that outward, from the successful bunch at Norcross, to the work in progress that is Ryder and Hunt’s brother Cam, to the homeless veterans on the streets of San Francisco who Ryder is doing his best to help.

As he fully acknowledges that there but for the grace of God and the help of his family, he and his brothers would be also. So he stands for them when he learns the truth of how so many are being abused by the system yet one more time.

The crime that Siv and Ryder are investigating has a ripped from the headlines feel. The unexpected (at least to both of them) romance that has them ripping each other’s clothes off is hot enough to raise the temperature in their slightly chilly city. And the pulse-pounding conclusion to their part of this series will have readers on the edge of their seats.

If that wasn’t enough, there’s a bit of a teaser at the end – as their usually is with this author’s series – for the next Norcross Security case. It looks like Cam Morgan will be taking the series back to New York City, the stomping grounds of the Billionaire Heists series in The Protector. And I can’t wait to see what happens next!

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

Anna has graciously allowed me to give a copy of the winner’s choice of either The Medic or The Detective as part of my Blogo-Birthday Celebration Week. The trick to this particular giveaway is whether or not the winner wants instant gratification or is willing to wait an extra week or two. Anna has copies of The Detective available now for giveaway, but if you can stand to wait just a bit longer, she’s more than willing to send a copy of The Medic to someone with just a bit of patience.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Tough Justice by Tee O’Fallon

Review: Tough Justice by Tee O’FallonTough Justice (K-9 Special Ops #1) by Tee O'Fallon
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: K-9 Special Ops #1
Pages: 368
Published by Entangled: Amara on March 29, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

It should have been a routine investigation. Instead, DEA K-9 agent Adam “Deck” Decker watches in horror as one Denver hospital seems to be Ground Zero for overdoses of a new drug. Now Deck can only hope a certain icy, green-eyed ER doctor will help him and his canine partner track down the deadly source.

Dr. Tori Sampson has her reasons for not trusting federal agents, especially ones working for the DEA. But the rash of overdoses―including a heartbreaking case involving a teen―is alarmingly high. And the new opioid is not only extremely dangerous, it defies all the usual medical treatments. So Tori has a choice: work with the big, brawny, and annoyingly hot DEA agent…or watch more innocent people die.

Tori’s the only person who can help Deck break the case, and they’ll need to trust each other, no matter how high the tension and attraction sizzling between them runs. But with every question answered, they realize there’s something more behind these typical teen overdoses. There’s a pattern here, and a pattern can only suggest one thing. There’s a killer on the loose.

My Review:

First, and most important to a whole lot of people in my reading circle, the dog is fine at the end of the story. Actually Thor is more than fine. He seems to be the only person in this romantic suspense thriller who survives this case pretty much unscathed. Quite a few of the central humans in this story are a bit worse for wear by the time they reach their HEA.

But the dog is just fine. So rest easy and hang on for this wild ride of a case.

There’s a temptation to call Tough Justice an enemies to lovers romance, but that just doesn’t feel right. Enemies to lovers implies that the protagonists have met before and rubbed each other the wrong way, and that’s just not the case here.

When Deck (along with Thor) and Tori first collide in the story, it’s the first time they’ve ever met. The baggage they pretty much immediately start flinging at each other is not about either of them personally. It’s about what they – or rather their professions – represent.

Deck distrusts doctors – in the extreme – because his younger sister died of a drug overdose. She got hooked on opioids after an accident, when a doctor – either overworked, irresponsible, or both – prescribed pain-killers for her very real pain and injuries but didn’t pay attention to her growing dependence on the drugs.

Tori has no love for the DEA or its agents, because they used her father to make a case against a much bigger fish. But what put her pharmacist dad in their sights in the first place were corners that he shaved and mistakes that he made – both in giving away meds without prescriptions to people who needed them but couldn’t afford them – and for helping in assisted suicides before it was legal in Colorado.

Tori blames the DEA for promising her dad to help him if he testified – but they hung him out to dry when their case was made and he lost the family savings, his pharmacist’s license and spent several months in jail. Tori attributes her mother’s death to the stress of the situation.

That Deck and Tori meet in a face-off over the care of Deck’s partner agent who has OD’d on a new super-heroin through incidental contact as part of a takedown has Deck on edge. While Tori just needed to get the behemoth out of her ER so she can save his friend’s life without literally bumping into him every time she turns around in the small, frantic treatment room.

You would not think that opening scene, especially when coupled with their past history and mutual distrust, would turn into anything positive at all – let alone a romance.

But Tori has seen too many people, especially kids, die as a result of this new heroin compound. She NEEDS to do something proactive and not just reactive to help stem this tide. Deck needs Tori’s skills, first as a doctor who knows how to treat this new and deadly epidemic, and second for her contacts with patients.

He doesn’t want to violate the laws about patient privacy, but anyone who manages to survive – already a much too small percentage – and who is willing to talk to the DEA about where they bought the drug and who they got it from will get them one step closer to figuring out who is creating and dealing this particular form of death.

That they are both looking for an excuse to see each other again isn’t something that either of them is able to admit. At least not until it is very nearly too late for more than they’d ever thought they’d want.

Escape Rating B+: Tough Justice manages to combine a downright combustible romance with a deadly twisted thriller that feels so close to real you can practically feel the heat of the literally explosive climax right through your fingers as you’re holding the book.

(Even if you’re reading an ebook, which is actually kinda dangerous!)

So, on that one hand, we have a romance between two people who start out not really knowing each other and almost hating what they do know. On the other hand, once they let each other in, just a little bit, they realize that they are more alike than would first appear.

Because they’re both scared of risking their hearts, and they both cover that fear with by letting their work consume their entire lives so they don’t have to think about what might be missing. That both of them have jobs that both require intense focus AND are all about saving people just adds to the constant pressure to be the best, do the best, and forget about anything that might distract from those goals.

Like romance. Or hobbies. Or even taking the occasional vacation that isn’t mandated one way or another.

And on the other side of the equation, there’s this big, huge, deadly case that turns out to be a mission for both of them. Someone is selling a new, “improved”, even more addictive and more deadly formula of heroin called “Gray Death” because that’s what it looks like and that’s what it delivers.

As the story begins, Tori is treating the victims and Deck is hunting the perpetrator. Then they join forces and suddenly it seems like someone is after them. Only because someone IS after them. And that’s where the case ramps up and goes just a bit over the top.

I did figure out who the villain was long before Deck and Tori – although it didn’t make sense at first. (This is one of this times when I paged to the end to see if I was right because it was driving me nuts! Also, the villain was nuts!)

The casework was painstaking in just the way I like. Linking one clue to another with a bit of luck but not too much. But once they got there, I have to say that the villain and his villainy read as more than a bit “out there”. YMMV. I expected him to be awful – after all, he is the villain. I just didn’t expect him to be “bwahaha” insane on top.

On the whole, I loved the romantic heat between Deck and Tori and the come-here-go-away progress of their romance. I found the case they were investigating to be absolutely riveting along the way, and the ending was an edge-of-the-seat thrill ride, albeit with a villain who flew off that thrill-ride and went over the top.

Still, this was a fun, absorbing read from beginning to end, and I absolutely could not put it down. It was made even better because the dog was the only character to emerge from the story without even a scratch on him – even though he helped save the day in the absolute nick of time!

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Dirty Work by TA Moore + Excerpt + Giveaway

Review: Dirty Work by TA Moore + Excerpt + GiveawayDirty Work (Dirty Deeds #1) by T.A. Moore
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: M/M romance, romantic suspense
Series: Dirty Deeds #1
Pages: 182
Published by Rogue Firebird Press on March 4, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Crime Scene Cleaner [kraɪm siːnˈkliːnə] - Cleans up crime scenes…before the cops know there is one.

People always say ‘you can’t go home again’. It turns out that doesn’t count as a guarantee…especially not during a global pandemic.

After the jobs in LA started to dry up, crime scene cleaner Grade Pulaski was forced to pack up and move home. He loves his family, but the last thing he ever wanted was to face the ghosts he’d left back in Sweeny, Kentucky.

Also, the place just sucks.

He certainly isn’t going to stay any longer than necessary. The plan is to save up enough money to move back to LA and give his business a kick-start. The problem is that, as previously mentioned, Sweeny’s a hole and the locals are anything but professional.

Now a body has gone missing, Grade’s reputation is being held hostage, and people keep asking whether his Dad really did run off with 100 grand of meth in the back of Dodge. Plus, even though you shouldn’t sleep with your employers, crime lord Clay Traynor is exactly the sort of bad idea that Grade can’t resist. Tattooed, bad news, and dangerous.

…oh, yeah. Grade’s job is to clean up the crime scene before the cops know someone’s dead. That’s why he needs to sort this out before he gets a bad review on dark net Yelp.

My Review:

“It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it,” or so the old saying goes. And then there’s the whole idea of “dirty work” which is not the same thing at all. Although when we first meet crime scene cleaner Grade Pulaski, the job he has to do is both. Cleaning a public washroom that hasn’t been cleaned since the turn of the century – possibly since the turn of the 19th into the 20th – is just a dirty job that someone really ought to have been doing all along. Cleaning up the place so thoroughly that no evidence of the headshot corpse currently “littering” the place remains to be found – ever – is dirty work all the way around.

But that clandestine clean-up job is only the beginning of Grade’s misadventures with the “Catfish Mafia” that runs everything dirty and/or operating under the table in Sweeny – and it seems like that whole region of Kentucky.

Grade’s stuck in the middle – every bit as much as he’s stuck back in Sweeny – when his truck, with the evidence sloshing around in a barrel in the back gets carjacked. (Truckjacked?)

The job he thought was going to add to his “getting out of Sweeny” fund instead starts adding to his “reasons he wanted to leave yesterday.” Along with one long, tall, dangerous reason to stay.

Escape Rating B: I don’t think I was expecting a “Mafia romance” to be set among the tiny towns of Kentucky. So I have to admit that threw me for a bit. As did the fairly graphic description of just what Grade has to go through to clean up the mess that body made – in a place that surely didn’t need to be any messier.

But once the suspense part of this romantic suspense story kicks into gear – with the truckjacking – the need to figure out just what the hell is going on sets its hooks deep. Into Grade because he has to solve it to get out of this mess alive – and into the reader because it’s just such a damn convoluted puzzle.

On top of that – sometimes literally – there’s the hard, slightly mean and a bit edgy relationship that springs up between Grade and Clay Traynor. Clay seems to be the enforcer for the local branch of that Catfish Mafia, and its his job to keep an eye on Grade until someone decides whether the cleaner is in this mess up to his neck – or whether he’s going to end up in one of his own cleaning barrels. That Clay does most of Grade-minding from up close and personal is a surprise to pretty much everyone. Especially the two of them.

But it’s that suspense plot that kept this reader turning pages. Because the situation that seemed fairly simple at the beginning is absolutely anything but by the dirty, twisty end.

Guest Post from TA Moore + Chapter 2 of Clean Hands (check out Chapter 1 at MM Romance Reviewed)

Thanks for letting me pop in to talk about my latest book, Dirty Work, which comes out on March 4. This is the first book in the Dirty Deeds trilogy and I had a lot of fun with it! It’s available online – https://books2read.com/Dirty-Work-Dirty-Deeds-Book-1 – and I hope you like it! I had a lot of fun writing it!

I also hope you enjoy ‘Clean Hands’ a short story prequel to the series.

Clean Hands – Chapter Two

Harrison sat on the floor in front of the stained couch, a slice of frying steak held to his face, Watery blood dribbled down his face and stained the pearl-decorated collar of his blouse. Grade wasn’t sure if it was his blood or cow blood.

“That’s for a black eye,” Grade said. “It’s not going to cut it.”

He did have a black eye. His cheek was also puffed out and swollen, red and shiny-tight, and his lower lip split. Old blood scabbed along his chin and down his neck. Grade looked away uncomfortably as his stomach turned.

Shannon stopped their restless pacing of the room to give Grade an aggrieved look. “It’s not going to hurt is it?” he snapped. “Or do you have a better idea?”

“Call an ambulance,” Grade suggested. 

That made Harrison move the steak away from his face. Under it his eye was swollen shut, like a golf ball jammed into the socket, and his eyebrow was split. He slurred out something that was probably an objection from the way he gestured ‘stop’ with his free hand.

“We can’t,” Shannon said, to back him up. “The accident…it wasn’t…we didn’t come off worst.”

Shit.

“There was another car?” he asked.

Shannon opened their mouth to answer, thought better of it, and pressed their lips together as they shook his head in a quick ‘no’.

“And Harrison already has a record. If it goes to court, he’ll get the book thrown at him.”

“Say you were driving.”

Shannon pulled their glasses down their nose and leaned in so Grade could get a good view of their pupils. They were huge, blown so wide that the blue of Shannon’s iris was a pencil line around them. “You think I’m gonna pass a drug test?”

Their breath was stale with weed and the hot, sweet hit of formaldehyde. Grade leaned away from it.

“Why is this my problem?” he asked.

Shannon wiped their nose on the back of their hand and sniffed loudly. They gave Grade a challenging look. “You think you’re going to find somewhere else to live this cheap? Or that my aunt will keep you on at the funeral home if I get sent down?” they said. “Not that you’ll need to worry about that when Harrison’s dad finds out you’re the reason his son’s in court. I told you he’s connected.”

That part Grade wasn’t so worried about. Harrison had also claimed, at various times, that his mother was a movie star, that he had friends in Hollywood, and that there was an A-List actor who’d take him away from all this in a heartbeat…if Harrison’s independence wasn’t so important to him. And yet he had a shitty room in a shared house with the rest of them, and he regularly stole other people’s food.

The job thing was real though. Even with his shifts at the funeral home Grade was barely able to pay rent and buy food without dipping into his savings. If he lost it he’d be on the bus back to Sweeny in a couple of weeks. If he could beg the money for a ticket off his mom.

“I didn’t have anything to do with this,” Grade said.

“That’s not what I’ll tell them.”

Grade stared at Shannon for a grim second. Yeah, that was what he should have expected.

“OK,” he said. “OK. What the fuck do you want from me?”

Shannon just stared at him blankly for a second. Then they sniffed again and shrugged jerkily. “I don’t fucking know! Something.”

It could be argued that Grade had brought that on himself. He took a deep breath and held it for a second.

“OK,” he repeated. “Maybe it’s not as bad as you think. Where did the accident happen? We’ll go out there, see what state he’s in and…”

The confused look on Shannon’s face wasn’t going to lead to anything good. Grade could just tell. He stopped for a second and wondered if it had been such a bright idea to leave Sweeny after all. LA had been the dream, but it turned out there were shitty, dumb people here too.

Except that he had to pay rent to them.

“What did you do?” Grade asked.

Shannon apparently still had enough brain cells linked up to feel awkward. They shuffled their feet and then pointed down, at the ground between their mismatched trainers.

“…it was in the garage,” he said in a small, hoarse voice like a failed whisper.

The two of them stood on the cracked concrete floor and stared at the man. He was pinned against the wall of the garage by the grille of Harrison’s dune buggy looking jeep. His torso was slumped forward from the hips, limply sprawled over the crumpled, bright yellow hood of the vehicle. In the silence Grade could hear the sound of something dripping. It might be blood. It might be brake fluid. It could be both.

Dead bodies didn’t bleed once the heart stopped beating, but they could be drained. It was what they did at the funeral home, although the method there was a lot tidier. They had a bucket, for a start.

“Maybe he’s not dead,” Shannon said. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, his shoes scuffed over the concrete floor, and chewed on the ragged edge of his thumbnail. “Do you think maybe…”

Grade pulled his attention away from the mangled obvious corpse and gave Shannon a disbelieving look.

“No,” he said sarcastically. “I don’t think he’s alive.”

He had been. That odd, quiet switch in Grade’s head, the one that he had instead of panic, had flicked on and methodically noted all the evidence that pointed to that. The smeared bloody hand prints slapped onto the dirty hood and the evidence of flesh slippage along the man’s thighs where he’d tried to pull himself free. It had taken him a while to die. That wasn’t uncommon with some catastrophic crush injuries, the body really didn’t want to deal with something like that. So it just didn’t. He probably would have died quicker if Harrison had tried to reverse–although the fact she hadn’t would not do her any favors if it got to court.

Right now, though, the man was definitely dead.

Grade shoved both hands back through his air and laced his finger together around the back of his skull. 

“Shannon,” he said. “What happened?”

“I told you!” Shannon said. “It was an accident. Sorta.”

That was such an obvious lie that Grade didn’t even bother to point it out. “Not what I asked.”

“He’s a dealer, I know,” Shannon said. They fiddled nervously with the button on the cuff of their shirt as they tried very hard to stop looking at the dead man. “I’ve bought from him before, but at work. You know? Except Harrison and I wanted to pre-game tonight, before we went out to the club. So I asked Johnny to meet me here. He had the gear, the deal went down fine, but then Harrison got back and he fucking freaked out.”

“Harrison or Johnny?”

Shannon twisted the button hard enough it snapped. They let it drop to the floor. “Both?” he said with a shrug. “Apparently Harrison had sugar-trapped him or something, stole a shitload of money. I don’t know, they were fucking screaming at each other. Harrison got in the car–to go, to run–then Johnny said that he’d be back and he’d have his boss with him…and I think it was an accident. I think Harrison just put the car in the wrong gear. You know?”

“If it was an accident, we can call the cops,” Grade pointed out. “Just explain what–”

“No,” Shannon said. “We can’t. OK? You need to deal with this.”

“Me? I need to deal with it?” Grade said, his voice thin and incredulous. He jabbed his fingers against his breastbone. “Why the hell is this suddenly my responsibility?”

Shannon looked shifty. “I don’t know,” he said. “Someone has to and you deal with dead bodies all the time. I don’t wanna touch it.”

Grade pulled a face at that and turned back to the dead man as he weighed up his options. He could ignore Shannon and call the cops. It wouldn’t actually do the dead man any good, he was past that, and it would screw them all over. And…Grade had his own reasons for wanting to stay off any cop’s radar.

“You owe me,” Grade said. Most of the time he worked to keep the Kentucky out of his voice, sanded it off with Youtube videos on elocution and careful mimicry of the rest of LA. This time he didn’t bother, it lay thick on the words. “After this. You really owe me.”

Catch the next chapter Wednesday at Two Chicks Obsessed and follow the tour for the rest of the story!

 

About the Author:

TA Moore is a Northern Irish writer of romantic suspense, urban fantasy, and contemporary romance novels. A childhood in a rural, seaside town fostered in her a suspicious nature, a love of mystery, and a streak of black humour a mile wide. As her grandmother always said, ‘she’d laugh at a bad thing that one’, mind you, that was the pot calling the kettle black. TA Moore studied History, Irish mythology, English at University, mostly because she has always loved a good story. She has worked as a journalist, a finance manager, and in the arts sector before she finally gave in to a lifelong desire to write.

Coffee, Doc Marten boots, and good friends are the essential things in life. Spiders, mayo, and heels are to be avoided.

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Review: The Detective by Anna Hackett

Review: The Detective by Anna HackettThe Detective (Norcross Security #7) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, romantic suspense
Series: Norcross Security #7
Pages: 274
Published by Anna Hackett on March 1, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

She’s a woman on the run and desperate to avoid her hot, nosy detective neighbor.

Artist Savannah Cole has secrets. She can never stay anywhere too long or let anyone get too close. An obsessed stalker has her in his sights, and to protect her family, she can never go home, never share her art, and never fall in love.

But when she plays her music a little too loud, she collides with her good-looking, inquisitive, and far-too-hot neighbor, Detective Hunter Morgan. A man who makes her want things she can never have.

After an injury ended his military career with Delta Force, Hunt Morgan found his place at the San Francisco Police Department. He may not have been there for the men of his team, but now he does his bit to keep his city safe. But his mysterious, new neighbor is disturbing his peace. One look at the beautiful blonde and Hunt knows she has secrets…

When a spate of mysterious attacks threaten Savannah’s life, Hunt steps in. He’ll keep her safe and he’s not going to let her run again.

As Savannah’s stalker closes in, she finds herself with her own private protector. Even with his brothers and friends at Norcross Security at his back, she’s terrified he’ll become the next target. But Hunt isn’t afraid of her deadly stalker, because he knows the hardest challenge will be convincing Savannah to take the biggest risk and stay.

My Review:

I’ve been wondering when the Norcross Security series was going to get around to the Morgan brothers, and it looks like that time is finally here! I say I’ve been wondering because the Morgan brothers, or at least Hunt and Ryder have been part of the series from the very beginning – even if not exactly at the center of the fray until now.

The series initially followed the Norcross family – hence the series title – but the Morgans have been on the periphery of the action from the very beginning. Two of them at least.

Hunt Morgan is a detective in the LVPD. Specifically he’s THE detective in the Las Vegas Police Department who has been assigned to – or perhaps that’s cursed with – the task of cleaning up after some of Norcross Security’s messier operations. Not that Hunt ever does anything illegal – he really is a good cop. And the Norcross organization is on the side of the angels, no matter how much some of them occasionally act like devils both on and off the job.

But it’s Hunt’s frequently thankless task to take care of any paperwork, civilians and/or bureaucratic handholding that needs to be taken care of after the dust settles. Because the bad guys that Norcross is chasing after have an unfortunate tendency to inflict some, or occasionally lots, of collateral damage in the process of their criminal actions.

And Hunt has ‘white knight’ syndrome in a really bad way. He doesn’t just want, he actually needs to serve and protect – and that’s what gets him involved in the case of his new neighbor, Savannah Cole.

Or it is once he bangs on her door and barges into her next door townhouse. Because she plays her music really, really loud, really late at night – and the walls between his bedroom and hers aren’t nearly thick enough to block the sound. Or any sounds at all, as Hunt discovers later.

What he discovers at first is that Savannah is an artist, she likes to play VERY loud music while she works, and she’s much too aware of and wary of her surroundings to be exactly what she claims to be.

The art is real, the woman is beautiful, but something tells Hunt that she’s deathly afraid of something that she wants to conceal at all costs. But Hunt has seen the signs before, and is certain that Savannah is in big trouble with someone, somewhere.

And that he will defend and protect her from whoever or whatever that is – whether she wants his protection or not.

Escape Rating B: I loved the romance between Hunt and Savannah, but the whole stalker plotline is one of the tropes I hate the most – right up there with secret babies and mean girl bullying. It makes the heroine reactive rather than active, and it always ends up with her doing something really stupid that puts her in the hands of her stalker. I know this shit – and worse shit – happens in real life, but that doesn’t mean I want to read about it.

Which means I had extremely mixed feelings about this book. I could see the stalker plot coming a mile away – and I didn’t want to go there. At the same time, I loved the fuller portrait of Hunt that we get in this one. As I said, he’s been around for the entire series, so I’ve been hoping he’d get a story of his own.

I liked Hunt. He’s always been an interesting side character in the series, as a sometimes grumbling participant in the Norcross shenanigans and a surprising and surprised friend of Vander Norcross. And now family, as Hunt’s cousin Brynn and Vander Norcross ended up together after their adventure in the previous book in the series, The Powerbroker.

I also liked Savannah. She’s done a surprisingly successful job of running from her stalker for quite some time, and the cost to her has been high – and so has the cost to a whole lot of other people that Savannah didn’t know about because she didn’t stick around long enough – nor should she have.

I think the part of stalker plots that always sends me round the bend is the way that the heroines in these type of stories always reject any possibility of help and generally get in their own way when capable, qualified help appears. Also stalker plots tend to put the heroine in a reactive mode and I’d rather see them take agency.

My two cents, your reading mileage may vary, etc., etc., etc.

At the same time, I loved the romance in this one. It’s not rushed in spite of the circumstances, and I was absolutely all in on these two getting together and making it work, sometimes in spite of themselves.

As I said at the beginning, mixed feelings all around.

I have no mixed feelings about the teasers we got for the next book at the end of this one. The next story in this series, The Medic, is clearly going to feature Hunt’s brother Ryder. Ryder is the paramedic that Norcross calls on – all too frequently – when one of them needs patching up and they’re unwilling or unable to go to a hospital. Which means that Ryder has been “on call” in this series as much as his brother Hunt. I’m absolutely looking forward to this one, as I’ll be getting it for a birthday present. Literally. The release day, April 5, is my birthday. So if I say I can’t wait for this one, the double meaning is fully in effect!

Review: The Bachelor Betrayal by Maddison Michaels

Review: The Bachelor Betrayal by Maddison MichaelsThe Bachelor Betrayal by Maddison Michaels
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance, romantic suspense
Series: Secrets, Scandals, and Spies #2
Pages: 457
Published by Entangled: Amara on February 14, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

He wants justice
Underestimating Marcus Black is the last thing his enemies ever do. After all, the respected Earl of Westwood is a deadly threat… when her Majesty needs him to be. And his only goal is to avenge his brother’s murder. Which would be much easier if the viciously-skilled Lady Kaitlyn Montrose wouldn’t swoop in, knee him in the bollocks, and then run off with his only lead…
She wants revenge
Kat is determined to avenge her beloved uncle’s murder and nothing will stop her. Especially not the devastatingly handsome, and equally lethal Marcus Black. The fact that he’s after the same target is a complication she hadn’t planned on. And as much as she enjoys taunting him, she has a job to do—one that doesn’t include sparring with the infuriating man at every turn. Except Kat has a new plan… one that Marcus will just hate.
Now they’ll have to work together… if they don’t kill each other first
Individually, Marcus and Kat are deadly. If they worked together, they could be unstoppable. But when attraction gets in the way of vengeance, it’s more than hearts on the line. And only one person can win...

My Review:

There are three threads to this story. The part of that braid that we are introduced to first is the revenge story, as Kat Montrose watches her guardian and beloved uncle die on the street after an attack by a foreign agent known only as “The Chameleon”. The second strand of that braid is the instant attraction between Kat and Marcus Black – an attraction that is as inconvenient and inappropriate as it is irresistible.

Last but not least, the central thing that ties those two pieces together is the “Great Game” of power, politics and general one-upmanship that was conducted between the British Empire and the Russian Empire in places and with proxies all around the world, but most especially in Central and South Asia.

It’s the playing of this game of lives, fortunes and futures that eventually resulted in World War I. But at the point of this story in 1884-85, it’s mostly a spy game. A spy game in which Kat, Marcus, Kat’s late uncle AND the Chameleon have all played their parts.

Kat, formally Lady Kaitlyn Montrose, is a spy, a member of Her Majesty’s War Office. So is Marcus Black, the Earl of Westwood. Both were trained by her late uncle in the work. When he was killed, Kat began her search for the Chameleon, intending on taking “an eye for an eye”, the Chameleon’s life for her uncle’s.

But the Chameleon has been avoiding people like Kat for years, all too successfully. No one has ever been able to discover the identity of the elusive assassin. Kat needs a bit of assistance in tracking the Chameleon down. Assistance that she expects to garner in the form of the Earl of Westwood, who should want to avenge her uncle – his mentor – as much as she does.

Westwood has been hunting the Chameleon for far longer than Kat has been looking, and Victor’s death only adds to the reasons for his pursuit. He doesn’t want Kat getting in his way – or honestly working the case at all. Nor does he have any hope of stopping her.

Which doesn’t keep him from trying for entirely too long.

But the Chameleon is working through a hit list of the highest echelons of the War Office. Kat and Marcus will have to work together to stop the decimation of Britain’s intelligence services while war looms on the horizon.

Too bad they’re spending so much time fighting a war with each other to find the source of the threat before it’s nearly too late.

Escape Rating B: I loved the opening of this. The whole idea of a female spy in Victorian England had the potential to be so much fun! And the first scenes, with Kat burgling some papers then decimating the thugs who try to stop her  – was fantastic. That Kat has a burning line of snark for such circumstances was icing on the cake.

But the cake turned out to be more of a cupcake.

Kat is still an utterly fascinating character, and she does continue to kick ass and take names throughout this story. I especially loved her friendship with Livie (heroine of the first book in the series, The Bachelor Bargain) and Etta, and their joint publishing venture to take down the unrepentant asshole noblemen who abused women and didn’t think they’d have to pay for their perfidy. That was excellent. (I haven’t read the first book – yet – but didn’t feel like I’d missed anything essential. Just that I might have missed a good reading time!)

And I can’t say that I didn’t like her budding relationship with Westwood, because that certainly had oodles of passionate potential, which it mostly fulfilled. What fulfilled less, at least for me, was the degree to which he just plain refused to accept that Kat was NEVER going to submit to his protection and was not under any circumstances going to hold herself back from the investigation. Marcus wants Kat to be safe, and takes much too long to acknowledge that safety was about the last thing that Kat was built for.

If he hadn’t been aware of how she was raised and trained – and intimately aware at that because he was trained by the same person – it would have made more sense. His behavior would have been the expected thing for that time and place. But he went into this mess knowing that Kat was absolutely NOT the expected thing so treating her as if she was was going to get him nowhere but an argument. The repetition went on too long, and Kat in particular was a bit too angsty about her developing feelings. She was portrayed as a person of action at every turn and the moody angst just didn’t “feel right”.

On the other hand, the case was a cracking good one – and the solution was nothing like I expected at all. The Chameleon was both clever and totally unexpected, adding a frisson of danger and temptation to the scenario that made the whole thing that much more diabolical and entertaining.

In other words, mixed feelings. The way the romance worked didn’t quite fit the characters of Kat and Marcus as they were drawn, but I was certainly sold on them being meant for each other. I certainly liked this more than enough to consider picking up the previous book in the series, The Bachelor Bargain, the next time I’m in the mood for a romantic spy story.

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Review: Abandoned in Death by J.D. Robb

Review: Abandoned in Death by J.D. RobbAbandoned in Death (In Death, #54) 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 #54
Pages: 368
Published by St. Martin's Press on February 8, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Homicide detective Eve Dallas must untangle a twisted family history while a hostage’s life hangs in the balance—in the new In Death novel by #1 New York Times bestselling J. D. Robb.
The woman’s body was found on a bench in a New York City playground. She was clean, her hair neatly arranged, her makeup carefully applied. But other things were very wrong—like the tattoo and piercings, clearly new. The clothes, decades out of date. The fatal wound hidden beneath a ribbon around her neck. And the note: Bad Mommy, written in crayon as if by a child.
It seems clear the killer’s childhood was traumatic—a situation Eve is all too familiar with herself. Yet the clues point to a perpetrator who’d be around sixty, and there are no records of old crimes with a similar MO. What was the trigger that apparently reopened such an old wound and sent someone over the edge? When Eve learns that other young women have recently vanished, the case grows even more urgent—and to solve it she’ll need to find her way into a hidden place of dim light and concrete, into the distant past, and into the depths of a shattered mind.

My Review:

This series is a strange sort of comfort read for me, so I usually say that each entry in the series is at least a chance to visit with old friends. Sometimes it’s more, but it’s always at least that.

Abandoned in Death is one of the instances where it was also at most that. I loved seeing how Dallas, Roarke and the gang are doing, but the way this one began – and the entire case – really, seriously creeped me out.

I felt creeped enough the whole way through that I didn’t enjoy this entry in the series as much as I usually do. And I’m a bit sad about that because I was seriously looking forward to this one.

Once upon a time in Eve Dallas’ world, which is actually now in ours, a desperate and despairing young woman left her child on a church doorstep in the middle of the night. Then she drove straight into a lake and prepared to drown.

But she didn’t. Instead, she dragged herself out of the car and the water and passed out along the side of the road not too far away. She was rescued by a good Samaritan who happened to be a doctor, who took her home, treated her injuries, fell in love with her and married her.

Between the trauma of her injuries – along with the effects of her depression and her drug addiction – her life before her rescue was a complete blank. She didn’t remember the child, the drugs or the attempted suicide. She lived her life from that point forward in the here and the now and it was a good life.

In Eve Dallas’ here and now, someone dumped the corpse of a young woman in a children’s playground. The playground is just around the corner from the house that Eve’s friend Mavis is moving into, with her family. It hits MUCH too close to home, putting Eve in a bit more angst than any trip to the “angst factory” of her own.

Not that this case doesn’t have a bit of that as well.

The investigation of the case is interesting. Weird, but interesting. Weird because the body was dressed and made up to fit a certain image – that of a blonde woman in her mid-20s with a tramp stamp, a belly piercing, cheap party clothes and overdone makeup.

She’s made up to be a woman in her mid-20s in the early 2000s. All the brands, the style, the look, the colors all fit that era. Which means that if someone is getting vicarious revenge on their mother, that person is now in their 60s.

And the first thing that Dallas and company discover about the crime is that their victim isn’t the only woman taken who could be made up to fit the image. She’s just the first to die.

Escape Rating B-: So, the opening of this one weirded me out and the parts of the story that were told either from the killer’s perspective or from the mother’s distant past just didn’t work for me. I didn’t want to be inside the murderer’s head AT ALL and found myself skimming through those sections and the past bits.

Some of that may have been that the originating events were already in the past of the real world – kind of like that double-take you do when confronted with the fact that 1980 is as far away from 2020 as 1940 is from 1980. That time passes way more quickly than we like to think about.

However, whether it was because of skimming those bits quickly or because the murderer was simply very good at hiding in plain sight I had absolutely no idea who was doing it before Dallas gets there herself. I recognized that the wild goose she chased at one point was a red herring, but hadn’t figured out who the real culprit was until the investigators got there.

That there’s a clock ticking more obviously in this case from the usual made some of the normal cop shop gallows humor fall a bit flat – at least for me. No one has much of a sense of humor in this one.

At the same time the rather humorous blossoming of young love between Feeney’s intern and Nadine Furst’s intern (and their respective mentors reaction to same) was a nice little bright stop that did fit well into the story. It also points out just how huge the team ended up being on this one as Dallas needed people to investigate not just the murders happening now, not just whodunnit, but also who in the past it was being done to in proxy.

They were solving an equation for multiple unknowns, and that level of research and search and cooperation and puzzle solving was, as always, fascinating. Whatever team Dallas puts together for a case always gives a master class in competence and this time was no exception.

In spite of the mess that’s uncovered at the end.

All of this adds up to Abandoned in Death being an interesting entry in this marvelous long-running series that wasn’t quite as satisfying for me as they usually are. That’s happened before, as is expected in a series that is 54 books and counting and shows absolutely no sign of stopping. Next up is Desperation in Death, coming this fall and I’m already looking forward to it!

Review: Lightning in a Mirror by Jayne Ann Krentz

Review: Lightning in a Mirror by Jayne Ann KrentzLightning in a Mirror (Fogg Lake #3) 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: Fogg Lake #3
Pages: 320
Published by Berkley on January 18, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The final installment in the chilling Fogg Lake trilogy by New York Times bestselling author Jayne Ann Krentz.
Olivia LeClair's experiment with speed dating is not going well. First there was the nasty encounter with the date from hell who tried to murder her and now the mysterious Harlan Rancourt—long believed dead—sits down at her table and tells her she's the only one who can help him locate the legendary Vortex lab.
This is not what Olivia had in mind when she signed up for the Four Event Success Guaranteed package offered by the dating agency. She doesn't have much choice, though, because her psychic investigation firm works for the mysterious Foundation and Victor Arganbright, the director, is adamant that she assist Harlan. There's just one problem—no one knows Harlan's real agenda. His father once ran the Foundation like a mob organization, and Harlan was destined to be his heir. There's a real possibility Harlan has returned to claim his inheritance.
For now, however, it's a case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend because others are after the secrets of the long-lost lab. Unfortunately for Olivia, the one thing friend and foe have in common is that everyone is convinced she is the key. Her unique psychic talent is required to defuse the ticking time bomb that is Vortex.
Neither trusts the other but Olivia and Harlan soon realize they must work together to survive and unlock the Bluestone Project's most dangerous secrets before more innocent people die.

My Review:

At least in some variations, “We’re from the government and we’re here to help you,” is one of the three biggest lies. In Fogg Lake, and the paranormally powered world of this series, “We’re from the Foundation and we’re here to help you,” seems to be the psi-powered equivalent.

But so far in contemporary Fogg Lake it actually seems to be true. Well, it’s true NOW. It wasn’t true back in the day. Come to think of it, the government version wasn’t true then or now.

The entire Fogg Lake series, starting with The Vanishing and All the Colors of Night, has been all about dealing with the mysteries and the dangers that remain from the Bluestone Project and it’s offshoot Vortex, that came into being back in that day when both the government – in the form of that top-secret Bluestone Project, and the Foundation were doing their level best to figure out how to enhance and weaponize psychic powers.

Something that never ever ends well. At this point, the Foundation, at least in the person of Harlan Rancourt, is just trying to make sure it ends – before anyone else gets dead in the process. The Vortex process.

Fogg Lake turns out to be part of the ‘Jayneverse’ of connected stories that encompasses the Arcane Society and Harmony. In the Fogg Lake series, that connection is tangential. You don’t have to have read any of the Arcane Society books to get hooked into Fogg Lake in The Vanishing. (But the Easter Eggs sure are fun to find!)

It’s not like we aren’t aware of plenty of shady government projects that have disappeared without a trace – at least in fiction. It’s also possible to see the now-moribund government office that ran Bluestone as the cramped, dusty office that would later house Mulder and Scully.

But Lightning in a Mirror is the last book in the Fogg Lake series, so if contemporary paranormal romantic suspense sounds like your cup of tea, start with The Vanishing.

This story, while the romance is totally encompassed in this one book, the suspense factor is not. The Foundation, both its current directors, Victor Arganbright and Lucas Pine, as well as the investigators of the Lark & LeClair Detective Agency, Catalina Lark (protagonist of The Vanishing) and Olivia LeClair (this book’s heroine), have been hunting for the remnants of Bluestone and Vortex throughout the series.

As this story opens it looks like Vortex is hunting them as well. At least, they’re hunting Olivia LeClair for the Oracle talent that entirely too many people seem to think she inherited from her grandmother. Vortex would have caught her, just as they caught her mother, if not for the intervention of Harlan Rancourt.

Which is where the story kicks into gear. High gear. Rancourt has been hiding from the Foundation for five years, investigating the death of his own father in a mysterious accident. With Vortex on the rise he returns to the fold to prevent the catastrophe that his own talents tell him is coming.

Rancourt is a wild-card to everyone. A chameleon talent who fools everyone, all the time, about the true nature of the threat he presents. But he never fools Olivia. She sees him for the predator he is – and doesn’t run.

At least she doesn’t run FROM him. Running WITH him to keep one step ahead of Vortex – and to stay together – turns out to be just what both of them have been waiting for.

Escape Rating A-: First and most important, the ENTIRE ‘Jayneverse’ is a whole lot of fun – especially if you like a bit of the paranormal mixed with romantic suspense. She writes the historical parts of the series as Amanda Quick, the contemporaries as Jayne Ann Krentz, and the futuristic Harmony as Jayne Castle. And they are all just oodles of fun.

The links between the series are loose, but like a tangled thread, once you pull at one and get invested in THAT part of her world, you’ll be led to the others. (And I prefer ‘Arcaneverse’ as the collective title but that’s a “me” thing)

There are, as usual for this series, two stories blended into the book. One is the overall series arc, which is the suspense part, and the other is the, well, romantic part. Which, as is also usual, isn’t all that “romantic” in a hearts and flowers sense.

Neither Harlan nor Olivia are hearts and flowers kind of people – and that’s been true of the protagonists for most of the series. They meet because they’re on the trail of a serial killer, or a series of serial killers, they’re both in danger and they’re both capable of taking care of that danger themselves (I love that there are no damsels in her series). But they are better – and safer – together than they are apart.

For select definitions of both “better” and “safer”.

So their romance begins with the forced intimacy of being on the run together, combined with the adrenaline thrills and crashes of facing deadly danger together> That rush to romance is ably assisted and enhanced by psychic compatibility that validates the attraction into becoming something more. It doesn’t feel “romantic” in any of the traditional senses, but insta-lust is a real thing and the insta-love that surprises them both does manage to feel earned.

Nevertheless, what captivated me about this book – and about the Fogg Lake series and everything else this author writes – is the overarching suspense plot. I always enjoy a black-ops project/government agency/conspiracy gone wrong kind of story, and this one is a doozy.

It’s not hard to believe that there are government agencies so secret that no one knows about them, because they’re doing things the government can’t afford to acknowledge. In fact, it’s downright easy to believe this and it’s a stock in trade of lots of genres. Bits of it have even happened in real life – just look up the history of the Manhattan Project, secret towns and all.

That such a project would be rife with criminal shenanigans isn’t a stretch either. And neither is the idea that some people wouldn’t be able to let it go. That’s where Fogg Lake and the Bluestone Project sit, at that intersection of conspiracy theories and government black operations.

So the romance didn’t seem all that romantic, but I was all in on the conspiracy parts, and that’s what kept me flipping pages as I poured through this story and this series.

While we may be finished at Fogg Lake, I’m looking forward to visiting another corner of this universe in May, when we return to 1930s Burning Cove, California in When She Dreams.