Damage Control (Laws of Attraction #1) by Kate McMurray

Senate candidate Parker Livingston chose his political dreams over a future with the man he loved. He lives with constant regret about not having Jackson Kane in his life. Or his bed. And when a strange woman is found murdered in Parker’s apartment, Jackson is the only person Parker trusts to help clear his name.

Jackson never forgave Parker for the way their relationship ended. He moved on, built a name for himself as a criminal defense attorney and swore he’d never let heartbreak back in. But when Parker shows up on his doorstep, wild-eyed and handsome and desperate for his help, Jackson can’t say no. Parker is a lot of things, but he’s no murderer.

Forced back together, searching for answers, their attraction returns with a vengeance. Any distraction—personal or professional—could be deadly. The murderer is still at large, and he’s made it clear one of them is his next victim.

Rating: C-

Damage Control is the first book in the author’s Laws of Attraction series, and it opens when top defence attorney Jackson Kane is approached by senatorial candidate Parker Livingston to represent him when, as looks likely to happen, Livingston is arrested for the murder of a woman found dead in his apartment.  The book is a reasonably well written and engaging tale, but there were a number of issues that kept pulling me out of the story, and there were times when the suspension of disbelief required was just too large for comfort.

Jackson and Parker – Park – have history.  They met at college, aged nineteen, and were each other’s first everything; they stayed together for eight years until Park’s political ambitions (and daddy issues) forced them apart.  Eight years later, Park is running for the senate… as a Republican.  Okay – I’m British, so it’s entirely possible that some of the finer political points in the story passed me by, but basically, Park is a left-of-centre Republican who espouses many of the party’s conservative economic tenets while also believing it has gone off the rails and that change can only be effected from within.  But the party and voters will never accept a gay republican, so he’s firmly closeted.  Even though it’s a matter of record – and it comes up a few times – that Park and Jackson shared a couple of addresses over the years, we’re asked to believe that nobody, at any time during the vetting process put two and two together and made four? They were together as a couple for EIGHT YEARS.  They didn’t ever have friends round for dinner?  They never went out as a couple?  Setting aside the fact I have a hard time believing that ANYONE would want to identify as a Republican these days, surely someone running for high political office would have been thoroughly investigated?

Anyway.  It seems the murdered woman was a socialite whose father is a major donor to the party and Park’s campaign.  Fortunately, however, Park has a watertight alibi for the time of the murder, and once that is established,  the story turns its attention to trying to find out why the victim was at Park’s apartment in the first place? Did his political opponents lure her there with the intention of framing Park for murder?

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

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TBR Challenge: The Tyburn Waltz by Maggie MacKeever

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Julie expects she will end up dangling on Tyburn gallows,hanged as a thief.

Ned expects he will die on the battlefields of the Peninsula, hanged as a spy.

But then Julie takes on the trappings of a lady, and Ned unexpectedly becomes an earl, both players in a deadly game that will take them from the heights of London society to the depths of the Regency underworld — a game in which not only necks are risked, but hearts as well.

Rating: B

Finding a book in a series to read for this month’s prompt proved a bit harder than I’d anticipated.  Oh, I’ve got plenty of series books, but I realised that most were in series I’d either completed or not started yet, so my option was pretty much limited to picking up the first in a series.  I was going back and forth on my Kindle trying to work out what I fancied reading and actually started one or two other books before finally settling on Maggie MacKeever’s The Tyburn Waltz.  Ms. MacKeever has a fairly large backlist of traditional regencies, but this book – the first in her Tyburn Trilogy (which has yet to be completed) – dates from 2010 and is a little bit sexier and somewhat darker than her trads.

When she’s just fourteen – as near as she can guess, anyway – street urchin Jules is caught stealing some silver teaspoons, imprisoned in Newgate and will most likely hang for the crime.  But she’s offered a deal; release in exchange for working for the infamous Cap’n Jack – the mysterious, seemingly omnipotent lord of London’s criminal underworld.  It’s Hobson’s Choice; Jules agrees, and for the next four years, she lives comfortably, and is given lessons in refinement and deportment so that she can move easily among the upper classes.

Ned Fairchild, Earl of Dorset, is a rather reluctant earl, having come into the title upon the unexpected death of his cousin.  Until then, he’d been an Exploring Officer (a spy of sorts) in Wellington’s army in Spain, a dangerous life, but one he’d relished.  Back in England, he and his closest friend, Kane, Lord Saxe, are still working for the government – but mostly Ned is bored by the round of balls, parties, visits to clubs and his mistress that seem to comprise his life and longs for something more.

He returns home late one night to find his fifteen-year-old sister, Lady Clea, out of bed and waiting for him, proudly showing him what looks to be a young woman wrapped in a curtain and tied to a chair in his library.  Clea explains that she – with the help of his batman, Bates – caught a housebreaker; Ned sends her to bed, intending to find out what he can about the young woman’s intentions, but she’s too quick for him, and knocks him over the head with an ornamental statue before absconding out of the window – with the statue, and without the curtain.

Shortly after this, Jules is manoeuvred into a situation as companion to Lady Georgiana Ashcroft.  As Miss Julie Wynne, she accompanies her mistress to a number of society events, where she’s instructed to steal various items from the hosts. She has no idea to what end, just knows that she’s got to follow Cap’n Jack’s orders quickly and without drawing attention to herself.  She’s engaged in stealing a glove from the bedroom of the wife of the French Ambassador when she’s confronted by the Earl of Dorset who idly wonders if she’s lost something.  She tries to bluff her way out of it, but quickly realises its futile; he’s recognised her and he’s clearly not going to let her get away this time.  She’s worried he’s going to report her to the authorities and is surprised when he doesn’t, instead asking her to meet him again so they can talk further.  Ned quickly realises there’s more going on that meets the eye, and assigns Bates to keep an eye on Julie, to protect her from whomever has her under his control.

The romance between Ned and Julie is a fairly slow-burn, and the author does a great job of building the attraction that thrums between them from their very first meeting. They’re both extremely likeable; Ned is a terrific hero – handsome, clever and compassionate, he’s impressed by Julie’s tenacity and gumption as much as he’s attracted to her and is determined to keep her safe at all costs. Julie has an old head on her young shoulders – not surprising, considering she grew up on the streets – she’s quick-witted and independent, although she’s sensible enough to recognise when she needs help and to ask for it.  Their interactions are lively and entertaining, they have great chemistry and their relationship moves at a good pace, while they’re also trying to work out exactly who Cap’n Jack is and what he’s up to.  The mystery element of the novel is intriguing and unfolds gradually, with the reader finding clues and information at the same time as the characters, which certainly helps to build the suspense.

The story is set against the backdrop of the state visit which doesn’t really have a lot to do with the plot, although it does provide a number of events at which our heroes can interact, and allows the injection of a little light comedy in the forms of Lady Georgiana and Ned’s cousin, the dowager Countess, who are sworn rivals and always trying to score points off each other.  There are some other intriguing secondary characters as well; Ned’s friend Kane is a notorious rake, his sister, Clea is clever, vivacious and has a Latin quote handy for every occasion, and the coolly collected and lovely French spy, Sabine worked with Ned and Kane during the recent war.

After all those positives however, comes the negative; the final quarter of the book doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the rest of it.  The reveal about Cap’n Jack is weak and anti-climactic, and although everything is neatly wrapped up – and it’s not all rainbows and happy bunnies – the book seems to have run out of steam, and the author throws in a couple of plot points (like the one about Ned’s cousin pushing him to get married) which add little (if anything) to the story as a whole.

The Tyburn Waltz is, on the whole, a well-executed, funny and sensual romantic adventure story, and even with the reservations I’ve expressed, I enjoyed it and plan to read the other books in the trilogy.

Desperate Girls (Wolfe Security #1) by Laura Griffin

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Defense attorney Brynn Holloran is right at home among cops, criminals, and tough-as-nails prosecutors. With her sharp wit and pointed words, she’s a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom, but in her personal life, she’s a mess.

When a vicious murderer she once helped prosecute resurfaces and starts a killing spree to wipe out those who put him behind bars, one thing becomes clear: Brynn needs to run for her life.

Turning to a private security firm for protection, Brynn can’t resist getting involved in the investigation. As the clock ticks down on a manhunt, Brynn’s desperate search for the truth unearths long-buried secrets and reignites a killer’s cold fury.

Rating: B-

I’ve enjoyed a number of Laura Griffin’s Tracers series of romantic suspense novels, and have been impressed with her ability to craft fast-paced, complex plots that combine a bit of steam with action-packed set pieces and fascinating, behind-the-scenes detail.  Desperate Girls is book one in a new series – Wolfe Security – which is linked to the Tracers books by virtue of the fact that security expert Liam Wolfe, the owner of the high-end private security firm is the hero of Shadow Fall (Tracers #9).

Defence attorney Brynn Halloran has a reputation as a ball-buster, which is just the way she likes it.  Coolly professional and determined to get the job done, she’s tough as nails and lives for her job… which is just as well, because her personal life – what there is of it – is a bit of a mess.  The case she’s working on right now is one that could make or break her career; it’s the first time her boss has given her the lead on such a high profile case as this one, in which a mixed-race teenager is accused of first-degree murder.  Brynn knows he’s innocent and is sure she can win the case – until her key witness disappears just days before the trial is due to commence.

But there’s more bad news to come.  Arrived at the offices of the small defence firm she works for, Brynn learns that her friend and mentor, Judge Jen Ballard, has been murdered in her own home.  And that’s not all; the suspected killer, James Corby, escaped from prison just days before the murder, and he has reason to want to exact revenge on the two lawyers – Jen and Brynn – who secured his conviction, three years earlier, for the rape and murder of a number of women.  When Brynn’s boss insists that she could be Corby’s next target and that she needs protection during the upcoming trial in Dallas. Brynn tries to argue against him – she doesn’t need some lumbering goon hanging over her 24/7 while she’s trying to track down a missing witness and save a young man’s life.  But her boss is adamant and she’s overruled.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Scandal Above Stairs (Kat Holloway #2) by Jennifer Ashley

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Priceless artwork has gone missing from the home of a wealthy baronet, and his wife stands to take the blame. When Kat’s employer asks for help in clearing her friend’s name, Kat trades her kitchen for the homes of Mayfair’s wealthiest families.

Soon antiques are disappearing not only from the extravagant households of connoisseurs and collectors, but from the illustrious British Museum. As the thefts increase in frequency, Kat calls upon her friend Daniel McAdam, who has already set himself up in a pawnshop on the Strand as a seedy receiver of stolen goods. When a man is murdered in the shop, Kat must use all of her wits to see that the thieves are caught and justice is done.

Rating: C+

Scandal Above Stairs, the second book in Jennifer Ashley’s series of historical mysteries featuring the no-nonsense cook, Kat Ashley, takes place a few months after the events of book one, Death Below Stairs, and sees our intrepid heroine once again embroiled in the search for a killer, aided by her love-interest – the enigmatic Daniel McAdam – his son James, and her new assistant, Tess Parsons. It’s a well-written ‘cosy’ mystery, and the reviews I’ve seen have been overwhelmingly positive – but I have to confess to being a bit bored until about the last quarter of the book when the pacing, which is pretty pedestrian throughout, finally picks up as we head into the dénouement and resolution of the central plotline.

It’s been a couple of months since Kat helped Daniel to foil a plot to assassinate the Queen, and she’s just a little bit miffed that she hasn’t seen or heard from him in all that time. She still doesn’t know much about him other than that he’s a chameleon who can blend in with workmen, toffs and all the social spectrum in between, and that he must be working for the police or some other government agency. In Death Below Stairs, he promised that one day he’d tell her everything – but that time obviously hasn’t arrived yet. But Kat isn’t one to mope over a man – she knows Daniel must be alright because James would have told her if he wasn’t, and she goes about her normal business as usual – cooking for the Bywaters, now in residence at Lord Rankin’s Mayfair home (they are his cousins) and Lady Cynthia (his sister-in-law), who continues to wear men’s suits, smoke cheroots and, with her small group of like-minded friends, to infiltrate such bastions of masculine privilege as gentleman’s clubs and gaming houses whenever they can.

Well aware of Kat’s sleuthing talents, Lady Cynthia asks if Kat will help a friend of hers, whose husband has accused her of stealing some valuable paintings in order to pay off her gambling debts. On the pretext of visiting the house’s cook – most servants in grand houses knew each other –Kat accompanies Lady Cynthia to the home of Lady Clementine Godfrey to see what she can see – and it doesn’t take her long to work out exactly what’s going on and announce that Sir Evan Godfrey is selling the paintings himself because he’s in need of funds.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Defenseless (Somerton Security #1) by Elizabeth Dyer (audiobook) – Narrated by Aiden Snow

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When ex-marine Georgia Bennett left the military for high-end private security, it was supposed to soften her snarky attitude. Instead, her short fuse just earned her a punishment of an assignment: protect smart-ass tech genius and Department of Defense contractor Parker Livingston. It should have been easy – only no one warned Georgia that Parker was one seriously drop-dead-gorgeous geek.

The last thing Parker needs is a bodyguard, especially not one with killer curves and a sassy mouth who tempts him to do something incredibly stupid. He’s too busy investigating whoever is turning his technology against him and threatening his team of covert operatives. But when an assassin sends Georgia and Parker running for their lives, it might just be the explosive sexual chemistry and the trust that’s building between them that saves their necks. Because the only thing more dangerous than the combination of Parker’s intellect and Georgia’s aim is their steadfast desire to protect each other, no matter the cost.

Rating: Narration – B : Content – B-

I recently read Elizabeth Dyer’s, Relentless, which is her second novel and also the second book in her Somerton Security series, which features the exploits of the members of a private-security-firm-cum off-the-book black ops unit headed up by former Delta Force operative, Ethan Somerton. I enjoyed the story and the writing and liked the manly bickering that went on between Ethan and Parker Livingston, his genius tech guru, so I decided to backtrack to the first book in the series, in which Parker is the hero. Given Aiden Snow is a narrator who has been on my radar for a while (but to whom I haven’t yet listened), I opted to pick up the audio of Defenseless rather than to read it. It’s the author’s début novel, but while it’s not without its problems (there are pacing issues and it’s a bit introspection heavy in places) it’s an enjoyable story and I’m going to be keeping an eye out for more of her books.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Wolf at the Door (Big Bad Wolf #1) by Charlie Adhara


This title may be purchased from Amazon

Hunting for big bad wolves was never part of Agent Cooper Dayton’s plan, but a werewolf attack lands him in the carefully guarded Bureau of Special Investigations. A new case comes with a new partner: ruggedly sexy werewolf Oliver Park.

Park is an agent of The Trust, a werewolf oversight organization working to ease escalating tensions with the BSI. But as far as Cooper’s concerned, it’s failing. As they investigate a series of mysterious deaths unlike anything they’ve seen, every bone in Cooper’s body is suspicious of his new partner—even when Park proves himself as competent as he is utterly captivating.

When more people vanish, pressure to solve the case skyrockets. And though he’d resolved to keep things professional, Cooper’s friction with Park soon erupts…into a physical need that can’t be contained or controlled. But with a body count that’s rising by the day, werewolves and humans are in equal danger. If Cooper and Park don’t catch the killer soon, one—or both—of them could be the next to go.

Rating: A-

An excellent début form Charlie Adhara, Wolf at the Door combines romance, mystery and paranormal elements and weaves them skilfully together into a procedural drama that provides a thoroughly entertaining and gripping read.

FBI Cooper Dayton narrowly survived a werewolf attack around a year before the story begins.  At the time, he had no idea what had caused his injuries; as far as he knew, he was chasing down a murder suspect.  Given the choice between finding out what really happened, and continuing in ignorance, he opts for the former – and is inducted into the Bureau of Special Investigations with the FBI, a small unit that has been created specially to deal with “monsters”. (No, it’s not quite the X-Files!)  Cooper is one of a very small number of people to know that werewolves actually exist and live freely among the general population, and that five years previously, their leadership group – the Trust – had decided to reveal the truth to governments around the world in an attempt to help werewolves to continue to live peaceably in the modern world.

That’s the background to an intriguing suspense novel that sees Cooper paired with a Trust agent – Oliver Park – as an experiment to foster werewolf/human co-operation.  They are assigned to investigate the deaths of two – possibly three – hikers in the White Mountain National Forest in Maine, who are believed to have been killed by werewolves.  When a fourth victim is found alive, it seems at first to be an unrelated case of kidnap and assault – but is it?  Cooper and Park have to navigate their way through small-town politics as well as the wider political canvas of human/werewolf relations – not to mention risk their lives – if they’re going to find out the truth.

The mystery element of the story is well executed, and I wasn’t sure of the identity of the villain until it was finally revealed, which is always a good thing.  The author creates a suitably menacing small-town atmosphere for the fictional town where much of the story takes place as Cooper and Park gradually pull together the disparate threads and clues they uncover.

They’ve got a kind of Odd Couple thing going on; Park is always smartly dressed and exudes confidence while Cooper is a bit of a shambles most of the time; he’s very shrewd and observant (as Park notices) but he sometimes lacks the courage of his own convictions and tends to second guess himself.  Given his experience with werewolves, it’s to be expected that Cooper isn’t best pleased at having one for a partner, plus his more experienced BSI partner has drummed it into him to be suspicious of all wolves; which makes his instinct to trust Park that much more confusing.

While he’s trying – not too hard at first – to get used to having a werewolf around, he tends to be snippy and displays an inordinate talent for putting his foot in his mouth, but Park is calm and unflappable; he gives Cooper the space to work things out and his quiet confidence that Cooper will make the right calls goes a long way towards helping him to come into his own over the course of the story. The author does a great job of creating a strong rapport between them; you gotta love a couple who can quote movie references in perilous situations – which makes the physical relationship they embark upon later in the book feel like a natural extension of their working one.

I knocked off half a grade point mostly because I wanted to know a bit more about Park.  The story is told entirely through Cooper’s PoV, and for most of the story Park is coolly aloof and completely professional; he’s hard to read until Cooper starts to get to know him and to recognise his subtle non-verbal signals, and that means he’s pretty much an enigma for the reader, too.  Most of the things we learn about him – he’s from an old and very much venerated pack, but doesn’t live with them any more – just pose more questions, which I hope will be answered in later books in the series.

Ms. Adhara gets the balance between the romance and the suspense just about right here, and does a tremendous job of paralleling the development of the relationships – personal and professional – between her two principals.  I wolfed down (!) The Wolf at the Door in a couple of sittings and would definitely recommend it to fans of the genre.

Off the Grid (The Lost Platoon #2) by Monica McCarty

This title may be purchased from Amazon

A team of Navy SEALs go on a mission and disappear without a trace–they are The Lost Platoon.

Investigative reporter Brittany Blake may have stumbled upon the story of a lifetime in her search for her missing brother. When he seemingly disappears overnight, she refuses to accept the Navy’s less-than-satisfying explanation. She begins her own investigation, which leads her to top-secret SEAL teams, covert ops, and a possible cover up…

John Donovan is having trouble biding his time, waiting for his Commanding Officer to figure out who set up their platoon. John’s best friend and BUD/S partner, Brandon Blake, was one of the many lives tragically lost in the attack against his team. When Brandon’s sister, Brittany, tracks John down, looking for answers, he realizes that she may be their best bet–or bait–for finding out who is targeting SEAL Team Nine.

Rating: C

Off the Grid is book two in Monica McCarty’s series, The Lost Platoon, and although I haven’t read the previous book (Going Dark) I was able to follow the plot in this one without any trouble, so it worked perfectly well as a standalone.  What didn’t work so well, however, were the hackneyed storyline, stereotypical characters and the hero’s thirty-going-on-thirteen attitude towards the heroine.  Oh, and description of the hero’s mighty wang as a “turgid beast”.  I kid you not.

The book opens with a prologue in which John Donovan and the rest of Team Nine –  a top secret group of Navy SEALS which has been put together to undertake the blackest of black-ops – searching a supposedly abandoned Russian gulag for proof of the existence of some kind of doomsday weapon when an explosion kills half the platoon. The rest of the men make their escape and then scatter, dropping off the radar while their commander, Scott Taylor, tries to work out exactly what happened.  He believes they were betrayed by someone on their own side, and it’s safest for them all to stay dead until he can figure out what the hell happened.

Ten weeks later, John is living as Joe Phillips, a Canadian ski-bum, and is working at a resort in Finland as a ski instructor and tour guide.   He’s bored to the back teeth, until he gets a call from Scott informing him that Brittany Blake, whose brother, Brand, was killed in the explosion, is stirring up trouble. An investigative journalist, Brit has written a number of stories for the paper she works for about the so-called ‘lost platoon’ in hopes of finding out what happened to her brother, and her latest article has just hit the international news sites.  Scott tells John to find a way to silence her, and when John is reluctant, points out that she could well be putting her own life in danger as well as those of the rest of the platoon.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.