Bishop’s Knight (Engame Trilogy #1) by Katie Reus

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She needs his help…

Thanks to years of government training, Evie Bishop knows how to get into places she doesn’t belong—and she’s very good at it. But years of doing black ops work burned her out so she returns home—to unexpected chaos. One of her brothers is in a coma and the other is in hiding, wanted for murder. Then a fellow operative from her past shows up shot and bleeding with news that an assassin is gunning for everyone involved with a past op. She’s forced to turn to the one man she knows she can trust—the man whose heart she broke.

But it will come with a price…

When Dylan Blackwood proposed a year ago, Evie turned him down flat and walked out of his life. He’s stunned when he finds her on his doorstep covered in someone else’s blood, needing his help. He always knew there was more to her than met the eye—that Evie was never simply the pampered society princess she wanted people to believe she was. But he never expected this. If she needs help, he’ll give it. Even if he can’t forget her betrayal. Even if he isn’t sure he can trust her. But his protection will come with a price—her heart. Before they can have a chance at a future, they’ll have to work together to take down a faceless enemy who has Evie firmly in his crosshairs.

Rating: B-

Bishop’s Knight is the first book in the new Endgame Trilogy of romantic suspense novels from Katie Reus which features the Bishop siblings – Ellis, Evan and Evie.  It’s a fast-paced, well-put together story full of secrets, lies and betrayals featuring a sexy second-chance romance and an engaging central couple – and the author sets up the other stories in the trilogy in a manner that feels organic and doesn’t detract from the principal storyline.

The book opens fifteen months before the commencement of the story proper, as Evie and her crack team of CIA operatives is in the final stages of their current assignment to take down a Russian mob-affiliated arms dealer.  Although things don’t quite go according to plan, the mission is successful, and they’re told their next job will take them to Miami – Evie’s home town.  Nothing more is known about it at this stage, other than it’s big, they’re teaming up with the Feds and their target is someone named Jensen.

When we meet Evie again, she’s retired from the CIA and has been back home in Miami for a month, where she’s temporarily living in the apartment belonging to her brother Ellis.  Her wealthy, well-connected family is reeling from the news that Ellis – a DEA agent – has been accused of murdering his partner and has gone on the run and off the grid; and as if that wasn’t bad enough, a recent explosion at Bishop Enterprises has left her oldest brother, Evan, critically injured and necessitated a medically induced coma.  Evie is taking a short break from her vigil at the hospital with her parents and Evan’s fiancée, Isla, when she receives a text from her friend and former CIA colleague Samara Sousa announcing that she’s outside – which is where Evie finds her, bleeding from a gunshot wound to her hip.

She does what she can, but her friend needs more medical attention than is to be found in Evie’s first-aid kit.  As Evie works to staunch the bleeding, Samara tells her what brought her to Miami – the news that two of the people they’d worked with on the Jensen operation have been murdered and the desire to warn Evie that she might also be a target. Samara doesn’t want to go to a hospital and leave a trail for whoever shot her, so Evie has to think fast – and reluctantly comes to the conclusion that there’s only one person she knows in Miami who is likely to be able to help.

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

In the Shadows (Metahuman Files #3) by Hailey Turner (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

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Take a chance.

Staff Sergeant Alexei Dvorkin doesn’t trust easily, and he most certainly doesn’t trust spies. He’ll work with them if ordered to, but that doesn’t mean he has to like it. Except Agent Sean Delaney is proving to be the exception to the rule. There’s something about Sean that gets under Alexei’s skin and won’t let go. Alexei would be lying if he said he wasn’t interested in what lay beneath the agent’s mask. When they’re assigned together for a mission, Alexei vows to keep Sean safe all while trying to coax the hot agent into his bed.

Hold onto hope.

Agent Sean Delaney has spent his entire adult life living a lie for his country. When the MDF tasks him with finding evidence of criminal wrong-doing against the owner of a private military company, Sean knows exactly how to play the game to get what he wants. He just doesn’t know how to handle Alexei’s advances, nor his own attraction to the younger soldier. Being a spy is lonely work, and Sean knows he should keep his distance, but saying no to Alexei is impossible from the moment they first kiss.

In a world of lies, the truth can be deadly.

When the mission takes a turn for the worse, the only thing left to do is run. In the wake of betrayal, and in the path of danger, can their fragile trust survive the battle?

Rating: Narration: A+; Content: B+

In the Shadows is book three in Hailey Turner’s Metahuman Files series of military/sci-fi/suspense novels which features an elite, tight-knit unit of men and women who acquired very unique powers following their exposure to Splice, a deadly chemical that kills almost all who come into contact with it. Those not killed by the chemical are changed at DNA level and become metahumans, each possessed of some sort of superpower that ranges from telepathy to telekenisis, from super strength to shape-shifting. There’s an overarching plotline running throughout the series which means it’s advisable to listen to the books in order – and there are spoilers for books one and two in this review.

The first book, In the Wreckage, introduced listeners to Captain Jamie Callahan and Alpha Team of the Metahuman Defence Force and set in motion the series’ main plotline – the hunt for a terrorist group known as the Sons of Adam who is trying to create metahumans of its own by conducting experiments on human subjects. In book two, In the Ruins, the action moved to London, and Alpha Team was joined by MDF Intelligence Agent Sean Delaney – formerly of the CIA – in an operation between the MDF and the UMG (its UK equivalent) to gather evidence about the Russian government’s involvement – via the Russian Mafia – in those experiments as part of its plan to create an army of metahumans. During the course of these novels, Jamie and Alpha Team’s sniper, Kyle Brannigan, became lovers and are now in a long-term relationship that has to remain a secret because of the MDF’s strict non-fraternisation rule. Keeping their relationship a secret is hard on both of them, and Jamie also has to deal with the pressure being put on him by his wealthy family to quit the military and go into politics like his father, who is likely to earn the Republican nomination for the upcoming Presidential election. Jamie has no intention of leaving the MDF, but agrees to a compromise; he’ll accompany his father on the campaign trail when he can, and by the time In the Shadows opens, he’s doing just that. With Jamie’s absence (for part of the story anyway), the focus of this novel shifts slightly and moves away from Jamie and Kyle as the main romantic couple – but never fear, all the other things that work so well about this series are still very much in evidence; skilful worldbuilding, sexy love scenes, superbly written action scenes and the terrific camaraderie between the members of Alpha Team, who all have very specific parts to play and are never just “window dressing”.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

When Death Meets the Devil (Death and the Devil #1) by L.J. Hayward (audiobook) – Narrated by Rowan Scott

where death meets the devil

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Jack Reardon, former SAS soldier and current Australian Meta-State asset, has seen some messy battles. But “messy” takes on a whole new meaning when he finds himself tied to a chair in a torture shack, his cover blown wide open, all thanks to notorious killer-for-hire Ethan Blade.

Blade is everything Jack doesn’t believe in: remorseless, detached, lawless. Yet, Jack’s only chance to survive is to strike a bargain with the devil and join forces with Blade. As they trek across a hostile desert, Jack learns that Blade is much more than a dead-eyed killer – and harder to resist than he should be.

A year later, Jack is home and finally getting his life on track. Then Ethan Blade reappears and throws it all into chaos once more. It’s impossible to trust the assassin, especially when his presence casts doubts on Jack’s loyalty to his country, but Jack cannot ignore what Blade’s return means: the mess that brought them together is far from over, and Ethan might just bring back the piece of Jack’s soul he thought he’d lost forever.

Rating: Narration: B+; Content: A

I’ve been looking for something to fill the Seven of Spades-shaped hole in my life, so I was delighted to discover L.J. Hayward’s Where Death Meets the Devil, book one in her Death and the Devil series. In it, a former SAS officer and a deadly assassin end up striking the devil’s own bargain when they’re forced to work together in order to survive a trek across the hostile Australian desert while evading a shit-ton of mercenaries in the pay of a dangerous mob boss.

Where Death Meets the Devil opens on probably the crappiest birthday ever for Jack Reardon, who, instead of partying, drinking of lots of beer and stuffing his face with cake, finds himself tied to a chair in a shack in the middle of the back of beyond. He’s an operative of the Office of Counterterrorism and Intelligence – known simply as The Office – run by the Meta-State, a top secret intelligence network stretching across Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries which share information and resources to combat national and international terrorism; and for the last fifteen months he’s been working undercover in the criminal organisation run by Samuel Valadian in an attempt to find proof of his association with terrorist groups around the world. But someone has alerted Valadian to the presence of a spy in their midst – hence Jack’s current predicament. He tries to brazen it out, but when Valadian calmly introduces his associate Ethan Blade – one of the world’s deadliest, most ruthless killers – Jack figures his luck has run out.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Hidden (Deep Ops #1) by Rebecca Zanetti (audiobook) – Narrated by Roger Wayne

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Hide. That’s all Pippa can do to escape the terror chasing her. But now that she’s off the grid in a safe house, she finds plenty of interesting things to watch through the window. Like her new neighbor, with his startling green eyes, killer smile, and sexy bad-boy tattoo . . .

Run. Malcolm West is fleeing the hell he unleashed in his last assignment as an undercover cop. A backwoods bungalow sounds like the perfect place to start over. Until he discovers he’s been set up . . .

Fight. Someone’s gone to a lot of trouble to bring them together. No matter how much he resents that, and his own driving needs, Malcolm will have to dig deep and let loose the banished killer inside himself, or Pippa’s fears could come true faster than the flip of a bolt in a lock . . .

Rating: Narration: B+; Content: B-

Hidden is the first book in the new Deep Ops series of romantic suspense novels by Rebecca Zanetti, an author whose work I’ve not yet read or listened to. The series features the somewhat rag-taggle group of hand-picked operatives who make up the newly created Requisition Force (and yes, we do learn the reason behind the name!), a branch of the Homeland Defense Department.

Former cop Malcom West spent much of his career working undercover and acquired a reputation for being the very best at what he did. But years spent living that way have taken their toll, and his previous assignment, during which he became close to someone he was then forced to kill, was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and he retired from the force, intending to spend some time dealing with the emotional fallout of that situation, regrouping and deciding what he wants to do next. As part of that plan, Mal has purchased a new house in a quiet neighbourhood – and has absolutely no idea that he’s been skilfully manoeuvred into moving in next door to someone who is suspected of having links to an organisation planning a terrorist attack.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Dark Bones by Loreth Anne White

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She’s come back to solve the mystery of her father’s death and confront her own dark past.

When Detective Rebecca North left her rural hometown, she vowed never to return. Her father’s apparent suicide has changed that. The official report is that retired cop Noah North shot himself, knocked over a lantern, and set his isolated cabin ablaze. But Rebecca cannot believe he killed himself.

To prove it, she needs the help of Ash Haugen, the man she left behind. But Rebecca and Ash share more than broken hearts. Something darker lies between them, and the investigation is stirring it back to life. Clues lead them to the home of Olivia West and her deeply troubled twelve-year-old daughter, Tori. The child knows more about the murder than anyone can imagine, but she’s too terrified to say a word.

And as a cold-blooded killer resurfaces from the past, Rebecca and Ash begin to fear that their own secrets may be even harder to survive.

Rating: B+

When I picked up Loreth Anne White’s The Dark Bones for review, I wasn’t aware that it was linked to one of her earlier books, A Dark Lure, in which a young woman who was abducted and repeatedly assaulted is making a new life for herself in rural Canada only to have to face the prospect that her abductor may still be at large.  But never fear; it’s perfectly possible to read The Dark Bones as a standalone as the author brings new readers quickly up to speed, and the plots in both books are self-contained, so there’s no real overlap.

When Rebecca North left her small Canadian home town, she moved to Ottawa, where she has built herself a successful career in the white-collar crimes unit with the RCMP.  She hasn’t been home in years and doesn’t have plans to do so, until her father, a retired police officer – calls her out of the blue to tell her that he knows she was lying about an event that happened twenty years earlier, and that he needs to talk to her urgently.  He’s clearly drunk – he’s rarely been sober since the death of his wife – and Rebecca’s about to go into court, so she puts him off, promising she’ll  call him soon… but she can’t put his words out of her mind.  Her father is referring to the day she’d found the man she loved stumbling along a country road, bruised and bloody, a long gash down one side of his face he’d attributed to a riding accident – but why is he asking about it now?

The next day, Noah North is found dead in his home, all the evidence pointing to his having set fire to his remote cabin and then shot himself.  The police are convinced it’s suicide, and the coroner’s report seems to bear that out, but Rebecca isn’t satisfied.  Her father may have been overly fond of drink, but she doesn’t believe he was suicidal, especially given what he’d said the last time they’d spoken; that he’d found new evidence in an old case he’d worked – and that he thought he was being watched.  She decides to do a bit of investigating of her own, and in the process discovers that her father was looking into the disappearance, twenty years earlier, of an old schoolmate of hers.  Evidence given at the time said that Whitney Gagnon and her boyfriend were seen getting onto the bus heading out of town – but it seems that evidence was false, and Noah was convinced that the young couple were killed before they could leave.  If that’s true – who murdered them and why?  And could someone have killed Noah because he was getting too close to the truth?

This cold case stirs up a myriad of long-buried feelings for Rebecca, not least of which is guilt over the fact she didn’t visit her father often because she couldn’t bear to run into her former boyfriend Ash Haugen, the man she loved, and the man who broke her heart twenty years earlier.  Now she’s back, and meeting Ash is unavoidable – but more than that, it seems that every investigative road leads to him. He was the last person to have seen Noah North alive – and some witnesses suggest they were arguing – and she can’t ignore Noah’s words during that final call “he lied – you both lied”. Because while Rebecca’s lie backed up Ash’s about the riding accident, he never told her the truth about the injury to his face – which was sustained the very same day Whitney and her boyfriend were seen getting ready to leave town.

I was completely engrossed by the storyline of The Dark Bones and by the way the author so skilfully juxtaposes past and present events, giving us glimpses – in flashback – of the events of twenty years before, and linking them to the current investigation into Noah North’s death.  Her descriptions of the landscape of this area of rural Canada are incredibly vivid, enabling the reader to easily picture the locations she describes, and her portrait of small town life – where everyone knows everyone else and one only has to sneeze to have three people on the doorstep proffering hot soup and Lemsip within the hour – is simultaneously charming, menacing and claustrophobic.  I liked Rebecca and Ash, although I never felt I got to know them deeply; Rebecca fled when Ash broke her heart but never really got over him, while Ash was forced to give up on his dreams because of a single mistake that changed the course of his life.  The strong undercurrent of deep longing and hurt running between them is palpable from the moment they see each other again; and while I’m often sceptical of stories in which romantic feelings endure for years even when the couple in question doesn’t see each other throughout their separation, the strength of the connection between Rebecca and Ash practically leaps off the page and helped me to get past my usual side-eye of the trope.   In fact my main criticism of the book stems from the fact that I’d have liked a little more exploration of their relationship in the now, especially in the light of what we learn about Ash’s difficult past.

The pacing in the first part of the novel is perhaps a little slow, but I didn’t find that to be a problem at all; in fact, I really appreciated the time spent on setting up the situations and introducing the secondary cast (some of whom were central to A Dark Lure, which I intend to pick up as soon as I can).  The Dark Bones is a wonderfully atmospheric, multi-layered and well-constructed mystery from a real master of her craft; it will draw you in and keep you intrigued from first page to last.

Hard Target (Cobra Elite #1) by Pamela Clare

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A life debt…

Derek Tower has spent his life at war, first as a Green Beret and then as the owner of a private military company, Cobra International Security. When a high-ranking US senator asks Cobra to protect his daughter, a midwife volunteering in Afghanistan, Derek’s gut tells him to turn the senator down. The last thing he wants to do is babysit an aid worker. But Jenna isn’t just another assignment. She’s also the younger sister of his best friend, the man who died taking bullets meant for him. There’s no way Derek can refuse.

An inescapable attraction…

Jenna Hamilton doesn’t need a bodyguard, especially not one hired by her intrusive and controlling father. She knew the risks when she signed on to work in rural Afghanistan, and the hospital already has armed security. She also doesn’t need the distraction of a big, brooding operative skulking about, even if he is her late brother’s best friend—and sexy as hell. As far as she’s concerned, he can pack up his Humvee and drive into the sunset. And, no, nothing her hormones have to say about him will change her mind.

A merciless enemy…

From the moment his boots hit the ground in Afghanistan, Derek does his best to win Jenna over, posing as her brother so the two of them can spend time alone. Except that what he feels for her is anything but brotherly. Stolen moments lead to secret kisses—and an undeniable sexual attraction that shakes them both to the core. But events have been set into motion that they cannot escape. When a ruthless warlord sets his sights on Jenna, Derek will do whatever it takes to keep her safe, even if it costs him his heart—or his life.

Rating: B-

Hard Target is the first book in a new series of romantic suspense novels from popular author Pamela Clare featuring the men (and maybe women?) who work for Cobra International Security, the high-end security firm owned and run by Derek Tower, who was a recurring character in the author’s earlier I-Team series.  I confess that I haven’t read any of those books yet, so I was pleased to be able to jump in on the ground floor with this new series. Hard Target is an exciting, fast-paced read set mostly in Afghanistan, a country that is still unstable and tearing itself apart, and the author does a great job of showing just how dangerous it can be and how people like the heroine – who have gone there to help – walk a tightrope every day in order to do their jobs and stay safe.

Derek Tower is furious when he receives a call from Senator Hamilton, demanding Derek personally brings his daughter – currently working as a midwife in Afghanistan – home to the US.  The senator sits on the Armed Services Committee and thus has the ability to make life very difficult for Derek and his company, but even so, Derek refuses to be intimidated.  He can’t just kidnap a US citizen and tells Hamilton so – but he agrees to fly to the hospital Jenna Hamilton works at to see if he can persuade her to come back to the States.  But he doesn’t do it for Hamilton or for Cobra. He does it because Jenna’s brother had been Derek’s best friend when they were both green berets, and had died saving Derek’s life.  He owes it to him to try to keep his little sister safe – although he doesn’t hold out much hope of being able to persuade the young woman to return with him.

And he’s not wrong in that.  Jenna is six months into her two-year contract working  with and helping to train badly needed midwives, as well as running in education and outreach programs to help women to understand more about the changes their bodies undergo during pregnancy.  Jenna is a spirited, independent woman who refuses to let her father dictate her life any more, and is determined to see out her contract and refuses to budge.  She’s doing good, much needed work; she’s saving lives and hopefully more will be saved in the future and she’s not about to give it up because her controlling father insists she should be sitting at home waiting to get married.

When Derek tells Hamilton Jenna refuses to come home, the senator goes ballistic – and then Derek finds out that he’s fired Cobra from the job. He decides to stay for a while longer – on his own dime – to watch out for Jenna. Her father wasn’t wrong when he said that extremists had been known to kill midwives, and now he’s got a feel for the situation at the Kazi Women’s Hospital, he’s reluctant to leave. When Jenna gets herself into hot water by arguing in favour of a life-saving procedure for one of her patients – a girl of twelve whose body isn’t mature enough to be able to bear her child – Derek and the head of hospital security manage to smooth things over… but it’s a close-run thing.

I found the aspect of the story that addresses the situation facing women in Afghanistan really compelling – as well as depressing – as I read about the way women are treated in this once enlightened country, deprived of education, forced to stay indoors, isolated from the world, their lives controlled entirely by men. When Jenna gets into trouble over the twelve-year-old girl, it’s not because she is rude, but because she dares to speak to another woman – the girl’s mother-in-law – in the presence of a number of men to whom she is not related. As one of Jenna’s students says, “it is better to be a goat in Afghanistan than a woman.”

I was thoroughly caught up in the plot, in which the author creates an atmosphere of uncertainty with a real sense of imminent danger that kept me invested in the story and wanting to know what was going to happen next. Unfortunately, however, the romance in the novel is almost non-existent; Derek and Jenna are instantly attracted to one another, and although Derek has to go through all that ‘shagging my best friend’s little sister would be breaking the Man Code’ and ‘I don’t do relationships’ stuff – none of it stops them from getting down to business at the first available opportunity. It’s clear they like and respect each other – which is as good a basis for a relationship as any – but there’s nothing much beyond that; there’s no real emotional connection between them and not a great deal of chemistry either.

For the first three-quarters of the way through the book, I was confident I’d be awarding Hard Target a solid B grade, due entirely to the well-conceived and executed suspense plot and interesting background. Ms. Clare is a veteran of the romantic suspense genre and really knows how to write an exciting action sequence, and it’s clear she’s done her homework on current Afghan society and on the science of midwifery. The trouble is, however, that when she turns her focus to the romance in the last quarter of the novel, the pacing collapses faster than an undercooked soufflé. And because I didn’t feel there was much between Derek and Jenna other than a healthy dose of lust, I wasn’t particularly invested in the outcome of their (not)romance.

So I knocked off half a grade point for the fact that the romance (such as it was) failed to capture my interest. If you’re a fan of the author’s, or if you like your romantic suspense much lighter on the romance than the suspense then Hard Target is probably worth a look.

Trick Roller (Seven of Spades #2) by Cordelia Kingsbridge (audiobook) – Narrated by Wyatt Baker

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

It’s the height of summer in Las Vegas. Everyone believes the serial killer Seven of Spades is dead – except Levi Abrams and Dominic Russo – and it’s back to business as usual. For Levi, that means investigating a suspicious overdose at the Mirage that looks like the work of a high-class call girl, while Dominic pursues a tough internship with a local private investigator. The one bright spot for both of them is their blossoming relationship.

But things aren’t so simple. Soon, Levi is sucked into a dangerous web of secrets and lies, even as his obsession with the Seven of Spades intensifies. Dominic knows that Levi isn’t crazy. He knows the Seven of Spades is still out there, and he’ll do anything to prove it. But Dominic has his own demons to battle, and he may be fighting a losing war.

One thing is certain: the Seven of Spades holds all the cards. It won’t be long before they show their hand.

Rating: Narration: B-; Content: B+

Note: The Seven of Spades series has an overarching plotline, and all the books need to be listened to in order so as to get the most out of the story as a whole; there will be spoilers for book one, Kill Game, in this review.

Trick Roller is book two in Cordelia Kingsbridge’s gripping Seven of Spades series, which follows the hunt for a devious and enigmatic serial killer exacting vigilante justice in Las Vegas. At the end of Kill Game, the killer was apprehended, committed suicide in custody – and the case was closed. Homicide detective Levi Abrams is convinced that they got the wrong guy, but his boss refuses to listen to his protestations and has warned Levi not to attempt any further investigation; the Seven of Spades is dead and that’s an end of it.

Three months later, life goes on much as usual and Levi and his work-partner, Martine, are investigating the murder of a doctor who was in Vegas in order to attend a major medical conference. Given that the man was known to use escort services, their initial thoughts are that he was probably the victim of a trick roller, a prostitute who drugged and then stole from him. But when Levi and Martine track down the woman whose ‘company’ he’d paid for that night, that scenario begins to seem unlikely; she works through a very high-end escort agency that pays well, and certainly wouldn’t have needed to steal from a client. Once they’ve completed their interview, the detectives are sure the woman is innocent – until a stash of Rohypnol is discovered in her house, and even though she swears it doesn’t belong to her, Levi and Martine have to arrest her for the murder.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.