Firestorm (Flashpoint #3) by Rachel Grant


This title may be purchased from Amazon

CIA covert operator Savannah James is after intel on a potential coup in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but she needs a partner fluent in Lingala to infiltrate the organization. Sergeant First Class Cassius Callahan is the perfect choice, except he doesn’t like her very much. He doesn’t trust her, either, despite the sparks that flare between them, fierce and hot. Still, he accepts the assignment even though their cover requires Savvy to pose as his mistress.

They enter battle-worn Congo to expose the financing for the coup. A trail of cobalt, gold, and diamonds leads them into the heart of a jungle in which everyone is desperate to find the mother lode of ore and gems. Betrayal stalks them as they follow the money, but Savvy will stop at nothing to bring down the would-be dictator before he can ignite a firestorm that will engulf all of Africa.

Deep in the sultry rainforest, spy and Green Beret forge a relationship more precious than diamonds, but Cal knows Savvy is willing to sacrifice anything—or anyone—to complete her mission. As they near the flashpoint, Cal will have to save her from the greatest threat of all: herself.

Rating: A

I’ve been eager to get my hands on Firestorm, the third book in Rachel Grant’s gripping Flashpoint series, for months – and it was definitely worth the wait.  This is one high-octane, high-stakes ride; steamy, complex, intricately plotted, politically astute and emotionally fraught, Firestorm is easily one of the best romantic suspense novels I’ve read in ages and Ms. Grant is clearly an author at the top of her game.

All the books in the series have been set in and around the fictional US base of Camp Citron on the outskirts of Djibouti.  The series is called Flashpoint for a very good reason; the stories take place in some of the most dangerous places in the world (the Horn of Africa, Sudan and Congo), which are – literally – potential flashpoints that turn on a knife-edge; unstable regions and countries open to exploitation by influences both foreign and domestic.  In this story, most of the action takes place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the Russian-backed dictator-in-waiting, Jean Paul Lubanga, is planning to seize power and gain control of the country’s massive wealth in diamonds, minerals and uranium oxide.  Russian control of the DRC would destabilise the already precarious political situation in Central Africa, and most worrying of all, the likely supply of uranium to places like Syria and Iran could be the first step towards World War Three.  The stakes couldn’t be higher, and Camp Citron’s resident ‘spook’, Savannah James, has been tasked with finding out exactly how close Lubanga is to staging a coup.

Savannah – Savvy –  has been a prominent secondary character throughout the series, a coolly enigmatic and ruthless (when called for) woman who is believed throughout the camp to be working for the CIA, although nobody knows for sure.  She’s frighteningly competent and utterly dedicated to getting the job done by whatever means necessary –and sometimes those means aren’t pretty.  Most of the people on camp dislike her and give her a wide berth, although she’s found an ally of sorts in Master Sergeant Pax Blanchard (hero of Tinderbox, book one) and Chief Warrant Officer Sebastian Ford (hero of Catalyst, book two), the latter in spite of the fact that she ordered Bastian to seduce his now-fiancée, Brie Stewart, in order to gain information about the links between Brie’s family and the Russian mafia.  The one man in Bastian and Pax’s circle who makes no attempt to hide his dislike of Savvy is Sergeant First Class Cassius Callahan (Cal); that he also happens to be the one man Savvy wants at her back as she infiltrates a gathering comprising some of the most dangerous men in the world is not about to make life any easier for either of them.

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

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The Best of 2017 – My Favourite Books of Last Year.

It’s something of a tradition to put together a “favourite books of the year” list around Christmas and New Year – I’m a little late with mine this year, but here’s the Best of 2017 list I put together for All About Romance.  Did any of them make your Best Books of 2017 list?

I had to make some really tough choices – here are some of the books that also deserved a place on the list, but which I just couldn’t fit in!

Poison Evidence (Evidence #7) by Rachel Grant (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicol Zanzarella

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

It was supposed to be paradise….

Ivy MacLeod has the perfect opportunity to test her advanced remote sensing technology: mapping a World War II battle site in the islands of Palau. The project is more than an all-expenses-paid trip to paradise. It’s also an opportunity to distance her reputation from her traitorous ex-husband.

But foreign intelligence agencies will kill to possess her invention, and paradise turns deadly when her ex-husband’s vicious allies attack. In desperation, she turns to Air Force pilot Jack Keaton. But is he the bigger threat? Jack might be protecting her as he claims…or he could be a foreign agent. Her compass is skewed by his magnetic pull and further thrown off when she learns her own government has betrayed her.

Stranded on a tropical island with a man whose motives remain a mystery, Ivy must decide who is the spy, who is the protector, and who is the ultimate villain. She longs to trust the man who rescued her, but she’s risking more than her heart. Choose right, and she saves her country’s secrets – and her life. Choose wrong – and she risks nothing short of all-out war.

Rating: Narration – B+: Content – A-

Note: In my review of Cold Evidence, I mentioned that there was a teeny bit of a cliffhanger at the end, which would play out in the next book. Because the two stories are linked by this plot point and a few recurring characters, there will be some small spoilers for Cold Evidence in this review.

Rachel Grant is – in case it’s not obvious by now – my go-to author for romantic suspense. She’s got the knack of getting the balance between romance and plot just right; the pacing in her books is spot on, just the right mix of fast-paced action and calmer periods of reflection or love scenes, and her characters are strong, likeable and easy to root for. In this series, she’s drawn strongly on her background as an historian and archaeologist, and many of her characters work in those professions, as marine archaeologists, military historians and the like, all of which I find fascinating. In Poison Evidence, the seventh book in the Evidence series, we meet Ivy MacLeod, a highly intelligent, self-confessed tech-geek with a passion for geological and geographical archaeology, who works for NHHC (Naval History and Heritage Command) and whose latest invention – a complex computerised mapping system using infrared and Lidar she nicknames CAM – is about to undergo its first field test in the small Pacific island nation of Palau.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Cold Evidence (Evidence #6) by Rachel Grant (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicol Zanzarella

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The only thing Navy underwater archaeologist Undine Gray fears more than facing former SEAL Luke Sevick is never scuba diving again. But when a dive on a Cold War-era US Navy submarine ends with an accidental explosion, she’s terrified of going into the deep, forcing her to beg the most experienced diver she knows to take her back to the bottom of the cold Salish Sea.

Luke wants nothing to do with the woman who destroyed his career a dozen years ago but finds it impossible to turn his back on her plea. Caught off guard by an attraction he doesn’t want to feel, he’s eager to be done with this mission of mercy. But when they dive on the wreck, he only gets sucked in deeper. Someone has been digging on the Navy sub…and it appears the explosion that almost killed Undine was no accident.

To find the truth, Undine must navigate murky waters and the unexpectedly hot undercurrents swirling between her and Luke. Worse, divers are searching for something lost in US waters during the Cold War, and they’ll do anything to keep Luke and Undine from finding it first.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – A-

Cold Evidence is number six in Rachel Grant’s seven-book (so far) Evidence series of romantic suspense novels. I’ve yet to read or listen to every instalment, but those I’ve got to so far have proved to be immensely enjoyable, complex and action-packed stories featuring hot-as-hell heroes and feisty (in a good way) heroines who don’t take any crap. The romances are nicely steamy and well integrated into the main storylines, and for me, the balance between romance and suspense is just about perfect. Cold Evidence does feature some recurring characters but like all the books in the series, it can be enjoyed as a standalone – although there is a bit of a cliff-hanger at the end which leads into the next book, Poison Evidence. Don’t worry though, it’s more by way of a teaser; the suspense storyline and HEA are happily resolved, so you can safely listen to this without fear of frustration!

Underwater archaeologist Undine Gray is working on a project to salvage the USS Wrasse, an old US submarine that sank off the coast of Seattle during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, taking a number of its former crewmembers with it; men who had served aboard her in World War Two and who had volunteered to take her to her final resting place, not knowing it would become theirs, too.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Catalyst (Flashpoint #2) by Rachel Grant

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When a food storage depot in famine-struck South Sudan is torched, American aid worker Brie Stewart flees, only to land in a market where she’s the next item up for auction. Is the attack on the aid facility another assault upon the war-torn fledgling democracy, or has her family set her up as a pawn in their quest for oil rights?

Chief Warrant Officer Sebastian Ford crossed paths with Brie years ago when she was a shill for her family’s company, pushing a pipeline that threatened his tribe’s land. Determined to lead the rescue operation to save her, he won’t let her abduction—or the attraction that flares between them—get in the way of settling their unfinished business.

The Green Beret’s skills are put to the test in the flooded grasslands of South Sudan, where they must battle nature and dangerous factions who are after more than oil. Bastian and Brie put their hearts on the line as they find themselves embroiled in a conflict that extends beyond country and continent. Together they must douse the spark before it reaches the flashpoint and engulfs everything they hold dear.

Rating: B+

I’ve become a huge fan of Rachel Grant’s particular blend of complex, steamy and intricately plotted romantic suspense novels over the past year or so, and have been eagerly awaiting the release of Catalyst, the second book in her Flashpoint series. Like the previous book, Tinderbox, Catalyst is set in a real-life flashpoint, this time in South Sudan, a young nation embroiled in an ongoing civil war, and features characters based at the (fictional) US military outpost of Camp Citron in Djibouti. There are some things in this book that may be difficult to read about – in particular the buying and selling of women and children – and the way that the plight of so many people in desperate need is thrust aside in favour of big business and political expediency made my blood boil on more than one occasion. Ms. Grant tells a gripping, well-paced and impeccably researched story that pulled me in from the start and kept me transfixed until the nail-biting conclusion.

Chief Warrant Officer Sebastian Ford is surprised to recognise a familiar face one night in the bar at the camp – Gabriella Prime, the daughter of Jeffrey Prime Sr., owner of one of the world’s largest energy corporations. The last time Bastian saw her, she was in full ball-buster ‘Princess Prime’ mode – designer clothes, killer heels, full make-up – in her role as Prime Energy’s PR executive, defending the company’s plan to screw over the native American tribes of East Washington by building an oil pipeline that would ignore even the most basic environmental rules. The woman in front of him now, a decade later, is different, though. The outward trappings of the corporate shill and billionaire boss’s daughter are gone; over the last decade, Gabriella Prime has cleaned up, grown a conscience and left her old life behind her. She deliberately sabotaged PE’s plans for the Northwest oil pipeline, cut all ties with her father and brothers, legally changed her last name to Stewart (her mother’s name) and for the past five years has lived and worked under the radar for USAID in South Sudan. Bastian is rather stunned to discover that Brie Stewart is an aid-worker who lives from pay-day to pay-day like everyone else – and maybe a little suspicious that such a ruthless leopard could have changed its spots, but he has to admit to a reluctant admiration for the guts it must have taken to thwart her father’s plans and then to re-invent herself. But that doesn’t tell him what he really wants to know – which is what she’s doing in Djibouti hanging out with the camp ‘spook’, the enigmatic CIA operative, Savannah James.

One month later, the aid station Brie works at is attacked and she and her three co-workers are forced to flee for their lives. Brie manages to evade capture for a couple of days, but her luck runs out and she is taken to the very slave market she had been summoned to Camp Citron to talk to Savannah James about.

Bastian and his team are authorised to get Brie out – but when they discover that the slave market also houses a large number of children, none of the team can bear to leave the kids there and make impromptu plans to get them out as well.  Unfortunately, things go awry, and Brie and Bastian are stranded when their vehicle and equipment fall victim to roads made impassable by the heavy rains. They hole up at an abandoned village while Bastian works on a way to get them out of there, knowing they likely haven’t got long before the Sudanese soldiers who originally captured Brie find them.  During the few days they spend alone together, the attraction that had sparked between Bastian and Brie back at the camp builds to inferno levels and becomes increasingly difficult for them both to resist – although resist they must.  And do.  With difficulty. While they await rescue, they try to work out why Brie’s camp was targeted – was it a random attack? Had her family somehow found her and orchestrated the attack to get her back?  Or is something even more sinister going on that neither of them can yet comprehend?

The kidnap and rescue is only the beginning of what is a superbly conceived and plotted story that pitches Bastian and Brie into the sights of a Sudanese warlord with links to the Russian mafia, and a dangerous former associate of Brie’s father who is obsessed with her almost to the point of madness.  The vile plan this person hatches is so utterly despicable that it fairly took my breath away; and although he is perhaps a little over the top, his scheme is, sadly all too plausible.

Once again, Ms. Grant achieves just about the perfect balance between the disparate elements of this romantic thriller. She obviously knows her stuff when it comes to the geo-political background of the region in which the book is set, and the way she utilises that knowledge and interweaves it throughout the story to forge a cohesive, compelling tale of corporate greed, military ambition and terrifying obsession is quite masterful.  Her central characters are just as multifaceted as her story and the romance that develops between them simply drips with sexual tension from the moment the pair of them face off at the bar in Camp Citron. Brie and Bastian have more than their share of baggage and neither of them has had any desire for much more than hook-ups and casual sex in the past, but as the attraction that burns between them gradually starts to encompass admiration and respect, it becomes clear that this relationship is unlike any they’ve had before.   I admit to finding Brie’s tendency to beat herself up over her past choices a little irritating, although she does have an inner mental strength that is admirable and I liked how she was able to find something positive to focus on once the revelation over her identity meant she was no longer able to work for USAID.

Although some characters from Tinderbox make an appearance here – most notably Pax, Cal and Savanna James – the book works perfectly well as a standalone, and fans of Ms. Grant’s Evidence series might also recognise a certain enigmatic Russian spy who pops up to lend a (very dangerous!) hand.  A great combination of action-packed, intelligently-written, edge-of-the-seat thriller and sexy romance, Catalyst is an engrossing read and earns a strong recommendation.

Tinderbox (Flashpoint #1) by Rachel Grant (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Tremblay

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

In the volatile tinderbox of the Horn of Africa, Morgan Adler has made the paleoanthropological find of a lifetime. The discovery brings her to the attention of a warlord eager to claim both Morgan and the fossils, forcing her to make a desperate dash to the nearby US military base to beg for protection.

Master Sergeant Pax Blanchard has orders to intercept Dr. Adler before she reaches the base, and in so doing saves her life. After a harrowing afternoon, he safely delivers her to his commanders, only to find his responsibilities toward protecting the obstinate archaeologist have only just begun. Morgan and Pax are forced to work together in the Djiboutian desert heat, but it is the fire that ignites between them that threatens to combust them both. For the Green Beret, involvement with the woman he must protect is a threat to his career, while for the archaeologist, the soldier is everything she never wanted but somehow can’t resist. When Morgan uncovers a mystery surrounding Djibouti’s most scarce and vital resource, the danger to her reaches the flashpoint. For Pax, protecting her is no longer a matter of following orders, and he’ll risk everything to bring her back alive.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A-

I discovered Rachel Grant’s romantic suspense novels less than a year ago, and have been hooked ever since. I’ve read and listened to several of the titles in her Evidence series, all of them tightly-plotted thrillers interwoven with a nicely steamy romance featuring intelligent, sassy heroines and gorgeous, alpha-male heroes. The author makes excellent use of her own background in history and archaeology in her books, which are extremely well researched both in terms of the locations in which they are set, and the technological and specialist detail which add so much interest and depth to the stories. Tinderbox, the first book in her new Flashpoint series is no different. The story opens with a bang – literally! – and the pace never lets up, as our two protagonists are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy in a part of the world which exists on a knife-edge.

Doctor Morgan Adler has been contracted by the Djibouti government to undertake an archaeological survey of the proposed route of a new railway. That particular area, known as the Horn of Africa (on the East coast – Djibouti is bordered by Eritraea, Ethiopia and Somalia) is a haven for terrorists and pirates –as well as being a veritable treasure trove for archaeologists. Morgan has just made what is likely to be the find of the decade – if not the century – in ‘Linus’ a set of three and a half million-year-old remains that could prove to be as significant an archaeological find as Lucy was in the 1970s. But she has been forced to flee the dig by several armed men working for Etefu Desta, an Ethiopian warlord looking to expand his territory into Djibouti. With the American Embassy closed, the only place she can think of that will be able to provide secure storage for the finds she has so far uncovered is the US military base at Camp Citron, and she’s on her way there with her precious cargo when she’s stopped by two Green Berets – Special Forces Operatives – about two miles from the camp.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

FOR A CHANCE TO WIN A COPY OF THE AUDIOBOOK OF TINDERBOX, READ MY INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR AND ENTER THE GIVEAWAY HERE

My Best Books of 2016 – at All About Romance

best-of-2016-covers

Over the past week or so All About Romance has been publishing the team’s lists of their Top Ten books read in 2016. The vast majority of these are books published in 2016, although a few are books published previously that have been read this year.

All my choices are 2016 titles, and as usual, it was a tough list to compile. I’ve had a good reading year (I’ll be taking a look at my stats at some point and posting about those) and at AAR, have awarded a good number of B Grades and up, indicating that I read many more books I enjoyed than books I didn’t, which I count a definite plus.

Pinning it down to ten books was TOUGH, as was picking an outright “book of the year”, because this year (unlike last), that moniker could have been applied to practically every book on my list. But being I’m a bit of an angst-bunny, I went for the book that ripped out my heart and stomped on it a few times, AND which I’d been most eagerly anticipating.  Click on the link and all will be revealed!

My Best of 2016