Orientation (Borealis Investigations #1) by Gregory Ashe

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Shaw and North are best friends, private detectives, and in danger of losing their agency. A single bad case, followed by crippling lawsuits, has put them on the brink of closing shop. Until, that is, a client walks into their Benton Park office.

Matty Fennmore is young, blond, and beautiful, and he’s in danger. When he asks for Shaw and North’s help foiling a blackmail scheme, the detectives are quick to accept.

The conspiracy surrounding Matty runs deeper than Shaw and North expect. As they dig into the identity of Matty’s blackmailer, they are caught in a web that touches politicians, the local LGBT community, and the city’s police.

An attack on Matty drives home the rising stakes of the case, and Shaw and North must race to find the blackmailer before he can silence Matty. But a budding romance lays bare long-buried feelings between Shaw and North, and as their relationship splinters, solving the case may come at the cost of their friendship.

Rating: B+

Orientation is the first book in a new series of mysteries by Gregory Ashe, and in it, he introduces us to North McKinney and Kingsley Shaw Wilder Aldrich, who own and run a detective agency in St. Louis.  They’ve been friends – best friends – since college even though they couldn’t be more different.  North is from a blue collar family – his father was a construction worker and North himself worked on a fair few building sites before college – while Shaw was born with a whole set of silver spoons in his mouth, and dropped out of college after he was the victim of a hate crime that left him badly injured and killed his then (and first ever) boyfriend.  Even though the perpetrator was subsequently arrested and imprisoned, Shaw has never been sure the right man was convicted, and that – and his experience as a victim of crime – is one of the things that prompted him to become a private investigator.

The author very quickly establishes the nature and strength of the relationship between the two men.  North is gruff, down to earth and often treats Shaw with the kind of affectionate exasperation usually afforded to siblings, while Shaw is inquisitive, bright and enthusiastic with a kind of wide-eyed innocence about him unusual for a man in his mid-twenties.  They’ve got a bit of an odd-couple dynamic going on (Shaw is the ridiculously messy one while North likes things just so), and when they’re working or in a tight spot their banter is so smooth that they practically finish each other’s sentences.  They may be opposites in many ways, but they’re on the same mental wavelength and it’s clear that there’s nothing they wouldn’t do for one another.  It’s also clear they’ve got it pretty bad for each other and have spent years hiding it; North is married (not too happily as becomes apparent as the story progresses) and thinks Shaw only sees him as an obnoxious brother, while Shaw is still struggling, almost eight years after the attack, to trust a man enough to go out on a date with him; and even were that not the case, North is off-limits and doesn’t think of him that way anyway.

The firm they run together, Borealis Investigations, hit a rough patch a few months earlier following a case which saw North shooting a suspect in order to save Shaw’s life. Not only has North’s PI license has been suspended pending appeal, the suspect then dragged him into a costly lawsuit. They haven’t had a case in months, but things start to take an upturn when an attractive, nervous young man makes his way into the office looking for Shaw and asks for help.  North is immediately on his guard, and not just because he sees straight away that the guy has the sort of lost-puppy thing going on that will appeal to Shaw’s protective instincts – and doesn’t like it.  When Matty Fennmore haltingly explains he’s sought them out because he’s being blackmailed, North  – quite sensibly – doesn’t want to go near the case and suggests Matty should go to the police.  But when Matty goes into detail – telling them how he’s been so scared of coming out because of his ultra-religious family and how he can’t go to the police because that will make everything public and his parents will find out –  North knows he’s lost the battle.  Shaw is clearly smitten as well as outraged on Matty’s behalf and reminds North that they need clients and that people like Matty are why they started Borealis in the first place, to help people nobody else can or will help.  North is forced to admit that Shaw is right about one thing – they do need the work.  But he doesn’t have to like it.

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

Hard Target (Cobra Elite #1) by Pamela Clare

This title may be purchased from Amazon

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.

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

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.

For Your Eyes Only by Sandra Antonelli

This title may be purchased from Amazon

By day, Willa Heston is a mild-mannered Quantum Physicist; by night, she’s on the trail of stolen classified documents. Technically that means Detective John Tilbrook is on her side, only Willa has secrets she’s not sharing. Though she keeps her distance, John is fascinated by the new physicist on the block. A fan of coincidence and happy endings, John has plans for the secretive scientist with the wicked sense of humour. Trouble is, Willa has more than her heart on the line — her best friend is the prime suspect for espionage, she’s leading a double life and she’s having one hell of a bad hair day. As days speed past, Willa’s life unravels as she struggles to come to terms with her unexpected feelings for a man she just met. John’s a big fan of happily-ever-afters, but will he believe in love and happiness when Willa divulges the real reason she’s in town? Will he break the law he’s sworn to uphold — for love?

Rating: B

Having read and greatly enjoyed the two novels that (so far) comprise Sandra Antonelli’s In Service romantic suspense series featuring a spy and the (female) butler who loves him, I decided to delve into her back catalogue. I liked the sound of For Your Eyes Only (a title the author tells me she originally suggested as a joke!), a story revolving around a forty-something physicist-turned-FBI-agent who is sent to investigate the leak of sensitive information from the Los Alamos National Laboratory.  Ms. Antonelli’s writing is clever and witty, her plots generally well-executed  and her books all feature romances between characters in their forties and fifties, an age group that is still sadly underrepresented within the romance genre.

Dr. Willa Heston isn’t too thrilled by her latest assignment.  A quantum physicist, she’s also worked for the FBI for a number of years as an Intelligence Analyst before being recruited into undercover work.  She’s heading to Los Alamos to take up a fellowship at the National Lab (where she used to work) but her real job is to find out how classified information from the lab was found at the site of a recent drug bust by the local PD.  And that would all be fine were it not for the fact that the investigation is likely to turn up links to her dear friend Dominic Brennan – whom she knows is completely innocent  – a former colleague, and the man who helped her keep her shit together after the tragic death of her husband.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, her car has a flat tyre on the road and while she’s perfectly capable of changing it, the final lug nut is screwed on so tightly she just can’t get it off.  A passing motorist stops to offer his help, and discovering the spare tyre is flat, too, ends up driving Willa to the nearest town so she can get it sorted out.  Even Willa’s foul mood can’t stop her noticing that the guy is really attractive, with a truly disarming smile – or from admitting there’s a definite spark between them, something she hasn’t felt since losing her husband a couple of years back.

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

Inferno (Flashpoint #3.5) by Rachel Grant

This title is available as part of the FLASHPOINT box set

US Embassy Officer Kaylea Halpert needs a date for a black tie event at a dangerous foreign national’s lavish home. Preferably someone with brains and brawn who can watch her back. Special Forces Sergeant Carlos Espinosa is more than happy to escort the beautiful, brilliant diplomat—who just might be a CIA case officer—to the party. Their night together only gets hotter when he discovers Kaylea burns for him too.

Date night in Djibouti turns deadly when foreign agents target the couple. But who is the intended victim, the covert operator or the Green Beret? As Carlos and Kaylea use their combined skills to escape their captors, they uncover treachery that could ignite relations between the US and Djibouti—already at a flashpoint—and trigger an inferno.

NOTE: INFERNO is currently available ONLY as part of the box set of FLASHPOINT novels (see Amazon link above). It will be released separately in June 2019.

Rating: B+

Rachel Grant’s recent Flashpoint series of romantic suspense novels set in and around the Horn of Africa is one of my favourites in the genre; fast-paced, action-packed, sexy and incredibly politically astute and informative, they’ve pretty much ruined me for all other romantic suspense stories!  So I may just have squeeed a little when I learned the series wasn’t quite over, and the author was publishing a novella featuring two of its main secondary characters, US diplomat (and CIA Case Officer) Kaylea Halpert and Sergeant First Class Carlos Espinosa, another member of the team of special forces operatives based at Camp Citron in Djiboutu.

When Kaylea learns she’s been invited to a party being hosted by Saudi businessman Sheikh Rashid bin Abdul al-Farooq, she isn’t keen on attending.  Al Farooq has only recently emerged as a player on the political stage in the region; backed by the Russian Bratva, he’s positioning himself as a philanthropist and benefactor to Djibouti, and Kaylea is concerned that the traitor Seth Olsen (Firestorm), whom Al Farooq met recently, may have blown her cover and revealed her to be a CIA agent.  In addition, the man has taken a personal interest in her that Kaylea finds worrisome, to say the least.  Seeing her unease, one of her colleagues suggests she takes a date to the party – which gives Kaylea an idea.  She needs someone to watch her back who won’t be easily intimidated – and who won’t shy away from being intimidating if necessary – and who better than one of the Special Forces guys from Camp Citron?  And if that guy just happens to be a certain gorgeous, Puerto Rican explosives expert… well.

Sergeant Carlos Espinosa (Espi) is looking forward to shipping out and returning Stateside.  The mission he and his team have been given – that of training Djiboutian soldiers – has come to an end, and they’re heading home in seven days. It’s been a tough tour and he’s not sorry to be leaving… although he has to admit that he wouldn’t have minded spending a bit more time there if it meant he could get to know a certain CIA operative a bit better.  Kaylea Halpert is his ideal combination of beauty, brains and badass but their paths are unlikely to cross again once his deployment comes to an end.

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

Hide and Seek (Criminal Profiler #1) by Mary Burton

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

She’s hunting. He’s watching.

Special Agent Macy Crow is a survivor. After a vicious hit-and-run nearly kills her, she gets right back to work, and now she’s gunning for a spot on the FBI’s elite profiling team. As an audition, she offers to investigate the recently discovered bones of Tobi Turner, a high school girl who disappeared fifteen years ago.

While investigating with local sheriff Mike Nevada, a former colleague and onetime lover, Macy discovers a link between Tobi’s case and several others that occurred around the same time as her disappearance. As Macy interviews victims and examines old cases, she uncovers a sinister picture of a stalker who graduated to sexual assault—and then murder.

Macy and Nevada race to put this monster behind bars before he can come out of hiding. But the murderer’s had years to hone his skills, and soon Macy herself becomes a target. She’s no stranger to pain and terror, but will Macy’s first profiling case be her last?

Rating: B

Hide and Seek is the first book in the new Criminal Profiler series from popular romantic suspense author Mary Burton. This story features FBI agent Macy Crow, who was first introduced in the author’s last book, Cut and Run, where Macy was the victim of a serious hit and run accident she barely survived – but it’s not necessary to have read it in order to enjoy and understand this one.

When Hide and Seek opens, Macy has been working a desk job since being cleared to return to work some months after being discharged from hospital, and is keen to get back to work in the field.  She’s applied to join the small but legendary team that tackles violent crime and is given a case file to review as part of her interview, that of a teenaged girl named Tobi Turner who went missing around fifteen years earlier.  The previous week, the girl’s skeletal remains were found during a renovation project on an old barn in Deep Run in the Shenandoah Valley, and the local sheriff – a former FBI agent named Mike Nevada (with whom Macy had a brief fling before the accident) – requested the bureau’s assistance after DNA evidence suggested a link between Tobi’s death and the activities of an unknown serial rapist who’d been active around the same time.

The team leader isn’t offering any guarantees, but gives Macy an assignment – five days in Deep Run to find out everything she can about the case followed by a debrief in Quantico the following week – after which he’ll make a final decision about her application.  It’s what Macy had hoped for – she’s good at her job and she’s ready to get back in the game; now she just needs to prove it.

Mike Nevada hadn’t intended to run for sheriff in his old home town, but after receiving an anonymous tip off about the fact that the incumbent had failed to submit a number of rape kits for testing, and a meeting with the man that left Nevada furious and frustrated, he’d immediately declared his intention to run for the post – and surprising even himself, had won.  One of the first things he did after taking over as sheriff was to have those rape kits tested – and of the eight kits, three of them contain DNA that is a match to that found on the backpack belonging to Tobi Turner. But that DNA isn’t on file anywhere.

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

Under Fire (Love Over Duty #1) by Scarlett Cole (audiobook) – Narrated by Amelie Griffin and Alexandre Steele

This title may be downloaded from Audible US, via Amazon

Hot, hard-bodied Sixton Rapp is a former SEAL who’s raring to begin his brand-new civilian life. He and his Navy “brothers” start a security firm that offers the kind of services only a team of military-trained professionals can provide. But nothing prepared Six for his new client: an innocent woman on a mission to improve thousands of lives…unless someone takes hers first.

Dr. Louisa North knows time is against her as she tries to create a “miracle” medical treatment for a disease with no known cure, until she creates a sample so powerful that the wrong people want to use it as a chemical weapon. At first, Six is unwilling to accept Louisa as his client. But soon he realizes that the danger is real and that there’s much more to this plain-Jane scientist…including a burning passion between them that neither of them can resist.

And now that an enemy is on Louisa’s trail, Six will do whatever it takes to protect her – or die trying.

Rating: Narration – C/B-: Content – C

Scarlett Cole’s Under Fire is the first in her Love Over Duty trilogy of romantic suspense novels featuring three friends – all former military – who throw in their lots together to form a high-end private security company. The author and both narrators are new-to-me (although I think I may have heard Alexandre Steele before under a different name), so this was one of those times I took a chance because I liked the sound of the synopsis, which promised a nerdy scientist heroine teaming up with a hot former SEAL in order to prevent one of her experiments falling into the wrong hands and being developed as a chemical weapon.

Well… that is a fairly accurate outline of the plot, but what should have been an exciting, high-stakes tale full of action and danger turned out to be a bit of a yawn-fest.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.