Fade to Black (Krewe of Hunters #24) by Heather Graham (audiobook) – Narrated by Luke Daniels

fade to black

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Where dreams go to die…

Starring in a cult TV show was a blessing for Marnie Davante, especially now that her former fame could support her future dream of starting a children’s theater. So she’ll work the convention circuit. But then a costar is brazenly murdered in front of her. With a killer who vanishes into thin air with seemingly inhuman skill, and strange events plaguing Marnie, she feels she can’t even trust her own senses.

Although his dear departed parents were famous actors, PI Bryan McFadden is about as far from Hollywood as you can get. The former military man is reluctant to get involved in such a bizarre case, but it quickly becomes obvious that Marnie is in grave danger, and he is compelled to help. It’s unclear if the killer is an obsessed fan or something more sinister. Could the show’s cast be cursed? How can Bryan keep Marnie safe when it becomes apparent there’s a force determined to make this her final curtain call?

Rating: Narration – B : Content – D+

While Fade to Black is billed as (wait for it!) twenty-fourth in Heather Graham’s Krewe of Hunters series, there is (fortunately) no need to have read or listened to any of the others, as the novel is basically a standalone. I’ve been on a bit of a romantic suspense kick lately and the synopsis – a story of murder involving cast members of a cult TV show – sounded interesting, so I requested a review copy, hoping for a suspenseful, steamy listen with complex characters and some high-stakes action.

Sigh. You guessed it. I got pretty much the opposite. No romance to speak of – just a couple of very short, almost fade to black (see what I did there? :P) sex scenes – stereotypical characters and a plot as exciting as watching grass grow. Fortunately however, the narration by Luke Daniels was engaging enough to keep me listening, although I really wish he’d been given better material to work with.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.


Desperate Girls (Wolfe Security #1) by Laura Griffin

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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.

Firestorm (Flashpoint #3) by Rachel Grant (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Tremblay

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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 darkness, 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 rain forest, 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 flash point, Cal will have to save her from the greatest threat of all: herself.

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – A

I had the same feeling when I finished listening to Firestorm (book three in Rachel Grant’s Flashpoint series) as I did when I finished reading the novel a few weeks back – the urge to stand up, applaud and yell “bravo!” – because it is easily one of the best romantic suspense novels I’ve ever listened to. It’s also a story I’ve been waiting for since the series began; Sergeant First Class Cassius ‘Cal’ Callahan and CIA operative Savannah James have been striking sparks off each other for two books now, and in Firestorm they get their chance to kick ass, take names, and burn up the sheets. (And then some).

Both Savvy and Cal were prominent secondary characters in the other books, and it’s been clear from the off that while Cal doesn’t particularly like Savvy, he’s strongly attracted to her – and that the reverse is true. Savannah is the resident “spook” at the military base at Camp Citron in Djibouti, and pretty much everyone on base views her with suspicion; she’s widely rumoured to be with the CIA, but nobody knows for sure. Whatever her affiliation though, there’s no question she’s extremely competent and is completely focused on getting the job done, no matter what the cost. This ruthlessness is one of the things about her that Cal dislikes intensely; he believes she’ll sacrifice anything and anyone in pursuit of her goals – plus he has his own reasons for being wary of the CIA. So when his commanding officer tells him that Savvy has requested his services for a sensitive operation, he’s not eager to sign up.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.


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

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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

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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.

Cold Blooded (Cold Justice #9) by Toni Anderson

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A journalist searching for the truth about her best friend’s death—and the FBI agent who needs her to stop. 

Disgraced investigative journalist Pip West is devastated when she discovers her best friend’s body face-down in a tranquil lake. When cops and federal agents determine that her friend overdosed then drowned, Pip knows they’re mistaken and intends to prove it.

Special Agent Hunt Kincaid doesn’t trust journalists and has no patience for Pip’s delusions, especially since her meddling could reveal why the FBI is interested in her friend’s last days. The dead scientist worked at the cutting edge of vaccine research and might have a connection to a new, weaponized, vaccine-resistant anthrax strain that just hit the black market.

Pip is thrown off her game by grief and her unexpected attraction to the handsome federal agent. Hunt battles the same unwelcome pull, determined to resist the heat that threatens to consume them both. But the more Pip digs, the closer she gets to both the sexy FBI agent, and to a bioweapons terrorist who’s more than capable of cold-bloodedly sacrificing anyone who gets in his way.

Rating: B

I’ve been reading more and more romantic suspense novels of late, and although Toni Anderson is an author who’s been on my radar for a while, for some reason, I’ve not yet got around to reading anything of hers.  After reading her guest post at AAR a few weeks ago, I decided to rectify that, and picked up the latest in her Cold Justice series – Cold Blooded – for review.  It’s the ninth full-length novel in the series (which also includes a novella), but I had no problems whatsoever following the story, so I can say with confidence that it works perfectly well as a standalone.  I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to fans of the genre; the plot is topical and well-executed, the characters are likeable and while the romantic angle is perhaps more low key than I normally like, it makes sense within the context of the story that this pair would take a bit of time to warm up to each other.

Pip West’s career as an investigative journalist might well be over following the recent publication of her story about police corruption that led to a dirty cop murdering his wife and kids before turning his gun on himself.  Devastated and burdened with guilt, Pip has fled her home in Florida and driven to rural Georgia, intending to stay with her best friend, Cindy – a research scientist at nearby Blake University – while she gets herself together and works out what she wants to do with the rest of her life.  Arriving at her friend’s remote cabin on Lake Allatoona, Pip is worried when she sees her Cindy’s car outside, but can find no trace of her.  Upstairs on the balcony, she sees something floating in the lake and is horrified to realise it’s Cindy.  Panicked and horrified, Pip manages to drag the body out of the water and to call 911 – but it’s too late.

Following the discovery of a terrorist cell in possession of weaponised anthrax, Special Agent Hunt Kincaid, WMD co-ordinator at the Atlanta field office of the FBI, has been tasked with reaching out to anyone in the area whose work involves the use of bacillus anthracis.  Intelligence suggests that this new strain has come from a US source, so Hunt and his counterparts throughout the US are being alerted and given similar tasks, but given the number of government facilities, universities and biotech companies in the area – including the Centre for Disease Control – the Atlanta office is the first on the case.

Hunt’s first stop is Blake University, where he intends to speak to the staff and students who work with the anthrax virus there.  His tour of the department is interrupted by news of the death of a PhD student who had been working on a new vaccine against the virus – and the timing is too much of a coincidence for him to ignore.  He heads out to Lake Allatoona where the local police tell him they suspect the death of the young woman – Cindy Resnick – to be drug related.  When her friend – the dark-haired young woman Hunt noticed immediately upon arriving at the scene –  insists Cindy never took drugs, Hunt takes the assertion with a pinch of salt; after all, this woman found the body and because of that, is currently at the top of the list of potential suspects should this prove to be a homicide.

Pip knows the handsome FBI agent is suspicious of her, but she’s too mired in grief and anger to care.  She knows Cindy wouldn’t – couldn’t – have committed suicide and she’s determined to find out the truth, but it won’t be easy.  After her last investigation, she’s wary of law-enforcement – and once the local cops find out about her exposé of police corruption, they’re not exactly queuing up to help her either.

Pip and Hunt pursue their own lines of enquiry for the first part of the book, their paths crossing mostly accidentally, each suspicious of the other and very cautious about sharing what they find out.  After a journalist stitched him up in a move that almost cost him his career, Hunt has no love for reporters, so he’s not well-disposed towards Pip – no matter that he can’t help the strong pull of attraction he feels towards her. But the more he sees of her, the more convinced he becomes that Pip had nothing to do with Cindy’s death – and Pip finds herself wanting to trust Hunt, even though she knows he subscribes to the police’s theory that Cindy’s death was, if not suicide, then helped along by her use of drugs.  But a second death – another scientist and friend of Cindy’s – also thought to be drug related, brings Hunt to the realisation that Pip has probably been right all along and that there’s more to her friend’s death than getting high and taking an ill-advised swim.

The suspense storyline is tightly-plotted and well-researched, the tension building gradually through its various twists and turns until reaching the final chapters, which really amp things up and propel us towards an exciting, high-stakes finale.  The romance is more of a slow burn, with Pip and Hunt gradually moving in ever decreasing circles around each other as they slowly learn to shed their suspicions and to work together, but this felt completely right given the circumstances and their past experiences.  I appreciated the absence of the over-the-top mental lusting that is so often present in today’s romance novels; Hunt and Pip are attracted to and aware of each other, yes, but there’s never any sense that the plot is being suspended while they mentally drool over one another’s perfect bodies.  I liked both characters, although I can’t deny that there’s something a bit stock-in-trade about both of them; Hunt is your classic ‘I don’t do relationships because I don’t like losing people’ type, and Pip is the ‘I had a shitty childhood and now I don’t trust easily’ one.  That said though, they’re relatable and engaging, and I particularly liked the flirtatious, playful side Hunt allowed out occasionally.  Pip’s grief is very well-handled, too – her sadness and feelings of guilt and uncertainty permeate the first part of the book in a subtle way, and I was pleased to see that she didn’t suddenly recover and start to act as though nothing had happened as the story progressed.

In the negative column though, there are places where the pacing flags and others that feel repetitive, particularly when we’re in Hunt’s PoV and he keeps reminding himself that Pip is a suspect, that he doesn’t trust reporters, and he shouldn’t get involved with her.  I still wanted to know how things would turn out, but there were times I found myself skimming to get to the next bit of plot.

Overall, however, Cold Blooded is an enjoyable, suspenseful read, and I’ll definitely be seeking out more of Ms. Anderson’s work.