Forbidden Stranger (The Protector #3) by Megan Hart (audiobook) – Narrated by Saskia Maarleveld

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Nina Bronson and Ewan Donahue have put their love to its limits. To Ewan, she’s the only woman he wants to be with for the rest of his life. To Nina, whose memories have been ripped out of her, Ewan is her kind and generous boss who’s helping her recover after an accident she also can’t remember. The more time they spend together, the more she begins to feel for him, but Ewan knows the truth – she loved him once.

As Ewan tries to do whatever it takes to get Nina back to herself without putting her in danger, the two of them have to build a brand-new relationship from the ground up. Sometimes, a lie isn’t a betrayal, it’s a lifesaver. Can Nina forgive Ewan for not telling her the truth about why she lost so much of her memories, or are they doomed to never be together again?

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – B-

Forbidden Stranger is the final instalment of Megan Hart’s futuristic Protector trilogy, in which the overarching storyline pairs a kick-ass female bodyguard with a wealthy billionaire industrialist. I loved the premise of the series, the author’s world-building is terrific, the narration is excellent, and the first book is gripping, but sadly, books two and three suffer from the same problems – too much filler, not enough action and final acts that are rushed. On reflection, this story would probably have worked better as a duology, with the events of book two stripped of the filler and combined with a pared-down book three.

Please note that there will be spoilers for books one and two – Dangerous Promise and Wicked Attraction – in this review.

In Dangerous Promise, listeners were introduced to the author’s vision of a near-future coloured by war, environmental damage and cyber-terrorism. Nina Bronson is one of fifteen former soldiers who were technologically enhanced during life-saving surgery, the nano-chips implanted in their brains enabling them to be stronger and faster than normal humans and to control their emotional and physical reactions. The chips also allow the enhanced to have their memories wiped and for them to be reset after sensitive assignments should their clients so wish. Nina is engaged by billionaire businessman Ewan Donahue, the most vocal opponent of enhancement technology, as his personal bodyguard after several failed attempts on his life.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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The Girl in the Moss (Angie Pallorino #3) by Loreth Anne White

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Disgraced ex-cop Angie Pallorino is determined to make a new start for herself as a private investigator. But first, she and her lover, newly promoted homicide detective James Maddocks, attempt a quiet getaway to rekindle a romance struggling in the shadows of their careers. The peace doesn’t last long when human skeletal remains are found in a nearby mossy grove.

This decades-old mystery is just what Angie needs to establish her new career—even as it thrusts her and Maddocks back into the media spotlight, once again endangering their tenuous relationship.

Then, when Angie’s inquiry into the old crime intersects with a cold case from her own policing past—one that a detective on Maddocks’s new team is working—the investigation takes a startling twist. It puts more than Angie’s last shot at redemption and a future with Maddocks at risk. The mystery of the girl in the moss could kill her.

Rating: B+

In this final instalment in her trio of novels featuring Angie Pallorino, Loreth Anne White delivers another compulsively readable, complex mystery that hooks your interest from the get-go and gradually tightens its grip until you literally can’t put the book down.   It’s like reading a snowball; an impactful start sees it start rolling down the hill, gradually getting larger as it picks up and encompasses other clues, plot-threads and information and travels faster and faster until it hits bottom to reach an explosive and immensely satisfying dénouement.  Here, that snowball starts rolling when former detective Angie Pallorino and her boyfriend, Detective James Maddocks are taking a four day trip down the Nahamish River on a quiet, romantic getaway.  It’s been a tough few months for Angie, who was busted down to a desk job after she was judged to have used excessive force to take down a serial killer.  Furious and frustrated, Angie broke the twelve-month probation imposed upon her and went rogue, continuing to work on the case of the bar-code girls (in book two, The Lullaby Girl) which also led her to her discovering the truth about her parentage and true identity as the daughter of a sex-trafficker and major crimelord.  Unable to return to the job she loved, Angie is trying to pick up the pieces of her life, and is now working towards getting her PI license, but given the intense publicity generated by the news of her identity, her backstory as the “angel’s cradle baby” and her part in bringing down a major sex-trafficking ring, there are almost no PI agencies willing to hire her (she’s too high-profile) so she can get the required number of hours under her belt she needs before she can branch out on her own.

Things between Angie and Maddocks are uncertain, too.  He’s the golden boy of the Metro Victoria PD and has been appointed to head up a prestigious new task-force while she is struggling to find out who she is if she isn’t a cop.  She knows she loves Maddocks and wants to be with him, but Angie is subconsciously pulling back – and Maddocks knows her well enough to realise it but is worried that she’ll run if she gets the chance.  Their relationship isn’t in the best place, but they hope that a little time spent together with nothing to interrupt or distract them will get them back on track.  Unfortunately, that is not to be when on their last night at the camp, a skeleton is found near the banks of the river.  It’s going to be the morning before local law-enforcement can get to such a remote location and secure the scene, so Maddocks and Angie spend what should have been a romantic evening, complete with gourmet dinner, wine and hot tub, camped out next to a crime scene.

The remains are eventually identified as belonging to a young woman named Jasmine Gulati who died while on a fishing trip on the Nahamish some twenty-four years earlier.  She had been part of a group of women anglers who were taking part in a documentary being filmed by Rachel Hart, who had chosen her subjects to be from different walks of life and in different stages of their lives.  Much as the producers of shows like Big Brother do today, Rachel had hoped that their differences would produce interesting viewing – but after Jasmine’s death, the project was canned and the documentary never appeared.

A while later, Angie is surprised to receive a phone call from a retired judge, Jilly Monaghan, who explains that Jasmine was her granddaughter and offers Angie a large fee if she will find out what really happened to her.  Her death has been ruled accidental, but the judge wants to know if that is really the case or not; either way, she wants the closure that knowing the truth will bring.

Angie’s investigation soon leads her to suspect that Jasmine’s death wasn’t an accident at all, and as she digs deeper, she exposes the web of secrets, lies and conspiracies that have lain buried in the small community of Port Ferris for almost twenty five years.  The mystery is gripping; tightly constructed and incredibly well-written, and the author makes fantastic use of her wilderness setting, which is both beautiful and terrifying, at the same time brilliantly conveying the insular nature of a small, close-knit community such as this one.  The men resent Angie and what they see as her interference, and are prepared to do whatever it takes to protect their own.  It would be easy to laugh at this unsophisticated group of ‘hillbillies’ but no, they’re actually extremely disturbing and Angie is in real danger, probably more than she’s ever been, considering that she’s no longer a cop and doesn’t have the weight of authority behind her – or a gun.

There’s an intriguing secondary plotline in which Maddocks sets up a new cold case unit placing Angie’s former partner, Kjel Holgerson, at its head.  This storyline serves to bring us back neatly to some of the events of The Drowned Girls, but it also opens up the possibility of more stories set in this ‘universe’;  I would certainly not be averse to reading more about the enigmatic and oddly endearing Holgerson.  I also liked the author’s subtle exploration of the ethics of cold cases; in a situation such as this one, where one family needs closure, another is ripped apart, so it’s difficult – or impossible – to achieve a balance.  But Angie is, as ever, focused on finding the truth, no matter how hard it is.  Her own experiences have taught her that it’s better to know and deal than to deny, and ultimately, the needs of justice have to be served.

My one niggle about the book is that Maddocks is (necessarily) MIA for almost all of it, even though there’s no question he’s a huge presence in Angie’s life and her desire to come to him as a woman who knows who she is and where she’s going is the impetus for her becoming involved in the Gulati case.  Still, the brief glimpses we get of their relationship are well done, and while I’d have liked a bit more of them together, I think they needed the short separation in order to remind one another of exactly what they have together.

A complex, atmospheric thriller with a pervading sense of menace, especially in the second half, The Girl in the Moss is a terrific finale to a terrific series, and I really hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Angie, Maddocks, Holgerson – and Jack-O.

Dangerous Promise (The Protector #1) by Megan Hart (audiobook) – Narrated by Saskia Maarleveld


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Nina Bronson used to be all human – until the experimental surgeries and internal technology that saved her life and enhanced her as a soldier also forced her to leave the army for private service. Now she and her peers are facing slow, painful deaths unless their technology is upgraded, and the one man keeping those upgrades illegal and unavailable is an obnoxious billionaire. A man too gorgeous for his own good.

A man she’s supposed to guard with her life.

Ewan Donahue is the public voice speaking out against the enhancement procedures of injured soldiers. But when his lobbying leads to death threats, he needs someone to protect him around the clock. He doesn’t want to rely on an enhanced soldier – Nina’s tech goes against everything he stands for. But he really doesn’t want her to be beautiful like she is. Doesn’t want her to suffer like she will. Doesn’t want to succumb to the searing desire he feels for her. As a series of attacks on his life send them to a remote cabin, their close proximity brings them together in ways they never imagined. They know they must prevent the need simmering between them, resist each other at all costs. But when tensions are high and danger is close, passion burns hottest of all….

Rating: Narration – A : Content – B+

Megan Hart’s The Protector trilogy is set in the near future, in a world which has suffered a Second Cold War, massive environmental damage following an abortive attempt to colonise the moon and the near destruction of the planet’s computer infrastructure when an unknown hacker wiped out around ninety percent of the world’s servers and back-up data, deleting bank accounts, personal data and causing untold chaos. It’s a world that is recognisable (and eerily plausible!) yet subtly different from our own, and the author does a fabulous job in Dangerous Promise  of balancing the need for backstory and world-building with the plot and the romance in the story.

I’ll say now that this is a trilogy in which all three books need to be read or listened to in order to experience the complete story and reach the HEA; fortunately, at time of writing, all three books are available so you’ll be able to jump straight in to the whole thing without having to wait months for the next instalment.

Nina Bronson is one of fifteen former soldiers who underwent experimental surgery after being severely injured. In fact, she was dead for seven minutes – and was brought back to life by the implantation of newly invented nano-technology in her brain, technology which gives her greater strength and stamina and the ability to control her physical and emotional reactions and bodily functions. But not long after these procedures were carried out, the program which created it was shut down and laws were passed forbidding any future research or experimentation on the tech, meaning that Nina and her fellow ‘enhanced’ are the only ones like them in existence, and that as the tech eventually degrades, so will they.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Dirty Games (Dirty #2) by HelenKay Dimon

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Sometimes, to get what you want in business or in love, you have to get your hands dirty. Luckily for Finn and Justin, dirty comes naturally.

Finn Drummond is the baby in a family of sharks—which means he’s worked twice as hard to make a name for himself. After learning the tricks of the trade from his brothers, Finn’s just as ruthless and dominant. Out in the field, his appetites are legendary: for success, for money, for women and men. But when supplies from Drummond Charities go missing, Finn has to partner up with the smoldering ex–Army grunt who’s always challenging his authority—or giving him mixed signals.

Justin Miller wanted his attraction to Finn to be mutual, but the cocky brat always had a girlfriend. Who could blame Justin for trying to move on? Despite their history, they’ve got to work together to figure out who’s been derailing their humanitarian work. But after Justin and Finn are thrown together against gunrunners and kidnappers, their simmering chemistry turns explosive. Turns out, Finn knows how to handle himself in a crisis—and in the sack. Justin only hopes that hot sex is enough to persuade this spoiled pretty boy to do the right thing.

Rating: C+

I’ve read and enjoyed a handful of HelenKay Dimon’s romantic suspense novels, some of them m/f, and some m/m, so I know pretty much what to expect from her;  a fast-paced, energetic and steamy story that is perhaps longer on action than it is on romance – which is exactly what I got.  Dirty Games is the second book in her current Dirty series of m/m novels, and like the others in this series, it reads like the written-down version of an action movie or TV show; the leads are gorgeous, the action is almost non-stop, the scene changes are snappy, and there’s little time for introspection – and I suspect the degree to which you enjoy it will depend largely on what your expectations are at the outset.

Justin Miller is in charge of the on-the-ground operations of one of the charitable organisations run by Drummond Enterprises, the multi-billion dollar agricultural business run by Alec Drummond and his brothers, Griff and Finn.  Justin, a former soldier, is ferociously driven and dedicated – nothing goes on at Drummond Charities’ Morocco camp without his knowledge, and he has recently noticed a series of irregularities in shipments in and out which have become a major source of concern.  He has his suspicions as to what might be going on, but it’s not something he can – or should – deal with alone, so he has asked Alec to travel to Morocco from his base in Germany so they can work out how to tackle the issue.  Unfortunately for Justin, however, it’s the wrongDrummond brother who steps out of the black sedan that arrives at the camp. Alec has sent his youngest brother, Finn, in his stead, and that’s something Justin is most definitely not prepared for.

Ever since he first set eyes on Finn Drummond six years earlier, Justin has been unable to get him out of his mind.  Good-looking, sexy, funny and warm, Finn  is six foot one of walking sex – except that he’s straight, and in spite of that one brief time years earlier when Justin wondered if Finn was flirting with him, Justin knows nothing can happen between them.  Even so, having the object of his deepest desires and oldest fantasies within touching distance is likely to drive Justin up the wall and distract him from the big picture – trying to get to the bottom of the missing shipments, incorrect manifests and incomplete deliveries of food and supplies.

Finn – who is actually bisexual – hasn’t exactly been unaware of Justin over the past few years either, but the guy radiates such dislike whenever they’ve met that Finn has kind of consigned his attraction to the other man to the ‘never gonna happen’ pile. Still, it’s not long before Finn realises that at least part of Justin’s antagonistic behaviour towards him is due to his attempts to mask an attraction Finn is only too happy to reciprocate and act upon.

I love a good enemies-to-lovers story and this certainly had the potential to be a good one, but while Ms. Dimon has crafted an intriguing and suspenseful plot, the romance is less successful. The author has chosen an interesting setting for her story; the small strip of land close to the border between Morocco and Spain is rife with political and humanitarian problems and Justin has to walk an often precarious line to maintain the status quo. So when it becomes apparent that the missing shipments are most likely being sold/exchanged for arms, there’s a danger that the whole operation could be asked to leave the country. Justin and Finn are desperate to prevent that – so many people in the area need help and have nowhere else to go – so they must work together to find out who is behind the scheme. And with Finn being targeted by those running the arms trafficking ring, time isn’t on their side.

With Justin and Finn thrown so much together, it gives them time and opportunity to indulge in plenty of steamy sex (although they have to be careful as they’re in a country where committing homosexual acts carries a heavy penalty), but while Finn is ready to let Justin into his life and commit, Justin is carrying a chip on his shoulder the size of Wales, and instead picks fights with Finn at almost every available opportunity. Whenever it seems as though a conversation he doesn’t want to have is approaching, Justin retreats behind his emotional shields and throws Finn’s privileged upbringing and status as a member of one of the world’s wealthiest families in his face – and quite honestly, I wouldn’t have blamed Finn for telling Justin where he could stick it.

The suspense plot is the most successful part of the book – it’s interesting and fast-paced (although I did have to ask myself how many times Finn could be attacked and injured and still keep walking!) but unfortunately the romance is not well developed and I found it really hard to believe their relationship went any deeper than the physical. Justin’s pissy attitude continues until almost the very end of the book when he finally, FINALLY realises he’s been an arsehole, apologies to Finn and asks for another chance. Lucky for him Finn is such a great guy, but Finn’s warmth and generosity are such a contrast to Justin’s bad-temper and tendency to lash out when his emotions threaten to become involved that it’s difficult to believe their relationship will go the distance.

I did enjoy reading Dirty Games and it delivered what I expected for the most part; a suspenseful plot, action and steam – but it didn’t convince in the romance department. If you’re following the series, you might want to pick it up, but the lack of a believable romance means I can’t quite recommend it to romantic suspense fans in general.

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.

TBR Challenge: Dissident (Bellator Saga #1) by Cecilia London


This title is available FREE on Amazon

“I will always be with you…”

Rising Democratic star Caroline Gerard hasn’t had an easy year. After losing her husband, she is raising two small children alone while trying to navigate the tricky and sometimes shallow halls on Capitol Hill. A string of nasty speeches has her scrambling to apologize to any number of candidates, including newly elected Republican Jack McIntyre. Falling in love again is the last thing on her mind.

Jack McIntyre might have a reputation as a playboy, but he has his sights set solely on his new colleague. Can he break through Caroline’s grief and capture her heart?

Told mostly in flashback and set against a chilling fascist backdrop, Dissident is a rollercoaster ride of political intrigue, passionate contemporary romance, and undying love.

One of my fellow AAR reviewers, Kristen Donnelly, has raved about Cecilia London’s Bellator Saga – and given that I like a nice, juicy political thriller, I decided pretty much at the beginning of the year that Dissident, the first book in the series would be my recommended read this year.

I’ll start out by saying that the saga is a serial in which one storyline runs through all six books in the series; rather like a TV mini-series, all the books need to be read in order for the reader to experience the entirety of the story, so if you’re planning on having a look at this one, be prepared to be in it for the long haul.  I think each book ends on a cliffhanger (which is clearly stated at Amazon); this one definitely does and I’m sufficiently invested in the story and characters (especially the two principals) to want to read more.

The story opens in the present as we follow a couple – a husband and wife we learn are named Jack and Caroline – as they run through the woods in the attempt to evade the soldiers who are pursuing them.  Both are injured, but Caroline is clearly in a very bad way, and she urges Jack to continue without her, telling him that the information they have risked so much to gather is more important than either of them.  It’s clear that these two are devoted to one another and that it costs Caroline a lot to make the suggestion and even more for Jack to hear it.  Even though we’re just a few pages into the book at this point, it’s quite devastating when Jack wrenches himself away and prepares to do as Caroline asks, saying:

“I will come back for you, Caroline.  Understand?  I promise I will come back.  I’m not giving up.  I will find someone I can trust and I will come back.”

As it’s the first in a series, Dissident is mostly set-up, focusing on the two central characters, the recently widowed Democratic Congresswoman Caroline Gerard and Jack McIntyre, a multi-millionaire Republican with a reputation for being an arsehole.  Having read Kristen’s reviews of two of the later books in the series, it’s clear that the author is going to take us to some dark and uncomfortable places, so it’s important that we get to know and understand these individuals given that they are our windows into the story, and that the relationship that evolves between them is its bedrock.

Over five years earlier, Jack and Caroline got off to a rocky start when she bad-mouthed him to the media, calling him a “millionaire playboy trying to buy his way into Congress.”. Her only defence is that at that time, she was in a very bad place; she had recently lost her husband and had thrown herself into work to compensate, making a number of bad decisions of which spouting off about would-be Congressman McIntyre was one.  Months later, she hopes to apologise to him in person, but he doesn’t want to hear it and brushes her off abruptly, which Caroline thinks she probably deserves.  But later that same night, Jack relents and the two of them strike up a conversation which leads to the development of a very close friendship which is terribly important to them both.

Ms. London writes this growing relationship incredibly well; Jack and Caroline are mature characters (he’s forty-seven, she’s thirty-six) and their life experience shows, lending a real sense of authenticity to their interactions, which are deep, playful, witty and insightful by turns.  Their gradual falling-in-love is superbly and subtly depicted; it’s obvious that Jack is head-over-heels fairly early on but recognises that he shouldn’t rush things, while Caroline is a little more hesitant to become romantically involved.  She’s warm, funny and utterly devoted to her young daughters as well as being the sort of person who fights for the underdog and wants to make a difference.  Jack comes across as an arrogant arse when we – along with Caroline – first meet him, but it’s soon clear that isn’t really who he is, and I loved the way that as their friendship progresses,  Caroline comes to see him for the good man he is beneath the highly polished exterior.  Their romance is beautifully done and nicely steamy (Jack is one hot silver fox!) and the emotional connection they share is very deeply rooted and one which, I suspect, is going to prove a lifeline for both of them as the story progresses.

While something like seventy-five percent of the book takes place five years in the past and concentrates on the growing romance between Jack and Caroline, there are a few  present day chapters scattered strategically throughout Dissident showing us what happens after Jack leaves Caroline in the woods.  (The fact that he leaves her is one of the reasons this character-building story is essential; we need to know the strength of Jack’s feelings for Caroline in order to realise just how important the information he is carrying must be if he is prepared to leave her to an unknown fate to keep it safe.)  It’s clear that all is not well in America; the information I’ve gleaned has come mostly from reading reviews, so I won’t spoil it here, save to say that mentions of secession and martial law and the accusations of treason levelled at Caroline definitely tell us we’re not in Kansas any more.

There are a few writing hiccups and the odd place where the pace flags a bit, but for the most part, this is a strongly-written and well-conceived tale of political intrigue that sucked me in from the start and kept me eagerly turning the pages.  Jack and Caroline are engaging characters, their romance is believable and passionate, and the author has started the ball rolling on what promises to be an epic story.

I’m definitely in it for the long haul.