review: hard to let go

Hard to Let Go by Laura Kaye (2015)

And then we came to the end. Hard to Let Go is the final (full-length) installment in Laura Kaye’s Hard Ink series, which follows a group of five men who were discharged from Army Special Forces in disgrace and are trying to unravel the truth behind the event that ended their military careers. If you haven’t read all of the books before this one, then here’s your spoiler alert warning. Stop reading because there are spoilers dead ahead. If you’re interested in checking out the series, I do recommend the first book, Hard As It Gets.

Is it part of a series?
Yes. This is book six in the Hard Ink series and I would advise reading them in order. Hard to Let Go wraps up the larger mystery threaded through the series and ties off all the loose ends.

What is it about?
If you look at the book in terms of its placement in a series, then you can guess that Hard to Let Go is the climax of the series as a whole. The book begins where the previous book in the series, Hard to Be Good, leaves off. There’s been an attack on Hard Ink and in terms of the series’ story structure, the team’s investigation into the events surrounding their discharge from the military and the coverup of what actually happened has reached its moment of crisis. The attack brought death and loss straight to the team’s door, and the beginning of Hard to Let Go is basically the aftermath. The team is reeling but still intent upon pursuing their investigation to the end, particularly in light of all of the sacrifices they’ve made up to this point. In this book, Kaye gives us the revelation of the mastermind as well as answers the questions of what the initials GW and WCE mean, sets up the final confrontation and showdown between the team and the villain, and delivers closure and realization for the team. Oh, and of course there’s the romance plot between Beckett and Kat.

Tell me more about the main characters.
Beckett Murda is the fifth and final member of the team to find love. For most of the series, Beckett has been the one on the fringes of the group. He feels guilty and responsible for the injury his best friend, Derek “Marz” DiMarzio (whose story is told in Hard to Come By) suffered during the firefight that ended their military careers. He is also struggling with his past, which has led him to be emotionally numb and caused him to believe that he doesn’t deserve love and that no one wants him in their lives, as either friend or family. Katherine “Kat” Rixey is Nick Rixey’s sister (whose story is told in the first book, Hard As It Gets). She’s come to Baltimore to visit her brother and also put distance between her and a threatening ex-boyfriend. Kat is an attorney at the Department of Justice, and she reveals that her office has been investigating some of the same people that the team has identified as being part of the plot to discredit them. She agrees to provide the team with documents that could be helpful to them, risking her career in the process. Although Beckett and Kat’s relationship begins with the familiar “I can’t stand you” trope, they work well together as the leads of the story. Both of them are likable characters, and if you’ve been invested in Beckett’s character throughout the series and waiting for his story, you won’t be disappointed. Another highlight of Kat’s introduction into the story is that there is additional emphasis on the aspect of family. Nick, Jeremy, and Kat are their only family unit, as are Becca and Charlie, but Kat’s inclusion into the story reinforces a running thread throughout the series, which is the idea that family isn’t just about blood relations. Sometimes family ties are forged in blood. With Kat’s appearance, there’s also the sense that the Rixey family has once again been made whole, and that the ties between brothers and sister are stronger than ever. Indeed, the same can be said of Becca and Charlie in light of the revelations of their father’s actions before his death.

What is the narrative style?
Like many romance novels, the narrative is told in third person point-of-view, alternating between Beckett and Kat’s POV. The narrative style works and I liked being able to see the story, at last, from Beckett’s point of view.

Should I invest my time?
If you’ve come this far into the series, then yes, you should definitely read this book. Again, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in how the overarching story ends or in the romance plot between Beckett and Kat. I actually gave this book five stars when rating it, which isn’t something I do often. In my opinion, the book earned that rating from me because it not only rewarded my investment in the series as a whole, but it also drew me into Beckett and Kat as characters and convinced me to become invested in their story. I see this series as falling into the subgenre of romantic suspense, and since that is what I write myself, I appreciated the way this story (and the series as a whole) was structured and how the romance plot and suspense plot were intertwined. Though I am sad to see this series come to a conclusion (yes, there’s one more novella after this one that I’m guessing is actually an epilogue to the series as whole), I was more than satisfied by the conclusion. I’m also comforted by the fact that there is Kaye’s new series, Raven Riders, to look forward to. The Hard Ink series is definitely one that I recommend to anyone who likes their romance and suspense to walk hand in hand.

review: dead things

Dead Things by Stephen Blackmoore (2013)

I stumbled upon Dead Things by Stephen Blackmoore when I was trying to find new authors to read.  I decided to give this one a try and it’s been on my e-reader for a couple of months.  Dead Things exists within the urban fantasy genre, and if you don’t know what that means you’re not alone.  In basic terms, urban fantasy gives you a world and setting that looks very much like our own but that setting is occupied by all the things that go bump in the night–vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and lots of other supernatural creatures.  The setting for Dead Things is Los Angeles, and in some ways it has the feel of fantasy noir.  Blackmoore doesn’t create a dark paranormal underbelly beneath the sun-drenched glitter of Los Angeles, but there is the potential to see his vision of Los Angeles evolve into that kind of world that you might expect from fantasy noir.  Without further ado, here are my thoughts on the book in a different format I’m experimenting with for my reviews.

Is it part of a series?  Yes.  Dead Things is the first book in Blackmoore’s Eric Carter series.  The next book in the series is Broken Souls and the third book, Hungry Ghosts was just released last week (February 2017).  One note that might help in case you are interested in starting the series–there is a fourth book called City of Souls that takes place within the world of Eric Carter, but from everything I can find, it does not feature Eric Carter.

What is it about?  Eric Carter is a mage and necromancer who receives news that his sister, Lucy, who he hasn’t seen in fifteen years, has been brutally murdered.  He returns to Los Angeles to find the person responsible for her death and exact vengeance.  Complicating his return to Los Angeles is the fact that he is a man going home again after fifteen years of being on his own and out of contact with everyone who had been in his life before.  As the hunt for his sister’s murderer unfolds, Eric is also trying to decide if coming back home (and staying home) is a good idea, if it’s possible to reconnect with the people he left behind, and reconciling the man he is now with the person he was when he left everything behind.

Tell me more about the main character.  Eric Carter is the kind of protagonist you would expect to find in a noir-ish urban fantasy novel.  He is the isolated loner who has lived a nomadic life since he left Los Angeles, never settling down in one place and never thinking of any one place as home.  He’s mad, bad and dangerous to know, street-smart, quick-thinking and smart-talking.  He is a powerful necromancer, which means he can see and speak to the Dead, and though it takes a while for him to reveal this aspect of his character, it is the Dead that he helps and to some extent, saves.  He considers himself to be one of the speakers for the dead, and he gets vengeance and retribution for them (and yes, some would call it justice).  He is their champion and he understands them, a lot more than he understands the living.  He also feels incredible guilt for leaving his sister and his friends behind when he left Los Angeles fifteen years ago.  Dealing with that guilt and finding a way to make things right are two of the primary motivators for his character.  In some ways, he’s like a lot of other male protagonists you find in this genre, but like the world of Los Angeles that Blackmoore presents, he has the potential to be more than average.  In truth, he is only at the beginning of his journey, and though he has developed and undergone important changes by the time the story ends, there is lots of room for more growth and change.

What about the supporting cast?  Tough question.  In this novel, the supporting cast is comprised of Alex, the man who was his best friend and who looked after Eric’s sister after he left home.  Vivian is Eric’s ex-girlfriend, who has become a doctor in the time that he’s been away and moved on to someone else.  There is Tabitha, a waitress who works in the bar Alex owns and is a potential love interest.  The two non-human characters are Darius–who seems to be some kind of genie or djinn perhaps–who owns a bar whose doors move and within which time moves at a different rate than that of the outside world, and Santa Muerte, a goddess who wants Eric to be her right hand assassin.  I don’t want to spoil how the story ends but there will definitely be changes to this supporting cast in the next book.  Eric’s interactions with the supporting characters say just as much about him as they do about the secondary characters themselves, particularly Alex and Vivian, the latter of which is drawn realistically, I think, but at the same time she grated on my goodwill as a reader.

What is the narrative style?  I think this is an important aspect of the book to highlight because before reading Dead Things I started a different book that I put down after fifty pages because it was told in the narrative style I dislike the most–that being multiple point-of-view (and when I say multiple I mean from the perspective of three or more characters).  Blackmoore takes the more traditional route in terms of narrative style and it will be familiar and comfortable to readers of the genre, choosing to tell the story solely from Eric’s first-person point of view.  Another notable aspect of the narrative style is that it is told in the present tense which may feel different to readers who haven’t encountered this before, though I will say it is a style that seems to be growing in popularity.

Should I invest my time?  Another tough question.  One of the things that instantly came to mind while reading this book is that it has the same feel as the Sandman Slim books by Richard Kadrey (also set in Los Angeles, also noir-ish, also told in that present tense, first person narrative style).  The Sandman Slim series is one of my favorites, and though I think the Eric Carter series could be as good, it’s not there yet. I don’t know what the next book in this series will bring.  For me, the first book in a series should make me want to read the next book, if not right away then at least inspire me to immediately add it to my to-be-read list.  I didn’t have that feeling at the end of Dead Things, and admittedly part of this may be due to the way the book ends, which is clearly setting up for the next installment.  I think that if you like this genre, you should at least give the first book in this series a try and decide if you want more.  Personally, there are so many books on my to-read list for the year that I don’t see myself adding Broken Souls to my reading list any time soon. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the book. I’m just not convinced I want to go back for more.

review: accidentally on purpose

Accidentally on Purpose by Jill Shalvis (2017)

Do you have “dependable” and “reliable” authors on your bookshelf?  You know, those authors who you can depend on for a good read, no matter what book by them you might pick up? I do, and Jill Shalvis is one of those authors for me.  She is reliable in that whichever book of hers I happen to choose to read, I know I’m going to get a good book with characters I like and a charming supporting cast of characters that deepen the story. All I wanted from my day was to sit on the couch and read a book, and Accidentally on Purpose, the third full-length novel in Shalvis’ Heartbreaker Bay series did not disappoint.

What is it about? It’s the story of a woman who is strong and independent, needs no one, and is accustomed to being in control of every aspect of her world and a man who is used to be in control of every aspect of his world and who is the protector–he protects his friends, the people who work for him and his clients.  Because of the way she grew up and a shared experience in the past that was mutually defining for both of them,, she has trouble letting people in and letting down her guard, and he is dedicated to making sure she is always safe and protected. They are two strong personalities who clash repeatedly until they learn to work as team and transform from you and me to ‘we’.

Who is in it?  Elle is the female protagonist and she is like many of Shalvis’ strong female characters who can and do take care of themselves and find it difficult to build trust and emotional intimacy.  Archer is the male protagonist and he is a successful business owner who has until now been emotionally unavailable.  Elle and Archer met when she was sixteen and he was a rookie cop.  After that, Archer kept tabs on how she was doing, and then eleven years later she takes a job managing the building in which he has his office.  She’s been a presence in his life for a year when the story begins, and though all of their friends can clearly see the attraction between them, Elle and Archer have been ignoring it, but that changes when Archer asks Elle to assist him with one of his operations.  She agrees, something she has done several times in the past, but this time, neither of them can easily walk away from the other.  When trouble arrives in the form of Elle’s sister, Morgan (could she possibly star in her own book in this series at some point in the future?), Archer’s commitment to convincing Elle to take a chance on him solidifies.

The supporting cast of characters will be familiar to you if you have read any of the other books in this series, but it is not necessary to read these books in order.  For those who have, Finn, Willa, and Spence make appearances in this book, with Spence’s presence being the strongest of all (I would love to know if his story will be the focus of the next book in the series).  In fact, I learned a lot about Spence in this book.  He is not as fully drawn, of course, as Elle and Spence, but I felt like there was a good introduction to who he is and sets readers up nicely to anticipate his story.

The story is told in third-person point of view and switches back and forth between Elle and Archer, though I would say a greater proportion of the story is told from Elle’s point of view.  I mentioned above that Archer character fits into the protector archetype.  That being said, I don’t think he’s a flat character, and neither is Elle.  Though they will both feel familiar to readers of romance, they aren’t colorless or cardboard copies of a character type.  There really are several moments during the story where I felt the emotion in a particular scene that Shalvis intended to evoke in readers.  Another thing that made this book satisfying to me?  Most readers of the genre are more than familiar with the typical plot pattern for a romance–girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy back (or vice-versa, depending on who the main character is).  It’s the second part of that plot pattern-girl loses boy–that is quite often the most tiresome and disappointing aspect of most romances I read.  I understand why this moment always happen–it’s the crisis moment, the all-is-lost moment, that every book needs.  And yet for me it’s often the least enjoyable part because so frequently it’s just unbelievable.  But the good news is that the way that Accidentally on Purpose handles this moment wasn’t one that wanted me to throw the book (read: my e-reader) across the room and didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.

Final analysis? If you enjoy contemporary romance with engaging characters, give Accidentally on Purpose a try.  I have also read the first book in this series, Sweet Little Lies, and recommend it as well.  Jill Shalvis is a dependable author who will deliver a satisfying read, and if you are interested in reading more by her, I would also recommend her Lucky Harbor series.

review: come a little bit closer

Come a Little Bit Closer by Bella Andre (2013)

Come a Little Bit Closer is the seventh book in Bella Andre’s featuring the Sullivans (specifically, the San Francisco Sullivans) and tells the story of Smith Sullivan, mega-movie star and the woman he falls in love with Valentina Landon.  The Sullivan books don’t have to be read in order, but they are certainly more enjoyable when you do.  Case in point: one of the supporting characters in this book and Valentina’s sister, Tatiana Sullivan, will return in the tenth book of the series, Just to Be With You.  That book makes several mentions to the movie that Smith is producing, directing and starring in during this book, Gravity.  Another kind of easter egg is that at the close of this book, there’s a reference to the Maverick Group, which is a nod to another of Andre’s series that she co-authors with Jennifer Skully.  To recap then, you can completely read these books in any order and you can skip books if you don’t they will appeal to you.  On a personal note, I’ve skipped books three and eight, but read all of the others in the San Francisco and Seattle Sullivans series.

There are three watchwords around which much of the thematic content of the book revolves–close, closer, and gravity.  Not going to spoil that for you, but if you do pick the book up, make sure to pay attention to Andre’s use of those words in particular.  It gives a lot of insight into Smith and Valentina’s needs and their relationships with each other and their families.  As alluded to above, the story finds Smith starting the first day of production on a film where he wrote the screenplay himself and is producing, directing and acting in the film.  It is a major turning point in his career, and he is intent upon not losing his focus at such a crucial moment.  And yet, he can’t help but be distracted by his co-star’s sister, Valentina Landon.  As Tatiana’s business manager, she will be on the set everyday, and finding a way to ignore his attraction is part of his internal struggle.  The love story between Smith and Valentina takes place against the backdrop of a film in production, and it’s no coincidence that the film is also a love story, where the male protagonist bares many similarities to Smith, his creator.  One aspect of the novel that makes this book stand out among the other books in this series is that Andre plays with the narrative structure, showing the scenes that are being filmed by narrating the events so that readers can follow the parallel story.  She does this by showing it through Valentina’s point-of-view, though it’s not necessarily true to how we would absorb it if we were watching the actors play out the scene.  All we would see is the dialogue, the characters’ body language, the background; we wouldn’t have privy to the characters’ inner thoughts or the back story, but because Valentina has read the script, in a way she is our interpreter, our narrator, filling in the gaps between the dialogue..

Throughout the series, Smith Sullivan makes brief appearances, and there are times when his absence makes him a presence in the other books.  Consequently, it really is a delight to finally read his story, and as is sometimes the case in a series where one character’s story is long-awaited, I’m glad to report that I wasn’t at all disappointed with him or his story.  Smith’s character is a fully developed and realized character at the end of the story, and though perhaps he doesn’t go through as much of a change as other protagonists, there are bits and pieces that demonstrate that falling in love with Valentina has pushed him into unfamiliar territory and into behavior that is wholly uncharacteristic of him.  In some ways, he is your cliche character who is in some way famous (here an actor, but Andre has already given us this trope with in Marcus and Nicola’s story, Ryan and Vicki’s story and will use it again in Mia and Ford’s story). He doesn’t ever think he will be loved for who he really is beneath the fame and celebrity.  He has millions of adoring fans but none of them really knows who he is.  While that is the case, Smith is unique enough to hold your attention.

Valentina is also a likeable, believable character and she is strong enough to stand up to Smith and say exactly what is on her mind but she also conventional in that beneath the strength there is vulnerability and a fragile need for love.  She is also conventional in her insistence that she will not date an actor, providing Andre with a built-in way of increasing the unresolved sexual tension.  Another concern in a series like this where Smith’s story was long-awaited is that the mate chosen by the beloved character isn’t close to who you would imagine him finding a happily ever after with.  Again, this is something that doesn’t happen and Valentina is definitely not a disappointment.  She easily becomes a character readers can fall in love with and who easily fits effortlessly into the Sullivan clan.

I’ve had this book on my to-read shelf for a long time, and honestly, I hadn’t started reading it for the very reasons listed above–I was worried I would be disappointed.  Instead, this was the perfect book for a Saturday when all I wanted was to spend the day on the couch getting lost in a good book.  Come a Little Bit Closer is actually my second-favorite book in the series, and the thing that makes that statement interesting to me is that Just to Be With You (the book featuring Tatiana Landon and Ian Sullivan) is by far my favorite book in the series.  Somehow, Bella Andre got it right with these two Sullivans and the sisters they fall for.  It didn’t all five stars when I rated it after reading it (the end seems to drag a bit) but it is definitely one of my recommended reads and gets a star next to it on my list of books read for the year, reminding me it was a favorite.  Give it a try.  If you like contemporary romance, I think you’ll enjoy it.

 

review: hard to come by

Hard to Come By by Laura Kaye (2014)

Hard to Come By is the fourth installment in Laura Kaye’s Hard Ink series.  These books should be read in order but I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum.

This book picks up what feels like only hours after the conclusion of Hard to Hold on To, the third book in the series.  This one tells Derek “Marz” DiMarzio’s story, and though he is as intense as the other men in his team, he is also lighter and a bit more fun (he sings aloud and apparently does so terribly).  Marz is the computer genius of the team of former Special Forces men.  In this book, he has two primary goals to achieve: one, unlock the microchip drive that they discovered in the previous book and two, get close to Emilie Garza with the hope that she will in turn provide the team with the intel they need to find and capture Manny Garza, a man they suspect is working with Seneka Worldwide Security, a defense contractor that is well-known for its allegations of corruption, and is also somehow connected to the Church gang–the team’s primary adversary thus far as they try to unravel the secrets and lies that led to their team being ambushed in Afghanistan, seven of their brothers-in-arms being killed, and their less than honorable discharge from the service and their honor and reputations ruined.  One of the main characteristics of Marz that also drives a lot of who he is as a character when we first meet him and his development as the story progresses is that during the ambush he suffered a leg injury that led to his leg being amputated just beneath his knee.  Marz, Nick (their team’s leader) and Beckett (Marz’s best friend and fellow team member) all came back with varying levels of scars that are visible on the outside, and how he deals with the loss of part of his leg is inspiring and humanizes him as a character.  He is definitely a good guy, but that comes into conflict with the fact that for the first third of the book, the relationship he’s building with the Emilie is built on lies.

Emilie, on the other hand, wears her battle scars on the inside.  She is recently divorced from a man who shook her ability to trust, and she’s been dealing with her brother’s increasing erratic behavior.  Emilie is a trained clinical psychologist and believes that Manny is struggling with a form of PTSD, and she has been contemplating taking steps to have him involuntarily committed for a psychiatric evaluation because he refuses to seek help or even talk about what’s going on with him.  She isn’t the strongest female character you’ll find in a romance, but she’s also not portrayed as being weak and docile.  I liked her character, and her story arc is also one of healing in terms of learning how to trust again.  I would also say that part of her character development is coming to terms with the consequences of making an impossible choice that, even if it’s the right choice, it’s still not easy to live with.  If you have read the first books in this series, I think you’ll find that Emilie is a lot more like Becca (as opposed to Crystal/Sara or Jenna) and what you have in the romance plot between her and Marz is that two nice people end up falling in love with each other.

Yes, the books are romances, but there is a heavy element of suspense/action to the series as well.  In a way, the main thread that has carried through the series as a whole thus far is that at it’s heart, it’s a quest story.  This team of disgraced soldiers are looking for truth and redemption, and they are only going to be able to get it if they can find out exactly what happened in Afghanistan, why the military covered it up and hung the whole thing around their necks, and who is pulling the strings.  Hard to Come By takes another step in the quest by unlocking the microchip, which leads to a revelation that changes everything.  It also brings the threat of the Church gang to a conclusion, much in the same way a hardboiled detective novel resolves the mystery that you see on the surface but in doing so only leaves you with more question and a far more complex mystery to unravel.  Also, the mystery of the bracelet that the team’s former commander, Merritt, sent to his daughter, Becca is solved.  This is all to say that some questions and puzzles that have lingered since the first novel get paid off in the fourth book, but at the same time, the quest is not over.  I hope that what will follow in the last two books is a showdown that is both surprising but also brings closure and success to the team of men Kaye has convinced us to become invested in and care about.  Indeed, when the first book begins, the team–Nick, Shane, Easy, Marz, and Beckett–don’t look anything like a close-knit group and the bonds that had held them together as brothers-in-arms were in shambles.  As the series has progressed, those bonds are being rebuilt–and this book features the rebuilding of the friendship between Beckett and Marz, which has been strained since their return from Afghanistan–and on top of that, their family is growing.  Becca, Sara, Jenna and now Emilie are part of the family, Jeremy (Nick’s brother) has had his relationship with Nick strengthened, and Charlie, Becca’s brother, has also been brought into the family bosom.  There is a definite sense that until they met each other and came together to fight for a common goal, they were all adrift and isolated.  There’s even a moment in the book that alludes to this very idea.  Now, though, they have each other, and all that’s left is to finish what they’ve begun.

One more thing. Each of these books takes place over the span of a week at most, and that works in this series because it gives a sense of immediacy and urgency, but it also gives each book a sense of purpose.  Each book lays out a challenge, and like I said, each challenge brings them closer to their goal.  The fact that these stories don’t take place over a longer period of time for me makes them more believable, because no way could this kind of intensity be sustained over a period of several months.

I really do like these books and recommend them to readers who enjoy romantic suspense.  There’s a nice balance between the romance plot and the suspense plot, and the books themselves are well-written.   If you want to give the series a try, start with the first book, Hard As It Gets.

 

Special Note: The Raven Riders series by Laura Kaye is an offshoot of the Hard Ink series.  I happened to have read Ride Hard before reading Hard to Come By, and it is in the latter that Kaye introduces the characters of Haven and Cora.  They are only in the book for a minute and it’s not necessary to read this series first; however, I will say that if you like the Hard Ink series and are interested in the Raven Riders series, finish this series first and then start with Ride Hard.  I wish I had.

review: demand

Note: Demand is the second book in the Careless Whispers trilogy.  If you have not read the first book in the series, please stop reading this post.  Spoilers are ahead and I don’t want to spoil the surprises for you.

Demand by Lisa Renee Jones (2016)

In the second book of her Careless Whispers trilogy, Lisa Renee Jones returns us to Italy and the world of Ella and Kayden at the exact point where she left off at the end of the first book, Denial.  In fact, Jones does something at the start of the book that I have never encountered before.  She devotes the first pages to a kind of “previously on Careless Whispers” intro that you would expect from your favorite television series, and you know what, it totally works.  She follows it with a list of characters, one that reminds me of what I would expect to find in a detective mystery novel, but that works, too.  Both reminded me of where I was in the story, of the characters I had met and would meet, and made me ready to take on the second book even though it’s been months since I read Denial.  I loved this device, and though there may be people who frown at it, as someone who reads a lot of serial fiction and sometimes installments are several months (or a year or two) apart, this was an excellent way to reacquaint me with the story and the characters.  Well played.

Like Denial, Demand is told completely from Ella’s first-person point of view.  One of the reasons this continues to be the most effective narrative style is that more and more, Ella is getting her memory back.  She remembers more about David, the man who was her fiance, about the mystery man that rescued her after she lost her passport and all of her money but also abused her sexually, and about her life before she travelled to Europe.  Having her as our narrator makes everything she is remembering, feeling and experiencing much more immediate, especially since a lot of what is revealed is happening in her own mind (as opposed through spoken dialogue) and also because with the exception of Kayden, there really is no one that she trusts enough to reveal all that she is remembering. The other reason this works is because, at least for me, I like Ella as a character and I’m invested in her story.  She is frequently just as clueless about what is happening as we are as readers, and thus we’re in the same boat, trying to navigate the confusing labyrinth together.

Though the story is told through Ella’s first person narrative, Kayden does not feel distant from us or an impenetrable mystery.  As this book unfolds, we find him being much more forthright and open with Ella than he was in the first book.  Kayden is the prototypical male protagonist you would expect to find in a book firmly placed in the erotic romantic suspense genre, but he’s not a carbon copy.  He, too, is likeable even though there is a definite edge to him and it’s clear that he does not always operate on the lawful side of the line dividing the good guys from the bad guys.  He isn’t so dark that it is hard to understand why the female protagonist would want to be with him, and if you like alpha male characters he delivers and compels you to want to keep reading and see how the romance between him and Ella will play out.

The plot of the story becomes more intricate in this book even as certain questions are answered.  Jones reveals the identity of the man that Ella can remember mistreating her but whose face she has been unable to recall.  There is forward progress on the plotline involving Gallo and his relentless pursuit to destroy Kayden, and at the end of the story we are left wondering how that will play out.  Niccolo makes an entrance into the story, and there is more revelation about why the butterfly necklace is significant and what Kayden’s relationship to its discovery is.  And yet there are new characters that we are not yet sure we can trust, and there’s also the recurring implication that the tower of the castle where Ella and Kayden live is under some kind of surveillance.  This feels like it is leading up to a betrayal from someone close to them that neither Ella nor Kayden will see coming.

While the Careless Whispers trilogy is a spin-off of Jones’ Inside Out series, you don’t have to have read the latter to enjoy this trilogy.  I would recommend this series to anyone who has enjoys the work of Julie Kenner (the Stark novels), Sylvia Day (the Crossfire novels), Meredith Wild (the Hacker novels), Lorelei James (the Mastered series) and Jones’ Amy Bensen series.  Lisa Renee Jones is solidly on my list of authors whose books I will automatically add to my to-read list.  I consumed this book in one day and had a hard time putting it down.  In my opinion, it’s not easy to find good books in the romantic suspense genre, but this trilogy definitely stands out and shines.  I’m looking forward to the final book in the trilogy, Surrender.

review: black wings

Black Wings by Christina Henry (2010)

I have another first-in-series book to write about, this time Black Wings by Christina Henry.  It fits into the urban fantasy genre and takes place in one of my favorite cities–Chicago (I wonder if the protagonist and Harry Dresden have run into each other). This series follows the story of Madeline “Maddy” Black, who is an Agent of death (if you’re a Supernatural fan, think of her as a Reaper).  Maddy’s job is to escort souls of the newly departed to the Door, which presumably leads them to the afterlife.  Being an Agent gives her a set of black wings and the ability to fly, but it’s not a paying job and she does her best to get by.  As you would expect from the first book in an urban fantasy series, Maddy’s life is about to change drastically.

Since this is the first book in a series, Henry has some world-building to do.  The best place to start is Maddy’s job as an Agent.  In this world, death is treated as a bureaucracy, where Agents receive schedules each week telling them where and when to collect souls and have supervisors to answer to if they don’t meet their quotas–that is, convincing souls to choose to walk through the Door. Souls that refuse are cursed to walk the earth forever as ghosts.  Maddy’s boss is J.B. Bennett, who loves rules and paperwork and accountability.  Maddy does not like him, but she does have to deal with him and it appears that he will be one of the supporting characters as the series progresses.  Another aspect of this world is that it is populated with fallen angels.  We learn this early in the story that Maddy’s father, whom she has never known or met, is one of these fallen angels and that as his only human child, he values her greatly.  These fallen angels also have begotten nephilim–the monster children born of their human consorts.  Maddy’s father, as well as the foremost of fallen angels–Lucifer–will also be part of the supporting cast, playing roles somewhere between antagonist and ally.  There are also gargoyles in this world.  Beezle has been both friend and family to Maddy for years, and he fills the role of protector but also comic relief and confidant.  Rounding out the supporting cast is Gabriel Angeloscuro.  He, too, plays the role of protector but he is also the primary love interest (which is a subplot of the novel and doesn’t ever overtake the main plot of the story).  Gabriel is also the character who will help Maddy navigate this new world that she learns she is a part of but knows nothing about.  It is clear, from the way the book ends, that he will also perhaps be used as a pawn by those who want something from Maddy, and that he may become her greatest weakness.

Unlike Harry Dresden, Maddy is not a private detective by trade, and unlike Cat Crawfield she is not on a mission to save innocents by destroying vampires one at a time.  Maddy is simply a woman trying to do her job and make ends meet.  She becomes an accidental detective of sorts, pulled into tracking down a killer for reasons that start out being more personal than professional.  In this way, she is a likable and relatable character, thrust into a world that she doesn’t understand, trying to figure things out as she goes along, and making mistakes along the way.  The story is told entirely from her first-person point of view, and it works in this story because we only know what she knows and we’re stumbling through the story trying to figure out the puzzle just like she is.  Her development from the start of the book to the end is believable, and there is plenty room for more change and growth as the series continues.  The book really feels like it’s an origin story, that she is only at the start of her journey in becoming who she will be several books down the line.  I find that I am pulled into her character’s potential and want to see what else is in store for her.

There are some elements of the book that will be familiar to readers of the genre. Maddy has daddy issues (with good reason), she is a loner and mostly alone in the world when we first meet her, she is beset by foes that are much more powerful and knowledgeable than she is and who play by a completely different set of rules that she has yet to learn or even understand.  In this way the book adheres to the conventions of urban fantasy.  Still, it’s different enough that it isn’t a mere derivative of a more popular, better constructed series.  There was enough to like in this book for me want to read the next book in the series, Black Night.  My final verdict is that if you are looking for a new author to sample or a new series to try, add Black Wings to your to-read list.  I would also say that if you are a fan of Supernatural, this book may appeal to you as well.  It has that same feel to me and I think it has the potential to build an intricate world and mythology in the same way that the show has and payoff your investment in the characters and the larger story that Henry is telling.  Again, this is the first book in the series and I’ll have to wait and see what happens in the second book, but for now, I am looking forward to Maddy’s next adventure.