Hide and Seek Gone Wrong – A review of “Hideaway” by Nora Roberts

A Mad Dash Through the Woods to Safety

Nora Roberts has scored again with the latest release of “Hideaway”, a multigenerational and richly layered family saga featuring Caitlyn Sullivan, already at age ten an accomplished actor in her own right with a presence and wit that is astounding of one so young. Cate, as she is called by the family, is the victim of a botched kidnapping. Botched because she’s smarter than her would be kidnappers, who snatched her out of the tree where she was going to hide in the game of hide and seek she and her cousins were playing at the life celebration of her late great grandfather. She manages to escape by tying bed sheets together to lower herself from a two story window to drop the rest of the way and take off running through the woods before her captors returned. Cate runs blindly through the night until she stumbles onto a farm house with a light in the window shining like a beacon, guiding her to safety. Finding the front door unlocked, she slips into the kitchen, grabs an apple off the counter and tries to hide when twelve year old Dillon Cooper decides to raid the refrigerator for some leftover fried chicken. His family is astonished by the account of her ordeal.

And thus begins a tale of family betrayal by the person that society says should always, always put us first and protect us from outside harm. But through it all, her father, grandparents and other family members were there, watching out for her and doing their best to make her feel safe again. First in Ireland, back to L.A., then living in the relative anonymity of New York City and finally back home to Big Sur. A real homecoming where Cate has found her voice, or voices that her calling requires. She’s happy to have reconnected with Dillon and his family and she’s content with her life. Until the evil that had shaped and shaded so much of her existence raised its ugly head and again threatened her peace and tranquility.

As a long time Nora Roberts fan I’m delighted to see her dialogue come back to a smoother, less sharp and cutting style than her last few novels exhibited. The plot is complex and intriguing but the pacing is a bit plodding for the first half of the story. I’ve dubbed Roberts the Queen of Romance but “Hideaway” doesn’t really hit the romantic mark. It’s honestly more of a romantic thriller with the romance decidedly low key, almost an afterthought. That said, the story is rich with characters and backstories that buttress and strengthen the familial bonds that guide Cate and the Sullivan clan through the generations. Four stars.

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Hang Onto Your Hat for this Action-Packed Thriller – A review of “Safecracker” by Ryan Wick

What a ride!

As opening hooks go, “I had my throat slit in the back corner of Alistair’s Pub.” forces you to sit up and take notice. You just know this is going to be a fast-paced, wild and riveting ride. Ryan Wick’s debut novel “Safecracker” features an unlikely hero – Michael Maven is a professional thief who has mastered his craft of lock-picking. No ordinary thief is Michael. He has principles that guide his behavior, actions and reactions. Arguably an antihero? Don’t be too sure of that.

Hired to steal a rare coin, Michael’s meticulous planning flies out the window when his mark unexpectedly comes home with a woman in tow, interrupting his heist. He’s hiding in a closet as he watches in horror as the woman calmly kills her “date” and then proceeds to cut off his finger to open the sophisticated safe where the coin is stashed. Gory enough for you? Well, hang onto your hat ‘cause you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

The opening gambit gets Michael involved in a complex plot involving some really bad actors from the infamous Sinaloa cartel and others who are even more depraved and twisted. They’re guilty of unspeakable cruelties and acts of violent imagery that jump off the pages and grab you by the throat. But like coming upon the scene of an accident, you can’t not look. You watch in horror as your conscious mind tries to digest the visuals. Such is the power of Wick’s prose.

This is writing that is crisp and clean. No fluffy fillers here. Every word is necessary for keeping this complex plot moving along like a high speed bullet train. Maven’s specialized talent may be picking locks but he also has advanced martial arts expertise and some other tricks up his sleeve that prove his prowess under the most adverse conditions. Does he always come out on top? No, but so far he’s managed to stay mostly in one piece, unless you count having his throat cut. Five shiny gold stars!

My thanks to Net Galley and St. Martin’s Press for the opportunity to preview this book. I voluntarily read and reviewed an advance copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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“Dangerous Lies” Could Threaten Your Life

Bad-Ass to the Bone

As a romantic thriller/suspense fan, I’m mystified that I’ve just discovered Claudia Shelton’s Mitch Granger. This is my kind of guy; all kick-ass, take no prisoners and tough as an old boot. Mitch is a former Navy SEAL, now an operative and team leader for the Opaque Security Team. In “Dangerous Lies” he’s tasked with keeping journalist Elizabeth “Liz” Walkert alive and safe from the rogue Coercion Ten organization which has ostensibly taken her father hostage and intends to use her as leverage to further their illegal activities. Liz is not just unreceptive to being protected and having her actions controlled by Mitch, she’s downright belligerent at times. and comes off as petulant and mercurial, some of which is understandable given her feelings that her life is spinning out of control. Mitch understands her ambivalence but won’t tolerate her pushback, thus forcing her to accept his authority. This ratchets up the tension between them which is further complicated by their mutual attraction to each other.

As the storyline unfolds, a tad too slowly sometimes, there’s plenty of action and adventure, lots of twists and turns that led me down a blind alley or two and kept me guessing as to who the bad guys really were. Through it all, Mitch’s attitude of “failure is not an option” is always evident and guides his strategic thinking and subsequent actions. Not quite a super-hero, but close enough to my way of thinking.

So, having established that I admire Mitch’s character, Liz sometimes rubbed me the wrong way. For a so-called journalist, her naïveté was astounding. True, she carried lots of emotional baggage from her childhood but don’t most of us? However, she has redeeming qualities that become more evident as the plot unfolds. This is Book Two of the Shades of Leverage series but each can be read as a stand-alone without getting lost. Will I go back and read Book One? Yeah, probably. Four stars.

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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“A Highlander is Coming to Town” by Laura Trentham – Book three in the Highland Georgia series

Don’t Let the Christmas Theme Cover Fool You

A handsome guy in a kilt is a sight to stir a woman’s blood and Holt Pierson is no slouch in the legs department. Or tush either, truth be told. At least that’s Claire’s assessment. In “A Highlander is Coming to Town” Claire has been laying low in Highland Georgia after leaving a touring group in which she was singing. Finding herself stranded in Highland with no place to stay and no visible means of support, she takes a temporary job as caregiver to old Ms. Meadows who is mostly bedridden and a bit of a curmudgeon. Claire rides an old bicycle to run errands for herself and Ms. Meadows. After getting run off into a ditch by a carload of yahoos, Holt happens along and gives her and her mangled bike a ride home. He’s taken with her immediately but Claire is reticent and loathe to give up personal information and background. Yes, she’s hiding out. But from whom or what? Holt is determined to follow through on his desire for Claire as well as to gain her trust so she will be honest and open with him.. But what is the big secret she’s hiding?

Author Laura Trentham captures the essence of small town living where everyone knows not only their neighbors but everyone else in town too. The closeness, the nosiness that is a natural facet of that closeness, the community spirit and willingness to help a neighbor or friend in need are all a part of the fabric of small town living. Her characters are well rounded and authentic, flaws and all. Holt is the quintessential All-American good guy while Claire carries an aura of mystery with her. She purposefully dresses down so as to not call attention to herself, which to my mind, has the opposite effect. I especially liked the stages of Claire’s development as the story moved along although I felt that her reluctance to trust men in general was never fully explained or developed. And, while the ending is an HEA, it wasn’t the outcome I was expecting. And maybe that’s a good thing since it probably would’ve been too much of a cliche. Four stars.

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own..

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A Royal Duality – A review of “Enticing Liam” by Kristen Proby

Liam Doesn’t Need Much Enticement

Princess Eleanor and her hottie bodyguard Liam Cunningham have a thing for each other but he’s just the hired help and she’s a bloody princess. She’s weary of being pursued by eligible men whose only interest in her is her lineage and her title so she runs off to Montana for some peace and quiet. Since her personal bodyguard is on hiatus for family reasons, Liam takes on her security assignment himself, which he’s loathe to do because of his love/hate relationship with the princess. He thinks she’s a beautiful but silly, spoiled airhead. Ellie, on the other hand, lusts after Liam and convinces him to take her virginity and teach her about sex. And he reluctantly agrees. Say what? Okay, so no one told me this was a fairytale.

Liam is a former army Ranger who suffers quietly from PTSD and stoically goes about trying to do his job protecting Ellie while simultaneously furthering her sexual education. Ellie loves living in the small town of Cunningham Falls and seemingly takes on an entirely different personae. She can dispense with the snooty, stiff upper lip style of British society and pretend to be like the girl next door in Anytown, USA. And since this is a fairytale, the unlikely couple go about their business while making out like bunnies. But life steps in and Princess Eleanor is called back to England because her father, the King, is gravely ill. Liam, as head of her security of course, accompanies her. But seeing Ellie in her role as Princess is a shock to his system and he seriously doubts their ability to overcome the differences in lifestyles. He feels like the proverbial fish out of water and heads back to Montana. Can the unlikely couple reconcile their differences and find their HEA?

Unlikely plot aside, the two protagonists are well developed characters even though somewhat stereotypical. Liam is tortured by flashback nightmares reliving a firefight and comes across as the brooding tough guy who can’t keep his hands off his charge. Ellie’s character is more nuanced and more likable than Liam.

Summing it up, “Enticing Liam” is a light (200 pages) summer read with an ample serving of gratuitous sex and enough angst for two novels. Book two of Big Sky Royals simply didn’t do it for me but I’ve read and enjoyed several Kristen Proby books so I’ll chalk this one up as a ho-hum three stars and move on.

By the way, did no one tell K. Proby that the term “bloody” in British society is a curse word of the first magnitude and no princess worth her title would use it frequently and in public?

Is the Soulmates Concept Merely a Marketing Myth? A review of “Man Candy” by Melanie Harlow

Beauty isn’t Limited to the Female Gender

Melanie Harlow’s “Man Candy” is an enticing romance, especially since the dual protagonists have reversed roles. “How’s that?”
you ask. Jaimie has had a ten year crush on gorgeous male-model Quinn since she was 13 years old. But when she professed her love for him way back then, he embarrassed her and made her sorry she’d revealed her feelings. That incident lit the flame in Jaimie’s psyche that formed the basis for her theory that the idea of soulmates, true lifetime love, marriage and HEA are not real but are instead concepts judiciously applied in advertising to sell merchandise and services across markets worldwide. Quinn, being several years older and due to his modeling gigs, had traveled extensively and he was feeling it was time to settle down. He temporarily moved into the same duplex apartment building where Jamie lived while his condo was under construction and was nearing completion. Jaimie’s amorous feelings for Quinn were not in vain. He’d always been attracted to her but was biding his time for them both to be in the right place at the right time. And that time had finally arrived.

Jaimie had an extensive set of “rules” on what was acceptable (to her) for a successful relationship. Many men just let their eyes glaze over after hearing her demands and stipulations. Thus, Jaimie hadn’t had a real “boyfriend” in too long a time. And thank the gods that be, Quinn found Jaimie as attractive as she found him. Not an unheard of basis to begin a budding romance. But could Quinn get Jaimie to freely give of her whole self and be happy, instead of offering only her body for mind-blowing sex?The sex was awesome but Quinn was looking for something more meaningful between them. Could he change her theory to include traditional love? Maybe not but he was willing to try, whereas Jaimie was more interested in the multiple orgasms Quinn gave her. He wasn’t worried about what he was offering. What concerned him was how long it would take before Jaimie began to pull away when she felt the emotions were more intense than she wanted to deal with now and into the foreseeable future.

Author Harlow did a commendable job crafting male/female characters as lovers with reversed roles as they pertain to societal norms surrounding the concepts of love and marriage. Every woman still drawing breath would want a man like Quinn for a boyfriend. Jaime on the other hand, didn’t believe in the concept of true love but she was all in for the physical relationship part. Its an original plot and storyline and it kept me reading way past my bedtime. And isn’t that one of an author’s motivations? If this is an example of what’s to come in the rest of the “After We Fall” Series, all Melanie Harlow fans better buckle up ‘cause the world as we know it is about to make a major shift. Five stars

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A Secret Once Revealed is No Longer a Secret – A review of “A Secret for a Secret” by Helena Hunting

Some Secrets Are Meant to be Kept

Sharing a secret assumes trust in the person to whom the secret is passed. And when the two people doing the sharing are total strangers, unlikely to ever meet again, the mantle of secrecy provides added protection. When NHL hockey player Ryan Kingston, aka King, and Queenie Masterson, who’s trying to “find
herself” meet in a bar, both are on the way to blind drunk oblivion. King is a buttoned up, inveterate rule follower whereas Queenie is impetuous and spontaneous, seemingly going whichever way the wind blows. At 24, she’s still trying to find her true path in life. They couldn’t be more opposite. The secrets they shared are a common bond so when King woke up with a killer hangover he was more than disappointed to find only a Post-it note and her panties but no way to contact her.

Several weeks later in a pre-season team meeting King again sees the elusive Queenie only to discover she’s the GM’s daughter. Oops! The fallout from their one-night stand could be problematic. But not for King. He wants to pursue their relationship. Even though their shared passion is off the charts in hotness, Queenie is concerned about her lack of independence and always having to fall back on her dad to bail her out but she’s adamant in her desire to continue what she and King have started. He makes her feel things as never before and she’s never had a more skilled and attentive bed partner. But can they have a future together with all the baggage she’s lugging around?

Helena Hunting’s writing is an enrichment to the romance genre. Her plots are riveting and unique, never formulaic, with complex characters that feel like old friends by the time you finish the story. “A Secret for a Secret” is the third book in the “All In” series and, in my opinion, the best so far and I loved both Books one and two. In this story we get up close and personal with the idea that some people are not fit for parenting and the damage they can inflict on a child’s self-image. Such was the case with Queenie’s mother. Juxtaposed with that is King’s rowdy, unruly and unconventional family. Turns out his mother is actually his sister. Nah! Ah! Ah! Ah! If you want that explained you’ll have to get your own copy of “A Secret for a Secret”. Five stars.

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