I read anything and everything
I started reading this in Norwegian shortly after it came out four years ago, but then my Norwegian neighbour wanted it back to lend to someone else, as I was taking too long. So when I saw it had been translated to English, I immediately put it on my 'to-read' list, and I'm glad I did. The American English translation is excellent.
The book isn't written chronologically, but jumps back and forth in time from different POV's. It takes some getting used to, but, once done, it's an absorbing read.
It's very 'Scandi noire': short sentences, spare descriptions that let the reader fill in the blanks, yet always enough to keep building the pressure in some areas, yet letting it out in others.
For me, the underlying theme is, what is evil? Is it banal, as Hannah Arendt wrote? Do good people do evil things, and evil people good things? When do we cross the line from good to evil? Are we all a mix of both? There are no answers here, just many questions, if the reader is one who muses over those sorts of things.
But that's the subtext. The plot itself is a good, solid thriller. Here's the American publisher's blurb:
Police Inspector Odd Singsaker has been captured, imprisoned on an island off the Northern coast of Norway. He wakes to find himself holding a shotgun. Next to him is a corpse. But what events led him to this point? And how did he get here?
A few weeks earlier, Felicia, his wife, disappeared. Though he didn’t know it, she was trying to find her way back to Odd to reconcile, but then she vanished into a snowstorm. Possibly involved is a corrupt, coldblooded cop from Oslo, a devious college student who’s stolen a great deal of cocaine from drug dealers, and a hit man hired by the drug dealers who have been robbed. All of these lives intersect with Odd’s as he searches for Felicia.
The Fifth Element is ultimately the story of what happened to Felicia Stone. Within that journey, brutal crimes are uncovered, tenacious love shines through, and chilling characters with nothing to lose will stop at nothing to get what they want. Jorgen Brekke once again delivers a chilling thriller that readers will tear through to unravel what happened-and why.
I can understand why the existential undertones of the book are played dow--they wouldn't exactly sell it to an American market, but I've been living in Denmark for so long I've come to expect them. The first books I ever read in Danish were Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö's, which, I later read, are the pillars of crime fiction from the 70's on.
A very enjoyable suspense read. All the threads to the plot are out there, and they're brought together nicely, with a terrific action-filled ending. I especially liked the easy-flowing and natural dialogue. Very often in romances involving law enforcement, there's lots of jargon thrown in, but there's little of that here.
Here's the blurb:
Bound to protect and serve, sheriff Billy Reed has tried to let his career be enough. But he could never forget Mara Copeland, the woman who left without a goodbye and hurt him without warning. Now she's back with criminals on her trail and a child in her arms. His child.
Mara didn't trust the future she and Billy could've had. He's a lawman and she was born into a world of ruthless criminals. Still, he's the man she can turn to. He'll do anything to protect their daughter, but will love be reason enough to forgive Mara and bring their family back together?
I liked both the protagonists. Billy isn't the fastest thinking hero--he likes to think things through, which is a nice change from other heroes who seem to be able to make instantaneous right choices under all conditions. I especially liked Mara. She's learned the right things from her criminal father, like staying cool under pressure, and rejected the wrong things. Unless her child is threatened, she's the one who stays on an even keel, whereas Billy has to keep a constant check on his emotions. But he has great empathy, which is endearing. And his best friend is a woman, which is a nice change. A lot of the Intrigues are a male bonding fest, but it's Suzanne, his ex-police partner, who has his back when it gets difficult.The rekindling of the romance develops naturally, with the inevitable hiccups nicely resolved.
A thoroughly enjoyable suspense read with a nice hook. Here's the blurb:
For top security expert Parker Lawton, the anonymous threat is explosive. Return the gold stolen during his intelligence unit's last Iraq mission—or they'll each be hunted down. And when one of his men is killed just before meeting investigative reporter Rebecca Wallace, he must take her under his "protection." But her persistence in getting the real story is even more dangerous—and irresistible.
For a dashing war hero, Parker is the most guilty-acting innocent man Becca has ever seen. Still, working with him is the only way to stay ahead of a ruthless enemy. And as her instincts and Parker's skills hone in on the truth, trusting the desire simmering between them could be their only chance—or the last move they'll ever make.
I though V for Vendetta when I read the beginning of the book, and there are a few similarities. Except Parker realises he's made a mistake shortly after making it, and that's where the similarity ends. I liked the way it's really Becca who's the emotional rock. Parker Lawton is no traditional Alpha: he lets emotions get in the way of common sense, and he makes a few bad decisions because of it. Which only makes him more human and sympathetic, despite basically kidnapping Becca. It's explained in the book, and the explanation rings true in the novel's world.
I've mentioned before that I find it irritating when the reader is constantly reminded by characters how "strong" the female protagonist is. That should be evident by her words and actions. It happens once in this book, and it's Parker thinking it while he was alone. And, given his own gung-ho military background, it's perfectly reasonable he'd be surprised given Becca's background.
The plot is very suspenseful but it's a bit more in the background, which is necessary given that circumstances dictate a slower development of the romantic interest.
<Sort of digression> very many romances use the trope of the first attempt at bonking being interrupted to build up the tension before they finally 'do it'. I remember wondering, the first time I read a modern romance at the beginning of this century, what the purpose was. Then I remembered the circus and the trapeze artists. The pièce de resistance was always 'the most difficult manoeuvre ever attempted'. And they always failed the first two times, and made it on the third. If they made it on the first try, what was so difficult about it? The equivalent in pro wrestling are false finishes, where the 'babyface' (hero) almost pins the 'heel' villain at the end, getting to a two and three-quarter count twice or thrice before finally finishing him off by getting the three count. It builds up tension the same way. Easy is boring. <end digression>
From an emotional standpoint, the best Intrigue I've read so far this year. While the plot is well done,
Here's the blurb:
For bomb squad K-9 officer Donovan Colton, nothing about a failed car bombing in his Texas hometown makes sense. Why would anyone target quiet, secretive accountant Bellamy Reeves, and why does his canine partner instantly trust her? Donovan is searching for his own mysterious past, but he can't resist solving the riddle that is beautiful Bellamy.
After experiencing a tragic loss, Bellamy knows how hard it can be to trust. Threatened by her former employer, she is reluctant to open up to dangerously sexy Donovan—or his adorable dog! But the harder Donovan works to keep her safe, the more Bellamy longs to let what's between them turn into something more—even as their lives are poised to be blown apart…
Donovan and Bellamy actually meet 4-5 years earlier when Donovan comes into Bellamy's shop with puppy Alex, who's ill because he's swallowed Lego pieces. They're about to arrange a dinner date when Donovan receives a call to a car accident, which turns out to involve Bellamy's parents. They don't see each other again until years after.
The emotional conflicts: Bellamy is dealing with the recent deaths of her parents, for whom she was the carer after the accident. Maggie is her younger sister, gorgeous and popular. Maggie and Bellamy used to be close until the accident, when they had a falling out. Bellamy thought Megan wasn't pulling her weight.
Donovan is adopted into the powerful Colton family when he's found as a baby in a barn. Despite being in a loving family, he's never accepted the Coltons as family and has never felt he belonged.
The growing attraction between Donovan and Bellamy can't really be resolved before they've resolved their own family problems.
[added later] The underlying theme for the novel is family relationships: Bellamy and Maggie, Donovan and the Coltons, and Sutton and his son.[end]
Harlequin has a Romantic Suspense line where the Romance part is 60-75% and the suspense the rest. Intrigues usually reverse that.
This book was 50-50, and the ratio is perfect. The emotional tangles are described and untangled so well, I was completely absorbed by them.
In romances, we know the hero and heroine will come through it all and be united in the end in a HEA or HFN, So how the journey is handled is usually very important, though less so in Intrigues, as the suspense has the upper hand. I actually went back and re-read some passages like a cat lapping up double cream.
Families, and the people that are their members, are complicated. As Megan tells Donovan,
As often happens, the author sneaks in some personal viewpoints on the down-low.
"And where there was panic and chaos, you had the right mix to put an object in demand.
Wasn’t that the heart of all supply and demand? Make it seem irresistible and you made the product a must-have.
A word on writing formats like Harlequin Inrigues: it is very difficult. It's akin to writing a short story in a tweet. The format means that sometimes ideas that normally would be expressed over 2-3 paragraphs are done in one. And characters often use words in sentences that are more at home in a academic setting. But it's often necessary - why use three words when one will do? The trick is to do it in a way that flows and doesn't crack the suspension of disbelief necessary in any work of fiction.
It's very demanding of the author, and that it's usually pulled off very well shows how talented they really are.
Some of my favourite passages:
“Biology doesn’t dictate your relationships. Look at Maggie and me. We’re sisters and we can’t seem to find common ground. What matters is the relationships you have. The love you have for each other. The family you make.”
“Family’s hard. It’s messy and emotional. That’s why I love animals so much. They take you just the way you are.”
'“Things aren’t always as simple.” She laid a hand on his arm. “Even when they should be.”'
I look forward to every new Intrigue from Janie crouch, and this one is another winner. A fleshed-out recurring villain, a well constructed suspense plot, a terrific cast of characters whom we recognise from the other books in the series, and a romance that is both touching and funny.
Here's the blurb:
What a serious case of mistaken identity. Ashton Fitzgerald is no unassuming handyman but a highly trained sharpshooter intent on protecting Summer Worrall and her baby daughter. The Omega SWAT member has a debt to pay and he isn't about to let Summer out of his sights.
For someone else has set their own sights on the lovely widow. Her unexpected relationship with Ashton has put Summer and her child straight into a madman's line of fire. Suddenly a mission to make amends becomes Ashton's quest to defend this little family with his very life.
The mistaken identity hook is great, and provides an entertaining contrast to the very suspenseful plot.
Janie Crouch, along with Paula Graves (grinding Appalachian poverty), Elle James (the plight of American family farmers) and Elizabeth Heiter (terrible US adoption system) has underlying themes in her books that lend richness and depth to them. In the current series, there's Damien Freihof, a demagogue who uses people as pawns in his own game (and Freihof's next pawns are a family called Trumpold).
One of my favourite books in this series is Man of Action, with the romance between Brandon and Andrea. There's an underlying theme of how stigma hurts. I wrote about it here One of my fave characters from that book, stripper Keira Spencer, may even get her own story soon. I hope so; she's a wise person.
Terrific book! The plot layers peel away very well, and the dialogue is excellent and as realistic as possible given the limitations of the format. And this is important, as this a very dialogue-heavy book.
Here's the blurb:
The murder of security expert Jack King’s girlfriend has haunted him for fifteen years. Returning to Pine Lake, Texas, where the townsfolk still consider him suspect, might not be the smartest move, but a killer seems to be holding up a mirror to his past. The same witness to this new murder was also present the night Jack’s girlfriend dieds…but both times, she was sound asleep…
Sleepwalking has gotten Olive Belmont into some sticky situations. Being the witness to both murders may have put her on the killer’s list. Even so, she doesn’t think the killer is Jack and is willing to help him. But will putting his past to rest ease her mind or leave her with even greater nightmares?
The descriptive passages are spare, yet work well in setting the unsettling mood. Everyone has secrets, and Jack and Olive can only trust each other as everyone else has a skeleton in the closet.
A terrific read. The plot is tight, the suspense is kept right to the end, and the way the relationship develops between Miguel and Jennifer is very well done.
Here's the blurb:
Tortured in captivity, navy SEAL Miguel Estrada owes his survival to his fiancée, the memory of her keeping him strong through his darkest moments. But when his escape is compromised by military protocol and he suspects the woman he loves is being targeted, he turns rogue.
Jennifer Lynch has spent a year mourning Miguel and raising the baby he never met. But her reality is shaken once she finds him at her door and discovers they’re all at risk.
Putting his life on the line for Jennifer and their child, Miguel is forced to face some hard truths—and confront the secrets that might separate them permanently.
Miguel is damaged psychologically and is reluctant to re-enter into a physical relationship with Jennifer after he was tortured and possibly brainwashed. The way Jennifer unlocks Miguel is very well done, and I didn't skim through the bonk scene - I was absorbed by it. For a change, it's Jennifer telling Miguel he's strong, not the other way round, which I very much liked. Jennifer's development as the rock in the relationship is refreshing.
Helm with another winner. This is a follow up to Helm's Stone Cold Undercover Agent (which I never wrote about, just tweeted, for some reason), and it's just as good.
Helms' characters are terrific and the dialogue snappy. There are no constant reminders of how strong the lead woman character is - that comes from the plot. If the character is constantly being told how strong she is, it makes me think she must be really insecure to constantly need morale boosting.
In the previous book, Gabby had been prisoner of The Stallion, a really weird psychopath. Alyssa, the lead female character in this book, had only been The Stallion's prisoner for two years, but Gabby and Alyssa had a mutual respect , and both played the key role, along with Jaime's (the male love interest) help.
Alyssa grew up the only girl with five brothers, all children of a drug cartel leader. She was essentially a prisoner, for her own protection, her brothers claimed. She learned to be independent and self-reliant, but socially awkward, with no experience with men. After escaping her kidnapping, she's taken in by Gabby, and starts an illegal bounty hunting business, helping the disadvantaged get justice.
Bennet, the male protagonist, is a Texas Ranger, His father is a US Senator and his mother is a Texas State Representative. He grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth and was expected to follow in his parents' footsteps, but he couldn't stand the hypocrisy and the pretense, and went into law enforcement. Further, his grandfather beat him regularly. and his parents looked the other way.
Bennet's need to have different faces is mentioned often. He's good at it because of his upbringing, but Alyssa knows one face: tough.
Both Alyssa and Bennet are damaged by their childhoods. And, while the "both heal each other" trope is in play here, the relationship that develops between the two is drawn so well. Neither is the other's fool, and the verbal exchanges between them are often sharp and funny.
The scene where they finally bonk is sweet: Alyssa is getting more and more curious about sex, after an earlier scene where Bennett's father shows up while they're together, and Bennett doesn't want his father asking too many questions. He pulls Alyssa close and covers her mouth with his. "Kiss me back!" "I don't know how!" I couldn't help laughing.
Her curiosity finally wins out, and she makes the move on Bennett. I always like when the woman makes the final move in romances.
The suspense plot is well-paced, and the reveals are logical and come at just the right time. I was never tempted to scroll to the end to find out who done it.
A terrific read and highly recommended.
This whole series - Dark Horse, Dead Ringer and Rough Rider - is terrific and well-constructed. I cared about the characters, and I loved the way the relationships developed over pages - no lusting for each other after ten pages. The love interests are well drawn, the tension is maintained throughout. The bonking is minimal, but the emotion is still there. The men aren't robot he-men and the women characters are whole people and tough, without it constantly being mentioned.
Terrific read. The dialogue between Gina and Josh is as realistic as I've seen, and Gina is brilliantly sarcastic when she shoots down Josh's more inane statements. And once again, no one needs to tell Gina how strong she is. The one time Josh tells her that, it's her physical strength he's referring to.The plot is tight and flows well.
Here's the blurb:
Saving Gina De Santos from attempted kidnappings is one thing. But navy SEAL sniper Josh Elliott's assignment requires getting close to the ravishing widow to ascertain what she knows. And that feels more dangerous than combat. In her presence, Josh has to remind himself she's not to be trusted.
Gina's drug-kingpin father had been negotiating with terrorists when a CIA raid killed him and Gina's husband. Now someone is after the vulnerable single mom and her little boy. While traveling to the Caribbean in search of clues, Josh and Gina find their sizzling desire overpowering. But when they're attacked again, they must overcome their mutual mistrust to survive at the hands of an unknown enemy.
And everything falls into place relationship-wise when Josh reveals that his family background is as dysfunctional as hers.
This was a good read. Not great, but good. I've enjoyed the other books in the Cavenaugh series a bit more. This one seemed a bit rushed, especially the ending, which could have used a few extra pages. At least we find out that Charlie Cavenaugh was murdered, and who did it.
I have no idea why the title is Fearless Gunfighter. Tucker is a bull rider, not a gunfighter, and the only time he uses his gun is right at the end. It seems a bit OTT. I never got the feeling I knew Sydney. As I wrote, the book should have had a few extra pages. But I enjoyed the plot.
Here's the blurb:
Rodeo rider Tucker Lawrence lives for risk—even after seeing his best friend die in a rodeo accident. But there's no chance in hell he's going to let FBI agent Sydney Maxwell tackle treacherous Texas Hill Country alone to find her missing sister. Even if the pretty profiler is putting his guarded heart in danger… With her sister in the hands of a serial killer, Sydney will break all the rules she has to. Tucker is as reckless as he is charming, but his trail savvy and courage are invaluable as they run her quarry to ground. Still, Sydney can't afford to gamble that the irresistible passion flaring between them is anything but an adrenaline rush. Or that they'll survive long enough for real love…
Super read, tension from beginning to end. The plot is very intricate but well done. I like the way the male protagonist is forced to re-think some of the male over-protectiveness the culture has convinced him he should have, and the way he's forced to trust her completely when she flies a small single prop Piper Cub and lands it on a patch of nothing. Here's the blurb:
Amnesia made her forget him. His love will bring her back.
Their mission is compromised. Their cover is blown. And FBI Special Agent Spence Malone has found his partner—and love of his life—disoriented and suffering from drug-induced amnesia. NSA cybercrimes expert Angelica Thorne has forgotten her name, her mission and, worst of all, Spence and their nights of passion. And now they're in a race against an unseen enemy bent on nuclear destruction. Spence vows to protect her and help her remember…everything. All Angelica knows for sure is that when Spence holds her in his arms, she feels so right. Why, then, does everything else seem so wrong?
As usual, the emphasis in the blurb his woman getting strength from man, when the actual book is more them getting strength from each other. And it's more he learning about her than the reverse, that trust is a two-way street, and the caveman routine only gets you so far.
I'll do a 'review' of the whole series when the third book comes out next month. I reviewed the first book here but there's such a good synergy that the series should be seen as a whole.
A terrific ending to this series. It's worthwhile reading the other two books in the series (which I didn't review, as I wanted to read the final book first - but both are great) The Lawmen: Bullets and Brawn: Bodyguard with a Badge and Police Protector. On her site, she goes into the background for writing the books and gives plot summaries.
Besides being a tightly written thriller with a HFN ending, it's also a biting indictment of the US foster care system where kids can get booted out of their foster homes as soon as they turn eighteen. They're left to fend for themselves and easily can resort to crime to get by, or become used by criminals as in this book.
Here's the blurb:
Undercover DEA agent Marcos Costa is shocked to see Brenna Hartwell—his very first crush—cozying up to the brutal drug lord he's about to bust! He hasn't seen her since childhood, but he never imagined she'd turn to a life of crime. What the hunky agent doesn't know is that Brenna's working her own bust as a rookie cop undercover.
Brenna didn't think she'd ever see Marcos again, especially not on her first undercover mission! She knows she has to keep her distance…but while she and Marcos play out their daring ruse, their youthful passion reignites. One wrong move could blow their covers. Can two loners used to self-reliance trust their lives—and hearts—to each other?
Brenna was briefly at the same foster home as Marcos and his brothers, and both were attracted to each other as children. A fire at their foster parents house splits them up, but Marcos and Brenna are constantly in each other's thoughts. While Marcos had the house Cole had secured to go when he turned eighteen, Brenna ended up in a variety of foster homes, some of which were abusive, and she learned to take care of herself, but also not to trust others, which gives added tension to the attraction between her and Marcos.
(One detail I particularly liked was that Marcos wasn't constantly telling Brenna how strong she was. I find that annoying, but it's done so often in Intrigues. If the character is strong, she'll show it through deeds--there's no need for the guy to keep saying it every second page.)
The book has plot twists galore that will keep you guessing right to the end.
I liked this one a lot. There was more suspense than romance, but, given the plot and the limits of the format, it was a good choice - no pages of 'does he/she love me/will it work?' etc. Good plotting and the suspense is maintained almost until the very end. I like the way the secondary characters were given room, likely to give them each stories. A very good read.
Here's the blurb:
A rule-following ranger finds himself on the hunt for a killer—and falling for a woman who should be off-limits…
On the hunt for a serial killer, ranger Ryan Spencer can't afford any distraction. But Jana Lassiter, sister to one of the missing women, won't let Ryan investigate Mystic Mesa alone. Even though the seasoned officer has always been by the book, something tells him it wouldn't be so bad to break a few rules for Jana.
When Jana's life is suddenly jeopardized, the lawman is forced to face his darkest fears. He's allowed desire to overshadow duty. Now he has to rein in his emotions to save Jana from becoming the next victim. Because losing this woman he's inexplicably fallen for will destroy this warrior forever.
The blurb is a bit over-the-top. :)
I'm enjoying Cornered in Conard County. There's info on what it's like being a long-term prisoner being released in the US: no ID, really difficult getting a social security number, which means very difficult getting a job, little money. Of course, the person in question is a psychopath for the story, but I really like these sorts of Intrigues that have some depth.