I read anything and everything

Stone Cold Christmas Ranger by Nicole Helm @NicoleTHelm

Stone Cold Christmas Ranger (Harlequin Intrigue) - Nicole Helm

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. 

Whitehorse, Montana: The McGraw Kidnapping Trilogy by B.J. Daniels

Rough Rider (Whitehorse, Montana: The McGraw Kidnapping) - B.J. Daniels

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. 

Bullseye : SEAL by Carol Erikson

Bullseye: SEAL (Red, White and Built) - Carol Ericson

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.


Highly recommended.


Fearless Gunfighter by Joanna Wayne

Fearless Gunfighter (The Kavanaughs) - Joanna Wayne

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.


And I particularly enjoyed the ending: they'll get married, both keep their jobs and try and make it work.

(show spoiler)


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…

Frozen Memories by Cassie Miles

Frozen Memories (Harlequin Intrigue) - Cassie Miles

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.



Dead Ringer by B.J. Daniels

Dead Ringer (Whitehorse, Montana: The McGraw Kidnapping) - B.J. Daniels

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.

Secret Agent Surrender by Elizabeth Heiter

Secret Agent Surrender (The Lawmen: Bullets and Brawn) - Elizabeth Heiter

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.

Manhunt on Mystic Mesa by Cindi Myers

Manhunt on Mystic Mesa (The Ranger Brigade: Family Secrets) - Cindi Myers

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. 

Dark Horse by B:J: Daniels

Dark Horse (Whitehorse, Montana: The McGraw Kidnapping) - B.J. Daniels

If I could give it 4 3/4 stars, I would. Daniels is always a must-read for me, and this book didn't disappoint. Nikki St. James is a true-crime writer who comes to a small town to solve the mystery of a kidnapping that happened 25 years before. What few know is that her father was suspected of being responsible.


The plot has a few nice twists and an ending I couldn't guess this time. Of course there's a love interest called Cull McGraw, brother to the kidnapped twins. But it's very slow developing, and no bonking!


The characters are well developed and believable, and I found my self rooting for the heroes, and booing the villains. So well done. And the McGraw family is pretty dysfunctional, which is a change from the usual lovey dovey families that often are a part of Intrigues.


The youngest brother, Ledger, is in love with a waitress who married the wrong guy and is in an abusive relationship. He's the subject of the next book, Dear River, which was delivered to me last week. Looking forward to reading it. Daniels, Paula Graves and Janie Crouch are my absolute fave Intrigue writers.


Here's the blurb:


Burdened by family secrets, this cowboy rides alone

For twenty‐five years, the case of the McGraw twins kidnapping has remained unsolved. As the eldest son, Cull oversees the McGraw horse ranch, wary of prying eyes. So when true‐crime writer Nikki St. James comes forward with new information, Cull can’t believe his father invites her onto the compound.

His family has suffered enough—he’s not about to let St. James snoop and ruin them completely. But Nikki finds the eldest McGraw’s protectiveness as endearing as it is aggravating. After all, this case is personal to her, too… And her secrets can set the truth free—if they don’t destroy the McGraws first. 


I read it in two sittings, it was that good.

Cold-hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas

Cold-Hearted Rake - Lisa Kleypas

This is my first Lisa Kleypas, and it won't be my last. Very Heyerish with a bad-tempered rake who needs taming, and a heroine who refuses to be tamed. And a sub-plot that's the same. Quite enjoyable, with lots of historical detail. I like that it takes place when railroads were being introduced to England, and the old aristocracy were being forced to cope with a modern world that was undermining their old way of life. Quite a bit of bonking, but I skimmed rather than skipped, because it dealt with the heroine drawing boundaries, and the rake respecting them. Here's the blurb: 


A twist of fate . . .

Devon Ravenel, London's most wickedly charming rake, has just inherited an earldom. But his powerful new rank in society comes with unwanted responsibilities . . . and more than a few surprises. His estate is saddled with debt, and the late earl's three innocent sisters are still occupying the house . . . along with Kathleen, Lady Trenear, a beautiful young widow whose sharp wit and determination are a match for Devon's own.

A clash of wills . . .

Kathleen knows better than to trust a ruthless scoundrel like Devon. But the fiery attraction between them is impossible to deny—and from the first moment Devon holds her in his arms, he vows to do whatever it takes to possess her. As Kathleen finds herself yielding to his skillfully erotic seduction, only one question remains:

Can she keep from surrendering her heart to the most dangerous man she's ever known?



Fallout by Sara Paretsky

Fallout - Sara Paretsky

Fallout ranks with the best of the VI Warshawski crime novels. From a simple break-in at a Chicago home, VI follows the leads to small town Kansas. From there, as usual with VI, things start to get complicated. And, as usual with VI, politics are the undercurrent The plotting is intricate but clear and the prose tight. At no time was I tempted to skim.


Here's the blurb:


A small Midwestern town is way outside VI Warshawski’s comfort zone, but in Fallout, the detective spends a month in Lawrence, Kansas, where author Sara Paretsky grew up.

At loose ends – her lover is in Switzerland while her beloved cranky neighbor, Mr. Contreras is on a Caribbean island with his niece –VI responds to a plea from a couple of college athletes: their trainer has disappeared. August Veriden is African-American and the two young women are sure he’s being framed for a drug robbery. VI starts searching, and learns that August has left Chicago, apparently accompanying an aging film star who wants young August to film her origins story.

VI tracks Veriden and the actress to Lawrence easily enough, but then she loses all trace of them. As she hunts in the town and the surrounding farms, VI starts finding dead or dying women; the local cops are suspicious of her role in their deaths.

Long-simmering conflicts in the town over an old protest at a nearby nuclear missile silo start coming to the surface, but locals won’t tell an outsider their secrets. Meanwhile, a distinguished scientist, a decorated Army colonel, and the head of a big-Ag company all seem bent on blocking the detective’s path. Who or what is the trio hiding? Are they covering up an ancient murder? Germ warfare? Missing nukes? Before long, it begins to look as though the next dead woman will be the detective herself.


 Highly recommended.

What the Librarian Did by Karina Bliss

What the Librarian Did - Karina Bliss

This is the best pure romance that I've read in a long, long time. Wonderful characters, a believable plot, and the ups-and-downs of relationships portrayed for once without the irritating Dr. Phil-style psychologising that infects so many modern American romances. The author is from New Zealand, and that's where the book's events take place, which is so refreshing. Too often non-American authors place the plots in the US, and it gets a bit monotonous. It's nice to read about places that aren't Montana or Wyoming or New York or Seattle. 


Here's the blurb:


Is Rachel Robinson the only one on campus who doesn't know who Devin Freedman is? No big deal except that the bad-boy rock star gets a kick out of Rachel's refusal to worship at his feet. And that seems to have provoked his undivided attention. Devin, the guy who gave new meaning to the phrase "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll." Devin, the guy who somehow becomes wedged between her and the past she's kept hidden for years.

It's up to this librarian to find out firsthand just how "bad" he really is. Because her secret—and her growing feelings for a man who claims he's bent on redemption—depend on his turning out to be as good as he seems. Which is really, really good.


What's not mentioned in the blurb is that the book is also about parents who should never be parents, religious fundamentalism, domestic violence where the wife constantly refuses to admit that her husband is an abuser, a mother who was forced to give her child up for adoption, what happens when they find each other, a son who needs to confront the fact that his mother has a lover at 65. And, of course, that love conquers all :)


And there is a very, very funny bedroom scene.


Highly recommended.

Behind in my review

And sorry about that. The site was glacial at one point. I'll try and catch up during the Holiday break. There ware at least a couple of books that deserved more than just giving them a star rating.

Legend by Katy Evans

Legend (The REAL series Book 6) - Katy Evans

This is the last in the Real series, but can be read as a stand-alone. It's a sweet, a bit too sweet, coming-of age romance, basically. But it's really well written. There are a lot of bonking scenes, but they fit and I actually skimmed them instead of just skipping them. Almost everyone in the book has some sort of weakness or something in their past that needs fixing. Here's the blurb:


Maverick “the Avenger” Cage wants to rise to the top and become a legend in the ring. Though he keeps his identity well guarded, he’s known on the fighting circuit as the new kid with a chip on his shoulder and a tattoo on his back that marks him as trouble. He’s got a personal score to settle with the Underground’s one and only Remington “Riptide” Tate.

As Mav trains, he meets a young girl—the only other new person in the town—and sparks fly. When things get heated between them, he finds out she’s none other than Reese Dumas, the cousin of Remington Tate’s wife. A girl who’s supposed to root against him and a girl he’s supposed to stay away from.

But Maverick fights for the woman in his heart, and the monsters in his blood. The world’s eyes are on them and the victor will go down in history as the ultimate fighting champion; the ultimate LEGEND.


It's not my usual fare,but I did enjoy it.

The Bone Labyrinth by James Rollins

The Bone Labyrinth - James Rollins

It's been a while since I've read a "traditional" thriller. It was a fun read, breakneck action in almost every chapter. The only "message" I could find was: watch out for the sneaky Chinese - they're everywhere! That took away half a star.


The female characters were good, showed variety and were not particularly stereotypical which I quite enjoyed. 


Here's the blurb: 


In this groundbreaking masterpiece of ingenuity and intrigue that spans 50,000 years of human history, New York Times bestselling author James Rollins takes us to mankind’s next great leap.

But will it mark a new chapter in our development . . .
or our extinction?

A war is coming, a battle that will stretch from the prehistoric forests of the ancient past to the cutting-edge research labs of today, all to reveal a true mystery buried deep within our DNA, a revelation that will leave readers changed forever . . .

In the remote mountains of Croatia, an archaeologist makes a strange discovery: a subterranean Catholic chapel, hidden for centuries, holds the bones of a Neanderthal woman. In the same cavern system, elaborate primitive paintings tell the story of an immense battle between tribes of Neanderthals and monstrous shadowy figures. Who is this mysterious enemy depicted in these ancient drawings and what do the paintings mean?

Before any answers could be made, the investigative team is attacked, while at the same time, a bloody assault is made upon a primate research center outside of Atlanta. How are these events connected? Who is behind these attacks? The search for the truth will take Commander Gray Pierce of Sigma Force 50,000 years into the past. As he and Sigma trace the evolution of human intelligence to its true source, they will be plunged into a cataclysmic battle for the future of humanity that stretches across the globe . . . and beyond.

With the fate of our future at stake, Sigma embarks on its most harrowing odyssey ever—a breathtaking quest that will take them from ancient tunnels in Ecuador that span the breadth of South America to a millennia-old necropolis holding the bones of our ancestors. Along the way, revelations involving the lost continent of Atlantis will reveal true mysteries tied to mankind’s first steps on the moon. In the end, Gray Pierce and his team will face to their greatest threat: an ancient evil, resurrected by modern genetic science, strong enough to bring about the end of man’s dominance on this planet.

Only this time, Sigma will falter—and the world we know will change forever.



Wow! The world still seems the same. :)