Tag Archives: romantic suspense

Anne Stuart – “Fire And Ice”

10 Jul

TALK ABOUT LOST IN TRANSLATION…

In the wake of a failed love affair, brainy beauty Jilly Lovitz takes off for Tokyo. She’s expecting to cry on her sister Summer’s shoulder, then spend a couple months blowing off steam in Japan. Instead, she’s snatched away on the back of a motorcycle, narrowly avoiding a grisly execution attempt meant for her sister and brother-in-law.

Her rescuer is Reno, the Committee’s most unpredictable agent. They’d met once before and the attraction was odd– tattooed Yakuza punk meets leggy California egghead–but electric. Now Reno and Jilly are pawns in a deadly tangle of assassination attempts, kidnappings and prisoner swaps that could put their steamy partnership on ice.

Fire and Ice is the fifth book in the “Ice” series and it’s the story of Jilly and Reno. They met for the first time about two years (I think) before the start of Ice and Fire in Ice Blue, the story of Jilly’s sister Summer and Reno’s cousin Takashi. It was just a short meeting, more a glimpse, but they were both equally fascinated by each other, as unlikely as that seemed based on their outward appearance and their differences in background. Then Reno also was present in Ice Storm, the story before this one, and Fire and Ice starts where Ice Storm ends: with someone after the agents of the Committee. And that’s why Takashi and Summer are not where Jilly expects them to be when she drops by for an unscheduled visit* and why it’s up to Reno to see that nothing happens to Jilly.

I thought Fire and Ice could be interesting with the pairing of the carefree, no rules apply Reno and the brainy, unsure of her appeal Jilly. And it worked for some time for me. But not enough to make me not realize that Fire and Ice is basically a damsel-in-distress story. That’s what keeps the story together because otherwise, the plot is all over the place. First Jilly and Reno run from someone who works against the Committee, then there’s trouble within the organization of Reno’s grandpa, and then there is last part that happens in the US and that feels like it’s an afterthought to make the story longer based on a rather flimsy connection to what happened before. Hmm.

Sidenote: Jilly is supposed to be incredible brainy but other than telling that it is so, there was no evidence of it. This is no dig at the damsel-in-distress slant of the story: Jilly’s clearly out of her depth in nearly all situations and besides the kind of smarts needed there is a different kind of smarts than she’s supposed to have I think, so I didn’t mind that most of the time. I just would have preferred more than the mere mentioning of degrees or field of studies to show that Jilly is indeed an egghead (especially because there are times she could have acted a bit smarter; see below).

As for the romance, amidst all that running, Jilly and Reno are afraid to admit they are attracted to each other. Jilly thinks she’s unattractive – tall for a woman and a kind of recluse thanks to her being so smart she always was years ahead in school compared to kids her age. Reno is a firm believer in “sex, not love” and fears Jilly is different and not just because of the dire warning from his cousin, the husband of Jilly’s sister, to stay the hell away from Jilly. And even if Reno respects nothing, he at least respects family. Which means his cold behavior feeds Jilly’s insecurities about herself even more. Much angst ensues.

But yes, amidst all that running, Jilly and Reno fall in love. At least the novel’s end says so. I have to admit, I don’t know why. As I said, I enjoyed their “romance” (and the angst) in the beginning but no matter how much they worried about the futility of their attraction, it didn’t show me when or why their fascination with their differences turned into love so uhm…at the end of the novel, Jilly and Reno’s romance still only was a strong fascination with each other’s differences in my eyes.

And yet oddly enough, I liked this novel better than Ice Storm despite Ice Storm having the more convincing romance and the tighter plot and Fire and Ice having a heroine who throws the gun at the villain instead of firing it.

On its plus side for me: the angst-ing in the beginning, the Japanese background and setting, and – I suspect – the fact that Reno is based on a character from Final Fantasy: Advent Children, a movie which in turn is based on Final Fantasy VII a video game for the PlayStation (see more here – link to “The Final Fantasy Wiki”). If I should name one thing that shaped my love for games it would have to be Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy VIII to be precise (more on that in a later post perhaps). So that’s why I suspect that I’m a bit forgiving for Fire and Ice‘s shaky plot and romance: Fire and Ice gets a (major) point for “coolness” from me.

* Funny: In Ice Storm the reason why Reno shows up in London is that Jilly is coming to Japan to visit her sister for some time. The story in Ice Storm covers only a few days and Reno leaves at the end of it to look after Jilly in Japan, but in Fire and Ice Jilly’s visit to her sister is unplanned?

~ * * * ~

I think I’m done with novels by Anne Stuart. The only problem is, I loved Black Ice, the first novel in this series, and now I’m afraid to read it again and find it lacking.

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Anne Stuart – “Ice Storm”

22 Jun

BEHIND HER MASK IS A DEADLY SECRET…

The powerful head of the covert mercenary organization The Committee, Isobel Lambert is a sleek, sophisticated professional who comes into contact with some of the most dangerous people in the world. But beneath Isobel’s cool exterior a ghost exists, haunting her with memories of another life…a life that ended long ago.

But Isobel’s past and present are about to collide when Serafin, mercenary, assassin and the most dangerous man in the world, makes a deal with The Committee. Seventeen years ago Isobel shot him and left him for dead. Now it looks as if he’s tracked her down for revenge. But Isobel knows all too well that looks can be deceiving…and that’s what she’s counting on to keep her cover in this international masquerade of murder.

Isobel’s been the head of the Committee, a “covert mercenary organization,” for some time now and the added responsibility is slowly but surely getting to her. Hints of it have been in the novels before this one, but now it’s clear how close to breaking down she really is. And now the Committee is given the order to save the life of Josef Serafin, also known as “The Butcher.” Serafin’s worked “[j]ust about everywhere in the world where bad things happen” (14) and he’s willing to trade the information he gained by working for the major players on the baddie side for safety and a new life now.

Isobel would much rather kill Serafin than save his life but there is nothing she can do than follow the order. As she is a bit short-handed on available agents (see the novels in this series before this one), she has to go on the mission to safe Serafin herself. Of course, there are complications. The first, but not the only one, is that Serafin is actually someone Isobel knew in her past, turning the mission into a confrontation with her past when she isn’t so sure about her present, let alone her future.

The beginning chapters alternate between the present time and the past. Seventeen years ago Isobel, called Mary then, met someone named Killian while backpacking through Europe and fell in love with him. They spend some time traveling through France together, first as friends and then as lovers, until the day Isobel finds out she’s just been used by Killian as a convenient cover for his assassination job. That was the day she shot him and the day her life changed from plans to visit a school in Paris to something else entirely.

The thing I liked best about this novel is Isobel’s and Killian’s story. I love second-chance-at-love stories and with all Isobel and Killian’s been through in the time they spent apart, I was happy to see them finally together. Sadly, other things didn’t convince me equally. Leaving aside the Committee itself, I didn’t buy Killian’s background. He’s supposed to be the most dangerous man in the world, hired and sought after by all the bad guys in the world, while at the same time it seems he screws up most of his assignments. Huh?

Isobel is head of the Committee and to be in that place I expect her to be a strong woman. A woman who actually uses a gun and doesn’t throw it at the attacker, for example. Isobel is that woman. The problem is, she’s thrown into a plot with a premise that takes all initiative away from her. At best she’s able to react, but never act. At worst, she’s just able to follow the lead of Killian/Serafin. I thought that disappointing.

But it is made worse by having her behave like someone who’s new to all this agent stuff. She’s not crying or breaking into hysterics, no, but, for example, she can’t think of a reason why someone would want to drug her or incapacitate her, an agent of the Committee who’s out to get the bad guys. Huh? doesn’t cover this for me, I’m afraid. On top of that, sometimes she’s behaving like she’s a teenage girl with Killian, not a grown woman trained to keep her head in all situations. I couldn’t buy this as a sign of her emotional upheaval and breaking apart, no matter how I tried. In her position and with her experience, I would have expected her to have a better grip on herself, no matter what. As it is, it just enforced the question how she got to be head of the Committee in the first place.

Oh, and this: “…at least three hundred of Busanovich’s worst enemies escaped…” just cracked me up. “Three hundred worst enemies,” B. must be quite a badass.

To conclude, I liked the romance, but I was disappointed that the only woman in the Committee was saddled with a plot that practically forced her to the sideline. But then again, even with a different plot, I’m not sure Isobel would have lived up to what I expected, given how she behaved in general. Reminding herself to suppress the shaking of her hand to not show weakness is not a good sign to convince a reader that Isobel is up to being an agent and a strong person. In fact, it is common sense and nearly everyone knows and does this daily, I think.

Pamela Clare – “Extreme Exposure”

24 May


GENRE: Romantic Suspense
PUBLISHED: Berkley, 2005

SERIES: I-Team series, #1

WHY THIS NOVEL: I really liked book #4 in this series, Naked Edge, so I just couldn’t resist reading the other books.

It’s been years since her child’s father dumped her, and since then Kara McMillan has kept men at bay–although every day she aches more for a lover’s touch. But to get that, the hardboiled journalist mus become vulnerable–a feeling she vowed never to have again.

With his dangerous good looks, charm, and power, Senator Reece Sheridan could have just about any woman he sets his piercing eyes on. But he’s intrigues by only one. This Kara, this gutsy investigative reporter, has a sensuality that arouses him to no end. If she’s a firebrand in print, he guesses, she must be just as fiery in bed…

But this is no fling. A sudden political scandal–and attempts on Kara’s life–could very well drive them apart. Or maybe, just maybe, adversity could draw them into a bond even more intense than their steamy sexual embraces…

Kara is a committed journalist and a loving single mother. She feels lonely – or better make that horny after five years without sex. That’s is why she’s in a bar and feeling out of place and sex starved at the same time when the story begins. It’s there she meets senator Reece Sheridan for the first time in person and while not as sex starved as Kara, he soon is as horny as she thanks to her alcohol-loosened tongue because Kara spouts questions like “Do women really taste like tune?” and that gets Reece turned on.

The suspense starts when Kara gets a call from a man who wants Kara to take a closer look at a mining company and how it handles its environmental duties. Kara does and finds she has a “bona fide whistleblower on her hands” (27). Think Erin Brockovich and you get an idea. Meanwhile, Reece suddenly finds himself on the same side of a bill as his political nemesis. It gives him pause but the bill is beneficial for the environment and so he continues supporting it.

Kara investigates some more and slowly unravels the plot surrounding the mining company while Reece tries his best to make some room for himself in Kara’s busy life as a wary woman, single mother and hard-boiled journalist. When she starts to receive threats on her phone, he starts to throw his weight around as a senator to help her and to try to find out what she’s working on (she can’t tell because of her ethics as a journalist). And soon they both realize that Kara’s investigation might very well have ties to Reece work.

I thought the mystery and the investigation decent, at least better than what I usually find in romantic suspense, and I rather liked that there was no serial killer on the loose. I also thought the look on Reece life as a politician interesting, probably mostly because I don’t know of many romance novel heroes who are a politician, and the political backstabbing and manipulating convincing.

I had some trouble believing the amount of time Reece had as a politician. It seemed like he had a nine-to-five job. As, btw, did Kara as a hard-hitting investigative journalist. Both I’m just not sure about. I also couldn’t see how Reece ended up being elected. In my experience, you can’t just decide to run for something and get elected; not in a big town, at least. But that’s my impression of what had happened. Then Kara’s suggestive questions back from chapter one in combination with his admiration for her work seemed to seal the deal on his unwavering devotion to her. And altogether, Reece just seemed too good to be believable – as a politician and a hero.

Along the same line…I can’t believe a normally not all that outgoing woman asking all those questions under the influence of alcohol, especially when later during a dinner with Reece that woman has no problem drinking two glasses of wine and sharing one bottle of wine without descending into speaking without thought. Equally huh?-worthy to me was Kara’s offer to wash Reece shirt because it had a stain when they are alone in her apartment one evening. Not all that bright (IMO of course) when you’re, like Kara insists she is, not 100% sure you want to get involved with that man and want to get involved now. On that not-all-that-bright side also falls her insistence to not let the death threats win (= make her run). All fine and dandy for herself but not really thinking of the safety of her child. And as the dedicated journalist she is described, I had to wonder why she had no qualms spending three days to get hot and heavy with the senator when she had thousands of pages of documents to wade through. Wouldn’t she have felt compelled to go through them to find out what’s going on above all? (Of course, this was a long weekend and right after something else but still…) In short, in my view there were a few things that just didn’t add up and felt jarring although they didn’t really influence my enjoyment of the novel. As I said, I see them more as niggles + they are subjective.

As with the other two novels I’ve read so far by Pamela Clare, I liked the writing in Extreme Exposure (leaving aside a few odd repetitions). This, together with the decent investigation of the mystery, made the novel an enjoyable and solid read, a read I finished very fast even. But nothing more. I felt no strong connection with the characters, their romance didn’t particular touch me and overall, for me this novel was missing sparks. I didn’t see something that made it memorable for more than its solid writing. Translation: I’m not sorry I read the novel but I’m sure I won’t read it again, except maybe as part of the series.

TBR Challenge: “The Unsung Hero” By Suzanne Brockmann

20 May

tbr-challenge-2009

Info: TBR Challenge 2009
Theme for the month: “unrequited love” or “friends to lovers”
In my TBR pile since: November 2002

Brockmann, Suzanne - Unsung Hero
Genre: Romance / Contemporary
Published: Ivy Books, 2000

Series: “Troubleshooter” series, #1

Availability: still available

Monthly theme?: Tom and Kelly grew up as neighbors and friends
Why I bought this novel: I actually can’t remember; probably because it got good reviews


The back blurb:

“After a near-fatal head injury, Navy SEAL lieutenant Tom Paoletti catches a terrifying glimpse of an international terrorist in his New England hometown. When he calls for help, the navy dismisses the danger as injury-induced imaginings. In a desperate, last-ditch effort to prevent disaster, Tom creates his own makeshift counterterrorist team, assembling his most loyal officers, two elderly war veterans, a couple of misfit teenagers, and Dr. Kelly Ashton — the sweet “girl next door” who has grown into a remarkable woman. The town’s infamous bad boy, Tom has always longed for Kelly. Now he has one final chance for happiness, one last chance to win her heart, and one desperate chance to save the day….”


The Unsung Hero has at least four plots: three romances – Tom and Kelly, a love triangle in the past, Tom’s niece and a geek – and the terrorist plot. If you want, you could probably count Kelly’s attempt to (re)connect with her dying father as a fifth plot. Of the three romances, the main romance is the one between Tom and Kelly. But it only takes a slight precedence over the other two. The terrorist plot is rather in the background of the story. It’s only near the end that there is the kind of action you probably associate with it. For much of the novel, Tom isn’t really sure if there’s a threat at all or if his mind is playing tricks on him.

Problems:

  • that Tom didn’t realize why the terrorist was in town. I knew it right away and I couldn’t believe it that Tom wouldn’t know it – or at least have a hunch – as well with his training and background. This screamed plot reasons.
  • Kelly’s dedication to her patient. As a doctor, especially a highly successful and sought-after doctor, you have many patients and I just couldn’t believe that she had the time to spend repeatedly several hours with just one patient and her parents. This screamed ploy to make her confirm to romance heroine standards (although, yes, it also provided a different facet to the themes of living/dying/illness).

In fact, there is a lot of mirroring and contrasting going on in this story. For me, the strong points of this novel are definitely its style of writing and its exploration of the themes love, friendship, living and dying, and heroism. Each plot has in some way to do with these themes and together, they paint a rather complex picture.

The Unsung Hero is a well written and well plotted novel. Juggling four plots and giving them all rather equal attention is not easy. I’m really impressed how Brockmann handled all the plots and made them all come together at the end. But – and that’s the “weakness” of this novel for me – because of the many plots, I was less invested than I could have been in this novel and its characters.

My favorite romance was the one between Tom’s niece Mallory and the geek David. I loved Mallory’s voice:

What a surprise. It was the geek of last night past, come here to her place of employment to haunt her by rattling his pocket protector. (83)

Mallory’s and David’s romance is a very sweet story of falling in love for the first time.

Of course, the reader gets to see Tom’s and Kelly’s beginnings, too. Their history is told in flashbacks. These flashbacks play with the “bad boy/good girl/friends attraction.” I thought the way they were incorporated into the novel was well done, but while there are many flashbacks, they are more like short memories sparked by something that happens in the present and just a few sentences or paragraphs long rather than longer passages of text.

Each of the romances has some heart-wrenching moments and all have the potential for a really great romance. But put together like in this novel – while skillfully done – I was awfully tempted to skim ahead to continue reading my favorite plot line, diminishing my enjoyment of the whole novel. So while I appreciate the number of plots, this time, less would have been more for me.

Verdict: The Unsung Hero is one of the novels I think of as a very good novel. But it’s also one of the novels I’m rather sure I won’t read again because of my impression that each romance could have been better on its own. If not for this challenge, I don’t think I would have finished it so fast because despite all its strong points, it was easy for me to stop reading it. Actually, I’m not sure I’ll continue with reading this series because – as far as I know – all novels in this series have multiple story lines. 4,5/5