Tag Archives: romantic thriller

False Front Illicit intent

Book Review: False Front & Illicit Intent, by Debbie Baldwin

I first came across the Bishop Security Series, by Debbie Baldwin, when I posted a Book Blitz on Sadie’s Spotlight. When I realized she’s a local-to-me author I mentioned it on Instagram and she contacted me asking if I’d be interested in reviewing the book. Thus, here we are.

False Front

Description from Goodreads:

Emma Porter is not real. She is an accomplished young woman, living a fulfilling life in New York City, working for an online news agency, and striving toward normalcy. The truth, however, is something else. She was once Emily Webster, a child of privilege, and the twenty-first century Lindbergh Baby. Her high-profile, unexplained abduction and subsequent rescue led to a childhood of paranoia and preparedness, as her kidnapper remained at large and still on the hunt. With her father’s guidance and resources, Emily became Emma Porter, living each day in her new identity, vigilant and unattached. Unattached but for the seemingly unbreakable tether that connects her to the man who, as a young boy, lived next door.

Like Emma, Nathan Bishop is not what he seems. Preparing to helm his family’s defense contracting company, Nathan is better known for his womanizing and reckless behavior than his business acumen. His striking image peppers the pages of society tabloids and police blotters, but beneath the facade of a rake, lurks a warrior. When an arms dealer procures a lethal bioweapon and is rumored to be selling it on U.S. soil, Nathan and his team must use every resource at their disposal to stop the threat.

With danger closing in, fate, once again, puts Emma in Nathan’s path, and the two must determine if the weathered bond between them is enough to find the truth behind their false fronts.

Review:

I’m of two minds about this book. On one hand the writing is sharp and it’s a rollicking good time of a read. On the other, there are quite a few elements included that, while common to the genre, I personally dislike in a book and, thus, had to pointedly look over. The Rich, Pretty-Pretty Princess Who Everyone Adores is a heroine I can’t come close to relating to. The Rich, Playboy Who Treats Women as Commodities But Every Woman Still Wants always just seems like an asshole to me and I don’t understand the appeal. (Baldwin played this off as not the real Bishop, but it’s real enough when he first meets Emma. It’s real enough to all those women he beds. His behavior is real enough.)

I thought the long standing love the two characters had for each other wasn’t all “AWW, they’re soulmates”which I recognize is how it’s supposed to read and can appreciate itbut instead it just felt obsessive and creepy, very unhealthy (especially on Emma’s part). Surely one of the many therapists would point that out. The innocent platonic love of SMALL children shouldn’t so easily turn to lust, IMO. The inclusion of a minor villain being a scorned woman is cliched to the point of irritation, and the fact that the book wrapped up QUICKLY in marriage and babies is BEYOND cliched and, in fact, felt tacked on. (I don’t consider that a spoiler because these sorts of books ALWAYS end this way…and that’s part of my complaint. Like Baldwin had to go, “Oh, people won’t consider it a real HEA if I don’t include this last bit.)

But those are all just personal complaints, not objective ones. Objectively, this fits the genre and is well written. Other than one minor inconstancy (a gift that seems to have been opened twice) this reads well and wraps up in a satisfyingly circular, if questionably serendipitous, manner. I’m looking forward to reading book two.


Illicit IntentDescription from Goodreads:

Calliope Garland’s newsdesk assignment was fairly straightforward—dig up the dirt on the sketchy CEO of a Wall Street hedge fund. But when the man is murdered and valuable data destroyed, a simple investigation turns deadly. Calliope is unwittingly in possession of vital financial information and a priceless work of art; either of which may get her killed. With an ever-growing list of people who want to harm her, Calliope must set aside her reservations and turn to the one man she knows can trust.

Miller “Tox” Buchanan is a study in contradictions: kind but lethal, passionate but distant, self-possessed yet hesitant. He knows he should keep his distance, but when Calliope is hurled into danger, Tox will stop at nothing to protect her.

…Her first instinct wasn’t to dial 911 but rather to call a certain Navy SEAL. She forced down the antiquated damsel in distress fantasy floating around in her head and rationalized the police would surely ask questions she was unwilling or unable to answer. She brought up her contacts. At the bottom, she touched the entry labeled, Tox, and the call rang through. A grizzly bear answered.
“This better be good.”
“Tox?”
“Calliope?”
“I need your help…”

Review:

In having reached the end of this book, I have to make a decision pertaining to reviewing it. (Well, these books. I could have said the same thing at the end of book one.) Do I review and rate it based on my own likes/dislikes or how it fits the requirements of it’s genre? Because while I read and enjoy certain parts of this genre, there are some aspects of it I seriously dislike and Bladwin adheres to them.

But how do I weight them, as personal pet peeves or as genre expectations? Example (and I don’t consider this a spoiler because of the aforementioned genre expectations. Anyone who doesn’t know how this book ends probably doesn’t read many in this genre.) The book ends with a big diamond ring, wedding bells, and a baby. (As did the last one and sooooo many others.) I expect many readers really do read with barely suppressed excitement, thinking, “Yes, give me those culturally mandated feel-good moments.” While I approach the end of such books with an increasing sense of dread, wondering when I’ll be disappointed by that same culturally cliched predictability. I promise there are other kinds of happily-ever-afters for women than swollen bellies and baby booties. I PROMISE. But can I really fault Baldwin for writing what the genre expects? I don’t know, but I want to. I get so BORED with the same endings. I always hope I’ll be surprised on this matter. I rarely am. And they’re so often tacked on after the main thriller/suspense plot has come to a natural conclusion.

Having said all of that, Baldwin does also subvert several problematic tropes in enjoyable ways. Tox is basically an anti-alpha-asshole. He has all those same brutish, possessive tendencies that fill books of this sort, but he’s aware of them and making concerted efforts to counter them. Calliope is so flighty and carefree as to seem child-like (and infantilizing female characters, especially in romance irritates the heck out of me). But she’s also forward, assertive, and not content to sit home folding laundry in the end. There are several examples of the classic ‘dead parent’ trope. But the number of loving and supportive non-biological families fill the void.

I did find the the circuitous nature and the suspense aspect of the book more compelling than the romance. I liked both characters and even liked them together. But I think the romance was shown to be fairly focused on lust and we’re told that is love. I also got a little bored with the ‘he’s so BIG (everywhere).” Sexual dimorphism is a thing, sure, but  I don’t really consider it a turn on and the everywhere aspect of if just seemed like it should be painful.

All in all, I didn’t find this personally faultless. But I do think the writing is eminently readable, editing clean, cast of characters every growing but interesting, and the series well worth pursuing further.

Review of The Woman Left Behind (GO-Team #2), by Linda Howard

I won a paperback copy of Linda Howard‘s The Woman Left Behind through Goodreads. However, it’s audiobooks I’ve been going through lately. So, I borrowed an audio version from Hoopla instead.

Description from Goodreads:

Jina Modell works in Communications for a paramilitary organization, and she really likes it. She likes the money, she likes the coolness factor—and it was very cool, even for Washington, DC. She liked being able to kick terrorist butts without ever leaving the climate-controlled comfort of the control room.

But when Jina displays a really high aptitude for spatial awareness and action, she’s reassigned to work as an on-site drone operator in the field with one of the GO-teams, an elite paramilitary unit. The only problem is she isn’t particularly athletic, to put it mildly, and in order to be fit for the field, she has to learn how to run and swim for miles, jump out of a plane, shoot a gun…or else be out of a job.

Team leader Levi, call sign Ace, doesn’t have much confidence in Jina–who he dubbed Babe as soon as he heard her raspy, sexy voice–making it through the rigors of training. The last thing he needs is some tech geek holding them back from completing a dangerous, covert operation. In the following months, however, no one is more surprised than he when Babe, who hates to sweat, begins to thrive in her new environment, displaying a grit and courage that wins her the admiration of her hardened, battle-worn teammates. What’s even more surprising is that the usually very disciplined GO-team leader can’t stop thinking about kissing her smart, stubborn mouth…or the building chemistry and tension between them.

Meanwhile, a powerful Congresswoman is working behind the scenes to destroy the GO-teams, and a trap is set to ambush Levi’s squad in Syria. While the rest of the operatives set off on their mission, Jina remains at the base to control the surveillance drone, when the base is suddenly attacked with explosives. Thought dead by her comrades, Jina escapes to the desert where, brutally tested beyond measure, she has to figure out how to stay undetected by the enemy and make it to her crew in time before they’re exfiltrated out of the country.

But Levi never leaves a soldier behind, especially the brave woman he’s fallen for. He’s bringing back the woman they left behind, dead or alive.

Review:

This was a perfectly fine contemporary romance, I suppose. Certainly the writing is fine and the narrator (Saskia Maarleveld) did a good job. But what constitutes a satisfying story and happy ending apparently differs for the author and I. 

Literally half the book is Babe in training. So exactly half the book that I suspect there was a plot outline that demarcated two halves of the book. And I was bored with all of it. It felt very much like those YA, fantasy novels where you think you’re getting an exciting adventure but you get pages and pages of potions classes instead. 

But even once she finishes the endless training there is no real spark between the main characters and very little happens. The event of the blurb, which is made out to be the plot of the book, doesn’t happen until like 80% and it’s a nothing of an event (one night of running through the night to catch a flight, that she makes). It was a super let down. Certainly not the plot, just one thing that happens. 

But what really irritated me came as a result of that. After the whole book bing intensely focused on how determined Babe is to not be a quitter, and overcoming all her challenges, she quits. Now, I don’t mean to suggest that women have to be like men in a book. But what author would write her badass male character as willing to give up just because she had one bad mission? (Certainly none of the male Go-team menses are quitting.) It felt intensely like a girl not being able to hack it with the men. And I hate that. What’s more, the ‘romance’ was contingent on her quitting. So, you knew all along that she was going to eventually. Which made everything that came before irrelevant, even as you read it. 

None of this was helped by the fact the characters have sex for the first time after she quits. And it’s angry sex with no foreplay. So, it too was a let down. Certainly not worthy of being the only real one in the book. 

All in all, though this might be a fine book objectively, I’d give it a one star based on my own enjoyment. I disliked so very much about it.