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~Tracy

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For Her Eyes Only by Shannon Curtis

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: McCormack Security Agency, Book 3
Rating: 3 Stars
Length: 273 Pages
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Carina Press via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



Uneven Tone Hurts the Read

When the father of a good friend is murdered and her friend is viciously attacked, MSA operations manager Vicky Hastings is determined to have her first field assignment be the undercover investigation that will identify and catch the perpetrators. There's just one small problem. Her partner for the mission is Ryan Brennan.

Okay...the MSA agent and undercover specialist is not a small problem. Sinfully sexy problem, yes. Small, no. Unfortunately, the gorgeous but frustrating man sees her only as a friend and is completely dismissive of her talents and her contributions to the agency. He's none too thrilled with the idea of being her partner on this assignment, either.

Well he'll just have to suck it up and deal with it, because Vicky is determined to catch the killers and gain Ryan's respect as a valued member of the MSA team. She just hopes she doesn't die trying.

~*~

There were things I liked about this third installment of Curtis' McCormack Security Agency series. Despite a limited amount of exposition to set this book into the series and a perplexing setup for the plot conflict (why was a security agency doing what police are supposed to do?), the story starts with a vicious killing that sets the sort of dark, edgy tone that I like in romantic suspense, and there's no doubt that the killers are Bad Guys riding the Crazy Train. That worked for me, as did several crafty, well-conceived and executed plot points in the suspense thread. Overall, I was surprised and pleased by the big picture of the conflict when it's finally revealed late in the book as it reaches its climax.

There were also elements of the romance that amused and charmed, and the cute, sometimes goofy, sexy heat between Vicky and Ryan made up for some of the less favorable points in their relationship. Despite a hearty dose of emotional immaturity on both their parts, and the confusing, difficult-to-believe premise of friendship between them (I never bought that setup, no matter what they said), they sort of worked for me as a romantic couple.

Unfortunately, the lighter tone of their relationship was at such odds with the severity of the opening sequences and the seriousness of the suspense, that I found the two elements jarring when taken together in context. Instead of blending and weaving together cohesively, the suspense threads and the romance threads never came together for me and ended up feeling very disparate throughout the book.

And I'm sorry, but I have to vent. When you and your partner have just found a viciously assaulted young woman bleeding out and dangerously near death, then you have to toss the dying woman over your shoulder to race away from the scene before the bomb that was planted kills you all, the very last thing on your mind should be the fine bum of your friend/partner.

I think Ryan having to tell himself not to stare at Vic's ass mere moments after bearing witness to horrific brutality and nearly getting blown to bits was supposed to be cute, but to me, it was so completely inappropriate in the moment that it didn't give me much of a first impression of Ryan's character.

That situation wasn't helped by the borderline incompetence and lack of professionalism evidenced by Vicky and Ryan once they were undercover. The whole premise of them going undercover as a married couple was a pretty heavy-handed and overused romantic suspense trope to begin with. And once they've inserted into the scenario, they spent so much time bickering at each other and flagrantly one-upping each other with ridiculous cover story that the investigation got lost in the shuffle.

I was also a little unhappy with Vicky's naiveté, nerves, and discomfort with Ryan's proximity once they were under. For someone who fought so hard to get where she was, claiming over and over that she was ready and more than able to do the job, desperate to prove herself, she came off as a complete powder puff at crunch time, or worse, a very disappointing gender stereotype.

Truth is, though, for me it was really all about the tone. Because of how the story started, the lighter elements weren't as successful for me as they could have been. On their own and in a different setting, I could really have enjoyed the romance arc and would have had more patience for the characters and their quirks.

Had the lighter romance been more in line with the darker suspense threads, this could have been a very solid read for me. As it is, the disparate pieces just didn't quite fit right. There were good points for sure, just not enough of them to elevate the story as a whole.

Never Surrender by Susan Vaughan

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: Task Force Eagle, Book 1
Rating: 2 Stars
Length: 188 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided to me by the author for review. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.





Struggled with the Romance

There is nothing Juliana Paris wouldn't do to protect her younger brother, even if it means withholding information from the sexiest man she's ever seen, DEA Agent Ricardo Cruz. Juliana doesn't trust cops and the DEA is just another type of cop agency as far as she's concerned. If her brother is in trouble, and it looks like he definitely is, Juliana will find him and she'll keep him safe. Keep him free. Fix whatever it is he's done wrong this time.

Except this time, Juliana discovers, there are worse things than sexy DEA agents looking to imprison her brother on drug trafficking charges. There is a vicious drug cartel who think she's got something that would incriminate them, and they're coming for her hard. With her brother on the run and Agent Rick Cruz breathing down her neck, Juliana may need to rethink a few of her trust issues. Her life - and the life of her brother - may depend on it.

~*~

This book started out okay for me. It didn't break any new ground in the genre, the story as a whole is a bit too generic and lacking in complexity and the suspense plotline is a bit too predictable, but both Juliana and Rick had moments when they really shone as characters, and I enjoyed their contentious interplay in the first half of the book. They made that part of the ride worth the trip.

I liked the solid foundation of personal history that shaped each of them as characters. Rick's loss of his brother was the source of his zeal to stop the cartel and take down its evil leader and Juliana's overprotective fervor for her brother and the desperation that drives most of her actions was born out of her own childhood traumas. Those were nice, organic touches that helped define the characters and added a layer of believability.

That didn't necessarily make them consistently appealing, though. Rick was a bit of a dog, actually. He's a good looking guy who appreciates all women...especially the ones he can charm into bed. And he's very charming. Just ask him. I liked him most of the time, but have to admit, there were times when he came off rather shallow and manipulative with that charm of his.

Juliana frustrated me. I can't say I disliked her, exactly, but she seemed to have a stubborn resistance to anything resembling sense in the first half of the book and it made her seem very immature. I understood, even sympathized at times with her desire to keep her brother safe, but I can't say she went about it in the best ways.  Unfortunately, my biggest problem with her - and the book - came at just past the halfway mark, when out of nowhere she suddenly realizes she's in love with Rick - the same guy she's been openly distrustful of and withholding evidence from at every turn up to that point...and beyond.

I'm all for a healthy bit of lusty good times, but her love for him at that point in the story was way too abrupt and lacking in necessary foundation for my taste. In fact, I think I got a little whiplash from the shocking about-face.

Still, I think I could have accepted that shocker and still mostly enjoyed the second half of the book if the romance had been handled better from that point. Unfortunately, the chemistry between Juliana and Rick worked better for me before they got together than it ever did after. The relationship-centric scenes suffered from stilted, awkward dialogue that made me cringe in places and what little sexuality was included stayed closer to tepid, child-friendly levels of description. For fans of the more circumspect sex scene this might be a big plus for the book, but that's not where my preferences lie.

Too many other things went wrong for me from there, too. The brother Juliana is trying to protect comes off as selfish and a bit stupid, the thugs causing most of the trouble never really seemed all that threatening to me, and the plot threads surrounding the leak in the DEA office and the identity of the cartel's American partner were so anemic they offered nothing of substance to the plot. Between that and Rick's team, who lacked the definition necessary to give them any impact on the story at all, far too many of the golden opportunities to broaden the scope of the story or better layer the plot went unexplored and unrealized.

Had the romance not put such a damper on the read for me, maybe I would have been more forgiving of the limited suspense plot. This isn't a long book, so I'm less of a stickler in that regard. I may not have loved it, but I wouldn't have ended up as dissatisfied as I was. Unfortunately, too much of my overall impression of the story is hampered by what was, to me, a sometimes painful and odd romance arc. There were good points to both the characters and the story in this book, but the bad outweighed them for me this time.

Ratings Guide

Here is a rundown of what the star ratings mean to me! It's not a perfect system, so you may see me add in a .5 star here and there if my impression of the book falls somewhere between these:

5 Stars - Loved it
4 Stars - Liked it
3 Stars - It's okay
2 Stars - Didn't like it
1 Star - Hated it

2014 Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Tracy has read 22 books toward her goal of 175 books.
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Tracy's bookshelf: read

Zero at the BoneHead Over HeelsLord of the WolfynIn Total SurrenderA Win-Win PropositionNorth of Need

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