Monday, December 31, 2018

Review: Untouchable by Jayne Ann Krentz

Untouchable by Jayne Ann Krentz
Series: Cutler, Sutter & Salinas, Book 3
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Romantic Suspense
ISBN: 9780399585296
Release Date: January 8, 2019
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Quinton Zane is back.

Jack Lancaster, consultant to the FBI, has always been drawn to the coldest of cold cases, the kind that law enforcement either considers unsolvable or else has chalked up to accidents or suicides. As a survivor of a fire, he finds himself uniquely compelled by arson cases. His almost preternatural ability to get inside the killer's head has garnered him a reputation in some circles--and complicated his personal life. The more cases Jack solves, the closer he slips into the darkness. His only solace is Winter Meadows, a meditation therapist. After particularly grisly cases, Winter can lead Jack back to peace.

But as long as Quinton Zane is alive, Jack will not be at peace for long. Having solidified his position as the power behind the throne of his biological family's hedge fund, Zane sets out to get rid of Anson Salinas's foster sons, starting with Jack.

Foster brothers Jack Lancaster, Max Cutler, and Cabot Sutter were all raised in a cult until one hellish night when cult leader Quinton Zane burned down the compound, leaving them orphans. Supposedly Zane died years ago, but Jack, Max, Cabot, and their rescuer/foster father, Anson Salinas, know better. After years of chasing shadows, the man behind their trauma is within their grasp…if they can survive his machinations. Because Zane is tired of hiding, and with a fortune on the line he needs to eliminate the threat the four men who know too much about him present. And he’s going to start with Jack…

Untouchable is an entertaining read that brings the hunt for Quinton Zane to a satisfying conclusion. Jack and Winter are more cerebral characters which gives them and their romance a slightly different dynamic. They’re an interesting pair: a focused hunter haunted by the past who works cold cases and a skilled hypnotist with ghosts of her own. I loved watching how Jack’s mind worked through cases and he definitely fascinated me. Winter is the only person who can bring him back when he goes too far into his own head and her skills are interesting in their own right. They fit one another well, they have solid (if understated) chemistry, and there’s definitely passion. Yet while I liked them together, I won’t deny that there was a certain ineffable spark that was missing, thus making the love story feel a bit by-the-numbers. I’ll be honest and say that this didn’t bother me overmuch, but I do think it’s worth mentioning because other readers may not be as content.

As one might expect from the final book in the trilogy, the resolution of the Quinton Zane plotline shifts the balance more toward suspense. Zane has been the bogeyman of the series; the charismatic, pyromaniac cult leader who is a brilliant con man capable of eluding capture for decades. The problem with having such a powerful villain is that they work better as a shadowy, unseen figure than they do as a main antagonist. There’s so much buildup in When All the Girls Have Gone and Promise Not to Tell that there’s no way one human man could deliver when he ultimately appears (at least if you want him to be plausibly defeated by the heroes and heroines). For me, Zane was the weak point in Untouchable and I wished some of the much-touted charisma and cleverness had shown to make him a stronger villain. That being said, the action scenes were still exciting and the hunt itself was entertaining. Jayne Ann Krentz knows how to keep the pages turning and the story engaging, so I can forgive some of the weaker points in the story because I enjoyed it, flaws and all.

Untouchable is the third book in the Cutler, Sutter & Salinas series but it can be read as a standalone. I enjoyed revisiting beloved characters and I got a kick out seeing Jack and Winter in towns from other Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick books (who doesn’t love a good Easter egg?). So while Untouchable has its flaws, it was still a solid read and a satisfying end to the Cutler, Sutter & Salinas trilogy.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Review: Not the Duke's Darling by Elizabeth Hoyt

Not the Duke’s Darling by Elizabeth Hoyt
Series: Greycourt, Book 1
Publisher: Forever
Genre: Historical Romance
ISBN: 9781538763520
Release Date: December 18, 2018
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Elizabeth Hoyt Reading Order

Freya de Moray is many things: a member of the secret order of Wise Women, the daughter of disgraced nobility, and a chaperone living under an assumed name. What she is not is forgiving. So when the Duke of Harlowe, the man who destroyed her brother and led to the downfall of her family, appears at the country house party she's attending, she does what any Wise Woman would do: she starts planning her revenge.

Christopher Renshaw, the Duke of Harlowe, is being blackmailed. Intent on keeping his secrets safe, he agrees to attend a house party where he will put an end to this coercion once and for all. Until he recognizes Freya, masquerading among the party revelers, and realizes his troubles have just begun. Freya knows all about his sins-sins he'd much rather forget. But she's also fiery, bold, and sensuous-a temptation he can't resist. When it becomes clear Freya is in grave danger, he'll risk everything to keep her safe. But first, he will have to earn Freya's trust...by whatever means necessary.

Murder, betrayal, revenge, trauma, blackmail, mysterious orders, politics, secrets, danger, and romance… Not the Duke’s Darling is a whole lotta story packed into one book. Elizabeth Hoyt dives headfirst into the intriguing world of the Greycourt family and the result is a bit of a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, I liked many of the elements to this tale. On the other, there was so much going on that everything felt incomplete.

At the center of Not the Duke’s Darling are Freya and Christopher. Christopher was once the best friend of Freya’s brother, Ran de Moray, until the night Ran was accused of and beaten nearly to death for murdering Aurelia Greycourt. It’s been fifteen years since that night, and Christopher is still haunted by it. He’s also carrying invisible scars from the death of his wife and his time as a prisoner in India. Christopher had the potential to be an intriguing hero. All the elements are there – a young man who made the wrong choice and is still suffering for it, PTSD, an adorable emotional support dog, his yearning to feel alive again – but his character development felt stifled by the abundance of plot and I didn’t get as deep a sense of him as I would have liked. Freya suffered the same fate. She’s a Wise Woman and a spy and I wish I could have learned a lot more about that part of her life, 99% of which takes place pre-book. She’s brave, independent, and definitely (humanly) flawed, but she also has a warm heart that shows in moments when the plot lets her breathe.

The romance between Christopher and Freya is enjoyable, but could have been so much more if it had been given room to grow and time for passion to be explored. Instead we are shuffled from one plot point to the next. To start, there’s the Dunkelders – men who think the Wise Women are witches and want to murder them – and their mustache-twirling plot to introduce a new era of witch hunting. The ignorance and sexism that’s innate to the Dunkelders could have been more ominous if – at the risk of repeating myself – they had been given more page time. There’s also the matter of Christopher being blackmailed, Freya’s initial quest for revenge, and looming over everything, the question of who murdered Aurelia Greycourt all those years ago. Neither Freya nor Christopher are Greycourts, but the titular family of the series is featured heavily, mostly in the form of Messalina Greycourt. Messalina is the third point of view in Not the Duke’s Darling and she’s a wonderful character who had the characteristics of a classic Hoyt heroine.

I’m a longtime fan of Elizabeth Hoyt’s which makes this book a bit difficult to put a rating on. Had it been by another author or had I been new to Ms. Hoyt’s work, I might have liked this book better (though at the end of the day, I did enjoy it). But I know Ms. Hoyt’s writing – her passionate, unique, flawed characters and their liveliness on the page – and Freya and Christopher were just missing some of that ineffable zing. I was, however, completely fascinated by some of the secondary characters. From Messalina to the mysterious Gabriel Hawthorne to Freya’s lovelorn charge, Arabella Holland, there are plenty of characters who have me excited to read more Greycourt stories. I’m really looking forward to seeing what Ms. Hoyt has in store for readers, especially given the way things ended in this book. So while I may have finished Not the Duke’s Darling wanting a bit more from Freya and Christopher, I did enjoy it and I think there’s great promise to the Greycourt series.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Spartan Way: Eat Better. Train Better. Think Better. Be Better. by Joe De Sena

The Spartan Way: Eat Better. Train Better. Think Better. Be Better. by Joe De Sena
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Genre: Non-Fiction
ISBN: 9781250153210
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Determined to yank 100 million people off their couch cushions to start living instead of being passive observers of life, Joe De Sena has one ultimate goal: to help improve everyone’s physical and emotional health by teaching them the tenets of Spartan living from ancient Greece: simple eating, smart training, mastering resilience, and an all-out commitment to achieving a goal.

Like Spartan training, living The Spartan Way requires endurance to reach your finish line, the goal that inspires and drives you to succeed no matter what obstacles are thrown in your path. De Sena believes you can gain that endurance in just thirty-six days by following the ten Spartan Core Virtues, timeless principles to help you embrace adversity and overcome any challenge, and making them a permanent part of your own personal core.

The Spartan Core Values include:

Self-Awareness―Know yourself
Commitment―Be dedicated
Passion―Discover your purpose
Discipline―Practice diligence
Prioritization―Put your house in order
Grit―Push your limits
Courage―Face your fears and your failures
Optimism―Look for the positives
Integrity―Act honestly
Wholeness―Live as a Spartan

De Sena turned this philosophy into a lifestyle―and so can you. With The Spartan Way, you’ll discover your true north, unleash the warrior within, and transform your life to 10X your maximum potential.

The Spartan Way is a helpful, no-nonsense resource for anyone looking to make a change. No matter what your goal, Joe De Sena’s Spartan philosophy is something you can apply to your life. I loved Mr. De Sena’s passion – it comes through strong in this book and his dedication and enthusiasm is infectious. Self-Awareness, commitment, passion, discipline, prioritization, grit, courage, optimism, integrity, and “wholeness” are not new values or ideas, but the way they are presented is what separates this book from the pack. It’s intense, honest, and straightforward, which I really appreciated. I will note that some of the examples Mr. De Sena uses in this book are a bit extreme and the sample sizes in the studies he cites are sometimes rather low, but the core principals are good. If you want a good kick in the butt and helpful, easy-to-digest advice that will serve you well, I recommend The Spartan Way.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.