This month’s TBR Challenge prompt pretty much left the reading choices wide open. After all, with the word “freebie,” one can come up with all kinds of things. Gift books, Kindle deals, books about free stuff, who knows?  In the end, the common thread between our picks seemed to be high action. Caz went with a m/m romantic suspense novella, while Lynn chose an equally action-packed paranormal.

Dangerous Ground by Josh Lanyon

I thought, when I saw April’s prompt – “freebie” – that it’d be easy to find a book to read for it, but when it came to it and I was searching my Kindle, I realised that my choices were limited by my memory; I couldn’t recall which books I’d picked up for free and which I’d paid for!  Fortunately, I remembered that I’d received a couple of free books when I signed up for Josh Lanyon’s mailing list a while back, so that solved my problem.

The Dangerous Ground series is a set of six novellas (the first was published in 2008, the last was published this year) featuring agents for the Department of Diplomatic Security, Taylor MacAllister and Will Brandt.  They’re fast-moving stories – kind of like a TV episode in book form – and each instalment contains a complete mystery/investigation, but the relationship between the leads develops throughout. I knew this going in, so the abrupt ending of book one, Dangerous Ground wasn’t an issue as I knew there was more to come, and in fact, I enjoyed it so much I jumped straight into book two, Old Poison (and then bought the rest of the series.)

Taylor and Will have been partners and best friends for almost four years.  They’re very different in some ways – Will is the more settled and considered of the two, where Taylor is more impulsive – but they work well together and share a similar jaded worldview and sarcastic sense of humor.  But six weeks before Dangerous Ground opens, things between them went horribly wrong; Taylor was shot during an operation and Will is alternately furious – with Taylor for (as he thinks) carelessly looking for trouble – and beating himself up with guilt, believing it’s his fault Taylor was off his game.  The night before the shooting, Will and Taylor had gone out for a few drinks, which had ended with Taylor getting smashed and then telling Will how he felt about him. But Will turned him down.  It’s not that he’s blind to the fact that Taylor is gorgeous or that he isn’t attracted to him… but he doesn’t think the commitment-shy Taylor is a good bet for a relationship and doesn’t want to ruin what they already have.

The trouble is, that things are changing anyway and there’s nothing either of them can do about it.  Six weeks after Taylor was shot, and shortly before he’s due to return to work, Will suggests they go on a camping trip into the High Sierras… and although he hates camping, Taylor agrees.  There’s nothing he wouldn’t do for Will and he, too, thinks that perhaps they need some time to sort out where they stand with each other.

The book starts a few days into the trip when Will and Taylor stumble across the wreckage of a small plane they realise was used in the infamous Black Wolf Casino heist a few months earlier.  The only body on board is that of the pilot – who was shot in the head – and there’s no sign of the other passengers.  What they do find, however, is the loot – over two million dollars, which they decide to stash in a bear box while they make their way down the mountain to alert the authorities.  But with that much money at stake, it’s not long before Will and Taylor find out they’re not the only ones on a trip into the mountains.  Only the armed men and woman who find them are clearly not there on vacation.

The author packs a surprising amount of plot into a relatively short page count, and keeps both the plot and romantic elements of the story moving smoothly in tandem.  I liked the way the backstory – the shooting, Taylor’s drunk declaration – was drip fed throughout the early chapters, the tension between them is palpable, and there’s no denying the pair have great chemistry.  There’s a really strong sense of place in the story, too, wonderfully evocative descriptions of the scenery, the warmth of the sun, the chill in the air and the sounds of nature.  On the downside, the characterisation is perhaps a little thin, as we don’t know a great deal about Will and Taylor, but as I said, this is the first of six, so there’s room for development on that front.

Dangerous Ground is fast-paced and entertaining, the leads are engaging and the author achieves a good balance between the suspense plot and the romance, with some high stakes action and steamy love scenes along the way.  It’s a quick read, but has enough depth to have made me care about the characters and want to know more about them.  I definitely intend to read the rest of the series.

Grade: B                   Sensuality: Warm

~ Caz Owens

Buy it at: Amazon

Shadow Fall by Erin Kellison

CW: Rape, sexual assault references

Spoiler Note: This review contains spoilers for Shadow Bound, the first book in this series.

This month’s prompt of “freebies” felt wide open. I didn’t have a craving for a particular genre, so I just reached into my box of books picked up at past RWA conferences. I came up with Shadow Fall, a paranormal by Erin Kellison. I remember reviewing (and liking) the first book in this series about ten years ago when it first came out. As it turns out, book 2 is also an entertaining, if occasionally problematic, read.

Readers of Shadow Bound may recall the death of the hero’s friend, Custo Santovari. This novel takes up two years later. Custo is now an angel, but not finding Heaven quite to his liking. He died learning that his best friend (Adam Thorne – hero of Book one) had a traitor among his ranks, and he wants to get back to warn him. He manages to get back to Earth, where he finds himself once more caught up in the war against the wraiths. The wraiths are soul-stealers who can literally suck people’s souls out of them.

This book deals with wraiths and death, and spends a fair amount of time exploring the boundaries between this world and the next. In that sense, it can often have a dark, eerie feel to it. The world Kellison creates is intriguing and in this installment, she gives readers an action-packed read.

Soon after coming to Earth, Custo meets ballet dancer Annabella. He immediately feels protective of her and almost as quickly falls for her. While instalove seems to feature in many paranormals, rarely does it work for me as it did here. Custo and Annabella have chemistry right off the bat and even though there is insta-attraction there, romance develops a little more slowly. That pacing not only keeps the reader hooked, but also made the love story feel more immediate and real.

In addition,  Custo and Annabella have a lot of their plates and don’t exactly have time for slowburn attraction or lots of introspection. Annabella is being stalked by a Wolf from the Shadowlands. Custo, having come from that side, understands this this is a serious and bad development. He is determined to protect Annabella and equally determined to help Adam deal with the traitor at his Segue Institute, an entity dedicated to fighting the wraiths.

Annabella is young (early twenties) and appears to be a rising superstar in the dance world. In that respect, she might at first blush come off as a Special Snowflake Heroine. However, the author makes it clear that Annabella has gotten to where she is by putting in lots of hard work and sacrifice. Enough of the little details of character get filled in that the major characters in this story feel like people rather than simply character types.

While the action and the romance in this book kept me flying through the pages and I generally enjoyed myself, I would be remiss as a reviewer if I did not mention a few things. First of all, readers should be aware that the romance in this book take a bit of a back seat to the paranormal action plot. This worked for me and it very much fit the story, but for those who want the romance front and center at all times, I did want to point that out.

On a more serious note, as I noted in the content warnings, there are some references that may be upsetting for some. Custo and his friend, Adam Thorne, are both very alpha heroes and very protective of their love interests. Both in this book and the one which preceded it, this tends to show itself more positively than negatively, but I did still find it a bit overwhelmingly possessive at times.

More disturbing, some of the actions by the Wolf and other villainous sorts in this book felt very uncomfortably rapey and/or sexual. There is a scene in which an ill woman is possessed by one of the evil creatures, and there are also some very sexual gestures and references made by the Wolf. In the context of the story, these things made sense but some readers will still likely find them triggering so I wanted to make mention of them.

In Shadow Fall, Kellison returns readers to the compelling world she created in Shadow Bound. While this book could be read on its own, the reading experience is much richer if you also read the first in the series. Each is a good read, so why not both?

 

Grade:    B            Sensuality:  warm

~ Lynn Spencer

Buy it at: Amazon