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REVIEW:  Cloaked in Danger by Jeannie Ruesch

REVIEW: Cloaked in Danger by Jeannie Ruesch

Cloaked in Danger by Jeannie Ruesch

Dear Ms. Ruesch,

I asked to review this book largely because it appeared as though some of the characters had links to Egypt, and to a lesser extent because I tend to enjoy some suspense in my romance reading. I am sorry to say that neither of these things really lived up to my expectations – and not just because I was expecting a darker tone.

Ariadne Whitney (Aria for short) spent her childhood travelling with her father, who is a well-known explorer/treasure hunter. Aria loved exploring the world with her father:

“It was incredible. Everything looked different, more exotic. The smells were spicier. Simple sounds were musical. Colors were vibrant. It was freedom. And now, I’m confined to a world that disdains everything I am, everything I know.”

Gideon Whitney disappeared after making a major discovery and the jewelry he and his men found has also gone missing. Aria decides to go sleuthing among the ton, believing that the man responsible for her father’s disappearance is one of the investors named in a list left by her father. That she lacks any real evidence, investigative skills, or much familiarity with the polite society and socially appropriate behavior does not seem to deter her.

At a ball, Aria is snooping in the Duke of Ravensdale’s study in search of clues regarding her father’s disappearance. When the Duke and his betrothed Lady Ashton (the couple from your previous book) arrive unexpectedly, she feigns a headache and is later sent to rest in the upstairs bedrooms. She decides to use the opportunity to look around the Duke’s bedchamber, only to run into the Adam, the Earl of Merewood, brother to the Duke’s betrothed. Merewood, who has secrets of his own, assumes that Aria is the Duke’s mistress and wants her to stay away from his family and not ruin his sister’s happiness. Lady Ashton’s first marriage had not been a happy one and he wants the best for her and his other sisters. Aria assumes Merewood is responsible for her father’s disappearance and perhaps worse, and continues to pursue him in search of information.

Despite thinking the worst of each other’s actions and motives, Aria and Merewood are very much attracted to each other, and are eventually caught in a compromising position by his mother and sister and forced to wed. I was surprised that Merewood’s family insisted that they wed, considering Aria is not well-connected and the two were found at his home with no other witnesses, but the story probably would not have worked otherwise. It would have been more believable, however, if his family did not seem so thrilled by the prospect of a scandalous marriage to someone as unsuitable as Aria’s portrayal suggests.

By this point, I can say that Cloaked in Danger was not working for me: the dialogue read too modern, the plot was not particularly interesting, there were numerous on and off-screen characters that seemed superfluous, and there was little sense of the setting; a reference to Beau Brummell eventually made it clear that it was the Regency. Aria’s background was equally disappointing: although she’s supposedly travelled the world with her father, this doesn’t really come across beyond the most stereotypical allusions, such as a sultan propositioning her in Istanbul. Since I’d expected a greater role for Aria’s past experiences and this had been a selling point for me, I was disappointed.

Aria’s past does set her up as an outsider and provides her with occasionally inappropriate vocabulary and a strong disdain for society and its members. This is not too surprising, since just about everyone she meets except for Merewood, Lady Ashton and her Duke was portrayed as shallow, stupid, mean, greedy, or in some cases, all of the above. I felt as though I was reading a book populated entirely by unpleasant characters or featuring an unusually judgmental hero and heroine: Aria seems to find everyone, including Merewood, very annoying, and reasonable suggestions made by other characters often lead to accusations that they are trying to change her and turn her into an insipid debutante. Merewood, meanwhile, has several sisters and a mother who have suitors, all of whom he disapproves of. Apparently he worries about his sisters and himself making bad decisions due to events in your previous book.

Despite my many misgivings, I did continue on, in the hopes that the book would improve once Aria and Merewood got over their initial misconceptions and begin to work together to solve the mystery of her father’s disappearance. However, soon after the midway point the villain revealed himself and by then it was clear to me that neither the story nor the characters were going in a direction that I cared for, and I finally realized there was no point in continuing. Some readers might find Aria interesting and unconventional and may therefore enjoy Cloaked in Danger more than I did, but unfortunately, it was a DNF for me.

Best regards,
Rose

 

Rose lives in a country where romance readers are few and far between, so discovering romance websites was a welcome development. When not busy with reading and graduate school, she can often be found online discussing romance novels or sports –occasionally both at the same time. She has no TBR pile and is forever looking to change this unfortunate fact; recommendations for historicals, romantic suspense and contemporaries (preferably of the non-small town variety) are welcome.

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GUEST REVIEW:  Darkening Skies by Bronwyn Parry

GUEST REVIEW: Darkening Skies by Bronwyn Parry

Spoiler (spoilerish trigger warning): Show

Some of what Jenn and Mark uncover has to do with years of coercion and sexual violence by some really nasty characters. None of it is described in detail but they do find photographic evidence.

Darkening Skies by Bronwyn ParryDear Ms. Parry,

A coupon allowed me to pick up your most recent book, and I was happy for the opportunity since it was on the expensive side. The outback setting is not a common one in romance or even romantic suspense, and I was looking forward to this story.

Darkening Skies is your third novel set in the outback New South Wales town of Dungirri. It opens with Mark Strelitz, an independent Member of Parliament, discovering that he had been the driver in a fatal car accident eighteen years earlier, and that Morgan Gillespie, who had been a passenger, was framed and forced to confess to driving drunk and causing the accident. Mark suffered a head injury in the crash and has no memory of the week leading up to it. Gillespie, who had been an outcast in Dungirri, spent three years in prison before being cleared of drunk driving, while Mark, the son of a local landowning family, was able to go on with his life. He decides to do the right thing, resign from Parliament and ask the police to reopen the investigation.

Jenn Barrett’s cousin Paula was killed in the accident. After Jenn’s parents died, she spent several years living with Paula and her parents, and the two were both friends with Mark – more than friends, in Jenn’s case, although Mark has no memory of it. Following Paula’s death, the seventeen year old Jenn left Dungirri and her abusive uncle behind and went on to become a successful journalist, covering various international stories. However, in the aftermath of Mark’s confession, her uncle asks her to return to Dungirri, since the family is shattered by the revelations and other recent events.

Some of the background to the story refers to things that happened in your previous Dungirri-set book, Dark Country. But although I didn’t really remember the details of Dark Country all that well, I didn’t feel lost, and the necessary information was conveyed without resorting to info-dumping.

It soon becomes clear that there was more to the accident and the subsequent cover-up than was first apparent. Mark’s home is broken into and set on fire, two men who might have knowledge of the investigation are murdered, and Jenn’s old colleagues at the regional newspaper where she’d worked as a teenager seem to know more than they are willing to divulge. They are clearly scared about Jenn digging further – with good reason, as it turns out. As Jenn and Mark work together to find what had happened eighteen years earlier and what other secrets might be buried further in the past, their old feelings for each other grow stronger.

My impression is that your books lean more toward the suspense part of romantic suspense, and this was again the case here. This part of the story works well, and I appreciated that it involves ordinary people and not any larger than life characters as sometimes happens in this genre. While my bio notes that I’m not a fan of small-town romances, this mostly has to do with how idealized small towns often are. Dungirri is not; there are good things about it, such as the sense of community, but also darker aspects. Actually, there has been so much crime in Dungirri that I wondered at times why any residents would want to remain there. I hope that the happy ending will extend to the rest of the town.

The romance in Darkening Skies is pretty much a secondary part of the book. Jenn and Mark both acknowledge that they are attracted to and have feelings for each other, but Mark’s life is in Dungirri, while Jenn’s life and career are elsewhere, and neither is interested in a casual hookup. In addition, Jenn’s childhood losses have left her wary of commitment and intimacy, and she is cautious in how she approaches relationships. So while Jenn and Mark are together constantly, they don’t act on their attraction until the very end of the book, and the focus is almost entirely on the investigation and its repercussions.

Mark is a really good guy. Romantic suspense heroes are often alpha types, but Mark’s strength lies in his compassion for others, his honor and his ability to solve problems and help people and to be a leader when one is needed. The problem for me was that he was so nice, kind and caring that he seemed too good to be true. I wish he could have been a bit more flawed, and I think it would have been more realistic.

Overall, Darkening Skies held my interest and it was different from what I usually come across when reading romantic suspense. On the other hand, I would have liked to see more interaction between Jenn and Mark that wasn’t directly related to the investigation, and to have their relationship explored to a greater extent. I’m not necessarily opposed to romantic suspense novels that emphasize one aspect more strongly than the other, but in this case it went a bit too far for me. B-

Best regards,
Rose

Rose lives in a country where romance readers are few and far between, so discovering romance websites was a welcome development. When not busy with reading and graduate school, she can often be found online discussing romance novels or sports –occasionally both at the same time. She has no TBR pile and is forever looking to change this unfortunate fact; recommendations for historicals, romantic suspense and contemporaries (preferably of the non-small town variety) are welcome.

AmazonBNSonyKoboAREBook DepositoryGoogle