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REVIEW:  Off the Edge by Carolyn Crane

REVIEW: Off the Edge by Carolyn Crane

Dear Ms. Crane:

Apparently this is the second book in a series about members of The Associates, a somewhat altruistic entity that is funded by a secretive billionaire. I have not read the first one and didn’t miss it at all.

Off the Edge (The Associates #2) by Carolyn Crane Peter Macmillan lost his fiancee and his family in a Mexico and he transformed from Professor Peter Maxwell to the hunter Macmillan. Peter is a linguistic specialist and the detail with which this was incorporated into every aspect of the story from how Peter finds his prey to why he connects so intimately with Laney Lancaster. I was fascinated by this.

“Laney was onto another song—a young girl making dinner for her man. Cookbook full of wishes. If the scruffy little dog moving his legs like he was running in his sleep, or mama’s Irish lullaby didn’t get you, the cookbook full of wishes would.

He rubbed his eyes. “Good lord, woman, if you miss your alcoholic hoarder Mama that much, go back to Florida.”

Rio turned to him. “That’s what she’s singing about?”

“More or less. And all the bit about dinner—the cornpone mama meaning so well. The whole Mama song is infused with classic child of alcoholic thinking. It’s probably the reason our poor Laney up and married that controlling husband.”

Rio stared at him incredulously. “I’ve been listening to these songs for three nights, watching the tables. They’re just…lists of things. You can’t be getting all that meaning from lists of things.”

“English Lit 101. A poem is rarely about one thing. A rose is more than a rose. A cigar is more than a cigar.” Macmillan had always had a soft spot for the poets. Back in his life as Peter, anyway. He broke off a bit of cake. “My guess is that she’s on the run from that controlling husband.”

Laney is holed up in a hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, singing little songs that she has written herself. She’s there because it’s the only safe refuge she has found after she sold out her criminal husband to the FBI. Peter hears these songs and they speak to him. But her existence is spare. She lives in a hotel that she rarely leaves, she sings for her supper, and has little interaction with anyone but her friend Rajini whose family owns the hotel. Rajini has promised Laney that her brothers will get her fake identification so that if Laney needs to run again, she will have the means to do so but Rajini’s promises don’t ever seem to come to fruition.

In the meantime, Laney hides turtle-like within the hotel, writes her sad songs, and dreams of a life where she is something more than just background noise in a foreign hotel dining room. In this hotel, however, terrorists are gathering together to bid on a weapon called the TZ-5. There’s a little super hero wink and nod at the scope of this weapon and the gathering of the criminals but it is more than a mere MacGuffin that is easily discarded in the storyline when convenient. Instead the weapon is the focus of the suspense and the disparate threads are pulled together tightly at the end.

Language is so important in this book and used so cleverly:

“Not a professor, just an adjunct, there for the quarter. A subject matter expert, he called himself. The way he said it, she got that it was a buzzword, and that he didn’t quite like it.

“Subject matter expert,” she said, rolling it around for herself.

“S. M. E. for short.”

“But never a smee, I hope.”

He gave her a sly look. Lordy, his charm could light a burnt-out bulb. “Smee? Don’t even utter it. That’s how words like that start.”

I did feel that there were some elements of the suspense that were rather strained and required acceptance by the reader that these coincidences really could happen. And from a romance point of view, I felt like we didn’t get to experience as much as we could have. There are multiple points of view primarily to keep us interested in future Associates books and, I suppose, to provide more insight on the role of The Associates.

But the pleasure in this book is that it’s truly different yet not which is what we all want right? The word play is a joy to read and Peter and Laney are a perfect match. You can see them together decades from now enjoying just hearing the other talk and parsing out the meanings of words exotic and mundane.

As an aside Laney’s lyrics about the mundane reminded me of Lisa Loeb. B

Best regards,


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REVIEW:  Eagle’s Heart by Alyssa Cole

REVIEW: Eagle’s Heart by Alyssa Cole

eagles-heartDear Alyssa Cole,

Salomeh Jones is a Brooklyn high school teacher whose attempt to aid an abused student ruins her career and puts her life in jeopardy. Julian Tamali is a special agent hot on the trail of the Albanian mafia boss responsible for a slew of crimes, including the death of Julian’s family. When Julian finds a connection between the mafia boss and the disgraced school teacher, he sets into motion a series of events that will change their lives forever.

A night of pleasure throws them into a deadly game of cat and mouse with the man who has kidnapped Salomeh’s student and is possibly providing weapons to terrorists. Caught in a web of passion, danger, and betrayal, Julian and Salomeh must stop the mafia boss or forfeit their chance at redemption–and their lives.

We’ve been talking a lot in Romancelandia lately about diversity and when I saw this one tweeted by Suleikha Snyder I went and had a look.  Most of the “gang” books I’ve read (not that there have been terribly many) have been about motorcycle gangs clubs and the heroes there are different in that they’re often criminals.  I liked the idea of a gang book where the hero was an undercover agent – there’s no conflict about who is the good guy here.  (I was mistaken in one respect – Julian Tamali is not undercover at all.)  I also liked that the main characters were racially diverse and that the cover reflects that – although Salomeh’s hair was curly in the book.

I’m trying to include more diversity in my reading but when it comes down to it, those things in themselves won’t make me like a book.  It’s down to the story and the characters.  Here, unfortunately, I found the heroine boarded the too-stupid-to-live train and pretty much stayed right on it till the end of the line.  Salomeh is a high school teacher.  She is involved in mentoring programs and is very dedicated.  When one of her students (whom she feels as close to as a daughter – which surprised me and not in a good way) is being abused by her mother and her mother’s boyfriend, Salomeh reports him to the police.  Unfortunately, the boyfriend, Alexi, works for Albanian gang boss, Bardhyn.  Bardhyn has cops all over the place in his pocket and Salomeh’s allegations go nowhere.  Instead, the book opens when she is told that there are allegations that she molested her students being made against her and she is suspended.  She is hounded by the media who are after a salacious story and even though the charges are dropped, her career appears to have been utterly ruined.  At one point Salomeh thinks

How exactly would she explain that she might pop up in his local child-predator registry?

I’m hoping this was hyperbolic thinking because she was never convicted of any crime and so would not be appearing on any child-predator registries.

Julian hears about a teacher whose career has been ruined by Bardhyn, former BFF and the man he’s been trying to put away for years.  Looking Salomeh Jones up online and then doing FBI-type searches about her, he falls instantly in lust (Salomeh looks awesome in a bikini).  He does plan to interview her regarding her knowledge of Bardhyn but it happens that they are at the same 4th of July party where he fails to tell her he is an FBI agent.  They do have a connection and the banter between them at the party and the way they clearly spent a lot of time talking with each other made the attraction between them understandable and obvious. This was one of the strongest sections of the story.

When Salomeh finds out who Julian actually is, she is angry, hurt and betrayed but pretty soon she finds he is the only one she can rely on as the bullets start flying.  Julian does give fairly good apology about the deception and from then on he is honest with her.

Yelena, the girl at the heart of the allegations has disappeared and Salomeh fears for her safety.  Despite the fact that Salomeh is a school teacher and not a ninja assassin, she thinks it is a good idea to confront Alexi in an effort to get Yelena, safely away from him.  After this goes about as well as you’d expect (ie, really badly), Salomeh still does not learn her lesson.  After Julian comes clean and she is being interviewed by Julian’s boss she refuses FBI protection.  Bardhyn is a very powerful mob boss who has evaded criminal sanctions for a very long time.  He is involved in human trafficking, drugs and guns and he has city officials and police/FBI agents on his payroll.  But that’s fine, Salomeh can just hide out on her own.  (Fortunately Julian convinces her this is a bad idea and to her credit Salomeh does listen to reason).

The sex scenes were mostly pretty good, except for this:-

He wondered if the people around them could possibly tell she was so wet for him that she was soaking through his jeans as she worked herself on his thigh.

which was kind of ick for me. And I’m not fond of sex noises being described as “yips and cries”.  Apart from that however, the sex scenes were definitely steamy, creative and demonstrated the sexual connection between the couple.

I didn’t love the writing style.  I found it over-full of adjectives and adverbs

His grip on her became even tighter, his intensity leaving Salomeh gasping for breath as he molded her body to his. She had wondered at his strength earlier in the night. Now, as his hard pectorals heaved under her palms and his corded biceps held her in his thrall, she knew the feel of brute power tempered by adulation.

and there were quite a few times where I felt the word choice was odd. I felt it was badly in need of further editing.

Julian was painfully hard now, from his memory of the picture alone. He felt a flash of impropriety as he slipped his hand under the blanket and gripped his cock tentatively like he was a nervous teenager expecting someone to come bang on the bathroom door.

He’d thought fantasizing about Salomeh would clear her from his head, but even now, still out of breath from his expenditure, he wanted more.

Bardhyn had laid Julian’s life fallow, had watched the flicker of hope in his friend’s eyes snuff out and be replaced with agony.

It had the melodic but dolorous tone of something not quite European.

She drew her knees up to her chest, innately curling up into the fetal position as if that would ward off any additional blows.

Things did pick up a bit in the last third of the book after I had taken a breather and tried to come back to the story with a more open mind (when I’m not enjoying a book, I find myself being extra critical and I don’t always think that’s fair).  But then Salomeh went and did something really dumb again and, given she and Julian had talked about how he is a trained FBI agent and she is a school teacher and she ought to stay where she was, I really couldn’t cut her any slack for inexperience or naivete. She falls back into bad (TSTL) habits for the grand finale even though she suddenly does develop some ninja moves.

Something wild possessed her, and instead of slowing down, she sped up. In a few steps, she was an arm’s length away from the man. She stopped short and delivered two quick jabs, one to his throat and one to his nose, followed by a hard kick to his groin. She did it so fast she surprised herself. She had obviously surprised him too, since he had put up no resistance. The man fell to his knees, and Julian came up from behind her and finished him off with a hard right to the jaw.

The main portion of the story takes place in only a very short time but the HEA doesn’t occur straight away – this helped me believe that there was more to their relationship than physical attraction.  Even so I thought the exchange of “I love you” was mighty fast, coming prior to the epilogue.  I was curious about what Salomeh was doing at the end of the book (or perhaps, more accurately, how she had managed it) and would have liked some more information about that.  I thought the ending was kind of abrupt.

It wasn’t the diversity I didn’t like. I still intend to read books by authors of colour or about characters of colour and I appreciated the ethnic blend of characters in this story,  where a white woman was very much in the minority.  The Brooklyn setting with its population of people from many different countries was a plus – I don’t know for sure, but my impression is that the area is a bit of a melting pot – and I liked reading about life outside my own very white world.

There were some parts of the story which flowed better for me and some sentences/phrases that worked really well – like this one

“You okay, 007?” she asked when his eyes met hers, and he realized he had let his mask drop and his face was an open book, dog-eared at the sexiest scene.

- and I noticed those because there were others which really didn’t.  I was trying to find things to like in the book by the end but unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot.

Grade: D



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