Firestorm by Rachel Grant, narrated by Greg Tremblay

A lightning storm lights up a dark jungle scene. The colours are purple, blue and black with pink lightning. Why I read it:  I received a review copy via the author. I was so excited to listen I immediately bumped it up the queue.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  CIA covert operator Savannah James is after intel on a potential coup in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but she needs a partner fluent in Lingala to infiltrate the organization. Sergeant First Class Cassius Callahan is the perfect choice, except he doesn’t like her very much. He doesn’t trust her, either, despite the sparks that flare between them, fierce and hot. Still, he accepts the assignment even though their cover requires Savvy to pose as his mistress.

They enter battle-worn Congo to expose the financing for the coup. A trail of cobalt, gold, and diamonds leads them into the heart of a jungle in which everyone is desperate to find the mother lode of ore and gems. Betrayal stalks them as they follow the money, but Savvy will stop at nothing to bring down the would-be dictator before he can ignite a firestorm that will engulf all of Africa.

Deep in the sultry rainforest, spy and Green Beret forge a relationship more precious than diamonds, but Cal knows Savvy is willing to sacrifice anything—or anyone—to complete her mission. As they near the flashpoint, Cal will have to save her from the greatest threat of all: herself.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  The short answer to the question of “what worked for me” is “pretty much everything”.  Firestorm is a cracking good listen, with excellent narration and smart, consistent characters and a thrilling story. I do think Firestorm works better in the context of the whole series but it’s not essential.

The blurb tells listeners what they need to know so I don’t want to spend time rehashing the plot. There are plenty of excellent reviews which do that already (here’s one). TW: Listeners should be aware that there is some difficult subject matter involving sexual assault and sexual and other forms of slavery and harm to children, which could be triggering.

I decided to talk about other aspects of the book to do something a bit different. It was something a lot on my mind as I’ve been considering diversity and representation in romance lately. I don’t assert I’m an expert however (after all, I’m a white middle-class Australian) and as always, I’m happy to listen to other voices who have a stake in the subject matter. While I do think that some stories are best left for authors of colour to tell, my starting point is that I don’t subscribe to the view that white authors should never ever write books set in nonwhite countries.  I also believe that if a white author is going to set a book in a nonwhite country (and/or featuring nonwhite characters) then that author should do careful research and be sensitive to the representation they are presenting.

August Round Up

Monthly Mini Review

The lower half of the cover features Egyptian pyramids and a old-timey key with a red splotch of (blood?) under it, The top half is a picture of the face and neck/shoulders of a young, cute, white guy with brown hair wearing a black jacket with the collar turned up. In the background are Egyptian hieroglyphs. In the top right is the tagline "History isn't always what it seems".Cronin’s Key by NR Walker, narrated by Joel Leslie – C+/B- I picked this up a few months back when it was an Audible Daily Deal. I paid $4.35 for it. NR Walker is an author I’ve read a little of before and one who is featured a number of times in my TBR and I’d heard good things about Joel Leslie too and the sample sounded okay so I bought it.

Alec MacAidan is a detective with the NYPD. He is chasing down a suspect when another man appears in front of him suddenly and is shot by a wooden bullet. The man says something about a key and gives Alec a message and then crumbles to dust. Alec’s colleagues think he’s delusional but then another man – a handsome redhead, walks into the police station. Alec is instantly drawn to him and when the man tells him to put his arms around him, Alec does and they both vanish. The redhead is Cronin, an ancient vampire who has been waiting and searching for his fated mate for more than a thousand years.

Alec is “good with weird” but learning he is the Key the first vampire spoke to him about, learning about the existence of vampires at all and learning that he is the fated mate of one of the most ancient of vampires is all a bit much. Alec is at first quite resistant to the lack of free will inherent in the fated mate thing. I was wondering where it would go but the story didn’t really engage with it despite its promise. In the end Alec just accepted it – and when I say “in the end” the entire book takes place within about a week.

Concrete Evidence by Rachel Grant, narrated by Meredith Mitchell

Washington monument at night in the left foreground with a man kissing the neck of a woman in the right background.Why I read it:  This one is part of the #AudibleRomance package.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Accused of stealing artifacts from a 500-year-old shipwreck, underwater archaeologist Erica Kesling is determined to clear her name. She’s concealed her past and taken a job certain to give her access to the buyer of the missing antiquities. She’s finally closing in on her goal when she’s distracted by a sexy, charismatic intern who makes her want something other than revenge.

But Lee Scott is no intern. He’s looking for the lead conspirator in an international artifact smuggling scheme, and Erica is his prime suspect. He’ll do whatever it takes to win her trust and get her to reveal her secrets, even seduce her.

As Erica and Lee struggle to conceal their real agendas, the one thing they can’t hide is the attraction that burns hot between them. When Erica’s quest puts her life in jeopardy, Lee must choose between old loyalties and a woman he never expected to fall for.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  I believe Concrete Evidence is Rachel Grant’s first published book. Having recently listened to her most recent release, Firestorm, it is obvious that her skills have only grown since then. In some ways this listen, so close on the heels of the other was a strange juxtaposition. Concrete Evidence is somewhat dated already and, while entertaining, romantic and pacey, it is also not to the same calibre as Firestorm (then again, not many books are).

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