This had a good villain and enjoyable characters. The romance happened fast, but this was a shorter book.
My review and an extended sample of the audiobook are posted at Hotlistens.com.
I read the rest of this series a while ago. I started with book three, Into the Shadows, because that was the review that really peaked my interest in this author and series. I can’t for the life of me remember who it was that recommended this series to me. I finished the series off, bet for some reason, never got back to book one in the series. So, I picked up this book when it was a free Kindle purchase and then added the audible narration for for an additional $2.99 (always check for those Whispersync deals).
I really loved getting back into the world of the Associates. They are a group of people who work in deep cover to take down some pretty horrible people. Some of the guys have to do some not so great things to keep their cover, but it is for the greater good in the long run. It just may not seem that way to the women in their lives at the time. In this story, our heroine isn’t very clean herself. She has quite the past as a jewel thief, however she’s gone clean until her team really need her help to save a family member.
Angel Ramirez is one of only a handful of people who can break into a Fenton Furst safe. The problem is that she has retired from the thief life. She is now just an interior designer. That is until her old team asks for a favor to help save a family member, one who was like family to Angel too. She has no choice but to break into this safe at Walter Borgola’s mansion, who is quite the notorious crime boss. She is quickly spotted by one of the members of Borgola’s security team, a guy named Cole.
Cole Hawkins is quite the geek, but is in deep cover as security for Borgola. If his cover is blown he will not only die, but he will die slowly and painfully. He feels that the risk is worth it. Borgola has a ship of children coming from outside the country that he plans to use for his snuff films. Cole needs to find Borgola’s plans to find the ship before it makes landfall or he will never find all of these kids. When Angel and her team breaks into get the diamonds, he makes plans to recover the diamonds and use the diamonds to track to the even more secluded safe. He also give Angel an offer she can’t refuse to help him get the information he needs to save the kids.
I really enjoyed listening to this story. Cole was so calculating in persona to keep his cover. The ways he used his intelligence to keep the rest of the security team and Borgola from learning about the real Cole was fun to watch. Angel was another fun one. She wanted so badly not to get back into to the thief life, but at the same time she missed it so much. She missed her friends who had not left the life. She missed the thrill of the heist. But she didn’t want the rejection of her family for being a criminal. Not to mention the relationship between Cole and Angel was hot. Some of it starts of as a ruse to keep their cover for Borgola, but they love every minute of it in the end. If you’re looking for a fun romantic suspense series, this is great one where people are quite what they seem on the surface.
Romy Nordlinger is a narrator that has grown on me the more I’ve listen to her. The first book that I listened to from her, I wasn’t a huge fan, but the more I listened, the more I got to where I liked her narration. I don’t think I will ever have her listed as a top narrator on my list, but I think she does an okay job. I never had a hard time understanding anything she said. She voices the different characters well, both male and female. I think she does a good job with her inflection, especially when you consider she has to voice some pretty horrible people in this series. This is the only series that I’ve listened to her narrate. I am sad to see that the four and final book in this series isn’t available on audio. I still need to read it, and I will tackle it, but I’m sad that I can’t tackle via audio.
Five years ago, Angel Ramirez gave up safe-cracking and stealing and swore to mend her ways, sick of hurting and using people. She's been working hard to stay on the straight and narrow, making a living as an interior decorator, trying to earn the forgiveness of her disappointed family members. When the woman Angel considers as close as a real aunt is kidnapped, and the ransom demanded is the hoard of diamonds belonging to notorious gangster Walter Borgola, Angel has no choice but to reunite with her girl gang for one last heist. With the amount of planning and research Angel and her friends put in, it should have been a quick and easy job, if it hadn't been for the presence of Cole Hawkins.
A highly trained operative in a secret intelligence organisation, having established himself over the course of months deep undercover in Borgola's crew, Cole Hawkins knows he is running out of time. He needs to figure out the location of Borgola's private safe and get his hands on some encrypted shipping documents, in order to save a boatload of teenagers on their way to sexual slavery and most likely grisly death in Borgola's torture porn and snuff films. Having slowly worked himself up in the ranks, he only has a matter of days left before the ship docks. When Borgola's diamonds are stolen from his bedroom safe, believed to be nearly impossible to crack, Cole sees an opportunity to finally reach his goal. He blackmails Angel. In return for her posing as his lover at Borgola's compound, aiding him in tracking down and breaking into the private safe, he won't turn her and her partners in to the authorities and in addition he'll make sure that Angel's aunt is rescued from her kidnappers.
Drawn to Cole, despite her disgust that he is blackmailing her (he can't tell her why he needs to break into Borgola's private safe, as that information is classified), Angel soon discovers that pretending to be his girlfriend won't require much faking, as the chemistry between them is sizzling. Of course, whether they have a future together as a real couple very much depends on whether they survive breaking into a ruthless sociopath's high security vaults and getting away without him catching them...
In November last year, I fairly quickly devoured Carolyn Crane's Disillusionists trilogy, after the first book was the monthly pick in Felicia Day's Vaginal Fantasy book club. So when I discovered the first three books in her new romantic suspense series, the Associates, in an e-book sale earlier this year, I figured they were worth checking out, and then, as far too often happens, I forgot all about them for a while. Then I read a blog discussion about this book over on All About Romance, where all three participants were highly complimentary, which spurred me to pick it up.
It's not a very long book, and the action takes place over a very short space of time. I tend to find insta-love stories a bit annoying, but in Cole and Angel's case it's more a case of insta-lust and as their personal chemistry is off the charts and they're thrown together under very tense and extraordinary circumstances, I can see why their feelings develop very quickly. I really liked both protagonists a lot, as well as the friends they had supporting them on either side. I'm assuming that some of the Associates mentioned are going to show up in future books, but I would also be happy to see Angel's friends show up as well. Her gang was pretty cool, although the nickname "White Jenny" for one of women got on my nerves.
Borgola is a truly skeevy and reprehensible villain and you understand why Cole is willing to risk his own safety and use every underhanded trick in the book to rescue the teenagers on their way to be exploited, abused and eventually probably murdered. Not really a brawny action type, more a highly trained nerd with an obsession for logistics, Cole was an intriguing action hero. I always find intelligence much more attractive than just muscles. If that intelligence is combined with deadly skill, so much the better.
Angel is a great heroine, honourable and loyal to a fault. Having come to regret her previous life of crime, she works so hard to prove she's reformed to her disapproving parents. While she clearly has a genuine gift for helping others design and decorate their dream homes, she doesn't really take any pleasure from her new life, clearly missing the adrenaline rush provided from her former safe-cracking escapades. Cole and his Associates may provide a way for her to combine her two different skill sets and open up for a more satisfying and challenging future for her.
As well as some truly nail-bitingly tense bits, there are also some very steamy sex scenes in this book, one memorable one which is just Cole suggesting to Amber what took place on their first date, when they're trying to rehearse their cover story about being lovers before going to dinner at Borgola's. Let's just say he paints quite the graphic word picture. My figurative stays most certainly needed loosening. Online reviews suggest that the sequels to this are even more enjoyable, so I'm looking forward to reading them in the coming months.
...because my life is complete. There's something about Carolyn Crane's characters that just reminds of chili hot chocolate, or salted caramel, or even wasabi white chocolate cupcakes (yes, that is a Marian Keyes reference. Believe it!) Looking at them in theory, they are a mixture of traits that should not coexist, and yet in her books, they work so well, you can't believe how you lived without this. (Hence why I'm rationing her Disillusionists series like nobody's business, because I don't want to be left without a Crane book unread. Yes, I am one of those people.)
Anyway, "The Associates" series are romantic suspense, which is kinda like the Disillusionists series, but without the paranormal aspect. That's okay, though, we have a super-secret organization that fights crime independently of the government that is entirely comprised of geeks agents. And by geek agent, I mean super-hot dudes with obscure areas of specialization that go deep undercover in the worst criminal groups imaginable. They can do what they have to do without any sort of public accountability, but also without having to rely on obscure politics and funding to do their job. Your mileage on that may vary, but I found it didn't marr my enjoyment of the series, mostly because everyone involved is awesome beyond belief.
"Against the Dark" is the story of Cole, a maths geek who enlists the help of a retired jewel thief to get some documents from the safe of a sadistic crime boss and save a bunch of kids from a horrible death. In "Off the Edge", a singer on the run from her abusive husband and a linguistics expert are thrown together in a race to stop a weapon of mass destruction to be sold off to the highest bidder. And "Into the Shadows" has a deep undercover pretending to investigate a series of sweatshop raids, not knowing that the woman behind them is his former lover, or that she gave birth to his child.
Right off the bat, we're thrown into a world of high stakes, where everyone has something to lose and not always something to win. All three books benefit from excellent pacing, with action and lulls coming at just the right moment - it's a reminder that, in the right hands, a multiple third person POV can be pulled off and it can be pulled off quite well. I don't think I would have enjoyed some of these characters half as much if I didn't spend some time in their heads, and learnt their motivations only in the end. Difficult lot, they are.
And I really, really liked how Crane didn't shy from making her male characters well and truly (and I mean truly) broken. Cole, Macmillan and Thorne aren't just a bunch of blokes with a lot of manpain - they all have painful pasts and those pasts massively fucked them up, to the point where they are all barely able to function normally. Now, you might think this opens up the whole "healed by love" can of worms, but I think the series manages to escape it, largely due to how it handles its characters' brokenness.
To put it in another way, there are books out there that make a point of discussing the male character having a mental health problem of a sorts so that can introduce a relationship conflict (see: 50 Shades of Gray.) But having a mental illness doesn't make you unfit to love and live a fulfilling life, and you don't have to be "healed" before you can have all those good things. "The Associates" books don't go out of their way to spell out just what the guys' problems are. Nor do the heroines entertain any notions that men can be "healed" - they are quite broken up themselves, actually. They find a middle road, and there is no better way to sum it up than this piece of dialogue:
"You have to let some things and some people be fucked up," she said.
"How?" he said.
"You just do," she whispered.
- Against the Dark, location 2345, Kindle Edition
Amen to that.
3.5 Stars.....I liked this one but something is keeping me from giving it a solid 4 stars.....some of it was Cole...I find it a bit hard to believe that "The Association" could find out about Angel so quickly but not have any idea that she had been retired...while I realize it probably would not have worked for the story...but it bugged me a bit. That aside I did like Angel and her crew and Cole became less of an ass as the story progressed The narration was very good and was an enjoyable listen