Lie With Me by Stephanie Tyler

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Audiobook narrated by Johanna Parker

In this first book in her Shadow Force series Stephanie Tyler has set up a large multigenerational cast of cleverly interconnected current and former government covert operatives. I went back and forth between loving this story and being annoyed with it — often for the same reasons. Ultimately I was won over by Tyler’s stripped down characters — their vulnerability and willingness to open up despite their painful pasts. There is a main couple but there are other couples as well clamoring for attention — future series couples whom I really wish had waited for their own books.

Cameron Moore and Skylar Slavin are adult children — survivors, really — of hardcore black ops agents. I found this premise a fascinating one and Tyler fulfilled its promise, exploring a little known lifestyle with compelling results. Both Cam and Sky had horrific childhoods as a direct result of their parents’ secretive undercover work. Cam’s father was a murdered DEA agent who so convincingly immersed himself in his undercover role as a violent gang member that he was an absent and inaccessible parent. Sky’s mother was a CIA agent assassinated when Sky was a child and her father, Gabriel Creighton, is Cam’s current iron-fisted CIA handler. After years of Creighton’s manipulations and a nearly successful attempt on his life, Cam decides he’s had enough. He comes up with a desperate plan to kidnap Skylar and use her to blackmail Creighton into allowing him to quit the spy business.

Cam bursts in on Sky in full Big Tough Alpha Guy intimidation mode, claiming that her father has sent him to protect Sky from terrorist threats. For a Big Tough Alpha Guy Cam’s cold heart melts with amazing speed when he senses Sky’s innocence and vulnerability. Before you can say “he’s toast” Cam has turned into Alpha Protector Guy Falling in Love. Neither Cam nor Sky has heard from Creighton in months so they take off on a road trip together to find him. Soon it’s clear that someone really is trying to kidnap Skylar and that she really does need a bodyguard.

Johanna Parker’s narration is exactly right. I heard (and liked a lot, thank you very much) Cam’s lusty, sexually adventurous nature that makes him a caring and generous lover. Parker doesn’t significantly differ Cam’s voice from all those other guys with “Future Hero” stamped on their foreheads, but that would have been a big challenge indeed, and not truly necessary. Happily, there’s no doubt that Cam is the Alpha of his own book. Parker’s female characterizations have more variety and Skylar sounds just as she should. I’ve been enjoying Parker’s narration throughout the Shadow Force series. She gets the grittiness as well as the tenderness and I think she’s an ideal narrator in the romantic suspense genre.

I haven’t dwelt on my biggest gripes because I give Lie with Me in audiobook format an unqualified thumbs up. My quibbles have to do with a number of secondary romances that were set up in this book to be resolved in later books. We meet all of Cam’s super cool black ops pals and they began to feel like intruders. And I have to wonder why their names all sound just alike? Cam, Kell, Mace, Gray, Zane, Cael. It’s tough to keep them straight in print and even more vexing in audio.

Tyler’s characters are complex, layered, and well drawn and her lovers intense and nuanced. Her plot is a good one; believable and well told. She’s crafted clever connections amongst her cast members and that’s a fun bonus. I’m currently listening to the fourth book in the series and happily immersed in the black ops world of Cam and his super cool pals.

Really enjoyed it! Grade B+ for Stephanie Tyler and Johanna Parker.

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