Deadline by Sandra Brown

Audiobook narrated by Stephen Lang

 At some point around the turn of the 21st century Sandra Brown became brilliant. Well, she was probably always brilliant, but the day came when she threw off the rules of genre fiction and let her inner storyteller fly without constraints. Brown is a supremely clever and compelling storyteller as well as a seasoned wordsmith and that is what keeps me coming back to her books for more. In any case, I have mad love for just about every word she’s written since I read Envy originally published in 2001. Sandra Brown  is my go-to, can-do writer of romantic thrillers and her annual new book has become my most anticipated of the year. She’s pioneered her own unique genre while honoring her romance writer roots and her romance reader fans; setting a meticulously crafted mystery/thriller at the heart of–and dependent on–a love story at its core. Or is it the other way around–romance at the heart of the mystery? Either way you choose to look at it, one needs the other, and it’s a happy confluence that pleases me greatly.

 I’ve been struggling with false starts and wholesale deletes in writing this review for fear of spoilers. I had an early print ARC  that I raced through with alarming speed while waiting not-so-patiently for the audiobook. Now that I’ve read Deadline and listened to it twice (okay, thrice), I realize that just about everything I was going to talk about is slightly spoilery. Since I’m a spoiler hater, I’m going to err on the side of caution and rely on the blurb to summarize the plot. I’m glad that I experienced Deadline knowing only what is revealed in the blurb and I reveled in Brown’s diabolical plot twists without having a clue as to where she was going. 

Central to my ravishment of Sandra Brown’s books is the audio performance. Stephen Lang is my second favorite Brown narrator because, well, he’s not Victor Slezak who is the voice of my dreams. This is not Lang’s fault and once I got over my snit that Stephen is not Victor, I allowed myself to appreciate Lang’s narration. In addition to the main protagonists Dawson and Amelia, there are numerous characters who are important to the story, each requiring a unique voice. Stephen Lang aces it in that respect, seamlessly delivering dialogue between/among the entire cast while consistently staying in character. I especially love his voicing of a certain villain. An unexpected choice, but oh so devious and insightful. And extra kudos to Lang for his heartbreaking reading of Flora’s journal. I don’t love Lang’s Amelia voice, finding her sound too soft and hesitant, bordering on apologetic, for an accomplished professional woman of aristocratic upbringing. A bit of a misinterpretation there, but I did get used to it. Hero Dawson’s voice is exactly right to my ear. Dawson Scott is a different sort of Sandra Brown hero and that’s all I’m going to say. Stephen Lang clearly understands him and I love him for that. 

So now I’m off for repeat listens of my favorite Sandra Brown books, a phenomena that occurs every year at this time. Hmm, I wonder what causes it. On deck: My Victor Slezak favorites Envy, Lethal, Play Dirty, Smash Cut, Rainwater, and Smoke Screen. Read by Dennis Boutsikaris, Ricochet.
 

Deadline rates an A+ for Sandra Brown who serves up another winner and for Stephen Lang who pretty much nails it.

Here is the blurb:

Dawson Scott is a well-respected journalist recently returned from Afghanistan. Haunted by everything he experienced, he’s pivately suffering from battle fatigue, which is a threat to every aspect of his life. But then he gets a call from a source within the FBI. A new development has come to light in a story that began 40 years ago. It could be the BIG story of Dawson’s career.

Soon, Dawson is covering the disappearance and presumed murder of former Marine Jeremy Wesson, the biological son of the pair of terrorists who remain on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. As Dawson delves into the story he finds himself developing feelings for Wesson’s ex-wife Amelia and her two young sons. But when Amelia’s nanny turns up dead the case takes a stunning new turn, with Dawson himself becoming a suspect. Haunted by his own demons, Dawson takes up the chase for the notorious outlaws…and discovers the startling secret behind their story.

 

Cry No More by Linda Howard

Audiobook narrated by Joyce Bean 

While I don’t hesitate to call Cry No More Linda Howard’s most powerful and heart-wrenching book, its painful subject matter means it’s not one I’ve read/listened to as frequently as I’m wont to do with other Howard favorites. During my latest relisten I gained a new appreciation for narrator Joyce Bean’s skill and talent, her subtlety, and her sensitivity. It would have been easy for a less experienced reader to overplay Milla’s plight. So right up front, kudos to Joyce Bean for a pitch perfect performance of Linda Howard’s standout book.

I’ll do my best to write this review free of spoilers. The way Howard unwraps her story is pretty damn brilliant and I was on tenterhooks right up to the epilogue.

Milla Boone’s wunderkind surgeon husband David (she calls him Dougie, awww) is doing a year of pro bono work with a group of doctors in a small Mexican village. Their peaceful life consists of David’s work in the village clinic and Milla’s idyllic joy in new motherhood. Tragedy strikes in an instant and without warning when Milla’s newborn is snatched from her in the sleepy village marketplace. She fights fiercely for her baby, gouging out an eye of one attacker before she is felled by a nearly fatal knife wound.

The story resumes ten years later. Milla, long divorced from David, devotes every waking moment to running Finders, the organization founded as a result of her phenomenal success in finding other people’s lost and stolen children. James Diaz, a shadowy character with a fearsome reputation, agrees to help Milla find her son Justin, or at least learn what happened to him. Diaz is convinced that Milla has been “handled,” misdirected by powerful underworld baby brokers who put no limits on what they’ll do to protect their secrets. Diaz with his own contacts among the unsavory criminal element is just the man to uncover what Milla so desperately needs to know.

While they chase the truth a soul deep love born of Milla’s pain and Diaz’s need to soothe that pain blossoms between them. Diaz’s tender and selfless care of Milla when she needs it the most makes him one of the most profoundly romantic heroes I’ve ever met. Their story moved me.

I think everyone should read, or better yet, listen to Cry No More even though it’s a given that you’ll cry buckets. Dark and tragic themes, baby selling, betrayal, and more abound. Milla faces terrifying moral questions and must make impossible choices. I can’t think of any other book where the epilogue was as welcome and cathartic as it is here.

A+ for Linda Howard’s beautiful book and for Joyce Bean’s knowing how to deliver a story that needs no enhancement.

Simply Irresistible by Rachel Gibson

Audiobook narrated by Kathleen Early

I started reading romance novels about the same time Rachel Gibson started publishing them. I’m pretty sure I read Simply irresistible circa 1998 when it was new. I remember that I loved it — really, really loved it. When I saw there was to be a new audio production of the beloved story I had such tender feelings for, I was a little afraid to test my memory and see if my first hockey romance was as good as I remembered.

There’s an awful lot of talk in online romanceland about tropes-tropety-trope-tropes that serve a purpose for some reviewers to in allowing them to pigeonhole, condemn, dismiss, the lovely things about romance novels that made me fall in love with them in the first place.

Let’s see, here we have a bimbo-ish heroine, an alpha asshole hockey star hero, a meet cute, a one-night stand, a secret baby, a long separation, infidelity, an impossibly cute kid, and a woman who rejects help from her very rich (this was before billionaires were all the rage) baby-daddy.

I loved every word of it! It was fresh back then and holds up very nicely thank-you-very-much in the hands of a talented writer of Rachel Gibson’s skill who knows how to deliver a romance. It’s warm and funny and hot and sexy.

Narrator Kathleen Early does a pretty good job. There are narrators who could have punched it up some, but the story is most important here and Early didn’t add much nor detract from it.

Mackenzie’s Pleasure by Linda Howard


Audiobook narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris


In this third installment in Linda Howard’s Mackenzie family series, youngest son Zane is tasked with taking his SEAL team into hostile Libya for a stealth rescue of a kidnapped ambassador’s daughter. While this book was originally published in 1996 by Silhouette Intimate Moments, Howard deftly shows how to create a beloved classic that stands the test of time, as relevant and believable and romantic today as it was back then.

Zane Mackenzie is a dream man. He’s a warrior patriot, supremely competent and confident, smart as hell, handsome as sin, patient, loyal, and loving. This is not a complaint. Barrie Lovejoy, being pretty smart herself, once rescued by such a delightful specimen of manhood, knows that he’s The One for her. Fearful that they may not make it out of Libya alive, Barrie asks Zane to make love to her. And what a love scene! Zane is a generous, ideal lover and their lovemaking ranks as one of the most memorable and erotic scenes I’ve ever read. I fell in love with Zane right along with Barrie.

All the Queen’s Men by Linda Howard

Unabridged Audiobook narrated by Kate Forbes

Abridged narrated by Megan Gallagher 


I’ve often said that I came to romance through the door marked Romantic Suspense and All the Queen’s Men is that door. Back in 1998 I picked up the paperback on a mass market table in a mall bookstore. I’d been reading a steady diet of man thrillers and my joy knew no bounds as I sat in that mall food court falling in love with my new discovery. A thriller with romance, a hero who falls hard when he zeroes in on his woman and…sex! Do I love it as much now as I did way back then? Why, yes, even more now that I own two audio versions, a Kindle book, and more than one paperback (just in case).
John Medina is the sexiest, coolest, most mysterious, and darkest special ops guy ever. He’s hotter than James Bond; a hero that every woman can love. I’ve read countless romantic suspense series  with covert ops guys who are pale shadows of the original iron man John Medina. There is nothing he doesn’t do better than anyone staying cool and composed as he stares down and outsmarts the baddest terrorists. All while clad in his tailor made Armani tux. Oh yeah, baby. It’s a new world order.

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Jacob by Jacquelyn Frank

Audiobook narrated by Xe Sands

If you’ve ever read a paranormal romance starring Ye Olde Fated Mates, you already know what’s on the checklist. Let’s just get this part out of the way.

Hero: A demon (the good kind) living in demon central compound with his warrior brothers protecting humankind against the supernatural forces of evil. Jacob is The Enforcer, tasked with preventing consorting (of the hooking up kind) between humans and demons because simply horrible, apocalyptic things will happen if such a mating occurs. I was never really sure why, but what’s important here is that Jacob is an A+ paranormal hero with all the bells and whistles.

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Lethal by Sandra Brown


Audiobook narrated by Victor Slezak

Sandra Brown specializes in the wronged, seemingly villainous hero who strikes fear and loathing in the hearts of everyone but that one special woman, and she sure has a knack for tortuously testing his heroism until justice prevails. In Lethal, deep undercover FBI agent (c’mon, you didn’t really believe he was a mass murderer) Lee Coburn is about to discover the identity of a particularly nasty criminal mastermind known as The Bookkeeper when all hell breaks loose. Coburn is set up as the shooter when seven people are executed by the Bookkeepers’ minions. He flees straight into a Louisiana swamp, to be found lying muddy and blood-smeared in the yard of widow Honor Gillette by her four-year old daughter Emily.

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