Smoke and Mirrors is a collection of eight romantic suspense novellas, all of which have characters with hidden identities, to keep them out of danger. Each novella is introduced by the author of the previous novella, which is a nice touch.
THE LONG VIEW by Connie Almony
JT is thrown back together with Destiny, his teenage crush, when his old boss—her father—calls on him to investigate Destiny’s new ‘friend’, a suspected ISIS terrorist.
An excellent story, with a theme it pays to remember: sometimes, we have to take the long-term view in order to succeed. This is the first time I’ve read anything by Connie Almony, but it won’t be the last.
TAKEN by Sally Bradley
Taken follows on from Kept, Sally Bradley’s outstanding debut novel. But Taken is definitely romantic suspense: Cam Winters has feelings for Jordan Foster, his best friend’s much-younger sister. But he also has a secret . . .
I enjoyed Kept, I enjoyed Taken, and I look forward to enjoying many more of Sally Bradley’s novels and novellas in the future. I like her characters (especially her strong and intelligent female characters), her writing, and the way she combines Christian themes and messages into stories that aren’t the Christian norm without ever coming across as preachy.
ON THE ROPES by Hallee Bridgeman
Victor is a pro boxer and member of a Russian mob family, but a strong Christian and faithful boyfriend, even in the face of distance and danger. But will Ruth believe that, or will she believe what everyone else believes?
On the Ropes is a dual timeline story, slipping between the present and the recent past. I initially found this a little distracting, but it worked once I got into the flow of the story, and On the Ropes turned into an excellent short suspense novel with a strong Christian message (although perhaps a little too heavy on the suspense and a little too light on the romance? Oh, well, we can’t have everything).
OUT OF CIRCULATION by Heather Day Gilbert
Out of Circulation also has Russian mobsters, this time threatening small-town librarian Katie McClure. She seeks protection from Manhattan bodyguard Ace Calhoun who just “happens” to be in town. I didn’t enjoy Out of Circulation as much as the previous three novellas, mainly because I didn’t like Ace’s prehistoric attitude towards women, and couldn’t understand what Katie (and her sister, and her mother) saw in him. It’s hard to love a romance when you don’t like the hero.
DANGEROUS ALTERNATIVE by Kelli Hughett
Hollywood grip Levi Boulter is an undercover FBI agent, and when his ‘other’ job catches up with his day job he finds himself forced to dump Mahari, the love of his life, for her own protection. But his noble gesture soon puts both of them in danger.
While Dangerous Alternative had excellent potential as a romantic suspense novella, I did feel the plot got a little lost in the pro-alternative medicine theme. I was taken aback by Mahari’s profession as an acupuncturist and herbalist, as her belief in and reliance on these alternative medicines seemed to contradict both her Indian heritage and her Christian faith. It also bothered me that the Christian characters were more willing to seek healing through alternative medicine (on which Christian opinion is divided, to say the least) than through prayer (I know not all Christians believe in the power of prayer to heal, but surely it should at least be considered? Or is this my needle phobia talking?).
IDENTITY THEFT by Alana Terry
Jo aka Lacy is finally moving on four years after losing her fiancé and entering the witness protection program. Alaskan state trooper Kurtis would like to marry Lacy, but is she ready?
I felt this novella was mistitled: there was no identity theft (where one person steals the identity of someone else and passes him or herself off as that person especially in regard to financial fraud). I also got confused over the details of the witness protection program, as one of the details in this contradicted a detail in On the Ropes. Yes, I get they are both fiction and both use an element of artistic license. But reading them so close together highlighted the inconsistencies to the detriment of this story.
OBSESSION by Rachel Trautmiller
Two pregnant homeless women are dead, and Detective Amanda Nettles is horrified to find that not only has her mother escaped from her Alzheimer’s care home, but she’s found at the scene of the second crime holding a bloody knife. Factor in a pregnant teen, an unhelpful colleague and an obstructive doctor, and there are a lot of problems to solve.
Obsession is obviously part of a series, and I found it difficult to get into at first, because it felt like I was dropped in the middle of a story without knowing any of the characters (not helped by the fact there were a lot of characters, most of whom were referred to by several different names). The plot was also more complex than normally found in a novella, with a couple of significant subplots which only came together in the closing pages.
Once I sorted out all the characters, Obsession turned into a well-written and fast-paced thriller, one of my favourite in the collection. I suspect it would have been better as a full novel so all the subplots could have been given the attention they deserved.
SCENT OF DANGER by Alexa Verde
Small-town cop Maya Hutchinson risks her life to find her missing twin sister by posing as her (now this one could have been called Identity Theft!). She is helped by dashing senator's son and cop-turned-PI Connor McNamara, but he’s keeping a secret from Maya as well . . .
Scent of Danger was an excellent finish to the Smoke and Mirrors collection, with solid writing, great characters and a plot that was exactly the right mix: straightforward enough to follow, but with enough twists and turns to keep me guessing. Another author I’ll watch out for.
Any novella collection has some stories which are outstanding (Taken), some which are average, and most of which are in between. And a lot of this will be down to personal taste: I find it hard to like a story about a character I can’t relate to or like, but that’s often a matter of different life experience. Overall, Smoke and Mirrors is a very good collection and one which has added some authors to my to-watch list. As though it’s not long enough already.
Thanks to the authors for providing a free ebook for review.