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Saturday, December 28, 2013

ARC Review: Midnight Lies by Ella Grace

I'm a huge Christy Reece fan-- I love her gritty & dark Last Chance Rescue series and, like many a fan, was sad to see it end. But when Christy announced that she'd be writing more romantic suspense under the pen name Ella Grace--this more character driven and Southern gothic than the action-packed dark RS of the LCR series-- I immediately perked up. I picked up the Wildefire series expecting trademark Christy Reece... but, unfortunately, the first book (MIDNIGHT SECRETS) was almost a DNF for me. Instead of the usual unputdownable, page-turning, sleep loss-inducing read I had come to expect from Ms. Reece, what I found was a story that was more contemporary than RS and so SLOW to get going that only sheer determination got me through all the teenage Zach and Savannah chapters. I understand the need for exposition when setting up a new series, especially one set in a small Southern town where the town itself is like another character, but this was excessive. The overly flowery writing that often veered into cliché and the overblown drama of Zach and Savannah's relationship didn't endear me to the series much. But I enjoyed the banter between the triplets and I'm a notorious series completionist, so I persevered.

MIDNIGHT LIES starts off with much more of a bang. Though it is the story of another of the Wilde triplets, Samantha, it takes place before and after the events of MIDNIGHT SECRETS--and so much of Sam's character and motivations is shaped by those events that the books really must be read in order. The painstaking exposition of the previous book allows Sam's story to jump straight into the action, with her seemingly perfect doctor boyfriend, Quinn Braddock, as the prime suspect in his ex-wife's murder and Sam unsure of his innocence. Of course, she soon realises her mistake and works tirelessly to clear him, but the damage is done. She's an idiot (talk about a cop with terrible people instincts!), he's an absolute wanker, and the mostly-physical-though-Sam-is-head-over-heels-in-love relationship implodes, sending Sam scampering back to her hometown of Midnight, Alabama to set up a security agency with her sisters. I mean, I get that Savannah was a former DA, Sam was a big-city homicide detective, and the third sister, Sabrina, is a private investigator... but I wouldn't hire them for protective services to save my life. They look like complete twits!

Fast-forward a few months. Quinn cannot completely get rid of the cloud of suspicion that surrounds him and realises that he really was a complete asshat to Sam the last time he saw her (and he can't live without her, despite his being soured on marriage for the rest of his life and her being a good ole Southern girl with traditional values)... so he shows up in Midnight to apologise. And buys Sam's dream house. For them. Despite the fact that there's no 'them' anymore. But their libidos are apparently uncontrollable whenever they're together and they end up in bed and Sam thinks everything is finally falling into place. Except that Quinn won't change his mind about marriage and she wants a serious commitment. So they break up, again. Until he (again) realises that he was an idiot and he has no life or job in Atlanta, moves back to Midnight to be near Sam (who's come to realisation that she wants Quinn more than she wants the white picket fence, so she's willing to give that up for whatever he's willing to give her)... and finds himself the prime suspect in another brutal murder. This time, Sam very publicly sticks by her man--even when he tries to be all noble and leave again because someone is clearly targeting the people in his life and he couldn't live with himself if something happened to her-- and the Wildefire Agency works the case. I think the identity of the villain is supposed to be an unexpected twist, but I saw it coming a mile away (granted, I do read a lot of suspense).

I was a bit ambivalent about both Sam and Quinn and their relationship. They're both scarred by the 'dark' pasts they keep close to the vest and let that shape their current behaviour, which could lend itself to some good angst. But it mostly comes out as slightly melodramatic, with Quinn's stalwart rejection of everything home-and-hearth and Sam’s hopelessly-in-love-even-though-I-deserve-better attitude. It’s not that they were bad characters; I was just underwhelmed by them and not terribly invested in their HEA. I found the same to be the case with Savannah and Zach in MIDNIGHT SECRETS. In between the two murder accusations that bookend the story, it’s pretty much a run-of-the-mill small-town contemporary romance with the same slightly overly-flowery writing as the previous book. Ms. Reece does an excellent job writing family, however, and the close relationship between the sisters and the sense of community in Midnight are palpable.

Overall, I enjoyed MIDNIGHT LIES more than MIDNIGHT SECRETS: less exposition, a faster-paced plot with more action, and the understanding that these books are very different from the Last Chance Rescue series definitely worked in its favour. Though I still enjoy Ms. Reece’s LCR books and writing style more than her pseudonym’s, the Wildefire series is a good read for anyone who likes their romance primarily character-driven and with a dash of suspense. Sabrina looks like the most layered of the three Wilde triplets, so I look forward to reading her story in the coming months.

**ARC provided by NetGalley**

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