Sunday, May 22, 2016

Review: Hard Evidence

Hard Evidence

by Pamela Clare
Book 2 of I-Team series

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  5.0 Stars

After the murder of a teenage girl, a mysterious man in a black leather jacket was seen lurking near the crime scene. Investigative reporter Tessa Novak has him in her sights as the culprit...

That man was Julian Darcangelo, an undercover FBI agent working with the Denver police. He’s closing in on the trail of a human trafficker and killer. Tessa’s accusations could blow his cover, and he wants her off the investigation.

But just as Tessa has made Julian a target of interest, she is now a target of the killer. And as they are forced to trust each other, their physical attraction escalates as intensely as the threat from a ruthless murderer who wants to see both of them dead...

Either I've easily settled into the world of the I-Team story board or I have more of a thing for a thrilling action-packed police case with intrigue, suspense, and hot undercover broody FBI agent who muscles his way through investigation and interrogations (as well as into our main female character's life). It could also be because I really liked the intense unfolding of the angsty romance between Tessa and Julian (I know the "Forced Living Conditions" plot device is ALWAYS a winner in my book). It wasn't that the first book was any less stimulating than or any less intriguing than Hard Evidence (you know, if we had to do a comparison and all), but somehow I managed to find this second book so much more alluring and exciting all at the same time.

To be fair, sometimes a first book in a series gets that whole "Strange New Territory" cautious once-over from me. I have trouble starting a series if there are multiple books to them, and unless they grab my attention immediately with something outrageous, things get a bit bumpy (thus the lower rating I had given Extreme Exposure). And so there's a very distinctly obvious bias towards Hard Evidence which has nothing to do with Extreme Exposure's ability to weave an awesome story and churn out outstanding characters and plot development.

In the simplest form: I became very comfortable with the setting, the characters, and the author's writing style as well as the entire I-Team world through the first book. By the time I picked up Hard Evidence, I was already in love with everything about the series' base world.

It also helped that I found Tessa Novak to be extremely charming and every bit the type of kickass strong female heroine I love to follow along and read about. Strong at all the right times, but possessing a more realistic presentation of her emotions and misgivings, as well as the right amount of control over her own ability to drive her own life forward... Unlike a lot of other strong female main leads in the fictional world, Tessa hit every factor that makes her such a memorable, wonderful female main character.

It wasn't that I didn't like Kara McMillan from the first book in this series, but in a very reluctant comparison, I lean more towards Tessa in my favoritism right now. I don't know why, but then again it could have maybe had to do with this girl's crazy devotion to her investigation to a point of stupidly putting her life in danger, not truly realizing the consequences of her frustrating, yet admirably professional hardcore actions. There were a lot of moments where I stood on the same side as Chief Irving and Julian, wanting Tessa to just stay put and keep her information to herself long enough for them to finish up their case. And then as soon as my frustration was there, it was replaced by an impressing admiration for her dedication to her job as well as that overwhelming need to fight through her own demons as well as do SOMETHING to help the poor girl she'd watched die in front of her eyes. I also liked the sweet sarcasm in her tone whenever she thought it necessary to put "kill them with kindness" into it's most useful moments when she tries to get her point across to any jerk-hole giving her a hard time.

The entirety of Hard Evidence was filled with tension from the very first tragic moment when Tessa watched a desperate teenage girl murdered, to the moment when Tessa's life is put into jeopardy, all the way to the ending when the case and the investigation is wrapped up and concluded. Every moment had me flipping through pages with that same "one more chapter then I'll stop and get some sleep" mantra; before I knew it, I was halfway through the book (so much for one or two chapters a day to keep a steady pace). And then after a long needed three hour nap, I dove right back into the book and finished it up with a few trips to the bathroom, one trip to the fridge, and a heck of a lot of anticipation for what would come next after each and every scene.

Character-wise, this book did not disappoint. Julian Darcangelo... *sigh*... While Senator Reece Sheridan was "Perfection on a Silver Platter" (what with his gentlemanly ways, his idealistic views on his profession, and his perfect body), Julian was pretty much the "Guilty Pleasure of Broody Darkness and Hotness served up with a box of yummy Chocolates" that all women wish they could have. There's that right amount of edge to him to satisfy that desire for adrenaline-induced excitement knowing that he's a dangerous man with a heart of gold and protective instincts like the best of them. If it's one thing Pamela Clare knows, it's how to write desirable men without making them too overbearing. Case in point, they're definite alpha-males, but they know how to appreciate their women and respect them at the same time.

As much as I hate seeing perfect men all the time (hot and sexy, perfect, well-managed bodies, heart of gold, strong and protective, caring and loving...), there is at least enough of that needed character flaw that allows me to not despise them a hundred percent. It also helps that these perfect men are matched with a respective kickass woman to balance out the pairing and add enough equilibrium and sizzle to the romance to make it seem worthwhile.

So yeah... Julian Darcangelo, hot special agent, dark and broody, protective and caring... I've found a new story book hero to obsess over.

As far as character creation goes in this book, we've introduced some new faces: Lissy and Will were in the short side story Heaven Can't Wait that I read for a dose of guilty pleasure romance and sizzle. But then there was also the introduction of Katherine James -- and I swear, with just one line from her first character appearance in combination with her stoic personality, I'm already anticipating her story in the 4th book. The appearance of Tessa's mother at the end of the book is also a pleasant welcome and surprise as well. And I'm glad that Kara and Reece are still a part of the ongoing lives of the rest of the I-Team girls.

In short: I loved this book! I loved the setting, I loved the intensity of the telling, I loved the development of the investigation, I love how the issues addressed hit a chord with one of the few things that are wrong with this world. I'm thinking I may have found a new favorite series, with Hard Evidence taking residence as my favorite book from the I-Team Series as of present. And I also find myself in a bit of a regretful frustration that I've met my book spending quota for this month already and will have to either wait it out or forgo my budgeting for the next book in this series.

And so now I just sigh and sit here in frustration as I tell myself I have plenty of other books that need to be finished -- books that I've already paid for an own and are just mocking me.

This review was originally posted at Goodreads in April 2013.

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