by Maya Banks
Book #1: The Darkest Hour | Goodreads | Rating: 3.5 Stars
Book #2: No Place To Run | Goodreads | Rating: 4.0 Stars
Book #3: Hidden Away | Goodreads | Rating: 3.5 Stars
Average Rating of first three KGI books: 3.66 Stars
I’m going to have to admit that I’m having a hard time detaching myself from the Kelly family and the KGI world. If there is anything in fiction that gets right at all my FEELS it’s family interaction. I’m a character-biased reader and live for fun, witty, entertaining quips and banter between characters in any book. Friendships, romances, family, siblings… if the interactions are good, I eat it all up.
But nothing gets me like family interaction, whether they be family by blood or family through adoption or even unofficially family through association. It was one of the reasons why I loved reading Jill Shalvis’ Simply Irresistible (three half-sisters with excellent banter and strange interactions) as well as all of Cindy Gerard’s Romantic Suspense books (the Garrett family and extended family in the Bodyguards series, and the extra extended family of the BOIs in the Black Ops, Inc. series).
But I hadn’t been prepared for the tumult of FEELS hurtling at me from the random collection of the extremely large Kelly family in Maya Banks’ first three KGI books. Especially the second book, No Place to Run, which had angst and FEELS up the wazoo! And it wasn’t even the lame, eye-roll-worthy type of angst, but a feel good kind of angst.
And that family interaction between the Kelly brothers, their parents, their significant others, their team members… and also with Rusty. I never thought I’d love seeing angsty teenage drama in an adult book, but it was there and it somehow melted my dark pit of a heart.
So even though the KGI series was just your typical Romance novel with a dash of Suspense to bring a little substance to it, tacky dialogue and declarations of unity and love, and fairly standard Romance plots, it hooked me into it BIG TIME.
The books are more Romance than they are Crime Thriller or Suspense. Book #2, No Place to Run, was probably the only one that even had a more equal balance of both worlds with the constant intensity of our characters being in danger and a somewhat angsty, yet sweet romance to tie things together. But the other two were pretty mellow for a Romantic Suspense, not that I’m complaining or anything, because stories were told and enjoyed by all and they kept me reading. I don’t know that I would change the story outlines for any reasons.
However, I would suggest a more meticulous editor as well as some beta reading to sniff out all those grammar errors, typos, and repetitive dialogues. More than once in each book, the same fact would be repeated within pages of each other using the same words and sentence structure. At least once, a phrase was repeated in the same sentence using the same words. And each time these phrases or facts were repeated, they made it sound like it hadn’t already been said moments ago.
It struck me more as an editing error rather than the character trying to emphasize a point, mainly because the sentence sounded awkward.
At the very least, a really good editor would have made Book #3, Hidden Away, more enjoyable; the grammar, punctuation, and missing pronouns and missing words in a sentence errors were more pronounced in this third KGI book and DID bug me just a little bit.
The Darkest HourThe Story:
Ethan Garrett has been living in a depressed funk for the past year after the announcement of his wife’s death--her incinerated remains along with her wedding band, the only part of her left after a plane crash in South America while she was on a mercy mission. But on the anniversary of her death date, Ethan receives a mysterious package that hints that Rachel may not be dead after all; instead, she’d been held prisoner in Colombia in a drug cartel camp all this time.
Knowing he has no other choice, Ethan enlists his brothers and the KGI to help bring Rachel back home. As for Rachel, her memory of her life before imprisonment has dwindled to nothing but a few selected faces and names; she has blocked out everything else, including why she’d been held captive for so long in the first place... as well as any inkling of the crumbling marriage between her and Ethan before she disappeared.
The Darkest Hour was a pretty strong springboard for the rest of the KGI series, but to be totally honest, if not for the characters, the Kelly family, and some unknown source of FEELS, I may not have liked it as much. As is typical of any first book in an extensive series, the author introduces, not only the main players of this book and series, but also various side characters as she works to build back story for other books later down the line.
We get a glimpse of all the six Kelly brothers (which was a given), as well as several of the KGI team and some local family friends such as Sean Cameron, the young sheriff (whom all fans are apparently screaming for him to have his own book presently).
Fortunately, the character intros are neat and clean and not awkwardly forced; all the brothers have a place in the story line of The Darkest Hour, all the side characters part of the KGI team have their significance, and even the stray teenager, Rusty, has her own role… even if it might have been slightly awkward. The important thing is, it makes you want to keep reading the series so you can see for yourself how the rest of side characters and their stories will turn out.
The only thing that DID bug me about The Darkest Hour was the relationship between Rachel and Ethan. As sweet as they were together after being reunited, I’m almost thinking that things might have been a little bit smoother and a lot of unnecessary angst (the eye-roll-worthy type) could have been avoided if the couple would have just learned to communicate with each other. Also, the way in which Rachel’s memory loss was played out was also a bit sketchy and felt a bit forced at times.
Then again, her memory loss was caused by psychological trauma rather than any kind of head injury. And the human brain is a complex thing, so...
Otherwise, all is well and the book was highly enjoyable.
No Place To RunThe Story:
Sam Kelly uncharacteristically involves himself in a spontaneous relationship with a girl he thought was just a poor, sweet waitress during one of his undercover ops. But after the mission is over, it seems that so is his affair with Sophie Lundgren, who has mysteriously disappeared. Over the following months, however, Sam realizes that he hasn't been able to get Sophie out of his mind. So it comes as a shock to him when this same woman appears in Kentucky Lake right behind his home, half-dead and carrying, five months pregnant, and on the run. What comes as an even bigger shock to him is that Sophie isn't simply the sweet little bar waitress, as he’d thought.
Sophie Lundgren is the daughter of Alex Mouton, a ruthless baddie that the KGI had been tasked to help take down five months ago during Sam’s last KGI operation. Having killed her heartless father and stolen his vault key, Sophie is now on the run from her father’s assassins and her Uncle Tomas who means to make an example of her for betraying her father and his organization. Mainly, Tomas wants the vault key that Sophie has kept hidden because it is the only way into Alex Mouton’s stash of wealth.
Okay, so I suck at creating my own short, paraphrased summaries. But so much happens in No Place to Run that it's hard to figure out what to say and what NOT to say so that a fairly accurate synopsis is presented, but not too much of the plot twists are given away. From the short-lived romance between Sam and Sophie, to Sophie’s betrayal of her father and his organization, to Sophie’s subsequent reappearance in Sam’s life to warn him of danger as well as beg for protection because she’s not sure she can continue to protect herself and her unborn baby… then more stuff just keeps happening with a presence of danger continually looming in the background…
The Kelly family is in danger, the Kelly brothers are all suspicious of Sophie because she’s still keeping secrets, and now the CIA wants in on all this action.
It was quite a bit to take in, while at the same time, it kept the book propelling forward at a fast-paced, action-filled read.
This second book of the KGI series is probably the better of the first three books, with the right balance of romance, suspense, angst, and FEELS. Because the progress was nonstop, the love story was sweet, the characters were their usual kickbutt selves… And as a reader, you've already gotten to know enough about the main players of KGI to relate and feel for them when all the shit hits the fan.
Also, there was no holding back on the shit hitting the fan. When you thought things couldn't get worse
Frank Kelly goes and has a heart attack while Marlene Kelly gets abducted, and all our Kelly boys are now simmering in turmoil, and things just keep getting more and more personal and more and more effed-up.
So, yeah. I enjoyed the hell out of No Place to Run even if things tended to start getting a little out of control. It was pleasurably entertaining and enjoyably addictive to read.
Hidden AwayThe Story:
Sarah Daniels witnessed her half-brother, Marcus, murder a man in a fit of rage after learning what that man did to her. Not wanting to be used against her brother by the law, knowing that he’d only acted to protect her, Sarah flees the country to go into hiding. But now there are a plethora of agencies searching for her, whether to try to use her to lure Marcus out, or to silence her for whatever reasons.
The CIA, among others, is particularly interested in using Sarah as bait to lure Marcus Lattimer into the open so they can arrest him for all the crimes he’s committed over the years. Garrett Kelly, who has his own personal agenda against Marcus Lattimer volunteers his help to get close to and keep an eye on Sarah so that he can personally bring Marcus Lattimer to justice. What he didn't expect was how quickly he’d become drawn to Sarah, developing a primal protective instinct towards her, a fast attraction, and then falling hard for the girl with a haunted past.
There are several things about this book that bothered me. So it’s probably a good thing that Hidden Away also had a lot of superficially good things going for it that worked for me--I’m easily, and readily, pleased by a lot of specific things in Romance novels.
For one, the character interactions, relationship interactions, and family interactions in the book were excellent. Despite the main conflict taking place on the Isle de Bijoux (which I assume is in France?) with Sarah and Garrett, we still get a good glimpse of what’s concurrently going on with the Kelly family (Sophie’s pregnancy and labor, Rusty’s adjustment to life in her new family and school, Rachel’s continued recovery of her emotional mind and memories…).
Secondly, Garrett Kelly has very easily become my favorite Kelly brother. I believe “soul mate” and “swoon-worthy” came up in some of my thoughts about him. I mean, any guy who leaves a present of books, chocolate, and wine on a girl’s doorstep to make her feel better gets at least 10,000+ points.
”Let me guess. You’re scared of children too?”
He scowled. “Not scared. Cautious. Maybe a little apprehensive. Okay, terrified. I mean, they’re terrorists disguised as cute little people.”
I’m going to start using that description on all kids from now on. Because it’s true.
If this were a Contemporary Romance, it would totally rate high in the few Contemporary Romances I've come to love. If this book hadn't included subterfuge or a murder or the CIA, Garrett’s and Sarah’s relationship development might have simply been a sweet, cute, and fun love story as a simple Contemporary Romance about a girl recovering from a tragedy and a man taking some time off from work after an injury. They meet on an island getaway, are attracted to each other, and help each other heal.
Of course, this book may as well have been a Contemporary for the first half; much like The Darkest Hour very little Suspense happens until well into 50% of the book. We spend a lot of time watching Garrett snuggle his way into Sarah’s secluded life and doing a very good job of it as well. Very simplistic, mundane scenes unfold slowly in the "Getting to Know You" phase of Garrett's and Sarah's love story.
Then the Suspense part of the book rears it's head and everything just starts rushing forward at an awkward pace of trying to balance the Romance with the Suspense, and things start to stammer out of control a little bit.
Not to mention the big ball of angst just waiting to happen because this is a book filled with murder and subterfuge, after all, and Garrett isn't just some random guy taking a break from overworking himself. Despite gaining Sarah’s trust in sincerity, Garrett has omitted information and told the biggest lie bound to push the poor woman off her final edge.
I know he meant well, and I know that Sarah probably wouldn't have let him protect her if she knew the truth. And you'd think that keeping her alive, time and time again, would have mattered more to her in the grand scheme of things. But in the long run, she was still being used to lure her brother (whom she loves dearly) out into the open. It was still a bit disconcerting considering one of the Kelly clan mottoes is to defend and protect the weak; but here they are, lying to and using Sarah when she’s just now starting to recover from her most recent tragedy that caused her to lose all faith and trust in people, specifically men.
No one likes being unknowingly used as bait.
On a side matter, despite how sweet their love story was starting to turn out, there is still a semblance of insta-love in there that is a little hard to ignore. Garrett Kelly was always described as the cranky, “don’t-give-a-shit” type who lives for his job. He was the first person to go into extreme suspicion mode when he first met Sophie, and also one of the first to reject Rusty’s sudden appearance in the Kelly family. Obviously he doesn't warm up to people easily. But the first time he lays eyes on Sarah, his softened, protective instincts are rearing like crazy.
It just felt a little out of character, is all.
And I don’t even know if I should get into all the typos and editing errors and repetitive dialogue throughout the book. It almost felt like this was the last book on Ms. Banks’ yearly contract and she just needed to get it done and screw all those sentences missing proper pronouns or transitions. Or the fact that the same issue got repeated in the same sentence twice. Or that we've got run-on sentences, fragmented sentences, and strangely structured sentences all over the place.
Not that I’m really complaining all THAT much, but this book would have been a lower rating if I hadn't fallen in love with Garrett Kelly after his little books, wine, and chocolate peace offering, right off the bat.
Yes. I'm shallow like that. So sue me.
Overall Thoughts:The KGI series is proving to be highly addictive and entertaining, even if it isn't the best written Romantic Suspense in the world. I've already, very easily, fallen in love with the Kelly family (and extended family) and continue to look forward to reading the rest of the books in this series.
I have to admit, even if the story lines or the writing or the ideas aren't much to write home about, the lovely character interactions will always do it for me if everything else is done decently enough to like.
This review was originally posted at Ani's Book Abyss / BookLikes in May 2015.