Wednesday, August 9, 2017

End of Series Review: Steele Street

Steele Street
by Tara Janzen
Book #9: Loose and Easy | Goodreads | Rating:  3.5 Stars
Book #10: Breaking Loose | Goodreads | Rating:  3.5 Stars
Book #11: Loose Ends | Goodreads | Rating:  4.0 Stars

Overall Average Rating for Loose arc (including books #7 & #8):  3.6 Stars

See Also Previously Reviewed:  The Mission / Crazy arc
See Also: December 2015 Packaged Review // includes short reviews for:
  • Book #3: Crazy Wild | Rating:  4.0 Stars
  • Book #4: Crazy Kisses | Rating:  3.5 Stars
  • Book #5: Crazy Love | Rating:  4.0 Stars
  • Book #6: Crazy Sweet | Rating:  3.5 Stars
Overall Average Rating for Crazy arc:  3.66 Stars >>> 3.7 Stars

See Also Previously Reviewed:  Loose arc

Overall Series Average Rating:  3.63 Stars >>> 3.6 Stars

These last three Steele Street books tied together a specific story arc that was introduced in secretive bits and pieces from Loose and Easy, and starts to build up into the big conclusion, bridging through Breaking Loose, and concluding with Loose Ends.  It also ties together a few other connections that we saw from Crazy Love and Crazy Sweet, with the addition of Gillian Pentycote as Red Dog into the elite SDF team--involving superhuman enhancing, experimental pharmaceuticals that we get to see more about throughout Breaking Loose.

While the few books from the beginning had always hit me as not quite having an outline, but being absurdly enjoyable, I found it a surprise that, now that we got a more directional story line, with the Loose part of the series... the books weren't exactly as much fun, even if still highly entertaining.

Still, the enjoyability (and my rating) of this series had always remained in the 3.0 Stars or higher, even if none of the books ever made it all the way up to "Awesome-sauce!"  Although, if I were to give the series a personal overall rating without averages, I'd definitely place it in the "I really, really liked it a lot!" of a 4.0 Star value.

Because with the ending of the eleventh and last installment of Steele Street, as well as a fairly well-rounded conclusion and reunion, I'm feeling the residual effects of what may be a mild Book Hangover, which tells me that I will truly miss reading about the Steele Street boys and girls; the witty and nonsensical fun, the absurdity and craziness of the excitement, and the easy lovability of all the characters--even the ones who keep butting into the main book couple's story line.

On a side note:

One of the things that probably bugged me the most about these last five Steele Street books had to be the tendency for the main male characters (and a few other male characters) to treat some of our female characters like they are ignorant, naive little girls, when in actuality, all of the women in these books had more information than the men did, and are all kickass enough to stand on their own.  The biggest redeeming factor, probably was that the men quickly learned that they needed to stop underestimating the women and start getting their information right before jumping to conclusions.

Case in point, this little bit from the tenth book, Breaking Loose:

She glanced over at him, the receiver to her ear, and he was giving her "the look," the look men gave women who they thought needed a little help in their decisions-making process.

It took an effort of will not to roll her eyes, but she managed.

"All those guys I dated from Steele Street?" she said.  "They made sure I could take care of myself.  Don't worry, Mr. Killian, I can get myself home."

To be fair, Suzi Toussi had started puting on a damsel act, like she was a bit ignorant of her situation, so she could get him off her back.  But he started it by jumping to the conclusion about her ignorance by throwing facts at her about the dangerous streets of Ciudad del Este... facts and information she already knew, thank you very much.

But otherwise, the rest of the books were readily enjoyable, with explosive action, and hot, steamy, sexy romancing!  This is a series I'd definitely recommend to anyone who wants a light, easy, breezy set of action-packed romances, filled with sweet love stories (sort of), and steamy sex.  Sure, for a time there we had also gotten some deeper, heavier material; but it all kind of got overshadowed by the writing's comedic tone, all the explosions and gunfire, the destruction of a fun house fortress, and all the hot sex.

But who's complaining, really?

He's the bad boy she always wanted.

He’d know her anywhere.  Johnny Ramos had just come off a tour of duty in Afghanistan to find Esmee Alden trolling the mean streets of Denver in red lace and leather.  The smartest girl he ever knew turning tricks?  Not even close.  Esmee’s in danger so deep, only Johnny can get her out—which is why the elite government operative is shadowing her every move.

She's the good girl that got away.

Esmee had everything planned down to the last detail: dressed in disguise, she’d recover a stolen painting and pay off her dad’s ruthless bookie.  Until Johnny Ramos, her high school crush, blows into town and nearly blows her cover.  Now Esmee, a P.I. and an art- recovery expert, has a mother lode of bad guys on her trail…including the one bad boy she always wanted: Johnny.  But passion will have to wait.  Because when bullets start flying, suddenly they’re on the run, playing it fast and loose—and heading straight into the line of fire.…

Johnny Ramos was one of those side characters in previous books who didn't really stand out--who you saw as that awkward kid who wanted to play with the big boys.  And so I find it kind of nice that he's all grown up now and really, truly joining the big boys in all their badass badness.

The book starts out with a bang and kind of ends with a bang as well, with the progression moving forward at an ungodly pace... except that, much like the previous book, everything sort of takes place within the time frame of twenty-four hours, give or take.  And everything was actually as exciting as hell, even though, once again, I wasn't entirely sure the book was progressing until about 50% into the story and I realized that the plot has been moving forward and I hadn't noticed.

Anyway, Johnny and Esme make a great team, though I had a few "doh" moments when Esme pulled some flinch-worthy moves that made her seem less than competent, especially after making her out to seem entirely competent.  Which, to be totally honest, she is completely kickass and competent; I'm just not sure I buy that she'd been a bit careless here and there, unless we just want to blame it on inexperience since she's supposed to be rather young.

Or... the other, more plausible reason to make a kickass heroine stumble in an out of character way: so that the kickass hero can swoop in and save the day.

The cliches--it burns my eyes.

And I couldn't help but notice that our big bad main villain just kept digging himself into a bigger ditch, which probably wouldn't have been dug in the first place if he'd have just backed off and let Esme do what needed to be done.  Then again, it wasn't like he expected her to be the one to fix all of her father's problems and come through with money, the egotistical male chauvinist that he was.  Because apparently the last thing anyone ever wanted to do was underestimate Esme Alexandria Alden; but that's exactly what everyone kept doing... well, everyone except for her cousin Dax, of course.

The only thing that really bugged me at all was how stubborn Esme had been at the beginning; even after Johnny saves her life twice, she's still unwilling to budge on any information at all.  And in doing so, manages to delay a lot of things that needed to be done.  And it wasn't really like her mission was that big of a top secret deal anyway... I think.

Johnny was great; like all the other typical alpha males of this series.  But that's about it, really.

I liked the introduction of Dax Killian and kind of look forward to the next book because of him.

Anyway, this was another fun and exciting rush through of another Steele Street operator...

And, oh, the plot thickens, because we've got some shady, government stuff going on in the background that ties in with the last couple books.  This will be a fun ride!


No one’s ever seen it.  Everybody wants it.  That’s why the government has just unleashed its secret weapon.  Drop-dead-gorgeous art dealer Suzi Toussi has been tapped for the toughest mission of her career: to locate the Memphis Sphinx, an ancient artifact rumored to possess otherworldly powers.  Tracking it to Paraguay means going up against Dax Killian, the sexy special ops agent who’s planning to snatch the coveted relic right out of her hot little hands.  If he can find it first…

Dax first spotted her outside a seedy bar—in three-inch heels and a too-tight dress.  He’d know those curves anywhere.  But what was Suzi doing in a hellhole like Ciudad del Este?  Dax knows the answer: the Sphinx.  Suddenly the game is on—and only one of them will walk away with the prize.  With the Sphinx surfacing and passion taking Suzi and Dax under, they’re headed for a showdown that could reveal the secrets of the ages… or expose them to the hottest danger of all.

Part of my thoughts about this book is at the beginning of this review.  And the truth is, there really isn't all that much left to say about these books that I didn't already say before.  Steele Street is an entertaining, highly exciting, and crazily enjoyable series, with story lines that border on absurd.  But the humor and the wit is winning, and the characters are very easy to love.

Breaking Loose, especially, had a premise that I was very interested in--the recovery of an Egyptian artifact--and a character I've been looking forward to seeing in front-line action: Dax Killian.  I was interested in Dax the moment he was introduced in the previous book.  Of course, he was sort of already front-line action, because our author can't just focus on one couple of characters, she has to introduce several others, and let them stay for at least 50% of the story.  Not that I'm complaining or anything, but sometimes you want to focus on the story (if there is even a story) and the main couple.

Anyway, while I was very much anticipating Dax Killian's appearance, I found myself very impressed with Suzi Toussi's role in this book.  She's pretty kickass for a woman who's not quite up to the kickass standards of Baby Bang or Red Dog.  But Suzi is kickass in her own way, utilizing her wits, her resources, and her personal charisma to get her mission done.  Meanwhile, Dax kind of came off as a bit of a caveman jerk--and yes, I know he saved her a few times, but his entire "I'm here to save my woman" spiel, when A) Suzi was not his woman, and B) chauvinistic jerk doesn't even know the entire story, got a little irritating.

I swear, it felt like there was at least one or two scenes where he butted in, thinking that he was going to play hero, when in reality he actually interfered with Suzi's intelligence recon.  Not that anyone mentions it, and nor does Suzi get pissed or point it out to him.  After all, he's a good looking man with a protective streak who's just trying to "save his woman."  So, obviously, we forgive him... -_-

Breaking Loose was entertaining, and it also picks up on the background conflicts that started since the end of the fifth Steele Street book, wherein superhuman producing drugs are in play, and a lot of government secrets are being thrown around.  And then there's the thing about a mysterious mission that comes into the limelight with this book, having been introduced from the previous book, and will obviously conclude in the next, and last book of the Steele Street series.


Six years ago, the Special Defense Force mourned the loss of J. T. Chronopolous.  Now the striking soldier is back with scant memory, a new name—Conroy Farrel—and one single mission: to bring down SDF.  But SDF has its own plan: get him back at any cost.  And so they’ve set a trap for Con, a trap that Jane Linden accidentally steps into.  With darkness falling and the night heating up, Con finds himself on the run in an oddly familiar 1967 Pontiac GTO with a drop-dead-gorgeous brunette named Jane by his side.  Who she is he doesn’t know.  Or does he?

Jane certainly hasn’t forgotten him.  When she was a teenager, he caught her picking his pocket.  Now the former street thief is all grown up and gone legit—and the effect she has on Con is all too clear: pure, sweet longing.  Con’s not sure if Jane is there to save him or to take him down.  But one thing’s certain: With desire leading the way, all bets are off.

Surprisingly, despite all the chaotic mess that was the concluding Steele Street book, I found Loose Ends probably my favorite of the last five-book series set.  I'm not entirely certain I know why, but it might have to do with the fact that this book moved so fast and so many things happened that I didn't even really have time to think about anything I DIDN'T like about it.  Or maybe, I just let myself stop looking for anything I didn't like about it.

Or maybe this was the first book in the Loose set of the series that didn't have our main hero underestimating our main heroine.  Probably because Con (or J.T.) didn't really get a chance to think about underestimating Jane, since their "Meet Cute" was pretty brief and then they were on the run.  And probably also because, even as a tough girl who grew up around hard times as a street rat, Jane isn't exactly the kickass black ops operator from Steele Street like some of the other heroines in these last five books.

Which brings me to why I really liked Jane so much:  She's just an ordinary girl--as ordinary as you can get for a girl who had to live the hard life as a street rat, learning to be the best at picking pockets, grabbing what she can grab, and then escaping on light feet with other's none the wiser.  And then she left that life and tried to start a more normal one as the assistant manager of an art gallery.

Really, there was no over-the-top black ops stuff for her... at least not until J.T. crashes back into her life.

And J.T.?  He was a great character infused with all the emotional turmoil and suffering that someone with his circumstances and history would have.  But even as we follow him throughout the book, you don't get much of a chance to dwell on the darker aspects of his life, as the guy trudges forward like a warrior, doing what he can to complete his last, self-assigned mission before his time runs out.

Truth be told, Loose Ends was a pretty epic and explosive conclusion; truly, everything wrapped up with a nice big bang.

And despite all the scattered mess that was the outline of Loose Ends--the separate, seemingly tangential story lines, with everyone running wild, with a different version of the big picture, all moving forward to converge into one giant collision of a resolution--I really, really found the entire journey quite well executed.  (Last minute, left-field villain notwithstanding.)

One thing I DO wish we could have seen was more of Red Dog, because I feel like she should have had more than a brief hand in the overall conclusion, considering what she'd gone through because of that ongoing background story line of superhuman enhancement pharmaceuticals.  And poor Kid seemed almost nonexistent with only a few lines of dialogue here and there... though I suspect that was purposeful since I'd be hard pressed to know how Kid would be able to have much dialogue with his brother's life on the line.


Some Final Thoughts:

I suppose the only other thing I can think of to say about Steele Street is that, if ever there were audio versions created, this would be a series I wouldn't mind "re-reading."  It's a lot of fun, this super crazy, absurdly enjoyable series with the guns and the cars and the hotness level.

Definitely going to have that mild Book Hangover now.

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