May. 7th, 2017

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Book: TIGER IN THE HOT ZONE by Lauren Esker (Amazon link)
Genre: paranormal romantic suspense
Series: Shifter Agents #4
USA Release Date: available now
Source: ARC from author
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Recommended?: Yes, yes, a billion times yes. You’ll get more out of the world building if you’ve read the others, but it absolutely stands alone, and is a fine place to start the series. It is absolutely the best book of the series, and I’ve loved each one a little more than the one before, so it’s a high bar to reach.

Summary: When danger threatens the entire shifter world, two rivals are about to discover they have worse enemies than each other ...

Punk-haired reporter Peri Moreland, of the popular conspiracy blog Tell Me More!, has been a thorn in the side of the Shifter Crimes Bureau for years. In particular, Peri and her tell-all blog are a headache for tiger shifter Noah Easton, who runs the SCB's public affairs office ... otherwise known as their cover-up department. It's Noah's job to make sure normal humans don't find out about shifters—especially humans such as Peri Moreland, his beautiful and oh-so-sneaky nemesis.

But this time, Peri has stumbled upon a story even the SCB doesn't know about. Half-shifted bodies, dead of a mysterious illness, have been turning up around town. Peri connects the clues and before you can say "conspiracy theory," she's on the radar of a bunch of very bad people ... and the SCB.

Noah hasn't done field work in years; ever since a disastrous assignment years ago, he refuses to go out in the field or even carry a gun. But now he's got Peri to protect and a secret anti-shifter organization on his tail. They're out to kill anyone who gets in their way before their custom-engineered shifter plague can do its work. As the SCB's agents fall sick one by one, can two pariahs team up to save them all?

Review:

(Let’s just get the shallow out of the way first: holy hell, that cover model is smoking hot.)

This is much more of a thriller than a romance, though there is plenty of romance, too; for me, the balance is perfect. Peri and Noah have been subtly flirting for awhile as they keep running into each other at scenes where Noah is having to cover up the truth from Peri; we’re told this more than shown it, and my only complaint about the romance is that we didn’t get to see more of this previous slow build before they’re giving into their attraction, first for sex and then for a serious relationship. (This complaint is limited to the build of the romance itself; starting the book any earlier would have slowed down the thriller plot, and that would have been a bigger shame than missing out on some of the romantic development.)

I love both Peri and Noah as characters, together and apart, especially when they end up spending a little time with Peri’s past. I don’t know if the reveal about where she grew up was supposed to be a surprise or not; I figured it out very early on, but I grew up in a slightly similar background, so it is possible that I am extra sensitive to plots that have it coming. And the way Peri uses her prosthetic running leg in her adventures is fantastic. Watching her learn to rely on other people, to trust them despite the huge lies they’ve been telling her (understandably to protect their world) was fantastic, and I thought she changed in a very believable way.

Noah is a particularly compelling character, and probably my new favorite out of the entire series. He’s a black man who became a Shifter Agent because his parents started the entire organization, and he thinks it’s what they want for him, but he’s not particularly happy. In part because unlike the field agents who get to save lives, all he does is tell lies and destroy them to discredit humans who have seen too much. That would be a much worse position. His background was wonderful, too, the reasons he took himself out of the field, and how he struggles now that he’s been forced to return. He, too, grows throughout the story, and when we finally get to see his parents, their relationship with each other and with their son is warm and wonderful and exactly what I was hoping to see.

I don’t want to give away the plot, because it is a rollicking adventure, but it is generally very well paced, face and interesting. Things do slow down a little during the middle, when Peri and Noah end up alone together and then dealing with some of Peri’s past, but though I normally would have been put off by that de-escalation, this time it mostly felt like a nice little breather before the excitement of the plague story picked up again.

I loved this book, and how it expanded the world of this series, and I can’t wait for more. The ending itself is cheesy as hell, which is probably the lowest point in the story for me, but the rest of the story is so great I can’t really bring myself to care much about that ending. I love the world building and the characters, love the plot and the new shifters, love how much is answered by the end and how much is left open (though that means the wait for more is going to be excruciating), and I highly recommend you read this book and this series.

(Final bit of shallow: Noah is so hot, y’all, and so RIDICULOUS. He is a tiger shifter, and he wears a leather jacket with fucking tiger stripes. HOW HAVE YOU EVER KEPT A SECRET IN YOUR LIFE, NOAH? HOW? I love him so much.)
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I accidentally deleted my entire inbox here instead of just the messages I had selected, so if you left me a comment or sent me a message, I have not yet responded, and it is important, please let me know again! (All my notifications about who has followed me are gone too, but I think I was up to date on those. I'll keep an eye out, though.)

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