Review, Interview, & Giveaway: AGAINST THE DARK by Carolyn Crane


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I don’t think I’ve admitted this here yet, but I am a total sucker for secret agent stories. The more undercover the agent, the better (hello, triple agents!). For some reason, the idea that someone can convincingly be someone else fascinates me.

So, as you might imagine, I was THRILLED to read a local-to-me author who not only writes a whole series about sexy undercover agents, but she does it so well, I read all three books within a week! Read on for my review of Book 1 in Carolyn Crane‘s Undercover Associates series, Against the Dark, and a super fun Q&A with my newest auto-buy author/series.

Against the Dark cover

Publication Date: April 17, 2013
Length: 203 pages
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: The Undercover Associates, Book 1
Publisher: Self-Published
Source & Format: Review copy provided by the author; digital
Official Summary
Angel Ramirez left the safecracking game five years ago, and she’s worked hard to make amends and build an honest life. But when a beloved aunt is kidnapped, she must reunite with her girl gang to acquire the unique ransom: Walter Borgola’s prized diamonds. It’s a simple job that turns into a nightmare, thanks to a surprisingly clever—and searingly sexy—security guard named Cole Hawkins.
Cole is one of the Association’s most brilliant agents, under deep cover investigating a ruthless killer. He’s also running out of time: hundreds will die if he doesn’t stop the plan Borgola’s set into motion. Catching Angel is the break he needed–he promises not to turn her in if she poses as his lover and uses her unique talents to unlock the sociopath’s dungeon vaults.
But as pretend passions turn real, Cole regrets drawing Angel into his deadly game…and danger is closer than either of them could ever imagine.

Kindle Gal‘s Review

Picture this: a blond Clark Kent, glasses AND brawn. That is Cole Hawkins, a secret agent for a privately funded group called the Association. I absolutely LOVED Cole! He doesn’t just wear glasses for show, either. Cole is über-intelligent, as are all the Associates. This unique blend of nerdiness and black ops badassness really worked for me. I was #TeamCole all the way! :)

Angel Ramirez is a former jewel thief and safecracker brought back into the fold by her team for one last heist. It took me a little while to warm up to Angel, but as soon as she showed her sassy and snarky side with Cole, I was a fan. I liked how capable she was and her outer confidence, even if it didn’t match how she felt on the inside. And I especially loved how aware Angel was of the easy appeal and danger of slipping back into her old life of thieving. I thought the way this internal struggle was written was done really well.

I really liked the way the story was set up, with the big heist at the beginning and everyone pretending to be someone they weren’t. And I LOVED the banter between Cole and Angel! There is an instant, sizzling attraction between them, and their snarky dialogue only increased the sexual tension. In fact, the romance in Against the Dark was pretty hot! A lot hotter than I’d expected, for some reason. But it totally worked for me with this story.

The suspense was good, although there were several places I thought it could’ve been even better. Still, I couldn’t put the book down. It became one of those reads where you know it isn’t perfect but you love it anyway.

Bottom Line

If you are a fan of romantic suspense, this book (and the entire series—you can read my reviews of Books 2 and 3 HERE and HERE) is a must-read! Against the Dark was as sexy as it was suspenseful, and it made me an instant Carolyn Crane fan.

Rating: B+ (4½ stars)

Wine/Beverage Pairing: Club soda and lime – Angel’s stand-in for a gin and tonic when she’s pretending to drink on a job.

Buy Digital:  Kindle  |  Nook
Buy Print:  Amazon  B&N


Interview with Carolyn Crane

Kindle Gal from K&W: Hi, Carolyn. I’m so excited to have you on Kindles & Wine today! Not only do I love your Undercover Associates series, you are local to me. Which means I don’t have to go to a conference to stalk, er, see you in person.

Carolyn Crane: Hi, Kindle Gal!! Hey, it is so fun to be on your blog! Thank you so much for having me. I loved finding out we’re neighbors—I think I realized it when I saw you posting on Twitter about a Twins game. Go Minnesota! Now please excuse me while I heat my socks in the oven.

KG: Ugh, yes. This weather is killing me! Okay, let’s start at the beginning. You were writing an urban fantasy series, The Disillusionists, when you came up with the idea for the Undercover Associates series. What was your inspiration for the series? Had you always wanted to write romantic suspense?

Carolyn: It’s funny, but in a way, I see very little difference between urban fantasy and romantic suspense. To me, romantic suspense is just urban fantasy without the magic. One thing that was important to me in the Disillusionists was making things really psychological, and my heroine fights with her wits and smarts—she’s not just out there kicking ass. In a way, I’m continuing that theme in romantic suspense—I love when spies are really smart and good at something. I think intelligence is sexy, and I thought it would be fun if each book showcased a different spy discipline that wasn’t traditionally something spies utilize.

KG: YESSSSS! This is exactly why I’m loving the Associates!! Each of your heroes in this series has a very specific skill set, and particularly in the first two books, they might be considered even “nerdy.” How did you decide on math and logistics as Cole’s specialty? What kinds of research did you have to do? And if you can remember, what was one of the most interesting things you learned as part of your research?

Carolyn: I was attracted to using math and logistics as a passion for my hero Cole because it seemed like a fun challenge, though I quickly learned that it really takes lot of research just to find one or two useful things. I read several logistics textbooks and books about army logistics, and I was surprised at how math formula-based the world of supply chains is. They say you shouldn’t load up books with the fruits of your research, but after I put out Against the Dark, I was really surprised at how readers seemed hungry for more of the nerdy detail about the disciplines—they really wanted to know more specifics about the math and the formulas, whereas I thought it would be the opposite. So now I try to weave stuff in more deeply. Also, once I got on to book two, I sought out a live consultant in addition to doing the research. That worked out well.

KG: Deep down, we’re all nerds. (Or maybe not so deep down. ;)) Since I have you on research mode, tell us about the research you had to do for Angel’s background as a safecracker and jewel thief. Seriously, your Google search history must be a work of anti-NSA art!

Carolyn: Too true! I was Googling all over on breaking safes and picking locks. There is a ton of interesting stuff out there on that, though. There are even conventions where people sit at tables and race to pick locks and things. It’s a whole subculture! What I SO loved about my research with the locks was how helped to deepen my heroine’s character—she likes to be hidden, to be in the shadows, to puzzle things out. As a member of her girl jewel thief squad, she is the observer, rather than the thug or the strategist, and a safecracker is an observer, too, listening to clicks, learning the insides of things. There are ways in which the research gives gifts to me as a writer that I don’t expect.

KG: I love that! You were nominated for and won the 2014 RITA Award for Best Romantic Suspense this summer for Off the Edge (Book 2), which was the very first self-published novel to win a RITA. What was that whole experience like, from the day you got “the call” to the ceremony itself?

Carolyn: Seriously, I felt like a princess, just getting the call. It was morning and I had just turned on my computer and got on to Twitter and I saw somebody mention RITA nominations—I hadn’t realized it was that day that they were being announced, and suddenly my phone rings! Of course I thought…could it be? And then it’s HelenKay Dimon, a writer who is on the RWA board, and at that point, she doesn’t have to say anything else because why else would she call me on that day?

It’s so cool of RWA to recognize indies as part of the romance ecosystem and open up the awards like that. I was really grateful. The ceremony, though, was just magical. You’re in the giant ballroom full of 2000 or more romance writers (all dressed up fancy!). It’s kind of like the Oscars! When my category came up, I was just so wigged out! And they read each of the titles and then the presenter goes…’and the RITA goes to…Off the Edge by Carolyn Crane!’ and I swear I barely remember anything after that. They told us to have a speech prepared, even if we were sure we wouldn’t win, and I’m glad I took that advice. I didn’t think I’d win. But really, I still feel excited and happy about it. The wonderfulness of it has not faded.

RITA pics

Here is a RITA montage from my Facebook page!
You can see me after winning – the after party!
It’s blogger Liza Brown and me, photobombed by
Liliana Hart and Hugh Howey. Lol. And up on a
Jumbotron giving my hopefully coherent speech.
And before the ceremony with Vivian Arend (eep,
 sorry about your head!) and Jeffe Kennedy.

KG: Awesomely awesome awesomeness! Congratulations!! (You’re bringing your RITA with when we lunch next month, yes? I need to pet her. :))

I saw that the Associates are now on audio! (We’re big audiobook lovers here at K&W.) The first two books were recently released and Book 3 will be released in December. How cool is that? Are you an audiobook listener? Have you listened to any of your stories on audiobook, and if yes, was it easier or harder than you’d imagined it’d be?

Carolyn: I love audiobooks on car trips and during long cooking projects. I’ve only gotten a chance to listen to part of Against the Dark so far and I love what the narrator, Romy Nordlinger, brings to the text—sometimes what I’d hoped, and sometimes she interprets things in an unexpected but good way. It’s kind of like adding another artist to the mix, as though they are collaborating after the fact.

A few years back, the Disillusionists came out in audio and I never listened to it because I can be so hard on my own work, I was afraid I’d only hear the mistakes. But I feel like I’ve loosened up and I’m looking forward to listening to more.

KG: I know you’re hard at work on Book 4 in the Associates series. Whose story is next, and what kind of awesomeness about it can you share with us?

Carolyn: Have you noticed me moaning about #4 on Twitter? I tend to really claw my way through my first drafts. But I’m happy to report it’s shaping up.

Book 4 is about Zelda, an ex-secret agent who helps Dax run the group of spies known as the Association. She is drafted back into the game when her twin sister, a prostitute, is won in a card game by a vicious drug cartel. Zelda takes her place in order to save her life…and infiltrate the cartel. But Zelda is really scared because she lost her nerve for the field—it’s why she retired. The hero is really a different one for me. Really silent and taciturn and alpha. Here’s a little bit about the hero:

This man was a killer of the first degree, possibly the most violent and prolific one she’d ever met, and it frightened her to the core….but at the same time he had a kind of elemental beauty that really strong and vicious men could sometimes have, where even ugliness transformed to beauty because they were so very much what they were.

KG: GAH! I neeeeed this book!!!!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention you write erotic romance about bank robbers under the pseudonym Annika Martin, in addition to your Disillusionists series and working a day job. Clearly you’re bored all the time. What else do you have planned for 2015 other than Associates #4?

Carolyn: My plan is to put out 4 books, two by Annika (The Kinky Bank Robbers start a detective agency, and then I’ll collaborate with my partner in crime Skye Warren on another in our Criminals & Captives series) and two Associates, #4 and #5. I’m not sure who The Associates #5 will be about. I think maybe Rio, because he seems to have the most energy for me right now. That’s how I pick—on the character who most sings to me.

KG: Yes, yes, yes! PLEASE write Rio!! I actually thought Book 4 would’ve been his, so I’m ready for it! :)

Okay, enough book talk. Rumor has it you own a treadmill desk. Please tell us all the things about this!

Carolyn: I feel like such a treadmill desk evangelist, but I love it. These things are pricey—my setup was $1500—but I feel like it was an investment in my health because it’s dangerous how much I was sitting at a desk. I’m on it right now, and I’ve put in 3 miles today like it’s nothing. I’ve heard people say you can’t type at them, but I type at mine constantly and every writer I know who has one does entire books while walking. Now when I sit too long, I just feel like a slug. Here’s a photo of my setup:

both desks

My sitting desk (foreground) next to my treadmill desk
(background)…with Oblio bathed in golden light overseeing.

Some people have a desk that lowers and heightens, but I like my side-by-side desk. I’ll walk a bit, then sit a bit, then walk. After a bit of research, I chose a ModTable manual crank table and a LifeSpan treadmill. The site has product reviews of all things walking desk and helped me a lot.

KG: I am very seriously considering getting one of these, or somehow having my MacGyver of a husband change our current treadmill setup to a walking desk, so this info is awesome!

Everyone interviewed on Kindles & Wine has to answer these last two questions: If you had to choose: Kindle/eBook or print? (Don’t worry, we don’t discriminate on the basis of preferred book format. ;))

Carolyn: Definitely ebook. I used to sort of not care which way, but I read in bed a lot and ebook is so much nicer for that. But with some books that I really, deeply love, I still like print, because I can underline things and make margin notes. I know you can do that on Kindle, but it’s not the same.

KG: And finally, what’s your favorite kind of wine? Or, if you’re not a wine drinker, what’s your beverage of choice?

Carolyn: Fave wine: Prosecco! Which is sparkling white wine, like champagne, which I also love. I used to be more red wine, but then I was like, life’s too short, I’m switching to champagne!

Hey, thank you so much for having me! This was really fun. I’m so glad we finally connected this year. We romance readers have to stick together!


Other Titles by Carolyn Crane

Off the Edge mini coverOff the Edge (The Undercover Associates, Book 2)
(2014 RITA Award Romantic Suspense winner)

Kindle Gal’s Review  |  Goodreads
Buy:  Amazon  Kindle  B&N  Nook


Into the Shadows mini coverInto the Shadows (The Undercover Associates, Book 3)

Kindle Gal’s Review  |  Goodreads
Buy:  Amazon  Kindle  B&N  Nook


Mind Games mini coverMind Games (The Disillusionists Trilogy, Book 1)

Buy:  Amazon  Kindle  B&N  Nook


The Undercover Associates Giveaway

Carolyn is generously offering to give away any title from her Undercover Associates series to ONE lucky Kindles & Wine reader. The winner can choose either a signed print copy (U.S. residents only) or a digital copy (open internationally). Note: If the winner has already read the entire Associates series, they can choose any digital copy from Carolyn’s or Annika Martin‘s backlist.

To enter for your chance to win, you must:

  1. Be a follower of our blog (click HERE to subscribe), AND…
  2. Answer Carolyn’s question: Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m a hero gal. Don’t get me wrong, I want my heroines smart and strong, but heroes are huge with me. I love thinking and talking about them. So here’s my question: Who’s your most memorable book hero and why? Tell me whyyyyyyyy!

Please note: All entrants must review and adhere to our official giveaway policy. This contest will close on Sunday, November 23, 2014 at 11:59 PM (CST) and the winner will be notified via email on Monday, November 24.

Carolyn Crane is a RITA® Award-winning author of romantic suspense and urban fantasy (and she writes erotic & dark romance as NYT bestselling author Annika Martin). She’s been published by Random House, Samhain, and self-published, and she lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two daredevil cats.
You can learn more at Carolyn’s website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.