Hold Your Breath, by Katie Ruggle

>> Wednesday, May 18, 2016

TITLE: Hold Your Breath
AUTHOR: Katie Ruggle

PAGES: 352
PUBLISHER: Sourcebook Casablanca

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romantic suspense
SERIES: First full length title in a series

In the remote Rocky Mountains, lives depend on the Search & Rescue brotherhood. But in a place this far off the map, trust is hard to come by and secrets can be murder...

As the captain of Field County's ice rescue dive team, Callum Cook is driven to perfection. But when he meets new diver Louise "Lou" Sparks, all that hard-won order is obliterated in an instant. Lou is a hurricane. A walking disaster. And with her, he's never felt more alive...even if keeping her safe may just kill him.

Lou's new to the Rockies, intent on escaping her controlling ex, and she's determined to make it on her own terms...no matter how tempting Callum may be. But when a routine training exercise unearths a body, Lou and Callum find themselves thrust into a deadly game of cat and mouse with a killer who will stop at nothing to silence Lou-and prove that not even her new Search and Rescue family can keep her safe forever.
I don't know what caught my attention when I saw this book in a 'new releases' list. It might have been the very concept of an ice rescue dive team. Whatever it was, I'm glad it got me, because I thoroughly enjoyed the story.

Lou Sparks is a new member of the ice rescue dive team in a small town in the Rocky Mountains (they're basically the people who are called in when someone's gone through the ice). Lou is a relative newcomer to the area and is determined to make herself part of the community, which is where the dive team comes in. Bringing a bit of chaos into the cool and controlled and extremely attractive dive team captain, Callum Cook, is a nice bonus. Lou doesn't realise, although we readers do, right from the first scene, that Callum is just as attracted to Lou and welcomes her brand of chaos.

On a training session, Lou, who's still getting used to the weirdly buoyant dry suit, flails around a bit and kicks something underwater. Seconds later a headless body bobs up from the depths, to everyone's shock.

Now, the back cover blurb will have it that the discovery of the body means that "Lou and Callum find themselves thrust into a deadly game of cat and mouse with a killer who will stop at nothing to silence Lou-and prove that not even her new Search and Rescue family can keep her safe forever." Eh, not so much. What happens is that we've got two separate suspense threads. On one, Lou, out of a combination of boredom and a sense of responsibility since it was her actions that led to the discovery of the body, decides to mount her own investigation (with Callum's help; he insists) into the identity of the headless dead guy (HDG, as she calls him). But at the same time, Lou has acquired a stalker whose actions are rapidly escalating. This has started before the discovery of HDG, so the characters and we readers are never in any doubt that the two threads are unrelated.

Lou's investigation into HDG is the only false step in the book. It seems to be a way to make Lou and Callum spend some time together, but the stalker storyline would really have given them more than enough reasons. And unfortunately, Lou's actions trying to track HDG's identity went beyond the reasonable. She acts as if, if she didn't investigate, the case would go unsolved. No idea why; the police give no indication of being incompetent or uninterested (in fact, my spidey romance senses tell me the chief of police is a future hero in this series). I didn't believe for one moment that Callum would go along with her idiocy, even if he's really attracted to her. Honestly, I was fine with her being bubbly and ebullient and didn't read that at all as being ditzy, but her decisions on this issue really did seem silly and ditzy.

Silly as though this was, I was easily able get over it, because I was too busy enjoying the hell out of the rest of the book. I really loved the romance, mainly because Lou and Callum seemed to fit together really well. I loved it in spite of the fact that there are several things there that shouldn't work.

First, there is nothing here from Callum's point of view. If you asked me, I'd say I find the hero's POV essential. And yet it didn't bother me. I kind of liked seeing him from Lou's POV and had fun reading all the signals she was not quite getting. And you know what? I felt I got to know him quite well from his actions and what he told Lou about his chaotic life growing up. He made sense, and he was lovely.

The other potential problem is that there is no reason Callum and Lou couldn't or shouldn't be together, no conflict at all between them. And yet Ruggle manages to keep the tension going, both from the external danger to them and from from the relationship not being consummated until pretty late on. And this she does while making it all feel natural and perfectly reasonable. And -oh, joy!- The romance is concerned more with the relationship and how they come to care more and more about each other and make each other happy and less with the sex (although there is certainly some of that) which is the sort of balance I'm into these days. It was great: sweet without being at all saccharine.

I also really liked the writing. It's all very smooth and the story flows perfectly. This seems to be a debut, so that's pretty impressive. And there is so much humour! It's not slapstick at all -in fact, I particularly appreciated that Lou, for all that her role is the bringer of chaos, is remarkably capable and sensible (well, when she's not deciding to hijack police investigations). She's not the butt of the jokes, and neither is anyone else. The humour is more gentle and wry - constant smiles at bits of dialogue and interactions, rather than laugh-out-loud (although I did chuckle several times). It felt good to read this.

I also really enjoyed the setting, both the physical setting (including what it's like to live in a cabin that's off the grid) and the ice diving stuff. There's just enough of both, and perfectly well-integrated to the story. No info-dumps at all.

Before I finish a couple of notes on the suspense. The stalker plot was actually pretty good. It was a bit obvious who it was (in fact, I'm really not sure that we weren't meant to know from the start), but that was fine. It still provided the external tension and a good insight into Lou's past and what had brought her to her new home (an incredibly overbearing and controlling family and relationship, in short). And that scene with the final confrontation with the stalker... wow! I'm not normally into fight scenes, but this one was really, really cool and cinematic, and had Lou as the rescuer, yay!

The HDG storyline, I'm afraid that was not so good. There's how unbelievable Lou's involvement is, which I covered, but honestly, it wasn't that interesting, and then it's not even resolved by the end of the book. I think this mystery is meant to be some sort of overarching storyline across the whole of the series, and but it really wasn't interesting enough for me to be fussed, which, at least, meant I wasn't disappointed at the end when we didn't get a resolution. But yeah, if you really detest having anything unresolved, it might be worth waiting a few months until all the books are out (looks like the last one comes out in October).

So, even with a few niggles, this was a really strong read for me.



Fernande,  18 May 2016 at 15:06  

Thanks for the review, Rosario. I was intrigued and found a free novella by this author through her website. It takes place just before Hold Your Breath, and I'm quite enjoying it so will be buying this one as well.

Wendy 18 May 2016 at 20:35  

So this one of the many ARCs cluttering up my Kindle right now - so I'm really happy to see that you liked it! Also, thank you so much for the warning about the HDG thread not being resolved. Normally that sort of thing ticks me off, but if it's possibly going to continue into the next book in the series...that's another matter.

Rosario 20 May 2016 at 08:05  

Fernande: Oh, good! I read the novella straight after Hold Your Breath and thought it was nowhere near as good. It does have the same voice and humour, though, so I'm thinking if you liked it, you'll like the book even better!

Wendy: Hope you enjoy it! Yeah, normally leaving something unresolved would really bother me, but knowing the other books will come out soon (and not being that fussed about whodunnit, really), did help!

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