Saturday, May 11, 2013

Michele Albert -- Tough Enough

Michele Albert -- Tough Enough

Rated: ♥ ♥ ♥ . ♥   {3.85}
Action: ♠♠♠♠ / Emotion: ♣♣ / Romance: ♥♥ / Sensuous: ♦♦.♦ / Suspense: ♠♠♠.♠
Action: 4.0 / Emotion: 2.0 / Romance: 2.0 / Sensuous: 2.75 / Suspense: 3.5  //  Laughter: 0 / Tears: 0

Setting:     Boston, Massachusetts
                  Zàkynthos (Zante), Greece
Era:           Present Day [2007]
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Having read all the books included under The Avalon Investigations Series of Michele Albert's book list, would like to divide this selection into two different series; naming them: {1} The Pre-Avalon Series and {2} The Avalon Investigations Series.

Have enjoyed reading Michele Albert's The Avalon Investigation Series books back to back.   Tough Enough is the second book in this series featuring agents of a firm called Avalon.   For those who like to have a picture of where an author is headed when she begins writing a series, the note that Albert writes at the end of this book about Avalon will be of definite interest.   Albert should be commended for coming up with a unique company and creating a very clever way to tie its characters together.

Avalon is a company that began over a hundred years ago.   It's sole purpose is to address an area of law enforcement that takes second chair to heinous crimes -- it investigates crimes regarding stolen art and looted antiquities.   It is headed by an invisible figurehead who finances the operations and issues instructions to Ben Sheridan, who is the CEO of Avalon's cover company, Sheridan Expeditions, a thriving adventure travel agency in Seattle.   The biggest surprise about these Avalon agents is their manner of catching the bad guy.   These agents have no legal jurisdiction, thus, they can take measures forbidden by law enforcement officers.   They do, however, work closely with law enforcement so that when the crime is exposed, arrests can be made.   Another unique manner of resolution for Avalon agents is that they must disappear into the woodwork and a cover story must be created to explain why a shootout, or an explosion, or a kidnapping never happened.

In her usual capable manner, Albert very successfully draws a reader's immediate interest in not only William "Will" Tiernay, the "tough enough" Avalon agent, who seems to be known for his penchant for wearing expensive designer suits and hitting on gorgeous women as well as his talents as an accomplished investigator, but also continues painting the picture of Ben Sheridan, his boss.   Really liked the opening scene that Albert used to reveal a lot of information and yet still leave holes that inspire an aura of intrigue as she paints a fun picture of the interaction between Ben, Will, and the two woman who serve as Ben's bodyguards / secretaries, Ellie and Shaunda.

It was a wonderful addition to the book (and the series) that Ben was given a brief point of view voice in this book.   Albert is doing a phenomenal job of inspiring great interest in Ben as the man directing his agents, but also as a possible hero of his own book.   You cannot help but want to know so much more about this strong, conflicted, dedicated character.   How did Ben come to be not only the head of his own company, but to work for the unknown man who was the true authority.   Painting this fleeting picture of Ben generates great interest and provides the potential for future books.

Will heads off to Boston to investigate a possible theft of pieces from the Eudoxia collection currently owned by Malcolm "Mal" Toller, who is having copies of this collection created by Haddington Reproductions so he can sell the originals to the "Met" (Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York).   The most important piece in the collection is a cursed reliquary.   [A reliquary is a container where religious relics are stored or displayed (especially relics of saints).]   But the biggest cause of concern in the case is that Rainert von Lahr, one of the most wanted art thieves worldwide and a man Avalon agents had been actively trying to apprehend for the past fifteen years, may be involved.

The romance in the story that is supposed to walk side-by-side with the suspenseful plot is that Will is not going to use an alias for this assignment because one of Hugh Haddington's reproduction assistants is none other than the woman who broke his heart in college, Mia Shaeffer Dolan.   Could not help but feel a bit sorry for Will to be blindsided by seeing Mia when he walked into Haddington Reproductions to begin his investigation while posing as a journalist doing an article for Antiquities Review Magazine, but Ben didn't think Will would accept the assignment if Will knew Mia was involved.

The romance aspect of the story is where Albert totally dropped the ball.   Mia is not only shocked to see her college lover, the man that she betrayed, standing beside her boss, but learns that Will is going to be spending time asking questions about a subject he knew nothing about back when she knew him twelve years ago -- art and antiquities.   As expected, the lust and interest is still strong between these two characters who loved and lost, but what is disappointing is that Albert miserably failed to develop the emotional angst that must have permeated these two characters as they each dealt with that life-altering incident.

Instead Albert featured the sexual aspect of Will and Mia's relationship.   Not only did Will and Mia not even make it out to their first dinner before they decided to renew their acquaintance with each other in a bout of passionate, hot monkey-sex, but they seemed to avoid discussing their feelings about what happened to them twelve years ago.   Yes, it was easy to understand that Will and Mia would have difficulty when it came to abstaining from sex since they were still drawn to one another, but Albert made these scenes come across as unfeeling because the emotional connection was missing.   Whenever he and Mia made love, Will would remind Mia that he was leaving at the end of his assignment and Mia would feel bad that she had once betrayed him and ruined her chances with him.

To be brutally honest, Mia is a very weakly-developed heroine.   Albert did a great job of revealing that she was apparently a gorgeous woman, full of energy, fun to be around, and stood up for herself.   Mia was very typically selfish and immature in her youth.   Mia apparently regretted throwing away her fiancé waiting for her back home in Ohio for a fling with Lorenz when she went to study art in Venice, but Albert never once established the emotional connection that revealed that Mia had deep feelings about her actions.   All Mia was able to give Will for an incident that sounded very painful from his point of view was a simple, little apology twelve years later.

So instead of developing the romance and emotional healing that Will and Mia should have been experiencing as they talked about their failed relationship, Albert instead concentrated on the suspenseful fact that Will gave his adversaries an advantage in their efforts to steal the Eudoxia Reliquary.   He revealed Mia was his weakness.   An advantage that was used to entertain readers with the kind of exciting action-packed, 'the good guys face off against the bad guys' adventure that is necessary to any Romantic Suspense novel.

Mia's friend and co-worker Vanessa Sharpton is a very important secondary character that is given a short point of view voice that added greatly to the interest and suspense of the story.   Will finds out rather quickly that Vanessa and her younger boyfriend of nine months, Kostandin "Kos" Vulaj, are the thieves he has been sent to investigate.   Again, Albert presents her skills at writing a suspenseful story and including details to explain how a "good" girl raised in a dysfunctional home can justify her actions by breaking the law with the man who loves her, but she failed to develop it to a depth that brought tears or laughter to the story.

Could not help but be impressed that Albert so understands the nuances of the human psychological makeup that she took an obvious low-life thug like Kostandin and painted a picture of his life that provided moments of understanding and sympathy for his plight.   There were two particular references that showed that while Kos may have made the wrong decisions in his efforts to escape his ties to the Albanian Mafia, his acceptance of Vanessa far superseded Mia's tendency to fix Vanessa.

"She told me that she couldn't be herself around you, because you were always telling her how she should act and think, making her feel like there was something about her that needed fixing."   (Kos, page 251)

"But, she isn't you and doesn't think like you.   She is her own person and doesn't need fixing.   She just needed someone who could accept her and take care of her, who would give her love and accept her love in return." (Kos, page 251)

So now Vanessa had given Kostandin Vulaj the role of hero that he needed to play, the chance to style himself as a good guy who was merely misunderstood.   In turn, he made Vanessa feel important and valuable, desired and loved, everything she'd hungered for all her life.   (Mia, page 252)

Albert is not without talent at weaving many different threads into her stories.   But she has failed to entertain readers with her ability to connect them to her characters emotionally as she begins to weave those threads into events that can be carried over into her future novels.   Albert came close to creating that identifying connection in this book by presenting two very emotional dialogues in the book between Will and Vanessa, and also, Kos and Mia, in which Albert very passionately described the thought processes that eventually resulted in revealing reasons why Kos and Vanessa felt breaking the law was justified in their case.

Avalon's arch-villain, Rainert von Lahr, is given two small point of view scenes during the telling of Will and Mia's story to reveal a degree of humaneness in his nature.   Naturally, Albert is using these scenes to generate interest for continued readership in this series -- and she succeeds.   One has to wonder where Albert is headed with this idea because, after all, in the Land of Romance, the good guy is always supposed to catch the bad guy in the end.

Although her writing still appeals to the reader inside me, for some reason, Albert's books seemed to have evolved from deeply-developed, emotionally-detailed characters that a reader can engage with to individuals whose emotions are hazy as they act out the scenes that drive the plot of the story.   And while I am anxious to pick up the next book in this series and continue reading, there is yet hope that Albert's next book will be another great read.

Tough Enough, the second book in The Avalon Investigation Series is an enjoyable read and showcases Albert's talent as she spins a tale of romance and intrigue, but it is not a top of the line Romantic Suspense novel.   Although easy to read and entertaining, this book failed to generate the feeling of trust from a broken love being rebuilt between Will and Mia and did not inspire nail-biting suspense.
--Vonda M. Reid (Friday, December 14, 2012 : 8:33 p.m.)     [294]

Books In The Series: "The Pre-Avalon Series"
# Date Title Hero Heroine
01.09-1998Absolute TroubleJulien Langlois; stripperDulcinea "Dulcie" Quinn; former cop
02.10-2002Getting Her ManDr. Jack Austin; archaeology professorDiana Belmaine; Private Investigator
03.09-2003Off LimitsRobert "Bobby" Michael Halloran; detectiveEmma Frey; homicide detective
04.03-2005One Way OutDr. Alex Martinell; paleontologist; professorCassie Parker Ashton; treasure hunter

Books In The Series: "The Avalon Investigations Series"
# Date Title Hero Heroine
01.05-2006 Hide In Plain SightGriffith "Grif" Laughton; Avalon OperativeFiona Kennedy; bookstore owner
02.04-2007Tough EnoughWilliam "Will" Tiernay; Avalon OperativeMia Shaeffer Dolan; art restorer
03.03-2010Her Last ChanceVincent DeLuca; FBI Special AgentClaudia Cruz; Avalon Operative
04.hoping. . . Ben Sheridan; Avalon CEO. . .
05.hoping. . . Russ Noble; Sheridan Expeditions. . .

Characters Found In "Tough Enough"
Character Description Also In
William "Will" Tiernay[Hero] Avalon Investigations Operative; talents: B&E, running a con on a con, acting (1) Hugo Boss suit (3) man of a hundred faces (7) fluent in Spanish; passable French and Italian reading skills (12) ex-cop (13) lone wolf in sheep's clothing (15) big Ohio lad (17) straw jaw and cheekbones (23) firm, full mouth; dark eyes beneath impossible dark lashes (24) heart-stoppingly handsome; dark looks; broad shoulders; harsher lines to face (55) wide shoulders; lean; powerful (82) sharply defined lines of muscles; scorpion tattoo on upper biceps (83) toned, hard body; narrow hips met powerful thighs (85) radiated power and self-confidence (116) filled entire space with energy and vitality (117) Seattle Police Department Detective until 3-y-a (124) lean, hard-muscled physique (152) mercenary (207) 2. Tough Enough
3. Her Last Chance
Mia Shaeffer Dolan[Heroine] love of Will's life in college (5) Haddington's assistant; British citizen (9) inherited Mother's exotic Maltese darkness; father an American (17) a selfish, immature girl (19) mouthy; stands up for herself (21) jewelry her area of expertise; working on the jewelry in the Eudoxia collection (22) beautiful; generous curves (25) shoulder-length curling dark hair; wide, dreamy-soft brown eyes dominated her heart-shaped face; single dimple in right cheek; full mouth that smiled easily (26) impulsive; ambitious; resorted to thievery (45) lost heart to Will at 18 (49) 34-y-o (81) energy sparking through groups of people energized her (186) 2. Tough Enough
3. Her Last Chance
. . . . . .. . .
AnnaRovena's 5-y-o daughter (126)2. Tough Enough
Ariworking with Kos (123) 2. Tough Enough (m)
Maria BalestriniBen wanted Will to look into Maria's death as a personal favor (7) murdered in July 1943, case never solved (13) long black hair; pretty smile; wistful dreaminess in dark eyes (12) knew man who disappeared in 1939 (13)2. Tough Enough
3. Her Last Chance
Caligula[Animal] Mia's ferrett (73)2. Tough Enough
Claudia Cruz[Heroine of Book 3] Avalon agent (143) everything about her irritated Will; tall; slender (173) brassy short hair; dark eyes; full lips; man-eater Technicolor; floral perfume; ex-cop (174) left force under shady circumstances; smart; ruthless (175) orange-red hair; dusky skin (253) 2. Tough Enough
3. Her Last Chance
Philip Dolan(67): Mia's ex-husband; adorably absent-minded (16) conservationist at British Museum; met at Louvre; married couple years (51) 2. Tough Enough (m)
ElizabethMia's sister; went to USC; mutinous streak of spunk; married dentist; two boys (163)2. Tough Enough (m)
EllieBen's executive secretary; Barbie-doll blond, blue eyes; kick-ass hot; pink toenails (2) gray leggings; baby pink tee; ponytail (3) girlie cuteness; natural flirt; typist; nose-breaker; Ben's bodyguard (4) 1. Hide In Plain Sight
2. Tough Enough
3. Her Last Chance
Hugh Haddingtonused to work for Facsimile Service of the British Museum; left 4-y-a to start own company in U.S. (7) loves being center of attention; standard baggy black plants, black shirt and ever-present black fedora; deep voice (23) droopy browns of a basset hound (29) 48-y-o over-achiever; very good at restoration and reproduction (43) cheerful; energetic (63) 2. Tough Enough
Jonathana guy Mia dated (16)2. Tough Enough (m)
Kathymarried Sam; Will and Mia's college friends; 4 kids (193)2. Tough Enough (m)
Mrs. KinskiMia's neighbor (291)2. Tough Enough (m)
[Griffith "Grif"] Laughton[Hero of Book 1] left Avalon (11) 1. Hide In Plain Sight
2. Tough Enough (m)
LorenzMia's ex-boyfriend (19)2. Tough Enough (m)
MathieuMia's ex-boyfriend (19)2. Tough Enough (m)
Sergeant Detective Doug MorrisBoston PD; navy suit; 10 pounds overweight; uncombed graying dark hair (107)2. Tough Enough
Nolanthe Art Guy; professor; provided crash courses on Art to Avalon rookies, often on short notice and at odd hours (5) Nolan (6) 2. Tough Enough (m)
RovenaVulaj's aunt (127) born into Albanian organized crime; married in Greek equivalent (131) beautiful, mature woman; thick dark hair; lush lips; lush breasts (132)2. Tough Enough
Sammarried Kathy; Will and Mia's college friends; 4 kids (193)2. Tough Enough (m)
Vanessa SharptonHaddington's assistant; British citizen (9) erring talent for choosing losers and deadbeats; pale coloring; blue eyes; with Kos for 9 months (17) doesn't stand up for herself (21) working on the reliquary (22) tall; blond (26) nervousness typical of the shy and awkward (26) trained in art; can reproduce anything in paint or inlay from Neolithic to pop culture (31) quiet type; thin fingers (33) 36-y-o; born and raised in London; trained at University of London (43) came from family of substance abuse (52) pawn; weak; gullible (208) 2. Tough Enough
3. Her Last Chance
Shaunda(4): Ben's receptionist; strong, lean lines to muscles; smooth black skin (1) narrow oval glasses; oval reserve; kick-ass hot (2)2. Tough Enough
3. Her Last Chance
Ben SheridanCEO of Sheridan Expeditions (2) faint lines crinkled at corners of dark eyes (3) short, dark hair; rich; top dog; trained with Ellie 3 times a week (4) hard-edged power; a thrum of controlled violence, which came from a life of spent looking too deeply into the darkness, of doing what should not have to be done (13) 4. One Way Out (m)
1. Hide In Plain Sight
2. Tough Enough
3. Her Last Chance
SusanMia's sister; charming; spoiled; going to Ohio State (163)2. Tough Enough (m)
Mark Swantonman Will hired to drive Mia; older; looked like someone wouldn't want to confront in a dark alley; graying hair (236)2. Tough Enough
Malcolm "Mal" Toller: lots of money; lords it over Boston law firm; currently playing publisher for men's magazine he bought from an Italian corporation (6) lecherous prick (22) Malcolm (110) 2. Tough Enough
Rainert von LahrBundeswehr-trained sniper; walked away from promising military career; one of the most wanted art thieves worldwide; Avalon trying to capture the past 15 years (10) usually left a woman behind to take a big fall (11) set up business in Brazil and Venezuela (12) 4. One Way Out
1. Hide In Plain Sight
2. Tough Enough
3. Her Last Chance
Kostandin "Kos" VulajVanessa's boyfriend; baggage handler at Boston's Logan Airport (92) olive-tinted skin; shoulder-length black hair; alert hazel eyes; extremely handsome (98) came to U.S. 4-y-a from upheaval in Albania, barely able to speak English (100) ties to Albanian Mafia (108) hair-trigger temper (109) Rovena's favorite nephew (127) arrogant; dark, sulky good looks; intensely dark eyes; rotten core (249) 2. Tough Enough
3. Her Last Chance (m)
Sir Arthur WhitleaFourth Baronet of West St. Aubry: disappeared (329) 2. Tough Enough
3. Her Last Chance
Gareth WhitleaSir Arthur's son; disappeared (329) 2. Tough Enough
3. Her Last Chance
  (m) = mentioned 

Locations, Organizations Found In "Tough Enough"
Location / Organization Description
Antiquities Review MagazineWill posing as reporter for this magazine (23)
Avalon Investigationsoperation Will worked for; no one knew identity of man who gave Ben orders and financed his small private army of mercenaries with an eye for art (8) began hundred years ago (39)
Bostonwhere Mia and Vanessa were currently working (17)
Curse of the Eudoxia Reliquarywoe and misfortune to all who touch (22)
Haddington ReproductionsHugh Haddington's company; Toller having reproductions of his art made by Haddington Reproductions (7) Will to investigate Haddington and his 2 assistants (8)
Metropolitan "Met" Museum of ArtNew York' most prestigious art museum (8)
Seattlehome base for Avalon Investigations / Sheridan Expeditions
Sheridan Expeditionslocated in Seattle; thriving adventure travel agency; overlooked Puget Sound (1)
"Tough Enough""Oh, you're tough enough." (Ellie to Will)
Venice, Italy Epilogue (331)
Zàkynthos (Zante), Greecelocation where von Lahr was residing (126)

"Tough Enough" Quotations
226Envy, resentment, anger . . . they helped keep guilt at bay.   Mia, always telling her what she should do, always doing things "for Vanessa" without ever asking if Vanessa wanted them done, or thinking they might not be what she wanted or even needed.   Mia, always trying to mold her into another version of herself without understanding that it wasn't possible.   (Vanessa)
251"She told me that she couldn't be herself around you, because you were always telling her how she should act and think, making her feel like there was something about her that needed fixing."   (Kos)
251"But, she isn't you and doesn't think like you.   She is her own person and doesn't need fixing.   She just needed someone who could accept her and take care of her, who would give her love and accept her love in return."   (Kos)
252It was clear now why they loved each other.   Both of them needful, feeding off each other, trying to fill the empty places inside that couldn't be filled.   (Mia)
271"You haven't lived my life.   People like you have opportunities, you have choices and never think about how lucky you are.   I never had anything but poverty and a homeland torn apart by war.   I come to America, and I'm looked down upon because I'm not one of you.   I'm just another foreigner, stealing your jobs and living off your taxes."   (Kos)
274What Will did was important . . . compared with her own complacency, only working to pay the bills, the days simply passing by, month after month, year after year.   (Mia)
294the law didn't work the same for everyone.   (Mia)
rvwMs Albert's greatest success in this story is her ability to make me get all torn up and twisted inside because the good guys and the bad guys aren't so clearly drawn here.   (Mrs. Giggles)

"Michele Albert -- Tough Enough" Review and Information Links
Rated Posted Site Notes, Comments, Etc.
---- Michele Albert's WebsiteAuthor (Michele Albert is Michelle Jerott's pseudonym)
---- Michele Albert's FacebookAuthor (Michele Albert is Michelle Jerott's pseudonym)
---- Michele Albert's Wikipediamini biography
. . . . . .. . .. . .
B / warm04-27-2007All About Romance--Ellen Micheletti // no detail // not the ususal well-written review
3.50 average{4 reviews}Amazonas of: May 12, 2013
3.50 average{4 ratings}Barnes & Nobleas of: May 12, 2013
----Fantastic FictionList of Michelle Jerott's Books
----Fantastic FictionList of Michele Albert's Books
----Fict FactList of Books In "The Avalon Investigations Series"
----Fiction DBList of Michelle Jerott's Books
----Fiction DBList of Michele Albert's Books
3.43 average{4 reviews}Good Readsas of: May 12, 2013
3.83 average{6 ratings}Library Thingas of: May 12, 2013
Grade: 96--Mrs. GigglesEXCELLENT detailed spoiler-ridden review about gray areas of good and evil
3.70 average{20 ratings}Paperback Swapas of: May 12, 2013
4.0004-....-2007RT {Romantic Times} Book Reviews--Jill M. Smith // PR review
2.676 average{3 reviews}Shelfarias of: May 12, 2013
----Suspense Romance Writersbook details // no review as of: May 11, 2013
3.0006-04-2007The Romance Reader--Mary Benn // excellent review with good detail
----You TubeTough Enough Trailer
3.8505-11-2013Wolf Bear Does Booksshorter post on Amazon, Fiction DB, Good Reads, Library Thing, Shelfari

♥   Disclaimer:   I Purchased This Book
♥   Very Subjective Rating
♣   Will add your Tough Enough review link to table, just ask

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