Joint Review – Give it All (Desert Dogs #2) by Cara McKenna

Give it All cover image

Publisher: Signet
Publish Date: 3 Feb
Reviewed by: E and Marlene
How we got this book: ARC from the publisher

Keep your friends close—and your enemies closer….

Bar owner Raina Harper can’t say for sure what Duncan Welch is to her. With her small Nevada town under siege by a ruthless casino development and still reeling from a spate of murders, she knows that trusting the public face of the corporate invaders is risky to say the least. Though, damn, it’s one fine-looking face.…

Duncan may be a mercenary when it comes to getting the job done, but he’s no villain. In fact, the calculating fixer soon finds himself in the bad guys’ crosshairs, framed and facing professional ruin. To clear his name, he’ll need help from Raina and her roughneck motorcycle club, the Desert Dogs. Gaining their trust won’t be easy, and the molten sexual tension between Raina and Duncan only makes things more complicated—especially since Miah Church, Raina’s friend and ex-lover, would sooner strangle Duncan than shake his hand.

One thing’s certain, though: If they don’t deal with their incendiary attraction soon, the whole damn town might go up in flames.…

*Blurb taken from Goodreads

Marlene: First things first – read Lay It Down before starting Give It All. It’s not just that this is book 1 and book 2 of series – it’s that the background for all the characters and the suspense subplot that gets them all back together are detailed in Lay It Down. A whole bunch of what goes on in Give It All, including how in the hell Duncan ends up in Fortuity staring at Raina, are part of the first story.

By the end of Lay It Down, the Desert Dogs have uncovered one layer of the criminal corruption surrounding the building of the new casino/ resort, but it is all too clear that they have only scratched the surface, especially since the burned bones that started this whole mad quest have not yet turned up.

E: I read and enjoyed McKenna’s first installment in her Desert Dogs series Lay it Down and found myself really interested in Duncan Welch. He was quite a fascinating character seemingly out of place amongst the desert sands of Nevada and the hard-bitten souls inhabiting the dying town. Yet for all of his differences when it came down to it, he put more than he knew on the line for justice. As a result, I was really looking forward to peering into the depths of Duncan’s soul and seeing how things would be resolved with Duncan, Raina, Miah and the rest of the Desert Dogs. I was also very curious about the mysterious disappearing partially burnt human remains, which started a series of unexplained murders. Overall, I enjoyed this story but there was a certain unevenness between the romance and some of the mystery elements.

Marlene: Duncan Welch is the corporate troubleshooter (read as expensive shark lawyer) hired by the construction company to spread money around and keep the locals if not sweet then at least off company property. Fortunately for the Devil Dogs, Duncan helped uncover just how deep into the local authorities the corruption ran. Unfortunately for Duncan, his employers aren’t too happy about the delay in construction caused by the investigation that Duncan helped to get rolling.

Duncan is almost an anti-hero dressed as a hero. Or dressed as a cold-blooded snake. He’s stuck in Fortuity for the foreseeable future. Duncan is also stuck in a series of ruts that send him into secret panic attacks and mixing his tranquilizers with booze. He’s even more stuck on Raina Harper, the owner of the local bar – the only bar in town until the casino opens. If it ever opens.

Duncan makes an interesting choice for a romance hero. While he and Raina throw off enough sparkage to power the bar (and possibly the entire town), Duncan is a complete mess. As the situation goes from bad to worse, as his situation in Fortuity becomes more and more precarious, we see what a complete mess Duncan is psychologically, and how fragile he is on the inside.

E: Duncan was a posh dresser with fussy manners and a seemingly detachment from anything base or elemental or human for that part, yet with a certain something which kept catching Raina’s attention. I enjoyed watching Duncan and Raina peel back each other’s layers as time and circumstances put them in close proximity. Seeing Duncan reduced and yet striving to pull himself back up and into control of his life while adapting to Raina’s influence was both moving and entertaining. He was a self-made man who thrived on a structure of his own making yet he was able to eventually see and understand he did not need to remain rigid and fully in control. A control which manifested itself in a variety of different ways, one of which I think Raina ended up appreciating **wink**.

Marlene: Raina is still running through those stages of grief about her father. She still sees it as his bar, his buildings, and his dreams that she is trying to live out. She’s not sure she ever wants to love anyone whose death can gut her the way that his did. She’s stuck in a mental space where she doesn’t know what else she can do besides tend bar, but doesn’t want to stay tied to it forever.

She’s also stuck inside her head, afraid to let anyone get too close, and passing her attitude off as badassery when some of it is fear of losing someone else, and some of it is fear of being used or manipulated. She’s been both and it’s not happening again.

It’s only when both Duncan and Raina let some of their vulnerabilities show that we see that they might be made for each other, if they can stop arguing long enough to say what they feel instead of what the other is afraid of.

Raina wants to be loved and accepted for exactly who she is – brass balls and all. Duncan needs to let the real Duncan out, so that someone knows who it is they might love. Together, they are a hot mess.

E: Raina, for all of her apparent casual friendliness lived almost as structured a life as Duncan but her control was primarily emotional and a refusal to entertain dreams of anything different. I felt for Raina who thought outside of friendship, she could only have a physical relationship with a man because she had used up all of her emotions on over the course of growing up with her father. This manifested with her complicated past and present friendship with Miah. They were good friends, former lovers, and very comfortable with each other physically but Miah wanted more emotionally from Raina than she could give him. She avoided romantic emotional entanglements of any sort yet found herself placing a protective arm over people she felt needed a helping hand. When Duncan’s life abruptly changed as a result of his interference in the first installment she refused to let him face it alone and as their attraction grew so did the danger to Duncan so Raina instead dragged the rest of the Desert Dogs into the situation.

Marlene: The suspense plot is every bit as important in this story as the romance. In this installment, Duncan is being targeted by a mysterious someone, probably a cohort of the bad guy who got put away. But it all feels very nebulous until the end. We see the results and they are very clear – his car is spray painted, his room is set fire, and the FBI has him ‘in the frame” for corruption that he certainly didn’t commit.

But we don’t ever see the person responsible. We know who probably set the mess in motion, but we don’t see real evil dudes doing real evil deeds like we did in the first book. We do get a resolution for this part of the investigation, but so much of it happens “off camera” that it doesn’t feel satisfying.

E: As much as I enjoyed the romance, I struggled a bit with the investigative aspect. I completely understood why the investigators looked at Duncan once they were given certain pieces of information BUT I am still wondering why they were pointed in his direction to begin with. Hopefully, McKenna will answer that question as the series progresses because it seems to me it should tie into the overall root cause for the series of irregularities in this particular casino development. Another scene which didn’t appear to have a direct connection to the action in this particular installment but it planted a seed in my mind that the Desert Dogs might have become a target as the most visible sign of successful resistance to the casino development.

Marlene: Raina and Duncan are a surprising couple, based on his introduction in Lay It Down. The point he ends at makes it make sense, but from the place he started at, no way. His transformation is interesting to watch, because he had so far to go. Raina opens up, but her change is more a matter of degree. Her essential self doesn’t change. Duncan’s does. I also love his cat.

This series seems to be on a slow simmer in a bunch of ways. While Duncan and Raina do fall into very hot sex relatively quickly, love takes a whole lot longer for either of them to admit. And the corruption investigation also took on a slow pace in this one.

I like the Desert Dogs, and I even like visiting Fortuity, but I wouldn’t want to live there. This chapter of the continuing saga took a while to get into. I hoped for more from this second book in the series.

I give Give It All a B-

E: I really enjoyed the character development McKenna provided for Raina and Duncan as well as hints at upcoming relationships. I can’t wait for Miah’s story because my heart hurts for him but I ended up much preferring the Raina-Duncan pairing.

I wish the investigative portion had worked as well for me as the romance aspect but I remain invested in what is and will happen in Fortuity. I also continue to enjoy how the Desert Dogs are a bunch of friends in the desert who like motorcycles instead of being a Motorcycle Club with a particular style of life. The interaction between the friends, the town, and the stray individuals who manage to fall under their support is a lot of fun to read. I am looking forward to the next installment and I can’t wait to find out what is going to happen.

I give Give it All a B/B-

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