ARC Review: Code of Conduct by April White

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Genre: Adult | Contemporary Romance | Suspense
Series: Cipher Security #1
My Rating: 3 stars!
Release Date: October 15th, 2019
Source: SmartyPants Romance
Description: There are three things you need to know about Shane P.I.
1) P.I. is not her last name, it’s her job title,
2) Her specialty is catching cheaters, and
3) She’s a superhuman – kind of.
Gabriel is a security expert for Cipher Security, and a former UN Peacekeeper with a fierce protective streak that finds its focus on the beautiful P.I.
Their attraction is like an elephant in a room full of breakable things, and figuring out how to trust each other with their hearts, and maybe their lives, is the most fragile thing of all.
‘Code of Conduct’ is a full-length romantic suspense novel, can be read as a standalone, and is book #1 in the Cipher Security series, Knitting in the City World, and Penny Reid Universe.

DisclaimerI received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, but it does not influence my opinion of the book nor the contents of this review in any way. 

Let me start by saying Penny Reid is one of my favorite authors. Now after reading that statement, you may be asking me, “Why the heck are you talking about the lovely and wonderful Ms. Reid when this is not her book?” To that I would say, you are correct! But you are also wrong. Ms. Reid an author and the founder of SmartyPants Romance, which is a kind of small publishing venture that she’s started up. Basically, other authors write extensions to her stories! No, that’s not right. Other authors write their own stories, just set in the Pennyverse, in the world she’s created and with character’s she’s written about as side characters. That makes more sense, right? 

Ms. Reid wrote the amazing Knitting in the City series, which follows the romance of each lady in a hilarious knitting group. One of the ladies, Jamie from Neanderthal Seeks Human, marries Quinn Sullivan, who owns Cipher Security Company, within which most of this book takes place. While she did originally create that world and those characters, we do see her main characters walking around in these other SmartyPants Romance books.  At first, I was a little iffy about how this was going to work out. I didn’t like the idea of a different author “stealing” characters from one of my favorite author’s books! But I shouldn’t have worried. It wasn’t theft, I’m sure it was Ms. Reid’s idea. And Ms. Reid’s characters were a great touch of nostalgic window dressing. They weren’t main characters or even ultra-important side characters. For instance, in Code of Conductour main character is the employee of one of Ms. Reid’s main characters, and works with other employees that also had their own romances in Ms. Reid’s series! 

Speaking of Code of Conductthat’s what I’m supposed to be talking about! It follows Shane, a private investigator working a case that’s only slightly legal against a client of Cipher Security Systems, a client they’re trying to get rid of. The man put in charge of the case is Gabriel Eze, and he’s immediately captivated by the woman who always seems to be in the right place, wrong time for this case, at least until he recruits her to help. And here, ladies in gentlemen, we have a wildly successful workplace romance

Shane has a heavy background, and is very close-lipped about her past, including how she lost her leg and what her real name is. Shane is intensely close-lipped and with how cagey she is about any information she gives out. In fact, she has a number of pseudonyms and fake-phone numbers at the ready, just in case. Not only that, but she drives across state borders to mail her mom a Christmas card. Honestly, I got halfway through this book thinking she was in the country illegally, was a runaway from a powerful family or busted out of prison. That was the level of hush-hush secrecy she had. 

Shane was who I’d been since I left home. It wasn’t on my high school diploma, my college transcripts, my passport, or my PI license, but it was who I’d chosen to be. I wasn’t searchable, identifiable or easily found as Shane, so when I answered to it, the person asking was always someone I trusted. 

I can get behind a girl who wants to start over, but this just seemed to go way over the top, considering it was none of those things, or even remotely close. I loved Shane a lot, but she just felt … flimsy isn’t the right word, because she had depth and her character made sense, but the writing with her just felt a bit overdone. She was a ninja private investigator, had a breadth of knowledge that was very impressive as much as it was random, and had the sarcasm and sass of Charley Davidson. If you’ve read the series, you know what I mean. I’m being too negative, because I really did enjoy the book. But I just couldn’t nail down Shane, and her level of cagey-ness really threw me

I did really like Gabriel – he was a solid character with a tragic backstory who loved Hamilton: The Musical. What is there that isn’t to love? He was a fun, gentle character and it was honestly fun to see those two and their rapport. They were a great couple and I especially loved all the tension and banter in the beginning, and it was so obvious how much Gabriel loved Shane, and I loved him for it. If I did have to complain about one thing, it’s that I felt that the plot was drawn out a bit, and the relationship seemed to stagnate at a certain point. It was so exciting in the beginning but then I was urging them to just hurry up already. I reached a point where I kind of struggled to connect with the characters  and connecting with their romance. Typically, it was Gabriel that brought me back into it, but my attention did stray. 

Their schedule kinda threw me, too, because when you’re working a job like that, it doesn’t seem like it would be a 9-5pm job. She may have rolled up at 10, but she was definitely out of the office by the time dinner came around, and then they did their romance-thing at night. I’m sitting here like … murder and thievery doesn’t just ~go away~ lovelies! I would have loved the story more if it was a bit faster paced, but that’s not to say that I didn’t still enjoy it as it came. A good slow burn (which it was!) is awesome with a fast-paced plot. Otherwise, it tends to just drag its feet, which I felt this did in certain parts. I also had trouble connecting with the “enemy” on this one, because Quimby just didn’t strike me as a major threat. 

While there was a bit more action towards the end, I do remember thinking “that’s it?” The major romantic conflict wasn’t all that major, which I struggle with. This was an enjoyable read, but it did lend itself more on  the “fluffy” side of contemporary romance than on the major-suspense-filled side of the rainbow I was hoping for, or at least on the full-package and thought-provoking side that Ms. Reid’s books typically lay. This author had big shoes to fill, and while seeing some of my favorite Pennyverse characters was very enjoyable and highly entertaining, they just didn’t spark off the page like normal. I will probably continue this series just to see where it goes and if it gets better, but it’s not as high on my list as I’d hoped. 

Code of Conduct releases October 15, 2019. Click the link to preorder. Thank you SmartyPants Romance for the title, of course, and to Social Butterfly PR for the work you do 😄

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Have you read any of Penny Reid books? What are some of your favorite friends-to-lover romances? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you! 

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