Category: Military/Paramilitary

Ghost by Janie Crouch

Ghost by Janie CrouchGhost by Janie Crouch
Series: Linear Tactical #5
Published by Calamity Jane Publishing on May 21st 2019
Pages: 251
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three-stars

Everyone eventually breaks under torture.

It’s a truth elite solider and government agent Dorian Lindstrom, codename Ghost, knows firsthand. His body may have recovered from what was done to him in that Afghani prison six years ago, but his mind…not quite so much.

He’s seeing dead people.

Grace Brandt, government codename Wraith, knows her past can’t be forgiven. She has stayed “dead” for as long as she could, but now the forces she’s been fighting, the secrets slowly suffocating her, won’t stay hidden any longer.

And the man she helped break—the man she's always loved—is the only one who can stop the danger threatening them all.

When it comes to keeping the people he loves safe, including the one who thinks she’s not worthy of it, there is no danger—past, present or future—Dorian won’t battle.


The Ghost will rise.

I’m in a bind.

What do you do, when the basis of romance—the believable pairing of 2 characters you need to root for and believe in—doesn’t quite work for you, even though the premise of the story itself is quite intriguing?

If I were to approach ‘Ghost’ from a non-romantic perspective, then the whole covert-spying, black-ops stuff with tons of brain-washing involved is one that can—and did—keep me on my toes. I loved the twists and turns; rather, I liked how Janie Crouch didn’t simply stop but kept going past the point where I expected the climax and resolution to be.

But as acknowledged in the afterword, Crouch recognises that the female protagonist—Grace Brandt, aka Ray (what the hell kind of name is that?)—isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. And she definitely isn’t mine, more so because she’s written to be the other half of a damaged character whose story I’ve always hankered after from the very start.

Wary, suspicious, morally suspect and prone to simply run with Dorian always chasing after her…that she was Ghost’s, or rather, Dorian’s other half, was frankly a hard pill to swallow. This time, the repetitive arguments of her not being good enough for him seemed spot-on, and I’d spent the whole time wishing Crouch had simply chosen a different protagonist for Dorian. It also seemed inevitable that Dorian/Grace’s HEA didn’t feel sufficiently set in stone, even if it were a touch of the realistic that Crouch was aiming for after all that both had gone through.

My rating of ‘Ghost’ is probably quite an arbitrary one. I’d be the first to admit that it turned out as ‘average’ because I was weighing the romance against the plot and while the latter was not bad, it was weighed down completely by the former that I didn’t buy into at all.

three-stars

Stealing Vengeance by Kaylea Cross

Stealing Vengeance by Kaylea CrossStealing Vengeance by Kaylea Cross
Series: Vengeance, #1
Published by Kaylea Cross Inc. on 28th May 2019
Pages: 269
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three-stars

She’s an expert at getting into places she doesn’t belong.

The government created Megan, transforming her into a Valkyrie—a deadly operative only whispered about in certain circles. They took everything from her and made her into a weapon. Now someone is leaking secret information about her sisters-in-arms, betraying them for money. Loyal Unto Death is the Valkyrie motto. So when Megan is recruited to find who leaked the files, she takes the high-risk assignment. Even if it means working with the man who betrayed her trust long ago. Even if it means giving her life. Because she’ll do whatever it takes to find justice.

But this is one situation she can’t escape from on her own.

Tyler Bergstrom never forgot the resourceful woman who escaped during the toughest phase of SERE school. So when he learns the stunning truth about her and his unwitting part in her past, he volunteers to work alongside Megan for a chance at redemption. Except she doesn’t want a partner. Doesn’t want to let anyone into her life, including him—hell, especially him. Yet whether she likes it or not, for this mission they’re partners. Now it’s a race against the clock to bring down the shadowy figure targeting Valkyries. But the threat goes deeper than they ever imagined. No one is safe. And if they can’t overcome the past and learn to trust each other, they’re both dead.

A super-secret government program taking orphaned young girls and turning them into black-ops assassins is the basis for Kaylea Cross’s new Valkyrie series.

Having graced graced the pages of her books from time to time, there’s a particular mould that these women seem to fit: doing all that it takes to get the job done, staying solitary, emotionless and distrustful while they’re at it. So similar are they, that it feels like a calculated risk that Cross takes as she finally puts all of them in the spotlight in order to give the Valkyries their own HEAs.

‘Stealing Vengeance’ nonetheless, is a good establishing book, with a slightly different tone and flavour to her previous books and it’s not bad so far. It’s a lot more cloak and dagger, more furtive and evasive though admittedly pushing past the point of suspending disbelief at times, all with the overarching theme of revenge and weeding those responsible for their inhumane actions.

Cross pairs Megan with Ty Bergstrom here in a mission to sniff out traitors—2 characters who only have a fleeting brush with each other over a decade ago, though that was apparently enough to help reignite a spark between them. And given the women’s kind of covert history, there’s also a bit of a role reversal here as the women act pretty much like many male protagonists in the romance genre: distrustful, putting the mission above all and inevitably throwing a wrench in a developing relationship.

Megan did frustrate me from time to time: I didn’t know where her ultimate loyalties lay; that it was inexplicably to a long-lost sister in custody who hadn’t yet proven herself simply made her judgement seem even more dodgy (and not copping any punishment for insubordination seemed somewhat naive…and a constant thing that Cross seems to gloss over in most of her books). And instead of voicing regrets and wishing things could have gone differently, I wished she’d been brave enough at least emotionally to sort herself instead of being a coward—while justifying it with arguments like he deserved better—where Ty was concerned.

There’s not too much we know about Ty’s history on the other hand, only that Cross writes him as far gone over Megan, with an attraction that’s simmering, and apparently so deep that he decides he can’t live without her…and would pay almost any price to keep their relationship. But any conflict between them is quickly resolved and the story ends (almost abruptly) before I could get a convincing feel of the both of them beyond fervent reiterations that Ty really, really wanted to be with Megan, the latter of whom tearfully reciprocates at the last minute.

In all, ‘Stealing Vengeance’ is more than a decent start, even if it didn’t come off as breath-stealing as I’d hope it be. Where Cross takes the story arc however, is something to look forward to.

three-stars

Hard Target by Pamela Clare

Hard Target by Pamela ClareHard Target by Pamela Clare
Series: Cobra Elite, #1
Published by Pamela Clare on 25th April 2019
Pages: 261
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three-stars

Derek Tower has spent his life at war, first as a Green Beret and then as the owner of a private black-ops company, Cobra International Security. When a high-ranking US senator asks Cobra to protect his daughter, a midwife volunteering in Afghanistan, Derek’s gut tells him to turn the senator down. The last thing he wants to do is babysit an aid worker. But Jenna isn’t just another assignment. She’s also the younger sister of his best friend, the man who died taking bullets meant for him. There’s no way Derek can refuse.

Jenna Hamilton doesn’t need a bodyguard, especially not one hired by her intrusive and controlling father. She knew the risks when she signed on to work in rural Afghanistan, and the hospital already has armed security. She also doesn’t need the distraction of a big, brooding operative skulking about, even if he is her late brother’s best friend—and sexy as hell. As far as she’s concerned, he can pack up his Humvee and drive into the sunset. And, no, nothing her hormones have to say about him will change her mind.

From the moment his boots hit the ground in Afghanistan, Derek does his best to win Jenna over, posing as her brother so the two of them can spend time alone. Except that what he feels for her is anything but brotherly. Stolen moments lead to secret kisses—and an undeniable sexual attraction that shakes them both to the core. But events have been set into motion that they cannot escape. When a ruthless warlord sets his sights on Jenna, Derek will do whatever it takes to keep her safe, even if it costs him his heart—or his life.

‘Hard Target’ is classic Pamela Clare fare, full of action and hot scenes and while I do like her Colorado High Country books, I’m still glad she’s decided to return to romantic suspense in this new series.

Derek Tower isn’t a new character to grace Clare’s canon of works; he’s appeared in a few books as a peripheral figure and ‘Hard Target’ is his story of encountering the woman who also happens to be the sister of his dead comrade – and someone whom he’d never met before. First tasked to bring her home by a controlling father, it’s only a while later that Derek starts to realise that Jenna is her own woman intent on helping the Afghani women – which leads him to vow to protect her at all costs.

Clare constantly bucks the trend of creating unnecessary drama between her protagonists – this surprises me still – because she does by and large, write mature characters who mean what they say and show a lot of chutzpah and bravery while they’re escaping the bad guys and facing their biggest fears. Admittedly, I wasn’t as fond of Derek as I was of Jenna nonetheless; the latter seemed so much stronger, resilient and compassionate in contrast to the more commonly-used trope of the male protagonist using excuses to explain away why he didn’t do relationships.

It’s probably just me here, but I thought this didn’t quite have the hard edge or the soulful depth of the earlier RS books that Clare wrote. I found it a little hard to swallow and believe that a father – corrupt senator or not – would have gone to such lengths to get his 30-year-old daughter home for the reason that wasn’t entirely made clear other than she ‘should have stayed home’ instead of working in Afghanistan.

Still, the action and drama in Afghanistan was the book’s highlight, as well as the eye-opening descriptions that Clare had painstakingly taken to write about midwifery in a place where women are repressed and treated like sub-humans through Jenna’s experience.

‘Cobra Elite’ is still a series I’d love to see develop nonetheless. The establishing novel is not bad, though I’m hoping it’ll just get better from here.

three-stars

Beyond the Limit by Cindy Dees

Beyond the Limit by Cindy DeesBeyond the Limit by Cindy Dees
Series: Valkyrie Ops, #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 25th June 2019
Pages: 384
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one-star

Skylar Tate, former Miss Congeniality, is a media officer for the Navy, but she itches to get on the field—and she can prove she has what it takes. But convincing others that she can become one of the first ever female Navy SEALs? That might be tougher than the agonizingly brutal training.

Griffin Caldwell and his teammates in his Navy SEAL platoon, the Reapers, are tasked to secretly train women candidates to become the first female SEALs. But when he meets Skylar Tate, it's friction—and lust—at first sight. Griffin can't believe the former pageant queen has what it takes, and Skylar can't believe his arrogance. But when one deadly mission goes wrong, it's up to Skylar and Griffin and their unprecedented bond to save the day.

Oddly reminiscent of ‘The Medusa Project’—a book of Cindy Dees I read a long time ago, ‘Beyond the Limit’ failed to enthral me because it felt like ground that has been trodden on before: women attempting to break through the elite ranks of spec ops, an area traditionally and still dominated by Alpha men and the likes, and eventually getting them to eat their words, while forming a sisterhood in the process.

Miss Congeniality turned Spec-ops potential soldier Sherri Tate is the first in line in this book, as a SEAL platoon is tasked to get them up to speed as suitable candidates (and probably getting them to fail in the process). But seeing Sherri Tate swooning over her instructor and his hot bod felt painfully awkward instead and trying to meet all the men’s , seemingly proving the point that women and men couldn’t work together in the military without someone dying of lust.

I realise I’m not quite the type of reader who crows about female vs. male prowess even if it’s with the former coming out top), even if it’s about the women trying to earn a place in the SEALs—and how the men do everything in their power to wash them out. There’re misogynist and chauvinistic tendencies, both overt and implied and so deeply buried in everyday vocabulary—that men would be made obsolete if the women joined their ranks?!—but if the intention is to rile the female reader, it didn’t exactly work on me because it felt like a story that has been already told…by Dees herself a long time ago.

It’s not that I don’t think a very special breed of women can cut it in spec ops (there are already women rangers out there, so it’s a moot point), but rather, it’s probably the sense of entitlement of the elite SEALs have, along with the whole cyclical round of women proving men wrong that I’m tired with. Even though the women do it and triumph through sheer grit and hard work.

It’s all on me, I’ll readily admit, that I wasn’t as engaged in the storytelling as I would have liked and the skimmed the whole way without being able to get a hook into the whole journey of Sherri going through her rounds and rounds of training. ‘Beyond The Limit’ just didn’t do it for me, for a combination of reasons that had me not finishing it.

*ARC by the publisher via Netgalley

one-star

The Last Letter by Rebecca Yarros

The Last Letter by Rebecca YarrosThe Last Letter by Rebecca Yarros
Published by Entangled: Amara on 26th February 2019
Pages: 432
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four-stars

Beckett,

If you’re reading this, well, you know the last-letter drill. You made it. I didn’t. Get off the guilt train, because I know if there was any chance you could have saved me, you would have.

I need one thing from you: get out of the army and get to Telluride.

My little sister Ella’s raising the twins alone. She’s too independent and won’t accept help easily, but she has lost our grandmother, our parents, and now me. It’s too much for anyone to endure. It’s not fair.

And here’s the kicker: there’s something else you don’t know that’s tearing her family apart. She’s going to need help.

So if I’m gone, that means I can’t be there for Ella. I can’t help them through this. But you can. So I’m begging you, as my best friend, go take care of my sister, my family.

Please don’t make her go through it alone.

Ryan

It’s hard to put into words what ‘The Last Letter’ is about, even if the emotions they draw out are raw and unrelenting, leaving you to grapple with them past the last page of the story. On the surface, it’s about a loyal soldier putting down roots in a small town because he’d promised his best friend to take care of his sister, though there’re some secrets he’s carrying on him along with the burden that he’d long fallen in love with her before they had even seen each other face to face.

Movingly told with a very slow burn, ‘The Last Letter’ is women’s fiction and romance with the heavy emotional waves of angst and brooding that I’m tempted to shove into the New Adult category all at once. It’s both easy and difficult to get through because of the very weighty, no-easy-answers topics Rebecca Yarros has chosen to cover here, but the payoff then, is one that understandably leaves readers reeling: if the characters are put through the wringer, so are we.

There are more than the usual tinges of reality creeping in here, nonetheless. Yarros’s marked conditions in this are that the HEA doesn’t come without a price and it’s quite a steep one that the characters pay for. Without the typical fluff cloud that many romance stories are built on, Ella/Beckett’s story resembles the very thorny bed of roses of real life more than the sometimes-unrealistic bent of HEAs that I’ve gotten used to; it’s a brutal kick in the arse and a sombre awakening as much as it is one that can make my chest ache with the poignancy of a love that comes with lots of attached baggage.

And where do I even begin with Beckett? Eloquent, stalwart, and so so unswervingly loyal that he stands out as a protagonist who should be enshrined, Beckett Gentry’s strength, integrity and stability became my pillar of light as he was Ella’s as they navigated the murky waters of child-cancer and the ever-lingering shadow of death that never seemed far away.

Yet oddly what deterred me from giving a higher rating really was Ella’s reticence and her own refusal to see past her mixed signals and her own hang-ups. Her lack of understanding when it came to Beckett’s omission, the overwhelming need to shut him out and only do what she thought was right for her frustrated the hell out of me especially when Beckett had laid everything else on the line repeatedly. And the overall enjoyment I had for it detracted not because of the shock ending, but because I thought Beckett had the constant uphill battle to climb when it came to Ella, even when he’d laid out his own insecurities and was instead, flayed and punished for it by her.

With not quite an instant love, but an old-time affection that develops over the written word—it’s strange but magnificent to see how the epistolary form has been done here—, ‘The Last Letter’ is a book that made me glad I took up despite my initial reservations. Yarros starts an intricately woven tale of tragedy and joy mixed with pockets of angst and ends it that way, but because of this, it’ll stick with me longer—ironically, perhaps—than many of the books that have passed me by.

four-stars

Keeping a Warrior by Melanie Hansen

Keeping a Warrior by Melanie HansenKeeping a Warrior by Melanie Hansen
Series: Loving a Warrior #2
Published by Carina, Carina Press on April 22nd 2019
Pages: 264
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three-stars

Sometimes the only hope for the walking wounded is in each other’s arms.

Devon Lowe is a survivor.

A survivor of war. Of combat. And of a betrayal by men she considered her brothers-in-arms. But her trailblazing work as a Cultural Support Team member working alongside the navy SEALs is too important for her to back down now.

Fresh off a painful breakup, air force pararescueman Rhys Halloran recognizes Devon’s trauma for what it is—something that’s left her isolated but far from irreparably damaged.

With Devon’s trust still lying shattered back in Afghanistan, putting her faith in a man who’s nursing a broken heart isn’t easy. But she’s tired of people making her feel weak, and Rhys makes her feel anything but, sparking a heated attraction that was never part of the plan.

With all eyes on Devon to prove herself in a brutal man’s world, having it all will mean putting her heart on the line like never before. But when it comes to Rhys, it’s an uphill battle she’s ready to fight.

Melanie Hansen is a new author to me and I hadn’t really known what to expect with ‘Keeping a Warrior’ when I got into it, only that it was heavily woman-focused, so to speak, despite it being touted as a military romance.

Much of this ended up being a story about Devon Lowe as a solitary woman in a testosterone-driven man’s world and in this role-reversal—her love ‘em, leave ‘em ways, her sometime-recklessness, her prickly behaviour, calling the shots and all—, Hansen eagerly showcases her capability in the military and how she can excel in every training exercise that all the men can do. There’s plenty of action, a close look at how the platoon trains, the SEAL brotherhood and the assumed places of men and women in the military, which can be quite engaging.

And it’s all written—uniquely, you might say—through the eyes of a woman and how she copes with all of it.

If it isn’t a nod to girl-power or the #metoo movement, I don’t know what it is. Cheering for the constant insistence on female equality aside however, I wasn’t used to, or frankly, wasn’t sure if I liked what I thought of as the role reversal, of an alpha heroine in the driving seat all the time and an admiring and smitten beta hero who mostly defers to her.

I’ve nothing but admiration for Hansen’s attempt to focus on sexual assault in the military and its impact on women in particular but the constant dick-waving and posturing got me tired, including—yes, shoot me for it—Devon’s every attempt to one-up the men in trying to prove herself worthy with a very slow-burn romance on the side as Rhys Halloran struggles with his own failed relationship and takes his own form of baby steps around Devon.

In fact, I liked the volatile, cutting sexual tension between Matt/Shane more than I liked the Devon/Rhys pairing. Even as a secondary, estranged pairing (I hadn’t read their story in the first book, which is making me want to check them out now), they were the show-stealers and every fraught moment between them made me want more. As a result, ‘Keeping a Warrior’ left me with very mixed feelings, especially since I was more invested in the secondary characters more than the protagonists.

three-stars

The Savior by Cristin Harber

The Savior by Cristin HarberThe Savior by Cristin Harber
Series: Aces #1
Published by Mill Creek Press on 19th December 2018
Pages: 299
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four-stars

A man loses the woman he intends to marry.A woman loses her best friend.
Retired Army Captain Liam Brosnan and US Marshal Chelsea Kilpatrick are forced to question what they know about a murder that forces them together. Uncertain connections from Liam’s military career rope them into a cloak-and-dagger investigation that offers more questions than answers.

Being duty-bound while in the throes of grief is a dangerous mixture. They struggle with unexpected sparks of passion and question their loyalty to a woman they loved while a murderer closes in on his next target.

Will the explosive solace Liam and Chelsea find in one another lead to a love neither expected? Or will it blind them to looming danger and death?

Cristin Harber’s larger-than-life military/terrorism conspiracy plots often skirt closer to the edge of the unbelievable than many of the books I’ve gone through but then again, that’s part of the basis of the romantic suspense genre: the homing in on particular individuals upon whom the fate of the country or the world hangs, no matter how ludicrous the situation might be (even when the connections are far from water-tight).

Yet ‘The Savior’ is an intriguing start to a new series that I’m curious enough to want to continue: the somewhat taboo attraction between a retired army captain and a federal agent, brought together ironically by the death of the death of his girlfriend (who also happened to be latter’s best friend).

Chelsea Kilpatrick and Liam Brosnan do make a good pairing somehow, especially so after Liam learns that the tragedy they’d both lived through was in fact, premeditated…and carefully planned over a few years.

Pile on the guilt, the hesitation, the electric sexual tension and a mite bit of push-pull. The icky dead-partner as the third party vibe isn’t altogether absent, nonetheless. We’re not quite given much of their history together however, only that they knew each other marginally through Julia, yet Liam and Chelsea ‘adulted’ quite well and I liked their inadvertent (and fairly mature) way of dealing with their burgeoning attraction to each other.

What was strangely surprising was the lack of action that brought the steady pace to a sort of lull until the last quarter of the book as things pulled together. (I didn’t get the Vietnamese-sounding terrorist names, by the way.) Harber’s writing style did feel somewhat ‘off’ and uneven at times though: some collocations didn’t quite make sense logically if you actually think carefully about it, or the moments where more was needed but wasn’t given and vice versa. Some were even jarring enough to kick me out of the narrative; well, the whole point being, I did think a finer-toothed comb was necessary in weeding out these errors, developmental or otherwise.

Being cautiously optimistic about this new series is what I’m left with by the end, abrupt as it seemed.

four-stars