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Military/Paramilitary

Jax by Cristin Harber

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 14th October 2017
Jax by Cristin HarberJax by Cristin Harber
Series: Titan #9
Published by Mill Creek Press on October 10th 2017
Pages: 258
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two-half-stars

Seven is an enigma. A motorcycle club princess. The daughter of a notorious gangster. The best friend of the deputy mayor. A coffee shop owner. The single mom of two young, adopted children. She’s colorful, in every way possible—from her attitude to her piercings and bright pink hair—and she’s a woman on a mission with the power to help broker a clean break between a powerful motorcycle club and a South American drug cartel. But not all players are ready for the game to change, including the ones she can’t see like the CIA. Jax Michaelson has a bad attitude and a good shot. The former Navy SEAL has been on Titan’s problem list for running his mouth since the day he showed up for work, but he does a hell of a job, and they’d never let him go. Call him cocky, that’s fine, because then you’d have to admit he’s the best at anything and everything—except diplomacy. When Titan is forced into the seedy drug world filled with cartel glitz and Harley-riding MCs, Seven and her family become an unexpected bargaining chip right after she and Jax find a way to stand each other—in bed. Will friends become lovers? Or are they too far gone to be opposites that attract? Is Jax nothing but a bad boy who leaves her hoping for a military hero when the burden of living as Mayhem royalty backfires and her children disappear.

One consistent thing about Cristin Harber’s characters is that they do tend to behave in ways I’ll never expect. Jax and Seven are no exception to this general rule that I’ve come to learn of the Titan gang; neither is the direction that Harber takes in this book that completely surprised me. Characters whom you thought you can’t warm to can suddenly turn around and show that the notion of ‘heroism’ doesn’t always conform to some pre-determined idea that you have…though as much as I hate to say it, the opposite applies too.

Titan’s ops thus far have been more paramilitary covert ops, so when Jax’s story came wrapped up in a MC’s dealings, I couldn’t say I was entirely enthusiastic about this turn, but it’s clearly my own sub-genre preferences speaking here. Jax, the known arse and the bastard-to-go-to in the past few Titan books, had a story and I was itching to uncover it, and this itch surpassed even my general dislike for MC stories.

The result is an MC-centric book that I couldn’t really get into but for Jax’s and Seven’s dance around each other and the fact that they aren’t quite the stereotypical characters I tend to read in such stories. There is action, of course and Jared Westin’s mobilisation of his Titan troops is always an awesome thing to read about, but that only comes much later…past the talking, posturing and the laborious sifting through truth and lies.

Above all, Jax made the story for me, as self-titled as this books is anyway, I didn’t expect anything different when Harber fleshed him out to be a protagonist who was so much more than his crusty, abrasive surface. I couldn’t quite say the same for the rest of the characters, who were simply varying shades of unlikable. In fact, I cheered Jax for giving it stubbornly to the Titan team who admittedly hadn’t been on his side to begin with and Jared/Sugar—a couple whom I’d adored when their book came out—behaved in fact, like idiots for most of this, tarnishing the sheen of the halo I’d initially put on them. Soon enough, it got just as hard to like Seven, whom I felt simply needed to grow a spine where Jax was concerned because she couldn’t decide where her loyalties were going to lie when it was all said and done.

‘Jax’ is a very different type of Titan book for which I needed a huge effort to suspend disbelief. That Jax’s so-called mortal enemy was dealt with all-too-easily—he was flitted in and out, appearing to play an important role but didn’t, and realising that he was ultimately, another plot device to help alter other characters’ perception of Jax tanked the read for me.

But I’ll reiterate that my own response to the plot and characters is just that—a catalogue of issues that just didn’t work for me, which simply outweighed Jax as the shining star of his own book and explains my half-hearted rating of it.

two-half-stars

A SEAL’s Strength by J.M. Stewart

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews 6th October 2017
A SEAL’s Strength by J.M. StewartA SEAL's Strength by J.M. Stewart
Series: Military Match #2
Published by Forever Yours on October 3rd 2017
Pages: 240
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two-stars

This second chance was worth the wait . . .

As a SEAL, Gabriel Donovan did the toughest jobs imaginable without blinking an eye. But three years after his wife's death, the idea of dating still makes him sick to his stomach. His daughter desperately needs a mother, though, and there's nothing Gabe won't do for his little girl.

Stephanie Mason doesn't run from anything. Not even coming face to face with the "one that got away" on a blind date. Steph's body vividly remembers every single thing about Gabe and while some things have changed, the way he makes her feel sure as hell hasn't.

Gabe and Steph know that love comes with risks, but if they're brave enough, this second chance might just bring them the love of a lifetime.

J.M. Stewart writes emotional journeys that dig deep and raw and ‘A SEAL’s strength’, like its predecessor, is more tangentially military than it really is a contemporary romance that explores second chances that come by way of tragedy and coincidences.

Stephanie Mason wasn’t so much as the one who got away as the one whom Gabriel Donovan had let go, only to hop onto someone else 2 months later which pretty much decided the rest of the decade for him. But a few years after his wife’s death, his unwilling hop back onto the dating train leads him straight back to Steph and a past that might be better left buried. Ironically, it was Gabe’s original ‘sin’ along with some other knocks along the way that had made Steph’s big heart the way it is today and their temporary affair—courtesy of a match-making site—brings back to light the deep hurts of yesterday.

Despite my wariness of the second-chance trope, I picked it up because I like Stewart’s writing and her characterisation though this book left me rather pessimistic by the end. Learning Steph’s and Gabe’s backstory made me restless as I’d assumed that Steph and Gabe hadn’t had that much of a prior association. But they’d been more than that: best friends and lovers—a relationship that he dropped too easily—to the point where it’d scarred and influenced Steph’s emotional state. Ultimately, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that Steph had indeed gotten the shorter end of the stick when she merely settled for the bits she could reach for with Gabe—without knowing what he could really offer—only because her friends convinced her about keeping up the affair with him. That Gabe rounded off the story’s conflict and HFN ending with no iron-clad promise but rather, with a softly-softly approach to the future left me feeling as though this relationship hadn’t moved past shaky ground at all.

Both protagonists’ maturity however, was admirable—Stewart prioritises honesty and communication in a way that thankfully eschews any game-playing between the both of them—and this was exactly what made it so difficult to rate this book. Above all, I struggled with the issue of forgiveness and the ideas of loyalty that Gabe espoused here, yet knowing a decade of life-changing experiences for the both of them had blurred the blacks and whites to muted shades of grey. I couldn’t help but feel dissatisfied nonetheless, that for all the adulting both characters had done to get to where they were at the end, Steph hadn’t gotten the much more that she deserved.

two-stars

Code of Honor by Tonya Burrows

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 2nd October 2017
Code of Honor by Tonya BurrowsCode of Honor by Tonya Burrows
Series: HORNET #4
Published by Entangled Publishing. LLC (Amara) on October 23rd 2017
Pages: 224
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three-stars

Jesse Warrick used to consider himself a kickass medic, but a teammate’s brush with death has him questioning everything. Now he’s been promoted to field commander of HORNET. How can he lead when he can’t get his shit together? And how can he focus when the sexy new recruit makes him want to break the rules?

Lanie Delcambre can’t seem to find solid footing within the elite hostage rescue team. Worse, the man she’s loved for most of her life is now her boss. She’d kill to act on the chemistry between her and Jesse, but she can’t risk ruining her career.

It was only supposed to be a training mission. No live ammo, no hostages, and no real bad guys—only someone didn’t give the bad guys that memo. When their hotel is taken hostage with half of HORNET inside, Jesse and Lanie are the team’s only hope of escaping alive…

Tonya Burrows’s long-running HORNET series has so far, been a breath of fresh air. ‘Code of Honor’ is Jesse/Lanie’s story and as newly-minted team leader, Jesse’s off to a bad start, burdened by his self-doubts, his desire for a childhood friend and a son who doesn’t give him any time of day. A hostage situation at the end of their training however, exacerbates this, throwing the group as well as his teetering confidence into chaos.

Unlike the other paramilitary or security companies formed by a tight group of ex-military buddies, Burrows’s HORNET men are openly broken, psychopathically quirky and badly damaged—physically and mentally—that it’s a wonder they can ever be functioning as individuals let alone as a cohesive security group. But they stumble along, badly might I add, flying by the seat of their pants from a disaster to another while trying to hold themselves together, not dissimilar to a boy-band put together by an executive producer and told to sing/dance in harmony in front of squealing fangirls from the onset.

This bunch of misfits and their antics however, keep me coming back to this series, because it’s entertaining (with some bit of schadenfreude on my part thrown in) to see how they get themselves into deep water (yet again) and then fight their way out of it with nary a thing but their wits and pocket knives.

For most part, I liked the action and the suspense, and the introduction of a kickass former Texas Ranger and Jesse’s blast from the past brought a different dynamic to the misfits of HORNET. Yet while the action flowed, along with an overarching plot that reeled me in, the romance bit gave me pause, because it wasn’t something I could envision at all, or at least, found difficult to buy into.

Had Lanie really never stopped loving Jesse from afar, even though Jesse had moved on so thoroughly that he’d married 3 women after having feeling something for her as a teenager, then only confessing at the end that he’d only wanted her? That it had taken over a decade to make this happen seemed like an unfair deal for Lanie, who didn’t seem to question Jesse’s faux-pas, his personal angst, his inability to see past his own issues and his circling around the block for nearly 20 years before coming back to her.

Admittedly, the second-chance romance is a trope that’s problematic for me. A character tends to struggle more than the other with unrequited feelings and resentment, and sometimes even the admission of having ‘loved’ a person for so long yet doing the opposite thing about it (in Jesse’s case at least) makes it more unforgivable. The story’s focus on suspense meant that Lanie/Jesse’s romance was too easily squared away with love declarations and a simple apology to Lanie about having broke her heart all those years ago seemed to resolve it all for them, even when seen in the light of how easily they could lose their lives in the most unexpected of ways. With an epilogue that quickly shifted the focus away from them and onto Jean-Luc’s half-cocked effort to save a woman he barely knew, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed in how Jesse/Lanie was handled as a pairing.

It isn’t to say that the other aspects of romantic suspense weren’t handled well, because those parts of ‘Code of Honor’ were engaging with some emotional twists and turns that secondary characters inadvertently revealed about themselves when they’re thrust into critical situations. So while I’m mixed about this book, I’m hanging onto the HORNET series for that alone, then crossing my fingers for a romance that I can actually get fully invested in.

three-stars

Never Let Go by Cynthia Eden

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Fantasy/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 28th September 2017
Never Let Go by Cynthia EdenNever Let Go by Cynthia Eden
Series: Lazarus Rising #1
Published by Hocus Pocus Publishing inc. on January 1st 1970
Pages: 278
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three-stars

He was more than just a man...

Dr. Elizabeth Parker didn't like wild, dangerous men...yet she still found herself falling for sexy Navy SEAL Sawyer Cage. He was her exact opposite--a man she should definitely stay away from, a man who lived for the thrill of danger...but he was also the man she found herself wanting more than any other.

But their secret relationship ended in heartbreak when Sawyer was killed on a mission. Grieving for him, the last thing Elizabeth ever expected was to find Sawyer listed as a test subject for the top secret government project she was heading--a project called Lazarus.

For years, Elizabeth had worked feverishly to unlock the secrets of life and death, and with her Lazarus formula, she finally thought she'd made a breakthrough. Only she never expected to use Lazarus on her lover.

But the choice is taken out of Elizabeth's hands...

Sawyer is given the Lazarus formula, and he's transported to a remote government facility. At that facility, Sawyer wakes once more, only he's not the same man. He's stronger, he's faster, his reflexes and his senses are ten times better than an average man's. The government calls Sawyer a super soldier... Elizabeth still calls him...hers.

Unfortunately, Sawyer has no memory of his life before Lazarus. All he knows is that something about the sexy doctor awakes a primal response in him. He wants her, and he'll do anything to possess her. Soul-deep, he feels that she was meant to be his.

Death waits in the darkness.

But something is wrong inside the Lazarus facility. The test subjects are holding back secrets, and danger seems to lurk in the air. The Lazarus subjects are super-human now, and some of those subjects have a very, very dark side. Twisted cravings drive them to the very edge of sanity. Can Sawyer keep Elizabeth safe from the madness around them...or will the growing darkness consume them both?

NEVER LET GO...a gripping new romantic suspense from New York Times and USA Today best-selling author Cynthia Eden.

There’s always something darkly seductive and irresistible about the super-soldier romance for me, seeing as these sort of stories are always finely balanced on the knife-edge of suspense and erotica. Depending on the severity of the super-soldier transformation however, it’s also undeniable that these tales run the risk of normalising the clichéd caveman behaviour of the heroes in question as the status quo in this sub-genre, as is the expected offshoot of writing altered personalities.

‘Never Let Go’ isn’t a new concept (Rebecca Zanetti’s Sin Brothers or Christine Feehan’s Shadowalkers come to mind immediately) though it definitely is an intriguing start, with a little twist of how the super soldiers actually get to where they are. I can’t quite say it’s a perfect read however, as it carries all the hallmarks of an establishing book with the same pattern of logic-deficient neanderthals who are primally ruled by instinct, libido and emotion…along with many loose ends which hint at a bigger picture that hasn’t yet quite coherently come together.

I’m still glad that Cynthia Eden has jumped on this bandwagon nonetheless, even though there are unavoidable pitfalls of this particular sub-genre of romantic/paranormal suspense: the most glaring ones being the cavemen who run around and the brutal savagery that results as part of their transformation, but also several authors’ tendencies to emphasise a narrowed definition of the good and the bad—no grey area of morality seems to exists apart from the questionable idea of ethics and playing god using frontier medicine and technology—which, if handled carelessly, can turn the characters into flatter and puppet-like figures.

And clearly, there were some parts where ‘Never Let Go’ that were grounded in those stereotypes, which tanked my enjoyment a little. As much as I liked Elizabeth’s and Sawyer’s early relationship before he went, well, ‘monstrous’, the middle bit of the story actually got quite hysterical, with parts resembling a b-grade slasher film as Sawyer struggled to fight the darkness in him and Elizabeth seemingly frozen between speechless terror and speechless desire. I was simultaneously horrified, incredulous and disbelieving, yet glued to the book while also wondering if there were going to be more mad turns and madder character deviations that the story was going to take.

That said, I’m not counting out this series just yet. Far from it, in fact. I just wish that I could have suspended my disbelief a little more, though there is cause for more cautious optimism given the hints that have already been dropped about the rest of the project and the other primals waiting in line to pounce.

three-stars

Storm Gathering by Rebecca Zanetti

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Fantasy/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 22nd September 2017
Storm Gathering by Rebecca ZanettiStorm Gathering by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: The Scorpius Syndrome #4
Published by RAZ INK LLC on September 19th 2017
Pages: 359
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three-stars

Even before surviving the Scorpius bacterium, Greyson Storm was a lone wolf navigating minefields. As a kid, he learned to take a hit and find safety. As an adult, he joined the military and quickly learned how to protect and defend. When the world ended, he created a mercenary camp with military precision, no entanglements, and a promise to avenge a fallen friend. As part of that vow, he kidnapped Maureen Shadow, but now that he has let her go, her blue eyes and intriguing mind keep haunting him…

As possibly the only Biotechnology Engineer still living, Maureen Shadow might be humanity’s one hope to survive the aftermath of Scorpius, making her frighteningly valuable to both allies and enemies. Even after sexual tension explodes with Greyson, she’s not sure which camp he belongs to—friend or foe? Worse yet, survival may mean thwarting his prime mission, putting her in even more peril. When danger and seduction collide, there is no safety in this new world.

The rough, primal dystopian society that Rebecca Zanetti has created after the Scorpius bacterium struck is an exciting one. Point is, there’s a rich complexity in this bleak world split into factions populated by interesting characters who can and do add value to the plot.

But a pattern for the Scorpius Syndrome series emerges after going through 4 books: there’s a pairing that shows much promise (I definitely fall for the hooks left in previous books), but the plot’s momentum is never allowed to become an unstoppable juggernaut because it gets choked by certain twists, turns and irrational character behaviour that turn my enthusiasm dial down. Zanetti chooses instead, to deal with certain tropes that could and should have been left by the wayside in this brave new world, particularly so in ’Storm Gathering’.

I do like the shift in the storytelling to the Mercenaries and I’ve wanted Greyson’s and Moe’s story for a long while after seeing their interactions, but it was disappointing with the way they’ve been developed and presented here. Not that I’d expected a straight-up enemies-to-lovers type of story, but so much of the first half is filled with squabbles between the Vanguard guys and the Mercs, with Maureen as a bartering object to be passed to and fro between both camps. It isn’t helpful that Moe herself can’t decide what to do or where to stay; nor can Greyson decide where his loyalties should lie.

Their holding pattern got frustrating after a while, especially since I was hankering after a more developed story arc that should have built towards a final confrontation between the Elite Forces and Vanguard/the Mercs but only came partially to fruition towards the end. Greyson instead, pursues his own agenda of revenge, allows this goal to drive his alliances and generally vacillates so much in his decision-making that I began to wonder if the narrative arc was indeed getting anywhere. The weird spurts of humour don’t help either (which I can appreciate but thought those came with bad timing), and made the ’Storm Gathering’ feel like a parody at times when I’d actually expected rising tension and several standoffs.

The stuttering pacing does pick up when an uneasy alliance is forged almost incidentally between Jax and Grey but the story ends just as it gets good. Objectively, it’s understandable why Zanetti chooses to deal with a nemesis at a time—the Pure Church appears to be next in the series with Damon’s story coming up—but just as I’ve been waiting for this entire series to culminate into something bigger, my enthusiasm is flagging here.

three-stars

Going Dark by Monica McCarty

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 12th August 2017
Going Dark by Monica McCartyGoing Dark by Monica McCarty
Series: The Lost Platoon #1
Published by Berkley Books on September 5th 2017
Pages: 352
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three-stars

Like Rome's Lost Legion, a SEAL platoon goes on a mission and vanishes without a trace.
After walking into a trap on a covert op in Russia, the men from top secret SEAL Team Nine are presumed dead. Not knowing whom they can trust, and with war hanging in the balance, the survivors must go dark and scatter around the globe.
Marine ecologist Annie Henderson joins her new boyfriend on a trip to the Western Isles of Scotland to protest a hazardous offshore drilling venture. When she realizes that she may be swept up in something far more dangerous than she'd intended, there is only one man she can turn to. . . .
She and the mysterious but sexy dive boat captain haven't exactly gotten off to the best start, but something about his quiet confidence makes her think that he's the kind of man she can depend on. Because he's gruff and guarded, she can tell Dan Warren has secrets. But she could never imagine how high the stakes are for him to keep his cover, even as he risks everything to protect her. . . .

A SEAL team paralleling the lost Roman Legion is a mouthwatering prospect. A covert op that had gone so wrong has led to the remaining few scattered around the globe and off the grid, waiting for justice to be served? It’s catnip on a platter. As someone who isn’t really into historicals, Monica McCarty’s a new author for me and any addition to the RS sub-genre is something I’m typically happy to pounce on.

Yet the opening was at best, shaky with an overwhelming info-dump that got my head swirling, all in the midst of an op that was going to go bust. Filled with with too many names, ranks and explanations of how the team worked, the first chapter was also oddly anchored by a character who also wasn’t the protagonist, which was bewildering to say the least as you only learn of one of the secondary SEALs peripherally mentioned was going to be the hero instead in the next few chapters.

But ‘Going Dark’ hits its stride halfway in, as Dean Baylor (the once Senior Chief)—hiding away in the Hebrides two months after the botched Russian job—gets inadvertently involved in an ecoterrorist plot with a woman who could very well be collateral damage. Nevertheless, I was drawn in by the intrigue and the suspense more than the characters with whom I felt less of an affinity.

Dean/Annie weren’t quite a couple that I could see together—their fiercely opposing ideals aside—as their skin-deep connection simply felt like an adrenaline-fuelled product that would burn bright and hot, but eventually burn out. Dean’s constant rumination about his casual hookups, his usual type of women and Annie not fitting the bill were off-putting to say the least, even when these comparisons were supposed to serve as his internal monologues about Annie’s break from the mould. The latter’s environmental-saving, emotional liberalism is the still furthest from his military beliefs however, though attraction comes at the worst possible timing especially since “casual” has always defined Dean’s so-called social life to a tee. Yet Annie’s insecure naïveté—some TSTL lines were crossed—and her need to keep clinging when all they agreed to was a fling that would end when they separated got annoying when she went from a seeming no-nonsense PhD graduate to a weepy, needy woman when she near begs him to stay.

That said though, this is a thoroughly promising series; the other characters definitely intrigue me and Monica McCarty provides enough of a backstory of them as a teaser that makes me enthusiastic for the sequels to come. Action specific to each couple is the focus of every book it seems, though as of now, investigations of the overall mystery crawl on, which make the ending unsatisfactory as none of the pieces have yet fallen into place. But the bright side? There’s still more to look forward to.

three-stars

Cover of Night by Laura Griffin

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 10th August 2017
Cover of Night by Laura GriffinCover of Night by Laura Griffin
Series: Alpha Crew #3
Published by Pocket Star on September 4th 2017
Pages: 128
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two-stars

Journalist Karly Bonham is on her first overseas mission, covering the new United States ambassador to Thailand, when she is taken hostage by terrorists, with only her wits and courage to keep her alive—until help arrives in the form of Navy SEAL Ethan Dunn.

As part of an elite SEAL team called Alpha Crew, Ethan has been on countless harrowing missions, but he knows this one is different the instant he meets Karly—the sexy young reporter who somehow managed to escape the terrorists’ clutches. Ethan is impressed by her, especially when he learns she has intel that could be the key to a successful rescue op. Ethan knows working with a civilian raises the stakes on an already dangerous mission. But with the clock ticking down, he enlists Karly’s help to thwart a vicious plot and bring a terrorist mastermind to justice.

Laura Griffin’s ‘Alpha Crew’ series has been a very different read so far from her ‘Tracers’ series. The books in there are short, action-packed, with significant time lapses between several chapters and in many ways, a very, very distilled and disappointing version of a military/paramilitary romantic suspense novel.

The short length of the book does the whole story a disservice. I’ve no doubts about Griffin’s writing to begin with, nor with her ability to handle intricate plot lines and elaborate setups that have made some of her books so memorable for me.

But with ‘Cover of Night’ topping out at a mere 100-ish pages, I felt that Karly’s and Ethan’s connection did exist, though it was harder to be convinced by their relationship and the love declarations when all they had was a one-night stand fuelled by the thrill of a rescue and the let down of adrenaline. What for instance, made Ethan, who didn’t do relationships, want something more with Karly when there didn’t seem to be any other indication that she was different from the other women he picked up except for the fact that she rebuffed him? Moreover, Karly’s sudden change in attitude towards the end towards Ethan when he was pushing her for something more the night before he was about to be shipped out was beyond abrupt especially when the story ended just there.

In other words, everything felt too rushed and unfinished, from their relationship to the terrorist plot that was supposedly foiled with a significant arrest. ‘Cover of Night’ simply had so much potential which wasn’t quite fulfilled by the end, leaving me rather mixed about this series because it really could have been so much better.

two-stars
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