Category: Military/Paramilitary

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

Sleight of Hand by Julie Rowe

Sleight of Hand by Julie RoweSleight of Hand by Julie Rowe
Series: Outbreak Task Force #3
Published by Entangled Publishing. LLC (Amara) on 28th January 2019
Pages: 247
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four-stars

CDC nurse Joy Oshiro is stressed to the breaking point. College students are dying and no one knows why. And her new partner Dr. Gunner Anderson is frustratingly annoying--and sexy, but mainly just plain annoying--and proving difficult to avoid. He spent three years with Doctors Without Borders, and disillusioned is just the tip of his issues.

They’ll need to learn to trust one another if they have a chance at figuring out who is behind the attacks. She makes him laugh, makes him forget--for a little while. But each new clue keeps them one step behind the terrorists, with buildings and evidence being destroyed just as they near.

Now they’re in a race against time to not only find a cure but also to avoid becoming the next targets themselves.

I’ve been an avid follower of Julie Rowe’s Outbreak Task Force series from the beginning, but then again, I do get the thrills from biological warfare-type romances even if some parts always stretch my ability to keep the suspension of disbelief going.

‘Sleight of Hand’ juggles interagency politics, disease and a head-on plunge into outbreak and Rowe quite capably writes a suspenseful and tense story that had me enthralled from the start: an e-coli from beer that has all the frat houses on their knees is something I devoured with glee along with a mystery to solve.

I did mostly like Gunner Anderson and Joy Oshiro as they proved to be a no-nonsense working pair that fitted oddly but well, though their attraction seemed almost like instant love, sidelined as it was because of the outbreak.

I was however, rather bewildered by the rushed climax that didn’t quite feel like one after a fantastic build-up and an even quicker resolution that made the story feel unfinished when the last few events went from showing to telling. The case didn’t feel like it was resolved at all, in fact, apart from the protagonists recovering and getting their act together by the time I turned the last page.

The bad guys remained nebulous while the fall guy conveniently cracked and killed himself as the secondary characters who flitted in and out of the picture themselves became loose ends who disappeared into the background. For a romance, I understood that the focus stayed mainly on Gunner/Joy who battled their own demons, their pull towards each other and the rapidly developing outbreak that couldn’t seem to be contained, yet I was left tapping my e-reader impatiently to check if I’d actually missed a chapter or two in the end.

four-stars

Mission: Her Security by Anna Hackett

Mission: Her Security by Anna HackettMission: Her Security by Anna Hackett
Series: Team 52 #3
Published by Anna Hackett on November 13th 2018
Pages: 137
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three-stars

When sweet, smiling Kinsey is kidnapped by unknown forces, former SEAL and Team 52 operator Smith Creed will risk anything to get her back.

Kinsey Beck is used to life knocking her down. She escaped her past and came to Las Vegas for a new start. So what if she didn’t achieve her dream of being a showgirl, instead, she now has an awesome job as logistics manager for the covert, black ops Team 52. She loves all the team…especially big, gruff mountain man Smith, even if he isn’t interested in her the way she’d like.

But when Kinsey is kidnapped, she finds alone and herself trapped in a deadly fight for survival…

Smith Creed is a loner who prefers his own company, his dog, and his mountain cabin. Working for Team 52 lets him use his unique skills to help ensure pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. It also brings him in close contact with a woman he knows isn’t for him—sweet, beautiful Kinsey. But when he learns she’s been snatched, her life hanging in the balance, he’ll tear the world apart to bring her home safely.

But rescuing Kinsey uncovers a deeper plot and a shadowy group out to destroy the world. Smith and Team 52 will be forced to make tough decisions—revolving around a dangerous, ancient artifact—and even when Kinsey is back in Smith’s arms, she still isn’t safe. With danger at every turn, Smith with sacrifice everything to ensure Kinsey’s security, but the greatest danger of all might be to Smith’s closed-off heart.

‘Mission: Her Security’ is the third book into Anna Hackett’s spin-off of the Treasure-Hunter Security stories, featuring primarily a rather hapless Kinsey Beck whose multiple kidnappings and threats of death finally push Smith Creed (determined to keep her at arm’s length) into taking the plunge past friendship. But as with any Hackett story, there’s also a bigger threat looming large that Team 52 rushes to nullify—a threat that continues to be a pain in the arse for everyone involved until the series ends.

Like any other Hackett book, it’s certainly full of adventure and non-stop action, but I did struggle with keeping the incredulity from surfacing. Many shades of the Treasure Hunter Security series come into play here, except that the search and retrieval for artefacts from advanced, ancient civilisations dial up paranormal activity and in this case, pulls the suspension of disbelief factor a little too far.

Smith Creed proved as well to be a coy and rather frustrating hero, who played the want-her-but-won’t-commit-because-I-was-burnt-before game, then offered to be friends in essentially what’s a weak-willed pushing away of Kinsey, only to suddenly turn around later to tell her that there’s no turning back with him after his own repeated rejections of her.

‘Mission: Her Security’ is nonetheless, a breeze to read as always. Buoyed by Hackett’s imagination, the focused writing pattern of getting a pairing together while facing a single threat definitely works for each compact novella that she produces. ‘Team 52’ might not be my favourite series of hers—there’s too much of rinse-and-repeat of her previous series—but it’s one that I hope might get better for me.

three-stars

Out of Time by Monica McCarty

Out of Time by Monica McCartyOut of Time by Monica McCarty
Series: The Lost Platoon, #3
Published by Berkley Books on 31st December 2018
Pages: 384
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three-half-stars

With his men scattered to all corners of the globe after a disastrous secret op in Russia, Lieutenant Commander Scott Taylor is trying to find out who was responsible for leaking the information that killed half his platoon. Were it not for Natalie Andersson, the woman he had been secretly dating in the Pentagon who had warned him of the danger, he knows they would all be dead. Scott is devastated when he hears that the woman he loved and hoped to marry has been killed for helping him--until he learns that Natalie was the spy who betrayed them. But when his search to clear his name brings him face-to-face with a very-much-alive Natalie, Scott realizes that justice and vengeance might not be as clear-cut as he thought.

Natalie Andersson, or, as she was born, Natalya Petrova, has put the memories of her early childhood in Russia behind her. She never dreamed that she would be at the center of an elaborate "sleeper" espionage program. Even when she learns the truth, she refuses to spy for the country of her birth, until the Russians threaten the lives of the only family she has ever known. But Natalie is the worst spy in the history of spying, falling for her target. When her attempt at misdirection leads to irreversible consequences, she is forced to run for her life, with her lover hot on her tail.

At the heart of it, ‘Out of Time’ is one of assumed betrayal, even more assumptions that the protagonists have of each other and the elasticity of truth, all of which revolve around a botched mission, a missing SEAL team and questionable loyalties.

Natalie Andersson isn’t who she seems and as the story progresses, it’s evident that there’re contradictory gaps in both what Scott Taylor and Natalie believe of each other. The former’s a huffing and puffing betrayed military man, the latter? Quite possibly the worst spy in history. But the Russian sleeper agent and the elite American soldier form a pairing that’s charged with so many overtones in today’s political climate and that Monica McCarty takes it on makes ‘Out of Time’ a sort of contemporary forbidden trope and one that I really wanted to read.

By and large, I did like Nat/Scott’s story though I found the secondary couple of Colt/Kate more compelling in the whole narrative arc of lies, deceit and vengeance as the characters pursued some kind of justice for themselves and for the dead men. Dealing with 2 couples isn’t an easy feat by any means, though the focus on 4 major characters did mean less focus on each couple, which left me a feeling little short-changed about it. For all the build-up, I thought the ending was somewhat anti-climatic, with less of a bang and more than a whimper than I’d hoped. I couldn’t tell though, if there is going to be a continuation of the series or not—McCarty doesn’t give any hint of how resolved things really are—but I’m still hoping for the secondary characters to get their own books somehow.

‘Out of Time’ is not a standalone and that much becomes obvious when the opening few chapters leaned hard on prior knowledge of previous books to get the story of Natalie and Scott going. McCarty does take the effort to get any new reader up to speed however, though it’s through a certain style of storytelling that eventually got to me—this is obviously a personal nitpick.

Beyond the rather exciting prologue that was easy enough to follow, the first few chapters were a mash of telling and showing (sometimes more of the former), with a recounting of past events inserted into the protagonists’ POVs in the present timeline and thus forcing the reader to straddle a scene within a scene. As a result, I did get confused and mildly frustrated, having needed to pause multiple times to mentally untangle and piece together what had gone down, when and with whom. The use of flashbacks or at least, something more linear as a storytelling device would have worked better than the mental gymnastics it took at times.

It isn’t to say however, that ‘Out of Time’ isn’t a decent read. I thought it was the best out of McCarty’s series in fact…only that it could have been longer and a bit more drawn-out—given the scope of the story and the pairings involved—for a less abrupt ending.

three-half-stars

Eagle by Janie Crouch

Eagle by Janie CrouchEagle by Janie Crouch
Series: Linear Tactical #2
Published by Calamity Jane Publishing, Jane Crouch on 10th October 2018
Pages: 278
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three-stars

He's fighting for what's right... She's fighting just to survive...

When former Special Forces soldier Finn Bollinger is asked to help with a deadly government mission, he's up for the task. His job teaching survival skills to civilians at Linear Tactical keeps him sharp, and he can still handle himself in the field.

But the Army damn well didn't teach Finn how to handle Charlotte Devereux. She's back and she's all sorts of bad news.

Charlotte can't change the past. Can't change the choices she made or the fact that they cost her everything. All she can do is endure the fallout. Even if that means putting her future in the hands of Finn, the man who has every right to want to destroy her.

And can in so many more ways than he thinks.

When the undercover mission goes impossibly wrong, they'll all have to depend on Charlotte's strength in order to survive. But everyone has a breaking point...

What I’ve found so unusual about Linear Tactical is how Janie Crouch has found a way of getting her characters peripherally involved in huge governmental-level-type espionage incidents even if they aren’t actually neck-deep in the deep-end of things and jet-setting all over the world to prevent a nuclear meltdown. It’s romantic suspense done somewhat differently (there’s still plenty of action, deception and loose ends in the small place that they’re all based) and it’s something I’m new to.

Crouch tackles Finn Bollinger’s and Charlie Devereux’s second-chance story in ‘Eagle’, where their history is hinted at in the first book of her Linear Tactical series as an unhappy one. But as it becomes evident that Charlie had left Finn to marry someone else and left him in bad shape 8 years ago, the twist of fate that brings them back together (the former as the special needs tutor of Finn’s son) is more than just one that rekindles their burnt-out relationship. Throw in a boy (who’s got more than meets the eye), a sleazy strip club, a quasi-military operation and a private security firm and a perfect storm starts to brew.

Much of Finn/Charlie’s story came from the anticipation of reading what really happened all those years ago and Crouch certainly took some time to build up to this. Yet the slow trickle of information that filtered through in the form of Charlie’s lack of willingness to be upfront with Finn about her secrets and problems, did make it hard for me to get behind their second-chance romance, let alone a female protagonist whom I wasn’t entirely sure I could support.

I probably would have liked Charlie a lot more had she been more remorseful and upfront about her own hard-headed decisions that she’d taken without seemingly fully considering the damage she’d wrought. In fact, for someone who’d tackled everything else head-on in the swath of destruction she’d left in her wake, I’d expected Charlie to be less cowardly in the way she still chose to assume the worst of Finn and of them when she’d never quite picked him over her own family to begin with.

But a caveat here: I’ll admit readily that the second-chance romance trope isn’t one that I typically like, so my review of ‘Eagle’ (and my rather stinging critique of Charlie) are definitely skewed because of this certain bent.

Despite my own reservations, I did find ‘Eagle’ quite compelling, the last quarter ramping up to be the most intense and heart-pounding part of the story. Crouch does pull all of it together in a way that’s quite neatly tied up—the suspension of disbelief comes into play, of course—while leaving a hook for Aiden’s story to come and that’s already what I’m looking forward to.

three-stars