Category: Military/Paramilitary

Tight Quarters by Annabeth Albert

Tight Quarters by Annabeth AlbertTight Quarters by Annabeth Albert
Series: Out of Uniform, #6
Published by Carina Press on 31st July 2018
Pages: 352
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four-stars

Petty Officer Bacon, a navy SEAL and ace sharpshooter, has been on the front lines of more than his fair share of dangerous ops. Yet when a minor injury relegates him to the beta team, he’s tasked with what may be his riskiest assignment yet: the silver fox journalist he’s babysitting is the hottest, most charismatic man he’s ever encountered.

Award-winning journalist Spencer Bryant may have been named one of Pride magazine’s most eligible bachelors of the year, but he’s not looking to change his relationship status. He’s a consummate professional who won’t risk his ethics or impeccable reputation by getting involved with a source. Even a sexy-as-hell military man. But while Spencer can resist his physical attraction to Bacon, he has less control over his emotions—especially when the mission goes sideways and the two men are trapped alone.

Getting out of the jungle alive turns out to be easy compared to facing the truth about their feelings for one another back in the real world. And whether or not they can build a future is a different story altogether.

It isn’t very often that I venture into M/M romance and Annabeth Albert is an author who’s new to me.

That the ‘Out of Uniform’ series has crossed my feed numerous times which I haven’t yet taken up is just added incentive to get into a military romance of this particular sub-genre. Coming straight into ‘Tight Quarters’ without having previously read the rest of the books in the series was no biggie; I had no problems catching up even with the small references to what happened before without the focus on Bacon and Spencer faltering at all.

A hot-shot journalist embedding with this particular SEAL team (which is, according to Bacon—I just had to have a laugh at his name because his real one isn’t much better) isn’t a scenario I’d ever envisioned, but this was something I was happy to take with a pinch of salt, or better put yet, a willingness to suspend disbelief for what I thought was going to be by and large, some kind of romantic suspense written into the story.

But it wasn’t quite one and because I dove in without expectations, everything felt fresh and new, from the not-quite action in the first half and the rather unusual conflict in the second that simply made it impossible to take sides.

The forced babysitting of Spencer Bryant, a plan that went inevitably wrong during a mission and the action that happened thereafter and the added element of the kind of craving attraction that Albert writes so well just made me a happy camper. The details of the mission itself felt as though they were deliberately left fuzzy, so it was akin to being part of the action but not being in the heart of it, which left the focus on the development of the relationship—both when Spencer and Bacon were together as well as apart.

Past the mission however, ‘Tight Quarters’ felt like a different book in the move from military to the party crowd that Spencer/Bacon got involved in on his leave. The different aspects of their characters coming out to play threw me for a bit when I’d been ready to pigeon-hole both of them as ‘journalist’ and ‘soldier’, in fact. But the thoroughness of Albert’s exploration of the tension between Bacon and Spencer—one that resulted in a slight lull in the first third of the book—was rewarding as a result, especially in the light of the slow, slow burn that was set up as hostile from the start.

By the time Bacon and Spencer talked their way through to their sappy end, I was impressed by Albert’s style—the emotional rawness that emerged later between this pairing—and her handling of gender fluidity. And then I wondered why I didn’t jump on her other books earlier on.

four-stars

Off the Grid by Monica McCarty

Off the Grid by Monica McCartyOff the Grid by Monica McCarty
Series: The Lost Platoon, #2
Published by Berkley Jove on July 3rd 2018
Pages: 304
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two-stars

A team of Navy SEALs go on a mission and disappear without a trace--they are The Lost Platoon.

Investigative reporter Brittany Blake may have stumbled upon the story of a lifetime in her search for her missing brother. When he seemingly disappears overnight, she refuses to accept the Navy's less-than-satisfying explanation. She begins her own investigation, which leads her to top-secret SEAL teams, covert ops, and a possible cover up...

John Donovan is having trouble biding his time, waiting for his Commanding Officer to figure out who set up their platoon. John's best friend and BUD/S partner, Brandon Blake, was one of the many lives tragically lost in the attack against his team. When Brandon's sister, Brittany, tracks John down, looking for answers, he realizes that she may be their best bet--or bait--for finding out who is targeting SEAL Team Nine.

Monica McCarty’s ‘Lost Platoon’ series has an intriguing premise, which is why I can’t quite let go of this just yet. ‘Off the Grid’ even started off with that sense of urgency and adrenaline-high type of action which I adore in romantic suspense, and having these in the opening chapters seemed to bode well for the whole book. 2 very different couples grounded several unrelated developments as their own histories played out at the same time, the trajectories of their own discoveries dovetailing somewhat by the end.

This was until I realised that McCarty’s juggling of the conspiracy plot and 4 couples really spread the romance thinly to the point where the second-chance trope—rather glibly inserted—was worked out in a way that made out the male protagonists to be nothing but cruel, asinine arses and women who should have known better than to melt at the slightest finger wiggle.

‘Off the Grid’ ended up being a story that had so much potential which it ultimately didn’t fulfil. I felt as though I didn’t know more at the end of the book than I really did at the beginning, save for the basics that had already been laid down in the last book. My eagerness at wanting to uncover a significant chunk of the conspiracy plot turned into frustration when the storyline went nowhere: several threads were dangled as hooks, but there didn’t feel as though any significant progress was made, enough for the end to feel like a satisfying read, both on the action and on the romantic front.

Getting on board with Brittany and John was difficult when the latter merely treated her as the off-limits best-buddy’s sister, his obvious but reluctant attraction to her an unwanted thing as his motivation for getting close to her proved to be an order that he was following more than true attraction he wanted to follow up on. So much of their ‘relationship’ felt accidental as a result, when John made her out to be a burden more than a love interest, or a secondary character whom he didn’t want to want no matter the case. Wanting some other woman to screw to get his mind off things, for one, didn’t make him seem a credible romantic hero I could get behind, not to mention the other abominable ways in which he’d treated her throughout.

Much of their relationship was much more one-sided than I liked as John did nothing but push Brittany away on all fronts, while in contrast, the latter could never seem to resist this man who couldn’t give her what she wanted or needed—not even the basic respect that even strangers actually show each other. The rushed HEA (John only realising he ‘loved’ Brittany after she got captured) and the numerous instances of mansplaining away abhorrent behaviour that was subsequently too easily excused made me dislike a pairing which didn’t feel like they could successfully be together apart from burning up the sheets in bed.

There wasn’t much I could say about Kate/Colt either, whose business was given near-equal screen time, but with a lack of resolution that piled on the annoyance, despite them having formed a larger part of the narrative arc which was essentially left dangling by the end of the book.

If I started ‘Off the Grid’ on a high, I ended this on a whimper. I wished this could have worked better. I wished I didn’t struggle so hard to like the male protagonists, who gave me every reason to dislike them intensely. I wished they had more ballsy courage as the heroines did (the lack of grovelling didn’t help either). Too many wishes, too much frustration. And that was when I finally admitted defeat.

two-stars

Lie Close to Me by Cynthia Eden

Lie Close to Me by Cynthia EdenLie Close To Me by Cynthia Eden
Series: Lazarus Rising #5
Published by Hocus Pocus Publishing, Hocus Pocus Publishing inc. on March 20th 2018
Pages: 209
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three-stars

He’s Lazarus, and so is she. What happens when their worlds collide?

He’s hunting her. Maddox Kane has one goal—track Luna Ashton. He’s the best hunter on his team, finely honed and designed by Uncle Sam to be an unstoppable killing machine. He’s a super solider—faster, stronger, and deadlier than anyone else. Maddox keeps his emotions under careful lock and key because he can’t afford to feel. Feeling is too dangerous, and the attraction Maddox feels for Luna is positively lethal.

Luna has no memory of being in the labs with Maddox. She doesn’t remember the connection they shared when they were trapped in hell. She doesn’t remember escaping the facility. She doesn’t remember him. So when Maddox hunts her down, she’s terrified of him…and of the strange psychic and sensual connection they seem to share. Surely she shouldn’t want him so much?

Luna is different from the other Lazarus subjects, and Maddox isn’t the only one hunting her. She’s a dangerous threat to Project Lazarus, and Luna isn’t going to be allowed to just slip away from the U.S. government…or from the other super soldiers who are also desperate to find her. Every Lazarus subject has incredible psychic gifts. Some Lazarus subjects can make people see their worst fears, some can control minds…but Luna’s gift—she can show people their memories. Luna has the ability to restore memories to all of the other Lazarus subjects, yet she can’t see her own past.

And if you can’t see your past…then you never know what danger is coming, what killer is standing right next to you, touching you, lying to you…not until it is too late.

If I was horrified by subjects rising from the dead in a macabre fashion from the first book, Cynthia Eden’s characters do it rather regularly now to the point where I find myself quite immune to these ‘risings’, only for the fact that it proves to be a reset button that’s both a boon and a bane to read about. ‘Lie With Me’—Eden’s 5th outing into this series—was just a book I wanted to get into despite my own personal misgivings about this series, because the subject matter is darkly seductive enough to draw me in.

But I wasn’t entirely too sure what I was reading about as well, to be honest, even up to the halfway mark of the story, or how it all tied into the first few books and this wasn’t rolled out early on enough for me to catch on. So I trudged along trying to make sense of it myself, even if the lack of signposting was just not helpful. The roundabout teasers about who Maddox and Luna were but not confirmed until later, the villain playing tricks (or truth?) in both the characters’ and the reader’s head, and the somewhat repetitive action of more Lazarus soldiers seemingly joining in the fray rather randomly simply added to my confusion instead of clearing it up. It did get better later though, as Eden brought in characters from previous books while seemingly expanding the narrative arc of this series.

Apart from this, well, I can’t deny that there is series-fatigue setting in where things started to sound same-y. Eden’s cackling villains are evil to the point of funny at times, her supersoldiers start to blend into each other to the point where Maddox could easily be Sawyer who could easily be Flynn…both in behaviour (all are darkly and growly possessive, have raging breeder-type tempers and say ‘mine’ too often) and in general appearance (all are tall, muscled and so on).

I can see where this might be an attractive boon for some readers nonetheless—with past slates wiped clean, no other mentions of other lovers (who’re automatically considered inconsequential), and altered personalities to the point where the heroine becomes the sole, intense focus of the changed hero who would do anything to keep her with him.

The new-ish bits that kept me going on were simply these: the fact that Eden finally writes the possibility of recovering a Lazarus soldier’s past, and the expansion of the abilities of these soldiers, like Luna. And perhaps it’s development enough to see me through another book in this series.

three-stars

Reckless Honor by Tonya Burrows

Reckless Honor by Tonya BurrowsReckless Honor by Tonya Burrows
Series: Hornet, #5
Published by Entangled Publishing. LLC (Amara) on April 23rd 2018
Pages: 374
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three-stars

Jean-Luc Cavalier has only ever cared about three things: sex, booze, and the dangerous missions he undertakes with HORNET. Laissez les bons temps rouler is more than a Mardi Gras motto—it’s the way he lives his life. But all that changes the night he rescues Dr. Claire Oliver from deadly mercenaries.

Now he can’t get the gorgeous blond virologist out of his head.

Claire is running for her life. Someone wants her antiviral research and they’re willing to kill anyone and everyone to get it. She has no one to turn to except a womanizing Cajun with a silver tongue and devastating smile.

But when an ultra-deadly virus decimates the Niger Delta, saving Claire and her research becomes the least of HORNET’s concerns. The virus has all the markings of a bioweapon and Nigeria is only the testing grounds…

Jean-Luc Cavalier, like his last name suggests, has been difficult to take seriously in all of Tonya Burrows’s HORNET books I’ve gone through. The voodoo spell on his man bits that had cursed him into celibacy? Jean-Luc the manwhore had always looked like a joke to me and that’s putting it quite kindly. The womanising bastard of a language-expert hasn’t made his mark on me like some other characters in this series have, and I’ll readily admit my own scepticism when the time rolled around for his own story.

But the context in which Burrows has written his and Claire’s story is undeniably irresistible: the threat of a virus in far-flung Nigeria, the high-stakes of biological warfare coming into play? I’m fidgety with excitement. It’s a story that has its roots in the previous book (which I don’t really remember now), so I struggled a little in catching up with a plot that races through a hot-zone and tries to uncover the mystery behind a rapidly-spreading, man-made virus.

There was a bleakness to this that isn’t present in Burrows’s other books and perversely, I found myself liking the head and dankly pervasive atmosphere of the angst and the hopelessness that surrounded the dying camp that Jean-Luc and Claire found themselves in, while the geek in me slurped up every word to do with viruses and mutations. But as with most RS books, this took a suspense of disbelief to get through—the flitting from exotic location to yet another exotic location, the James Bond-esque type of action, the miraculous happenings when you least expect them.

What I wasn’t sold on was Jean-Luc, unfortunately. Not when I couldn’t shake the longstanding idea of him being a self-serving bastard and deem him a credible hero. Mostly the problem I have with manwhore types is this—I will always doubt their ability to commit no matter how special they make out a woman to be, let alone stick to that very one woman despite the extraordinary circumstances that bring them together.

Past the adrenaline rush and the intense emotions deadly situations tend to pull out of people, I couldn’t be convinced that Claire would have been enough for Jean-Luc not when nothing else has made him changed his mind on the ‘Laissez les bons temps rouler’ motto he went by until the threat of violent hemorrhagic death came on him, curse on his dick aside. That he wanted a chance with Claire because the threat of pending death brought the weight of regrets down on him or that she’d helped saved him…well anything less extreme than that wouldn’t have made him change on his own volition otherwise, would it? The suddenness with which Jean-Luc opted for monogamy was beyond unbelievable as a result and I was surprised in fact, that Claire didn’t have the same reservations, the giving, determined doctor that she is.

But Claire’s constant heart-sickness and the pain she felt about her own dilemma concerning the virus and the people she’d left behind made her a heroine laden with her own burdens—so much so that I didn’t see her getting her head past it at all. From her wanting a night to forget to her inexplicable falling in love with Jean-Luc baffled me as well, when most of the book was spent dodging mercenaries, arguing about playing god and figuring their way out of tricky situations with their only connection being the virus and her determination not to let anyone die because of her.

While Claire/Jean-Luc wasn’t quite a pairing I could realistically buy into, Burrows’s writing has always appealed to me nonetheless, which is what keeps me coming back to her HORNET series. The insertion of the rest of the guys is always a boon—the slight focus on Harvard, Ian and Marcus made me want their own stories, yes, these HORNET men nearly unhinged with their own deep issues—and a timely reminder that there’re so many loose threads yet to be tied up, as each one bleeds into the next story.

three-stars

X-Ops Exposed by Paige Tyler

X-Ops Exposed by Paige TylerX-Ops Exposed by Paige Tyler
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on April 3rd 2018
Pages: 384
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three-half-stars

Lion hybrid and former Army Ranger Tanner Howland retreats into the forests of Washington State to be alone—he’s too dangerous to be around people. He had to leave the love of his life behind but little does he know, she followed him.

Dr. Zarina Sokolov has an anti-serum she hopes will make Tanner human again. But before she can convince him to take it, they discover he isn’t the only hybrid that survived the experiment. And there are people who want to use the hybrid shifters for sport, pitting them against each other for money. But does Tanner have what it takes to save his fellow hybrids and Zarina—or will he lose control again?

Tanner’s and Zarina’s story has been a long time in coming, their ups and downs well catalogued through Paige Tyler’s X-Ops series. And this starts on a down, so to speak, after Tanner has run off into the woods, tortured and determined to stay isolated because of his uncontrollable hybrid instincts. But Zarina is unwilling to give up on this man (?) who’s seen enough torture for a lifetime and her stubbornness somehow pulls Tanner from the brink, though all isn’t as it seems.

This far down the series, ‘X-Ops Exposed’ is near-impossible as a standalone with a narrative arc that has already been flung wide open and many dangling loose ends held by a multitude of secondary characters. With a focus on a pairing (as well as potential ones) and a different plot-line in every book, ‘X-Ops Exposed’ like every other book in this series, rushes ahead to tell its bursting-to-the-seams story without looking back too much because there’s just so much going on. The recap—and there is a bit of it—of previous events is understandably brief and Tyler pushes ahead with Tanner’s backstory that adds on to an already complicated canon that involves super secret departments, shifters, hybrids and genetic experimentations. As the 8th book of the series, appreciating the pairing, let alone the ever-expanding storyline, could be difficult for those trying to wade into the series right here.

It’s also probably worth noting that Zarina and Tanner’s ongoing saga is just what makes up half of the story; the other half is a rather major sub-plot taking place across the country in Maine as the now-partnerless Tate Evers teams up with a potential new lead (but cool) character trying to solve more of the same problem. I’m admittedly not too fond of the part where Tyler introduces survivalists, but they do play a part in the larger narrative arc, even if the push-pull between Zarina and Tanner doesn’t make much headway as the sub-plot gains in traction.

If I started out ‘X-Ops Exposed’ thrilled about Zarina and Tanner—Tyler’s action scenes are good and reading through them is akin to watching cool action-movie fight scenes—,the structure of the plot was such that the pace faltered in parts, along with some cock-blocking moments to the point where picking up later doesn’t quite have the same impact dimmed my enthusiasm somewhat. There is a vague notion of ticking clock that counted down to zero hours, a forward but somewhat muddied drive about how hybrids and their nefarious creators still cause trouble, but in the end I couldn’t step back and say for certain that I knew where the book was headed.

Only towards the end does Tyler bring these threads together (somewhat) and I started enjoying the action again. But like every other book in the series, ‘X-Ops Exposed’ closes some loops and opens others, upping the stakes in this political game as well. Frustrating as it can be, that’s also what keeps me coming back, truth be told.

three-half-stars

Delta: Ricochet by Cristin Harber

Delta: Ricochet by Cristin HarberDelta: Ricochet by Cristin Harber
Series: Delta #4
Published by Mill Creek Press on February 27th 2018
Pages: 419
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two-stars

Colin questioned his recruitment to Delta team from day one, but he's made sure to earn his accomplishments twice over. No one could accuse his diplomat father of pulling strings.

Falling for Adelia is everything he never planned and always wanted. No complications. No agenda. Just a sweet girl who made him smile.

But Adelia has spun a network of lies around the world to help save women from human traffickers, and she's stolen from Mayhem motorcycle club, the men who saved her life, to do it. Anonymous friends back her unseen good deeds—until a link snaps. Actions have consequences in the Mayhem MC world. The repercussions are deadly.

Everywhere she turns, the fallout ripples. Friends become enemies. Family walks away. There's no one left to save her except for the man she's fallen in love with, and she'd do anything to keep him from Mayhem's ricochet.

‘Delta: Ricochet’ started out well enough, but this is my dislike for MCs-type stories speaking here, which Cristin Harber has integrated more and more into her Delta series with the longstanding topic of human trafficking taking priority in the last few of these books. I definitely prefer Harber’s Titan storylines that are more in the grain of the type of romantic suspense that I like to read, and clearly this preference is what’s partially accounting for my rating.

Undoubtedly, the setup of Colin’s and Adelia’s story is an intriguing one and it works well enough as a standalone since Harber does drop hints of what happened before. The first quarter brings Colin’s and Adelia’s paths together in way that is easy to follow (and is in my opinion, the best bit about the story which I sailed through), though their slow, slow burn does stretch past this mark. ‘Ricochet’ is however, a way longer read than what Harber typically churns out. Topping at 400+ish pages on my reader, however, my doubts crept in after I hit the 30% mark and my reading process faltered badly.

The funny thing about Harber’s characters is that they don’t necessarily behave the way and say the things you expect them to. ‘Ricochet’ isn’t too different, but the result here is one of meandering dialogues, character responses that don’t address questions head-on and a prolonging of the advancement of plot. The less-than-succinct delivery meant that a fair bit of editing—for structure, for the huge number of writing errors that really, really shouldn’t be there at this stage and for the roundabout dialogue—would have streamlined the ‘Ricochet’ into a read that had less stutters and abrupt lulls as action scenes built and simply dwindled away.

Still, the amount of riddles, courtesy of the work of secondary characters (which happily ran interference both for plot and structure) and Adelia’s deliberate and frustrating-as-hell in-but-not-in stance with Colin tanked the whole story for me. If Adelia started out as a protagonist whom I admired, this soon changed after the extraordinary lengths she went to obfuscate what she’d been doing all along in Mayhem when it became clear at a certain point that full disclosure (to the right parties) was needed.

I’m all for strong and independent heroines, don’t get me wrong. But having said this before, I think this merits it being said again: such a character isn’t afraid to ask for help, is brave enough to know when she is out of her depth and doesn’t play games when time is of the essence—all of which I thought Adelia fell alarmingly short of when the situation called for it. Calling for blind trust from Colin when she wouldn’t give hers stank of hypocrisy, not to mention the mind-boggling idiocy she showed when she stubbornly decided to go at things on her own without asking for the support she knew she so badly needed. Acting the martyr (yes, a goodbye note was included) was not only unnecessary at this point, but the stupidity of it threw me off so much that I stopped reading completely as ‘Ricochet’ neared its climax.

From a fantastic start to a muddling finish that soured quickly, ‘Ricochet’ capped off what has been a disappointing series for me, more so because Harber’s earlier books had made me a stalwart fan of hers. Thus far, the later Titan books and the Delta series haven’t run any bells for me to the point where I’m almost wary to pick up another book of hers…for fear of being disappointed once again.

two-stars

Hot Target by April Hunt

Hot Target by April HuntHot Target by April Hunt
Series: Alpha Security #4
Published by Forever Yours on April 10th 2018
Pages: 94
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three-stars

WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS . . .

How did a nice girl like Rachel Kline end up in a jail cell in Vegas? Don't even ask. She came to Sin City to find her missing friend and accidentally got swept up in a police raid. Even worse, she's being bailed out by the last man she wants to see right now: the irresistibly sexy, infuriatingly cocky Alpha op who rescued her a year ago. What are the odds?

Logan Callahan is six-and-a-half feet of solid muscle and Texas charm, a hard-fighting ex-Marine with a soft spot for Rachel. He's more than obliged to hang up his cowboy hat and help her out. But when someone takes a shot at her, he knows there's a good chance what happens in Vegas won't stay there. With targets on their backs and killers on their tails, it's one high-risk game they're playing. And it's not just their hearts that are on the line . . .

Sometimes, not being able to remember the plots of previous books in a series can be a bloody bane. As a result, ‘Hot Target’—a novella to boot—felt like a zany read that had me tumbling into the craziness of Vegas with Rachel and Logan with a backstory that I struggled to remember despite the bits of retelling in this short story.

There was ample material to get on board with however, despite the brevity of the book (this came in at about 90-ish pages) and the plot, once in locked in place with the details hammered out, moved at a fast clip as Logan and Rachel finally stopped their year-and-a-half-long dance around each other. Logan/Rachel were an entertaining couple, though I particularly loved seeing Logan with the many faces he wore around people and the way that fell off when it came to Rachel.

Several unfamiliar characters that flitted in towards the end made me a little confused but I’ll probably remember this for the very, very charming Logan whom I wished had his own full novel-length novel just to get him in action.

three-stars