Category: Military/Paramilitary

Fighting for Everything by Laura Kaye

Fighting for Everything by Laura KayeFighting for Everything by Laura Kaye
Series: Warrior Fight Club #1
Published by Laura Kaye on 17th May 2018
Pages: 264
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three-stars

Loving her is the biggest fight of his life…

Home from the Marines, Noah Cortez has a secret he doesn’t want his oldest friend, Kristina Moore, to know. It kills him to push her away, especially when he’s noticing just how sexy and confident she’s become in his absence. But, angry and full of fight, he’s not the same man anymore either. Which is why Warrior Fight Club sounds so good.

Kristina loves teaching, but she wants more out of life. She wants Noah—the boy she’s crushed on and waited for. Except Noah is all man now—in ways both oh so good and troubling, too. Still, she wants who he’s become—every war-hardened inch. And when they finally stop fighting their attraction, it’s everything Kristina never dared hope for.

But Noah is secretly spiraling, and when he lashes out, it threatens what he and Kristina have found. The brotherhood of the fight club helps him confront his demons, but only Noah can convince the woman he loves that he’s finally ready to fight for everything.

‘Fighting for Everything’ is something I decided to give a go because it does sound different from Laura Kaye’s offerings of late: MCs aren’t what I typically read and Kaye’s recent focus on that left me hanging in the wind. That it’s an earnest take on vets and the demons they bring home from war is a bonus because it shoves the spotlight on protagonists who are the furthest from the cocky, swaggeringly confident male romantic fiction loves to portray.

But the Warrior fight club bit doesn’t come in until much later, to my surprise. In fact, most of the book revolves around the constant push-pull between Noah and Kristina who’d practically known each other all their lives, who suddenly move from friendship to something more, seemingly out of the blue. Angst-ridden and drama-filled, Noah/Kristina’s constant push-pull (along with unhinged jealousy and dirty sex) takes centre-stage as Kaye pulls everything down to rock-bottom, then uses the fight club as the anchor to restart everything.

I did feel so very sorry for Noah in any case. The damage he’d suffered to his body, the pain he found himself in made it easier to understand his rationale for really not being in the right place for anything (even if it’s somewhat inexcusable) with his best friend. And as much as I dug Kristina for putting herself out there after getting the epiphany about having always loved him, her ultimatum to Noah however—either lovers or nothing without leaving friendship as the option had she not gotten what she wanted—felt somewhat unreasonable when Noah had loads to sort through on his own.

As a result, ‘Fighting for Everything’ was a middling read, at most. The caveat here is that the friend-to-lovers trope is one I’m the most sceptical about, and the closer the friendship to begin with, in essence, the more doubtful I am. And this is clearly my inability to believe how a switch suddenly flips and a protagonist suddenly realises he/she has been ‘in love’ all along with the other person after years have gone by with many other partners coming and going. It’s the obliviousness/pretence/delusion of the characters that typically keeps me from buying into this trope entirely; only rarely does it work for me and only under very specific conditions at least.

Apart from the romance, the camaraderie in the fight club shines through—the military brotherhood extended past military service is what Kaye excels at—and it’s something I do want to read more about. It does come in a little too late in this book, but seeing as this is only the start of the series, I’m curious to see how far Kaye will take this.

three-stars

Mission: Her Protection by Anna Hackett

Mission: Her Protection by Anna Hackett
Series: Team 52 #1
Published by Anna Hackett on August 14th 2018
Pages: 154
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three-half-stars

When Rowan’s Arctic research team pulls a strange object out of the ice in Northern Canada, things start to go wrong…very, very wrong. Rescued by a covert, black ops team, she finds herself in the powerful arms of a man with scary gold eyes. A man who vows to do everything and anything to protect her…

Dr. Rowan Schafer has learned it’s best to do things herself and not depend on anyone else. Her cold, academic parents taught her that lesson. She loves the challenge of running a research base, until the day her scientists discover the object in a retreating glacier. Under attack, Rowan finds herself fighting to survive…until the mysterious Team 52 arrives.

Former special forces Marine Lachlan Hunter’s military career ended in blood and screams, until he was recruited to lead a special team. A team tasked with a top-secret mission—to secure and safeguard pieces of powerful ancient technology. Married to his job, he’s done too much and seen too much to risk inflicting his demons on a woman. But when his team arrives in the Arctic, he uncovers both an unexplained artifact, and a young girl from his past, now all grown up. A woman who ignites emotions inside him like never before.

But as Team 52 heads back to their base in Nevada, other hostile forces are after the artifact. Rowan finds herself under attack, and as the bullets fly, Lachlan vows to protect her at all costs. But in the face of danger like they’ve never seen before, will it be enough to keep her alive.

Team 52 is Anna Hackett’s spin-off from her Treasure Hunter Security series, so expect the storylines to be written in a similar vein: adventure-driven with some suspense included as this mysterious team goes off the books to retrieve dangerous (read: as equally mysterious as the team that does it) artefacts and keep them classified. It’s got its feet fully set on earth, while prodding the mystery of advanced civilisations, crossed with some archaeological leanings, so Indiana Jones fans should be quite overjoyed.

Like Hackett’s THS books, expect the team to battle unscrupulous treasure hunters, crime syndicates and other badasses which can only be fought with more badassery. As a foundational book, ‘Mission: Her Protection’ lays out the direction in which the series appears to be going: a slew on books focusing on the team at work, with each member finding their better half along the way.

Rowan Schafer is the rather hapless heroine sorely in need of Team 52’s help in this story, though little does she know that Lachlan Hunter used to be the boy next door whom she used to take comfort in, all grown up and a badass in his own right.

The instalove here is somewhat disconcerting – I find myself constantly saying this with Hackett’s books in any case – and that a near-20-year-old memory of an early-teenage friendship seemed to be sufficient for Lachlan to change his mind about love and relationships within the span of a few days with Rowan.

The scepticism I have about the solidness of the pairing aside, ‘Mission: Her Protection’ does get off an interesting start in any case, though I’m crossing my fingers that this crossover would be more of a showcase of Hackett’s impressive imagination rather than a rinse and repeat of the THS series.

three-half-stars

Firestorm by Rachel Grant

Firestorm by Rachel GrantFirestorm by Rachel Grant
Series: Flashpoint #3
Published by Janus Publishing on 10th July 2018
Pages: 300
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CIA covert operator Savannah James is after intel on a potential coup in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but she needs a partner fluent in Lingala to infiltrate the organization. Sergeant First Class Cassius Callahan is the perfect choice, except he doesn’t like her very much. He doesn’t trust her, either, despite the sparks that flare between them, fierce and hot. Still, he accepts the assignment even though their cover requires Savvy to pose as his mistress.

They enter battle-worn Congo to expose the financing for the coup. A trail of cobalt, gold, and diamonds leads them into the heart of a jungle in which everyone is desperate to find the mother lode of ore and gems. Betrayal stalks them as they follow the money, but Savvy will stop at nothing to bring down the would-be dictator before he can ignite a firestorm that will engulf all of Africa.

Deep in the sultry rainforest, spy and Green Beret forge a relationship more precious than diamonds, but Cal knows Savvy is willing to sacrifice anything—or anyone—to complete her mission. As they near the flashpoint, Cal will have to save her from the greatest threat of all: herself.

Start a Rachel Grant book and it’s a sure-thing to surface only a few days later. It’s that intricate, that complex and that impossible to breeze through because of the details and the twists and turns that slowly come into play despite the deceptively simple beginning. A light-hearted read this isn’t, but ‘Firestorm’, like every other Grant read, always muscles in on the romantic suspense genre with a lot of audacious aplomb.

That kind of daring comes in from the beginning with Savannah James and Cassius Callahan going undercover, though the trajectory of the storytelling doesn’t stay in a direction you’d expect. There’re hooked roads, forked paths and unforeseen obstacles that constantly throw wrenches in the good ol’ plot, which makes ‘Firestorm’ and all-round absorbing ride. But beneath that, there are also gut-churning and tooth-rottingly salacious details revolving around exploitative sex, violence and mega-money deals in a hot zone in Africa—all of which Cal and Savvy try to uncover without compromising themselves—that can be difficult to power through.

Still, betrayals and disavowals are par for the course, and it’s akin to hopscotching blindfolded in a minefield. The lack of full disclosure, the deception and lies (whether necessary or not), tend to be one of my pet-peeves in such romances nonetheless. ‘The mission above all’ as mantra and the prolonged double-crossing that inevitably destroys a relationship account for what I’ve always thought of as the biggest failings in such stories. There are a few instances of that here, unsurprisingly as it is, when it comes down to spooks justifying their belief that the ends justify the means. That said, it makes for interesting, though not always enjoyable friction and conflict between Cal and Savvy.

In contrast to Cal’s open-book demeanour however, I was itching to unravel Savannah, or at least get to the real person behind the mission-above-all heartless character who’s seemingly been nothing more than a compassionless automaton in the first few books of this series. What I wasn’t prepared for was a tragic backstory to emerge, and one that should be uncomfortably close to women who’ve tried to rise in their careers. It isn’t to say there aren’t eye-rolling TSTL moments—like the stunt she pulls towards the end, which made me think that trust was still an issue, not to mention the stupid (and wrong) belief of doing even stupider things to in a self-sacrificing way that typically gets old and annoying.

As I’d initially expected, ‘Firestorm’ is a longer read than most typical romance-length books. Beyond the characters and the thrilling storyline, Grant takes her time laying out the context of the Central African region to the point where parts of the story feel like a anthropological documentary embedded into the rush of adventure…and for that alone, it’s not hard to consider ‘Firestorm’ a fantastic (and quite possibly, the best) addition to the series.

Chaos by J.M. Madden

Chaos by J.M. MaddenChaos by J.M. Madden
Series: Dogs of War #1
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on June 26th 2018
Pages: 201
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three-half-stars

Aiden Willingham has lived a hard life. As a Navy SEAL, he agreed to take part in an ultra-secret government testing program. The company running the program, the Silverstone Collaborative, has produced a serum from an Amazonian plant that’s been proven to enhance physical abilities and mental fortitude. Problem is, men-- heroes-- have died during the testing, and it’s time for the company to be taken down before more men die needlessly.

Aiden, along with three others, have escaped the camp with evidence of the company’s horrendous practices. Now they’re in a race to expose them. They’ve already lost one of their team, and the Collaborative’s mercenaries are converging.
Angela Holloway knew the homeless man with sadness in his eyes was trouble as soon as she saw him hanging around the site of a murder.

Uncooperative, he stonewalls her investigation, but draws her in when the badge comes off. Aiden has scars, both internal and external, that make her heart ache. It’s a serious no-no getting involved with a suspect… too bad her heart isn’t listening. As details come to light about what’s going on in her city, she has to fight for what she believes is right, as well as the man on the wrong side of the law.

I can’t recall the number of iterations of the enhanced super-soldier I’ve gone through, but by now, it’s probably a lot. The conspiracy, the theories, the villainous cold-blooded woman (this pops up too predictably), the tortured men and the paranormal abilities they’ve developed because of the secret testing program…well, I can’t get past those enough, it seems.

‘Chaos’ is another version of these stories, so what really differentiates such stories from one another would then be the quality of the storytelling, which I’ve found myself subconsciously assessing on a personal scale.

As much as I loved the prequel, ‘Chaos’ plunges straight into the meatier side of it, this time with a romance on top of it, as the very sympathetic Aiden Willingham finally gets some due justice alongside a capable woman who does seem perfectly matched for him. Better yet, there aren’t the shenanigans of men behaving like growling beasts (both in and out of bed) then given the official excuse thrown out time and again for their inevitable actions.

So, by and large, ‘Chaos’ is a decent read, but I did think that J.M. Madden’s writing tended to get lost in several loops at times—too much of this, too little of that, but these are clearly my own gripes.

There’s a lot going on in here (sometimes too much I think), which might account for the rambling telling rather than showing: the recounting of past events, the conflicted inner monologues, the ton of information and context that Madden seems desperate to relay to the reader. Like the book’s title, some parts were chaotic though shrouded in mystery, and as a result, slowed the pacing in the first quarter of the book where I’d expected more driving forward momentum.

That said, I’m curious to see how Madden will take this entire narrative arc—I’m eternally grateful that Madden doesn’t deliberately leaving a cackling villain who survives until the very end just to draw out the good-evil conflict—and that black hole of not knowing what will happen next in this case, is a very welcome one.

three-half-stars

Genesis by J.M. Madden

Genesis by J.M. MaddenGenesis by J.M. Madden
Series: Dogs of War #0.5
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on June 20th 2018
Pages: 45
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four-stars

After a harrowing mission, Navy SEAL Aiden Willingham was approached to participate in a secret research project. Now he realizes the Spartan Project is a covert, multinational government testing program run by a private company called The Silverstone Collaborative. The company’s mission is to create super soldiers, men capable of recovering from horrendous illness and injuries, using a serum derived from indigenous plants in the Amazon rainforest.

The program is brutal and when the men object, they go from test subjects to caged prisoners overnight. The doctor leading the program is world-renowned for his cutting-edge cures, but Aiden sees only the madness in his eyes. The serum is producing results, but men are dying every day of testing.

And, as more men die, the experiments turn more deadly. What the research team doesn’t realize is exactly what the serum is doing…creating a psychic connection between four of the men. Aiden and his team have to break out of the camp before they’re compromised further. But getting out of the camp is the easy part. They know that actually living to bring the Silverstone Collaborative to justice is going to be the most difficult mission any of them have ever undertaken.

It has been so long that I’ve actually gone into a book without romance as its primary goal and this much I’d say: it’s a change, a subtle shift in re-looking the way I tend to evaluate romances…and perhaps a most welcome one after having gone through too many forgettable and mediocre reads. That also means the very freeing sensation of not having to nitpick through romantic tropes and analysing why they work (or not) for me and then rating the plot and/or the characters as disappointing/unimpressive each time. At least, that has been the pattern with me for a long, long time.

As the prequel J.M. Madden’s ‘Dogs of War’ series, ‘Genesis’ is the short but brutal story of captured soldiers experimented on and their daring escape—men bonded by torture and their emerging abilities—from a nightmare that they can’t seem to free themselves from. I barely remember Aiden Willingham at all from Madden’s other books, but the prequel takes care of it all, unravelling his past in a way that leaves no uncertainty or mystery (at least for Aiden as a character) in the next book to come. In any case, ‘Genesis’ is quite the exciting read: full of danger at every turn, with the thrills of these men’s desperate race for survival during harrowing flight for freedom (with a lick of the paranormal), proving a rollicking good start to a series which I can’t wait to see out.

four-stars

Deep Cover by Scarlett Cole

Deep Cover by Scarlett ColeDeep Cover by Scarlett Cole
Series: Love Over Duty, #3
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on 31st July 2018
Pages: 336
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three-stars

ARE THEY IN TOO DEEP?

Ex-Navy SEAL Cabe Moss always comes when called to duty―at all costs. Even though the death of his fiancée nearly destroyed him, Cabe won’t let his past interfere with any work that has to get done. When his latest task pushes him to team up with FBI Agent Amy Murray, a fierce beauty with the undercover skills to match, Cabe must admit that, for the first time in years, he wants to do more than just complete their mission together…

Amy was born ready for this assignment, but working side-by-side with the the strong, silent, and frustratingly professional Cabe seems to be the biggest challenge of all. But when the sparks begin to fly―and the stakes rise to dangerous heights―the only thing Amy is left worrying about is how she can resist him. Their lives may be in danger, but their hearts hold the biggest risk of all…

‘Deep Cover’ has an irresistible blurb, and even if Scarlett Cole’s works haven’t always agreed with me, such is the power of blurbs that it has gotten me willing to give her books another go.

Still reeling from the loss of his military fiancée, the thought of getting truly involved again is one that he shuns (not being sure of whether he can give that much to another person yet again). So the mess of guilt, pining and uncertainty is the cloud that hangs over Cabe’s and Amy’s burgeoning relationship, and much of the angst emanates from Cabe’s inability to fathom being with a woman who has the potential to be killed in the line of duty.

After a dud meeting in a bar, Cabe and Amy meet again on an undercover op organised by a joint task force and the rest is as they say, either kismet or cliché. Cue the bone-deep attraction that’s forbidden on so many counts, along with Cabe’s own tragic backstory that has a stranglehold on his emotions, I expected a lot of angst, tied in with the taut suspense in this op. But the angst is mostly smoothed out, the emotional bumps in the road overridden instead by the developing case which take precedence over the romance.

That said, Cabe/Amy do kind of form a believable pair; Amy’s confidence and competence (her ability to put things down on the table when it mattered) drew me in most of all, since I tend to forget the pleasure that comes with reading about a fantastic or at least, well-formed protagonist. Her foil is perfect to Cabe’s hesitation in any case, and having a good female lead never fails to brighten my day.

After a decent start however, I got frustrated at times. Some parts were unevenly paced—the storytelling lingered too much in some bits and rushed through others which I wanted to see drawn out—so I came out of this more nonplussed about the repetitive nature of the writing and Cole’s tendency to draw some details out more than I liked which resulted in a bit of skimming. Switches in POVs however, could definitely be demarcated a lot better too, which I suspect has more to do with an ARC’s formatting than anything else.

There are as well, a fair number of secondary characters—along with names and acronyms that may or may not be incidental to the plot—given the nature of the suspense and the operation, with hints of several backstories in the previous books leading up to this one, which could either prove a distraction or be motivation for reading the rest of the books in the series first. It also probably means ‘Deep Cover’ can work as a standalone…though it might pose a few difficulties when dealing with the overall narrative arc.

In short, ‘Deep Cover’ is a decent read, though not a perfect, spine-tingling one for me—I’m not entirely sold on the style of storytelling which I’ve rapidly come to recognise as Cole’s here, but it’s certainly one that I can see appealing more broadly to other RS fans.

three-stars

Free Fall by Emmy Curtis

Free Fall by Emmy CurtisFree Fall by Emmy Curtis
Series: Elite Ops #3
Published by Forever Yours on 10th July 2018
Pages: 240
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two-stars

A legend among black ops teams, Col. Duke Cameron can't wait to get back in action again-no matter how high the risk. Two of the world's best military pilots are missing after a midair collision, and he's made it his job to find out why.

U.S. Air Force veteran Casey Jacobs loves working for a cutting-edge, high-tech company - until she suspects their newest design might have caused a horrible plane crash. But after a few "accidents," it's clear no one wants her asking too many questions. The only person she trusts to help her is Duke, the sexy secret crush from her flying days who still turns her on like no one ever has.

But someone is watching their every move, making sure they don't uncover the truth. And when the danger turns physical, it's not just their love that's on the line. It's their lives.

‘Free Fall’ has a very tempting burb and I couldn’t wait to dive into it.

But my excitement turned to confusion as I flailed about in the opening few chapters, feeling as though I’d plunged straight into a conspiracy mystery without knowing the head or tail of its context (I’d actually flipped the pages wondering if I’d missed a chunk of the beginning of it).

I felt too scattered, too lost, in short, with the first and foremost question running through my mind being: is ‘Free Fall’ meant to be a standalone? Do I actually need to backtrack to read the rest of the books in the series before embarking on this? There were bits of a backstory that came through dialogue or inner monologues but it was difficult to piece even that together when my attention was already flagging, when I was trying hard to simply stay in the story with a level of confusion that showed no signs of abating.

So what really stood out for me were random actions scenes (written like movie action scenes which were quite thrilling), followed then by the lulls of the talk of the conspiracy involving Casey’s employer (which had me struggling to piece together) and then steamy times (which required no introduction)—in all, not quite sufficient to say that I could enjoy the overall flow of the story. I gave up, in the end, despite trying to power through.

two-stars