Author: Julie Ann Walker

Built to Last by Julie Ann Walker

Built to Last by Julie Ann WalkerBuilt to Last by Julie Ann Walker
Series: Black Knights Inc., #12
Published by Sourcebooks on 3rd July 2018
Pages: 384
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two-stars

Masterful, mysterious, and completely ruthless, Jamin “Angel” Agassi joined the Black Knights Inc. after a mission-gone-wrong forced him to undergo extensive plastic surgery and change his name. He's going to bring down the world's worst crime syndicate, and hopefully keep Sonya Butler, a love from his past, from discovering who he really is...

When a dark-eyed stranger gets caught up in Sonya’s latest mission, she starts to question all her hard-won instincts. Something about Angel tells her he's more than he seems, and sometimes, when she least expects it, he reminds her of a man she used to know. As the bullets fly, she realizes that in love and war nothing is ever what it seems...

As the tail-end of Julie Ann Walker’s ‘Black Knights Inc.’, ‘Built to Last’ has an interesting premise and one that reminds me strongly of another book that I’ve read and found confounding, but the lure of black-ops, action and suspense is always hard to resist.

No doubt this has a sweeping narrative arc—a feature of the typical romantic suspense novel that I love—and coming into this so late in the game means that it can be hard keeping the story straight in my head. I lacked the context about the hows and whys of this particular mission and being dropped like this into the story was disconcerting. My bad here.

But this much I knew: Jamin “Angel” Agassi felt like most remote of the lot and as an agent, well, he’s one to be admired and feared for doing his job well. Country above everything. Duty above love. The righteousness of sacrifice being the mantra he works according to, which happens to give leeway to do things using a bewildering number of identities. And that’s all the positive things that I can give about this character.

Walker writes a second-chance romance and I was hoping that this would be one of the rare few that would work for me. The validity of the explanations for the separation and what both characters did in the years are usually the answers that I seek in this trope.

‘Built to Last’ unfortunately, couldn’t satisfy those prerequisites I have.

My scepticism about Angel’s and Sonya’s romance stems from the fact that Angel had buried his head in the sand after he’d chosen his country over Sonya, destroyed the both of them, tried to forget her, then had a woman in every port, all the while saying that he still loved her. And then continued reprehensibly, to lie to her about his identity as she felt guilty about projecting her feelings for a man she thought dead onto him, while knowing full well about the consequences of his own actions that he didn’t want to face.

Perhaps this sits perfectly fine with other readers who like this sort of star-crossed kind of vibe where the number of bed partners they’ve had in the intervening years is inconsequential. This connection between Sonya and Angel, supposedly forged long ago and sparking to life again, wasn’t one I could buy into, more so on Angel’s part, given that he’d done nothing to question his own choices—and wouldn’t have—until he saw Sonya again. For this reason I couldn’t believe that they belonged together, not when Angel (the only one who could but didn’t) didn’t move heaven and earth to be with Sonya. Merely paying lip service to the expansive declaration that he’d loved her for a decade, the regrets he expressed at the end merely seemed too panicky, too little, too late.

In short, less the past romance is crowed about and exalted, the less I feel compelled to argue for the kind of hypocrisy involved in ‘moving on’.

So for the hero that Angel is to the rest of the world, I could only call him a coward.

My beef with characterisation aside, Angel/Sonya’s story, interspersed with sudden flashbacks, POVs from the villain and another pairing, did feel disjointed as well. The sly but strange insertions of humour (?) and exaggerated snark sometimes seemed ill-fitting, bordering the absurd for the situation at hand when all I wanted was a more straightforward progression of the plot and the relationship.

The conclusion as a result, felt abrupt considering the plot juggled more than just a pairing here, but I’m guessing that this would deliriously please the hard-core fans of this series who have been invested in the characters and the narrative from the beginning.

‘Built to Last’ isn’t good as a standalone. Would I have been a happier camper having gone through all the other books? Perhaps. But this swan-song, long-awaited or not, wasn’t one I could enjoy at all, unfortunately.

two-stars

Devil and the Deep by Julie Ann Walker

Devil and the Deep by Julie Ann WalkerDevil and the Deep by Julie Ann Walker
Series: Deep Six #2
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on July 5th 2016
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Cocktail parties, political fundraisers, and charity events are Maddy Powers' way of life. But the daring man who appropriated her father's yacht a couple of months ago is still out there, somewhere, and she wants to pay him back for the scorching kiss they shared.
Behind his suave smile and ladykiller eyes, Bran Palladino carries a dark secret that keeps him from pursuing Maddy… even though he can't get her out of his head. But when Maddy is kidnapped as part of a grand scheme, it's time to put up or shut up… because Bran can't live without Maddy now.

The setup for Bran Palladino and Maddy Powers in the previous book unfurls in this book, where we learn that Maddy’s idea of taking three scholarship students to a remote isle near where the Deep Six Crew is working is more than motivated by altruism. It’s a location near Bran, the larger-than-life rescuer of damsels (just Maddy, in her overblown imagination) whom she’d kissed and is now working on maintaining a stream of email communication between them. That hope she carries about them turns to fear, then flares to life when Bran turns up just at a time when mercenaries storm her isolated location and take her and her young charges hostage. Along with him are Alex and Mason, the other pairing whose inadvertent involvement in the action made them larger than life – and a pairing I want to see succeed – and perhaps even more than Bran/Maddy’s constant back and forth while masked men run around them.

I was delighted with Maddy in some places and exasperated in others – the smartmouth just simply kept going in the most inappropriate of times – but I generally did like her spunk and her courage in calling out bull when it was needed. Yet the same goes for Bran whom I thought had too much of his Daddy issues consuming his thoughts and actions that they became an excuse for the millstone on his neck which he used regularly to keep women and relationships away. That Bran seemingly came to his senses so easily and doing that hundred and eighty in a snap at the end after being given a talking to by LT and Alex made for an abrupt, unbelievable conclusion that I found hard to accept.

Gratingly ridiculous in parts and moving in others, ‘Devil and the Deep’ ended up as a mixed-bag of treasures for me. The suspense/action is written with jocular light-heartedness at times, filled unnecessarily with overblown hyperboles and numerous film references – sometimes during a shootout – that I wondered if it could all really be taken seriously.

But what I really missed was the treasure-hunting itself that the first book had set up the series for, the course of which the book veered off here. Instead, we’re embroiled in the Powers family drama involving only two of the veteran SEALS crew, which was disappointing because I did remember liking their special brand of chemistry together. All we got to show for it in this story is a rusted hilt and a mention of future events in the ending chapters, but it wasn’t enough to stave off my dissatisfaction.

three-stars

Way of the Warrior Anthology

Way of the Warrior AnthologyWay of the Warrior by Suzanne Brockmann, Julie Ann Walker, Catherine Mann, Tina Wainscott, Anne Elizabeth, M.L. Buchman, Kate SeRine, Lea Griffith
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on May 5th 2015
Pages: 473
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three-stars

EIGHT PASSIONATE LOVE STORIES ABOUT AMAZING MILITARY HEROES BY BESTSELLING AUTHORS:Suzanne Brockmann, Julie Ann Walker, Catherine Mann, Tina Wainscott, Anne Elizabeth, M.L. Buchman, Kate SeRine, Lea Griffith

To honor and empower those who've served, all author and publisher proceeds go to the Wounded Warrior Project.

The Wounded Warrior Project was founded in 2002 and provides a wide range of programs and services to veterans and service members who have survived physical or mental injury during their brave service to our nation.

Stories of varying quality make it difficult to rate this anthology higher than 3 stars. The only standouts for me were:
1. Lea Griffith’s very excellent (but so very short) War Games of the coming Endgame Ops series, and even then, I felt as though I was thrust into a movie over which I could salivate over, only to be forcibly removed from the cinema a third through it.
2. Tina Wainscott’s very poignant Beauty and the Marine where a scarred hero takes on another scarred model.

three-stars

Hell or High Water by Julie Ann Walker

Hell or High Water by Julie Ann WalkerHell or High Water by Julie Ann Walker
Series: Deep Six, #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on July 7th 2015
Pages: 377
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three-stars

In a world on the brink...
Six men. One sunken Spanish galleon. Millions in gold and silver coins lying on the ocean floor. And a past that refuses to let the guys of Deep Six Salvage forget the Navy SEAL motto: the only easy day was yesterday...
There's more than one kind of treasure...
The nation's security has always been CIA agent Olivia Mortier's top priority. But a mission-gone-wrong has begun to make her wonder if there's more to life than risking hers.
And more than one secret at the bottom of the sea...
Only two things could make Leo Anderson abandon his hunt for the legendary lost ship, La Santa Christina, and return to the world of weapons and warfare he swore to leave behind: a capsule of enriched uranium, lost on the ocean floor, and a plea for assistance from the one woman he can't seem to forget...

I definitely liked the original idea of ex-military alpha men starting their salvage company instead of the usual security contracting firm they form. Treasure hunting in the seas is quite the adventure I can see myself getting into, coupled with a good dose of romantic suspense.

As chuffed as I was with the idea of looking for the ghost ship, the plot really wasn’t about treasure hunting at all because it got sidetracked by a CIA agent who comes looking for them to do another deep-sea dive – a remnant of their old days coming back to kick them in the arse when they least expect it. There were entertaining actions scenes nonetheless that held me spellbound for brief periods, even though I’d hoped they would get down to searching for the lost ship that never quite materialised in this book (but would probably be picked up again in the next).

There were parts in the book that I couldn’t wrap my head around, distracted as I was by the weird, almost-preppy narrative filled with teenage, out-of-place observations that seemed so contradictory to the building of suspense. If they were meant to be humorous injections, then some worked for me while many fell flat in my disbelieving eyes. I felt no connection to the leading pair and particularly the heroine whose plight and secrets did little to garner any sympathy. Add in a completely whipped hero who thinks she can do no wrong and I pretty had a foot out the door right there.

Yet I’m holding out hope that the subsequent books would be better in what looks like a promising adventure series. Call me a failing pessimist.

three-stars