Series: Military Match

A SEAL’s Honor by J.M. Stewart

A SEAL’s Honor by J.M. StewartA SEAL's Honor by J.M. Stewart
Series: Military Match #3
Published by Forever Yours on January 16th 2017
Pages: 240
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Rules are made to be broken . . .
When it comes to dating, ex-Navy SEAL Marcus Denali has a few simple rules. Never date a coworker. Never date a friend's sister. And never ever date a girl whose brother is a coworker, a friend, and a fellow SEAL. So why would Marcus dance so closely---and flirt so shamelessly---with Mandy Lawson? Simple. It's a Fourth of July masquerade ball. He doesn't know she's his buddy's little sister. And once the masks come off, the real fireworks begin . . .

Mandy doesn't care about the rules. She's been crushing on Marcus for years, and she's not giving up now that she has proof he wants her too. She has a plan to show this military man some moves he never learned in basic training. And Marcus is going to learn that some rules-the rules of attraction---are just too strong to fight.

You’ve heard this story before: girl has thing for guy who typically doesn’t do commitment, both get into an agreed sex-only fling for a period of time, girl convinces herself to keep it only physical, but fails, but takes it anyway because he’s what she wanted for so long. It all leads to a climax—sometimes literally—where someone breaks it off, which also happens to be a kick in the arse or an epiphany for the other party who then wakes up and grovels for something he/she had always wanted but denied.

It’s a formula that has worked in romance multiple times despite how often this has been repeated in different contexts, with the details and names differing. ‘A SEAL’s Honor’ is yet another iteration of this, so there are no surprises here, only in how J.M. Stewart steers her characters and the circumstances that shape the coming together of this particular pairing. Stewart however, does throw in some surprises here—and with assured writing that keeps the pages turning—with a steel-spined heroine as the driving force behind the action and a male lead who isn’t afraid to talk.

Older brother’s best friend or not, it was more than impressive to see Mandy Lawson taking charge, insisting on keeping her end of the bargain and pushing for what she wanted the whole time as she pursued Marcus Denali relentlessly the way the heroes in romantic fiction normally do—age gap, differences in outlook be damned. And in the end, it was Mandy who bailed on the arrangement as well, after realising she couldn’t have more than what Marcus was (not) offering. Still, with both protagonists talking an honest game, both Mandy and Marcus were easy to sympathise with—and even like, no matter who took point in steering the development of the relationship.

I did struggle however, with the ‘flip of the switch’ type of ending and this isn’t a struggle that’s confined to this story alone. Can someone’s decades-long belief of not ever being good enough or good in a relationship really change at the snap of the fingers, or after a good talking to? Can years of resentment and accumulation of emotional dirt just fall away when epiphany strikes? Romance stories don’t necessarily always provide a convincing way of showing this when it happens; romantic moments (typically accompanied by waves of emotion) tend to overshadow this niggling bit tends to stay a loose end.

‘A SEAL’s Honor’ nonetheless, is definitely a decent read. It faltered here and there for me, but the maturity of the protagonists was the biggest draw of it all.


A SEAL’s Strength by J.M. Stewart

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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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.