Whatever it Takes – a review of “The Woman Left Behind” by Linda Howard

Jina Modell is a nerdy computer whiz who likes all things girlie and hates getting dirty or anything so strenuous that it makes her sweat. But it’s her computer skills that bring her to the attention of an off-the-books paramilitary group. They need her skill set and she kinda sorta gets shanghaied into accepting it. Nobody told her up front that she’d be training as if she’d signed up to be a Navy SEAL. But Jina isn’t a quitter. It’s just not encoded in her DNA. Her boss, Levi “Ace” Butcher doesn’t want her on his team and he sets out to ride her hard and make things so tough for her that she’ll drop out. He’s also lusting after her but knows that acting on that would destroy the cohesiveness of his team. He lets her know she’s the least important member of his team. Despite the odds, Jina makes it through and passes all the tests. She’s now a full-fledged team member and they’re “her” team.

The team’s first deployment is to Syria and wouldn’t you know, that blasted Murphy tagged along and everything went sideways from the get go. The building Jina was working in was the site of an explosion and her team assumed she’d been killed in the blast and resulting fire. They were preoccupied with a hellacious firefight with two team members seriously wounded as they fought their way to the ex-fil LZ. But Jina had survived and against all odds trekked across the desert and made it in time to get on the chopper. But she was angry and heartsick to know they had left her behind. She really was expendable to them.

Linda Howard is not only a successful author but more importantly, a talented writer and “The Woman Left Behind” really showcases her talent. So why the four and a half stars? The mess with the crooked Congresswoman wasn’t fully explored or explained so I never quite figured out what she was all about. (I have not read the first book so maybe that’s where the background lies.) So four and a half stars it is.

Jina is a fascinating character. Her dogged determination to never be a quitter gets her through the rigorous training and gives her the skills to save herself when she thought she’d been abandoned by her team. The transformation from nerdy computer desk jockey to a highly skilled operative is inspiring. Her character reminded me somewhat of Demi Moore’s role in “G.I.Jane” and even some of Meg Ryan’s in “Saving Private Ryan”. But Jina was her own “man”. And the long lasting ramifications of her ordeal change her life in multiple ways.

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More Love in Harmony Pointe – a review of “This is Love” by Melissa Foster

Book 2 of Melissa Foster’s Harmony Pointe series is a sweet romantic intrigue with a deep enough plot to keep this reader on the edge of her seat flipping pages to see what happens next. The dual protagonists are A-list actress Remi Divine and her burly but devastatingly handsome bodyguard Mason Swift. It seems Remi has a bad habit of slipping away from the bodyguards her overprotective brother hires so Mason, as head of his protective agency, takes over the detail, especially since a stalker threat has re-emerged. There are some cat and mouse shenanigans between them so Mason decides the only way to keep his charge in check is to move in with her (separate bedrooms of course). He thinks she’s a spoiled diva and she thinks he’s an arrogant a**hole but like magnets, opposites attract. Remi continues to receive threatening but cryptic notes which ramps the tension even higher. Can Mason protect Remi and does she risk losing him when her stalker decides to go after Mason to hurt her?

“This is Love” has plenty of romance and suspense, the character development is adequate with some back story but what I really enjoy is the flawed but believable characters. Too perfect characters who never put a foot down wrong are a turnoff for me. It’s completely unrealistic and to expect your readers to go along with the myth is like pie in the sky. If I want fairy tales I’ll read the Grimm’s Brothers. Four stars.

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Some Lines are Meant to be Crossed – A review of “Fine Line” by A.D. Justice

“Fine Line” is my first foray into the work of A.D. Justice and after finishing Book 1 only to find a cliffhanger, I’m on the fence about venturing farther into her world of fiction. Here’s why. The storyline has merit as it deals with spousal abuse and battered women specifically. The main characters, Nick Tucker and Savannah Fields, are reasonably well developed, although we get almost no background on them to help flesh them out. Then there’s Nick who’s nearly too perfect to be real. The plot involves a motorcycle gang, drug dealing, trafficking in women, etc etc etc. It’s one big cliche after another. Of course there’s the requisite bad guy, Butch, who’s Savannah’s former boyfriend, kinda sorta, who’s stalking her and Nick is hoping to get to him and teach him a lesson he won’t forget. Butch beats the crap out of Savannah and Nick declares war on Butch. And so it goes, on and on and on, ad infinitum. Did I mention it’s one big cliche after another? Oh yeah, right, I did.

On the writer’s side I’m trying to find a gracious way to phrase my comments. Ms Justice’s style shows talent in writing dialogue that is authentic, except for her love scenes which lack sizzle. They’re blah. Dull and tepid as dishwater. I’d like to see fewer redundant phrases such as “dropped down” “reduced down” and “trampled down”; “exit out” “raise up” and eliminate trite phrases such as “without a shadow of a doubt “ and “a rap sheet longer than my leg”. Those are all examples of either lazy or unimaginative writing. I feel sure Ms Justice can do better than that.

Whatever stock you may or may not put in my opinion, the storyline has merit but the execution needs work. I say this in the vein of believing that all writers want to be read and have their readers come back for more. Which means they want to continue to improve and hone their craft. How better than to have others review your work and give you their honest opinions? Three and a half stars.

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DNF – Couldn’t get invested in the characters – A review of “Marriage Games” by C.D. Reiss

I dislike having to DNF a book but when I’m at the 57% Read mark and I couldn’t care less what happens to the characters, it’s time to pack it in. And it’s unfair to the author to be forced to put a rating on a book you haven’t finished reading, but Goodreads requires a rating for a review. (I wish they would rethink that policy.)

Doms and Subs

So here goes. I’ve read a number of CD Reiss’ books and have always given them favorable reviews but I couldn’t gather any empathy for the characters and the plot wasn’t holding my attention. The characters had been married five years when the wife says she wants a divorce. Adam demands a 30 day hiatus which they’ll spend at a remote cottage and she’s to “obey” his every command. Seems he’s a closet Dominant in the world of Doms and Subs (Submissives) and she’s a Sub at heart but he never recognized it and she’s totally unaware of the whole scene. Could be/should be interesting but not to me and this is not my first trip into the world of Doms and Subs, reading-wise that is. I don’t know, but it was just dragging for me. Anytime it takes me 8 days to read a little more than half of a book that has fewer than 300 pages, something’s not working. So rather than beat a dead horse, I’m calling it three stars at 57%.

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Sisters in the Sky – A review of “The Flight Girls” by Noelle Salazar

Sky Sisters

It seems I’ve run into a string of WWII era novels of late but I never tire of them, especially those featuring the brave women who did their part in the war effort and those who gave their all and paid the ultimate price. “The Flight Girls” by Noelle Salazar zeroes in on Audrey Coltrane who earned her wings at the tender age of 14 at her father’s small airfield in Texas. All she’s ever wanted is to fly and hopefully, one day buy a little airfield back in Texas and build it into something better. So when the war breaks out in Europe she signs up to train military pilots in Hawaii.

As a military flight instructor Audrey had the opportunity to fly all types of aircraft; single and twin engines, transports, cargo planes, and even the fighter models. Audrey had the good fortune to be flying on December 7, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked, for had she been on base, she most likely would not have survived as the airfields were brutally strafed and she would probably have been on the flight line.

When the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) was formed Audrey was in the first group to sign up. The varied aircraft she had flown gave her a leg up on many of her compatriots but they all helped each other in the areas they needed. It was a true sisterhood. However, her male counterparts were frequently scornful, often disrespectful and disbelieving that “mere women” would be taking to the air in “their” planes. Audrey and her sky sisters had to fight for recognition and respect for their skills but the WASPS hung in there doing their jobs, working harder and longer, training and re-training, many times with better results than the men.

Ms Salazar has breathed life into these remarkable women and the bonds of friendship that formed between them. Those friendships were forged with the steel from their spines and further tempered by their courage. A touch of romance was added by the presence of Lt. Hart but it never took over the story. It was a meaningful love interest in Audrey’s life but never the focus. In fact, neither of them were interested in a “relationship”. Or so they said.

The author does a good job playing up the camaraderie of the group, letting little tidbits of each personality shine through while Audrey relates the narrative in first person. The emotional depth of this story is compelling and if there’s anything I could change it would be to discourage the use of redundant phrasing (drop down, stoop down, etc) and eliminating trite phrases such as “with every fiber of my being”. There are so many fresher ways to say that you want or believe deeply in something or someone. The English language is as rich as a mine that never plays out. Why waste it on stale, overused phrases? Four and a half stars.

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Sometimes the Second Time Around is Better – A review of “Never Have I Ever” by Lauren Blakely

Pair up a starry-eyed wedding planner with a tiger shark of a divorce attorney who’s also a single dad with two precocious but adorable children and you’ve got the makings for a sizzling second chance romance. Complicating things further, their offices are next door to each other and he likes to make bets on how long (or short) each marriage will be. Zach and Piper may start out as frenemies but once they start collaborating on the upcoming wedding of mutual friends, all bets are off. And cooperate they must since Zach is Best Man and Piper is wedding planner AND Maid of Honor.

“Never Have I Ever” is a light-hearted romantic comedy with some witty banter, fully fleshed out characters and some steamy bedroom scenes. The two children add dimension to the story and Zach’s interactions with them are a huge part of his attraction to Piper. (You really can tell a lot about a person by how they treat children and how they relate to them.) And so it is with Piper.

I always enjoy Lauren Blakely’s books because her characters are people I’d like to know and her stories have some meat in them. Equally as important to this reader is the caliber of her writing. It’s not merely syntactically correct. It delivers her message with a style and brevity of prose that is the mark of an excellent writer. There are no fluffy filler sentences whose only purpose is to up the word count. Every word in every sentence is necessary to tell the story. That is no mean feat. Five stars.

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Never Say Never

Existential Frenemies to Lovers? A review of “Iron Crowne” by CD Reiss

Dom-Sub Elements

CD Reiss’ “Iron Crowne” kinda’ threw me for a loop. Developer Byron Crowne and attorney Olivia Monroe are on a collision course, barreling toward mutual destruction unless they can come to terms on the piece of land he wants to build on. Olivia believes it would be an environmental mistake and is prepared to do whatever it takes to stop him. But she didn’t count on the magnet-like pull of his very presence. And Byron is intrigued by her dogged determination and stirred by her physical presence. They quickly find themselves violating all kinds of professional ethics and norms and the chemistry between them is volatile.

“Iron Crowne” at times seems a bit over the top, especially with the sometimes windy philosophical discussions between the two protagonists. But one could argue it’s balanced out by the no-holds-barred sex scenes. I generally don’t have a problem with steamy sex but I find the “C” word especially distasteful and it got more than a little use. And there is a definite dom-sub element to the relationship between Byron and Olivia that leaves me kinda’ twitchy. That said, it’s a compelling read, just not one I’d recommend for the faint of heart. Four stars.

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