The main feature of a good military romance for me is that it’s smart. Okay, I read the fluffy ones that are more about emotion and psychology (military hero or heroine is dealing with the after effects – physical or psychological – of their service) and those are great, but the smart ones, filled with tons of details about ordnance and training, those make me salivate. It’s like watching a great medical drama – you don’t have to know what everything means, but the language and accuracy provide layers of authenticity which ramp up the emotion and the action while engendering trust in the writer.
M. L. Buchman is a master at delivering military romance which does not stint on the real details that make combat come alive while also giving readers a hot, emotional read. I’d put him in a cage match with Catherine Mann, Lindsey McKenna, Maya Banks, and Kaylea Cross – and Buchman would totally come out on top (although they are all phenomenal writers). If you have a guy you’ve been wanting to introduce to romance and he’s a Clive Cussler/Tom Clancy kind of person, this is the series to bring him over to romance fiction!
The Night Stalkers is one of my favorite military series because with each couple, I fall further in love with this group of kick ass helicopter pilots, mechanics and gunners. Each character is at the top of their profession, the only way they’ve made it to the exclusive SOAR group, the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, aka the Night Stalkers, who fly extremely dangerous missions, many of which never make it out of the shadowbox.
Take Over at Midnight is the fourth book in this stellar series (which I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed before). At their heart, these books focus not just on a specific mission or series of dangerous encounters in the field, but also on the interpersonal conflict between the hero and heroine, either brought on by a difference in rank (a big problem in the military) and/or a difference in background. While some of our servicemen and women come from privileged backgrounds and join for reasons fueled by patriotism, so many other people enter the military in an effort to turn their lives around or reject difficult upbringings. A source of deep-seated admiration for Buchman’s writing is his ability to dig deep into the psyche of women serving in elite combat positions, demonstrating an understanding of the personal grit they require to deal with the chauvinism encountered repeatedly on their journey to an elite unit like the Night Stalkers.
While you don’t have to read the other books in this series to enjoy Take Over at Midnight, you’d be a fool not to. The team is led by two legendary helicopter pilots – Majors Mark Henderson and Emily Beale – who happen to be married to one another (their incredible story, with a pulse-pounding presidential espionage plotline, can be found in The Night Is Mine). Mark’s co-pilot, Boston Brahmin Archibald Stevenson is married to Emily’s crack gunner, Kee Smith, who came from the worst possible background you can imagine in East L.A. (their gut-wrenching book, I Own the Dawn, is incredible). Finally, Mark’s big Okie chief mechanic and gunner, Staff Sergeant “Big John” Wallace won the heart of Emily’s flight engineer and mechanic, Sergeant Connie Davis, despite his initially misreading her quiet personality as aloofness rather than the slight autistic streak she possesses (and honestly, their story, Wait Until Dark, is my favorite of the whole series, and I love all these books).
You can imagine how hard it would be for a new person to break into these two tight-knit crews, rendered even closer by intermarriage than the average high-level team honed by combat and long-term service together. Yet that’s exactly what Chief Warrant Officer Lola LaRue must do when she finally gets a shot at being Major Emily Beale’s co-pilot in Take Over at Midnight. These two crews are not exactly warm and fuzzy, so fitting in is a challenge, particularly when her rough background of a criminal father and growing up in a New Orleans bordello makes her feel like a fraud when the doubts of her childhood creep into her head. The only person who makes any effort to be a friend is Major Henderson’s prankster gunner, Sergeant Tim Maloney, and Lola loves their backgammon games and banter.
Tim has felt like he’s been hit by a two-by-four since he spotted Lola on the deck of carrier in Poland. He didn’t know her name but he recognizes her as soon as she strips out of her flight suit and unleashes that long mane of hair. Her Creole accent and hot body leave him without the smooth moves he’s known for around the ladies, but soon her blazing zest for life have him head over heels in love. But Lola isn’t forthcoming about her past, whereas Tim tells stories about his extended loving family all the time. With her an officer and him an enlisted man, he has to tread carefully in order to not ruin their careers. With the looming danger of a Iranian mission whose tentacles extend right into Lola’s former home, Tim wonders if he can help her overcome her past to realize the future they’d have together.
Oh. My. God. I honestly couldn’t imagine M. L. Buchman surpassing Wait Until Dark, but he nailed it with this incredible novel. For two people with very different upbringings, it’s fascinating to watch Tim and Lola realize their similarities and common values and grow closer together. Nevertheless, the reader’s spectator position means that we have to watch Tim flounder when he really doesn’t understand Lola and her feelings about something more permanent and it’s pretty painful (I found myself yelling, “Not yet! NOT YET!” at my iPad). The mission is scary and all too easy to imagine as reality, and it’s great to see the characters of Emily’s childhood best friend, U.S. President Peter Matthews and his Chief of Staff Daniel Darlington III (who has his own wonderful HEA happen during a North Korean mission in the self-published e-novella Daniel’s Christmas), reappear in all their glory.
I was worried with all the pairing off that the series might be coming to an end, but there are a few interesting characters still floating around single (Emily’s friend Liz O’Malley and the uber-sexy Delta operator are two people I need to read more about) and the circumstances Buchman highlights for a specific couple mean they will be leaving for civilian life. I was pleased to spot on Goodreads that there is a new series listed on his author page, entitled Firehawks, which will clearly relate to this plot development and continue our relationship with the characters. Yay!!! The expected publication date of 2014 guarantees my pre-order opportunity will come soon.
This entire series of The Night Stalkers is a must read for anyone who enjoys military suspense and/or military romance. I’ve decided to follow this review today with one for Peter’s Christmas, (just wait an hour) an additional novella from the series showing the sexy widower President find exactly the woman meant for him. She’s something special, let me tell you, and completely deserving of the December Read-a-Thon focus. Stay tuned for that later today and in the meantime, download this series!