Tag Archives: Catherine Mann

M. L. Buchman Continues to Deliver Emotional Military Romance with Take Over At Midnight

17 Dec

Take Over At Midnight (Night Stalkers #4 – Tim and Lola) by M. L. Buchman (Sourcebooks, December 3, 2013)

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 Is Mine (The Night Stalkers #1 – Mark and Emily) by M. L. Buchman (Sourcebooks, February 2012)

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.

I Own the Dawn (The Night Stalkers #2 – Archie and Kee) by M. L. Buchman (Sourcebooks, August 2012)

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).

Wait Until Dark (The Night Stalkers #3 – John and Connie) by M. L. Buchman (Sourcebooks, February 2013)

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.

Daniel’s Christmas (The Night Stalkers #2.5 – Daniel and Alice) by M. L. Buchman (Buchman Bookworks, November 2013)

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!

Happy reading!!

Pets Make Authors Human: A Pictorial Reflection on Animals, Romance, and Writing

28 Nov

Dean Koontz with his golden retriever – yes, I’m going to admit that I bought my first Koontz book because he always has his golden in the author photo!

It’s Thanksgiving, and if there’s one part of my life I give tremendous thanks for beyond the human members of my family, it’s the four-legged creatures who fill my life with joy and laughter. Following so many author blogs and the Facebook pages of writers I admire, I can’t help but notice just how many people post regular photos and updates of their pets…and how many comments and likes they get when they do.

My Romance Writers of America chapter (go Pocono-Lehigh Romance Writers!!!) recently had the fabulous Caridad Pinerio give an incredibly informative workshop on social media for authors. One point she mentioned was that recipes and pets (with accompanying photos) are pure gold when it comes to social media. Considering what I stop to read I completely believe her, but it made me wonder, what is it about authors and their pets that we find so appealing?

Ernest Hemingway and one of his many cats

I imagine that it’s a combination of shared experience and humanization. We have something in common with even a famous writer like Lord Byron (who wrote the most heartfelt poem to his Newfoundland Dog Boatswain who he buried with a headstone that exceeds Byron’s in size) or Mark Twain. Ernest Hemingway may have been a misogynist, but I bet he had to clean up something heinous his six-toed cats horked up around his house at some point, right? So he and I would theoretically have a conversation starter if we ever met on a distant plain (and I could steer away from the fact that I’m not the biggest fan of his writing).

It’s very easy for me to believe Janet Evanovich invented the successful Stephanie Plum series when I see this shot. Anyone with such a smiley St. Bernard has to have a terrific sense of humor!

There is also the nature of writing – it’s lonely. You usually do it all by yourself, in some cramped, cluttered corner of your house while the humans around you steer clear because you are a) overcaffeinated, b) talking to people who don’t exist (i.e., your characters) and/or c) haven’t bothered to shower because you are headed to a deadline. You know who doesn’t care? Your pet. Your cat selfishly feels you are a terrific source of heat and food as you snack at your desk and your dog simply loves you so much that he or she is willing to drape themselves on your feet and let their bladder the size of Montana fill until you realize it’s been 11 hours since you’ve taken them outside to pee. You do not get that kind of devotion from a person (okay, rarely you do), which could explain writers’ propensity for animal fandom.

Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice Toklas with their poodle. Every pet owner looking at this photo just exclaimed, "A white carpet! Seriously?!"

Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas with their poodle. Every pet owner looking at this photo just exclaimed, “A white carpet! Seriously?!”

I definitely think that authors like Dean Koontz (who actually has given his late golden Trixie her own webpage while celebrating his current golden, Anna) and Janet Evanovich are onto something when it comes time for the author photo. Having a pet in the shot not only differentiates you from the pack, but instantly sends the message, “Oh, wow, this person is an approachable, nice human being” because let’s face it, animals usually only like nice people and are able to detect when some bitchy person carries a whiff of sulphur still lingering from their portal to hell transportation. In Midge Raymond’s “Tips for the Author Photo” article, Raymond emphasizes the importance of maintaining a natural look and that includes your facial expression. It’s virtually impossible to have a pet in the shot with you and not look natural, because you are busy worrying that your dog or cat is going to pee on a light or start barking at a shadow and embarrass you, rather than about how fat your upper arms might look or if you are getting a weird shadow that’s going to make you resemble Winston Churchill when you want the cool J. R. Ward badass vibe (which you probably won’t get unless you have a cool cat in the shot, like a panther).

Don’t let the gigantic dog in the center have you ignore the little King Charles spaniel in the right hand corner – both dogs carry the symbolism of wealth and protection in Anthony Van Dyck‘s Five Children of King Charles I (1637) in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Let’s not forget that the presence of animals in a portrait has always meant something (other than announcing you carry a powerful lint brush in your purse everywhere you go). In the 17th to 19th centuries, animals in a portrait, usually dogs, often indicated that the person or persons in the portrait were worthy of admiration and loyalty, or the breed of animal hinted at the intellectual refinement or wealth of the subject. One of my favorite portraits involving a dog is Anthony Van Dyck’s portrait, Five Children of King Charles I which you can visit in all its splendor in the National Portrait Gallery in London. The gigantic dog being used as an armrest by the future Charles II of England is probably an early variety of Mastiff and the bitty poindexter in the lower right hand corner looking at the chubby (and seriously underdressed) Princess Anne is an early King Charles Spaniel. Mastiffs were frequently owned by the aristocracy for protection, and the King Charles Spaniel was actually named for the young Charles pictured here since he loved toy spaniels, including the one that would eventually carry his name.

Love Bites anthology with stories by Lori Foster, Brenda Jackson, Virna DePaul, Catherine Mann and Jules Bennett (Harlequin, February 2013)

Luckily for us, we no longer look for the deep symbolism when someone takes either a formal portrait immortalizing their puppy or a selfie with their ginormous cat, but readers are still fascinated by the relationship of pets and authors. In the world of romance, we are fortunate to not just have authors who write in terrific animal characters into their books (Laura Kaye’s fabulous three-legged puppy in Hard As It Gets comes to mind, as well as all the animal characters of Jill Shalvis’ Animal Magnetism series), but who actually advocate for them. Lori Foster, Vicki Lewis Thompson, Brenda Jackson, Catherine Mann, Virna DePaulJill Shalvis, Kate Angell, Jacquelyn Frank, and Lisa Jackson are just a few of the authors who come to mind to heighten awareness of animal causes and who even create anthologies where the proceeds go to animal charities.

I’ll leave you with the poem Lord Byron wrote for his Newfoundland’s gravestone since it summarizes a lot of the relationship we have with our pets. Maybe you’d even consider making a donation to your local animal shelter in honor of your favorite romance author – I’m sure they’d be thrilled to hear about that kind of fan appreciation! Whatever your thoughts on how to honor the animals who inspire you – whether they live in your home or are online – let’s all consider ourselves fortunate to have these wonderful giving creatures in our lives and in our imaginations.

Epitaph to A Dog

Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferosity,
and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.
This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
if inscribed over human Ashes,
is but a just tribute to the Memory of
who was born in Newfoundland May 1803
and died at Newstead Nov. 18, 1808.

For more great pictures of writers and their pets I’d recommend the following articles:

“Animal Muses: The Pets Of Famous Writers And Artists” by Alice E. Vincent from The Huffington Post UK (June 25, 2012)

“Portraits of Writers With Pets: The Humanizing Animal Connection” by Emily Temple from The Atlantic (November 28, 2012)

“Literary Pets: The Cats, Dogs, and Birds Famous Authors Loved” by Maria Popova from Brain Pickings (April 29, 2013)

Love and Cordite Make an Unbeatable Combination in Kaylea Cross’ Titanium Security Series, Including Her Latest Novel, Extinguished

26 Nov

Ignited (Titanium Security #1 – Khalia and Hunter) by Kaylea Cross (Kaylea Cross, June 2013)

I’ve definitely told you how Kaylea Cross is a terrific suspense/military romance writer, but I’ve been remiss in hogging her Titanium Security series all to myself. With the latest release, Extinguished, published just this past Friday, this seemed like a great opportunity to let you in on a terrific series (and an even better writer).

Cross’ strengths are that she possesses the ability to write empathetic, courageous characters (every hero or heroine would be sorted into Grffyindor), mix in steaming hot sex scenes, and tie everything together with a badass story arc that keeps the action moving through each book and into the next one. Her military details are meticulously researched and she doesn’t shy away from specifics or dumb anything down for the reader, placing her on par with terrific military romance writers like M. L. Buchman, Maya Banks, and Catherine Mann.

In the first book of the series, Ignited, we meet a grouchy but incredibly efficient Hunter Phillips, an ex-Navy SEAL, who has taken on the head of a security detail escorting a rich woman into the heart of Pakistan where her father was just recently brutally murdered. His daughter, the beautiful Khalia Patterson, doesn’t know if her father’s foundation (which seeks to help young women get an education) was worth dying for, but she plans to honor his sacrifice and continue his work. Completely out of her depth in terms of the danger, she finds herself relying on the taciturn and compelling Hunter, despite his standoffishness.

Hunter is doing this detail as a favor to his boss since he is still reeling from losing a friend in the line of fire. Khalia’s honesty and bravery is not what he expected from the head of a charity, and he finds himself dangerously falling for this beautiful woman despite every effort to keep his distance. When things heat up and she (and his team) are in serious danger from the same people who killed her father, Hunter knows that he will do whatever it takes to both keep her safe, and make her his.

Hunter is smoking hot and Khalia’s refreshing honesty and sense of what’s right is so appealing that you fall for both of them pretty quickly. As the first book in the series, Ignited does a great job setting up the quality of Titanium Security, some of the work dynamics and lays a foundation for the other characters. Clearly the hints at the machinations behind the scene help the reader understand the psychological makeup of the villain and the pawns he uses to further his goals, as well.

Singed (Titanium Security #2 – Claire and Gage) by Kaylea Cross (Kaylea Cross, July 2013)

The next book, Singed, is downright gut-wrenching as the two protagonists actually broke up not six months before (I have a problem with reunion stories, but for Cross, I’ll read them). NSA analyst Claire Tierney couldn’t handle all the obstacles in her path to happiness half a year ago, despite her knowing that she couldn’t love former Special Forces Master Sergeant Gage Wallace more. Her father is an alcoholic who needs her and her brother is walking the line with suicide, having returned from combat with severe PTSD. Just when her life couldn’t get any more complicated, she’s assigned to Titanium Security’s team to help them hunt down a Taliban assassin who plans to make a stateside strike – and discovers she’ll be working with Gage. Even better, she also finds out that she’s been named a target by the terrorist in question.

Gage knows he has strikes against him with Claire – he’s a lot older than her and he’s got a teenage daughter – but his life has been so empty since she left him that this assignment feels like the second chance he can’t screw up. When he discovers she’s in danger, it’s not even a question of insuring her safety – and what better place to be than right by her side? The spark still exists between them and as it flares to life once again, Gage only wonders if he can convince Claire to let someone else share her burden and her life in these dangerous times.

OMG – Gage is such a teddy bear deep down and his love for Claire (and hers for him) is so strong. You absolutely empathize with Claire – I was exhausted seeing her level of caretaking and co-dependency with both her father and brother, so it would be very easy in her shoes to feel like she couldn’t take on anything more with Gage, particularly with him having such a dangerous job. I loved seeing Gage with his daughter (and his daughter with Claire since she clearly was helping foster their relationship). The ending was heart-stopping and propelled me into pre-ordering the next book long before it came out. Cross can write her mysterious villains in a big way!

Burned (Titanium Security #3 – Zahra & Sean) by Kaylea Cross (Kaylea Cross, August 2013)

I was chomping at the bit to read Zahra Gill’s story in Burned – after all, this mysterious woman has always been strongly protected by Alex Rycroft, head of Titanium Security, but there clearly wasn’t anything sexual about it. Since she walked with a limp and had lost her family, something heinous had clearly shaped her in her past. Seeing this beautiful woman rebuff former Force Recon Marine Sean Dunphy (a charming prankster and Zahra’s personality opposite) again and again was both amusing and intriguing since there was more than a frisson of sexual tension there if she cared to move on it. Her cryptology work has always been vital to the firm’s safety and success, but with the terrorist threat having heavily escalated and Zahra specifically in danger, Sean Dunphy decides he is not going to leave her alone, and that he’s also going to use his proximity to get behind those shields of hers.

What he discovers is an unbelievably brave person who has faced death at the hands of those people she most wanted to trust, but who still found the courage to follow her dream, even though it came at an incredibly high cost. Sean decides that Zahra is the person meant for him right around the time that the threat to Titanium Security escalates into a situation that feels like deja vu for Zahra, and it is going to take everything Sean has to keep her safe.

Sean is not just unbelievably sexy (like, melt-your-underwear-sexy) but he’s so protective and tender with Zahra, despite her initial prickliness, that you are reduced to a puddle while reading about him. When you find out just what this poor woman has been through – and how she channelled all her reaction into working for the good guys – you just want to be her best friend (and tell her to go for Sean, already!). Cross develops the threat as she always does, on two levels – the local sleeper cell manipulated by the big bad boss from afar as well as what’s happening back in Pakistan. Like any good writer, you understand how the master villain really does see himself as the hero of the series, but that only makes his evil more chilling. Cross has a deft hand in writing not only fundamentalist Muslims bent on terrorist activity as our villains, but also writing the three-dimensional, very modern Zahra who has rejected the dictates of the fundamentalist interpretation of her religion while still being a spiritual person who loves Islam.

Extinguished (Titanium Security #4 – Blake and Jordyn) by Kaylea Cross (November 20, 2013)

In the latest book, Extinguished, we get to see where Sean’s good friend, the strong and silent sniper, Blake Ellis, went when the team decided that they needed to add another member who was good with guns and machinery. Blake has had to face some demons, namely one hot former Marine, Jordyn Bridger.

Jordyn is the younger sister of Blake’s best friend who died six months ago in combat. The Bridger family has always been Blake’s extended family as well, but he’s had very non-brotherly feelings for Jordyn for a few years now. He’s done a good job hiding them from her, at least until she broke down after her brother’s funeral and a session of comforting turned into a hot kiss that rocked Blake’s world. Worried he had betrayed his friendship with her and his former friend, he fled and has been out of contact ever since.

Jordyn can’t believe when she slides out from under one of the cars in her father’s shop that Blake has the gall to be standing there, offering her a job. She’s been in love with him for years, even having to suffer through his idiotic infatuation with the trashy Melissa who he almost married until she dumped him when he was overseas. That he respects her work enough to unequivocally recommend her for this position is a balm to her shredded heart, but she’s not sure she can move past how he gutted her – first by leaving after the kiss she’d been dreaming about for most of her life, and second by apologizing to her about it. Men!

Nevertheless, she does take the job since it would feel good to dust off some of her abilities in the field. When Jordyn finally tells Blake in Pakistan that they are fine and he shouldn’t worry about their relationship, she understands if he doesn’t feel anything more than friendship for her, Blake feels like his world just tilted on its axis. Jordyn has feelings for him, and he’s been an unobservant idiot apparently for years. Despite the fact they are stuck in tight quarters and facing death every time they walk out the door, Blake is determined that nothing is going to keep him from claiming her as his – not even a very determined terrorist.

Wow and double wow. Jordyn is awesome, fitting into the team very easily since both Blake and Sean Dunphy are friends of hers from the Marines and they know her ability behind a gun or buried to the elbows in an engine. When Sean gets hurt (and I’m going to have insomnia until the next book comes out and I know if he’s going to be okay), Jordyn has to go in the field with Blake and they are terrific team. Their hot first time in the ammunition closet had me wondering at the fact that all those incendiary devices didn’t explode from the heat, however! The next book featuring head of the firm, Alex Rycroft, and the woman whose life he ruined four years ago (but never stopped loving) is going to be as amazing as the first four! When is it coming????

Because this series has been self-published (and I bet most readers don’t even realize it, considering how well-written and edited it is, as well as the outstanding cover designs which exceed the anemic offerings of so many publishing houses), we are fortunate to have a rapid timeframe for each succeeding novel, so my fingers are crossed that there will be a December or January timeframe for Alex’s book. Kaylea Cross has written another wonderful, suspenseful series which manages to prove why she is on my “must-buy” list!

Happy reading!

Kaylea Cross’ Latest, Lethal Pursuit, Puts Her Among the Best Writers of Military Suspense

1 Oct

Lethal Pursuit (Bagram Special Ops #3 – Maya and Jackson) by Kaylea Cross (Carina Press, September 16, 2013)

There are times where some authors become my best kept secret, and that’s totally unfair. The point of this blog is to highlight the best romance writing (in my humble opinion) and Kaylea Cross definitely falls into that category. In terms of military romance, Cross is on par with the powerhouses of Catherine Mann and M. L. Buchman, so if you enjoy those authors, take a look at one of Cross’ many military romantic suspense series.

The latest book in her wonderful Bagram Ops series, is Lethal Pursuit, and – wow – was I impressed! I literally could not put this book down because of the unbelievable suspense plot which parallels the growing feelings of the hero and heroine.

Lethal Pursuit stars the tough Security Forces Lt. Maya Lopez, who is an utter badass as she breaks up fights and provides security detail, despite her petite frame. Maya has come from an extremely tough background and only through the sacrifices of her dead sister did she manage to excel in school and win a place at the Air Force Academy. She believes strongly in her warrior code and wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize the respect she has earned, respect she exercises every day at her post in Afghanistan.

Deadly Descent (Bagram Special Ops #1 – Devon and Cam) by Kaylea Cross (Carina Press, 2011)

But temptation exists in the form of Pararescueman and Texas hottie Jackson Thatcher. There has been serious sexual tension between these two in the previous books in the series, but it all explodes on these pages. Unfortunatley Jackson is enlisted, and the military has a pretty firm no-fraternization rule. Maya doesn’t think this is a problem since she has a brief fling in mind, just enough to get this slow-talking, Spanish-speaking man out of her system.

Jackson naturally has other ideas. He’s a romantic and even though he feels used by their first encounter, he can see through Maya enough to understand that whatever baggage she’s carrying, she needs to understand what the two of them could be together. Before they can even get a real relationship off the ground, they are captured along with a major government official and held hostage. Their fight for survival will either bind them together or drive them apart as they battle to escape from the heart of enemy territory.

Tactical Strike (Bagram Special Ops #2 – Candace and Ryan) by Kaylea Cross (Carina Press, March 2013)

Oh. My. God. I want to say off the bat that I enjoyed the previous two books in this series so much – Deadly Descent and Tactical Strike – and I love Cross’ trope of a tough, capable female officer finding a (enlisted) man who finally pushes all her buttons physically and emotionally. But this book was off the charts, not just for the two characters who I adored but for the pulse-pounding hostage story. Be warned, there is some scary torture in this book, but it’s worth reading as it gives amazing insight into the heart of what defines Maya and Jackson as individuals. From a feminist standpoint, it was terrific to read a book in which the man didn’t ultimately become the rescuer – Maya was the real hero, even though they leaned on each other a lot at various points. It’s only right that he calls her a superhero to his nephews and they look at her with such awe and respect.

While you by no means need to read the previous books in the series, I think you would 1) enjoy them tremendously and 2) find them incredibly affordable. Right now, Deadly Descent is on deep discount at only $.99 (whoo-hoo!) and Tactical Strike is a mere $2.99. Lethal Pursuit is a few cents more at $3.03 on Amazon, so you are looking at 700+ pages for the cost of one traditionally priced paperback from Mann or Buchman (granted each of their novels is probably longer, but mainly their cost comes from the bigger publishers they work through). Carina Press thankfully always keeps their books affordable, so Kaylea Cross ends up being an cost-effective indulgence.

The reason that I put Kaylea Cross on the same plane as Catherine Mann or M. L. Buchman is due to her fantastic research regarding the military piece of her writing. There are more than a few military romances where the author is just phoning in the details and you can tell as a reader, even when you aren’t an expert. Maybe this is my librarian showing, but Kaylea Cross seamlessly utilizes her research until I’m ready to believe her home base is somewhere in Kandahar in a repurposed shipping container with other military women. You can get a small inkling of her enthusiasm, particularly for pararescuemen, with her recent post on Carina’s blog “Why I Have  a Crush on All Pararescuemen.” This is someone with a strong respect and love for the military.

Please, if you enjoy military romance and have not had the opportunity to read any of Kaylea Cross’ books, run, don’t walk to your nearest ebookstore and download a few of them. You will be as thrilled as I was to find such an amazing writer turning out one terrific book after another, starring the men and women of our military.

Countdown to Christmas: Three Authors Give Us Sweet Animals and a Little Romance in Rescuing Christmas

4 Dec
Rescuing Christmas with novellas by Vicki Lewis Thompson, Catherine Mann and Kathie DeNosky (Harlequin Special Release, November 1, 2012)

Rescuing Christmas with novellas by Vicki Lewis Thompson, Catherine Mann and Kathie DeNosky (Harlequin Special Release, November 1, 2012)

Stick a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy on the cover of the book, and you’ve just successfully suckered me into reading it. Add a kitten and I’ll sit and read it in one sitting!

When assembling their team for Rescuing Christmas, Harlequin picked three authors more than familiar with animals and the role they can play in a romance. You want a four-legged friend to be an actual character and hopefully add comic relief or poignancy to the story, but not be so amazing that they are more compelling than the hero/heroine and steal the show.

Not only should the cover’s cuteness factor be a clue, but the lack of bare male torso or entangled bodies is a definite indication that this collection of three novellas falls on the mild end of the sensuality rating scale. Our heroes and heroines definitely fall into bed with one another, but it’s very tasteful, non-explicit sex which is always referred to as “lovemaking”. This is the kind of romance it’s safe to get your aunt or grandmother who you know reads romances, but you’re not sure if they run to the emotional but vague sex or the “fan yourself while drinking a quart of ice water” sex. There’s a little heat, lots of emotion and enough euphemisms (but not too many) that you could read this out loud at a DAR party if everyone had a couple glasses of wine in them.

If that relative is an animal lover, go buy them this today as the ideal stocking stuffer, maybe with a donation to the local Humane Society in their name to accompany it, because the story arc for this book is all about rescuing animals. All three couples are affected in one form or another by their association with the neighborhood rescue society, populated by good-hearted workers and even sweeter animals. With animals from the shelter as key characters in each story, dogs and cats are used to good effect to highlight the fears or second chances the humans face as well. Take a closer look at each novella.

“Holiday Haven” by Vicki Lewis Thompson

Vicki Lewis Thompson sets the tone for the volume with the first novella. Cameraman Ben Rhodes is riveted to his lens when the beautiful shelter director, Tansy Dexter, steps on the set with two dogs, ready to talk about the shelter foster program for the holidays. He tries to steer clear of adorable animals and women with sparkling blue eyes because both are trouble – it’s easier to keep things light and easy. But he can’t help but volunteer his services to do some promo shots of the shelter for the network’s pro bono fundraising campaign and the more time he spends with Tansy, the less able he is to stay away.

Vicki Lewis Thompson's Sons of Chance series is published by Harlequin's Blaze line and has a much hotter sensuality level

Vicki Lewis Thompson’s Sons of Chance series is published by Harlequin’s Blaze line and has a much hotter sensuality level

Tansy doesn’t lie to herself that she’s more than a little in lust with this talented hunk of a man who is being so generous with his time and expertise to help her struggling shelter. Her heart and body leap when Ben is around and her shelter friends and co-workers are telling her to take a chance on him. But seeing how he denies his affection for the dogs and cats around them is a warning flag – he can’t find it in his heart to be around animals, obviously hurt from something in his past. Unfortunately, putting the animals’ needs first is part and parcel of her job, and if Ben can’t open his heart to one of them, he’s certainly not going to let her inside.

I liked Tansy a lot and loved her foster dogs, Ewok and Wookie. Thompson made Ben’s difficult past very clear, making it easy to get a read on his emotional scars, but I found his overreaction to her question after they made love to be a little far-fetched. Nevertheless, they bounce back from it and the ending had a nice resolution and did a good job setting the stage for the other two stories.

“Home for Christmas” by Catherine Mann

I’m a big fan of Catherine Mann, particularly her fabulous Elite Force series, so I was thrilled to see her playing to her strengths with a military hero and good-hearted heroine in this novella.

One of the less cheesy covers from the Wingmen Warriors series. This novella coincides with this series now being rereleased in ebook form. The books are so highly rated I think I'll be trying a few of them!

One of the less cheesy covers from the Wingmen Warriors series. This novella coincides with this series now being rereleased in ebook form. The books are so highly rated I think I’ll be trying a few of them!

Long-standing fans of this author, particularly those who have enjoyed her Wingmen Warriors series published in the early 2000s by Silhouette, will find a lot to love about this story. Shelby Conrad (the now grown-up daughter of one of the Wingmen Warrior heroes) is meeting her husband Sergeant Alex Conrad after his latest deployment, despite the fact that this is going to be their last Christmas together. After years of infertility treatments and miscarriages, she found out that Alex had started volunteering for deployment. He said it was for the extra money for her treatments but Shelby knew it was also so he could get away and not face their problems. Since she’s still in love with him, a divorce seems to be the only option rather than watch him driven into danger as he tries to avoid her.

Alex has always known that Shelby was too good for him. He had a crappy childhood while she comes from a real family. After they eloped in college, he figured he could at least give her the family she always wanted, but not even that dream was realized. When Shelby insists that he not be alone this Christmas and asks if he would end their marriage on a positive note by helping her take a trip delivering three shelter dogs to their new forever homes, he agrees to do it. Being with her and not touching her will be agony, but he’s not letting her traipse across country on her own meeting strangers to hand over the dogs.

Catherine Mann has the gift of letting a reader into the innermost psychology of her characters and this excellent story is no exception. I have to let you know that I usually choose not to read stories about second chance lovers or a reuniting husband and wife, just because it’s so painful to see two people overcome damage in their relationship. Yet, Mann makes me love both characters so much that I immediately begin rooting for them. Seeing their happy ever after, along with that of the black labrador puppy, Daisy, made this my favorite story of the anthology.

“A Puppy for Will” by Kathie DeNosky

One of Kathie DeNosky's Harlequin Desire novels.

One of Kathie DeNosky’s Harlequin Desire novels.

A well-established Harlequin Desire author, Kathie DeNosky was someone I hadn’t read before. She picks up the rescue thread by introducing Will Parker, grandson of shelter worker Rose Parker who played matchmaker between Tansy and Ben in the first story. The reader sees Will walk into the shelter as Alex and Shelby are loading the dogs up to go on their road trip. Will can’t deny his grandmother anything and finds himself promising to foster a puppy over the holiday, although it’s the last thing this busy programmer wants to do. When the “puppy” turns out to be a 50 pound, Bernese Mountain Dog/Saint Bernard Mix, he wonders if this is more than he bargained for.

Returning home to his floating houseboat, he is surprised to see a beautiful strawberry blond woman at his door, one who is clearly startled by the rambunctious pony/dog he’s fostering. Macie Fairbanks introduces herself as his new neighbor who is throwing a holiday party and inviting everyone in the marina over. Will’s sworn off relationships since his cheating wife left three years ago, but there’s something about Macie that calls to him. When Harley keeps getting loose and dragging Macie to his rescue, Will seizes the chance for something more.

Macie can’t believe she didn’t realize how gorgeous her neighbor is, but she’s still smarting over her lying fiancee dumping her a year ago for his leggy secretary. When she finds out the hunk next door is the Will Parker, the programmer she’s been paid to review under a pseudonym (and some of her reviews have been inflammatory, to say the least), her non-disclosure clause forbids her from saying anything without losing her job. But how can she explore this fragile new feeling between them and not lose his trust?

For some reason, Will and Macie’s falling in love felt a little quick to me. I also struggled with the “programmer” part of Will’s job – he was working on a “graphics program” but he also wrote the shelter database from scratch? That seemed unlikely. Luckily Harley is the best dog EVER and I was ready to drive to their dock and simply adopt him myself so these two people could be left to their love fest.

This anthology is a sweet, light trio of romances for animal lovers looking for stories combining happily ever afters for animals and for people. Here’s hoping your favorite animal group can benefit from the reminder about remembering our four-footed friends during the holiday season!

Catherine Mann Celebrates Sexy Prodigies with An Inconvenient Affair

24 Oct

An Inconvenient Affair (Alpha Brotherhood #1 – Troy and Hillary’s story) by Catherine Mann (Harlequin Desire, August 1, 2012)

Sometimes I’m browsing NetGalley to see what the various publishers are up to, and mostly I feel like I’m just skimming the book covers, reacting to the images. Every now and then, though, I catch a glimpse of an author I love and everything comes to a screeching halt as I fervently press the “Request” button and pray that I’ll get to take a look at their latest offering.

I almost broke my enter key when I spotted Catherine Mann‘s name!

And not just her name, but the fact that this book indicates a new series, one published under the Harlequin Desire line. You might remember that I adore her Elite Force series, since she writes with an amazing balance of compelling lead characters, great minor characters, and outstanding technical information that makes the plot oh-so-believable.

But how would she translate to category romance? Contemporary romance often crosses over into the category romance subgenre, which simply means that major publishers, like Harlequin and Mills & Boon, produce large numbers of shorter romance novels (this one is 190 pages), releasing a certain number of titles each month in given “categories” (like medical romance, etc.). I find myself very picky about who I read in category romance, simply because the brevity of the novels often means that the plot stays relatively superficial, with one main conflict, barely developed characters, and an unsatisfying ending.

My great news for you is that you don’t have to worry about those shortcomings with Catherine Mann. Yes, this novel is not as in depth as her other work, but in 190 pages (versus 347 pages for one of her Elite Force books), it’s understandable that we don’t have a ton of minor characters with their own plot lines and romances.

What we do enjoy are interesting, three-dimensional main characters wrestling with real issues while being swept out of their comfort zone in their reaction to one another. Troy Donovan was a hacker prodigy from rich, indolent parents and his devastating break into the Department of Defense computer system would have landed an older kid into a federal penitentiary. But Troy ends up instead in a tough military school run by the hard but fair Captain Salvatore, who doesn’t plan on letting him get away with anything. Finally finding friends among the brilliant and troubled kids in the school, Troy founds the “Alpha Brotherhood” with them, forming a club comprised of capable, damaged geniuses. As they age and meet with tremendous success financially, they are still called upon to do international spying and government work occasionally at the behest of the same former headmaster, Salvatore.

Hillary Wright is on a plane bound for Chicago to help the government identify the business partner of her former boyfriend, both of whom were responsible for embezzling thousands of dollars from scholarship funds. She’s sickened by both their behavior and her own gullibility – she thought she left the Vermont farm of her childhood long behind her, but it seems her trust in others has bit her in the butt. Again. When she feels attraction for her handsome and charming seat mate on the plane, she’s hesitant to do anything but talk, knowing how bad a judge of character she is. When he’s taken off the plane in handcuffs, she’s shocked at how nothing ever goes right for her and at the sudden recognition that the man with whom she felt such a strong connection was none other than millionaire software developer and playboy, Troy Donovan!

All or Nothing (Alpha Brotherhood #2 – Conrad and Jayne’s story) by Catherine Mann (Harlequin Desire, January 1, 2013)

But Troy outwitted Salvatore, who didn’t want Troy and Hillary to meet until the party, deliberately putting himself next to Hillary to gauge her personality. After reading her file, he had a feeling that she was an innocent in more need of protection than she was going to get and after feeling the heat between them and enjoying her refreshing skepticism and honesty, he knows he was right on the money. The handcuffs were merely a stunt for the bachelor auction for the Chicago party he and Hillary are both attending, but she feels additionally duped and lied to when she has the epiphany that Troy works for Salvatore as well and she is just a job to him. But as they trot all over the globe, falling deeper and deeper in love and lust with one another, both these damaged individuals realize they are in way over their head.

For such a brief number of pages, I was impressed at how Mann was able to compress so much character development into them. Troy’s home life is nothing short of child neglect and Hillary has run as fast as she could from her home in Vermont and from a mother in and out of rehab. Yet both are able to have close relationships – Troy with the “Alpha Brotherhood” and Hillary with her sister – so there is potential for them to love and care for another person. Mann does a good job of drawing a psychological profile, while regularly showing how Hillary can’t help being caring (no matter what her inner voice might be warning against) and Troy can’t help treasuring her and trying to make her happy. Their flaws are understandable and work well for the plot and conflict, and I found myself rooting for them to face their inner demons so they could be with each other already!

The Alpha Brotherhood series device was actually quite refreshing. Rather than the typical security company or brothers-in-arms, the idea of men who became friends while still extremely young and immature, bound together by the shared conditions of military school and their child prodigy status, is a terrific idea and one that lets Mann operate a little out of the box. We get a glimpse of Troy’s friends – Hughes, the economics genius turned Monte Carlo casino owner and the man known as “Mozart,” the music prodigy now a sexy cross between Harry Connick Jr. and Michael Buble. Both are also spies, and for Hughes, it destroyed his marriage, yet for each other, they’ll do anything.

With books this short, you basically fall in love a little with the protagonists (versus head over heels in love with the characters in Mann’s longer books) and sacrifice the fabulous technical details like those in the Elite Force series. Yet, at under $4 for the Kindle version of these books, they are a terrific value since they offer a wonderful escape to a jet-setting world (it is Harlequin, after all) with flawed heroes and heroines who nevertheless deserve to be loved.

The next book, to be published January 1st (see above book cover), is to feature Conrad Hughes and his estranged wife, Jayne, and I’m guessing that Playing for Keeps, listed on the series page on Goodreads as due out in April, will be Mozart’s love story. I’ve already pre-ordered Hughes’ book and am looking forward to enjoying the rest of the Alpha Brotherhood. Thanks, Catherine, for giving us these sexy prodigies to fall for!

Series Review: Elite Force Series by Catherine Mann Is the Best Balance of Romance and Suspense

21 May

So often, the problem with romantic suspense is that it usually leans one way or the other – either the book is primarily romance with a token suspense plot thrown in to keep the conflict going (and you can see the resolution or villian a mile away) or it’s a killer suspense plot with only occasional smooching or a tossed in smoldering look. Either scenario, the reader is left feeling a little crankypants for the book not living up to her expectations.

Catherine Mann’s books will not leave you crankypants.

In fact, speaking as someone who has read (according to my Goodreads account) over 50 romantic suspense novels in the last couple of months, I think Catherine Mann is one of the few authors on the market who has the perfect balance of romance and suspense in her books, particularly those in her Elite Force series.

A major reason for the strength of her writing is Mann’s familiarity with her material. A military wife of many years, Mann’s husband is an airman, a detail which lends a great deal of veracity to her writing about pararescuemen. In a world of vague allusions to SEALs and special forces, it’s a pleasure to have the details of training, weaponry and large equipment sussed out with such authority. Based on how smoking hot the love scenes are in her books, I’m guessing her marriage is a pretty happy one, too!

Cover Me by Catherine Mann (July 2011, Sourcebooks)

In Cover Me, Pararescuemen Wade Rocha and his team are stationed in Alaska, ready to respond to just about anything. When they receive a call that some people are stranded in the wilderness, they head out to an Aleutian Island. While other team members rescue a couple of hikers, Wade spots another hiker in a different area and jumps down to help.

The only problem is, Sunny Foster really doesn’t need Wade’s assistance. In fact, she’s as competent in the wilderness as he is, a fact he quickly realizes with more than a little chagrin. But they are stuck with each other as Wade is stranded until his team can come back for him, and when he gets a good look at how beautiful Sunny is under all her gear, he’s willing to not have an immediate extraction.

Sunny fights her attraction for the great-looking pararescueman who seems as kind as he is competent, because she has a lot to hide. There’s a reason she is such a terrific wilderness guide – it’s her job to escort departing members of her off the grid ecological community from their sequestered existence to civilization. She knows, all too well, that there are people in her isolated town with good reason to not come to the attention of authorities and Wade constitutes an authority.

When the two of them stumble across a crevasse filled with the dead bodies of the people Sunny has previously helped and bullets start flying, Wade and Sunny realize that they have stumbled on something that endangers them both. Wade knows that there’s no way he’s leaving her alone and Sunny wants to stay with him, even harboring a secret that might make him leave.

What had me reaching for the next book in the series was not only Mann’s page-turning writing, but the fact that her female characters register pretty high on the badass scale. Sunny is amazingly competent and a strong match for Wade, despite her untraditional upbringing. The love scenes are outstandingly hot but emotionally intimate, and you’ll find yourself snapping at loved ones who attempt to interrupt your reading for such mundane topics as financial questions or “what’s for dinner?” inquiries.

Hot Zone by Catherine Mann (December 1, 2011, Sourcebooks)

Mann also deserves major kudos for her fully fleshed out minor characters. Not only does she lay the foundation for future books by focusing on a couple of other squad members who are bound to have  stories themselves, but she always includes a subplot (in Cover Me‘s case, Sunny’s sister and the man she’s been in love with for years) of a couple who are also brought together in the same timeline, having their own bumps along the road to happily ever after. The fact that she can do this and manage to not detract from the larger story is nothing short of tremendous.

In Hot Zone, our wonderful pararescuemen, now stationed in Florida, are coming to the aid of victims of a big earthquake in the Bahamas, but they don’t find an island paradise. Master Sergeant Hugh Franco is crawling through rubble to a trapped woman with a baby. Captivated in the dark and dust by a beautiful pair of eyes and brave soul, Hugh finds himself drawn to a woman in a way he hasn’t been since the loss of his wife and child years ago. He’s acquired a deserved reputation for being an adrenaline junkie with a death wish, but suddenly there is something else, a lot more frightening, he’s running toward.

Lawyer Amelia Bailey is terrified and in a lot of pain but is managing to keep it together for her newly adopted thirteen month old nephew fitfully breathing alongside her. When the gorgeous pararescueman arrives to save her, she chalks her startling feelings of attraction up to the situation and his kindness. She’s sworn off relationships after her cheating ex and, right now, her focus is on the new baby and finding her brother and his wife. As Hugh and she find reasons to see each other in the disaster zone while searching for her new nephew’s parents, what’s between them grows rather than diminishes. When Amelia finds herself and her nephew in mortal danger from an unforeseen enemy, Hugh faces the knowledge that this is one woman who he will not let go without a fight.

When I say this book is heart-stopping, I mean it. The scenes of Amelia and Hugh trapped in the rubble with aftershocks happening around them as the toddler’s condition worsens had me stopping reading to go gulp a glass of water and control my nerves. While Amelia is not the survivalist Sunny is in the previous book, she has her own brand of bravery that is incredibly appealing. Our secondary couple is Amelia’s brother and sister-in-law who, despite being in the Bahamas to adopt their son, are going through some serious marital problems. We get to see their journey to resolution while also getting a peek at the burgeoning romance between Major Liam McCabe and the sassy canine search and rescue worker who intrigues him.

Under Fire by Catherine Mann (May 1, 2012, Sourcebooks)

Because of my love for Liam, I was ecstatic when I discovered that the third book in the series would focus on him. Liam and his overwhelming attraction to Rachel Flores, the canine search and rescue handler in Cover Me, was a subplot that I enjoyed as much as the main couple. In Under Fire, Liam is still smarting from six months of unreturned phone calls to Rachel, who has clearly decided that the thrice-married and divorced Liam is too much of a risk.

Liam has always known he falls in love too easily and for the wrong reasons, and right now he’s trying to get Rachel Flores out of his mind and heart and concentrate on his upcoming retirement. His 38-year-old body has taken way too much punishment and it’s beginning to put up a major protest. When he gets into his jeep after an exhausting training session, he’s astonished to find Rachel huddled in the back, her arm around one of her rescue dogs. Her terrified expression kicks him into protection mode and he hustles her back to his place to find out what’s going on.

Rachel knows she doesn’t resemble the confident rescue worker who attracted Liam months ago. The earthquake burned her out and she has since turned to using her animals to help former military personnel suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). One of them confessed to her that he had overheard treasonous information on his last assignment, but when she champions his cause and tries to get this shattered man’s information taken seriously, she finds herself under attack. With no one to turn to, she knows that Liam is the one person she can trust, if he can stand seeing her again after she’s ignored him all these months.

Liam is initially not sure if Rachel’s friend is telling the truth or deluded, but he knows that someone has it out for her. Turning to the authorities on his base has them put in a safe house, but Liam gets a tip that the danger is much closer than anyone realizes and is told to run. With the help of his team members, he takes Rachel into hiding where the attraction they’ve both denied for so long becomes an unstoppable force. But Rachel knows the three garters hanging from Liam’s rearview mirror is a reminder that he might not be a good romantic chance to take. Despite acknowledging that he’s previous experiences at falling in love didn’t feel anything like what he feels for Rachel, Liam believes he’s just going to stand in her way when she realizes she’s ready to go back to the search and rescue work that is her first love.

This was my favorite of the series so far, possibly because the dogs make such good minor characters! Liam is smokin’ hot and he and Rachel are perfect for each other, even when you do want to bash their heads together for being so damn difficult about it. Rachel’s friend with PTSD has the great minor romance plot with her dogsitter and we get a view of happily married Wade and Sunny that just makes your heart sing. Please, please let the next book be Cuervo!! He’s so dark and fabulous and want to see him find his happily ever after.

One of my criteria for an author I admire is that I insist they have some kind of presence on the web so I can indulge myself between books. As an author, Catherine Mann appears to have a strong platform, complete with an informative website, active Facebook and Twitter accounts, and you can usually find her giving a live interview in case you want to pepper her with questions about those green foot tattoos on her heroes. Her Goodreads page is a great place to get the order of the books in her various series.

Since her recent books have been published by Sourcebooks, I thought I’d mention the bargain I got in buying Under Fire. Sourcebooks has begun their own reader’s club, Discover a New Love, and while I usually don’t indulge in these types of offers, this publishing house has enough authors I read to make it worthwhile. For a $9.99 six month membership, I get one featured title free each month and a super discount off the list price of other books. I got Under Fire, the latest Kathryne Kennedy book and a new cowboy romance for something like three dollars! (They were ebooks, so no shipping.) I just downloaded them from the website in the Kindle format and sent them to my Kindle account. (Did you know you can do that? Anyone with a Kindle or Kindle app – I use my iPad – has a email address to send items to your Kindle. It’s your amazon username@kindle.com and just embed the pdf or mobi file in the email and wait a few minutes. Voila!)

So if you haven’t read her yet, check out Catherine Mann and this fabulous series in whatever format that floats your boat. You’ll find that the Elite Force series is definitely at the top of the romantic suspense genre.

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