Tag Archives: McKenna

December Holiday Read-a-thon: A Proposal for Christmas Showcases Two Authors With Variable Results

4 Dec

A Proposal for Christmas by Linda Lael Miller and Lindsay McKenna (Harlequin, September 24, 2013)

The difficulty of reviewing a holiday romance for every day in December is that you have to read a LOT of holiday romance, and some of them aren’t good. Normally you know that I don’t believe in reviewing books I don’t like but I get a little torn when it comes to anthologies. If one of the stories is amazing, then I want you to know about it, but what if the other isn’t?

This is the dilemma I had with the duo-ology (is that a word?) of Linda Lael Miller and Lindsay McKenna‘s A Proposal for Christmas. I like both of these authors very much, but while each novella felt like a story the author had tucked in a drawer for years, the difference was that Miller’s was both dated and had characters I wanted to dope slap, while McKenna’s story was a heart-warming holiday tale about the healing power of love (and was a little bit dated, but I’m willing to file it under “historical”).

“State Secrets” by Linda Lael Miller

I like Linda Lael Miller’s writing so much that I have no plan to even tell you anything beyond the merest hint of this story, which is actually a full-length novel peripherally involving Christmas. A Secret Service officer is assigned to investigate the third cousin of the president-elect who happens to be a good-looking cookbook author with a brother who is also a former Secret Service agent who is now a drug addict with ties to Al-Qaeda. No, I’m not joking. That IS the plot.

A little research reveals that this story was originally published in 1985 (who wants to guess it was Russians then?) and then reissued in 1999, and maybe that should have been the last time we had to read this puppy. Despite the modern terrorism reference to update the story, no character has a cell phone and a major part of the plot involves an answering machine, yes, of the whirr, click “did you rewind the tape?” variety. I could handle the inconsistency of the dated references juxtaposed against the carefully placed modern insertions, but the characters came off as very unlikeable to me. AND they didn’t give a thought to condoms or birth control and then were incredibly surprised a couple months later. Uh-huh. Did I mention I have have terrible allergies…to stupidity? Hand me an EpiPen, already. Go read Miller’s McKettrick series and wallow in what a terrific writer she can be. This one should have stayed in the drawer.

“Five Days of Christmas” by Lindsay McKenna

Lindsay McKenna – a writer of such renown that she not only served in the Navy during the 1960s but actually is credited with inventing the military romance – provides a fabulous palette cleanser in the form of this novella. McKenna has produced one of the longest running sagas in romance publishing, the Morgan’s Mercenaries series, which is actually divided into multiple subseries and is so complex I require a flowchart to understand it (the Goodreads link here is your best bet for understanding the order). This is clearly what happens though when you’ve written over 100 romance novels!

Rocky Mountains of Montana (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Morgan Trayhern and his wife Laura take seriously the celebration of the holiday in their base of operations, a small town in the Rocky Mountains in Montana. All the employees of the Perseus Black Ops company who find themselves stateside are invited and case in point many of the mercenaries actually have families based in the small town the Trayherns call home. For five days, this family hosts multiple events at their home and the area to get everyone appreciating the holiday spirit.

Originally published in 2001, “Five Days of Christmas” centers on Colt Hamlin, a very tired mercenary with a mild case of PTSD from his multiple missions in Kosovo. He’s been holing up in his condominium and nursing a bottle of Jack Daniels to help with the pain, but it’s not working. When his boss calls to tell him that Colt is needed at the house of the local biology teacher to help with the preparations, a disgruntled grizzly would look more charming in comparison. But one look at the fiery-haired woman who answers the door and Colt realizes that something pretty momentous just happened.

Rare orchids play a special part in the story and are a good metaphor for both Abbie – who looks delicate but is strong – as well as the relationship between her and Colt.

Abbie Clemens is only twenty-seven, but she’s well acquainted with pain. Her husband and best friend died two years and since he was a mercenary for Perseus, the Trayherns have always treated her like one of the family. She also helped them with their troubled son Jason, now at the Naval Academy, but she’s never seen someone in more pain than the incredibly handsome Colt when he turns up on her doorstep. She realizes that not only can she see past his surface to the well of pain lying underneath, but that her presence seems to help Colt, hopefully reminding him of all the good things in life.

This was an exquisite tale of love between two people who are so meant for one another that the awkwardness comes from knowing one another so quickly and so well. Colt feels he’s damaged goods and Abbie believes that she’s plumb and plain with little but an empathetic shoulder to offer the good-looking man who is slowly coming back to life. I adored both these characters and was impressed with the many characters and their families clearly accumulated over the decades she’s been writing this series. Even with not having read these books (and that will change, let me inform you now), I could easily pick up on the past storylines and character dynamics, making this tale (of which the miracle of Christmas features heavily) a true favorite.

Worth Putting Under the Tree?

At around $8.57 for the Kindle edition and over $12 for the hardcover (what is Harlequin thinking?), I would recommend this for Morgan’s Mercenaries fans in ebook form or simply as a requested book from your local public library or used book dealer. I’m so glad I read the McKenna novella that I can certainly recommend the book from that angle, but Miller fans will want to stick with her other excellent work and not demoralize themselves with this particular story.

Fatal Strike by Shannon McKenna Shoots for Heart with Pulse-Pounding Romantic Suspense

11 Oct

Fatal Strike (McClouds & Friends #10) by Shannon McKenna (Kensington, September 24, 2013)

I’m finding that the authors who emerge as some of my favorite writers are ones who aren’t afraid to push the category envelope. Whether it’s the explosion of ebooks which allows publishers to promote new novels under a variety of categories (versus the bookstore model where there was only one shelf a book could sit upon) or just reader demand, stories that involve multiple elements make me putty in the hands of a good writer.

Shannon McKenna’s McClouds & Friends series is just such an example. I fell in love with a NetGalley copy of One Wrong Move, instantly intrigued by her combination of romantic suspense, paranormal elements and an alpha hero teetering on the edge of asshole. Her writing is tight and suspenseful with McKenna unhesitant in continuing detailed story arcs of villainous bad guys and their evil henchmen who must fall (or at least retreat) in the face of the McClouds and their allies in each book in the series.

Fatal Strike not only met all my expectations but it melted my inner marshmallow with the evolved hero, Miles. It’s been easy to love gentle Miles over the series as he assisted the McClouds with his high tech wizardry and suffered at the hands of McCloud in-law, the slutty Cindy, who would always cheat on him until he cut her loose. But the final showdown in One Wrong Move left Miles in a coma after brutal torture with psi-powers and he has emerged a changed man.

In his opinion, it’s not been a change for the better. His psi-ability is now off the charts, and while he has invented an elaborate shield in his mind in an attempt to initially protect himself (and now to control his ability), he nevertheless is constantly being fed physical and environmental data that has elevated him from techno-geek to official badass, finally unleashing all the skills the McClouds have attempted to teach him for his own protection over the years.

The only thing that makes him feel better as he lives in the wild and hide from his friends is when the image of Lara Kirk – the woman Miles searched for over the course of months and never found – slips right through his defenses and comes to visit. She’s a beautiful dream and one so erotic that their encounters exceed any actual physical sex he’s ever had, but she’s also a symbol of how crazy he’s become and her recurring presence has him pondering how long he has before his friends have to commit him to a mental hospital.

One Wrong Move (McClouds & Friends #9) by Shannon McKenna (Kensington, June 2013)

A major wrinkle in his thinking is that Lara is not a dream. By focusing on her over all those months of searching, Miles unknowingly created a back door for her to enter his mental refuge and his shield is just that – a refuge of safety – to Lara as well. She’s being held and tortured with psi-drugs developed by a man bent on “saving humanity” from itself, and part of that plan appears to be unleashing Lara’s powers. She doesn’t know who the erotic sex god who occupies this lovely Citadel is exactly, but he’s the only thing that helps her cling to sanity.

It’s only when a series of events reveals to each of them that this isn’t fantasy – the realization which helps Miles free Lara from her prison – that their dream world becomes a living nightmare. Because even with their strong psychic connection and intense physical attraction, a man continues to stalk them, bent on using both of them to kill thousands if not millions of people.

Is there anything sexier than the geek turned total alpha hottie? (Don’t answer. That was a rhetorical question.) Of course not! Miles, who we know is a love of a guy, is so damaged and yet trying to do the right thing even when no one around him understands, that your heart breaks right at the beginning of this book. I found myself clinging to Lara as much as Miles did because I understood that to each of these broken people, the other person was going to be their refuge and their salvation.

McKenna’s ebook bundles of the early books in the series are terrific deals in your local library isn’t carrying them (or you just want them on your ereader!).

Lara was a terrific heroine who had just as pure a heart as Miles and yet whose fragility masks intense strength, even when she wasn’t ready to see it herself. I love it that she always called Miles on his bullshit (McKenna never writes a hero who doesn’t at some point turn into a complete asshole – for good reasons in his head, but still) and that she could love him even when she was angry at his behavior. There are a few scenes that make you want them both to see a therapist, but they are luckily the work of the situation and hardly a permanent dynamic. McKenna also possess a real talent for the three-dimensional villain, who has you understanding his twisted motives even while you’re busy hating his nefarious plans.

I’m sure with Fatal Strike the tenth book in this long-running series some readers might be hesitant about jumping in. Don’t be. McKenna has the talent of writing each of her books in such a way that while you recognize other characters clearly have their own back story, you do not need to have read those books in order to appreciate the novel in question. Fans of the series will love the appearance of so many of the previous couples and their burgeoning families, however, with their presence much more visible than in One Wrong Move.

It’s worth mentioning that McKenna has bundles of the first books in the series available for ereaders, with the first five going for under $15 or the first seven books costing a smidgen over $20, both excellent deals as her books run in the 350 to 400 page range. I think readers who love paranormal psychic storylines and/or lovers of romantic suspense will both find so much to admire and enjoy in Shannon McKenna’s McClouds & Friends series. Walk don’t run to your bookseller or library to pick up a copy!

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