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Kaylea Cross

REVIEW:  The Vacant Chair by Kaylea Cross

REVIEW: The Vacant Chair by Kaylea Cross

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The Civil War has torn Brianna Taylor’s family apart and made her a widow. Determined to ease the suffering of the wounded crowding the Union hospitals and honor the memory of the man she loved, she embarks on a career as a nurse. But then he arrives—a patient who makes her feel alive again in spite of her resolve to stay detached.
Captain Justin Thompson understands the cost of war all too well, yet he felt compelled to fight for the Union his father died defending. Wounded at Cold Harbor and left to die at a military hospital, he owes his life to Brianna, who seems determined to guard her professional boundaries despite his best efforts to breach them. Just as he’s winning the battle for her heart, he’s forced to return to the front of a cruel war that could very well separate them forever.

Dear Ms. Cross,

I can’t recall where I first heard of your historical book, “The Vacant Chair,” but what got me interested in trying it is the fact that both lead characters are Union sympathizers. Usually it’s Union x Confederate, and I’ll admit that I’ve read my fair share of those books, but I thought it would be nice to see what could be done with both hero and heroine pulling and working for the same side.

One thing I definitely like about the book is that it uses some battles not generally seen in most Civil War books I’ve read. Yeah, Sherman in Georgia gets a mention and at the end Justin worries about General Johnston still on the loose in North Carolina but though most of the fighting is done in Virginia it’s the Battle of the Wilderness, Cold Harbor, Cedar Creek and the siege of Richmond that take center place.

Since parts of the book actually take place during battle,s and don’t just mention afterwards that characters were there, I wasn’t surprised that descriptions were blunt as to the level of violence occurring. The action that Justin and his men take part in to hunt down Mosby’s men in Virginia is equally chilling when they finally capture and execute them. War is awful and you portray both the emotional as well as the physically damaging effects. I was surprised when one secondary character dies but given the number of people the characters know who are in arms, it would probably have been unrealistic for them all to make it through.

Brianna is a nurse and Justin is an officer and I was glad to see both of them at work. Brianna doesn’t merely wipe fevered brows, give men sips of water and write letters home – she actually does nursing work and hard, dirty, exhausting and heartbreaking work it is. Like all good nurses I know, she cares passionately for her patients, toils tirelessly at her job and tries to learn all she can to be even better at it tomorrow. Justin is not only admired by the men he leads into combat but is just as determined to lead them all out again. He’s steady under fire and obeys orders to either hold his ground or charge straight at the Rebs. He’s also sickened by war and the wasted lives it’s left behind.

I appreciate that both Brianna and Justin have suffered during the war both in what they’ve seen and dealt with and from the loss of those they love. Nightmares, haunted eyes and alcohol all come into play and thank you for not having love conquer all PTSD. The book also shows how horribly the war losses resonated on the home front and one of the debilitating ways 19th women coped via laudanum. There were also two points in the book where I braced myself for some good, old fashioned yet despised romance tropes which thankfully didn’t occur. My sigh of relief when expected paths were not trodden down was enormous.

I did wonder at how easily Brianna seems to traipse back and forth across Union and Confederate lines as she’s going into and out of Richmond. Some of the language seemed too modern to me as Brianna talks about giving Justin “space” to grieve and how she thinks being around his desolate mother is “toxic” for him. It’s not so much that the rest of the dialog or writing is especially period so perhaps you were going for use of understandable modern vernacular.

Since Justin and Brianna admit their mutual admiration followed by love fairly early in the book, the tension is generally maintained by their separation and fear for each other – Brianna for Justin at the front lines and he for her in Richmond surrounded by Union troops and lacking food and medicine. While the war was raging, there was enough drama that my attention was caught and held. But I’ll be honest and say that at the unfortunate post-war posting for the 5th Michigan, my interest began to lag.

I appreciate all that you did include about the more unpleasant and difficult aspects of war and separation. Your research appears to be thorough and period feel good. I just wish the final bits of the story had maintained the dramatic intensity the book started with. B-

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  Lethal Pursuit by Kaylea Cross

REVIEW: Lethal Pursuit by Kaylea Cross

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Dear Ms. Cross:

I’ve read the first in the Bagram Special Ops series but not the second. What I liked about the first one is present in this story. There is a strong female lead.  This time the heroine is Security Forces Lieutenant Maya Lopez, which I understand to essentially be a police officer on base as well as assisting in directing and coordinating safety for deployed military. The hero is pararescue jumper Jackson Thatcher. They have the hots for each other despite their disparate rank. She’s an officer; he’s an enlisted.  I worried that this conflict was going to be a repeat of book one which featured a female officer fighting her attraction because of the non fraternity policy in the military.  Thankfully that is not the issue that both keeps Jackson and Maya apart.

The two of them are kidnapped along with the Secretary of Defense by an Afghan warlord and they must escape and get to freedom. (I don’t think this is a spoiler because it is in the excerpt at Author Website).

The things I liked about the book was the realism of the war setting. I felt like I was there and amidst the action. Maya is shown as capable and good at her job.  The action and adventure part of the book was the strongest. Maya’s difficulty with relationships was also well conveyed.  Jackson is a good ol’ southern boy who plays the piano and sings like a dream.  Jackson repeatedly tells us that he is an enlightened male who was raised in a female household. He respects Maya but he doesn’t feel comfortable with her protecting him.  In fact, this is something that is almost thematic.  During a late shoot out, he is angered by Maya’s actions. I didn’t get a sense from the story that she was taking chances that she wasn’t capable of executing and certainly a male character doing this wouldn’t have been dressed down. Or so it seemed to me.

After they are captured, Jackson, Maya and the Secretary of Defense endure repeated acts of brutality.  These scenes may be too graphic for some readers and while they made the incarceration real, that Maya was never raped seemed almost a cop out given all the other things she had to endure.

In the first in the series there were scenes from the Afghans’ point of view – the ones who are trying to kill Americans. That was my least favorite part in book one and it’s my least favorite part of this book. I didn’t understand the purpose of putting those scenes in. By positioning the Afghans as the villains and peppering all their speech with religious mandates, I felt like I was party to something distasteful. The US military was shown giving medical aid and handing out food.  The Afghans are shown as radicalized religious fanatics determined to hurt people until the Americans were expelled from their soil. There are actually two leaders in the Afghan tribe and one leader is more “sympathetic” than the other.  And yes, he’s not a true Afghan. That was even more troubling for me. If we were supposed to feel sympathy for them, then I think a less fanatical representation of their culture would be more useful. In all, I just wish those scenes were excluded. They didn’t add to the suspense and I felt like they detracted from the romance.

While I appreciate that these are gritty stories set in Afghanistan and are trying to present a realistic picture of what it means to be in war, I think that the romance took a back seat to the action storyline. There wasn’t enough emotional romance in the story for me and while I understood objectively how the two are drawn together by their early attraction and then by their subsequent shared trauma, the main focus of the story seemed to be more about the Afghan rebels, the incarceration and escape to safety.  C

Best regards,

Jane

 

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