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REVIEW:  The Only One Who Knows by L.A. Witt and Cat Grant

REVIEW: The Only One Who Knows by L.A. Witt and...

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Bravery is being the only one who knows you’re afraid.
When Navy SEAL training pushed Lieutenant Josh Walker to his limit, Chief David Flint’s stern heart-to-heart—more like boot-to-ass—helped Josh realize his potential. When the holidays found them alone together and sharing a mutual attraction, they couldn’t help breaking a few regulations. And nearly breaking some furniture in the process.
Years after their short-lived fling, Senior Chief Flint returns to SEAL duty and finds himself under the command of the man he’s never been able to forget: Lieutenant Commander Walker. And Josh hasn’t forgotten David, either. Rules be damned, they can’t keep their hands off each other.
Despite their discretion, another SEAL catches on and threatens to expose their relationship, forcing Josh to bend to a blackmailer’s demands to avoid strife within the team just before a dangerous mission. David is the last man he can confide in…and the first to pick up on Josh’s tightly screwed-down stress.
When a life-or-death decision calls Josh’s leadership into question, coming clean could cost him what he values most. His coveted trident…and the man he loves.
WARNING: Contains a pair of Navy SEALs who don’t like playing by the rules, scorching-hot sex between two Alphas who like to be in charge, cursing as only Navy men can curse, lots of camouflage and badassery in the wilds of North Korea, and enough emotion to sink a battleship.

Dear L.A. Witt and Cat Grant,

One day I will understand why so many men in m/m romances (yes, in your book as well) want each other *from the moment they laid their eyes upon each other*. I cannot say that this book has the worst case of Insta!Lust , far from it, since both men did not act on it for some time and I only learn about that fact (that they wanted each other almost right away) when they actually got together. I am not sure why the story would have been worse if they would grew to appreciate each other over the course of training – as tough SEAL instructor and no less tough SEAL trainee (they did, but I am talking about without adding instantly wanting each other to such appreciation), but I can only discuss the story which is written and despite this scenario it really was an enjoyable book overall.

As the blurb tells you Josh Walker and David Flint met when David was an instructor during Josh’s SEAL training. The training details seemed very believable and well researched (and so do the later SEAL life and deployment missions) – from my brief look at SEAL website and Wikipedia anyway, but more importantly I really liked the connection between the men. I did not need them to get in bed, I saw how much David cared for all his trainees including Josh, but I thought that chemistry between him and Josh was really powerful. But when they do get in bed yes, the sex was scorching hot in my opinion.

Three years pass and David and Josh meet again, only now Josh is his commander and David is back for the last years of his career to resume his active duty as a SEAL. Apparently the attraction between them is alive and well and after attempting to ignore it, they decided- well – not to. Despite disregarding all kinds of rules, I actually thought that both men more or less behaved as adults. They made a conscious decision to be discreet but they also seemed completely aware of the risks, so I cut them both some slack in that regard.

But of course in romances if one tries to be discreet, well we know that it usually does not work, and as the blurb tells us another SEAL finds out and starts blackmailing Josh. Now, despite this sounding silly and the guy being an ass, I actually thought that in that particular situation at least his demands made sense. He was not evil (although of course what he was doing was not a good thing), he just was self-serving and wanted something very specific for himself. I actually liked this plot twist very much, because that led to deeper examination of Josh as a team leader, as a SEAL, as a human being. I enjoyed reading about both his doubts and the things he was not uncertain about at all, especially when he was deciding that he was making best decisions for the SEALS in one particular case and then I as a reader was wondering whether he would be forced to reevaluate that in the near future.

The mission was an exciting one to read about – I enjoy action movies a lot and some of it read as scenes from the best of them. I also like to read about bravery and military men helping each other and trying to make sure that everybody makes it home alive even though they know that there is a good chance not everybody will.

Interestingly, even though indeed questions arise about Josh’s leadership during and after the mission, I thought that those were the least troublesome questions Josh should have been asking himself. I questioned him before the mission much more and I will not say why because it will be spoilerish.

I thought the romance kept developing in a very mature, very adult direction even at the end of the story – like both men struggling with the directions where their lives and careers would go from now on. There is a sequel out in March and I hope that it will delve even deeper in that direction.

Grade: B-/B

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REVIEW:  Falling by E.K. Blair

REVIEW: Falling by E.K. Blair

FALLINGDear Ms. Blair,

I read and reviewed the first book in this series, Fading last year. When I heard that there would be a sequel from Ryan’s POV, I was intrigued. I am a bit cynical about romance sequels that tell the same story over from the hero’s perspective, but having liked Fading so much, I was interested enough to want to know what was going on in Ryan’s head during the events in that book (particularly because the storyline had Ryan keeping a secret from Candace for the better part of Fading, albeit one that was pretty obvious to the reader).

The story opens with a prologue; Ryan Campbell is still a teen, and though he doesn’t know it yet it’s the last night of his despised father’s life. Ryan leaves a party where he has taken drugs and hooked up with a random girl and rushes home; he feels that it’s his responsibility to protect his mom from his abusive dad. When he arrives Ryan finds his father beating his mother; in the ensuing altercation, Ryan is actually stabbed and ends up in the emergency room. His drunken father flees in his car, drives into a tree and dies.

The story proper opens on Ryan in the present day – 28 years old and a successful club owner in Seattle. While his career is going great, Ryan’s personal life isn’t so hot – while he has given up his teenaged drug habit, he continues to engage in random hookups with women he doesn’t care about and has only superficial friendships. He’s only too aware of his fear that he might turn out like his father. It’s why, even though he’s close to his married cousin Tori and dotes on her children, he can’t imagine settling down and having kids of his own.

Ryan’s world is upended the night that he hears a woman screaming in the alley outside his club, long after it has closed. He rushes to the alley and finds a man assaulting a naked, bleeding woman. He fights off the attacker, who escapes, and calls 911. The victim is unconscious at this point; Ryan covers her with his shirt and waits for paramedics to arrive.

In the weeks after the attack, Ryan is shaken up by what he’s witnessed. It makes him rethink the meaninglessness he perceives in his own life. He even fears that he is similar in some ways to the rapist; after all, he just uses women. He finds himself halting a quickie with a pretty bartender when memories of the assault flash through his mind.

While he’s working his way through these feelings, Ryan meets Candace, who is working at a coffee shop he stops by one night (the Seattle setting is well represented – everyone drinks a LOT of coffee). He is struck by the barista’s superficial resemblance to the alley rape victim – both are small and brown-haired – but shakes off the eerie feeling, telling himself that it would be too much of a coincidence.

Ryan meets Candace again after he develops a friendship with Mark, whose band plays at Ryan’s club. Candace is best friends with Mark’s newish boyfriend, Jase. Ryan finds himself inexorably drawn to Candace, in spite of the fact that she’s very self-contained and even skittish.

From there, the two develop the same very slow, tentative relationship that readers of Fading will recognize. Honestly, the story is not hugely different as told from Ryan’s POV. The reader does get an insight into what Ryan is thinking during this slow semi-courtship, but none of the thoughts are radical or unexpected.

As he indicated in the previous book, Ryan only became aware that Candace *was* the same person as the alley rape victim when he recognizes the small heart tattoo on her hip. Which may or may not be credible; on the one hand, I understand that it seems like an unlikely coincidence. But on the other hand, so much about Candace – particularly her fear of intimacy and Jase and Mark’s repeated warnings to Ryan that she’s “been through a lot lately” – should spark Ryan’s memories of the initial connection he made between Candace and the rape victim. His inability to make that connection made very little sense. I finally had to put it down to a subconscious refusal to even think about the possibility on Ryan’s part.

Anyway, the discovery that Candace was raped causes Ryan, understandably, a lot of anguish. Not only the knowledge of the trauma that the woman he’s falling in love with has suffered, but his uncertainty about whether to tell Candace who *he* is, and that he was there in the alley. He feels stuck between a rock and a hard place – he knows he’s lying to her (if only by omission), but he also knows that telling her the truth will hurt her.

I could understand why Ryan was so unsure about what to do. It wasn’t like Candace was even remotely open about the rape; when she does eventually tell Ryan about it, he’s only the third person in her life (the other two being Jase and Mark) that knows.

I recall kvetching about Ryan’s attitude towards women in Fading, and it’s an issue for me here, too. Early on, before he meets Candace, he flip-flops between being not too bad, for a lothario, and really kind of ugly. On the one hand, he does show concern about the possibility of a casual hookup becoming too attached; he doesn’t want to lead anyone on. But at other times he characterizes the women he sleeps with as “ditching (their) self-respect”, which I think goes too far. He doesn’t know these women well enough to know why they are having sex with him (maybe they just want sex), so he really doesn’t need to be making moral judgments. He has some crappy, outdated ideas about women and sex that are never really examined, and I wish they had been.

I can often accept ugly attitudes better from a first-person perspective than a third-person one; even if it’s the same character’s POV, first person reinforces for me that it’s a flawed, fallible human being with baggage whose opinions we’re getting, and so I’m a little more forgiving. Third person feels more like the author is making those judgments, and that sometimes bugs me.

At times the stereotypified gender roles aggravated me. Ryan’s Thanksgiving with his family features the women cooking and the men watching football. Later the ladies excitedly get together to plan their Black Friday shopping. Ryan just shakes his head in amusement. Seriously? In any news coverage of Black Friday shoppers I’ve ever seen, men are just as prominently represented as women. But in the somewhat black-and-white world of gender roles in Fading, women just love to shop.

Also, Ryan does go on at length about how tiny and fragile Candace is. Now, this makes a certain amount of sense and is sort of relevant – Candace is a ballerina – but, still, I didn’t need to hear about it all the damn time. She’s small; I get it.

Though I was interested in Falling for the reasons I’ve already mentioned, I was also a little hesitant about reading the same story over from a different POV – might it be boring? I would say no, but honestly it did lag a bit in the middle. Once Ryan’s personality and thoughts are established, and the reader gets a sense of what he’s feeling at some of the key moments we’ve already read once in Fading (and again, there weren’t really any surprises there, not that there had to be), then there isn’t a lot to look forward to.

Events in Falling do extend beyond the ending of Fading, and that was both a good thing and a bad thing. It wrapped up Ryan and Candace’s romance with a definite HEA, and that was fine (there’s even a probably slightly-too-saccharine, kids-and-all epilogue). It showed us the development of Candace’s career, which was nice given that I had some reservations about the choices she made at the end of Fading. After feeling conscious, for much of the book, of the fact that we were treading familiar ground, it was nice to read new material. But it goes on for a bit too long and features what feels like several natural stopping points, only to continue on.

Ultimately, this was a satisfying companion piece to Fading, but not one that I think I just *had* to read. My grade for Falling is a B-.

Best regards,

Jennie

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