Wednesday, January 16, 2013

TBR: Silent Mercy by Lori Armstrong

This month's theme is to read a short novella or story.

Recently returned from training at Quantico, FBI agent Mercy Gunderson stirs up trouble and uses her rarely seen feminine side to seduce her unsuspecting boyfriend, sexy-as-sin Sheriff Mason Dawson. When she revs up her Viper to get his attention while he’s on patrol, tempers and sparks fly—but their rendezvous is interrupted by a disturbing cry for help. The pair rush to the scene, where Mercy discovers that even though she can’t always save the day, she doesn’t have to be silent about it…

This is a super short snippet of Mercy Gunderson's life as a new FBI agent. It focuses on Mercy's relationship with Mason Dawson, the local sheriff, as well as her insecurities as a newbie agent. Mercy's bravado with that underlying self-doubt is one of my favorite things to explore in this series, and Armstrong manages in a very short page count to touch upon it, both in her personal and professional relationships.

There's not much to say about this, except that it takes a step in forwarding Mercy & Dawson's relationship, in helping to bring them closer to understanding each other and each other's commitment to their jobs. It also introduces the case for the next novel in the series, (just released) Merciless.

Seriously, this is an awesome series. It's really hard to put into words how the stark setting and blunt talk covers up the deep emotions in these books. Much like Mercy herself. And I so love Mason Dawson. He's as enigmatic as Mercy, and yet so much more approachable and open somehow.

I know this all sounds very contradictory emotionally, and it is.

This series is all about a very personal journey for Mercy. And it's captivating, exciting, bleak, depressing, and oh so engaging, even as it holds itself at a distance.

The books are:
No Mercy (reviewed here)
Mercy Kill
Silent Mercy (novella)
Merciless (just released)

Monday, January 07, 2013

Cut & Run series by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux

I have been hearing wonderful things about this series for a few years now. And every time I read a review of a book in the series, I’m always intrigued. It’s been on my TBR list for a couple years now. I finally bit the bullet last week, and oh, how I’m glad I did. I was so pulled into this series that the second I finished one book, I immediately went and bought the next one. I read the entire series in 4 days. And now I’m thinking I might reread it. Now. Yes, it was that good. So good I can't even express it. But of course, I'll try.

Ty and Zane are FBI agents who are partnered up, albeit very unhappily. Ty looks unkempt, has a laissez-faire attitude, and talks back. Zane appears the complete opposite. He is buttoned up, he’s a “yes, sir” man, and hates everything Ty seems to stand for on sight.

I’m not really going to go into much of the cases they are assigned, except when it helps to show examples.

As buttoned up as Zane is, it’s all a front. He has gotten in trouble in the past, and is putting on a front to convince himself and the SAIC that he’s worthy of better assignments. Zane’s wife passed away while he was away on an assignment, and he’s been an alcoholic, drug-addicted mess ever since. There is just the right amount of focus on Zane’s addictions, his efforts to get and stay clean, and Ty’s efforts to support him without enabling.

Ty is a former Recon Marine, a POW, and an all-around smart-ass. But there’s oh-so much more going on under the surface. He's hiding a lot under that crazy exterior.

In the past, they each considered themselves bisexual, although Zane’s encounters were mostly of the alley outside a bar nature. However, the sparks between them are too much, and in one moment of heated anger, Ty lays a big ol hard kiss on Zane. Thus begins their journey together.

What I love so much about this series is that these guys act like men. Big, strong, dopey men. Just like any alpha in any romantic suspense book does. They are tough. They talk like men. They fight, verbally and physically, constantly. And their physical fights? Yeah. Brutal. Yet these guys can be tender, too. I loved it.

I’ve always hated gratuitous sex, and there is none in these books. None. Every single sex scene (and there are just the perfect amount) forwards their relationship. Usually in a huge meaningful way. Ty has always been a top, but with Zane, he discovers how amazing it feels to be a bottom. These guys trade off being top and bottom, and it’s always because of their particular situation at the time. Which I loved. Sometimes Ty needed to be held, and at others, Zane did. Other times their emotions running high, they had rough, brutal sex. But it always, always fit exactly the mood at the time.

I loved how protective they were of each other. Although they were terrified of being outed at the FBI (and as the relationship progresses, they note it’s not so much because of being gay, but because of the fraternization policy), they each stood up when the other was under duress and protected the other. Ahhh. Two seriously alpha males on the attack. *happy sigh*

There is a lot of humor in these books, both subtle and running jokes (usually at Ty’s expense). While all the books were just amazing, Armed & Dangerous (book 5) is where I noted how they had evolved to such tenderness between them. Yet, they move between tenderness and roughness effortlessly at the snap of a finger.

They both have family issues, and in book 6, they come out to their families. Well, they’re outed, first by Ty’s grandfather in a funny and touching scene. A great mix of humor and angst. And when they come out, Ty’s grandfather’s surprising response is this:
“Love isn’t a gentle thing. I’ve found it carries a club and a bullwhip and doesn’t care when or who it strikes.”
Zane’s father is just as accepting:
Ty isn’t just my partner at work. He’s my boyfriend. I love him.” “Oh.” Harrison sounded thoughtful. “Well, that explains it.” He went back to cutting the churro on Sadie’s plate, and Zane and Ty both stared at him, incredulous. “That’s it?” Ty blurted. Harrison shrugged and chewed a piece of the sweet bread Sadie had stuffed into his mouth. “Had a gay bull I had to sell last year. That was a damn nuisance. Gay son? That don’t cost me nothing.”
Lest you think that it’s all sunshine and rainbows, Zane’s mother is brutal in her disapproval, of the relationship, of Ty, and truly, of Zane as well.

Roux & Urban’s prose is perfect – it moves between slapstick, subtlety, angst, and humor without missing a beat. I absolutely love this passage from Stars & Stripes (book 6, written solo by Roux), where Ty discovers that Zane used to paint and is looking at one of his paintings:
He studied the painting again. Careful strokes, meticulous details that still somehow formed a sloppy likeness of the sun setting over the desert. There was calm beneath the vibrant surface, like Zane in reverse.
So perfect. And so true in its description of Zane.

And this – for some reason it spoke to me.
“I love you,” Ty said out of the blue, his voice almost sing-song. Zane laughed. “You’re drunk.” “I loved you before I was drunk.”
See? Subtle, humorous, but oh so deep. The books are full of this stuff.

Also wonderful is the supporting cast. Ty's family is wonderful, and in the last book, we meet Zane's as well. The interaction of their FBI team and their SAIC is superb as well. The give and take, the crazy talk, and the mundane paperwork that drives them all crazy. The books show not only the outlandish undercover assignments we’re all used to seeing in romantic suspense, but also the torturous hours of research, paperwork, and public relations that accompany an FBI assignment.

Where these books shine, though, is in any interaction between Zane & Ty. They talk. They avoid. They reveal. They fight. And reveal so much during lovemaking.

If there was one thing that I didn’t care for, it was in the last couple books, written alone by Abigail Roux, and it’s much more of an editing issue. I did notice that the series moved from Dreamspinner to Riptide, so obviously a different editor had at it. But all their kisses were either sloppy or messy in the last couple books. Enough so that I noticed and began to envision slobbery kisses, which? Ewwww.

That little niggle aside, these are amazing books. Isn’t it obvious how much I loved this series? All 6 books are a 5 out of 5 rating on Goodreads for me. Seriously. go buy it now.

I will say one last thing. They need to be read in order. And y’all KNOW I hardly ever care about reading in order. But this series demands it. The relationship progression is so perfect, that to skip a book might ruin it all. Think about Eve & Roarke in the first 5 books, and how their relationship progresses. Those needed to be read in order. The later books, not so much, but the early ones? Oh yes.

Here is the order:
Cut & Run
Sticks & Stones
Fish & Chips
Divide & Conquer
Armed & Dangerous (by Abigail Roux alone)
Stars & Stripes (by Abigail Roux alone)
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