Review: Breaking Point (I-Team, Book 5) by Pamela Clare

Breaking Point (I-Team, #5)

Title: Breaking Point
Author: Pamela Clare
Publisher: Berkley Sensation

Denver journalist Natalie Benoit and Deputy U.S. Marshal Zach McBride find themselves captives of a bloodthirsty Mexican drug cartel. Working together, they escape through the desert toward the border, the attraction between them flaring hotter than the Sonoran sun. They fight to stay ahead of the danger that hunts them as forces more powerful than they can imagine conspire to destroy them both…

Natalie is a reporter visiting Mexico as part of a press tour of Juarez. What is supposed to be a safe, controlled tour turns deadly, though, when a drug cartel gets on their bus, kills many of the journalists, and takes Natalie hostage. She gets imprisoned out in the desert somewhere, which is where she meets fellow prisoner Zach. Zach is being tortured and is pretty much just waiting to die when Natalie comes along. It’s clear that they plan to rape and kill her, but she manages to get her and Zach out of their jail cells, and the two go on the run in Mexico. (Trigger warning: No one gets raped in this book, but there is some violence against women and lots of talk of rape. Zach also gets graphically tortured more than once.)

Natalie doesn’t realize Zach is a U.S. Marshal, and he doesn’t tell her for fear that if she’s caught again that information could be dangerous for her. Despite her worries, he’s obviously a better risk than the guys who were actively planning to rape her, so she puts her life in his hands and off they go. They spend a very tense couple days on the run in Mexico, and then they actually hike across the Sonoran desert to get into the US illegally and reach safety. Of course, the two have immediate sexual tension, including one of the most ridiculous iterations of dangerboner that I’ve seen in a while (thanks Sarah Wendell for naming one of my absolute favorite tropes EVER), as Zach feels the stirrings when he’s basically 2/3 dead from torture and starvation. Now THAT’S how you do a dangerboner, manly heroes!

Zach and Natalie reach friends across the U.S. border, and you’re thinking “Wow, that was an exciting and sexy story that seems to have reached a conclusion!” Not so fast, dear reader, that’s just the first part! This book is made for the term “action packed” because it keeps up a fairly fast pace throughout. Once they return to the U.S., Zach slinks off alone because he is screwed up over his former military experiences and thinks himself unworthy of love–fairly typical brooding/ex-military/alpha male stuff. When Natalie’s nearly killed, though, he swoops back in and takes charge of protecting her. Together with some of her absurdly well-trained and qualified friends, the group has to keep everyone alive while also stopping the drug cartel.

This book includes tons of my favorite tropes mashed into one story: guy and gal on the run, which transitions to my even more favorite guy moving in with gal to protect her; elite team of specialists working to get the job done; surprisingly emotional back story for the hero that causes lots of Big Feels; brushes with death for both the hero and heroine; some truly nasty villains; exotic locale (at least for the first part of the story); and a very scary climax scene. All things that get my bookish heart going pitter patter!

This is book 5 of the I-Team series, which I frankly know nothing about! Clearly many of the couples in this story came from previous books, though. If you’ve read the series and like seeing past characters again, I think this book will satisfy you because we do get a fair amount of interaction with the others, especially the men. I wasn’t really clear on exactly what this “team” does or how they became such friends, but it didn’t hamper my enjoyment of this story.

I really like Zach as a character. He is a bit melodramatic sometimes, but I never felt like his drama was completely disproportionate to his past–he genuinely did have some terrible stuff happen to him. But despite his own low opinion of himself, he is kind, caring, and clearly capable of loving Natalie with all he has. His growth is really satisfying to see. Natalie is a good partner for him, too, because she is tough and capable but can still see through the front Zach has put up. She too has pain in her past, in the form of her fiance who was killed in a tragic accident. I love how they both help the other see a way out from under the crushing guilt they have been carrying for so long. They are a great couple with great emotional AND physical chemistry.

As with most romantic suspense, not all the details are perfectly realistic. The rescues are as little too intense, the team a little too qualified, and the villains too conveniently connected and resourced. For me, though, those kind of details aren’t troublesome when the action is thrilling and the characters compelling. The one moment that threw me out of the story a bit was the professional choice Natalie makes at the end. Without spoiling it, I will say that I wasn’t so much bothered by the choice but by the fact that it seemed in contrast to everything that we had seen of Natalie thus far. I felt like it came out of left field, and I thought it was a strange way to leave Natalie’s story.

Bottom line: Breaking Point was a fun, fast paced, and unexpectedly touching story that I greatly enjoyed.

Grade: 4 out of 5

Note: I purchased this book myself for review.


Review: Like No Other Lover (Pennyroyal Green Series, Book 2) by Julie Anne Long


Title: Like No Other Lover
Author: Julie Anne Long
Publisher: HarperCollins

Now or Never. . .

It’s the last chance for Cynthia Brightly, the ton’s most bewitching belle. Driven out of London by a secret scandal, she must find a grand husband at the Redmonds’ house party before word of her downfall spreads all over England. Unfortunately, someone at Pennyroyal Green is already privy to the whispers of broken engagements and dueling lovers: Miles Redmond, renowned explorer and—thanks to his brother’s disappearance—heir to the family’s enormous fortune.

Miles set his sights on Cynthia once, at a time when the ambitious beauty thought herself too good for a second son. But now he’s heir apparent, relishing his control. He strikes a bargain with her: he’ll keep Cynthia’s steamy secrets and help her find a husband among the guests—in exchange for a single kiss.

What could be the harm in a simple kiss? Cynthia is about to discover that it’s enough to unleash fierce passion—and that Miles Redmond is most certainly like no other lover in the world.

I thought I’d kick off my blog with a review of one of my favorite romance novels of all time. I LOVE Like No Other Lover. It is just a wonderful story, full of believable characters and an interesting plot.

First, I adored Cynthia, or at least, I adored her by the end. When the book opened I didn’t much care for her. She seemed shallow and selfish, albeit intelligent. But the way the author slowly peeled back her layers and created not only a likable heroine but one I actually admired was downright masterful. Cynthia’s motivations are made clear, and suddenly her behavior makes incredible, heartbreaking sense. In one scene she confronts Miles about his sabotage of her efforts to secure a marriage. It had me in tears, because suddenly Miles can see the desperation but also the strength that the reader has been seeing. By the end I was on her side 150%. Her banter with Miles and her other suitors was funny and had me laughing out loud at several points. This book had a lightness that kept Cynthia’s plight from being too sad.

Miles too is a fantastic character. His sharp insights and scientific mind add a layer of realism to the story. He and Cynthia are, for the most part, honest, sometimes brutally so, but it helps you buy into the idea that these are two functioning adults with very real goals and desires. Miles is no cuddly science nerd–he’s arrogant, blunt, and sometimes even a bit unpleasant in his attitude. He’s logical most of the time, but when it comes to Cynthia he’s a bona fide romantic, and his apparent inability to think of her without flowery poetry creates some of the light and lovely tone of the book. For instance, when observing one of Cynthia’s gowns, Miles thinks:

He couldn’t have said precisely what caused the little sparks. He could, however, say quite definitively that the effect was like watching the mist pull back from the Sussex downs in the morning in response to the first rays of the sun, and oh dear God he was thinking again in poetry. He frowned darkly to cover his own thoughts.

Both Miles and Cynthia are eminently practical. Even when Miles’ feelings for Cynthia become clear and when I wanted him to say to hell with all the things stopping them from being together, his hesitation was believable as his lifelong dreams were involved. No sane person would make such a decision lightly. He also doesn’t need to give anything up because for most of the story he’s had Cynthia with him–it’s only when she forces his hand by leaving that he realizes he can’t have everything and must make a choice.

Cynthia’s marriage goals are born out of practicality, too. Historical romance heroines often seem to ignore the very real consequences women, particularly those with no family income, faced during the past. As Cynthia tells Miles, it’s not a “game” for her, and she’s prepared to do what she has to do to make a life. She’s definitely looking out for her own interests, but she attempts to do so without being intentionally cruel to others. (Of course, sometimes she is unintentionally cruel, which is one of the things she has to come to terms with in the book.) She’s simply using her primary assets (her looks and wits) to literally make a living. While this has the potential to make the story less romantic, for me it only increased it. Seeing the tenderness and genuine longing between Cynthia and Miles was so much more meaningful because it existed despite both their efforts to make the more “practical” choice.

This book wasn’t absolutely perfect. Some of the other characters in the book were not terribly interesting to me. Violet has potential, but she was also inconsistent. At times it seemed like she was perceptive and might understand Cynthia’s predicament, and at other times she seemed clueless. I do wish the book had tackled the issue of gender more head on too. Cynthia is doing what she’s doing because she’s poor but also because she’s a woman. She rightly points out that Violet has more choices than she does, but even Violet is constrained by society’s expectations (needing her brother to look after her, having no acceptable outlet for her intelligence or creativity, etc). The book sort of skirts that issue but never really explores it fully.

This is book 2 in the Pennyroyal Green series, though you won’t have trouble following it if you’ve not read Book 1. I’ve many other books in the series, and unlike some of those, this one does not do much to take up the larger Redmond/Eversea story. You hear little about the prodigal son Lyon, but you do get some insight into Isaiah Redmond. Like No Other Lover also avoids the crazy plots some of the other books suffer from (I’m looking at you I Kissed an Earl)–this story feels slightly more grounded in reality.

Bottom line: This book is just delightful–sweet, romantic, and with a complex and utterly suited hero and heroine.

Grade: 4.75 out of 5

Note: I purchased this book myself for review.