Tuesday, October 23, 2012
TUESDAY TIP - Book Review - SEAL of My Dreams (anthology) #SOT #SOV #VRC
Author: See the book's web site for a full list of the assorted authors: http://www.sealofmydreams.com/
Genre: romance, short story, military fiction
Cover: I liked this cover though my inter-library loan copy had a huge sticker completely covering it. I had to go somewhere else to see what the cover actually had on it. Why'd I bother? Well, for one thing, nice backside! ((grin)) For another, there's a note inside the book's cover asserting that this is a photo taken a while ago of a guy who was (at the time of the photo) an active-duty US Navy SEAL preparing for a real mission. I've seen a lot of naked male backsides and while they have always been a pleasant sight to see, I wouldn't have bothered but for the notation inside the book. Then, I "had' to see it. I know! I'm such a pervert! Then again, this is the kind of view that inspires me to write lines like "Nice ass!" which I am happy to report I have done. Repeatedly. There are never enough nice asses in the world.
Why I read this: I was recommended this book by a friend of mine who shares a love for Suzanne Brockmann SEAL stories (i.e., Suz's Troubleshooter series). There are 18 short stories written by 18 different authors, many of whom have won "Best Seller List" status. In a couple of cases, I can definitely see why.
I like milfic and romantic suspense so it wouldn't have been a hardship right there, but I also noticed the proceeds of this book go to the Veterans Research Corporation (VRC) which supports medical research specifically for veterans of US Military Service. It's a good cause.
Overall rating of the collection: 3.5 stars out of 5
Why not a 5? (not that 3.5 is oh-so-low but it's not great either). I took 1/2 star off for all of the editing errors I found. There shouldn't have been any at all, let alone many, so if you want an edited rating, based just on the story content, it goes up to a 4 out of 5 stars easily. Now it doesn't feel so bad, right? I really enjoyed most of the stories. While I was reading, I "statused" each of the 18 stories after I finished it, one by one, on Goodreads, so I'll collect and summarize those remarks here for your edification.
My Top 3 Picks (from the 18 stories, in order of preference):
1st pick: #5 FINDING HOME by HelenKay Dimon
2nd pick: #18 LETTERS TO ELLIE by Loreth Anne White
I'm torn between 2 stories for 3d place. It's a tie, either
#4 GOING DARK by Helen Brenna -OR-
#7 PANAMA JACK by Tara Janzen
Story #1 COMING HOME by Jami Alden. I was immediately swept up and felt my heart clutch in this one. Some really great characterizations here. I'll definitely read more of this author's work. The story ended a little abruptly though, as if she ran out of allotted word count or something. Despite the abrupt ending, I felt it was worthy of 5 out of 5 stars for a thoroughly enjoyable "Reader Experience" with no other faults until the very end.
Story #2 BABY, I'M BACK by Stephanie Bond was cute but a little long. It didn't drag at any point but was a little slow-paced for my tastes. Then again, the characters were well-developed early on, so I didn't mind reading. It just felt like Bond is used to writing novels and couldn't cut herself down to short story length. I'm likewise afflicted so I can relate. I enjoyed the story despite the relaxed pace. I'll knock this down to a 4 out of 5 stars due to the occasional rambling.
Story #3 SEALed Fates by Kylie Brant is, by comparison to the first 2 stories, really bad. The first indication was as I started Ch 3 (a) I had no idea there'd been a POV change from Hero to Heroine then (b) once I figured out it was the Heroine talking about 5 other guys, I had no clue what the Hero's name was anymore. Uh, he should've been more memorable, yeah?
Next problem was the melodrama, the forced emotional content that's not at all believable. Forex, the Heroine opens the door and "steps into his arms" except he wasn't extending his arms. THEN Brant spends the next 3 freakin pages fixated on this alleged "embrace" - you know, the one that wasn't an embrace? She had the Heroine lurch through the doorway and grab at the guy. That's called assault in some states (wink) I definitely did not dial into Ms. Brant's mindset. Ever.
By the time I'd read the final 10 pages of this story, I'd decided I NEVER want read anything else by Kylie Brant! This went from bad to worse to intolerable. She had a frakkin Navy SEAL fighting like a girl (sigh) I guess to her mind, Ms. Brant thought the choreography sounded tough and tumble or some similar phraseology. She obviously lacks a sense of maturity in her authorial voice. This comes out in her thin plotting, choppy pacing and flawed character development, not to mention POV and dialog-construction failing to guide the reader through the storyin any sensible fashion.
If all that wasn't bad enough, this story was twice as long as the previous 2 combined while delivering none of the necessary punch to justify its length. I give this a meager 1 out of 5 stars but that 1 star is only for the child characters who were minor in every way. If she'd focused on the kids, I'd probably give it a zero.If you missed it the first time, I'll never read more by this author--or not on purpose. Maybe if she changes her name and sneaks one by me after she learns how to write.
Story #4 GOING DARK by Helen Brenna has redeemed the anthology back on track :) This story jumped right into action, filled in the Hero and Heroine's first meeting through a backfill that was not at all like infodumping. I felt the characters were fully developed after just 2-3 pages. As an Author myself, I'm in awe of anyone who can do this so thoroughly and so quickly.
Brenna's piece actually reminded me a lot of NYT Bestseller Suzanne Brockmann's SEAL stories. Another reason I liked GOING DARK so much might also have been in part that Brenna's story was depicting a SEAL in the field, "in action" as it were; whereas the first 3 stories were SEALs at home, after they'd been WIA. Brenna did a great job making the field work crunchy enough for my milfic tastes. Her Hero reminded me of Kenny "the Wild Card" in Suz's Troubleshooters stories. I'll definitely read more by Helen Brenna. 5 out of 5 stars!
Story #5 FINDING HOME by HelenKay Dimon is a hard one to review because I have mixed feelings. If you noticed my list up top, though, you'll see it was my first pick for top three choices of stories from this collection. Why? It was cute--I LOVED the Heroine, even more so than the Hero--but there wasn't much meat to this story. I kept noticing how plot points got clearly defined--then dropped. I didn't mind or even care because the relationship between Hero and Heroine continued to develop, almost like the plot was merely a mechanism to allow them an excuse to interact, but the failure to follow through on a couple of plot points lost one star from this story. Still, at The End, I smiled and felt a warm-fuzzy in my belly, maybe even fuzzy like little pink bunny slippers :) 4 of 5 stars (though I'm tempted to give it 5 out of 5 just for the Heroine's snarkiness)
Story #6 SEALed WITH A KISS (A Black Ops, Inc. Story) by Cindy Gerard spent way too much time being "A Black Ops, Inc. Story" instead of just being a short story with a point of its own. That lost it 1.5 stars up front. I've never read this author, and now, never will again. Her characters were sort of interesting but pretty shallow on development. She did way more telling w/little or no showing and as a result of her lecturing at me, I found myself questioning everything she claimed about her characters.
The worst was that I doubted her claims about the Hero being a hero (let alone a SEAL) because she kept telling me how he was so great rather than demonstrating it through his taking any action (now or in the past). I began to discount and disbelieve everything at that point. Antithesis of suspension of disbelief, eh? The characters were supposed to be sexy people and since she described attractive, scantily clad bodies, I suppose they were, but that's all she got from me. They seemed to be in love with each other though I had no clue why so I gave back a half star for that flavor of "romance." I give this 2.5 out of 5 stars w/ZERO intent to read her work again. In fact, just seeing "Black Ops, Inc." will be my roadsign to avoid the story.
Story #7 PANAMA JACK by Tara Janzen is in sharp contrast to the previous story. Whereas Gerard did a bunchaton of telling w/no showing, Janzen has shown me in 3 paragraphs who the Hero is and gotten me fully-vested in him. She hasn't talked at me and by the 4th paragraph, I am loving the Heroine too! Not to mention the opposites-attract chemistry between them.
A big part of the difference might be the setting, to be fair, but that's author's choice. Even setting aside the choice of locale, I think Janzen has accomplished something stupendous to get me fully-hooked into her story by Page 2. For me, characterization is key, and Janzen has this skill down pat. I already know I'll want to read more by her.
This story had edge, suspense, credible tradecraft AND credible sizzle; basically, all the elements any romantic suspense story should have PLUS a light, humorous banter that really works between the Hero and Heroine. Wonderfully done! This one gets an unqualified 5 stars out of 5 stars and Tara Janzen is now on my must-read list.
Story #8 WRAPPED AND SEALed by Leslie Kelly. Very cute story. It's sweet, tender, a good Christmas-themed vignette with likeable characters that were well-developed. Just one gripe--well, two, I suppose, taking off one star for each of these complaints. First of all, there's nothing much to the story. It's just a Christmas story. I'm not Christian and although I sometimes enjoy the heartfelt Christian-centric Christmas stories, I did not find this one plucked at my heartstrings for "holiday" reasons (though there was one point, which I'll get to in a minute).
Second gripe was that the Epilogue was abrupt. In fact, I'd've been better off without it at all. So I was down to 3 stars but I'll add one star back in because Kelly actually brought a tear to my eye with the whole side vignette about the elderly veteran who'd served on the Indianpolis and to whom the Hero spoke to thank him for his service. I just felt such a sweetness plucking at my heart at that idea--and it's truly what a real SEAL might do. She got that absolutely RIGHT. I give this 4 out of 5 stars and I'd probably read more by this author, but tentatively.
Story #9 WORTH THE RISK by Elle Kennedy. Not sure how I want to rate this one. It was a nice slice of small town Americana, always a nice thing but the whole relationship pre-existed the story + the re-hookup was utterly predictable, so nothing engaged me there. I liked the characters but they didn't grab me as others have. I guess 3.5 out of 5 stars for good characters suffering from an authorial lack of imagination in plotting.
Story #10 TWENTY-ONE HOURS by Alison Kent. This was a really unusual "SEAL Story" in that the SEAL Hero was a former firefighter who'd returned home to help fight a wildfire. No water in sight. Odd for a SEAL, eh? Despite this, I really enjoyed this story because I love firefighters and the characters, pacing and plotting were all well-written. I'd definitely read more by this author. 4.5 out of 5 stars, taking 1/2 star away only due to the abrupt ending. If you're looking for a SEAL story, though, this is going to disappoint.
Story #11 NOT WAVING BUT DROWNING by Jo Leigh. I'm barely more than one page into this and already I dislike the language--vocabulary, diction, author's voice and style. It's a purely personal reaction not Leigh's ability to construct a sentence. Rather, her authorial voice just grates on me. Her style is personally offensive to me. She must speak some kind of non-urban dialect where slang is prevalent and of course, it comes through in her writing. People write the way they "hear" things and some people misspell words believing them to be correct because that's how they've always heard it said. Just because a lot of people do something for many years does not make it right, sadly. Jo Leigh's voice isn't dramatically wrong in grammatical terms; it just sounds weird to my Boston ears and makes it unpleasant to read her story.
I pressed on despite the unpleasant voice, but from beginning to end, the tone opf this story was sharp and angry and nasty--it wasn't snarky, but I think Leigh intended for it to be. She simply failed (utterly) to make anything light or witty and got instead just snide or mean sarcasm--and I'm from Boston where funny sarcasm is prevalent. She failed to make the sarcasm funny, perhaps by actually writing the character SAYING they were being sarcastic. You know, if you have to explain a joke, it's probably not working O_o
Overall, the tone was just negative, which I don't think a romance story should ever be, given most romance readers want to be uplifted by The End. Add to the negativity her huge amounts of infodumping and backfill--for a short story! I got so much backstory on these characters but never actually NEEDED the backfilled info that had been dumped. The characters were not likeable even with the backstory though I guess they were interesting because of it. I liked that they liked each other but neither was ready/able/willing to actually admit it, even though they'd been friends "forever," which point was repeated not less than 12 times.
I was going to give it 2 out of 5 stars for poor English composition but I changed my mind and will make it 1.5 out of 5 stars due to the very anti-climatic "reveal" of the emotional obstacle defeating the Hero. Not only was it an anti-climatic reveal, but Leigh also never actually RESOLVED the issue. Having a woman hug a man is not resolving anything (though I confess some men practice avoidance of problems by having sex instead and this is usually NOT considered a good thing). I shall never read more by this author, actively avoiding her work.
Story #12 HER SECRET PIRATE (A Crossfire SEAL Story) by Gennita Low. This was 5 out of 5 stars right from the start. Unlike the "Black Ops Inc." story that spent 75% of its time BEING a series intro, I had no clue this was a series story until looked a 2d time at the title. Then I decided I'd really like to read the series. Awesome job there! Her characters were fully-developed, the narrative and dialog had light snark that was well-balanced with tense action. Her military crunch was sufficient to sink my teeth into without overwhelming. I'll DEFNITELY read more by this author, maybe even add her to my "must read" list. This was like "mind bleach" for cleansing out the previous disappointment.
Story #13 SEALed BY FATE by Marliss Melton. This one took a while to get into but once I'd warmed to the characters, I was hooked. Unfortunately, it's more of an opening chapter to a novel than a self-contained short story so I cannot give it a glowing review here. It has a beginning but NO middle OR end. Very cute, though. I'd like to read the whole book if it's ever written. I give it 3 out of 5 stars for the characterizations, pacing, writing style, but she's lost 1 star each for the missing middle and missing ending.
Story #14 SIGNED, SEALed AND DELIVERED by Christie Ridgway. Very cute story--as many in this collection are. I was starting to feel that many of these stories lacked the creativity to be original or standout but several of the authors did manage a 5-star piece of work so I'm holding my high standards up and not making concessions just because there are SEALs in the story. I did not buy the instant attraction between the Hero and Heroine at all but I didn't really care because the whole tone was very sweet. That's both good and bad IMO. I mean, I should care enough to have an opinion, shouldn't I? The story lacked enough meat or crunchiness to sink my teet into and it ended a little too AuthorConveniently so I'll knock it down to a 3.5 out of 5 stars. I might read more by this author, but not guaranteed.
Story #15 DOG HEART by Barbara Samuel. This was a very sweet story about rescuing a Military Working Dog (MWD), which is a subject near and dear to my heart but honestly, it had nothing to do with SEALs, specifically, from what I could tell. I take 1 star off the top for that. It was also not a romance--so we're down 2 stars now--but it was a wonderful short story. I can give it a clear and solid 3 out of 5 stars as a vignette about people caring enough to save a dog. Great characterizations, good writing style and of course, great dog. I do love dogs. I will probably read more by this author.
Story #16 WHIRLWIND by Roxanne St. Claire. Another sweet/cute story that had an Alpha Male but I'm not so sure what made this guy a SEAL other than the author telling me he was--which I didn't really buy. I guess I've known too many Alpha Males in real life. This guy's personality was fun, the Heroine was fun, (despite being in a panic most of the time), with a fairly fun snarky dialog passing between them. The story was madness--and having lived in Florida, through several hurricanes and tornadoes, I kinda liked the mood of the wild storm in the story. The story was a little too AuthorConvenient though, so I took 1 star off for that and 1 star off for no real "need" for a SEAL in this story. I give it a solid 3 out of 5 stars the for great characters though.
Story #17 HOLDING ON by Stephanie Tyler. Before I've even read one word of this story, the author has a "note to readers" to explain to me that this is a series-dependent story. I'm not sure why she would deliberately set me up to expect not to understand references to the larger series (which I have definitely not read); nor as a writer myself can I see any possible advantage to putting this note before rather than after the story but I suppose she just really really wanted to be sure people knew she'd written a series? Bad idea. I've yet to read anything by this author and now I start my first experience of her work feeling apprehensive. She'd better "wow" me or she'll have lost 2 stars (1 for the note, 1 for the series dependency) just for that mistake.
As I moved into this story, I could see, even without the author's heads up, that this was a series-dependent story. How could I tell? She spent a page and a half launching into a recital of almost a dozen characters' names. I kid you not. A page and a half of naming names--NO ACTION, no dialog, no nothing but series backfill, which I kinda suspect is totally irrelevant to this story, assuming there *IS* a story starting here sometime soon? Then again, if I'm 2-1/2 pages into a short story and I still am just getting series backfill, I can't imagine what the story is supposed to be about...eventually...whenever the author finally stops talking AT me.
I think I'll skip the rest of this short story, which appears to be aiming towards being some kind of "aww, gee" Christmas story since I don't care about any of the dozen characters yet and have totally lost track of who I'm supposed to have been focusing on in the first place. Plus I doubt it's got any kind of actual story beyond Christians gathering for the Christmas holidays. I give this 1 out of 5 stars for the author being able to write sentences but I'll NEVER read more by this author. Definitely.
Story #18 LETTERS TO ELLIE by Loreth Anne White. In sharp contrast to the previous 1-star story, this gets an easy 5 out of 5 stars. This story had very well-developed characters, a solid plot and backstory (all accomplished in the first 2 pages and w/only 1 paragraph of backfill). The way White built up the setup so quickly and fully was in sharp, sharp contrast to the catastrophe of the previous story by Tyler.
There's only one thing that she got wrong which keeps distracting me. The story opens on Friday night--then the kid goes to school the next day. On a Saturday? And again the next day - on Sunday? What?? Oops. I only take off 1 star for that but I have to give it right back for the amazing story premise executed effectively and with such finesse.
What was it? The letters...these guys, POW/MIAs, were "writing" and sharing letters back and forth between them. I'm a member of Soldiers Angels and I know military appreciate the letters more than the cookies or "stuff" because the human connection means more than "stuff" but I still teared up over this. The MIA/POW desperation to survive being second only to the love & devotion. The wedding ring inscription FLOORED me. I'll DEFINITELY read more by this author! Might even have to make her a "must read" name on my list. As I said, great way to close the book and 5 out of 5 stars for this clever and brilliantly-executed short story.
Not sure which book review I'll be posting next week (I have almost 2 dozen in reserve to edit, refine and post as well as almost a dozen books to read yet!) I start a new "day job" this week but plan on continuing the blog - that is, Monday will be a marketing / promotion tip and Tuesday will be another book review. Hope to see you then!