The Bookgeek Reviews Radclyffe’s Taking Fire


A glimpse under the glorious veneer of war into the souls and hearts of those who are under fire.

With so many US troops deployed in war-torn countries and so many help organizations right out there in the wilderness, novels which take a hard look at what those out there, and specifically what women have to endure, are not easy but welcome reads. Bold Strokes Books has set landmarks with one of the first accounts of veterans with PTSD in Battle Scars by Meghan O’Brien or Sophia Kell Hagin’s acclaimed debut Whatever Gods May Be which takes us right into the hell of war. Now Radclyffe gives us a superb novel, a novel that catches in a nutshell the good and the evil of war, the mind-numbing dread, the dirt, the pain, and the paid-by-blood moments of triumph.

Rachel is on a humanitarian mission in Somalia, a land in the claws of rebels and warlords where Doctors Without Borders and other organizations do their best to fight for stragglers and survivors in the middle of the jungle. When circumstances deteriorate, a US Navy team is deployed to extract them – among them Max, a surgeon whose tour is nearing its end, but no plan survives the first encounter with the enemy. And everything escalates quickly. Max and Rachel have to work together to escape that hell-hole.

Radclyffe gives us a gripping and gritty account of fighting and survival, she gives us a glimpse into the hearts and minds of those struggling to survive not only physically but mentally and emotionally. There are passages of great beauty and deep insights alternating with realistic, mind-boggling scenes full of blood and tension. This is not about the glorified side of war featured in press articles, but the story touches at the “heart” of what war does to the human soul – the stark moment when nothing else counts other than what you are right here, right now, the nightmares, the guilt, and the lure. She perfectly catches the times of insane action, the boredom in between missions, and the politics and paper-pushing.

“Her heart raced wildly and panic bubbled in her throat. She couldn’t relax enough to capture a full breath, afraid the instant her hyper vigilance ebbed, she’d be attacked. She doubted she’d ever relax again.”

The writing is dense, compact, crisp and is a joy to read at all times. The story-arc is excellent and holds the focus until the very end. Yes, there is romance there. And Radclyffe does not take the easy way out. Her character development takes us on the roller-coaster journey of the two main characters to find, acknowledge, and cherish love under circumstances which never again can be ideal for those whose hearts have been tried and tested in the crucibles of war.

This is a gripping and well-worth reading book, one of Radclyffe’s best to date.

You can download a sample or purchase Taking Fire: A First Responders Novel by clicking here.

December Book Binge – Week 1 or What I Did During Christmas Hiatus

For some reason or other I haven’t been reading as much as normal. It could be the fact that after three years, I got cable installed in my house and now I spend an inordinate amount of time watching Chopped and Iron Chef along with the odd sprinkling of Storage Wars, Parking Wars, Love It or List It, Dancing With the Stars, and others I’m too embarrassed to admit to. I’m beginning to remember why I decided against getting cable when I moved three years ago. Now that I’ve pretty much satiated my curiosity about what everyone seems to be watching all the time… and the fact that most shows are doing the “fall finale” thing … I’m back to reading and went on a bit of a e-book buying binge.

It seems that there is always a slew of new books released every month through BSB, Bella, and many of the other publishers and I’m finding it increasingly difficult to keep up on reading them – and in some cases increasingly disappointed when I make selections that are disappointing reads. So I figured I’d do a quick look at several new releases and give my first impressions.

This week’s reading was kind of a catch-all, running the gamut of speculative fiction, romance, uber, and erotica. At least I didn’t get stuck in a rut.


Silver Collar by Gill McKnight

If you haven’t read the Garoul series, stop reading this review and start reading the books. Seriously. Silver Collar is the fourth book and I like the way that the series and McKnight’s style is evolving. There’s still a wonderful undercurrent of humour in this one, especially with some cameos from Hope and Jolie (and yes the damned dog), but also a darker more serious tone, similar to Indigo Moon. Luc, the villain from Indigo Moon, is on the run – but not making it far as the mysterious illness is sapping her strength and her rationale. She ends up trapped by a scientist who is intent on revealing the Garoul’s secret to the world in order to avenge her father’s death years ago. Luc and Emily are at odds though most of the book in a “who’s got who” kind of struggle. I was curious to see how McKnight would handle transforming the manipulative and amoral Luc from Indigo Moon into a hero of her own story. It works well – pitting her against Emily who has no problem standing up against her and pushing right back. There were a few “Really?” moments in the book, but McKnight is adept at mixing in a bit of absurdity and I found myself more than willing to suspend my disbelief, giggle a bit and eagerly move on with the story. This is definitely a strong addition to a great series and I’m looking forward to seeing more of all the characters she’s introduced so far.


Crossroads by Radclyffe

Rad’s newest medical romance delivers what you would expect – hot doctors, emotional baggage, romance and HEA. Crossroads takes place in the Philadelphia and we get some cameos of characters from past books set here – Jett, Linda, Honor and Quinn. I have mixed feelings about having past characters make appearances in new books – there are fans of Honor and Quinn that love the chance to check in on their fave couple to make sure things are still going great; but, the scenes with Honor and Quinn detract from the budding romantic relationship between the protagonists.

The main characters are new – Hollis Monroe, the gorgeous and dedicated obstetrician who specializes in high risk pregnancy cases, and Annie Colfax, the lovely and wilful midwife who has some trust issues when it comes to doctors. There’s quite an obstacle for them to overcome early on and, refreshingly, they seemed to manage it like mature adults rather than wringing the angst out of it for half the book. This is a solid romance and it was nice to see the relationship build between the women rather than the instant soul mate attraction that sometimes rears its head in lesbian fiction. At the same time, Crossroads doesn’t deliver the same slow burn smolder that Fated Love or Turn Back Time did. I enjoyed this one more than the last few of Rad’s books – it had a believable plot and characters that were given time to develop – and I really do think she shines when she writes medical romances.

I just hope I never have to have surgery if I’m in Philadelphia, because none of the Doctors there ever get a good night’s sleep.


Love Match by Ali Vali

Love Match started out as online fiction and I will admit that it sold me on Ali Vali as a writer and got me to buy her early published works. With the published version of Love Match, Vali has made some changes – added a bit more exposition about both the characters and switched up a few things in the plot to give it a bit of a different flavour. It is still definitely an uber story and it managed to bring back all the things I loved about reading uber – the smart and sassy characters, snappy dialogue and a good dose of humour. There’s still some uber trope that irked me, but overall I quite enjoyed reading the more polished version and was quite happy that I took the plunge and bought this one.

When Parker King, a champion player both on and off the tennis courts, meets Sydney Parrish, a rather stern and serious commercial pilot, things get off on the wrong foot. Despite this, the sparks start to fly and Vali spends time developing both the characters and their growing romance. Sure, Parker is broody, rich and misunderstood and Sydney is spunky, stubborn and cautious to risk her heart again… but it’s a lesbian romance and its roots are uber. It works. There’s a few subplots conspiring to keep our lovers apart and injecting the requisite amount of danger and suspense. At times I kind of wish Vali skipped these and focused more on the developing romance. One expanded subplot didn’t sit well with me and I suspect that it was added and an extra justification but I found the additional POV distracting from the main story and it was a bit distasteful.


Summoning Shadows:A Rosso Lussuria Vampire Novel by Winter Pennington

Is it just me, or is it rather hot in here? This is the second in the Rosso Lussaria series and I would strongly recommend that you read Darkness Embraced first or you may be a bit lost. This is a different kind of vampire series, breaking from the current norm of having the vampires living openly or at least among humans and sometimes other supernatural creatures. In this series, the Vampires are isolated in their Clans, with little to no communication with other groups and next to no integration with humans – very unlike her Kassandra Lyall
series. I found both books in this series (and the Kassandra Lyall series) to be thoroughly enjoyable thanks to Pennington’s writing style and the characters.

Summoning Shadows picks up shortly after Darkness Embraced, with another attack on the Clan. Epiphany, Renata and Iliaria, after a good long roll in the hay, set out to forge alliances in order to protect the Rosso Lussaria and other vampires from the rogue Dracule who seems intent on destroying them all. It was nice to see the characters leave the Sotto – one of my main complaints with the first book is that it all took place in the underground home of the Rosso Lussaria and there was little interaction with anyone or thing outside that rather insular world. The second book expands the world and we get lots more action and world building – and I’m quite fascinated with the Dracule and Azrael. The characters are more than engaging – even the ones you aren’t supposed to like – and as the main character, Epiphany’s confidence in herself as well as her own powers is further developed.

This is a book that I would classify as bordering on erotica – there is a fair bit of very hot and heavy sex in it and a bit of kink. If that interests you, definitely pick this one up. If it doesn’t, you may want to give it a try because Pennington’s writing is strong enough to keep a good balance so that the sex doesn’t overwhelm the plot and her characters are compelling. Just don’t read it on the bus.

** All these books are available in e-book format through www.boldstrokesbooks.com and www.bellabooks.com. Kindle books are released a few weeks after the paperbacks come out.**

MEC’s Hot and Sticky Week with Radclyffe

It all started innocently enough – my vacation was over and I wanted something entertaining to read as my brain shifted back to work mode.  The new Radclyffe was out, so I figured that would be the thing to read in the evenings while I sat on the patio, waiting for the humidity to break (that’s where the hot and sticky comes in – honestly, get your minds out of the gutter).   Perfect.  Until I reached Chapter 2.  The damned book features Cam and Blair from the Honor series – at their wedding.   I’d read the first Honor book (Above All Honor) years ago and never followed up with the others.  Being the obsessive reader that I am, I couldn’t just continue reading Oath and hope that I could figure out whatever happened with the Secret Service Agent and the President’s daughter (other than that they had lots of hot monkey sex and lived happily ever after … with enough angst and conspiracies to fill seven freaking books).   No – I had to go and read the whole damned series… in order … plus re-read Tomorrow’s Promise because characters from that one popped up in the Honor series as well.   So my fluffy evening’s reading turned into a marathon Radclyffe session, spanning nine smoldering romances over seven days (I read fast).  And, yes, the humidity did finally break.

There’s something about Radclyffe – I may bitch and moan about her books; but, I’ve read just about every one of them.   I consider her stuff to be a comfort read. I know what I’m going to get – strong female protagonists with tortured pasts, a good dose of angst, smoldering build-up to romance and a pretty fast-paced plot.   Plot gaps, a bit of cheese and some pretty big suspension of disbelief seem to take a backseat to the enjoyment I get from reading them.   I have been a bit disappointed by some of her more recent publications, but there are enough books in her back catalogue that still are a welcome re-read.


Honor Series by Radclyffe
(Above All Honor, Honor Bound, Love and Honour, Honor Guards, Honor Reclaimed,  Honor Under Siege, Word of Honor)

Note: I think the first two or three books were the original online versions I had on my e-reader, so I’m not sure how much change there was between them and the published versions.  For that reason I’ll leave the comments around typos and overwrought dialogue out.

The Honor series revolves around Cameron Roberts, brooding but honorable Secret Service Agent, and Blair Powell, willful and wild President’s daughter.  Do I need to mention that they are both smoking hot?  Probably not – this is Radclyffe.  Cam is assigned to head up the secret service agents who protect the First Daughter, Blair Powell.  Blair has been raised in politics as her father rose from Governor to President and chafes at the intrusion into her privacy and the constant public scrutiny.  She regularly ditches her protective detail and pretty much is a spoiled little brat free-spirited artist who yearns to live her life on her own terms.

Cam is the first Security Commander who doesn’t fall for Blair’s shenanigans and her whole focus is on ensuring Blair’s safety, whether Blair understands the risks her actions put both herself and her agents in or not.  Of course there’s a strong attraction underpinning their antagonistic relationship that neither one is willing to acknowledge. Enter a stalker, and things start to heat up.  The first two books focus on Blair and Cam and as the series progresses, new pairings are introduced so that everyone gets hooked up with someone – all have the patented smoking hot looks with either dark pasts or angst-ridden presents. Blair and Cam remain the focal point though – and despite some arguments, their relationship remains strong.  The stalker plot evolves into a greater conspiracy involving domestic terrorism intent on toppling the current President through harming his daughter.  Cam and her troop of Secret Service, FBI and CIA lesbian agents manage to thwart the plots, but the villain always seem to get away or lead to bigger and badder villains who will just try again. This is a pretty good plot device; because, if Powell is elected to a second term, we’ll have four more years of danger and intrigue and god only knows how many more lesbians we can find in Washington during that time.   Rad does take a bit of a risk in the series and includes the events of 9/11 into her overall plot – linking it with her big bads.  It works, but I’m not sure how well received it was when she wrote it.

I didn’t really like Above All Honor the first time I read it (years ago). The cliff-hanger ending and Blair irked me.  Re-reading it as part of the whole series, it grew on me and I found myself pounding through the pages to find out what would happen next – and starting the next book as soon as I finished the first, second, third, etc.  I have no idea how accurate any of the stuff Rad put into the books around security may have been, but she gave me enough that sounded credible so I was willing to completely suspend my disbelief and just enjoy the ride.  Her actions series are fast-paced (Justice is another one that goes like gangbusters) and she writes in such a way that the reader doesn’t really get a chance to catch her breath and think about the story line – instead the reader is dragged along, desperately turning the pages to keep up.  Cam and Blair’s romance simmers quite nicely until it hits full boil and acts as a great counterpart to the outside dangers that are simultaneously pushing them together and pulling them apart.   As the series progresses, their romance continues, but it is now a sure thing (of course) and new characters are introduced to start-up new slow burn romances with familiar secondary characters.

I have a few issues with Rad’s series, and they all pop up in this one as well.  The books follow one upon the other, almost to the second – so even though it’s been about eight years for the series to develop, it has been less than a year on the page.  If I hadn’t been reading the books back-to-back, I would have thrown a few of them across the room in frustration because they ended in obvious cliff-hangers.  That is one of the benefits of binge reading. I like the idea of having new pairings in the books, but as the series progresses, every other pairing has to make an appearance and prove that their own romance is still going strong by having breathless declarations of love and sex every other chapter.  I can’t believe I’m going to say this … but it gets in the way of the story.  If all the paired characters weren’t having sex on the page, seven books could have been condensed into three or four. It slows the overarching plot.  Yes, I read them for the plot.

The stories are formulaic – no doubt about it.  But it is a formula that works well.  I’m not sure if I’ll go back and re-read the series, but I am glad that I read it (as it adds more checkmarks to my Goodreads list) and it definitely provided a respite from the bland and boring technical documents I was reading during the day.


Tomorrow’s Promise by Radclyffe
I read the online version (I’ve had this on my e-reader for a *very* long time) and I’m not sure how it compares with the published version in regards to changes to plot, writing, dialogue, etc.    I would be interested to know if there was any marked change between the two, but the overall story didn’t grab me enough to go back to Amazon to order a copy.

On extended medical leave from the Navy, Adrienne Pierce rents a house on Whitley Island to get away from the turmoil of the last year and to figure out what she is going to do with her future.  She has a few encounters with the young and wild Tanner Whitley, heir to a massive fortune, who spends her days partying with a bunch of other disaffected rich kids or sailing her boat.   There’s an instant attraction, some angst, wild sex, a bit of sailing and then more noble angst before the final page is turned.  I didn’t feel the investment in the characters or their stories as I have in other Rad books, and I’ll put that down to this being an early online version.    There are a few things that I would have liked to have seen explored in more detail – Adrienne’s recovery, the age difference, perhaps Tanner growing up a bit more.  As I said, this was the online version so I don’t know if it got fleshed out in the published version – and I can only hope that Tanner’s dialogue was toned down a bit.

Do you need to read this to follow the Honor series? No.  Adrienne and Tanner are minimal characters in the series, so missing out on their story won’t leave you lost if you’re reading the series.  If you are obsessive about reading all of Rad’s books – check it out.  If you haven’t read Radclyffe yet, I’d suggest starting with something else – one of her medical romances where I think that she has some of her best books – as this is not one of her stronger books.


Oath of Honor by Radclyffe
So finally I get to the book I wanted to read.  Eight books later.   Oath is billed as being part of the First Responders Series which are standalone romances about, well, first responders (EMT, Firefighters and uhm, the First Doctor).  I think that this should have been marketed as the eighth Honor book.  The novel’s protagonists are Captain Wes Masters and Secret Service Agent Evyn Daniels, but Cam and Blair are very much present in the story as well – their paths don’t cross often, but the book follows directly after Word of Honor and continues the conspiracy, domestic terrorism plots from the Honor Series.  We even have Emory and Dana showing up (from Word of Honor).  I always find it odd how it seems to always be a six   four two degrees of separation for all lesbians in a series – and how many lesbians there appear to be in the government agencies (or small towns). I think I need to change jobs – or move.

I enjoyed the book well enough, but similar to my issues with the other Honor books (the switching between the Wes/Evyn and Cam/Blair storylines) I think that there wasn’t enough of a build-up of the romance between the  new pair.   The story itself is fast-paced – with short chapters highlighting the dastardly doings of the villains to keep the tension up and let you know bad things are coming – but at times I thought that there wasn’t as much going on as there could be with the main pair and we spent a bit too much time with Wes doing her sim training  (which was kind of interesting – no clue if it would be true).

If you’ve read the Honor series – you have to pick this one up.  If you haven’t, I’d recommend you read the series first.  This isn’t the strongest of Rad’s romances, but it makes for a good fast read.   And if you haven’t read the series … it will make for a good read over several hot summer nights.

 

A Matter of Trust by Radclyffe

If you trust in Radclyffes ability to turn out a good fic you really don’t have to read this review, just go directly to the story by using the link in the title of this post, this will save you some time, but then again you’ll miss out on my bit of rambling.

I’ve read a number of Radclyffes uber / original on-line fics and I’ve never been really disappointed with the quality of the offered stories even though not all of them have made it to my personal list of favourite fics.

I’ve even supported the writer and Bold Strokes Books by buying a number of Radclyffe novels in print. I still think that if I pay good money for a book, I need to hold it in my hands! I know this shows that I’m way past my teenage years, but somehow I don’t think that the looks of a NAS-computer storing my books and other files can compare to the large bookcase in my living room. The bookcase gives a certain “bookish aura” to the room that I find alluring. I wonder how we are going to show off our book or music collections in the future if it’s all just a matter of digital data on a computer or the right to access files kept somewhere on the net ?

Some of you might find these thoughts a bit geekish, but I thought this kind of ramble would fit quite well with “A Matter of Trust”, that sports a computer geekish butch protagonist by the name of J.T. Sloan, who runs an it-security firm, and a more feminine woman by the name of Michael Lassiter (!) who is the CEO of Lassiter Designs, an it-company about to break into the Fortune 500.

Michael engages Sloan and her company to help secure her assets when she prepares to divorce her husband and dissolve their business partnership. The work Sloan does might be slightly geekish – running security checks, restoring system and data files etc., but what this boils down to is the classic alt romantic storyline of straight woman meet out lesbian and fall in love, both women questions or even fight the attraction for different reasons, until one or both of them make the giant leap of faith and declare her love. You might say that you’ve read that story before, but I ask where would we be in this world of lesfic if women didn’t keep jumping that fence? For one – we might be out of toaster ovens!

“A Matter of Trust” is a nice story but not among Radclyffe’s best works. I think that “Passion Bright Furry”, that I reviewed on an earlier occasion, has a stronger character development and storyline, in addition to a much more compelling romance, but I’ve read “A Matter of Trust” a number of times and still think that it’s entertaining enough to keep it on my “save for a future rereading” list – haven’t you got one of those too?

http://www.academyofbards.org/fanfic/r/radclyffe_amatteroftrust.html

Innocent Hearts by Radclyffe

When I first ventured out into the world of (fan) fiction I came a cross a number of westerns of the cowgirl variant. You know the sort of fic’s where you’ll find at least one of the female protagonists to be very comfortable on horseback, perhaps proficient with a gun and always dressed like a man. In these stories we are usually also treated to a woman of a more feminine nature in need of a bit of rescuing and – as we are talking romance here – to a friendship that turn into love.

One of the first and up until now best of cowgirls stories that I have read is BL Miller and Vada Fosters “The Western Chronicles”. Unfortunately BL Miller has decided to remove the online version of the story from her site due to plagiarism. If you know your way around the web archives you can still reach a copy of this and other BL Millar stories online and for those willing to spend a little money on a paperback it’s seems that it’s still available in print.

“The Western Chronicles” is the story of Josie – the outlaw – and Rebecca the woman in need of rescuing and their journey together through the frontier country. The story has a number of dramatic episodes, but you’ll find a well-developed romance at the centre of the storyline this time with a rather unwilling outlaw and a persistent younger – and rather innocent – woman. The characters of Josie and Rebecca are well-developed and the slow progression from reluctant – on Josie’s part – travelling companions to friends and eventually lovers is skilfully described.

As not everybody is proficient in the art of surfing the web archives I’ll give you another western of the cowgirl variant to spend you time on while you wait for “someone” to let you in on the secrets of finding what has been lost on the web.

This cowgirl western is written by Radclyffe and has a more urbanised setting than the one you’ll find in “The Western Chronicles”. In “Innocent Hearts” we are not dealing with outlaws and gunslings, but with the rancher Jessie and the slightly younger woman Kate who has just arrived in the new Montana territory with her parents from out east. A self-reliant woman like Jessie is something that Kate has never encountered before, and as you can imagine Jessie and Kate quickly strike up an acquaintance, each taking pleasure in the company of a woman different from those they normally encounter, and none of them quite sure what to make of their feelings towards each other.

I think it might spoil your fun to tell you how Jessie and Kate work out what kind of pleasures women can find in the company of each other, but I’ll just let you know that they seem to come down with divine inspiration once they get the gist of things.

Cowgirl western romances are not my favourite stories as I often find that the storylines are too stereotype for my taste. I think that the one real exception from this rule is “The Western Chronicles” mentioned above, but if you like cowgirls you might find “Innocent Hearts” entertaining if perhaps a little too predictable. Jessie and Kate are likeable characters but possibly a little young for the storyline, but as always I found that Radclyffe uphold a good quality in her writing.

http://www.academyofbards.org/fanfic/r/radclyffe_innocenthearts.html

Passion’s Bright Fury by Radclyffe

I’m not really a big fan of TV-series but I must admit that I have a thing for Medical dramas. I think that it started with “Chicago Hop” back in the ’90, followed by “ER” and now “Grey’s Anatomy”. So I guess it’s no real surprise that I also like my online romances with a storyline set in the medical world.

I my opinion the queen of the alternative medical romance drama is undoubtedly Radclyffe. You will find a number of her published books in a medical setting among these “Turn back time”, “Fated love” and “Night Call”- go look at the Bold Stroke Books if you want to have a closer look at those. “Turn back time” is the one I like the best.

A number of Radclyffes stories are also available online, among these you’ll find “Passion’s Bright Fury” which sports Dr. Saxon Sinclare, Chief of Trauma at St. Michael’s Hospital in lower Manhattan and Jude Castle, director of a documentary medical series to be filmed at St. Michales featuring one of Sax’s first-year trauma fellow. As you might have guessed the filming of a documentary at St. Michales is not Sax’s idea, but professional disagreements aside Sax and Jude do seem to have something in common – a love of good coffee, an appreciation of good looking women and a life devoted to work, not leaving time for love. But even if they have common ground to explore, Sax and Jude are still in for a bit of fighting about how to incorporate filming into the hectic life of medical trauma and along the way – how to act on the attraction building between them.

Saxson Sinclare is moulded over the basic characteristics of a Radclyffe protagonist – a tough, confident, butch woman with a soft, tender and wounded heart needing true love to heal. As always you’ll find a number of well filled out characters in the vicinity of the plot, and a well put together storyline – so you have something to look forward to if you haven’t been looking in on this Radclyffe fic yet.

If you like a Medical drama setting for your romance you could also look up one of Larisa’s fics “The Blues” or “The Ice Princess” where you will find the usual number of dumb ass Larisa hang a rounds and a couple of good looking doc’s with a love interest, or you could look into “Jungle Fever” by Anik LaChev, which I’ll tell you about in a separate review.

http://www.academyofbards.org/fanfic/r/radclyffe_passionsbrightfury.html