Bell Bridge Books, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-61194-051-0
Romantic Suspense, 2011
SEAL of My Dreams is a charity anthology with all the proceeds going to the Veterans Research Corporation, which I am given to understand is a non-profit organisation that supports “medical research that improves the lives of military veterans, their families, and society at large”. As you can tell from the title of the anthology, this one celebrates the hot SEAL boys of America.
Robyn Carr’s contribution is an introduction telling me that everyone loves the Navy SEALs because they risk their lives to save America from villains such as Osama bin Laden. But hey, we naturally don’t love just the SEALs, we love everyone in the Armed Forces! That’s pretty much her contribution here, so her fans will have to adjust their expectations accordingly if they thought they would be getting a story from her.
Next up is Jami Alden with Coming Home. Nick DeMarco had done the kaboom and kapow all over the place, with scars in his soul to show for his tour of duty, and now he comes home to attend his mother’s funeral. He is full of angst because he deliberately spent the last ten years avoiding his hometown, and now his mother is dead and he didn’t really have a chance to connect with her. And since he’s home, he bumps into Sarah Decker, the very reason he, you know, callously ignored the existence of his mother all the way until her last day on earth. When her father died that Sept 11, Nick decided that he wanted to do something meaningful with his life, so he went ahead and joined the Navy. The thing is, Sarah expected that they would be spending their lives together, so when he went ahead and enlisted without telling her… and you know, when she went off with another guy, that was it. Nick spent ten years ignoring the existence of his mother because of a broken heart. And now his mother is dead and he never got to say goodbye to her and it is all Sarah’s fault! Okay, he soon wises up and even apologizes to Sarah about being an immature twat, but Sarah also insists that she was wrong, too, as she should have stuck by Nick and made things work. Not to mention, she was punished for daring to spurn a Navy Sex God anyway when the bloke she ditched Nick for turned out to be all wrong for her. So they make up, have sex, decide to hook up when he has time off from his rigorous regime, and yes, Nick’s mother is still dead. But sex with Sarah will help Nick sleep easier now, so everything is good.
Stephanie Bond takes over the patriotic torch with Baby I’m Back, which is set in the town of Sweetness like her Southern Road books. Barry Ballantine comes back home after losing a leg on duty. He hadn’t been back since the tornado flattened most of Sweetness, and now that Sweetness is undergoing a revival, he is curious to see what has changed for the better. It isn’t long before he bumps into Lora Jansen, an ex-schoolmate who has grown up to become a hottie. Back then, he and his friends taunted her mercilessly about her bracers, so it’s a good thing that he’s grown up to become a hot Navy SEAL. Otherwise, it won’t be so easy to forgive him! Oh, and Lora is a physical therapist, which is really convenient as Barry is now missing a leg. So, Barry and Lora hook up, the end.
Kylie Brant is next with SEALed Fates. Cort Ramsey is missing a part of his leg too, and now, the ex-Navy SEAL is sullenly working on his father’s run down ranch in Montana. Cows are so boring, after all, compared to the thrill of lobbing bombs in some third world country. Luckily for him, Emma Cunningham has moved in next door to distract him from his blues. She has always harbored a crush on him since high school, and now that she is in danger from a wicked mother-in-law, what’s better than an ex-Navy SEAL to protect her and her creepy kids? Like the previous two stories, this one is made up of very familiar clichés from start to finish.
Going Dark by Helen Brenna is next. Team America is in Somalia, taking down the rebels and making Somalia a safer place for all. Nate Griggs, our hero, and his Team America comrades are however most vexed that Mohammed Ahmed – hey, that rhymes! – the Somali warlord they are after remains elusive. Nate is also smarting from how Kaley Andrews, an undercover reporter from Donald Pritchard’s On Record show, slept with him with what seems like the sole intention of digging up dirt on his team. I find it amusing that Kaley exposing the classified information on how Team Nate bungled up things and allowed the deaths of an entire medical team is considered “muck-racking” when, according to Nate, that incident actually happened. I guess it is “distortion of the truth” when Team Nate is portrayed as losers. Must be a Republican versus Democrat thing. Anyway, God is a Republican who loves his big guns, because Pritchard and Kaley are soon held prisoners by evil Somali rebels, and Team Nate are on the pulse. Kaley turns out to be on his side, having been taken in by Hell’s liberal response to Rupert Murdoch, and Nate throws some bombs that end up killing Mohammed Ahmed before he flies off with Kaley for a week of hot sex. All is right in the world again!
HelenKay Dimon presents Finding Home, in which I learn that a civil war is taking place in the island of Erites.
Despite its strategic location in the middle of the ocean, thousands of miles north of Hawaii, no one had bothered with Erites for decades. Powerful countries dismissed the people of Erites as uncivilized and saw little benefit to offset the expense of making an ally out of a strip of land approximately the size of California. Then the photograph of a secret meeting between Erites Prime Minister Hakandu and the U.S. President surfaced and Erites became an area of great interest.
Conflicting rumors swirled for months about a U.S. military base being built there and Korea’s hold over Erites’ military leadership who long fought with elected Prime Minister Hakandu over the country’s need for a mobilized fighting force. In the middle of it all, Megan and a small crew had been dispatched from Washington, D.C. to set up and charge ahead.
Thanks to the secret nature of the visit they hadn’t expected a welcoming committee, but death squads were a horrible surprise.
I have no idea why everyone is so angry at some American folks showing up on Erites. Don’t these people know that Americans are amazing people to be adored and welcomed with open arms? Anyway, Team America – led by Hal Robertson – will soon show up to give these heathens and save Megan and company.
This one is certainly action-packed and Megan can hold her own alongside Hal, but there are moments where I get distracted by some long running sentences that have to be read twice to be understood. This is one example:
The first-ever U.S. Ambassador and the diplomatic envoy charged with getting the new embassy up and running stood together in the doorway between the Ambassador’s temporary private home office and the open area outside his door that eventually would house his security team and an assistant once those people arrived.
I also find myself wondering why all of a sudden everyone is so interested in Erites. I’m told at first it is overlooked by many countries, then all of a sudden US is in the picture, as is Korea, and then, BOOM! Why? Did they find oil there? At any rate, such a war means that the locals are going to die, but I am supposed to be concerned about the welfare of a few Americans; Americans who barged ahead in some top secret mission that plunged the whole country into violent unrest. I’m not too sure about that. It’s best to just shut down the brain and go with the flow where this story is concerned.
Cindy Gerard is next with SEALed with a Kiss. Of course someone would come up with that title. Luke Colter and Valentina are enjoying the sun and sand of Palau. They have great sex, they go diving together, and launch into long interior monologues. Luke tells me what a hot wife he is married to and Val tells me what an amazing man Luke is because he is the most awesome Navy SEAL medic with power pecs and a fifty-inch penis, and oh, he saved her from danger and thus, he is AWESOME. Val is claustrophobic, but she can’t say no to an awesome Navy SEAL medic with power pecs who saved her life, so she goes diving with him and lets him show off his incredible diving skills to her. Something tells me Luke’s favorite hobby is showing off to the wife. Anyway, things go wrong – something has to, or I’d have fallen into a coma from all that sugary swill I am subjected to so far – and Val tearfully and determinedly saves her husband’s life. The end. I have no idea which book these two boinking Care Bears come from, and I don’t care.
Tara Janzen’s Panama Jack is, to my relief, an actually good story that isn’t overdosed on hammy attempts at glorifying Navy SEAL guys or tired clichés strung together. Our Navy SEAL hero, Panama Jack Corday, and our CIA heroine, “Jane Smith”, actually spar and treat each other like equals, which is a nice change from the previous stories where the heroine practically worships the hero and kisses the ground he walks on. He has no idea what Jane’s mission is, as he is just the operative who guides her on her weekly excursions into the dense jungles. He will find out soon enough what she is up to, and of course everyone gets a happy ending here. I like this one – it has snappy lines, a nice action hero who has a mouth on him but is a pretty nice and dependable guy nonetheless, and a heroine who holds her own very well. Ms Janzen is telling a story here instead of trying too hard to set a plot revolving around the hero being a Navy SEAL, and the end result is a tale that successfully showcases the awesomeness of those guys far more entertainingly and naturally than the previous hammy and artificial stories.
Leslie Kelly is up next with Wrapped and Sealed. Tanner Boudreau has undergone and done much as a Navy SEAL, but there is nothing more terrifying than his grandmother asking him to dress up as Santa Claus for the Christmas party at Rolling Acres, an assisted living facility. And when Gran asks him, she’s actually telling him, of course. How nice that he will meet the woman of his dreams by listening to Gran. Dr Jessica D’Angelo happens to be in Rolling Hills that day to spend some time with her patients who are spending Christmas alone. Only when she sits on Santa’s lap on a dare does she realize that Santa is actually the hunky Navy SEAL she met in Yemen, during a stint with Doctors Without Borders, just before the world went kaboom. It was a brief encounter – he brought her a cup of coffee after she patched up a wounded boy – but they had never forgotten each other since. This one is one of my favorite stories in the anthology, mostly because it is a story that feels genuinely romantic. If Five For Fighting says that even Superman has a human side that is looking for a place called home, here, Ms Kelly shows that even the most heroic Navy SEAL may be looking for love. I especially love the last few paragraphs of the last chapter – I actually find myself shedding a few tears to them. Unfortunately, the epilogue slightly ruins the beautiful “let’s live for the present, who knows about the future” ambiguity of the last chapter that contributed to much of the romanticism of the story. Still, this is one very romantic tale indeed.
Worth the Risk by Elle Kennedy takes me to Skylark Springs, where Jason Anders (guess what his job is) has come to face his demons and make peace with Callie Carraway. You know, I think the party is finally getting started, because this one is also a pretty entertaining read. Callie is sassy without being annoying, Jason is charming and somewhat cocksure without being too obnoxious in the process, and this story is just so sweet.
Alison Kent serves Twenty-One Hours, and yes, this story takes place within 21 hours. There is wildfire razing down everything in its way, and Teri Stokes is back in Crow Hill, hoping to get her and her parents to safety ASAP. Also back in town is Shane Gregor, who has some unresolved issues with Teri. This one isn’t bad at all, and I like how both characters talk and listen. The thing is, this story has several other focuses apart from the romance, such as Teri’s relationship with her parents, and therefore, the romance never feels as developed as it should have been. This is a pleasant read, but that’s about it.
Jo Leigh’s story has the most interesting title of all – Not Waving but Drowning. This is another story of a Navy SEAL on leave who hooks up with the woman he’s always wanted. By this point, such a story has better be so good or else it’s going to be another one of those “How many of such stories do we need anyway?” things that make me roll up my eyes. Alas, this story of Dan Hogan hooking up with Renee Crocker is a tale of a hero’s angst that, due to the length of the story, never really comes together as well as it should. This story takes too long to go anywhere, and when it does get somewhere, it ends just when things are showing signs of starting to get really good.
Gennita Low presents Her Secret Pirate.
“The captain has determined that the Ambassador is in imminent danger of being discovered and that we must act now before dawn. The President has given the go-ahead orders. The four of you are tasked to take down the pirates. Zone, you’ve been cleared to go.”
What happens is that some pirates have attacked a food aid ship headed to India. They realized that they have struck something good when they turned on the news and learned that the US Ambassador and his family are on board that ship. The Ambassador and his aide are hidden away, but his daughter is still out there somewhere on the ship. This is where Zodenko “Zone” Zonovich and his three buddies come in. Team America will rescue Rebecca Powers, the Ambassador’s daughter, and take down the pirates. And since Zone and Rebecca have a history together, he’d get the girl too. This is an action-packed tale, but because of its length, it doesn’t make much of an impact on me. Still, it’s a pleasant read that doesn’t devolve into unintentionally hilarious flag waving.
In Marliss Melton’s SEALed by Fate – what a ridiculous title – is another action-driven tale, but this one is spectacularly stupid. This one is also riddled with annoying repetition of details even within consecutive paragraphs. Teacher Madison Scott is the only staff that tries to stop a bunch of drug lord from taking over an all-girls’ school and forcing the girls into being drug mules and prostitutes. Her brilliant plan seems to consist of cowering like an idiot and needing to be rescued. Fortunately, Team America, led by Sam Sasseville, is on the case. When he has rescued her, he then berates her for forcing him to rescue her when he could have been killing arms smugglers that work for the al-Qaeda in Malaysia. I think Ms Melton has confused Indonesia for Malaysia. Maybe it’s a good thing that I may be the only Malaysian reading this story, or else Ms Melton may end up receiving some angry emails. I do get why Sam is mad, since Maddie is really a stupid wench, but I find it ridiculous that Sam feels that he deserves to be given only large-scale missions where he gets to kill people on a grander scale.
“No offense, Madison,” Sam replied, using her first name the way she’d used his, “but there’s a big difference between you and me.” He propped his hands on his hips. “I’ve been trained to fight aggression. I know how to resist torture, how to survive in the wilderness, how to operate thirty-one different weapons with lethal precision. You don’t know any of that.” He raised his eyebrows at her.
“True.” She conceded with surprising grace and a delicate shrug of her shoulders. “But I offer the world something other than physical protection.” Her liquid amber gaze seemed to see deep down inside him.
“What else is there?” He was afraid to ask.
“Spiritual protection,” she informed him solemnly. “Hope. Companionship. Compassion.”
Bwahahahahaa… wait, I’m not supposed to laugh at Maddie?
This story, by the way, seems to be a prologue of either a previous book or an upcoming book. At any rate, these two don’t hook up by the last page, and I can only pray that they never would.
Christie Ridgway bites the bullet and titles her story Signed, SEALed, Delivered… I’m Yours. After all, somebody has to use this title in this anthology – it’s the law. Mandy Warner is enjoying her Thanksgiving. There are sounds of gunshot all around her, and she is hiding in the basement. She is in an unnamed country in South America, visiting her uncle who is a “top official in the US foreign service”, when she finds herself in this predicament. Luckily, there is always Team America. Josh Frye rescues her, they agree to date, she meets his family, they are fabulous people and… and… oh yes, that’s it, the end. Is that all? I can’t feel a thing.
Barbara Samuel is next with Dog Heart. Jessie Stone’s heart skips a beat when Marcus Stone, her ex-boyfriend turned Navy SEAL, is back in town and OH MY GOD, HOW MANY VERSIONS OF THIS STORY DO WE NEED? I WILL… oh, what a cute dog. What is his name? Staff Sergeant Thor? Aww, the poor poochie was badly wounded on duty. Since Jessie is the dog whisperer, it makes sense for Marcus to send him to her. Marcus has promised Thor’s handler, who was killed on duty, that he’d take good care of the dog, but he and the dog have issues that stand in the way of them becoming best bros. Can Jessie find a way to give them all a happy ending? The romance in this one isn’t too exciting, since this is the same old “A woman is wrong to be unhappy when a man enlists because ENLISTING TO BE A NAVY SEAL IS A NOBLE THING!” thing that has been brought up so many times already in this anthology. But the dog is really adorable.
Roxanne St Clair presents Whirlwind. This time around, it’s a small town ravaged by a hurricane. Billie Jo stays behind in her trailer, I mean, mobile home, unable to go anywhere because she doesn’t want to show anyone her ID. She also has in her possession a watch belonging to Navy SEAL Richard Stone, and luckily for her, he shows up and helps clean up her mess before she gets swept up in a tornado. And won’t it be a shame if a tornado get her? I mean, all she does here is to scream that her dog has run away, wail and behave like a brain-damaged ragamuffin, and generally act like at least half the rooms in her head are vacant, but the good lord did say that all life is precious.
Stephanie Tyler wants to contribute to the betterment of veteran families everywhere and let readers of her Hold series know that her characters are living happily ever after. I’d think that the “happily ever after” thing would be obvious to every reader of the genre, but I guess there may be ten or eleven readers out there who need to be beaten in the head with the obvious. So, in Holding On, some Navy SEAL’s wife is about to give birth. A bunch of Navy SEALs are pooping on al-Qaeda members’ heads in Africa. I wonder whether they are related to the Malaysian members. Oh no, Mommy needs a C-section! Some Navy SEAL bloke sings in his car. Somebody is pregnant. A STORM! BABY! TWINS! ROCK OF THE AGES! ARE YOU READY? SOME BLOKE NAMED RICKY HAS A GRANDSON! THIS IS SO EXCITING, I’M HAVING A HEART ATTACK!
Loreth Anne White presents Letters to Ellie. Ellie Winters is the host of the radio show Your Call, who cries and talks about prisoners of war (American ones, of course) on her show while playing sad music in the background. It sounds like a radio show for funeral parlors. Anyway, as it happens, some guy is listening to her radio show in his undershorts one evening – there’s always someone in undershorts listening to a radio show, after all – and at least he’s using his hand to hold a whiskey bottle instead of holding… you know. Anyway, Mr Undershorts is convinced that Ellie is his sweetheart (she just doesn’t know it yet), so he drives up to her place, peeks into her mailbox, and hides behind a hedge to peek at her through her window. I know he really cares for her, because he actually bathed before he went through all this trouble for her. How will Ellie react when Max here reveals that he was with her fiancé when the fiancé died and Max has loved her all these years?
Okay, the set-up of this story is actually quite ridiculous, but once Max and Ellie meet and really talk, Letters To Ellie transforms into a very sentimental story that plays me like a violin. If Leslie Kelly’s story made me shed a few tears, this one gets me all choked up inside. Max is a really beautifully written woobie – he is definitely walking wounded from all the scars in his soul, so it is heartbreakingly lovely to see that he cares more for Ellie’s feelings than his own. He could have been whiny, he could have blamed the world for his nonsense, but after what he has gone through, I wouldn’t blame him. But he doesn’t do all that at all, and that’s what makes him such a sweetheart. With this being a short story, Ellie has to fall for Max very quickly, and this is the only thing that ruins the tale somewhat. She spent so many years waiting for her husband to come home, so the fact that she quickly hops into bed with Max afterward has me wondering whether her feelings for Max can honestly be considered love. Still, it’s very nice to meet Max and Ellie is actually a fine heroine, the fact that she’s is made by the author to sleep with Max so quickly notwithstanding.
I usually recommend charity anthologies, even if I may have some doubts about the quality of a certain anthology, because they exist for a good cause. Honestly, though, SEAL of My Dreams is a very uneven anthology. Many of the stories are uninspired rehashes of clichés of the genre, and there are potentially good short stories that end up being average reads because their length prevents them from being developed fully. Also, there are so many similar elements in these stories that, after a while, it seems like every story is about a Navy SEAL, who is injured in one leg and who was inspired to enlist after watching coverages of 9/11, coming home to hook up with an old flame who dumped him because she was such a left-wing peace-hollering activist back in those days. But if you persevere through all that campy flag-waving and cliché overdose, there are actually a handful of stories that are very good.