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Thursday, July 4, 2013

ARC Review: Secret Maneuvers by Jessie Lane

The blurb for this book sounded promising and right up my alley: hot ex-Special Ops hero, suspense, and a reunion romance with all the angst that comes along with it? I’m sold! But while I found the premise promising, I found the execution somewhat underwhelming. SECRET MANEUVERS, the first book in the Ex-Ops series, finds itself in that awkward space between romantic suspense and contemporary romance (of the Southern persuasion) that is notoriously difficult to navigate. I have seen seasoned romantic suspense authors fail to impress in this niche, and the writing team that is newbie author Jessie Lane doesn’t fare much better.

Hero Bobby Baker was the golden boy of a small Georgia town: star football player, academic superstar, practically engaged to his high school sweetheart from the wrong side of the tracks, and with a life in the Army all planned out. Annabelle (Belle) Smith was the girl from the trailer park with an abusive, alcoholic father who couldn’t truly believe Bobby would love someone like her and whose only life prospect was to wait for him to finish his Army training and take her away from her desolate home life. Their teenage selves are a romantic’s dream: he’s her knight in shining armour and she’s his first love and reason for being. The book’s prologue does an excellent job of setting up this dynamic, the intensity of feelings both have for each other, and the HEA they’ve planned together. And then Bobby, in a fit of teenage idiocy and overwhelmed by all the new experiences and encounters of Army training, writes Belle a Dear Jane letter that shatters her faith in love and leaves her completely alone out in the cold. Immediately after sending the letter, Bobby realises he’s been an idiot and writes a second letter taking everything back and expressing his undying love… but Belle has taken off for parts unknown. Fifteen years of radio silence and wallowing in mistakes later and—unbeknownst to either of them—Bobby is part of a secret black ops team and Belle a badass ATF agent based in Texas assigned to the same investigation of a gun-running Mexican cartel. The attraction between them is still scorching and Bobby is determined to make Belle his again, but she’s still hurt from his having dumped her so callously and is keeping secrets. Angst, drama, sexy-times, and some action ensue.

Though the characters were three-dimensional and well developed, my biggest problem is that I couldn’t really connect with the hero and heroine. Bobby had a bit too much of that alpha swagger and wounded male pride that edged sexy over into almost overbearing and possessive. The way he thought of Belle as undeniably ‘his’ after having ditched her (knowing her abandonment issues)—even if it was the biggest mistake of his life—grated on me, though I did appreciate his single-minded determination to get her to at least listen to his apology. It also irked me that he expected a simple apology to make things right between them so they could pick up where they’d been fifteen years ago, and I was repeatedly tempted to forcibly remove his head from his ass when dealing with ‘the secret’. Sure, he can abandon the love of his life when she was most vulnerable and expect her to forgive and forget, but she’s not entitled to some mistakes of her own… double standard, much? Belle was a study in contradictions, and a complete emotional pushover for a purportedly badass ATF agent. She had an incredibly rough childhood and as result has major abandonment issues and has made some less-than-stellar choices in her life, but after an initial resistance to Bobby’s advances, she lets him walk all over her. The two of them have a boatload of regrets, mistakes, and lies to deal with that make for some great angst, but the way they dealt with their issues on their way to their HEA didn’t resonate with me. The book is written in first-person (generally not my favourite) and alternates between Bobby’s and Annabelle’s POVs within the same chapter, which—while nice because we get to see what each character is thinking/feeling (and there is a lot of internalizing of emotions)—was at times a bit jarring.

Overall, SECRET MANEUVERS was an okay read for me that didn’t quite live up to its potential. It does have great secondary characters and an excellent dynamic between the boys on the Ex-Ops team that make good fodder for future books, and I will likely look for the next entry in the series to learn the stories of the other Ex-Ops members. Especially the commander’s.

**ARC provided by Author**

Purchase: | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords | All Romance |


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