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Thursday, January 2, 2014

ARC Review: Take Over at Midnight by M. L. Buchman

I admit that the primary reason I started reading M.L. Buchman’s The Night Stalkers series of military romances—of which TAKE OVER AT MIDNIGHT is the fourth full-length entry—is because I was curious about a male author’s take on the genre. Despite its ‘military romantic suspense’ billing, the series is more contemporary romance than RS, boasting incredibly well written character-driven stories against the backdrop of an active warzone and the first kickass, all-female crew in the United States Army 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) (aka SOAR). Though each book can technically be read as a standalone, a lot of the background on the Night Stalkers and the tight-knit cast of secondary characters in TAKE OVER AT MIDNIGHT is built up throughout the series and there is a sizable subplot involving the couple from the first book, so readers will derive more enjoyment from reading the series in order.

If you are looking for high-octane military action, you’d be better served looking elsewhere—though military buffs will appreciate the thoroughness of the research and the technical details of the writing that give it a very realistic feel. Despite the underlying mission involving research on biological weapons of mass destruction secretly stolen from Iran, TAKE OVER AT MIDNIGHT is much more slow-moving than some of the other Night Stalkers books and is first and foremost about its protagonists. Mr. Buchman excels at emotion-evoking character-focussed storytelling, and his greatest strength is his ability to write realistic, relatable heroines that are kickass and strong but undeniably female. Helicopter pilot wunderkind and all-around Army badass Major Emily Beale (the heroine of the first novel in the series) has long been my undisputed favourite Night Stalkers character, but Chief Warrant Officer Lola LaRue gives her a run for her money. The daughter of a crooked cop in New Orleans and (sort of) raised by the world-weary cook at a brothel, Lola was a seventeen-year-old train wreck headed off the rails and considering selling her body for the first time when 9/11 happened and irrevocably changed everything. Heeding the call to belong to a cause, she’s now the second-ever female pilot (and fourth woman overall) to make it into SOAR and new kid on the block trying to break into the tight-knit Night Stalkers group. What makes her so incredibly realistic and relatable is that—despite being an ace pilot and excelling in all the training to qualify for SOAR—she feels like a fraud: a good-for-nothing Creole stray pretending to belong in the big leagues. Who hasn’t experienced imposter syndrome to some degree in our everyday lives? I definitely did throughout six years of graduate school, so I felt an immediate connection to Lola and could empathize with her struggle to determine if (and where) she belongs. The dynamics of the all-female helicopter crew—both friendships and conflicts (though I never really got why crew chief Kee took such exception to Lola)—are also incredibly well written and combine with the sweet romance to create a satisfying, poignant character arc for Lola.

Sergeant Tim Maloney is the perfect foil (and complement) to Lola’s darker angst, all laid-back charm and practical jokes over a steadfast commitment to protecting those he loves forged from that same post-9/11 wake-up call. One look at the mix of toughness and vulnerability that is Lola and he’s sunk. I loved how he can read her so well (even when she can’t understand herself), how sweet he is, and how his incredible self-awareness helps her finally come into herself. I want a Tim (and his zany, close-knit, numerous family) of my own! The slower pace of the story allows for a stronger focus on the romance, and the many sweet moments between Tim and Lola (carving her a backgammon board in an Iranian salt pan? be still my heart!) appealed to the romantic in me without being overdone and excessively saccharine.

TAKE OVER AT MIDNIGHT is a great addition to The Night Stalkers series—possibly my favourite entry yet. Mr. Buchman’s skill as a writer is evident in the superb prose that manages to make even the minutiae of helicopter operations fascinating and the creation of well-rounded, three-dimensional characters you will become emotionally invested in and look forward to following throughout the series (Majors Beale and Henderson FTW!). Readers looking for something akin to a sweet romance (including the fade-to-black love scenes) but with kickass military women (and their men), an active warzone, and some badass helicopters should definitely give this series, and author, a try.

**ARC provided by NetGalley**

Purchase: Amazon | Kindle | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository |


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