Today’s book review, of two of Pamela Clare’s I-Team series, is brought to you by my (Californian) editor, Rachel Daven Skinner.
Author Pamela Clare has been so clever with her marketing that I find it impossible to review one of these without the other. First Strike is the erotic romance prequel novella (17k words) that she self-published on 18 October as an ebook companion to Striking Distance, book 6 in her best-selling romantic suspense I-Team series, published by Berkley (Penguin Group) on 5th November in MMP and ebook formats. How clever is that?
I’ll leave the finer points of the story descriptions to the blurbs at the end of this review, but here’s the gist of how these books fit together:
In First Strike we meet Natalie, an American TV reporter covering the Middle East, staging in Dubai before heading back to work in controversial territories, and we meet Javier, an American Navy SEAL, in Dubai for an R&R weekend after months of action with his team. Neither are looking for a relationship, so a weekend of no-strings passion is their only intention. After three dynamic days, they turn their backs on the strong bond they’d unexpectedly formed. And then BAM! Pamela Clare leaves you with a cliffhanger tragedy of an ending.
Fast forward 18 months and you’re in the Striking Distance prologue. Unbeknownst to the world, Laura has been held hostage by an Al-Qaeda group since just after Javier kissed her goodbye in Dubai. Javier is the SEAL team leader of an op against a compound where the last thing he expected was to rescue the woman he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about for over a year. Chapter one opens two years after the rescue, with Laura now working as an investigative newspaper reporter in Denver, Colorado, and Javier on leave, suffering from PTSD. Laura and Javier are brought together once again, each with a freight train of personal baggage, working side by side to extinguish a terrorist threat.
Right. Let’s back-up.
Romantic suspense is my favourite reading genre and I’ve been a big fan of the I-Team series for years, but I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about an ‘erotic romance novella’, where all the action would be confined to a bedroom (or elevator, or bathtub, or …) rather than at gunpoint, but I honestly loved it. It wasn’t just an exercise of ‘how many ways can two puzzle pieces fit together’; there was genuine emotional connection and the chemistry leapt off the page. Clare’s use of language (as in word choice, not profanity) really nails the intensity of the characters’ personalities as well as their interactions with each other. The unexpected bonus was the Dubai setting, which was a character unto itself.
I really love that Clare gave readers the chance to get to know Laura and Javier before their lives were destroyed during the gap between the novella’s last chapter and the novel’s first. For anyone that read the Striking Distance prologue online before First Strike was published (or you can still read it now), the end of this novella is particularly powerful.
For an erotic romance novella there isn’t anything I’d wish to be better or different, so comparing apples to apples, I easily give it 5 stars within its genre. Check out some of my favourite First Strike quotes at Goodreads.
I’ve never read a stronger opening to a book than the prologue in Striking Distance. Clare posted it online months ago as a teaser and it slayed me. Thank God the book lived up to its promise!
Laura is a survivor. Despite that she spent nearly two years in captivity by terrorists, where she was frequently raped, that when her captor was brought to justice he put a hit on her head, or that she has to continuously deal with a great heartbreak, Laura is determined to live life on her terms. She doesn’t wilt in the face of danger, but she also doesn’t take stupid risks, so when Javier enters her life again, she doesn’t turn down his offer of protection while the threats and risks are eliminated.
Javier’s mixed heritage, Spanish guitar serenades, Navy SEAL intensity, and dedication all combine to make a sexy and likable hero. His patience and creativity in easing Laura back into an intimate relationship is incredibly sweet. It also makes for some creative hanky-panky. 😉 For fans of SEALs, you’ll die for the scene near the end where he gets to put his frogman skills to use in an effort to rescue Laura. And as if all that wasn’t enough, his actions and words in the final three chapters regarding an emotional thread of the plot – not the romance or suspense threads – are what make him an incredible hero. (Sorry, no spoilers here!)
One of the really beautiful aspects of the story is the way Laura interacts with the Muslim family of someone who’s accused of trying to kill her in a terrorist fashion. Not only is Laura not blinded by stereotypes, but even after everything she suffered as a prisoner of an extremist, truth and respect are what govern this heroine’s emotions and actions; I can’t think of a more heroic trait than that. Laura’s final scene with this family was one of my favourite in the whole book.
In fact, it was refreshing to read a book that dealt with terrorism in such a real, personal way, where it was more than simply a plot device to represent ‘bad things’. Clare’s I-Team books always tackle gritty real-world problems, so it’s not surprising that she didn’t shy away from this current affairs hot topic. I felt Clare did a truly great job of showing the importance of respect, tolerance and perspective in a non-preachy way.
The series name I-Team stands for Investigative Team, because all of the books in the series have a heroine that works as an Investigative Reporter for the Denver Independent. (Sidebar: Clare used to be just such a reporter in Denver, so she brings authenticity and first-hand experiences to the table.) One of the few things that caused a minor ding on my rating scale was that Striking Distance felt a little less investigating-y (hey, I’m an editor; I can make official rulings on spellings) than previous books in the series. In the prior books, both the heroines and heroes have independent storylines that converge, and the heroes play big roles in the mystery / investigation side of the plot, but I felt that was a little less true for Javier. He was a strong and fully fleshed-out character, but most of his arc was of the internal variety; his external goal was more-so to support and protect Laura, and I felt it leant a slightly different tone to the book. Laura, too, seemed to do a little less investigating than other I-Team heroines.
Although this book is fully capable of being standalone, the joy of reading the I-Team series in order is all about the bromance. The heroes and heroines are all friends and make an appearance in this book, and the men all work together in some capacity (politician, law enforcement, etc.). Their interactions jump off the page, most often from hilarity and ribbing, sometimes from sheer cohesion, and when you’re lucky, some tender sincerity. Sherlock and Watson, step aside.
And let it be known that I’m not a big crier when I read, but I teared up a few times with this one. Gah!
As a standalone romantic suspense novel if I hadn’t read any of the other I-Team books, I’d give Striking Distance 4.5 stars. Comparing it to the rest of the I-Team collection, my personal rating is about 4.2. 🙂 Check out my favourite Striking Distance quotes at Goodreads.
Thank you to Berkley for giving me a free Advanced Reader Copy of Striking Distance in exchange for an honest review.
Pamela Clare’s blog has some excerpts of Striking Distance, so you can check things out for yourself.
And if you’re even the teensiest bit interested in audiobooks, there should be a law that you also try Striking Distance on audio. Why? The narrator, Kaleo Griffith, will curl your toes. (Go on, I’ll wait why you sample him, er, ugh, his narration.) Seriously, I’m happy just listening to him read copyright and production information. I haven’t yet heard his rendition of Striking Distance, but I have heard the rest of the series, so I know it’ll be impossible for it to not be great. (And for the record, I’ve never liked an audiobook until these.) If you buy any of Clare’s books in Kindle format through amazon.com then you can snag the audio companions for a bargain $3.99 each at audible.com. DO IT. Unfortunately the titles aren’t available at audible.co.uk (lots of sad faces) but you can order the CDs elsewhere.
Alert! Book number five in the I-Team series, Breaking Point, is quite possibly my favourite I-Team book, and it’s on a temporary Kindle sale for a bargain of $1.99.
Great chance to try the author and the series for less than the price of a coffee!
First Strike (I-Team After Hours), erotic romance
Just a weekend…
Laura Nilsson knows what she wants: a successful career as a broadcast journalist—and a little fun between the sheets now and again. What she doesn’t want is marriage or kids. When a ripped and sexy stranger intervenes to stop a couple of drunks from harassing her in a hotel bar in Dubai City, all she can think about is spending the rest of the weekend with him—in her bed. There’s just one little problem. Unmarried sex is illegal in Dubai.
… of no-strings sex …
Navy SEAL Javier “Cobra” Corbray is on his way home from a rough deployment in Afghanistan when he finds himself having dinner with “the Baghdad Babe.” What she wants from him—sex with no strings—could land them both in prison. Still, he’s more than happy to oblige her. She’s confident and sexually assertive, and he’s secure enough to lie back and let her make the first strike. But, as she’s about to find out, he’s more than her match.
… or the beginning of something more?
Yet, neither Laura nor Javier has any idea what lies ahead—or how this weekend of mind-blowing sex will impact their emotions. Will they act on their new-found feelings in time, or will they let something special slip away… perhaps forever?
Striking Distance (I-Team 6), romantic suspense
Her past is a secret—even to her.
Discovering it will be the most dangerous move of her life.
TV reporter Laura Nilsson, known as the “Baghdad Babe,” spent eighteen months in an Al-Qaeda compound after being kidnapped live on the air. Two years later, she’s still wondering why.
No mission in Javier Corbray’s fourteen years as a Navy SEAL affected him the way Laura’s rescue did. No woman had stirred his protective instincts the way she did. And he wants her more than he’s ever wanted anyone.
As Laura and Javier’s passion ignites, so does Laura’s need to discover the mystery of her past. Especially when she learns that her abduction was not random—and that she’s still a target for a killer with an impenetrable motive. Now Javier will have to rely on his skills to keep the woman he loves from being struck down before she dares uncover the truth.
Morgen: That was great. Thank you, Rachel.
Rachel Daven Skinner is a freelance editor of romantic fiction who works with publishers like Choc Lit and direct with authors. American born and raised, she recently spent four years living near London before moving to Hawaii in August 2013. Her conglomeration of English lends itself to bridging the gap in writing that spans the Atlantic. Find out more about Rachel and the editing services she offers at www.RomanceRefined.com, where she also blogs editing tips, book reviews, interviews with authors on the topic of editing, and more. The site also has some great resources like a downloadable style sheet and timeline for sorting out your story continuity, a list of worldwide romance conferences and conventions for readers and writers, and more goodies.
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