Hard To Hold
Mass Market, November 2009
Genre & Keywords: Contemporary, Military Romance, SEALs, Suspense, Violence, Africa
Heat level: ¹¹
There are some books you really look forward to reading and then they just can’t live up to your own high expectations. There’s no one else to blame but yourself. Hard To Hold by Stephanie Tyler turned out to be such a book for me. Based on three Blaze novels about three SEAL friends by this author I really wanted to read her new contemporary military romance series about the brothers Jake, Nick and Chris, all Navy SEALs too. The first book about Jake was released on November 24, 2009 and the third one a few weeks ago. It took me a while to finish Hard To Hold because I struggled a little bit with the book.
First the Back Blurb:
Lieutenant Jake Hansen has survived some of the riskiest missions known to man. But now the wounded Navy SEAL faces his toughest job yet: smuggling Dr. Isabelle Markham out of Africa without triggering an international incident. Not easy to do when the gorgeous hostage happens to be a senator’s daughter—and about as easy to resist as an oasis in the desert.
If it weren’t for Jake, Isabelle would still be halfway across the world, where rebel forces left her for dead. The special ops warrior may have saved her life, but she doesn’t need him to protect her now. Tell that to the ruggedly handsome hunk in full battle fatigues who’s just been assigned as Isabelle’s personal bodyguard. Close quarters aside, Isabelle won’t let Jake anywhere near her heart—until danger throws them together again. And nothing in the jungles of wildest Africa could prepare them for a passion this wild. This crazy. This hot…
One of the highs of this novel for me was definitely Jake’s character. He’s adorable, attractive, wounded, caring and hot. His tormented soul and anger are very sexy and his consideration for Isabelle is really sweet. He’s struggling with his own feelings while protecting Isabelle’s. Maybe his life story was a bit extreme (he had a very abusive youth) and we are made to believe that he joined the navy at the age of 15 or 16 without anyone in the army noticing or doing something to prevent it. That’s quite unbelievable. His grander than grand issues with his past were probably necessary to make Isabelle realize she’s not the only one of them who is struggling with abuse and guilt. For me it would have been enough if Jake just helped her heal by being patient and kind like he was from the beginning without the addition of their shared problems as a remedy to make her whole and trusting again. But that has more to do with one of my lows I guess.
One of the sweetest Jake moments was the one where they have a love scene on the couch in which Jake cuffs his hands behind his back while Isabelle sits on his lap and he tells her that she is safe and can touch herself.
• Good secondary characters
I like a story in which the protags are surrounded by friends and family. Mainly Jake has great people in his life. I especially had a soft spot for Nick, Jake’s stepbrother. He’s easy going, tough and sexy with his habit to walk around the house without clothes.
• Great story building
Ms. Tyler tells a rounded story that is well build. All pieces of the puzzle fall into place in the end. It’s all very well plotted. Her story contains a lot of suspense as well, but to be honest it didn’t bring me once to the edge of my seat.
• Easy writing
Ms. Tyler’s writing style is pleasant. With seemingly little effort she can make a scene visible and tangible. Sometimes she tends to explain a bit too much for my taste and she becomes repetitive, while in other moments (towards the end) she skips a few things. But overall her writing has an easy vibe and doesn’t ask too much (or less) from her readers. For example I like the way she described Jake:
“Nothing about him was overtly pushy or blatant or cocky. He didn’t have to be. He moved with the quiet confidence other men envied, tried to emulate and failed. His commanding presence wasn’t something to be copied, it was something to be earned.”
• Interesting world
Ms. Tyler has the ability to evoke a whole world with her words, an interesting world that I wasn’t familiar with but that became vividly alive before my eyes. She provides us with a lot of information and details to reach that. The lives of SEALs, mercenaries and social/medical workers in Africa were all new to me.
• The heroine Isabelle
As much as I liked Jake, I could not feel the same sympathy or tenderness for Isabelle. In fact, she pretty much annoyed me a great deal of the time. And I feel bad about that, given her abuse and ordeal during the kidnapping and all. She sure did deserve my sympathy, and she had it most of the time. But not so much when it comes to the way she treated Jake. Okay, she had trust issues, I got that and sure, she had a hard time giving up her control sexually, I got that too! But I didn’t get her selfishness and her being mean to him at one point. And after denying him his pleasure a few times while she had hers, she finally is ready for him – you know, all the way – after Jake has shown his anger and then she tells him:
• The very distracting multiple POV’s
From the beginning I was struggling with this book because of the often changing POV, not just between the hero and heroine but between many secondary characters as well. And not their POV on the H/h, nope they all had their own storyline and personal issues. I found these very distracting, since I hardly knew the H/h at that point. Gradually I got used to the multiple POV’s and in the end they were reduced to just a few besides that from the H/h (mainly Clutch and Sarah’s, which was an interesting couple btw).
• Many flashbacks in italic
I don’t really mind flashbacks in a story, they can add something essential, but in most cases it’s enough when the narrator just tells what happened. The showing with the help of flashbacks is not always necessary, especially not when the telling is already done. In Hard To Hold often both the telling and the showing takes place. That’s superfluous imo. Besides that, I don’t need the italics to know that I’m dealing with a flashback – the italics can be omitted!
The bad thing really was that a great part of these flashbacks were from the secondary characters! That was just too much for me, I couldn’t care less. Their POV’s and secondary storylines were enough distraction from Jake’s and Isabelle’s love story, their flashbacks were over the top for me…
• Incomprehensible love
Why Jake and Isabelle fell in love with each other? I have no idea, except that they experienced an intense ordeal together maybe. Perhaps I can see why Isabelle liked Jake in the end, because I myself fell in love with him a little bit, but I never felt her love! I needed more of her thoughts and perspective concerning her feelings for Jake, because now I didn’t believe it. And why Jake loved Isabelle is really beyond me! Not only because what I wrote about her (see my first low) but also because of the lack of an explanation of his feelings.
• Lack of love scenes
There weren’t many love scenes between Jake and Isabelle. And no, I’m not only talking about the hot kind (although I’m a big fan of those and to be honest the love scenes between Clutch and Sarah were a welcome addition). I’m also talking about tenderness and sweetness between the two. Of course, the physical part of their relationship was hindered by Isabelle’s abuse experience. But that part was stretched out way too long I think.
Those were my five highs and lows. Overall, Hard To Hold was an okay read for me. It didn’t meet my high expectations by far and I’m the only one to blame for that ;). My dislike of certain elements in this story is personal. I hope that the second book, Too Hot To Hold, about Jake’s brother Nick, will be more than an okay read for me, since I already purchased it. When my high expectations had something to do with my rather harsh judgment of Hard To Hold than maybe my very low expectations of Too Hot To Hold will make me like that one way better!