ARC-review: Hard to Hold – Stephanie Tyler

Cover blurb:

Maximum danger.
Maximum desire.
And holding on for dear life…

The Special Ops hero feared nothing -until he met a woman too hot to hold…

Lt. 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 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….

At the end of a mission in Djibouti, Jake, his brothers Nick and Chris and the other members of his Navy SEAL team are on their way to the extraction point when word reaches them a doctor working with Doctors Without Borders has been held hostage and left for dead. They are to rescue her and get her out of Djibouti. The hostage is none other than a US senator’s daughter, Isabelle Markham. When they get to her, she is in very bad shape and the fear she won’t survive is great. But they manage to rescue her and with sheer will power Isabelle survives and heals, at least superficially. Two months after the rescue Isabelle signs on as a civilian consultant with the Department of Defense and is placed at the Naval hospital where her rescuers are based. An encounter and renewed acquaintance with Jake is inevitable. Neither is the attraction between them but before they can explore it, it becomes clear that with her rescue Isabelle is not out of danger yet. What follows is a fast-paced, action-packed and heart wrenching and emotionally intricate story of strength, trust, passion and resilience.

I sometimes make fun of my book instincts, that I jokingly call “the gut-feeling” but at this moment I really want to praise it for urging me to immediately put HARD TO HOLD on my wish list when I discovered at the end of 2008 that Stephanie Tyler (half of the writer duo Sydney Croft) had a romantic suspense trilogy coming out this fall. Based on just the Navy SEAL premise and the excerpts hesitation wasn’t even an afterthought and once again “the gut” absolutely didn’t steer me wrong. Stephanie Tyler rocked my romantic suspense loving boat with an amazing first installment that seriously has me pining for more now.

Jake Hansen is not a man of many words; he is a quiet, rugged man who lives for his Navy SEAL career and his adoptive father and brothers. If there were one man who has had a tormented childhood and was bound to end up with a “good for nothing” checkmark, it would be Jake. With every new thing I learned about his past I grew to admire his outlook on life more and more. He crawled under my skin and I had a hard time letting him go once I finished this book. His crappy childhood didn’t take away his sense of right and wrong, however it did affect whom he trusts and lets come close to him and his loved ones.

Isabelle Markham is one hell of a woman. She survives the ordeal of being taken hostage and having to endure horrible things, by sheer tenacity and resilience. Isabelle is a loner; she is not a people person and is satisfied with answering her calling as a physician in order to help the less fortunate. She sometimes acts before she thinks but she is never reckless. Like Jake, her past has left a lasting impression on her; trust is not something she gives easily.

There were so many things I loved about this book I don’t even know where to start but let’s give it a go.

Jake and Isabelle are one of my favorite couples of 2009, but what I liked most about how Stephanie Tyler portrayed Jake and Isabelle, is that she put them on an equal level even if Isabelle may seem more sophisticated and comes from a different environment as Jake and despite the fact that Isabelle is about 5 years older than Jake. These differences don’t affect the balance of power between them. Coming from different angles they still are very much alike in their perceptions of love, trust and life and there are no situations where one has more power in the relationship than the other one. Of course that’s what makes them a perfect match, even if they have some obstacles to overcome in order for them to accept each other and their love.

What I absolutely loved was the romantic angle in HARD TO HOLD. It’s built up nicely and gradually and so very intense because of the characters Jake and Isabelle are. Nothing is simple about them or their history/background so it goes without saying that their courtship progresses as complicated and intense as their individual lives have been. If there’s one thing that’s hard in romantic suspense it’s balancing romance and suspense and giving the readers who seek that balance what they want. Romantic suspense needs to be both plot-driven and character-driven and I must say Stephanie Tyler did a great job on this.

Some may find the romance/sex scene ratio a bit askew but in my opinion it was perfect. Considering what happened with and to Isabelle I don’t think it would have worked for me if she and Jake had jumped each other from the start and every other chapter. The way Stephanie Tyler handled this was believable, realistic and acceptable to me as a reader. Some books need sex to be excellent, others are excellent without an abundance of steamy scenes, and this is one of the latter. The love scenes are so very fitting and they appear at appropriate moments in the story with the right amount of hotness. Don’t get me wrong: there weren’t many but the ones that were there were really, really hot. My body still goes into tingly-mode just writing this review and thinking about them.

I also loved that this book is not only about Jake and Isabelle, their love story and their POVs. There are so much more characters and storylines that are part of this world Stephanie Tyler has created. A world I won’t get enough of soon and I was happy to find out there are more to come after this trilogy. The multiple POVs give the book a sense of richness and completeness. Information and characters that seem unrelated and multiple small story lines seamlessly clinch together to form a story rich with action and pace, and a story that also works on the emotional department.

I wonder if there will be a continuation of the story between Isabelle’s friend Sarah and her mercenary lover, Clutch. Their story line was just as poignant as the romance between Jake and Isabelle. Their secondary romance added depth and variation to the story and the ending of the book definitely left room for some heavy speculating on my part. I’m really worried about what’s going to happen to Clutch and I believe Isabelle and Sarah have some issues they need to sort out together too.

There is quite some information on the ways of SEALs, Marines and mercenaries and I gobbled it all up. The military suspense was nicely written into the story and was never distracting or disturbing. Without becoming too technical (or maybe that’s because I’ve read quite some romantic suspense so I am getting familiar with the lingo) Stephanie Tyler takes you into the world of military (rescue) missions, training and weapons. But she also threw some fun non-military stuff in the mix, like a psychic father with uncanny talents or going out and getting into a bar fight or the delivery of a baby in a supermarket isle.

The suspense plot was excellently written and resolved, original and atypical, at least to me. The only thing I missed in it was the POV of the bad guy of the book. As there were POVs of other characters I would have expected his too. Still this is a minor thing because I totally accepted the way the motivation for his actions was ultimately presented. The plot was set up very well with very few twists that I saw coming and mostly ones that totally blew me away because I didn’t expect them.

I absolutely liked the brother vibe between Jake, Nick and Chris. Their history is unconventional as is the way they grew up and it’s as much fun to read their brotherly banter as it is heart warming to find the love and loyalty they have for each other between the lines. They don’t pull punches with each other and form a tight knit band of brothers, able to withstand anything thrown their way. The glimpses of Jake’s brothers: Chris and especially Nick really sent the anticipation sky-high. I have this thing where I fall for one of the secondary characters who will have their own books later on in series and trilogies and especially for the ones who seem to be so much more than meets the eye at first glance. This time was no different. I fell for Nick from page 1 where he was mentioned and every time he came into the picture, all thoughts of Jake, not to mention Isabella or their predicaments, were forgotten as I got all dreamy reading about Nick and wondering what his story is. Needless to say I want his book bad. Very, truly and seriously bad. Now Chris shouldn’t feel neglected because I also have love for Chris and want his book badly too, but between Nick, him and Jake? Nick wins…hands down.

A few quotes to illustrate the brothers:

Nick hadn’t been with a woman since he’d gotten back on U.S. Soil from Afghanistan, (…), and right now Nick craved the kind of release only hot sex –or a good demolition– could bring.

Chris just laughed. Tonight he wore a white T-shirt, which made the fact that his eyes were two different colors stand out even more. One was bright blue, the other an intense green, and they gave him an unbalanced, slightly crazed look. Once people got to know him, they realized that it wasn’t just a look.

Jake made it through BUD/s* because there was no torture they’d put him through that he hadn’t already survived. Nick made it through because he was completely desensitized to pain and was constantly searching, craving, for ways to feel.
Chris made it through because he had that little edge of crazy that made it necessary for men like him to succeed.

*BUD/s = Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Training

Two itty bitty tiny things kept this book from getting the perfect 10 rating: The previously mentioned lack of bad guy POV and I think I found an inconsistency surrounding Isabella’s and her mother’s ages and the time she was conceived. I will have to ask the author about this to know what the deal is exactly and if relevant and possible without spoilers I will update this review with an explanation. However, this by no means kept me from utterly and thoroughly enjoying my first taste of Stephanie Tyler’s writing. In a genre that is one of my favorites to read, she definitely has left her mark and put herself on my auto-buy and auto-read list.

*Update on the inconsistency: I contacted the author about this and originally the inconsistency was not there in the book but due to editing it sneaked into it. Due to spoilers I will leave it at this and offer no details on it but I am curious if other readers spot it too…

Every once in a while I read books that leave me speechless in a very good way. This is one of those books. As I love to read romantic suspense I have read several of them ranging from blood chilling horrifying to simple and nicely put together, from sizzling hot and steamy to containing a bare thread of romance, HARD TO HOLD however falls in its own category and is to be placed in the higher regions of my favorite lists. I hate to compare authors because I believe every author deserves praise based on their own merits but HARD TO HOLD reminded me of my first (and to-date only) Suzanne Brockmann book I’ve read, THE UNSUNG HERO.

From the first page I was lost in the world of Navy SEALs, Marine, bad guys, good guys and action, but that was not all. Between the rescue missions, bullets flying, battle wounds and political and personal agendas I was mesmerized by a love story so beautiful and powerful it had me in tears one moment, fanning myself the next and wanting to bud some heads together in another. In conclusion all I have to say is: Keep ‘em coming Ms. Tyler, I’m more than ready for the next brother!

Rating: 9.7 out of 10

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12 thoughts on “ARC-review: Hard to Hold – Stephanie Tyler

  1. Sounds wonderful! This books makes me really curious. I love it when there is a good back story for the characters and a psyhcic father in a suspense story sounds just wonderful in my paranormal ears.LOL Your review convinced me I have to get this one!

  2. @SusiSunshine: Very happy you are going to get this one! It's a really good romantic suspense. Please do be aware that the father doesn't have a big part in the suspense plot LOL. His role is more as background for Jake's characters and his brothers. So don't expect any real paranormal things, it's foremost romantic suspense.

  3. Hi Pearl,Love your review! This book is on my TBR pile, and now you've convinced me to put it on top. I've read 3 of Ms. Tyler's Blazes before, which are also featuring three navy SEAL buddies. I loved those and that made 'Hard to Hold' a must-buy for me. Did you read that series?

  4. @ErotRomReader: Thanks! I haven't read Stephanie Tyler's Blazes but they are on my ebook-buylist as they are out of print. As soon as I am allowed (by myself and my bankaccount) to binge on ebooks again I am definitely getting them!

  5. Eek!! This sounds really good. I Eek because I want to buy it..LOL. I like that there is good balance between the rom and suspense – and you said Jake and Isabelle don't immediately jump each other's bones which is always a good thing – in my opinion.Yeah – going to pick this one up. Nice review!!!!

  6. Pearl, I need to thank you again for such an amazing and thoughtful review! I'm so thrilled that you enjoyed it so much and that you took so much time to let other people know it – makes my day!!!!

  7. Pearl I read every word, promise. Ok now I have to put this one my list cause you mentioned "best couple of 2009." I've been wanting to add more military reads to my TBR pile 'cause every girl secretly desires a man in uniform.Loved your thoughts on this one.

  8. Okay, but it's a fantastic idea to have psychic father. OMG think about the consequences that would have when you were still a teen trying to conceal your transgressions. Hilarious idea!I've got a surprise for you at my blog.

  9. I remember the announcement of this "monstrous long review" but then my attention shifted and I went AWOL for a few days. I loved your review pearl, really, you kept my interest all the way! But dang, you got me with those three brothers…I wantz me Chris, two different color eyes, a little crazy, yup, he sounds like my kind of man ;)After reading your rave about this book I am all the more glad I already have it on the shelves.

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