Our mystery Pandora for February is the much anticipated The Defiant Hero by Suzanne Brockmann.
When Meg Moore's daughter and grandmother are kidnapped by terrorists, Meg is forced to kidnap a terrorist from a rival group. Navy SEAL John Nilsson is called in to help. He and Meg have met before, when she was married to an unfaithful man.
Now they are both free, but they have hardly a second to waste on themselves as they race to save Meg's daughter Amy. Meanwhile, sparks fly between SEAL Sam Starett and FBI agent Alyssa Locke, and Meg's grandmother tries to prolong her life by telling the story of her own first romance.
Blythe: Well, Linda, this month marked a Pandora first for me. This was the first time I was so eager to read the book that I read it way ahead of time, a couple of weeks ago. I guess it goes without saying that I had a lot of anticipation for The Defiant Hero. For the most part, it lived up to my expectations. While I was reading it, I did not want to put it down at all. The structure is similar to that of The Unsung Hero with three love stories going on at once, including one that takes place during WWII. I had some quibbles with the main plotline about Meg and Nils, but otherwise I thought this was a great read.
Linda: This was my first single title by Brockmann and once I got used to the realistic dialogue I enjoyed it a lot. I liked the structure of the book, with simultaneous stories set against the terrifying kidnapping of Meg's daughter. I found Eve's WWII love story very sweet and touching and it let us see her as a complete person and not just an old lady. I loved the secondary romance of Sam and Alyssa and imagine we will see more of them in future books?
Blythe: Yes, Linda, I'm pretty sure this is a trilogy. I saw the excerpt of the next book, Over the Edge, and thank goodness Sam and Alyssa appear in that one too, because I absolutely loved them! The scenes they share are funny, providing some comic relief, and are a respite from the tense kidnapping situation. They're very steamy too, and their relationship is definitely not resolved here. I loved the drama of Eve's story too; in the past and the present she shows that bravery is not just for Navy SEALS.
Linda: Yes, she was one tough old lady and I loved the story of Dunkirk. Even after all of these years, the thought of all of those little boats saving more than 300,000 men - it's still an amazing achievement and brings tears to my eyes.
I have The Unsung HeroTBR and obviously need to put it on top, because I really liked The Defiant Hero a lot. I did have some quibbles with some of Meg's actions - I wish she had trusted John earlier, but when it comes to a mother fighting for her child I think most of us would be loathe to trust their safety to another. Nils isn't the most admirable hero either; I had some problems with stories of him dating married women - but it also made him very real too. All of the characters are really well drawn and multidimensional.
Blythe: You've kind of hit upon my one problem with the book - Meg's actions. I felt that she should have trusted Nils from the very beginning (I guess we should mention here that Nils and John are the same person. His last name is Nilsson and Brockmann refers to him both ways). Why would she ever think she knew how to handle the situation better than he did? That was his job! But this plays into another difficulty I had, which is that her relationship in the present with Nils is not terribly romantic. How can it be? Her daughter had just been kidnapped, and there's not a mother in the world who would be able to give a thought to anything else. However, Brockmann also explores the relationship of Meg and Nils in the past, and I liked these parts of the book much better.
Linda: Yes, I thought she was a genius in figuring out how to get John involved and get his help, but then I expected her to let him take over and trust him. I think though that Meg had reached a point in her life where she couldn't trust any man, not with her daughter's life on the line. She was afraid to turn Amy and Eve's safety over to John. One thing I liked is that Meg is six years older then Nils, and he cares not a whit. Her self-esteem is so low she can't imagine he could really care about her. They're flawed, but very real and ultimately very likable. I was quickly rooting for them.
The heat in this book, though, comes from Sam and Alyssa -they nearly set the pages on fire and I look forward to seeing them again.
Blythe: I agree - I don't think enough can be said about Sam and Alyssa . . . those two had fireworks in every sense of the word.
And I literally had chills running up and down my spine during the scene when Meg asked John for help. It would be a spoiler to tell how she does it, but it is perfect - and completely eerie. I get chills even thinking of it now. And her being older was great. I believe at one point she refers to herself as Mrs. Robinson - which is certainly an exaggeration and not at all how John thought about her. I happen to love stories about heroines who are married to the "wrong man" when they meet the hero, so this was a plotline I really enjoyed. I love the conflict that honorable people face when this happens, and I think Meg and Nils did do a good job of conducting themselves honorably, even though Meg's husband was a complete jerk.
Linda: One of the things I really like about Brockmann is her active writing style. She doesn't tell you that a hero is kind, for instance, she shows him arriving to paint a little girl's room pink. I've admired this in the category books of hers I've read; she puts in the little details that immediately clue you into the real character without an omniscient voice telling us what a great guy he is. Brockmann's characters are not perfect but they are very interesting and very human.
Blythe: I like this about her books too. I've read a lot of them in the last year (both hero titles so far and the entire Tall Dark and Dangerous series), and I love her voice. I put off trying her books forever because I have almost no interest in the military, but as soon as I read one I was completely hooked and I scrambled to get her backlist. I was stunned to discover that I just couldn't get enough of her Navy SEALS. These books have a lot of action, which appeals to me, but they also have real, standout heroes.
Linda: Yes, I've been surprised at how much I enjoy her Navy SEALS series. But I think my favorite is Stand-In Groom; her introduction of the hero is brilliant, he rescues the heroine while leaping from a dorky Meals on Wheels truck, ponytail waving as he vanquishes the bad guys with karate. Then he picks up the heroine and tenderly nurtures her - what a guy. That he's also a chef is a great topper! I have that book on my keeper shelf and will reread it every once in a while. Her introduction of the hero in Stand-In Groom is typical of her style - showing us with small touches what these men are all about. I ended up liking Nils a lot and his total dedication to Meg and Amy was so wonderful. He literally put his life and career on the line for her - how could Meg not love him?
Blythe: Of course she had to fall in love with him . . . heck; I was half in love with him! One funny thing is that this book reminded me a lot of one of my all-time favorites, Shattered Rainbows by Mary Jo Putney. The heroes of both books are army officers who fall in love with married women. Both heroines are married to men who are unfaithful, and what's more, they both have a daughter named Amy who is kidnapped! Not that they are even close to being the same book, of course, but it was a fun comparison for me.
Linda: I haven't read Shattered Rainbows, but that's an interesting comparison. The best part about The Defiant Hero is the fact that here we have a well-liked category author who is now writing single titles and is keeping all of the quality, tenor and well-told story in the longer form. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. I love Elizabeth Bevarly's category books and Mary Balogh's Signet Regencies, but have found their single title releases to be very disappointing - although others seem to like them. Brockmann's book just seems a natural extension of her wonderful Tall, Dark and Dangerous series and the book is nonstop action with no drag or dead spots. In fact Brockmann owes me a night's sleep! Unlike you I waited till the last couple of days to read it and thought I would read a couple of chapters before bedtime - well, I finished the book at 4 a.m.! I couldn't put it down and was just glad that I didn't have to get up early the next morning. Brockmann's fans are going to be very happy with this book I think, and I'm looking forward to the next one in the series.
Blythe: My theory is that if you took out the other love stories, both of the hero books would be about the length of a category romance. But I love the structure of these books and wouldn't mind seeing more like them. The only other author I can think of who juggles several love stories as well is Maggie Osborne. But like you I lost sleep over this one, and I think a lot of other Brockmann fans will be doing the same. It's all for a good cause. <g> And I do recommend that you move TUH farther up in the TBR pile. It was my pick for best romance of 2000.
Linda: Well, if you picked it I'll probably like it. I did vote for The Unsung Hero's cover in the Cover Contest, I thought it was wonderful. Our ARC for The Defiant Hero didn't include the stepback with John's full body, but I still knew that was John DeSalvo's arm, didn't you? I would have known it, even if his face weren't on the spine! Of course the final cover featuring the entire gorgeous package is even more to my liking. What is better yet, is that he matches the description of Nils. <g>.
Blythe: I definitely didn't notice that it was his arm, LOL. I can spot his face, but that's about it. But then you've met him, Linda, so you'd be better at catching stuff like that. <g>
Linda: John's fans readily recognize his body parts and can pick them out on covers easily. I think he was surprised we all knew it was his bod on the cover of Naughty, Naughty but who can miss those abs, and that is a very nice arm on the cover!
Did the language of the SEALS bother you? It took me a little adjustment in a romance novel, but it did seem realistic. Since I listen to teen and college age boys talking among themselves a lot I know that the "F" word is part and parcel, but I don't think I'll ever come to like it. I did like the creative uses Sam put it to though - like in the middle of a word.
Blythe: LOL, Teresa Galloway is AAR's resident linguistics expert, and she's told us that f*ckin' is the only infix in the English language. Sam Starett definitely puts it to use! For some reason the language in Brockmann's books has never bothered me. There definitely is a lot of the f-word, which probably offends some readers, but somehow I doubt many SEALs use "shoot" or "fiddlesticks." If anything, Brockmann probably tones their language down. Either way, it just seems realistic to me. But other than minor quibbles, it looks like we'd both highly recommend this one.
Linda: Yes, I think you are right about her toning it down and it's certainly realistic for the characters - it is just not something I'm used to reading and it took a moment's adjustment. One of the things I like about the SEAL books is the genuine friendship and trust between the men - it seems very realistic and not forced and it is nice seeing "locker room" camaraderie among the team. The little jokes and teasing are fun. I loved it when Sam notices that Alyssa "cries like a man" and he respected her for that.
Frankly, it is amazing all of the wonderful stories and details Brockmann weaves throughout this book and yet never loses track of the story. Nor does she lose track of the romance, the love between John and Meg is very real and I bought the HEA completely - this pair is meant to be together.
Blythe: Yes, Brockmann really makes John and Meg suffer and earn their happy ending. And their story is all the sweeter for it. And the SEAL camaraderie is really built up over the course of her books. I like that too, and all that "guy talk."
Linda: Yes, it gives us girls a little peak into a man's world and their thinking - it seems very real to me and is also that "something different" everyone is looking for. Since I read a lot of Regencies, this was a definite change of pace and that is a very good thing. Did we have a winner in our "guess the mystery author" contest, Blythe?
Blythe: Yes, five of the 35 people who guessed got it right, and Julia Nelson is the lucky winner of the signed ARC. Next month's book isn't a secret, but it's definitely a change. Why don't you tell everyone what's up?
Linda: If I knew I would. <g> Actually, it's Karen Robards' Scandalous, the first historical in quite a while from an author better known for her contemporary Ludlumesque thriller/romances.
Blythe: Robards is a new to me author, and people seem to either love her or hate her, so I'm interested to give her a try.
Linda: I discovered Robards from a recommendation by our editor Sandi Morris and thoroughly enjoyed Walking After Midnight. The heroine in that one called the hero Frankenstein thru most of the book and I just loved it. I also liked Nobody's Angel which was her last historical, I think. See you next month.
Blythe: Until then, the balcony is closed. <g> I've always wanted to say that.
--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, for
-- Pandora's Box
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