Rough Terrain – Annabeth Albert

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Author: Annabeth Albert
Series: Out of Uniform #7

Pages: 384

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Navy SEAL Renzo Bianchi has a soft spot for Canaan Finley, and not only because the man makes a mean smoothie. He’s the first guy to get Renzo’s motor revving in a long time. But when he agrees to Canaan’s insane charade—one all-access fake boyfriend, coming right up—he never expects more than a fling.

Creating a hot Italian SEAL boyfriend to save face seemed like a good idea…until his friends called Canaan’s bluff. Now he’s setting off into the woods with the very man who inspired his deception, and Canaan is not the outdoorsy type. The sparks are already flying when a flash flood separates them from their group, leaving Renzo and Canaan very much trapped…very much alone in the wilderness.

Working together to come up with a plan for survival is sexier than either of them expects. But back in the real world, being a couple is bringing its own set of hazards…

I did it!! I started a new saga in 2018 and I have ended it in 2019!! Barely a year and a half to fulfill such accomplishment. It is pretty huge for me. I usually get distracted by new and shiny sagas and I forget about the ones that I had already started. The Out of Uniform series deserves that honor, even though there have been some books that are not that great. But, the last one is a nice goodbye, although it could have been better.

This last time we follow Renzo, the SEAL known as Rooster, a gym junkie and a skydiving lover who has to deal with the hero complex his family is putting on him. On the other hand, we have Canaan; the former drummer and current nurse student who is way too fond of Renzo’s tight T-Shirts. A fake boyfriend favor turns into an adventure to save their lives and they both realize that life is too precious to waste…

My first impression of the story is not a good one. It takes too long to go forward and the first chapters are a bit awkward. The initial chemistry between Renzo and Canaan was pretty low and unremarkable,  which made me be afraid I was going to face another boring couple that leaves me feeling indifferent. Thankfully, that changes little by little. The book really starts when they travel to the Colorado Canyon and have the little adventure against the elements. That was fun (for the readers, I’m not a sadist!!) and was the perfect stage for some necessary bonding between the main characters. After that, it keeps a slow pace, but steady and always forward.

The fact that I couldn’t connect with the main characters during the first chapters could have meant being bored to death during the most emotional situations; but, by the time those moments happen, the couple had already grown on me and I felt the sweet discomfort of the bumpy ride. These guys deserve happiness and I’m glad they have found a version of it. I must admit I am not altogether convinced of their arrangement. I can’t shake the feeling that the path taken has been chosen to please more Renzo’s mother thatn Renzo himself. But that could be my jelousy talking!

The characters are OK, but I have had a harder time to get to like them than I was expecting. Renzo is not the guy I thought, he is somehow better; but at the same time he is lacking something. He is a good guy, loyal, polite… He is way too good. He needed some spice, some cockiness, some player attitude. He looks the part, but doesn’t behave like that. It’s a bit disconcerting, actually. Until the author lets us know him better, Renzo is even a boring character. And Canaan… that guy is too direct. No filter or anything similar with this guy. All day talking about sex gets old very fast. He didn’t rock my world as he did with Renzo’s, but I admit they are pretty great together.

And now I will have to hunt down another of Annabeth’s sagas, because I like her style. Out of Uniform has been a welcome surprise. A sweet and emotional jouney through seven books that have shown me that Military Romance can be awesome if done properly.

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2019 – Book Gallery

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Squared Away – Annabeth Albert

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Author: Annabeth Albert
Series: Out of Uniform #5

Pages: 320

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In the wake of tragedy, SEAL Mark Whitley rushed stateside to act as guardian to his sister’s three young children. But a conflicting will could give custody to someone else—someone Mark remembers as a too young, too hot, wild party boy. Even after six years, Mark can’t shake the memory of his close encounter with Isaiah James, or face up to what it says about his own sexuality.

Isaiah’s totally over the crush that made him proposition Mark all those years ago. In fact, he’s done with crushing on the wrong men altogether. For now, he’s throwing himself into proving he’s the best person to care for his cousin’s kids. But there’s no denying there’s something sexy about a big, tough military man with a baby in his arms.

As the legal details get sorted out, their long-buried attraction resurfaces, leading to intimate evenings after the kids are tucked in. A forever future is within reach for all of them, if only Mark can find the courage he needs to trust Isaiah with his secrets—and his heart.

The previous book of the Out of Uniform saga left me cold and with an uneasy feeling. I was actaully scared that the series was going down a path of mediocrity pretty fast. But, I’m always glad to be wrong. The fifth book is awesome. It’s up there with the first one or the third one. A true pleasure for a reader like me.

This time the story focuses on Mark, a.k.a. Wizard, a medic SEAL who is too used to take charge in every crisis. He is about to face the biggest crisis yet: the death of his sister and brother-in-law leaving behind three little kids… He rushes home to take care of them, but he finds Isaiah, another uncle of the kids, managing everything just fine (as fine as it can be in that situation…). They already knew each other, but the relationship is pretty strained. They have to get passed their differences to put their best faces for the kids and that’s the first step of their unlikely romance…

This is maybe the hardest story so far in the saga. It’s so unfair to see the life of those kids rattle so badly and yet getting used to their new reality so fast and stoically. Reading how Isaiah and Mark jump to claim the guardianship of the kids even though they had almost zero experience with them, when it would have been easier for them to let them be processed by the system, was an emotionally rewarding experience. It was really heart-warming and an example to follow. I would lie if I’d say I didn’t cry more than once (I kind of love crying with books. That means they have something especial). I was even a bit angry with the behaviour of the legal system and the social workers that were so worry about the well-being of the kids that, in order to protect them, their well-being and happiness were actually the first things to be in jeopardy. I have no idea how that works in Spain, so even more clueless about that in the United States, but what I read in this book… It’s crazy that the uncles were constantly questioned about their intentions when it was pretty obvious they cared for the kids.

If that drama wasn’t enough, there are obviously romantic issues to add to the mix. As in previous books, those are mainly fear to be open about the sexuality of one or more of the characters. In this case, the one having doubts was Mark. When the book gets its hands dirty explaining Mark’s sexualty I wasn’t down for it. Too much terms being thrown at the reader in a short amount of time: pansexual, demisexual, asexual, gray ace… I couldn’t follow the author. I even had to stop reading to look for the meaning of gray ace, only to discover that it was explained in the book. But, as if a mage herself, the unintended misdirection of the juggling of terms made me miss the proper explanation for the proper term… Once the first impression is passed, I’m glad Annabeth took that path in the book. Mark’s sexuality grants the hard cuddling scenes a level of eroticism I haven’t found in a book in a really long time. I tend to consider sex the boring, or the least interesting, part in a romance book, but in this case it adds so much to the story.

The characters were also a surprised. I barely remembered Wizard from other books and Isaiah was just a cameo in the Ben’s and Maddox’s book, so I wasn’s expecting to like them so much so fast. I love everything about them when they are apart and together, except the luck of trust on each other during the first weeks. If they would have talked, really talk, about the guardianship of the kids, they would have spared themselves of pretty hurtful situations. Although, in that case, I think the book would have been less enjoyable. Am I a bad person for wishing hard times for characters I love? Sometimes it’s hard to balance morals and reading passions.

In any other book I would have hated the classic end of a Romance book, but this time I will have to admit that is perfect. Yes, rushed; but utterly logic. It needed to be done for the sake of the kids and I have zero doubts in my mids that those kids are even happier now than with their real parents. How the system could doubt that is beyond my comprehension… I hope we know more about this couple in future books. I would love to check on them to see if everything is going fine.

I started this saga about a year ago and I do not regret one single momento of it, even though there have been some down times. I will always trust this author to deliver awesome stories and characters. I should start looking at her other works more seriously now. I’m almost at the end of the Out of Uniform series (just two more if the author doesn’t publish any more).

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2019 – Book Gallery

Wheels Up – Annabeth Albert

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Author: Annabeth Albert
Series: Out of Uniform #4

Pages: 320

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Lieutenant Dustin Strauss is a reformed man. No longer a twentysomething hell-raiser, he’s his SEAL team’s new XO-and a man with a secret. Or seven. He’s kept his bisexual identity under wraps for years, along with his kinky side and a fondness for the military-themed semianonymous hookup website Joe4Joe. His latest chat buddy is more than a sexy online distraction-they’re taking their very not-safe-for-work relationship into real time.

Petty Officer Wes Lowe has a smart mouth, a take-charge attitude and an uncanny ability for making things go boom. The life of an enlisted man isn’t always enough to satisfy him, but one wild, no-questions-asked weekend with his online love comes close. When a transfer order comes in, Wes feels ready and centered. He’ll make a good impression on his new SEAL team and keep his growing feelings for Dustin on the down low.

But as they log more time online and some very real emotions surface, Dustin and Wes struggle to pretend they’re just a harmless fling. And when his commander introduces Dustin to his team’s newest member, they’re in for the shock of a lifetime…and a crushing disappointment: their difference in ranks means even a friendship without sexual contact could end their navy careers for good.

With their hearts on the line, Dustin and Wes may not survive their next mission, let alone find a way toward a future together.

I have never struggled so much in my life to give a mark to a book. I usually know the number of points it gets as soon as I finish them. This time it took me a while. I like the book, no doubt about that. It’s just… I don’t know. The other books of this saga felt more substantial.

This time we meet Dustin, Dylan’s brother, who is a closeted bisexual army guy having a rough time dealing with himself. And on the other hand we have Wes, a gay SEAL who doesn’t like being the focus of attention… so he hides himself from the world. They met using an app with the self-explanatory name of Joe4Joe and their love relationship starts to blossom. Too bad Wes ends in Dustin’s team and military regulations frown upon that kind of things…

The main trait of the Out of Uniform books is the well written and well handle drama. In this case the main characters have to deal with the crazy army regulations against fraternization. I could understand that a love interest in the same team could mean a distraction, so they have to avoid them. But in this case we are told the XO can’t even show friendship of any kind to any of the people below him. I’m an ignorant without any family or friend even closed to the military lifestyle, but that seems a bit too much. Such cold environment in the line of command would drive me crazy! I wonder how so many people can take that path in life with so many human restrictions. It doesn’t feel natural, but that’s not the point of the review.

What I wanted to say before starting babbling is that Dustin and Wes had enough drama with the military. There was no need of adding the sexual identity drama to the mix. Any other time with any other set of characters I would have welcomed it, but in this case… it’s a nonsense. Dustin’s family and firends are very tolerant, so I don’t know where the fear to reveal himself comes from. Almost all of his friends are gay!! If you can be open with them… no one can. So yeah, I couldn’t believe Dustin’s turmoil in that aspect (which he recognizes at then end…). A little more believable is Wes’ closet situation. Even though he could totally be opened with his friends, he is just some kind of emotional masochist.

And talking about Wes and emotions… His sister part of the plot almost killed me. I felt it pretty deeply, even though there are barely five pages total about it. I would have loved something else about Sam and a lot less sex scenes. That story thread isn’t properly finished and that pissed me off a little bit.

I have a love-hate relationship with the sex scenes in this book. The first ones are really good. Plenty of eroticism to feed anyone’s fantasies for a long time. But soon they feel a bit too much. Most of the book is a loop of Dustin and Wes meeting when they shouldn’t, having sex and regretting it the day after. Over and over again. The book gets stuck so badly that I got fed up of its adult parts pretty quickly. Annabeth was so much better balancing the plot and the sex in the previous books…

I liked the book, yes; but I have more issues with it than with the other ones I have read of this saga. I still love the authr’s style and the lovely characters she creates, so I will keep reading more of the Out of Uniform saga!

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2018 – Book Gallery

 

On Point – Annabeth Albert

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Author: Annabeth Albert
Series: Out of Uniform #3

Pages: 320

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Never fall for your best friend…

Pushing thirty, with his reenlistment looming, decorated navy sniper Maddox Horvat is taking a long look at what he really wants in life. And what he wants is Ben Tovey. It isn’t smart, falling for his best friend and fellow SEAL, but ten years with Ben has forged a bond so intimate Maddox can’t ignore it. He needs Ben by his side forever—heart and soul.

Ben admits he likes what he’s seen—his friend’s full lower lip and the perfect muscles of his ass have proved distracting more than once. But Ben’s still reeling from a relationship gone to hell, and he’s not about to screw up his friendship with Maddox, too.

Until their next mission throws Ben and Maddox closer together than ever before, with only each other to depend on.

Now, in the lonely, desperate hours awaiting rescue, the real challenge—confronting themselves, their future and their desires—begins. Man to man, friend to friend, lover to lover.

Since I read this was Ben’s and Maddox’s story I knew I was going to love it! The author teased the complicated friendship between them in the previous book and it made me drool. I haven’t been disappointed. Not at all.

Ben and Maddox are best friends and roommates, but nothing more (even though everyone teases them about that). Ben is kind of a sex addict and Mad is more the romantic kind of guy. They both prefer men and they like each other a lot. But it seems both of them are incapable of expressing their feelings… One day they stage a weird threesome, which makes their friendship crumble. What was meant as a way to relieve the sexual tension between them, became something worse. In order to save their friendship, Ben has the “greatest” idea ever: date Maddox!!

That is an emotional trainwreck if I have ever seen one! But even before that, I already had a lump in my throat. With this saga we have never got SEAL action, but in this book we get to follow them into a rescue mission in a dangerous jungle. Ben and Maddox have a little accident and both are injured. Ben’s journey to save his dear friend has been hard to read. They knew there were many emotions unpoken between them and both of them felt there wasn’t going to be a chance to tell them. And yet they remain silent… Bullheaded idiots!! I had such a mix of feelings during those first chapters in the jungle. That part broke me. And I love it for that!

Taking into account this is Romance, we already knew that no one was going to die. But the near-death experience didn’t resolve their issues, so Ben decided to take action and start dating Maddox. It was meant as an experiment to see how well they fit together. As readers, we already knew that wasn’t going to end well. They are awesome friends, but they had so much fear of failure… I knew the other shoe was going to drop sooner or later and it was going to be sad and messy. I wasn’t wrong. In the “friends to lover” books, when the main couple has a fight and they break up, the lose so much more than the romantic relationship. Once again, I could barely hold the tears…

I didn’t know which one to support. I was so mad at both of them. I just wanted Ben and Maddox to talk (really talk!!) and fix everything. They have been friends for 12 years!! They should be able to sit down and be honest by now!! The time they weren’t in speaking terms was torture for them, their friends and me!! I couldn’t wait to the make up part, which was weird (as it should be), but sweet. I have said several times that I do not like the endings with rings, just because many times they don’t feel natural. I must admit I didn’t mind it at all with this couple.

The adult parts of this book are also very well handle. I really enjoyed them, because I was very invested in their realtionship. Their encounters are sweet, naughty and hot. The sex scenes are not just “word counts” as in other books.

This is the third book of the saga and it’s quickly becoming one of my favourites in its genre. Next book is Dustin’s story, the brother of Dylan. I thought that character was straight, so no idea what I am going to find.

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2018 – Book Gallery

At Attention – Annabeth Albert

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Author: Annabeth Albert
Series: Out of Uniform #2

Pages: 304

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Lieutenant Apollo Floros can ace tactical training missions, but being a single dad to his twin daughters is more than he can handle. He needs live-in help, and he’s lucky a friend’s younger brother needs a place to stay. He’s surprised to see Dylan all grown up with a college degree…and a college athlete’s body. Apollo’s widowed heart may still be broken, but Dylan has his blood heating up.

It’s been eight years since the teenage Dylan followed Apollo around like a lovesick puppy, and it’s time he showed Lieutenant Hard-to-Please that he’s all man now—an adult who’s fully capable of choosing responsibility over lust. He can handle Apollo’s muscular sex appeal, but Apollo the caring father? Dylan can’t afford to fall for that guy. He’s determined to hold out for someone who’s able to love him back, not someone who only sees him as a kid brother.

Apollo is shocked by the intensity of his attraction to Dylan. Maybe some no-strings summer fun will bring this former SEAL back to life. But the combination of scorching desire and warm affection is more than he’d expected, and the emotion between them scares him senseless. No fling lasts forever, and Apollo will need to decide what’s more important—his past or his future—if he wants to keep Dylan in his life.

The first book of this saga, Off Base, was one of the first books I reviewed here and I LOVED it! I know is hard to equal or exceed what that first Out of Uniform story meant for me emotionally, so I’m not going to be too harsh with the second book. It doesn’t deserve any kind of venom. The second part is stil very good and I can’t wait to keep reading the series. Well, I will wait… I don’t like getting an overdose with sagas.

This time we meet Apollo, a 34 years old widow with two little girls and a huge house to take care. And we meet Dylan, the twenty something years old and younger brother of Apollo’s best friend. Both of them are openly gay, so we are not in the same Zack and Pike situation. It’s a trickier one, though. Apollo’s mother is about to travel abroad for several weeks and he needs help with the kids and the house. And Dylan needs a place to stay near his new job as summer camp teacher. So Dustin, Dylan’s brother, thinks the best idea is that his brother should live in Apollo’s house; so he can help the Lieutenant. The catch: Apollo’s is still mourning his husband and think his love and sexual life is over. And Dylan has had a long standing crush for his brother’s best friend that needs to take out of his system.

There is a lot of fun flirting coming from Dylan that makes Apollo uncomfortable, at least at first. Sooner rather than later he starts craving his new roommate. It’s a bit sad to see how he struggles with those moments. Somehow Apollo thinks he is being dishonest with Neal, his dead husband. The age difference doesn’t help at all and it’s the hot potato thrown in every single chapter. Maybe the author insists too much about that. It even seems that Dylan only wants to con Apollo into a relationship so that he can feel like a big man. I know that is not what Annabeth wanted to tell us, but sometimes that is what I get… And the soldier is a bit stubborn about that difference, too… It’s not such a big gap!! Stop looking at you as a 60-years-old man!!

That issue is so big during the whole book that I don’t truly believe the happy ending. Maybe that is because the author takes a huge leap with the last chapter. The proposal is totally anticlimatic and waaaaaay too soon. Those two need to talk a lot more before commiting to something like that. That end is the worst part of the book.

One of my favourite parts is the way Apollo finally deals with Neal’s death. There were moments along the book were Annabeth almost makes the mistake to convert Neal in some kind of villain, but thankfully she doesn’t go there full force. That would be sad and wrong. Apollo can fall in love with a new person and still love his former husband… It’s  human. We are capable of loving un unlimited amount of people. The way Apollo accepts that, talking with Neal aloud and expressing his feelings… Hands down, that is the best part of the book!!

I’m also have to point out that the sex scenes are really good. When Apollo discovers the power of a mirror… That was a hot read!!

The author also uses this book to introduce the next one: Ben & Maddox. I have the feeling their book is going to be a fun one!! Or maybe I’m totally wrong. I’ll read it sooner or later. This year if everything goes according to plan.

 

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2018 – Book Gallery

Off Base – Annabeth Albert

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Author: Annabeth Albert
Series: Out of Uniform #1
Pages: 304

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After trading the barracks for a fixer-upper rental, navy SEAL Zack Nelson wants peace, not a roommate—especially not Pike, who sees things about Zack he most wants to hide. Pike’s flirting puts virgin Zack on edge. And the questions Pike’s arrival would spark from Zack’s teammates about his own sexuality? Nope. Not going there. But Zack can’t refuse.

Pike Reynolds knows there won’t be a warm welcome in his new home. What can he say? He’s an acquired taste. But he needs this chance to get his life together. Also, teasing the uptight SEAL will be hella fun. Still, Pike has to tread carefully; he’s had his fill of tourists in the past, and he can’t risk his heart on another, not even one as hot, as built—and, okay, yeah, as adorable—as Zack.

Living with Pike crumbles Zack’s restraint and fuels his curiosity. He discovers how well they fit together in bed…in the shower…in the hallway… He needs Pike more than he could have imagined, yet he doesn’t know how to be the man Pike deserves.

I’ve been a long time without reading a romance book. I had the feeling this book was going to be perfect to put me back on track. I wasn’t wrong. This is the kind of story I love to read when love is the theme!

The main characters of the book are Zack and Pike. The former is a soon-to-be SEAL who is currently in training. The later is a mathematician expert in videogames. Zack is tight closeted and doesn’t speak about his true sexuality with anyone, always with a excuse ready when someone asks him about his love life. Pike is the opposite, very open about his true interests and no shame at all. The military is not very fond of Pike because of that. Zack is just too worried to slip when the other one is around…

Due to an homophobic team mate (the only person that knows Zack’s secret), Zack decides to live off base. At the same time, Pike is in desperate need of a place to live in the same area due to a new job as a teacher. As you can imagine, they start living together and, little by little, the relationship develops.

The author does a neat work describing Zack’s agony. He doesn’t want to come up to the world, because he is afraid that could endanger the realtionship with the rest of his team. Besides, his family is very conservative and he doesn’t want to disappoint them. But he really likes Pike and the way he makes him feel. Fortunately for him, Pike is a very patient person and tries to understand Zack’s situation. Even though he hates to hide his feelings in public, the teacher makes an effort in order no to lose Zack.

That is the recipe for some tough truths that brought some tears to my eyes a couple of times or more. I couldn’t help linking emotionally with the couple during the good and the bad moments. If anything else, this book shows a lot of heart. I’m going to miss these two so much… I hope they make a cameo in the next ones.

Someone could say that the ending is rushed, but in my opinion is the perfect climax for the emotional build-up. It is what it has to be. No surprise, no weird twist… It is what both of them deserved. If I sound very fond of them, it’s because I am!!

What has surprised me is the way Annabeth describes the characters… like almost nothing. In romance is pretty common to find lengthy descriptions of the male characters. The less clothes, the longer… The writer of this book prefers to leave most of the visual image to the reader’s imagination. The sex scenes are also scarce and short, so don’t be intimidated!!

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Next: The Infernal City by Greg Keyes