General overview for books 1-6 on race and gender and etc.
Can I just say that these book titles are terrible? I can't keep half of them apart. Also, assume spoilers in each cut for the book being discussed and for prior books in the series.
Out of Control (2002)
Savannah van Hopf is looking for Navy SEAL Ken "WildCard" Karmody, whom she met once in college through his now-ex-girlfriend. She's received a ransom note for her uncle from people in Indonesia, and she wants his help in getting her uncle out. Unfortunately, she's always had a crush on Ken, and when presented with the opportunity, she sleeps with him before letting him know that she's been looking for him. WildCard isn't too happy about the deception, although he accompanies her to Indonesia anyway. Meanwhile, mysterious pilot Jones and aid worker (?) Molly are attracted to each other, and everyone is reading the memoir of Savannah's aunt, Rose van Hopf, who was a double agent spying on the Nazis for the US back in WWII.
This is one of my least favorite books in the series so far, since I am not counting Flashpoint, which I could not finish because of the argh factor with regard to Muslims, Kazbekistan, general gender roles, and overall disinterest in the characcters. The story is largely an action story, and I hate the thriller shenanigans in Indonesia. On the plus side, we don't see that many actual Indonesian people being drug lords and whatnot. On the minus side, this means it's basically Foreign Backdrop for White People Angst. I was prepared to like WildCard, because I like technical geeks. In prior books, Brockmann had established that he was broken-hearted when his ex broke up with him and then slapped a restraining order on him, and I had cheered when a previous narrator had basically sat him down and told him, "Look, you may feel like you are just being broken-hearted, but you are being a creepy stalker. Stay away!" Only here, his ex basically gets bashed for leading him on and playing him, and WildCard is basically the poor woobie whom the ex didn't deserve.
Don't get me wrong; the ex's behaviors in the book are terrible. But Brockmann could have not demonized her, particularly in a way that made it seem like the restraining order was not really WildCard's fault at all. Ugh.
Also, the WWII story is more boring than the others, and the device of having everyone reading Rose's memoir was a bit artificial. That said, I was glad we got to see that Rose was still awesome even as a grandmother. I also liked that Molly was older than Jones, although I rolled my eyes at bit at Jones' manpain and Molly basically helping him through it. Also x 2, you will notice I don't say that much about Savannah, largely because I don't remember that much about her. And finally, Alyssa is in there, pining about Sam, for absolutely no good reason whatsoever. Brockmann! Alyssa is kickass! Having her around and not being kickass is a waste!
Into the Night (2002)
Joan DaCosta is a White House PR person who is sent to a Navy SEAL base to prep them for a visit from the President's daughter. Mike Muldoon, Navy SEAL, is the guy sent to be her Navy liaison. They're attracted to each other, but Joan thinks he's too young—he's 25, she's 32—and she's worried it will interfere with her job. Meanwhile, Sam's wife Mary Lou is unhappy with her marriage, but she doesn't know what to do. Sam is also miserable. And finally, there's a flashback story about Joan's grandparents.
I probably would have stopped reading these after the last book, and then I got to this one, which I love. I suspect this is the first book Brockmann wrote post-9/11, largely because there are some extremely unsubtle PSAs in there, but also because of some plot twists. I was also hoping that her decision to set this book and the following book in the US meant the post-9/11-ness made her realize the badness of thrillers set in oppressed brown countries with dictators (ARGH!), but sadly, Flashpoint has shown me this is not so.
First, I very much like the Joan/Mike pairing. I can see why other people think the "men can be sex objects too!" storyline is a bit "but what about the mens," though I read it more as genre role switching than anything else. I particularly liked it as a contrast to the Stan/Teri storyline from a previous book, although I do wish the age difference between Mike and Joan had been much larger, since I still think there are more older men/younger women romances in this series. That said, I love that Mike is the passive one who basically waits for women to come on to him and molds himself to their fantasies, and I especially love that his fantasy at the end with Joan is a domestic one involving marriage. If he weren't a Navy SEAL, he'd read as very much a romance heroine, yay.
Bonus points for having Charlie get a second chance at romance, which I think implicitly undercuts the "once in a lifetime" love from book 1, and I especially love that Vince, who is old and losing some of his hearing, gets to be a big damn hero. Double bonus points for the mention of Kelly still hesitating about marriage!
All this said, this is one of my favorite books in the series not for Joan and Mike, but for Mary Lou, who I was certain I would hate. I was already annoyed by the surprise baby plot, already not into Sam, and already not impressed that his answer was marriage (I think he definitely should have helped with child support and health insurance and etc., but marriage without laying down emotional expectations was just going to explode in his face). I was also afraid after the WildCard book that Mary Lou would basically be the scapegoat female character, especially when compared to Alyssa. Instead, I don't necessarily always like her, but I love that Brockmann takes the time to give her a background, to give her reasons for trapping Sam into marriage, for making her a better mother than Sam is a father, all of which are all too rare in romances. And OMG. I realize this book has PSAs like anvils, but because I was reading it as a romance, I thought Ibrahman the terrorist was too obvious but didn't think Brockmann would actually pull a switch, since having a non-white, Muslim, sympathetic guy who isn't an alpha bastard sheik in a romance is something I have almost never seen before. Minus points for furthering the stereotype that Islam is misogynistic, but big bonus points for giving Mary Lou a romance, for making Ibrahman sympathetic, and even for the anvilicious PSAs about racial profiling, given how soon this book came out after 9/11. I imagine it probably didn't make her too popular with the romance community. (I do hope I am being too harsh with the romance community, but quite frankly, from what I've seen, I'm not too impressed by it.
You will want Gone Too Far in place after finishing this, as it's basically the second half of the story.
Gone Too Far (2003)
Sam goes to look for Mary Lou, who's taken Haley and served him divorce papers, but when he gets to her house, he finds her body on the floor and Haley missing. Alyssa tries to bring him in for questioning, things go downward quickly, there are grudges against the Navy SEALs, Max can't keep away from Gina, Mary Lou reappears, and a ton of other plot stuff happens. Also, Kelly gets what may be one of my favorite wedding scenes ever.
Overall, I have a hard time classifying my reaction to this book. Part of me loves bits of it to pieces. Part of me rolls my eyes at the over-the-top angst angst angst even as I lap it up. Part of me is amazed Brockmann actually manages to make me like Sam. Basically, this book read like X-Files fan fiction to me, with woobie Sam as Mulder and Alyssa as a kickass Scully, including a lot about
Mulder Sam's angst-ridden, abusive background, not quite enough about Alyssa's, a lot of UST, and roadtrips and handcuffs. I do like that Sam doesn't immediately try to run from the FBI to clear his name; I see that all the time in action movies and feel those people are very stupid. I also love love love that Alyssa FINALLY gets to one-up Sam after he basically runs circles around her in book 2, and her kneeing Sam in the balls was kind of awesomesauce. I also really like that Sam stops shooting his mouth off and actually starts thinking; it made me buy Alyssa falling for him much more than I ever did in any of the previous books.
I also think Brockmann does something very interesting with male sexuality here, albeit something that doesn't work all the time. My theory is that Sam is the romance heroine who can't resist the hero's sexual charms, no matter how much she tries to stay away because she's afraid of losing her heart, and I kind of love that. On the other hand, there isn't the full gender-switch reversal because Sam still is a guy in a guy's world, as Alyssa knows all too well, and at times, Sam saying he wanted to slow down and Alyssa seducing him gave me similar squicks as that type of situation with the genders reversed. Not quite as much, but definitely some squicks.
All the flashbacks were a bit too much Sam for me, although I really liked being able to see healthy Black families. I do still wish Brockmann had intra-POC interracial romances, but I also squeed to see mentions of the Tuskegee airmen and the WASPs, whom I like thanks to Flygirl. (Now I will secretly pretend Dot and Ida Mae somehow meet.) The PSAs here are even worse than the ones in the previous book, and although Brockmann means well, her "love is what really matters" unfortnately overlooks things like privilege and structural inequity. And yet, I heart her so much for having Alyssa, the multiracial character who's almost fetishized for her beautiful multiracialness in the beginning (ugh), identify as a Black woman. I feel like this is something I very rarely see in fiction not written by Black people, and it's also nice to have an acknowledgement that actually, many Black people in the US are mixed race, although due to circumstances many people wouldn't like to think about. I also liked that Noah and Claire's background story is a different narrative of a Black teenage pregnancy, that Sam is basically the irresponsible father who can't keep his fly zipped, although I wish we had gotten to see more of Noah and Claire as opposed to them just being Sam's Black friends.
I am also glad Ibrahman returns and gets a happy ever after, yay! I also love that Mary Lou gets to be kind of awesome here; Brockmann's women are less prepared for the circumstances than her Navy SEAL men, but I like that they usually get to rise the occasion. I especially loved the tiny throwaway character of Whitney being a complete jerk and then basically going out there with guns literally blazing.
And finally, Max/Gina. I feel I should not quite have thought that was hot, but I did, and a billion bonus points for featuring a guy actually losing his erection in a genre that stresses hot tumescence and iron rods and whatnot all too much. I'm also iffy about Gina's rape being Max's angst, though I was glad in this book, at least, the key moment was when it was Gina's angst again. I'm not quite sure how things will be resolved in their book, since I'm worried later scenes won't quite live up to this one, but we'll see. Also, Jules starts getting more page time, which is great, because I am starting to like him.
Overall, I'm impressed that Brockmann managed to sell me on Alyssa/Sam after I basically found them hot but completely not Romeo and Juliet, and I checked other books in the series, and it looks like Alyssa gets to do more later? Good, because I feel this one was way too Sam-focused, despite her moments of awesome.
That said, I was really hoping that Tom resigning from the Navy would lead to more domestic and less military-focused incidents, which is why I was much more optimistic in the general overview, but alas, the next book proves me wrong. BOO.
Into the Night and Gone Too Far are romance recs for doing some really interesting things with the tropes, despite the inclusion of things in there that I don't like.
- kate_nepveu's reviews of Out of Control, Into the Night and Gone Too Far
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