Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Hard to Hold by Stephanie Tyler

Hard to Hold (Hold trilogy, #1)Hard to Hold by Stephanie Tyler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hard to Hold is a good start to a three book series about a trio of brothers (from another mother/father) who are all SEALs. This Navy SEAL-loving girl definitely appreciated the portrayal of these characters who are members of my favorite Elite Special Forces unit. While this wasn't a perfect book, I definitely feel it was worthy of the four star rating I gave it. Here are my thoughts:

What I Liked:

* I liked the message about family being more than just blood. Family is a group of people who watch out for you, love you, and have your back. Sometimes your blood lets you down, but that doesn't mean there aren't people out there who love you even more than your real parents didn't. I liked the close bond between Jake, Chris, and Nick, and their 'dad' Kenny. They were bros and friends, and they had each others' backs.

* As I mentioned, I love the Navy SEALs, so I'm always game to read well-written stories about characters in this dangerous role. I liked the military aspects very much!

* Although the hero is definitely the alpha type, he is also a sensitive, caring man. I liked how he really cared for Isabelle, and put her needs first. He had reasons to keep his heart closed to her, but in the end, he didn't let that stand in the way of giving her the love and support she needed. Jake has a vulnerability that he doesn't wear on his sleeve, but I could feel his pain and anguish, and it spoke to me.

* Isabelle was a realistic character. She wasn't too perfect, and she wasn't annoying in that falsely strong way that is unfortunately over-used in contemporary romantic fiction. She made/makes mistakes, and she owns those, and uses them to grow.

* I think the rape was handled very well. Isabelle doesn't get an instant heal just because she's attracted to Jake, he's her savior, and she falls in love with him. Her situation with Rafe was a very complicated one. She started out in a consensual relationship with him that she knew was wrong because of her engagement. She broke it off, but then he became her stalker and abused and raped her. She had lots of issues about the situation because of the fact that initially she was involved with Rafe, and she felt some guilt that she didn't fight him after he kidnapped her. He earned her trust and took advantage of her, stealing her ability to trust and the belief that she is control of her life. That is a big morass of emotions to deal with, and 'instant sexual healing' would have been a bit insulting for the reader.

*I really felt the intense and real emotions in the relationship between Isabelle and Jake. It was a big draw in this novel. They spent time getting to know each other, talking and building the intimacy between each other. When I read a romance, I want to see that, so that when they take the relationship to the physical level, it feels real, true, and intense.

* I liked that all the characters were complex. They were flawed, but they were also people you could feel for. I even felt bad for Rafe, although I didn't like what he did to Isabelle or how he went about getting revenge for his father. What Isabelle's dad and uncle did to Rafe's father was wrong, but two wrongs don't make a right. I also feel that he didn't know what love was if he could hurt Isabelle that way, claiming he loved her and wanted to be with her. I liked that there was a parallel drawn between Jake and Rafe. They both suffered horrible abuse by people who were supposed to love and protect them, but Jake found a way to use it to make him a stronger person; whereas Rafe let his past destroy him. Granted, Rafe didn't have the support of two 'brothers' and a loving adoptive father and mother. I feel like Rafe really wasted himself. It made me very sad.

*I loved seeing Isabelle do her work as a doctor. I always get a kick out of the medical aspects in a story, and it's great to see the heroine as a medical professional with a dynamic, successful, and challenging character. It helps to round her out as a person. I also liked how Chris was a very talented medic. He knows his stuff.

What I Think Could Have Been Better:

* I think there were too many POV shifts in this story. It made it hard to get a fix on the main characters, and the side stories were short-changed. Once a scene started, it seemed to end too abruptly, with the emphasis misplaced, taking away the impact of the interactions between the characters. The relationship between Sarah and Clutch was very compelling, but I would have preferred they had more time spent on their relationship. I hope that we see more of them.

* The action sequences needed more life. The execution made them seem anti-climatic. I noticed this because this is romantic military suspense, with high-octane heroes and dangerous situations. As an action fan, I like to see these elements pop in a book, but that wasn't quite the case with this book. I suspect that Ms. Tyler will improve on this as she finds her feet in this genre.

* I loved the "I Love Yous" between Isabelle and Jake. However, the book ends with a bit too much of a happy for now, where you didn't really see a firm commitment between Isabelle and Jake. Maybe we will see more of this in the next book.

Overall Thoughts:

* This book ended up pulling me in, hard. I cared about the characters, and I found the storyline interesting. I liked the characters a lot, and I liked the emotional complexity of their struggles. I am definitely hooked into this series. I would like to see a lot more of Chris (really liked him), and Nick was cool too. I hope he's not going to continue to be a womanizer over this series (don't care for them). I'd like to know what his deep dark secrets are. This series has the potential to be a favorite of mine. Fingers crossed.

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