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Monday, January 04, 2010:
Hard to Hold by Stephanie Tyler (2009)

Lieutenant 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 as 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...

I've read only a few of the Sydney Croft books Stephanie Tyler has written with Larissa Ione, so like with Larissa's books, it was a treat to see how she wrote on her own. Hard To Hold is the first in a series about some of my favorite heroes: Navy SEALs. This story starts out with an intense storyline and doesn't let up til the very end.

Jake Hansen and his team are the ones who rescue kidnapped Dr. Isabelle Markham in Africa after she's been kidnapped by her own bodyguard and apparently left for dead. While saving people in dangerous situations is part of his job, this time his mission is different, and he recognizes that right from the start. First off, Isabelle is no ordinary victim, and second is his extreme reaction to her.

Months later, after coming back to the states and going their separate ways, Jake and Isabelle are once again thrown together when Isabelle is set to work on base, and her uncle convinces Jake to look after her. Turns out the danger to Isabelle isn't over, not by a long shot, and Jake and his brothers might be the only ones who can protect her. Only Isabelle can't know about it, and Jake does everything in his power to keep his distance. But Isabelle is not stupid, nor can she just ignore the attraction that ignited between them so unexpectedly right from the start. She's still dealing with the aftermath of her attack, and constant fear she knows is irrational, but one thing she isn't afraid of is how Jake makes her feel. But with all the lies and all the secrecy between them, do they even stand a chance of having a future?

My thoughts: (and possible SPOILERS)

As I mentioned earlier, this is one intense book. At first we don't find out exactly what happened to Isabelle after she'd been kidnapped, but despite what Isabelle reveals to Jake and judging by the way she's found; tied up, naked and bloody; it's pretty obvious that she's been raped by the man who was hired to protect her. When she returns to the states, she's in the hospital healing for a long time. Her mother, the senator, and her godfather Cal both look out for her and try to protect her as best they can. Part of this is handled by lying for Isabelle about her kidnapper, letting her think she's safe.

I like that neither Isabelle or Jake are easy people. Both are loners, both have found something in their life that gives them purpose; Isabelle as a doctor who treats those who urgently need her care, and Jake finding his place in the military, signing up for the most dangerous of missions. Neither one of them are willing to compromise on their careers. Jake especially is difficult, extremely flawed. For the first time in his life he's falling in love, but he's damaged goods, and it's tough for him to accept these tender feelings for someone other than his brothers. He lives for danger, isn't afraid of dying. There's no softness in him except when it comes to Isabelle. It takes time for him to come to terms with what is happening between them.

Isabelle isn't much different. She prefers to be alone, needs to be a part of something bigger than herself. She doesn't have friends. Her family life is screwed up in a sene with lies and secrecy. She's not sure what to do with Jake, and she's not sure if she's ready to get that close to a man ever again. But more than anything, Jake lets her be herself. No apologies, no excuses. He doesn't baby her or try to analyse her or her feelings. He accepts her, easy as that.

I feel like this is an inadequate description of the story, because there's so much going on, and it's one of those stories that drags you in, absorbs your attention, batters you around. It's definitely not a light and fluffy romance. Sometimes it's even exhausting to read, but you can't help yourself. The more layers Ms. Tyler peels away, the more we want to see what's underneath it all, and we never truly find out. Not every solution is resolved, and even the climax of the story is not completely wrapped up and neatly solved. Sometimes the action takes a turn that is a little frustrating, but it's realistic, and makes sense with the motivation of the characters.

What is interesting about this book is that Ms. Tyler writes about military characters without turning them into brave and shiny heroes. They are flawed, and dangerous, a bit crazy even. Sometimes they don't adjust well in regular society. They're adrenaline junkies, some having experienced horrific childhoods that the person can only deal with by living on the edge, unafraid of death. They don't sleep, have nightmares, don't really have normal relationships with people. You get the feeling that it wouldn't take much for these guys to turn to the dark side. See why I kept reading?

I liked how this book ended. Totally works for Jake and Isabelle. And in addition to what's happening with our main characters, there's a secondary storyline going on with Clutch and Sarah that leaves us hanging, not to mention Jake's rough and tumble brothers, Nick and Chris. I'm definitely wanting to know what happens in their stories, and can't wait to meet the women who aren't intimidated by these two. Ms. Tyler has me hooked on her SEALs.

Rating: ***** out of *****

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  1. Oh my, reading this from your review; "They are flawed, and dangerous, a bit crazy even." Is really how I like my characters :)

  2. Hi Stacy! Sorry I've missed so many of everyone's posts, but I'm just dropping by to wish you a happy new year! Hope you had a wonderful holiday :)

  3. Great review..I have this..I am starting it very soon!!

    I love your comment that the characters are flawed and dangerous..and don't always fit into society..really looking forward to it!

  4. I'd heard a lot of conflicting reviews of this one, but I read it last week and really, really loved it. Great review!

  5. What Leotine said :) I like characters with flaws...and characters who require time to work through their issues. I'm guessing Isabella requires a lot of time to get over her kidnapping too?

    THank you Stacy!

  6. Leontine, I think what makes it so different is that these men are set up to be heroes, but when you come right down to it, if they were in any other career, they probably would be the type to end up in prison. These men are not clean-cut role models. But they've managed to find a path in their lives that makes them do heroic things. I really liked that about these men.

    Barbara! Hon, I'm gonna miss you. And maybe I'll be re-doing my blog and seeing if you can spare some time. I put it off, but that may change. Take care of yourself, okay?

    Mandi, I hope you like it. Want to be a book pimp just like you when I grow up *g*

    Lori, so glad you liked it! I wasn't sure how I'd feel when I first started reading it, but it completely sucked me in. Jonesing for the next one now.

    Orannia, Isabella has some issues to work through, understandably, but being a doctor I think helps her come to terms with what happened to her and it's a little less traumatic. Not to say it's effortless, but she comes from a different place, and Jake makes her feel very safe to move forward.

  7. after reading this, i sooo want to read this book! thanks for the review!

  8. I skipped a big part of your review because of the spoiler part, but I'll be back later to read it. After I finished it myself - it's on my ereader already :) The 5 stars are promissing :D

  9. I have been meaning to read one of her books ever since I learned she partnered with Larissa Ione. I'm so going to have to read this one!!

  10. Your review was so wonderful I felt like I was reading the book. Stacey you have to tell me the end! I'm all out of Amazon gift card monies & I want to know what happens!!!

    BTW no idea that Larissa Ione co-wrote with Stephanie Tyler as Sydney Croft.

  11. Hey Stacy! I finally broke down and bought this book this weekend. There have been so many blogs talking about it that I felt like I was missing something by not reading it. Now I'll just have to find time to read it!

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