Active Defense // by Lynette Eason

YAY!! Reviews for January IN January!! A momentous occasion! While Active Defense wasn’t the first book I read in January, it was a book that I received from the publisher so I wanted to get this review written before I delved into the rest of this month’s books.

Third in Eason’s Danger Never Sleeps series, this story focuses on Heather and was probably my favorite of the series so far. All of these books are centered on a group of friends who met/served together in the military in Afghanistan, but I appreciate the fact that Eason doesn’t try to politicize her stories. Most of the action takes place stateside, but Eason uses the military and Afghanistan as a backdrop that is effective and engaging.

//published 2021//

Heather worked as a field surgeon when she was in Afghanistan, and is now back home in South Carolina as a civilian, working in a hospital there. However, she’s recently become convinced that someone is following her – and she can’t figure out why. She confesses her concern to her friends one night when they’ve gathered for a cookout. Present are several characters from the last two books, including Travis, who owns a security agency and employs a couple of the other characters. That night, when Heather gets home, she notices several things out of place at her house and even though her alarm hasn’t been triggered, believes someone is hiding in her house. When she sees a picture of her and her closest friends on the refrigerator, each of them now sporting a red dot on their foreheads that weren’t there earlier, she grabs her emergency cash and emergency gun and bails, only letting her friends know that she’s going into hiding and that they may be in danger, not telling them where she’s headed.

The action in this one felt well-paced and (for the situation) believable. Now that more relationships have been established within the group of friends, the story was more cohesive than the earlier books – originally the readers were just told that these people all trusted one another, but now we’ve seen them working together and have watched that trust develop.

Sometimes the “side story” feels extraneous and distracting, but here I liked the addition of Ryker’s story. His background with an abusive father tied in well to Heather’s background, giving her more depth and helping us to better understand some of her actions, while also showing how situations where someone is being abused are frequently nuanced – not because the abuse is ever justified, but because it can be so difficult for victims to extract themselves from these horrible situations.

All in all, this was an enjoyable read – what I would call “lite” thriller – definitely a thriller, but not necessarily with the dark intensity that that term generally conjures up. While this reads best within the context of the earlier two books, it still stands independently and can be read that way, although you’ll miss some of the background connections between other characters. I’ve liked Heather from the beginning of the series and was glad to see her get her own story. Also, while I originally thought this was going to be a trilogy (mainly because Eason seems to favor them) but it appears that a fourth book is scheduled to be published this year.

Conclusion – 4* for an engaging and enjoyable read. Special thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy, which didn’t impact my opinions at all.

Acceptable Risk // by Lynette Eason

//published 2020//

Earlier this year I read the first book in this series, Collateral Damage.  Since I enjoyed it, I requested to receive a copy of this sequel from the publisher in exchange for a review.  Unfortunately, while Acceptable Risk wasn’t a bad read, it never quite pulled me in.  The pacing felt uneven, and I never really connected with the plot.

Sarah is an investigative reporter in the Army, and the book opens shortly after she’s been kidnapped by a terrorist.  She’s rescued by a character we met in the first book, Gavin, but there’s a shoot-out in the process and Sarah is injured.  While she’s in the hospital, her father, a high-level Army officer, discreetly “arranges” to have Sarah discharged for mental health reasons because Sarah is having bad nightmares.  Sarah’s relationship with her dad has always been very poor.  He never wanted her to join the Army at all, and disinherited her when she did.  Sarah is outraged when she finds out that she’s been discharged, and is determined to find her way back to the Army once she heals.  In the meantime, she turns her investigative skills towards finding out more details about her brother’s last few weeks of life – he committed suicide just a few days before Sarah was kidnapped, despite the fact that he seemed to be doing much better with his mental health according to everyone closest to him, including his doctors.  As Sarah and Gavin begin unraveling seemingly disparate threads, they begin to wonder if there is something much, much bigger going on.

So there were a lot of things about this book that I did enjoy.  While I had mixed feelings about Sarah herself (more on that later), I really liked Gavin a lot, and also Sarah’s brother Caden, whom we met in the last book.  (It’s another brother who has killed himself.)  The concept that somehow someone is forcing veterans to kill themselves was creepy and intriguing.  Also, with a theme like suicide there is obviously some discussion about mental health, which I overall felt like was handled well, acknowledging how treatment for one person doesn’t look the same as it does for another person.  Sarah, for instance, is very against medication, but her brother was on medication that he felt was helping him adjust, and neither option is presented as better or worse than the other.

Sarah herself is a character I had a rather love/hate relationship with.  There were a lot of things about Sarah that I liked – she’s intelligent, hardworking, and loyal – but she also has this HUGE beef with her dad and spends pretty much the entire book whining about him, and has apparently spent her entire life trying to hurt his feelings/make him mad.  She absolutely refuses to even consider that it’s even a tiny bit possible that even a little fraction of his actions come from a place of love and wanting to protect her.  Instead, she’s obsessed with him being the big villain in her life who ruins everything because he’s a control freak – which basically turns her into a control freak because she literally can’t handle anyone else making decisions for or about her, even small ones, or even ones that are made while she’s UNCONSCIOUS for pity’s sake.  I really have a lot of trouble empathizing with adults who blame all of their life problems on their parents.  Yes, your parents are important and your parents can really screw you up.  But if you’re 30 and still blaming your parents for your life problems, when you’ve been on your own for a decade, it’s time to wonder if at least some of your problems are because of you.  Also, Sarah is supposedly a Christian, but the fact that she has this gigantic forgiveness issue isn’t ever really addressed within that framework – the entire deal with Sarah and her dad is just kind of tidied up at the end with a “oh I guess he loves me after all!” and then we all move on… ???  There’s another point where Gavin tells Sarah’s dad that he (the dad) needs to apologize to Sarah if he ever wants Sarah’s forgiveness and… that’s not actually how forgiveness is supposed to work.  You don’t have to get an apology first.  If you’re hanging on to bitterness and anger, you’re only hurting yourself – getting an apology is a completely different part of healing.  In short, I felt like Sarah was just as much to blame for her bad relationship with her dad as her dad was, but her dad gets all the blame and is supposed to do all the groveling, and that really annoyed me.

In the end, there is a big chase scene/villain reveal that felt kind of over-the-top all things considered.  Exciting, but a bit more in a ???? way than an I’m-genuinely-engaged way, if that makes sense.

All in all, I didn’t dislike this book, but I didn’t love it either, leaving it with that dreaded 3* rating.  I’ll still definitely read the third book when it appears, but this one felt like a weaker entry to the series to me.

Thank you to Revell for a review copy of this book – receiving it for free didn’t change my opinions at all.

Collateral Damage // Lynette Eason

//published 2020//

I read an enjoyed Eason’s Hidden Identity trilogy a while back, so when I had an opportunity to read a reviewer’s copy of the first book in her new series, I took it.   Collateral Damage is a solid start to a series with likable characters and good pacing.  It wasn’t particularly a stand-out thriller for me, but it was still an enjoyable, 3.5* read.

The story focuses on Brooke, who was a military psychiatrist in Afghanistan until she was honorably discharged after she was injured in an explosion.  Now she works privately in South Carolina, determined to leave her past behind.

Meanwhile, Asher has also left the army behind after a terrorist incident killed several men for whom he was responsible.  Plagued with nightmares, he finally decides to seek psychiatric help, and sets up an appointment with Brooke.  However, when he arrives, he finds Brooke’s secretary murdered, and it appears that the killer was actually trying to get Brooke.  Soon, Asher and Brooke are caught up in a deadly cat-and-mouse game, struggling to find out why Brooke has suddenly become a target.

There were a lot of things I enjoyed about this one, including the characters themselves, who were relatable and likable.  However, it was a little jarring how quickly Asher and Brooke hit it off.  Apparently, they somewhat knew each other in Afghanistan, but it would have been helpful if there had been a little more backstory for them as Brooke’s almost immediate complete trust in Asher felt abrupt.  I knew Asher was one of the good guys, but how did Brooke know?  From her perspective, she comes in to work and finds her secretary dead and a strange man there – Asher.  Having Brooke immediately let Asher follow her around everywhere felt weird to me, and could have been dealt with if they had had a little more history up front.

Overall, though, the pacing was good, bringing together several strands quite well.  I was engaged in the various aspects of the mystery, trying to see how the pieces were going to mesh.  The conclusion was believable.  And while this book tied up all its loose ends, there are secondary characters who seem likely to make an appearance in their own books later on.

All in all, while Collateral Damage wasn’t a mind-blowing read, it was an enjoyable one that I recommend.