Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Book Review: A Perfect Storm by: Lori Foster

Title: A Perfect Storm (Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor, #4)
Author: Lori Foster
ISBN: 978-0373776566
Reading Level: Adult
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Theme(s): Suspense, Romance, Human Trafficking
Length: 449 pgs
Binding: Paperback
Published: 27 March 2012; HQN Books


He never saw her coming...

Spencer Lark already knows too many secrets about Arizona Storm, including the nightmare she survived and her resulting trust issues. But in order to expose a smuggling ring—and continue avenging his own tragic past—the bounty hunter reluctantly agrees to make Arizona a decoy. Yet nothing has equipped him for her hypnotic blend of fragility and bravery, or for the protective instincts she stirs in him.

Arizona wants to reclaim her life, which means acting as bait to lure the enemy into a trap. Sure it's dangerous, especially with a partner as distractingly appealing as Spencer. But as their plan—and their chemistry—shifts into high gear, Arizona may discover there's an even greater risk in surrendering her heart to a hero...

My Rating:

My Review: This review is going to be a bit longer than normal because as I started reviewing A Perfect Storm, I noticed myself mentioning a lot about the series as a whole. If you don't know this already, A Perfect Storm is the 4th and last installment in Lori Foster's The Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor Series. And boy was it a great run while it lasted! Am I sad to see this series end? Absolutely. Do I think Lori could squeeze one more book out? Hell yes, and I will get to that later in my review. But as they say, all good things must come to an end. And it just so happens to end with Spencer and Arizona's story, which sort of begins at the end of Savor the Danger, book 3 in the series.

The way Lori Foster weaves this series together is through constant interaction between her characters. The main characters from each book make frequent appearances throughout the whole series, which leads to some intricate storytelling. So before I go on, let me set the stage. The series revolves around 3 friends, Dare, Trace, and Jackson (Spencer doesn't enter the stage until later obviously) who work as mercenaries to stop human trafficking.

Things get a little personal in When You Dare, book 1, when Dare must save Trace's sister, Alani, who has been kidnapped while on vacation. Trace's cover is blown since he is related, so Dare goes in. When he goes in for Alani, he ends up rescuing another woman that had been kidnapped too. Severely beaten, Dare can't help but admire Molly's fighting spirit and against his iron rules to not mix business with pleasure, he reluctantly agrees to help Molly track down the men who kidnapped her, not counting on falling in love along the way...

Fueled with fire after almost loosing his sister Alani to the very monsters he hunts down, Trace of Fever, book 2, focusing on Trace going undercover. Pretending to be a bodyguard for Murray Coburn, Trace knows the wealthy businessman is corrupt and intends to find proof to put him away. What he doesn't count on is Coburn's long lost daughter, Priss (short for Priscilla), waltzing in with her own agenda. With Dare and Jackson for backup, Trace has his hands full with keeping focused on the mission while trying to protect Priss from letting revenge get the best of her. He also can't seem to keep his hands off her lovely assets....

Trace doesn't seem to get a break because in Savor the Danger, book 3, instead of fighting human traffickers, he has to fight his brotherly instincts when his little sister, Alani, ends up in bed with Jackson. Jackson has been flirting with Alani for what seems like ages, but has kept somewhat of a distance out of respect for her brother, Trace. After Alani's kidnapping, the girl just doesn't seem the same, aloof and skittish. Finding any excuse possible to get her alone, he convinces her that his place needs a makeover-- and Alani is one hell of an interior decorator. But things go south when he wakes up the next morning...with a naked Alani in his bed and absolutely no memory of how it happened! He knows he has to have been drugged-- there is no way in hell he would forget a whole night of lovin' with the woman of his dreams-- but convincing Alani of this is a whole other matter. On top of that, Jackson has a few secrets of his own...such as one rainy night when he comes across men throwing a body bag into the river. Jumping in after it, he ends up saving an abused girl who is a victim of sex slavery. Jackson helps her rebuild her life by giving her an education, a new identity, and sort of adopts her as his little sister-- and that is how we come to know Arizona. We learn at the end of book 3 that there is a connection between the people that drugged Jackson and those who were responsible for Arizona's years of hell as a sex slave, and Arizona is out for revenge, to make them pay. Spencer is a bounty hunter who meets Arizona in a bar while on a hunt. He is first blinded by her beauty, but he soon realizes the little minx is a magnet for trouble. And he can't help but go with his instincts and follows her into the fire-- which is how he ends up meeting Jackson, Trace, and Dare...

This brings us to A Perfect Storm, book 4. Arizona doesn't trust any man except Jackson but with Jackson setting up house with Alani, the only person she feels she can turn to is Spencer. Yeah, she knows she can probably trust Dare and Trace, but they would only run back to Jackson, and that would just kill her plans. Besides, even if she won't admit it, there is something about Spencer that attracts her, that causes her womanly instincts to flare up, and it scares the living daylights out of her. But she knows she needs someone to partner up with her so that she can expose a smuggling ring and Spencer is the perfect man for the job. But Spencer doesn't quite play fair and before she knows it, the whole family is involved-- Dare, Trace, and her annoying adopted brother Jackson. Can they all work together to help Arizona realize her self worth and how much she means to them all, especially Spencer?

Lori Foster did a great job with the main theme that runs through this series which is human trafficking. Is it going to meet everyone's approval? Probably not since it is a sensitive topic. But I think she handled it with care and respect. Although When You Dare, book 1 is my favorite in the series, what sets A Perfect Storm apart is the realism. In her previous books in the series, we experience the fear of being kidnapped, beaten, almost being sold-- but just in the nick of time, Molly and Alani are rescued. This is a popular formula that is used in many romances. But in A Perfect Storm, Arizona's harrowing experience is the real deal. She was sold by her father at the age of 17 and experienced the many horrors of sex slavery. She was later able to escape and had to cheat, lie, steal, and learn how to use weapons in order to survive.

After all, in the real world, we don't always have white knights in shining armor to come save us. Arizona didn't have anyone in her corner for the majority of her life. Instead of staying the victim, she chose to fight, to take matters into her own hands as I mentioned above. Jackson saves her that fateful night when she is thrown into the river and like any good man, he wants to wrap her up in a security blanket and fight her battles for her. But that isn't how Arizona rolls and for her, trying to make her forget is not always the best way to conquer her fears. She reminds me so much of another amazing female survivor, Lisbeth from Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Like Lisbeth, Arizona doesn't really trust any man, can never let her guard down, and the only way to truly feel justice is to make those monsters pay personally, rather then send someone in to do it for them.

Do I like Arizona? Yes, I do. Was she a little annoying? Yes. Was it because of her age? No. I'm pointing this out because I know some people didn't like Arizona. Some people felt she was immature, tried to be too hardcore, that her cursing and her use of slang was unnecessary. Umm...did they skip the part where it's mentioned that she came from a poor area and that her daddy sold her into sex slavery? What, do you think that spending a couple years at a ritzy school that Jackson paid for is going to "tame" and turn her into a proper young lady? PUH-lease!!!! I give Lori Foster a lot of credit for breaking away from the normal romance formula. I felt that Arizona was very authentic, especially based on her experiences. Just like Lisbeth in Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Arizona is a woman that is a product of her environment and those survival instincts just don't go away over night. Keeping active and involved is her way of keeping sane.

I enjoyed Spencer and appreciated the fact that it didn't take him long to realize he had to accept Arizona for who she is. Yes, he had a hell of a time fighting his alpha male tendencies, and maybe there was a time or two that he couldn't help himself. But I liked Spencer because instead of trying to change her, he worked on helping her come to terms with her power as a woman. Yes, Arizona knows that men like to look at her, but she doesn't realize how beautiful she truly is and it's not until Spencer that she is appreciated for what's in her head and her heart. He also helps her discover her own sexuality. Before she was sold into sex slavery, she was a virgin. This is a girl who only knew the brutal side of sex, the disgusting and selfish depravity of men. Spencer is the one who brings out these female urges and it scares and intrigues her at the same time.

My favorite part of the book is when Spencer takes Arizona to Dare and Molly's for a party to celebrate her birthday. I love this part because this really shows how much the whole gang loves and accepts her as part of the family. And how Dare, Trace, and Jackson trust Spencer enough to offer him a position as a mercenary for their company. This is where Lori Foster really shines as an author, at least in this series because I absolutely enjoyed every moment when the main characters from the other books got their moment to shine.

And this is a perfect segue into my only 2 issues with this book and series. One of these characters that I love is Chris, Dare's best friend (who happens to be gay) and assistant who lives in a small house a short distance away from Dare's home. Chris is a minor character that has played a pivotal part in all 4 books. He sort of serves as the comic relief is many situations, but in no way does he fit into the stereotype that most gay assistants fall into. Chris is not flamboyant, nor does he do hair or makeup, and no he doesn't have a crush on his best friend. In fact, from the very beginning I got a sense that Chris is another Alpha male that just so happens to prefer men instead of women.

While I am satisfied how things got wrapped up with Spencer and Arizona, I think there is still one more story that needs to be told. That just so happens to be about Chris. I don't want to spoil anything, but let's just say another gay character was introduced earlier in the series and in A Perfect Storm, when Arizona mentions this character to Chris, he gets a little prickly, like maybe there are feelings there that are yet to be explored... Why would Lori put that small detail in if she wasn't considering weaving a story for Chris?

The reason I am annoyed is not so much with the author, but with popular mainstream publishing companies and the way they treat gay characters. Or should I say, the lack of gay romances put out by big publishing companies? Yes, gay romances are becoming popular BUT they are usually put out as e-books first, more then likely labeled under "erotica", and are published by smaller, independent companies like Ellora's Cave, Dreamspinner Press, Samhain Publishing, etc. And when these books do become paperbacks, the prices range from $12.99 on up to $17.99! I just feel that popular publishing companies that focus on romance need to get with the program.

Another HUGE injustice that I know many fans are frustrated about is the gay characters Qhuinn and Blay from J.R. Ward's insanely popular Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Where is their book??? There is all this speculation that Ward is putting their story in an e-book. WHY??? Why don't they deserve their own book? I think it's the publishing company that is pushing Ward to do this because they are too scared to make that leap.

Wow, I totally went off on a tangent! But this is something I am extremely passionate about. Chris deserves his own happy ever after. I think Lori Foster knows it too. I just hope she can find a way to make it happen.

My only other complaint about A Perfect Storm goes back to the heart of the story, Arizona. At the end of Savor the Danger, book 3, it is revealed that Jackson has helped Arizona create a new identity to protect her from those that may still be out looking for her. Arizona is not her real name and is a part of this new identity. I totally get that. It's cool. But I figured that in this book, with the "threat" now out of the way, Arizona's real name would be revealed. You know, maybe Spencer would be curious and want to know what her birth name actually is. Umm...well, this totally doesn't happen. In fact, this is never even brought up in the whole book! Maybe I am just a stickler for detail, but this annoyed me. I'm not sure if it totally skipped Lori's attention or if she meant for it to be that way. Maybe Arizona's new identity is symbolic for a fresh start and that she had such a crappy upbringing prior to being sold by her father that she doesn't want to retain anything from her previous life, including her real name. So I tried not to let it bother me too much, but I'm a little surprised that Spencer didn't pursue that aspect of Arizona.

It has been an absolute pleasure reading Lori Foster's The Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor series. I couldn't have asked for a better set of hot, protective alpha males to warm my heart and insides for the past year (umm, yeah, let's not tell my boyfriend about that haha!). I pray to the gods that Lori changes her mind and pumps out 1 more book so that Chris gets his own story. And if it's not her but the publishing company that has the issue, I hope they get off their high horse and take a leap of faith.

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