I've heard Ronie Kendig mentioned in Inspirational Romance reading groups many times. She has been recommended to me personally often. I thought her new series, A Breed Apart, about military war dogs and the love lives of their handlers would be a great opportunity to try her out. This is book one in this series, and I can't say it inspired me to want to read book two.
Green Beret Heath Daniels lost his career to a bomb in Afghanistan. He lost his faith along the hard road to healing. The only thing he didn't lose was his beloved Trinity. A military war dog, Trinity is trained to seek and take down the enemy as well as to check for dangers such as bombs. However, she refuses to work with anyone but Heath, so he paid to have her come home to him. When his friend Jibril contacts him with the idea of both he and Trinity working in the private sector, Heath jumps at the chance. A Breed Apart, a private training and contracting group will put them on special assignments that the military doesn't have the manpower to cover. The opportunity to be useful again is all Heath could hope for. Without it, he has nothing. He is nothing.
As Heath and Trinity work towards building a future, Heath's health slowly improves. His traumatic brain injury (TBI) causes him to have the occasional black out, but the heavy workouts the two have done on the training ranch have reduced the number of times this happens dramatically. He is therefore hurt and bewildered when the entire team at A Breed Apart decides to accompany him on his speaking gig in Afghanistan. His purpose is to build up morale, but how can he when the people he trusts most feel he can't be trusted with a simple assignment? The trip proves stressful, both to his health and his emotions. Being there reminds Heath of all he has lost. Then he meets a girl and realizes that there are still a few things he could gain.
Darci Kintz goes by many names. As an operative, she changes identities as easily as she changes clothes. Her latest mission has her with a geological survey team on the Afghan/China border. Darci has powerful enemies in China from a previous mission, but she is certain that they will never know she is within reach. But what she finds out in that harsh terrain will cause a collision of her past, present, and future in the most elemental way possible. For what she finds could change the fate of the entire Western world.
When an important operative goes missing, Heath is at first surprised that he and Trin are wanted on the rescue team. When he learns who it is, he is thrilled to be a part of it all. But can a washed up soldier really make a difference on this life or death mission?
Something that Ms. Kendig does right with her book is the rainbow universe she places it in. She uses a variety of different nationalities for her key characters, including her heroine who is Chinese American. She also shows the Afghans as everything from fierce enemy fighters to innocent bystanders and helpful allies. In one scene the hero is in a great deal of pain and it is an Afghani chiropractor who is able to heal him. I thought that was very cool - chiropractors are a not often used profession in romance and here is a foreign chiropractor helping an American soldier!
Also well done was the military dog angle. The author shows us rather than tells us what Trinity is capable of. And she is capable of a lot. We also see Trinity as a unique character, which is awesome. When Trinity is around other military dogs you realize she has her own style as a soldier. She is focused and disciplined. She is intuitive, brave, and driven. She likes to excel. She is also a loyal, caring being. She puts her all into her relationship with Heath. He returns that devotion - it is clear no woman could touch his heart who wasn't willing to share it with Trin.
Unfortunately, I found quite a bit wrong with the novel too. One problem that cropped up right from the beginning was the author's writing style. Sentences like "Night descended with a wolfish devour" and "Terror's greedy claws stabbed her innocent face" yanked me out of the text more than once. "Foreboding truth hung like a noose in the room" actually drew a chuckle from me. I like metaphors as much as the next reader but these just didn't work. Another sentence that didn't work was as follows: "Hauer vowed his loyalty to homeland China. To the rising sun." Say what? This had me so confused I double checked with the computer and holy heck, it is Japan that is the land of the rising sun. I knew it! An editor should have caught that. The author should have caught that. These are two distinct cultures that don't even share a language - this was a whopper of a mistake.
Another botheration was the that the characters spend mere hours together within the entire story. That's right - they probably clock in at slightly less than 24 hours together while conscious for the first 90% of the book. While they really liked each other after the initial meeting, they had no time together to build on that. This might have worked if they could phone, text, or even snail mail but they couldn't. The most they could do was think about each other. Honestly, I felt ripped off. The author spent pages putting us through a Tom Clancy style thriller with tons of information from the villain, several different spies, and then the actions of both the rescue team and Darci - but almost zero time on the romance. I was extremely frustrated when I reached the end and these two were behaving as though they were ready for a commitment. Seriously? Shouldn't you at least move to a dinner date first?
I wanted to at least like the characters individually but I didn't really get to do that either. Heath spends so much time focusing on the job he can't do that at times I wanted to yank Trin's leash away from him and find her someone worthy of her awesomeness. Super spy Darci has no real personality except as a spy. Much of what she did stretched my suspension of disbelief. The rescue op definitely did. I didn't dislike them at the end of the book - I just didn't know them.
On a scale of one to ten, with ten being very preachy and one barely mentioning God, this book is about a seven. During the long time they were apart both were able to reconnect with God individually. You know the saying about atheists and fox holes? I have to admit it crossed my mind more than once while reading. I would have preferred their Hallelujah moments to come during the dark, quiet times of everyday life when you really wonder if you are just indulging in wishful thinking when praying. It is easy to believe when your only option is a miracle. Less easy when there is no miracle and you have a long road of living ahead of you.
I wish the book had concentrated more on its title character. When she was on the page, the story was warm and interesting. And as said in the beginning, much about the book is good. Had the book perhaps not been a romance, had it concentrated more on what it clearly wanted to be (military novel), it might have worked. But as a love story, it just didn't touch the heart of this reader much at all.
-- Maggie Boyd
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