Sunday, June 17, 2012

Hell on Wheels by Julie Ann Walker

Why I read it: Jane from Dear Author tweeted the other day that she was enjoying In Rides Trouble, the second book in this series.  I requested it and this one from NetGalley.  Of course, being me, I started on book 1. 

What it's about: (from Goodreads)  He’s the bad boy she’s always wanted...

Nate “Ghost” Weller has loved Ali Morgan nearly half his life. But he’s done something so heinous he’s convinced she’ll never forgive him if she discovers the truth, so he keeps his feelings and his secrets to himself. Then she blows into town with a mother lode of bad guys on her tail and Nate can’t deny she’s in serious trouble. Unfortunately, he’s the only one who can help her.

She’s the good girl he’s kept at arm’s length...

Ali knows Nate as the most solemn, aloof man on the planet. Sadly, he’s also the sexiest. For years she’s avoided him, unable to stomach his dark scowls and brooding silences… especially when she secretly yearns for his touch. Now she must rely on him to save her from the malevolent shadows ghosting her every move. When the bullets explode, so does their passion. But can love really conquer all? Or are some things just too terrible to forgive?

What worked for me (and what didn't): This is a fast paced, spec-ops group types series, very much in the vein of Tara Janzen's Steele Street (Crazy) series  (except with bikes not cars) or Cindy Gerard's BOI's.  Lots of over the top alpha male action - both romantically and in terms of plot.  A certain suspension of disbelief is required to buy into the super seekrit spec-ops group disguised as a custom bike facility, but really, if you're not prepared for that, why would you even pick up the book?  

The book starts off when Nate delivers the news to Ali of her brother Grigg's death.  Because they are spec-ops of course, he can't tell her the truth about the circumstances.  Nate is haunted by the death because (and I don't think this is a spoiler as it's revealed fairly early on) he was the one who had to finally put a merciful end to Grigg's life after some horrific torture meant the choices were only between a long, agonising death or a quick one at the hands of his best friend.  Nate doesn't believe that Ali, if she knew the truth, could ever forgive him for that and he cannot forgive himself.  Essentially that is the main internal conflict between the two.

The external conflict is around Ali being followed, her place being broken into and being mugged - someone is looking for something from her - she believes (correctly) that it's linked to Grigg's mysterious work (she knows he's not just a custom bike specialist) and goes to Black Knight Inc for aid, where she meets up with Nate and the rest of the team.  There follows a road trip, hit men and plenty of explosions, with a couple of steamy interludes until the villain gets his comeuppance and the man gets the girl.

Some of the writing didn't ring true to me.  This for instance from Nate:
It just didn’t seem right. A day like this. So sunny, so bright. Didn’t the world know it’d lost one of its greatest men? Didn’t its molten heart bleed?
But then, there were lines like this, which felt much more realistic
Whoever came up with that ridiculous term? Underwear that fantastic deserved to be mentioned on a regular basis.
When Nate was being himself and not trying to wax lyrical, he was a pretty funny guy:
“So that’s why you’ve been acting so…so surly and disagreeable all these years?” she asked in disbelief. “Because you want me?”
Surly and disagreeable? He hadn’t been surly and disagreeable. He’d been noble and honorable. Jesus. Couldn’t she tell the friggin’ difference?
The problem was, that because Nate has been so "surly and disagreeable all these years", they don't really know each other well. Until the book starts (and most of it takes place in about 48 hours) she's never heard Nate laugh and rarely seen him smile.  So, it was a little hard to buy that what was between them was true and deep and lasting - they certainly have combustible chemistry but I can't say I had confidence by the end of the book that they had a deep bond beyond the physical.
Wow. Those two sure had it bad.
Ghost practically lifted a leg and pissed on Ali anytime she walked in the room, and Ali got all doe-eyed and flushed the minute Ghost looked at her.
Nate drops his "g"s quite often but not terribly consistently and his habit of weird word contractions didn't work that well for me - 
“What’r’ya doin’ here?” he asked again. The man had the strangest way of making contractions out of multiple words.
partly because it was inconsistent and partly because it made the text harder to read.

Ali is a kindergarten teacher.  Yes.  That's right.  Kindergarten teacher with alpha male Spec-Ops type.  It is a cliche and it's not helped by her habit of not swearing and saying things (even to herself) like "h-e-double hockey sticks"  and "crimeny".  She also pukes a lot.  That's her stress reaction. Seriously, she vomits all over the place.  It isn't very sexy but it is unforgettable, as quirks go.

The villain is fairly one dimensional and not all that bright - which did make me wonder how he could have caused quite so much damage without getting caught previously.   What I did really like though was the character of Dagan Zoelner.  He's been following Ali for three months trying to locate some information, thinking he's on team white hat - but then he begins to wonder.  I really liked how this character was introduced and I'm looking forward to more from him.

The chemistry between Nate and Ali was smoking and the sex scenes were well written and steamy. There were parts of the story that were fun and cool and sexy and other parts which felt too cliched and over the top. Ali ventured perilously close to TSTL territory a few times and I got the impression that some things were there because the plot required them rather than that they made a lot of sense otherwise (eg, Ali accompanying Nate to Jacksonville).  Her website says this is Ms. Walker's debut and for a first book, it's pretty good.

What else? A reasonable amount of the story is devoted to the unwanted attraction shared by Frank "Boss" Knight and Rebecca "Rebel" Reichart. There is a 13 year age gap and Frank is desperate to protect her from his bad old self.  These two feature in In Rides Trouble and I'm looking forward to seeing Frank brought to his knees by love.  Rebel is kickass and reminds me a bit of Skeeter from Janzen's Steele Street series.

There's plenty of sexy guys on sexy bikes and I think Cindy Gerard and Tara Janzen fans will get a kick out of this series.

Grade: C+


Kassa said...

I was seriously considering this one until your review so .. thanks! I'll pass on this one.

Lori said...

Great review. I adore both the Janzen and the Gerard series. And for those had mostly no difficulty suspending disbelief. I think I'll wait to see your review of book 2 and then decide...

Kaetrin said...

@Kassa & @Lori I am planning on reading the second book soon and I'm hoping that the author hits her stride a bit better - there is such potential I think in the series and characters - I loved some of the Tara Janzen books - the first 2 in particular were like crack to me. I didn't adore Crazy Love because I felt the build up for Skeeter and Dylan didn't live up to the actuality and I was a little let down. Lori - if you loved all of the Crazy books, then I think you will like this one - our tastes don't always align - for example, you enjoyed the Shiloh Walker Ash Trilogy a lot more than I did.