A- #BookReview: Guard the East Flank by M.L. Buchman

A- #BookReview: Guard the East Flank by M.L. BuchmanGuard the East Flank: a military romantic suspense (Night Stalkers Reload Book 1) by M L Buchman
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure romance, military romance
Series: Night Stalkers Reload #1
Pages: 358
Published by Buchman Bookworks on July 1, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books

Emily Beale returns! And the Night Stalkers will never be the same.

Captain Sharelle Vargas may be the best pilot in the 160th SOAR helicopter regiment, but is she ready for Colonel Emily Beale?
Captain Troy Ryland loves three things in his his family farm, flying the most lethal helicopter in the US military, and the woman he flies with. Each pull him in a different direction. The clock isn’t ticking—it’s running out!
A new mission slams them into action as they must infiltrate the notorious “Wind from the East”—Russia. Once in, will their combined skills prove enough to escape with their lives and their hearts intact?
“(For) fans of Suzanne Brockmann, Maya Banks, Catherine Mann, and Kaylea Cross.” – Booklist
“OMG, I love how this guy writes military romantic suspense!!” – Smitten with Reading

My Review:

Lieutenant Colonel Emily Beale was a legend among the Night Stalkers. And so she should be, considering her many, many firsts and achievements and successful missions. (If you want details – and you should if you love military romance! – check out the original Night Stalkers series that began with The Night is Mine.)

The thing about legends is that people generally expect them to be dead. Or at least retired. Definitely past their prime.

But Emily Beale is none of the above. She’s clearly not dead, she’s still on active duty, and she’s not in the least past her prime. It’s just that her missions have shifted from overt to so covert they are black-in-black, while she seemingly spends her days and her time and her energy running Henderson Ranch and it’s many, many side-businesses with her husband, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Henderson (retired) and raising their tween daughters.

It’s a good life. It’s a happy life. And it’s a fulfilling life. Well, it is for Mark. For Emily – not quite so much. Almost, but not quite.

Which is when and where Colonel Cassius McDermott, the current commander of the Night Stalkers, drops into Henderson Ranch with an offer that Emily Beale both does and doesn’t want to refuse. Cass is being promoted out of the job he’s held for the past decade. The Night Stalkers need someone who knows the command from the inside out AND has the necessary intelligence and experience to think outside the box – because 21st century warfare no longer takes place inside that box.

The Night Stalkers need Emily Beale to step up and take the reins – at least long enough to prepare someone to follow the trail that she’ll blaze. Again.

Escape Rating A-: There are two – or maybe it’s three – plot points circling the skies in this first book in the Night Stalkers Reload series.

(If you haven’t read the original series, it is marvelous and well-worth a read. Howsomever, you don’t have to read it first to get into this one. As with many romance series, it’s the setting and the setup that carries over from book to book – or series to series – and not the main characters. Not that previous main characters don’t appear in later books or later series, but you don’t have to know – or remember – all the deets about what happened before to get into what’s happening now. Of course, that doesn’t mean you won’t WANT to, but you don’t HAVE to.)

Back to those plot circles. The first, biggest and most obvious is the return of Emily Beale to the Night Stalkers. Not because she takes over the story, but she does take command, links long-term readers back to the original series – and, and most importantly – shows Beale as a woman at mid-career AND midlife caught between a huge rock and a ginormous hard place that seems real to any woman caught in that middle – even if they aren’t or weren’t an elite fighter pilot.

Emily loves her family, loves the life they’ve built, is mostly satisfied with the way things are and feels all of her commitments very strongly. Those black-in-black operations that she handles intelligence and analysis for keep her hand in without taking her away from the life she’s built.

But she’s not done, not intellectually and not emotionally. Her husband has retired from the military because their life at Henderson Ranch satisfies him all the way down to his toes. That’s not true for Emily. And yet, she doesn’t want to go back into the field.

Which doesn’t mean that there isn’t something missing in her life. Just as there will be something missing if she takes command of the Night Stalkers. Either choice leaves her half-bereft and full of regrets.

It’s so easy to feel for her dilemma. The specifics of her choice aside, the fact that she has to choose is very true-to-life. And that eventually realizes that she can’t handle the huge task before her without help – both from her family and from the people she commands and serves with.

At the same time, as with all of the books in the Night Stalkers series, there are two other plots that move from the foreground to the background as the story follows the early months of Emily’s command.

Both of those storylines rotate around Captains Sharelle Vargas and Troy Ryland, the present-day number one pilot team in the 160th SOAR. Their relationship is in flux in multiple ways. They’ve been carrying torches for each other since the day they were assigned together – three long years ago. But Troy knows that he’s a short-timer, getting out after 10 years to return to his family’s struggling farm. And he knows that Sharelle is in until the day they take her wings – or rotors – away.

A relationship is impossible – or it should be. But even as Troy’s contract is winding down, their romance is heating up.

And so is the danger of the black-in-black mission they’ve been assigned – to disrupt the supply chain between North Korean arms manufacturers and the Russian military fighting in Ukraine. All they’ll have to do is sabotage the Trans Siberian Railway using stolen Russian helicopters in Russian airspace with no one being the wiser – not even on their own side. Ever.

The mission is fascinating – and perhaps just a tiny bit prescient – which is scarier than any reader will want to admit. The romance is very much in the author’s trademark style in that it is a relationship of absolute equals in every possible way. Even if Troy has a bit of the misunderstandammits – not with Sharelle, but with his own hopes, dreams and particularly his obligations. For a really smart man – which he is – the situation he’s put himself into is pretty much the opposite.

But he does finally get his brain in gear along with his heart, leading to a terrific happy ending for the romance, even as the future of the Night Stalkers begins to wrap itself around his partner.

I’ve been a fan of this author since I read the very first Night Stalkers book, The Night is Mine, back in 2012. This series – and all of the author’s other series that I’ve dipped into and/or devoured over the years – have always been an excellent reading time – and this first entry in the Reload series absolutely did not buck that trend.

If you’re a fan of military romance in particular, or if you are just jonesing for a romance where the characters are always standing on equal ground – in spite of or because of whatever emotional baggage they may be trailing behind them – Buchman is a author who always delivers no matter the setting or setup. This reader will certainly be back for the next book in the Night Stalkers Reload series whenever it appears – and in the meantime I’m definitely looking forward to the next book in the Miranda Chase series, Wedgetail, coming this Fall!