A MelanieM Review: Always With Me (With Me #6) by Kris Jacen

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Rating: 2.75 stars out of 5

Calvin and Camden Luna — why yes, their dad is a big baseball fan— have moved around the world with their parents. Their father has been in the military since before they were born. Proud of their father and uncles and all they’ve done, neither of them is sure the military is for them. Cam is a fantastic baseball player and Cal loves the science of everything. Haven’t they given enough?

Tristan Nolan and Maddy Holt both grew up as military kids too, but neither of their fathers moved them around as much as the twins. Maddy wants to save the planet and capture the heart of Calvin Luna… if he’d only open his eyes. Tris has grown up wanting to follow in the footsteps of those before him. But can he be himself — out and proud —serve and protect his country and end up with the one he’s loved for as long as he can remember?

What can happen when you grow up a military brat with the ties that they have with their fathers’ close friends and their families? Find the love of your life almost from the start? Or find out that maybe you’re all too close for anything else?

I have loved Kris Jacen’s With Me series from the very first story Wait for Me.  From that foundation novel, Jacen established a universe, tone, and overall series framework that pulled her readers into the world of military families and soldiers, the  units that become to tight that they form a brotherhood unlike any other, one that also then encompasses their families as well, and then extends out to future generations coming up the ranks.  We watch them toil, and sweat, and work through major issues, deep ones, military in nature, emotional, and sexual.

Some of the men start off alone and get pulled into the heptad, a strong group of men that trained and fought together.  Others were there all along as part of the foundation.  And we watched and were there, connected through our hearts as each and everyone has found their HEA,  And gotten married.  Some have had kids, those that had kids or adopted, well, we watched them grow up through theses stories. We felt as much a part of these families as these men did.

That is the beauty of Jacen’s writing.  It’s her intimate knowledge of this world and it’s workings.  Her compassion for the families and her acknowledgement of the strength and flexibility or perhaps adaptability it takes to be a military spouse and family. And the support system needed as well.  It’s all here, layered in, all the characters, the kindnesses and the tears, the food and the packing, the stress and the pain.  And also the joy, the love, and the fierce pride in serving their country.  That is here too and never forgotten.

I loved the men and I love the romances.  And I though the author was finished with the series with her story Step Up With Me.  With that book, she seemed to have wrapped up things nicely.

Then out comes Always With Me (With Me #6) and it’s a whole new generation.  Literally.  And in so many ways it just doesn’t seem to fit in with all the books that went before.  Style, characterizations, and even editing. Something happened here with this story and that’s surprising.

The first thing (and this element is something the author noted in her forward) is that there are too many voices.  Hard not to do with when the book is about twins but the format of the book which moves the storyline forward by ages (ex Cal age 26, Cam age 28) doesn’t give the reader a smooth flow.  It’s jumbled to begin with and lacks a continued character growth for both men.   That’s the other thing.  We have two men here.  One gay, that’s Cam. One, het, that’s Cal.  To do each justice, each needs their own story.  But both gets jammed into one here and it suffers from that.

The book flip flops back and forth between brothers quickly, never really resting too long for any depth or layering to set in.  We know that Tristan and Maddy (kids now grown from other men in the heptad)  are going to be the twins boyfriend/girlfriend.  But when it happens, it’s so quick, that you find yourselves blinking in astonishment over the suddenness.  Cam and Tris needed their own story.  By putting Cal in here too with Maddy no one got the story they deserved and everyone came off pale shades of what could have been.

So I think this book and romances hurt by a jumbled format and hurt by too many characters not allowed to show growth and development.

But the final issue for me was the editing.  I will give just one example.  Under the Chapter Cal Age 26 .  This is the chapter where Tris is surprising Cam but first meets up with Cal for a talk.  Every word that is supposed to say Cal says “Cam”.  For pages.  So it looks like Tris is talking to Cam about well, Cam.  It’s jarring and removes the reader totally out of the story.  There were other issues but this was the most egregious.  And yes, it was the final copy.

Then ending did see everyone show up from many of the other stories, brief appearances that were nice to see but again only made you wish for those couples and stories in comparison.

This was also lacking much of the military life that one normally expects to see in this series, especially as Tris went into the military as a career, a huge thing and should have been a major element in their relationship.  And it was barely addressed, again something that was left by the wayside because too much had to be fit in . But made no sense in what is essentially a military series.

So I absolutely recommend books 1 through 5, I will leave book 6 up to you.

Cover art: Kris Jacen captures the twins perfectly.

Sales Links:  Amazon

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 114 pages
Published May 24th 2019 by MLR Press
ASINB07S7KCYXH

With Me Series:

Wait for Me

Explore with Me

Learn with Me

Challenge Me

Step Up with Me

Always With Me #6

Release Blitz for Always with Me (With Me #6) by Kris Jacen

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Buy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK
 
Publisher: MLR Press
 
With Me Series



Book #1 – Wait For Me – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #2 – Explore With Me – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #3 – Learn With Me – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #4 – Challenge Me – Amazon US | Amazon UK

Book #5 – Step Up With Me – Amazon US | Amazon UK 
 
Blurb
 

Calvin and Camden Luna — why yes, their dad is a big baseball fan— have moved around the world with their parents. Their father has been in the military since before they were born. Proud of their father and all he has done, neither of them is sure the military is for them. Haven’t they given up enough already? Cam is a fantastic baseball player and Cal loves the science of everything.


Tristan Nolan and Maddy Holt both grew up as military kids too, but neither of them moved around as much as the twins. Tris has always wanted to follow in the footsteps of those before him and make a career in the military; Maddy wants to save the planet and capture the heart of Calvin Luna… if he’d only open his eyes. Can Tris be himself — out and proud — and serve and protect his country? Can he end up with the one he’s loved for as long as he can remember?


What can happen when you grow up a military brat with the close ties from your fathers’ close friends and their families? Find the love of your life almost from the start? Or find out that maybe you’re all too close to have anything else.

 

About the Author



Kris Jacen grew up just north of Boston, Massachusetts, met her soldier in high school but didn’t marry him until almost ten years later. She moved around with him and their daughters (born in two different states thanks to the Army) for the first 19 years of their marriage (they celebrated their silver anniversary in 2018) before settling in western New York.


She has been the Editor in Chief and Formatting Director for ManLoveRomance Press and its imprints since January of 2008 and has never looked back. Working with the amazing authors at MLR has allowed her to both hone her editorial skills and indulge her inner fangirl. She also acts as editor, mentor and sounding-board for newcomers which lets her “pay-it-forward” and help authors realize their dreams.


You can find out more about Kris on her website www.krisjacen.com.
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A MelanieM Review: Step Up with Me (With Me #5) by Kris Jacen

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Richard “Tank” Martin was a big boy from the start. Born weighing over 11 pounds, he didn’t stop growing. When he was in middle school, a football coach took him under his wing and finally explained to him the mystery of calories in, calories out and from then on it was all good for him. At least he thought. Being called to meet with his platoon sergeant and told that he was now part of the Army’s overweight program, sent him into a spin that only his crews can help him out of.

Dr. Jack Dillon thought his life was good and finally settled. Part of an active veterinarian practice, volunteering with a service dog organization, spoiling his sister’s triplets and training in sports jiu-jitsu…the only thing missing was a partner. He never thought that his world could be shattered with just a phone call even after being around his military friends.

Tank and Jack have been dancing around each other for months until Tank takes a chance and kisses Jack at their friends’ wedding moving their slow dance into a heated bump and grind. Can these two survive the changes coming their ways together or will all the changes break them apart?

It seems I always learn something new about military life when I read one of Kris Jacen’s stories, especially her series With Me.  Step Up with Me, the fifth book in the With Me series, addresses an issue I hadn’t even thought was a problem with the military.  That of weight and body issues.  I had no idea.  i just assumed (bad me) that all the constant training and workouts kept everyone ready and well, slim or rock hard.  I should know better considering all the various body types out there and struggles with weight that just don’t mysteriously vanish one you enter the military.  Or that it has such serious repercussions if not met.  Including the end of a career.

Yes, the U.S. Army has Weight Standards for its Soldiers , men and women. Army Body Fat Measurements that includes an army body fat calculator and  the Military Tape Test which  Jacen makes  such effective use of in her story.  She also notes that the current standards are under review and, hopefully will be updated to more realistic measurements.

All of this brings us to Richard “Tank” Martin, a man who has been fighting with his weight and body image all his life.  Solid muscle by any standards, a recent “tape test” has deemed him overweight and his superior officer put him on the Army’s Overweight program, which carries not only a stigma but potential career consequences.  This in addition to the emotional impact its having on Tank himself, who is not only frustrated in his attempts to lose weight but dealing with the old issues of poor self image as well.

Tank is easily one of most recognizable and connectible characters of all of the military unit for me.  Perhaps it’s in his issues with his body image, his quiet manner of questioning his choices later on in this story, or his appreciation of all the difference people in his life, his teacher on nutrition and diet (who just happens to be the wife of one of the Heptad).  Maybe its a largesse of character and personality to go along with his body that Jacen has created for him, a huge heart as well.  Whatever it is, Tank is someone who I gravitated towards immediately.  You will too.

As we saw towards the end of the last story, a swift surprise kiss with Dr. Jack Dillon moved a tentative romance ahead and that’s where this story starts off.

Both men are already established characters and here they come more fully into depth, revealing more layers and backhistory as their romance progresses and we see Tank work through his “program”, learning to eat better, exercise more in a way that suits him all the while talking about body positivity and support.

The two men together are so special  and just settling in, when another traumatic event happens to throw them and the reader into an emotional spin.  I wasn’t prepared for just how much pain this section caused but as Jacen has done her normal outstanding job of putting together a character that we cared about, however briefly, I shouldn’t have been surprised.  Then come the triplets, oh my.   And a family unit.

I won’t give too much away except to say how much I love this story.  All the many other characters from previous books appear as support and, as have been proven over and over again, the military families joining forces to act as an extended family to those in need.  It was heartwarming, moving, and it felt as authentic as could be.

With Me is such an outstanding series and Step Up with Me (With Me #5) by Kris Jacen is another exemplary reason why I always recommend this series and this author.  The writing is so smooth as to be impeccable, the plots realistic and moving, and the characters real and memorable.  Read them all in the order they were written for a memorable journey with a group of people you won’t soon forget.

Cover art: Kris Jacen. I adore this cover by the author.  It’s perfection in its representation of Tank and one of the triplets.  Now I need to read it again.

Sales Links:  MLR PressAmazon

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 125 pages
Published February 20th 2019 by MLR Press
ASINB07NZZDCY3
SeriesWith Me #5

Wait for Me

Explore with Me

Learn with Me

Challenge Me

Step Up with Me

A MelanieM Review: Challenge Me (With Me #4) by Kris Jacen

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

Briar Mason joined the Army to find himself after he believed the lies that had gone around about his best friend, Carter, and his sister. He should have known that Carter wouldn’t do those things but family was family, right? He’ll find out who his real family is when he’s injured and sent back to the states.

Not-telling-you-my-first-name Randolph was about to hit ten years in the Army and had some amazing assignments but one had eluded him until now – Ranger School. Coming from being assigned to the Presidential Salute Battery was going to be the best thing for him since training was emphasized. Should be easy, right?

Briar and Randolph met when Briar had stopped to apologize to Carter and Randolph was in full-on protective mode. Can these two find a middle ground while challenging themselves and each other to be better?

Kris Jacen’s With Me series is, without a doubt, one of my favorite contemporary series.  Jacen brings her intimate knowledge of military life to create a first rate series about life, service to the country, and love.  Each story normally has a slightly different focus on a certain aspect within the military for it’s main characters.  Could be making it through BUD/S training, trying to decide when to retire, military family life, or here, what happens what a soldier is so badly injured during a tour of duty it ends his military service.  What happens to him next?  What happens to all those lost men and women?

The VA is under fire and in the news for mishandling the files of so many soldiers in need of treatment.  And as Jacen’s story states the parking lots have become the locations where too many soldiers has taken their lives.  In Briar and all other of this author’s soldiers, Jacen brings our current military situation and our soldiers, male and female, vividly and memorably to life.

What is so remarkable about her stories is the depth of feeling that is relayed from page to reader.  There’s so much emotion here.  We run the gamut, from fear, pride in one’s duty and unit, to anger and depression, to hope, recovery, romance, and love.  We get the full spectrum.  We also get the accuracy of detail as to what it’s like to service in the military, from both sides.  From the soldier’s perspective and that of their family.  Strong stuff indeed.

And that’s in every story.

Here we’re with Briar on a tough journey.  But he’s got a full team of support behind him, lucky Briar.  Two connected groups of soldiers, one older and some getting ready for retirement as of this story, and a younger group in transition that appear in all the stories.  Each character a strong and individual personality on its own. That also includes their wives, husbands, and children who have also made a huge impact on this reader.  And on Briar and Randolph.

Watching not only the romance unfold, but the various story threads is such a pleasure.  It’s almost impossible to separate out one from another because they are so tightly wound up in each other.  Much like the support that is given within this tightly cohesive unit of family and friends, that become family.  They simply are whatever each other needs for each other.  The understanding of the perils as well as the strengths come through crystal clear.

In the end Briar and Randolph have made major decisions and another story looks to  unfold.  I can’t wait.

If you love contemporary romance, heartwarming stories full of great characters and realistic situations and relationships, look no further than the With Me series and Challenge Me (With Me #4) by Kris Jacen.  I highly recommend them all.

Cover art by Kris Jacen.  I find this a very striking cover.  The half torso on the dark background draws your eye, the meaning clear once you dive into the story. Beautiful.

Sales Links: MLR Press |   Amazon US | Amazon UK

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 1st edition, 124 pages
Published August 31st 2018 by MLR Press
ASINB07H1N9QTR
SeriesWith Me #4

With Me Series
 
Book #1 – Wait For Me – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #2 – Explore With Me – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #3 – Learn With Me – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #4 – Challenge Me – Amazon US | Amazon UK

Need a New Story and Series to Love? Check out the Release Blitz and Giveaway for Step Up With Me (With Me #5) by Kris Jacen

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Buy Links:
 
Length: 45,000 words approx.
 
Publisher: MLR Press
 
With Me Series
 
Book #1 – Wait For Me – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #2 – Explore With Me – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #3 – Learn With Me – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #4 – Challenge Me – Amazon US | Amazon UK
 
Blurb
 

Richard “Tank” Martin was a big boy from the start. Born weighing over 11 pounds, he didn’t stop growing. When he was in middle school, a football coach took him under his wing and finally explained to him the mystery of calories in, calories out and from then on it was all good for him. At least he thought. Being called to meet with his platoon sergeant and told that he was now part of the Army’s overweight program, sent him into a spin that only his crews can help him out of.


Dr. Jack Dillon thought his life was good and finally settled. Part of an active veterinarian practice, volunteering with a service dog organization, spoiling his sister’s triplets and training in sports jui-jitsu…the only this missing was a partner. He never thought that his world could be shattered with just a phone call even after being around his military friends.


Tank and Jack have been dancing around each other for months until Tank takes a chance and kisses Jack at their friends’ wedding moving their slow dance into a heated bump and grind. Can these two survive the changes coming their ways together or will all the changes break them apart?

 
About the Author



Kris Jacen grew up just north of Boston, Massachusetts, met her soldier in high school but didn’t marry him until almost ten years later. She moved around with him and their daughters (born in two different states thanks to the Army) for the first 19 years of their marriage (they celebrated their silver anniversary in 2018) before settling in western New York.


She has been the Editor in Chief and Formatting Director for ManLoveRomance Press and its imprints since January of 2008 and has never looked back. Working with the amazing authors at MLR has allowed her to both hone her editorial skills and indulge her inner fangirl. She also acts as editor, mentor and sounding-board for newcomers which lets her “pay-it-forward” and help authors realize their dreams.


You can find out more about Kris on her website www.krisjacen.com.


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A MelanieM Review: Learn with Me (With Me #3) by Kris Jacen

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Josiah “Siah” Kent has always loved learning; now he’s living his dream of teaching children to love it too. After getting his degrees in New Orleans, he accepted a teaching position outside of Washington DC. What a better place to be able to teach and continue learning?

Sergeant Carter May joined the Army right out of high school. He’s always struggled to succeed in school but has found a place in the military but has dreamed of getting a college degree–he’d be the first in his family if he did. Being stationed with the Presidential Firing Battery at Arlington National Cemetery will give him the opportunity to take the chance, but will he risk failing?

A chance meeting years ago in New Orleans, had sparks flying between Siah and Carter. Another chance encounter between the ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, blow those sparks into a full flame. Can Siah and Carter find some common ground to learn more about each other and a possible future together?

The With Me series from Kris Jacen has quickly become one of my favorite contemporary reads.  It established itself with it’s insider knowledge of military life, what it takes to be a part of the military family (whether as part of the family unit or military one that becomes family), the emotional, physical, and mental upheavals that are to be faced, and the support one receives along the way.  Especially if you are lucky enough to be adopted by the Heptad.

Each story has been a favorite.  Until the next story arrives.  Then that’s my favorite.  And its happened again here.  One, I wanted Siah and Carter’s story immediately at the end of Explore with Me (With Me #2). I knew Siah had some growing up to do, which happens before the start of this story. So too Carter who had some tough decisions to make and he did.

Secondly?  The location.  Jacen based her  story in and around the DC Metro area.  While I’m in Maryland, Virginia is just as familiar for those of us who live here.  MD-DC-VA…its all the same really in one respect and the  places she mentions are near and dear to my heart.  Especially Arlington National Cemetery where quite a few family members are laid to rest and we visit every Memorial Day.

She’s right about the traditions and ceremonies bringing tears to your eyes during the story.  You will need several tissues, deservedly so.  Her descriptions are deeply moving as well as informative.

But Learn with Me (With Me #3) is special because of the characters and their romance.  Between Siah and Carter, each has had a past to rise above in some way and done it.  Perhaps they haven’t left it behind completely but they are dealing with it and moving forward.  They are different in size, energy, even background and yet in kindness, loyalty, and an ability to see the best in others, they are so alike.  Jacen did a remarkable job in creating these people and all the others here, including the Heptad (that group of soldiers whose stories are the series or whose support flows through the series).

These are layered portraits, and the people aren’t isolated but are surrounded by a family of friends, a community that adds support and a believability to their lives.  Whether its a school and afternoon classes (and a circle of support) for Siah (who is a black belt as well) or the base and unit for Carter (where both friends and enemies can be found), it all feels so real and authentic.

Kris Jacen uses the framework of a romance to bring modern military life vividly alive, whether its the fears children must face, the struggles of the family, the time away from home both spouses and family feel…its all here and intimate.  There’s also the tight knit community, the sense of belonging to something greater, and, yes, the service to country.

I’m already anticipating the next book in the series.  It’s going to deal with some serious issues her stories hasn’t addressed yet.  I can’t wait.

In the meantime, if you are new to the series, why not go to the beginning and start with Wait for Me (With Me #1) and work your way here.  I highly recommend all the stories, including this one Learn with Me by Kris Jacen.

Cover art by Jared Rackler.  I’m sort of over the bare torso thing but considering all Siah wanted to do when he first saw Carter was climb him like a tree this is pretty perfect.

Sales Links:  MLR Books | Amazon

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 145 pages
Published May 22nd 2018 by MLR Press
ASINB07D8J548N
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesWith Me #3

A MelanieM Review :Explore with Me (With Me Series #2) by Kris Jacen

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Can two coming from such different backgrounds and points in their lives find a balance to explore together?

The Army is the only thing that First Sergeant Danny Glenn has known in his adult life. From the age of nineteen on, he’s worn a uniform every day. He’s seen so much in his twenty years but the last deployment did something to him. Danny’s begun to wonder if he can’t do more good helping people in the US instead of other countries but to do that he’d have to get out.

Doctor Liam MacNamara is finishing up the last of his residency in Emergency Medicine. Now’s the tough part, which offer to accept. He could stay in New Orleans where shifts are never dull or choose to uproot and experience somewhere different. College followed by medical school and then residency are the only things he’s known since he was eighteen. There’s got to be more out there, right?

Can a retired first sergeant and a brand-new doctor balance each other enough to explore their options together?

I so glad Kris Jacen went ahead and wrote another story in what became a series because it’s wonderful.  Explore with Me continues in the same universe and with the same characters and heptad as the marvelous Wait for Me. First Sergeant Danny Glenn is another member of the heptad that I fell in love with in the first story.

But the author removes him from that close-knit group and their support system by placing him in New Orleans.  I have to admit I missed them but they all will show up later.  By isolating him, cutting him away from his heptad, the focus is again primarily on him, his issues, and the problem at the moment, the one the places him at the hospital.    His doctor, Doctor Liam MacNamara, happens to be the baby brother of Mackay…yep  the same Master Sergeant Jeff “Mackey” MacNamara of Wait for Me.  Lian is also at a crossroads in his life, needing to figure out where to go next now that his internship is done.

Two men, one major attraction, close ties between them,  and both at crossroads in their lives. All you need for a wonderful, emotionally charged story and Jacen gives us that.  And she does so within the framework of the military she knows so well.

The members of the heptad (the group of soldiers that serves together and support each other) don’t have to be physically present to be a strong presence here.  No, they appear via  phone calls, texts, what have you.  And then of course, they do come when needed. They are family. All the nibbles and squeakers (the children as they are called), the dogs, the spouses (men and women)…everyone is here.  I love that about these stories.  Kris Jacen makes it clear that a soldier cannot be a soldier within their support system, their military heptad family which includes their actual ones.  That important message comes through strongly here for the readers and Danny.

The buildup to a relationship is slow and realistic.  I liked that too.  In fact I loved everything about this except maybe I wanted a little more at the end.  Maybe the author will give it to us in another story.  Plus there’s a certain soldier May that now needs his story told as well.  I hope they have a part to play in his.  This is a terrific series that I can see going on for some time.  It’s rich and full of love and wonderful people.  I can’t wait for the next one to come out.

I highly recommend this story and the previous one. It helps to have read Wait for Me to understand all the characters you meet here.   Take this soldier and the whole heptad into your heart today.

Cover art: Jared Rackler. I love the cover for this book.  Attractive and the colors are striking.

Sales Links:  MLR Press | Amazon

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 1 edition, 127 pages
Published February 8th 2018 by MLR Press
Original TitleExplore with Me
ASINB079Q4BCCZ
Edition LanguageEnglish