Tuesday, November 18, 2014

REVIEW and AUTHOR INTERVIEW - Melissa Cutler's UNDEFEATED: A Bomb Squad Novel

Book Information

Title: Undefeated
Series: Bomb Squad
Publisher: InterMix
Publication Date: November 18, 2014
Pages (Print): 301


Welcome to Destiny Falls, New York, home of Bomb Squad—an ice hockey team full of rugged military heroes. The team’s battling a losing streak, but the season’s biggest game changer is one player’s second chance with the one who got away…

Yoga instructor Marlena Brodie is always up for a challenge, and her new job of snapping Bomb Squad out of their rut is definitely that, even though it means being in close contact with Liam McAllister, her high school crush gone bad. She can feel the damage pouring off of him—but also a wild and sexy strength that calls to her.

The Army turned Liam McAllister into a man, but as a combat medic, he saw far too much to ever be whole again. He’s not interested in the civilian world beyond his job as a carpenter, but he never stopped wondering what might have been with Marlena—and it isn’t long before she’s crashed through his carefully constructed walls. He longs for a new beginning with her, but to be the man she deserves, he’ll have to step out of his defensive zone and score the most important play of his life…

Buy Links for Undefeated

Books in the Bomb Squad hockey series:

Risky Business (Bomb Squad #1) - August 2014
Undefeated (Bomb Squad #2) - November 2014
Game Changer (Bomb Squad #3) - April 2015


Amazon/Goodreads rating: 5/5

In Patti's Imagination rating: 10/10

It's always great when you're able to read a book on your TBR (to be read) list, especially when you've received an early review copy from the author. I actually didn't realize the book was on my TBR until I came to post my review. Yes, I'm that busy these days!

This was a solid 5 (or 10) stars for me, no doubt. As anyone who reads my reviews knows, I'm all about the characters, and first of all, two of my favorite types of male characters are hockey players and soldiers. It's not often that I've met a literary one of either whom I didn't like. Combine them into the same guy? Yeah, I'm sold immediately - it's like my crack. So, the book would have to be pretty bad to drop below 3 stars for me before I read a word. Couple said hottie hero (and Liam is a hero, no doubt about that) with a strong, imperfect female lead? Love it. Marlena is so refreshing. She's warring constantly between the girl she was and the woman she has become, because Liam, you see, has been her crush since she was a girl. Turns out, Liam had a crush on her for years, too, but he had resorted to the little boy way of dealing with his feelings by being mean to the girl he liked.

All that sounds great, and if done well has the bones to be an excellent story, with characters I want to know. Thankfully, Melissa Cutler did not disappoint. Her sex scenes were hot, yet tasteful. The relationships were realistic, as were the settings and the emotions. Care was taken to respect and still reveal mental illness and PTSD - both from the perspective of a Vet and from that of loved ones - as well as a civilian type of PTSD that Marlena suffered. Yes, she and Liam speak the same language, even when he thinks her Eastern philosophy won't mesh with him and when she's not so sure she'll ever be the girl for a dominant alpha.

Bottom line here, the characters made me want to keep reading, even past my bedtime and before I did anything else this morning. A story that can accomplish such a feat warrants 4 stars, minimum, and this one had the extra oomph to push it up to five. Destiny Falls is populated with plenty of great secondary characters who need stories. Apparently, Harper and Brandon are already on my TBR, and I'm hoping, at the very least, for Olivia, Will and Gabe to get stories of their own. More Bomb Squad, please!

One word of caution, not so much for me, but for anyone who wants this to be a 'hockey' story. It's not a manual for the game. Personally, my hockey romances don't need to detail play-by-play all the way through. If you think they do, skip this series so you won't trash it for not meeting your expectations. Otherwise, enjoy!


From Chapter One

At five minutes until Liam's appointment time, Marlena unlocked the door, then took a seat on the stability ball she used as a desk chair. Fifteen minutes later, she was still waiting. So much for him being in a rush to see her. She caught her reflection in the glass of her storefront. Despite the dim studio lighting, she still looked good—her hair perfect and flowing, her breasts luscious and well-defined in the skintight pink tank that topped her equally skintight yoga pants. If she couldn’t make him want her tonight, with her looking like this and the sensual mood of the studio, then he never would.

Maybe he really does just want a massage.

For a thousand dollars? Yeah, right.

When the studio door finally opened several minutes later, she delayed the inevitable by listening to the sounds that framed his entrance—the static whir of air and cars, and the scrape of the door’s weathering strip along the carpet. Then, bracing for impact, she turned her gaze from the far wall to look at him. The angles of dim lamplight, candles, and shadows carved a dark intensity onto his face and into the cut of his jaw. Only the gold cross he wore gleamed where it hung around his neck.

Every molecule in her being tensed as though hunkering in self-defense. Even her heart thudded in tight, quick bursts. Thousands of times she’d seen Liam casually, from a distance, over the past two decades. Thousands of times and it never got easier. She flexed her toes out, then curled them into the carpet.

Rolling his weight from one foot to the other in an agitated sway, he hooked his thumb toward the parking lot. “I saw my sister’s car. Was she checking up on me again?”

No polite greeting, which wasn’t a big deal because she wasn’t all that crazy about small talk, herself, but the suspicion in his tone tipped her out of balance as much as the sight of him had. She held his unyielding gaze. “You’re worried I told Olivia about your appointment tonight? I didn’t. She takes my evening yoga class. You ought to try it. It’d be a great complement to the massages. And would it be such a big deal if Olivia had been checking up on you? She wants to be a part of your life, if you’d let her.”

The hint of smirk he leveled at her tugged at his cheeks and tightened the edge of his eyes. He stepped more fully into the studio and stood before her desk, a soldier at ease, legs hip-width apart, hands clasped behind his back, spine straight. Marlena might be eternally doomed to a jarring visceral reaction whenever she saw him, but she hadn’t been intimidated by his rakish charm in high school, and she wasn’t intimidated by the cold hostility that had overtaken him in the army. Rather, Marlena had always felt that she and Liam were two incompatible predators, studying each other on opposite sides of glass in a zoo.

A wolf and a lioness.

Why do you think I’m here?” he asked.

Another question. Another test. Pressing her palms to the desk, she stood and searched the darkness in his gaze, looking for the answer. The ylang-ylang scent hovered between them, heavy with suggestion. “You’re here because you paid a pretty penny to be. Why do you think you’re here?”

The smirk erupted into a laugh, quiet, his eyes downturned. When he looked up again, it was through thick lashes. For the first time in a long time, she saw a hint of the charmer he used to be. “Why do I think I’m here? You trying to trip me up?”

It wasn’t a trick question. You can only discover your true reason for being here after you leave.”

He tapped the bald head of the laughing Buddha figurine on her desk. “You talk like a new age guru, which makes sense because that’s what you are, right?”

More or less.” She wasn’t a guru yet—not for many more years of study and practice—and nothing about what she taught or studied was new age, but ancient.

Another layer of artifice vanished from his face. She had no delusions that she was seeing the real Liam yet, but that would come. His true self would appear when she touched him, of that she was certain.

He set two tight fists on her desk and sank into his arms, the cross necklace swaying like a pendulum from his neck. “I’m here for my first massage.”

The skull tattoo on his right forearm looked up at her from black eye sockets. A tingle of desire skittered over her skin at the sight. She wasn’t usually turned on by his kind of hostile, in-your-face masculinity. But the tattoo turned her on anyway. The chiseled line of his jaw and his terse words turned her on. The flex of muscles beneath the thin, tight white tank top he wore turned her on even as he scared her with his potential for power. That was a funny thing the universe had done, making the line between lust and fear so fragile.

She pushed her tongue around her suddenly dry mouth, fighting for inner balance. It was useless. But if he wanted to keep pretending he was there for the massage, then she was professional enough to play along. She walked around the desk and met him head-to-head. “I’m ready for you.”


Tell us about the Bomb Squad series. As my review states, hockey plus soldiers is my personal crack. What made you decide to meld these two groups into a single entity? Was there a specific reason you focused on Vets with injuries? Did you do a lot of research on PTSD and amputees?

I’d decided to write a series featuring wounded soldiers because there are no more worthy heroes of finding true love than those who’ve sacrificed so much of themselves. I’m really drawn to flawed characters and blue-collar heroes in literature, and wounded vets seemed like a natural fit to write about.

Furthermore, I wanted my series to visit these soldier heroes years after their injuries had been sustained, once they’d gotten on with the business of living their lives, and I wanted to give them something cohesive and uber-manly to do together, to show their bond with each other as well as how strong and able they are. Since my favorite sport happens to be ice hockey, I started researching ice-hockey for people with disabilities. That’s when I stumbled upon information about a real-life wounded warrior ice hockey team in Boston who’d played an exhibition game with a wounded soldier ice hockey team from Russia more than a decade ago. And there you have it. Serendipity!

Like Undefeated, my most recent book, Time to Begin, also features two main characters who appear to be polar opposites, but in truth are more alike than they think (and more than I realized before I listened to them tell their stories!) Was it hard to balance that with Liam and Marlena when their life philosophies seemed to be so divergent? Personally, I loved how you wove them together on that other plane Liam mentioned – the one that involved just the two of them – showing that Liam's spirituality meshed with Marlena's focus on Eastern religion, and that her physical/sexual needs were not naturally that far off the mark from his when it came right down to it.

Congratulations on your latest release, Patti! I’m so glad that Liam and Marlena came across to you as polar opposites at the beginning of the book. That was definitely on purpose. I love to explore opposites in my books. Since the book deals a lot with Eastern philosophies, I wanted to show a real yin and yang hero and heroine and how well those two halves of the same coin complement each other beautifully.

One thing that Liam and Marlena have in common from the very beginning is that they’re both very physical people. Not just sexually, but in their daily lives—with yoga and dancing and their chosen careers. Both work with their hands—Liam as a carpenter and Marlena as a masseuse. This common element gave their relationship a jumping off point. The dancing element was an important character trait for me to include for Liam, because he’s such an introvert and hates civilians, but he loves to go to clubs and dance. Like I said, I like to explore the idea of opposites, so I try to give each of my characters one trait that seems totally at odds with the rest of his or her personality. If you go through my books, you’ll find this a lot.

Honestly, and I’ve chatted with another reader about this exact thing, I don’t think that Liam could’ve ever ended up with a different woman. Marlena is so singularly suited to him, it’s crazy. Especially in little ways. She doesn’t own a TV, is totally out-of-touch with pop culture, and she’s not into material goods. He really needs someone with a quiet, centered spirit to quell the storm in his mind from his ongoing struggles with PTSD.

As a writer, how do you develop new stories?

It’s a little different every time. When I’m imagining a brand new series, like Bomb Squad Hockey, I usually start with a concept, theme, or trope that I want to explore. And then I think about types of characters that I’ve been wanting to write and that I think will help me explore/expand/turn-on-its-head that particular concept or trope or theme. I think a lot about opposites.

With Undefeated, I knew I wanted to write about a former soldier with severe PTSD. Not PTSD as character shorthand for a damaged, brooding alpha hero, but an actual crippling, life-altering illness. I think that people who cope with PTSD, who undergo treatment and emerge from the darkness of being suicidal and crippled with guilt, have the hearts of lions. I can’t think of a braver thing than to go to battle against your own mind so you can heal. That’s badass, which the hero of Undefeated, Liam, definitely is.

I’ve found that I’m often inspired by my secondary characters. Does this happen to you? I wondered because I immediately looked at Harper and Brandon, and I wanted a story for them. I was excited that theirs is next. I’m hoping that we’ll get some additional stories for the Bomb Squad crew – personally, I want Gabe, Will and Olivia to find happiness, too. Is that in the cards?

I always try to create secondary characters who are so fleshed out, interesting, and real that readers want them to have their own happily-ever-afters, too. That’s my goal with every book.

Harper and Brandon’s book, Game Changer, is EPIC, by the way. I love it so much. Lots of twists and turns and awesomeness. Brandon accepts the role of the “groom” in a reality TV show much like The Bachelor, and then the book just explodes from there. There’s an epic road trip, some great new secondary characters (including Duke’s granddaughter), and one of my favorite endings ever. That book comes out next May. I’m really hoping I can write additional Bomb Squad stories after that, too, even though I don’t yet have any contracts set in stone. I would love to give Gabe, Will, and Olivia their happily-ever-afters!

I’m an organic writer, a pantser in execution, but I have plots very defined in my head, with the occasional email to myself that tacks the ideas somewhere I can return to them later if need be. What method do you use, Plotter or Pantser? What appeals most to you about this approach?

I’m a plotter, but not so much that I map out the details of every scene. But I can’t start writing until I have an excellent handle on my main characters’ goals, fears, and needs, and how those three things complement/clash with the other characters’ goals, fears, and needs. That’s what really drives my plotting time before I start writing.

I’m not sure I chose plotting because it appeals to me. It’s just what I naturally do. My advice to writers always is: honor your natural writing style. The more you cultivate it, the better a writer you’ll be.

Do you listen to music when you write? I create playlists for each story, but I've met plenty of authors who can't be distracted by music with words. Which category do you fall into? And if you have a playlist for Liam and Marlena, can you share it with us?

Yes, I do make playlists for my books. I even give each character at least one “theme song.” I don’t always listen to the playlist as a write—I generally prefer ambient noise like rainymood.com—but I listen to it while I cook or drive or answer emails. It helps me meditate on my characters’ emotional arcs.

I’d love to share my playlist for UNDEFEATED.
“Somebody to Die For” by Hurts — this was Liam’s theme song. Really that whole album by Hurts, titled Exile, was great for my book.
“Running up that Hill” by Placebo
“Life in the Pain” by Safety Suit
“Drunk in Love” by Beyonce — sexytimes!
“Like a Prayer” by Madonna — one of Marlena’s theme song
“Independent Women” by Destiny’s Child — Marlena’s other theme song
“All Night Doctors” by Bush
“The Only Exception” by Paramore
“Secret Garden” by Bruce Springsteen
“Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult and the dance remix version you can listen to here: https://soundcloud.com/phatkidz/blue-oyster-cult-dont-fear-the

What's next on your writing agenda? Give us an idea of what you'll be publishing over the next year.
Right now I’m finishing up a Harlequin Romantic Suspense that’ll be out in July 2015
Also coming in 2015 is the third Bomb Squad Hockey book, GAME CHANGER
Other than that, I have some exciting news that I’m not yet at liberty to announce, but you know my Facebook followers and newsletter subscribers will hear it first!

Some fun get-to-know you questions.

Favorite color? Red
Coffee or tea, neither, both? Coffee all the way! I drink Bay Blend from Trader Joe’s
Favorite sport? Hockey!
Last movie you watched in the theater? Gone Girl
Last band you saw live in concert? Brad Paisley

Finally, share with us your social media contacts so we can keep up with your work. Thanks so much for stopping by today!

Thank you so much for having me! All my social media links are in my bio below. The best ways to keep in touch with me are through my Facebook page and my monthly newsletter.

About the Author

Melissa Cutler knows she has the best job in the world writing sexy contemporary romances and romantic suspense. She was struck at an early age by an unrelenting travel bug and is probably planning her next vacation as you read this. When she's not globetrotting, she's enjoying Southern California's flip-flop wearing weather and wrangling two rambunctious kids. She loves hearing from readers at melissa@melissacutler.net, or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/MelissaCutlerBooks ) and Twitter (@m_cutler). Visit www.melissacutler.net to learn more about Melissa and her books and don’t forget to sign up for her newsletter: http://bit.ly/16mkpCs

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