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Romance and other things


Mixed bag for me

Friendly Fire - Cari Z.

In a battle of wills, stubbornness could cost you your life. Elliot McKenzie is the king of reinvention. Five years after losing his job and his lover and almost going to prison, his self-help program, Charmed Life, is more successful than he’d ever dreamed. He thinks he’s put his sordid past firmly behind him, until he starts receiving cryptic threats . . . and realizes it might not be as over as he’d hoped. Security expert Lennox West has been lost since a deadly skirmish in Afghanistan led to his forced retirement from the Army. His PTSD makes helping his ex raise their daughter a challenge. When his ex’s sister asks him to set her boss up with a security system, Lennox isn’t expecting anyone like Elliot McKenzie — a man who captures his attention and makes him feel relaxed for the first time since leaving the service. But Elliot is dangerously stubborn. Even as the threats against him escalate, he refuses to involve the police, and Lennox fears that stubbornness could kill him. A battle of wills ensues that brings them closer to each other than either man expected. But if the threats turn real, they might not live long enough to get their future together.




Dear Cari Z,

I have read several SFF m/m works from you that I really liked therefore when I saw that you wrote a story which looked like contemporary romantic suspense m/m, I could not wait to start reading it.

Unfortunately it ended up being a mixed bag for me. I thought it was well written and I liked the characters better than in many other m/m books I have read – what I am trying to say is that this is when I can easily see this book rated much higher by another reader. But I had several issues with plot and characterization.

First and foremost I was eager to read a redemption story and Elliott to me worked his ass off to redeem himself for his past in the eyes of society and his own eyes. I liked the guy a whole lot, I liked that he took full responsibility and more for what he did even if most of he did was done by inaction. Not all of it though and I thought if the punishment for his past would have been prison, it would have been a deserving one too. As I said, if ever was the flawed character I really liked, Elliott was certainly one of them.

But you know what? It would have been really nice to understand what the heck was that Elliott was doing with his company. He built multi million (or billion) Empire based on his “Charmed Life” and all I understood is that he was doing motivational videos for his clientele (who were what? Celebrities who went or could have gone to prison in their past? I was not sure). But clearly motivational videos were only part of this all. At some point it was mentioned that they offer sign up like on facebook and they had forums and I still had no idea what these people were paying money for.

Initially I was worried that what Elliott was doing was scamming people – but clearly he was not, clearly he was offering some kind of service for them to turn their life around even more? What was that?

Eventually I was so frustrated that I decided to call Elliott a glorified motivational speaker and leave it at that. I guess his videos were worth that much money? I have no idea. Please writers, I want to read about multidimensional human beings in romances and clearly his job was very important to Elliott for so many reasons. Would be nice to have a clear picture of what it was in my head after I was done with the book.

I mean, clearly Lennox’ work as security specialist was not hard to describe – I got a complete understanding of what it was that he was doing. So maybe Elliott’s job was left vague on purpose, but then I fail to understand that purpose.

But with Lennox I had another issue, albeit not as frustrating as the one with Elliott’s work. Lennox has PTSD from his army years and he is going to therapist, trying to treat it, etc. On one hand I really appreciated that his variety of this illness was caused by very specific event (one event, very traumatic) – I don’t know if my impression was correct (because I am not a therapist specializing in treatment of PTSD), but I felt like it could have been somewhat easier to treat, to help Lennox improve faster, maybe? I know I am probably totally off base with it – apologies if it is so. It is just so often PTSD in m/m romances is of such severe kind which makes me doubt the happy ending for the guy who probably needs years of treatment before he can maintain healthy relationship.

So I appreciated it, but it still felt that he had this drastic improvement by the end of the story so fast – initially he stopped letting his thirteen year old daughter from his previous marriage to spent a night in his apartment because once when she was there and saw his nightmare and tried to wake him up and he accidentally hit her a little bit when he was still half asleep. And at the end she would be living with them two days a week. Yay?

I really liked the romance – yes their first hook up is happening pretty fast after they first meet as client and contractor. Elliott’s secretary Selena was Lennox ex sister in law and they are on the good terms with her and his ex –wife Gaby as well. So Selena arranged for Lenox to pitch security system to Elliott when she learned that Elliott acquired a stalker. Guys starting as client and contractor did not bother me at all – it was a one-time deal and family or former family was involved in potential transaction and somehow it just did not feel weird to me – maybe power deferential just was not there for me?

And for both of them first hook up was because mostly of physical attraction and the rest developed more throughout the book and I thought it was nicely done.

Stalker threatening Elliott was the main external conflict in the story. I was extremely pissed off with Elliott’s refusal to go to the police, although I understood how he would have wanted to wait – basically the reasoning was explained well and was in line with Elliott’s character arc I thought.

The story was not a mystery for me, but suspense. Elliott correctly guessed one villain almost from very beginning – but even if he had no clue about other/s, I thought the other one was very much in the reader’s face too.


I really liked female characters in this book. Selena was competent and often displayed no nonsense, take no prisoners attitude in her job and taking care of her Boss’ needs, but she was also very likeable to me. I adored Lennox’ daughter Lee/Lea/Ophelia who may have putting an image to the world as thirteen year old rebellious teenager would but who also loved her father very much and wanted to spend time with him . I think Lennox’ ex – wife Gaby was the most interesting secondary character to me – she was by no means an evil wife or bitchy ex. Lennox remarks that they became way better friends after their divorce and they tried to do best by their daughter and he was absolutely right.

But Gaby, well, she is bitchy (I believe the word is used in the book although not hundred percent sure) to everybody when she communicates. Again, she seemed to be a good person, but as Lee says at some point – “when mom gets worked up, she says a lot of dump stuff. “ (paraphrase). That’s how she communicates I guess and we learn that she actually went to therapist to work and change that part of herself – but it is still work in progress. She likes to lecture her sister (and Selena gives as good as she gets) and Lennox says at some point she should give him a benefit of the doubt before she starts lecturing (paraphrase).

I guess I appreciated to see an ex-wife, who is a genuinely good person, but who also has a real character flaw she is trying to change.