Book: American Bad Boy: A Military Romance by Eddie Cleveland
Age/Genre: Military Romance
Preferred Reading Environment: Cuddled on the couch
Reading Accoutrements: A box of tissues and your favorite comfort foods because this book has the feels. All of them.
Content Notes: This book discusses the PTSD that many soldiers face when returning home from war.
Yesterday was Veterans Day and to celebrate I’m going to review a military romance written by a retired petty officer in the Royal Canadian Navy.
But first! Let me take this opportunity to thank the men and women who have and are serving in our armed forces. We truly appreciate your sacrifice. While Veterans Day is specifically set aside to show our gratitude, we think of you and yours daily. So, thank you to veterans for the sacrifices you make to keep us safe.
Now, on to business…
I discovered American Bad Boy by Eddie Cleveland when I entered a contest to win some free books. I did not win – this isn’t one of those stories – but I also didn’t read the fine print. Suddenly, my email inbox was inundated with newsletters from what felt like about a billion and a half indie romance novelists. I spent 2 weeks reading all of the daily newsletters and then I started weeding them out.
The only newsletter I still receive is Cleveland’s – partially because he always includes a link to a free book and partially because I really appreciate his sense of humor and his honesty. He often writes in his newsletters about his process and inspirations while writing his books (really great motivation for NaNoWriMo, by the way) and I appreciate the insight into how the books were written.
But I digress…American Bad Boy is one of the first books I read about in Cleveland’s newsletter and the first book he ever wrote. When he released the prologue (for free) I read it. And then I had to read the whole book (of course, this is how they get you…darn marketing gods…)
American Bad Boy follows Mack – a West Point graduate, Afghanistan war veteran, and wounded warrior – and Lauren – Mack’s high school sweetheart, widowed mother to a ten-year-old, and now Mack’s nurse. Ten years before the events of this book, Mack told Lauren that he was going to West Point and they broke up. Fast forward and Lauren has graduated from college, gotten married, lost a partner, and had a baby (not necessarily in that order) while Mack has graduated West Point, deployed to Afghanistan, and lost his leg kicking a grenade across the sand in a heroic move that happened to be nationally televised. He has been dubbed “Captain America” by the newscaster whose life he saved in that incident, and is currently undergoing physical therapy at the hospital where *surprise surprise* Lauren is a nurse!
This book will give you some serious feels. I’m not going to lie, the first impression you are given of Mack is NOT flattering – he is a womanizer extraordinaire – but bear with him, because all that testosterone just a shield to hide his sensitive side. Lauren is a single mother struggling to raise a rebellious preteen boy while doing work she believes in. When Lauren and Mack are thrown back together by fate (or an unaware doctor) they must choose what is best for their futures.
Remember when I said that Mack is a womanizer extraordinaire with a secret sensitive side? He shut down his heart when he and Lauren broke up, vowing not to fall in love again. And then he slept with a bunch of women, but never became personally involved with any of them. That’s pretty much how he deals with emotional trauma (eye roll). After saving the journalist in Afghanistan and losing his leg, Mack’s physical healing is progressing well. His mental health is not. Mack’s PTSD is getting worse and worse and he is in denial about it.
In American Bad Boy, the portrayals of PTSD and the people affected by it are very honest. Mack’s denial, his symptoms, and his progression are realistic (keeping in mind that every person affected with PTSD has unique experiences) and heart-wrenching. Lauren’s gradual understanding of Mack’s mental state and her struggle to help him ring poignantly true.
I read several reviews while preparing to write this one, and I came across a couple of negative reviews that made valid points:
1) This story has an overwhelming number of obstacles for the mains to overcome – distance, Mack’s PTSD, Lauren’s struggles with her rebellious son, secrets each kept from one another, and so on. These are realistic obstacles that many couples face in real life, and it can be difficult to process in around 300 pages. It can definitely make this a dense read, kind of difficult to get through. Cleveland makes a valiant effort, but in some places it can fall short. Serious issues like these just need more time for development.
2) Mack and Lauren are pretty standard romance novel characters and can both be difficult to like throughout the book. Mack is obnoxious – especially at the beginning and especially about sex (the author falls prey to the common trope that military men can’t seem to be emotionally healthy) – and Lauren’s struggles are in her head and *often* of her own making. Again, this is pretty realistic. Real people often create problems in their personal lives by living too much in their own heads instead of communicating with one another. The point is, no one is perfect and writing characters with real flaws is a challenge that Cleveland met head-on.
3) Okay, for those of you who are, like me, a bit of a grammar snob, a brief warning: There are more grammar errors in this book than you would find in, say, a professionally published paperback from the ‘90s. However, this is not the most grammar-error-ridden Kindle book I’ve ever read, especially from a debut novel. Far from it, in fact. I would argue that the plot, characters, and message are worth doing some mental grammar corrections. And this is coming from someone who has actually stopped reading a book because of grammar errors alone and left an Amazon review to that effect.
If you like military romance, flawed characters with real-world issues, and the occasional good cry, I definitely recommend American Bad Boy by Eddie Cleveland. I will include a warning that it is the first in a series and you do meet some characters from the next books. Cleveland does a good job of making you want to learn more about them and their stories, so be willing to shell out money for the next books in the series if you like it enough. Then let us know what you think in the comments!