Beyond the Limit
*sigh*. This is the second romance novel I’ve read in the past month that mentions ‘hot monkey sex.’ NO. The expression conjures a decidedly unsexy visual. As per Rom Rule #14 in my personal reviewer’s handbook, a romance that describes high-intensity sexual intercourse as ‘hot monkey sex’ will automatically receive a reduction of one letter grade. By the time I had reached 22% on my e-reader, Cindy Dees’ Beyond the Limit (Valkyrie Ops, #1) was not off to the best start.
U.S. Navy SEAL Team Reaper, a seven-man platoon of alpha males, is assigned a top-secret assignment to train three women in the armed forces to become SEALs. This mission, Operation Valkyrie, is launched as a public relations coup to appease the female Secretary of Defense. The strongest of the candidates will graduate, whether or not she passes muster, and serve as a SEAL operator in name only.
Despite the charade, Navy press secretary Sherri Tate is determined to achieve her dream of becoming a SEAL, and hopes to transcend her pageant queen beauty by exceeding expectations on the training field. Team Reaper leader Griffin Caldwell is vehemently opposed to women infiltrating his special ops brotherhood and doesn’t believe that women have what it takes to become Navy SEALs. Griffin and his soldiers do not spare Sherri and trainees Anna and Lily from drills involving absurd amounts of hazing and physical torture while at the same time, the ladies and their assigned SEAL trainers flirt like hormonal teens at a high school prom. Sexist Griffin and feminist Sherri quickly cast aside their rivalry to lustily explore each other’s hot bods, and as their complicated feelings for each other shift and change, they face a terrorist threat that puts their lives on the line and their love to the test. (Dun, dun, DUUUUUUN!)
Escalating danger and spectacular sex in equal measures are paramount to quality romantic suspense. Beyond the Limit succeeds in delivering heightened tension and edge-of-your-seat action sequences; one particularly riveting chapter follows a counter-terrorism attack from the perspective of Team Reaper’s body cams. Disappointingly, the supposed ‘hot monkey sex’ between Griffin & Sherri is hurried and boring. Well, not totally boring. Griffin does swirl his tongue inside Sherri’s ear. And, that is just DISGUSTING. Ears are NO TONGUE ZONES! Had Griffin and Sherri’s love-making exuded an emotion other than sheer lust, then I could have (maybe) overlooked the above issues (well, excerpt for the ‘hot monkey sex’ thing).
The lovers’ mid-coital thoughts constantly revolve around how gorgeous the other looks. In fact, Griffin and Sherri spend inordinate amounts of time thinking and talking about each other’s physical appearance. (Griffin is the ultimate male specimen; Sherri is an angelic blonde. Blah, blah, blah…)
Male characters abound in Beyond the Limit. They are all one-dimensional, especially Griffin. All that we know about him is that he is deeply committed to serving as a Navy SEAL, and wants nothing more out of life than to ‘sex up’ Sherri. Anna and Lily, the other soldiers with whom Sherri trains, drop out of the story before a strong female friendship can form between the them. We are told that they consider themselves sisters, but Dees doesn’t give the ladies much page time together.
Sherri has the most depth and personality. Her motivations for joining the Navy and wanting to become a SEAL are revealed through tidbits of backstory and Dees also frequently allows the reader to inhabit Sherri’s headspace. Although she is more ‘flesh and blood’ than the other soldiers, Sherri isn’t totally relatable. The biggest reason for this is that she is presented as an impossible ideal. Lieutenant Sherri Tate holds press conferences at the Pentagon, holds beauty pageant titles (thanks to her perfect face and body), and is training for the Olympics in the heptathlon. (Look up ‘heptathlon’ in the dictionary. It sounds like an athletic competition devised by a sadist suffering from a fever dream.)
To Dees’ credit, she describes Navy SEAL training, customs, and culture in fascinating detail. Her careful research grounds the story in a gritty reality that is both intoxicating and sobering. It’s unfortunate that the milieu Dees crafts isn’t supported by characters and a love story of the same caliber.