stars and stripesRating: 4.75 stars
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Stars & Stripes reunites us with Ty Grady and Zane Garrett, partners in the FBI and now in their personal lives as well.  After nothing but craziness since they met, the guys are finally settling into a bit of normalcy.  Ty and Zane are happily living together under the guise of being roommates and loving getting to spend more time with one another.  They are not out at work, but the men are beginning to contemplate coming out to their families.  But just as it looks like they may have a bit of calm, things get turned upside once more when Zane gets a call from his sister.

Zane is upset to hear that his family has encountered trespassers several times on their ranch in Texas.  He becomes even more concerned when the problems get more serious and so Ty and Zane head out for the Garrett family ranch.  There they discover that someone is making trouble and the guys quickly get themselves involved in the investigation.  Family problems begin brewing as well, as Zane’s ultra cold mother continues to be a source of stress and disappointment for him.  As usual, things get crazy for Ty and Zane and this time they must deal with grouchy horses, runaway tigers, unexpected betrayals, and way too much shooting.  But the men are firmly committed to one another and by sticking together they can make it through all their challenges.

Ok Ty and Zane fans, yes, I am just now getting to this one that was released last summer.  Sigh.  I have no excuses for waiting so long to read the latest addition to the fabulous Cut & Run series.  It was absolutely excellent and I totally loved it.  One of the things I really love about this series is how it well balances the relationship development with the investigation in each story.  Here we get to see Ty and Zane as most fans have been waiting for — happy, in love, and somewhat settled.  They are sweet and lovey and oh so sexy (hello back room cowboy hat sex!).  After facing many struggles getting their personal relationship going, it is so nice to see things running smoothly.  They can admit their love for one another and even slowly begin sharing it with others.  Ty and Zane are open with each other and share their feelings and risk their hearts to put their emotions out there and it so rewarding.  Not that I think we have seen the last of the trouble for these guys, but it was nice to settle into a book where things are really so good between them.

One thing that is especially nice is that we finally get to know Zane’s family.  The guys have spent time with Ty’s family in past books (and we see them again briefly here as well), and it was great to get to learn more about Zane and his family and where he comes from.  We get the good and the bad, with his wonderful father, sister, and niece, and then his nasty mother.  We also learn more about the kind of man Zane was in the past and how much he has changed since being with Ty.  One of the other things this series does well is give us constantly changing settings to mix things up from the routine, and I loved the chance to experience ranch life in rural Texas (plus the aforementioned hot cowboy sex!).

I also really enjoyed the mystery element here. Again the different setting gives us a whole different kind of case and the mystery kept me guessing throughout the story.  The guys aren’t officially on a case, but as usual, trouble seems to follow them wherever they go.  And yes, some parts are a bit over the top and crazy, but I think that is part of the fun of Ty and Zane. You are never going to get normal, and I like that about them.

My only small quibble here is that I think the story goes a bit too far in making Ty so wonderful in virtually every way.  He is adored by nearly everyone, man or beast. He is good at just about everything he does.  And even when he isn’t actually perfect, everyone still seems to THINK he is.  Some of it is just Zane’s adoration of his partner, and I get that.  We want Zane to think that Ty walks on water.  But the frequent comments about how good Ty is at everything, how everyone loves him, how even Ty’s faults are charming, etc, gets to be just a wee bit too much and makes Ty seem less of a real person.

So this is another stellar installment to this fabulous series. In fact, I think Stars & Stripes may rank as one of my very favorites of them all.  If you haven’t read the books, I think starting with Cut & Run will give you the best sense of Ty and Zane and their developing relationship. You could probably pick this up without reading the others, but trust me, why would you want to?  These are well worth reading and a really great example of the mystery/romance combination. And with the newest installment coming soon, this is the perfect time to jump right in.  So another great addition and one that I definitely recommend.

Cover Review: I love the covers for this series.  Very simple but each one has an iconic image for the book and this one is no exception.  Great job.