Friday, October 23, 2009

Show No Fear (by Marliss Melton)

Reviewed by Tracy L. Karol

I bought this book on my Kindle because Marliss Melton has become one of my favorite romantic suspense authors. I have really enjoyed this series and am sad that this is the last installment. With that said, I didn't enjoy the first part of this book as much as I've enjoyed her other books. In fact, I actually stopped reading it midway through and read several other books and only went back to it when I didn't have anything else to read. The very detailed sex scenes and something about the character of Lucy were not appealing to me.

That said, once I did start reading the book again, I finished the second half in one night. It was not a disappointment and Lucy's character grew on me. I still don't think this book was as good as Ms. Melton's others, but I appreciate that she was trying to make a statement in the story about FARC and the plight of kidnapped Americans (and others) in Columbia and Venezuela. For that, she did a very good job indeed.

The story starts off with the character of Lucy, a reckless CIA agent, almost dying in a warehouse explosion (after she was also almost raped by Venezuelan thugs/soldiers). She is saved at the last minute by a Navy SEAL, who turns out to be her old college boyfriend, Gus. She has no idea he is a SEAL - he was studying to be an architect when she broke up with him, and she was traveling overseas with friends. But they both suffered tragedies they didn't tell each other about: She was the victim of a cafe bomb, where her friends literally died in front of her eyes, leading her to join the CIA and with a hefty dose of survivor's guilt and a reckless disregard for her own life. Gus (who she knew as James), lost his father in the Twin Tower attacks on 9/11 and joined the Navy to fight the war on terror. So they are both fighting the same battle, but haven't had much contact and have not seen each other.

After the warehouse explosion, Lucy goes from this reckless fighter to a frightened woman suffering from PTSD. It takes months before she is ready to work again, and when she is, she is teamed with Gus to go into the jungle under the guise of UN peacekeepers trying to rescue hostages. These hostages happen to be friends and coworkers of Lucy's, so she desperately wants the job, but does not want to work with Gus.

This is where I got a little irritated. I would have liked the PTSD explained better, rather than just told that Lucy was a kick-butt fighter but not is afraid of her own shadow and clings to Gus, while resenting him, yet having quick, explicit sex with him. That's when I put the book aside. I shouldn't have, because it quickly moved past that. The sex scenes were still pretty explicit and didn't really do much to move the plot along, but I get that a lot of people like steamy sex scenes and that's fine. I'm not taking away stars for that - I just skip past them if they go on too long because I don't need to read about every lick and moan.

Anyway, while in the jungle things get complicated as Lucy and Gus, posing as husband and wife, grow close again but come under suspicion from the FARC guards who are negotiating for the hostages' release. I won't give more away, but it gets very suspenseful and fans will enjoy it.

What I really like about Ms. Melton's writing, as opposed to some other writers who I think are great and also write about SEALS, is that she has stuck to her guns. She seems to truly like her characters and hasn't changed her position with the political winds. There isn't a lot of humor in her books, but there is great suspense and action and details. You don't have to read any of the other books in the series to read this one; all work fine as their own novels. I highly recommend reading all her novels, though, and think you will enjoy this author very much if you like suspense with a good dash of romance. Just be prepared for some steamy sex too! Ms. Melton has now moved to my favorite romance author of Navy SEAL books. I haven't even bought the latest from my previous favorite. Great job, Ms. Melton!

Final Finesse (by Karna Small Bodman)

Reviewed by Tracy L. Karol

Final Finesse

4-1/2 Stars

I had never heard of this author until two friends of mine recommended her to me, and I was lucky enough to snag a free copy of her latest book, "Final Finesse," for free. I had an idea I would enjoy it as I'd downloaded the sample chapters, but I was eagerly awaiting my copy in the mail and started it very late Saturday night, didn't read any during the day, and then finished it late Sunday night/Monday morning. That, to me, is a good thriller/page turner.

A little background on the author, from what I gathered: She has a background in national security and certainly knows her stuff when it comes to energy and natural resources. I haven't yet read her first two books, but I definitely plan to do so.

This book starts out with a natural gas pipeline explosion in Oklahoma, during the middle of winter, that leaves countless people without heat and some dead. The company that owns the pipeline, GeoGlobal, cannot figure out how this disaster occurred. One of the head honchos, Tripp Adams, is in Washington D.C. and working on the problem.

Cut to the White House, where Deputy Director for Homeland Security Samantha Reid works. She has a background in energy but spends much of her time writing talking points for her boss, who loves to go on TV but can't seem to speak for himself and is dependent on Samantha for, well, just about everything. I think many women can identify with a boss who has taken the credit for a job they've done, so can well imagine Samantha's situation (men can as well, I'm sure).

There is a lot of insider information about the White House, from how lunch is eaten to where offices are allocated, that makes it clear the author knows her stuff and gives the reader an interesting glimpse into what it would be like to work in that rarified world. You really need to read the book to get the feel for the atmosphere, but Ms. Bodman does a good job of writing about what she knows.

Back to the plot: Soon another gas line explodes, and while to me this would seem like a disaster (I admit I knew nothing about pipelines going into this story), Samantha quickly pieces together that a gasline does not "just explode." She tries to bring the matter to the attention of her boss, but he isn't interested. Still bothered, she sets up a meeting with someone from GeoGlobal. Little does she know that the man she meets will be Tripp Adams, a college crush.

Sparks fly between Samantha and Tripp, despite of (or maybe spurred on by) the situation they are in. As more gaslines explode, they both suspect this is sabotage, but cannot figure out if it is the work of terrorists or what reason there is behind the attacks. No one is taking credit for them, but the cost of gas and oil is going through the roof while people across the country are left without heat and are dying.

As readers know, however, the work actually is a plot by Venezuelan oil workers on orders by the dictator of that country's right-hand man. It seems he wants to not only nationalize the pipelines in Venezuela (including those owned by GeoGlobal), but cause massive destruction in America and drive up the price of fuel, which he succeeds in doing. This is part of a convoluted plot before elections in his country.

Without giving too much away, there is just enough romance in this to make it an enjoyable read for women without annoying male readers who want a good national security thriller. I love a good romance as much as anyone, but I've gotten tired of really explicit sex scenes and usually skip past them if there is not a good reason for them (moving the plot along). In this case, there was enough romance that I enjoyed it and it was balanced just right.

When Tripp gets in trouble in Venezuela, Samantha doesn't sit idly by either. She doesn't suddenly turn into a ninja (another device I'm getting tired of -- not every female heroine has to be a gun-toting warrior, not that I have anything against them; it's just nice to see a regular woman use her brains and not be superwoman). She is smart and savvy and tries to get the agencies she works with involved, to little avail. She finally takes matters into her own hands and uses her brain to get what needs to be done, done.

I won't give more away, but I highly recommend this exciting thriller. I loved the national security angle, finding out new information in an interesting way, and the dynamics between the hero and heroine. The Washington insider stuff was a plus. I'm excited to see what this author comes out with next, and to read her previous novels. Sorry Amazon that I got this one for free, but I'm glad I discovered Karna Small Bodman! Happy reading. Other authors you might enjoy: Brian Haig, Vince Flynn, Nelson DeMille, Marliss Melton (for romantic suspense).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Pursuit of Honor: A Novel (by Vince Flynn)

Reviewed by Tracy L. Karol

Pursuit of Honor: A Novel, by Vince Flynn

I will admit my bias up front: I am addicted to Vince Flynn and have been a fan since his first novel, "Term Limits." Some have been better than others, and "Pursuit of Honor," in my opinion, clearly stands out as one of his best ever.

The novel starts off just days after the events after the end of his last book, "Extreme Measures." That would probably be my one beef - that I had to wait so long for the book and it takes place immediately following his last novel. But as a follow up to "Extreme Measures," this book is actually much better and Flynn really pushes the envelope. He's not afraid to get his hands dirty with his opinion (fictionally) about where this country is headed, and he really is not afraid to let his main character, Mitch Rapp, get his hands dirty (though in reality we've seen Rapp do much more damage in other books).

As to plot: Washington D.C. has been attacked by Muslim extremists who, this time, specifically target senators and other political types. Rapp and his protégé, Mike Nash, were also attacked at the Counterterrorism Center, where many of their colleagues were killed. Now it's up to Rapp to bring the three who got away to justice, if he can find them, while hunting down a traitor in the CIA, dealing with left-wing senators who are upset because he used "extreme measures" to get information on said terrorists (he dislocated a guy's arm), and other bureaucratic issues. Rapp is not, as you might guess, a happy man. There are actually a few funny parts in this book, which I enjoyed because the suspense and "thriller" action was so tense I could barely put the book down long enough to make it last two days (I truly had to force myself to drag it out that long). One example: Rapp is interrogating a traitor who he knows lies for a living. Mitch warns him not to lie to him because he will know...yet the guy does so anyway. Mitch tells him, "Fight it, fight it," while pointing a gun at the guy's foot. I can picture the scene so vividly in my head I really did laugh.

There was also some closure with Mike Nash, whose character had me scratching my head a bit at the end of "Extreme Measures." I wondered what Flynn would do with him, but knew it would be good and looked forward to it. I wasn't disappointed.

As the three escaped terrorists make their way across America and you see the fighting going on between them, it's clear that Vince Flynn knows how to create characters that are not one dimensional. I used to love to read Tom Clancy, but often would have to go back and find out when a character was introduced and who he was (not to mention heavy on the jargon). I still love the Clancy classics, and have read most of them more than once. But Flynn gives you a thriller like no other writer out there today. This book might not be for everyone - but it should be. There will certainly be people who will find things offensive in this book, and those are probably the same people that Rapp (and there are men and women out there like him) are on the line to protect. I highly recommend it, and recommend that you read it with an open mind and never forget that this war on terror is not over and is not played by the same rules as anything else we've ever seen. Other authors you might enjoy: Nelson DeMille, Brad Thor, Brian Haig (one of my newest and favorite), and Karna Small Bodman (another new find). Enjoy!