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Review: Fever Zone by Cindy Dees

“I will hurt you for this. I don’t know how yet, but give me time. A day will come when you think yourself safe and happy, and suddenly your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth, and you’ll know the debt is paid.” ― George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings

“How I hate this world. I would like to tear it apart with my own two hands if I could. I would like to dismantle the universe star by star, like a treeful (sic) of rotten fruit. Nor do I believe in progress. A vermin-eaten saint scratching his filth for heaven is better off than you damned in clean linen. Progress doubles our tenure in a vale of tears. Man is a mistake, to be corrected only by his abolition, which he gives promise of seeing to himself. Oh, let him pass, and leave the earth to the flowers that carpet the earth wherever he explodes his triumphs. Man is inconsolable, thanks to that eternal “Why?” when there is no Why, that question mark twisted like a fishhook in the human heart. “Let there be light,” we cry, and only the dawn breaks.” ― Peter De Vries, The Blood of the Lamb

Fever ZoneCindy Dees, the author of Fever Zone, should have known that there was going to be an issue when her airplane seatmate, who had been glancing more and more often at her laptop screen, opened a conversation.

Him: “Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you who you are.”
Me (surprised): “And you would be who? (Honestly, I expected him to be an air marshal, given his size and chilly demeanor.)
Him: “I work for Homeland Security.”

Of course, the next few hours sitting in a sterile airport office being interrogated by a variety of alphabet agencies pretty much guaranteed that she had stumbled upon a story line that made said agencies extremely uncomfortable. Guaranteeing to wait for a year, for Homeland to “plug the hole” Dees did, indeed, wait to publish. And the story, of grief and hatred, obsession, cultism and terrorism is breathtaking in its twisted, terrifying simplicity. The youngest female fighter pilot in history, Dees worked in intelligence gathering and was detained by both the KGB and East German secret police, so she has the background to understand the inner workings of government and military agencies, and her scenario, in all its twists and turns, is highly believable. The backgrounds of the ‘bad guys’ involved are almost mundane in their very commonality, while the history of “The Scientist” who anchors the story is heartbreaking and, again, so real as to allow you to actually feel his despair.

“Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.” – William Shakespeare, Macbeth Act 2 Scene 1

The West Bank. Jerusalem. One year ago. Yusef Abahdi, his daughter Salima, and his wife Marta, are Palestinians, living in a world defined by the ongoing conflict between Jews, Zionists, Muslims and Christians, all determined to destroy one another over a bit of desert wasteland with a millennia-old history of violence and savagery. It is a life of poverty, hunger and razor wire, suicide bombers and high-powered rifles trained on them every day by young Israeli Defense Force soldiers with itchy trigger fingers, filled with their own overwhelming dread. Yusef, with his degree in biochemistry, cares for his daughter during the day the best he can, while Marta, with her masters in Literature, works as a maid for a rich Jewish family. A life of terror, brought to a razor’s edge by a bomb. A bomb that crystallizes into a core of cold, diamond hard rage.

What comes next is a tale that is terrifying to behold in its very simplicity. Take a broken man, filled with rage, a simple-minded cult of Luddites, mix in enough money to forward a plot whose edges are ill-defined, and wrap it all up in a race to save hundreds of thousands of people from a manufactured plague. The concept of the story got the attention of Homeland Security, so you know the fear is real. This part of the story is well researched and well written.

But then, we get to “the other part.” Here is where the tale comes crashing down around the reader’s ears.

Mike McCloud is a Navy Special Forces operative, an observer, watching over a filthy street on a rooftop in Khartoum. Once one of the greatest cities of the world, Khartoum is a little corner of Purgatory, savage and brutal – and an incubator for some of the most savage terrorists the world has ever known.

Piper Roth is also an observer, sent by the CIA to follow up on a pair of seemingly innocuous cult members who have changed their MO drastically by scurrying off to the Sudan.  When the two meet eye-to-eye through rifle scopes while observing the savage murder of a shopkeeper in the middle of the street (Observe. Report. Do NOT engage.), the question is, “Shoot, or don’t shoot?” Neither shoots, it is ‘observe only,’ you know. Roth flees. McCloud chases. His brief is to know everyone in the area, to find The Scientist, and to find out why a previously unknown Warlord is moving in on this seemingly worthless neighborhood in an even more worthless city. And he is determined to know who the other sniper is, what ‘he’ is doing there, and who he works for. Only, the ‘he’ is a she. And this chapter is the one that nearly had me putting the book down and walking away.

This is a serious subject, and from the intro (EbolaFeverZone) I expected a serious book. What I got was the two of them running through the streets, him overtaking and overwhelming her as if she has no CIA self-defense or evasion training whatsoever, and the two of them immediately rutting like wild dogs without knowing, 1) Who each other are, 2) Who the other person works for, 3) Each others names, or 4) Hey, do you, like, have any diseases I need to know about? You know, since we are in the armpit of the universe and STDs, as well as, oh, I don’t know, Lassa, Ebola and other little nasties are commonplace . . .

GAARG!!! (Of course, I should have known from the cover, right? I was just hoping….oh, and she is a blonde, not a brunette as it shows on the cover. Sigh.) Pages of rutting, then the “Big Strong Alpha Male” rescuing the “Weak Little Woman” (who does things so stupid I simply could not, under any circumstances, believe it – I mean, you are an observer, woman! Observe, don’t go rushing in to fight a couple of religious policemen who are beating a young girl, you idjit. That shit happens. It sucks, but it isn’t your job.) Followed by more pages of rutting and the supposedly CIA trained and experienced CIA observer whining and mewling in her head ad nauseum with the whole “I hate him but I want to screw him again and, oh, woe is me, does he like me or doesn’t he like me and I want to marry him and have his babies, but I hate him for treating me like an ignorant child (even though she acts like an ignorant child) who needs his big strong protection, but oh, lets screw again”  crap pissed me the hell off. I mean, the author is a decorated pilot, for Pete’s sake! I really would like to not think that she is a whiny, needy wreck like her so-called heroine.

Hence, my less-than-stellar review of a book suffering from schizophrenia and a serious identity crisis. Romantic thrillers I understand, and actively look for in my reading. They are, basically, romances that at least have a good story line to back up the nookie. But I expected much more from this book. I wanted what it was advertised as – a Thriller. What I got was a serious, thoughtful idea weighed down by cliché, with a female lead I wanted to shake some sense into. Come on – you are a CIA agent poached from the CDC – I would expect you to have a modicum of common sense! I suppose I am offended, mainly, because I expected so much, and she delivered so little.

Anyway. I found the book on eBookDiscovery.com. I got it for free in exchange for a realistic review. I am only taking on books right now that really grab my attention as I am so busy, but this one showed such promise, I couldn’t refuse. As much as I gripe, I do recommend reading it. It is Very. Scary. I just wish the author had laid off catering to the romance-only crowd and been serious about her characters. It would have been a much better book and would draw the attention of a much wider audience without being crippled by the heavy concentration on the cliché romance rather than the story.

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Review: Proving Ground by Stanalei Fletcher #RomanticSuspense

Proving GroundCaitlin Malone is one tough cookie. Oh, she doesn’t realize it yet. Not when her first assignment as a Northstar Security agent winds up getting her partner shot. Just a simply tracking job, but Caitlin’s inability to follow orders, and her impulsiveness, nearly gets Sloan dead. Disgraced, she is sent back to Oregon by her boss to talk to her father, a former Northstar partner, and to get her head on straight. But arriving at her father’s house in Oregon she finds he isn’t there. When her old flame and long-time friend, John MacAlistair, walks in the door she meets him with a shotgun, while he greets her with the news that her father is in the hospital. The bullet in his back that was too dangerous to remove when he was shot has moved.

Shocked, Caitlin is forced to accept that she may lose her father. Their strained relationship over the years after she lost her mother at seven years old, and her father lost his wife, was exacerbated by her father’s inability to understand his young daughter resulting in him dropping her in a small town in Oregon and extending his business trips over longer and longer periods until she saw him only rarely. It finally reached the breaking point when they fought, two years ago, over her taking a job at Northstar and moving to DC. Harsh words flowed, and Caitlin walked out the door. Of course, it was all made worse when John’s grandmother, who had been like a mother to Caitlin, dies and John took her to bed for her first time the night of the funeral – and then walked out the door and didn’t return.

Betrayals. First from an icy and distant father who taught her to be a hardass then pitched a fit when she followed in his footsteps, cutting her out of his life. And then her best friend John takes her and then leaves her. What else was she to do?

When a bike rally leads to Caitlin’s attempted murder and a massive forest fire set as a distraction so terrorists could rob a biotech lab for deadly pathogens, Caitlin has to drag her badly injured body across the mountains to reach safety. When John, a forest ranger, hears from his uncle that Caitlin is missing in the fire he has himself dropped into the fire zone to find her. What follows shows that, while Caitlin may not always be centered and focused, she is, as previously stated, one tough cookie.

Terrorists, a fire that has blown up out of control, and a mad rush across rugged territory makes this a fast moving, exciting tale. The characters are well written and believable. Besides the high-tension suspense we also watch as Caitlin learns to tear down the walls around herself and push back at a father who she wants desperately to love, but simply doesn’t know how. I can’t say that I completely agreed with the author’s take on the relationship and how the blame for the relationship issues between her and her father and her and John were handled, but I am sure there are those out there who don’t have such a brittle relationship with the concepts of love and family who will find it quite rewarding. Caitlin is immature in certain ways, but that immaturity is understandable and made me like her more.

I received “Proving Ground” from Reading Alley in exchange for a realistic review. All thoughts are my own.

Review: White Plague by James Abel -Stunning!

White Plague by James AbelAnd I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. – Revelations 6:8 – King James Bible

Paneloux is a man of learning, a scholar. He hasn’t come in contact with death; that’s why he can speak with such assurance of the truth-with a capital T. But every country priest who visits his parishioners and has heard a man gasping for breath on his deathbed thinks as I do. He’d try to relieve human suffering before trying to point out its goodness. -Albert Camus – The Plague Part 2

There is no act of treachery or meanness of which a political party is not capable; for in politics there is no honour. – Benjamin Disraeli
What is the point to winning a war – if all your subjects are rotting in their graves? For me, no ideological or political conviction would justify the sacrifice of a human life. For me, the value of life is absolute, with no concessions. It’s not negotiable. Edgar Ramirez

It begins, as do many things, death amongst them, with silence. The pleas for help stopped coming just after five in the morning, Washington time. The Pentagon staffers cleared for handling sensitive messages sat in horror for a moment and then tried other ways to reach the victims. Nothing worked, so they called the director, who phoned me.

And what follows horrified me, chilled me to the bone, and kept me reading four hours past when I should, by all reasonable measure, put it down and gone to bed. And horrifying the story is, for a lot of different reasons, but mainly? For the absolute, gut wrenching reality of it all. And just how true it is – how likely that something like this will happen.

Lt. Colonel Joe Rush gets the call at 1am, Anchorage time, as he pounds the streets, running from sleep, running from memories. Memories of decisions which saved lives, while taking others. Which left him with the weight of the world on his shoulders, the blackness of grief in his heart. Two weeks. Just two weeks until he retires. And now, this. A new submarine prototype has surfaced in the Arctic – and it is burning. One-hundred-fifty seven souls, trapped on the ice. And no one is near enough to reach them except the single ice breaker the US government has funded to handle the vast spaces of the Arctic waters. Colonel Rush, MD and virology specialist, must get to them as quickly as possible if they are to save the people and salvage the submarine before Chinese or Russian icebreakers claim it for their own.

Monster storms, crushing ice, bone breaking cold – all are threats which Rush, the few Marines who accompany him, and the few Coast Guard sailors handling the Icebreaker Wilmington must meet and overcome to reach their burned and stranded submariners. The sick submariners. For a sickness is burning through the crew, a sickness that no one can identify.

It becomes a race, a race to save the people, to save the submarine, and to avert a single incident that could be the linchpin starting World War III. For as global warming breaks up the ice, opening trade routes and access to unknown stores of oil, gems, metals and trade routes, the political machinations have begun. Great beasts of war are gathering, stomping their hooves, waving their swords, and foaming at the mouths for the blood of those they would call ‘enemy’.

What is the sickness? Where did it come from? And more importantly, can it be cured before the political machine does the unthinkable in a move to ascertain it’s own power? And who aboard the Wilmington is a traitor? And how high do the traitor’s contacts go – and to whom does he report?

No one becomes depraved all at once. – JUVENAL, Satires

All these questions and more make this a hair-raising, edge-of-your-seat military suspense/thriller beyond compare. With it’s roots dug deeply into current political and military policy, White Plague is, beyond a doubt, the BEST military suspense thriller I have read this year.

Highly recommended.

I received the book from Penguin’s First To Read program in exchange for a realistic review. All thoughts are my own and are not affected by this fact. For more information on First To Read, click.

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