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Pamela Clare

REVIEW:  Striking Distance by Pamela Clare

REVIEW: Striking Distance by Pamela Clare

Dear Ms. Clare,

I’ve enjoyed your earlier I-Team books both in print and audiobook format and I was very excited to read the next instalment. You are one of the few authors I find reliable in the romantic suspense department these days. While it’s true that there is heightened reality in fiction, your characters make sense and fit into the world I know. The law enforcement agencies are subject to real problems and don’t act in ways that are unbelievable to me.

striking distance pamela clare

Recommended by Kaetrin ( A | BN | K | S | G) * Romantic Suspense

Striking Distance is the story of Laura Nilsson, a Swedish-American broadcast journalist who was abducted and reportedly beheaded by an Al-Quaeda terrorist in Afghanistan some eighteen months before the story begins. Senior Chief Javier Corbray is a Navy SEAL in charge of the ground crew on a mission to capture the terrorist responsible.

Javier and Laura have history. Nearly two years prior to her abduction, they met in Dubai and had a wild no-strings fling (which is documented in the self-published prequel novella First Strike). Two months after that weekend, Laura was abducted. Javier has made it his business to get his guns in on the mission to capture the man responsible and it is with amazed delight that he finds Laura isn’t dead at all. The SEALs effect a daring rescue and Laura is restored to her Swedish family.

Fast forward another two years – Laura is now working for the Denver Independent on their prestigious I-Team and trying to get her life together after her ordeal. She testifies against the man who held her captive for eighteen months at his trial held in Washington. After her testimony, he calls for the faithful to kill her, which call is unfortunately widely publicised by the media, and Laura is again at risk. Meantime, Javier is also in Denver, visiting his old buddy Nate West (husband of Megan (Skin Deep), sister to Marc Hunter  from Unlawful Contact) as he recovers from serious wounds he sustained in a mission gone wrong, and PTSD (about which he is in denial).

Laura and Javier meet up again and when a bomb blast nearly kills her, Javier decides he needs to stick close to protect this special woman who made an indelible impact on his heart nearly four years earlier. Laura has recovered physically and has had intensive therapy to assist in her recovery from the torment of her captivity. She was regularly beaten and raped and threatened daily with beheading. She was so traumatised, when the SEALs found her, she barely remembered her own name. She is an extremely strong woman but she does not believe she will be able to engage in physical intimacy again and there are secrets marked on her body she wants to keep very private.

Those with triggers about sexual violence and violence against women may wish to avoid this one. While the rapes are not at all graphically detailed, there is a fair amount of violence toward Laura detailed throughout the course of the book. I felt the trauma of her captivity was handled sensitively and realistically (bearing in mind this is fiction and I’m not an expert in such things) and I didn’t think the violence later in the book was gratuitous but there is enough of it that it deserves a warning for those who dislike such things in their reading.

It is difficult to say more about the plot without giving away spoilers. The path to Laura’s and Javier’s happy ending is not at all smooth, there is much danger and heartache for Laura and not everything can be wrapped up in a neat little bow. There were parts of the story, particularly near the end which had me in tears. Rest assured there is a romantic HEA but readers will probably need tissues handy because the story is not just about the romance.

Javier doesn’t expect anything from Laura but as they start to get closer, their old attraction sparks.  It does take a long time before the pair become intimate and even then, there are certain things which are off limits for a long time.  I liked that their sex life was portrayed as full and mutually satisfying even when it wasn’t “tab A into slot B” sex and I enjoyed Javier’s creativity.  (Also, I never knew shaving could be so sexy. Oh mama!)

I liked that you depicted Muslims as people, not stereotypes, and that you  were respectful of their culture and made it clear, without being preachy about it,  that the vast majority of them are not terrorists and do not support terrorism.

There were moments of humour amongst the darkness of the main story – when Javier gets caught naked when Laura is skyping had me chuckling, and little things like this made me smile as well:

Javier opened her makeup kit, held it edge-to-edge with the dressing table, and swept everything—every vial, brush, tube, and bottle—into the kit with his forearm.

Laura gaped at him. “That stuff is worth hundreds of dollars.”

He shrugged, then shut the kit. “That’s how SEALs pack makeup.”

Many of the previous I-Team couples featured in the book and, for the most part, their presence was necessary to the plot and furthered the story.  Zach (Breaking Point) and Nate featured fairly prominently and Laura and Megan bonded over shared traumatic experiences.  Julian Darcangelo (Hard Evidence) and Marc Hunter continue their bromance – it was a fun, lighter part of the story but again, I felt it didn’t intrude on the main tale.

I did pick what was happening about two thirds of the way through – I felt some of the clues were kind of obvious, just in the placement of seemingly random conversations in the book more than anything – I suppose the villain was fairly one-note but [redacted] was a sociopath so I wasn’t bothered by any lack of nuance there.  I guessed Laura’s secret very early but that did not detract from the emotional resonance at all.  There was perhaps one thing I would have liked covered off/made more explicit but to say more would be, I think, too spoilerish.   Even so, near the end, things took me a little by surprise.  I suppose they shouldn’t have in the circumstances but the story fell out really in the only workable way and I appreciated that you kept it real.  Sure there were SEALs and private security people and various law enforcement personnel doing fairly spectacular things from time to time in the book, but I put that in the “heightened reality” category rather than “unbelievable”.  I think it was because the rest of the story had that realism, I was able to enjoy the near-superhero -ness of some of the characters – but even then, I felt you kept them from straying into “ridiculous-land”.

There were times, more particularly toward the end of the book where I felt some things were a little rushed.  I tried to find an excerpt to demonstrate what I meant but they were all too spoilerish.  It wasn’t a huge deal but those bits were a little less smooth and polished than the rest of the book.

There aren’t that many romance novels which feature a non-white hero and I appreciated Javier’s ethnicity was built into the story – neither fetishized or ignored.  So too was Laura’s Swedish connection.  I think you have a knack for writing with cultural sensitivity (it was something I particularly appreciated in Naked Edge as well).

I can rely on you to provide a cracking good read with believable and diverse characters, deeply romantic and emotional.  While I felt there was a bit of telegraphing in relation to the villain, Striking Distance is a winner. I give it a B+.

regards,
Kaetrin

 

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REVIEW:  Skin Deep (I-Team #5.5) by Pamela Clare

REVIEW: Skin Deep (I-Team #5.5) by Pamela Clare

Dear Ms. Clare,

I was interested to read your I-Team novella, Skin Deep (I-Team 5.5) for two reasons. The first is, in general, I’ve enjoyed the series. I loved the last book, Breaking Point (reviewed here by Jane), and I’ve grown invested in the lives of the men and women the series features. Secondly, I was interested to see what you would do with the confines of a novella. Your novels are complex, with multilayered plot-lines and multi-faceted characters. I wondered what you’d create using just 47,000 words.  As you say on your website, “It’s very difficult to fit significant character development and plot into such a small amount of space.” 

Skin Deep (I-Team #5.5) by Pamela ClareI’d say you pretty much pulled it off although if I hadn’t read the other I-Team books, Megan, your heroine, wouldn’t have been so easy for me to understand. Megan, Marc Hunter’s younger sister (he’s the hero of Unlawful Contact, reviewed here by Jane), was repeatedly raped while in juvenile detention and has struggled to find her way. In the past few years, however, Megan has rebuilt her life; moving to Denver where Mark and the rest of the I-Team crew lives, getting a job as a graphic designer with the city, and living quietly with her four-year old daughter Emily. Megan may have rebuilt her external world, but emotionally, she’s still deeply scarred by her earlier experiences. She’s terrified of men, especially of any physical contact with them. Her brother can hug her and, if he lets her know he’s going to do so, so can Julian Darcangelo, her brother’s best friend (and the hero of Hard Evidence). But, proximity to the rest of the male sex reminds Megan of the abuse she suffered and she stays away from any unnecessary interaction with men.

One day, as Megan is leaving the homeless shelter where she volunteers, she’s accosted in her car by her slime bucket, meth-head ex boyfriend (and father of her child), Donny. Donny threatens to hurt Emily if Megan doesn’t give him a cut of the 1.5 million dollar settlement Megan recently received from the Colorado State Department of Corrections. Just as Donny hits her and tells her he’s got others on her tail, the door of her car is thrown open and Nate West, an ex-spec op Marine, grabs Donny, tosses him to the pavement and then yells at Megan to duck as the two are shot at by Donny’s compatriots. Donny and the shooters escape, but Megan is safe and overwhelmed with gratitude. When Nate introduces himself and shakes her hand, Megan is startled to see she doesn’t shy from his touch, that,

“surprisingly, she felt no desire to pull away like she usually did when a man touched her. In fact, she found the contact reassuring.”

Where Megan’s scars are all internal, Nate’s are visible to the world.

Though he was a good two years beyond the explosion that had nearly killed him, he was still far from the man he’d been, his right arm weak, the tendons in his elbow and shoulder stiff, his scarred muscles constricted. He needed to exercise his arm and chest as much as he could. And, although he didn’t much care for coming into town, he had to get off the ranch once in a while and spend time with people other than his old man.

Or so his old man said.

It was getting easier—the stares, the whispers, the shock and revulsion on people’s faces. The way people tried not to look, averting their gazes, only to sneak a covert glance as he passed. The honest curiosity and fear of children, pointing and asking, “Mommy, what happened to that man’s face?”

An IED—improvised explosive device—is what had happened.

He and the rest of his fourteen-man MSOT—Marine Special Operations Team—had been traveling with a four-man team of Navy SEALs on their way back from a joint mission in Afghanistan when their convoy was hit by an IED. One moment he’d been talking with Max about the sheer quantity of heroin produced in Kandahar Province and the next…

A pop. A hiss.

A deafening blast.

Blinding light. Searing pain.

Nate’s helmet and combat goggles had protected his scalp, eyes and right ear, but the right side of his upper body, including his face, had been a mess of second- and third-degree burns. The surgeons had done what they could, saving his fingers, replacing charred flesh with skin grafts, giving him a new right nostril that almost looked real. But even after more than twenty surgeries, the right side of his face still looked like someone had painted his skin on with sloppy strokes of a putty knife.

Nate hasn’t been with a woman since he was wounded. He’s noticed Megan at the shelter and thinks she’s beautiful,

But inside he was numb. He rarely left the ranch, and when it came to women—hell, he couldn’t even begin to go there.

Donny and his friends however, pose a genuine threat to Megan and Emily and Megan, given her horrific past experience at the hands of the law, doesn’t trust the police to protect her. Megan, Emily in tow, ends up at Nate’s family’s cattle ranch which is high in the hills above the city. When a severe snowstorm strands her there, she and Nate begin, despite profound hesitation on Megan’s part, a tender romantic relationship.

I liked their love story, although, given that the blizzard only last a few days, things between the two heat up incredibly quickly. Megan goes from someone who can’t stand the idea of sex to burning up the sheets with Nate faster than is credible. Their sex scenes are beautiful—I love the way Megan’s touch heals Nate’s internal scars—and hot as hell; I just didn’t think either of them were capable of making such tectonic shifts in their sexual/emotional psyches so rapidly.

As I said earlier, I felt as though I “knew” Megan from the earlier books. The brevity of this tale limits the exploration of Nate and his post-Marine, PSTD haunted life. I liked Nate, found him heroic and admirable; but his journey to healing had less resonance than Megan’s simply because his character was less developed.

If you haven’t read the earlier books, this novella is not as likely to entertain. Its plot is predicated on things explored in the earlier books and almost all the secondary characters, other than Nate’s wonderful dad, are part of the I-Team gang. For those who have read the other I-Team novels, this novella, thought too short, will still be a treat. (Its dedication reads, “Hey, I-Team fans, this one is for you…) I give the novella a B- with the caveat it’s likely to be best appreciated by those familiar with Ms. Clare’s very good series.

(There is, in the Kindle edition of this novella, a short story included entitled Mark and Julian Make a Beer Run. I couldn’t stand it. It has all the men in the series out on a grocery run—this after they’ve had an uber-macho discussion about how much they love their guns. The grocery run turns into a shoot-em up robbery rescue which pleases the guys to no end. When the men return to the party, they recount to their women folk the tale of their derring-do. Here are the story’s last lines:

Marc had his own perspective. “The way I see it, we made a difference in the lives of that liquor store owner and his daughter today. Who knows what would have happened to them if we hadn’t shown up when we did. We weren’t on duty, but we did our job, and we did it well. Because of that, three criminals are behind bars, and those two are safe tonight. When it works out like it did this afternoon, I do enjoy it. It’s one hell of a feeling to go to bed at night knowing you got someone dangerous off the streets or saved someone’s life.”

Natalie raised her glass, looking from one woman to the next. “To our husbands and all the brave men and women like them.”

“Hear, hear!”

“Cheers!”

Glasses and bottles were raised, Marc meeting each man’s gaze before sipping, the scotch burning a sweet path to his stomach.

Sophie looked up at him, her gaze soft. “That was beautiful.”

He kissed her cheek, the scotch and her scent warming his blood. “Thanks.”

Oh, yeah. He was so getting laid tonight.

Ugh.

Mark and Julian Make a Beer Run earns a D.)

Dabney

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