No Control by Shannon K. Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a solid outing as my first book by Shannon K. Butcher. I know it's probably not fair to her, but I decided to read Ms. Butcher because I just adore the Harry Dresden books by her husband, Jim Butcher. But nepotism can only take a writer so far. And Ms. Butcher has proven that she can stand on her own two feet.
I know I was reading this book with a critical eye (I couldn't help it, because I knew going in that she has some literary relations who in her own words 'taught her how to write'), and I think that she did a great job.
In No Control, we meet two characters who have suffered in ways that most people can be thankful they won't have to. Lana was horribly beaten and tortured at the hands of would-be terrorists, for no real reason other than for them to 'earn their chops' in the terrorism world. Practically every bone in her body was broken by the time they got through with her and were about to kill her. Caleb suffered in some ways that might even be worse, because he had to stand by and watch her be tortured so that he didn't break his cover. It was a matter of the greater good, in this case, saving children from being blown up. Caleb comes through and extracts Lana as soon as he can, but it's not soon enough for either of them. And he sits by her side in the first harrowing days as she lingers on death's edge in the hospital, pushing her to fight to survive.
To start with, this is a compelling storyline. At first, I must admit, I wasn't quite as drawn in as I wanted to be. But I do have to say that I felt the writing was crisp and professional, even from the beginning. As far as character likability, there is not question that I did like and care about both Lana and Caleb. I admired Lana for her strength and grit. At times, she frustrated me the way she pushed Caleb away, because he was there to help her, and as a Delta Force operative, no one was better equipped to deal with the threats she was facing. Yet I tried to look at things from her perspective. She had been living immersed in fear so long, and after her ordeal, it would be very difficult to trust anyone. And the complicated nature of her relationship with Caleb probably made the trust factor even more dicey.
Caleb was a character I loved early on in this book. He is so well-drawn, honorable, but I feel, realistic. He's a warrior and he struggles with his sense of inadequacy that he had to stand by and watch this poor woman suffer. Now his boss has ordered him to push his way back into her life and get answers about what she knows about the terrorist cell that she hadn't told, by any means necessary, even seducing his way into her bed. He started to care for Lana when he sat by her hospital bed, urging her to keep living. I think he probably fell in love with her, although he didn't feel he had the right to. I don't want to romanticize him, but I think that all he wanted to do from the beginning was to take care of Lana, even if he didn't think he could have her for forever. That is always a compelling story for me, the hero who wants nothing but to love and care for his heroine. Also Caleb is described as a big, brawny, hard-bodied man with black hair and eyes. Can I just say yum right now? I think he is definitely my type. For some insane reason, I could picture him with a kilt and nothing else on, a claymore swung over his shoulder. Don't ask.
So the more I read this story, the higher my rating got, although I thought for a while this would top out at a solid three stars. When I went to bed last night, it was 3.5 stars. This morning, I realized this is a four star read. She pulled everything together. The love story was rich, and the attraction between Lana and Caleb was vivid but emotional. The love scenes were steamy and hot, but they didn't give me that 'low-down' vibe that I get nowadays with a lot of contemporary mainstream romances that are trying to push the erotic envelope (This is a matter of personal taste. It may not bother some readers, but sex in a romance should be romantic to me, even if it is at sometimes on the raw side. It shouldn't be tawdry. Personally I have low tolerance for sleazy). Ms. Butcher doesn't use really dirty words for the male and female parts. She uses the proper words and the milder slang for the male part, yet they don't come out sounding clinical. Caleb is a tender, yet intense lover, and I liked that Lana takes the initiative and is fully participating in their lovemaking. I think that Ms. Butcher writes some great love scenes (I couldn't help picturing her going over them with the writer of the great Harry Dresden novels, and I'd start grinning. I'm sorry. I know I need therapy).
I think what pushed me over the edge was how Caleb embraced his love for Lana. He told her he loved her in a romantic moment, and he meant it. It might have been too soon, but he couldn't help loving her. And not just that, he showed his love for her. He would have moved mountains for Lana. Lana was the hesitant one. I liked that Caleb's friend and coworker (and serious ladies' man) Grant advised Caleb that he was moving too soon. Part of me was struggling with Lana rejecting Caleb, because love just makes everything better. But the realist in me who has been wary to commit my emotions to situations, could clearly see why she was hesitant to have an emotional entanglement (although it was clear that she was already emotionally involved).
The suspense plot in this story took a while to come to full flower, but I thought it was well-done and it doesn't let up until the very end. Although I still wonder what the major motivations were of the mastermind terrorist, I can easily chalk it down to being a lowlife and move on.
All in all, this was an excellent book, that slowly but surely hooked me into loving it. I will definitely be adding Ms. Butcher to my roster of authors. And I thank her for reintroducing me to contemporary military romantic suspense, a genre I had drifted away from for the past few years after gorging myself on NAVY SEAL (love those guys) romantic suspense.
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