Dear Tal Bauer,
I am always so happy to discover a new writer whose work I end up enjoying. I never heard of you before I encountered your book on Amazon. Reviews were stellar – granted, stellar reviews on Amazon these days do not impress me much, unless I know the reviewers in question, but still, reviews promised exciting, fast moving plot.
Basically what I thought I would be getting on par with romance storyline was a thriller – US president in danger, rogue Black ops unit. Fun! I love the books with plot where romance is also present, so I was really looking forward to reading it. Granted, I am not a big fan of characters behaving unprofessionally and president with his body-guard was not looking like an example of professional behavior, but in the situation like this I can be convinced that it is a love that can overcome anything. So I dived in.
First of all let me state that I really liked that both main characters were in their mid-forties. As I stated before, I still do not think that m/m has nearly enough books with the main characters whose ages are over thirty.
Unfortunately there is nothing else about this story I ended up liking. Which is truly a pity – because it did have an exciting plot, it is just my believability barrier in my brain was pinging louder and louder when I was reading and was so loud when I was finishing up the story that I felt like I was having a real headache.
First and foremost I did not understand how it will help to keep the readers in suspense if one of the main villains (actually as far as I am concerned he was *the* main villain since he was issuing orders) was revealed in prologue. I do not understand what purpose the author was trying to achieve except this reader thinking that president has an IQ of 0 if he could not figure out who was plotting against him. Is it because the second villain was not revealed and his revelation was supposed to be a surprise?! Well for me it really was not one. But more on that later.
So the story starts in the near future where president elect Jack Bauers is adjusting to the life in the White House. He is feeling lonely – he cannot talk to people anymore as he used when he was a senator, he cannot have work out buddies as he used to, and basically he asks Ethan who is in charge of presidential detail all kinds of questions and eventually when he tells him that he wants to cancel his workout, Ethan decides to work out with him.
Mind you Ethan always taught his men that you are supposed to be distant with whoever you are protecting, because otherwise it may cloud your judgment, and you cannot do your job well. Makes sense, right? Apparently this president is different – Ethan agonizes a little bit but decides the guy needs a friend and helps him out and talks to him – yes, knowing they are being extremely inappropriate. But he does that anyway.
Note they are not even close to being together yet – so this objection of mine does not have anything to do with their romance really. President likes Ethan so much that he decides he wants to know his opinion on certain aspects of foreign policy because his stuff is out of touch (close paraphrase). I repeat, President cannot find himself a stuff member – one of many who will be competent enough to discuss foreign policy with him. This was first really big head desk moment for me – but many more were coming. And way later in the book the president will want Ethan in the situation room with him when they were discussing the appropriate response to the nuclear strike in Nairobi. I will give you a second to process this. Yes, they were lovers at that point – no *he still should not have been in the situation room*.
"“I don’t know.” Ethan’s thoughts swam, tumbling around each other. “I’d play it cautious. If they haven’t given a compelling reason to engage with them, then they might just want to leverage this meeting as an acknowledgement, or worse, spin it as an acquiescence. They could leak the details to the press, and then it looks like we’re meeting the invaders in secret.” “My thoughts exactly. There a lot of risks with accepting this overture.” “And what do you lose if you don’t accept?” Jack shook his head slowly. “Unknown.” Silence, for a moment. The fire crackled as a log shifted, resettling in the grate. Ethan held Jack’s gaze, studying him. His heart beat faster. “What are you going to do, Mr. President?” “I’m not going to accept.” Jack nodded once. “I’m not going to.” He leaned back, watching Ethan, seemingly appraising him. “Thoughts?” God, he shouldn’t be here. He shouldn’t be having this conversation. It was all kinds of wrong, six different kinds of illegal and had tragic implications for his career. “You’re more decisive than your predecessors, sir. It’s admirable.” Jack chuckled. “You know, I’d love to hear your insight"
I think I will leave it up to you to decide whether you bought their romance or not, but even if you did, I still maintain that they both behaved like unprofessional idiots and President was the most unprofessional one out of two of them.
Also dear Mister President, I would much appreciate if you stop referring to yourself as straight after you had an affair with your body guard. You are not, you know? You loved your wife and now you love Ethan. You are bisexual and it is not a dirty word.
“Daniels nodded. “I saw it happen. I mean, I saw you guys fall for each other. Ethan was crazy about you. Willing to break every rule in the book, even the ones he thought were gospel.” Daniels snorted, a tiny smile on his lips. It faded. “I didn’t think you were gay, though. Sir.” Jack shook his head. “I’m not.” Daniels frowned. “I don’t consider myself gay. Being with Ethan wasn’t some kind of realization of who I was deep inside. It wasn’t a…yearning of my hidden gay man, buried deep.” Jack frowned and rubbed Ethan’s shirt between his fingers. He hadn’t spoken of this to anyone, not even Ethan. They’d carefully avoided any talk at all about Jack’s sexuality, and what it all meant. “It was just me falling in love,” Jack finally said. “And figuring out how to make that work with Ethan.” “I’m not sure I could be with a dude. No matter how I felt about him.” Jack smiled. “When you love someone, really love them, you’ll do anything. Figure anything out. Because having them in your life is worth more to you than living without them. That’s how I felt about Ethan.” He chuckled, looking down, and fought back against his heart’s sudden hysteria. God, it had been perfect with Ethan. Absolutely perfect. “The fact that the sex was actually pretty amazing was a nice bonus.”
I personally found this exchange to be incredibly irritating.
So the world around Jack when he became a president is in many ways extension of the troubles of our world, and it makes sense since it takes place in the near future. We have terrorist attacks and more terrorist attacks and a lot of refugees and other awful things and Jack is trying to navigate it and maintain peace. We have the added issue however - somebody close to the president is trying to take over the power and to do so he is trying to destabilize the world so badly so it would be easier to take over. That was the villain revealed in prologue and I thought it was ridiculous that one person could have so much power and influence in order to destabilize the whole region. Oh he was not working alone, but I had the impression that he was the only one issuing orders and in charge. Even the rogue Black ops unit appeared closer to the end to participate in the takeover itself, but that was all they attempted to do.
The hilarious part for me in all this plotting was that it felt like the author did not have a high opinion of the intellectual abilities of her heroes either. The people who actually uncover the plot and bring the villains to our soldiers/bodyguards/marines are Saudi Arabia Prince who does their intelligence work and Chinese Colonel Song who also does intelligence in some capacity. Those two people save the day because they share the intel with Ethan and his group. Otherwise they still would have been as clueless as ever (and dead too). So Ethan saving the day by storming the White House did not impress me much I am afraid .
I mentioned nuclear explosion earlier on. I felt like it was shown purely for shock value and before we even back to that again, we are treated to our heroes’ sex life which is clearly more important to talk about in great details than about this.
As an aside, since Russian president plays minor role in this book – I am not a fan of Putin in any way, shape or form, but if you call him Putin in the beginning of the book how did he become Sergey Puchkov later on? I guess I should be grateful he did not change his name again as the story progressed and remained Puchkov.
"When Putin invaded Ukraine, it was years of posturing. With China, it’s like they want to be forgotten. And now this?” Ethan’s eyes narrowed. All his years in the Army, in the Special Forces, were sending warning signals to his brain. “I agree, sir. Something isn’t right. Could they be biding time? Saving up their energy for a bigger show? A bigger threat? Is this just a distraction?” “Possibly. But there’s no indication that they’re making any moves like that.”