Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Cherry Chocolate Test of Crossfire

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I love chocolate covered cherries. There’s just something about biting into the chocolate to get to the creamy cherry core that makes my taste buds dance. So, there I was with my cherry chocolate, eagerly anticipating the pure heaven taste I was about to partake of as I brought the chocolate to my mouth. I took that first bite, the chocolate seeming to melt away as it always did, but then something happened. I looked down, because I couldn’t believe what I’d just experienced. There was no cherry. It was hollow. Talk about a bitter disappointment.

I tell you this little story because that is now the basis of my cherry chocolate test for books that I'm reading. And sadly, several books I've read lately have been just like a chocolate without the cherry---I was anticipating something really good, but then after I bit into it, realized it was hollow and not very appealing after all. So my test is to see if the book is chocolate cherry worthy and something worth waiting for, or if it's more hollow and unsatisfying like the chocolate without the cherry.

For example, I just finished one book where it was a complete chocolate cherry fail. The back of the book was promising, the plot seemed good at first, but as I got into the book, I couldn't believe what I was reading. The heroine was an absolute idiot. Seriously. She sat around the entire book, wringing her hands and waiting for someone else to save her. It completely annoyed me. I kept waiting for her to wake up and do something about her situation herself, but she never did. Thankfully, in the end, the hero asked her to marry him, so then she would always have him to save her. Yeah. I'm not kidding. It was not only like having a hollow chocolate covered cherry, but maybe biting into it and tasting something moldy as well, just for good measure. I honestly felt like I wanted to shake the author and say, really? REALLY? Gah. Don’t you hate it when that happens?

After reading that book, I had a bad taste in my mouth and I wanted to read a book that I knew would be well written and have a plot I could sink my teeth into. I was seriously debating going to buy Traci Hunter Abramson’s new one, Crossfire, right that minute, when lo and behold, my book angel sent me one in the mail that very day, asking if I would review it. Would I? Oh yeah. I could hardly wait to start reading it. I’ve long been a fan of Traci’s books, and knew I wouldn’t be disappointed. Traci’s books are like a really, really good box of chocolates—you can’t stop with just one.

In Crossfire, her plot starts out with a strong heroine, in a dangerous situation, who isn’t waiting for anyone to come and rescue her. I love that about her books, and after the one I’d just read, it was driven home to me even more. This heroine is using her own good sense and the training she’d had at the CIA to navigate a very difficult undercover mission. The tension is palpable, (and my minor criticism of the book is that we are told on many occasions, three times on pages 222-223 that the tension is thick, the tension is thickening, the tension is hanging. It is, but really, we don’t need to be told that. Our clutching of the book and how quickly we turn pages is the real evidence.) My other teeny criticism was near the beginning when our hero has a random flashback to his high school days and meeting our heroine. It totally took me out of the story and could have been told a few pages later after he’d heard her name again. It just seemed like a really odd place to put it. But, aside from those two small things, honestly, this was a very well put together and exciting book.

We are pulled in quickly through a twist of events when our heroine is given a new handler who used to be someone she loved. They are thrown into a maelstrom of events before they can say more than hello and why did you dump me. I loved how taut the plot was, how believeable the characters were, and that the setting was done so well I felt like I’d been there with the characters. There was a lot more technical jargon in this book than I’d been used to in her others, but it worked and gave it a very official feel. Traci weaves a lot of past characters into the story, so we get updates on their lives, which made me smile to see how things have turned out. It’s a bumpy ride in this book, for everyone, and I loved how the plot really made me think and kept me guessing. It was definitely as satisfying as biting into the most perfect chocolate covered cherry.

Here is the backliner of the book:

Special Agent Vanessa Lauton is living a lie. For the past year she’s been posing as a member of the Dominican Republic’s most powerful crime family in order to infiltrate a Caribbean terrorist organization. When her CIA contact has a heart attack, he’s replaced by U.S. Navy SEAL squad member Seth Johnson—the man Vanessa nearly married six years earlier. And suddenly the heat is on, in more ways than one.

Terrorist kingpin Akil Ramir sequesters Vanessa and Seth in his Nicaraguan fortress, where they learn of an impending attack on American soil. The Saint Squad is dispatched to calm the storm, but even their heroic efforts can’t stop multiple threats from escalating. Adrenaline rises as the squad confronts enemies who will stop at nothing to sabotage national security—and Vanessa finds herself caught in the crossfire.

Published by Covenant Communications 256 pages.

This one definitely passes my chocolate covered cherry test. Amazing book experience that mirrors an amazing candy experience. Satisfying, you know? But if you don't believe me, feel free to test it out for yourself. You will not be disappointed.


At 1/21/2010 1:47 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

Great review. I need to go shopping ;)

At 1/21/2010 1:56 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Well, now I'm hungry. I want chocolate-covered cherries.

Sounds like a great book! Thanks for the review.

At 1/21/2010 2:49 PM, Blogger L.T. Elliot said...

That is one of the BEST analogies I've ever heard for book fulfillment.

I've got to read that book now.

At 1/21/2010 4:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your ever lovin' fellow Canadian here with a chastisement. Or Two.

So Traci TELLS us three times that the tension is thick, or at least its thickening. And you called her on it. That's fair. Good call.

But you, my dear Canadian, TOLD us that you loved cherry-filled chocolate. You also TOLD us that SOMETHING HAPPENED instead of letting us experience the chocolate without the cherry. I guess it takes one TELLER to know another TELLER. Does the prime minister know that you’re not practicing what you preach?

Call me goofy, but aren’t you TELLING us about your reaction to the chocolate cherry sensations instead of letting us experience them? Add that to a lack of immediacy where you TELL us that the cherry was missing after the fact instead of allowing us to be disappointed with you, and we've got some serious chocolate-cherry TELLING not SHOWING going on here.

We really need to EXPERIENCE the disappointment of a cherry-less core. Then your cherry chocolate eating will, how shall we say it? Be thick with tension. Or at least the cherry chocolate tension will be getting thicker by the page. Something more immediate and less TELLING like this:

There’s something irresistible about a Christmas cherry-filled chocolate. I opened the candy box saved from last December's parties, tossed the cherry-centered delight into my mouth and—

What? No cherry center? I searched with the end of my tongue. Where was the sour-sweet cherry taste to tantalize my taste buds? There was a hint of vanilla-cream oozing over my teeth, and the chocolate outside melted against the roof of my mouth like the introductory strains of a symphony choired by angels, but there was no cherry center. No heaven.


At 1/21/2010 5:15 PM, Anonymous Crestae said...

Anonymous, I'm trying to figure you out. Are you serious? Or is this a failed attempt at humor?

At 1/21/2010 6:34 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

To my fellow Canadian anon,

Don't you love Lowney chocolate covered cherries? Yum, definitely the best ever. As for your chastisement, you are comparing apples to oranges my goofy friend. I told you in a blog about my test of chocolate covered cherries and how it relates to the book I'm reading. I wasn't writing fiction or attempting to build tension. It was my book reading metaphor of the week. And I only called attention to it in Crossfire because it happened three times in about seven paragraphs. That's why it popped out at me. In any case, it was only a minor detail in the scheme of an extremely well written book.

As for letting you experience a chocolate covered cherry instead of telling you about it, I can see by your writing that you know exactly what I'm talking about. You made my mouth water! Great job and thanks for the visual! :)

At 1/21/2010 9:21 PM, Blogger Traci Hunter Abramson said...


You just made my day! And I'm not going to tell you exactly how much chocolate I consumed while writing Crossfire. Suffice it to say, chocolate is one of my main ingredients in writing a book. :)

At 1/22/2010 2:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, my dear Canadian friend. You are sooooo right and so spot on. My computer for a Lowney.

How are you doing these days, anyway?


Your goofy amigo!

At 1/22/2010 8:50 PM, Blogger Shanda said...


I don't even LIKE cherry chocolates- blech (seriously, about the only chocolate I don't like)- and yet I love your analogy. Speaking of analogies- I was just discussing with my hubby not an hour ago how a certain author's books are like cotton candy with sugar sprinkled on top and carry about as much substance (though the book by this author that I had just finished was more like a glazed donut with extra glaze- a nice change).

I love books and I love food- it's fitting, I guess, to use one to describe the other, ha ha!

Thanks for the review of Crossfire. We just got our review copy and I can't wait to "dig in!" :)

Shanda :)

At 1/24/2010 7:10 PM, Blogger UTMomof4 said...

Is Crossfire her newest? I love her books, just finished reading Lockdown, I think it was called, not that long ago. It was excellent! I love that Navy SEALS team she created, excellent characters.
I loved your analogy, I agree, lots of books look good, but aren't. What I hate is when a book looks so good and intriguing, but then it's filled with smut. It's hard for me to find authors, besides you great LDS ones, that wrtie good books without the filth. Unfortunately for me, our town library is small, and I've read almost every book there written by LDS authors. They have one bookshelf of them. At least they are all in one place.


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