TV news reporter Samantha (Sam) Steele is on the verge of getting the pink slip from the station due to panic attacks that cause her to freeze up during her live broadcasts. In a last-ditch effort to save her job—and the paycheque she desperately needs to pay for her comatose mother’s care—she pitches a fluff feature piece to her producer: following her beloved mentor and local philanthropist on a two-week, high-adrenaline, extreme-adventure vacation. Skydiving, cave diving, shark diving, and flying in an F-16? She can document that—as long as she doesn’t have to actually do any of those things. When her mentor dies on the skydiving part of the trip and sexy thrill-seeker Zack Hunter voices doubts about it being accidental, Sam vows to find the truth about what happened. But Zack is not really the rich playboy adrenaline junkie he seems to be but a police officer on an unsanctioned undercover mission to investigate his uncle’s suspicious death—along with several others—on the same adventure vacation, and the last thing he needs is a nosy reporter blowing his cover and splashing his evidence (and identity) all over the evening news. Even if that nosy reporter tempts him like no other and makes him want to forget his vow to never become emotionally attached again. Murder and mayhem with a heaping dose of over-the-top action and interspersed sexytimes ensue… and therein lies my main problem with the plot. The action moves quickly from skydiving (where no one seems to bat an eye about the death) to cave diving (which, as a scuba diver myself, I had major issues with—no one, especially cavern/cave divers, would behave the way the characters do!) to flying with the Air Force Thunderbirds (where, apparently, passing out during a 9 G-force turn is enough to induce a personality transplant) to shark diving in the Bahamas, with a near-death experience at every turn and an oddly warped timeline. I get that it’s meant to be pulse-pounding, nonstop action, but this was too much to be anywhere near realistic in my opinion, and I couldn’t buy into the villain(s)’ motivation. However, if you can suspend your disbelief—and I may be unable to do so because I have first-hand experience with the reality of some of these activities—it’s one hell of a white-knuckle thrill ride.
Zack is a typical RS/thriller hero: a little scarred from a tough upbringing, guilt-ridden from having been unable to save a colleague, convinced he’s better off alone because anyone close to him gets hurt, and insanely good at everything. Again, it’s a bit over the top, but he’s a good guy and his characterization works well when considering this a fun, campy romp. I certainly wouldn’t mind having him as my dive buddy, and I liked how he pushes Sam to break out of her controlled, uptight mould and helps her overcome her issues without being a jerk. And despite being nearly perfect, he’s not infallible and the bad guys best him on occasion, which makes him more appealing. Sam, however, I had a harder time with. The TSTL heroine is one of my biggest pet peeves, and Sam wavers right on the edge, countering some kickass moments with some genuinely stupid ones in pursuit of a story camouflaged as a quest for the truth. Sure, it opens the door to more exciting, pulse-pounding scenarios, but it also makes me want to strangle someone… preferably her. I liked how she went from anxiety-riddled and timid to confident and intrepid, but the short length of the book made it feel like she’d gotten a personality transplant partway through. She and Zack, however, make a good couple, and I was rooting for them and their HEA.
Overall, ALIVE AT 5 felt like a print version of a summer blockbuster popcorn film: lots of action and little substance, but a fun, fast-paced way to kill a couple of hours. Linda Bond has a good voice for high-octane action-adventure, so it’ll be interesting to see how it becomes more polished as she grows as an author.
**ARC provided by Publisher**
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