Anything, Anywhere, Anytime
Anything, Anywhere, Anytime is a fast-paced military romance with a lot of action, excitement, and romance. I would never say that it’s a bad book, but I can’t say that it’s a really good one, either.
When Monica Hyatt was a young girl her mother walked out, leaving Monica very much responsible for the well-being of her young sister, Sydney. This experience molded Monica into an assertive woman who protects her emotions and always needs to be in control. These are admirable characteristics in her chosen career: Monica is a medical doctor and a major in the Air Force. But Monica’s need for control and her aversion to personal vulnerability make it tough for her to maintain relationships with men. We soon learn that Monica is in love with hotshot pilot Major Jack Korba, and though he loves her deeply, they are bitterly estranged.
Jack, for his part, is keeping secrets from Monica. Monica’s sister Sydney is being kept hostage by a terrorist group in the fictitious Middle Eastern country of Rubistan, and Jack is about to fly a mission to get her out. Jack knows that if Monica knew about the assignment, she would insist on being a part of it, but Jack can’t bear the idea of Monica being present on such a dangerous mission, and hasn’t told her. Inevitably, Monica does find out and convinces Jack to pull strings to get her included (somehow; does the military really work this way?). Soon Jack and Monica are in close quarters in Rubistan, fighting their attraction.
Those are the two major plots: Monica and Jack’s love story, plus the mission to save Sydney and the other hostages. There are two other subplots as well: Sydney’s Navy SEAL ex-boyfriend is also along for the mission, and his relationship with Sydney is told in long flashbacks. And there’s a mysterious Rubistanian woman in the camp, whose grace and allure attracts the attention of Colonel Drew Cullen, the leader of the mission; but she is not what she seems.
All of which is a whole lot for one little 300-page book to tackle. All three of the love stories are interesting, all six of the characters sympathetic. But the fact is, so little attention gets devoted to any one of these stories that none of them is nearly as compelling as it should be. One or maybe two in-depth love stories would have been a good thing; here we have three rather sketchy ones.
The lead story, with Monica and Jack, is the most interesting because these two are such great characters, and they have so many issues of trust and control to work through. Jack and Monica also have tons of sexual chemistry. I wanted to know more about them, to hear them talk and learn to understand each other. Mann is very good at characterization, and we learn a lot of relevant details about both of these characters’ pasts and personlities. We understand why Monica is so prickly; we see that underneath Jack’s laid-back exterior is a deeply driven man. Both are easy to like, and I rooted for them.
Which explains, in part, why I felt a bit shortchanged by this story. I wanted more of Jack and Monica, and less of all that other stuff. It also leads to some very noticeable gaps in the backstory. We know that they were once a hot-and-heavy couple, and that Jack repeatedly told Monica that he loved her. We know that Monica broke up with him. But while we understand the issues underlying the breakup, we don’t really get why or when it happened. What was the event that precipitated Monica’s saying, “Jack, it’s over”? Was it Sydney’s abduction? Was it a certain event that happened in Las Vegas some three months before? Unfortunately, I’m just not sure.
The love story between Drew Cullen and the Rubistani woman is full of complex issues, too; there’s an age difference, a cultural difference, and some very serious trust problems, but that story is even less fleshed out, and a happy-ever-after gets slapped on it without these issues ever really being explored. The relationship of Sydney and her Navy SEAL is most frustrating of all: a couple of long, italicized flashbacks, and a happy ending. Why should I care? I don’t know these people, and I have nothing invested in their relationship. (Incidentally, it’s possible that the backstory for these two was covered in an earlier installment of this series.) If all the time spent on Sydney and what’s-his-name had been devoted to either of the other two lead couples, this would have been a better book.
Mann has an interesting writing style, full of action verbs, short paragraphs, and shorter sentences. These things definitely help give the book a driving pace, and they’re suitable for action sequences. But they work less well, and actually get extremely annoying, in the introspective passages. People are never lonely; instead, “pain sliced in clean, relentless swipes.” They don’t get mad: “anger exploded in pockets of secondary blasts.” The choppy, one-sentence paragraphs and one-word sentences began to read like self-parody after a while. These writing techniques can be effective, but I thought Mann really overused them.
All of this adds up to a book whose many good qualities are neatly balanced by its not-so-good qualities, and I thought it rang just a bit flat. If you’ve been following this series, you may well enjoy it more than I did; but if you’re new to Mann, you might want to start somewhere else. This book showcases Mann’s great talent at characterization and storytelling, but has too many drawbacks for a wholehearted recommendation.