2000 Kisses

Christmas Knight

Code Name: Baby

Code Name: Nanny

Code Name: Princess

Going Overboard

My Spy

The Perfect Gift

Code Name: Bikini
by Christina Skye
(HQN, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-373-77209-4
The most recent installment of Christina Skye's Code Name series is something of a lighthearted paranormal military adventure romance. This attempt at genre-blending is no tribute to the author's inventiveness. On the contrary, Skye appears to be running out of steam and towards any hot-selling publishing gimmick. The result is a very unsatisfying concoction.

After a life-threatening accident in Afghanistan, Navy SEAL Trace O'Halloran is ordered to go on a cruise. As he gets his rest and recreation, he is also to keep an eye on important classified technology. Once on board, he runs into some unexpected pleasure in the shape of pastry chef Gina Ryan.

Gina and Trace take to each other like chocolate fudge sauce to vanilla ice cream. Even so, they believe there is no room on their plate for romantic entanglements. As they try to decide what to do about the heat between them, they also put their heads together to deal with a jealous co-worker and a former operative gone rogue.

Trace is the only part of the book that won my full approval. He is a prototypical tough guy who is sure he is destined to be a loner for life. His sister Kit and his best friend Wolfe have just got engaged (see Code Name: Baby), and Trace is slightly envious of their relationship. So when Gina shows up, Trace is already having second thoughts. It is quite obvious that with this little detail Skye is setting him up for a fall but it worked and earned him a tiny place in my heart.

Gina has a rather complicated backstory. Unlike Trace's, it pulls us in too many directions without taking us anywhere. For one thing, Gina is going blind. I fully sympathize with her disability, but with everything else going on in her life, it did seem Skye was pushing it too far. Then there's the fact that Gina complains about her practically non-existent family ties, but we never learn all the whys and wherefores of this relationship. There are also frequent hints about a scandal that forced Gina to leave her previous job. Although we eventually discover how radically different it was from her current position as pastry chef, we never find out what the public outrage was about. In her afterward, Skye promises Gina will return. Maybe some of these mysteries will be cleared up then. Which doesn't change the fact that Code Name: Bikini is Gina's book, and we should learn about them here.

Skye pulls every possible trick to grab the reader's interest. First comes the host of characters from previous books, all clearly intended to charm the fan club. Then there's some extraordinary military technology, including robotic and psychic implants that are meant to hold us in awe. A shipboard knitting club is supposed to have us in stitches. A teenage ghost who warns Trace about imminent danger aims at bestowing a tender touch. Finally, mischievous ten-year-old triplets and a runaway kitten conspire to thaw the coldest of hearts. The latter also ensures that dim-witted characters will risk everything to rescue it at the most dangerous moment and that well-meaning readers will sympathize.

Call me hard-hearted, but I refuse to fall for any of these ploys. Maybe because I'm not an old admirer. More likely because I prefer a satisfying investigation. This appears to be the one trick Skye doesn't attempt. The book is full of clues that were never pursued and questions that remained unanswered. If you ask me, the most intelligent part of the book is the title. It is appropriately code-named bikini because it provides a very limited covering of the subject.

--Mary Benn

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