Covert operations, political intrigue and international kidnapping, sarcasm, adult humor and riveting characters. That's the stuff of any good fictional thriller... But toss in a female heroine who happens to be living with type 1 diabetes, and you've got the makings of a truly unique must-read!
It's all in the new fictional novel SkyJack, a 400-pager released in Spring 2018 by KJ Howe -- who does not have diabetes herself, but her grandfather did and that was a big inspiration, along with her past work as a medical and health writer.
This is the second book in a series featuring main character Thea Paris (who actually has her own eerily realistic web bio page), who is supposedly one of the top kidnap and ransom negotiators in the world whose job involves rescuing corporate execs for a living. Notably, she's the only woman in this elite field and the only one living with T1D since she was a kid. She got into the profession after the childhood experience of witnessing her brother being kidnapped, so instead of joining the family business built by her father, a self-made oil tycoon, Thea opted for the racy hostage negotiation world.
A year ago we reviewed Howe's first book Freedom Broker, which marked the debut of Thea Paris and hooked us from the start. Now, this sequel does the same.
Seriously, what a flippin' thrill ride this book is -- a skyjacked business jet, former child soldiers, missing nuclear weaponry, pneumonic plague, a mafia capo, deadly conspiracies and a super secret society started after WWII... wow!
It's all totally up my alley, as a huge fan of Tom Clancy and Jack Higgins among others in this spy-thriller genre. Seriously, move over characters Jack Ryan and Sean Dillon, and even Jason Bourne... Actually, I'd love to see Thea Paris go up against a Bourne-like character in some future movie adaption!
The length of the book was a bit intimidating at first, but as soon as you get rolling it's a fast and fun read. The gripping story kept me glued to the pages, I must say. The chapters are pretty short, sometimes only a page or two.
The fact that fictional Thea Paris lives with T1D, diagnosed as a girl at age 12, just makes for an even more fascinating angle for us in the Diabetes Community.
Note that this isn't the first-ever such character with type 1, as others exist out there like in Kurt Anderson's book True Believers -- and both authors manage to make diabetes just seem like a normal, side aspect to their characters' lives.
In total, I counted more than a dozen references to diabetes in this new book -- not in an overbearing or intrusive way, but just naturally weaved into the broader story. Sometimes it was a quick one-liner or a few sentences or a paragraph, so diabetes didn't feel like a central theme, nor was it presented as scary or "OMG, diabetes!" but rather something Thea just managed along with everything else in her life. A few mentions that stood out to me:
- in the initial lines of the first chapter, Thea is on a plane and begins to feel "off-kilter" and sweaty with blurred vision; she assumes it's her blood sugar dropping, but her CGM data on a phone app shows all is good at 110 mg/dL.
- when caught up in the middle of a plane skyjacking scene, Thea sees dangerously-dropped CGM numbers and needs to grab a granola bar to treat; and later she eats a chicken wrap despite food supplies running low, just to make sure her BGs stay steady so her mind can stay sharp and focused on the crisis at hand.
- stuck in the heat of the Middle East, Thea worries about the impact on her diabetes as well as how it might impact any of the other hostages' health conditions.
- there's a lengthy description of her insulin pump site change at the three-day mark, when that site is all red and puffy due to the Libya heat and action-packed situation -- it was pretty cool hearing her describe that, plus a CGM sensor change, and how after a two-hour warmup she'd have CGM data on her phone again.
- loved how one of her colleagues and good lifelong friends was concerned about her diabetes management during the skyjacking and ensuing adventure, but didn't want to make a big deal out of it because she'd mostly kept it to herself since they were kids.
- in a flashback, Thea recalls a low blood sugar where she wasn't able to talk and two boys who knew something was wrong got her an emergency cup of OJ to drink. "Slowly, the world came back into focus, steadied. Her hands stopped trembling, and her mind sharpened."
- at one point, she reveals to a stranger that she lives with T1D and that Yes, she can actually enjoy chocolate if she wants to on occasion.
- A hugely important theme and line in one of the late chapters, but prevalent through the entire series so far is when Thea is talking about her colleagues and mentions regret that she hasn't always shared her health condition with them -- "Instead of thinking of (diabetes) as a weakness, they'd just made sure to pack extra snacks."
In fact, Howe takes great care in pointing this out in her acknowledgments section at the end of the book:
"Thea Paris has type 1 diabetes, and I'd like to encourage people with diabetes -- and those with other illnesses -- to remain unstoppable, inspired to reach for the stars."
YES!! This theme is so spot-on, and so very empowering for our D-Community -- whether one's a diabadass kidnap-hostage negotiator like Thea Paris, or just anyone doing their thing with the mantra of "You Can Do This" and "Diabetes Won't Stop Me."
Howe says she grew up watching her grandfather inject himself with insulin and struggle with diabetes. She also worked with several longtime type 1 PWDs in creating these Thea Paris stories, people who've shared their personal insights in helping to craft the book.
Howe definitely got it right, based on my reading of both her spy novels. It all feels authentic and relatable as to how T1D often fits into my own life, sometimes back-of-mind and sometimes an issue that more forcefully interferes with whatever I'm trying to do.
Thea's continual quick glances at her phone for CGM data was the most real aspect to me, and I found myself liking how she sometimes had to force herself to eat or be mindful of what the D-effect may be, given she's caught up in so much stress and intense activity, especially without being able to sleep on a regular schedule.
Well done, KJ Howe! You've once again made me a fan of your writing, and you really made me wonder... what it might be like to be a spy with diabetes?
Interested in adding KJ Howe's SkyJack to your summer reading list? It's available in the U.S., UK, and Canada. Find it on Amazon for $20.29 in hardcover, $14.99 in paperback, and $12.99 in Kindle e-book form, and it's also available in audiobook format. But before you buy a copy, here's your chance to win a freebie from us...
A DMBooks Giveaway
Interested in winning your own free copy of the new Skyjack novel by K.J. Howe? Here's your chance: we're thrilled to give away a free paperback copy! Here's how to enter:
1. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with "DM-Skyjack" somewhere in the subject line to let us know you're hoping to win. Alternatively, you can leave a comment on Twitter or our Facebook with the same codeword included. For shipping purposes, we must limit the giveaway to those with mailing addresses within the United States.
2. You have until Friday, July 27, 2018, at 5pm PST to enter.
3. The winners will be chosen using Random.org.
4. We'll announce the winners on Facebook and Twitter, so make sure you're following us! And please be sure to keep tabs on your email and/or Facebook/Twitter messenger box, as that's how we contact our winners. (If they don't respond within a week, we select an alternate.)
We'll update this post to let you all know who the lucky winner is.
Best of luck to all you summer readers (and aspiring spies) out there!
This contest is now closed. Congrats to Sally Dickard who was chosen by Random.org as winner for this giveaway.