“The McKenzie Series” by Lori Foster are great reads. The stories are intense thrillers with characters that are relatable and identifiable. There is plenty of action, some humor, and family bonds. Each book has the serious subjects of human trafficking and abuse embedded in the emotional stories.
The first book in the series, No Holding Back, has the eldest son Cade McKenzie as the hero and Sterling as the heroine. All the family work behind the scenes to take down human traffickers along with Sterling. This is personal for her since the trafficker has ties to her past.
The second book in the series is Stronger Than You Know with Reyes McKenzie as the hero and Kennedy as the heroine along with her friend, Jodi. The story delves much more into the background of why the family seeks justice. Both Kennedy and Jodi are still being pursued by the traffickers who kidnapped them and need Reyes and his family to help.
The third book in the series is Watching Over You with Madison McKenzie as the heroine and Crosby as the hero. Parrish, the matriarch of the McKenzie family hires Crosby to find out who is threatening their family. He and Madison must work together, which is where the attraction between them begins.
Elise Cooper: Would you ever consider writing a YEARLY series where you would have adventures of the TASK FORCE that include all the McKenzies and Jodi with Hunter?
Lori Foster: I’d certainly love to, but my publisher would have to be behind the series, or I’d need to do them as an indie author. I’m not sure if either of those things will happen so I can’t commit to anything too far in the future.
Writing action and “conquer all the evil” type heroes and heroines, is my absolute favorite writing endeavors. The world needs more heroes…of all kinds.
EC: Why the topics of human trafficking and abuse: what did you want the readers to understand?
LF: What I attempt to do in every book is to entertain readers. I would never presume to judge someone else’s mistakes because I’ve made plenty of my own. We all have different backgrounds, different perspectives formed from our upbringings. We have our good and bad influences and experience. What seems easy for me could be horribly difficult for someone else, and vice versa. That said, when I write, I like for my characters to tackle really big, believable problems.
Human trafficking is such a large, looming, and growing real life problem that’s literally everywhere. Far, far too often we look past situations – even if we think something looks off, most people don’t want to get involved – so when I write it in a book, I have an opportunity to show how important those alpha people are. Alphas – male and female – will step up when others shy away. While some of us would worry about wrongly accusing someone, possibly giving an insult where none is intended, others step up and do what they can to help.
Real life heroes exist, though the news so rarely focuses on them – so *I* focus on them… in my books.
EC: In the second book of the McKenzie series, you introduce Jodi, which was the heroine in the book, The Dangerous One. How has Jodi changed from book 2 to the latest book?
LF: Before: She was vulnerable, needed purpose, did not have direction, floundering in fear and hatred, feels alone, unhinged, wounded, and suspicious, had a fight or flight attitude.
Jodi changed because 1) she was given a chance for a different life, 2) she was shown a better way, and 3) she met people who cared. It’s a sad truth that far too many people are left to fend for themselves in the world. We all need love, positive feedback, emotional support, and good advice. Of course, we also must be willing to work for a better life, and to listen to those positive influences.
LF: Now: She has a stand-in family with Parrish like a father, and Kennedy like a sister. All the McKenzies made her realize there are people out there who care. She can be disagreeable when worried, foolishly brave, sharply dangerous, yet realizes with Hunter she can trust again, and he realizes she has good instincts, as she tries to be independent. In the book, she also changes because she realizes she can never be “the everyday woman,” not after what she’s survived. And it’s okay that she’s different – especially since she finds her special someone who is also apart from “the everyday” type. Together, Hunter and Jodi are able to be themselves, with their sharpened senses, dangerous edges, and fine-honed instincts.
EC: What do you see are the similarities and differences between the other females abused: Sterling, Kennedy, and Silver?
a. Please describe each personality and how they react to danger
LF: Sterling, the heroine in No Holding Back, is driven largely by guilt and the need to make a difference. She escaped while others didn’t, and she knows if she doesn’t make the effort to help, her life will feel meaningless. It takes a person just as strong as her to match her determined personality, assist her in her efforts, and also allow her to be herself, to stand back and admit when she needs help. Cade is the person she finally trusts to see her vulnerability. Like Jodi, Sterling is full-steam-ahead, but unlike Jodi, Sterling is bigger and physically better equipped.
LF: Kennedy is the heroine in Stronger Than You Know, which also introduces Jodi. She is the thoughtful one. For her, survival is all about understanding the situation and educating others so they understand as well. Through her published novels and public speaking, she hopes to better equip others to recognize danger and react accordingly. Kennedy is small like Jodi, but her soul isn’t as wounded. She doesn’t mind admitting when she needs help, which is something Jodi would find abhorrent. Kennedy is good at seeing people – their strengths and weaknesses – and what she sees in Reyes is someone who jokes about life rather than show his true feelings, but he’s serious when he needs to be, and he has a protective streak as big as his heart. Jodi, on the other hand, tends to view everyone as victims, abusers, or those who feel sorry for her. It took a lot for her to realize her own perspectives were skewed, that family, either blood ties or emotional bonds, was something altogether different.
LF: Silver, a secondary character in Madison’s book, Watching Over You, wasn’t trafficked so much as she was in an abusive relationship. Her big thing is gratitude and, thanks to the assistance she received, moving forward in a steady, comfortable life… without any disruptions like romantic love. Unlike Jodi, she immediately embraces being part of a family, and she accepts and nourishes the familiar love she’s given, returning it with a lot of loyalty. Like Jodi, she’s a little suspicious of anything that rocks the boat. It takes the coaxing of a really good guy friend (the one who helped her out of her situation) for her to give love another shot – but I’m glad she did!
EC: Describe each member of the McKenzie clan.
a. Parrish: Can be Bossy and controlling but is very caring. He’s also motivated by his love for the woman he lost. Parrish is like a suave, super-polished wrecking ball determined to take out evil so no one else will suffer as his love did. He has the wealth, clout, and determination to go up against the devil himself – and while he knows he hasn’t been a perfect father, he loves his children fiercely.
b. Cade: Protective, former military, proficient, with quiet authority. Cade is also rebellious and enjoys butting heads with his father on nearly every issue. In many ways he’s a loner. He’ll protect his family – and all innocents – but he isn’t big on group think, and he definitely bristles at edicts from his father, while at the same time he likes order and discipline. Let’s call the man a contradiction, because he is!
c. Reyes: Confidant, cocky, likes to irritate people, a teaser, and brash. He’s very much a lover, too, and doesn’t mind who knows it. A super physical guy. Though he’s also smart and motivated, with a bent for home design: he’s good with his hands. Although, he doesn’t particularly want anyone to know about those assets. He prefers the illusion of the super-sexy, cocky, annoying guy.
d. Madison: She is a tech guru, must deal with over-protective brothers, pushy, competitive, optimistic, and stubborn. To counter the take-charge tendencies of her brothers, Madison has worked extra hard for equal footing. She’s forthright to a painful degree, and usually only realizes that she’s overstepped after the fact. She loves her alpha family, likes herself as is, understands her own ability and she’s smart enough to realize it’d take one heck of a guy to really gain her interest. Once she finds him, there’s no holding her back. She’s a winner, and never gives up easily.
e. Bernard: Comic relief, gentle version of Parrish, advisor, like Alfred in Batman. Bernard is all heart! He knew Parrish and the “kids” needed him, so he readily stepped in to fill an impossible role – and excelled at it. He’s territorial, wise, and when he lets loose, it’s hilarious.
EC: Crosby is Madison’s love interest. There is a book quote that talks about Crosby’s profession as a police officer: “they are witnesses to the pain, hunger, neglect, abuse, and violent crime in society.” Please explain!
LF: I have massive, MASSIVE respect for law enforcement. Are they perfect? No. Who is? Do I think the vast majority have the best of intentions? Yup. I can’t even imagine the amount of stress they’re under, or the heartbreaking things they see.
I did a ride-along with a police office and he pointed out prostitutes everywhere. I had NEVER seen them. I had no idea. He showed me drug dealers.
Once, in an evening ride-along in California (I was visiting the area) a cop flipped on his lights and people scattered in the most remarkable ways. Groups leaping over walls. Drug deals breaking up. Sex acts breaking up. Again, I’d had no idea! It really proved to me what a sheltered life I’d lead – and that so, so many were not as fortunate.
EC: What is the relationship like between Cade and Sterling?
LF: Adversarial at first, because Sterling has a hard time trusting. But Cade immediately knew that she was different, and how she affected him was different, so he couldn’t give up. Their relationship is based on mutual respect of abilities – and so much more.
EC: What is the relationship like between Reyes and Kennedy?
LF: She sees him as no one else does, and he’s immediately intrigued by her. Few women tell Reyes to get lost, so that hooked him, and his protective tendencies finished him off. That she would rely on him, and need him, not as part of his family but as an individual, meant a lot to Reyes. For Kennedy, being able to trust him without exception is important. To many, they might seem like opposites attract, but really they have more in common than outsiders realize.
EC: What is the relationship like between Madison and Crosby?
LF: Crosby measures up! With examples like her brothers, she couldn’t get too excited over most guys. Plus Madison is really tall with lethal skills, and for her, the idea of being able to best a guy wasn’t that appealing. Crosby isn’t that easy – but at the same time, he respects and admires her ability. Beyond that, he sees her softer side, and he loves how she loves his family. Crosby fought it at first, but it was meant to be.
EC: Can you describe the task force? If not, it would surely be nice to have that-Is this your wishful thinking?
LF: It helps victims get counseling, legal representation, financial assistance, guidance, gives physical and emotional support. Their goal is to bust sex traffickers, abusers, and punish them.
This is mostly a Lori Foster’s dream world, where good guys win and bad guys perish, and the world becomes a better, safer place. Individuals need to be more proactive, so I like to imagine those characters and create their stories.
I did base the task force off a real task force, but without the legal ties. My characters are a little more freewheeling with the law. Back when I wrote my first rescue from trafficking” stories: “The Men Who Walk The Edge of Honor series,” the law hadn’t quite caught up with the idea of human traffickers actively operating in rural and suburban settings here in the U.S. Now, if you go to a truck stop or a rest area off the highway, there are almost always posters in the bathrooms advising people what to do if they’re in a situation, or suspect they’re witnessing a situation, that could be abusive. There are dedicated phone numbers to call. Resources. Advisors. Law Enforcement and our military are educated on what to look for, how to recognize the signs.
More and more women, children, and often men, are abused in trafficking situations for sex or forced labor. Look up the statistics – it’s absolutely staggering. I won’t spout statistics to anyone, but if you take 5 minutes to google the number of missing children, and those who’ve been trafficked, it’ll shatter your heart.
Politicians give lip service to solving problems, but on both sides of the aisle, they’re mostly concerned with maintaining their power and giving “their side” the win. We, the people, are never “their side.”
EC: Next books?
LF: May 9th is The Little Flower Shop, set in a fun, small community of quirky people, featuring a 40 something florist and an almost 40 restaurant owner… plus the town full of characters, family ties, and pets galore. I laughed – and cried – while writing it.
June 1st is Bray, one of my benefit books, which means all advance and all royalties for the life of the book go to the no-kill animal shelter, The Animal Adoption Foundation. I’ve done a benefit book every year for 19 years now. https://lorifoster.com/meet/#benefit
December 26th is The Fearless One, featuring the second Osborn brother, related to The Dangerous One. Memphis is like his brother, Hunter, in many ways, but he’s also different. More laidback, quick with a laugh, and when he falls in love, he doesn’t bother denying it or fighting it. All his focus is on keeping her safe – against any and all threats, and there are many.