Hard Contact - Karen Traviss "Not all soldiers wear uniforms, ma'am"
Thanks to a Star Wars book club, I got to reread this amazing Clone Wars era novel!
Four clone commandos have been assigned an important task: land on Qiilura, apprehend scientist, Uthan, and destroy her work on biological agents targeted at clones. But a Mandalorian mercenary, the desperate natives, and a green Padawan might keep them from their objective.

What I Liked:
There is so much to love about this book, it's hard to decide where exactly to begin.
I guess I should start at the beginning: the characters. So many books (even--or maybe especially?--Star Wars ones) tend to generalize. The sleuth is usually down and out but incredibly smart. The scientists are either sexy, sassy, ladies or complete dorky nerds. Jedi are omnipotent, all seeing. The bad guys are plum out of a children's book (replete with giggling over their latest plot device, which is lame, lame, lame). Personally, I am sick of this. I want to see REAL people. People who are like me. So-so at their jobs, average in looks, maybe not quite happy with themselves (and not because they don't have any friends, being supermodel material after all--cue eye roll), trying so hard to figure out why the heck they are there.
And then Karen Traviss starts writing Star Wars. First off, THANK YOU DEL REY!!! Karen Traviss is a superb, intelligent writer and the perfect fit for the Republic Commando novels. She can do what so many others fail at (particularly in this book): she writes about real people.
Hokan is a mercenary. He is not a giggling bad guy, but an intelligent, well-planned Mandalorian who doesn't kill because it's fun but for a purpose. He even shows a fondness and appreciation for a subordinate (something sorely lacking in other novels).
Etain Tur-Mukan is probably one of the best written Jedi in the universe. Seriously, here is a woman with a conflict. She has no idea what to do, doesn't even think she can do it if she could, and isn't a super-Jedi either. She doubts, she questions, she is unsure. In fact, she totally blows up at Darman when he calls her commander and is later chewed out by Jinart. This is rarely done in the Star Wars universe and is a breath of fresh air in a sewer plant.
Then, the clones. Karen Traviss gets the award for making each clone identical yet separate. Niner is a no-bones leader. Fi is more sensitive, more worried about the feelings of each member. Atin buries his thoughts behind mechanical equipment. Darman is amazing, tender yet tough. Through him, we see the unique balance of hardened warrior and childlike innocence, something one would never have expected from clones bred for the sole purpose of killing another.
The other characters (Jinart, Uthan, etc.) are similarly well done, but in a much smaller scale, since they are more of background characters.
Moving on from characterization, the number of characters is perfect. We have, as primary characters, 4 clones, one Jedi, and one Mandalorian (Jinart, the Weequay, the other Jedi, and Uthan being secondary). There is just enough time to develop each character, not too much to interrupt the action and plot. One complaint I had about Death Star was its huge cast. It was challenging to get close to any of the characters when there were 20 or so of them. Karen Traviss keeps the cast small so the audience can grow close to them. It works perfectly.
I feel the balance in Hard Contact--characters, Mando'a history, philosophical musings on the usage of clones and the actual plot of the story--is perfect. KT spends enough time to make you feel for the characters, get acquainted to the Mandalorian lifestyle (which had never before been revealed), ponder the humanity of the clones (though this got to be a little much at times--see below), and do what commandos are supposed to do: Fight! The action in the story is prominent, cementing its Star Wars-iness, but while it is a big part of the book, KT doesn't cut back on character.
Another (small) favorite comes when Hokan mentions to Uthan (another ho-hum lady, not some sexy vixan--Thank you again, KT!!) about Hard Contact! I love it when the author slips in the title of her book somewhere in the actual book. I know it can't always be done, but this was totally awesome!!

What I Didn't Like
It was very challenging to visualize the Gurlanins. They are vaguely described as having a snout, being black, and reminding me of either wolves or panthers. Other than that, their shapeshifting, their appearance is cloaked in mystery, making it hard to imagine the actual creature.
Another problem I had was towards the end. At this point, I felt the message of clones being real people was too heavy-handed. Etain mentions it at least twice in the last ten pages besides the conversations previous. I understand the concept and appreciate KT making the effort to talk about something this controversial, but I think she could have backed off a bit.
Finally, I do not appreciate Etain's being practically commended for defying a superior officer (when she is demanding the Laati stay on Qiilura until Fi and Niner return from their mission). Anywhere else, she would have been courtmarshalled for defying General Zey's orders. I understand this is a fiction novel; however, I feel that the scene could have been modified so as not to seemingly promote this fantastical scenario.

Dialogue/Sexual Situations/Violence:
Star Wars dialogue in the form of "fierfek".
A Weequay attempts to rape Etain. Other similar acts are referred to circumspectly.
This is a story about commandos and battle. There are tons of battles, lots of gun fights, deaths, explosions, etc. While most aren't gory in nature, they do exist.

Conclusions:
Amazing! KT has done for the Star Wars Clone Wars era--and for the Star Wars universe in general--what many of the other novels (The Cestus Decpetion and Jedi Trial) could only dream of doing. In Hard Contact, the audience is transported into the middle of a commando mission. There is no doubt about the authenticity, the realness of the surroundings, weapons, actions.
KT not only has created one of (if not the) best action novels, but she has also done the unbelievable: she has created a Mando'a culture, catapulted the clones into humans, and has portrayed Jedi in a real life sense.
With these amazing accomplishments under her belt, it would be impossible for me to give this novel anything less than a 5 stars, even with the minor road bumps.