Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" A Touch of Madness is the second story in B. C. Brown's Abigail St. Michael Mysteries. It continues to follow the...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" A Touch of Madness is the second story in B. C. Brown's Abigail St. Michael Mysteries. It continues to follow the main protagonist Abbey St. Michael as she takes on another murder mystery with supernatural underpinnings, while struggling with issues in her personal life. This time the book is solidly in the paranormal mystery/thriller genre with a touch of tart noir. Whereas there had been enough romance in the first book of the series to make me comfortable with classifying it as romantic suspense, this time, the romance was less prevalent and there was no resolution to Abbey's relationship dilemma. The mystery was on par with the first, very intriguing, and the overall storytelling was good as well. Although I correctly guessed what was going on, that didn't happen until near the end, so it kept me engaged throughout. The writing itself was good too, perhaps even a bit better than the first, because the editing had improved, leading to less distractions. Overall, this was a very good book right up until the final page. Unfortunately, the ending was so abrupt, I turned that last page, thinking, “What! That's it?” The mystery was admittedly wrapped up well, but Abbey's life certainly was not. In that, I was left with more questions than answers, which has made the book very difficult for me to rate.
In A Touch of Madness, Abbey takes on the case of three identical triplets all suspected of a string of serial murders. Unfortunately, the police can prove nothing, because the three sisters have all confessed to all the crimes. That's where Abbey, a touch clairvoyant, comes into the picture. She can see visions of things a person has done, simply by touching them. The police need her to go undercover to find an opportunity to touch each sister in turn, to determine which one committed which murder. To touch someone, especially someone who has committed a heinous crime, causes Abbey great physical and emotional distress. She is understandably reluctant to take the case until her ex-husband comes to her, pleading for her help, because one of the victims was his new fiancée. Abbey finally relents, but then becomes so obsessed with solving the case, it puts her own sanity at risk, not to mention her personal relationships. Overall, I did enjoy the mystery part of the story. The whole psychic phenomena thing is quite intriguing, and Abbey makes a good protagonist. She is the first-person narrator of the book and has a habit of interjecting snarky asides throughout. On the one hand, I admired her tenacity in wanting to solve the case, but on the other, she sometimes pushed herself in a manner that seemed a bit foolhardy to me, which to my way of thinking, was borne out in the way everything ended for her.
One of the main things that disappointed me in this book, though, was the romance. In the first book of the series, Abbey started a relationship with Nik, who is a psychic negator. In other words, he can dampen the psychic activity of any metaphysical near him, which is why he's the only person in Abbey's life who can touch her without causing her pain. Although I was satisfied with the way their relationship ended in the first book, I had felt like Abbey kind of gave Nik the short end of the stick so to speak. I had hoped that things would progress in a positive direction for them in this book, but unfortunately, Abbey's uncertainties continued. Even though he didn't have a huge role in either story and the reader only gets to see him through Abbey's eyes, I fell hard for Nik and thought he was a pretty amazing guy, which is part of why I didn't feel like Abbey treated him as well as he deserved. Nik proposes marriage early on, but Abbey basically turns him down cold. I was glad to see her mother and Nik's grandmother lovingly calling her an idiot for doing so, because I was thinking the exact same thing. In the end, I can't say I fully understood her reasoning either. She is concerned that if she lives in the same house with Nik long-term, he will completely dampen her abilities to the point that she won't be able to use them again, yet all they've ever seemed to cause her is heartache and pain. I did understand on some level her desire to catch the bad guys, but that obsession appeared to override her love for Nik and her desire for a normal life with a husband and children. It almost seemed to me like she was afraid to finally be happy. Also, her continued attraction to her ex when she's supposedly in love with, and committed to, another man was a bit disconcerting, leaving me thinking she still has a thing for him. Whatever her reasons, Abbey's reluctance puts a lot of distance between her and Nik for most of the story, and just when things seemed like they might be getting back on track for them, something Abbey says makes Nik walk out on their steamy reconciliation. To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure why he did either. The issue seemed like something that desperately needed to be discussed, but after that, the couple didn't interact again for the remainder of the book. Based on how it all ended though, I can't help wondering if Nik is going to be out of the picture permanently if the series continues. That thought is rather distressing, because I liked him so much and he seemed perfect for Abbey.
Although, as I mentioned earlier, the editing was better for A Touch of Madness than it's predecessor, there were still a few small things that bothered me. First was repetition. Some of it was necessary to get new readers who hadn't read the first book up to speed on who Abbey is and what she does, but there were a couple of places where I detected repeating information within this book. I also thought that having large parts of the visions repeated at the end was kind of overkill. I think maybe Abbey saying that she experienced the murder of a particular person again would have sufficed. The scene transitions could have used a little more warning as well, such as extra spaces or different formatting. Occasionally, the narrative makes a time jump from one paragraph to the next which could be rather jarring. Last was with regards to the mystery itself which is a slight spoiler. ********Spoiler alert******** I couldn't quite figure out how all three sisters ended up being charged with the murders when Abbey was only able to pinpoint them to two, unless the third was being charged as an accessory or something, but that was never specified. I guess on some level it was probably necessary for the ending though.********End spoiler alert********
Overall, A Touch of Madness was a good story, and if the romance hadn't been so unhappy, the ending hadn't been so abrupt, and so many questions about Abbey's personal life hadn't been left hanging in the balance, I would have gladly awarded it at least four stars. As is though, the ending of any book is the last thing a reader is left with, and I can't say that I was particularly happy with the way things wrapped up. There was an excerpt at the end of A Touch of Madness for a new book titled Sight Unseen. However, there is no information about it on the author's website. I skimmed though the excerpt, and although it certainly looked like it might be a continuation, I couldn't be sure. If it is, I'd probably be game for reading it as long as it has a more satisfying ending.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews A Touch of Darkness is an intriguing story that crosses several literary sub-genres. I would say that first and foremost it is...moreReviewed for THC Reviews A Touch of Darkness is an intriguing story that crosses several literary sub-genres. I would say that first and foremost it is a tale of supernatural mystery and suspense as Abbey, the heroine, uses her paranormal talents to try to find and stop a serial killer of children with otherworldly abilities of his own. I thought that Abbey's jaded cynical attitude gave the book a touch of tart noir as well. A decent romantic element develops when Abbey meets her hunky new neighbor, just enough so that I would also be comfortable classifying the story as romantic suspense. But no matter which category the reader prefers, I found it to be an enjoyable read overall.
Abbey is the first-person narrator of the story who frequently engages in snarky asides. She is a former cop who now works as a police consultant using her gift as a tactile clairvoyant (meaning every time she touches a person or object, she gets visions of other people's lives) to help them solve crimes. Abbey has had her gift since childhood, but didn't come into her full powers until a traumatic event in her life a few years before. At that point, the department sent her on a “vacation” to an institute in Mexico which specializes in helping psychic individuals deal with their gifts. Around that same time, she also lost her unborn baby and her marriage crumbled, two events that have had a profound impact on her life. Unable to bear touching or being touched by anyone, Abbey essentially lives the life of a hermit. When she's not working, she spends all her free time engaged in geeky pastimes, like gaming, surfing the web, watching movies, and consuming copious amounts of junk food.
Abbey's abilities are very interesting. She and the other gifted people she mentions or runs into have X-Men type qualities such as telekinesis, pyrokinesis, empaths, etc. For some reason, stories like this which explore the possibilities of the psychic realm have always fascinated me. In many ways, Abbey views her gift as more of a curse, because of how painful it is to touch another human being and the convolutions she has to go through to avoid that discomfort. Every time she leaves her house, she must wear multiple layers of clothing and gloves even in the summer, and her housekeeper must clean to a specific set of instructions that make Abbey seem OCD. Every time she helps the police on a case, it is traumatic for her, not only because touching dead bodies and objects at a crime scene can really throw her for an emotional loop, but also because she can't ever get though it without tossing her cookies too. It did make me wonder why she would keep torturing herself like that, but nothing ever came to light except a desire to catch the bad guys. That's certainly a valid reason, but I guess I was hoping for some deeper motivation, perhaps something in her past that drives her to get criminals off the streets.
Abbey's neighbor and love interest, Nikolas, is absolutely scrumptious. He has hot, dark good looks, can cook up a storm, and even owns his own restaurant. He also really knows how to treat a lady with gentleness and respect, all qualities which make him a keeper in my book. I love the way he pursues Abbey both in the beginning and later, when Abbey is trying to avoid him. I don't think any woman could resist the kind of overtures he was making. Nik is almost perfect in every way, which is why I was kind of disappointed in Abbey for thinking the worst of him when she discovers the secret he's harboring. How she could even imagine a sweet, wonderful guy like him capable of something so heinous I'm not sure. When he realizes what she's thinking, Nik is understandably hurt. I'm not certain I could have forgiven her quite so easily. Their reconciliation is very brief as well, so not entirely satisfying from a romantic angle. I'm hoping there will be more development to their relationship in the next book of the series.
A Touch of Darkness was a fast-paced story that held my interest quite well. While the storytelling was good, I thought that the technical aspects of the writing could have been a bit more polished. There are numerous typos and incorrect word choices, as well as some repetition that could have been pared down with better editing. Overall though, it was a good book that I could easily recommend to any reader who is interested in paranormal mystery/suspense or romantic suspense, and it has left me open to trying the next book in the Abigail St. Michael Mysteries series, A Touch of Madness.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Angle of Attack was not really like any book I've read before, so I was very surprised by how well it held my attention. It is...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Angle of Attack was not really like any book I've read before, so I was very surprised by how well it held my attention. It is a mystery/suspense novel that is primarily a story in which the hero has been set up to take the fall for some serious crimes and must figure out who is trying to frame him and why. He has also been working with his brother to repair an essentially stolen WWII Mustang P-51 fighter and make it sufficiently air-worthy to fly to New Mexico where it is being purchased by some mysterious buyers. With the airplane side plot and the hero being a pilot (although primarily of gliders), there is a strong aviation element. This is also the first book I've ever read in the male first-person POV. I thought that this perspective, added to the rapid fire pace and writing style, gave the book something of a hard-boiled feel even though Clay isn't a detective. For me anyway, the book had a unique and different aspect to it that was an enjoyable departure from my usual reading material.
Clay was an interesting character in that he isn't entirely a good guy. In fact, I thought he had a touch of the anti-hero in him. He spent three years in prison for something he technically didn't do. He was involved in some shady dealings throughout his youth and at the time of his arrest, but what the police ended up charging him with was a complete set-up. Even now, he is indirectly involved in growing pot and is helping his brother with the “stolen” vintage airplane. In spite of all this, I found Clay to be a surprisingly likable character, although his taste in women is highly questionable, and I was initially a little off-put by him taking a bit too much notice of women who were half his age. Still, I admired his open-mindedness, and he did the right thing by cooperating with the police when he realized he was being set-up yet again. He also unselfishly abandoned his plans to disappear and take on a new identity to escape the stigma of being a con when life threw a curveball at him, which I felt showed he had a caring side.
The story has a number of secondary characters, but most we don't get to know it depth because of it being completely told in Clay's POV. When he unexpectedly reconnected with Montana, his high-school girlfriend who turns out to be his new parole officer, I really had to wonder about her. She definitely seemed to be one of those crazy women whose mood can change on a dime and who doesn't quite know what she wants. She pretty much epitomized the saying, "Crazy in the head; crazy in bed," and although there is nothing particularly explicit in the narrative, it's easy to tell that the sexual chemistry still burns fairly hot between her and Clay. In fact, this may be the only reason that Clay put up with her during their teen years and continues to once they meet up again, because otherwise, they were almost like oil and water. I was not in the least surprised by where Montana ended up. The other prominent secondary character is Montana's daughter, Tharcia. She becomes a driving force in Clay's life, someone he wants to protect and care for. Again, I was not at all surprised by certain revelations about their relationship. To the contrary, I would have been shocked if it hadn't turned out that way.
The only small problem I had was that I never quite figured out why Clay's glider student jumped out of the aircraft and in doing so, allegedly tried to kill Clay. However, I'm willing to admit that I may have missed this plot point due to being very tired while reading. Otherwise, it was an enjoyable story. The parts about the airplanes and flying deftly showcase the author's personal experience in these areas. It did get a little tedious for me as this simply isn't a primary area of interest, but I have no doubt that aviation enthusiasts would enjoy it immensely. Overall, Angle of Attack was a fast-paced mystery/suspense story that nicely weaves together multiple plot points. I would recommend it for anyone who likes this type of story or is interested in flying.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews In the Company of Darkness is a romantic suspense novel that is heavy on the mystery/suspense element and light on the romance...moreReviewed for THC Reviews In the Company of Darkness is a romantic suspense novel that is heavy on the mystery/suspense element and light on the romance. Cole, the hero, is a police detective, and Sidney, the heroine, is an attorney working in the county prosecutor's office. When the prime suspect in a murder case that Sidney is trying escapes from custody and she begins receiving creepy messages, Cole is assigned to protect her. Together, the two work to uncover the truth about the murder of a pharmaceuticals heiress and in the process discover some grisly finds that make them realize there is more to this case than meets the eye. The mystery/suspense part of the plot was interesting and pretty well done, although there were times I had a little trouble following what was going on. There also wasn't quite enough set-up for the secondary characters as potential red herrings for me to have a chance to speculate on who the real killer might be. Since that's half the fun of reading a mystery story, this was a little disappointing.
As for the romance, Cole and Sidney develop an attraction for one another from the moment they meet which gradually builds until there is one brief, mild love scene near the end. To me, the romantic element contained very little emotion and remained primarily on the physical plane. Both Cole and Sidney seemed like very cerebral people and as a consequence, lacked the sentimentality to convey the romantic connection as effectively as I would have liked. Neither, to the best of my recollection, made any declarations of love. The story takes place over perhaps a week, if even that. I freely admit that most of the time, it's hard to believe that two people can fall in love that quickly, so for that reason, not having them say, “I love you,” was probably the more believable route to take. However, it did leave something to be desired. Also, the ending was more HFN than HEA with Cole and Sidney implicitly agreeing to continue their relationship. Because the romance was so light, I almost feel like the book might be better categorized as a straight suspense/thriller.
Cole and Sidney are both likable characters for as well as I got to know them. The decisions they make and the way they react to certain events throughout the book, seem to be fueled by traumatic incidences from each of their pasts. The reader learns about these sordid occurrences through frequent flashbacks that only reveal bits and pieces at a time. Sometimes these could be a little confusing, especially since there were essentially three mysteries to follow at once, the main plot and both characters' backstories. In my opinion, it was just a little too much for one relatively short book, and the backstory mysteries occasionally distracted from the main story. I think it would have been more effective to just let the reader in on what makes the characters tick right from the get-go, or perhaps leave only one shrouded in mystery while the other was more open. I also felt that Cole and Sidney's combined pasts were filled with a little too much tragedy, almost to the point that they became depressing to read about.
The author definitely has a talent for the art of metaphor and imagery, almost to the point that the book had a more literary feel to it. I'm not entirely sure that this is the best approach for a popular fiction genre though, as it can be easy to loose your target audience. Such was the case for me, as the long passages using this device, at times, made me temporarily loose the direction of the story and forget what the characters were doing. In my opinion, the author overused rhetorical questions as a literary device too. Additionally, every once in a while there seemed to be a little hiccup in the flow of the dialog or narrative where I felt like I'd missed something, like some little detail was left out. I found several continuity errors as well, and a few times names were thrown out, leaving me with no idea who the characters were talking about. Lastly, I wasn't overly fond of the POV flip-flopping back and forth between the hero and heroine with no warning. It was just a little jarring to be in one character's perspective and then abruptly dumped into the other's POV.
Overall, In the Company of Darkness was a decent read in spite of any perceived weaknesses. For the most part, it held my attention. It was rather fun reading a book that takes place in the city I call home, where I know the streets and places that the characters visit. The hero and heroine were agreeable, the mystery was intriguing, and the nail-biting ending kept me on the edge of my seat. Readers who like rich imagery and a nuanced touch that has more the feel of classic noir will probably enjoy this one more than I did. I think I just tend to be the type of person who prefers more straightforward narrative with a little less bleakness in tone and characters. A bit more in the romance department definitely would have been welcome too, but all in all, not a bad little story.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "2.5 stars" I'm not entirely sure where to start with expressing my feelings about this book. Only the Strongest Survive was b...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "2.5 stars" I'm not entirely sure where to start with expressing my feelings about this book. Only the Strongest Survive was by far one of the most unusual books I've ever read, but I'm not entirely sure that's a good thing. First, I've never read a book where I didn't really like any of the characters. Since I primarily read for pleasure, I much prefer having at least one or two characters that I feel compelled to root for, because without that, it's all but impossible for me to truly enjoy it. The supporting players are all rather one-dimensional and unrelatable, never moving me in any way except perhaps to feel like smacking a few of them for their selfish, opportunistic attitudes. When Emely disappears, most of them spend the remainder of the story thinking about how they can use this to their advantage, rather than actually being concerned for her safety and trying to find her, which doesn't speak much to her character either. The only one who isn't really like this is Blake, Emely's right-hand man and the one who takes over the management of her company in her absence. He was the only semi-likable character in the whole story which is ironic, considering that he's a lawyer, but he was still too dull to really stand out. Everyone else is quite simply self-absorbed and/or obsessed with money, lust, power, prestige and how they can get more of these things, rather than anyone truly caring about their fellow human beings in any capacity.
I sympathized with Emely to the extent that I don't think anyone deserves to be kidnapped, raped, buried alive, and then held captive for four months. We gradually learn about her past in flashbacks as a reporter interviews various people while trying to piece together a story following her disappearance. Emely spent her entire childhood in an orphanage and during her early adult life seemed to be a fairly admirable person. She knew what it was like to be poor, but pulled herself up by her bootstraps to follow her dream of becoming a stockbroker and eventually, started her own company. However, somewhere along the way (and to be honest I'm not sure where), she seemed to loose sight of her humble roots and became a greedy, conniving, workaholic businesswoman who formed few attachments and literally would do anything to make her next million. She didn't seem to care how her actions affected the people who owned or worked for the companies she took over through underhanded means as long as she was making a profit from it. Her experience with John made her think a little more deeply about her work, at least from the standpoint of never taking a break from it, but even after she finally returns, I was not in any way led to believe that she actually changed the way in which she does business. After Emely was abducted by the Langdon brothers, the tough, take-no-prisoners businesswoman seemed to fly out the window. She goes on some fairly long crying jags, and although I can't blame her under the circumstances, it seemed somewhat inconsistent with her character. She makes some attempts to find a way of escape, but as she grows more and more sympathetic toward John, she simply stops all together until the very end. At that point, the strong fighter returns as she battles Ronald tooth and nail like a madwoman whose life depends on it (and it did), but it just left me feeling confused as to why she never unleashed her fury with the same fervor on John. Since she could obviously do it when she wanted to, it seemed like a weak excuse for creating a “romance” between Emely and John.
When the story begins, John is not a nice person at all. He conspired with his brother to kidnap and murder Emely for taking their company from them which seemed a bit extreme to me. There are lots of people in the world who loose everything, and yet don't set out to torture and kill the person they feel was responsible. This leads me to believe that they were simply mentally unstable to begin with. In an inebriated state, John also rapes Emely before he and his brother bury her alive. If this hadn't happened, or if John had shown more compassion earlier in the story, I might have been able to buy into the “romance” angle a little more. As is, I think he “rescued” Emely only because he had developed an obsession with her and the money she offered him, rather than feeling guilty or for any altruistic reasons. During the early weeks as John holds Emely captive, his behavior is just weird and creepy. He has severe passive/aggressive tendencies, sometimes acting nice and at others being a real brute. As John grows more and more fond of Emely, he begins to lighten up, and if it were in any other context, I could honestly say he began to exhibit the characteristics of an ideal lover: he was gentle with her, he cooked Emely fabulous meals, he took her on relaxing walks in the woods, and even bought her a puppy. However, all of that still wasn't enough to make me forget that this man participated in kidnapping, rape, attempted murder, and had been holding Emely captive for four months, forcing her to make investments for him, not to mention the harsh manner in which he treated several prostitutes during the first half of the book. I'm all for a good redemption story, and this appears to be what the author was aiming for, the idea that John's love for Emely changed him. Still, I just couldn't quite bring myself to fully buy it. I do believe that John's actions on Emely's behalf at the end of the book were from the heart, but the notion that he had changed so drastically in such a short time was not entirely credible to me.
Under any other circumstances, I might have actually liked John and Emely as a couple, but as written, I felt their supposed “romance” reeked of Stockholm Syndrome. Initially, I think Emely started being nice to John in order to gain his trust in hopes that he might let his guard down, but it didn't take long for her to become physically attracted to him and feel sympathetic toward him. In fact, their first friendly talks seem to come from out of nowhere. She does go through a period of confusion and disgust over her feelings for him, but again, in fairly short order, she seems to come to terms with it and things progress even further between them. Oddly, at this point, Emely seems to suffer few, if any, ill effects from nearly being murdered by burying alive, not to mention the earlier rape. Stockholm Syndrome is certainly a valid psychological condition, and if the author had played it that way, I might have been more accepting of this part of the story as well. However, as there is no indication of this phenomena in the narrative, it appears that the reader is simply expected to accept John and Emely's relationship as a true love match.
In addition to my issues with the characters, there were a number of poorly explained plot points. I mentioned earlier Emely's resistance of Ronald, but not John. During that fight, she had a couple of what we in the romance world call TSTL (too stupid to live) moments. Not once, but twice, she managed to get a gun away from him, and yet rather than using it to shoot him or at least try to fend him off, she instead carelessly throws it away. It seemed like a weak attempt to draw out the climax longer than necessary. Also Emely supposedly has a boyfriend, but he never turns up as a character in the story. This didn't make sense to me, because it seems to me that if he cared for her, he would be even more concerned about her whereabouts than her employees or a random reporter. Lastly, I don't think there was a single male character in this story, from the doorman at Emely's office building on up to John himself, who didn't lust after her in some capacity. I'm not quite sure what to make of that. Emely didn't seem that magnetically attractive to me, but it certainly plays right into the stereotype of men never thinking about anything but sex.
The final issue I had with this book is the writing. I began it completely baffled by the perspective. It flips around from one character to another (including minor bit players) so rapidly I was about to get whiplash, and then there are parts that are more from the narrator's (author's) viewpoint. After doing a little research, I believe this is what is known as third person omniscient point of view. I have very little experience with this writing style, but can say unequivocally that it isn't a favorite of mine. Without the deep POV that I crave in my reading, there is just too much distance between the characters and the reader, leaving me not really caring a great deal what happens to any of them. Even still, this perspective might have been OK except that a large part of the narrative is also written in a passive voice which only served to make me feel further distanced from the story. The stockbroking details are a little dry and not woven into the narrative as seamlessly as they could be, and the dialog doesn't always have the natural flow of normal conversation either. My overall sense of the writing style is of a story that is being told to me in a news reporting style rather than one that I could really sink my teeth into and experience on a deep emotional level.
And yet, in spite of all my criticisms and the story itself not really being my cup of tea, I still kept reading, but this is one of those unusual cases where I'm not entirely sure why. There were times when it was so dull I felt like I was slogging through a swamp and other times when it was more interesting and suspenseful. I kept getting the nagging feeling that there might be some deeper hidden meaning here like one often finds in literary fiction, but as anything of that nature managed to elude me, perhaps it was merely my analytical brain trying to make sense out of an otherwise bizarre story. For me, this book was like the car wreck by the side of the road that draws your gaze despite your best efforts to look away. Even when I was bored with it or despising the characters, I still had a morbid fascination with wanting to know how it ended. Even as I sit here writing the final words of this review, I am still rather undecided as to how to rate it, so I think I am going to settle on the exact middle of the road rating of 2.5 stars. Mr. Fox made me want to like John and Emely in spite of mostly not liking them. The story itself also still haunts me like a specter that must be exorcised. Even if I can't say that I truly enjoyed it, and even if the writing could have been better, I have a feeling this puzzlingly peculiar tale will linger in my memory for a while. I figure it must take some storytelling skill to make me feel that way, so it seems, in that capacity, the author has done his job well.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" Violation is one of those books that I randomly decided to put on my TBR list, because the synopsis sounded very i...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" Violation is one of those books that I randomly decided to put on my TBR list, because the synopsis sounded very interesting to me. At the time, I wasn't entirely sure what category the book fell into, but at some point between putting it on my list and actually reading it, I'm certain that I ran across a review which stated that the author was a woman and the book was a romantic suspense. Being a huge fan of romance this made the book all the more appealing to me. After reading the book though, I am still not certain if the first claim is true, but I can say unequivocally that the second is not. Internet information on Darian North is quite sparse, and I have found some sites that indicate this is a male author, while several Amazon reviewers insist this is a female author. In my opinion, the book seemed to have a slightly more masculine tone, but it wouldn't be the first time I've seen a woman write this way. Regardless of the author's gender though, this is, without a doubt, not a true romantic suspense novel. I am intimately acquainted with the world of romances, and this story is really a suspense/thriller with a very small amount of romance in it. While the hero and heroine do begin to develop feelings for one another, they never even so much as kiss. By the end of the book, I could discern the believable, though tentative, start of a relationship, but that is something I would have liked to see develop all throughout the narrative. All this said though, I still generally liked the story, in spite of feeling a bit misled by that, at least partially, erroneous review.
I thought the characterizations were very good, and I really liked all the main characters. Jack is not at all unlike the romance heroes I enjoy so much. He is an ex-cop who is haunted by things from the past and has basically shut himself off from the world, until a kid in need of a father figure gently pushes his way into Jack's life. When the boy, who he has come to think of as more than his odd tenant's son, is in danger, Jack knows he has to do something and in the course of saving the boy finds himself again. Althea is also a wounded soul who has shut herself away but for different reasons. She was brutally raped fourteen years earlier, beaten, and left for dead in a burning house. The rape resulted in a pregnancy which produced her son, David. Even though Thea still has psychological problems from the trauma she suffered, I thought it was understandable given that she never received sufficient counseling over the years. Thea may have seemed rather crazy to those around her, but in reality she was a strong woman not only to have survived the vicious attack, but also to have been able to find a way to provide for her son and most of all to love him unconditionally and not resent him or only see him as a product of her rape. I liked how her strength and confidence grew as the story progressed, which in my opinion made her the best and most well-developed character. If the author is a man, I thought he did a respectable job of capturing the female perspective especially given her history. David was very likable too. It was obvious that he was a good kid who was simply frustrated by the lies he knew his mother was telling him about his father and desperately in need of a good male role-model in his life. Even though Jack had begun to fill that role, David couldn't help but wonder about his real parentage which led him on a very dangerous quest. When David meets his internet “friend,” Orion, in person, I found him to be a pretty creepy guy, who even gave me a few chills down the spine, a sure sign of a well-written character.
There were only a couple of things that I disliked about the characterizations. One was that the events which led Jack to isolate himself, while hinted at, were not really revealed until the very end of the story and they were told to Thea by his brother, Edmond. I've never been a fan of a secondary cast member being the revealer of significant events in the life of a primary character, because in my opinion, it greatly diminishes the emotional impact. The other thing was that Jack and Thea are both extremely distrusting of the opposite sex throughout a large part of the story. While that was certainly understandable given their past histories, in my opinion, some of their thoughts came off as a little too cynical, and embodied pretty extreme stereotyping. Otherwise, I enjoyed Jack, Thea and David very much and would have liked to know more about what happened to them after the story ended.
In its cover blurb, Violation is described as combining “psychological suspense with terror on the most primal human level.” While to some extent I suppose this is true, I never felt any actual terror while reading it, nor did I find it to be as intense as I would have imagined given its subject matter and categorization as a thriller. The first 2/3 of the book move at a pretty slow pace, consisting primarily of character development and procedural investigation of David's disappearance as Jack and Thea independently look for clues as to his whereabout. When Jack and Thea are reunited and begin working together, then the pace picks up somewhat as long-held secrets are slowly revealed. Given these story characteristics, I think that Violation might be more aptly described as a drama thriller. In fact, as I was reading, it reminded me of a Lifetime movie. The pieces just fell into place a little too neatly: a computer password that was carelessly left lying around, nurses who are a little to willing to talk, etc. Also, in spite of not usually being very good at figuring out mysteries, I correctly foresaw everything that happened with the exception of the final little plot twist, and if I'd been paying closer attention, I probably could have seen that one coming too. Having the plot be so predictable, was a little disappointing, but not a complete downer for me, as I tend to be a fan of made-for-TV movies and didn't mind just going along with the characters for the ride.
There were a few other things about the book that I thought could have been better. I think the slow pace was due in part to too much rumination on the part of the main characters. Jack and Thea spent quite a bit of time inside their own heads trying to answer what-if, how-could-he/she, what-was-he-thinking, and similar types of questions. Also having Jack and Thea investigating separately for a third of the book led to some repetition. Thea would discover some piece of the puzzle, and then Jack would come trailing behind to find out the same thing. I was disappointed that it was never made clear whether Thea's mother was in some way complicit in covering up certain details of the assault. In many ways it seemed like she might have been, but Thea always asserted that she didn't think her mother could do something like that. At one point the mother (in a flashback) tells Thea that one reason for them hiding is that David's biological father might sue for custody from prison, but that statement didn't make any sense to me. What judge would be idiotic enough to grant custody of a child to a convicted rapist who is in prison? Lastly, given the intense subject matter, I thought that the emotional connection to the characters should have been stronger, yet as written, I felt like the author was merely telling me about their feelings rather than demonstrating them. I believe that if more emotional demonstration had been incorporated, the story would have packed the powerful punch needed to make it the real gut-wrenching psychological thriller that it could have been. In conclusion, true aficionados of the mystery and suspense genres may not care for its somewhat low-key and predictable nature, but in spite of my criticisms, I did not feel that I wasted my time reading Violation. Anyone who likes the TV-movie style of crime writing and wants to spent some time with characters who are very easy to like and care about will probably find it to be a worthwhile read like I did. This was my first book by Darian North, and although it appears that he or she only wrote a total of four books more than a decade ago, I liked it well enough to perhaps try another at some point in the future.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews I believe I first heard of Lisa Gardner through one of the many romance discussion forums to which I belong, so going into rea...moreReviewed for THC Reviews I believe I first heard of Lisa Gardner through one of the many romance discussion forums to which I belong, so going into reading The Other Daughter, I wasn't entirely certain if it was a romantic suspense or a straight suspense/thriller. After reading the book though, I would have to say it is the latter, but with a minor romantic element. There is a hero and a heroine in the novel. They do develop an attraction for one another, and there is one brief moderately descriptive love scene. However, their relationship wasn't that romantic to me, and I would estimate that it only comprised less than five percent of the total story. Therefore, I would not recommend it to readers who are looking for a true romantic suspense, but it was a good standard suspense/thriller that kept my attention fairly well engaged.
Melanie, the heroine and main character, was adopted twenty years earlier by a wealthy family who had lost their little daughter to a serial killer. She has no memory of the time prior to being found abandoned in a hospital a few months before her adoption. Over the years she has truly become “the other daughter,” essentially a replacement for the child the Stokeses lost. Melanie had, albeit perhaps subconsciously, taken on the role of caretaker to her highly dysfunctional family. Now, she, and they, are being plagued by someone who claims that she is actually the daughter of the serial killer. Melanie is a pretty good character, but I found it rather odd that she still lives at home with her parents at the age of twenty-nine, and her parents, in some ways, still treat her like an errant teenager. I also thought that her returning to her parent's house after she knew that they could possibly have been complicit in their daughter's death was a move that bordered on TSTL, and when she ran away after accidentally shooting a man in self-defense, that truly was TSTL. However, I will admit that the author used both of these incidences to propel the plot forward. I was also a bit baffled as to why Melanie kept getting upset with David for keeping things from her regarding his investigation. There are agents in committed relationships who can't reveal such information, and Melanie and David had only known each other for a few days. I guess maybe I can give her a pass though, since suddenly learning that her family had been keeping horrible secrets from her for years was incredibly stressful and made her feel betrayed. I just wish that the author had given a few more insights into her line of thinking.
David was an FBI agent, working undercover in a white collar crimes unit, and investigating Melanie's dad for insurance fraud. He works in this supposedly lower-key division, because a severe arthritic condition which causes him excruciating back pain keeps him from doing anything more strenuous. However, before he knows it, he finds himself embroiled in a twenty-five year old murder investigation that everyone thought was closed, running down clues, and fending off a potential assassin. David struck me as a no-nonsense, hard-boiled detective who was very good at his job. He has a pretty intense alpha type persona with an extremely limited gentler side. I guess as the story went on, he softened up a little, and since this wasn't really a romance his personality didn't bother me as much as it normally would. He and Melanie are both pretty stubborn people though, so they have a tendency to argue quite a bit, but not necessarily in an annoying way.
The Other Daughter was a pretty good mystery/suspense. Although I wouldn't say that it was un-put-downable, it was a rather intriguing story. I must admit though that in spite of not being particularly good at solving mysteries, I did correctly figure out the biggest piece of the puzzle very early in the book, and I was only more convinced by my theory as the story continued. However, the how, who and why for the most part kept me guessing until the end. I was a little disappointed that the author never really explained how Melanie lost her memory though.
The Other Daughter was my first read by Lisa Gardner, and for the most part, I liked her writing style. She has an interesting way of conveying information and progressing the mystery through narrative dialog. Even though this made the dialog quite a bit more dense than I'm used to, it somehow worked OK for me. The book got off to a pretty snappy start, but about a fourth of the way in, it started to slow down as the author explored the tense, sordid relationships of the extremely dysfunctional Stokes family. This made the mystery unfold at a rather languid pace until perhaps the last quarter or so of the book, when things picked up again as all the long-held secrets started to unravel. Overall, I enjoyed The Other Daughter pretty well, and would definitely be open to reading more from Lisa Gardner when I'm in the mood for a good suspense/thriller story that's light on romance.
Note: This book contains a graphic description of an electric chair execution which is not for the faint of heart. Although not particularly descriptive, the way in which the body of the little girl was found mutilated might be troublesome to anyone who is particularly averse to violence against children. (less)