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Carolyn Crane

REVIEW:  Into the Shadows by Carolyn Crane

REVIEW: Into the Shadows by Carolyn Crane

Dear Ms. Crane,

Recently Jane reviewed the third book in your romantic suspense series The Associates, Into the Shadows, and gave it a B+. I read it around the same time and while I liked some things about it, my reaction overall wasn’t as enthusiastic. I’m feeling short of time today, so readers looking for a plot summary can go read Jane’s review or make do with the book’s blurb:

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HE’S WORKING FOR THE GOOD GUYS. THAT DOESN’T MEAN HE’S ONE OF THEM.
HE’S A KILLER.
Thorne McKelvey knows exactly how Nadia sees him—as a brute and a killer just kinky enough to play her sexy games. And that’s how it has to stay. Leaving her was the hardest thing he ever did, but his undercover mission could blow up at any second. No way will he drag Nadia down with him.

SHE CAN’T RISK HER HEART.
Maybe it was foolish to fall in love with her late father’s deadliest henchman, but Nadia Volkov’s not sorry; without Thorne she wouldn’t have their beautiful little boy. There’s nothing she won’t do to protect Benny, which means she must hide his identity—especially from his father.

Now Thorne has burst back into her home, searching for clues to a gangland mystery…and stirring a hunger Nadia hasn’t felt in two years. But Benny’s identity isn’t the only secret she’s keeping, and things are turning deadly. Can Thorne and Nadia trust each other long enough to stay alive and have a chance at happiness?

The heroine of the story, Nadia, is great. She is the daughter of a now-dead gangster and despite that she has a great deal of honor. She has also grown from what Thorne, the hero, calls “the Party Princess” into a mature adult determined to rescue her mother from the gangs and protect her son at the same ime.

One of my favorite things about Nadia is that she has a talent for making others embrace themselves, warts and all. Rather than demanding perfection from people, she celebrates their flaws. How cool is that?

I also really liked Thorne’s growth arc from loner to someone who learned to trust others and accept help when he needed it.

Thorne also has a disability, a “bad hand”, and kudos for never once having him wish his hand was different. I had just come off of another book where the hero had the same disability but took forever to accept it despite having been born with it. Thorne wasn’t born with his disability but he’d had it for a number of years and for the most part I felt he dealt with it rationally.

Though Into the Shadows is part of a series, I was never lost. The sequel baiting was limited to scenes in which the other Associates had an actual role to play in the story and I appreciated that. Thorne and Nadia’s romance is also wrapped up in this book.

The conflict between Thorne and Nadia centered around a misunderstanding (Throne, with good reason, had come to think he was nothing to Nadia) and a big secret—that Thorne was the father of Nadia’s baby.

Nadia has a good reason for keeping their son’s paternity a secret from Thorne; she doesn’t know Thorne is undercover. She thinks he’s a gangster and doesn’t want her child to be a target.

I liked the narration. Thorne has a fondness for a word he makes up, “lovehate” and he uses it like a verb.

Even then, he lovehated Nadia like fucking crazy. She’d used him as a fuck toy, and he lovehated her.

At the same time, though, I had several problems with the book. Thorne and Nadia’s kink of choice in the past had been for Nadia to call Thorne a lowlife and a thug while they had sex. The problem I had with this was that Thorne thought she really meant it, to the point that when she wanted to sleep with him without putdowns, he resisted.

On the one hand, this wasn’t a dynamic I’d seen before, so it added some freshness to the story. But on the other hand, I wasn’t always comfortable with it, especially in light of how the narration kept emphasizing that Thorne was really messed up

At the same time, so much was made of Thorne’s fucked-up state and his being an “emotional basket case” that I had trouble buying that. His lone wolf routine felt extreme to me, too. All of that kept me from emotionally connecting with Thorne’s character.

I felt like part of Thorne’s backstory was missing. He had taken revenge on Hangman gang leader Jerrod’s original gang for the death of his sister, but his father played a role in what happened to her too. I would have thought Thorne would be even angrier at his father for what he did to his own daughter, but I saw no mention of any vengeful impulses toward his dad. I know killing your own father isn’t romantic, but the backstory was such that this omission felt glaring.

I also felt that the misunderstanding Thorne had about what he’d meant to Nadia dragged on too long.

The bottom line for all my Thorne issues, what ended up being the cumulative effect of all of them, is that Thorne as a character just didn’t ring true.

Although I liked seeing Nadia raid the gangs’ warehouses in order to rescue her mother and other women who were held there as slaves, I wondered if it was something the single mom of an eighteen month old would take on. Had something happened to Nadia only her half-sister Kara would have been left to raise her son.

The premise behind The Associates struck me as cheesy. At one point Zelda, who is a member of The Associates, defines the organization this way: “The Associates were a private force for good—however the hell she and Dax cared to define good.” I had to roll my eyes a little when I read that because I just can’t imagine a real life private organization with that kind of mission statement.

I’m also of two minds about the gangster milieu. I liked the way that was woven into Nadia’s backstory and into her goal of finding her mother, but Hangman, the gang Thorne infiltrated, wasn’t nearly as interesting to me. There were times I got tired of reading about the gang. Jerrod was too evil a villain, but I did like a couple of the other Hangmen, Miguel and Skooge. I also liked Richard, Nadia’s friend — for once the gay best friend was portrayed with some freshness.

This book was a very fast read and I give it some points for that. But while I didn’t mind spending $2.99 on it, it didn’t leave me with a desire to read the other books in the series. For me this one is a C+.

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REVIEW:  Into the Shadows by Carolyn Crane

REVIEW: Into the Shadows by Carolyn Crane

Into the Shadows Crane

Dear Carolyn Crane:

When I first learned of you as an author, you were writing a speculative romantic fiction which won rave reviews from people I trust. However when I tried it, I was confused and I turned away likely not giving it the chance it deserved. I’m not certain who recommended the second book in the associate series to me but I read it and found it was a memorable and unique romantic suspense.

The third Associates book came upon me so quickly I did not have time to read the first book as I intended however because of the way in which the series is written, it appears that you could pick up any one book in the series and not be lost or feel like you have missed anything.

This story is about Thorne and while the heroine is a strong and interesting character, the character with the most progression is the operative Thorne. Thorne was the son of an irresponsible trust fund baby and a poor woman that Thorne’s father would remember from time to time.

Addicted to alcohol and drugs, Thorne’s father decides to sell his sister to pay for a drug debt. Enraged, Thorne attempts to infiltrate the gang at a young age and save his sister. He does not succeed. But he gains revenge by killing those who were involved in her death, one by one until he reaches the last – Jerrod. Jerrod is the ruler of the Hangmen, one of the Quartet, a group of gangs that have split the deceased king Victor Volkov’s territory.

Thorne has held off killing Jerrod at the request of Dex, the leader of the Associates. The Quartet is protected at the highest levels, by DEA officers, politicians, and the like. In order to gain knowledge of the those protecting and facilitating the Quartet, Thorne has to take control of the Hangmen. When Thorne was infiltrating the gangs, he met and fell in love with Nadia, one of Victor’s daughters.

He crunched the Bugles in time with his pounding pulse, remembering the way Nadia had let him into the tender, private parts of her life, the way they’d secretly knocked around in other towns together, and the wild fierceness of the love he felt for her. He hadn’t understood that he’d been nothing but a brutish fuck toy to her, interchangeable and shareable. Even after he realized that, he still couldn’t stop loving her, though his love had flipped over into what he could only term lovehate. But for while, she’d made him feel like somebody good.

Thorne’s power comes from believing that death is nothing to fear. In the end, when he has gained everything, the question becomes is he weaker or stronger? Does he lose his power when he fears loss and death?

I’m talking about Thorne because he’s the biggest part of the book, dominating the scenes he is in and lingering on the periphery during the scenes when he’s not present. Nadia, Victor’s daughter is a competent and capable individual. She’s learned to be proficient in gun use and being part of a secret team as she starts hitting various hideaways full of illegal laborers, stashes of iPhones, cash and drugs of the Quartet as she searches for her mother–a stolen girl made into a prostitute by Victor and then discarded.

But Thorne is almost super heroic – a brooding Bruce Wayne who hangs from the rafters, drops down and disables his prey one by one. He started out as a closed up character and changed by the end. Nadia is more static. Her transformation occurred off stage and before the book begins and her quest is more simple. Find her mother. Protect her son. Try not to fall in love with Thorne again.

Into the Shadows feeds into that yen for the dark, damaged hero like catnip for felines. Can’t wait for the next Associates novel. B+

Best regards,

Jane

 

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