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Laura K. Curtis

REVIEW:  Lost by Laura K. Curtis

REVIEW: Lost by Laura K. Curtis


Dear Ms. Curtis,

My TBR pile is completely out of control.  It contains your first book, Twisted, reviewed here by Sunita.  When I had the opportunity to review Lost, I tweeted you to ask whether it could be read as a stand alone before I accepted.  You told me it could but that it contained mild spoilers for the first book. Lost does stand alone well but I would think it’d be a slightly richer reading experience having read Twisted first because it is clear that both Tara and Jake had fairly major roles in that first book.  I didn’t have any trouble understanding what was going on – enough was explained during the course of the story and it wasn’t done in an info-dump-y way so that was another bonus.

Having now read and enjoyed Lost, I am now plotting to bump Twisted up the reading list.  Wish me luck.

Tara Jean Dobbs, currently known as Tara Jean Black, left Dobbs Hollow after the events in Twisted.  She was formerly a police officer there but whatever happened has caused her to re-evaluate her life.  She quit her job, changed her name and drifted for a bit.  While working in a small diner in Twin Oaks, Texas, she met and befriended Andrea.  Andrea and she visited a commune/religious community nearby – the Chosen, where Andrea’s distant cousin John lived and worked.  After a while, Andrea decided to forego life in “the Outside” and become one of the Chosen.  Tara thought it was a fairly harmless community – very regimented but largely self-sufficient (they grow their own produce and make their own butter etc) and for people such as Andrea, who wanted relief from the pressure of money and work and the constant decisions required by independent living, it represented a safe haven.   People are free to leave the community and Tara had visited on a number of occasions.  However, when Andrea (renamed Pearl by the Leader of the Chosen) stopped writing, Tara became concerned and decided to join the Chosen in order to find out what happened to her.

When the book starts, Tara (renamed Serena) has been living with the Chosen for five weeks.  Her friends, Lucy and Ethan (the protagonists from Twisted) became worried about her being out of contact and send Jake Nolan to look for her.  Jake is a former FBI profiler who specialised in data analysis and computer programming… er, things.  “Jason Norman” (renamed Jacob) arrives at the commune with the story that Tara was his fiancee, they had fought and she’d run away. He had been searching for her to try and make things right.  Because of his contacts within law enforcement, he had planted a convincing cover online to back up his story.

While Jake’s mission is merely to get Tara out, Tara will not leave until she has discovered the fate of her friend.  Together they investigate under the increasingly watchful eyes of the Leader and his apostles, along the way, discovering there is much worse happening in the Chosen’s compound. The more they discover, the more determined they both become to take the bad guys down.

Jake and Tara have some history.  Both were immediately physically attracted to one another when they first met in Dobbs Hollow and because they had Lucy as a common friend, they knew a lot about each other.  For reasons which weren’t entirely clear to me (because I haven’t read the first book) Jake said things to Tara which were very hurtful and their attraction never went anywhere.   One of the first things Jake does when he meets up with Tara at the compound is to genuinely apologise for the things he said, which questioned her professional competence and her ability to be a good friend.  It was a genuine, heartfelt apology without excuses.

Jake’s and Tara’s “cover” is a romantic relationship – they need to spend time alone together to plan and debrief.  For much of the book the danger to them is not imminent and this means they are able to progress the romantic relationship without having to dodge any bullets while doing so.  The sex scenes are hot when they arrive, but Jake and Tara do take some time before they get physical.  Both think some of the things each says to the other are just part of their cover, and at one point (not without good cause and for reasons which are clear in the book), Jake questions whether Tara is actually in a position to give meaningful consent to sex.  It was a little disappointing that the thread didn’t go anywhere. He didn’t talk to her about it and it didn’t stop them from having more sex.   From a readerly standpoint, I never had the impression that Tara was acting from anything other than her free will when it came to sex with Jake so it wasn’t a big problem, but, having raised it in the story, I would have liked to have seen it played out.

There is reference to some sexual abuse in the story (not to Tara) but it is not detailed.  There is also some significant violence.  It is not “lovingly described” but there is enough of it to give a clear sense of what is happening and the violence might be too much for some readers.  While much of the personal violence is fade to black, it was enough to cause me to wince in sympathy and be very glad I was not in Tara’s shoes.  While there isn’t any “torture porn”, be aware that very bad things happen.

I remember Sunita appreciated the agency of the heroine in Twisted and the same holds true for Lost.  Tara is intelligent and, while it was perhaps not the wisest decision to embed herself with the Chosen (to be fair, initially she just wanted to check that Andrea was not being held against her will and things kind of spiralled from there), her actions afterward never went into the realm of TSTL.  The Chosen is set up in a very patriarchal way so Jake is able to move around more easily and get access to things Tara cannot.  In some ways I lamented this because it put Jake in charge.  However, he did have more relevant experience, having been involved with various task forces while with the FBI so it wasn’t unreasonable in the circumstances.  I liked that Jake always included Tara and they talked things through and made decisions together and he asked for her help with things he could not get near or which were not within his skill set.

There were a couple of continuity errors I picked up – I had an ARC so perhaps the final for sale version has fixed those things – and there was a rather extraordinary feat of physical athleticism which strained my credulity near the end of the book (driving two miles, leaving a false trail and jogging back those two miles with a heavy pack and a gun in something less than four minutes? Really?)   (ETA: The final version of the book has this taking place in ten minutes, not four. That’s much closer to believable for me.) but most of the book seemed alarmingly plausible. I did think the end became a little melodramatic but that maybe because things picked up in pace by a factor of 1000 and  I had been lulled into a false sense of security.

Some of the secondary characters were quite compelling even with only relatively short time on the page.  I admit to being curious as to what would happen with Kevin and Bea.

Tara’s experiences during the course of the book were not treated lightly and it was acknowledged that she would be forever changed by them, including that she would need therapy.  Because of the uncertainty of their future in terms of what they would do next and how things would go with Tara’s recovery, I think the ending could best be described as happy for now. But that suited the story and I was satisfied with it.  To have gone further would have felt wrong I think.  As Lucy and Ethan appeared in this book, I am hoping that Tara and Jake might also appear in future books and readers might get to check in on how that happy ending is working out. Future books I definitely plan on reading.

I’ve been a fan of romantic suspense for years but lately, I admit to being a bit jaded by outrageous plots which are too conveniently solved, sex when the bullets are flying, romance which is not romantic and suspense which is not suspenseful.  Lost succeeded for me both in terms of the romance and the suspense. Tara and Jake had chemistry and their love for one another was built on a solid layer of mutual respect, which was a plus. They came across as smart and mature and that is always a pleasure for me to read.  At about the 70% mark, the tension ratchets up and I was completely invested in the outcome and worried it wasn’t going to work out. (It does. It’s a romance. But in good romantic suspense, you should be worried, I think.)

I had a few niggles with the story but for the most part, this book was a win.  I give Lost a B.



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REVIEW:  Twisted by Laura K. Curtis

REVIEW: Twisted by Laura K. Curtis

Dear Laura K. Curtis:

You and I have followed and chatted with each other on Twitter for quite a while. I took note when your debut book was released, and when I saw Liz Mc2′s tweets about how much she was enjoying it, I downloaded the sample and enjoyed it so much that I bought the book and picked up where I had left off. I’m a fan of Romantic Suspense, but some of the stock plots and setups don’t work for me. But I couldn’t resist yours, and I’m very glad I went with my instincts.

Twisted by Laura K. CurtisThe story opens with Lucy Sadler Caldwell, a bestselling true crime author, returning to her small Texas home town to investigate the long-ago murder of her mother, Cecile. Because Cecile was scorned as the town tramp, her brutal killing was only cursorily investigated by the local police, and Lucy is determined to find out the truth. She returns to their old home, accompanied by her younger brother, who was five at the time of the murder and remembers little of their past in Dobbs Hollow. Prepared to fight to get the police evidence she needs to begin her investigation, Lucy is surprised and pleased to discover that the Chief of Police is a newcomer who is more than willing to help her out. And while he may have secrets of his own, Ethan Donovan is not related to or conspiring with the town leaders, however much they try to control him.

As Lucy begins the process of solving the mystery of her mother’s death, she realizes that she also has to uncover the many secrets in her mother’s past. These secrets implicate a number of powerful town citizens and increase the hostility with which almost everyone in the town regards her.

Curtis does an excellent job of introducing Lucy and setting up the mystery storyline. I was on Lucy’s side from the minute she stepped out of the Range Rover and went into the police station to declare her varied weapons and the permits to use them, so I had no trouble believing that Ethan would be too:

Every battle called for a specific weapon, and over the years Lucy had become accustomed to carrying at least one at all times. Now, without the weight of a pistol at her hip or back, the reassuring bite of a sheath at her ankle, or even the knowledge of a can of Mace in her purse, she felt supremely vulnerable. But she could hardly walk into a police station armed to the teeth, no matter how much she might prefer to.

So instead of checking the bullets in a magazine, she patted the tight bun restraining her wavy hair, spritzed her neck with a touch of eau de toilette, and gave her appearance one last once-over in the rearview mirror. Good to go.

Sliding out of the Range Rover in a pencil skirt and high heels wasn’t easy, but when she turned to walk up the steps to the station house and caught a man on the sidewalk doing a double take, satisfaction swirled through her. The costume had been worth the effort.

It’s clear from that opening that Lucy is good at being in command of a situation, and that despite her difficult upbringing she has built a successful career that gives her confidence and expertise. She’s relieved that Ethan is supportive and she’s happy to have his help, but she’s not looking to him for solutions, in fact, her expertise helps his investigation when a woman is found murdered.

Ethan is a good match for Lucy; as an outsider, he doesn’t come with Dobbs Hollow baggage and he sees her as the professional she’s become rather than as her mother’s daughter (the way most of the town dismisses her). The disability he acquired in his former career as a Houston police officer goes some way toward leveling the natural physical advantages he would have over Lucy, so their working relationship feels more equal than I often find in Romantic Suspense. It takes a while for Ethan’s past to be revealed, and I found his secrets to be less awful than I expected, but overall he was a sympathetic and interesting character, with little of the hyper-masculinity that such characters sometimes project.

The mystery and suspense comprise a major portion of the book, so readers who want the romance to be front and center with the mystery taking a back seat might find the balance tilting too far in the non-romance direction. I enjoyed the mystery, which expanded from the single case of Cecile’s murder to encompass several others. It gets a bit too complicated by the end, when Cecile’s complex story becomes tied into other misdeeds in Dobbs Hollow, and the gothic darkness of the town starts to tip toward implausibility, but for the most part I found the twists and turns intriguing.

The downside of the verismilitude of the mystery and suspense aspects is that sometimes moving from the crimes to the romance was a bit jarring. There aren’t any of those annoying “we’re in danger, we’re hiding, let’s snog!” scenes, but the transitions from suspense to sensuality didn’t always work for me. I did buy Ethan and Lucy as a couple, though, and I think part of what made them convincing was that we saw them working together and talking about the town and the crime and their lives, not just radiating sexual tension and lust.

One of the problems I often have with the Romantic Suspense genre and with mystery-romance more generally is that the heroine is regularly being rescued by the hero. That doesn’t happen overtly here, but Lucy has a lot of bad things happen to her and Ethan is constantly having to show up to set things to rights. Granted, he’s the chief of police, so it’s his job, and Lucy is emotionally and practically able to cope without him, but I would have liked more scenes where she took the lead.

The setting of Dobbs Hollow really comes to life. There are a lot of characters, many of them related to each other, so occasionally at the beginning I had trouble keeping everyone straight, but by midway through the book I had a handle on the cast. There were a few sympathetic characters in the mostly suspicious and disapproving town, and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more of Lucy’s school friend, Tara Jean the police officer.

Despite my criticisms, I really enjoyed this novel. The writing is strong, the characters come to life, and it’s a treat to have an interesting, complex female character who sends the message that she can solve her own mysteries and who doesn’t exhibit TSTL behavior. Ethan is a well-drawn hero, but this is really Lucy’s story, and she absolutely owns it. Grade: B

~ Sunita


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