Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

REVIEW: Silver Falls by Anne Stuart

Dear Ms. Stuart,

ewlywed Rachel Chapman Middleton has been living in her husband’s hometown, the sleepy college hamlet of Silver Falls, Washington, for only a few months when the body of a young woman is discovered. It’s an especially unwelcome shock for Rachel because she married David Middleton, a respected college professor, in large part to put another murder behind her and her daughter.

Silver Falls Anne StuartRachel has been a single mom ever since she gave birth to Sophie at the age of seventeen. After her fundamentalist parents disowned her for giving birth out of wedlock, Rachel and Sophie traversed the world like nomads, finding a new place whenever the old one bored them. Rachel worked as a photographer, but the life on the go which she and thirteen-year-old Sophie so enjoyed came to an abrupt standstill when Tessa, a friend of Sophie’s, was brutally murdered.

Fortunately or unfortunately, David Middleton swept into Rachel’s life following Tessa’s death and offered Rachel the stability and security she felt her daughter desperately needed. David was Rachel’s rock in those days, a kind, caring man and a bulwark of safety. Rachel and Sophie relocated from San Francisco to Silver Falls, where Sophie has enrolled in a good school and made friends with the daughter of sheriff Maggie Bannister, and Rachel is now trying to conform to what is expected of her as a faculty wife.

The same day the body of the dead girl is discovered in Silver Falls, Caleb Middleton, David’s adopted older brother, also turns up. Caleb is a globe-trotting journalist and a black sheep, and Rachel is irritated by her attraction to him. According to David, Caleb has always envied him and tried to take what’s his, so it’s to be expected that Caleb would put the moves on Rachel. Caleb has a different viewpoint, but it’s clear even from his own thoughts that he has an agenda that influences his interactions with Rachel.

Is it a coincidence that Caleb appeared in Silver Falls the same day the dead body was found? Is the murdered girl’s resemblance to Tessa nothing more than a fluke? And what about Sophie’s similar willowy shape and blond coloring? Is Rachel’s daughter in danger? What about Rachel herself? Is she at risk of ending up as something worse than the bone of contention in a fight between the two brothers? Does the men’s father, Stephen Henry, know more than he’s letting on? And should Rachel take the advice more than one person has handed out and split town with Sophie?

Those questions are at the center of Silver Falls, an alternately entertaining, disturbing and frustrating book. I’m not absolutely certain whether or not we readers are intended to be held in suspense as to which man is the hero and which is a bad guy, but I suspect the answer is not, since I believe anyone who has ever read one of your books and even some who have not could spot the hero at twenty paces.

To allow readers to figure it out for themselves, I’ll just say that one of the Middleton brothers is quiet, meticulous, vegetarian, abhors profanity, has problems performing in the bedroom and gives Rachel’s daughter Sophie the creeps. The other brother is laconic, fond of swear words, lives in a disorganized dump of a house, hits it off with Sophie right away, feeds Rachel the burgers she craves and offers to go down on her. If it’s not clear to the reader which one Rachel should trust, then that reader hasn’t been reading your books for very long.

And that’s what makes the book frustrating: it’s obvious to everyone but Rachel. I haven’t come across a heroine who made me want to gnash my teeth so much since, oh, at least Isobel from Ice Storm two years back. If this book were a horror film, Rachel would be wandering alone in a dark hallway with a creaking floor, and we would be yelling at her to be more careful.

But Rachel is the kind of heroine who ignores her instincts when they are on the right track, and only listens to them when they are going haywire. “Are you in denial about everything?” the hero asks her at one point, and I wanted to shout “Yes!” I appreciate that in a suspense story, such a heroine can remain in peril for the entire book. The problem is that in a romance, I want to find something to admire in the heroine, or at least a reason why, even if I don’t admire her, the hero does. Instead, I find myself wanting to shake Rachel and tell her to wake up and smell the decomposing corpses.

I think what’s supposed to be admirable in Rachel is the colorful, bohemian life she has led up until she comes to Silver Falls. But she never manages to convince me that she is the footloose photographer who has lived in many countries, or that she was once the rebellious daughter of fundamentalist parents whose childhood ended with a teenage pregnancy. Rachel’s experiences prior to Tessa’s murder don’t seem to have marked her. She’s far too concerned with obeying the strictures imposed on faculty wives in Silver Falls (strictures which don’t, by the way, seem consistent with what I know of academic circles) to come across as unconventional or adventurous.

To the degree the book works, it works despite its heroine’s cluelessness. The hero (whose identity I won’t give away) is surprisingly sweet and endearing, so much so that I forgive him for the two obvious mistakes he makes. The love scenes, when they arrive after a long wait, are touching. There is a moody, creepy atmosphere to the rain-drenched Pacific Northwest setting, and Sophie and Maggie Bannister are both intelligent, perceptive and likable. Even the murderer is more interesting than most killers in this subgenre.

Lastly, there is your writing style, which I so enjoy. You have a rare gift for putting words together in a lean, potent way. The undiluted power of your language is something I appreciate very much.

It’s tough for me to weigh the pleasures of this book against the frustration it engendered in me. I’m not sorry I spent my money on it, and I did enjoy it, but I probably won’t read it again, either. In the end, I can only give it a grade which reflects my ambivalence. C+/B-.

Sincerely,

Janine

This book can be purchased in mass market from an independent bookstore or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers.

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character driven novels in historical romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Recent examples include novels by Katherine Addison, Meljean Brook, Kristin Cashore, Cecilia Grant, Rachel Hartman, Ann Leckie, Jeannie Lin, Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Miranda Neville, and Nalini Singh. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, “Kiss of Life,” appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

23 Comments

  1. Jennie
    May 11, 2009 @ 22:59:13

    Great review, Janine. I’m tempted to give this book a try, but I suspect from your review that I would find it even more frustrating than you did (since I’m not as fond of Stuart’s prose as you are), so I should probably pass. I recognize the feeling you describe, too, of not being clear whether the identity of the villain is supposed to be a mystery or not. Were there any twists to mitigate the lack of surprise over his identity?

  2. Janine
    May 11, 2009 @ 23:45:16

    No, no twists. The villain’s identity becomes obvious pretty early on from his POV thoughts, if it wasn’t already obvious before. So I really don’t think it’s supposed to be a mystery. I wrote the review the way I did just on the off chance that readers don’t want to be spoiled on it, but I think it will be clear to most readers.

    What’s frustrating about the book is that Stuart makes it so clear to the readers, and it’s also obvious that the hero and several of the side characters are also in the know. So it’s just the heroine who doesn’t have a clue. Or perhaps I should say, who has several clues that she fails to interpret correctly.

  3. Janine
    May 11, 2009 @ 23:52:07

    I should also add that I felt that there was more suspense than romance in this book, although what there was of the romance was sweet and touching.

  4. DS
    May 12, 2009 @ 06:08:34

    Stuart has gone from an autobuy to a library or used book read (if I read them at all). It’s just that I keep recognize conventions from romantic suspense of yore (like the 60’s and 70’s) that I didn’t like when I first read it. Black Ice at its core was a gothic novel/romantic suspense novel from that period dressed up with some sex and violence. From the lowly paid ex-pat. American heroine who gets manipulated by her conscienceless roommate/friend into taking what sounds like an easy assignment. Then the heroine finds herself in a situation at a luxurious house with a man she is attracted to but doesn’t trust.

    Your description of the two potential heroes in your review made me wince because it wasn’t just knowing Stuart’s previous books that made me know which one to pick– it was standard set up for I have no idea how many gothic novels I snagged from my mom.

  5. Jill Sorenson
    May 12, 2009 @ 07:40:24

    I love Anne Stuart and I liked Isobel, so I’m sure I’ll read this one! Nice review. Thanks for not spoiling the hero for us, hehe.

  6. Darlynne
    May 12, 2009 @ 09:17:03

    The one thing I cannot tolerate is the “woman in jeopardy” romantic suspense novels. My sister reads every Mary Higgins Clark book, for example, and I’ve never opened the cover of one. Maybe it’s my loss, but when the story seems to be all about menacing a woman and/or her children, I’m outta there. So thank you for the review; now I know to keep moving down the bookshelf.

  7. Randi
    May 12, 2009 @ 09:29:53

    Yeah, this sounds about right for Anne Stuart. She’s my version of BDB crack. I kind of figured out who the hero was just from knowing her plot lines and reading the back blurb. But like I said…crack. mmmm, Stuart…..

  8. essa
    May 12, 2009 @ 09:59:11

    I really liked the Ice books, especially the first couple, so I jumped on this when I saw it, but this book did not do it for me. At all.

    I understood the heroine’s desire to make things better for her daughter, but I didn’t buy it. Maybe if the daughter had been more of a screw-up…but like you, I didn’t get that a successful, free-spirited woman, used to making her own decisions and living in exotic places around the world would jump into marriage with a stranger. Even if, maybe especially if, her daughter’s bff had just been murdered.

    shrug

  9. Janine
    May 12, 2009 @ 12:53:33

    DS, although I’ve read a lot in the romance genre, I’ve never been a big reader of gothics, so I probably don’t recognize their conventions as quickly as you do. I loved Black Ice, mainly because Bastien was such a complex, morally ambiguous yet still sympathetic hero. While I love an original plot, strong prose and complex characters do even more for me, and I can overlook a well-used plot if the author finds other ways to make the book feel fresh. However, in this case, there was no character as complex as Bastien to make me fall in love with the book. And I do feel that I’ve read enough Stuart now that I’m starting to recognize the conventions of her books, and they aren’t surprising me as much as they used to.

    Jill – I hope you enjoy the book.

    Darlynne – Yes, this definitely falls into the “woman in jeopardy” category of book; however, since it’s a romance, everything turns out happily in the end.

    Randi — I understand about Stuart being crack. Her last three books frustrated me almost as much as I enjoyed them, but I still keep purchasing her books even when I have my pick of ARCs. She’s a very skilled author in many ways, and I loved Black Ice so much that I am always hoping for another book I’ll love like that.

    essa — Yeah, Rachel’s background didn’t really fit her personality and behavior over the course of the book. I wondered if she was being so blind because Stuart wanted her to stay in danger until the last minute. Otherwise, her behavior, and sometimes even the hero’s, didn’t make sense because it edangered lives. How did you like the hero? I really enjoyed him despite the mistakes he made.

  10. Sally
    May 12, 2009 @ 16:20:11

    I don’t know if it was my mood, but I found this a little bland. I also didn’t like knowing so soon who the killer was. I think Ms. Stuart could have kept the suspense going a little longer. in books like Ritual Sins, you almost didn’t know who was the bad guy until almost the end.

  11. essa
    May 12, 2009 @ 17:06:39

    You know, I did like the hero. He was the reason I finished the book. :)

  12. Janine
    May 12, 2009 @ 18:37:55

    Sally, I myself wouldn’t call it bland but it definitely wasn’t as compelling as some of Stuart’s books. The pages turned a bit more slowly for me with this one.

    Good point re. Ritual Sins. They are such different books that it’s difficult for me to compare them. I liked Ritual Sins a lot, but more for the twisted dynamics between the hero and heroine than because I found it romantic. I didn’t really see why that heroine would stay with that hero, other than for the hot sex — there wasn’t really that much love there. But it was an extremely compelling, page-turning book that’s for sure. I think the fact that the hero was a borderline villain was part of what made it so riveting, but it’s also why I was never convinced the heroine should want to stay with him. I would grade it higher than Silver Falls, though.

  13. Elle
    May 12, 2009 @ 20:54:31

    Nice review, Janine!

    I think that you are correct in that there is something almost paradoxical about the structure of a book like this–a romance in which the hero is one of two possible men, with the other being a psychotic serial killer. If the author focuses on the suspense, then it is difficult to build up a credible romance between the heroine and hero (since in order to preserve the suspense, a parallel and not *too* obviously inferior romance will have to be developed between the heroine and the serial killer.)

    Conversely, if the author focuses on the romance, then the character designated as the hero is knocked out of the running as the serial killer. If (as it sounds like is the case in this story) the *heroine* is the only one left in the dark about the identity of the serial killer, she just comes off looking clueless.

    Re: “Black Ice”: I actually loved the way that Stuart adapted the conventions of the gothic romance in “Black Ice”. I used to be addicted to Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney’s gothic romances (from middle school through college.) “Black Ice” was kind of a “Jason Bourne meets Mary Stewart” book for me, and I really enjoyed it.

  14. Jennifer Estep
    May 13, 2009 @ 11:26:48

    I totally agree with you about Stuart’s writing style. It is lean, but so effective and easy-to-read. I really enjoy her voice, and I’ll probably read this book just for style alone.

  15. Janine
    May 13, 2009 @ 11:49:46

    Thanks, Elle! You raise a good point about the two routes, suspense vs. romance. You are correct that Stuart went the second (romance) route, and yet it still felt to me that the suspense component of the book was more prominent than the romance component.

    Re. Black Ice, I loved that book to bits so even though I haven’t read many gothics, I’m very glad Stuart wrote it as she did.

    Jennifer Estep – Yeah, her writing style is wonderful and was probably the biggest factor among the ones that made the book worth reading.

  16. Theresa Sand
    May 21, 2009 @ 08:01:10

    Janine, I agree completely with your review. This one was a real dissapointment as I am a HUGE Stuart fan. I think she creates the best “real” bad boys in romance, but sometimes I feel like her plots aren’t nearly as intricate as they should be (especially in the case of Silver Falls), and her heroines aren’t nearly as intriguing as her heroes.

    While Ritual Sins is my favorite in regards to her contemporaries, I think she does her best when she’s writing period pieces (and I believe she is now working on a period piece trilogy, yay!).

    Rose at Midnight comes to mind as probably her best, in my opinion. The hero is deliciously bad, the plot is intricate and her writing is a little more rich. But what is great about Rose at Midnight is her heroine is just as intriguing/dark as the hero!

  17. Janine
    May 21, 2009 @ 11:28:01

    Hi Theresa,

    I agree with you about Stuart’s heroines often not being as intriguing as her heroes. I actually prefer her contemporaries to her historicals (her voice feels more contemporary to me), plus her contemporaries are usually darker and I like that). My favorite is Black Ice.

    Re. A Rose at Midnight, I agree with you that the heroine was intriguing and dark, and the book was certainly fresh. What kept me from enjoying it was that I couldn’t forgive the hero for abandoning the heroine and her brother to the horrors of the French Revolution when he could have brought her and her brother to England and safety had he been willing to marry her. I just couldn’t get past that, but I’m the only one I know who had that reaction. Most people seem to love the book, so I’m clearly in the minority.

  18. Silver Falls, by Anne Stuart » Someone’s Read it Already
    May 22, 2009 @ 05:43:01

    […] know enough to solve the mystery. However, as has been pointed out (especially in the comments on this review at Dear Author), Ms. Stuart had the choice of leaving it as a mystery and making the romantic […]

  19. Theresa Sand
    May 26, 2009 @ 13:08:54

    Janine,

    Black Ice is great! But what I’ve found in that novel, and in most of Stuart’s books is that all of her heroines are at some point, abandoned by the hero. Two that come to mind (and I could be missing one), in which the hero doesn’t abandon, or have thoughts of abandoning the heroine, are her contemporaries Shadow Lover and Shadows at Sunset (maybe Heat Lightening as well? I can’t recall, it’s been so long!). It’s an interesting concept that she seems to repeat again and again, and I wonder if it’s linked to some sort of theme of redemption (as in the hero must choose between abandoning who he loves or abandoning his ‘sins,’ and each time he commits the first but always returns to the latter, because he is of course a ‘bad boy.’)

    In regards to A Rose at Midnight I also found it somewhat difficult to understand why Nicholas abandoned Ghislaine when they first met. So I completely agree with you on that point! I think Stuart is talented enough as an author in that she could have made his actions a little bit more believable instead of him at one point throwing in an explanation of “I left you because I was self-involved and really it’s your dad’s fault!” and everything is forgiven because, well, he’s so good looking ;).

  20. Theresa Sand
    May 26, 2009 @ 13:13:07

    Janine,

    Black Ice is great! But what I’ve found in that novel, and in most of Stuart’s books is that all of her heroines are at some point, abandoned by the hero. I can’t actually recall any book of hers in which the hero does not leave/reject the heroine or contemplate leaving her, except for perhaps Shadow Dance (maybe Heat Lightening or Shadows at Sunset as well? I can’t recall, it’s been so long!). It’s an interesting concept that she seems to repeat again and again, and I wonder if it’s linked to some sort of theme of redemption (as in the hero must choose between abandoning who he loves or abandoning his ‘sins,’ and each time he commits the first but always returns to the latter, because he is of course a ‘bad boy.’)

    In regards to A Rose at Midnight I also found it somewhat difficult to understand why Nicholas abandoned Ghislaine when they first met. So I completely agree with you on that point! I think Stuart is talented enough as an author in that she could have made his actions a little bit more believable instead of him at one point throwing in an explanation of “I left you because I was self-involved and really it’s your dad’s fault!” and everything is forgiven because, well, he’s so good looking ;).

  21. Theresa Sand
    May 26, 2009 @ 13:18:47

    Ugh, and I just totally spammed the board because of my slow internet connection. Sorry!!!

  22. Jinni
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 14:15:37

    I wish I’d read this review before picking up this book (for free, thank goodness). The heroine is TSTL. I kept reading passages about rotting corpses to my husband who wanted to know why I was still reading it. Ugh. I hope the next book on the list is better. Though I must say, I find the cover art compelling.

  23. DA Weekly Deals: 29 Books Under $2.99 | Dear Author
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 12:37:46

    […] Silver Falls by Anne Stuart 2.64 Nook | Sony | Kobo |  B-/C+ Review by Janine […]

%d bloggers like this: