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REVIEW: Hell on Wheels by J. A. Walker

Dear Ms. Walker

I read this book second even though it is the first in the series and it’s probably a good thing I did as I liked the second story, In Ride’s Trouble, much more than this title. My main complaint with this story is my inability to buy in to the fantasy constructed. There is a motorcycle fabrication shop in Chicago that serves as a cover for a paramilitary organization. This is actually a great idea.  Grigg Morgan was a member of that organization yet never divulged this information to any one including his cherised little sister, Ali. After Grigg dies overseas on some mission, Ali is suffocated with grief over the loss of her brother, Grigg. Her father and mother are too busy comforting each other. She has no one but her brother’s best friend, Nate, left to turn to.

Hell on Wheels J.A. Walker
Nate and Grigg served in the military together. Nate and Ali have had feelings for each other since the first time Grigg brought Nate home. Grigg, seeing the gleam in Nate’s eyes as they lit upon Ali, whispered “You touch my baby sister and you die.” It was a mantra repeated by Grigg throughout the years and so Nate never acted on the attraction he felt toward Ali despite his feelings or the promising echo in her eyes.

Ali seeks Nate out for comfort and for security. She is concerned that someone is trying to harm her and it might just be related to Nate. She heads to Chicago to seek out Nate, labeled as Grigg’s “all time best friend” (I read that phrase and wondered if the characters were all in kindergarten) to find out the truth about Grigg’s death. She knows that motorcycle shop isn’t on the up and up but has never been inside, despite the years she visited Nate in Chicago.

From the beginning, I struggled with understanding why Ali would have even been allowed into the compound after her brother’s death when she wasn’t allowed in while he was alive. Further, I wondered why the compound didn’t have some type of separate quarters so that it wasn’t so completely obvious once inside that it was NOT merely a motorcycle fabrication shop particularly when there is the carcass of a Black Hawk helicopter in one of the bays. More obvious than even the Black Hawk helicopter is when some one (not Nate) starts going through each piece of her clothing, including all her unmentionables with a metal/bug detector.

The book suffers from first book in a series syndrome. Too many characters are introduced in hopes of catching the reader’s interest in the sequels (which isn’t going to happen if the first book isn’t rocking). The unrequited angst that is so fun in the second book languishes here. Nothing but heated and pained glances ricochet between the two for more than 50% of the book. Having read three of the books now, it’s frustrating to report all of them have the same exact emotional conflict which makes for stale reading, particularly if you are reading them in a row.

This book relies too much on physical humor to lighten the dark agnsting tone such as a cat getting stuck on top of someone’s head or a very quirky member of the team doing semi outrageous things.  Ali’s intelligence seems strained as well when she exhibits almost no thought about what it was that Grigg could have left her that might have secret information.  When the secret is revealed, it was so obvious that I was embarrassed for Ali.

As the plot moved forward, the emotional arc stagnated. I wanted someone to do something rather than ruminate in their heads how much they longed to be in each other’s arms. When they finally do get together, the build up was so long that the culmination is disappointing.  This is a great concept and the friends to lovers, unrequited lover theme worked for me in book 2.  Not so much for this one.  C-

Best regards,

Jane

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

13 Comments

  1. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 08, 2012 @ 12:44:58

    Is it just me, or is the premise awfully close to Tara Janzen’s “Steele Street” series? A group of ex cons and bad boys working in a Denver chop shop are recruited to work for the government in a secret capacity – sound familiar?
    Also unbelievable, but I had such fun reading them, that I didn’t care!
    They also have someone who dies overseas in the first book, JT, who returns for the final book in the series. His death kicks off the series, and is a major factor in the stories.
    http://www.tarajanzen.com/books-steelestreet.html

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  2. jane
    Aug 08, 2012 @ 12:47:04

    @Lynne Connolly: I have read that series and I find this to be different in tone and concept. There was a different tempo for those books which were mostly action driven.

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  3. Lisa J
    Aug 08, 2012 @ 12:48:32

    I just finished reading this book and I agree with all your points. I probably would have given it a C+ just for the lovable sequel bait. I am looking forward to the next in the series because the set up for Frank and Rebecca looks interesting.

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  4. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 08, 2012 @ 13:10:23

    Aha, I see! A shame, because it sounds like my kind of read. Love thriller elements in a story, when they’re done well. I’m looking forward most of all to the new Bourne film and the new Bond film this autumn. So anything that uses that kind of story works for me.

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  5. Angela
    Aug 08, 2012 @ 14:28:31

    I’m reading this right now actually. I’m not far in, but I was rolling my eyes and completely thrown out of the story when he took her inside the super-secret compound that was OBVIOUSLY not a bike shop without any regards to keeping their national security secrets actually secret.

    The other thing bothering me is the dialect – where the hell is Nate from, because if he doesn’t learn to put a few more letters in each word (rather than stringing 2, 3, or 4 words – by which I mean ‘y’ for you, ‘r’ for are etc – together with apostrophes) I might just throw my Kindle.

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  6. Jane
    Aug 08, 2012 @ 15:51:00

    @Angela: Oh Angela, this problem gets so much worse. I could not place Nate at all but in book 3, the accents or dialects or just plain inability to enunciate complete words overtakes the dialogue.

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  7. Angela
    Aug 08, 2012 @ 17:57:49

    @Jane: Oh dear. I think that finalizes my decision not to continue with this series after I finish this book.

    So disappointing too, because I like the premise..

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  8. Kaetrin
    Aug 08, 2012 @ 22:22:45

    I got this and In Rides Trouble from NetGalley after I saw you tweeting that the second book was so much fun. Because I’m like that, I had to start with book 1. I think I graded it the same as you did – so that means I will probably like book 2 (yay). I had been putting off reading it because of my disappointment with Hell on Wheels.

    @Lynne Connolly – There are certainly similarities to the Steele Street books but FWIW, I think (from the first book alone) that Janzen does it better. Having said that, I’m much more interested in In Rides Trouble now.

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  9. Jo
    Aug 09, 2012 @ 20:32:22

    I thought the author (from Chicago) was trying too hard to convey Nate’s North Carolina accent. It came across to me (a Southern gal) as forced. I will say that I liked Hell on Wheels better than In Rides Trouble, probably because I equally liked, then almost immediately disliked Becky. I’m holding out hope the final book will be the best.

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  10. Angela
    Aug 10, 2012 @ 06:18:30

    I was a little surprised at the end to see the author is from Chicago. I’ve lived around Chicago my entire life and there was a comment about how the is said in Chicago, in the book which didn’t ring true in my experience at all. And I totally missed Nate was from North Carolina. I agree. Definitely felt forced. For me, a little typed dialect can go a long way. Give me some cues and a few things here and there and I’ll read the accent/way of speaking into the normal text.

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  11. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 10, 2012 @ 06:48:15

    Don’t talk to me about dialect! I’m currently writing an erotic romance with a deaf heroine, and all the differences in sign language, while fascinating, are a bit hard to incorporate into the story!
    but I do agree, a little dialect goes a long, long way.

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  12. Eileen Michals
    Jul 01, 2013 @ 15:29:11

    I read the review by Jane and some of the comments that followed. You all over thought the books. Just kick back and enjoy. It’s fiction, like the screen writers put out on tv with Hawaii 5-0 and NCIS. It is all for enjoyment not learning to be an agent, a coroner, or anything else. Just fun.

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  13. Darlynne
    Oct 27, 2013 @ 12:00:39

    Finally started this book only to DNF about 40 pages in. The biggest thing that dropped me out of the story, besides everything mentioned by others above, is a heroine who doesn’t swear (I have no problem with that) yet resorts to childish h-e-double-hockey-stick-type expletives. It’s not cute, it’s infantalizing and I simply couldn’t get past it.

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