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REVIEW: Outcast by Joan Johnston

Dear Ms. Johnston:

I know I haven’t read you in a long time, but when I got an ARC of this book I confess that I just had to read it. Tall, dark, and gorgeous always does it for me.   Thankfully, the characters lived up to the cover and despite some small problems here and there, I’m pretty much hooked on the “Fabulous Fourteen”.

Benjamin Benedict is one of fourteen kids between the mixed marriages of Foster Benedict and Abigail Coates Benedict Hamilton.   Foster and Abby had five boys with the youngest, Darlington, dying at the age of 4.   In the emotional year after Darlington’s death, Foster dallied with a waitress once and got her pregnant. Abby left him.   They both remarried. Foster to Pasty Taggart and Abby to Senator Hamilton.   Foster took Ben and Carter. Abby kept the youngest, Rhett, and the oldest, Nash, refused to leave his mother.

All of the Benedect boys (including Black Sheep, Ryan, the bastard) have gone to military school and then into the armed forces.   Ben got out of the army and now is an agent for ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), a division of homeland security.   What Ben’s family doesn’t know is that he is suffering from severe PTSD. In the first third of the book, Ben suffers a series of horrific incidents. (I kept thinking during the opening scenes “Oh, this will not end well”).   He’s ordered to see a psychiatrist before he will be allowed back onto the streets of Georgetown.

Dr. Annagreit Schuster is a Georgetown resident with a practice specializing in PTSD.   She has her own demons which drove her to try to save those from personal tragedies.   She is half chagrined and half excited to see that her new patient is Ben Benedict.   She met him just a day before at a local vet when Ben had brought in an angry rottweiler he had found on the street, having been just struck by a vehicle.   They went home together but Ben had a PTSD episode and left her, leaving Anna to think she would never see him again.

Anna recognizes that her strong attraction to Ben might cause ethical problems but she sees him as a man worth saving.   As the story goes on, Anna sacrifices more and more of her principles and places her career in jeopardy to not only be with Ben but to see if she can help him. Obviously her motivation is a bit selfish, but it’s fascinating to watch Anna’s professional career unravel in an effort to save Ben while   Ben’s career seems to be unraveling because he can’t heal.

Ben finds Anna to be a port in the storm. He can actually sleep when she is around. He feels calmer, more at peace than he has before even though she picks at him emotionally.   Ben is a great character. It’s not that he doesn’t want to heal, but that he doesn’t know how. He recognizes his own PTSD symptoms which makes it easier for him to mask those feelings while in the company of others, but he is falling apart.   I thought the scenes in which he breaks down and the different ways that Anna seeks to assist him were fascinating.   Not every time called for comfort.

Anna does not want Ben on the streets because she thinks he’s a “ticking time bomb” but an Al Quaeda threat of a dirty bomb in DC requires Ben to follow up gang leads that he and his partner had developed.   The suspense plot relies a bit heavily on coincidence but I put those complaints aside because the story moved quickly and the suspense plot was necessary to drive the emotional character arcs.

Despite the abbreviated time length of the story (it takes place over a week), I really believed that Anna and Ben belonged together.   The romance and suspense were really well incorporated despite some contrivances and the speed at which Ben and Anna seem to recover from their respective emotional issues.   Further, there were so many people in this story that I felt like I needed a scorecard.   Non essential characters were given screenspace that I thought was unnecessary.   There was too much sequel baiting and too many random people that were introduced only to be forgotten beyond one scene.

However, as I said at the beginning, I’m totally on board for the remaining stories of the Fabulous Fourteen.   Their parents have screwed them up sufficiently that they will all have serious relationship issues!

I only have one request. None of the parents in this story but Patsy deserve a happy ever after ending.   Abby, Ben’s biological mother  was a heinous character.   I felt like she had every bad thing coming to her after the way that she treated her kids.   Truly what she did to Ben when his brother died was horrible.   Ben had a lot of apologies coming his way that never materialized starting with Abby and his sister, Julia.   B

Best regards

Jane

This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers.

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. HelenKay Dimon
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 11:37:36

    I have to admit I bought this one for the cover. Now I’m happy I did. Will unbury it from the TBR pile. Thanks!

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  2. Sela Carsen
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 11:46:12

    I don’t read a lot of contemp, but this review sounds awesome. Exactly my kind of hero and my kind of story. Thanks for the heads up!

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  3. Sarah
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 11:55:42

    Like you, I haven’t read Joan Johnston in quite awhile. Sounds like this is a book worth picking up and renewing my interest in this author.

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  4. Liza
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 15:42:38

    I’ll have to look for this one when I’m at the bookstore tomorrow. Thanks for the heads-up. I haven’t read anything by Joan Johnston in a while, but this sounds like a book I would enjoy.

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  5. Kaetrin
    Jul 05, 2009 @ 02:42:16

    Sounds good. I think I’ll put in on my Books on Board list. Thanks for the recommendation Jane.

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  6. Gina
    Jul 05, 2009 @ 13:57:11

    Joan Johnston has been off my “buy” list for a long time as I felt her stories were all retellings of the same basic tale with different character names. This sounds like a clear departure from the trend that drove me away – and it is a cover that would draw me had I seen it in the store. Which makes me wonder, as often as I go to Barnes and Noble, how I missed it? Ah well, its on my wish list now. Great review!

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  7. Cindy
    Jul 05, 2009 @ 14:36:49

    I don’t know what happened to my comment I left last night… I assume an internet goblin got it. Anyway, I read this yesterday and it was great. I saw the ad in RT and became obsessed with the idea of the “hero on the brink of insanity.” Most of the book I held my breath through. I’m just getting back into the romantic suspense side of things and it was a great beginning point.

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  8. Monica Kaye
    Jul 05, 2009 @ 15:06:21

    I’m going to read this book because it sounds great but I will do it with a grain of salt. As a therapist myslef, whenever I read books about people in therapy and therapists having affairs with patients, I cringe. I always ask myslef, did the writer even TALK to a therapist to get their knowledge and feedback?!? Because even if these two do end up together, I can tell you that she will lose her license. Or at least be put on probation. That therapeutic relationship is sacrosanct.

    Okay. I will get down off my soapbox and remember that these books are fantasy and that an ethics committee is not waiting in the wings to strip her of her ability to practice.

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  9. Jane
    Jul 06, 2009 @ 10:51:20

    I’ll be interested in what all of you think.

    @Monica Kaye: The author does address the ethical implications although nothing ever actually comes of it. I.e. Anna is reprimanded by her senior partner and he threatens to turn her in, but doesn’t.

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  10. Monica Kaye
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 18:34:48

    Hi Jane,
    So I went out and read the book and I have to say that I enjoyed it. I think that the ethical questions were addressed but that realistically she would have been in jail. She should have never taken the case in the first place and I don’t believe that her partner would have allowed her to especially after her consultation with him, she falsified documents (a federal offense), and I don’t believe that her partner would not have turned her in because of this ‘one lapse in judgement for love’ because then he would not have a license to practice. Although I do give Ms. Johnston credit for her research and at least truthfully addressing the issue. It’s way more than I’ve seen in other therapist/client relationship books.

    That being said, I forgive her (Anna) because of all the shit she was put through at the end and I’m sure that helping foil a terrorist plot earned her some brownie points with the APA. And because it’s fiction and given the fantastical nature of the plot, I need to shove reality to the side. And I did and I loved the book.

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  11. Jane
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 19:09:34

    @Monica Kaye: She certainly got off easy. I admit that I am surprised that you can put aside your professional training to enjoy the book. I have a very hard time reading lawyer books which aren’t very realistic.

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  12. Recommended Reads for July | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 09:02:17

    [...] by Joan Johnston recommended by Jane. This is a fast moving romance featuring a man broken by his traumatic past and the woman who is [...]

  13. Judy
    Jul 20, 2009 @ 17:17:36

    I have to say I bought the book only because Joan Johnston’s name was on it. I love everything she has written and keep them to read more than once. In case you don’t know the sequel to The Strangers Game is coming but I cannot find out the date it will be available.
    I truly enjoyed this book.

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