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REVIEW:  Erased by Jennifer Rush

REVIEW: Erased by Jennifer Rush

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Dear Ms. Rush,

While your debut, Altered, left me underwhelmed, the fast-paced action of the plot stuck with me. I wanted to see if the second book improved. Sometimes it takes a book or two for a series to find its legs. (Hey, I started out a fantasy reader. Believe me, I know about series that take a while to get going!) So I picked up Erased with those hopes in mind. Maybe they were misplaced.

After the events of Altered, Anna and the boys — Sam, Nick and Cas — remain on the run from the Branch, the organization that made the boys into super soldiers and Anna into their control switch. But the time away from the Branch has had other results. Without the drugs constantly pumped into their system, old memories are resurfacing — memories that were once suppressed.

Anna struggles to make sense of her memories, trying to put together the pieces in a way that makes sense. Then she discovers that her beloved sister, Dani, may still be alive. Every sign points to a trap set by the Branch, but the truth may be even more surprising.

Much like Altered, Erased is action-packed and zips along at a fast pace. Because of this, it’s a quick read but once the last page is turned, the flaws come tumbling out one after another. This is a novel with lots of flash but not much substance.

First of all, Erased deals with lots of heavy topics: identity, suppressed memories (whether by natural means or no), estranged family members, and abuse. But not enough time is given to these subjects and I can’t help but think that’s to the novel’s detriment. Maybe it’s the length of the novel. I don’t know if you can balance these themes and the plot and do them both justice in less than 300 pages.

Secondly, I’m forced to admit that Anna is a very reactive character. I don’t know if this is a holdover from the Hunger Games school of “strong” female protagonists but from page 1, Anna is reacting. Every decision she makes is in reaction to an event that happens. For a protagonist, she doesn’t really control her own fate, even in a small way. You don’t notice this immediately while reading the novel — or at least I didn’t — but having finished the book, I’m left feeling distinctly unsatisfied.

Some of the problems from Altered carried over. I’m still not entirely comfortable with the fact that Anna and Sam are in a relationship, when Sam was once in love with her older sister, Dani. Yes, the same older sister who returns in this book. While I’m relieved there are no awkward love triangles in Erased, I still think that aspect should have had more impact on the present-day relationships. Sure, everyone’s memories have been tampered with in some way but still, wouldn’t you feel awkward when you were reunited with the sister you lost… who also used to date your current boyfriend? I’m sorry. Anna is a teenager. There’s no way a simple conversation can put all those worries to rest.

I’m also disappointed by the relationship between the sisters. Yes, they’ve been estranged and yes, Anna’s memories have been altered and gaps are missing but this is a sister practically come back from the dead. Shouldn’t there be more impact? It just seemed underdeveloped and lots of missed opportunities abounded. In many ways, I wondered if Dani even needed to be Anna’s big sister. She could have been a best friend based on the ways that part of their relationship affected the plot and its implications.

Finally, the romance between Anna and Sam bored me. I know it’s hard to keep an established relationship interesting. That’s why so many awkward love triangles get introduced after the couple has gotten together. This isn’t me saying I want that. The opposite, actually! But Anna and Sam are on the run. Anna is learning survival skills and Sam is the perfect soldier-assassin. Shouldn’t there have been some friction in their relationship under this conditions? That’s a lot of stress!

Ironically, I found myself wanting Anna to get together with another character (Nick). Their dynamic is more interesting and after some revelations in Erased, I’d almost say them getting together makes more sense. Or maybe that’s just my favorite tropes affecting my judgment. (I’ll refrain from saying more because that’d be a spoiler.)

While I’d hoped for some interesting developments in the second book of this series, I realize now those expectations were misplaced. If you enjoyed Altered, I suspect you’ll like this book. But if you were left dissatisfied by the previous book, I wouldn’t bother picking this up. It’s more of the same. C-

My regards,
Jia

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REVIEW: High Passion by Vivian Arend

REVIEW: High Passion by Vivian Arend

Dear Ms. Arend,

I meant to read the first book in this series, High Risk, but unfortunately, Mt. TBR defeated me. When I was offered High Passion to review, I checked with you to make sure it could be read as a stand-alone and once the answer was yes, I was happy to accept.  I like the concept of a romantic suspense set in a Search and Rescue (SAR) team in Canada and friends to lovers is a favourite trope of mine.

high passion e1360121498455The romance in this book worked really well for me and the sex was inventive and hot.  As I read mainly for the romance, this was a good thing. Because the suspense wasn’t as strong.  Toward the end, I was rolling my eyes a little because the villain seemed so over the top and his reasoning seemed thin.

Alisha Bailey and Devon LeBlanc went to the same SAR school and were chosen to join Lifeline after graduation.  They have had a strong rivalry and are deeply competitive.  Alisha has always thought Devon was hot but he has a manwhore reputation (mostly a myth) and that was enough for her to be able to keep her distance.  Devon, for his part, has been biding his time, waiting for the opportunity to test the chemistry between them.  In fact, their connection is so obvious to the other members of the SAR team that there is a betting pool going on just how long it will take for them to finally give in.

Alisha comes from a wealthy family who believe that what she is currently doing (and has been doing for 4 years) is frivolous and useless and expect her to return to Toronto to take up a position in the family business and stop wasting time.  Despite Alisha repeatedly stating that she has no intention of ever doing so, her father continues to ignore her wishes.  Because the family is so wealthy and prominent, Alisha has kept details about them close to her chest – she doesn’t want anyone thinking she’s in the position she’s in for any reason other than her competence.

Devon has his own family issues which, in some ways, parallel Alisha’s and this makes them even more compatible.

At the start of the book, the team are sent on a rescue where Devon and Alisha (often paired to work together) are in a canyon/fissure and there is a sudden inundation of water.  Alisha has a panic attack – something which has never happened before and, should it happen again, could jeopardise a rescue, herself and/or the safety of other team members.  Devon is torn between his responsibility to report the issue to the team and his affection for Alisha but agrees to keep things quiet as long as they work together to work through any potential trigger so that Alisha doesn’t panic mid-rescue again.   Working one-on-one together provides Devon with the perfect opportunity to make his move and he does.  Unfortunately, it seemed to me that was the main purpose of Alisha’s panic attack – to give the couple a reason to be alone together.  Because that part of the storyline didn’t really go anywhere. And, because it didn’t, I felt some frustration that it was Alisha, who prided herself on her competence and abilities just as much as Devon, who was suspect (it could just as easily have been Devon for example, or better yet, some other reason altogether – one that didn’t put the competence of either one into question). There was never any particular reason given for the panic attack, other than the unique circumstances of that particular rescue but that explanation didn’t ring true to me (not that I’m an expert on such things).

However, once Devon and Alisha start spending time along together, things heat up quickly and the pair joyously throw themselves into a no-strings affair.  They discuss the potential for conflict within the team due to their change in status, but as they are on the same page in their expectations of the relationship and as they usually snipe and bicker and now they don’t, they don’t see it as a problem.  There are no rules against fraternisation either and I appreciated the way it was addressed in the story.

Even though the initial set up involved some doubt over Alisha’s abilities, I really liked how Devon treated her with respect and an expectation of competence (there was some checking but it was done in a good way, not a judgemental way, if that makes sense).  When Alisha and Devon are working together they are all professional and skilled and even though Devon does have a titch of the alpha-carer about him, he doesn’t rush into “save” Alisha when she does risky things for her job.  He  knows she is good at what she does and she is capable of handling herself and he trusts her to ask for help if and when she needs it.  The mutual recognition of their competence was a major plus for me.

Devon and Alisha do have strong chemistry and they are both fit, flexible adrenaline junkies with a healthy positive attitude to sex.  I felt these scenes were the best part of the book actually.  They were already good friends and releasing the sexual tension made them even closer and it was easy to see it was only a matter of time before they tipped over into love.

Trouble arises when Vincent Monreal, an executive at Alisha’s father’s company arrives in Banff to essentially demand that Alisha return and marry him so that he can control her shares and take over the company.  Vincent says that Alisha’s father is making strange decisions and if left unchecked he will ruin the business.  It was never clear to me whether Vincent was accurate in that assessment.   Vincent goes to some extreme lengths to secure Alisha’s compliance and it was here that the book went a little off the rails for me.  Because at heart, I found the reason for Vincent’s actions too unbelievable and frankly,  a little silly.

There is also a little side plot involving a new SAR staff member, Lana, who tries to manipulate her way onto the rescue team from an admin position and this causes some extra complications for the team and Devon in particular.

I did like the depictions of the rescues and the way the SAR team trained and worked together in the field.  While I know nothing about it, it read as authentic and well researched to me and there was a real tension and excitement in the parts where the Lifeline team was doing what they do best.  Their camaraderie was great too – their banter together and the way they looked after one another was another fun part of the book.

I enjoyed the book and inhaled it over two or three nights.  I liked the writing style and I loved the Canadian setting, the SAR team and Devon and Alisha in particular.  I think because the rest of the book felt so authentic, it highlighted to me that the suspense plot felt… not.  However, I did like the book and found it very entertaining (and I’m definitely planning on reading the rest of the series), so I’m giving it a B.

Regards,

Kaetrin

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