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REVIEW:  Into the Shadows by Carolyn Crane

REVIEW: Into the Shadows by Carolyn Crane

Dear Ms. Crane,

Recently Jane reviewed the third book in your romantic suspense series The Associates, Into the Shadows, and gave it a B+. I read it around the same time and while I liked some things about it, my reaction overall wasn’t as enthusiastic. I’m feeling short of time today, so readers looking for a plot summary can go read Jane’s review or make do with the book’s blurb:

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HE’S WORKING FOR THE GOOD GUYS. THAT DOESN’T MEAN HE’S ONE OF THEM.
HE’S A KILLER.
Thorne McKelvey knows exactly how Nadia sees him—as a brute and a killer just kinky enough to play her sexy games. And that’s how it has to stay. Leaving her was the hardest thing he ever did, but his undercover mission could blow up at any second. No way will he drag Nadia down with him.

SHE CAN’T RISK HER HEART.
Maybe it was foolish to fall in love with her late father’s deadliest henchman, but Nadia Volkov’s not sorry; without Thorne she wouldn’t have their beautiful little boy. There’s nothing she won’t do to protect Benny, which means she must hide his identity—especially from his father.

Now Thorne has burst back into her home, searching for clues to a gangland mystery…and stirring a hunger Nadia hasn’t felt in two years. But Benny’s identity isn’t the only secret she’s keeping, and things are turning deadly. Can Thorne and Nadia trust each other long enough to stay alive and have a chance at happiness?

The heroine of the story, Nadia, is great. She is the daughter of a now-dead gangster and despite that she has a great deal of honor. She has also grown from what Thorne, the hero, calls “the Party Princess” into a mature adult determined to rescue her mother from the gangs and protect her son at the same ime.

One of my favorite things about Nadia is that she has a talent for making others embrace themselves, warts and all. Rather than demanding perfection from people, she celebrates their flaws. How cool is that?

I also really liked Thorne’s growth arc from loner to someone who learned to trust others and accept help when he needed it.

Thorne also has a disability, a “bad hand”, and kudos for never once having him wish his hand was different. I had just come off of another book where the hero had the same disability but took forever to accept it despite having been born with it. Thorne wasn’t born with his disability but he’d had it for a number of years and for the most part I felt he dealt with it rationally.

Though Into the Shadows is part of a series, I was never lost. The sequel baiting was limited to scenes in which the other Associates had an actual role to play in the story and I appreciated that. Thorne and Nadia’s romance is also wrapped up in this book.

The conflict between Thorne and Nadia centered around a misunderstanding (Throne, with good reason, had come to think he was nothing to Nadia) and a big secret—that Thorne was the father of Nadia’s baby.

Nadia has a good reason for keeping their son’s paternity a secret from Thorne; she doesn’t know Thorne is undercover. She thinks he’s a gangster and doesn’t want her child to be a target.

I liked the narration. Thorne has a fondness for a word he makes up, “lovehate” and he uses it like a verb.

Even then, he lovehated Nadia like fucking crazy. She’d used him as a fuck toy, and he lovehated her.

At the same time, though, I had several problems with the book. Thorne and Nadia’s kink of choice in the past had been for Nadia to call Thorne a lowlife and a thug while they had sex. The problem I had with this was that Thorne thought she really meant it, to the point that when she wanted to sleep with him without putdowns, he resisted.

On the one hand, this wasn’t a dynamic I’d seen before, so it added some freshness to the story. But on the other hand, I wasn’t always comfortable with it, especially in light of how the narration kept emphasizing that Thorne was really messed up

At the same time, so much was made of Thorne’s fucked-up state and his being an “emotional basket case” that I had trouble buying that. His lone wolf routine felt extreme to me, too. All of that kept me from emotionally connecting with Thorne’s character.

I felt like part of Thorne’s backstory was missing. He had taken revenge on Hangman gang leader Jerrod’s original gang for the death of his sister, but his father played a role in what happened to her too. I would have thought Thorne would be even angrier at his father for what he did to his own daughter, but I saw no mention of any vengeful impulses toward his dad. I know killing your own father isn’t romantic, but the backstory was such that this omission felt glaring.

I also felt that the misunderstanding Thorne had about what he’d meant to Nadia dragged on too long.

The bottom line for all my Thorne issues, what ended up being the cumulative effect of all of them, is that Thorne as a character just didn’t ring true.

Although I liked seeing Nadia raid the gangs’ warehouses in order to rescue her mother and other women who were held there as slaves, I wondered if it was something the single mom of an eighteen month old would take on. Had something happened to Nadia only her half-sister Kara would have been left to raise her son.

The premise behind The Associates struck me as cheesy. At one point Zelda, who is a member of The Associates, defines the organization this way: “The Associates were a private force for good—however the hell she and Dax cared to define good.” I had to roll my eyes a little when I read that because I just can’t imagine a real life private organization with that kind of mission statement.

I’m also of two minds about the gangster milieu. I liked the way that was woven into Nadia’s backstory and into her goal of finding her mother, but Hangman, the gang Thorne infiltrated, wasn’t nearly as interesting to me. There were times I got tired of reading about the gang. Jerrod was too evil a villain, but I did like a couple of the other Hangmen, Miguel and Skooge. I also liked Richard, Nadia’s friend — for once the gay best friend was portrayed with some freshness.

This book was a very fast read and I give it some points for that. But while I didn’t mind spending $2.99 on it, it didn’t leave me with a desire to read the other books in the series. For me this one is a C+.

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REVIEW:  Palace of Spies by Sarah Zettel

REVIEW: Palace of Spies by Sarah Zettel

Palace-of-Spies

A warning to all young ladies of delicate breeding who wish to embark upon lives of adventure: Don’t.
Sixteen-year-old Peggy is a well-bred orphan who is coerced into posing as a lady in waiting at the palace of King George I. Life is grand, until Peggy starts to suspect that the girl she’s impersonating might have been murdered. Unless Peggy can discover the truth, she might be doomed to the same terrible fate. But in a court of shadows and intrigue, anyone could be a spy—perhaps even the handsome young artist with whom Peggy is falling in love . . .

Dear Ms. Zettel,

Years ago I read “In Camelot’s Shadow” and enjoyed it so much that I’ve always meant to read more of your work. Ah, the best laid plans and all that but it took until I saw this book offered on Netgalley for me to follow up on my intentions. The premise of a YA spy at the court of George I – be still my heart, not only a Georgian book but *the* original George at that – was almost too delicious to be true. The clothes, the wigs, the courtiers and the danger – “bring it” I thought.

The plot is fairly complicated with layers upon layers upon layers of dark subterfuge, confused meanings, cross purposes and hidden loyalties. Then add the usual court intrigues, back stabbings, lies and malice to achieve a foul maze that our heroine Peggy must navigate in order to save her head, avert a royal disaster and perhaps discover love.

Frankly all the convoluted, dark twists of the plot left me scratching my head at times trying to keep up with who was on what side, who had done what to whom and where it was all going. As confusing as all this is at times, it also makes a bit of sense in that Peggy is rarely told the truth by several people who are at their own cross purposes and often figuratively holding blackmail “daggers” to each others throats. The behind the scenes dealings of the high and mighty are seldom neat and clean and at this point in English history, things were mucked up to beat the band.

As the story took yet another turn and Peggy stumbled along trying to find her way, I had to keep reminding myself that no, she wouldn’t know everything, she would have to puzzle it all out and the clues she had to deal with wouldn’t be immediately obvious to her since she still couldn’t see the “big picture” so to speak. Most everything was explained in the end though, enough that I’m eager to see if she and her little band will return for further adventures.

What did delight me was a bit of immersion into life in London and Hampton Court Palace in 1716. Peggy is often at the mercy of men including her cold uncle, her slimy almost fiancé and the two men involved in her charade at court. She gains agency as she grows in confidence but it still felt period for her to frustrated in what she could realistically do and in being beholden to others. I enjoyed watching her use her mind and thrill to be in the presence of the movers and shakers of the day, to listen to the conversations held by Princess Caroline with learned men and to wish to take part in them. Peggy might not know precisely what she’s stumbled into but she’s not dumb.

Her possible romance is sweet as well. She’s no prude, as her reaction to one scene shows and as would make sense ‘back in that day’ as she explains it, but she’s also not going to jump into bed with someone just to get a sex scene in the book by a specific page count. I think teenagers actually can read this book without their parents worrying about what they might be seeing.

Still, I think a little background research into the personages and politics of the day would serve the casual reader well. Some explanation is given but, if you don’t know your Hanoverians from your Jacobites, initial floundering might ensue. I have discovered a liking for Princess Caroline and must read up some more on her as well. There is also one revelation about the real person Peggy is impersonating that had me scratching my head and trying to figure out how she would originally have gained her place at court. But, as I said earlier, I liked what I read and would definitely come back for more. B

~Jayne

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