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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:  Love Left Behind by S.H. Kolee

REVIEW: Love Left Behind by S.H. Kolee

Dear Ms. Kolee:

I’d recommend this book to a specific reader. First, the reader must not mind a super creepy, possessive hero. Second, the reader must not mind a little heroine uncertainty. Third, the reader must like a lot of agnst. If any of those elements doesn’t appeal to a reader, then I wouldn’t recommend this book but as a high emotion, erotic romance, I think this story succeeds where a lot have failed for me in the past.

Love Left Behind by S.H. KoleeEmma Mills is nearing the day of her wedding to her high school sweetheart when she realizes that marrying him would be one of the biggest mistakes of her life.  Their life together is one of boring comfort and the more Emma analyzed it, the more she realized how little that they had in common.  She calls off the wedding, much to the dismay of every one in her life and moves to New York to start anew. She moves in with a family friend, Claire who is an aspiring actress.  Claire’s small circle of friends includes Jackson Reynard, a personal trainer and  actor.

Jackson pursues Emma and she succumbs fairly quickly.  The story is told in essentially two parts. The initial romance between Emma and Jake separated by the breakup and their reconciliation five years later.  When Jackson re-enters Emma’s life, he is a major movie star.  As Emma muses, it is hard to avoid an ex lover when his face is plastered on tabloid magazines you are forced to star at in the checkout aisle.  Jackson as the movie star was fairly believable (more so that Tina Reber’s Love Unscripted)

What’s creepy about the hero? From the beginning Jackson invades Emma’s personal space. For instance, he invites her to his gym and during their training sessions continually touches her to move her into various exercise positions which would be totally inappropriate. But Jackson gets creepier and more possessive in the second half of the book.  There is at least one scene in which I kind of drew back from the story because I was a bit afraid of Jake. Yet there is something magnetic about his jealous possessiveness.  Even in this first person narrated story you know that he wants Emma more than he wants to breathe.

What about the heroine? I actually liked Emma quite a bit. She was slow to come to decisions in her life – like she took 10 years to figure out that her relationship with Sean was a non starter. When Sean re-enters her life, the decisions she makes regarding him that affect her and Jackson’s life are frustrating but I will say that guilt is a very powerful motivator and I understood the Emma’s motivations even if I didn’t agree with the choices she made.  More importantly, though, she was making decisions.

From an objective standpoint, the relationship depicts an unhealthy obsession at least by Jackson for Emma.  Within the story, I felt it worked. Emma wanted Jackson as much as he wanted her. His sickness for her was returned and the intensity of the emotions won me over.

The driving force of the book is Emma and  Jackson’s relationship that is marred by Jackson’s lack of understanding, Emma’s guilt, and then a major misunderstanding.  They don’t change over the course of the book unless you read Jake as becoming more possessive and more obsessed with Emma because he has lost her once.  Their relationship is over the top, but I appreciate a sense of exaggeration in stories.  It’s not a book I’d recommend to everyone but if the elements I mentioned in the first paragraph aren’t a deterrent, it might be satisfying.  One thing that kind of ruined my reading experience was the choose your own adventure epilogue.  C+

Best regards,

Jane

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