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REVIEW:  The Murder Complex by Lindsay Cummings

REVIEW: The Murder Complex by Lindsay Cummings

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Dear Ms. Cummings,

I think we’ve reached that stage where post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels are being labelled something else to circumvent disenchantment. I obviously have thoughts about this because given the flood of such books over the past few years, readers can spot them no matter what you call them. The Murder Complex is being touted as a futuristic thriller but don’t believe it. This is a dystopian, albeit more action-packed than we’ve grown to expect from the subgenre.

Now I like action. I think many dystopian novels could have been vastly improved had there been more of a balance between external action and internal monologuing. But balance is exactly what The Murder Complex is missing. Except in this case we swing wildly in the other direction to all action and little meaningful character development.

First, we have our two viewpoint characters: Meadow and Zephyr. (I don’t even know where to begin with these names.) Meadow lives on a houseboat somewhere in futuristic Florida with her father, older brother, and little sister. Zephyr is an orphan who, from what I’ve been able to gather, is charged with picking up garbage around the city. But wait, here’s the twist! Meadow was trained by her fisherman father to be sociopathic killer. As for Zephyr? Well, he’s a sleeper assassin whose mission is to kill randomly picked citizens as some convoluted form of population control. If you’re beginning to raise your brows, just wait. I haven’t even gotten to the worldbuilding yet.

In fact, I don’t even know how to explain the worldbuilding. While I’m not a fan of the Infodump School of Worldbuilding, giving bits and pieces of the setting via the narrative only works if they make sense and form a cohesive whole. From what I was able to put together, there was a plague at some point. Then a teenaged genius (Meadow’s mother, naturally!) finds a cure involving nanotech and the world is saved! Except the nanotech means that disease and injury are no longer things that happen and the population gets out of control. Resources have to be carefully controlled and rationed by the government, here called the Initiative. This led to the formation of the Murder Complex (translation: the sleeper assassins) to control population growth. On top of that, I’m fairly sure there was some sort of war that razed the earth because everyone lives in the city and doesn’t venture out. Also, there are pirates and crazed, garbage-covered mobs that roam around attacking people. (Why? Just because!)

There are other elements I’m omitting here because they venture into spoiler territory but while I’ve done my best to make sense of the worldbuilding, trust me when I say the execution is random and disjointed at best.

There are elements that sound like they should make for an interesting story. Meadow’s genius mother, Lark, is missing and presumed dead but she casts a long shadow over our heroine’s life. Responsible for the cure that saved humanity, and later doomed it, Lark was a key member of the Initiative and the mastermind of the Murder Complex. What happened to her? Did she betray the Initiative? Was she killed because the government found her? There’s great potential for the mystery of Lark but what actually happens in the book is both underwhelming and ridiculous.

Similarly, Zephyr falls instalove with Meadow. Why? Because he’s been dreaming of her for a long time. Meadow is his silver-haired dream girl, you see. (I’m choosing to believe “silver” is just a frou-frou way of saying “sun-bleached” or “platinum blonde” so please let me retain that delusion if I’m wrong.) That’s… okay, I guess, but this gets a weird connotation because Lark is the one who raised Zephyr and trained and programmed him into being a sleeper assassin in the first place. Seriously, Lark’s voice is the one he hears in his head when he gets his orders to kill. And Meadow got her “silver” hair from Lark. It’s weird, right? Does Zephyr dream of Meadow because there’s some unexplained connection to her via the programming done by Lark? Or does he dream of a younger version of Lark? I feel uncomfortable about this either way.

Ultimately, The Murder Complex fails for me because of a simple reason: the characters. Lots of things happen. So many things happen over the course of the book, in fact. But I couldn’t bring myself to care about any of it because I didn’t care at all about any of the characters. Not Meadow. Not Zephyr. When I don’t care about the protagonists, it doesn’t matter if they’re wanted by the government or being chased down by pirates. And it certainly won’t hit me hard when I learn the (not all that surprising) truth about Meadow’s mother.

The Murder Complex gets compared to La Femme Nikita and Hanna, and I can see why. It’s full of cinematic-style action and violence. But I love Hanna because I loved the characters as well as the action and violence. And there is no getting around the fact that a book is not a movie. You can do things with the written word that you cannot do with a movie and vice versa. Namely, especially in the YA genre, the ability to get into the characters’ heads and get a strong sense of their personality and feelings. I think The Murder Complex might have forgotten that along the way. D

My regards,
Jia

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REVIEW: The Daddy Catch by Leigh Duncan

REVIEW: The Daddy Catch by Leigh Duncan

Jess Cofer isn’t fixing for a fight. All the single mom wants is to run her fly fishing shop and preserve unspoiled Phelps Cove, Florida, for future generations. Too bad Dan Hamilton doesn’t see it that way. It looks as if the tall, dark and sexy surgeon is in favor of handing over the endangered habitat to greedy developers!

Dan would love to get on his gorgeous new fishing instructor’s good sideā€”if she has one. But he can’t throw away this opportunity to fulfill his dream to build a safe haven for foster teens. Dan knows that when it comes to the truly important things like love and family, he and Jess are on the same side. Will she forgive him when she learns what he’s been hiding?

Dear Ms. Duncan,

The Daddy Catch by Leigh Duncan Thanks for the heads up on your latest novel “The Daddy Catch.” Yes, the title is a groaner but at least the book does actually have something to do with fishing. Fly fishing to be precise and who knew there was all that to know about the sport? See reading romance has come in handy again as a way to broaden my horizons.

I like novels where the main protagonists actually grow and change. Here both Jess and Dan have things to learn and it’s not just fishing, though Jess does turn Dan into a good fly fisherman. Jess lost her husband to an accident she feels was caused by rich types who dared her husband into doing something he knew he shouldn’t have. So when Dan shows up at her store, Jess already has a chip on her shoulder about his profession and his money.

At first she’s cool to him but her experience in the sport plus a sense of fair play won’t allow her to let him flounder and buy the wrong rod or use the wrong flies. And as she learns of his interest in helping foster children, she sees that he’s not just out to be a hot shot society doctor. Meanwhile, though Jess’s eyes Dan sees this last undeveloped bit of coastline as something beyond a way to make money. He finds in the place and in the sport a peace and beauty that can soothe as well as teach

The conflict is not a flimsy manufactured type. Jess and Dan are at opposite ends of the spectrum as far as Phelps Cove is concerned. Someone’s going to lose that battle but I like the way you work things out. Jess has connections she’s never even thought about exploring and her change in attitude towards some of her rich customers, which Dan has helped bring about, allows her to suggest a change in plans that gets Dan everything he wanted out of developing the cove but without spoiling this place she loves.

Dan starts out with an idea of the perfect doctor’s wife he wants to have and Jess definitely doesn’t fit the profile. But just as Jess learns that not all doctors are arrogant and selfish, Dan discovers that he doesn’t want a wife who meets some checklist acceptable to the local medical community. I like the fact that you include some details about Dan’s demanding schedule and actually have it impact their lives a time or two. Being a thoracic surgeon isn’t a cush “9-5 and no weekends” specialty.

Everything’s going along great in their relationship but then comes a final Big Mis that threatens it all. I couldn’t help but feel that Jess flew off the handle a bit. Yes, she doesn’t tolerate what she thinks of as being lied to but she never gives Dan a chance to explain his side of the story before ordering him out of her life. She redeems herself a bit in my opinion by being the one to go to Dan and apologize for her actions but the whole thing felt a bit more like a manufactured “end of the book and we need a little more conflict” romance trope to me.

Jess’s son Adam has never known a father so in many ways he’s like the foster children Dan knew and still tries to help. The scenes of the two of them are touching without being sugary sweet as Dan knows what’s missing in Adam’s life and steps up to provide it for him. I especially love the final part of the book where Dan has his proposal all thought out but ditches it for the chance to help Adam catch his first red. That to me, and to Jess, proved that Dan had truly come of age as far as his feelings for Adam, fishing, the Cove and Jess were concerned.

“The Daddy Catch” is a far better book than the hokey title might suggest. The main conflict between Jess and Dan is not something settled with a short, frank conversation. Both of them move forward as individuals as well as a couple. Adam is a prominent part of the story and Dan is shown actually being a busy surgeon rather than it merely being a wallpaper profession. That last speed bump in the road to the romantic HEA didn’t feel quite right to me but otherwise I enjoyed reading this one. B

~Jayne

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