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REVIEW:  Twisted by Laura K. Curtis

REVIEW: Twisted by Laura K. Curtis

Dear Laura K. Curtis:

You and I have followed and chatted with each other on Twitter for quite a while. I took note when your debut book was released, and when I saw Liz Mc2′s tweets about how much she was enjoying it, I downloaded the sample and enjoyed it so much that I bought the book and picked up where I had left off. I’m a fan of Romantic Suspense, but some of the stock plots and setups don’t work for me. But I couldn’t resist yours, and I’m very glad I went with my instincts.

Twisted by Laura K. CurtisThe story opens with Lucy Sadler Caldwell, a bestselling true crime author, returning to her small Texas home town to investigate the long-ago murder of her mother, Cecile. Because Cecile was scorned as the town tramp, her brutal killing was only cursorily investigated by the local police, and Lucy is determined to find out the truth. She returns to their old home, accompanied by her younger brother, who was five at the time of the murder and remembers little of their past in Dobbs Hollow. Prepared to fight to get the police evidence she needs to begin her investigation, Lucy is surprised and pleased to discover that the Chief of Police is a newcomer who is more than willing to help her out. And while he may have secrets of his own, Ethan Donovan is not related to or conspiring with the town leaders, however much they try to control him.

As Lucy begins the process of solving the mystery of her mother’s death, she realizes that she also has to uncover the many secrets in her mother’s past. These secrets implicate a number of powerful town citizens and increase the hostility with which almost everyone in the town regards her.

Curtis does an excellent job of introducing Lucy and setting up the mystery storyline. I was on Lucy’s side from the minute she stepped out of the Range Rover and went into the police station to declare her varied weapons and the permits to use them, so I had no trouble believing that Ethan would be too:

Every battle called for a specific weapon, and over the years Lucy had become accustomed to carrying at least one at all times. Now, without the weight of a pistol at her hip or back, the reassuring bite of a sheath at her ankle, or even the knowledge of a can of Mace in her purse, she felt supremely vulnerable. But she could hardly walk into a police station armed to the teeth, no matter how much she might prefer to.

So instead of checking the bullets in a magazine, she patted the tight bun restraining her wavy hair, spritzed her neck with a touch of eau de toilette, and gave her appearance one last once-over in the rearview mirror. Good to go.

Sliding out of the Range Rover in a pencil skirt and high heels wasn’t easy, but when she turned to walk up the steps to the station house and caught a man on the sidewalk doing a double take, satisfaction swirled through her. The costume had been worth the effort.

It’s clear from that opening that Lucy is good at being in command of a situation, and that despite her difficult upbringing she has built a successful career that gives her confidence and expertise. She’s relieved that Ethan is supportive and she’s happy to have his help, but she’s not looking to him for solutions, in fact, her expertise helps his investigation when a woman is found murdered.

Ethan is a good match for Lucy; as an outsider, he doesn’t come with Dobbs Hollow baggage and he sees her as the professional she’s become rather than as her mother’s daughter (the way most of the town dismisses her). The disability he acquired in his former career as a Houston police officer goes some way toward leveling the natural physical advantages he would have over Lucy, so their working relationship feels more equal than I often find in Romantic Suspense. It takes a while for Ethan’s past to be revealed, and I found his secrets to be less awful than I expected, but overall he was a sympathetic and interesting character, with little of the hyper-masculinity that such characters sometimes project.

The mystery and suspense comprise a major portion of the book, so readers who want the romance to be front and center with the mystery taking a back seat might find the balance tilting too far in the non-romance direction. I enjoyed the mystery, which expanded from the single case of Cecile’s murder to encompass several others. It gets a bit too complicated by the end, when Cecile’s complex story becomes tied into other misdeeds in Dobbs Hollow, and the gothic darkness of the town starts to tip toward implausibility, but for the most part I found the twists and turns intriguing.

The downside of the verismilitude of the mystery and suspense aspects is that sometimes moving from the crimes to the romance was a bit jarring. There aren’t any of those annoying “we’re in danger, we’re hiding, let’s snog!” scenes, but the transitions from suspense to sensuality didn’t always work for me. I did buy Ethan and Lucy as a couple, though, and I think part of what made them convincing was that we saw them working together and talking about the town and the crime and their lives, not just radiating sexual tension and lust.

One of the problems I often have with the Romantic Suspense genre and with mystery-romance more generally is that the heroine is regularly being rescued by the hero. That doesn’t happen overtly here, but Lucy has a lot of bad things happen to her and Ethan is constantly having to show up to set things to rights. Granted, he’s the chief of police, so it’s his job, and Lucy is emotionally and practically able to cope without him, but I would have liked more scenes where she took the lead.

The setting of Dobbs Hollow really comes to life. There are a lot of characters, many of them related to each other, so occasionally at the beginning I had trouble keeping everyone straight, but by midway through the book I had a handle on the cast. There were a few sympathetic characters in the mostly suspicious and disapproving town, and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more of Lucy’s school friend, Tara Jean the police officer.

Despite my criticisms, I really enjoyed this novel. The writing is strong, the characters come to life, and it’s a treat to have an interesting, complex female character who sends the message that she can solve her own mysteries and who doesn’t exhibit TSTL behavior. Ethan is a well-drawn hero, but this is really Lucy’s story, and she absolutely owns it. Grade: B

~ Sunita

 

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REVIEW:  Secrets and Ink by Lou Harper

REVIEW: Secrets and Ink by Lou Harper

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When Karma writes you a ticket, pay up or else…

If life was like the movies, Jem Mitchell’s wouldn’t be such a mess. In LA’s glittering world of dreams, he works an unglamorous job at a gourmet grocery store. His past is so deep and dark, the details are lost even to him. All he knows is he was once cursed by a meter maid, and ever since, his love life has sucked.

When Detective Nick Davies becomes a regular at the store, Jem dares to hope he’s un-hexed at last. He should have known that sex with a remarkably normal guy, devoid of weird fetishes and fatal personality flaws, was too good to be true.

During a post-encounter cuddle, Nick recognizes the tattoo on Jem’s back—and remembers him as a young hustler he arrested nine years past.

As Jem’s memories come crashing back, he flees from Nick, but fate contrives to keep pushing them back together. And when Jem’s old partner in crime is found murdered, the stakes are raised for life, for love, and a dangerous drama with no guarantee of a Hollywood ending.

Warning: Stars a mild-mannered store clerk with a shady past, a hunky cop whose passion in the bedroom is as big as his passion for justice, and celebrity sightings you won’t see on TMZ.

Dear Lou Harper,
On the surface, I could not think of anything obviously wrong with this story. The narrator Jem is likeable and funny. He has his own quirks and neurosis and the reasons are all based on what happened to him in the past. He thinks he is cursed – truly when I was reading the blurb I was sure that the magic would be involved in the story. However, it is very clear (to any person on Earth but Jem) that he has just been having lots and lots of bad luck in the last several years of his life.

“You should have patience with Jem,” she said, leaning close to Nick. “He thinks he’s been cursed.” “Yeah, I’ve heard,” Nick replied. I shook my head at her disapprovingly. “I don’t think that. I know it. Ms. Jones said, word for word: Sir, may all your hubris fall around your ears like a ton of bricks. Three days later, a literal ton of bricks fell on me. Well, okay, technically, it was poured concrete, but that’s a tiny detail. I’ve had nothing but bad luck since.” Like my sister, Nick was a doubter. “Don’t be ridiculous. Life’s not a fairy tale.” “Don’t I know it? But the curse is real. I saw a psychic, and she categorically declared I was under a curse. Don’t give me that look,” I added, because Nick was rolling his eyes now. “Madame Layla is for real. She is also a witch, so she knows her stuff.”

When Jem and Nick met, I felt the connection between them and I wanted to see and feel more of that. I was not sure whether I liked that they had already met in the past, when Nick arrested Jem during his hustling activities, but I was ready to go along with it – especially since the reasons for Jem being a teenage prostitute were on one hand different from what many m/m stories usually go with and on the other hand so simple and believable to me.
I also really enjoyed the mystery part of the story – the first part of the mystery that is, although it started very strong, it then fizzled out really quickly, because the identity of the villain was telegraphed pretty obviously. I mean, I do not mind if mystery is just a vehicle for romance OR if the romance takes a very secondary fiddle to the mystery, but to me neither the romance nor mystery in this book received an in depth treatment. The mystery was simplistic, because there was no candidate to divert my suspicions from the one character who felt like a REALLY bad and sleazy guy from the very beginning. I get that there was an attempt to do so with somebody else, but I just did not buy that at all.
The romance was cute. But I wanted to know more about both guys as people. As I said before, I thought Jem’s neurosis was established well by what happened to him in the past, but at the same time I thought the medical part of his situation was given a superficial treatment. I get that it is hard to strike a balance in romance, but I did not feel like the balance was achieved. Nick was nice and dependable and a stickler for the rules, but I did not feel like I got to know him well if at all. I felt that characterization-wise the story was just scratching the surface, especially with Nick, and it was frustrating for me to feel dissatisfied with the characters when I finished reading.
I liked it but did not love it.
Grade C.

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