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romantic-suspense

REVIEW:  Lost by Laura K. Curtis

REVIEW: Lost by Laura K. Curtis

Lost

Dear Ms. Curtis,

My TBR pile is completely out of control.  It contains your first book, Twisted, reviewed here by Sunita.  When I had the opportunity to review Lost, I tweeted you to ask whether it could be read as a stand alone before I accepted.  You told me it could but that it contained mild spoilers for the first book. Lost does stand alone well but I would think it’d be a slightly richer reading experience having read Twisted first because it is clear that both Tara and Jake had fairly major roles in that first book.  I didn’t have any trouble understanding what was going on – enough was explained during the course of the story and it wasn’t done in an info-dump-y way so that was another bonus.

Having now read and enjoyed Lost, I am now plotting to bump Twisted up the reading list.  Wish me luck.

Tara Jean Dobbs, currently known as Tara Jean Black, left Dobbs Hollow after the events in Twisted.  She was formerly a police officer there but whatever happened has caused her to re-evaluate her life.  She quit her job, changed her name and drifted for a bit.  While working in a small diner in Twin Oaks, Texas, she met and befriended Andrea.  Andrea and she visited a commune/religious community nearby – the Chosen, where Andrea’s distant cousin John lived and worked.  After a while, Andrea decided to forego life in “the Outside” and become one of the Chosen.  Tara thought it was a fairly harmless community – very regimented but largely self-sufficient (they grow their own produce and make their own butter etc) and for people such as Andrea, who wanted relief from the pressure of money and work and the constant decisions required by independent living, it represented a safe haven.   People are free to leave the community and Tara had visited on a number of occasions.  However, when Andrea (renamed Pearl by the Leader of the Chosen) stopped writing, Tara became concerned and decided to join the Chosen in order to find out what happened to her.

When the book starts, Tara (renamed Serena) has been living with the Chosen for five weeks.  Her friends, Lucy and Ethan (the protagonists from Twisted) became worried about her being out of contact and send Jake Nolan to look for her.  Jake is a former FBI profiler who specialised in data analysis and computer programming… er, things.  “Jason Norman” (renamed Jacob) arrives at the commune with the story that Tara was his fiancee, they had fought and she’d run away. He had been searching for her to try and make things right.  Because of his contacts within law enforcement, he had planted a convincing cover online to back up his story.

While Jake’s mission is merely to get Tara out, Tara will not leave until she has discovered the fate of her friend.  Together they investigate under the increasingly watchful eyes of the Leader and his apostles, along the way, discovering there is much worse happening in the Chosen’s compound. The more they discover, the more determined they both become to take the bad guys down.

Jake and Tara have some history.  Both were immediately physically attracted to one another when they first met in Dobbs Hollow and because they had Lucy as a common friend, they knew a lot about each other.  For reasons which weren’t entirely clear to me (because I haven’t read the first book) Jake said things to Tara which were very hurtful and their attraction never went anywhere.   One of the first things Jake does when he meets up with Tara at the compound is to genuinely apologise for the things he said, which questioned her professional competence and her ability to be a good friend.  It was a genuine, heartfelt apology without excuses.

Jake’s and Tara’s “cover” is a romantic relationship – they need to spend time alone together to plan and debrief.  For much of the book the danger to them is not imminent and this means they are able to progress the romantic relationship without having to dodge any bullets while doing so.  The sex scenes are hot when they arrive, but Jake and Tara do take some time before they get physical.  Both think some of the things each says to the other are just part of their cover, and at one point (not without good cause and for reasons which are clear in the book), Jake questions whether Tara is actually in a position to give meaningful consent to sex.  It was a little disappointing that the thread didn’t go anywhere. He didn’t talk to her about it and it didn’t stop them from having more sex.   From a readerly standpoint, I never had the impression that Tara was acting from anything other than her free will when it came to sex with Jake so it wasn’t a big problem, but, having raised it in the story, I would have liked to have seen it played out.

There is reference to some sexual abuse in the story (not to Tara) but it is not detailed.  There is also some significant violence.  It is not “lovingly described” but there is enough of it to give a clear sense of what is happening and the violence might be too much for some readers.  While much of the personal violence is fade to black, it was enough to cause me to wince in sympathy and be very glad I was not in Tara’s shoes.  While there isn’t any “torture porn”, be aware that very bad things happen.

I remember Sunita appreciated the agency of the heroine in Twisted and the same holds true for Lost.  Tara is intelligent and, while it was perhaps not the wisest decision to embed herself with the Chosen (to be fair, initially she just wanted to check that Andrea was not being held against her will and things kind of spiralled from there), her actions afterward never went into the realm of TSTL.  The Chosen is set up in a very patriarchal way so Jake is able to move around more easily and get access to things Tara cannot.  In some ways I lamented this because it put Jake in charge.  However, he did have more relevant experience, having been involved with various task forces while with the FBI so it wasn’t unreasonable in the circumstances.  I liked that Jake always included Tara and they talked things through and made decisions together and he asked for her help with things he could not get near or which were not within his skill set.

There were a couple of continuity errors I picked up – I had an ARC so perhaps the final for sale version has fixed those things – and there was a rather extraordinary feat of physical athleticism which strained my credulity near the end of the book (driving two miles, leaving a false trail and jogging back those two miles with a heavy pack and a gun in something less than four minutes? Really?)   (ETA: The final version of the book has this taking place in ten minutes, not four. That’s much closer to believable for me.) but most of the book seemed alarmingly plausible. I did think the end became a little melodramatic but that maybe because things picked up in pace by a factor of 1000 and  I had been lulled into a false sense of security.

Some of the secondary characters were quite compelling even with only relatively short time on the page.  I admit to being curious as to what would happen with Kevin and Bea.

Tara’s experiences during the course of the book were not treated lightly and it was acknowledged that she would be forever changed by them, including that she would need therapy.  Because of the uncertainty of their future in terms of what they would do next and how things would go with Tara’s recovery, I think the ending could best be described as happy for now. But that suited the story and I was satisfied with it.  To have gone further would have felt wrong I think.  As Lucy and Ethan appeared in this book, I am hoping that Tara and Jake might also appear in future books and readers might get to check in on how that happy ending is working out. Future books I definitely plan on reading.

I’ve been a fan of romantic suspense for years but lately, I admit to being a bit jaded by outrageous plots which are too conveniently solved, sex when the bullets are flying, romance which is not romantic and suspense which is not suspenseful.  Lost succeeded for me both in terms of the romance and the suspense. Tara and Jake had chemistry and their love for one another was built on a solid layer of mutual respect, which was a plus. They came across as smart and mature and that is always a pleasure for me to read.  At about the 70% mark, the tension ratchets up and I was completely invested in the outcome and worried it wasn’t going to work out. (It does. It’s a romance. But in good romantic suspense, you should be worried, I think.)

I had a few niggles with the story but for the most part, this book was a win.  I give Lost a B.

Regards,
Kaetrin

 

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REVIEW:  Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart

REVIEW: Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart

madam-will-you-talk

Dear Readers,

A few months ago, a friend of mine asked me to help her clarify something from this book. She needed to know a fact from it but didn’t have her copy handy. Did I have the book and could I look it up? Of course I had a copy – several, in fact, I think – and I was happy to pull it out and start reading. With the reading going smooth as silk, I was soon lost in the opening scenes. The needed fact was, unfortunately, quickly clarified and with several other books waiting for my attention and possible reviews, I reluctantly put this one aside. When I heard the news of Stewart’s passing, I began a frantic search for where I’d laid the book because, even though it’s not my favorite, I just knew I had to read it now.

Charity Selbourn and a friend from her former teaching days are on a much deserved holiday in the south of France. As Charity settles into her room at their hotel, she becomes acquainted with a young English boy and his slightly out-of-control mongrel dog named Rommel. Giving his name as David Shelley, the two chat a bit about English Romance poets and it’s at this time that Charity gets the unmistakable feeling that David has faced some awful event in his life which has aged him past the knowledge a 13 year old boy should have.

During that civilized French custom of l’heure d’aparitif, Charity sees and guesses at the nationalities, professions and details of her fellow hotel guests much to the amusement of her friend Louise. Later she meets up with one of them who fills her in on the grisly details behind David’s unhappiness. His father was accused, though acquitted, of murder. It was a Crime of Passion during which David was knocked unconscious and, as the newspaper headlines will have it, Richard Byron must be unhinged.

Since indolent Louise isn’t interested in sight-seeing, Charity has the idea of asking David’s step-mother if he can join her for a day outing. It’s then that Charity learns more than she wanted to know about Richard Byron who is hot on the trail of his son, a son who acts terrified of him and begs Charity to hide him from his father.

The plot thickens when Richard, knowing Charity must be hiding his son from him, tracks her down. A game of cat and mouse ensues with Charity embroiling herself deeper and deeper in a game of murder. Unless she discovers the truth behind these events, she just might be the next in the sights of a cold-blooded killer.

There are certain books which I find myself slogging through and some magical ones which flow like a powerful river, pulling me in and sweeping me along almost effortlessly. Most of Stewart’s books are the sweeping kind. Before I knew it, I’d read almost half the book and only put it down only for the necessities of life.

There are lots of similarities among Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense books. Usually the setting is exotic – or would have been so when the books were first written, the heroine is either young or slightly naïve, the identity of the hero might be in doubt, police presence is light to non-existent, and the heroine is quietly but quickly swept into a situation far beyond anything she’s ever encountered though the driving force behind the plot remains a mystery. These books generally feature ordinary, every day people placed in circumstances they never anticipated or are initially prepared for but the hero and, especially, heroine rise to the occasion and see justice done and wrongs righted.

Yeah, that paragraph pretty much sums this one up but let me delve into what makes it special. I love the chapter headers from famous English literary works with which Stewart would have been well familiar. In reading the various obituaries, I found it sad that she had been unable to accept positions at either Oxford or Cambridge which her intelligence had secured for her. But her knowledge shows in the characters’ intelligence. Charity casually associates Yggdrasil with a tree in the courtyard of the hotel and she and Richard can quote poetry and lines from Shakespearean plays to each other with ease.

The descriptions of the food are to die for. But along with that is the understanding of how important well prepared food is to the French soul. It’s national honor on the line with each meal and the whole is taken quite seriously. It’s a joy just to read about.

I can also see the locations in the south of France. The towns, roads and flora of the region jump off the page. I can see the heat shimmering off the scree of white rocks with harsh green juniper hanging on for dear life, the chalky dust rising from the winding roads, the prickly plants, the golden-amber shafts of sunlight slicing through shutters closed to hold out the afternoon heat with the only relief to be found in the shadows. I’ve never been to Provence but because of this book, I’ve “seen” it. I also love the descriptions of how to drive in France – full on, peddle to the metal, horn blaring and not giving an inch.

Reading Sunita’s excellent review of “Wildfire at Midnight,” brings to mind things which didn’t bother my much younger self when I initially read most of Stewart’s books. Everyone smokes like a chimney and drinks like fish albeit with a casual sophistication and elegance. Charity is not quite as naïve as other Stewart heroines being a widow who lost her RAF husband during the war and who had at one point had to support herself as a teacher. Her husband introduced her to fast cars and thankfully Charity learned to handle them and to relish speed. She does a fair amount to save herself and David and the only blunder she commits is due to a lack of knowledge rather than being stupid.

One thing my older self enjoyed more this time around is that Charity’s first husband, Johnny isn’t demonized or made into an angel. He was a man with some faults but also lots of strengths. He loved Charity and she loved him. But she hasn’t turned him into some saint nor has she sworn never to love again and put herself on a shelf to worship at his shrine. I’m also not usually one to buy into love at first sight and though that doesn’t really happen here, love does come as kind of a thunderbolt yet I still believe in it which says something about the way Stewart can convey emotions.

The men of the book tend to be on the take-charge side but then as Louise reminds Charity, she seems to like her men that way. The hero might come off as a bit high-handed even after the initial misunderstandings behind his attitude are explained. Stewart also indulges in a little stereotyping of Frenchmen though in one case it serves to help Charity along during the chase to Marseilles. The term “negro” is also used at least twice and though it doesn’t appear to me to be used as an outright insult, still the word is there and this could be a trigger.

As to the reason behind the plot, there’s no hope of guessing it early on. The details don’t begin to be revealed until the final third of the story and one character becomes a deus ex machina during the finale. Even after the villains are vanquished, an ending wrap-party is needed in order to tell the whole.

This novel appears to be a favorite of several DA readers and would, I think, serve as a good starting place for new readers as it has many of the standard elements Stewart included in several of her suspense books. If you go into it realizing that it does have some issues which date it and that the clarity of the resolution gets a bit blurry, you’ll probably do just fine with it. The evocation of the locale, the food and the characterization are more than worth the price of an admission ticket. B+

~Jayne

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