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Secret-Baby

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:  Hold on Tight by Serena Bell

REVIEW: Hold on Tight by Serena Bell

hold on tight1Dear Ms. Bell,

Hold on Tight is a secret baby contemporary but you made it believable and kept the heroine sympathetic while doing so.

Mira Shipley was 18 when she met 20 year old Jake Taylor at a bowling alley.  Jake had just finished his training and was one month away from deployment to Afghanistan.  He’d been told by his fire team leader not to get attached when on leave – that would only distract him when he was deployed and make it more dangerous for him and his team.  Jake is gun-shy about relationships anyway; his mother is an alcoholic and his father is abusive – coping poorly after a work injury left him permanently disabled.  To him family is toxic and he doesn’t want to have one of his own.  (He has a brother and a sister and appears to get along well with them, so this is not completely true but still, Jake never plans to get married or have children.)

But then he meets Mira and what was going to be a one night fling turned out to be a relationship where they talked and laughed and connected.

Mira was raised by an over-protective father and at 18, she was having a night of rebellion when she met Jake.  It was obvious to Jake that Mira was a virgin and he didn’t want to be the guy who pressured a girl so he let her set the pace of their relationship.  He also made it clear that it was just for when he was stateside and it all ended when he left for Afghanistan.  Nonetheless, feelings developed between the two and one night, a week before Jake is due to leave, she offers Jake sex. It is a bit of a disaster – Mira finds it very painful and Jake stops before much happens.  However, before he got the condom on, there was some touching of the relevant body parts and, unbeknown to either of them at the time, it was enough to get Mira pregnant with Sam.  After the disastrous sex, Mira confesses she has feelings for Jake.  Remembering the advice of his fire team leader and his own resolve not to have a family, Jake says nothing in return – which is answer in itself and they don’t see each other again until they bump into each other eight years later at a physiotherapist’s office.

When Mira realised she was pregnant, she resolved to tell Jake so he could decide how involved he wanted to be.  She felt he had a right to know.  She tried hard to find him and I think the book does well in showing this was the case and why, for believable reasons, she did not succeed. Nevertheless, she promised herself if she ever did see him, she would tell him straight away.  So, that worked for me.  It made sense and it wasn’t a situation of Mira withholding anything from Jake or either of them being jerks.

When Mira and Jake do meet again, the reveal isn’t the very first thing out of her mouth but she does tell him promptly, even though it was hard and even though Jake was being a bit of an asshole at the time.

At some unspecified time before they meet, Jake had been in an IED explosion.  His best friend had died and he had lost a leg above the knee.  It was probably some months, maybe a year before? But if it said in the book, I missed it.  Jake has recovered enough that his residual leg (which he calls a stump) has healed well and he’s walking with the aid of a prosthetic. I don’t know how long that all takes but it takes a while I think.  In any event, he was not newly injured.  He was still deep into rehabilitation however and was learning how to run and keep his balance when he stumbled and how to get to ground level and back up again and all those things that are easier with two legs.  He does feel grief and anger at the loss of his leg. He does feel useless.  Being a soldier was what defined him and he’s lost that.

He didn’t want any kid to have him for a father. Ex-soldier. Ex-person. A guy, like his own father, who occupied a chair and sucked the life out of a room, out of the world.

But it becomes clear that the thing which is most messing with his head is the death of his friend and what Jake perceives as his responsibility for it. And that is the heart of his loss.

Even when he’d enlisted, he hadn’t known for sure that it would feel like he’d found his purpose. That being a soldier would feel like him. But once he fought, he knew. He was meant for it.

That part of him was dead now, a much neater and keener incision than the mess that the bomb blast had made of his foot and lower leg. He’d lost his sense that there was meaning in what he was doing, his conviction that he was doing the right thing, his willingness to trade lives for lives. The man he’d fought beside was dead, and he would never again be certain that what they’d done was worth what they’d lost.

Mira has recently moved to Seattle to take a job with a company which sells shoes online – she had a passion for art but after falling pregnant, she moved in with her father and stepmother who live in Florida and took online classes to learn how to be a programmer. She created an app which sounds really cool – you take a picture of yourself in an outfit you have, no shoes and then upload the pic and the app will show you how the shoes go with the clothes, making online shopping more customer friendly.   Her father has supported her but his love is cloying and Mira feels the need to stand on her own two feet.  She wants to be independent and her move to Seattle is all about that. Unfortunately, because reasons, Sam needs childcare and her babysitter has fallen through.  She’s already put off starting her job but her new boss has drawn firm line – turn up on Monday or don’t come at all.

When Mira and Jake meet, he thinks he’s a solution to her problem and this gives him something to do and a chance to get to know Sam.

Of all the unexpected emotions he’d felt yesterday in their presence—attraction to Mira, curiosity about Sam—the most unexpected of all had been the pure will he’d felt to claim this new possibility that had presented itself. Jake was so distant from the notion of wanting something that he almost didn’t recognize it at first.

Jake has never been good at trusting his feelings.  Emotions like love feel inherently untrustworthy to him.  The central conflict between he and Mira once they meet again is that he doesn’t stay.  Mira needs to be able to trust him to stick around and Jake’s not confident enough in himself to do it.   But the chemistry is there again and he finds himself opening up to her more than anyone, including sharing what happened on the day he was injured.

Jake’s relationship with Sam is great.  I thought the child was a little precocious – he seemed to be very advanced in his speech, even though the ideas behind the words are age-appropriate.  When Sam wants to race with Jake, Jake tries to run.  He finds it awkward but he’s better at it than he thought he would be.  Eventually, he goes to a specialist prosthetic maker and gets a running leg, a biking leg and a swimming leg and starts to train for a triathlon (I don’t know how he paid for any of these by the way).  Jake is good at running and the theme of him running (both away and to clear his mind) is a repeated motif.

Essentially, Jake had to get his head together before he could consider himself a worthy partner for Mira (and his physical disability was only a part of that). He had to decide whether he was going to try to get back to active service (and if so, this put the kybosh on a relationship because he’d be gone) or if not, what he was going to do instead. And he had to process a lot of things before he was ready to decide anything.  I found this believable and understandable. It also made me think the HEA was solid.

Mira, for her part, is concerned that if she relies on Jake she is not being independent.  That she would merely be trading her father for Jake, so she is wary about getting into anything serious.  But the chemistry and connection they have won’t be denied.  I thought Mira’s change of heart made sense and the way she altered her thinking around herself and recognised strengths within herself was positive too.  Jake also gives Mira a lot of credit for the job she’s done raising their son and he has great respect for her which helped too but it made Jake seem a little too perfect at times.

Mira is very accepting of Jake and isn’t fazed by his residual leg, but sex is problematic at first and they have to talk their way through what went wrong and make a plan to get it right.  This is something that doesn’t come easy for Jake at all but it is the beginning of him “staying”.

I felt like Jake, through the course of the book, came to accept his altered body but also to realise that that he remained very able.  My sense was that the disability was neither here nor there for Mira or Sam, and by the end of the book, Jake had adapted so that his disability was a thing he had to manage but not something which ruled his life. That seemed realistic to me.

I thought the ending was a little saccharine and in some respects undid some of the good work you had done not romanticising Jake’s disability – because it felt a little Lifetime movie-ish, especially Mira’s “project”.

I was engaged and entertained and glad to see Mira and Jake and Sam get their HEA.  Grade: B.

Regards,
Kaetrin

 

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