I had so many good resolutions when I last posted here, all these ways I was going to get caught up on my backlog of reviews and get this blog back on track! …and then my internet went out for a week. Ah well, such is life. I don’t really get all that stressed about it, other than the fact that the piles of books around my computer are threatening to topple over…
As I mentioned, I’ve been reading through Dee Henderson’s standalone novels. It started because I received her most recent book, Threads of Suspicion, as an ARC from Bethany House. Now this book is the second book in Henderson’s new series – the Evie Blackwell Cold Cases. Being myself, I thought I would just go ahead and read the first book, Traces of Guilt, first, and then I would be good to go. I really have a problem of not being able to dip in and out of series… I basically feel a compulsion to read them all, in order.
So anyway, I open up Traces of Guilt and start to read… and on the very first page is a character that I definitely remembered from being in one of Henderson’s other books! So then I started wondering if this really was a new series, or if there were going to be a lot overlapping characters……..and before I knew it, I had been sucked in, and ended up reading all of the novels she has published since her O’Malley series (which I actually really enjoyed).
Here’s the thing: Henderson’s “standalone” novels aren’t really standalones… a lot of them have interconnecting characters, which, over time, does become kind of important. I’m at the point now where I’ve been immersed in her world for eight books, though, so it’s kind of hard for me to say whether or not these books would make sense if genuinely read on their own. Some of them would, I think, but others it seems like a lot would go over your head if you didn’t know some of the background for the characters. What I really don’t understand is why, in general, authors don’t indicate when books are connected?? I’m not sure if they don’t want to scare people off by making their books a series or what, but I’ve come across this with other authors as well, and it honestly drives me crazy. I WANT TO READ THE BOOKS IN ORDER and it’s extremely aggravating when I can’t even figure out what order that is supposed to be because the author is pretending like they are all independent books when they AREN’T! With Henderson, I had to go through and determine when each book had been published and read them in that order. What. Even.
SO. General ranting about the concept of calling books standalone when they are not, in fact, standalone, is over – on to the actual books themselves!
The problem is that I really enjoyed the O’Malley series so much. They were engaging, exciting, full of solid conversations, and tackled topics and themes in a realistic and thought-provoking way without ever sounding preachy. And none of Henderson’s other books have lived up to those in my mind, so even though many of her books are pretty decent, I’m always somewhat disappointed because they aren’t as good as the O’Malley series.
With that in mind… I found both The Witness and Before I Wake to be 3/5 reads. They were interesting and had decent characterization, but somehow just lacked the zing.
The Witness was just a bit slow, especially since it SEEMED like it should be quite exciting. Luke is the chief of police and, in the first chapter, is on the scene shortly after a shooting takes place in a jewelry store. The only witness is a young woman who, Luke eventually finds out, is on the run from a different crime she witnessed several years earlier. While the story started well, it slowly devolved from a thriller into a gentle romance, a theme I found running through several of Henderson’s books. It just doesn’t seem right to advertise a book as a romantic thriller when it’s basically just the romantic part…
Soon there were too many couples: Luke and Amanda. Connor and Marie. Caleb and Tracey. And several other pairs that Henderson kept hinting around should or would be dating soon. After a very long middle section where basically nothing happens except for all the couples working through their internal problems (which are pretty easy to solve because everyone is ridiculously wealthy – another common Henderson theme), all of the sudden there is a bunch of action that feels quite abrupt and SOMEONE DIES, which was quite upsetting and felt completely unnecessary.
All in all, not a bad book, but not one I feel compelled to read again.
There were some common issues with Before I Wake. Again, the premise is completely engaging – several women, apparently unconnected, die in their sleep, despite being youngish and in apparently good health. No sign of foul play or visitors. Rae has recently moved to town to become a business partner with a guy she used to date, Bruce, who is a private investigator. Rae used to work undercover for the FBI and had an assignment go south. Still recovering emotionally, she’s left DC behind and moved to this small town outside of Chicago.
This book had a tighter story and more tension. But there was this weird, super-polite love triangle as Bruce is still quite interested in Rae romantically, but the sheriff, Nathan, is also very interested in Rae. Rae isn’t sure what she wants to do with her life or if she is interested in either of these guys, and in the meantime the three of them work together virtually with no tension, which didn’t really seem likely, given the interconnecting emotions.
This book would have probably gotten 4/5, except the ending felt like a total cop-out. There were several suspects and a lot of different motives, but SPOILER, it’s just a random dude? And then he just conveniently dies in a car wreck, so everyone’s problems are solved, hurrah! There was also no resolution in the relationships between Rae, Bruce, and Nathan, and it honestly felt like Henderson was getting ready to start another series with this trio, as the relationships had that very open-ended feel to them. But we actually don’t here from these guys again in the rest of the books, so oh well I suppose.
Overall, Before I Wake was a book that could have been really good but ended up kind of meh because of the weak ending.
This actually means that I have FINALLY finished reviewing all of my May reads, so maybe someday we’ll actually look at books I’ve been reading in June… even though June is almost over…!!!