Saturday, June 19, 2010

"Superstition" by Karen Robards

Reporter Nicky Sullivan thinks the big break in her career will be a live broadcast of a seance in the house where three teenage girls mysteriously disappeared fifteen years ago. The seance is lead by Leonora James, Nicky's own mother, a famous psychic. Also on hand to make sure nothing goes wrong - his attempts to shut the seance down were unsuccessful - is police chief Joe Franconi, who is haunted by a ghost of his own, literally.

During the broadcast, a woman is murdered, and Nicky also comes very close to losing her life. As more murders occur, she must team up with Joe to discover the truth, while battling her attraction to him.

If the book cover didn't tell me otherwise, I would have thought this was written by Karen Rose or Lisa Jackson. Except even those two provide a bit more plot than what can be found here. The solutions to the two mysteries (the events of fifteen years ago and the events of now) are wrapped up so arbitrarily in the last part of the book that Robards could easily have claimed aliens did it all and it wouldn't have made much difference. Most of this, as can be expected, is devoted to the developing romance between Nicky and Joe. The latter is a yawn-inducing, cliche-ridden typical alpha male, and I could barely remember much about him once the book was finished. The former is okay as far as female protagonists go, but her attitude towards the supernatural quickly gets weary. If anybody dare suggest they are a non-believer, she behaves like a snotty child who thinks her viewpoint is the only valid one. Not the quality one would expect in a REPORTER, for God's sake.

The supernatural element is the other part of this novel that just doesn't work. The fact that Joe has a ghost - Brian Sawyer - haunting him comes across as cheesy. Making it part of what helps him and Nicky connect is even cheesier. Either plant your novel in the real world, or make the "ghosts"/supernatural element a central, non-disputeable part of the plot. I like ghost stories. I don't like stories that dance around the idea to fill up space. The presence of some scary ghosts could have perhaps made this book a little more interesting. I stress - PERHAPS.

Yet another author too scared to abandon the rigid formula of romance novels (does anybody remember the day when the love interest could also be a suspect?), Karen Robards delivers a by-the-numbers romantic thriller with clunky pacing and even clunkier plotting.

Friday, June 11, 2010

"To Die For" by Melanie George

Abby St James is a timid young woman who decides to masquerade as her twin sister Michaela, overseeing the men's magazine that she owns. Why such a wishy-washy wet napkin would believe she could pass for a wild, promiscuous, thrice-married man-eater isn't terribly clear. Anyway, she finds herself overwhelmed by the magazine's publisher, Stefan Massari, who has always been at odds with Michaela over the way the magazine is run. In fact, she faints after their first meeting because he is just so intense. Abby has a deep-seated mistrust of men ever since she was finger-banged against her will in high school. Of course, Stefan manages to break down those walls through repeated seduction attempts that border on sexual harrassment.

Unfortunately for Abby, Michaela has an enemy, and this stalker doesn't know they're stalking the wrong twin.

"To Die For" is the sort of 'romantic' suspense trash that gives the genre a bad name. Like many female authors, a clear distinction is made here between 'good' and 'bad' girls. Only the nice, well-behaved, near-virginal woman is worthy of the swarthy Italian's desire and love. On the other hand, the outspoken, ball-breaking, sexually active woman, by the book's end, has been raped and beaten, presumably for her sins. She even gets to donate a kidney to her 'better' sister so that she can repent. As a male reader, I found these portrayals offensive, and I'd be very surprised if a woman didn't as well. This extends to the character of Stefan, described as the typical exotic, masculine protector of fragile woman. Though it must be said, 'fragile' doesn't even begin to describe Abby. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more weak, irritating and helpless female character anywhere in general fiction.

Perhaps worth a browse just to see how bad it is - open up to just about any page and you'll get a nice dose of florid dialogue or lurid sexual descriptions (usually involving fingering of some type) - "To Die For" is real bottom-of-the-barrel stuff.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

"Freddy Krueger's Tales Of Terror #2: Fatal Games" by Bruce Richards

Chip Parker, his mother and his adopted brother Al are moving to Elm Street, where the mother hopes to make a go of it as the owner of a donut shop. Al is a bitter, angry teenager and resents his adopted family. Tensions only increase when both brothers try out for the position of quarterback on the football team at their new school.

Chip meets and falls for a strange beauty named Alicia, and learns of her connection to the history of the house he now lives in. She was having eye surgery when she discovered the dead bodies of several local teenagers stuffed into the boiler in the basement. The eye surgeon's nephew had hung himself nearby, apparently guilty of the crimes. However, she confides to Chip that she thinks the killer was Johnny Murphy, now locked up in an insane asylum.

Other strange things occur. Alicia's ex-boyfriend Scott Miller thinks that she was possessed by some sort of evil spirit while been operated on in that basement. As for Scott, badly injured in the same car accident that blinded Alicia, his grotesquely maimed face can inexplicably not be cured by plastic surgery, and only seems to get worse as time goes on, so he hides from the world. Meanwhile, Al is getting progressively nastier, and is having mysterious conversations with an unknown person in the basement. Suspicious accidents start occuring at school. What on Earth is going on?

To be honest, I really have no idea. Just reading that synopsis back to myself makes me think I possibly imagined reading this book. Back in the heyday of teen thrillers, which ran for about ten years between 1986 and 1996 (R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike were the big names), just about every publisher flooded the market with their own versions. There were about three different series based on hororscopes, while both Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers (from the "Halloween" movies) had a handful of books released. I was quite happy to pick this one up for curiosity value, and would certainly love to get my hands on more.

Because "Fatal Games" isn't actually half-bad. Sure, the plot is all over the place, but there is the germ of a good idea here. Disappointingly, it all turns out to be the work of Freddy Krueger himself, which didn't make much sense. Either the author couldn't figure out a way to hang this all together, or there was a mandate by the publisher that Freddy Krueger had to be the villian. After all, this is one of his tales of terror. I suspect it's a mixture of the two. Once the story is over, there are several questions left unanswered. What was the deal with the voodoo doll Chip found in the backyard? Why did Johnny originally murder those cheerleaders and run over his football teammate? Why is he seemingly helping Al injure his current teammates? What's the connection to eye surgeon Dr. Hawke and the fact several of the dead bodies had the eyeballs removed? How was Alicia's blindness miraculously cured? You're probably getting the idea by now. So, with a little fleshing out of his ideas, the author really could have been onto something with this book. Not bad for an obscure relic from the teen-thriller era before "Twilight".