Thursday, August 29, 2013

"Identity Theft" by Anna Davies

Hayley Westin is a high-achieving high school student who has turned her back on friends and popularity in a bid to gain a scholarship to university and basically get the most out of life. Things slowly start to unravel when she sees a Facebook page in her name, with pictures of a girl who looks just like her, doing the sorts of things a scholarship-seeking student shouldn't be doing. And Hayley has absolutely no memory of doing these things.

She's sure it's the work of either Adam Scott, her main competitor for the scholarship, or Jessica Adamson, a popular girl who wants to be editor of the yearbook, a position currently held by Hayley herself. However, some clues by her mysterious tormenter makes her look into her own past, in which she discovers she is actually a twin. Could her twin - whom her mother claims died at birth - still be alive and out to take over her life?

I was very excited to read Identity Theft, as it signalled the launch of a new wave of Point Horror, the books I read voraciously when I was a pre-teen and teenager. The genre teen horror line created by the likes of R.L. Stine, Diane Hoh, Christopher Pike and Caroline B. Cooney. Maybe it was the heightened sense of anticipation that led me to be highly disappointed by this book, but I don't think so. Simply put, Identity Theft just isn't very good.

Even more disappointing is that the subject matter was so ripe for exploitation. A Facebook page popping up with pictures of yourself you don't remember that threaten to undo the careful persona you've created for yourself? What a great idea! But Davies completely blows it - the Facebook page pops up every now and then, only to get taken down again. Meanwhile, Hayley just bitches and moans endlessly about the turmoil she's embroiled in.

And it's pretty lightweight turmoil. Identity Theft is an exceptionally slow-paced book, literally crawling from one plot point to another. The psycho-twin explanation finally provided could almost be considered a spoiler since it is so late in coming. Most of the book is taken up with Hayley's difficulties in trying to keep her hold on her carefully ordered life. She bitches and moans. She treats everybody around her like shit. She bitches and moans a bit more. She is distracted by a romance with fellow student Matt Hartnett, who is very thinly drawn, making it hard to understand why Hayley would be so enthralled by him. Probably because, at the end of the day, Hayley is pretty stupid. And annoying. I really didn't like her.

The book - and this could be definitely be considered mild SPOILERS - finally hits its stride when Hayley finds herself committed to an institution with everybody believing she is really her twin. It's the sort of nightmarish scenario that would be exploited to much better effect in a much better book. It's certainly the highlight here, and unfortunately over almost as soon as it begins. At this point, Identity Theft launches into is lacklustre, underwhelming finale.

What was the author thinking? This is how she wants to end the book? Instead of making me read between the lines and trying to figure out what happened, how about telling me what the f*** actually happened? Is it that hard? I'm assuming it involves some sort of car crash, but Davies is extremely vague about what actually went down. It easily kills any chance at suspense.

I won't even go into why Hayley's mother and father thought it necessary to hide the twins from each other. Or why they would supposedly continue to lie about the twin being alive or not. This book is full of holes from beginning to end, painfully slow-paced, and insults the reader by not even bothering to fully explain vital THE CLIMAX, for instance. The main character is a pain in the ass, supporting characters lack believability, likeability or coherent motives, and the rich subject matter is appallingly wasted.

Bring back the Point Horror books of old. They may be dated, a bit dorky and a quickie read, but they were certainly better-paced and more enjoyable than this cynical, gimmicky attempt at a relaunch. Fail.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

"Impulse" by Debra Webb

Special Agent Jess Harris is about to take on a new job in Birmingham, working for Police Chief Dan Burnett. However, following on from the ending in "Obsession", Detective Lori Wells is now in the clutches of Eric Spears, better known as The Player. He starts a deadly game with Jess, trying to bait her into catching him. He does this by kidnapping various people tenuously connected to her. Whilst the FBI refuses to acknowledge that Eric Spears really is The Player, since Jess bungled the investigation and helped him walk, Jess must use this chance to correct her mistakes and finally bring an end to The Player's reign on terror. Meanwhile, she still continues to have unresolved sexual tension with Dan Burnett.

Okay, so I lied. With my recent acquisition of a Kindle, I was able to purchase this follow-up relatively cheaply, and I figured I may as well find out what happened to Lori Wells at the end of "Obsession". While I can't say this is any step up from "Obsession", it isn't a step down. Thankfully, the romantic subplot doesn't take front and centre, although it does contain yet another tiresome argument between Jess and Dan about who was responsible for their failed relationship. Enough already! These people are supposed to be adults tracking down a serial killer. If I was at the mercy of a deranged murdered who liked to cut women's nipples off, I certainly wouldn't my life in these two hands'. They can't seem to take their minds off each other and their petty problems long enough to solve the case.

Yes, I know this falls under the romantic suspense category and the leads need some sort of tension between them to up the stakes of their relationship, but it needs to rise believably out of the plot or situation. Here, it simply gets in the way. They simply shouldn't be behaving like bickering teenagers when women are being kidnapped and murdered. I didn't like the fact they couldn't just put it aside and get their priorities in order. Especially since they had already bickered about it enough in the first book.

There is a lot of repetition in this book, perhaps to up the word count. Jess hovers dangerously near being a martyr here, constantly agonising over the fact she feels responsible for the women being kidnapped, tortured and murdered. I couldn't help but feel she was partly responsible, since she couldn't act mature enough to put her romantic woes second and her job first, and stop the killer. I also got seriously fed up with the fact she'd always refer to her high heel shoes as "damned high heels" or "blasted high heels". By the halfway point I was yelling at my Kindle: "If you hate your high heels that much stop f***ing wearing them you whinging moron!"

I can't say I liked Jess Harris a lot this go-round.

The violence and torture here is surprisingly hard-edged as well. Some of the violence made me cringe, and I'm generally not phased by lashings of gore in my novels. Perhaps because the rest of this is such run-of-the-mill lightweight romantic suspense. It was somewhat jarring to go from bickering between the romantic leads to descriptions of a tortured woman with her nipples nearly removed. If Debra Webb wants to consider a move into more crime-oriented material, she needs a more even tone. If her main characters are tracking serial killers, their minds need to be more on their work and less on what happened twenty years ago.