Sunday, January 31, 2010

Crash Into Me, by Jill Sorenson -- Review

Easily Influenced
OK, I admit it. The fact that Ms. Sorenson stops by here regularly and leaves thoughtful, non-self-promoting comments probably has a lot to do with how her book got onto my radar. I spotted it last week at a favorite bookstore and that recognition undoubtedly made the difference between scooping it up and passing it by.

I've also been focusing on contemps and historicals these last few weeks. I think I'm a little burned out on paranormals and the modern California setting was appealing.

The Heroine
I absolutely adored the heroine of this book, Sonora Vasquez, a/k/a Sonny, alias Summer for this particular assignment. The scene where we are introduced to her is completely fabulous. I don't always go for the device of having a secondary or throw-away character's viewpoint for the intro, but Sorenson makes it work.
...he saw a premonition of his own defeat in those strange, light eyes, and Mitchell didn't have time to blink before Vasquez dropped him, with a blow to the temple so well-placed it was almost a caress.

An excruciating, debilitating caress.
What a great start!

I want to say more about Sonny's character, because it's one of the great strengths of this book. Sorenson builds her character up in complex layers, but in a way that I always feel like I know exactly what Sonny is doing and why. I really *feel* her internal conflict in a way that doesn't always happen when I'm reading. And maybe I'm deluding myself, because I'm never going to drop an FBI agent with an excruciating, debilitating caress, but in some ways I related to Sonny on a personal level-- we both tend to be analytical and deliberate; we make plans that do not account for emotional derailment, but then every now and then we embrace the crash (to belabor a metaphor) and accept the consequences with a certain stoicism.

The Plot
Crash Into Me starts with one count against it for me: it's a serial-killer plot. A creepy, Ted-Bundy-esque serial killer to boot. And there were a few points where I wished it wasn't. But the pacing and plotting didn't allow me time to dwell on it; I was too busy turning pages. And Sorenson manages something tricky: she plants enough information about the murders to built the tension -- we know he's a sick, dangerous, awful man-- and leaves the rest to the imagination -- which I kept a very tight rein on, thank you very much; but I could imagine that a different kind of reader could spiral it into some pretty cold horror.

Plotting, pacing, and tension is runaway success for this book (if I could come up with a surfing term that fit, I'd use it, but I grew up land-locked. Best I could do would be "hang ten..."). It's not a cast of thousands, but the secondary characters are vibrant and interesting and the whodunit aspect will have you mulling the possibilities. Sorenson nails the action scenes and furthermore manages them in a way that seems realistic. Sonny's a "kick-ass heroine" without requiring any superpowers and is realistically fallible.

The other kind of tension works really well too. The scenes between Sonny and Ben were excellent, and true to the characters. On the heat scale, whew. The love scenes show up just where they need to, and let's just say, yumm and leave it at that (I refer you to my rule about letting my kids, my mother, and the PTA read here, LOL).

Not Perfect
I did have a couple of minor problems, but nothing close to a dealbreaker. I thought Ben's character was a little flat, and given that he's "the world's most famous surfer," it seemed odd to me that he spent pretty much zero time surfing in the story. Inside his head, there were references to surfing terms, but it seemed a little bit labored to me. If you require an A+ hero to enjoy a romance, I'm not sure you'd find him here.

The story arc for Carly, Ben's daughter was something that worked OK for me while I was turning pages, but when I got to the end and looked back, I felt like it was resolved a little too easily -- we're introduced to her via a suicide attempt, and I'm not sure that was treated as seriously as it should have been. And while I liked the character of her boyfriend, James, and the way he interacted with the adult characters, I was a little put off by the teen romance.

This might be hypocrisy on my part, but I just really didn't want the physical details between them. I want to say "it wasn't necessary for the story," but to be honest that might not be true. I'm trying to imagine the book without those details, but it might be that without them James would not be as a rich a character.

I also found myself questioning some of the procedural stuff - like the fact that Sonny is put on the assignment alone. Don't FBI agents always work in pairs? If that's not true, then the whole universe of buddy movies just got jolted off its axis...

Bottom Line
Even with a little room for improvement, Crash Into Me is a really solid first novel with excellent bones. Sorenson has the chops for great characters, great plotting, and great tension, and I'm looking forward to reading more.


Christine said...

Hi Nicola!
I JUST picked this up at the bookstore a week or two ago. It's been on my wish list ever since Carolyn dished it up on her blog nearly a year ago and when I saw it on the shelf I grabbed it. I'm looking forward to reading it... it sounds so exciting!

Jill Sorenson said...

Thanks, Nicola! Glad you enjoyed it.

Sophia (FV) said...

It's always a good sign when the first book in the series is solid. This looks good, I'll have to check it out. Very nice, thoughtful review.

Jill Sorenson said...

Okay, I had to come back. I'm always reluctant to respond to a review with anything more than "thank you," but you made several interesting points that deserve a response. And I can't figure out how to email you, so I'll just go ahead and spill here.

First of all, I'm so pleased by your reaction to the heroine. Most of the positive comments have been about the hero, or the teens. It just nice to hear from someone who liked Sonny best.

The teen sexuality is another issue that everyone reacts to differently. My sex scenes are supposed to be titillating, even when the characters are underage (16 and 17, in this case), buy I don't think the level of sensuality is gratuitous. I guess that's a line for readers to draw. Is it okay for any adult to write about teens having sexy sex? I don't know! I just do what feels right for me and the story and my characters.

Anyway, thanks again for a very thoughtful review.

Nicola O. said...

Yikes! I didn't realize that when I modified my "about" widget I left off my contact info. *headslap*. Will fix soonest, thanks for the heads-up.

On the teen sex, yeah, I don't know. Maybe it's a sign that I'm getting old. I don't think "gratuitous" is what I meant by unnecessary; it was appropriate within the teenage story arc... it was just something that tripped my personal ick-ometer. Maybe because my daughter is entering adolescence, I don't know.

I appreciate your measured response!


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