Sunday, April 4, 2010

Mind Games, by Carolyn Crane - Review

Not Your Average Heroine
OMG, how much do I love Justine? She could not be more different from the popular crop of UF heroines. She is not outwardly confident and poised while nursing deeply-hidden insecurities. No, she's outwardly a mess, with a neurosis bordering on mental illness, and the book starts her down the path of discovering her deeply-hidden strengths.

Bottom Line
Despite a couple minor nitpicks, I really enjoyed the book and would recommend that fans of UF and psychological thrillers give it a try.

The Deets
I suppose this is the point where I should give you the summary or a blurb or something, but since I'm the last person in RomLand to review this, I'll just link to it. Mind Games Blurb.

Justine's EveryWoman qualities make it easy to connect with her. I enjoyed her preoccupation with fashion, understood her longing for a "normal" life -- though I have to say that when the significant other is named "Cubby," I know instantly that there isn't a chance in hell he's going to work out long term. One thing that I enjoy about UF versus genre romance is that the relationships are more ambiguous and uncertain, just like real life, even if hardly anything else in the story is like real life.

Justine is not super-woman, she doesn't carry a katana* or a stiletto in a spring-loaded forearm holster; she's not a black belt in anything. She's not going to be literally kicking any asses any time soon. Rather, she plays on the bad guys' emotional and intellectual weaknesses, and when it comes to the battle of wits, she's definitely a superhero.

Here, she's in as much physical danger as it gets -- she's tied to the bed of a serial-killer whose turn-ons include 1950s card games, custom hypodermic cocktails and dress up games (it occurs to me that You Suck at Craigslist might be an excellent source of inspiration for non-sympathetic characters...). There's really no chance that she can manage any kind of getaway in a physical confrontation, but she keeps her cool and talks the guy into a fit of paranoia, playing him like a violin. She needs to touch his body, anywhere, preferably with her hand to hit him with a psychic "zing." Here's how she manages it:
"I would have you lie down and relax your muscles, and I'd need one hand free to poke specific reflex points on the balls of your feet."

"You just want me to untie you."

I look at him like he's crazy-- a look I perfected in high school.

Can't you just see that? I used that look a lot too. I love that she's talking to this psycho killer like he's that annoying pimply kid who hangs around you in that one class, never actually asking you out or anything, just hanging around with that slightly pathetic hopefulness...

"One hand. What do you think I'd do? Honestly, one hand? I can barely focus thanks to your drugs, and you have the knife. But fine. Why should I give a crap? I'm sure you'll get your diagnosis soon enough."

Minutes later he's lying in bed next to me, the opposite way, angled so his head is at the far corner and his feet are near my shoulders. Three of my limbs are still attached to the bed frme, but I have a hand, and that's all I need.

The other big thing to love about Mind Games is that the plotting is twisted and tight; no one is exactly who they seem to be; and there are no loose ends disguised as sequel-baiting -- there is a sequel, but the reason you want to read it is because this book ends with the "end of an era," and poised on the brink of a new one. (Can't wait to see how the new partnership works out!). It's a rare author that can combine kooky and funny with dark psychological thrills, but that's exactly what you get with Mind Games.

I will say that there were a couple things that didn't work perfectly for me. Justine is infatuated with the character of the police chief, and... I wasn't. I don't know if this is just a case of chemistry between me and a character (ie, none) or if the author just didn't adequately convince me of his allure. If this had been a romance, I think it would've been a disaster for my enjoyment, but fortunately I was able to roll with it, the way you do when your best friend or sister falls head over heels with a nitwit.

The other bit I struggled with a little is the world-building. The "high-caps" - folks with over-developed, relatively familiar psychic abilities like telekinesis - was believable enough. However, the really interesting premise of Crane's trilogy is the idea that the disillusionists can "zing" their negative mental energy/anxiety into other people. I struggled with that a little bit more. Although the narrative mentioned months of training, the way Packard taught her how to "zing" seemed a bit too easy to me. And Packard's claim that only he could tell the disillusionists (the hit squad that he has trained) who is safe to "zing," was too readily accepted.

Why, oh why, the present tense? I get it for a time travel book; but I didn't see a reason that this story needed to be in present tense. Normally I find this VERY distracting and aggravating. However, the chatty, intimate voicing made the whole book seem like something your best girlfriend might relate to you over a pitcher of margaritas and it ended up being OK. I tend to think it would've worked just as well in a traditional past tense, but I guess an author has to roll with how it sounds in her head.

I think my favorite bit is near the end, and I can't give you the full context without it being spoilery, but in essence, Justine starts apologizing for [stuff that led to the story's showdown] and [characterx] tells her, "It's so amusing ... [snip] ...How little you see of your own integrity..."

And that's really what makes Justine a heroine rather than a pawn between the other players in this game.

Edited to add: OOPS, I knew that was a good line. I sort of accidentally stole it. Dirty Sexy Books review.


Chris said...

I'm still in the "admiring this book on my couch and anticipating reading it" phase! :)

Anonymous said...

Good Review! I have heard some really good things about this book!!! I am very eager to read it and see what all the fuss is about! LOL

Sophia (FV) said...

Lovely reviews. This is one of my favorite books from 2010. Justine is a fabulous heroine.

Nicola O. said...

Thanks FV! Justine is certainly different, if only by virtue of a) not having red hair; b) not having a tramp stamp; and c) not being a vampire (or involved with one), LOL.


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