Reviews and updates from Amber Foxx, author of the Mae Martin Psychic Mystery Series
Four stars on technical aspects of writing, one star on characters, one star on the romance plot, three on the mystery subplot. This averages out to 2.25. This is probably going to be my last less-than three-star review. The next time I get forty pages into a book and still dislike it, I’m going to stop reading it. Life is too short to read books I don’t enjoy, or to spend hours revising reviews of them. My opinion isn’t that important in the long run, and my time and enjoyment are. If the first few pages of this book win you, keep reading. If you don’t like it from the beginning, let it go. It stays the same.
When I get off on the wrong foot with a book, it’s hard for that book to win me back. This one starts out bogged down in clothes, hair, and backstory. The book could have started in Lucius’s point of view on page seven with nothing lost. The physical description of Callie could go there. Her backstory could come out gradually as the story progresses—and it does, all of it.
The writing style is polished. The only flaw I found was the use of unnecessary modifiers. I am not a member of the Society for The Elimination of Adverbs, but in this book they could be pared down—a minor problem, though occasionally distracting. Usually when I don’t like a book it’s because of writing, but Pearce can turn a witty phrase, and writes sex scenes better than most romance writers, free of cliché and silly euphemism. After a while the book started to win me with some of that witty dialog and mystery of the Hidden Ransome Fortune, but then it stuck out that wrong foot again and tripped me. Overall, this book and this reader were incompatible.
There are some creative variations on the typical romance and a clever mystery subplot, but I found it repetitious and circular in the telling, and found the couple at the center of it unappealing. It took me a long time to read this short book. Too many of the problems and conflicts were only imagined by the characters, took place in the past, or were swept away in an instant rather than developed.
There’s little tension in the romance plot although there is sexual energy. He loves her, she loves him. They get along wonderfully, and have a lot of hot sex. Callie’s dense and improbable inability to perceive the progress of their relationship toward love loops around and around in her mind, but she never says anything about it. They have no real obstacles— except the obvious one that never gets mentioned or used in the plot: he’s her boss.
A top executive has a sexual interest in an employee and she knows it and returns his feelings. He gives her a promotion to work directly under him (pun intended) and buys her expensive personal gifts, thinly disguised as necessities. She works hard at her new position, but never questions that he should be her boss with this relationship budding. Callie fantasizes about the relationship failing on a regular basis, yet she, who is supposed to be so smart and has a degree in business, never thinks about this issue, and neither does Lucius. In a lot of organizations, HR policy would say that he shouldn’t supervise her or do her performance evaluations, if there’s an intimate consensual relationship. What about a sexual harassment suit if the romance doesn’t work out? What about bias or perceived bias in promotion and pay while they are involved? What about her never knowing if she got the job because she was qualified, or because she had sex with him? What about other people’s resentment and gossip when this promotion and obvious intimacy take place? Maybe there are workplaces where this kind of ethical fuzziness is the cultural norm, but it seemed odd to me that no one in the entire circle of workers and friends ever considers a possible problem here. At the fictional Faltech, people have sex in their offices, and no one who knows about it minds. Rachel, who also works for Lucius, sends him a picture message—of Callie in her undies in the dressing room while the two women are out shopping, taken without Callie’s knowledge. His only objection is that Rachel is “interfering.” He even thanks her for invading Callie’s privacy this way. This was enough to turn me off to him.
I found it hard to relate to or care about the protagonist. Her sudden shifts in behavior don’t seem motivated. Callie meets Anita and within seconds is not only rude but cruel to this virtual stranger, expressing snap judgments as if Anita was not a human being. Lucius likes Callie for it, which made me dislike him even more. Callie’s intelligence is told, but not shown effectively. I didn’t believe the scene about the solar array and the math. (I’ve heard an issue like that analyzed in a sustainability committee meeting before an investment in solar was even seriously considered.) Callie, the newbie with vaguely defined qualifications, figured it out in seconds. It seemed unlikely that no one had done that kind of analysis previously. She comes across as annoying and tedious, but not smart.
The plot circles more than it progresses. Men admire Callie. Lucius notices. Rachel pushes him to notice Callie, and pushes Callie to get involved with Lucius. Callie has hair issues. Callie suddenly spews huge chunks of backstory even though she is shy and ashamed of her background. Callie’s family is flaky and self-centered, a fact that is recycled again and again. (At least their tactlessness and insensitivity explains hers.) She keeps thinking she can’t be the woman for Lucius long after events show they are a good match. I have nothing against psychological exploration in a novel, but both the book and Callie felt stuck.
I liked the Hidden Ransome Fortune part of the plot, but all obstacles were felled easily with little to no conflict. The author coddles her characters in other contexts as well. Lucius is described as generous, but he’s very rich, and his generosity is with money. This doesn’t challenge him. Once Callie and Lucius become lovers, much of the potential dramatic conflict is resolved in an instant, like Callie dismissing Anita. The lovers finally have an irrational, out-of-the-blue fight near the end, forcing some tension into the progress of the romance plot, too late in my opinion. Lucius takes care of the Leon problem, so Callie never has to make a decision about her brother. She’s obsessed with money, and it comes to her. She never has any financial setbacks, not even with Leon. She gradually overcomes her masochistic frugality and goes from buying an electric fan and new clothes to buying a condo. Callie’s major struggles are in her past more than her present, except for the tedious one that repeats in her head. I’m not good enough. Without growth or insight, she rolls this boulder along in front of her, and it rolls back on her, over and over. This aspect of the story finally budges a few inches at the end, but like the tension in the love story, it came too late for me to care.