Wednesday, January 19, 2011

TBR Challenge 2011: Mommy Said Goodbye

The Book: Mommy Said Goodbye by Janice Kay Johnson

The Particulars: Contemporary romantic suspense, Harlequin SuperRomance #1197, 2004, Out of Print...but available in digital!

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?:  One of the ladies on my "coffee klatch" e-mail loop read this and loved it.  I'm a HSR ho, so that was enough for me to run out and buy it....only it's been sitting in my TBR all this time. Seriously, I suck.

The Review:  A year and a half ago, Craig Lofgren's wife disappeared.  Ever since, he and his two children have been stuck in a living purgatory.  Their marriage was hitting the skids, and they had argued loud enough the night before that the neighbors heard.  Julie had a reputation around town for being Mother Of The Year.  It's inconceivable to everyone, including the investigating police officer, that she would leave behind the kids, not to mention her purse sitting on the kitchen counter (hello, what woman does that?!).  Naturally, suspicion lands on Craig, even though there were zero signs of a struggle, no evidence, no body, and the fact that their son, Brett, is vehement that "Mommy said goodbye" to him.  It's been a living hell, and now his son is getting ready to start a new school year with Robin McKinnon as his teacher.

Robin and Julie were casual friends, chatting at soccer games since their sons played on the same team.  She feels guilty for letting young Brett drop off her radar since his mother's disappearance, something that happened because she was going through a bitter divorce and custody battle.  Now Brett is in her class, and he's very troubled.  She's worried about him, and so goes to talk with his father.

We need to get this out of the way up-front: this book does not work as a romance.  Chalk it up to a case of the conflict overshadowing the love story.  Craig is presumed guilty in the eyes of everybody that he killed his pretty, young wife.  Everybody thinks this - with the exception of Craig's own father.  In order for me to buy into the romance, I need to see the characters "building a foundation" over the course of the story.  For the first 2/3 of this book, that isn't happening.  The shadow of What Happened To Julie? is looming large.  Certainly, as the reader, we know Craig couldn't possibly have killed her, but Robin doesn't know that - and continues to wrestle with doubts very late in the story.  How is the reader supposed to buy the romance when the heroine has these thoughts on page 172 of a 296 HSR:
Oh God, oh God, she thought.  What if he killed Julie?  If they didn't find her or her body, Robin would never know for sure.  Given the creep her ex-husband had turned out to be, she sure couldn't trust her judgment.
Now that being said, you fair blog reader are reading my blog.  The girl who also loves mystery/suspense novels.  And as a mystery?  This one is a humdinger.  I was glued to this book and did not want to put it down.  Who was Julie Lofgren, and why would she just vanish?  Did she meet with foul play?  What the heck happened to her?  Plus seeing how the people she left behind (her husband, her children, the entire town) deal with her disappearance is equally as riveting.

During the last 1/3 of the book the author must have realized she needed the hero and heroine to spend more time together in order to make the happy ending work - but by that point I was so captivated with the mystery that I sort of resented the time away from it for the Love Cooties "stuff."  The author makes this story extremely light on the sensuality though (I'm talking G-rated), which does make this romance a bit more believable, but I still couldn't help but feel that the final chapter was really rushed.

I'm so tempted to slap this one with an A just because I thought the mystery was that good.  However, I tend to reserve A grades for books that I know I'll reread one of these days, and this one?  Yeah, now that I know what happened to Julie Lofgren, I probably won't do a reread.  The romance just wasn't strong enough to carry this book to reread status to compensate for me knowing how the mystery turns out.  Still, it was a damn awesome read while I was devouring it with fresh eyes.  So that means....

Final Grade = B+

PS:  The investigation for Julie is led by newly-minted police detective, Ann Caldwell - whose father originally was in charge of it before he died in a car accident.  She's convinced, just like her Daddy was, that Craig is guilty as sin and she wants to nail the guy to the wall (and not in a good way) to make her Daddy proud of her from beyond the grave.  She is a fantastic character, with lots of hard edges and brains to boot.  Imagine my absolute delight when I learned that the author gave her her own romance in another HSR title, Revelations, and that I had it in my TBR!  I immediately pulled it out to read, and a review for that one is launching tomorrow.

20 comments:

Kwana said...

Thanks for the review and for the challenge!

Buriedbybooks said...

Great review! I think it's really difficult to pull off a convincing romance AND mystery in the category genre because of the length limitations. I've noticed authors usually end up sacrificing one to make the other convincing.

I might have to find this one. I haven't read a HSR in years *shame face*

azteclady said...

If I didn't love you, I would hate you for this, Wendy!

I just bought a car, I don't have money for books! (particularly when my TBR Mountain Range is starting to look like a wannabe contender to yours for the BIGGEST TBR pile on the planet)

And yet, it's available digitally and the finger is on the 'buy' button.

Damn you, book pimp you!

Lynn Spencer said...

Okay - this is not fair. I just got a book liberated from the TBR pile (and I even blogged about it instead of just tweeting!), and now there's another one I want to add in its place!

Wendy said...

Kwana: You're welcome!

Buried: JKJ has written some really great HSRs. If you decide to revisit the line - you can't go wrong with her :) Says me.

AL & Lynn: Um, yeah. I might have failed to mention this side-effect to the TBR Challenge. For every one book you liberate, you want to replace it with about 5 more after reading everybody else's commentary.

Gail Dayton said...

Yep. Another one for the Want To Read list. Sigh.

Samanthadelayed said...

Sounds like your choice was miles better than mine. :) I am now hunting through my stack for a book for next months challenge.

Tracy said...

You're evil! Why would you do that to me? *sigh* now I have to read the book. lol

I have to say that going in to the reading I will not expect much from the romance and read it as a mystery. I'm sure it will help.

Great review!

Amy said...

*sigh* Between you and Deb, I want to read these two books now, Wendy. The TBR will continue to grow and grow and grow at this point. LOL

FD said...

Ha! I was thinking all the way through the review, ooh, I bet the one with the police detective would be more Wendy's speed in a romance-type way, if not the suspense bit, and lo and behold, what do I see at the very end?

I will save my comments on Revelations for the review. ;)

Wendy said...

Gail: As a mystery I really thought it was tops. The romance? Meh. Not nearly as riveted.....

Tracy: I think "the warning" will help a lot of readers. Since I'm also a mystery reader, romantic suspense that tends to be "heavier" on the suspense is easy for me to roll with. But I appreciate that it isn't like that for ALL readers :)

Amy: I swear I've had this one in the TBR since Debora mentioned it back in 2004! Seriously, I might have a problem. Just a small one.

FD: OMG - you have NO idea. As I was reading this book, I was thinking "Please sweet baby Jesus - please tell me JKJ wrote Ann's story." And then I found out she did and that I ALREADY OWNED IT!!!! Oh happy, happy day!

nath said...

This is a good start to your challenge and the year :) And there's nothing better than knowing you have the sequel sitting in your TBR pile :)

The only problem is I'm not fond of the title ^_^;

Caro said...

This sounds very interesting -- enough that I think I might want to give it a try. If nothing else, it sounds different and that's enough to make me add it to the list. And, yes, you didn't mention that little side effect of the challenge. ::grin::

Stephanie said...

Wendy, it sounds like the book I read for this month's challenge! It was also by Janice Kay Johnson. The focus of the story was not the romance and was rushed at the end. I enjoyed the other part of the book so much that I didn't mind missing the romance! :)

Hannah said...

Thanks for the review! I think I'd like this because I'm reading a lot more mysteries these days. I agree with the previous posters, the TBR challenge has an unintended effect of making me want to buy more books to add to the pile! P.S. Please let us know what you think of Darkwood Manor by Jenna Ryan. I love Gothic romance and am considering buying it when it's available for the Kindle.

catie james said...

Woops! I thought we were posting challenge reads today (Thurs), not yesterday. Bad Catie! I'll get mine up in a jiffy.

Wendy said...

Nath: "Mommy" in the title is a little off-putting, but it fit the story so well here that I was able to roll with it :)

Caro: It's always hardest for me when people read categories for the Challenge since it's the one area of the romance genre where I still happily impulse buy. If I see a review that intrigues me? Yeah, I'm sunk.

Stephanie: JKJ writes such compelling conflict that *sometimes* I think the romance-stuff can get lost in the shuffle. But she's such a strong writer, and her stories are so interesting that it's hard to quibble :)

Hannah: I hope to finish Darkwood Manor today and the review will eventually land over at TGTBTU. However I will say this - as of right now it's not really working for me all that well. The spooky house is great though.....

Catie: LOL - that's alright. There are a couple of people who are "informally" doing the challenge - posting their commentary later in the month. It's all good. The only goal is to help people widdle down their piles of books.....

Natasha A. said...

Great review! And I have to say, I think this is my most favourite of all the challenges I am doing this year! :D I already have and have read my Feb book! :D

Wendy said...

Natasha: I love this challenge because it's low maintenance. So many books in my TBR! Just need to grab one and get it read :)

Leslie said...

I like the sound of this one. Good to know the mystery is the focus instead of romance. I think that will get my mindset in the right place.

I know I've heard good things about JKJ before, maybe here or another blog. I'm adding this one and the other one to the UBS list. :)