Mind Games by Carolyn Crane
This book is the perfect package. It's totally original, quirky, unexpected, has fascinating characters, an incredible story line, crazy-ass tension (sexual and otherwise), excellent pacing, is super sexy, and finally....a fabulous ending. The fact that it was written by a debut author blows me right out of the water. Carolyn Crane, who also writes a witty romance blog, The Thrillionth Page, has just set a new standard for first time authors.
What's so great about this book? The originality of the story concept, the mastery of first person POV, and the writing....Holy Mother, the writing....it is smooth as butt-ah. The quirky POV of Justine paints a fascinating portrait of her environment, her delusions about her health, her conflicted nature. She is the perfect anti-hero/heroine, struggling with her own selfish desires and her need to do the right thing. She is as real as any heroine can get.
The unexpected premise for this story, which involves Justine's obsessive hypochondria and a totally cool paranormal super secret vigilante group, is completely engrossing. The group's leader, Packard, sort of reminds me of Karen Marie Moning's character Barron from the Fever series. He is mysterious, sexy, powerful, and we're not quite sure if he's a good guy or a bad guy.
The pacing and suspense of this story are amazing. Each "client" Justine has to work on is fraught with uncertainty. Is the person harmless, kooky, or a raging psychopath? We're never quite sure. The last book I read like this was Skin Game by Ava Gray. You keep thinking, there is no way this is going to end well, but I really, really want it to. Without giving anything away, I will say that Crane does a superb job with the ending. It is emotionally satisfying and makes the reader starved for book #2, Double Cross, which is coming out September 2010.
The "love triangle" between Justine, Packard, and Otto is just utterly delicious, and I can't wait for this to be further explored in the rest of the trilogy. I also love how Crane takes a character, such as Foley, who is skank personified, transforms him into a contrite and upstanding citizen, defuses the hatred of his enemies, and leaves us hanging with the uncomfortable feeling...okay, what now? We don't quite trust what's happening. These characters are the antithesis of your typical, easy-to-digest romance characters. They're complex, confusing, and the jury's still out as to their true natures.
There is no question that Mind Games will be on my Favorites List for 2010. It's just chock full of goodness. In fact, I was sort of pissed off when I finished it. I wanted it to keep going on forever, which is, of course, the ultimate compliment for any author. Bravo to Ms. Crane for this kick-ass debut. I have a sneaking suspicion that she is going to sky rocket in the next ten years as one of the most talented new writers of the genre.