A Rustle In The Woods




I asked an author one time (sorry, I forget who…I was at a conference with roughly 60 at my fingertips) what their biggest “writing” fear was. Surprisingly, it wasn’t: “writing an upchuck worthy book” (which I’ve heard more than once over the past 6 years) instead, it was:

“Writing the worst sequel known to man.”

Honestly, I was shocked by the answer. Their biggest fear was penning a crappy sequel? Why?

So I asked. And this was their answer:

(FYI – This I can quote specifically because I wrote it down. Score one for me.)

“Barry Sonnenfeld once said… “By definition a sequel can’t be original. So you’ve got to figure out what worked the first time around.” And I have NO IDEA why my first book worked. So I’m pretty much screwed.”

It got me thinking (the Sonnenfeld quote, not the whole “being screwed” dilemma) about sequels and how they tend to be a controversial subject amid literary circles. Some are adamant that sequels only show how unoriginal the author is. That they just “put the same slop in a bowl and slosh it around until it looks a little different.” Others think squeals open doors, allow authors to expand on aspects of the story they never thought people would take an interest in. But most common (and I fall into this category) are those of us that are both fans of and horrified of sequels. (A disappointing sequel can squash the book lust for additional books by the same author.) When I was offered a copy of “Wake To Darkness” by Maggie Shayne, I landed in the second half of that sentence. I was horrified of this sequel.

While I enjoyed the first novel in this series, I wasn’t sure where Shayne could take it that wouldn’t sound like twice baked potatoes. Presumably (or should I say…definitively) the “issue” was solved in book 1 (Sleep With The Lights On.) The “issue” itself being the ENTIRE BACKBONE of the “would-be series.” It wasn’t just a murder mystery. It was a paranormal murder mystery. And by the end…the paranormal had pretty much met it’s maker. Leaving only mystery left for its follow-up. Not a promising footnote for a book who’s appeal was unadulterated originality. (Feel free to go back and reread Sonnenfeld’s quote.) But I read it anyways. Because I had to know how Shayne was going to pull this off.

And she DID…pull it off that is.

“Stranded with a murderer…

Rachel de Luca’s uncanny sense of perception is the key to her success as a self-help celebrity. Even before she regained her sight, she had a gift for seeing people’s most carefully hidden secrets. But the secret she shares with Detective Mason Brown is one she has promised to keep. As for Mason, he sees Rachel more clearly than she’d like to admit…

After a single night of adrenaline-fueled passion, they have agreed to keep their distance—until a string of murders brings them together again. Mason thinks that he can protect everyone he loves, including Rachel, by taking them to a winter hideaway, but danger follows them up the mountain.

As guests disappear from the snowbound resort, the race to find the murderer intensifies. Rachel knows she’s a target. Will acknowledging her feelings for Mason destroy her…or save them both and stop a killer?”

Like I said before, sequels pretty much fall into 2 categories. Good or bad. There is rarely middle ground. You run into “bad” when no new ideas are introduced. It’s a death-trap with no foreseeable escape. Shayne avoided “bad” by changing the way her reader looks at the situation. In “Sleep With The Lights On” the reader is focused on the killer’s narration. On the paranormal elements. On the overall wildness that is cellular memory. In “Wake To Darkness” the reader is focused on the aftermath. Everything that happened in book 1 laid (in essence) dramatic ground-work for not only the emotional stability of the characters in THIS novel, but also suspicion where the plot is concerned.

There was a plethora of secrets in the first novel. Secrets that could implode a multitude of lives if revealed. In book 2 they come to head. Which causes both an action and a reaction from EVERY player (even the minor ones) involved. The plot managed to weave around all of the “reaction” and built off of it. There was fear of the unknown the first time around. In “Wake” there was a fear of knowing and then subsequently not knowing how to deal with it. The crimes themselves were less personal, (though no less gory) but initiated a bigger response. The story changed locations. (Several times.) Instead of a few members being involved in the crime solving process, an entire army of characters were. Weather also played a huge part, adding a subtle layer of “thrill” overtop of otherwise meaningless scenarios. And, most importantly…the “big reveal” was more artfully crafted. (Aka: there were more twists.)

On the character front (particularly Rachel) the blatant aggressiveness that I was none to fond of in book one starts to wither away and in its place stands a character that suddenly has “reader appeal.” In short, she starts to believe her own hype, which…for anyone who read the first book can attest to how shocking that little revelation is. The only downside to the drastic development in compassion is the way in which Shayne decided to introduce it to her audience.

Have you ever heard the phrase: “It’s ok to talk to yourself just as long as you don’t start answering.” Well, Rachel hasn’t really grasped that concept yet. Here’s an example:

“Lately, girlfriend, it’s precisely you.
I know it is. Inner Bitch. I know it is. So do I fight is our just give in to it?
Do what feel best. Isn’t that what you preach to the masses?
Doesn’t mean I believe it.
Maybe it’s time to start. I mean, come on. Rachel. Don’t you ever wonder why the bullshit you write appeals to so many people all over the world? Don’t you ever wonder why so many of them write to you tell you how your books changed their lives? Saved their lives, sometimes? It’s obviously working for the, or they wouldn’t keep coming back for more.
I never really stopped to think about that.
Then think about it now. If it works for all of them, maybe it’s not all bullshit after all.”

This entire conversation with internal…and one sided.

(Side note: I was equally annoyed by Shayne’s use of the phrase: “Inner Bitch.” Not the language itself (because let’s face it, I cuss like a trucker) but more because it was exceedingly self-deprecating (not to mention over-used.) Enough, we get it, you think you are a raging B. Move on.)

Rachel wasn’t the only to show significant growth though. From nephews to resort owners, each character took every opportunity to expand their perception. The “building” added a layer to “Wake” that was (sadly) absent from it’s predecessor. As a whole, the story felt “rounder” if that makes sense. (Let’s hope so, because I have no other way to explain it.)

Overall, I was impressed with Shayne’s ability to take a doomed story and reinvent it. No, it may not have boasted all of the amazing paranormal qualities of the first (don’t fret..it still had few) but it solidified it’s station as a thriller. Which means a new idea was introduced. The only thing needed to make a book worth while.

Two thumbs up. A squeal worth the time.

Oh…and as far as “sexy time” is concerned. (Before I forget.) There were a few “slam her against the wall” moments (and quite a bit more angst than in the first novel) but still…it didn’t overpower the novel. A successful blending of two worlds. Romance and suspense. Woot. Woot.

Happy Reading my fellow Kindle-ites and remember: Never let the fear of failure keep you from trying.

Add it to your Goodreads shelf / Amazon wishlist

Rating Report
Overall: 3.5

About Misty

Your friendly neighborhood narcissist. I'm sarcastic, cynical and a bit cranky. I own a soap box so big that sometimes I have difficulty stepping down off of it, and I'm about 94% certain I have multiple personalities. I don't sleep enough, and I read more than any person should ever consider normal. I have anger management issues, especially when I'm stuck in traffic and I have an unhealthy obsession with my Kindle. I am a vampire lovin', zombie obsessed, book-in-hand, iPod freak. You either love me or hate me. You be the judge.