Rating: 2 Stars
Length: 247 Pages
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Carina Press via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.
The Devil's in the Details
The grass is green. The sky is blue. There is no such thing as werewolves. Those are just some of the absolutes in tabloid reporter Andrea Lockhart's world, regardless of the stories covered in The Naked Truth, the rag she works for. Then the photo of some mysterious creature in some backwards town on the other side of the country came across her editor's desk and next thing Andrea knows, she's traipsing through the woods of Woodbine, South Carolina, looking for a creature that most assuredly does not exist.
The investigation into the local legend of the werewolf doesn't start off as she expected. She gets caught in a hunter's snare, trussed up like a wild boar, and comes face to face with the most painful memory from her college days. Sean Hunter. The ratfink she'd gone to college with, took journalism courses with, and who had beat her out for the job of editor of the school's paper. She had been overweight and mousy back then, and she had a huge crush on him. Right up until he'd verbally shredded her after he got her job.
Now Sean is living in Woodbine and is editor of the town's weekly circulation. To make matters worse, not only is he intent on accompanying her on her assignment, but he's doing one of his own on her investigation into the werewolf - that she is still quite positive does not exist. This Halloween nightmare of an assignment just keeps getting better and better.
The conversation - a kind word for an ugly truth - that Sean had with the incredibly intelligent if socially awkward Andrea Lockhart back in college is still one of his greatest regrets. He'd been cruel, if well intentioned, and he knew it. Now she's come to Woodbine looking...wow...considerably different than she did back in the old days. She's gorgeous. Poised. Cool as a cucumber. And she obviously wants nothing to do with him.
He thought they'd been friends once, if very very casual ones. He certainly wouldn't mind becoming much closer than friends now. Her job doesn't make sense, though. She'd been on the fast track of a major journalism career at one time. Working for an exploitative tabloid is about as far removed from that as she could get and still be in the business. He should know. He's fairly far removed from the beat of his own high-powered career as a reporter for a major New York City paper.
He has his reasons for that, though. Sean is sure Andrea has hers as well. He intends to discover what those are...as well as a myriad of other details about the amazing woman...as he helps her in her investigation into a werewolf that he's not entirely sure he believes exists. Though he doesn't exactly disbelieve it, either.
The grass is green. The sky is blue. Sean Hunter is even more appealing than he used to be. There is no such thing as werewolves. These are some of Andrea's absolutes. Until she comes face to fangs with something that threatens to rip one of those absolutes away from her forever. And it ain't the grass, the sky, or the hot editor with the nice smile.
I loved the concept of this book. I thought it was great, the X-Files-esque investigation into the Woodbine Werewolf sightings, the two reporters ferreting out evidence for and against the possibility, the developing proof of something existing, the certainty that it couldn't possibly be a werewolf, the worry that it was. Every element of that plotline worked quite nicely for me, and the investigative aspects were more cohesive, logical, believable, and tightly woven than in many romantic suspense books I've read.
Unfortunately the main characters gave me some trouble and I struggled mightily with the execution of the romance arc throughout the book. I also had some issues with the style of writing in the narrative in places, and got a little frustrated with the over-telling that bogged down the flow of the story and muddied the waters.
Andrea troubled me throughout the book. She was not light on backstory or defining characteristics, tons of them were tossed out, but they never seemed to be all that convincingly incorporated into the woman she has become. She's got a dead brother, dead best friend, survived a horrible accident, become the swan after a shy, ugly-duckling type youth...and despite all of that, there seemed to be little depth in Andrea's personality. Like the facts didn't really touch her, regardless of what readers are told.
What depth there was, especially when it came to her burgeoning relationship with Sean, never really dipped beneath surface concerns and pedestrian conflicts that had nothing to do with those major traumas in her past, and everything to do with one bitter conversation when they were in college. That seemed sort of superficial to me in context. Plus, she was such a yo-yo with her actions and emotions, not to mention her determination to leave, then stay, then leave, then stay, that I couldn't help but feel the whole relationship with Sean was transient.
Sean, on the other hand, struck me as a little too over-eager in his thoughts and feelings for Andrea. A little too quick to flare with jealousy, a little too intent on wanting her to stay...not telling her that, of course, just thinking it (because god forbid they have a mature conversation about their feelings and relationship intentions). He's a little too regretful about the things he said to her in the past, a little too...
Actually, that sums up my issues with Sean right there. He was just...a little too everything.
There was also way too much telling in the narrative for my tastes, especially things that didn't need to be told. In one case, after Andrea has spent significant time with Sean and it's clear that he's a good man, there is a scene between Andrea and her deceitful, aggressive ex-boyfriend. Following that scene I really didn't need a page of narration letting me know that Andrea has changed her mind about which one is the better man. It bogs down the pace of the story and spoon-feeds me information I'd rather glean on my own through character action and dialogue. That this particular example is also a total no-brainer didn't help matters, either.
Along with that issue, there were also some odd timeline jumps in the narrative that didn't make much sense to me. The story would be progressing along in real-time, then suddenly it would be the next morning or later that day. That's all well and good, I suppose, but then there would be a recap of what the characters had done in the interim and what new developments had occurred. So...why not just keep it in real time and show us instead of recapping? Those little jumps popped up throughout the book, seemed random, and struck me as a peculiar stylistic choice.
I ended up feeling frustrated by this book. I truly enjoyed the external conflict and the execution of the investigative elements surrounding it. I even liked the secondary characters and thought the main characters were great when they weren't dealing with the emotional or romantic aspects of the story. The romance was such a problem for me, though, and the execution of the book bothered me so much in places, that I just didn't feel good about the overall reading experience.