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Saturday, July 3, 2010

'Mind Games' by Carolyn CRANE

From the BLURB:

JUSTINE KNOWS SHE'S GOING TO DIE. ANY SECOND NOW.


Justine Jones has a secret. A hardcore hypochondriac, she's convinced a blood vessel is about to burst in her brain. Then, out of the blue, a startlingly handsome man named Packard peers into Justine's soul and invites her to join his private crime-fighting team. It's a once-in-a-lifetime deal. With a little of Packard's hands-on training, Justine can weaponize her neurosis, turning it outward on Midcity's worst criminals, and finally get the freedom from fear she's always craved. End of problem.

Or is it? In Midcity, a dashing police chief is fighting a unique breed of outlaw with more than human powers. And while Justine's first missions, including one against a nymphomaniac husband-killer, are thrilling successes, there is more to Packard than meets the eye. Soon, while battling her attraction to two very different men, Justine is plunging deeper into a world of wizardry, eroticism, and cosmic secrets. With Packard's help, Justine has freed herself from her madness - only to discover a reality more frightening than anyone's worst fears.

‘Mind Games’ is, hands down, one of the best books I've read all year.
I know Carolyn Crane is friend to many on the book blogosphere, but I've never visited her blog and I have no blogger camaraderie with her... so this review is wholly unbiased, based purely on the merit of the work. And with that in mind... this is *definitely* one of the best books I've read all year.

Justine Jones is going to die. She can feel it. It starts with a tingling in her cranium and builds to a pinpoint of pulsing pain. Justine has vein star syndrome – and a deadly attack can come on unexpectedly, just as it did to Justine’s mother who died from the syndrome when Justine was a girl. The threat of vein star is heightened by anxiety – which is a guarantee considering Justine is a hypochondriac.

Justine’s life seems to be all about waiting for vein star to kill her. She’s dating a guy named Cubby, but he’s at the end of his tether with Justine and her trips to the ER and constant worry – she knows it’s only a matter of time before Cubby leaves her. But that’s okay; she’s going to die anyway....
And then she meets Sterling Packard who promises Justine a cure. Packard is a ‘highcap’ – a citizen of Midcity who has higher mental capacity. Highcaps can take the form of telekinesis, telepathy or in Packard’s case; he can see a person’s psychological structure. In Justine he has a clear visual of her hypochondria and knows that in a few years her fear will see her institutionalized. So Packard offers Justine an out – in joining his ‘psychological hit squad’. Packard has gathered a group of neurotic individuals – those who specialize in ennui, self-doubt etc. Packard’s ‘squad’ push their fears into other people, called a ‘zing’. When they zing they lose their neuroses and give them to other people, bad people and criminals who deserve self-doubt and a lack of confidence to become disillusioned by the abundance of negativity. From disillusionment these criminals are able to be re-built and reformed and made to see the error of their ways;

I have the brief sense of us as supervillains from a B-rate thriller. Except we’re more like crime fighters – if there were crime fighters who got their superpowers from being really neurotic, and used them as part of a bizarre and marginally ethical program of criminal rehabilitation.

I was sucked into this book from page one. Justine is an endearing and fascinating protagonist, and her first-person narrative is a wonderful peek into the world of a hypochondriac. Her mind and inner workings make for truly disturbing reading, but like a car crash you can’t look away. Justine lives in constant fear of the most miniscule, unsubstantiated things. It’s hard to understand, but Crane makes it easy to sympathize. Especially because Justine is very aware of her neuroses, she’s even embarrassed by it. But like an addiction she can’t stop; she can hear herself annoying those around her with incessant worries, but she can’t stop articulating her fears. I really felt for Justine, but as much as I was given to empathy for her it was her wry sense of humour that really endeared me;

Fashion magazine disease articles. My personal kryptonite.

Everything about ‘Mind Games’ worked for me. The plot is an especial joy ride. I loved the concept of neurotic superheroes – it gave me visions of Superman using his X-ray vision to check for fissures and busted hips. And the idea of rehabilitating criminals with disillusionment is inspired. This is also quite a dark Urban Fantasy – a nittier-grittier fare than the genre is used to. But Crane works well to keep things dark and reader’s a little bit squeamish. A grimmer tone is expected for a book about fatalist superheroes and reformed criminals; for instance, Carolyn Crane has totally put me off ants forever - *forever*!
But at the end of the day ‘Mind Games’ is so good because Crane has woven together a thrilling story. Her plot takes so many twists and turns, especially toward the end when I was thrown for several loops and knocked off balance. I loved every second of this book because it kept me on my feet and I was constantly trying to figure out the mystery. I really didn’t know how the book would end, but I trusted in Crane and she delivered on a fulfilling ending ten-fold.

This book also has a tricky romance. Justine is drawn to Packard, as her saviour and teacher and they have real chemistry and heat. But toward the end a second romance enters and a triangle is created. I think the romantic entanglements of ‘Mind Games’ are mysteries unto themselves, so I don’t want to give anything away. Only to say that I was very conflicted by book’s end – I was all set to be smitten with Packard, but then I found myself rooting for the second romance. Urgh! Even now, having finished the book, I still don’t know who I want for Justine. I only hope Crane has lots more books in store for Ms. Justine Jones so that all these questions can be explored and resolved in depth (and with many more smutty scenes).

I adored this book. I've got to thank Mandi of Smexy for putting me onto ‘Mind Games’, which is hands-down one of my favourite 2010 reads.

5/5

'Justine Jones' book #2 September 28th 2010

6 comments:

  1. Loved this book - one of my faves this year - I'm impatiently waiting for Double Cross.

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  2. Such a fun and very different story. Only three months until book 2!

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  3. I agree with you! I LOVED MInd Games, it ended up on my 2010 Top Reads List too, and can't wait for the 2nd book to come out! Loved the brilliantly unique universe Carolyn Crane created and her writing style was fantastic.

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  4. Great review. I love this book! And I'm on team Packard!

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  5. I have that one on my computer waiting for me... Awesome review... need to bump it up on my TBR list =)))

    xoxo

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  6. Yes..it is my fav of the year too...The beginning drew me in and the ending pretty much shocked me.

    I'm dying for the next...DYING!!! :) Very nice review!

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