BOOK REVIEW: Haunted by Amber Lynn Natusch
(The sequel to Caged)
“I cowered away from him, unable to formulate a coherent sentence. Questions ran through my mind though none made it past my lips. I wondered how this could be happening, what he wanted, and what major injustice I’d brought against the universe to bring a fate such as this upon me. Perhaps being born was reason enough.”
After his near death experience only months earlier, Cooper’s behavior is rapidly deteriorating.
So what does Ruby do? She adds a new roommate into the mix. When her friend Ronnie is abruptly called away for a family emergency, Ruby takes in Peyta, Ronnie’s highly intelligent and overly observant teenage daughter. With an increasingly unstable Cooper in the house, Ruby fears for Peyta’s safety.
But when Peyta’s behaviors become as perplexing as Cooper’s, Ruby finds herself juggling a series of lies to ensure their safety as well as her own…
Until the lies, and the bodies, start dropping.
I was immediately sucked in from the first chapter, and the intensity picked up even as we entered chapter two. By chapter three, I was not only finding the book intense but also extremely interesting. I want to say that it would be really easy to just simply rave about this book, but in the spirit of this author (who is every bit amazing as a person as she is as a writer) I will give a balanced review to share the good and the bad (but mostly it’s good! Trust me! Go buy this book now!)
This novel stuck to the same structure of the first novel, so those who loved book one are sure to love book two. The structure, for those who don’t know, consists of the first half of the book keeping up the pacing by using a heavy summary-style. As things get more interesting, we move more into detailed scenes. The climax of Natusch’s novels seem to happen around 80-90%, with the rest of the novel being a longer-than usual denouement. But for those who don’t like long wind-downs in a story, keep in mind Natusch still packs plenty of conflict into these scenes. For me, sometimes I feel the story could have ended sooner, but still found an appreciation for staying with the characters to explore the aftermath for longer. The heavy summary-style start did result in some content being skipped, but the book’s strong points overshadow such qualms.
Some example of what I mean: Ruby saying that she was eavesdropping on a conversation, but not sharing what was heard. I was also extremely disappointed when the magic of Sophie’s healing (and also Scarlet’s healing method in this book) was skipped over again, just as in book one. I have to admit this was extremely disappointing. It felt a bit like the author telling you, “Something REALLY cool happens, but I can’t think of anything as cool as I would want it to be, so I’m not writing it in.” I hope in future books from this series that we will get to see what promises to be intense and never-before-done. If not, I may just always feel that the idea never really existed and that was the reason it was never shared.
Another thing skipped over that would have been great to hear more about was when we’re told Sean’s “disobedience had been corrected.” It’s never revealed what that meant. These are the juicy parts I want to read! I also really wanted to see the dance show that was supposed to show “gravity”. We aren’t shown that, and yet we are shown random conversations about croissants. Other than that, only one thing toward the end of the book felt skipped over. When I hit chapter 27, I felt like an entire chapter was left out.
I did spend half the book trying to figure out what CF was LOL. I was, to my defense, able to figure out that G & T means gin and tonic. I know some people don’t like abbreviations in fiction, and I understand why, but my reason for not liking them in this story goes deeper. Ruby is my age or older in this book AND she grew up in a life where her parents sheltered her from the rest of the world. I’ve never seen her using a computer or having the time to use one. She spends her free time watching TV, dancing, or working in her shop. So HOW did she have the time to learn all this social slang (most of which comes from a generation younger than her own?!)
Ruby, as usually, did some really dumb things (which kept the story interesting). Some of those things I expected consequences for, but she got away with it. Other things, I was just like YEAH, RIGHT! You’re not THAT stupid! I want to interject here that this isn’t a flaw in the writing. It’s clear that the author intends this (jokes are even made about Ruby’s intelligence throughout) and the author uses it as a plot device, so those who like plot-based fiction and don’t give a rats behind about character won’t notice this or care.
That said, some people may feel she jumps to correct conclusions without any helpful hints, and yet frequently misses the obvious. Ruby is the kind of TSTL character that taunts bad guys before even formulating a plan. This is interesting for the story, but may be problematic for character-sensitive readers when at other times Ruby seems like a genius (to the point of god-like omniscience!). I’d say this seems to happen at random, but it’s not random. It’s all about what is most convenient for the plot at that moment. So if the plot moves forward better with Ruby being stupid, then Ruby is stupid. If it moves forward better with Ruby being a freaking genius, she’s s freaking genius. Ruby is always whatever the plot calls for at the time, and this makes for a fun, fast-paced, plot-based read. Other than those moments where Ruby is a pawn to the plot, she does actually come across as a well-developed character.
To give some examples, there is a part in the story where Ruby knows someone she is taking care of will be in MAJOR danger if left alone, and then she still leaves that person alone. Then she agrees with her friends to stay out longer than necessary (to go clubbing!), prolonging this person’s situation of being left alone when they shouldn’t be. While Ruby forgets that she shouldn’t have left the person she is caring for alone at home, she somehow manages to remember something less important: The name of a guy she met once. I don’t remember if we ever formally met him in this series or not, so I sure didn’t remember him LOL. Maybe I was too busy thinking about the young persons’ life who was in danger
That said, to Ruby’s defense, she was relying on the person who proved he could not be relied on to show up a few minutes after she left the person who shouldn’t have been left alone. This still wasn’t enough motivation for me to excuse her actions, but hey, this *is* Ruby we’re talking about here, and would this story be half as interesting without her and her sometimes brainless antics? I think not! I mean, who else would go to a club run by the people who wanted them dead? Ruby is the only person I know who would do that. And guess what? Sometimes taking chances pay off, because they see her when she shows up and instead of trying to intimidate her, they let her and her friends in ahead of the line to get into the club!
Sometimes I didn’t get things that Ruby said, such as: “He wasn’t used to the new, more irrational me.” My thought was: Ummm … that’s not new! BUT then Ruby will says things that make her seem like a super genius, as she figures out things that just seem impossible to infer from the information present. (Such as realizing Sean was evading a conversation by making it about Cooper. I just thought he had his own agenda to learn more about Cooper; how Ruby figured out that was all a ploy is beyond me–this coming from a girl who incorrectly uses the phrase “Move it or lose it”). Ruby also said that Sean didn’t deserve what she dished out, but I think I did.
Side Note: I expected more of a reaction from Ruby when she was kissed.
The whole murder-mystery about Cass was hard to get into (it’s a sub plot) because I had no idea who Cass was!
Ruby’s “empathic” abilities could be more developed so that they are plot relevant. The ability seems to come and go at random. She has this ability, and yet totally misses her newest admirer’s obvious infatuation with her? Or perhaps she just can’t even process the idea that every man in this book has the hots for her. Either way, Ruby’s empathic abilities just seem to pop up whenever it’s easiest to see another character omnisciently instead of from Ruby’s viewpoint. As of year, the emphatic abilities haven’t affected the plot at all. If it will later in the series, I hope it will be better set up first, better executed, and used more consistently (not just when it’s convenient).
Delivery wise, there were also some awkward moments in the story. I don’t want to give away spoilers, so I’ll phrase this carefully. But someone says they are “going through it like candy.” Which is not something I would expect someone to say about themselves. It felt couched and awkward. This may be because the author’s dialogue is usually very natural (even with moments of sheer BRILLIANCE), so even the smallest slip might seem worse than it really is by comparison.
As they head back to the person they left alone in danger for a night out dancing and clubbing, they listen to music. There’s a beautiful passage in that section (worth mentioning) though at the same time it’s a bit too deep for our Ruby (and the timing felt awkward. I was trying to envision who would listen to music at a time like that!)
There were some other “Yeah Right” moments as well. Such as Ruby being given time to come up with an alibi. I even ran this past my husband and one of my co-workers, and they said the same thing. NO Freaking Way.” (actually, they used a different F word there.) There is no way that someone is suspected of murder and then told “We’ll be back tomorrow, so you can have some time to come up with your alibi.” I mean… really? REALLY? I don’t think so. I don’t care if this is the Police of the PC. It just wouldn’t make sense to give someone time to make up an alibi.
That said, I really LOVED some aspects of Ruby’s character in this novel as well. She seems to have grown up a bit from book one, which was fun to see. She plays the role of a “cool aunt” in some ways. And I like the distinction of her voice and Scarlet’s.
When we hit that part where a character I will not name sees something I will not name (I don’t want to spoil anything) I got chills. That’s when I knew this book was gonna be a favorite of mine.
I guess my only main complaint is that I wanted more (and I don’t mean that in a good way. I mean that a lot of potentially amazing content was skipped right over and felt “left out”. Other than that, I’d have like less plot lines to be dropped/forgotten, and I would have like more questions answered. I know some questions need to be unanswered, but some things I see as BOOK questions and some things as SERIES questions and the unanswered questions in this book were book questions, not series questions.
Some details aren’t given enough thought. For example, one character has half a glass of champagne, but is described as singing songs at the top of her lings between CHUGS of her new favorite drink. Must have been a really big glass if half full it could be CHUGGED over the course of more than one song. Or someone who had to “call out to be heard over the clattering of cupboard doors shutting.” How loud are these cupboard doors? For me, I would have assumed this person was calling because they were in another room, not because they were trying to talk louder than a cupboard door shutting. In another part of the book, there’s mention where Ruby is too weak to “talk” to Scarlet. This is odd since she usually *thinks* at scarlet and she must not be too weak to think at her if she’s strong enough to think about how she’s not strong enough to talk to her.
It’s clear this manuscript was well proof-read, though a pass or two of substantial editing (and a pass for copy-editing) might have turned this book into one of my favorite books of all time.
Again in this book there were times where the characters got off too easy. Where just when it looked like “oh no, things are getting REALLY bad” there is suddenly an easy out from the situation. Like almost needing to call the police on a missing person, but then not having to. You think a character’s finger gets cut off, but then it turns out that never happened. The easy way to kill the bad guy doesn’t work, and you think it will end up being something more magical and complicated, but then five minutes later the easy way to kill him *does* work. The good news, though, is that all the good guy characters survived this book, too. I can’t imagine any of them dying, though I have to admit I’d interested to see if (later in the series) the author ever lets poop hit the fan to that extreme.
Sometimes false suspense was created by holding back information for too long that Ruby already know. Like when she knows someone’s name but doesn’t tell the reader who it is for several pages. (Naturally you can figure it out yourself, but it just rang false to try to withhold this information if the narrator knows it!)
As a random thought, this book left out Ruby’s usual point keeping (Ruby 0, Whatever Else 1), and I found it insensitive for Ruby to call someone “Captain Tourettes.” It’s really not necessary to use a term that speaks of some people’s neurological disorder as an insult against someone who doesn’t have that disorder. That said, I amend the author for having the bravery to write a character to honestly that the character was allowed to say something insensitive and be less than perfect. While some people might not like Ruby, most of the time I really like her and the fact remains she is a realistically flawed person.
I will DEFITELY read the next book, though I’m hoping that by book three the series will carry itself without the gimmicks of unanswered book questions
I can also say I am TEAM COOPER hehehe. I don’t see how Sean is even a factor in this. He sucks. Cooper is awesome. I expect Ruby and Sean will get together in the end, and there is a great “epic” romance there, and maybe if Cooper wasn’t in this story I could root for Sean, but since Cooper IS in the picture, there’s really no contest. Cooper wins, hands down.
I have to almost mention these absolutely interesting characters. In one scene, they all cram into the kitchen and eat an ENTIRE DINNER (while crammed in the kitchen!) out of the cookware! I know people who taste food out of cookware, but I’ve never met anyone (let alone a house full of people) who all crammed into the kitchen to eat their WHOLE MEAN out of the cookware. Talk about unique! So if you are into quirky characters, little details like this will make you fall in love with oddity of Ruby and the neat people she attracts into her life.
I really loved the ending. I love the set up with Ronnie and there was a great WTF moment (the good kind!) Overall, this was a great book.
Rebecca Hamilton writes Paranormal Fantasy, Gothic Horror, and Literary Fiction. She is represented by the ever-more-amazing Rossano Trentin of TZLA.
To purchase her books, please visit Paranormal Fantasy Books.