Mind Games by Carolyn Crane
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
With Mind Games, Carolyn Crane somehow manages to take the common tropes of female lead urban fantasy and turn them askew in a very appealing fashion. This book has no vampires, werewolves, or faeries. Nope. All humans here. Even if they are humans who can use their minds in ways that you didn't even really consider possible.
This book took a while to get going. I think it took me about 60 or more pages before I felt invested. After that point, I was engaged. Beforehand, I had to process Ms. Crane's writing style and what she trying to accomplish with this book. However, I came out of this book so emotionally invested, my stomach was hurting.
Justine is like a modern girl in her 20s. Dealing with identity issues, trying to make her relationship work with her boyfriend that she feels can give her a normal life, and working a job to make a living. But on top of that, is Justine's uncontrollable hypochondria. She is convinced that she will succumb to the Vein Star syndrome that killed her mother, who was also a hypochondriac. When she meets an absurdly gorgeous red-headed man with green eyes in a restaurant called Mongolian Delites, she discovers that there is a way to deal with her crippling health anxiety. Pass it onto other people. The delish red-head is named Packard, and he runs a group of people with mental issues, or abilities, if you will, called Disillusionists. They help to reform criminals by passing on their mental issues until the criminal breaks down and reboots, becoming an effective member of society. Justine thinks it's a load of junk, but she notices that for the first time in her life, after sharing energy spheres with Packard, that she isn't weighted down by her health anxieties. She begins to crave that release, and before she knows it, she's in. That doesn't mean she wants to give up her ideas for the 'perfect normal life'. She's got her exit strategy firmly in mind. Little does she know that she won't easily be able to part ways from the Disilliusionist crew and Packard's sphere of influence.
This is one book that sure is hard to analyze and rate for me. First of all, with the slow start, it makes it hard to qualify for a five star rating. However, it was very fascinating once it got going. I also loved the quirky, odd humor, and the off-the-beaten path characters. I am quite fascinated with the exploration of powers of the mind, and I like the fact that Carolyn Crane wrote a story in the urban fantasy genre that lives in this sphere. I also liked the superhero-y vibe of the story. Not the cape-wearing types, but the idea of super-powered humans who can use their mind to accomplish a variety of tasks. The whole deal with Packard and his imprisonment was brilliant and novel. This element is what had me clicking in my seatbelt to hang on for the book ride. In other words, that switch got flipped and I was 'in.' I like that Justine is refreshingly human in her anxieties, fears, desires, and her convictions to do the right thing, the best way she can. She might come off as whiny, but people who struggle with anxieties will surely get her. I know I did.
On the downside, I am just not a fan of the love triangle, and Ms. Crane throws a whopper here. This element caused me the most of my emotional angst when I read this story, and was part of why I couldn't put it down. Packard is my man! He is the kind of guy that makes a girl want to fan herself. I have this deliciously mind-numbing image of him in my head that I can't shake. Normally, I am so not the date the boss girl, but I'd make an exception for this hottie. No question about it. For me, there was no dilemma on who she should choose. I knew who I wanted to be the main man for Justine. Even though Justine had the hots for Otto Sanchez, and intellectually he seems right for her, and they have some pretty intense passion between them, my heart doesn't feel it. I think Otto is a very charismatic guy, but maybe a bit too charismatic. I like Packard's messy energy, his slightly anguished mien, his insight into people, and his conviction in himself, his crew, and his mission. I like that he gets Justine in all her messiness. I don't think what he did was right, but that doesn't mean he can't be the right guy for Justine. To me, Otto is more of a wish fulfillment ideal. I liked how the love triangle tied into the story very intrinsically. Justine truly faced a moral dilemma here. Which man did she owe her loyalty to? It wasn't just about what she wanted for herself, and that was an effective way to handle the storyline, on the part of the author.
I feel that Ms. Crane has a very good concept here, and this book just touches the surface. I want to see where she goes with this series, because it has a lot of promise. The characters are quirky and engaging, the humor is witty and odd-ball, and at times just on the urbane side of raunchy, which really works for me. I had a lot of fun reading this, and it got me thinking about the idea of what superheroes and supervillains are. Also about how the world processes and addresses criminality and what can cause a truly bad person to seem like someone you could have sympathy for.
There is a lot to like here with this book, and it is a fresh, interesting offering to the urban fantasy genre. That's why I would give it 4.5 stars.
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