Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Book Review: Hell On Wheels by: Julie Ann Walker
My Review: First and foremost, before I even delve into this review, let's turn our attention for a moment to the cover and title of this book. Hot guy with a gun, wearing a sexy black tight v-neck t-shirt, and a bad ass motorcycle (later I would find out its name, Phantom) in the background. Hell On Wheels??? Oh, HELL YEAH! I really can't explain my joy when I came across this book. Maybe it's because I have a thing for bikers-- I am obsessed with the FX tv show Sons of Anarchy, and my boyfriend just so happens to ride as well. Also, the romantic suspense genre is starting to get a bit...boring, especially when it comes to the hero being a covert special ops agent. But combining the two worlds? I'm game! Now, I know it's been done before, how could I forget Jaci Burton's Wild Riders series. But the key is, it hasn't been over done. Julie Ann Walker is a new author that I was hoping would give us something fresh in this overly saturated genre. While she doesn't fail in this mission (like that? hehe), she does have some work to do to smooth out the kinks.
First with what I liked about Hell On Wheels. The story opens with 2 people that are deeply hurt by loss but in completely different ways. You have Ali, our heroine, who has just been told that her beloved older brother Grigg has been killed on a mission. Then you have Nate, our hero, who not only suffers from the loss of his best friend, but also is being torn to shreds with guilt. Why does he feel guilt you ask? Well, that is for you to find out! What I can say is that Walker is fantastic with evoking emotions. It's been a long time since a romance novel has caused me to tear up or to feel heaviness in my chest. There are two scenes that come to mind, one with a flash back scene between Frank and Grigg and another with secondary characters Frank and Becky. I will leave it up to you to pin point the exact scenes.
Not only does Walker give us a great tortured hero (who is alpha, but not over-the-top) and smart heroine (helpless females get on my nerves after awhile), she also is good at creating realistic and likeable secondary characters. Each of these characters have a role that we've seen done over and over again, such as Ozzie the geeky tech, Becky the house mechanic, and Frank, the gruff boss who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. Once these characters were introduced, I thought the book was going to go down hill. But somehow Walker brings a freshness to these cliche character types. Ozzie is my favorite. He is hilarious, not only because he annoys everyone with his singing and song choices, but because he is constantly quoting movies. Might I also add that while at first I imagined Ozzie to be nerdy since he is a wiz with computers and techie stuff, my imagination quickly changed with the way Walker describes him: "The guy was wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Mr. Spock's favorite hand gesture ad the slogan 100% Trekkie, which was slightly incongruous when compared to the shoulder holster and the mean-looking, matte-black gun secured to his side. He looked like some strange combination of geek and warrior. The man you'd call if you needed to invade a small country or translate a message written in Klingon." Sexy, right? :)
If you are a fan of lots of sex scenes, you won't find it here. BUT WAIT! What Walker DOES do exceedingly well is sustaining the heat meter. When an author can create sexual tension, build on it, and you don't even realize the book is halfway over and the main characters haven't done the deed yet, then you know the author has a skill. And what's even better is the fact that Nate and Ali aren't the only ones that have a serious case of sexual tension. So does Frank and Becky, which will be the main leads in book 2, but I am getting ahead of myself!
Now to why I only gave Hell On Wheels a 3 star rating. The beginning of the book absolutely scared me. The first couple of chapters didn't flow and I had to keep telling myself that this is a new author, give it time, the wrinkles will start to smooth out. And thank God they do. But some of her word choices were repetitive and it wouldn't have been that noticeable if they weren't bigger words, like "capitulated" and "surreptitiously".
I also got annoyed with the way she wrote some of Ali's inner dialogue. I get that Ali doesn't like cursing, but does she really spell out the word "hell" as "H-E-Double Hocky Sticks" in her head??? Imagine that throughout the whole story. Yeah, quite irritating. My other big issue is the majority of the characters sounded the same, like they all had the same voice. Each character should sound different, have a distinct personality and I felt that other than maybe Ozzie, the dialogue and prose kind of runs together. I will say it does get a better by the middle to the end of the book; Nate starts to sound like Nate and Frank starts to sound like Frank.
My last issue is something that happens with many first books in series. While I loved her secondary characters, there were a few minor ones that she spent too much time on. There were paragraphs I skimmed and a few pages I skipped. And I hate doing that. It's always tough to find a balance when you're trying to build your world and set up your characters for future books.
Overall, I think that Hell On Wheels was a solid first book in a planned series. For a debut author, I think Julie Ann Walker has a lot of potential. While she isn't as steamy a writer as say veteran erotic romance author Lora Leigh, they do share a similarity in plot formula, such as the hero who falls in love with his best friend's baby sister, or the hero who thinks he is too old and jaded to be with the woman he wants. Lora Leigh is the queen of writing those plot devices, so we shall see how Walker makes them her own. I also think she has a great sense of humor, especially the Dum Dums lollipop drama between Becky and Frank. You will see what I mean when you read the book! Speaking of those two, Frank and Becky's story will unfold next in In Rides Trouble, due out next month on September 4th. I know, the release dates for Hell On Wheels and In Rides Trouble are only a month apart! Book 3, Rev It Up, comes out on October 2nd. I look forward to reading some more biker, special ops yumminess!