REVIEW: Janice Kay Johnson’s IN HOPE’S SHADOW

In_Hope's_ShadowJanice Kay Johnson’s In Hope’s Shadow is second in the “Two Daughters” series. As its title suggests, the second is a “shadow” of the first. Yesterday’s Gone is dramatically visceral: after twenty-some years, a family recovers Hope, their abducted biological daughter, with the help of Seth Chandler, a dedicated police detective. In Hope’s Shadow tells of the romance between Eve Lawson, the family’s adopted daughter, and Ben Kemper, the detective’s partner. Yesterday’s Gone is as a stone thrown in clear water to Hope’s Shadow, its rippling effects bearing on the secondary characters’ lives. Those who merely witnessed the events of the first story are the focus of the second. Eve’s, the adopted daughter’s, insecurities come to the foreground and colour her relationships with Hope, her “new” sister, parents, and evolving relationship with hero Ben. In Hope’s Shadow is a romance novel about the emotional aftermath of a seismic event in the characters’ lives. Eve, her family, Hope and her now-fiancé, Seth, are still adjusting their lives to each others, trying to find an equilibrium in the family dynamic. Ben too is adjusting to new life circumstances. He still smarts from his divorce from Nicole, his high school sweetheart and love of his life, and new role as an every-second-weekend single dad to Rachel, his six-year-old daughter.

Though Eve and Ben’s relationship dominates the narrative, their open-and-raw-psychic wounds weaken the romance’s plausibility. That they’re both still stewing in their sullen misery made them unsympathetic to Miss Bates. Eve feels guilt and jealousy in Hope’s presence, jealousy because of the way she perceives Hope supplants her in her parents’ affection and guilt for feeling this way about a woman who suffered horrific abuse at her abductor’s hands: “Since Hope’s reappearance, the change in her [Karen, Eve’s adoptive mother] had been stunning, making Eve doubt how adequately she’d filled the vacuum in that house – or her mother’s heart.” Eve feels she no longer belongs in her family’s, especially her mother’s, heart. Eve’s doubts about her mother’s love extend to everyone in her life, including Ben; she feels unlovable: ” … she didn’t believe anything would come of their relationship. It was too good to be true. He was too good for her.” Eve’s tedious self-put-downs are as unbearable as Ben’s still-beating heart for his ex-wife. The first strike against In Hope’s Shadow for Miss Bates was the protagonists’ baggage was too baggage-y to make the romance convincing. There be more reasons forthcoming. 

More conceivable than the romance (though the love scenes are hot, so the lust here does just fine) is Eve’s and Ben’s dedication to their work. Eve is a social worker and Ben, obviously, a police detective. The novel’s external conflict revolves around a young man, one of Eve’s cases, being wrongfully, at least according to Eve, arrested by Ben. Eve and Ben’s commitment to their work: how good they are at their jobs, how much they sacrifice, and how thoughtfully and meticulously they conduct themselves, were easy to admire. This makes it all the more surprising how immature they are when it comes to their personal lives. Their sad backstories don’t much make up for it either. Nevertheless, Johnson has a wonderful talent for capturing the working-day’s rhythm and its ethical quandaries (and nicely balances it with her characters’ simple, but pleasurable leisure activities) that it’s worth reading her for that alone … maybe.

A woman who believes herself unlovable and a man still sorting through his feelings for another woman. Um, that’s a failed romance Miss Bates pondered about two-thirds of the way through. Will this baby lift itself from the reader’s displeasurable mire? Or sink deeper? Sadly, the latter occurred. Eve’s unlovability and insecurity tended toward a most annoying and skeevy trend: she believes her family doesn’t love her, and Ben can’t (she doesn’t even really deserve him … WTH?) because she’s not blonde and blue-eyed like Hope and Ben’s wife and daughter. Though she’s beautiful, her “dusky” colouring, she believes, makes her less than and less lovable. And when Eve is spouting this nonsense, does Ben reassure, comfort, or at least dismiss her insecurities? Nope. He does something so cold-hearted and hurtful that Miss Bates couldn’t throw him a lifeline back from dick-hood. :\ Eve does, though. 😡

Miss Bates will continue to read Janice Kay Johnson. Her stories are always a source of gravitas, and love, and she’s so so good working through a romance and making a family. Everyone is allowed a dud once in a while. With Miss Austen, Miss Bates says of In Hope’s Shadow, “it had a high claim to forbearance,” Emma.

Janice Kay Johnson’s In Hope’s Shadow is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on October 1st, 2015, and is available at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates is grateful to Harlequin Books for an e-ARC, via Netgalley.

8 thoughts on “REVIEW: Janice Kay Johnson’s IN HOPE’S SHADOW

  1. Well, damn. (Am I allowed to say that here?) I’m probably the only one who liked this book–though I see both your and Willaful’s issues with it. My own were more related to the suspense plot line, but…well… I still liked it a lot more than either of you did.

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    • I can see why you would like it. I did too, for about the first third. I thought it was honest, and realistic. I thought it was good that Eve was willing to admit how she was feeling and even how Ben still had hope that his ex-wife would change her mind. However, when these thoughts lingered and lingered and when the whole non-blond, blue-eyed self-hatred thing happened with Eve, that really turned me off. But, I really like JKJ’s sensibility, so I’m going to keep reading her. At least nothing ever feels formulaic with her, even though she’s been writing for years and years, nor does it feel stale. I think she genuinely believes in the stories she tells and that always comes through.

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  2. It’s heartening to me to see someone else who is skeptical of romance – to say nothing of an HEA – that blooms in the midst of this level of turmoil. I always find it highly unlikely that a healthy relationship is possible when either of the participants is that occupied with his or her own problems.

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    • I have a pretty high implausibility tolerance … I mean it’s romance, fantasy. That’s the fun of it: the never-met twain meets, cutely; woos and is wooed; there are between-sheets shenanigans … But that’s exactly it, when the internal monologue has this much doubt, on the hero’s part, and insecurity matched with neediness on the heroine’s, it kills the fantasy factor.

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