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VINE VOICEon July 23, 2010
What do you do when you read a book and are completely captivated by the originality of the concept, appreciate the skill in the writing, and loved the uniqueness of the whole thing...but disliked the heroine and style of the book to such a degree that it literally gives you a headache...or maybe a vein star? That's my dilemma with Mind Games. I loved the idea of the book, but didn't like the book itself very much at all, and I really wanted to.

Justine Jones is a raging hypochondriac so overwhelmed by her neurosis that it may literally kill her one day. She tries to be normal. Yearns to be normal. She's dating the perfect Ken doll and struggling daily with debilitating neurosis when she's approached by a stranger who tells her that not only can he save her, he's the only one who can free her from her condition. Justine is understandably skeptical. Despite skepticism, however, Justine's fear drives her back to the restaurant where Sterling Packard first approached her, and there, with Packard's help, she releases her fear into him and knows for the first time in her life the bliss and utopia of peace.

But peace comes with a price. Conscripted to join Packard's band of merry disillusionists - a group of neurotic individuals who have learned to use their neurosis against criminals in order to reboot their psyche and turn them into law abiding and fruitful members of society in a very Band of Superheroes sort of way - Justine is drawn deeper and deeper into a gray area of life in which she uses her hypochondria to attack other people on an intrinsic level. Justine, however, is understandably torn. When she finds out that Packard was less than forthcoming with her, and his motives and machinations come into question, Justine finds herself at a loss - dependent on the man for her continued sanity but clinging to a sense of values and code of ethics that just might, in the end, get her killed.

Mind Games is one of the weirdest book I've ever read. I don't mean that in a bad way, exactly, but I do know that neither the style of the book, with the comic-book characters acting in very flamboyant fashion, pitting the Master and his disillusionist minions against criminal humans and the occasional Highcap (telepaths, telekinetics, etc.), nor the heroine, with her rampant indecision, naivety, and inability to adapt to the gray areas of life, along with her propensity to loathe and lust after Packard at the same time, quite worked for me. I found the present tense, first person POV to be largely distracting, and as the book is written from Justine's POV, and I disliked her so very much, it made it too hard for me to enjoy much about this book at all.

I think that's a shame, because I can recognize strong writing, and I usually love stories in which the white hats and the black hats are so deliciously interchangeable. I think Crane did an excellent job with the book in that regard. She really provided a lot of varied characters and caricatures with all manner of quirks, flaws, and peccadilloes, and fleshed out the world they inhabit nicely.

I just didn't like it. I didn't like how absurd the whole Brick Slinger thread felt, or how ludicrous it was to me that they call Packard's nemesis Nemesis. Or that Packard even has a nemesis. And every time Justine rhapsodized over the Chief of Police like some star struck teenybopper at a boyband concert, and went on and on about how good he was and how he was going to stop all crime, I wanted to hurl. I was even annoyed that Justine's boyfriend's name was Cubby and no matter how he was described, I kept visualizing him as a humanoid Care Bear. Please understand, those reactions are not an indictment of the work. And yes, I do understand the concept of subtle foreshadowing and laying groundwork and understand with some measure of clarity what the author was trying to accomplish. I just don't like the style (any more than I like Tim Burton movies, for example - the style just doesn't suit me). That doesn't mean Crane's not brilliant at it and won't have a tremendous writing career ahead of her with it. I'm sure she will and I wish her the best. I just don't know that I'll be following along for the ride.

Originally reviewed for One Good Book Deserves Another.
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on August 2, 2010
`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 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.

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, it is hands-down one of my favourite 2010 reads.
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on June 18, 2015
I am pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this story. I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting but it wasn’t a group of people with extreme various neuroses and vices being something akin to superheroes. That is what Caroline Crane pulled of here and it was unusual and amazing.

Justine is a mess. At the beginning of this I had no idea how I was going to connect and like a girl with such deep seeded hypochondria so such that every head tingle is going to lead to some vessel in her brain bursting and sudden death. In the first chapter alone she spins herself into a huge panic over it in a restaurant to the point she is sure she only has minutes to live. Her current boyfriend has seen this before and you can tell he is not as concerned as he used to be in the beginning of their relationship.

-- “Do you think you might have time for dessert before you depart for the hereafter? The chocolate fondue looks excellent.”
I exhale indignantly. “You know, even hypochondriacs die of horrible diseases. Sometimes they even die of the horrible diseases they fear the most.”

Like I said she so broken, desperate and spinning out of control. She is also everything Packard is looking for to round out his team of uber neurotics. I loved Packard from the beginning of this story. He has a quality about him where he sees who people really are and accepts all those parts of them. He is a cross between a mentor, a therapist and just hot romantic lead. He also has a tragic past, some huge secrets and a nemesis just to round out his character and make him ever the more delectable.

The chemistry between Justine and Packard is intense and wild and I’m totally on team Packard, but she desperately just wants to be normal and find a nice solid guy. The man she really needs and the man she wants to need are totally different guys.

--“I got it right Justine. Feel into it. Your sense of being a misfit blinds you to what your heart really wants. When you get around solid upstanding men you’re like a bird with tinfoil. It makes you incoherent on a romantic level.”
“My affection is incoherent unless it’s for you That’s the line you’re giving me here ”
“This is real.” He points out the door. “That isn’t.”

In-between trying to figure out and accept who she really is and what she honestly wants Justine is also learning how to use her neurosis for good and not evil. Packard has taught her a way to project it into a person giving them all the fear panic and hypochondria that she normally feels. He has an entire team of people that can do this and they fight the good fight by performing long cons on bad people to break them down and then rebuild them into something better. They are the Disillusionists:

-- "I have this 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."

The team is full of quirky characters with multiple issues such as anger, gambling, big picture world destruction, self-esteem and much much more. It was so interesting to see how they weaved these in and used them to break down the bad guys physiologically before they could be rebuilt.

This is one of the easiest reads I’ve had in a while. I picked it up and since it is UF it isn’t as complicated as straight fantasy. It is so easy to fall into this world and see how works. The story was different and I didn’t guess quite a few things in the story and was surprised by the direction it headed off into more than once. Every character in this is flawed and that makes them even more likable in a lot of ways.

The only issues I had with the story is EVERYTHING ESCALATES QUICKLY. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing all of the time but when stuff happens it goes from 1 to 10 in half a page. Sometimes it just leaves me breathless and thinking WTF just happened. Good news is that it resolves out quickly too. There is a bit of a love triangle happening as well. I don’t really like love triangles for the most part and honestly it felt a bit awkward since the guy she is semi swooning over wears a beret (I’m sorry I can’t take him seriously) and has the same hypochondriac tendencies that Justine does. Also this part of the story went from 1-10 in 3.5 seconds as well and I was uncomfortable with it.

Overall I liked that Packard and Justine are both so unpredictable. It made the story unpredictable and I am loving the dynamic of the team of Disillusionists. This is different than most things I’ve read in the UF genre lately but I’m hooked. I already bought the next two books because between the plot of reforming people, Packard’s Nemesis (I hate that dude) and the romantic entanglements I must know how the whole story will play out.
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on September 27, 2015
All right. This book hooked me and reeled me in. Hard. I don't know if it was the ambiguity that was Packard (I do enjoy characters with questionable morals) or the way Justine was trying SO HARD to be normal, but I enjoyed the crazy of Midcity. Seeing as how the crazy is many and varied, I predict many more enjoyable instances in this world.

So. A hypochondriac heroine. Frankly, Justine is all sorts of neurotic when we first meet her. Convinced she's going to die any moment, she's so busy diagnosing her disorder, she's barely living. And the boyfriend she was clinging to in her attempt at being normal...I wasn't impressed. Especially given how things went with him.

Then we have the disillusionists. ALL of them have issues and they'd learned to channel them and do good. Or are they doing good? That's where the questionable part comes in. Packard is secretive and plays his cards very close to the vest. No one quite knows all the details surrounding him. Which certainly makes him fun to read!

Highly enjoyable with a complex world and plenty of crazy left to untangle. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next.

-Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal
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on January 18, 2016
This series grabbed and held me for so many different reasons. Don’t we all project fears and neuroses on others and isn’t it a sign of maturity when we start dealing with our s*** so it doesn’t slop over on those around us? Justine’s adoration of Otto, the climate of fear he needs to be everyone’s hero, and how he projects his own personal fear on the world seem compellingly relevant. The destructive naïve idealism with which we idolize celebrity crime-fighters when the line between them and criminals is so nebulous and moral absolutes so dangerous. Justine’s evolution from an isolated phobic to understanding fear. The poignancy of a group of wounded people finding each other. The exhilarating rush of cleat-skating in wintertime. A plot that had me so emotionally wrapped up by the third book I could hardly stand it. None of this comes across as didactically as I’ve written it. Read it and see.
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on June 9, 2015
Hard one to review. I have to like protags, generally, and this girl was too real, sometimes--too true to real life to always like. All the characters were real people--doing kind things and selfish things. In the end, they felt almost like friends, and I wished them well. Honestly--this is a complex story that's never confusing and well worth the read.
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Main characters that have nearly paralyzing mental issues make me wary. Usually, in the face of extreme neurosis, story lines suffer due to the extreme constraints the main character puts on themselves. That is most definitely not the case in Mind Games. Carolyn Crane does a superb job of creating a character that not only has a debilitating psychological problem, but goes on to utilize this problem in a unique and fascinating way.

At the start of Mind Games, Justine Jones is a hard character to read, relate to, or even like. She's an extreme hypochondriac convinced she's going to die at any moment. She somehow manages to keep a job, but her relationship is just about over. Her boyfriend is finally had his fill of her near constant medical freakout, and who can blame him? I would have left her after the third or fourth emergency room trip. Her episodes are getting worse and she's clearly going to need to be locked up in a mental hospital any day now.

Quite the downer, right? Not quite. Justine meets Packard and her whole world changes. He offers her the opportunity to have her fear of sickness and death removed. For a price. He'll help her by teaching her how to use her neurosis as a weapon against criminals. This is where the story really gets creative.

What seems to be too good to be true may very well be. As Justine lives without fear, she finds herself falling deeper into a world where people with issues like hers fight crime in an almost vigilante style. She's not sure if she's one of the good guys or one of the bad guys, but does it really matter now that she's "normal"?

Mind Games is a completely unique novel that combines superhero abilities, unstable characters and a unbeatable mystery. By the end of the book, you'll love Justine, love Packard and even love the man who may or may not be the villain. The Disillusionist Trilogy promises to be unlike anything you've every read, and that's a very good thing.
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on November 25, 2015
Wow! I'd picked up this book when it was on sale and thought, why not? This one had it all: fresh, unique plot, great world building, wonderful characters, and excellent pacing. I wasn't sure I'd like the book, as the idea of Disillusionists was odd-- I mean, you're using people's perceived weaknesses as a superpower, so to speak. The concept was strange, but the author's execution was flawless (in any other writer's hands, this had the potential to be a hot mess. There were a lot of details to explain). This is a must read for paranormal lovers.
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on February 13, 2014
Originaly Posted: http://www.larissaslife.com/2014/02/marinas-review-mind-games.html

First I want to start by saying that this trilogy has been sitting in my TBR list for a long time, so I made a New Year’s resolution and bought this first book.

All of my friends and blogs I follow (and trust) are giving this book 5 stars ratings and awesome reviews so I’m sad to admit I feel the odd one out, not that I didn’t like it but I just couldn’t connect with the characters enough to care what happens to them.

I found that the world building is unique and it feels complete, the setting is solid and the characters are conflicted most of all about their morals.

Our heroine Justine is a hypochondriac, suffering from the extreme notion that she has vein star syndrome (and her brain is going to start leaking any minute now) her life is hell until she meets Packard.

Mr. Tall, Dark and Sensuous (a.k.a Packard) tells Justin that she can be free of her phobias if she channels them to somebody else, not just any random person but a dangerous criminal who after that procedure is going to have a major change of heart, he is going to be reformed, or Disillusioned!

At the climax of this story I felt that our heroes started deforming and loosing focus, I can’t understand the reasoning behind Justine’s actions; since she is able to forgive and forget a manipulative criminal why not Packard? And why since there are always two sides to every story she is willing to believe one and doesn’t even consider the other?

And there is the matter of the language a lot of word felt strange and out of place….
“My entire being sighs into him, curling around his deliciously cucumber cock like it’s my new center of gravity.” …….!!!!!! I hope you understand what I mean.

Overall it is a good Urban Fantasy book and gives you a new and interesting world but I'd love it if things were a little different.
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on November 16, 2011
What a refreshing story! As a borderline neurotic reader, there comes an inevitable sameness to many books in the UF genre, and I can happily say that this novel does NOT suffer from that affliction! I loved it.

A great story is always made by the characters, and these characters are so delightfully dysfunctional, and yet so earnest in their actions toward the greater good, you can't help but be drawn to them. The humor at both Justine's thought processes and the conversations between Packard's crew, is cumulative, until even the smallest mentions had me laughing out loud, as the pictures of their psychologies were being built up.

Probably the biggest tell for me on how well I enjoyed the book--plot, characters, flow--was that I read through it without skipping through paragraphs just to find out what happens so I can move on.

I highly recommend giving it a try.
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