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VINE VOICEon July 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
"Sweetheart" is the sequel to last year's "Heartsick" both featuring hapless (and spleenless... don't ask)detective Archie Sheridan and America's sexiest serial killer Gretchen Lowell. Taken together they form a rather complex tale of masochism, sadism, disgusting behavior, horrific, even nauseating, perversion, and grue and gore. Needless to say, I loved every sick moment of it! To note, as the publisher does, that Gretchen is a sort of female Hannibal Lecter, is to oversimplify to the point of ridiculousness. She is her own stunning creation and more than a match for Thomas Harris' cannibal. Add to that the fact that "Sweetheart" is in and of itself, a pretty darn good whodunnit, and you've got a winner. One thing though: while some series/sequels are stand-alone enough to be read on their own, "Sweetheart" loses FAR too much if you don't read "Heartsick" first. Not to worry, though, you'll love it!
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on July 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Second novels in a series are notoriously hard to write: the honeymoon period of just getting to know the characters is over, and look for more depth and roundness, while still demanding more of the 'good stuff' from the first novel.

If you loved _Heartsick_, you'll probably like this one. Like, not love, though. She's toned down the gruesome and replaced it with monumentally needless graphic sex and a metric ton of f-bombs. Even the exposition uses the naughty word. It makes her seem to be trying just a bit too hard to be gritty, rather like her character Susan who thinks she's edgy but is constantly out-edgied by her mother. And once again, you'll be treated to unnecessary descriptions of what EVERYONE is wearing. Seriously--why do I need to know that a morgue tech who doesn't even get a name or a line of dialogue is wearing corduroys? Or my personal favorite: "'There's a press conference at six,' Ian said. He was wearing jeans and a t-shirt he'd bought at the MOMA gift store. 'You want it?'" 'Scuse me, but I'm not sure why I need to know Ian's sartorial choices at this particular juncture? Relevant to plot? No. Relevant to mood? No. Relevant to character building? Nope, we already know Ian pretty well. His clothes haven't changed from his carefully overdescribed wardrobe in _Heartsick_.

Because, oh yes, everyone's back. Remember that Molly Palmer story Susan was trying to promote in novel one? It's back, and apparently a key to a really rather trite and played out conspiracy-of-dunces scandal. And once again, the fresh dead bodies seem to take second stage to the older dead bodies, victims of Gretchen. Susan's less annoying this time, but Archie goes from a sympathetic character to a whingeing sad-sack. Take that as a double-entendre if you wish.

Gretchen is unrealistically prescient--maybe she's secretly psychic. I won't blow the plot, but please do google naloxone and vicodin before you read the climax, and you'll figure out that All is Not Right in Sciencetown. Moreover, what an *odd* thing to pack in a handbag. I'll have to remember that for my next romantic getaway.

What no one seems to remark about this series is how bloody sexist it is. Gretchen, great spooky serial killeress, dangerous yet apparently stunning at, ahem, *pleasing* men. She makes men murder for her. How? Why? By the power of her hot bod. She reminds me of what is called, in fan-fiction (shudder) "Mary Sue." Gretchen is Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS with a bit more (but not much more) medical training. Either that or she's straight out of Freudian Thanatos imagery. All she needs is some teeth down 'thar'.

Some of the physics need to be reworked as well. I suspect that it's unlikely for a woman of Gretchen's delicate build to be able, one-armedly, to haul a man's body backwards across carpet. Does the author even try these things at home? Even these basic ones? (I don't hold the botched splenectomy from book one against her, nor do I expect her to drink Drano in pursuit of literary veritas, but surely she could get a male friend to lie on the carpet and be dead weight?)

The gross is gone, the sadism is gone, the spooky only shows up at the school scene (which is quite good), and I'm sad to say but a good bit of the mysterious tarnish has worn off Gretchen. Like any woman, she just wants to be (sniff sniff) loved. And laid. Archie is trapped, but only because she can't wash that man right outa her blond flowing tresses.

Cain promises us 'more Gretchen to come.' I'm not on the edge of my seat. This book did not grip me, and I like the thriller genre. I came to this book with visions of Jeff Lindsay's Dexter series in mind, or at least Tess Gerritsen. This was okay, but honestly, there's better stuff out there, whatever you want--creepier killers, scary medical stuff, murder conspiracies. My recommendation? Wait for paperback.
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on August 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Following hot on the heels of the bestselling HEARTSICK, Chelsea Cain continues the story of Gretchen Lowell and Archie Sheridan in SWEETHEART. The second installment is really a continuation of the first as opposed to a full-blown sequel. The narrative picks up about two months after the conclusion of the first book. Sheridan is now back at home with his wife. He is no longer visiting Lowell in prison, though he obsesses about her and half-heartedly battles his downward spiral of prescription drug cocktails and dark fantasies.

Another body and unresolved cases brings many of the characters from HEARTSICK back. The rapid-fire pace of narrative that attracted me to the first novel isn't apparent in the follow-up. Perhaps its because Ms Cain has had time walk around in her characters' skins a little more or perhaps the reduction in pressure of "having to get it right", now that she has a bestseller, has allowed her to relax. Marginal players from HEARTSICK are fleshed out including Sheridan's long-suffering and guilt-ridden partner and his wife.

Lowell is too devious in SWEETHEART. She moves from the very clever to the unfathomably brilliant, able to predict the actions of police agencies and individuals alike as she contrives to end up in the prison hospital (where she will only tell Sheridan who attacked her), followed up a transfer across state, where she is conveniently under-guarded and manages to escape.

What follows is, unfortunately, a long litany of cliches and "just-in-time" arrivals. Sheridan and family, as well as Sue Ward, the reporter from the first story are all placed into protective custody but Lowell manages to track Sheridan down and he is more than willing to give himself to her, quite literally. There is a breathless stacking up of twists and turns and surprises that are heaped upon each other until we're exhausted.

As with HEARTSICK, there are multiple threads at work in SWEETHEART. Ward is still working on the Molly Palmer case. Gone is the gritty "in your face" attitude, though she still has colored hair (turquoise this time). Ward now becomes "super-sleuth", part reporter, part detective and able to access cases and people at a level that is beyond belief. There is a hint of the attraction to Sheridan which I'm sure will be acted on if there are future volumes in this series.

There is the inevitable hookup between Lowell and Sheridan. It's not a torture-fest, now it's a love story. The transition from torturer/victim to more-or-less equals is never properly explained. In HEARTSICK there was some sympathy for Sheridan. By the end of SWEETHEART its gone. No one, no matter how high or screwed up, could be as obsessively dull and undeservedly loved. I actually wanted him to die and he does...a couple of times. He seems impossible to kill.

There are a number of "phew that was lucky" moments; actually too many. A car crash with no one hurt. A half-marathon trek through a smoke-filled forest fire that seems to take just minutes and only results in some inconvenient dirt. An attempt on Ward's life that is thwarted by her mother...just in time...and so it goes.

There's swearing and there's sex. There's blood and gore but it's not shocking. It worked well before but it's old now. The characters are a little more fleshed out but there's little new and little more to care about. At least Ms Cain has tied up most of the loose ends. She's left the possibility of more "Lowell" sequels or, heaven forbid, prequels.

I was really looking forward to reading SWEETHEART. I wanted to know more and I came away feeling a little let-down. Perhaps it's the nature of sequels. I finished this one out of sense of duty.

If SWEETHEART becomes a bestseller it will have to be one that rides the coattails of HEARTSICK. It doesn't have (or shouldn't have) the strength to do it on its own. I've read some of the quotes from publications such as the New York Times and Entertainment Weekly and I cannot make the connection that they have and do not see it as "outdoing" herself. It's not a worthy follow-up.

I hope Ms Cain leaves Lowell and company where it is now and moves on. We know enough about this cast and anything else is overkill. Ms Cain is a talented writer. Let's see what else she can come up with.
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on October 2, 2012
_Sweetheart_ is the sequel to Cain's Heartsick, tying up some loose ends from the first book and connecting the story newspaper writer Susan Ward was pursuing (remember Molly Parker) with a double-suicide and murder investigation headed by Archie Sheridan and loosely connected to incarcerated serial-killer / femme fatale Gretchen Lowell. Sure, its not high literature, but it is a guilty pleasure - all the more so for the way Cain writes about Portland and the thinly veiled scandals and public personalities she includes in the story.

The characters are deeply flawed (Ward apparently has unresolved issues that attracts her to older men, Sheridan has issues that attract him to the serial killer that literally skinned and carved him up alive, and Lowell is a sociopath), almost to the point of caricature - but like a bad car-wreck you can't turn away from, I was almost compelled to see how these damaged people interacted with a series of seemingly unrelated murders. That many of the details of the story (a former popular congressman had an affair with ahis children's 14 year-old babysitter, an ambitious mayor who was once the chief of police with national political ambitions) are based on real events in the Northwest made it all the more tantalizing. That Cain - herself a long-time reporter for the state's largest newspaper - can write "Portland" so well was an added incentive.

Clearly my biases kept me interested in the book. For readers not familiar with names like "Neil Goldschmidt," "Tom Potter," or "Bud Clark," or for those who don't relish and welcome the rain, don't know or love the bridges of my city or aren't aware of the odd amalgam of hippie sentiment wedded to western individualism, much of the nuance that gave me such a thrill will be lost. For that I deducted a star. I deducted another star for the story itself: Cain straddles genres here, _Sweetheart_ (like _Heartsick_) is part thriller, part mystery; it hasn't quite worked out which one it is, and as a result it has medicore elements of both. It is an entertaining read, some of the scenes almost cringe-worthy in detail, the mystery almost enough to grab you - but not quite. Oregonians will recognize all sorts of minutae (geographically, politically and socially) that make it a fun read - others probably not so much.
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VINE VOICEon October 6, 2013
The first Gretchen-Archie book, HEARTSICK, had a certain verve to it that is missing in this follow-up. The appeal of Gretchen, a serial killer, was her beautiful, mysterious allure and Archie's was because of the psychological and physical wounds suffered at her hands. Now bodies have been found in the same park where Gretchen placed her first victim over a decade earlier, but she is in a high-security prison.

Unfortunately, the plot, because it is merely a continuation of the first book, does not hold one's interest. Gretchen executes a highly intricate plan to escape from prison and manages to pull controlling strings at every turn that stretch believability. Archie is so dependent on meds and on Gretchen, one wonders how he functions. The presence and edginess of Susan Ward, a punky reporter, are barely in evidence this second time around.

Going to the Gretchen-Archie well would work if their appeal was enhanced. If anything, the author diminishes them. Hopefully, she will realize that next time around.
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on September 16, 2008
Having been a big fan of Heartsick, I eagerly anticipated the follow-up. What a waste of time.

Endless descriptions of trivial activities bog down a weightless plot and whining characters. Do we really need page after page of shrewish reporter Susan looking for somewhere to smoke? Her mother doing nude yoga? None of this is as cute as Caine seems to think it is.

Slow moving, de-clawed characters, witless protagonist... sadly, the list is endless.

This follow up pales miserably next to Hearsick. Avoid.
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on October 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book was one of the first things I got from the Vine program, and so I dutifully read it all the way through. But I've not been able to bring myself to review it, because it was SO BAD. If you enjoy pap seasoned with gore, then you're in luck. Otherwise, stay far far away.

If you'd like a GOOD thriller and happen to relish the gore, then I recommend Tropic of Night by Michael Gruber. Well written, thrilling, unusual, gory, and did I mention well written? If you enjoy that, he has written two other novels featuring the same detective, Valley of Bones and Night of the Jaguar. Two thumbs up for both of those as well.
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VINE VOICEon March 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I read this book, or tried to, early on in my membership in The Vine Program. I admit I did not read the first book in the series...trying to read this one was difficult enough. I didn't feel that there was anything positive at all that I could say in a review at that time.

After time has passed and I have rethought the entire thing, the only thing I could say still is 'this is just not a very good book.' By now I have read several positive reviews of the book here on Amazon and have to say I am somewhat baffled.

I know this book is 'fiction', but didn't realize it was going to be 'fantasy', which is a completely different genre. There have been few female serial killers in history, and none that were particularly physically attractive. If one pops up soon, I will admit that a male detective would be fascinated perhaps, but from a point of view of the unique situation; certainly not because he would develop a love interest in the killer.

The writing felt padded and mostly unnecessary, the language (I am not easily offended - i.e. 'I loved Deadwood) was unnecessary. Didn't care for the plot, found it completely unbelievable period. The characters? Totally ridiculous!

Perhaps Ms. Cain's writing has improved over time and her later novels have gotten better. Truthfully, I haven't taken the time to read either the previews or the reviews of any books past 'Sweetheart'. This book was just so off-putting, I could not muster up the interest in anything else the author could conjure up.

I must admit, it does intrigue me how the reviews for this book could be so all over the map, and if you read this review you are of course aware this is just MY opinion.
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Serial killer novels full of bloody, gory descriptions are not my thing, with the exception of Thomas Harris's Hannibal Lecter - a favorite of mine, although I wouldn't want to have lunch with him! However, author Chelsea Cain came up with a real winner in "Heartsick" the prequel to "Sweetheart." I am disappointed in this second installment in the ongoing saga of psychopath, Gretchen Lowell, and her bizarre, twisted relationship with detective Archie Sheridan. It seems like the author wanted to create a Hannibal Lecter/Clarice Starling rapport between the two, but went completely overboard in her attempt. The basic storyline, which was unique and riveting in the first novel, just doesn't hold water in the second.

What makes the original book stand out from the genre is that the killer is a woman - beautiful, blonde, and brilliant. We don't hear about many female serial killers, and that may be partly because women aren't as prone to commit this type of crime as men. Criminologist, Eric Hickey, states that, "88% of serial killers are male, 85% are Caucasian, and the average age when they claim their first victim is usually around 28.5. Women account for 15% of violent offenders." Gretchen Lowell makes Ted Bundy look like a pussycat!

I will briefly catch readers up on the background of "Heartsick" so you can understand what "Sweetheart" is about. (I hate when one has to read book one to understand book two - a real money making gimmick, usually)! In the original novel, which begins two years before this one, Detective Archie Sheridan headed the "Beauty Killer Task Force." Ms. Lowell is called "The Beauty Killer," not because she is beautiful, but because when the medical examiner was asked to categorize the condition of the first of many corpses, he whistled and said, "It's a beauty!" Autopsies are usually boring, according to the ME - mostly drownings and suicides. He is positively "tickled" by Gretchen's original work. It is just a coincidence that she's a "looker."

It had taken his team ten years to track down Lowell, who is responsible for the brutal murders of approximately 200 people. Archie was the person who identified her, located her, and became her last victim. Oddly, after torturing and maiming Archie for 10 days, she allowed him to live. Lowell called 911, asked for emergency assistance for the detective, and turned herself in to the police.

Gretchen didn't get the death sentence because, as only 26 of her victims have been identified, she was able to made a deal with the District Attorney. If Archie would visit her every Sunday, she would give him a victim's name and place of burial, occasionally, at her leisure. And Archie is more than happy to visit his tormentress every week. He is obsessed with her, sexually and otherwise. Perhaps this compulsion is a version of the Stockholm Syndrome, "a psychological response sometimes seen in abducted hostages, in which the hostage shows signs of loyalty to the hostage-taker, regardless of the danger or risk in which they have been placed." However Ms. Cain takes the Stockholm Syndrome to a level of sheer incredulity. The character of Archie, who was so well conceived before, is now almost a comic book caricature - even taking into consideration his trip through veritable hell.

Obviously, Archie has been seriously damaged emotionally and physically by his time as Gretchen's captive. She tied him to a gurney, forced drain cleaner down his throat, removed his spleen and doodled on his torso with a scalpel. Now, two years later, after an extensive stay in the hospital, he is on a partial road to recovery. Or so his family, colleagues and friends think. However, he has developed a serious addition to vicodin, and pops the pills like "tic tacs." He has also become totally obsessed with Gretchen and used to look forward to their Sunday meetings as if he were an adolescent boy about to go out on a hot date. Recently he stopped seeing Gretchen. The weaning process, from both vicodin and the fatal femme fatale is taking its toll. Filled with guilt and self-loathing, he attempts to rebuild his relationship with his wife and children, who still love him very much. It is almost impossible, however, to maintain a relationship with a drug-addict who is in lust with a serial killer. And, she's the only one who understands his pain - because she caused it. Weird ...right? It gets weirder but I wont give anything more away, at least not about this duo.

When a woman's body is found in Portland's Forest Park, Archie is reminded of the first of the Beauty Killer's victims, who was discovered at the very same place ten years before. This victim was recently killed. Then two more bodies are found - these are older corpses which date back a few years. Are the older bodies Gretchen's kills? Is another serial murderer at work?

Meanwhile, Oregon Herald reporter Susan Ward, who followed Archie Sheridan on the Beauty Killer case, has been researching a story of a well-known senator who had a long time affair with his fourteen year-old baby-sitter years before. The victim, now a grown woman, is willing to go on record, but there is a tremendous amount of political pressure on Ward and her editors to squelch the story. Then the senator is killed in a car crash before the story can be published. Derek Parker, the Herald's crime beat reporter, was in the car with the senator. Suspicious!

The plot sounds meaty, but it really isn't. The characters are not anywhere near as developed and life-like as those in "Heartsick. Most of the storyline centers around Archie and his obsessive neuroses, and Gretchen with her kinky antics - even from jail - to the detriment of the more interesting subplots. I must say that I felt like a voyeur at times.

I am rating this novel 3 stars, (rather than 2), because, despite my criticism I was able to finish the novel and found that the story did capture my interest at times. It's a fast but shallow beach read. I think my ambivalent enjoyment is because I am familiar with the characters from the first novel. So if you are interesting in reading "Sweetheart," I'd advise you to read the prequel first.
Jana Perskie

Heartsick
Evil at Heart
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VINE VOICEon August 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I read, and did not enjoy, Heartsick, the first book in this series. Cain's 2nd attempt here is not any better than I found the first to be. The story is uninvolving, lacking in creative story-telling and descriptions and wanting for suspense and mystery. It is an unfortunate attempt at a female Hannibal Lecter and it fails miserably.

To top this off, Cain, who is from Oregon, relies too heavily on her knowledge of the area and still can't describe a place effectively enough for me to truly picture it in my mind. She's in trouble if she strays from her home and tries to describe places she knows less well.

The story meanders aimlessly with no real rhyme or reason to the chapters. It seems like a book that was written free-thought, from start to finish. Pointless thoughts, meaningless descriptions, or un-necessary discussions pop up throughout the story. Several times, I had to go back and re-read 2 or 3 chapters thinking, "I must have missed something", but no, it was just an obscure and pointless reference to something that did not apply to the subject at hand and never panned out in the story as a whole.

None of the characters, after 2 novels, have become any more real. They are one-dimensional, cardboard, milquetoast or just downright boring. Names mean nothing because the characters have no personality that jumps from the pages and makes you remember them.

The story is contrived and predictable. The outcome is so far out of left field that no one will see it coming, but that doesn't make it a good ending. Nothing set up in the book leads to what the reader arrives at after several hundred pages. Mystery is absent, suspense is thin and character development is weak at best. The prose is dry and boring. There is no flair in the writer's style, no special something that makes her writing meaningful or memorable.

This book actually tries to get away from the Gretchen Lowell story-line with a contrived political cover-up, but the concept is ridiculous and the ending is really hard to swallow. Fiction or not, this is not supposed to be a fantasy novel and the ending was just a bit too much to be believable. The ending falls in to place a little too conveniently. And, to top it off, some people who had none, somehow end up with a conscience at the end of the book. It's just a little too absurd for me.

I can't see mysellf reading any future efforts by this author; her style is uninteresting, her descriptions of people, place and things, too cliche (how many time does one need to know exactly how blue reporter Susan Ward's hair is before we get the point?). The first was a "gimme" for the writer, the second a mistake for me; I'll use a cliche to follow up on this cliche of a novel: fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. I won't be fooled by this author again.

The 3 stars I offer is kind. I should rate this a 2 but, as a writer myself, I will give Cain the 3 for the effort as I know writing a novel is difficult.
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