25 April 2015

Underground Tour Stop!

The seemingly impossible has happened. The unthinkable. Those I trusted most have betrayed me. I’m a hockey player, and gave control of my finances to my parents so I could concentrate on my game. Big mistake. They stole from me, bankrupted me, in fact. And then someone came looking for money I don’t have and I did something terrible that will haunt me forever. After that, I took off with no thought about where I’d go or what I’d do.

But a secret organization found me and offered a new start, a salvation. I would no longer be a hockey player, I wouldn’t even be an actual person. Doing this would require me to go totally off the grid. I’d be a shadow, fighting crime with a group that’s underground, literally. Do I want that life?

If I went back, what kind of life would I have? Probably one in prison orange. The choice to join Underground is painful, but necessary. As my hockey coach always said, though, pain is weakness leaving the body. I will not be powerless ever again.
Off the Grid is the first installment in a 10-part serial novel. While I did enjoy reading the novelette it didn’t quite capture my attention as much as I hoped. On the contrary, until Ethan actually goes to the Underground facility and meets some of the other operatives, my attention kept waning. Admittedly I felt bad for the guy when he learned that his parents ripped him off and endangered his life. And yes, the hockey stick as a weapon scene was pretty freaking cool. But his initial meeting with Maline and Andre had me rolling my eyes a couple of times. Maline’s “We fight crime” statement annoyed me considering she’s working for a black ops organization, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt that she knew she was dealing with a man who was likely in shock. As her character’s conversational skills were more advanced once they got to the facility, I was more accepting of it. But the exchange that really, really caused my eyes to roll was when Maline tells Ethan about people being able to fake polygraphs and Ethan’s response was “Seriously?” Even if I’m willing to accept that the MAN has made it to thirty without having watched any criminal justice themed show or movie EVER, Ethan majored in Criminal Justice in college. I minored in Criminal Justice and that’s basic information covered in intro classes (plural). So yeah, that was a problem for me. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor sticking point but it undermines the character for me.

The ultimate question regarding any serial novel, especially that of the first installment, is: Did it hook the reader enough so that they will read the next installment. For me, the answer is not really. I will be reading parts two and three of the series simply because I have them already and agreed to review them. Because of this, I’m hoping that as the next two installments are larger and because the series’ foundation has been laid, that more will occur to get me invested in the series. But if I had bought this installment just to read, I doubt I would continue on. And I do not say this because it’s a bad book, but rather it just didn’t do it for me. My recommendation is to download a sample and check it out yourself
I’ve left my old life behind and officially joined Underground. It appears no one knows where I am or even if I’m still alive. I don’t know how I feel about that. My friends thinking I’m dead leaves a hole in my heart, but I’ll drive myself crazy if I obsess about it. So rather than allowing myself to wallow in self-pity or anger about what’s happened, I’m throwing all my energy into training. You would think that whole “elite athlete” thing would make everything easier, but all these new techniques I need to master—hand-to-hand combat, weapons training, surveillance procedures—are kicking my ass.
For my whole life, I’ve only had one identity. Ethan, hockey player. Now that sense of self is gone forever, slowly being replaced by my new identity, Slapshot. Surreal doesn’t even begin to describe this transformation. But the more I find out about the world around me, the problems I ignored for the most part as I played a game for an obscene amount of money, the more I want to make a difference. This is not a game. It’s real life, and I have the chance to be a hero. It’s going to take everything I have—or have left, to do it.
While I enjoyed Creating Slapshot more than I enjoyed Off the Grid, I’m still not hooked on the series. Ultimately a geek at heart, I found the information that was disseminated via Ethan’s training quite interesting. Although I wasn’t surprised that he did well in the testing for skills that relied on hand-eye coordination, I was fascinated by the fact that he scored so much better than everyone else – yet still questioned his ability to eventually contribute to the team. I really should give the guy a break as he is trying to find his way in a new life after having his old life ripped away from him so brutally, but his lack of confidence doesn’t ring true from someone who is a professional athlete who has helped his team win the Cup… twice. I do like that Ethan is not afraid to ask questions and has been encouraged by everyone so far to do so. And the way that the various team members have relayed their personal stories has helped fill in more of the blanks regarding the team and certainly helped make this installment more interesting as well. That said, I believe that parts one and two would have been more effective had they been combined into a single novella rather than two novelettes. I will be starting Initiation by Fire tomorrow and can only hope that it lives up to its name and finally brings the level of action and adventure that I was expecting. A good dose of romance would not be amiss either. 
I have my first assignment--helping track down a man targeting Cuban bodegas and then using an automatic rifle to massacre all those inside after they're attacked by a Cuban gang and his wife is killed. Underground is tasked with figuring out who this dangerous man is and stopping him before he goes on another rampage. Though I only play a small role in this first mission, it’s satisfying to know I helped find justice for all the innocent people the man has murdered.

Despite that, I still find myself thinking about what I left behind, as I learn more about what my parents did with my money, and my former hockey team struggles to deal with my apparent death. Guilt weighs me down, and the rest of the team does their best to keep me focused on this new life. Can they do that, or will I snap under the pressure?
Initiation by Fire is the third installment in the Underground series and while it was better than parts one and two, it’s my final stop on this journey. There is far more action in this installment than before because Ethan is going out into the field for recon and we get to see him take part in a mission. I liked that Ms. Carr showed Ethan actually learning skills – making errors and learning how to do things correctly or better. It’s expected that he will master some tasks quicker than others because he’s a professional athlete, but thankfully there was no “Boom, he’s a natural born genius who masters everything on his first attempt” scenario going on. Also enjoyable was Ethan’s continued bonding with his colleagues. I liked that we got to learn more about the various team members and that certain ones seem to have taken him under their wing. Unfortunately, the romantic connection remains a hint and is suggested more by the series blurb than the book itself. The mission was intense and action-packed, which is what helped to elevate Imitation by Fire over Off the Grid and Creating Slapshot. Regrettably it ended too soon to finish reeling me in. Would I like to know what happens to Ethan? Yes, but I’m not willing to sit through seven more installments to find out. I think that had parts 1-3 been released as one novel, I probably would have continued on with the series. But at its current rate, it feels like the story is dragging on and on without making enough progress to keep my attention. As always, I recommend that you check it out for yourself because it is an enjoyable storyline, it’s just not working for me at its current pacing. Who knows? Maybe once all 10 parts have been released, I’ll give it another shot. 

Cassandra Carr is a multi-award winning romance writer. When not writing she enjoys watching hockey and hanging out online. Cassandra's books have won numerous "Best Book Of" awards and her novella Unexpected Top was nominated in the E-book Erotic Romance category of RT's Reviewers' Choice Awards.



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