Between Love and Duty, by Janice Kay Johnson

19 Jan

Between Love and Duty, by Janice Kay JohnsonBetween Love and Duty

This novel is the first in a trilogy about the MacLachlan brothers, Duncan, Niall and Conall. The three books were released back to back from February to April 2012, and it’s with some distress that I realized I don’t have the other two.

I cannot believe I have never before written a review for one of Ms Johnson’s books. No, it’s not that I have read all of them; it’s that I have like those that I have read, so very much.

Please be aware that this review is long, even by my standards.

Here is the pretty crappy back cover blurb, from my print copy:

There’s a right way, then there’s the wrong way.

Noboty knows that better than police captaing Duncan MacLachlan. He has served and protected for years without bending to a middle ground he doesn’t believe in. And he’s not about to change. Certainly not for stubborn–and sexy–court advocate Jane Brooks. Her shades of gray view of the world clashes with his black-and-white one.

Then a mission to save and at-risk teen has Jane’s life on the line. Now she and Duncan must join forces despite their differences–and the flaring attraction that’s too hot to ignore. It’s Duncan’s toughest challenge yet. Because keeping Jane safe is one thing…and keeping her out of his arms is another.

A Brother’s Word — Men of honor…reunited.

Duncan becomes something of a mentor and friend to a twelve year old boy, through somewhat unusual circumstances. Tito’s family situation is difficult to say the least. His parents immigrated to the Pacific Northwest from Mexico when he, the youngest, was barely a toddler.

Years later, after the couple separated, the mother went back, taking their young daughters with her, and leaving Tito with his father. Not long after that, Héctor was sent to prison for killing a man during a drunken brawl, and Tito was left in the custody of his eldest sibling, Lupe, who at twenty was already married with a couple of babies of her own.

Now that his father is about to be released, the court has appointed Jane as Tito’s guardian ad litem. A business owner, Jane approaches her duties to the children for whom she advocates as much more than a responsibility. She cares about them and strives to steer the court to whatever decision would benefit each child the most in the long run. This means being thorough and being involved.

Her determination to serve these children doesn’t make her popular with many of the parents who see their rights curtailed, or even terminated, due to her recommendations. This time, she also has to contend with a police captain who has already decided what’s best for the child, and who is quite unwilling to even consider changing his mind.

While this premise puts the main characters in regular contact with each other for a period of weeks, it is the vandalism and threats Jane starts receiving that brings them truly together, and which forces them to deal with both their intense mutual attraction and the feelings it wakes in each of them, and with some of their own relationship baggage.

There are a lot of things I think Ms Johnson does really well in this book, even though I have a couple of quibbles.

For starters, the characterization is great, for all but the most minor characters.

The novel starts with such a powerful prologue, you feel and care for Duncan right away.

Duncan had just finished high school and was mere weeks away from escaping a pretty dysfunctional family situation. His father, a known drug dealer, was in prison–again. His two younger brothers were either in juvie, or wrecking hell on their way back in. But he had worked hard, for years, doing the work, getting the grades, and now college and freedom beckon.

Then his mother abandoned the three brothers. She had finally hit a wall, she could not–would not–continue dealing with two teenagers who seemed determined to follow so closely in their father’s footsteps. And Duncan, well, he was an adult now, at least on paper, and well on his way to a good, decent life, wasn’t he?

What she never even considered is that he couldn’t give up on his brothers the way she had:

His father had been sentenced today to ten years in the Monroe Correctional Complex. His mother had driven away. Apparently, she intended to keep going, all the way to California. She thought he should go upstairs, pack his things and leave, too, so that his brother Conall would come home to find no one.
There’s nothing either of us can do for him, or Niall, either.
But he’s twelve years old! A kid. Really, so was Niall.
Not your responsibility.
Then whose were they?
Duncan’s heart was thudding as though he’d sprinted the homestretch of a five-mile run. His breath came in great gasps, like an old-fashioned bellows. His hands had formed fists at his sides.
Not your responsibility
Then whose? Whose? he raged silently

Almost twenty years later, Duncan is well regarded professionally, while personally he is almost completely closed off from everyone. With an iron will, steely determination, and unbending convictions, he saw both his brothers become law enforcement officers. If, along the way, he forgot how to relate to them–or how to nurture relationships with anyone, really–well, that’s the price he paid.

For her part, Jane managed that escape to college, and to distance herself from a family completely immersed in what sounds like a fundamentalist Christian sect, where women are chattel, servants, existing to produce children for their husbands.

Growing up, and until the state intervened, even school was out of her reach. Girls weren’t allowed to be children, to play, to dream, to develop a personality or have goals. And so, the moment she legally could do it, Jane left her small town behind, and sought the freedom of a wider world. The trade-off, of course, is that for all intents and purposes, she hasn’t had a family for a dozen years or more.

There are passages from Tito’s point of view, which are realistic, consistent with how a boy his age and in his circumstances would feel about all those adults deciding his life for him. Tito is not painted as a prodigy, or as an angel, and he is the furthest thing from a plot moppet.

What Tito is, is a twelve year old who has lived a hard life long enough to become aware of what’s going on around him. We see his impotence and frustration, being at the apparent whims of others. His fears for the future, his anger at his dead-beat brother in law, his worries for his sister Lupe’s financial circumstances. We see how uncomfortable he is with Héctor, ambivalent about his own feelings towards his father the ex-con, and towards his friend Duncan, the police officer.

As they interact with each other, and with other people, both Jane and Duncan actually spend some time thinking about why they react the way they do, and not just to each other, but in all areas of their lives. Duncan may bristle when Jane talks, but in fact he listens and later on reflects on their interactions, and learns something about himself. He doesn’t like to accept that she’s right about some things, but he doesn’t lie to himself about it either.

There is a scene between Duncan and Niall, where they finally talk about the years after their mother’s abandonment and how it affected their relationship as brothers, as well as their feelings toward relationships, that is just wonderful. So powerful, yet understated.

As for Jane, she is aware that she has many hang ups and unresolved issues that stem from an unhealthy upbringing, and she’s also aware that this affects how she relates–or not–to men. Every time she stands up to an angry man raising his voice to her, or trying to dictate what she does, thinks, or believes in, she knows that she’s standing up to her unforgiving, dictatorial and fanatical father.

At the same time, Jane freely admits to herself that she “had the hots” for Duncan even before she meets him. This attraction is further cemented by glimpses of the caring, understanding and gentle man he doesn’t seem to realize he is. However, he is also too used to having the last word on any disagreement, to being right, to take charge. All things that put her back up in a major way.

The ways Jane and Duncan think about each other are mature, smart, insightful, and appropriate for their ages. At thirty and thirty five (or thereabouts) respectively, these are not kids who give in to their hormones on a whim.

As an example, at one point near the middle of the novel, Duncan wonders about Jane:

He knew some of what mattered to her. Maybe most of it. What he didn’t entirely get was why, and Duncan found that he was intensely curious. The store…well, that wasn’t subtle. Nobody had fed her dreams when she was a child, so she was committed to making the dreams of a thousand other little girls as beautiful as she could. The fixing families–again, fairly obvious on the surface. What he didn’t understand was why she hadn’t tried to accomplish something miraculous for herself. Was being a businesswoman really what she had wanted most? And why not create her own family?
No, that he understood. When you grew up with a dysfunctional family, you were likely to eye outwardly perfect, loving families and wonder what was wrong with them behind closed doors–not so likely to imagine creating one of your own.

But while these two are falling for each other, Tito and his family problems do not fade to the background. Neither the child nor his future are ever simply an excuse to bring Jane and Duncan together. Tito matters, Lupe matters, Héctor matters. They too grow as people, through their interactions with each other.

My only real quibble with the novel is that the resolution of the suspense thread of the plot comes from left field. The author dangles several red herrings throughout the story, then wham! Out the blue, here’s the correct answer. And while, yes, this may well be the case in real life more often than not, fiction is supposed to be more coherent and cohesive than that.

I enjoyed the novel, and both Jane and Duncan, very much, but honestly? Duncan makes the book for me. Between Love and Duty gets 9.25 out of 10


7 Responses to “Between Love and Duty, by Janice Kay Johnson”

  1. bamaclm 19/01/2015 at 8:36 PM #

    I think I have some of her books in Kindle format, the name sounds familiar. But I don’t remember reading any of them. I got them back in my virgin Kindle days, when I was downloading anything that was free. *ahem*

    So, sounds like I have a reading binge in my future. 🙂 Hopefully this is in ebook format; if it is I will definitely buy.

    My pocketbook is whispering “Stay away from this woman, AL!” I don’t listen to it so much, lol.

    • azteclady 19/01/2015 at 11:15 PM #

      I have read only a handful of her books, but so far I’ve liked them all. Off the top of my head, I’ll say what I have read of her has been all oh, on the eight out of ten range.

      I hope you let me know what you think, if you do have any of her stuff already and find the time to read it 😀

  2. heavenlea27 19/01/2015 at 11:05 PM #

    Sounds like a winner! Can’t say I’ve ever read a Harlequin or Mills and Boon type book but this review has me intrigued. Will have to have a look see 😀

    • azteclady 19/01/2015 at 11:17 PM #

      Mind you, it is not a perfect book, but it’s a lot better than most category romances. Of course, Superromances are longer, over 300 pages (so, closer to single title novel length) and that helps a lot, but Ms Johnson’s writing is truly good.

      Do let me know what you think, if and hwne? (and *cough* most of her category titles do seem to be available digitally…)

  3. Gaylauren 16/09/2015 at 2:25 AM #

    Hi AztecLady
    I have often read your comments on other discussion/review sites and found your input thoughtful and interesting. I wandered here somehow from following the latest DA VS EC lawsuit news at Courtney Milan’s site via SBTBs etc and find you have your own blog and review site. After watching that incredible video about EC I thought I would check out some of your reviews and, am delighted to find you have given a positive review to a book by one of my autobuy authors Janice Kay Johnson. I agree with your observations about her writing. Being better than most category romance writers. Are there other category romance writers you would recommend?

    • azteclady 19/09/2015 at 10:54 PM #

      Welcome to my humble corner of the internet! Please forgive me for the delay in replying; I did see your comment, but got sidetracked.

      I confess that I am not as versed in category romance authors. I do recommend Karina Bliss (I’ve reviewed her Lost Boys trilogy here), but I’m drawing a blank on other recommendations. I would suggest reading Miss Bates’ wonderful blog–and of course, Super Librarian Wendy has many reviews for great category romance in her own.

      • Carolyn 19/09/2015 at 11:20 PM #

        I second the recommendation for Karina Bliss, especially her last book Rise. Also Sarah Mayberry. She writes Superromances too.

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