In Hope’s Shadow, by Janice Kay Johnson

11 Nov

In Hope's ShadowAmazingly, I have managed to write a review! (I’m afraid to look back, and see how long since the last one–this has not been a good blogging/reading year for me so far)

I got an ARC for this novel a while back (like, over three months ago :wince:). When I realized that it’s the second in the Two Daughters duology, I stopped reading, and one-clicked the first title, Yesterday’s Gone.

After a lot of false starts with other books, and tons of re-reading, I finally grabbed In Hope’s Shadow a couple of days ago–and read it in one sitting.

Hoping that late is still better than never, here’s my review.

A caveat: I definitely recommend reading these two stories in order. A warning: there are references to child abuse, references to animal abuse, and an off-page murder. Reader, beware.

In Hope’s Shadow, by Janice Kay Johnson

The setup for the two novels is this: six year old Hope Lawson is kidnapped, snatched off the playground at school. A few years later, her parents, who have not given up on finding her alive, adopt a little girl her missing daughter’s age. A couple of decades after that, Hope miraculously, unexpectedly, turns up–alive, and willing to reconnect with her parents. And her adoptive sister, Eve.

Here’s the blurb, from amazon:

Where does she belong? 

Now that the “real” daughter of her adoptive parents has returned, Eve Lawson can’t help feeling edged out. It’s a familiar isolation she sees all too often in her social work caseload. And her unstoppable attraction to divorced cop Ben Kemper only complicates things further.

They’re on opposite sides of a murder case, but their connection is still stronger than their doubts and fears. Eve is too close to the sexy single dad to walk away without a shattered heart. It’s up to Ben to take a risk of his own and show Eve a family and love that will never let her go: his.

I have mentioned before that I really like Ms Johnson’s writing, and once again, I was rewarded with well written characters, living through complex situations that are neither glossed over, nor magically solved. Both Ben and Even have to work through their individual issues, just as they have to find compromises with each other.

One of the first interactions between Eve and Hope/Bailey, consists of the former saying, “The real daughter returns.”

At first blush, this seems like a terribly bitchy reaction, but there are good reasons for Eve’s resentment.

Yes, the Lawsons gave her a good, loving home–but not for one moment was Eve allowed to forget that there was another child, another girl, who was entitled to the pretty pink room with the princess bed. The room her mother kept as a shrine to Hope, the real Lawson daughter.

Unwittingly, through her single-minded determination to find Hope, Karen Lawson kept feeding Eve’s insecurity about her own place in the family. Is it any wonder that, once Hope comes back, Eve feels unnecessary and withdraws from her parents?

This insecurity, the feeling of never being good enough is compounded when Seth, the man Eve was casually dating (and the cop whose persistence led to Bailey turning up), falls in love with Hope/Bailey.

How can Eve fail to feel like a placeholder, instead of a person worthy of love in her own right?

For his part, Ben is still adjusting to being divorced and sharing custody of his young daughter with his ex. Even though the court finalized the divorce over a year before, he has resisted moving on with his life as a single man. He has not been a monk, mind you, but each time he has had sex for the past year, Ben has felt guilty–as if he were cheating on his ex-wife.

After all, not only do they have a young daughter together, they have been together–on and off, but mostly on–for close to fifteen years. Even before they became a couple in high school, Ben had carried a torch for Nicole for several years. It is not easy for him to accept that their relationship is over, or that it’s not healthy to expect a second chance with Nicole; much less, to accept that his attraction to Eve has already deeper roots than his infatuation with the mother of his child.

I have mentioned before that I enjoy Ms Johnson’s books, usually because of how real her characters’ struggles, and their growth as people, feel to me. In Hope’s Shadow is not exception.

I understood Eve’s insecurities, and sympathized with her completely. No, her mother did not mean to hurt Eve–but very few parents set out to wound their children’s psyche. We do the best we can, and while we often manage to avoid our own parents’ most egregious mistakes, there are always other. different mistakes to commit with our children.

As for Ben, I liked that Ms Johnson didn’t gloss over his attachment to his ex-wife, or over his hesitation to even think of another long term relationship. Both for his daughter’s sake and his own, and because he wasn’t sure he could love another woman. It is not easy to give up in a relationship when the other party ends it “without warning.” Yes, there are almost always warning signs that things are not all rosy, but humans are past masters at self-deception. It is very easy to convince ourselves that things are fine, and be surprised when it turns out that no, things are not only not fine; things suck big hairy donkey balls.

And so, I found these two characters very believable individually, and their circling, pulling together, pulling apart, very realistic.

I also liked that the secondary characters from the first story (Bailey, Seth, Karen and Kirk Lawson) appear in this book just enough; they provide continuity and, along with the other secondary characters, a background to Eve’s and Ben’s romance. But these characters, and their own issues, don’t overshadow the story.

I have two minor quibbles, though. One is that there is a bit of repetition–which is usually true to life, but fiction is supposed to do better, no?–and that there are passages where the writing is more than a bit utilitarian.

The second has to do with the suspense thread. Meaning, there is no real suspense. There is only one possible suspect, and his characterization is more than a bit ham-handed–which bothered me, a lot, precisely  because characterization is usually Ms Johnson’s strongest writing trait.

Still, I found In Hope’s Shadow to be a lovely romance with strong, likable characters. 8.00 out of 10.

2 Responses to “In Hope’s Shadow, by Janice Kay Johnson”

  1. bamaclmCarolyn 12/11/2015 at 8:47 PM #

    I’m a little confused – was the first book Hope’s story and this book Eve’s? If so, I can definitely see where you’d need to read both books and in order. Thank you for the review – and congratulations!! 🙂

    • azteclady 12/11/2015 at 8:52 PM #

      Sorry! Yes, the first book is Bailey’s (formerly Hope) story, and this novel is about Eve. But given what happened to each of them when they were children, and what happens when Bailey shows up, it really makes a lot more sense to read them in order.

      I think this one could be read on its own, because Ms Johnson does a good job of setting the two main characters, and their relationships with the secondary characters (new and from the first novel), well. Still, I probably feel more sympathetic towards Eve, because I’d read the other novel first..

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