Amanda, by Kay Hooper

>> Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Kay Hooper has written several types of books in her long career. She started out with category romance and is now writing very scary romantic suspense, with the Bishop/Special Crimes Unit series. Around the late 90s, however, she wrote a few gothics for Bantam that have been my favourites of what I've read by her. So far, I've read Finding Laura and After Caroline and now Amanda, too.

Others have claimed to be Amanda Daulton, but now a beautiful, sell-assured woman has stepped out of the shadows of the past, insisting she's the missing heiress to a multimillion-dollar fortune. One look is all it takes to assure the family patriarch that she's his beloved granddaughter. But others at the magnificent Southern mansion called Glory are not as easily convinced, others with much to lose from her sudden reappearance.

Soon suspicion erupts in a chilling attempt on her life, and after the traumatic ordeal, she begins to have flashes of a nightmarish vision. What, if anything, happened twenty years ago to drive a mother and her nine-year-old daughter away from their privileged life? The struggle to find the elusive answers exposes a frightening trail of secrets — a trail that leads shockingly to the present and to the enigmatic woman who calls herself Amanda.
Well, this was a nice enough read. The first part was actually more promising than what the book ended up being, but on the whole, this was an intriguing, nicely atmospheric read. A B-.

Even after 20 years, no one yet knows exactly why one night Christine Daulton took her 9-year-old daughter, Amanda, and ran away from Glory, the Daulton family mansion in North Carolina. In all those years, not a trace has been found of the runaways, but the family patriarch still has hopes of finding his granddaughter, the daughter of his favourite son.

Amanda Grant is the third person to show up claiming to be the missing Daulton heiress. Since the first two were easily exposed as frauds, she's obviously greeted with much suspicion by everyone. Her supposed cousins and aunt, the old-time housekeeper, even the family lawyer, they all seem to regard her with coolness. The only exception is Jesse himself, who decrees she's definitely his missing granddaughter the minute he sees her. But is this Amanda the right person? And why is someone trying to kill her? Is it just to prevent her from inheriting the Daulton fortune, fraud or not, or is someone still trying to hide the events of 20 years past?

This was a book that kept me guessing, and this was what I liked best about it. Those questions in the previous paragraph aren't just for show: throughout most of the book, I did question all those things, even, yes, whether our heroine was really Amanda Daulton. I had those doubts even though we saw most of the action through Amanda POV. This might have made it awkward not to know the truth, but Hooper managed to make it feel right that we wouldn't be told that, even as we were privy to her thoughts.

This made for a very intriguing book, even if I did feel a bit of distance with Amanda. A couple of weeks after finishing the book, I don't think I can tell you much about who exactly she was, or what made her tick. I guess her character wasn't particularly well drawn.

Her love interest, the family lawyer, was slightly better done, a character I got to know better. Their romance had its good and bad parts. On the good side, I liked the way the issue of trust was dealt with. Walker is a pretty cynical guy, and he long harbours doubts about Amanda's identity, even as he starts developing feelings for her and they begin a relationship. Amanda knows this, and it bothers her, so it's something that they need to get over before their relationship progresses, and I enjoyed the way they did it.

On the not-so-good side, I thought the romance became hot out of the blue. At one point, Walker suddenly starts behaving like he's sexually obsessed with Amanda and can't keep away from her, but previously to that, even though we readers had seen his POV often, I just hadn't seen it. I had seen evidence that he wasn't indifferent to Amanda, but it was more a matter of him finding himself liking her, when he would have prefered to despise her. Definitely not a sexual obsession!

In addition to the intriguing plot, I liked that rather than going Southern Gothic all the way and having every single secondary character be irreversibly dysfunctional and nasty, Hooper allows the non-villains a hopeful future. Sure, everyone's a bit screwed up, thanks to that horrible Jesse, but by the end of the book, we see glimpses of positive things to come for them. I was especially happy about Amanda's aunt, Catherine, who's got mammoth daddy issues and has been trying to win Jesse's love forever. During the book, we see her accepting that her father is a bastard who'll never care a whit about her and turning what first looks like a self-destructive relationship with a guy into a HEA.

The ending I wasn't too crazy about, and I thought it was the book's weakest point. I guess it does make sense, but it just didn't feel natural and right to me. I can't really point to any particular problem with it, it was just a sense of disappointment that a mystery that was felt intriguing and fresh had a recycled, very prosaic explanation.

Even so, I had a nice time reading Amanda. I need to find the one book I'm missing out of that group, Haunting Rachel.


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