REVIEW: The Me I Used To Be
THE ME I USED TO BE by Jennifer Ryan is a breath of fresh air for romance readers in need of the unusual mixed with the unexpected.
Anyone who follows my reviews understands I’m an eclectic reader, but do you know that my core prefers romance? Not the same-old-same-old we’ve come to expect. There is a formula romance authors follow to give us what we want. Romance readers don’t always like it when an author meanders away from that formula. I do – I want the unusual and unexpected.
THE ME I USED TO BE is the perfect example of an author who takes a risk that pays off in an excellent story.
This novel begins on the day Evangeline Austen is released from prison. The first lines in this story set the stage for an emotional, and sometimes shocking, story. We know Evangeline is covering for someone, but who? And who is this cop who thinks he’ll bribe her with her freedom to tell him the truth? Surely, Lieutenant Chris Chambers is NOT the hero of this possible love story?
Evangeline is a sympathetic heroine but she’s not a wimp. Prison taught her to trust no one except herself. She’s scarred on the outside, as much as the inside, from her experience. But she made good use of her four years behind bars by earning a college degree she can use to turn her life around.
Evangeline returns home amidst turmoil. Her father died. The remaining family feels that her imprisonment, and refusal to see her father, is the cause. The family business is in trouble. This is where she has to live until parole allows something else. Can she make it on the outside?
THE ME I USED TO BE is very addictive. One shocking thing after another happens to make Evangeline’s world impossible for most people. But that’s where her strength proves to be essential. If they’re going to get out of this mess as a loving family, Evangeline needs to use her gifts to their best advantage.
It was hard for me to imagine that Chris would ever turn out to be a believable hero. He is tough, but he has a soft spot for Evangeline. I couldn’t figure out why, at first, but once I did, then I understood how this was meant to be.
That doesn’t mean this story is easy. Far from it. What it does mean is that author Jennifer Ryan is a gifted storyteller. She made me believe what I never thought possible.
Did I love everything and the way it was done in this book? Of course, not – I’m a Romantic Suspense (RS) critic who is always looking for that perfect style I crave. I didn’t love everything about the RS portion. Some of you will absolutely love it. I also didn’t like how some of the bad guy stuff caused more bad things to happen to more good people. But it had to be that way for this plot to work.
The part I disliked the most was the quick-fall-into-love section, while fighting the bad guys with the man who put the girl in jail. That’s a bit tough to swallow. Oh, I get it that Chris is one gorgeous, sexy, hard-to-resist cop. I melted into a puddle, too. He came off as a bit of a bad-ass as well. I felt their romance needed more backstory. Or maybe more time alone to simmer. It seemed to come about too quickly. And, then there were a couple TSTL moments from our heroine while in the danger-zone. Those always annoy me, but that’s part of that cranky RS reader again.
But – I forgave all that because I loved how the plot concluded. I really enjoyed how Evangeline used her empowerment as a smart, educated woman to resolve her family’s business issues. I was thrilled that she didn’t wallow in self-pity, which she had every right to do.
This woman went through four years in jail – fighting, literally, to survive something she didn’t deserve. As a young woman, she earned mental and physical scars most of us will never experience in a lifetime. That survival empowered her to become the “me” she needed to be. This is her journey and the bulk of the book is dedicated to her story.
That means that the romance takes a back seat until the last quarter of the book. Then it’s fast and furious, so much so that I wasn’t sure I’d believe it. But by the end, I was completely convinced and cheering her on.
The novel got too wordy about feelings and thoughts toward the end. I was ready for the conclusion, so I did speed read through some of that.
This is me as a cranky Romantic Suspense reader. I love them and hate them. It’s a tug of war most authors don’t win with me. Jennifer Ryan is a winner! I expected a lot from what I’d heard about her books, so I’m thrilled I chose this standalone title as my sample.
It’s really hard to categorize this book into a sub-genre of fiction because it’s so unusual. It does have some RS techniques, but it’s not typical. It leans heavily in the contemporary women’s fiction direction without the small-town connotations, with a good crime subplot. I can’t say much more than that because to appreciate this book, you really need to experience it for yourself.
THE ME I USED TO BE is full of surprises, including the very sweet ending. If you want different, and LOVE heartbreaking stories that make you smile in the end, give THE ME I USED TO BE a few hours of your time. I hope you’ll appreciate all its nuances like I did. With an almost 5 rating, I can’t wait for Jennifer Ryan’s next foray into the unusual.
Review by Dorine, courtesy of TheZestQuest.com. A digital advanced copy was provided by the publisher for an honest review. Thanks in advance for following links and sharing this review on social media. For more eclectic reading, check out my book section for more reviews.
The Me I Used to Be by Jennifer Ryan
Category: Women’s Crime Fiction, Romantic Suspense
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (July 2, 2019)
Rated 4.5 out of 5