BOOK REVIEW: Caged by Amber Lynn Natusch
Following the death of her parents, Ruby tries to carve out a life for herself while adjusting to her newly-acquired ability to see and while dealing with the lack of answers surrounding her parents’ death and how she survived the attack. In the process of trying to integrate with the rest of the world around her, she runs into the man who saved her, and he’s the one who might have the answers she’s looking for. Or, perhaps, he’s the one who might bring forth a whole ‘nother kind of danger into her life. And if he doesn’t, Mystery Man #2 just might. Ultimately, Ruby is forced to choose between these two men. And she chooses poorly. If she wants to survive, she’ll need to call on the darkness within her or spend a hellish eternity imprisoned because of it.
I REALLY enjoyed this. I was hooked from the first moment and endeared by all the well-timed humor. The book was hard to put down and even hard to leave down. Natusch knows how to grab a reader by the throat and never let go. This is a highly story/plot-based novel that fits nicely into the realm of high-concept fiction.
Though sometimes logic and character were sacrificed for the plot, I have to say this is one of the best stories I have read in a LONG time. I am normally a slow reader (due to time constraints) but this book demanded my attention and so many of my responsibilities were temporarily abandoned while I devoured this novel in only a few days. I thought the bit reveal about Ruby was well played out. You can see it coming from chapter one and I was curious how Natusch would handle the delivery of this major plot point. The answer to that is *flawlessly*. Though the story at the beginning waffles a bit (by that I mean it’s just stuff happening, no real cause-effect plot format), it was actually in some ways my favorite part of the story. The plot focused more as time went on and soon became the star of the show. Initially, I thought the book started off REALLY strong character-wise and okay story wise, but as the pages turned, it turned into good story-wise and okay character-wise (maybe a bit iffy at times on the character front, but this is common in high-concept fiction and to be expected.)
The second half of the book will really shine for the plot-oriented reader, as it’s packed with action and chapter after chapter of Ruby’s attempt to escape from being “Caged”. I found myself turning the page at those points wanting to get through all the action and back to the story of the character, but at the same time that part of the story did the best job flowing from scene to scene. Very focused story-direction there. Things died down a little after that bit (but not entirely) and I really enjoyed the scenes that followed (though I found the particular relocation choice a bit moronic on the part of the characters. Sometimes you wonder how many characters in a book can be too stupid to live! But, the good news is that they all made it. Not a single character from the good guys’ team dies.)
I’d have to question anyone who would have any complaints about the pacing of this novel. It’s breakneck, but in a good way. It’s nice to see an author who doesn’t take the “show-don’t-tell” advice to mean the reader needs to hear every painstaking detail of every last things the character does from the time the story stars until it ends. Instead, Natusch balances scene and summary by alternating the two in a way that creates a unique-yet-effective writing style.
Possible the co-star to this show is the voice. It’s just freaking awesome. I must have commented “great voice” about a 100 times in my kindle comments, and that’s only because I gave up typing it out and spent the rest of the book just complimenting this aspect in my head.
Really solid at the start here. I really love Ruby’s character. Even when she was being “too stupid to live” she was just an awesome character. And the writer is aware of Ruby’s character flaw in this regard (I believe it was intentional in order to make the story as interesting as possible) and this is evident by those little gems of humor throughout the novel that take stabs at Ruby’s intelligence (for example someone jokingly calls her a “Smart girl.”) I was surprised at first to learn that Ruby was 28, but as you read on and learn more about her, her immaturity begins to make a lot more sense. My main lingering question about Ruby and her situation was what her and her family were doing in the woods when they were attacked. Camping trip? I have no idea. Not important to the overall picture, though.
To add to this crazy cast you have Eric and Sean, who should both know better than to bring her to the dangerous places they do only to make her leave 5 minutes later because a dangerous situation starts to occur. I mean, DUH guys! You knew that place was dangerous. Why did you bring her there?! Though in the end, with ONE of them (I won’t say which!) it becomes clear why. The other one I guess was just having an idiot moment. And what real person doesn’t?
I also want to say that Ruby’s stupidity often made the story more interesting. The story wouldn’t have been what it was without this character. Also things are explained by the end of the story that makes more sense of her reaction in a couple of the scenes, but those were the scenes where she didn’t seem stupid to me anyway (just like something “supernatural” was going on). Though I sensed some of these answers early on, I was a bit off in my guess and was pleasantly surprised when it was better explained toward the end of the novel.
Yes, sometimes the character motivations are unclear and never shared. I wouldn’t say there are any POV slips, because Ruby is an empath and it pretty much sticks to her, but since she’s an empath it would have made for the perfect opportunity to make sense of some of the character’s illogical actions and choices throughout the novel. Even sometimes Rudy’s motivations are unclear, such as when she runs away from people who she was looking for. If I’m looking for someone and I find them, I’m not going to run away from them. Ruby isn’t me, but I’d have liked to understand who SHE is better in terms of why she did some of the things she did.
Returning back to what I love (because there is SO much to love in this book, hence the length of this review!), I really loved the chemistry between Ruby and Sean at the beginning of the story. Sadly that disappears about half way through, in part because of her illogical fears. But before that it’s nothing but delicious interaction and charming dialogue scenes between those two. I really loved the tension there. Early on, I really adooooored the interaction between Ruby and Sean and the predicaments that Ruby gets herself into (like when she drops the keys under his car…read it. When you reach that scene, you’ll know what I mean.)
I also really felt for Ruby when (in flashbacks) we had to see the way her parents made her feel dejected over her accomplishments. And I LOVED the relationship between Ruby and Ronnie in the vintage shop. Ronnie was a SOLID, fantastic character. I love Ronnie. She’s just the perfect supporting role.
Getting back to Ruby, I loved that she had a passion for fashion but wasn’t girly-girl. That matched her personality of being both vulnerable and a bit tough. And that whole “points” thing she does (Ruby 1, Bad Guys 0!) is so cute! It added a nice touch to her voice. Her quirks remained consistent throughout the novel. She’s a well developed character, and I look forward to reading more of her!
Being a NJ native (lived there from birth til about 20 years of age, from north to central to south) I was a bit disappointed by a character who was described as having a NJ accent but not sounding like someone from NJ at all. But I just chalked it up that maybe the author had met someone from NJ who had an accent from somewhere else and based it on that. Or perhaps there is some unturned rock in NJ for me somewhere where people talk like that.
There is one part in the story where Sean has a MAJOR Edward Cullen moment and it’s things like that that make me think this book is gonna be a HIT with fans of twilight (of which I include myself!). There is also (somewhat) the whole live triangle thing going on, but not in the natural way found in twilight. It did help make the story more interesting through, especially at the end! I could have handled maybe not EVERY male character in this story wanting Ruby, but she’s pretty awesome so I don’t entirely blame the entire male cast for wanting her.
My only major complaint in terms of Ruby being TSTL was that a few times it went a little TOO far. Like, she could have been just a tad less dense and the story would have still been just as intense a read. I would normally be okay with this if it felt true to character, but since Ruby at the end of the book is able to teach herself something HUGE without *any practice at all* it makes me think she’s just as dumb as she is portrayed in a few of those scenes. That’s really my only complaint where she is concerned, and that’s clearly minor.
As for the guys, I would have also liked more variance. They all seemed to have the same personality. The good males had one personality and the bad males had the SAME personality, but just the evil version of it. Very little set them apart, and those things were more character traits than personality/voice, and that’s why I think the second half of the book wasn’t as strong to me in terms of character as the first half of the book. But I really can’t stress enough that this is a PLOT-DRIVEN novel, not character. So even though I had a lot to say about this, it’s really not so important in the scheme of themes!
There was very little that threw me out of the story, and everything that did was minor. For example, there would be Ruby sitting in one sentence, and then the next referring to where they were heading next. So I was confused where they were headed while sitting (since they weren’t in a car). Also toward the end I was confused over Ruby’s nakedness. In one sentence she’s with Cooper and she looks down and she’s naked because of a change. But before that when she changed she wasn’t naked. Then the next time she’s naked, she’s hoping Cooper won’t see her. But didn’t he already see her naked by that point? And how are her clothes surviving all of this?! And the discussion with Cooper after the battle really confused me, too. Chapter 37 was meant to fill in the blanks of something that would have been more effective to show, but instead chapter 37 made me feel like there was a gaping hole in the story. I feel like seeing the end of attempted escape would have been more intense, and it didn’t seem to benefit the story in any way to leave that out. It’s full novel, and I only have these few tiny complaints. Overall, this flowed beautifully.
Again, not too much that threw me out of the story. Some plot elements were SUPER interesting but weren’t set up enough for me to suspend disbelief. To be frank, there were a few YEAH RIGHT moments. Some potential hooks ended up being false alarms, and I think this story was strong enough not to need it. Plenty of natural hooks that could have been played up instead.
Some of the things Sean offers up after realizing the truth about Ruby seem like moronic things for him to share on his part. I didn’t understand his motivation and I wasn’t buying it. But again, this story is plot based and so perhaps some elements of being genuine were sacrificed to make this an interesting and intense read (which it was, hands down!).
One other thing threw me and that was when Ruby discerned someone as an Alpha. “Alpha. As he neared I knew I was right. Evil has a very distinct feel.” This threw me for a loop because I’ve never associated being Alpha with being mutually exclusive to being evil. You can be an evil Alpha, sure, but if it’s evil she feels, why did that make her think “Alpha”? Alphas can be Alphas without being evil. I also struggled with Ruby’s emotional state while in captivity. It didn’t ring true.
Here is another example of what I mean. Ruby narrates: “Days and days after treatment so vile the UN would be writing sanctions for years….” Aside from my disappointment that this treatment is never shown (which I accept since this book, though good for a New Adult audience, is also being marketed to YAs) it upset me in another way. Later, Ruby says she’s only ever Changed out of sheer terror, but she didn’t Change during her captivity that was so vile the UN would be writing sanctions for years?
When Ruby gets her lucky save from Cooper, things turn into an adventure. Though some parts of the escape felt too convenient and some felt random and illogical, overall, it was an awesome adventure that left you wondering what would come next. A lot of sense of impeding danger (though not enough actual danger give the adventure approach these chapters were given).
Back to the logic. Cooper offers away that Ruby might be able to do something (being vague, sorry) but it’s really a guess at best. To me, this was a bit like seeing the puppet-master, so to speak, but story became so important that characters suddenly knew things they couldn’t know just for the sake of the plot. That was the only time, tough, that I felt this being plot-based went too far.
Ruby and Cooper’s fake sex scene was fun, too! I do think Cooper would have been overpowered in this scene, though, making for a more intense attempt to escape, so I was a bit disappointed with hw things played our, though I will say there WAS a lot of tension leading up to them getting away Scot-free (from that particular scenario, not the escape in full). I also felt the when Ruby was uncaged that the people who caged her would have noticed her missing sooner. And, in the big show down, Ruby and her team win too easily. There was a lot of talk about danger but I would have liked to see some of those danger realized. Also in one part Cooper says the shirt covered in someone else’s blood will help hide Ruby’s scent, but a few scenes later he is getting her a change of clothes. These types of inconsistencies momentarily threw me out of the novel but did not ruin the story for me AT ALL.
I also don’t understand why Cooper asks if it’s safe to go back to Ruby’s when she already told him it wasn’t safe. Nor do I understand WHY they go back there when OBVIOUSLY (to EVERYONE!!! Cooper, Ruby, and Sean) it’s a bad idea. Yet they all agree for her to go back there. But again, story overrode lack of motivations here because them going back there DID make for a good final conflict (and ultimately a cute ending). I wonder if it couldn’t have still been pulled off without them walking back into the obvious place they would be found again, though. Also when she gets back there the house is clean when Sean just told her before she headed back that he’d found her house trashed before he went looking for her. I don’t understand this. I doubt Sean cleaned her house before heading out to save her.
During the attempted escape scene, there were also some LONG passages of dialogue that were taking place while the characters were RUNNING. It’d be like reciting the pledge of allegiance during a 100 yard dash. I don’t see it happening with such ease and smooth delivery.
I really LOVED chapter toward the end. Crap. I can’t say which one without spoiling it, but the “dual experience” so to speak was SO awesome.
Superb! Witty! Natural! In a very few places I think the dialogue could have been tightened up, but I can count those places on one hand. More than I can say about most books I’ve read!
I loved the descriptions throughout. For example when Ruby describes Sean’s eyes as clear and bright green as new grass in the spring. Also, I love that the descriptions NEVER ONCE got in the way of the story, yet there was always enough there to visualize everything, excluding ONE part. And this part bummed me out, because I love a little dash of horror in my books. During the attempted escape, for a moment it sounds like they walked into some kind of SAW MOVIE style trap. But there was no explanation and began to wonder if I just completely misunderstood what was happening. It fell flat when it could have been hugely terrifying, or, at the very least, it was confusing when it could have made sense.
There were a few word echoes (same words used twice in one paragraph) such as actually/actually or scrubbed/scrubber. And there were some punctuation issues and incorrect word usages, but really not so bad. There were some grammar issues throughout, but surprisingly, this either got better as the book went along or the story was so enthralling that I stopped noticing.
Even though things die down after the escape, I really enjoyed the story more once they were back at the apartment (even if it’s illogical they went back there) though the rest of the ending does feel like filler, aside from the whole “Cooper set up” for book 2, which could have been more a part of the battle with the pack instead. I must admit, though, that the Cooper set up, along with how amazing and gripping this book was, has me chomping at the bit for book 2, which is already awaiting me on my kindle and is next on my list!
One thing I noticed toward the end is that a lot of the character mention shit/poo hitting the fan. Multiple times. My first thought was that if it really did get as bad as it could get (and I think it could have gotten worse, but I guess that can be said of almost any novel!)—anyway, if it did get that bad, the reader wouldn’t need it pointed out to them, let alone so many times. My second thought was that why are ALL the characters saying this? Wouldn’t they express that sentiment in their own way/voice (and I don’t mean using synonyms for shit!). Maybe one might say “This shit is getting crazy.” Or “Could things get any worse?” or whatever. Just some variation so I can think of them as their own characters instead of characters that an author is writing. (In other worse, when they all say the same thing, to me it sounds more like the author talking than the characters, and that pulls me out of the story a bit).
Though by the ending of the novel the height of conflict of the novel is long past, I didn’t mind the fizzle out ending. It was interesting and a great set up for book two and I like that it went back into character a bit more. Yeah, maybe some of the good guys should have died to make it more plausible, but then we wouldn’t have the same great cast ready to go for book 2! The set up for book 2, though, I don’t think was well placed. It felt tacked on to make room for book 2, instead of worked in and then letting the closing to this book be the closing to this book. I still like the content, I just think it could have came a bit earlier and then left the ending as more of an ending to book 1. There was one moment toward the end that could have made for SUCH a powerful ending moment, and moving the content at the very end would have still left the series open for book 2.
I adored this. Anyone considering buying this would be crazy not to! It’s a brilliant debut novel and I can’t wait to see how much this author has grown between her first book and second, especially with a first book that is so brilliant and doesn’t leave much room for going up!
Rebecca Hamilton is a USA Today bestselling Paranormal Fantasy author. Her bestselling Forever Girl Series is available at online retailers and has been optioned for film with Witten Pictures. The Hungarian edition has been published with IPC books and the German edition has been published with Darkiss, a Harlequin imprint.