This review is part of a book review program with Bethany House. The Bethany House book review program is simple; I request a book from the links they send me via email, then I read the book they send and write a review on this blog and a retailer's site (ex: Amazon, B&N.com, etc.). If this sounds like something that interests you, you can get more information and/or sign up here: http://www.bakerpublishinggroup.com/bethanyhouse/bookreviewers.
Stranded is the third book in Dani Pettrey's Alaskan Courage series (I've reviewed the other two books here [Submerged, Shattered] if you want to read those reviews too). Following the theme of the series, Stranded is a story filled with mystery, suspense, and a liberal dash of clean romantic interests between the main characters.
The story begins on a cruise ship when Darcy St. James (the nosy reporter that Gage McKenna distrusted so much in the previous books) is looking for her ex-investigative journalist partner who has uncovered a huge plot and needs Darcy's help. But Abby is nowhere to be found, which is especially troubling after someone calls "man overboard" and then Abby never shows up at her undercover job, something Abby would never do unless she's in trouble.
Darcy is intent on getting to the bottom of whatever Abby was involved with and finding her friend. But running into Gage McKenna on the ship never crossed her to-do list. Gage, hired by the cruise line to lead adventure excursions for the guests, thought that guiding tourists around his beloved Alaska was the perfect way to get pesky Darcy out of his thoughts. But when he learns that things are not exactly what they seem on the ship, he gets involved - just the thing he did not want.
With things heating up and some deeper plot running under the surface of the whole trip, Darcy and Gage are finding out that there's way more going on than a first glance will ever show.
Ok, so I have to admit that I haven't finished the book yet. Not because I've been putting it off (which I kind of have lately), but more because I got a little bit bored with it. The characters are interesting, not as fleshed out as I normally prefer them (see my comments in the Submerged and Shattered reviews, a lot of the same stuff is going on as in the first two books). Though Pettrey is definitely growing as a writer and there is a bit more depth to each character than in her previous books, it still feels like there's something missing for me in the character development.
As for the mystery, it's interesting and I definitely want to find out what the huge plot is and where Abby is, but it seems like the pace is dragging. I'm about half-way through the book and am sorely tempted to not finish just because things slowed down too much. I don't expect a lot of action and adventure in all my stories, but it would be nice to have a pace that carries me along naturally rather than trying to bog through all the mire created by Gage and Darcy's clashing.
As to that, there is a certain tension to Gage and Darcy that I both love and instantly dislike. Perhaps that's how it should be, though. Pettrey is going in directions with the romantic interest that just seem slightly flat to me as a reader. Though the tension is better than her first two books, I'm still not buying it completely. I want something a bit more believable in the characters' love story - I'm not exactly sure how to describe what needs to happen to make that more believable, but I just know that she's so close to getting it right.
But then, I'm just a reader with obvious opinions that you can either take or leave on this page and never look at again.
Pettrey's compelling voice is still present in tho book and I'm glad she didn't lose that (some multi-published authors do, sadly). Overall, and given that I'm only half-way through the book, I'd rate this (on a 1-10 low/high scale) at about a 6. I would still recommend that anyone who hasn't read Pettrey pick up this series. And if you like a good puzzle, you'll love the puzzles Pettrey creates with a refreshing view toward plots that take place in Alaska.