Review: Mind Games by Carolyn Crane

Mind Games by Carolyn Crane (The Disillusionists Trilogy #1)
Urban Fantasy
March 23, 2010
Paperback, 432 Pages
Reviewed by Mandi

Why I read: Carolyn writes the blog, The Thrillionth Page, and when I heard she was going to be published, I asked her if I could review.

Favorite Quote: I included my three favorite within the review.

Justine is a hypochondriac to the fullest extent. She believes she is suffering from vein star syndrome, fearing she will have a rupture any second in her brain and her life will be over. Her mother died from this very disease, which of course further weighs on Justine. This fear runs her life, spending countless hours in the ER and weighs heavily on relationships. She is currently with Cubby, and although he has put up with her so far, it is starting to wear on him too.

“It’s really happening,” I whisper.
“Okay, well…Justine…” He gazes at me solemnly. “Do you think you might have time for dessert before you depart for the hereafter? The chocolate fondue looks excellent.”

The people in Milwaukee are living in fear, as a mysterious person is slinging bricks, killing them all the while a large crime spree has been affecting the city for years. Police Chief Otto Sanchez is battling the crime and Justine has the utmost faith that he will get the job done.

While dining at Mongolian Delites, she sees Ben Foley, a man that conned her family out of a lot of money years ago. She confronts him, and although he denies to be Foley, she knows it is him. The owner of the restaurant, Sterling Packard notices this confrontation, but he also notices something far more. Packard is a highcap – some highcap’s are telekinetic, other telepaths. Packard’s specialty is understanding. He can look into someone and see their psychological structure and their weaknesses. He runs a psychological hit squad. He takes people who have committed crimes and escaped the law, and very slowly disillusions them. Breaks them down to nothing, and then they can eventually work their way back up into better people. His group is a collective bunch of misfits – gamblers, alcoholics, depressives. Unbeknownst to Justine, Packard and his group are currently disillusioning Foley. He sees in Justine a hypochondriac, and he wants her on his team. The benefit to her is when she pushes, or “zings” her fear into the victim, she becomes “cured” for a few days. The hypochondria dissolves, until it is time to zing again.

Justine starts to work for him, not realizing this is a lifetime commitment. In order to zing someone, she must build up her fear. Packard gives her old fashion magazines – you know the cheerful articles about twenty-something girls who go to the doctor and never return. One glance at these articles, and Justine’s hypochondria goes into overdrive. As she says:

“Fashion magazine disease articles. My personal kryptonite.”

Although she is happy with Cubby, she can’t help feel a pull towards Packard. He is full of energy, a bit wild, and nothing like she has ever seen before. As she starts training with him, deep dark secrets start to be revealed. There is a face carved into the door of Mongolian Delites. She soon sees this face on an apartment building, a toll booth, and other places. She also learns Packard’s nemesis has made it so that he can not leave the restaurant. He has been stuck inside Mongolian Delites, eating kabobs for the past eight years with an invisible barrier that bars his exit. If he outright kills his nemesis, the barrier will remain there forever, trapping Packard for an eternity. Justine wants to find a way to get him out, but she is also determined not to be Packard’s minion for the rest of her days.

Mind Games is one of the best urban fantasy books I have read. It is definitely my favorite book so far this year and it is going to be very hard for anything else to top it.  It is such a unique premise – a heroine who is fighting a debilitating disease and is anything but “kick ass.”  Justine clings to the idea of her boyfriend Cubby, because he is normal, and real, and that is what her fantasy is. But she meets Packard, and he starts to crush all her illusions. She always follows the rules, and always strives to be normal, because her life is full of the opposite.

There is a very eerie feel to Packard and his situation. He is trapped inside a restaurant and you can’t help but feel pity for him and almost horror at what his life has been like for the past eight years. On the other hand, he doesn’t give Justine all the information before she becomes one of his, and if you rely on what other people say about him – is he violent himself? Is he locked up for a reason? But then Carolyn Crane will throw a scene in where Packard’s affection for Justine comes through so raw and emotional, you can’t help but feel for him.

She gets to know Packard’s group of people – Helmut who dreads the big picture, Shelby who sees the impossibility of happiness, Carter who fights rage, Simon the gambler. All these emotions, fears and addictions are used to zing into targets. Packard sends Shelby to zing for weeks or months into a target, have that person go into a deep depression, then sends another to zing alcoholism thoughts to send the person spiraling out of control. These misfits bond though – with Packard leading the way.

“It’s reality,” Helmut adds. “The water wars will be what kills us.”
“Unless a horrible disease gets you first,” I say. “Your own body’s working overtime right now finding ways to self-destruct.” It’s wonderfully liberating to be able to talk like this without upsetting myself.
“Who cares?” Shelby says. “We have no chance for happiness anyway.”
Silently we sit, siblings in torment. The moment stretches on and I have this crazy sensation that I’m finally home. I smile at the thought. Then I chuckle. And then we all just burst out laughing.

Justine has such a conflict with Packard – she really has feelings for him, yet he lied to her. He set her up to become his slave in reality, knowing once she started zinging, if she stopped, her brain would literally become mush. He needs to escape this prison his nemesis threw him in, and she is the key. Trust becomes a huge issue between them, and there is a lot of exploration left in their relationship.

I love what Carolyn Crane does with the last third of the book too. I had correctly guessed who the nemesis is, but what she does with this person, really surprised me. I would have never seen events turning out the way they do and it really puts a cool spin on the ending. This last third is a huge part of the book, and I can’t mention anything without spoiling, but brace yourselves.

Mind Games is pure awesome. It’s different, intriguing, creepy, full of romantic tension and will leave you thinking about the book for days. I am so excited we only have to wait until September for the second in this trilogy, Double Cross.

Rating: 5/5

Recent Reviews:
Babbling About Books and More – A-
Closetwriter – 5/5
Penelope’s Romance Reviews – A+
Fantasy Dreamer’s Ramblings – 5/5
Wicked Little Pixie – 4.5/5
The Booksmugglers – 8/10

Carolyn Crane will be stopping by tomorrow for a little chat and a copy of Mind Games will be up for grabs!


  1. Penelope says

    I was totally blown out of the water by this baby. Sooooo good! Seriously, I think JR Ward better watch out…Carolyn Crane is a force to be reckoned with.

    Happy Belated Birthday, Mandi! :)

  2. MsM says

    I have heard nothing but great things about this book! What a wonderful review. I am going to have to make sure I get this and soon!



    PS Happy Belated B-day!!

  3. Lea says

    Excellent Review Mandi, isn't Carolyn's book awesome? I was anxious to read your thoughts, thank you.

    Happy Birthday! (Fiction Vixen sent me.. *g*) I love your cake over there BTW. lol

    You have a wonderful day!

  4. Chris says

    Happy birthday!!! I'm in the anticipation stage with this book – it's sitting next to me on the couch and I'm admiring it. :)

  5. Bells says

    I'm halfway through reading Mind Games and I enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would. It's different from the books that I normally read and I'm glad to have stepped out of my comfort zone. The characters are all interesting. I am loving Packard most of all, of course. lol

    Happy Birthday Smexi. *mwuah*

  6. Cecile says

    Great review honey!

    Happy Birthday to you
    Happy Birthday to you
    Happy Birthday tomy dear Smexy friend
    Happy Birthday to you!!!!!!!

  7. Fiction Vixen says

    Oh good review!! Favorite UF so far this year? woohooo. I really want to read this one. Happy birthday. xoxox

  8. Smokinhotbooks says

    I just read this one last week, so good. I like the end when you think she might get together with Packard and then you know who ends up being a good guy.

    Happy B-day

  9. Cathy M says

    I just bought this book this morning, and so glad to read all the fabulous comments.

    Happy Birthday too, wishing you hugs, presents and cake!

  10. Danielle87 says

    "my favorite book so far this year" – Woah! I'm going to Amazon and buying a copy right now.

    P.S. – Happy Birthday – you Smexy thang, you!

  11. Tracy says

    Very Happy Birthday to you!!!

    I loved this book as well. I loved Carolyn's writing AND her characters. Good stuff. I gave it a 5/5 as well!

    Great review!

  12. Donna [F.D. Ramblings] says

    Oh, I so agree with you about the last part of the book. By the end I was drooling for the next book. And I'm torn about it too. Nice review Mandi!

    Happy Birthday Sweetie!!

  13. Ferishia says

    I'm intrigued by your review. It doesn't sound like something I would pick up and read, but I like stepping outside my own boundaries. *added to wishlist*

    And a very Happy Birthday to you! :)

  14. VampFanGirl says

    Best book for you this year?! All I can say is thank gawd I've got this one on its way. ;)

    Great review girl. Just more proof that I need to read this one VERY soon.

    Hugs, VFG

  15. Leontine says

    My UF lovin' heart is doing overtime here reading your review Mandi…everywhere I go everyone is lyric about this novel…Two more days and then CC is at zero again YAY, the first book that gets ordered is this one!!

  16. orannia says

    I am looking forward to reading this. I didn't realize that it was written in the first person though…but I'm getting over my issue with that :)

  17. Erotic Horizon says

    From the moment I read the blurb on this and saw that Crane had a new concept and just went her way… I have been dying to get my mitts on this one..

    Just started and already loving it…


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