Tag Archives: paranormal

The Taker by Alma Katsu

The Taken by Alma Katsu

(c) 2011, first trade paperback edition 2012

Published by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

First thing to know:  the cover of the book makes it clear that this book is the first of a trilogy, so anyone expecting any significant closure, plot-wise, will be disappointed.

Second thing to know:  although the cover art is very similar to that of Melissa de la Cruz’s Blue Bloods series, and although this is a book with paranormal themes, it is absolutely not a Young Adult book.  That’s where it was shelved at the Barnes & Noble when I bought it, but that is a serious mis-shelving.  The fact that the narrator looks young and her tale begins when she’s fourteen absolutely does not make this book YA.  Of course, the work of V.C. Andrews is now being marketed as YA, so what do I know?

On the midnight shift at a hospital in rural St. Andrew, Maine, Dr. Luke Findley is expecting a quiet evening.  Until a mysterious woman arrives in his ER, escorted by poice – Lanore McIlvrae is a murder suspect – and Luke is inexplicably drawn to her.  As Lanny tells him her story, an impassioned account of love and betrayal that transcends time and mortality, she changes his life forever…. At the turn of the nineteenth century, when St. Andrew was a Puritan settlement, Lanny was consumed as a child by her love for the son of the town’s founder, and she will do anything to be with him forever.  But the price she pays is steep – an immortal bond that chains her to a terrible fate for eternity.

What did I think of the book?  It was very well written, in terms of craft and structure.  A very dark fairy tale people with characters who are by turns ugly and pitiable, and none of them particularly sympathetic.  Lanny is the narrator-heroine, the voice of the novel, and also one of its villains.

The lines that drew me in and sold me on the book originally (In any case, he’d misunderstood me: I hadn’t given myself to him. I had declared he was mine.)  are also emblematic of what I found frustrating about the narrator and eventually the book as a whole.  As I reader, am I supposed to feel empathy for Lanny, whose desire to be loved is what drives the entire plot?  Probably.  Certainly, I cringed at some of the things she endured.  But ultimately I found her obsession with Jonathan to be disturbing and creepy, especially since she uses it as both justification for her actions and a grief that she swathes herself in even as she drags other people into disaster.  Based on the author interview included in the book, readers may see some development of her character in the coming books of the trilogy.

The narrator tells us that Lanny has lived in exotic places and had amazing adventures, without actually sharing any of those adventures, just mentioning the narrow escapes and the treasures she’s made away with and hoarded.  I’d be interested in reading some of those adventures, but I’m not particularly interested in reading the two remaining books.

Language question:  would a Spaniard of noble birth (born in the 15th century but immortal) use the word “lynching” or would he use some other noun?  The use (in dialogue, so it’s not drawn from the narrator’s current vocabulary) occurs in a conversation in Boston in 1817, which is a few years  after the first recorded usage (1811) of the Americanism, so it’s technically possible, but it was jarring.  I had to stop and chase down of date of usage, which interrupted the flow of the chapter for me.

Would I recommend this book?  Maybe.  As I said, it’s well-written.  In some ways it reminds me of Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, so maybe if you enjoyed that book you’ll enjoy this one.

The Kindle version of The Taker is available for $5.99, which is a fair markdown from the $15.00 trade paperback price.  The second book of the trilogy, The Reckoning, will be released in June.  The first chapter is available at the author’s website, if you’d like to check it out.  Or if you’re a regular, feel free to email or tweet me and I’ll send my paper copy your way since it’s not a keeper for me.

Afterthought:  the authors and review blurbs gushing about this book are quite varied, ranging from Scott Westerfeld and Kresley Cole to the Washington Post, Publishers Weekly and Booklist.  One of them would certainly have given me pause though, if I’d noticed it before buying the book:  “Twilight for grown-ups…”  Since I slogged through only the first book of that series, I can’t say whether that comparison is apt or not in terms of plot, but The Taker is certainly better written IMO.

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It’s only Tuesday?

Finished Brockmann’s new paranormal action adventure book this evening.  Am not entirely sure what to think of it.  In some ways, it was very much like her earlier series in terms of style.  But it was a combination of futuristic urban fantasy and paranormal with action/adventure or suspense mixed in.  It was…busy.  And yet the ending felt rushed and incomplete.  Series bait?  Maybe.  I might need to let the book rest and then do a re-read in a week or so to figure out whether I’m interested in reading more set in this world.  (Yes, I’m assuming more books are planned.)

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More reading over the weekend

Finished Meljean Brook’s Demon Forged over the weekend as well.  

MB has established an amazingly detailed world within her Guardians series.  And, unlike certain other paranormal romance authors *coughJRWardcough*, she has managed to write five books and several novellas without imploding the constructs of that world or completely undermining her own mythology.  In this fifth book, the larger conflict is still the struggle between good and evil, but with a twist that has developed in recent books:  in addition to protecting humans’ free will from the seduction of Lucifer’s demons and nosferatu, the Guardians are struggling with the schism among demons:  Lucifer vs. Belial for the throne of hell, with other supernaturals taking sides.  That’s a huge oversimplification of a very intricate political conflict.  For much better information, check out the primer here

The heroine and hero of Demon Forged are Irena and Alejandro.  Irena is one of the oldest remaining Guardians, once a Roman slave, and her gift is the ability to shape and control metal.  Alejandro, once a Spanish grande, has the ability to call fire.  Four hundred years ago, Irena made a bargain with a demon to save Alejandro (or Olek, as she thinks of him).  Although she survived the bargain, Irena retreated from their relationship and did not see or speak to Alejandro for two hundred years; for another two hundred years, they’ve had only a professional relationship…until the events of Demon Forged bring them into prolonged, close contact, forcing them to confront their emotions and communicate with each other.

The external conflict of DF?  Well, it all begins in Rome, where Irena and Alejandro are led (by a vampire acquaintance) to a church in which a fellow Guardian is being held prisoner and tortured by nosferatu.  Although the Rome action is relevant, it’s really a prelude for what happens when they return to San Francisco, where the Guardians’ Special Investigations office is located.  The SI action kicks off with a prophecy from an enigmatic ally of the Guardians, and Irena & Alejandro are sent to protect a human…why and from whom are not clear at the beginning, but of course it involves demons and other bad guys.

The world building/community and political machinations of the demons are my favorite parts.  All the book is well-written and well-paced, but the personal conflict – a 400 year old fialure to communicate — frustrated me.  As much as I enjoyed Irena & Alejandro’s ultimate reunion and resolution of their conflict, I wondered what would happen when the next big conflict arose — would they communicate or close off again?

B+ from me.  

The next book, Demon Blood, is sitting on my coffee table, waiting to be picked up.

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SBD: I don’t get it

For today’s SBD: another author beloved by readers but whom I just don’t get.

Kresley Cole.

I’ve read so many awesome things about her Immortals After Dark series, and about her books generally. Cracktastic seems to be the adjective used often.

I picked up a copy of Cole’s Pleasure of a Dark Prince. It was sort of different, in that it wasn’t limited to just the typical werewolf and vampire, but it seemed kind of convoluted and didn’t stand well on its own. What was the big conflict, not just for this book but the series over all? I don’t know. How did everyone come to be relocated from Europe to Louisiana? Not clear. What are the underlying rules of the world? Never explained. The hero was the Dark Prince, readers are told. Told told told, not shown. And the book is peopled by a large cast of characters who are not introduced or explained in a very helpful way. Midway through, a couple of characters sounded familiar, so I checked LibraryThing: turns out I tried one of Cole’s books earlier. DNF. Oops. If I’d realized, I probably wouldn’t have bothered with this one at all.

The nail in the coffin for me? The hero and heroine are doing just about everything possible in bed short of actual penetration…but they both consider it Not Sex. Oral sex is not sex, and apparently digital stimulation to orgasm isn’t sex either. [How very Clintonian.] And since they haven’t had sex, they (or she, rather, since she’s the one who cares) are chaste. WTF?

I’m sorry that’s lame and pathetic and is such a narrow view of sexuality that I couldn’t go on.

Done. Stick a fork in me.

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Grave Secret by Charlaine Harris

Warning: there will be slight spoilers in this review for the last book. I will try not to spoil anything in this new book, though.

Just to get everyone up to speed: Harper Connelly sees dead people. Sort of. When she is close to a dead body, she can see how they died. Which makes visiting places like cemetaries and just about any historic place problematic. How’d she acquire this skill? Accidentally: it is the byproduct of being struck by lightning as a teenager. Harper speaks to dead people for their families, making a living for herself. Her stepbrother, Tolliver, is her manager, companion and bodyguard.

As I mentioned when I reviewed the first book (here), the two of them are scarred by the disasters of their youth: as much as the lightning strike has guided their professional lives, the personal tragedies and disasters of their family — drug addiction, neglect, abuse, poverty, and a disappeared/presumed dead sibling — have shaped them and continue to drive them as well. Although the reader never gets Tolliver’s POV, his dialogue and behavior seem to mirror Harper’s when it comes to their family obligations and baggage.

When I reviewed the second book of the series (here), I mentioned that Harris seemed to be taking the relationship between Harper and Tolliver to a place I did not want to follow. And she did in the third book, An Ice Cold Grave. I did not review that book, as I was ambivalent and rather squicked by it. My LibraryThing notes say, Vaguely squicked by the Harper-Tolliver relationship, despite repeated statements that not related. Family isn’t just about blood.

This fourth book picks up not long after the third ended. Harper and Tolliver are in Texarkana, checking out the grave of a wealthy man at the request of his grandchildren. He died alone on the ranch, and the stronger-willed granddaughter just wants to know, to be sure his death was natural. Well, the client gets more than she anticipated. First because she learns that someone threw a snake at him, which exacerbated his heart condition and ultimately led to his death alone out on the ranch. And second, because Harper reveals that a family employee died after giving birth rather than from appendicitis, which leads to questions about the hidden pregnancy and where the child may have gone.

After doing that reading, Harper and Tolliver head toward a suburb of Dallas, where their half sisters live with an aunt and uncle. They are scheduled to visit, and are also announcing their changed relationship. Meanwhile, Tolliver’s father has been released from prison and is trying to rebuild his relationship with his kids, whether they welcome him back into their lives or not.

While catching up with their family and taking a break from talking to the dead, Tolliver and Harper become magnet for violence. At the same time, out of the blue, there is a sighting of Cameron, Harper’s sister who disappeared more than ten years ago. And the Texarkana family resurfaces with questions about the reading. These all seem to be separate threads, but in the end, they are all tangled up in a single huge knot that Harper and Tolliver have to untangle.

Generally, Harris has a talent for characters who feel real, people with good points and bad, who are neither paragons nor devils. And while the mysteries of this series have not been complex, they were solidly written. Having said that, I found Grave Secret to be a disappointment. It felt phoned in. The Bad Guy was a caricature Eeeeevil Bad Guy all the way through. The connections of the different mysteries were too far fetched, and the resolution felt forced. It felt like Harris realized that it was time to wrap up some storylines, so she scrambled them all together. The ending was rather Scooby Doo-ish, with Bad Guy telling what he did and why and how and when because…well, I’m not sure why. Harper as a character irritated me a bit — she’s been painted as being very cautious and safety-conscious generally, but there were a couple of occasions when her behavior verged on TSTL. And there were a few scenes and/or characters who seemed completely extraneous; I couldn’t figure out what they contributed to the book, other than to be page filler.

Now that the overarching mystery that has existed through out the series has been resolved, and some of the family and relationship questions have been settled, I wonder if this is the last Harper Connelly book. I thought so, but someone mentioned (on a MB? Twitter?) that this was going to be a six book series.

Grade from me: C-

Lightning-struck sleuth Harper Connelly and her stepbrother Tolliver take a break from looking for the dead to visit the two little girls they both think of as sisters. But, as always happens when they travel to Texas, memories of their horrible childhood resurface.

To make matters worse, Tolliver learns from his older brother that their father is out of jail and trying to reestablish contact with other family members. Tolliver wants no part of the man- but he may not have a choice in the matter.

Soon, family secrets ensnare them both, as Harper finally discovers what happened to her missing sister, Cameron, so many years before.

And what she finds out will change her world forever.

Excerpt (Chapter 1) is available here.

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SBD: Savage Dragon

As I mentioned yesterday, I downloaded several ebooks based on people I met or chatted with at RWA.  I read one of them today, a Silhouette Nocturne Bite, Savage Dragon by Anna Hackett.

They call him the Savage Dragon: Rordan Sarkany, knight of the Order of the Dragon, charged with tracking and destroying those who let their dragon blood turn them into beasts. In the wilds of Hungary, Rordan hunts one such creature—along with fellow warrior Kira Bethlen.

Both Rordan and his inner dragon desire Kira…and she can’t resist Rordan’s dangerous allure. But even if she succumbs to their attraction, can she ever forgive him for slaying her beloved brother?

 

This is the first Nocturne Bite that I’ve read; I can’t tell how it compares to others in terms of pacing and content. 

What did I like about this book?  Well, it’s got dragons in it.  How could I not like it?  .

What was the downside of this book?  The fact that it is a novella.  It felt like there was a lot of backstory and worldbuilding that just didn’t fit within the word count. Based on the info at Hackett’s website, it looks like more books and/or stories will be coming, and the backstory may eventually be filled in.  But in this first installment, a lot of the relationship development was skipped; in order to get around it, the hero and heroine have a backstory, physical attraction, and a fated mates thing. 

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TBR: Twilight

I’ve missed the last couple of TBR Challenges, but was inspired by Beth’s SBD about Twilight to pick it up for the challenge this month.  First I had to find my copy of the book — I bought it back in 2005 when the book was originally published, but never got around to reading it.  So it had only been sitting on a shelf for ~4 years.  Which isn’t that bad, comparatively speaking; there are some books on that shelf that were on it, packed to move into this house more than six years ago, and then unpacked right back onto the shelf.


When Isabella Swan moves to the gloomy town of Forks and meets the mysterious, alluring Edward Cullen, her life takes a thrilling and terrifying turn.  With his porcelain skin, golden eyes, mesmerizing voice and supernatural gifts, Edward is both irresistible and impententrable.  Up until now, he has managed to keep his true identity hidden, but Bella is determined to uncover his dark secret. 

What Bella doesn’t realizes is the closer she gets to him, the more she is putting herself and those around her at risk.  And, it might be too late to turn back…

My thoughts:

Holy crap.  What a monumental Mary Sue.  Stalker boyfriend who is totally telegraphing future abuse, beginning with the isolation and the faux warning away.  And the writing?  Ugh.  100 pages could’ve been chopped without damaging the story at all — a lot of sloppy, amateurish writing.  I’m hoping (guessing?) the later books were more polished.  There was a lot of telegraphing and predictable conflict set up in Twilight for future books; even without having been seriously spoiled, I’m guessing that Jacob is going to be a rival; Rosalie is going to be a problem; and so on.
 
Having said that, I totally get why a 15 year old would LOVE Edward and Bella.  It’s the total teen fantasy of being suddenly transformed, of having a dangerous boyfriend who would never in a billion years hurt you but instead struggles constantly with his own nature.
 
It’s like crack for teens.  And non-teens, I guess.  Rather like the BDB in that sense.  Except I’ve just weened myself off the BDB and am not interested in getting hooked on something else.  So as a gateway drug, Twilight has failed. 
 
I do like the pic  I saw the other day, of Kiefer Sutherland’s sneering vampire, captioned that vampires do not sparkle.  [I saw in on a reader blog, but cannot for the life of me remember which one; otherwise I would give credit.]

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SBD: more fated bloodsucking mates

Ah, the first SBD of the year. And today’s post is rather bitchy and full of WTF.

CR passed on her copy of Christine Warren’s One Bite With A Stranger. She enjoyed it . . . she loves vampire novels, even as she labels genre romance as tacky and trashy. WTF? She’s not being ironic when she calls romance trashy, and she doesn’t "get" that what she’s reading is that self-same trash that she derides. Something about the vampires perhaps erases the genre romance taint?

Anyway, I wouldn’t have read this book otherwise, because I’m so over vampires in romance. They’re really only tolerable in urban fantasy. Because hooking up with a long-lived leech just doesn’t really appeal to my sense of the romantic. Done with the bloodsuckers. So probably I shouldn’t have even bothered . . . but it was the only book in my bag this morning, thus it was the commute book.

To say that I hated the book would be to assign more passion and interest than the book merited. Reading it just reminded me of a few romance tropes that really bother me:

  1. Sexual attraction = love (and great sex = love)
  2. Having a “fated mate” means that that the author doesn’t have to actually build a relationship, or have the characters do anything other than screw.
  3. The abandonment of human life for vampire-dom (for lurve) without any consideration of the monumental changes that will be undertaken.

As a physical object: the font was fairly large, and the margins meandered – narrow, then wide, then narrow again.

Nearly half of the 332 pages were spent on love/sex scenes; the first one took 60 pages. Sixty pages! My attention began wandering after the fifth page; sex acts on the page need some emotional content or to be linked to some sort of plot/character development, otherwise it just seems pornish (which is okay, but not what was supposed to be going on here). Lift the sex scenes out, and there isn’t much else going on between the hero and heroine: they saw each other; he got in her head (he’s psychic, of course); they screwed like minks in mating season; he bossed her around; she pouted a little, then buckled. For example, she wondered out loud at one point if two nights of sex made a relationship . . . but then seemed to decide that the answer was yes. Of course, being spineless was par for the course for the heroine, who couldn’t seem to stand up to anyone (friend Ava, ex-boyfriend Gregory, etc.) except by playing avoidance games and leaving voicemail messages.

The plot was miniscule. Maybe there is some sort of overarching plot in the series (I’m guessing there’s a series, based on the bait dangled) in which the paltry activity outside the bedroom makes sense. On its own, it didn’t make much sense.

The vampire mythology was never developed — maybe it was explained in an earlier or later book? I don’t know, but it seemed sort of standard from what I could gather. There was nothing to distinguish this vampire society from hundreds of others. Uber-wealthy, extremely powerful, living in parallel to human society. Stronger, faster, better hearing/vision, etc. Few weaknesses, if any.

The hero, Dmitri, said that he could only influence her in a way that she was already inclined. Uh, whatever. As I read their first sex scene, I thought her consent was dubious because of the way he pushed into her head. Not good. He felt creepy and controlling through the entire book. It was always him getting his way and imposing his will on Regina. Also, the author threw in the fact that Regina was submissive in the bedroom, although she’d never acted on her desires. The hero’s imposition of his will via his psychic powers in combination with her previously unexplored desire to be dominated felt really squicky to me, especially the way he decided unilaterally after one night of sex that the heroine would have to adjust to his lifestyle. (p 110)

Her kinky sex toys and dress up stuff was okay because he’d read her mind and knew her friends had provided them; mind reading made it easier, gave him a better impression of her. (p 111-2) Otherwise, he’d’ve thought she was a kinky, perverted whore? WTF? What does that make him? He enjoyed those props, too, btw. Judgmental, double standard-upholding bastard.
He takes his stress out on her, basically blaming her for his behavior. (p 229)

Another thought: why must the villains always reveal their plans, explaining everything a la Scooby Doo?

Milka as a nickname or endearment — know what I think of? Skim or 2%, and the brand of milk chocolate.

Also, condomless sex with a total stranger == TSTL.  Fail!  FAIL!  FAIL! 

Maybe if I wasn’t suffering from an earache and feeling totally bored by vampires, I’d feel more charitable about this book. But I doubt it.

D for this book.

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Not great but also not bad

Now that the end of the year is in sight, I’m feeling a bit desperate about the volume of average and bad books I’ve read lately. Other than The Wedding Officer, there have been no great new books for me for the month. (Y: the last man doesn’t count because I started the series last month.)

I keep reading, though, in the hope of finding the next great book.

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Blood Brothers by Nora Roberts

 I liked Blood Brothers even though it felt unfinished.  The romance came to a good stopping place but the larger story is still going on.  This kind of thing really bothered me in C.L. Wilson’s Lord of the Fading Lands — why’s it okay here?  Two reasons:  first, the break in LotFL was unfinished in terms of larger plot and the romance, which irritated; and second, I have read enough of Madame La Nora’s trilogies to trust that she’ll get the story where it needs to go.  I had no such reserve of trust for Wilson.

I do have a couple petty quibbles:

Firstly, the mention of Juno, Alaska.  There’s Juneau, Alaska and there’s Juno Mountain, Alaska.  But no Juno, Alaska that I could find.

B:  At one point, Ann Hawkins is referred to as the daughter of Richard Hawkins, then later her father is named James Hawkins.  Oops.

3:  “Caging” =/= “cadging”.  Different meanings, and I think you meant the latter rather than the former.

I wish copy editors or proof readers had caught those. 

But those are outweighed by two cultural touchstones included in the story:  duck pin bowling and the Borg.  Seriously, dude, Balmer (and Pittsburgh) love their duck pin, which is apparently not well known elsewhere.  Shame for all of y’all.  And the Borg?  The best ST: TNG villain — hell the best ST villain ever.

ETA:  plus, one of the characters gives the best marital advice I’ve ever read.  “Learn to laugh, otherwise, you’ll beat them to death with a hammer first chance.”  <snicker>

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