review: Lies Beneath

Lies Beneath (Beneath #1) -by- Anne Greenwood Brown

(Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers) 

My grade: 3 1/2 stars

GoodReads Blurb:  Calder White lives in the cold, clear waters of Lake Superior, the only brother in a family of murderous mermaids. To survive, Calder and his sisters prey on humans, killing them to absorb their energy. But this summer the underwater clan targets Jason Hancock out of pure revenge…

THE INITIAL SENTENCE OF THIS BOOK really grabs you: “I hadn’t killed anyone all winter, and I have to say I felt pretty good about that.”
Then a mobile phone starts to ring – incessantly – and it got on my nerves that our main character took such a long time answering it and it ruined the mood somewhat.

Calder, the voice of this book, is a merman. However, he can crawl up on land and transform his tail (rather painfully, I gather) into two legs and walk around. It seems that there is a finite number of hours that any merperson can be out of the water – at the beginning of the book Calder lets us know that he has not been ‘dry’ longer than 19 hours at a stretch.

So, Calder has abstained from feeding on human emotions (a process that involves killing the human in question) for a long period of time. His three sisters, and in particular, the head of the group of siblings – Maris – thinks that this behaviour is unnatural. To this and to the fact that he prefers to be apart from his sisters as long as he can, Calder comments: “Independence wasn’t natural for our kind, but I never claimed to come to this life naturally.”
Now, what could that possibly mean?

It is April when the sisters are calling him back from the West Indies to join them at their home, the waters of Lake Superior surrounding the Apostle Islands near the Bayfield Peninsula of Wisconsin. Finally, after years of waiting, they are very close to being able to mete out revenge on the son of the man they hold responsible for their mother’s death.

So, Calder joins up with Maris, Pavati (Pavati? I want to call her Parvati – like the Hindu goddess) and Tallulah – although it is not exactly a happy family reunion.
The plan they formulate is for Calder to get close to the youngest daughter in the Hancock family, in order to lure her father out on the lake. But things go a bit awry, and a change of plans makes it necessary for Calder to direct his attentions to Lily, the older daughter.

I like Lily, she seems to have a good grasp of who she is even though she is only 17. And Calder grows to like her too, although she is very wary about him and his intentions. Smart girl.

All through the book I had to consciously push away questions that popped into my head about how merpeople learn to read and interact with people and so forth. It would seem that they use their power of persuasion a lot, very useful, though some people (Lily) are more resistant than others.

I won’t go into more details now, for fear of spoiling the reading experience, however, reading the last part of the book; I found myself racing through the pages with a sense of the same doom that was hanging over Calder’s head – it could not end well, there was no solution that would please all parties here. Was I right?…

I enjoyed this book and found it an entertaining and refreshing take on mermaids. The girls were certainly no Ariel-modeled maidens, and neither was it a boy/girl angst dressed up as a paranormal – one of my pet peeves with many paranormal YA books.

However, it is probably not a book I would read again; I did not love it to bits and though the story was interesting, well written – pretty prose and poems scattered, yet not going overboard (he he) in that department – and the character development well done, it failed to evoke stronger emotions and make me feel totally invested in the fate of the main characters.

I will buy the sequel though – I am curious enough about what will happen next!


(read in February 2012, courtsey of the publisher via NetGalley. Scheduled for release in June 2012, pre-order available from some web retailers)

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review: How the Marquess Was Won

How the Marquess was Won (Pennyroyal Green #6) -by- Julie Anne Long (Published by NN)  My grade: 3 1/2 stars

GoodReads Blurb:  The Scandal Sheets call him Lord Ice.  Ruthless, cold, precise, Julian Spenser, Marquess Dryden, tolerates only the finest—in clothes, in horseflesh, in mistresses. And now he’s found the perfect bride, the one whose dowry will restore his family’s shattered legacy and bring him peace at last: the exquisite heiress Lisbeth Redmond.  She’s not afraid to play with fire. But one unforgettable encounter with Lisbeth’s paid companion, Phoebe Vale, and the Marquess is undone: this quiet girl with the wicked smile and a wit to match is the first person to see through the icy façade to the fiery man beneath. But their irresistible attraction is a torment as sweet as it is dangerous: for surrendering to their desire could mean losing everything else they ever wanted…

LET ME START BY SAYING THAT I AM one of Julie Anne Long’s fangirls. I absolutely adore the Pennyroyal Green series, and I have re-read all of my favourites, most recently “What I Did For a Duke”. So I have been waiting for the sixth instalment in this series with bated breath. Sadly, I have seen a lot of complaints in threads and in reviews that Ms. Long gets quite a few of the historical details wrong. As long as I don’t notice these things they do not bother me (though I don’t care to have them pointed out to me, to be honest, then they tend to annoy me). I can understand, however, that it would irk readers with a good knowledge of the time period (of which I am somewhat vague, but, again – that suits me fine). But  I digress. Probably, because I am writing this review so reluctantly as I have to confess that I was fairly disappointed in this book.

I cannot fault the writing – the sentences or dialogue never feel contrived or stilted and Ms. Long has such a wonderful way with words, that the prose is absolutely magical at times. Very few authors can evoke emotions the way she can. So I feel the anticipation/excitement/joy/passion/anguish and grief as her main characters do. In one scene, Phoebe’s beloved cat Charybdis is lost, and I suffer with her as she comes to face with the fact that he might be gone forever, and in the next scene I feel as frantic as Julian, the Marquess, as he hunts desperately to try and find the feline.

This is from a point in the book where Phoebe hears opera for the first time:

The music twined around Phoebe, and in moments held her fast, in thrall. She yearned to know the next note, the next phrase. It was a fresh and delightful shock when each was lovelier than the next. Anticipation ramped and ramped. The voice slipped in almost unnoticed, like an interloper into a party. It insinuated itself between notes, and then surreptitiously, then ever more boldly, climbed, and climbed, and climbed . . . until it soared above the music. Brazen and glorious. Dear God . . . the sound of it . . . it hurt, hurt to hear, such was its beauty. She felt swollen with it. She reached out and clutched the marquess’s sleeve without realizing it. As if to prevent herself from launching skyward. “What is it? The song. Please tell me what it is,” she demanded on a whisper. He looked down at her hand. And then down into her face. If she had known his breath had caught when she’d reached out for him . . . if she had seen his expression . . . then she might have backed away, confused by the unguarded confusion and hunger there. Or she might have flung herself into his arms. She was owned by the music. She’d closed her eyes.

However, I was not so happy about having to read about a cousin to the Redmonds. A not very likeable young lady at that, and she was not even the main female character. So in essence, even if the setting was Pennyroyal Green in Sussex and London, as per usual, and I met some of the beloved characters from earlier books in passing, the story was in not about a Redmond or an Eversea but about Phoebe Vale, a teacher at the academy for recalcitrant young girls and some totally unconnected Marquess. It turns out he is connected because he wants to marry the Redmond cousin Lisbeth, so that he can get land that once belonged to his family back in form of dowry.

Another disappointment I have with this book, apart from not thinking that it is a true Pennyroyal Green-book, was  that I felt there were some inconsistencies and a very forced obstacle to the HEA. Phoebe is planning to leave her employment at the academy to join a group of missionaires bound for Africa. At first this seems like a distant plan, apparently she has not saved up enough money. Then, suddenly because she wins some money in a card game, she is set to leave directly with the group of missionaries who are departing very conveniently in a very near future. Further, she does not seem to have anchored this idea of leaving with Ms. Endicott of the academy.

The first encounter between Phoebe and Julian takes place in the village store, where he is looking for a gift for Lisbeth Redmond:

He gestured to a case in a shadowy corner of the shop near the girls, far away from sunlight that could yellow or fade painted silk. “I hope you find something that pleases you.” Fat chance, Phoebe thought.
That Fat chance thought felt so out of place that I had to look the expression up, and the first time it is recorded to have been used was in the early 1900’s. It felt more modern than that, though.

The supporting cast is consisting of people who; apart from Jonathan Redmond, I don’t find very likeable. Lisbeth turns out to be a self obsessed mean girl and some young bloods and ladies of the ton play a cruel trick on Phoebe just for sport. Jonathan, by the way, has had the spelling of his name changed; throughout “Like No Other Lover” his name spells Jonathon. Very annoying. My final complaint is a repeated phrase towards the end of the book, after a very emotional scene Phoebe is leaving Julian and thinking that he is asleep, she tries to get away quietly. This is how this reads in my electronic version of the book:

And she slipped out of bed, and tiptoed across the carpet. She gave Charybdis a good morning kiss, then tiptoed across the carpet, collecting her gloves, her slippers.She tiptoes across the carpet. Twice. Sloppy.

Rounding off  this whiny review, I would like to say that the first part of the book was more enjoyable than the second part, which felt rushed and as mentioned, somewhat forced. Despite this, it was an enjoyable and addictive read and had my expectations not been so high, I probably would not have felt as let down as I admittedly do. I am now waiting to read about Lyon and Olivia. I think it is time.

(read in January 2012)

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review: The Bro-Magnet

The Bro-Magnet -by- Lauren Baratz-Logsted
(Published by TKA Distribution) 

My grade: 3 1/2 stars

GoodReads Blurb:  Women have been known to lament, “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” For Johnny Smith, the problem is, “Always a Best Man, never a groom.” At age 33, housepainter Johnny has been Best Man eight times. The ultimate man’s man, Johnny loves the Mets, the Jets, his weekly poker game, and the hula girl lamp that hangs over his basement pool table. Johnny has the instant affection of nearly every man he meets, but one thing he doesn’t have is a woman to share his life with, and he wants that desperately…

 I GREW UP AS THE OLDEST of four daughters. My mum has three sisters and only one of them has a son – the rest of my cousins are female.  So with that background I particularly enjoy books from a male main character’s point of view. Johnny (or John, as he decides to go by, in order to project a more mature image) has an endearing voice. Just like all the guys -bros- that he comes across, I find him charming and endearing and I really want to be his friend. And, I think that is one of the problems I have with this book. Johnny is like the brother I never had and he is not convincing -to me- as a romantic lead.

Some might argue that this is supposed to be a romantic comedy first and foremost, and I agree that many scenes in this book are funny. There is a thin line you have to walk in order for the hilarious situations that ensue (a date at the opera in a barn with a pair of siblings performing multiple roles, for instance) not becoming over the top and too unrealistic, and the author does this very well. I think, however, that Johnny’s long-time crush could have been painted with a somewhat finer brush to be more effective.

Just like many a romantic comedy herione needs a gay best friend, so does a hero. Johnny’s neighbour, sometime employee and BFF Sam is a lesbian. She is also very self assured – almost like a guy, actually, and very attractive. She has just come out of a failed relationship and is also wondering what she is doing wrong. As Johnny goes about trying to turn himself into the man that he thinks that Helen – the love interest – wants, Sam assists him and also applies some of the helpful hints he picks up along the way.  The banter between Johnny and Sam is something that I enjoyed a lot, almost to the point where I was rooting for the outcome that Sam would be a closet bi-sexual person and she and Johnny would be an item at the end. But, of course she is not.

Another problem I had with the book is that I don’t feel what Johnny feels about Helen – he tells me/the reader how he reacts and what he thinks about and his hopes for this relationship, but when we reach the butterfly in the tummy moments; the first kiss and when they finally progress to a more physical relationship, he tells me that as well. The door is closed.

When I say that I had some problems with the book, I don’t mean that I am disappointed – it was a thoroughly enjoyable and easy read. It brought out a lot of smiles an d giggles and left me with a happy feeling. But, at the end of the day I do wish that there had been a little more romance to this comedy.

(read in January 2012)

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review: Dying Bites

 Dying Bites (The Bloodhound Files #1) -by- DD Barant
(Published by St. Martin’s) 

My grade: 4 1/2 stars

GoodReads Blurb:  A Her job description is the “tracking and apprehension of mentally-fractured killers.” What this really means in FBI profiler Jace Valchek’s brave new world—one in which only one percent of the population is human—is that a woman’s work is never done. And real is getting stranger every day….

 I FOUND AN INTERVIEW WITH D.D. BARANT on from April 2010 on Amberkatze’s Book Blog, where he (I understand that D.D. is one of three pseudonyms used by this author) talks about this book and the world it is set in:

The Bloodhound Files is about a world where the supernatural races—vampires, werewolves and golems—are the dominant civilization. Human beings make up just one percent of the population and are considered a federally protected endangered species. The main character, Jace Valchek, is an FBI profiler from our world, specializing in deranged killers. She gets yanked into this parallel universe for her skills—the supernaturals are immune to mental diseases as well as physical ones, so they have no experience with craziness.

We meet Jace in bed, nursing a hangover after yet another social faux pas – drinking tends to make her somewhat inhibited when it comes to sharing details about her work, most of which is not suitable for cocktail party small talk. She falls back asleep and has a weird dream that turns out to be no dream at all; she is being pulled into a parallell universe in order to assist the National Security Agency, NSA, profile and apprehend a serial killer.

World building can be tricky – you don’t want to infodump your reader, but at the same time enough details must be provided to make the story believable. I prefer the kind of books where details about the surroundings – especially if they are new to the main character – are provided where it fits the story best. And I think it is done in that manner in Dying Bites. Jace’s reaction to the information about her whereabouts, the existense of (go)lems, (lycan)thropes and (vam)pires – the short versions used regularly in the book – feels natural, as does her curiosity and acceptance of things that are different compared to our/her real world.

Jace is a tough cookie, after all she is one of FBI’s best profilers. And even though she is extremely unhappy about the situation she finds herself in, she is a professional and gets to work to solve the murder case/s – it is, after all, her only way to make sure she will be transported back again.
She is chasing a human, perceived to be psychotic. The thrope and two pires who are the victims by the time Jace is forced to take on the case, have been killed in extremely gruesome manners, meant to send a message both to the dominant species and to the remaining human population. A monster is a monster, but Jace cannot help contemplating the crimes that humanity have be subject to – especially during this world’s version of world war II. I won’t go in to details here, but as the story progresses, Jace finds out more and more, information kept from her by her new boss Cassius.

Every detective needs a partner, and Jace’s is Charlie Aleph – a golem. Thropes and pires look mostly human, but lems… not so much. Cassius first describes golems to Jace thus: ”… a golem is an artificial person, usually man-shaped but sexless. Basic animist magic: shape a humanoid form and charge it with life force”. This makes Jace expect Charlie to basically look like a sack of sand. But this is her first impression:

…a broad-shouldered figure a little over six feet tall, wearing a very sharp pin-striped suit of dark blue, matching fedora, and polished black leather oxfords. His skin is darker than his shoes, and just as glossy; his features seem sculpted out of black chrome. His tie appears to be alligator skin.. He stops in front of our table and looks at me. At least, I think that’s what he’s doing; he doesn’t seem to have actual irises or pupils, just eye-shaped indentations. It’s like looking at a mask, one with strong, angular features: square chin, heavy brow, Roman nose with a pronounced hump to it.

Jace also works closely with Damon Eisfanger, a lab thrope, and Gretchen Petra, a pire who works with intel. All the characters introduced feel three dimensional. Their individual traits and quirks become apparent as Jace gets to know them better and they grow on her (and the reader).
As mentioned, Jace is tough and in the beginning she comes across as a little too angry. But then, as you get to know her, you understand where it is coming from. She has a sense of humour and does realize quickly when she has made an error of judgement – she can be very hasty at times. One thing that is frustrating to her is that her gun (until it is somewhat modified) neither scares nor affects the pires or thropes significantly. In a showdown with a Japanese oyabun, this is very apparent:

I’ve got the drop on Isamu, but of course that doesn’t mean anything to a target who isn’t afraid of guns. He leaps straight at me, probably intending to rip my arms off and beat me to death with them, and I shoot him many times. Many, many times. He refuses to explode in a disgusting display of gore and instead is merely propelled backward to his starting point. This produces a look of intense irritation on his face, which just doesn’t work for me. I was hoping for something a little more satisfying—fear, horror, maybe the dawning realization that he is well and truly hooped.
Oh, well. You take what you can get.

If you like Ilona Andrews’s books about Kate Daniels, there is a very good chance you’ll enjoy Dying Bites. I am already reading book #2 in this series!

(read in December 2011)

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review: The Dead Travel Fast

The Dead Travel Fast -by- Deanna Rayborn
(Published by Mira) 

My grade: 2 1/2 stars

GoodReads Blurb:  A husband, a family, a comfortable life: Theodora Lestrange lives in terror of it all.

With a modest inheritance and the three gowns that comprise her entire wardrobe, Theodora leaves Edinburgh—and a disappointed suitor—far behind. She is bound for Rumania, where tales of vampires are still whispered, to visit an old friend and write the book that will bring her true independence.

WE EMBARK UPON THIS STORY IN EDINBURGH, Scotland, in the mid 1800s.

Theodora and her sister Anna grew up with their grandfather, Professor Lestrange. When Anna left to get married, Theodora missed her so much that her Granpa tried to comfort her by sending her to a school for young ladies in Bavaria. There, she made the acquaintance of Cosmina, a Romanian girl, who – just as this book begins – sends Theo a letter of invitation to her upcoming nuptials.

This solves things rather neatly for Theo, who is an aspiring author and is waiting/hoping/planning to write that big novel that will really launch her career and this invitation is also a reluctant relief for her brother-in-law who is temporarily saved from having to add her to his already financially strapped household.

The Dead Travel Fast – now, doesn’t that title send your imagination in the direction of spooky dank castles, mysterious and darkly attractive counts and the walking undead? It did mine. And the promise of the title was delivered to a point – it is dark in the corners of the falling-apart castle in the Carpathians that Theo travels to, there is a sense of foreboding and a nagging question – could there really be such things a strigoi – walking dead, feeding on the blood of the living?

I had done right to come. This was a land of legend, and I knew I should find inspiration for a dozen novels here if I wished it.

The wedding is off, Theo finds out upon her arrival. Cosmina begs her not to talk about it but to say she’s come for a visit. So Theo decides to spend some time with her friend. Get a start on her novel and enjoy the hospitality of the Countess of Dragulescu, Cosmina’s aunt and mother of the present count Andrei (Cosmina’s erstwhile fiancé).
It does not take a genius to figure out that the count is the love interest of Theo. (I try to pretend I can’t see these things coming, in order to surprise myself, but I usually fail).

Now Theo I find acceptable. I don’t take to her character completely; she is a bit too dry, too practical, comes across as a little too modern for these times and – let’s say it – a tad boring. As a reader, I never feel what she is feeling even though the book is told in first person from her point of view. The count, however, I find detestable. He is a selfish womaniser of the worst sort.
Judge for yourself:

I have sampled women the world over, from courte sans to countesses, and I can tell you there are only three types of women who matter in a man’s life – those he marries, those he seduces and those he takes. I have only to tailor my behaviour to become whatever the lady in question wants me to be and I am assured of success.

Add to that a preference for opium and you have a user of a guy who does not think that your blood makes you worthy of marriage (even though he is quite happy to bonk you on the sofa in the observatory) and who smells of overripe fruit.

A stinky stuck-up count.

The smell of opium clung to him, not unpleasant, but primeval, like windfallen fruit on freshly turned earth.

There are strange going-ons in the castle and surrounding village. Some men are rumoured to have taken to the forests to live as wolves. The old, evil count is feared to have turned strigoi and started attacking those who were closest to him.
Meanwhile, Theo has discussions on every type of topic with the count, who she is drawn to like a moth to a rotting fruit. She says that regardless of their physical attraction, it is his mind that draws him the most.

I am sorry to reveal that, because I found the book too boring (not enough fast moving dead people for my taste), I had to skim the latter part of it.
I wanted at least to find out what was going to happen – who dunnit and and how the romantic relationship would be resolved.
And it was meh. I can’t describe it better than that.

This is not a bad piece of writing, some of the historical and geographical details are really interesting. But as a romantic and/or goth novel it falls flat. It is not scary nor romantic enough and with an unlikeable hero the emotional investment was nada for me.

(read in June 2011)

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