Tag Archive | dark

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: 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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review: Angelfall

Angelfall (Penryn & the End of Days #1) -by- Susan Ee
(Published by Ace) 

My grade: 5 stars

GoodReads Blurb:  It’s been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back.
Anything, including making a deal with an enemy angel. 

ABSOLUTELY RIVETING READ, I lay awake until 03.15 in the morning to finish this one. It was worth it.

In northern California, Silicon Valley, we find Penryn and her family; her wheelchair bound younger sister and her schizophrenic mother, as they are leaving their flat where they have camped out following the attacks on earth by angels not long previously. Hardly any modern conveniences work – electricity and hot water are sporadic, cars are abandoned in big pile-ups on the streets; shops are looted, and gangs roam the neighbourhoods.  Penryn, who is basically the head of the family, has decided that they stand a better chance at surviving if they try and make it into  the forested hills. However, it is hard to be sneaky when your sister is in a wheelchair, and your mother is pulling a shopping trolley that she refuses to part with.

Why did the angels attack? We are not sure. A lot of the background details as well as Penryn’s personal history is revealed as the story unfolds. No infodumping here, it all feels natural in Penryn’s strong and clear voice. I have so much admiration for her, as she soldiers on during really tough circumstances. She doesn’t pretend that she is a hero, or that she wants to save the world. Her interest is keeping her family -such as it is- together and safe. She does not come across as bitter, but matter-of-factly states the things she has missed out on:

 “I am, of course, rooting for the humans. But I already have more responsibilities than I can handle. I just want be an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. My biggest concern in life should be what dress to wear to the prom, not how to escape a paramilitary camp to rescue my sister from cruel angels, and certainly not joining a resistance army to beat back an invasion to save humanity. I know my limits and that goes way beyond them.”

This book is not about sweet angels. They are as cruel and twisted and selfish and ambitious as us humans can be. There are also  some pretty gruesome scenes, they brought to my mind the sometimes extremely graphic details of the horrors that Kate Daniels comes face-to-face with in Ilona Andrews’s books. These scenes give the book a depth I often miss in YA where the challenges facing the main character are not believably difficult for me. There are no invincible warriors here (though the angels are certainly made of stern stuff and are able to heal much faster than a human) and no one – not even the angels – has the answers to everything.

So Penryn’s little sister has been kidnapped, and she keeps moving, determined to get to the angel head camp in San Francisco. On the way, she is detained with a group of people organizing a  resistance against the angel occupation. This book is filled with wry and sometimes dark humour and in this camp, she comes across a pair of twin brothers, who illustrate this:

I’m Tweedledee,” says one.
“I’m Tweedledum,” says the other. “Most people call us Dee-Dum for short since they can’t tell us apart.”
“Why would you call yourselves that?”
Dee shrugs. “New world, new names. We were going to be Gog and Magog”
“Those were our online names,” says Dum.
“But why go all doom and gloom?” asks Dee.
“Used to be fun being Gog and Magog when the world was Tiffany-twisted and suburban-simple,” says Dum. “But now…”
“Not so much,” says Dee.
“Death and destruction are so blasé.”

“So mainstream.”

This journey that she has undertaken, with her crazy mother hovering nearby (leaving clues to let Penryn know), is done in the company of the angel Raffe. Penryn realizes reluctantly that she needs to try and save him so that he can tell her how to get her sister back. Their attitude to each other is suspicious at first, but a mutual respect develops during the course of their travels.

If you are looking for a fast-paced, dark and sinister but yet funny and extremely entertaining “angel dystopia”, Angelfall is definitely for you. Sturdier than Divergent and funnier that The Hunger Games. It is one of my favourite reads of 2011.

(read in December 2011)

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review: White Cat

White Cat (Curse Workers #1) -by- Holly Black
(Published by McElderry) 

My grade: 4 1/2 stars

GoodReads Blurb:  Cassel comes from a family of curse workers — people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they’re all mobsters, or con artists. Except for Cassel. He hasn’t got the magic touch, so he’s an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family.

AT FIRST I was not sure that this was going to be my cup of tea. It starts with Cassel waking up, dressed in boxers only, on the roof of his school after a very vivid dream. Such a start pulled me in to the story, but then I felt it lagged for some 20 pages or so, until sucking me back in again and not letting me go. I even dreamed of being a curse worker (that’s what happens when you fall asleep with the Kobo on your tummy at 01.30 in the morning).

This is the third book I have read recently with a male POV, first person. The other two, Hold me closer necromancer and Anna dressed in blood, have become firm favourites – as has White Cat.

Cassel is not a happy young man, for many reasons. The main one is that he believes he did something absolutely awful a few years back. It was covered up by his family, but he obviously has a hard time letting it go – especially since he has no real recollection of the event. Another reason is his dysfunctional – there is no other word for it – family and the fact that he has always felt like a failure, being the only non-worker of them all. I have a hard time getting with his mum, I mean, how can you be sure you really love your brothers when on so many occasions these feelings were forced upon you by your mother working her emotional curse on you?

And those brothers… well, judge for yourself how lovable they are.

Cassel’s family is a worker family, this means that they are gifted with the ability to make something magical apply to whomever they touch. The most common ability is that of bringing luck, but some can work emotions (like Cassel’s mum) or kill someone (like Cassel’s grandad). The cursing always comes with a blowback – for instance, for the grandad, part of his body blackens and dies every time he kills someone. He is now retired and, curse work is sort of illegal, anyway. The setting for the book is around New Jersey, USA and everything else but the workers being part of society – with their own history and holocaust to boot – seems like present time.

Cassel is doing his best to fit in at school and being normal. He wants to have an ordinary life with none of the complications he is used to from home and looking at his childhood, I don’t blame him. But he feels like he is constantly acting, pretending to be someone he wants to be. He also has a hard time staying from the con; the one part of being a curse worker that he does really well. He runs a betting scheme at school despite being aware that it is really not in line with what he is trying to achieve. However, when he is forced to leave school for a while due to the roof top incident, the facade he has cultivated starts to crumble and I believe that in the end the truth actually does set him free.

I am not going to go in to how the story progresses after Cassel temporarily goes home to his family for a while. But I can tell you it is definitely worth your time and money. I have the sequel waiting for me now, and I am really going to take my time and enjoy it, because the third instalment is not yet out and waiting for the next part of a really good series is so jobbigt as we say in Swedish.

(read in September 2011)

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