Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Lady Of His Own by Stephanie Laurens

This is the third book in Stephanie Laurens Bastion Club series. Charles St. Austell has returned to his ancestral home to flee the matchmaking attempts of his family and to investigate some suspicious activities for his former commander which may be espionage. Charles is surprised to discover that Lady Penelope Selborne, the girl he had loved as a young man and who had spurned him after their one and only intimate encounter, is still unwed and a resident of the area. Seeing her again awakens the spark between them and Charles decides that since he is in the market for a wife, he might as well marry a woman he loves. Convincing Penny of this will be even more challenging than the mystery he came home to solve.

There is more going on in the story than what I was able to describe. That is frequently the case with this author's stories. They can be very complicated. As with the first two books in the series, the stories were interesting, but too long. I've also noticed that the characteristics of the main couples in these books don't vary much. The men are typical romantic heroes, nothing out of line there. It's the type of female that repeats throughout this series that is really starting to grate. These women are introduced as headstrong independent types who don't need a man in their lives... until they do. They lose their wits (to use the author's favorite word) everytime the man touches them and they make careless mistakes that frequently put them in a situation where they have to be rescued by the man. I like a little more common sense in my female characters.

BEST FEATURE: The plot. You really have to pay attention when reading this series because the villian is never obvious and there are a lot of things going on. It's exercise for the mind.

WORST FEATURE: The characters. They are starting to feel recycled. I need more variety.

PARENTAL WARNING: violence and sexual content explicit enough to be considered adult only 

RATING: 2, which ryhmes with deju vu.

The Darkest Powers series by Kelley Armstrong

Chloe Saunders sees dead people. After a traumatic childhood incident involving a basement and a malicious ghost, she had repressed that ability as well as any memories associated with it. But when delayed puberty strikes a 15 year-old Chloe, her ability comes back with a vengeance. To those around her, it looks like she has suffered some kind of a mental breakdown. Her father and aunt decide to put Chloe in a group home called Lyle House for mentally ill children. It doesn't take long for Chloe to realize that Lyle House is not what it seems and that she and the other children have something in common, and its not mental illness.

Derek has superstrength and his foster brother, Simon, has magical abilities. Chloe's roommate, Liz, can throw objects with her mind when she's angry and Rae can start fires... not necessarily with matches. When Liz is taken away after an 'episode', the kids are told that she was transferred to a mental hospital, but Chloe knows this is not true since she has seen Liz's ghost. Derek, Simon, Chloe and Rae decide to escape, but an unexpected betrayal results in the girls being captured by the people who are really responsible for running Lyle House... the Edison Group.

Chloe learns that she is a necromancer. Not only can she see and communicate with the dead, but she can return them to their corpses. Simon is a warlock and spoiled brat Tori is a witch. Rae is a fire-starter and Derek... he's a werewolf. As shocking as this news is, the real revelation is that the Edison Group had genetically altered a test group of children including Chloe in an attempt to reduce their abilities and give them more control. The experiment backfired and the children who were altered have amped up powers that can become unpredicatable when they lose control of their emotions. Although the Edison Group had some success in correcting that problem in a few of the children, others such as Chloe are considered a lost cause, a mistake that the Edison Group would like to permanently erase.

Chloe and Tori escape and re-unite with Simon and Derek. Even with the help of a friend of the boys' father, they aren't going to be able to run from the Edison Group forever. They are going to have to master their abilities and take the fight to the Edison Group if they are to have any hope for survival.

I absolutely loved this series, not so much for the supernatural elements, but because of the growing romantic relationship between Derek and Chloe. Derek is introduced as a hygenically challenged oversized sullen teen boy. As I read the descriptions of him, I was thinking to myself 'eww'. As the story progresses, my opinion of him and Chloe's changes radically. He's the hero of this piece, no question. I'm glad I purchased all three books at the same time since this is just one story. I would not have wanted to wait for the next installment.

BEST FEATURE: Derek. I totally fell in love with this boy and I'm not afraid to admit it.

WORST FEATURE: Necromancy, really? All the other characters had cool abilities, but our heroine can raise the dead. Gross!

PARENTAL WARNING: minor violence, kissing only; appropriate for pre-teens and up

RATING: 4, it might not be for everyone, but anyone who likes young adult fiction, will like this.

Shadow Dance by Julie Garwood

The wedding between Jordan Buchanan's brother and her best friend, Kate MacKenna, is more than the union of two people that she loves, it's the joining of two families that have had a Hatfield and McCoy-sized feud going back centuries to their native Scotland. Jordan had been completely unaware of this old rivalry until she bumped into an eccentric professor at the wedding. He had been researching the relationship between the two clans and didn't hesitate to express his unflattering opinions of the Buchanans. Normally, Jordan would have put that unpleasant encounter behind her, but when Noah Clayborne, a close family friend and FBI agent, pokes fun at her tame life, she contacts the professor and makes arrangements to visit him in the small town of Serenity, Texas to view his research.

A trip to small town Texas to view historical research does not sound like high adventure, but this is a book written by Julie Garwood. The professor ends up dead (no loss there) and his body is discovered in Jordan's trunk. With the killer trying to frame Jordan for murder, bodies piling up and a crooked cop, she will need Noah's help getting her out of a mess that, in a way, he was responsible for getting her into. Even though Jordan and Noah think they are immune to each other's charms, they quickly realize that they want to be more than friends. Those who have read Shadow Music and Ransom will recognize some of the historical references which is a fun way to tie these characters together with others from past books. The suspense and the romance are both good, making for an enjoyable read.

BEST FEATURE: The small town of Serenity and its quirky residents. The book's best scenes take place there.

WORST FEATURE: I appreciate the author's attempt to show Jordan's intelligence by writing her as a computer genius, but somehow that just felt false to me. A minor complaint.

PARENTAL WARNING: violence and sexual content that isn't overly explicit.

RATING: 3, No less than I expect from this author.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

In this book, Maggie Stiefvater takes the werewolf myth and gives it the Twilight treatment. When Grace was a little girl, she was attacked by a pack of wolves. They were going to kill her, but one wolf, the one with the yellow eyes, stopped them. Now Grace is a teenager. Instead of being afraid of the wolves that roam the woods near her home, she is fascinated by them... especially the one with the yellow eyes. Sam was bit by a wolf when he was a little boy. Now he doesn't know what he is. When the weather is warm, he's human. When it's cold, he changes into a wolf. Regardless of the form he's in, he always has yellow eyes. And those eyes are always looking for Grace. He is as fascinated by her as she is by him. When the wolves attack a boy from Grace's school, the town decides to destroy the wolves. Sam is shot trying to escape and the pain forces him back into human form despite the cold. He is rescued by Grace and it doesn't take her long to make the connection between the wolf with the yellow eyes and the young man with the yellow eyes that she found bleeding in her backyard. There is no question that they are destined to be together, but fate is trying to force them apart. Why didn't Grace change when she was bitten and is that the answer to how they can be together?

Sam would probably be considered more of a shape-shifter than a werewolf if you want to get technical. I love the cool twist where the temperature is the cause of the change instead of a full moon or anger management issues. A unique story within a classic theme. Nicely done.

BEST FEATURE: Temperature as the shifting catalyst. A unique idea which the author cleverly drives home by putting the temperature at the beginning of each chapter.

WORST FEATURE: Throwing the parents under the bus. In this book, parents are either self-obsessed, homicidal or absent altogether. Ouch!

PARENTAL WARNING: minor sexual content and some violence; appropriate for teens

RATING: 4.5, this one scores major points for creativity and entertainment. It would also make a great movie. Watch your back Twilight!

A Gentleman's Honor by Stephanie Laurens

This is the second book in Stephanie Lauren's Bastion Club series. Anthony Blake, Viscount Torrington, who rated a brief mention in Captain Jack's Woman, finds himself falling for a widow who has been accused of murder. He believes in her innocence, but it quickly becomes clear that the real killer is attempting to frame her for the crime. What Anthony does not realize, is that the widow, Mrs. Alicia Carrington, has never been married and was being blackmailed by the victim. By pretending to be a widow, Alicia can sponsor her younger sister, Adriana, in her debut with the ton. Their hope is that Adriana will make a good match and keep their financially strapped family afloat. Can she trust Anthony with her secret and her heart?

I have a lot of problems with this author's writing style, the book's too long, the frequent use of semi-colons, and a limited vocabulary. If I never see the word 'wits' used in a sentence again, it will be too soon. The things I do like about the Bastion Club series so far are the characters and the stories. That is why I'm determined to finish this series... eventually.

BEST FEATURE: The fake widow. Way to scam the ton, Alicia!

WORST FEATURE: The writing style, again. It made a chore out of an otherwise good book.

PARENTAL WARNING: minor violence, but sexual content explicit enough to be considered adult only.

RATING: 3, it may be 100 pages too long, but it's still a good story.


This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer

The characters from Life As We Knew It and The Dead And The Gone collide in this continuation of Susan Beth Pfeffer's story of survival after the moon is knocked closer to Earth by an asteroid. The story is being told again in journal format by 17 year-old Miranda Evans. The Evans family has survived the worst of the winter even though many of their neighbors did not. It has been almost a year since the disaster and a new normal has come to exist. Government supplied rations are being doled out to the remaining residents of the town and the weather has gotten warm enough for them to scavenge for supplies from the empty homes and even go fishing. Older brother, Matthew, has met a girl, fallen in love, and brought her home to be part of the family much to his mother's disapproval. Providing for a family of four was hard enough and now there is another mouth to feed. Imagine the reaction when Miranda's father shows up on her doorstep which his new wife and their baby and three strangers. Two of the strangers are Alex and Julie Morales from The Dead And The Gone. Since the story is being told from Miranda's perspective, very little detail is provided on how Alex and his sister ended up with her father. Miranda is relieved that her father has survived, but the complications behind feeding and housing so many people causes some resentment at first.

Eventually, this group of survivors becomes every bit as much of a family as any blood relations. The baby gives them hope of a future... although no one would dare to guess what that future would look like. Since Alex and Julie are close in age to Miranda and her younger brother, they inevitably pair off. This outcome would seem forced except for the new reality where meeting someone of the opposite sex and of a similar age is now an opportunity that should not be passed up. That old saying that there are more fish in the sea... yeah, not so much. However, Alex's determination to take his sister and leave the group could force Miranda to choose between him and her family. The survivors' struggles never seem to end and by the end of this book, you will be wondering if the dead might actually be the lucky ones.

BEST FEATURE: The continuation of a good story.

WORST FEATURE: The romance between Miranda and Alex. Don't get me wrong. I liked the idea of those two characters as a couple, but I like more romance with my apocalypse. There just wasn't enough there.

PARENTAL WARNING: no real sex or violence to speak of, but death is a constant theme; appropriate for teens

RATING: 4, a good ending for a great story.