It's been a year since seventeen-year-old Miranda Sun's parents were killed in a terrible car accident, but she's still harbouring a secret guilt that...moreIt's been a year since seventeen-year-old Miranda Sun's parents were killed in a terrible car accident, but she's still harbouring a secret guilt that has damaged her relationship with her older, beautiful sister Lauren. That January, when their grandparents take them to the family shack by the beach at Bob's Bay for two weeks of summer holiday, Miranda is finally preparing herself to open up to Lauren when her situation drastically changes, and she disappears while taking a midnight swim.
Miranda is caught by a stranger, dragged underwater and kidnapped. She wakes, days later and still groggy from the drugs that helped transport her, in a very strange place. Completely alone and scared, Miranda is slowly introduced to the mysterious underwater city of Marin, somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Lit by glowing crystals, oxygenated by hidden air shafts, Marin's origins are unknown but the founder of the current civilisation, Frano Tollin, a pharmaceutical entrepreneur and explorer, speculated about an ancient civilisation that built it but died out. Now Tollin's descendents rule in his place: Marko, a young and temperamental nineteen-year-old king, and his older sister, Sylvia. But things aren't as glowing and utopian in Marin as they might seem.
Marko's older brother and Sylvia's twin, Damir, is in hiding somewhere in the city. A dark and twisted mind, Damir wants to follow in Frano Tollin's footsteps and experiment on young women in the insane attempt to create a real mermaid. Tollin's nightmarish experiments focussed on cutting women's legs open and sewing them together to form a tail, among other things, and if Damir ruled Marin the nightmares would continue. Marko has been made king in his place, but his rule is tenuous if he cannot secure an heir.
This is Marin's other problem: there are no children. No babies are born. The women who live here are infertile. Barren. And thus Sylvia's selfish plan: to capture a girl from the surface and bring her to the city to marry Marko and have his children. She sends Marko's personal guard, Robbie, to find a girl, and its Miranda who is caught - not Lauren, her beautiful, popular older sister. When Marko learns that Miranda is not even of legal age yet, he's furious, but with the threat of being fed to the sharks, the wedding is still going ahead.
Miranda's fear turns to curiosity, but she never stops planning to escape. When she learns that the one way to the surface is accessed via Marko's suite, she decides that convincing Robbie to let her go is the only means available. But even as she befriends the young guardsman, she begins to get to know Marko and the city of Marin, and fall under its spell.
Captivate combines the old and the new in creating a romantic fantasy story that touches on gothic horror. The premise is interesting, and even though it employs many tropes that aren't original, the character of Miranda and the Garden's writing made it feel fresh. And while it looked like it was going to have a romantic triangle like so many other YA stories ("yawn"), it actually doesn't, which was very pleasing. In fact, the way the characters evolve and grow was one of the things I liked best about Captivate - especially Marko. He's a complex, interesting character who seems at first too obvious and one-dimensional, but who gradually becomes much more interesting and charismatic as the story progresses.
But I should talk about the book's weak points, because it is a bit of a biggie. Stories like this one hinge on the world-building, and if the world-building is shaky then everything that follows feels a bit flimsy. The problem with Captivate is the premise, the point of abducting Miranda in the first place and bringing her to Marin - though Marin itself was a little under-developed for me, especially in regards to how they get air, food and water, not to mention building materials, clothing etc.
The glitch is the infertility premise. A fairly common trope in speculative fiction, it can be a great motivator for action. Unfortunately, it didn't really make sense here. The entire population of Marin consists of two kinds of people: those that were born there (though no one has been born there in eighteen years), and those who are brought there. The cause of the infertility problem, they speculate, is related to being removed from the sun and moon and life cycles in general, though they don't know for sure. Only, if people are continuously - not often, but continuously over time - brought to Marin (rescued from near-drownings, or suicide attempts, mostly), then does it not follow that their population will be refreshed with fertile women? Like Miranda? Miranda was captured and brought against her will, but why not simply invite or rescue a woman instead? They'd done it before. If Miranda was brought to Marin to have babies, then infertility does not happen straight away; therefore plenty of other women in Marin should also be able to have children. It didn't make sense, and so the whole plot was shaky because of it. If it had made more sense, with no holes in it, then it would have been quite powerful because the notion of dying civilisations and places bereft of children will always resonate with us.
The story was strongest in the development of the characters, and the novel's sense of atmosphere. There was a tantalising, uncomfortable tinge of fear to the whole story and setting that I particularly enjoyed; I wouldn't have minded a bit more of it though that might have been too much. It's that shade of menace and dark forbidden things to what is otherwise something of a utopia that really makes the concept work, and adds tension to the plot. You don't know who to trust, or what's really going, and the taint of Frano Tollin's plans and experiments linger. It nicely balances the fantasy and romance elements of the story, giving it maturity and extra layers.
Another strength was Miranda herself. She narrates (and not, thankfully, in present tense, might I add!) and her voice is solid. She's convincing and undergoes a gradual change influenced by her new surroundings and situation. There was chemistry between her and Marko, though it was shadowed by that sense of suspicion, distrust and uncertainty that pervades the story in general, making their relationship that bit more interesting than it might otherwise have been. She has tenacity, and balances adolescent insecurities and selfishness with a growing sense of compassion, empathy and understanding. By the end, I had grown very fond and proud of her and wanted very much to find out what happened next.
Speaking of, the ending was spot-on. In terms of: no cliffhanger, not forgetting the overall abduction plot or the people she'd left behind, and in setting the stage for a real, legitimate relationship with an abductor. In that sense, it was very satisfying, as was seeing just how much Miranda had matured by the end. I wish the world of this underwater city had been more tightly formed and explained, because if the nuts-and-bolts of the story were stronger this would have been excellent all round. As it is, I'm caught up enough in Miranda's story, and curious about what's going on in Marin, to want to read more of this new series.
My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book. (less)
Seventeen-year-old Emerson Cole has spent the last four years believing herself crazy. She sees ghosts from the past, lifelike images that pop and dis...moreSeventeen-year-old Emerson Cole has spent the last four years believing herself crazy. She sees ghosts from the past, lifelike images that pop and disappear as soon as she touches them. After the death of her parents, her spiralling depression and increased craziness get her committed to a mental health institute for treatment, drugs and supervision. After that, she went to a girls' boarding school and, now that her scholarship has run out, she's returned to Ivy Springs to live with her much-older brother, Thomas, and his wife Dru, an architect-interior designer team that's giving the old town a complete makeover.
Em isn't looking forward to going back to her old high school, but she has time yet. Her brother surprises her with a new consultant, someone they both hope can cure her. His name is Michael Weaver and he's a university student with a flashy car who does consultant work on the side for an organisation called the Hourglass. The connection between Em and Michael is immediate, and not just based on his sexy good looks: whenever they touch they create electricity.
Michael explains to Em that what she sees aren't ghosts, they're time ripples: she's seeing the past. With his ability to see the future, they are like two halves that complement each other, and they have the potential to time travel. He wants her help in going back six months in the past to save the Hourglass' founder, Liam Ballard, from death in a fire at his lab - a fire Michael is convinced another Hourglass member, Jonathan Landers, started to take out Liam so he could take over the Hourglass, using people's varied abilities for his own nefarious purposes.
Having lost her own parents, Em is determined to help - especially after meeting Liam's eighteen-year-old son, Kaleb, who is an empath. But going back in time is dangerous and risky, and there's only a small window in which to rescue Liam before the fire starts. With the help of some renegade people from the Hourglass who live in the house of a drop-dead gorgeous physicist called Cat who can control matter, they might have a chance. But upon the discovery that Jonathan has taken the files from Liam's safe, files containing information about numerous people like Em that he could take advantage of, time is running out to go back in time to save the one man who can help them.
Oh I wanted to like this, I really did. It began so promisingly, setting the scene in a historic old town in Tennessee, and introducing us to an opinionated heroine who more than makes up for her short stature with her mouth - and she does have some good lines, like "My ass was grass, and big brother was the lawn mower." [p.185] The atmosphere was a mix of slightly spooky, intriguing and comforting in the familiar - for all that Em has been through, her family unit is a tight-knit, caring, loving one. Sadly, all too soon it devolved into an unoriginal plot and suffered from that frustrating of all frustrations, Glaring Oversight.
Plotwise, this was just like any number of movies I've already seen, books I've already read. The ignorant but special main character (in this case, also the narrator), who is introduced to some shady secret society that's been betrayed from within, who takes it upon herself to save the day with some sacrifice along the way - but retaining a happy ending regardless. There's the double-crossing, the unnecessary love interest on the side (Kaleb), and the exceedingly, devastatingly beautiful main love interest (Michael) who I just couldn't come to like. Sure he was handsome and caring and thoughtful and considerate, but he was also an utter wet rag, a bit too perfect (any kind of perfect is too perfect), who has unexplained wealth (of course) and rarely makes much sense when he speaks - not if you're paying attention and trying to connect the dots. He came across as a lot older than he supposedly was (nineteen), and his unexplained wealth bothered and distracted me. But it was mostly the way his information and explanations jumped around that really annoyed me.
It's really hard to get into a book when the main character doesn't ask the obvious questions, and their source of information doesn't always make sense. When discovering that the world is not quite what you thought it was, and that you yourself are more than you ever imagined, you're bound to have questions. With Emerson, all too often she forewent the relevant questions in favour of some smart-arsed or bitchy or even sulky comment. I wanted to snap at her, "Focus!" Her reactions were often weird to me, freaking out about some new revelation (another way for her to simply not ask the glaringly obvious questions that really really needed to be asked in order to move the story forward) or, more frustrating still, focusing instead on some really trivial detail.
Rather than utilise the common plot device of ignorant-main-character-asking-questions-about-sudden-new-world, McEntire instead allowed Em to just know things. Reading this was a bit like whiplash, it actually hurt my head how many times I did a "Wait, what?" double-take. Because not only did conversations go strangely, all things considered, they glossed over things that the characters later talked about as if the conversation had taken place! I can't give you examples because it's a matter of reading the whole book rather, but I think I have permanent frown marks on my head now after reading this.
There were times when the dialogue just seemed so contrived, like when Michael discovers Em has tried to research the Hourglass online and found an article about the death of its founder, Liam Ballard. His reaction just didn't make sense - not to Emerson, and not to me. He became quite angry and threatening, and his explanation later was that the new founder, Jonathan Landon, was dangerous - but he never really explained anything (you connect the dots yourself but it's all out of sync with the plot and Em's own understanding), and his whole method of keeping Em in the dark as a way to protect her was laughable and insulting from the beginning. And what, all to create some mystery and a sense of danger? That would have come quite naturally had the right things been discussed at the right time, questions and answers that would have gone a long way to building this new world bit by bit, with some teasing but also by making sense. It felt like a smokescreen, because at the end of it all I reflected back on the story and its plot and it struck me how plain and ordinary it all was.
It wasn't only the dialogue that read as contrived, quite often the plot felt that way too. Little things were just unnecessarily dramatic in order to add, well, drama and mystery and also suspicion (can she trust Michael? That sort of thing). For instance, when Michael is called away by Ava and tells - no, orders - Em to stay home and wait for him to call her, which he doesn't do, why couldn't he have just said to her, "Hey Em, my best friend is on a drunken bender and I've gotta go pick him up and take him home, make sure he's okay. I'll try and call you tomorrow, otherwise I'll see you back here." It doesn't matter that Kaleb is drunk for some deep dark reason that Michael doesn't want her to know about - at least, I think that was his reason, but I don't really know - it doesn't matter because at the time it would have sounded perfectly innocent, completely reasonable, and - this is where it wouldn't have served much dramatic purpose - it would have kept Emerson home and she wouldn't have met Kaleb and so on and so on. But what was the big deal? Why not let her meet Kaleb? She met the others at the Renegade House.
What about her scholarship - her brother seems to make loads of money, so why need a scholarship? (The answer is, she didn't, it's connected to the plot, but badly.) Why does Michael sometimes talk about time travel like they do it all the time, and yet when discussing it with Cat it becomes clear that they've never done it? Why is the Renegade House described as a bungalow when, inside, it has an upstairs floor full of bedrooms and bathrooms? Little things like this just weren't explained properly and didn't, at the time, make sense. Sure later when more information is finally given, some things might make sense, but the problem is that Em doesn't seem confused, as if she already knows it all and so doesn't ask. And her reactions to learning about people's different abilities was just plain weird - what person in this day and age, someone who has their own ability, would be so completely shocked and overwhelmed to learn of others'? And how can she be so utterly incurious about it all?? I couldn't relate to her, and I couldn't follow the way her mind works - which frankly, didn't seem to work at all most of the time. I mean, incurious is fine in a person, plenty of people aren't particularly curious (though it's hard to believe when faced with this kind of scenario), but not when it's just a lazy character trait used to avoid having to make things make sense.
The plot, too, was very predictable. I wasn't even trying and I could have told you who Jack is, and what would happen. I could have told you who the spy amongst them really was - and the red herring was laughable. Oh so disappointing. I did like Lily, who sadly doesn't get much of a presence, but since she too has a gift (so not a spoiler, it's clear early on), I'm sure she'll be drawn into it in the next book or something. Chemistry-wise, sure there was some between Em and Michael, but since he acts like an overbearing, overprotective big brother - rather like her real brother, Thomas - it was actually a bit icky. He was also a bit condescending at times, which again made him sound rather old. And his refusal to start a relationship with her never made sense, not until the truth finally came out, which is fine except that, for readers, if it doesn't make sense at the time, it's frustrating to have the heroine accept it as if it does. Just one of the many things that did my head in - and it's not like some complicated time travel stories that loop around and become tricky: this doesn't have any time travel in it until the last hundred pages.
I do enjoy a good time travel story, and I LOVE stories about people with special abilities (big Obernewtyn and X-Men fan, me), but sadly this one just didn't have any chops. While not original, it still had good bones and could have been really exciting, just like a good cheesy movie can be, but McEntire wasn't able to build a mystery, gathering the threads together, leaving the right kind of clues behind, building on your knowledge and finally spinning you for a loop. It would need a great deal of re-writing for that. Still, I know from a quick glance at Goodreads that plenty of people loved this and didn't have my critique, so it clearly didn't bother everyone. Overall though, the mess of the structure, contrived plot-building and rather bizarre dialogue really spoiled this one for me.(less)
The Bite Before Christmas contains two novellas, "The Gift" by Lynsay Sands (Argeneau #15.5) and "Home for the Holidays" by Jeaniene Frost (Night Hunt...moreThe Bite Before Christmas contains two novellas, "The Gift" by Lynsay Sands (Argeneau #15.5) and "Home for the Holidays" by Jeaniene Frost (Night Huntress #6.5).
In "The Gift", Port Henry's middle aged bachelor police chief, Teddy Brunswick, gladly accepts Margeurite Argeneau's offer of her cottage in Muskoka to avoid being alone and pitied on Christmas. But the morning after he arrives, he wakes up to find that a storm has taken out the power, his truck is completely snowed in (even the door handle is frozen), and a fallen tree has blocked the road. He has no food and his mobile phone needs recharging - all he has is a fireplace and some heat.
When he treks out to the road to survey the damage, he encounters a lovely young woman called Katricia, who is also alone and borrowing the neighbouring cottage which belongs to friends of hers (Mortimer and Sam, from The Rogue Hunter). She has loads of food but no heat, so they decide to pool resources. Tricia brings over the food, something she didn't think she'd need since she hasn't been interested in eating for centuries - but now that she's met her life mate, Teddy, it's one of the things that's returned to her.
Like all her kind, she'd despaired of ever meeting her life mate, and now here he is - and they're confined to a cottage on a lake for a few days. It seems the perfect situation to Tricia, but Teddy is fifty and thinks he's way too old for her, and that his attraction to her is a little creepy. But he knows about her kind, coming from Port Henry where immortals are a kind of half-open secret, so Katricia has every hope that he'll welcome the idea. She just has to find the right moment to tell him.
"Home for the Holidays" begins with a surprise birthday celebration for Bones, organised by his loving wife Cat, to which all the old crowd is invited (their main paranormal crew is there except for Vlad - Ian, Spade, Fabian, Elisabeth, Denise, Mencheres, Kira and Annette). Annette is late to the party, though, and when Ian goes to her hotel to fetch her, he finds her being assailed by an unknown man, the room covered in blood. The assailant flees out the window and Annette is strangely reticent in giving Bones any information.
That night, a stranger breaches their property, a vampire in a frilly shirt who calls himself Wraith and claims to be Bone's half-brother, and a loner whose Sire is dead. Bones is sceptical, but hopeful, for he's never known where he came from. But soon after Wraith is welcomed into the house, Cat notices something strange. Everyone except her, Denise and Ian are entranced by the vampire as he tells long-winded story after long-winded story. When Bones completely loses interest in Cat and doesn't show any of his usual reactions towards her, she becomes as worried as Ian. The two of them have to work together to figure out what's going on and how to fix it, before Bones is lost to her forever.
I enjoyed both of these stories a great deal, though "Home for the Holidays" was the stronger one - and glad I was of it too, since the last Cat and Bones book I read was pretty disappointing for me.
"The Gift" was a fun read, returning to the lighter early books in the series in tone, with no dark sub-plots, just a scenario that brings together two people and gives them time to explore things. Interestingly, after Teddy is turned (not a spoiler, since of course he's turned) and becomes young again - about twenty-five - I found myself missing the Teddy I'd come to know, the older man facing retirement. Of course it changes things, getting your youth back, and if this were a longer story, or a work of speculative fiction rather than romance, it could have become a very dark story, if Teddy wasn't as lovely as he is. But I really liked him, so it was easy to be happy for him and to smile at his sudden youthful enthusiasm. Still, when you fall in love with a person, having them suddenly lose decades would make me feel like I was now stuck with someone I didn't know. Interesting thought, anyway.
Overall, it was great getting back to Canada and a quieter, more light-hearted story in the Argeneau series.
With "Home for the Holidays", Frost struck gold, creating a neat, tight story, plenty of action, a situation that seemed unsolvable (Kresley Cole has turned me into a fan of these kinds of twisted plots!), and Cat gets to seriously kick arse, again. Plus, you will actually like Ian in this story, since he gets to act hero without losing his crude and irreverent sense of humour.
More than that, though, we learn more about Bones' lineage and past, and that glimpse of repressed hope that Cat sees in his eyes when Wraith dangles the long-lost-brother card makes your heart break a bit. The ghosts get some good air time too, action-wise, which I always love, since the vampires always ignore and underestimate them. And on the romance front, there are some lovely intense scenes between Cat and Bones - not the sex, interestingly enough, but before that.
Overall, a winning novella in the Night Huntress world that reinvigorates my previously waning love for the series.(less)
Mara Dyer isn't her real name. In a letter at the beginning of the story, Mara explains that it's a pseudonym, and that without her, "no one would kno...moreMara Dyer isn't her real name. In a letter at the beginning of the story, Mara explains that it's a pseudonym, and that without her, "no one would know that a seventeen-year-old who likes Death Cab for Cutie was responsible for the murders. No one would know that somewhere out there is a B student with a body count. And it's important that you know, so you're not next." It all begins with her best friend, Rachel: at her birthday, Rachel's new friend Claire brings out the Ouija board, and one macabre question - "How does Rachel die?" - brings the answer: "Mara". Ominous? The girls just think the board wants Mara to ask a question, so they think nothing of it. But not long after, the three girls and Claire's brother Jude, who is also Mara's boyfriend of two months, sneak out in the middle of the night to do a tour of the abandoned mental asylum. A few days later, Mara wakes up in the hospital, her friends and boyfriend dead, and no memory of what happened.
To help her deal with the loss of Rachel, Mara and her family move from Rhode Island to Florida for a fresh start. Mara's mother enrols her and her older brother Daniel into a private school some distance away, and it's there that Mara meets Noah. Noah is the school's ultimate hottie and bad boy, with a reputation of sleeping around and breaking girls' hearts, and he seems to have fixated on Mara. But Mara isn't dealing so well: she's hallucinating, seeing her dead friends in mirrors and injuring herself when she imagines a force holding her arm in a scalding hot bath. Days later when she gets the bandages changed, the second-degree burns have vanished.
There's definitely something strange going on in Mara's life, and that's just the beginning. When people start turning up dead after she's imagined their death, in the exact same manner of death that she had imagined, she starts to realise she's far from innocent. And as the memories of what happened in the asylum slowly resurface, she learns a scary truth. Only Noah can understand what's going on, and help her. But there's someone else out there, abducting children and teens and leaving their bodies for the alligators, and the culprit may be closer to home than Mara ever expected.
This is quite a confusing book, in some ways, and painfully simple and cliched in others. The plot is very busy, and for the first, say, half, I had it figured in my head that this was a horror novel. The mysterious deaths of her friends in an asylum, the hallucinations - that were really quite scary - and the general sense that Mara was going crazy. Also, unlike many readers, I always assumed, from the very beginning, that the murderer Mara refers to in her letter at the start is her ex-boyfriend Jude, not herself. We learn early on that they never recovered his body, and Mara keeps seeing things, seeing him. This attempt to be tricky and twisty with the plot just annoyed me, because it was a bit clumsy. The Death Cab for Cutie (a band) is something of a red herring, because practically everyone in the book seems to like the band. Anyway, we'll have to wait and see with the next book, The Evolution of Mara Dyer.
Anyway, so at some point it turns into a romance, and then into a kind of paranormal, urban fantasy-romance thing, throwing new shit at the page as if the story were slipping down a cliff and Hodkin was hoping something would help halt its fall. I was quite enjoying it at first, even though there are too many YA stories about girls with amnesia and some secret or traumatic past. And then she arrives at the new school. First of all, why is she lost? I mean, before you start a new school you do a tour, right? New kids at my schools always came through with their entire families days before they started. Mara and Daniel, though, just suddenly start, and Mara spends a great deal of time being lost, as do all YA heroines these days. But worse than that was this shining light into the American secondary school system, that I hope to God is not as indicative as it comes across, considering it's represented this way in all the books and TV shows and movies I've come across - this condensed scene from Mara's English class, taught by a Ms Leib:
"[...] I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume you've read the Three Theban Plays at your previous school?"
"Yep," I said, fighting self-consciousness.
[...] Then she continued on with her lecture, most of which I'd heard before. [pp.58-9]
(I did say "condensed", yes?) Two things here leap out at me, as a high school English teacher (even if I'm not teaching these days): 1. it's implied - not just here - that all schools read the same books, throughout the country. Unlikely, and also somewhat disturbing. But that's just something that makes me frown. What really bothered me about this scene was the line: Then she continued on with her lecture, most of which I'd read before. First of all, all teachers ever seem to do in American high schools - and primary schools!! - is lecture. Really, really bad. I hope this isn't true-to-life. And secondly, the idea that the teachers all have the same lecture - as if one person wrote them all and handed them out to all the English teachers at the beginning of the year - is just so, so wrong. As if, there is only one interpretation of a book etc., only one answer to a question, only one way to think, and question, and analyse. Sorry to go off on a tangent - no, I'm not sorry, this really makes me mad, because even if these are just fictional characters, I still want to know that they're getting a good education, and being taught NOT the right answer to a question, but HOW TO ANALYSE AND QUESTION things! The one thing I've always stressed to students, the real genius of the subject of English, is that you can argue anything, as long as you can back it up. There is no right or wrong answer, only poorly articulated, weakly thought-out arguments lacking substantive evidence. The idea that these kids are expected to memorise one interpretation, that there's only one angle, one perspective, one interpretation - that's so awful I can't even comprehend it. I just had to get that off my chest.
Back to Mara. She comes afoul of the bitchy popular girl in school, Anna Greenly, and her giant gay sidekick, Aiden Davis. She makes friends with a boy called Jamie Roth who is, get this, black AND Jewish AND gay - no, bisexual. Because gay would be too straight-forward. These supporting characters are weakly fleshed out, pumped up with tired old stereotypes that keep them afloat, barely. Mara half-heartedly befriends Jamie - she isn't even all that friendly towards him, considering he's her only friend, but he's a good tutor - and he seems to function mostly as a mouthpiece for all the bad gossip about Noah.
Jamie crouched with me. "You're unraveling the very fabric of Croyden [High] society."
"What are you talking about?" I shoved my things into my messenger bag with unnecessary force.
"Noah drove you to school."
"Noah doesn't drive anyone to school."
"So what?" I asked, growing frustrated.
"He's acting like your boyfriend. Which makes the girls he treated like condoms a trifle jealous."
"Condoms?" I asked, confused.
"Used once and then discarded."
"He is." [p.255]
If Mara is a hard character to get to know, Noah is someone who filled me with ambivalence. On the one hand, he was quite clearly a mortal version of Edward Cullen, if Edward had an English accent (a completely unnecessary English accent, as is much about Noah). His family is filthy rich - again, why? - he's sexy and gorgeous, he's a "bad boy": wearing a dishevelled version of the private school uniform, with messy "bed hair", and a reputation as a slut - one all the girls chase and make eyes at. (It's a tough ask of readers, to establish a character this disreputable and then to turn around and say, But he's really very sweet and trustworthy!) I could handle all that, if I stopped thinking about it for long. I didn't find him "stalkerish" like a lot of other readers did, or overbearing. Actually, after their secrets are out in the open, I thought he was sort-of sweet. Certainly a lot less complicated than Mara. And it seemed that he had generated, or encouraged, the gossip that he sleeps around and breaks girls' hearts, but that it wasn't really true. That's what Noah seemed to say to Mara, though I notice he never actually refuted any of it, except Anna. So it was hard to know whether you could trust him.
And am I the only one who found the whole Joseph-kidnapping-midnight-rescue thing upsetting, disturbing, weird and creepy?
The novel is long, but a lot of its length is made up of dialogue, especially between Mara and Noah. It was sometimes fun, this dialogue, but other times it was just frustrating. This escalated in time with the changes in the plot, in general, so maybe it was all one and the same. There are a lot of unanswered questions in this first volume - a lot of answers too, but for every answer there seem to be two new questions. I kept expecting a twist (based on reviews I'd read last year, when it first came out - it took me nearly a year to decide to read this!) but never got one. I would have liked this a lot more if it had stuck with the horror genre, which says a lot considering I don't really read horror.
In many ways, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer plays it incredibly safe. The characters are ones you've read before, and most of them serve as plot devices (like to help with red herrings, or to propel Mara in a certain direction), while the plot is so busy being original and surprising that it may leave readers bewildered. By the end it had become The X-Men, and I love the X-Men, but this new theme started to sink almost immediately under the next new genre, murder mystery. It's amazing I didn't get dizzy and nauseous.
However, for a novel that tries too hard to be many things, including a by-the-numbers crowd-pleaser, it certainly is pretty readable. A hunger for answers will keep people reading, if nothing else. Or you could read it for the romance, since that takes up a good portion of the story - a very virginal romance, of course; as I said, this is a crowd-pleaser, and to sell well you need to please the Bible Belt mothers. (Murder is okay, as long as the heroine doesn't have pre-marital sex. Oh see how books like this bring out my snarky side?!) I liked it well enough, despite all my criticisms, but it's not one I want to spend too much time thinking about, lest I grow more and more annoyed with things that didn't bother me too much as I was reading it.(less)
Four years ago, a spot of nighttime journalism leaves Darcy Newhart dead - and reborn as a vampire. She didn't choose it, and she hasn't adjusted all...moreFour years ago, a spot of nighttime journalism leaves Darcy Newhart dead - and reborn as a vampire. She didn't choose it, and she hasn't adjusted all that well, and after four years stuck in Roman Draganesti's harem, her opinion of vampire life hasn't improved all that much. Things have changed now for the vampire coven master: he's getting married to a mortal woman, and has kicked the centuries-old harem out of his house. Now Darcy's forging her own path, trying for a spot as news' anchor on the vampire television station, DVN.
Unfortunately, vampires are notoriously chauvinistic, and the going theory is that no one will want to listen to a woman giving the news - they'll be too distracted by her womanly bits. Instead, Darcy's given the chance to direct DVN's first-ever reality TV series, a show where male contestants vie for the position of master to Roman Dragenesti's master-less harem - and a million dollars. Darcy hits upon the idea of calling it The Sexiest Man on Earth, and to add an extra layer of surprise, sets out to recruit a few mortal men to throw into the mix of vampires. She knows a mortal isn't allowed to win - that would cost her her job - but the vampires' general sense of arrogant superiority annoys her enough that she wants to prove human men can be their equals. To a point, anyway. She also has to convince the harem women to take part as the judges, which is no easy feat after their lifetime of indulgence and high expectations.
The undercover Stake-Out team is paying close attention to this new TV show. Their leader, Sean Whellan, is Shanna's - Roman Dragenesti's new wife - father, and he thinks she's been brain-washed and wants to rescue her. Sean doesn't understand that there are two kinds of vampires, the "Vamps" who drink synthetic blood and wouldn't hurt anyone, and the "Malcontents", Russian-based vampires who see it as their right as superior beings to take whatever they want, including mortal lives. Austin Erickson is on the Stake-Out team, and with his high-level telekinesis and telepathic abilities, he's a formidable foe to the vampires. He goes undercover as a contestant on the show to gather intel on the vampires and find out where Shanna is, but his objective becomes muddied after meeting Darcy Newhart, whom he can't take his eyes off.
Austin is sure Darcy is human - she must be, with her thoughts of sun and the beach and her kindness. Vampires, Austin has been taught, are only one thing: evil monsters. Discovering that Darcy is in fact a vampire shakes his world, and her state of being isn't enough to put Austin off. But something has to be sacrificed: his new love for Darcy, or his career with the CIA. Someone will end up betrayed. And he's not entirely sure what he's willing to give up.
The second book in the Love at Stake series is hugely entertaining and so much fun! While there are definitely moments of serious introspection and tension, not to mention life-changing decisions, the tone overall is one of humour, silliness and a playful mockery of reality TV.
I don't watch reality TV shows, whether they're reality game shows or the cameras-inside-the-house type, I can't stand them, I find them incredibly boring and I don't see anything of merit in them at all, but as Darcy, the harem ladies and the contestants work their way through the different tests and elimination rounds, I was engrossed. Being "behind the scenes" was much more fun than watching the edited version on the telly, plus you get the added layer of plot with Austin and one of his co-workers from the Stake-Out team, Garrett, working undercover. Some of the scenarios as well as the harem ladies were really very funny, and as a mortal reader naturally it's fun to see the vampires - so sure of their superiority - get taken in by a couple of mortals.
Darcy is very sweet, with enough backbone in her to propel her forward and make her a strong protagonist. Her situation - having to give up her life, her family, her career all because of an attack by a Malcontent and then being converted by a Vamp in order to save her "life" - is sympathetic because it's one of those "that could have been me" scenarios. Darcy's a modern-day woman and she's now in hiding from the world she used to live in; that has to be tough. The other Vamps had been changed centuries ago, or in times of war or other upheavals, and have no particular attachment to the current age, so that they can have more fun and they've had more time to come to terms with things. Everything's still very fresh for Darcy, and she can see the world she used to belong in but isn't allowed to move around in it. Her character-growth arc was very satisfying, watching her make a place for herself in the Vamp world, make new friends, and ultimately a big decision - it worked well.
Austin is also very likeable. He's a fun blend of modern man, sexy man, dangerous man, skilled man. He's not perfect, but he's relatable, familiar. When he first sees Darcy, he's instantly struck by his lustful desire for her - she ticks all his boxes, and he ticks all of hers. A happy coincidence! Lust turns to love after they spend more time together on the set of the game show. Probably the thing I liked about him the least was the unapologetic way he'd trespass on Darcy's mind and listen to her thoughts. But he makes up for it in other ways. Austin and Darcy have some solid chemistry, and while there's little in the way of graphic sex scenes (I think I remember there being one), there's some very heated kissing and some well-timed interruptions that add to the tension nicely.
I've read quite a few of the books in this series now, having read them slightly out-of-order, but whether you're coming to the second book as a new reader of the series or you've been reading later books before returning to the beginning, like me, Vamps and the City offers great world-building, introduces new characters, and presents a great story that can easily be read as a stand-alone. Reading the first book, How To Marry a Millionaire Vampire, would help supply some backstory to this one, especially in regards to the Stake-Out team and who the kilted vampires are, but it's not hugely necessary. Vamps and the City is a funny, entertaining, well-paced and plotted romp. Makes me remember why I used to love reading Paranormal Romances so much!
Roman Draganesti leads the largest vampire coven in America; he's also a scientific inventor who changed everything for humans and vampires alike with...moreRoman Draganesti leads the largest vampire coven in America; he's also a scientific inventor who changed everything for humans and vampires alike with his creation of synthetic blood eighteen years ago. Now the world's vampires are divided - they're either modern Vamps who drink synthetic blood from a glass, or Malcontents (who call themselves the True Ones), who believe themselves superior to humans and that it's unnatural to drink any other way than from the source: mortals.
When Roman's head of marketing, Gregori, brings one of their scientists to Roman's New York townhouse with a new idea for making drinking synthetic blood more palatable, or fun, for the Malcontents, Roman decides to test it out himself. Laszlo's invention is called VANNA: a life-size, realistic human sex toy equipped with a pulse to stimulate blood flow and special tubing to bite into. The trouble is, the doll's synthetic flesh and skin is a tough bite, and one of Roman's fangs is wrenched out of his mouth. Knowing he has to get it put back in before he falls into the dead sleep, during which his body will heal all wounds; otherwise he'll be a one-fanged vampire for the rest of his existence.
Shanna Whelan works the night shift at a 24-hour dentistry clinic. The nights are long and slow and lonely; her only interruption is usually the pizza delivery she orders every night. She has to remind herself that boring is good: since being put in the witness protection program after being the only witness to a Russian mob killing at a restaurant, she needs to lay low. Tonight everything changes, though. The Russians have found her and are coming, and then a darkly handsome man turns up - despite the door she's just locked - asking her to put a wolf's tooth in his mouth.
Roman quickly takes control of the situation, rescuing Shanna from the Russians and convincing her she needs his help - especially when he sees that a Malcontent called Ivan is involved with hunting Shanna for reward money. He takes her under his protection, but will need to do something creative to get her to help him with his tooth, since she resists mind control.
In Roman's home, Shanna learns new things about Roman: like how he has night guards who are all large Scottish men in kilts, and a harem of mostly mean women demanding to have sex with him. There's plenty that's fishy about Roman and his home, but Shanna also finds him sexy and charming, as well as a genius and a great philanthropic man. She wouldn't have a problem following her hormones on this one, if it weren't for the harem.
As the Malcontents come closer than ever to grabbing Shanna and wrecking serious havoc at the compound where synthetic blood is made, dark secrets come to light and Shanna must make a decision that she will have to live with, forever.
Several years ago I read the third book in this series, Be Still My Vampire Heart, and liked it but not enough to want to read more of the series. But I kept seeing them, with their lively covers (most are much better than this one) and funny titles, and decided to try another one, the sixth book, Secret Life of a Vampire. That one was much more fun, and wasn't saddled with much of a Malcontent sub-plot, so I happily got back into the series. I finally got around to getting the earlier books that I'd skipped over, and have lots to catch up on. I already knew a few bits of Shanna and Roman's story - I knew that she was a dentist, and I remembered there being something funny about a tooth, and about Shanna waking up next to Roman during the day and thinking he was dead. But it's always fun to get the full story.
This series is the closest vampire paranormal romance series to Lynsay Sands' Argeneau series that there is, in terms of humour and characters and general plot. But the vampires are more traditional, following the usual rules for vampires, and more diverse too. The relationship, romance side of the story is propelled forward by the drama and escalating action - in this first book, there's quite a bit of action and plotting, while the romance builds slowly and takes quite a while to become physical. As an introduction to the series, it's pretty exciting, but it wasn't as good as some of the later ones. It can take a while for an author to hit their stride, perhaps.
I like Roman a lot, and as you'd expect with a vampire who's lived a really long time, he's a pretty consistent character. Once a monk, the sins he believes he's committed weigh on him, and he thinks he has no soul - thus doubling the sins even more. I liked Shanna a great deal at the beginning, but after a while she seemed to be just like all the other paranormal romance heroines, a blend of fiesty, stubborn, argumentative, and sometimes bereft of common sense. Why must these women do stupid things in order to come across as strong and independent? Or is the aim to make them seem more human, a human in unusual circumstances. I don't know any women like this, that's for sure.
There was enough action to keep the story zipping along at a good pace, tempered by quieter, slower moments where Roman and Shanna get to know each other. Roman was a fairly serious character, but the people around him could lighten a scene. It's a good intro to the series, though certainly not the strongest book. Well worth reading for fans and newbies of the genre. (less)