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 thatIt'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. ...more
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 disSeventeen-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....more
When young half-demon, half-sorceress Bettina is attacked and nearly killed by Vrekeners, who also steal her power, it is only a summoning medallion tWhen young half-demon, half-sorceress Bettina is attacked and nearly killed by Vrekeners, who also steal her power, it is only a summoning medallion that saves her life, bringing her back to her home plane of Abaddon, realm of the Death Demons - of which her father had been king. Since King Mathar's death ten years ago, Bettina has been under the protection of her two very different guardians: Raum, Grand Duke of the Deathly Ones, and Morgana, Queen of all Sorceri. After the attack, Raum and Morgana have an unusual moment of agreement: Bettina is confined to Abbadon, and an archaic tournament is announced: anyone can enter, and the prize is Bettina's medallion - and marriage. The tournament is a fight to the death, and attracts hundreds of ambitious, greedy and savage competitors.
Among them is Trehan Daciano, an ancient assassin called the Prince of Shadows, who has left his secluded, mysterious homeland of Dacia to compete for Bettina. He has forsaken his home - he can never return - because, in his hunt for one who has broken the laws of his land, he discovered Bettina, and was Blooded. As a vampire, he has only one true mate, one woman who makes his heart beat again, one woman who is his Bride. But Bettina already fancies herself in love: with Caspion, a young Death Demon - the very one Trehan must kill.
Despite Bettina's loyalty to her childhood friend (despite the fact that Cas is a womaniser who sees her only as a friend and sister), she can't deny how much the sexy vampire assassin makes her feel things she's never felt before. But as the tournament becomes progressively more tense, Bettina must make a decision to save the one she loves.
The first book of a spin-off series, Shadow's Claim is set parallel to Lothaire, and there are certain unwritten scenes which readers of the Immortals After Dark series will be able to fill in from having read Lothaire. But don't worry that it will feel like you're treading old ground or rehashing events - not a bit of it. This is absolutely Trehan's story, and Bettina, and Lothaire only enters into things at the very end. I'm a giant fan of Kresley Cole's Immortals After Dark series, and was more than satisfied and entertained - and engrossed - by this new offering.
As other reviewers have noted, Shadow's Claim doesn't have the same level of humour as most of the books in the 'parent' series. It also doesn't have one of Cole's trademark, twisted, impossible, unpredictable endings that I love so much - it's a much more straight-forward romance in terms of structure and style. That isn't to say that it's not well written, fast-moving, nicely detailed, romantic and sexy, and exciting. It's all those things and plenty more.
Bettina, despite being half-demon (she has no physical demon characteristics, and she doesn't seem to have inherited anything at all from her father) looks and behaves like a young human woman, and is all too aware of her flaws and weaknesses. Living in a world of demons - strong immortals who can trace - she is especially frail in comparison after losing her power (she has the power to stop hearts, thus she is called the Queen of Hearts). She also is all-too-human and mortal-sounding in her naive infatuation with Caspion. From fairly early on, her crush on Cas wore thin, but it is believable and does provide the initial obstacle for Trehan to overcome.
Trehan is a great paranormal romance hero - her's got all the necessary qualities without seeming to be too formulaic. I put that down to Cole's writing and her world-building: I do love the world of the Lore that she's created, which is colourful, vibrant, violent, unpredictable, familiar and yet deliciously strange, and so very lively. Trehan oozes charisma. He's the intense, brooding, silent type who becomes undone by how much he wants his Bride. It's good stuff, and fair sizzles on the page.
Considering the less complicated plot within a longer page-count than usual, a lot rests on the tournament as impetus for the story: to keep it moving forward, to keep the tension ramped up, and to provide exciting entertainment. I would never have been so riveted by such an event if it featured humans, but considering all the contestants are creatures of the Lore - some of them without any human-like characteristics at all - it's easy to get caught up in it. There were moments, though, when Cole's ability to make you care for these creatures really hit home, and my enjoyment of the tournament scenes wasn't because I was hungry for death and bloodshed: it was because I cared and the tension was so high. Cole always has just the right amount of detail to illustrate a scene, populate it with inhuman creatures you can visualise, and help move the story along. Plus, I love the realms and planes of the Lore and all the weird Lore beings, and especially in how they interact.
With plenty of room to focus on the key characters and really develop them, Shadow's Claim doesn't feel like a long book. There's action, romance, danger, a bit of mystery, plenty of tension (the sexual kind, and others too), more world-building and magic. Cole delivered plenty in this installment, and only further cemented herself as one of my favourite authors. Also: note the unusual cover. He's wearing clothes! ...more
The Bite Before Christmas contains two novellas, "The Gift" by Lynsay Sands (Argeneau #15.5) and "Home for the Holidays" by Jeaniene Frost (Night HuntThe 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....more
Hugely enjoyable, this one was. Really, I'm so glad I gave this series another try after starting with book 3 (Be Still My Vampire Heart) and dislikHugely enjoyable, this one was. Really, I'm so glad I gave this series another try after starting with book 3 (Be Still My Vampire Heart) and disliking it so much, because all the other books I've read (eight so far) have been so much fun and not at all annoying. Toni is a solid heroine, hired as a day guard by the "good Vamps" to watch over them while they sleep because her fighting skills impressed Connor so much when he rescued her from a group of Malcontents.
There are several storylines going here, including Ian's search for a nice Vamp lady to marry that results in some rather hilarious (and rather sad) dating fiascos, and Toni's neighbour Carlos' big secret. Lots of action and some attempt on the part of the bad guys (the Malcontents) to use some brain cells and come up with a plan of attack. Plus there's some delightful chemistry between Toni and Ian and we get to see young Constantine work his magic. Literally. ...more