Tag Archives: Kelley Armstrong

Recent Reads

23 Dec

Pairie Moon by Maggie Osborne

Living on a rundown farm at the edge of a small Texas town, Della Ward is haunted by the bittersweet life she once lived with an adoring husband who died too soon. Once a laughing, carefree soul, Della is now a widow with only guilty memories for company. Until the day she sees a rugged stranger riding across the prairie toward her house. His presence awakens Della’s heart, but she can never imagine the ways this man will forever change her life.

Lawman James Cameron believes in settling debts and living by honor. It may have taken him ten years to arrive at Della’s door, but he’s finally here and is determined to tell her the truth about the day her husband died. But one look at the woman whose picture he has carried with him for years and he knows that the truth may destroy them both. For Cameron will have to face the past and force Della to do the same before either of them can have a future . . . or each other.

Prarie Moon is a poignant story of two lost people finding each other. It’s also a slow-paced story that follows Della and James on their way to Atlanta where Della wants to look for her daughter whom she had to leave behind when she came west several years before.

I loved the first two thirds of the novel. I loved how Della slowly fell for James, how they had time to get to know each other, and how their attraction grew stronger and stronger. And as an added bonus, James had been halfway in love with Della for years just based on a photograph he had of her. So when he realizes that Della is actually attracted to him, too, he nearly can’t believe it. Only of course, there is a big obstacle on the way to their HEA, one that seems unsurmountable. Knowing you could have what you longed for for many years and knowing if you tell the truth, it won’t happen…lots of angst.

But I only liked the last few chapters. I don’t know, I just had the impression that the story fizzled out and the way Della’s quest for her daughter ended left me feeling “huh?” I thought it more a deux-ex-machina device than really part of the story. I guess I needed more explanation there to really buy it. (4/5)

~ * * * ~

Dime Store Magic by Kelley Armstrong

Paige Winterbourne was always either too young or too rebellious to succeed her mother as leader of one of the world’s most powerful elite organizations–the American Coven of Witches. Now that she is twenty-three and her mother is dead, the Elders can no longer deny her. But even Paige’s wildest antics can’t hold a candle to those of her new charge–an orphan who is all too willing to use her budding powers for evil…and evil is all too willing to claim her. For this girl is being pursued by a dark faction of the supernatural underworld. They are a vicious group who will do anything to woo the young, malleable, and extremely powerful neophyte, including commit murder–and frame Paige for the crime. It’s an initiation into adulthood, womanhood, and the brutal side of magic that Paige will have to do everything within her power to make sure they both survive.

I’m rather sure this is my favorite novel in the Women of the Otherworld series so far. I liked the bigger world in this novel and thought the characters interesting. Paige’s life is losing track fast and most of the time, all she can do is react but there is one thing she’s determined to keep at all costs: Savannah. I thought her brave that she didn’t just roll over and gave Savannah up. Savannah seemed like a fairly typical teenager although at times she seemed to have more of a clue than Paige. And Lucas…I really liked him. A nice difference from most male characters in romance novels. And I love that Armstrong’s characters sound different from each other.

Two problems: the way the Coven is represented in this story…I just can’t see it as “the world’s most powerful elite organizations” and I don’t understand why it’s so important to Paige to be its leader expect maybe because she inherited the position from her mother. Second, the romance between Paige and Lucas – talk about undeveloped. There’s nothing and then one evening, they jump into the laundry and that’s it. I was surprised because based on what went before I actually thought there would be no romance in this story, maybe in a later novel. And it actually was not a realy problem because I don’t read this series looking for a romance but now that it was there, I was bothered by the the lack of build-up (there’s one small hint that Lucas might be interested). (4/5)

PS: I’m already halfway through Armstrong’s Industrial Magic.

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Vacation Reads

7 Jul

After sorting out some internet connection trouble over the weekend – what fun after coming back from a vacation – I’ve finally time for posting some short comments about my vacation reads. Although I have to say, the books were truly vacation reads: my memories are hazy and the comments are rudimentary.

Kelley Armstrong – Stolen

Armstrong, Kelley - Stolen

urban fantasy; “Women of the Otherworld” series, #2

“In Bitten, thirty-year-old Elena Michaels came to terms with her feral appetites and claimed the proud identity of a beautiful, successful woman–and the only living female werewolf.

In Stolen, on a mission for her own elite pack, she is lured into the net of ruthless Internet billionaire Tyrone Winsloe, who has funded a bogus scientific investigation of the “other races” and their supernatural powers. Kidnapped and studied in his underground lab deep in the Maine woods, these paranormals–witches, vampires, shamans, werewolves–are then released and hunted to the death in a real-world video game. But when Winsloe captures Elena, he finally meets his match.”

I had my problems with Elena for much of the first novel in this series, Bitten, though I appreciated Elena as a different heroine. I’m glad to say that my problems were much reduced in this novel. I enjoyed Stolen and I like Armstrong’s way to write. Stolen is a very straightforward story – Elena is captured, has to figure out how to escape and then comes back. Because I never doubted that she would escape, I didn’t find the story all that interesting. Still, Stolen gives a great introduction to all the other supernatural beings in this world. I think I’m going to continue with this series.

Verdict: 4/5

Madeline Hunter – The Rules of Seduction

Hunter, Madeline - Rules of Seduction

historical romance; “Rothwell Brothers” series, #1

“Dangerous. Sensual. Handsome as sin. Meet Hayden Rothwell, the shamelessly erotic hero of The Rules of Seduction and author Madeline Hunter’s most irresistible alpha male yet: a man of extraordinary passion and power, a man who can bring out the seductress in any woman….

He enters her home without warning or invitation–a stranger of shadowy motives and commanding sensuality. Within hours, Alexia Welbourne is penniless, without any hope of marriage. Until Hayden Rothwell takes her to bed. When one impulsive act of passion forces Alexia to marry the very man who has ruined her, Hayden’s seduction of Alexia is nearly complete. What Alexia doesn’t know is that her irresistible new husband is driven by a secret purpose–and a debt of honor he will risk everything to repay. Alexia is the wild card. Reluctant to give up their nightly pleasures, Hayden must find a way to keep Alexia by his side…only to be utterly, thoroughly seduced by a woman who is now playing by her own rules.”

I really liked The Rules of Seduction. It’s a character-driven story and I especially enjoyed that Alexia and Hayden seemed to be mature characters. Alexia knows she has to be practical but nevertheless, she also resents giving up some of her romantic dreams. And Hayden, the way love creeps up on his analytical and logical self…

Verdict: 4,5/5

Dorothy Koomson – My Best Friend’s Girl

Koomson, Dorothy - My Best Friend's Girl

fiction (chick-lit)

“How far would you go for the best friend who broke your heart?

From the moment they met in college, best friends Adele and Kamryn thought nothing could come between them–until Adele did the unthinkable and slept with Kamryn’s fiance, Nate. Now, after years of silence, the two women are reuniting, and Adele has a stunning request for her old friend: she wants Kamryn to adopt her five-year-old daughter, Tegan.

But Kamryn is wholly unprepared to take care of anyone–especially someone who reminds her so much of Nate. With crises brewing at work and her love life in shambles, can Kamryn somehow become the mother a little girl needs her to be?

It wasn’t a good decision to read this on my vacation. Reading at the pool and wanting to have a good cry? Not ideal, let me tell you. Especially the beginning had me teary-eyed quite a bit. Bonus: I didn’t know with whom Kamryn would end up with right up to the end although that question is not what this novel is about. Finished in one day.

Verdict: 4/5

Karen Marie Moning – Darkfever (audio book)

Moning, Karen Marie - Darkfever (audio book)

urban fantasy; “Fever” series, #1

from the author’s website:

“MacKayla Lane’s life is good. She has great friends, a decent job, and a car that breaks down only every other week or so. In other words, she’s your perfectly ordinary twenty-first-century woman. Or so she thinks…until something extraordinary happens.

When her sister is murdered, leaving a single clue to her death–a cryptic message on Mac’s cell phone–Mac journeys to Ireland in search of answers. The quest to find her sister’s killer draws her into a shadowy realm where nothing is as it seems, where good and evil wear the same treacherously seductive mask. She is soon faced with an even greater challenge: staying alive long enough to learn how to handle a power she had no idea she possessed–a gift that allows her to see beyond the world of man, into the dangerous realm of the Fae….

As Mac delves deeper into the mystery of her sister’s death, her every move is shadowed by the dark, mysterious Jericho, a man with no past and only mockery for a future. As she begins to close in on the truth, the ruthless Vlane–an alpha Fae who makes sex an addiction for human women–closes in on her. And as the boundary between worlds begins to crumble, Mac’s true mission becomes clear: find the elusive Sinsar Dubh before someone else claims the all-powerful Dark Book–because whoever gets to it first holds nothing less than complete control of the very fabric of both worlds in their hands. . . .”

Darkfever is the first audio book I’ve listened to. I really liked the experience and I think it changes the impression of a novel somewhat. I didn’t like the voice the narrator used for Jericho at all. I had images of reptiles dancing before my eyes whenever he talked. Not good.

LOL: I thought Mac’s name was Michaela! Good thing I didn’t see the way it is written before. I would have thought it too cutesy, enforcing my impression that Mac is an incarnation of Reese Witherspoon’s character Elle Woods in Legally Blond.

link to podcast of Darkfever

Susan Squires – Body Electric

squires-susan-body-electric

science fiction romance

(It says paranormal romance on the book spine, I use SF romance because it's set in the (near) future and technology is involved, nothing supernatural)

“Victoria Barnhardt set out to create something brilliant; she succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. With one keystroke her program spiraled out of control…and something was born that defied possibility: a being who called to her.

He spoke from within a prison, seeking escape, seeking her. He was a miracle that Vic had never intended. More than a scientific discovery, or a brilliant coup by an infamous hacker, he was life. He was beauty. And he needed to be released, just as Victoria did. Though the shadows of the past might rise against them, on one starry Los Angeles night, in each other’s arms, the pair would find a way to have each other and freedom both.”

This is the most interesting novel I read in terms of story. I thought it rather original. Sure, you have to believe and there were parts that I didn’t like all that much – the way Victoria’s creation got a body, for example – but overall, I enjoyed reading it. Also, Body Electric has a virgin hero. But with that kind of story it couldn’t be any other way.

Verdict:4/5


not finished:

Brandon Sanderson – The Hero of Ages

sanderson-brandon-the-hero-of-ages

fantasy; “Mistborn” trilogy, #3

half of the blurb (to avoid spoilers of the first two books in this trilogy):

“The conclusion of the Mistborn trilogy fulfills all the promise of the first two books. Revelations abound, connections rooted in early chapters of the series click into place, and surprises, as satisfying as they are stunning, blossom like fireworks to dazzle and delight. It all leads up to a finale unmatched for originality and audacity that will leave you rubbing your eyes in wonder, as if awaking from an amazing dream.

I only got halfway through this book on my vacation (I read ~ 400 pages) so no grade. But based on my experience with the first two books in this trilogy (really liked the first, thought the second one good), I fully expect some more story surprises on the way to the ending. So far, I enjoyed reading it.

Problems: It’s more than six months since I’ve finished the second book in this trilogy and that might be a bit too long to remember all revelations and how they fit in with what is happening now.

Kelley Armstrong – “Bitten”

3 Apr

armstrong-kelley-bitten
GENRE: Urban Fantasy
PUBLISHED: Plume, 2004

SERIES: “Women of the Otherworld” series, #1

WHY THIS NOVEL: I wanted to read the next one in this series, Stolen, so I re-read this one.


The back blurb:
“Elena Michaels seems like the typically strong and sexy modern woman. She lives with her architect boyfriend, writes for a popular newspaper, and works out at the gym. She’s also a werewolf.

Elena has done all she can to assimilate to the human world, but the man whose bite changed her existence forever, and his legacy, continue to haunt her. Thrown into a desperate war for survival that tests her allegiance to a secret clan of werewolves, Elena must reckon with who, and what, she is in this passionate, page-turning novel.”


Okay, I already wrote at length about the heroine in this novel, Elena; more precisely, about my problems with her. This is a more comprehensive look at the novel itself.

Elena is a thirty year old woman. Thanks to a bite by her lover Clay ten years ago, she’s also the only female werewolf in the world and she’s full of anger about that. Elena can’t reconcile her love for Clay with the fact that he was the one who bit her.

Elena is an orphan and grew up in orphanages and with various foster families. Because of her experiences in childhood, and especially with some foster fathers, she feels uncomfortable around other people and socially awkward. Meeting Clay all those years ago (not actually part of Bitten) seemed to change that. Finally, she felt comfortable around another being and her dream of normality seemed like it could come true. Clay’s bite changed all that, let alone it was the worst sort of betrayal to her. In addition, her chance at what she sees as a normal life with a human man – husband, two kids, the house and the picket fence, her lifelong dream because of her rather different childhood – is rather nil because of her werewolf side. But she tries with Philip.

Basically, the transformation into a werewolf thwarted Elena in two ways, because even as a werewolf, she’s an oddity again as the only female werewolf in the world. Bitten is about how Elena deals with her transformation into a werewolf and her life and about how she is forced to face it and her decision – trying to lead a human life – anew when a threat against her “werewolf family” emerges.

Bitten is thoroughly Elena’s story; the other characters seem more like secondary characters, even Clay. But since this novel is told in first person POV, that’s rather to be expected. Despite that, it’s clear what Clay wants which makes watching Elena blithely going her way without consideration for him and other people and/or recognition of their feelings not always easy to read.

I don’t mean she should have fallen into Clay’s arms – even though from the way this novel is written that so obviously seems the right choice for her – but I would have liked it if she had shown some maturity. Some of her actions appeared to me as if she got stuck in her teenager years in her development. Since this novel is about Elena dealing with her two identities as human and werewolf, I actually would have been okay with that if I wouldn’t had needed to read roughly three quarters of the novel before I got the impression that the novel dealt with that at last. Before, it just seemed like “setting the scene/introducing the character.” The balance was severely off for me and reading that was rather boring, sometimes even tedious.

Sadly, the mystery didn’t make up for it either. It was okay, but not all that interesting in its own right (mutts challenged the pack). More important, it mostly seemed to advance when Elena and the pack screwed up because they acted complacent and from a position of superiority regarding who dared to challenged them.

This leads me to the world building in this novel. I already said that Elena is an oddity as the only female werewolf in this world. On the whole, there are no more than 35 living werewolves at the start of the novel, divided into werewolves who are members of the pack and the other werewolves, called mutts. (I’m not completely sure what factor decides who’s pack and who isn’t; the alpha thing maybe?) The handful of pack werewolves monitors the mutts and brings them to heel if their behavior might reveal the werewolves existence to humans. Leaving aside the very small number (pack and total) and the elitist impression, nearly half of the whole werewolf population seems to be living in the US (which makes monitoring them easier, I guess). As with Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, I was thrown a bit by the logistics and the convenience of the world.

Most things are told rather than shown in this novel, which often leads to long passages where background info is conveyed, for example about other characters. Sometimes even important conversations are just recounted when showing them would have helped to liven things up and let the other characters’ words and actions speak for themselves.

But despite all that and despite the fact that Elena is the narrator of it, I’m actually looking forward to reading Stolen.

Why?

Even with the overwhelming use of telling, I liked the voice. But much more important, like the first time I read Bitten, I thoroughly enjoyed Armstrong’s take on werewolves. They are not just characters who can shapeshift and go “growl” and all possessive. No. For Armstrong’s werewolves, and most of all for Elena who got turned into a werewolf against her will and wants/clings to her human side, it’s a real battle between intellect and instinct. Except maybe for Clay who is more on the instinct side of behavior. But he is comfortable with that and I loved that he is what he is and that there was no attempt to soften him and make him more civilized.

Elena’s werewolf urges, her need to transform and run as a wolf for example, makes her living together with her human boyfriend far from easy. Just read the prologue to get an idea. I loved it. And even though her werewolf urges are a major problem for Elena, when she’s a werewolf, running from her is a bad idea. Again, no attempt to soften her and make her more palatable. I really appreciated that.

And I really appreciated it when Elena’s struggle with her identities took on more meaning in the last quarter of the story. It nearly let me forget what went “wrong” before.

Sometimes it pays to continue reading.

For me, it sure did with Bitten.

Verdict: A decent read. With some tighter writing, less telling and more balance to Elena’s character, Bitten easily could have been a favorite read for me, especially because it concerns itself with one of my favorite questions in stories: the question for identity.

Some Thoughts About The Heroine In Kelley Armstrong’s “Bitten”

30 Mar

armstrong-kelley-bitten

Elena Michaels seems like the typical strong and sexy modern woman. She lives with her architect boyfriend, writes for a popular newspaper, and works out at the gym. She’s also a werewolf.

Elena has done all she can to assimilate to the human world, but the man whose bite changed her existence forever, and his legacy, continue to haunt her. Thrown into a desperate war for survival that tests her allegiance to a secret clan of werewolves, Elena must reckon with who, and what, she is in this passionate, page-turning novel.

As I already said, this is the second time I read Bitten by Kelley Armstrong. I read it again because I wanted to read the second one in this series, Stolen, and I remembered nearly nothing about Bitten except that I liked it a lot the first time I read it.

This post covers my thoughts about Elena, the heroine of Bitten, because damn, I have a lot:

The heroine

In the post linked above, I asked if Elena is a kick-ass heroine because Bitten is the only urban fantasy novel I’ve read so far. Nath said she isn’t a typical one “as in, tough attitude and language. She has her weakness, but she’s strong and smart” and I agreed with that. She also can be quite sarcastic at times.

Elena is strong in that she overcame her horrific past. She survived being bitten by a werewolf. And while she is strong physically, she knows she can’t take on every other werewolf and knows that sometimes it’s better to run. There are also things she’s squeamish about doing. For example, she can’t stomach watching someone getting tortured. Much of that is due to her struggle to not lose her human side to the werewolf side.

So yes, Elena is a mix of strong and weak and she faces one of my favorite problems in novels: the question of identity. She’s not sure who she really is. She wants to be human but – from her perspective – her werewolf side keeps messing this dream up.

The rant

But GROWL!, for roughly three hundred pages I was writing a major rant in my head about her while I read the novel and I constantly asked myself why I had liked Bitten a lot the first I read it. What had I been thinking!?

Elena starts the novel on the wrong foot for me: she struck me as a barely concealed Mary Sue character I so often encountered in fanfiction back when I read a lot of it. Only something in the world? Check. Orphan? Check. Molested by foster fathers? Check. Thinks of herself as rather unattractive? Check. But still highly favored by males? Check. (Yes, I know, it’s only the male werewolves that slaver over her, and that’s only because she’s the only female werewolf in existence but the effect is rather the same: Elena is very “special.”) “Loved little sister” statues with with quite a few men? Check.

This is accompanied by quite some interesting but rather unattractive character traits. Such character traits combined? Uh-oh. Very exhausting when you’re stuck in the head of that character for the whole story because it’s written in first person. Like Bitten is.

Elena is full of anger. She’s also stubborn to no end and argues and digs her heels in over nothing but barely bats an eyelash when she has cause to argue. She’s totally without self-awareness, coupled with stubbornness this means that she’s right and the others are wrong. All the time. I didn’t trust her one bit.

She engages is juvenile battles for supremacy with Clay, she lets herself get cuddled (and carried around) like a pup by all male werewolves of the pack (except Jeremy, the alpha, of course), she gets into trouble mostly because of her stubbornness. In short, she doesn’t act like what I would expect from a mature woman of thirty years.

And I haven’t touched upon how she handles her werewolf side and her relationship with Philip, an architect she’s living with in Toronto. Totally irresponsible.

Mediating factors

Of course, the point is that Elena has a lot to learn about herself. As I said, Elena’s struggle with her identity, her needing to accept her werewolf side, is the major story line in this novel. My problem is that for over 300 pages, there is not one ounce of self-awareness discernible on Elena’s side, and that, after ten years, she doesn’t at least have some kind of grip on and acceptance of her werewolf side. Even more, for three hundred odd pages, Bitten doesn’t exactly read as if Elena’s struggle with her identities is the major story line.

The balance is off. During that time, I didn’t understand Elena. While I don’t need to like characters, I need to understand them. At least some.

Maybe I was prejudiced by my Mary-Sue impression of Elena, maybe there is actually more in regards to her identity problem in the first three hundred pages and it was just too subtle for me to catch, maybe Elena was supposed to be a heroine you can’t trust, maybe it would have been better to see the “black moment” in Elena’s and Clay’s relationship (although I really liked that it happened off stage) to not snicker at dialogs like this [words in bold are in italic in the book]:

“You’re miserable because you don’t have what you want. Not because you want me.”
“Goddamn it!” Clay swung his fist out, knocking a brass penholder off the desk. “You won’t listen! You won’t listen and you won’t see. You know I love you, that I want you. Damn it, Elena, if I just wanted a partner, any partner, do you think I’d have spent ten years trying to get you back? Why haven’t I just given up and found someone else?”
“Because you’re stubborn.”
“Oh, no. I’m not the stubborn one. You’re the one who can’t get past what I did no matter how much–”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Of course you don’t. God forbid any truth should complicate your convictions.”
Clay turned and strode from the room, slamming the door behind him. (249/250)

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

For whatever reason, the characterization of Elena failed to engage me for three quarters of the novel and several times, I really was tempted to put the book down and be done with it.

The turning point

I’m glad I didn’t.

While I wouldn’t say that the last one hundred pages more than made up for what went before (the balance thing), at least there I found what I was looking for for the first three hundred pages: Elena’s two identities get confronted. Her struggle for identity – barely hinted at before because Elena was determined to be human – finally took center stage. What before read as an angry and stubborn chick bungling her way through a few days turned into a psychological interesting drama that forced Elena to face her two identities and deal with them. No longer was it possible for her to separate them and keep them in different worlds.

And yes, on the last few pages of the novel, Elena finds her self-awareness. She’s still argumentative, stubborn, aggressive, violent, moody, and all that (429), but she’s now aware of herself and accepts these traits as part of herself. And that turns her from a whiny and self-absorbed character into an interesting character. Now I’m looking forward to reading Stolen when before I was dreading it. A lot.

Hard to believe but I have more to say about this novel. So later this week: my commentary about Bitten.