Friday, July 29, 2011

"Never Knowing," by Chevy Stevens

I think it's impossible not to like Chevy Stevens' books. I loved "Still Missing," and "Never Knowing" is a pretty great second novel.

This novel follows Sara Gallagher as she attempts to find her birth parents. The fear and disgust Sara's birth mother feels upon being found don't make sense, so Sara hires a private investigator, who finds out the woman is really the only victim who ever escaped Canada's notorious Campsite Killer. Once she adds up the math, Sara realizes with horror that she is the daughter of a serial rapist and killer--one who is still on the loose.

She wants to forget all about it, or at least deal with it in therapy, but somehow the media gets a hold of the story. And then a man calls, claiming to be her father ...

I don't want to go into any more detail because this really is a compelling book that will keep readers speeding through to the very end. But I have to point a few things I didn't like. In Stevens' first book, the protagonist tells her story to a therapist. I loved it. In this novel, the protagonist again tells the whole story to her therapist. What worked the first time felt uninspired this time around. But it's not enough to put off any readers. Second, Sara's daughter, Ally, is a brat. I loathe misbehaving children in real life, so why would I want to read about them? Especially when the parent does nothing to curb the bad behavior. (I'm looking at you, "Certain Girls," by Jennifer Weiner. Yech.) Finally, I felt Sara's treatment of her fiance was pretty terrible at times. She freaks out about things, he tries to help, she treats him even worse. It put me off at times.

In all, Sara is a flawed yet interesting and compelling character. Stevens does a great job of humanizing what others would consider a monster, much like in her first novel. She's comfortable with her characters, knows them well. And she can really tell a story. I'd highly recommend this to mystery-genre lovers.

4.5 stars

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale," by Carolyn Turgeon

Long ago, the world between humans and mermaids was permeable. But after the sea queen decreed absolute separation, the only time a mermaid or merman could visit the top world was on their 18th birthday.

Lenia has always been intrigued by land, by humans, and waited impatiently for her own 18th birthday to see for herself what humans are like. But a powerful storm rages as she rises to the top of ocean, where she sees a ship torn asunder and humans drowning all around her. She is drawn to one young man, admiring his vulnerability and his fight to stay alive, so she pulls him to shore.

In a convent at the end of the world, a princess, Mira, hides from the enemies of her father's kingdom, warriors from the south. As she stares out at the turbulent sea, she witnesses a woman pull a man to shore. Mira is astonished to witness a mermaid, having only heard stories about the creatures when she was a child.

Both Mira and Lenia fall in love with the young man (in mere moments), who turns out to be a prince from the south ... The son of Mira's father's enemy. Christopher is nursed back to health at the convent; Lenia must return to her home, where she moons over the stranger she saved; and Mira's father rages to the convent upon hearing of the young man, who has recuperated and gone by the time the soldiers arrive.

The next third of the book chronicles a lot of longing: Mira wants Christopher; Lenia wants Christopher; Christopher wants the woman who saved him from drowning (Lenia) and whom he spent time with in the convent (Mira). (He thinks they are the same person.)

I wanted to like this book, but it's basically about all the ways women give up themselves and sacrifice their happiness for a man. And no, it's not written that way to make readers think or to introduce irony to tweens. Sadly, it's serious. One woman sacrifices her freedom in the name of staving off war. Of course, getting a man she "loves" is part of her willingness. The other woman sacrifices her voice and the core of who she is (her tail) to get the man she "loves." And why wouldn't Christopher fall for the gorgeous, almost ethereal girl who can't say boo to him? She just gazes at him with adoring eyes and allows him her heart, her body, her silence.

The final third is the expected girl-hating-girl drama, where no one puts blame on the boy. Sad, really. Sad for all the young, impressionable girls out there who'll eat this up and not think twice.

2 stars

"The Agency," by Ally O'Brien

Tess Drake has worked hard in London's literary world as an agent for authors. She has a gorgeous apartment, a secret lover, and a client she's helped rake in millions. Then her boss winds up dead from erotic asphyxia, leaving Tess' nemesis in charge of the agency. Having kicked around the idea of starting her own agency for a few years, the timing seems right. However, everything else seems to go wrong: her biggest client, Dorothy, faces a plagiarism claim; the police seem to think Tess has something to do with the untimely death of her boss; her brilliant yet underrated client Oliver is on the brink of suicide (barring divine Tom Cruise intervention); and Tess has just blurted out the dreaded "L" word to her married lover.

Tess is a flawed character who has burned a lot of bridges. She prides herself on not worrying what others think of her, but that comes back to haunt her when she's left to face who her real friends are.

Some readers may be put off by Tess' attitude, her language and actions. I loved her. She's dirty-mouthed, she's smart, she's a hard-working dynamo. And did I mention funny? This book made me laugh a lot!

FYI, this book is a collaboration between the amazingly talented mystery writer Brian Freeman and a real literary agent. I really hope there's a follow-up book!

4.5 stars

"Dead Reckoning," by Charlaine Harris

While I enjoyed this book about a billion times more than the previous two or three, I just wish the series would end. Sookie wasn't as annoying this time around, but her circumstances never change. She always has a fierce enemy and a love interest that is bound to go wrong.

In addition, Sookie spends most of the book thinking/commenting on how Sam's girlfriends are always so bad for him. As Sam has said about Sookie's lovers throughout the entire series. Like we don't know where this is heading. We get it, Charlaine. You're ending the series, and it'll be Sookie and Sam together, the most lukewarm, uninspired couple anyone could think of pairing.

Many other reviewers complained about a lack of adhering to the series' timeline, but it didn't phase me, probably because I only read the books as they come out and then promptly forget the plot.

I'm disappointed in the direction the series took. Sookie was once a strong, willful character who looked out for herself and her friends/family. She loved deeply and was loyal. After Bill was out as her boyfriend, it's like any guy who came along was good enough to screw. Yet she still judges her brother for his relationship mishaps.

I talked myself out of a four-star review and gave it three stars. Really dislike the Sookie-and-Sam thing.

3 stars

"Graveminder," by Melissa Marr

Rebekkah Barrow is forced to come back to Claysville to bury her beloved grandmother, who was murdered. There she finds former friend and lover Byron, whom she has pushed away time and time again. But the two have to come together in a way neither of them could have ever predicted.

Long ago, the fathers of Claysville made a contract to keep their town members healthy and to always have their needs met. In exchange, a Barrow woman must be a Graveminder. She keeps the dead in the ground by offering food, drink and words. If any dead escape, she must bring them back to Charles (aka Mr. D) in a world that is neither heaven nor hell. But the Graveminder cannot open the gate to that world herself. She must always be attended by her Undertaker, who keeps her tethered to the living when she longs to join the dead.

Rebekkah, the Graveminder, and Byron, the Undertaker, unite to find Bek's grandmother's murderer, a walking dead girl who becomes stronger each time she eats human flesh.

This was an interesting storyline, and Mr. D's world was richly described, but the rest was kind of boring. Rebekkah's constant pushing away of Byron when they both clearly love each other got repetitive and annoying. And another character, Amity Blue, was very intriguing but was quickly dropped toward the end. She had a sexual relationship with Byron before Rebekkah came back to town, and despite assuring that she wanted a no-strings relationship, it was obvious she had feelings for him. Her other love interest became a walking dead, and later Bek says she wants Amity to take her place as Graveminder should something happen to her. However, Amity is then never mentioned again.

Charlie, Mr. D, was also interesting. He didn't have nearly enough time in the book, though he was an integral part of the plot. If there's a follow-up, I hope he gets a bigger spotlight.

The story pushed forward quickly; it was never boring. I just kept wishing for something more.

3 stars

Sunday, July 03, 2011

"The Weird Sisters," by Eleanor Brown

This was a fine book with pretty decent writing, but it wasn't terribly engaging. Three sisters wind up living back at home with their parents in the sleepy college town where they grew up. Daughters of a Shakespeare scholar, Rosalind (Rose), Bianca (Bean) and Cordelia (Cordy) feel their fates are tied up in their literary namesakes. Each is screwed up in her own way, though not to the degree that they are unlikeable or cannot be redeemed.

Rose is the oldest, the caretaker. She babies her sisters, takes care of her absent-minded parents, plans out her life to the smallest detail. But when her fiance Jonathan is offered a teaching position in England, her world is thrown out of order.

Bean retreats from the expensive and high-maintenance life of New York City when her spending habits and thievery catch up to her. She attempts to forget her guilt and money troubles in booze and sex.

Free-spirited Cordy, her father's favorite, the baby of the family, is forced to think about someone other than herself when she finds herself pregnant.

The sisters' mother, diagnosed with breast cancer, presents a convenient excuse for the three to return home.

I enjoyed the prose to a certain extent, including the many Shakespeare quotations with which the family peppered their conversations. This was a definite character-development heavy plot, so don't expect a fast-paced, beach read. If you're looking to slow down and savor the text, this may well be the right book for you.

3.5 stars