If this keeps up, I'm going to have to revise my opinion of Nora Roberts books released in the 80s. I liked this book more than my rating is going to show—mainly because I half fell in love with Shane, myself. She's quirky and determined, but mostly I like her self-trust and ability to accept people and events as they are. Vance is kind of a turd, but he does grow on you so I'm not disgusted that Shane was attracted to him. Plus, I like that he's running (more or less) from an unusual past that both explains his gruffness and why Shane is just the woman for him.
So why the downgrade? Shane goes all stupid at the end of the novel, more or less contradicting all that we know about her to that point. It was frustrating and completely unnecessary that she forgot herself so much that she could let it affect the love she knows she has. Frustrating beyond belief and it doesn't help that her crisis is propelled by the very least appealing character of the book (and possibly of all Roberts' 80s novels). The book might have been shorter if Roberts had simply cut out the next-to-last chapter or three, but it would have been vastly improved as well. If it weren't an audiobook, I'd be tempted to perform the edit myself...
I liked this book well-enough, though a lot of its elements aren’t really that interesting to me. As is common for Roberts’ books, the details of those things outside of common experience are researched well enough that they feel real in the lives of her characters. I’m not a fire jumper and I don’t know anybody who is, so I can’t speak to how accurate they may be by themselves. But as part of the story they feel integral and important in ways that would be hard to pull off without a great deal of effort. And Roberts weaves those things in so seamlessly that most readers probably don’t even notice how hard that really is.
Anyway, I have little interest in fire jumpers and people who live that lifestyle are pretty far outside of my actual (i.e. non-cinematic) experience. So I didn’t connect especially well to Rowan or Gulliver. And for all the murder and sabotage (and, ugh, stupid episodes from an evil sicko’s perspective), it doesn’t pull the mystery strings, either (it was kind of easy to figure out who was behind it all and what red herrings were thrown in were weak-sauce enough that you’d only really give them credence if this were an actual mystery and the author was playing with you). So while I liked the story and kept it queued up on my audiobook delivery device, it wasn’t terribly compelling to me personally. If you like any of these actiony elements, or suspect that you may, your enjoyment will likely be greater than my own.
This book was pure awesome.
Elizabeth Fitch/Abigail Lowery is a unique heroine. Planned and scripted from birth, right down to the selection of donor father, Elizabeth has had zero input in her activities, friends, or scholarship. She put up with that for 16 years but when her mother cancelled vacation when Elizabeth returned from her first year at Harvard (some of the planning panned out and Elizabeth is incredibly smart), she had had enough. Making an instant friend at the mall, and a couple of bang-up fake IDs, Liz and Julie go to an infamous club and are picked up by really, really bad men.
Most of the above is in the cover copy, so I was a little surprised that it took as long as it did to relate the events in the book. I expected it to be quick because the real story takes place twelve years later when she shows up as Abigail Lowery in Brickford. The reason it took so long turns out to be that this book borrows elements of the thriller genre in its story and that includes action, suspense, death, and blood. This is a good thing, I think, and ended up working very well. In short, the book kind of rips your heart out and that becomes essential in understanding Abigail, her capabilities and her insecurities.
Which is why I started off with a mild hate for Brooks when we first meet him. His casual abuse of position in thrusting himself into Abby's sphere pissed me off, not least because it could end up putting her life in danger. It didn't help that there's a kind of unthinking anti-gun bias at some of the root of his ruminations, even while the story itself makes it abundantly clear exactly why liberal gun laws are so very important in a free society. Fortunately, he backs off once he assures himself she isn't dangerous and the rest of their relationship flows naturally from his gregarious good nature and her innate curiosity and courage.
I ended up liking Brooks quite a lot, actually. He was exactly the guy Abby needed, both in her legal troubles and in her personal growth. His unconditional acceptance of her was exactly what she needed to set down roots and learn what it means to be family. Roberts' deft touch with personal/familial relationships made this a stand-out sub-theme of the book.
Part of my great amusement with the book is that Abby is a fantastic mixture of smart and naïve. Her incredible intelligence has brought her this far, but her situation is so precarious that real social contact with others has been very limited (after being artificially constrained by her domineering mother). This makes her a lot like Anya from the Buffy series, only with even more charm (no knock on Emma Caulfield. I thought her Anya incredibly charming. I'm just saying that Abby met and exceeded the high benchmark she set). Recalling specific scenes or lines is still bringing me a chuckle. It wasn’t really played for laughs (it permeates the character in a realistic way), but humor was definitely an entertaining element of the story.
As important to the story, Nora Roberts writes Abby's intelligence and capabilities exactly right for the Romance reader. As a huge computer nerd, myself, I may quibble about some of the throw-away details (okay, I do quibble with two of them), but Roberts created an excellent balance between specificity/believability, and boring detail. Roberts did enough research to get the approach and theory right without bogging down with irrelevancies.
In the end, this turned out to be my favorite Nora Roberts book so far. I don't know if it'll keep that title, but it's in a strong position and will be hard to beat.
**A note about narration**: The narrator for this book, Julia Whelan, was exactly right for Abby's character. Abby would have been easy to either under- or over-play and Julia did neither. Fantastic job, and one easily overlooked. The other characters were equally well-played, so I'm not trying to imply weaknesses elsewhere. Getting Abby right was key, however, so it was good to see her get the voice actress she needed.
I loved this book and I'm afraid this review won't do it justice. Virginia (Ginny) is a good kid. She doesn't get into trouble, she gets good grades, and she follows the rules. Yes, she knows that she is shy, even with her aunt Peg (who she loves wholeheartedly), but she's okay with that. When her aunt Peg dies and leaves her a stack of envelopes with travel instructions, Ginny reluctantly begins following the path they describe.
I thought I'd have a harder time with Ginny than I actually did. She's pretty passive and that always bugs me. And I thought I'd have a harder time with Aunt Peg than I actually did. She's pretty aggressive and that always bugs me. Fortunately, Maureen Johnson doesn't take any of the easy paths or settle for obvious "lessons" with her characters so what we end up with is a rich exploration of growth, friendship, relationships, and family with just the right pacing of events to move the story along.
One of the strengths of the book is that Johnson didn't deify Aunt Peg the way that books like this seem tempted to do. She wasn't some genius artistic mastermind engineering the education and betterment of her niece. Her plan has flaws, some obvious, some subtle, and part of Ginny's journey is coming to terms with the flawed human being her Aunt turns out to be.
Another strength of the book is that Ginny doesn't learn all the obvious lessons from her journey, either. Ginny needs to learn to be comfortable with herself, to have confidence, and to be open to meeting new people. Being a smart girl, she knows this and is prepared to follow-through on Aunt Peg's crazy pilgrimage. But the things Ginny experiences aren't as clear-cut as all that. Some of exploring your world ends up reinforcing your preconceived notions rather than abating them and sometimes the lessons Ginny learns aren't even close to what Aunt Peg intended.
And I really liked the two men who end up dominating Ginny's experiences—one introduced directly by Aunt Peg's instructions and the other a happy accident. No, this is not a romantic triangle and for that I am deeply grateful. Richard is my favorite (he's the not-love-interest). He is reliable and honest and grieving the passing of Aunt Peg in his own way. Fortunately, his grief is the unselfish kind that turns his attentions to helping Ginny any way that he can. He was endearing and drew me into the novel, particularly at the end.
I really can't say more without ruining key aspects of the book. If you have a heart and wouldn't mind exploring growth, friendship, relationships, and family, this book is a good place to do so.
I had high hopes for this book, but six hours in and I'm still waiting for something interesting to happen—for my own, personalized, definition of interesting. Yeah, there's fighting and torture and desperate journeys with few resources and even something of a budding romance, but all these things are jumbled together with constant point-of-view shifts and no hint of a central narrative to tie things together.
All of which I could put up with if the characters were engaging and/or working towards something interesting. Unfortunately, many of the POV characters are outright off-putting. Want a tally?
* Glotka is a torturer for a corrupt regime who actually asks himself "why am I doing this?"
* Jezal is a sot actively undermining his own ambition to be more than a waste of space.
* Logen has only just gotten someplace that isn't actively trying to kill him. He's actually the only interesting POV guy so far, if only because he's at least trying to be a good person.
* The politics of "The Union" just don't work at all. The king is an idiot—actual village-idiot-level idiot—and the council running things is stacked with people as stupid as they are venal. By rights, the whole country should have devolved into warring factions years ago.
So I just don't care about anybody or anything in the book. I want the Union to dissolve, if only to clear out the disconnected, self-involved jackhats now running the place—some of which are POV characters. I'm sorry, but without something to care about and a story going nowhere for hours on end, I can't see wasting any more time with this dreck.
I mostly enjoyed the story of _Touch the Dark_. Cassi is a sympathetic heroine with an interesting ability in a world where she is usually weaker than everyone else around her. Running from those who wish to control (or kill) her and maintaining her independence is a realistic concern, even when she gets all bone-headed about accepting a position of responsibility (and power). And kudos for an atypical relationship/sex/love plotline.
It pulled me out of the story, though, any time she talked about "X level vampire" or such. Who thinks in those terms in the real world? It made the setup seem more like the result of a game designer than anything spontaneous or natural. That's a shame because it seems like there's a lot of background to explore. I really hope it isn't as... contrived as this leads me to suspect.
A heroine with a power-mad father, absent mother, and a past rape that tore her budding-but-true-love romance apart is enough drama for even the most demanding hanky-loving audience. Too bad, then, that Pettersson felt the need to pour still more on with adjective-laden, emotionally wrought hyperbole and descriptions as empty as they are florid. Add that the author manipulates her heroine to hesitate when she clearly shouldn't, apparently so that her loved-ones can suffer still more and you have a story I just can't credit even before you get to the hoky zodiac superpowers.
And somebody please inform Pettersson that killing someone with superpowers who has threatened to kill you and everyone you love at his earliest opportunity, after a long battle in which he actually *has* killed someone you love, doesn't constitute "killing in cold blood" even if he is unarmed at that particular instant.
While Harkness has weaknesses as a writer (most notably a tendency for dense exposition), the story and characters are engaging and the world is interesting with a refreshing take on what could have been a rather pedestrian mythos. Diana, our heroine, is naive for her age and academic position, but her naivety is reasonable aspect of her history and circumstances. Matthew is very assertive, but that, too, is natural and unlike many in this genre it is visibly motivated by his attachment to his family and friends—and, he’s both teachable and fundamentally kind.
Even better, however, is that narrator Jennifer Ikeda is truly talented with both accents and emotions. With characters ranging from France to Australia, Scotland to India, it was rewarding to find that Ikeda handled the rich variety with professional aplomb. Each character and accent remained distinct even during emotional exchanges and so naturally that it was only after the fact that I realized how difficult the performance had to have been. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for her participation in other works.
Unlike others, I thought the narrator was fine (but then, I've always enjoyed a pleasant alto). I'm afraid that I just couldn't get past the content of the story, though. The background was ridiculous enough (I'd go into detail, but don't want to give spoilers), but worse was the clunky exposition and completely unrealistic characters (starting with the nubile hotties running around in babydolls and culminating with the young, well-muscled, work-a-holic, pinnacle-in-his-field psychologist). So while I liked the central romance well enough, I really couldn't get into the book at all.
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