Tara Calaby

writer, editor & phd candidate

Tag: paranormal romance (page 2 of 2)

Review: Drink, Slay, Love – Sarah Beth Durst

Drink Slay Love book coverPearl is your average teenage vampire – that is, until a late night snack goes horribly wrong and she finds herself in the embarrassing position of having been staked by a unicorn. What’s more, it turns out that there are side effects. Being able to go outside during daylight is all very well, but suddenly it seems like Pearl is developing a conscience as well, right in time for the vampire king’s upcoming Fealty Ceremony.

I nabbed a review copy of Drink, Slay, Love from Simon & Schuster’s Galley Grab because the premise sounded ridiculously entertaining, especially as a counter to the hundreds of deadly serious paranormal romances that are flooding the teen market at the moment. I wasn’t disappointed. The key descriptor for this novel is “fun”. Sarah Beth Durst seems to have written it with her tongue firmly planted in her cheek.

That said, there is plenty to find here for even the most dedicated of paranormal aficionados. While Durst has fun with the usual clichés, it never feels like she’s mocking the Twilights of the world. What’s more, there’s still a potential love-interest to champion and plenty of vampires to get your teeth into. (Pun completely intentional. I do apologise.)

Pearl is a fantastic protagonist. Even once she’s been afflicted with a conscience, she’s still delightfully strong and arrogant and in-control. What’s more, she’s presented as being just as capable (if not more so) than her male counterparts.

The other female characters are also well-drawn. I wasn’t sure about Bethany at first, but her character is fleshed out more fully as the book goes on, and I appreciated the depths that weren’t, at first, apparent. I also enjoyed the school’s Mean Girls, who turn out to be far more layered than expected, and the fairly minor character of Sana, who is more interested in whether Pearl can beat her at track than whether she has fangs or not.

While Pearl’s boyfriend, Jadrien, grated a little on me, I enjoyed Evan as the boy who makes Pearl consider whether humans can be tasty in a whole other way. Those who love bad boys will undoubtedly prefer Jadrien, but I appreciated Evan’s respectful manner and his unfailing belief in Pearl.

While there is an overarching plot surrounding the Fealty Ceremony in Drink, Slay, Love, I think the sections I enjoyed the most were those that were less concerned with moving the action along and more focussed on describing Pearl’s experiences with attending a human high school for the first time.

All in all, Drink, Slay, Love is an extremely entertaining novel that’s sure to gain a big following – and deservedly so.

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Personal Demons – Lisa Desrochers

Luc’s on a mission. He’s been sent from Hell to claim Frannie Cavanaugh’s soul. But the more time he spends with her, the less in control he feels – which is concerning given that the punishment for failure will be dismemberment and eternity in the Fiery Pit. Frannie is similarly drawn to Luc – at least until Gabe arrives to protect her from Luc and establish his own, heavenly claim.

Personal Demons is not my kind of book. It is the type of paranormal romance that hits a good number of my do-not-like buttons, and I struggled with a lot of the plot and particularly the romance itself. In addition, the constantly changing first-person perspective didn’t work for me, especially as I didn’t think the voices of Frannie and Luc were distinct enough from each other.

My greatest difficulty with Personal Demons stems from the fact that the attractions between Frannie and Luc and Frannie and Gabe are tied so tightly to their respective powers. It never felt like their ‘love’ was natural, but rather as though it had been forced by the mere circumstance of their coming within the sphere of influence of each other’s abilities. Frannie’s inability to truly choose between the two seems to confirm that she becomes drunk on heavenly or demonic pheromones whenever in their presence. What’s more, Frannie’s own abilities are such that she can physically change her suitors into what she wants them to be. The difficulty of this is briefly touched upon in the novel, but only in a very superficial way, and I am always wary of books that conflate ‘destiny’ with forced attraction.

As a protagonist, Frannie is not the most realistic teenage lead. She is physically powerful – much more so than her stature would imply – and apparently irresistible to boys. What’s more, she has an ability that makes her the most important human on the face of the earth. I found it impossible to identify with her because she wasn’t real. I did, however, appreciate the way she was described as a young woman who was comfortable with her sexuality without there being any judgement attached to her sexual choices.

I can see exactly why Luc and Gabe will appeal to many readers, but their portrayal didn’t work for me on a personal level. The traits that make Luc interesting and appealing at the beginning of the book slowly erode away as Personal Demons continues. While this is in keeping with the changes that he undergoes, it nonetheless limited my enjoyment of his character. In contrast, Gabe’s character remains fairly constant throughout the novel. For an angel, he seems particularly smug and cold and I found the scenes that placed him and Frannie together difficult to believe. I don’t think their connection was well-enough established for the talk of love to ring true.

However, many of the issues that I had with Personal Demons will greatly endear it to other readers. The change in Luc’s personality will be greatly appreciated by those who enjoy romances centred around a partner’s redemption and the concept of partners being linked by fate is one that has become particularly popular in the wake of the Twilight series. Indeed, Personal Demons reminded me a lot of Meyer’s works. While the plot bears little resemblance, the romantic themes are similar and I think (non-ironic) fans of the Twilight series may also enjoy Desrochers’s Personal Demons books, even if I did not.

Review: Rippler – Cidney Swanson

Samantha Ruiz can disappear. Due to a genetic abnormality, she has the ability to ripple – to become invisible and without substance. The trouble is, she can’t control it. When Sam’s friend Will witnesses her rippling, she finds a much-needed confidant and support. But Sam isn’t just at risk of becoming a scientific guinea pig. People with the ripple gene are dying in suspicious circumstances. Might Sam be next?

In a young adult market that’s quickly filling with urban fantasy and paranormal titles, Rippler is refreshingly different. There are no fated romances, no improbably perfect characters and no nagging thoughts of having read it all before. Instead, Cidney Swanson has crafted an enjoyable story with likeable characters and an intriguing mystery that helps it stand apart from many other examples of the genre.

From the beginning of Rippler, I enjoyed the fact that Sam’s ability is not without its negatives. The fact that she is unable to control her rippling makes her a lot easier for the reader to identify with. She’s not a super-powerful demigod who has never had a bad hair day and can save the world before breakfast while never breaking a sweat. She’s an ordinary teenager who just happens to have an extraordinary genetic make-up. Her insecurities endear her to the reader, while her determination to learn about herself and to take charge of her ability show an inner strength that is far more attractive than the external strength that can often be the focus of special ability narratives.

Will is an equally interesting and likeable character and one of the most natural love-interests that I have encountered in this year’s reading. His friendship with Sam feels genuine and the romance between them develops at a realistic pace – to the point where it’s not entirely a romance at all. It is always so refreshing to read a young adult novel where romantic attraction is based upon characters sharing interests and life experiences. Swanson’s use of Sam and Will’s mutual interest in running supports the development of their relationship – as well as providing some of the most absorbing passages in Rippler.

Will’s relationship with his sister, Mickie, is also artfully portrayed. There is a clever co-existence of sibling fractiousness and interactions that mirror those of a parent and a child, as would be expected from their family situation. Mickie herself is an intriguing character. Responsible, fearful and bereft of a sense of humour, she nonetheless exudes a surprising amount of warmth.

Mickie and Will form one of three key family structures that are shown in Rippler, none of which follow the traditional nuclear form. I am always extremely fond of novels (and especially novels for young people) that portray families in all of their different forms. Sam’s friend Gwyn lives alone with her mother, while Sam herself lives with her father and stepmother, Sylvia. The positive relationship between Sam and Sylvia was one of the highlights of the book for me.

The plot of Rippler is both clever and engrossing. At first, it seems like the novel will focus on Sam’s struggle to control her ability, but it quickly becomes clear that she is caught up in something a lot bigger. There is an interesting interplay between history and the present, and an underlying feeling of danger that heightens towards the end of the book; Sam’s enemy is unseen and the reasons for his animosity are unknown.

My one great difficulty with the book was the way in which Sam’s abilities are explained to the reader. The second chapter consisted largely of obvious exposition, in the form of a conversation between Sam and Will. While outlining back-story and explaining universe elements to a reader is always very hard to do without it seeming clumsy, the expository section here seemed particularly noticeable to me, possibly because it was so condensed into one conversation.

It is definitely worth reading through that second chapter. Rippler is a thoughtful, entertaining young adult novel with strong and appealing characters who interact in realistic ways. I think that Cidney Swanson has a strong future as an author. My only complaint is that the second Ripple book is yet to be released. I want to know what happens next!

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Darkness Becomes Her – Kelly Keaton

Darkness Becomes Her book coverAri’s silver hair and teal eyes have set her apart as different for as long as she can remember. So, when she follows the path of her long-dead birth mother to New 2, the city rebuilt from the hurricane-devastated ruins of New Orleans, and discovers that being different is the norm there, she feels at home. But there’s still the question of why her mother killed herself and why a mysterious hunter tried to kill Ari. Who is after Ari and, in a city of supernatural beings, is she the most abnormal one of all?

Darkness Becomes Her has a solid beginning. The reader is thrust straight into Ari’s life, discovering the fate of Ari’s mother and learning of the childhood that Ari has experienced. We are given reasons for her physical and emotional strength and for her fighting abilities, which is a nice change from the many books that expect their audience to believe that a previously untested protagonist can prevail in a fistfight or firestorm

As the book progresses, we are introduced to New 2. I loved the slow reveal when it came to the novel’s key setting. New 2 is wonderfully described, and I rarely found myself without a picture in my head when I was reading about the various locations that Ari visits.

Another positive for me was the general plot of Darkness Becomes Her. I enjoyed the focus on Ari’s quest to discover both the circumstances of her birth and the truth behind her own identity. Details that do not immediately seem important are eventually shown to be tied to the history of Ari’s family and the identity of her new-found adversary.

Despite its good points, however, Darkness Becomes Her didn’t quite work for me as well as it might have done. Firstly, Ari’s complaints about her freakishness never rang true. She has beautiful hair that attracts men and teal (ie. not-so-very-peculiar) eyes. As physical differences go, she’s not exactly Hank McCoy. Secondly, the romance is sudden and completely without justification. It made all of the love-at-first-sight, destined-to-be-together plot lines sound ultra-realistic in comparison. To me, it almost felt like Keaton’s story hadn’t originally included the pairing but, rather, it had been inserted at a later point to satisfy the current fad for paranormal romance.

The biggest issue for me was actually an aspect of the book that has been much appreciated by other readers. Warning: spoilers follow.

Combining the latest big thing – Greek mythology – with other forms of the supernatural just didn’t work for me. It was too busy. I was fine with the revelation that New 2 was ruled by a council of vampire, shifter and witch families – although even that was pushing it a little bit – but discovering that gods and monsters from Greek myth were also a part of the fictional universe just felt like overkill. If Keaton had chosen one or the other sandbox to play in, I think Darkness Becomes Her would have worked a lot better for me. As it is, I won’t be actively seeking out the sequel, although I’d possibly pick it up if I noticed it in the library, if only to see what happens to Violet, who is easily my favourite character.

Despite these issues, however, I still found Darkness Becomes Her an interesting read.

Review: Coffeehouse Angel – Suzanne Selfors

Coffeehouse Angel book coverWhen Katrina discovers an oddly-dressed boy asleep in the alley behind her grandmother’s coffeehouse, she assumes he’s homeless and leaves some food and coffee for him. But then everything she thinks she believes is thrown into question when the supposed vagrant finds her later and tells her that he will grant her greatest desire to reward her for her kindness. With the coffeehouse’s future in grave danger, the last thing Katrina needs is a deluded boy in a kilt following her around… even if he is extremely good-looking. It’s not as though he can really grant wishes. Right?

I picked up Coffehouse Angel thinking that it was a contemporary YA novel, courtesy of the cover and the back blurb. If I’d looked inside the front cover, I’d have realised that it’s actually a supernatural romance but, instead, I discovered this once I realised that Malcolm isn’t just your average teenage boy. I’m actually glad I was surprised, because I’m not sure I’d have picked this up otherwise and it was a very pleasant read.

The absolute stand-out aspect of Coffehouse Angel is its sense of place. Selfors explains that the book’s location was based on a town near where she lives, and it’s possible that the fictional Nordby feels so authentic due to this. As an Australian, I was fascinated by the depiction of an American town that mixes surprisingly strong Scandinavian ties with local Native American culture. Selfors creates a wonderful cast of minor characters; the men who frequent Anna’s Old World Scandinavian Coffehouse are particularly appealing.

The teenage characters are also well-crafted. Katrina is a likeable and accessible protagonist – although I’m not sure how being five foot eight makes her an undateable giant! It seems quite an average height to me. Elizabeth and Vincent work well as foils for Katrina’s character, with Elizabeth providing creativity and humour and Vincent providing a sense of safety and stability that is most obvious once Katrina thinks it’s gone.

Malcolm reminded me enormously of the Eleventh Doctor – a comment that will mean nothing to readers who are not familiar with the revamped ‘Doctor Who’. He combines childlike actions with a sadness which hints at far more worldly experience than is initially apparent. As a potential love interest, however, I’m not sure how alluring he is.

I enjoyed Coffehouse Angel because it casts aside the supernatural stereotype of a weak female protagonist being rescued by a supernatural love interest who becomes her entire world. Katrina makes her own choices and lives her own life. She learns and grows and rescues herself.

That said, there was something missing for me. I cared about the future of the coffeehouse and Katrina as a character, but I think the storyline was a little slow-moving for my liking. I would certainly seek out other books by the author, however.

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