Monday, June 8

Review: The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong

Woohoo! Another buddy review!! :) That's three weeks in a row!! I'm trying to be consistent, but it's hard ^_^;

So this week's review is The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong. Joining me is Li from Me and My Books who is quickly becoming my favorite buddy reviewer for urban fantasy and fantasy novels :) Big thanks for accepting my invitation each time! :) Here are our thoughts on the second book of Ms Armstrong's YA The Darkest Power trilogy.

The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong
published by DoubleDay Canada in April 2009 (Trade-size)

If you had met me a few weeks ago, you probably would have described me as an average teenage girl – someone normal. Now my life has changed forever and I’m as far away from normal as it gets. A living science experiment – not only can I see ghosts, but I was genetically altered by a group of people who call themselves The Edison Group. What does that mean? For starters, I’m a teenage necromancer whose powers are out of control: I raise the dead without even trying. Trust me, that is not a power you want to have. Ever.

I’m running for my life with three of my supernatural friends – a charming sorcerer, a cynical werewolf, and a disgruntled witch – and we have to find someone who can help us gain our freedom back before The Edison Group finds us first. Or die trying.

Genre: Urban fantasy, YA
Series: The Darkest Power, book #2

Li: Right, The Awakening... my initial take is that I liked it, but it didn't wow me. And while I will get the final book, I don't feel the need to know what happens next.

Nath: LOL, isn’t that because this time, Ms Armstrong does not end the book with a cliffhanger? Me, I really enjoyed The Awakening. It was not a wowzer, but close. It definitively was a good, solid read and I’m curious to know how it’s going to end.

Li: I think I said previously that it was a quick and easy read. As with all her writing, very clean and precise prose. It strikes me as more plot-driven, rather than character-driven. I like the fact we are beginning to see the bigger picture - there is quite a bit revealed about the institute and the reasons why the teenagers were brought together. It feels a lot less claustrophobic than the previous book, when they were all in Lyle House.

Nath: It was definitively a quick and easy read. If I remember correctly, I finished it in a couple of hours… of course, I had to stay up till 1.30am LOL. I actually was totally engrossed in the storyline - the rhythm and pacing were very good and I just wanted to finish the book as quickly as possible. I really like Ms Armstrong’s writing style. The bonus here is that her writing is not different because she's addressing a younger audience. The characters, their ways of thinking, their action do feel younger of course, but not the writing...

Li: Agree, it is YA in the sense the characters are teenagers, but she hasn't dumbed down her writing. Obviously the heat level is now very subtle as opposed to sizzling - do you remember the Jaime/Jeremy balcony scene in No Humans Involved? ;-)

Nath: LOL, seriously, who can forget that scene?!?! It was awesome, especially since readers were waiting for Jaime and Jeremy to get together for so long!! :D but yes, she turned down the heat level to appropriate :)

You mentioned earlier that you think The Awakening is more plot-driven than character-driven. I think one of the reasons for this is the time frame. The story spans on what, 3 or 4 days? Hard to make your characters grow so much in such a short period of time. It could happen, but it wouldn't be as believable. Although I think that Chloe did mature a lot at the end, accepting the reality of her powers.

I have to admit, I had my doubts in the first book about the plot. I mean, there you go again: some teenagers with special powers that are put together to be studied and tested – it’s been done before, no? However, I was pleasantly surprised with the events that happened. There were many twists in The Awakening and none that I really expected. Tori – didn’t see that one coming. Even the purposes of the study! As a result, I was totally okay with the story being more plot-driven :) The only thing now is that I'm not sure how Ms Armstrong is going to wrap the whole storyline in one single last book ^_^;

Li: Oh, I have faith! I generally get the feeling with an Armstrong book that Ms Armstrong knows exactly what happens at the end and how she is going to get there, and The Awakening is no different. I think the way that this book ended - even though there was no cliffhanger - was very much setting things up for the plot climax in the third book.

Nath: Oh, I do have faith too :) I’m just curious to see how she’s going to wrap this up. I guess I want more than another book :P By the way, aren’t you glad this does not end with a cliffhanger? :P

Li: LOL. I think you so know my feelings on cliffhangers. I've even stopped reading some authors because of the way they include cliffhangers in their books. So yes, I'm glad this concluded in a ummm tidier manner. It definitely felt like a middle book in a trilogy though. You know, she's started filling in the blanks but it's not quite there yet.

Nath: But close though, because she has to keep something up her sleeve for the last book. In my opinion, you don’t want the middle book to be too packed and be incredible, because then, you have a let-down with the final book… like the Study trilogy by Maria V. Snyder.

All right, enough of the plot, what did you think of the characters and their relationship?

Li: On relationships, she is so setting the scene for a relationship between Chloe and Derek. However, I felt the chemistry was somewhat missing between the two. Good friends, 100% yes, something more than friends, I don't know. Maybe. I normally love romance in YA books because the build up tends to be quite intense (maybe because they don't go beyond the bedroom door so there is more focus on the relationship), but I didn't really get that here.

Nath: LOVE TRIANGLE! There is a definite love triangle going on between Derek, Chloe and Simon! Although, I have to agree with you, Ms Armstrong seems to lean more towards Chloe and Derek - Chloe just hasn't realized it yet :P

As a reader though, who do you prefer though, Simon or Derek? I'm biased and have been rooting for Derek from the beginning. He reminds me so much of Clay LOL. Of course, he’s not as anti-social, kind of hard to beat Clay in that department :P Also, don't you find it funny, Jeremy and Jaime and now Derek and Chloe? What are the odds that you'd have another werewolf-necromancer couple?

Li: Maybe there is something between werewolf and necromancers ;-) I don't think Simon's going to get a romance in this book. Unless it's Tori. Which would be amusing. I don't actually think Simon has been as well fleshed-out as Derek in the series so far. Derek is definitely the more interesting of the two - more secrets, more angst...

I was thinking Derek = Clay as well! Though I haven't yet finished Men of the Otherworld so I can't really recall if Clay's adolescent years were similar to Derek's.

Nath: You haven’t finished Men of the Otherworld yet?!?! Why not?!?! LOL.

LOL, Simon and Tori :) Well seems like the adults in the book want them to pair up, but I don't see it happening anytime soon.

As for the chemistry between Chloe and Derek, I think there was more in The Summoning; however, the book was more character-driven. In The Awakening, the story goes so fast and there is a lot of action, Chole and Derek seem to have less time to be together for the chemistry to be present. I do think that Chloe is attracted to Derek, but at the same time, I think she’s scared. Between Derek and Simon, Simon is much safer and that’s why I think she tends to gravitate towards him. I mean, for someone who is new to the Otherworld, when presented the choice of a sorcerer or a werewolf going through his first Change… but Chloe is handling it well :)

Also, you’re right. Chloe and Derek are definitively good friends, and that’s a good start no? See, what I’m worried about is that we’re not going to get a clear answer on the love triangle in the next book, because Ms Armstrong has the possibility to explore this love triangle again in the future in The Women of the Otherworld series. It sure would be fun to have a book about their grown-up version or a huge cross-over between this series and the Women of the Otherworld series.

Li: I like that we get to see a bit more of the Otherworld universe she's created, with mention of the Cabals etc, in The Awakening. Not sure how that would go down with readers new to this series though. I would love to see Clay meet Derek! And maybe Jaime and Chloe. That would be interesting.

Nath: I agree with you. I think that Ms Armstrong is doing well linking this series to the other… and I would love Jaime to become Chloe’s mentor! And I sure hope that Derek is going to become part of the Pack.

What scene stands out in this book for you?

Li: The scene where she accidentally raised the dead homeless man was a bit eewwww for me. If I were Chloe, I wouldn't dare go to sleep after that!

Nath: See, that's the part of The Awakening that I liked the least - that Chloe is summoning dead bodies right and left. Can you imagine how strong that makes her?!?! I'd say, that makes Chloe even stronger than Jaime in raw power ^_^; which makes sense with the explanations given in The Awakening… but still. The girl definitively needs a mentor... LOL :) As for the scene itself, I have to agree with you - well actually every scene where she summons something – ewwww.

Li: I remember Kelley Armstrong books used to be shelved in Horror in my local bookstore, and I can see why!

Nath: LOL, although her adult books never seemed to be this horrific! Gory, yes, but horrific? No.

By the way, what did you think of Tori and the events involving Rachelle? It’s fun to find out that Tori has some hidden depths. It'll really be interesting to see how her character develops...

Li: Tori is the most interesting character in the series to me. She has potential for redemption, and I think you start to understand why she is the way she is. Rachelle - the twist made sense. But I didn't really feel the betrayal too much. Because the plot was quite fast-moving, there probably wasn't much time to show Chloe's reaction to the reveal.

And I'm glad Aunt Lauren redeemed herself.

Nath: I’m glad as well about Aunt Lauren… and I hope Chloe will be able to reunite with her father! Poor man…

Li: I think there's lot of potential for this series to end on a feel-good note! Don't forget Simon and Derek's dad as well.

Nath: Not forgetting him. I wonder who he is…

Overall, I thought The Awakening was a solid and enjoyable read. At first, in The Summoning, I was a bit skeptical at Chloe's power. I mean, she just recovered them and she is already able to raise the death - involuntary! Raising the death was a very big step for Jaime, so to see Chloe do it so easily... However, now, it all makes sense. I'm glad that Ms Armstrong has such a tight plot.

Although, what I don't understand is Tori's mom. She clearly wants a powerful child - so why would she adhere to this program... hmmm, another mystery?

I'm giving The Awakening a B+. I have to admit, I would have liked a bit more chemistry between Chloe and Derek. However, for such a fast-paced storyline, there was plenty of action and the plot was very interesting :) Looking forward to The Reckoning! :) What about you, Li?

Li: I went for a B. I thought the suspense side was good, but I'm still lacking a proper connection with the characters. I will get The Reckoning. Hmmm... part of me is wondering if I'd have enjoyed these books more if I could read all three in one sitting!

Nath: Perhaps, but then to wait three years? I wouldn’t be able to do it LOL :P

Tuesday, June 2

Buddy review: The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley

First, I'd like to thank Leslie for accepting to join me and buddy review this book. Second, I'd like to apologize to Leslie for the long time period it took to put the review together and finally post this ^_^; I plead the lazy bug that bit me... and I hope that she'll agree to write more :P

If you need to know why we both read this one, just ask Kristie... :P

The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie by Jennifer Ashley
published by Dorchester in May 2009
The year is 1881. Meet the Mackenzie family--rich, powerful, dangerous, eccentric. A lady couldn't be seen with them without ruin. Rumors surround them--of tragic violence, of their mistresses, of their dark appetites, of scandals that set England and Scotland abuzz.

The youngest brother, Ian, known as the Mad Mackenzie, spent most of his young life in an asylum, and everyone agrees he is decidedly odd. He's also hard and handsome and has a penchant for Ming pottery and beautiful women.

Beth Ackerley, widow, has recently come into a fortune. She has decided that she wants no more drama in her life. She was raised in drama--an alcoholic father who drove them into the workhouse, a frail mother she had to nurse until her death, a fussy old lady she became constant companion to. No, she wants to take her money and find peace, to travel, to learn art, to sit back and fondly remember her brief but happy marriage to her late husband.

And then Ian Mackenzie decides he wants her.

Genre: historical romance
Series: Highland Pleasures, book #1

Leslie: Nath, I'm dying to know what you thought of it. I'm really not sure which way you're going to go - either loved it like Kristie or ??? I'm still processing my thoughts but overall I liked it. I wasn't blown away by it but I did like it.

Nath: LOL, like you, I enjoyed it a lot – it was a good read, but unfortunately, not a wowzer :(

Leslie: Kristie will be happy that we both liked it. :)

I liked Beth and Ian. At times Beth seemed almost too perfect for Ian; she knew exactly how to "handle" him and when to back off and let him be.

Nath: Hmm, I don’t agree with you. I think that sometimes, the way you treat someone is instinctive no? Based on how you perceived someone – if he looks happy, sad, angry, etc. – you’re going to adjust your behavior. How you act and how you handle someone... it seemed that way with Beth to me.

Ian was definitively a very interesting character and a good hero. I liked him a lot.

Leslie: Beth - instinctive - yes, that makes sense. With her background dealing with her drunken father and growing up in the East End, that would make sense that she would know how to handle someone who doesn't always act and react the way society would expect. Thanks!

Ian - I can see why many readers would fall for him. This 9 year old boy sent to an asylum and treated so horribly - like a nightmare you never wake up from and with no one there to comfort him. It must have been such a relief to finally have Curry there with him. But considering everything that Ian experienced he really was quite normal. He had a few oddities and quirks but I think if he hadn't spent time in the asylum people may have thought him "rather odd' instead of crazy. And the way he kept comparing himself to his father with regards to his rages, I think Ian knew enough to get himself away from everyone when the rage would begin so nothing like his father. Except where Fellows was concerned but that I think had more to do with protecting Beth from the ugliness that he associated with Fellows and the murders.

Nath: You know, although he was all alone in the asylum and suffering, I think he took comfort in the fact that his brothers never abandoned him, don't you think? They always thought of him, sending him stuff and Curry :) I really like the siblings’ relationship in this book. I liked how they were all kind of protective of Ian.

I agree with you, given all he's gone though, I thought that Ian was pretty normal and yes, society would probably have labeled him more as eccentric than mad. Personally, I wished we'd have seen Ian interact more with the society more or at least, strangers, it would have given another side of Ian.

Leslie: They sent him porn Nath... :) Nothing says brotherly love like porn. LOL. I did like reading the brothers interactions, not Hart so much but Mac and Cam with Ian. I think Hart will need a lot of redeeming before I can see him as a hero.

Nath: LMAO :) I like that Mac and Cam looked out for Ian. They tried to protect him as well as the people around him.

Something that bothers me though is that we know that their father was bad and harsh... they all agreed and seemed to have some scars of their own, but I would have liked more concrete examples, experiences from the brothers - not just Ian’s and not just agreement.

Leslie: The thing with their father - I think because Ian was so different his father didn't know how to deal with him to get the results he wanted. So he ended up treating Ian worse than his brothers. But yes, having Hart, Cam and Mac simply agreeing that their father was an ass didn't work as well as having examples of their experiences with him would have. Maybe we'll get that in their books.

Nath: Ms Ashley will most probably cover how much Ian's father was an ass in the brother respective books. My feel is that their father saw Ian as weak and therefore, was really harsh on him to change him. Not only weak, but bizarre and so, he tried to mold Ian...and he was probably freaked out by Ian's memory, but really, the reason why Ian was put in an asylum was because he witnessed his father killing his mother, no? That is what I took from the book. If not for that event, I think that Ian's father would have tolerated Ian... oh, it wouldn't have been a happy life, but he could have avoided the asylum.

Leslie: Yes, he was admitted the next day. I can't help but wonder if he had stayed at home and out of the asylum would his father, in one of his rages, turned on Ian and possibly killed him like he did the mother or would the brothers have kept him relatively safe. I'd like to think the brothers would have looked out for him.

Nath: In this case, are you assuming that Ian has witnessed his mother's death or not? If yes, then I think that Ian would be at risk. His father would have become paranoid and I think eventually, Ian would have succumbed to his father's rages. As for brothers’ protection, I think it would have depended if Ian told his brothers what he saw or not... However, even if his brothers would have protected him, they couldn't have been there always, so there would always be a risk, don't you think?

Leslie: I think he was at risk anyway, just for being different and someone his father couldn't control. But after seeing his mother killed, definitely more risk, probably would have been killed by his father just to keep him quiet. What did you think about how quickly Ian was put in the asylum? Like his father had already considered doing it?

Nath: But the fact that his father would put Ian in an asylum instead of killing him… Does it say something good about the father? A little bit of love for his children? I don't think so... perhaps it was going to be too difficult to explain the deaths of two people? In the end though, I do think sending Ian to the asylum was the safest path, don't you agree? Of course, Ian was lucky that Hart sprung him out...

Leslie: I think, like you said, the father was afraid of explaining two deaths so close together. But he could have kept watch over Ian, using fear and intimidation then maybe a few years later got rid of him. I have no problem believing the father might kill Ian. He had three other sons so...

As for safe, horrible but he lived through it so yes, better option.

Onto a different topic, I did wonder how Ian would be during sex - if his attention would suddenly wander off and focus on some distant point. But he did just fine. :)

Nath: LOL, strangely enough, it doesn't seem as if Ian lacked experience or feminine company... wonder if it's due to his status and money or just himself. Personally, I thought he was fine.

Leslie: Probably both. And he was good looking. But my guess is that most of his feminine company was mostly of the paid for type.

There was a line on page 74 where Ian looks at Beth, "She stood like a flower, fragile and vulnerable. The only color in a sea of gray. " The sea of gray part made me think that Ian's world is gray except for those points that capture his attention. Like at the very beginning when he's with Mather and Ian focuses on the drop of ink. Maybe that's why he connected so well and so quickly with Beth - because she was this color in an otherwise world of gray. Or I could just be reading too much into it. ;)

Nath: LOL, I think you're reading into it a bit too much :P

Leslie: smartass :)

Nath: LOL. Anyway, back to paid company - I wouldn't be surprised and I wouldn't hold it against him.I'm just glad that Ian didn't turn out to be a very shy character. Seriously, he was quite normal with a few quirks.

Leslie: With Ian not willing to look anyone in the eye you might think that he would have been more shy. He wasn't what you could call "long-winded" lol. I would think of him as more of being selective with who (whom?) he interacted with. Not being able to interpret body language and the nuances of speech left him at a disadvantage so he became impatient when talking to people.

Nath: Oh, he is definitively more selective of the people with whom he interact. Remember, the first scene when Beth and Ian meet. He found her worthy of saving, that's why he told her about Mathers. If she hadn't been, I think he would have left her marry the guy. It sure makes him interesting... and I don't think he was shy. Ian has very good instincts and actually takes decisions very quickly. Not that he is haughty, but he has to find you worthy for him to interact with you. Otherwise, he's just forcing himself.

Leslie: That's right - he thought she was worth saving. I'd forgotten that part.

Nath: What did you think of Beth? All in all, I thought she was a great heroine - passionate, compassionate and courageous. I really liked the fact that she stood up for herself and for Ian… she was just a tad too curious for her own good though ^_^;

Leslie: Beth was the type of historical heroine I like - true to her situation and time period but not weak or completely submissive. She didn't allow anyone to put her in the corner and expect her to be quiet. ("Nobody puts Baby in the corner") But at the same time she wasn't terribly rude or overbearing in getting her point across. The scenes with Beth standing up to Hart - loved those. She had a bit of a smart mouth and I liked it when she used it on Hart. Can you tell I didn't like him very much?

She was surprisingly smart considering her childhood which also gave her tolerance for people who were different, helping her relationship with Ian. She was very curious wasn't she? LOL I think if Ian had been more willing to talk about the murders then she would have let him take the lead. And what did you think of Thomas? I liked him even though he was dead. LOL He certainly had a progressive way of thinking, especially for a vicar.

Nath: I think that those scenes where Beth stands up to Hart are proofs that Beth is a courageous woman. As for Thomas, have to admit that I didn’t really care about him, but I'm glad that Beth had him. I think it opened her up and that he had a lot of influence in her life.

One of my favorite moments in the book was when Ian gave to Beth one of his ceramic bowls and she said it was indeed better than a carriage and horses and how triumphal he felt, LOL :) It was just so cute!! :)

Leslie: And then he took it from her and put it back on the shelf. LOL I like that fact that she totally understood why he would put it back.

Nath: LOL, well where would she have put it anyway?

Leslie: On a table in her room or somewhere else in the house. I think another lady might have wanted to have it out where everyone could see it instead of locked away in Ian's special room. IDK - it's like he gives her this gift but he's keeping it for her. Are you laughing at me again? LMAO

Nath: :P So I loved the siblings camaraderie in this book as well as the heroine and hero… but I said earlier that The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie wasn’t a wowzer for me. One of the reasons is the murder intrigue. I thought it was the weakest part of book. Not only was it boring , but Fellows annoyed the hell out of me. What did you think of it?

Leslie: Agree about Fellows and the murders etc., weakest point.

Nath: What annoyed me most is that Beth is the one who solved the mystery. Ugh!

Aside from the weak murder intrigue, I felt like we missed a book in the storyline. There were lots of events that the characters referred to that were never really told or explained to the readers. For example, Fellows accused the Mackenzie brothers of trying to ruin his career. I wonder if he was simply paranoid... I understand Fellows resentment towards the Mackenzies, although it should have been aimed at the father, but not the brothers... and it seems that Fellows has harassed them - which is why he was under order to stay away from the Mackenzie. But I wonder if what is the event that led to this point. Why or did the brothers really try to ruin his career?

Leslie: Yes, they would refer to past events and I would wait for more info... then nothing. The whole thing with Fellows - if there had been more information throughout the book on him then I think I would have had more interest in the murder subplot. Instead Fellows just kept popping up every now and then just to get slapped down. And the resolution of the murders towards the end felt too fast. Hart and Ian seemed to be blinded by what they thought had happened even after Beth practically spelled everything out for them. Ugh! Frankly, I didn't care much about that whole murder plot and it just made me like Hart even less.

Nath: As for Hart, I'm reserving judgment. I think that for each brother, their respective passion shaped their personality. Hart being one for power, money and politics, it's just normal that he's such a jerk LOL. In addition, he's the duke and the oldest... I would say he's had it the hardest and that's why he uses people like he does. Of course, it could also be his failed love relationship - I'm curious about that :) At least, we know who's going to be his heroine :)

Leslie: So wealthy and powerful = jerk? LOL - jk But yes, I can definitely see what you mean about Hart and all the responsibility plus he did try to look out for Ian before Ian was sent to the asylum. Ian had referred to Hart as "cold" so maybe he's like that because of being jilted and then losing his wife and baby. He did love Ian but wasn't able to show it the was Cam and Mac did.

Nath: LOL, in a lot of cases, yes :) I think that Hart "coldness" comes from much before he lost his wife and baby. I'm curious, but I'm pretty sure it has to do with his father and him being jilted. You know how harsh the education of an "heir" can be. For sure, he isn't as carefree as Cam and Mac and like I say, I wonder if it's because he was the "heir."

Leslie: The whole thing with Hart being jilted - I'm actually looking forward to meeting her. LOL

Overall, I liked Ashley writing style but would have liked a stronger storyline with regards to the murders or like you said more Ian, Beth, Hart etc. and less on the murders. I can definitely see myself picking up the next three books, even Hart's. :) I definitively want to read Mac and Isabella's story and I'm guessing they're next.

Nath: Oh, I am definitively picking up the next book and you’re right, it’ll be Isabella and Mac :) The one I’m actually looking forward to is Cam though.

So what is your grade for this book? I think The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie deserves a B+ from me :)

Leslie: Hey, we actually agreed on the grade. B+ from me too. I had a few problems with it but overall I liked Ian and Beth. A good start to the series.

Nath: Definitively :)