“Promises to Keep” by Jane Green

Promises to Keep book cover

"Promises to Keep" book cover

Sisters Callie and Steffi live completely different lives. Callie is the happily married mom and breast cancer survivor. Steffi is the wild child who lives it up in the city. Their parents, Walter and Honor, haven’t spoken in the decades since their divorce. Then there’s their friend Lila, a 40-something career woman who wonders if she’ll ever find Mr. Right.  Life rolls right along for all concerned until one year changed everything.

Steffi finds more to a move to the country than she imagines, and Lila gets a glimpse of what it means to be loved. All while handling a terrifying diagnosis which is handed to Callie.

This is novel begins as a light-hearted, almost chick-lit style, look at the contrast between suburban and serious versus urban and carefree lifestyles, and the role played by affluence. Then it grows into a story of how crushing circumstances affect a family whose members have been flung all over New England. Much of the story was inspired by a similar situation in the author’s life, when one of her close friends succumbed to cancer. Knowing this before opening to the first page can predispose a reader to loving it, and many readers will. However, issues with the writing style make it harder to love in the opening chapters. The author uses third-person, present tense for most of the novel, then she enters flashbacks with little warning at times.  This smooths out about halfway through, making it much more readable.

Callie, Steffi, and Lila are endearing characters. Although there’s a certain amount of predictability, Green moves the story along to a respectable payoff. There are a few tear-jerker moments toward the end, which can soften even a hardened heart.


Rating: 3.5-Books
Publisher:
 Plume, a Penguin Imprint
Author Website:
www.janegreen.com

ISBN-13: 978-0-452-29717-3

The reviewer received a copy of Promise to Keep from the publisher. This has no impact on the quality or consideration of the review.

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Arrow’s Flight… by Mercedes Lackey

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Arrow’s Flight

(The Heralds of Valdemar, Book 2)
by Mercedes Lackey

Published By: DAW Books, Inc.: A Member of Penguin Group (USA)
ISBN-10: 0886773776


Disappointing

Reviewed by Christina Wantz Fixemer
on 10/01/2008

Talia has earned her Herald whites (see ARROWS OF THE QUEEN) and is ready to embark upon her eighteen-month internship with Kris, her mentor. Together, they are to ride through their assigned sector to settle disputes and perform other duties as Heralds.

The circuit is in trouble from the start, however, as Talia learns of rumors that she has abused her powerful empathic Gift. With her fragile confidence shattered, her Gift gets out of hand. She must regain control, or she’ll be a danger to everyone around her.

Talia must successfully complete her internship. The Queen and many, many others are depending on it. Can Talia finish the year and half without driving herself, and her mentor, insane?

I was disappointed with this novel. The first one was enjoyable, so I was eager to dive in to this, the second installment of The Heralds of Valdemar. Unfortunately, the main conflict in this novel was over the lack of control over Talia’s Gift. She didn’t talk about it with her mentor until it was almost too late. The slow degradation of her abilities over many, many months was painful and repetitive to read. For being a smart character, she didn’t act with much intelligence in that regard. One might argue that this lack of communication was due to her long-standing poor self-esteem, but that excuse only goes so far.

One of my pet peeves is when the author expects the reader to swallow a series of misunderstandings that should never have gone beyond the first few scenes. It feels like a deliberate machination on the author’s part. If the author feels the need to use this to make the story fit their idea of the plot, then there’s a fundamental flaw in the plan. The author should figure out how to work with the conflict without using tenth-grade tricks.

Another thing that annoyed me about this novel is that there were events that seemed important to the story and weren’t included. By this, I’m referring to a visit Talia took to her family of birth and was basically turned away. This event was mentioned in passing, but I never saw it happen. The rejection by Talia’s family is a critical key to the formation of her as a character, and it needed to be in the book. Whether Lackey didn’t feel the need to write this event or whether the editors chopped it to save on page count, I feel it was a mistake.

After all that, it probably sounds like I hated this novel. In fact, I liked it well enough to finish it in less than a day. These two major issues, however, made it difficult for me to enjoy this book to its potential.

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Arrows of the Queen… by Mercedes Lackey

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Arrows of the Queen

(The Heralds of Valdemar, Book 1)
by Mercedes Lackey

Published By: DAW Books, Inc.: A Member of Penguin Group (USA)
ISBN-10: 0886773784


Good, but not Spectacular

Reviewed by Christina Wantz Fixemer
on 10/01/2008

Talia would rather die than be wed at the age of thirteen. When she tells her father’s wives that she wants to be a Herald, to be Chosen by the mystical equine Companions, the women are horrified. To Talia’s complete shock, she is found that very day not only by a Companion, but by the most important Companion in the land.

Chosen to be the Queen’s Own Herald by the Companion Rolan, Talia is overwhelmed by a world completely different from oppressive Holder life. Responsibilities far beyond those she imagined are now hers. As Queen’s Own, she is to be the Queen’s confidant. Her far more difficult task is to help reform “the Brat,” the presumed Heir to Valdemar. Certain parties don’t want the Brat to ascend to the throne and will go to extreme measure to see Talia fail. Clearly, there is more going on than young Talia can fathom.

This is the first novel of Mercedes Lackey’s “The Heralds of Valdemar.” She has built a highly detailed and complex world in which readers can be lost for hours. The characters are deep and scenery richly painted.

In this introductory novel, I was pulled in and sucked through to the end. It seems like some scenes may have been cut out to make a page count. This isn’t as big an issue as it is in the next two novels (ARROW’S FLIGHT and ARROW’S FALL), but it may bother the readers who are more particular about such things.

Overall, I recommend it as a good, but not spectacular, fantasy read.

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Vamps… by Nancy A. Collins

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Vamps

by Nancy A. Collins

Published By: HarperTeen: An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers
ISBN-13: 978-0061349171


Lukewarm Teen Vampire Drama

Reviewed by Christina Wantz Fixemer
on 10/01/2008

Lilith is the New York vampire underworld’s queen bee. Young, filthy rich, and still flame resistant, she lives for high-end labels and adoring lackeys. Other Old Blood vampire girls are expected to bow to Lilith’s whims at Bathory Academy, the prestigious school where hunting prey and shapeshifting are core classes.

So when a night spent “slumming” in Central Park results in the death of Lilith’s right-hand vamp—no thanks to a trashy New Blood—things start to change. That nasty New Blood suddenly shows up as Bathory’s newest student. Lilith sees her as a threat, not just on the social scene, but also with her boyfriend, Jules.

Cally couldn’t detest the idea of Bathory Academy more if you paid her. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have a choice. What’s worse is that Old Blood brat, Lilith, blames Cally for something that wasn’t even her fault. Why can’t Lilith just leave her alone? Then there’s that vampire hunter guy who can’t seem to leave Cally alone, either…

Nancy Collins’s new novel, VAMPS, is an interesting take on the vampire subgenre. Take one part “Beverly Hills 90210,” one part “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and throw in a dash of “Sex in the City,” and you have a New York vampire buffet with plenty of teen angst.

The writing is solid, but the characters are mostly shallow. Cally shows the most depth with her secret history and personal code. Lilith is clearly the “bad girl” here, but she is so utterly shallow that I couldn’t respect her even as a villain. This is epitomized in the scene where she’s more concerned about her father cancelling her credit cards than about the death of her supposed friend. Many of the things she does or tries to do to Cally are cliché, especially when it comes to her obsessive attitude toward her boyfriend, to whom she’s been “promised.”

There are twists and turns enough to keep a reader’s interest. If you can get past the unbelievably shallow Lilith and a handful of clichés, you’re likely to enjoy this novel. Otherwise, I’d look to other paranormal choices.

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The Gifted Gabaldón Sisters… by Lorraine López

The Gifted Gabaldón Sisters
by Lorraine López

Published By: Grand Central Publishing: A Member of Hachette Book Group USA
ISBN-13: 978-0446699211


A Gifted Author
Reviewed by Christina Wantz Fixemer
on 09/17/2008

Loretta, Bette, Rita, and Sophie Gabaldón lost their mother when they were very young. The ancient housekeeper who helped raised them promised each girl they’d receive a gift after her passing. Over the following two decades, the girls grow into women, each of them uniquely gifted. One heals, one tells splendid lies, one curses, and one makes others laugh. Time can only tell whether or not the gifts are blessings.

The bonds of sisterhood are explored and tested as the sisters Gabaldón search for meaning in a sea of questions about their family. Each chapter is told in a different sister’s point of view, and each voice is beautifully rendered through first, second, and third-person narrative, and past and present tense—a different style for each of the sisters.

On the surface, the story may seem complex, maybe over-ambitious. But Lorraine López skillfully weaves the story of five women into a complete saga. Her use of scenery, emotion, and flat-out characterization is entrancing. I smelled the kitchen aromas and cringed at bad karaoke. I saw the sisters as young children, then mothers.

I enjoyed the characters and was sorry to parts ways with them. Each sister was wonderfully flawed, yet deliciously vibrant. It would be a joy to meet them again.

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