Monthly Archives: July 2012

Review #56 The Heirs of Hammerfell by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Written in 1989, The Heirs of Hammerfell was Marion Zimmer Bradley’s return to Darkover’s Hundred Kingdom era when the Domains on the planet of the red sun lay splintered into many feudal kingdoms.

Bradley had a certain fascination for characters who exchanged lives, identities or were mistaken for others.  Many of her most beloved characters led dual lives, were mistaken for others, exchanged places with someone from another culture or felt torn between two worlds.  The Heirs of Hammerfell is no exception to this plot formula.   It chronicles the saga of two twins born to an aging lord in the midst of a violent feud between two northern kingdoms.  Only one can inherit the title of Lord of Hammerfell, but when a vicious attack destroys the keep, the twins are separated and each grows up presuming the other dead.  Alastair, the eldest son and true heir to Hammerfell grows up in Thendara with his mother in relative comfort while the younger twin, Conn, grows up in hiding with the trusted Hammerfell servant who saved him that fateful night.

As the rest of the novel unfolds, Bradley masterfully guides readers through amazing plot twists and differing points of view as each twin wrestles with the discovery that the other is alive.  Add in the complexity of a love triangle and star-crossed lovers for an adventure from start to finish.  The Heirs of Hammerfell certainly adds insight into a time period in the planet’s history long before rediscovery by the Terran Empire, but like most of Bradley’s Darkover tales, the story stands on its own as a wonderful read.

Paperback format, 557 pages, published in 2001 by DAW Books.

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Review #55 High Noon by Nora Roberts

Romance is the last thing that Police Lieutenant  and Hostage Negotiator Phoebe MacNamara has on her mind when she talks a man off a rooftop one Saint Patrick’s Day, but the man’s former boss, Duncan Swift soon holds a bigger place in her life than she is willing to admit.  Will he understand the unique demands of her career and complicated family life  or is she more haunted by the events of her own past that she is willing to admit?

Revealing anything more than a teaser about the complex plot of High Noon would deny another reader the fun summer escape this novel provided for me.  As usual, Roberts’ captivating characters are what make the book so enjoyable.  This story leaned slightly more towards the suspense and violence that she became so famous for as J.D.Robb, but it was a fun, quick read with a likable ending. This was not as memorable as some of her other books or series, but when I saw it on the shelf at the library, it quickly found its way into my summer reading pile.  It made a nice interruption to the seesaw of Dark-Hunter and Darkover novels.  One of the things that I enjoy most about my favourite authors is that they seldom fail to deliver the entertainment, diversion and enjoyment I am expecting. I’m not sure how I missed reading High Noon before now, but I am glad it was part of my Cannonball IV challenge!

Hardcover format, 467 pages, published in 2007 by DAW Books.

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Review #54 Night Play by Sherrilyn Kenyon

The sign of a good series or author is that they can totally distract you from the course you’d plotted out or the household chores you’d planned to do.  I’d been meaning to go back and forth between the Darkover novels and the Dark-Hunter series, but a trip to Chapters uncovered one of the earlier Kenyon novels I’d been hunting for, so of course it needed to be devoured immediately.

Night Play is a fun, if somewhat predictable romp in Kenyon’s Dark-Hunter world.  It falls a little closer to the formulaic twists of a standard romance novel except with paranormal characters.  What was intriguing was the fact that the heroine has dealt with the body image issues that our modern media seem to exacerbate and that the Were-Hunter wolf Vane loves her just the way she is.

This novel added more details to fit into the growing tapestry of the Dark-Hunter world and was a thoroughly enjoyable read.  For the first time, however, the story felt a bit “churned out” instead of lovingly crafted… especially coming right after reading a later novel so beautifully crafted.  Night Play doesn’t deal with any heavy issues and is a fun, erotic read.  If you like your romance novels spicy, edgy and unusual, then this is a perfect choice.

Paperback format, 362 pages, published in 2004 by St. Martin’s Griffin

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Review #53 Acheron by Sherrilyn Kenyon

If Dance with the Devil was one of my favourite books by New York Times Best-selling author Sherrilyn Kenyon, Acheron was the hardest of her stories to read so far.  It wasn’t the length of the novel, but rather how deeply the main character suffered that caused me to take little breaks while reading this book.

Readers of the series know Acheron as the leader of the Dark-Hunters and the first one created as such by the Goddess Artemis.  This powerful novel, however, finally reveals the suffering, agony and humiliation that he endured as a human, before becoming the cornerstone character of her novels.

I’d known from reading her biography that Kenyon had endured some hard times in her life. Until I read the author’s note at the beginning of the book, I had no idea that she was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse herself.

That someone could not only rise above such horror to triumph as she has but also then revisit some of the darkest moments in her memory, as she must have to write some of the scenes in this novel, is a true testament to her courage and talents as a writer.  I hope it was healing for her.  It was certainly empowering to see how this powerful character was able to triumph over their tragic situation and work towards healing.

Acheron is a brilliant novel but very descriptive and difficult to read in place.  It makes your heart ache before it can soar.  If you love this series, then it is a must read for all of the in-depth, key information… but it may move you to tears before you get to the funny parts and the sarcasm Kenyon is so famous for.

Paperback format, 800 pages, published in 2008 by St. Martin’s Griffin

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Review #52 Dance with the Devil by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Back I swing from Darkover novels to Dark-Hunter tales.  I am feeling a bit obsessive right now as the pendulum swings back and forth madly, but it is actually very easy to keep both series straight in my head as I plow my way through them.  For me, this is the true joy of being a natural speed reader. If only I could write my reviews as fast!

Dance with the Devil deals with a surly, unsavory, almost dislikable character from the previous novel named Zarek.  Kenyon was able to plant just enough tiny glimpses of personality under all the gruffness and rudeness that I found myself wondering how on earth anyone could fall in love with this character she’d created.

Always trust a brilliant author.

This paranormal romance starts out in a manner you’d hardly expect.  Astrid is an immortal who has been sent down to judge Zarek in order to decide if he should be executed or not.  Her sight has been taken away so that she is not influenced by the outer appearance of the apparently uncontrollable Dark-Hunter Zarek that she’s been sent to judge. This is a good thing because none of Kenyon’s characters are ever ugly!

Dance with the Devil has ended up being one of my favourite Kenyon romance novels thus far.  The sarcasm was at its most honed, the adventure was thrilling, the characters had other sides to them that made it a fascinating read and the redemption aspect was uplifting in a world where the headlines so often carry only the darkest of headlines.

Dance with the Devil is well worthy of being on anyone’s summer reading list!

Paperback format, 343 pages, published in 2003 by St. Martin’s Griffin

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Review #51 Two to Conquer by Marion Zimmer Bradley

The next novel in my Darkover reading frenzy brought me to the classic Two to Conquer.  Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote most of her Darkover novels as stories unto themselves, even when they contained familiar characters, families or themes from other novels.  Since they weren’t written in the chronological order of the planet’s history, there are occasionally some charming discrepancies or irregularities, but it never takes away from the brilliant storytelling and vivid characters. That is probably why I have returned to her stories over and over again in my lifetime. Bradley tells a great story.

Two to Conquer is set near the end of the Ages of Chaos when Darkover is still very much a feudal planet full of plots and power struggles between the major families.  In a unique twist on the Prince and Pauper theme, Bradley writes about Bard di Asturian, outlaw and warrior with a huge chip on his shoulder, and the Terran Paul Harrell who just happens to be his exact genetic duplicate.  When Paul is wrenched through time and space to a planet he’s never heard of and a seemingly backward culture, how will he adjust?  Will this adventure ultimately reveal what makes them unique individuals instead of genetic copies of each other? Can two identical men overflowing with ambition and aggression work together to conquer a world or will they turn on each other?

It is well worth reading this science-fiction classic to discover how Bradley answers those questions as her brilliant story unfolds.  I love how Two to Conquer takes a blunt look at some difficult issues and yet resolves them with such hope and compassion.  No wonder this book has had a special place on my bookshelves for over 30 years!

Paperback format, 335 pages, published in 1980 by DAW Books.

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Review #50 Night Embrace by Sherrilyn Kenyon

From Darkover back to Dark-Hunter novels again.  Night Embrace is the 3rd book in Kenyon’s vast Dark-Hunter series that I discovered after reading her YA series the Chronicles of Nick.  These paranormal romances certainly broke the mold when they first came out at the beginning of this century (that sounds so cool to say!) and Night Embrace is no exception.  Like the first two novels, this pits a paranormally endowed character with a mere mortal so that adventure, mayhem, magic and most of all passion can ensue.  What makes Kenyon’s books so enjoyable is that the characters are ones that the readers come to care deeply about as all their flaws and strengths are revealed.

Talon is a Celtic warrior who has been protecting humanity from things that go bump in the night for centuries, but when a God-driven runaway Mardi Gras float runs him over, the human woman he was trying to save brings him home to nurse him back to health.  Sunshine Runningwolf is unaware of what she’s let into her house and her life.  Her artsy, carefree way of life and open heart seems to offer Talon the perfect one-night stand opportunity as he heals… but will a single taste of her leave him wanting more than he’d bargained for?

The celtic theme woven through this tale made it interesting and engaging without feeling like I was being thumped over the head with historic details that got in the way of the story.  As an author, illustrator and creative soul myself, I could totally relate to the things that kept distracting Sunshine or the clutter that crept in.  All in all, Night Embrace was a wonderful read and it was fun to learn the unfolding details of the Dark-Hunter world that relate back to the Chronicles of Nick.  What a complex world of characters Sherrilyn Kenyon has created!

Paperback format, 408 pages, published in 2003 by St. Martin’s Griffin

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