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Review #96 Chesapeake Blue by Nora Roberts

Chesapeake Blue, by Nora Roberts own admission on the dedication page, was written several years after the original Quinn brothers trilogy because of all the readers who kept asking her when she was going to tell SETH’s story.

This amazing 4th novel in the Quinn trilogy… which became known as the Chesapeake Bay Saga instead, finally wraps up the tale of three older brothers, bonded by love instead of blood, who raised a young boy to manhood after the death of their adoptive parents.

Chesapeake Blue is a wonderfully written and heartwarming return to a familiar place and beloved characters.  Seth Quinn has now grown into a talented and world-famous artist, yet he is harbouring a dark secret from his family… one that has kept him from returning home for years.  Sick at heart, cynical and soul-weary, he returns to the one place he can call home after living in Europe to try to face the past that has haunted him all his life… Will he be able to tell the people he loves most the truth about what his birth mother has continued to do to him?  Can such a scared and scarred young man find love in the arms of a wealthy young woman he is longing to paint?

Encouraged by fans to tell this tale at last, Nora Roberts weaves an amazing tale of redemption and love.  As an artist myself, I loved the descriptions of Seth getting lost in the act of painting.  I am sure that Nora Roberts has had that happen to her with writing as well, because it captures that feeling so well.  This story does a fabulous job of tying up the loose ends that you didn’t even know were left over from the original trilogy, but maintains the same edgy look at the seedier side of life and how love, along with the truth, can finally heal the most wounded of hearts.

Chesapeake Blue, Paperback format, 357 pages, published in 2002 by Jove Books

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Review #95 Inner Harbor by Nora Roberts

Inner Harbor is the third novel in Nora Roberts’ sweeping the Chesapeak Bay Saga and the original end to the story.  It chronicles the love story between the last of these 3 strong men, who honoured the legacy of love shown to them by the couple who adopted them, Raymond and Stella Quinn, by taking care of Seth, the youngest boy Ray Quinn took in to save.

 

Phillip Quinn left the harsh realities of his life behind in his teens, but this novel shows that old scars can still run deep beneath the surface and that trust can be difficult for someone who has been badly hurt before.  Now he has given up his comfortable life in Baltimore to commute back and forth to Maryland’s Eastern Shore and the home in which he grew up.  Phillip and his two brothers are trying to raise Seth and get their fledgling boat-building business off the ground.  The insurance company is trying to claim that Raymond Quinn committed suicide by driving his car into a telephone pole and Seth’s biological mother is threatening to take Seth back unless the Quinn brothers pay her more money than their father did.

Into the fray of this trilogy story line comes the heroine, Dr. Sybill Griffin.  Sybill not only happens to be a renowned urban anthropologist and psychologist, she is also Seth’s aunt and may hold the key to keeping Seth safe.  The only problem is that for all her perfect appearance and upbringing, she is hiding scars of her own that cause her to withdraw to the role of observer.  Will Philip hate her once he discovers who she truly is?  Will she find the courage to get involved? Will she finally see her sister, Gloria, for the manipulator everyone else knows her to be?

Inner Harbor is the perfect example of how strong a writer Nora Roberts can be.  She handles some of the most troubling scenes with a wry sense of humour that  can soften life’s harsher realities for the reader and portray truly strong characters who refuse to give up against incredible odds.  Perhaps this is why so many of her books take up space on my shelves.  When the news of the world seems to get too somber, I can pull out one of her incredible stories and remind myself that hope and love go a long way to lighting up the darkest night.

Inner Harbor, Paperback format, 324 pages, published in 1999 by Jove Books

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Review #94 Rising Tides by Nora Roberts

Rising Tides is the second novel in Nora Roberts stories about the Quinn brothers.  It was originally written as a trilogy about 3 strong men, adopted by a remarkable couple from their  troubled pasts, who carry on the legacy of love by trying to look after 10 year old Seth after Ray Quinn is killed in a car accident.  There is a mystery to be unraveled as the Quinn brothers begin a boat-building business together and a loving environment in which Seth can leave his own haunted life behind, just as they did before him thanks to Stella and Ray Quinn.

Ethan is the steady, dependable Quinn brother.  He stayed in the area, never moving away as his brothers did when they grew older.  Solidly built, he harbours a scared little boy inside, one who feels unworthy to admit the love he has been carrying around in his heart since his teens because of his tainted and damaged past.

Now as Ethan faces the growing responsibility for this new brother, one who has known his own share of sorrows and darkness, will both Quinn brothers find a measure of healing and acceptance?

Rising Tides reminded me of what great character writing Nora Roberts is capable of, especially when dealing with difficult subject matter amid the love story.  This is a sensual, honest look at how innocence can be redeemed and how love can go a long way to healing the deepest wounds within us all.

Rising Tides Paperback format, 330 pages, published in 1998 by Jove Books

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Review #88 Oath of Fealty by Elizabeth Moon

One of the best things about having favourite authors is that a new story from them can be like the greatest dessert… except without all the calories!  When Oath of Fealty came out in 2010 to continue some of the story lines from The Deed of Paksenarrion, I am sure that I was not the only fantasy reader to let out a WHOOP of joy in the middle of a crowded bookstore!

While over a decade had passed, reading the pages then and sliding back into the story was like a reunion with really great friends… you feel as if no time at all has gone by.  Once I reread The Deed of Paksenarrion for this challenge, I had to read the newer two novels, especially since I have been dropping hints of how much I would like the latest release, in hardcover format, as a Christmas present!

Oath of Fealty continues the adventures of Kieri Phelan, former mercenary duke of Tsaia, whom Paksenarrion helped restore to the throne of Lyonya as the long-vanished heir as one of her paladin quests. While he is adapting to the differences of co-ruling a kingdom with his Elven grandmother, instead of a mercenary company, evil is on the move again within his own kingdom and the one he left behind. Prince Mikeli faces a coup of the most sinister nature.  It appears that a powerful family, the Verrakaien, have been hiding a dark secret which will force the prince to turn to the only member of that family he can trust- Kieri’s former Captain Dorrin.  She has long been exiled as an outcast from her tainted bloodline and may hold the key to the problem… along with powers that were long thought to have been wiped out.

Unlike The Deed of Paksenarrion, where a single character’s experience and adventure were the main focus, Oath of Fealty does a masterful job of telling separate stories within the same novel which intertwine, intermingle and ultimately form a beautiful work of art.  Moon’s storytelling ability has grown over the years, honed by her work on other series.  The details, slowly revealed, about much beloved but minor characters from the other trilogy, allow you to appreciate the richness of each of their lives instead of just marveling at the adventures of one.  Instead of feeling jumpy, like the narratives in The Rise of Nine, Oath of Fealty switches smoothly from one aspect of the story to the next.  It leaves you feeling as if you are watching one episode after another of your favourite shows instead of sitting next to a compulsive channel changer.

Paperback format, 463 pages, published in 2010 by  Ballantine Books/ Del Ray

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Review #87 The Rise of Nine by Pittacus Lore

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We bought this book for our family as soon as it was released this fall, but thanks to a terrible round of Rock/Paper/Scissors, I had to wait until my daughters were done reading it before I could add it to my list.

The Rise of Nine is the third book in the now expanded I am Number Four series.  Perhaps in the void left with the end of the Harry Potter and Twilight Series (both books and movies) the temptation to expand the story and thus the profits was too great to stick to the original trilogy format.

Luckily for readers, the author and alien hiding among us Pittacus Lore tells great stories.  The Rise of Nine is no exception.  The story is gripping, thrilling and rushes the reader towards the ending only to leave them wanting more.

If I had one complaint, it was the jumpiness between all the separate voices.  Each character gets their own font to help distinguish which person is speaking in each chapter, but some of them were similar enough typographically that you wasted precious time at the beginning of each chapter trying to figure out who was speaking until it became obvious. As a graphic designer, I would have like to see a much bolder mix of serif and sans serif font combinations to make the distinction easier.  I noticed this more than my daughter who read the book in a weekend gulp because I had a busy few days where I was picking the story up every chance I could around what life was throwing my way.  Perhaps this erratic change to the style and number of voices telling the story came from the writing upheaval that the book went through before its publication.

I can only hope that the rest of the series remains focussed on what made the original book  “I am Number Four” so wonderful…. great storytelling!

Hardcover format, 360 pages (plus extras), Copyright 2012, Harper (an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers)

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Review #86 Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater

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I knew that I was going to like Ballad.  I hoped I was going to like Ballad.  I was worried about being disappointed by Ballad because it was the second book in a series by Maggie Stiefvater.  Linger, her second book after the brilliant Shiver, left such deep scars of disappointment that it took a book like Insurgent to make me trust that second books could be wonderful.

The first few chapters felt jumpy and a bit disjointed, especially when a third narrative was woven into the story.  I almost put the book away on the bookcase, but then I remembered that I’d felt the same way about Lament at the beginning and I kept reading.

I am so glad that I did!

Ballad is the story of James, the dependable friend and sidekick of Lament’s heroine who stands by her side and helps out, loving her completely even when she falls in love with the Faerie who has been sent to kill her.  By the end of Lament, James comes to understand that Dee will never feel the same way about him that he does about her.

Ballad opens with a strange, unsent text message  as Dee’s narrative, then jumps into the story from James’ point of view.  He is studying at the Thornking-Ash School of Music on a special scholarship, but soon discovers that he is surrounded by more faeries than ever before, especially one who seems almost human.  Will he lose his heart… or lose his life?

Once you get past the slow pace of the first few chapters, the story develops into something so captivating and satisfying that you are loathe to put the book down for mundane things such as eating and sleeping.  The book and its amazing characters race towards one of the most satisfying conclusions I’ve enjoyed in a book in recent memory.

KUDOS to author Maggie Stiefvater for this brilliant and enjoyable tale.  I adored how this second book made the series stronger instead of weaker.  The ending was unexpected, touching and terrific!

Paperback format, 388 pages, Copyright 2009, Scholastic Canada Edition (2012)

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Review #83 – #85 The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon

There are stories so epic that they change you after the reading of their tales. As a child who grew up with tales of Middle Earth and Narnia, who rolled dice for the first games of Dungeons & Dragons ever released and dreamt of Boldly going when no one had gone before… I have high standards and award 5 stars stingily.  This is one of my 5 star favourites.

The Deed of Paksenarrion is a large “mass market edition” of Elizabeth Moon’s brilliant first fantasy trilogy that gathers up all six hundred thousand words of her original novels in a single volume.  My copy is well loved and growing tattered with each visit, but it remains a truly amazing and original world in which to lose yourself. It reads like the best D&D adventure ever played as it chronicles the adventures of Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter, a tall young girl who runs away from an arranged marriage to a pig farmer in order to learn all she can about becoming a warrior.

Anyone who has ever Larped, RPG’d, rolled dice or dressed up as a character, will find themselves wishing they could be part of this amazing tale, despite the trials and tribulations as the main character and those around her are swept from one adventure to another.  The thrilling saga weaves itself to an astounding and satisfying conclusion with plenty of weaving paths along the way.  You can almost sense Paksenarrion “leveling up” as she gains experience as a mercenary fighter and is eventually claimed by a higher calling.  Elizabeth Moon creates a lush world of kingdoms in peril, mysterious elves, evil plots and tangled loyalties that is both believable and engrossing.  Once you get caught up in the first chapter, you find yourself struggling to put the book down for such mundane things as eating or sleeping.  A few of the stains on my copy are proof that I got so engrossed in this story that the spoon or fork got distracted on its journey to my mouth!

The Deed of Paksenarrion does not shy away from the ugly side of war, the perils of the command chain or the fears that face the helpless.  It does not glorify battle the way some video games seem to either.  Instead, Elizabeth Moon creates a truly outstanding story where battles are marvelous echoes for all of the struggles we humans face in our lives.  The courage and determination, the tenacity and conviction with which some of these vivid characters face their destinies reminds us that humans are capable of great things.  We have only to try instead of running away or taking an easier, darker path.

If you have never read The Deed of Paksenarrion, hunt it down. It MUST be on your book “bucket list”.  I wish I could share your excitement as you read it for the first time.  If you have already discovered how truly unique and amazing this book is, chime in and share what you loved best about it as a comment.

I was thrilled when Moon returned to this timeline in 2010 and created a different set of slightly overlapping adventures that take place after the events in The Deed of Paksenarrion.  It gives me more things to read and review before the end of the year and this challenge!

The Deed of Paksenarrion Paperback format, 1024 pages, published in 1992 by BAEN Fantasy

Originally published as Sheepfarmer’s Daughter ©1988, Divided Allegiance ©1988 and Oath of Gold ©1989

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Review #77 Exile’s Song by Marion Zimmer Bradley

After the Sharra Rebellion cost him a hand and the trust of many of the ruling people of Darkover, Lew Alton left his home planet behind.  His return to Darkover, and the other events that take place in Sharra’s Exile, eventually lead Lew to being appointed to the Terran Imperial Senate as his planet’s representative, leaving Darkover behind yet again… this time with his wife Dio and the young daughter he’s only just begun to know.

Exile’s Song begins with Margaret Alton’s return to Darkover as an adult and an assistant to a renowned musicologist from the Federation University planet, sent to study local music.  Her red hair and fluency in the Darkover language make her an asset to her beloved professor, but also mark her as one of the Comyn, the Laran talented ruling families of Darkover that she knows nothing about.  After the sudden death of her mentor, Margaret Alton find herself embroiled in a web of intrigue and local politic, inheritance and latent psychic abilities that could not only change her entire future, it might also cost her her life!

Exile’s Song is a fascinating look at the culture of Darkover from someone belongs to the world but is able to see it from an outsider’s point of view.  As an independent, educated, intelligent female, Margaret Alton is dismayed and shocked by some of the aspects of this patriarchal society.  She has been left in the dark about much of her heritage, so an element of mystery/ discovery carries the story along as she tries to sort out the pieces of her destiny. While the “torn between two cultures” has always been a major theme in Bradley’s work and the Darkover novels especially, this book feels far more intimate and poignant than the usual 3rd person narrative.  Perhaps it is just the passion and detail with which Bradley returns to her favourite planet as she creates a new era , one for which she’d laid the groundwork over a decade before.

Exile’s Song was written a full 15 years after Sharra’s Exile and marks Bradley’s epic return to the beloved world that she created.  It sets in motion characters and events that will spread over several other books (one of which was finished posthumously by Deborah J. Ross) that form the closing chapters in the official Darkover timeline.  Like other famous and much loved sagas (Star Trek, Star Wars, Dune etc.) there will be fan fiction and perhaps even other stories yet to come.  But things change in a world once the creator of it passes on.  Exile’s Song has a wonderful ending that could allow it to stand on its own, but I am glad Marion continued with their adventures up until her death(and beyond).

Paperback format, 493 pages, published in 1996 by DAW Books.

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Review #76 Sharra’s Exile by Marion Zimmer Bradley

This was a summer for rediscovering and rereading the Darkover books in my collection.  Thanks to the Internet, I was able to read a great plot summary for The Heritage of Hastur, one of the novels still missing from my collection despite my best attempts to track down a used copy at a reasonable price.  I wanted to remind myself of the basic plot before I moved on to Sharra’s Exile.

Sharra’s Exile covers a pivotal time in the history of Darkover and the planet’s relationship with the Terran Empire.  The books seems to stand as a bridge between Bradley’s earlier Darkover novels, each written as shorter stories about a world that she loved, and the later, thicker novels that went into much more detail about the vast world and intricate society that she’d created. This novel begins the “modern” era of Darkover.  The planet is no longer the isolated, feudal world that grew from the descendants of a lost Terran Colony.  Sharra’s Exile is about a unique world trying to find a way to belong to something bigger than itself, without losing its own identity.  Various players on both sides of the issue plot for Power above all.  When a legendary force resurfaces from an ancient Matrix Weapon, will it be used against the Terrans to drive them out or will it shake apart the very world from which it was born?

Sharra’s Exile is a gripping multiple-narrative book that is handled exceptionally well.  I often find books that jump around to different character’s perspective confusing at best, but somehow Bradley’s deft touch lets the different narratives overlap at times and offer more than one point of view about certain key events.  This keeps the reader as more of a neutral observer with excellent box seats to an epic adventure rather than being caught up in only one person’s point of view… and it works exceedingly well with such a complex tale.

The additional details about Regis Hastur in the new Hastur Lord that I read earlier in the challenge, made reading this older novel far more rewarding this time.  I cannot wait to reread more about Regis Hastur, the Altons and how these strong-willed people grow to shape a planet’s destiny!

Paperback format, 365 pages, published in 1981 by DAW Books.

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Review #67 Rite of Passage by Alexi Panshin

There are books that change your life when you read them.  Books that somehow alter your perspective on the world for the better and make you feel more prepared to face the challenges in your own life, even if that novel is a work of fiction.

Rite of Passage was first published in 1968 and won the Nebula award that same year.  Written by American SF critic and author Alexi Panshin, Rite of Passage is a semi-dystopian novel about the Universe in 2198.  The Earth no longer exists, destroyed amid desperate wars and overcrowding.  Civilization is preserved aboard 7 giant ships that travel amid the hundred colony worlds that still hold the human civilization.

Mia Havero has grown up on one of these ships in a safe and secure environment, but as she approaches her fourteenth year, she must prepare for “the Trial”, a month long exile amid the wilderness on a colony world.  Those who survive this “Rite of Passage” return to the ship and are considered adults. This tradition ensures that the ships do not become overpopulated as well as weeding out those who cannot survive by their own skills or cunning.  The only problem is that the planet they are being sent to turns out to hold a lot more challenges and dangers than usual, including one threat that may change Ship society forever.

Rite of Passage is a single person narrative with a strong, young female voice, which makes the fact that it was written by a man in his late twenties as a first novel all the more remarkable.  It is not only an amazing story, but the way in which Mia wrestles with personal challenges, moral dilemmas and her emerging identity as an individual instead of a child make this an incredibly powerful coming of age story.  I first read the novel in my teens, bought my own copy in my early 20s and have reread the book at least a dozen times since then.  One of the advantages to being a speed-reader and devourer of books is that you read so many stories, you forget small details until you read a book again… then you savour it all over like a favourite meal, warm bath or childhood tale.

Amid the current slew of YA dystopian and coming of age novels, Rite of Passage not only holds its own,  it rises above many “modern” books due to the excellence of writing, the believability of the characters, the power of the narrative and the universality of the experience we all face called Growing Up.  This novel proves that a good story, especially classic Sci-Fi, is truly timeless.  There are very few books that I would rate at the full 5 stars… but Rite of Passage had to be among them.

Paperback format, 239 pages, copyright 1968, Timescape copy published by Pocket Science FIction in 1982

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