Haunted

My house is a wreck. All the mail from the last two weeks is stacked up next to the TV set, clean laundry fills my armchair waiting for me to fold and put it away and the only reason the carpets are vacuumed is because I have a robot to take care of that for me. But none of this is my fault. I blame Kelley Armstrong. I've been spending every free second of the last couple weeks reading her Women of the Otherworld series. Did you know you can't read a book and do the dishes at the same time? I tried but both the book and the dishes suffered.

Several months ago I was at the bookstore and I asked the lady at the information desk which book was the best book she'd read in the last six months. She thought about it for a bit then led me to a row of books by Kelly Armstrong and handed me Bitten, a book that many people claim "Does for werewolves what Anne Rice did for vampires." Since I'm not terrifically impressed with what Ms. Rice did for vampires I was somewhat skeptical and the book ended up in my to read pile for a long time. When I finally read it I kicked myself for waiting so long.

Bitten is the story of Elena, the only female werewolf in existence. In Ms. Armstrong's universe nearly every werewolf is the result of a gene passed down from father to son. While it's possible for a person to become a werewolf via bite it's extremely rare for the victim to survive the excruciating transition. Elena is such a transformed human, survivor of the bite her fiancé Clayton gave her several years ago. Bitter, betrayed and furious, she wants nothing more to do with her fiancé but has to stay with his Pack while Jeremy, Clayton's foster father, nurses her through her terrible ordeal. Once she recovers enough to survive on her own she moves away and starts a new life, which is interrupted when the Pack she left behind needs her help. Returning to their wooded enclave with great reluctance, she and the other werewolves investigate a series of murders that threaten to expose their secrets.

I enjoyed Bitten very much but I wasn't in love with it, mostly because Elena distances herself from her emotions. An orphan who was shuttled through a series of increasingly awful foster homes, she has built up a wall between herself and the rest of the world. By not allowing herself to feel she keeps me the reader from feeling along with her, which makes the read less satisfying. I have the same problem with Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta character and eventually quit reading Ms. Cornwell's books because the emotional distance grated on me.

Bitten still works well as a thriller, with a dose of romance thrown in for good measure, but it's with her subsequent books that Ms. Armstrong really comes into her own. Stolen, a book about a lunatic software genius who kidnaps as many supernaturals as he can and forces them to play lethal games, picks up not long after Bitten ends and is also told in Elena's voice. It's a well-plotted, fast paced thriller that has its cathartic moments, particularly for those of us who have been bullied and love to see a bully get their comeuppance.

What really makes these books work are Ms. Armstrong's compelling characters. Despite the fact that they aren't human, its their very humanity that makes them so convincing. The relationship between Paige, a witch in her early twenties, and her ward, Savannah, an orphaned witch just entering her teens, is beautifully done with all of the tension and stress you'd expect from any strong willed daughter trying to become independent from an equally strong mother. Family relationships are very important in this series of books, whether they're the iron bonds of the wolf pack or the longing a ghost mother has to protect her child.

Ms. Armstrong also excels at making me like a character that previously annoyed the heck out of me. Twice she's introduced a character that I found obnoxious, then told the next book in that character's voice, making them someone I can understand and root for. She did this perfectly in Haunted, a book told from the perspective of Eve Levine, a witch who turned to dark magic in an effort to gain power. She's selfish, ruthless and impulsive; not your average heroine and I wasn't sure I was going to like the book but it turned out to be so compelling that at one point I was reading it at four a.m., listening to my heart pound and thinking I should go downstairs and barricade the doors. I haven't been this frightened by a book in some time. I've got two left in the series but I'm saving them for the weekend. I'm afraid If I start reading Stolen, the third werewolf book, I won't be able to stop until I finish. I've completely cleared my schedule for Saturday and while other people are outside roller-skating and swimming I'll be hiding under the bed with a flashlight hoping nothing terrible happens to my beloved characters.

You can read the prologue to Bitten here and the prologue of Stolen here. The first chapter of Haunted can be found here.

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Hollywood Stinks, who reviews the movie Stealth and says, "Stealth epitomizes everything bad about Hollywood. Explosions instead of plot, clichés instead of characters, sentimentality instead of passion. The icing on the cake is the laughable scene where the commander commits suicide while leaving a voicemail. That's not drama, that's idiocy." Have you got a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me and I'll run the most interesting ones. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.