First, I have a confession to make: I'm not much of a reader of paranormal romance. There. I've said it. Phew! Every inclination of my heart is to pass right by that entire section. Although, another confession, I enjoyed Twilight - which makes me a huge hypocrite maybe, but there it is. Well, the only reason I read Twilight in the first place is because it was recommended to me from a source I couldn't refuse. Anyway, this is about a series I just read this week and picked up all on my own. Well, it was also recommended to me, but not personally. I first heard of Bree Despain as a guest on Writing Excuses (a totally awesome podcast I listen to every week!) and I thought she was both funny and articulate. I enjoyed her so much that I put her books on my to-read list...that was probably a year or so ago. No, my list isn't that long...or, well, it is, but I could've bumped those books to the top at any point, but I hesitated. Other books took prescidence. There are so many books I wanted to read (not to mention write), and paranormal romance isn't usually my cup of tea, so I put it off. However, I didn't forget about them. I follow her on Twitter (even though I had yet to read any of her books, I was a fan) and the first two books (The Dark Divine and The Lost Saint) went on sale at Amazon last week - $1.99 each on Kindle - so I picked them up. I guess it came down to "I like her enough to spend $4 to see what she's about" (and I couldn't find them at my library). Her final book in the series, The Savage Grace, came out on Tuesday. I bought it. For $9.99. Totally worth it. And I'm actually glad I hadn't read them earlier because I got to read all three of them right in a row - so, no waiting! Bonus! :)
Okay. Short Review. Here it goes: I LOVED them! There, now that you know my bias, here's my reasoning.
Faith: It was refreshing to see a Christian protagonist and family in an honest light. While there were a couple of odd moments for me in the first book - mostly wanting a little more internal motivation from Grace (main character) along these lines because it feels sometimes like she's just a good girl who grew up in a religious family, but hasn't really made it her own - I really thought she did an excellent job honestly portraying some of the struggles and failures a person of faith encounters in life. I loved the imagery of her battling the 'monster within and without' with love and forgiveness - and how hard that can be. Now, this being paranormal, her 'monster' was a very literal werewolf, but the themes can so easily translate to the real world. The story of the Prodigal Son is such a poignant base for the series, and it is wonderfully explored.
Characters: There are so many! Each wonderfully crafted and believable. Grace, Daniel, Jude, Pastor Divine, and Gabriel would probably be considered main characters throughout the series. I want to include April and Talbot in that list, along with Katie and Pete and the Lost Boys, but they're not really main characters - they're just developed with such depth that they feel like they should be! Even Charity gets some spunk in the third book (her sister). Anyway, I love the characters. I felt they had depth and honesty. They weren't stereotypical. They had strengths and weaknesses. She gave enough information for me to understand their motivations and make their actions believable (which is not easy to do in first-person). So, yeah, I want to meet her characters - well, most of them anyway! :)
Plot: So Interesting! The first book followed mostly Grace, Daniel, and Jude. Daniel comes back to town. He used to be Jude's best friend and Grace's crush, but something happened three years ago that no one will talk about. I love the themes of growth and change - both good and bad - that the characters have undergone in the last three years and throughout the book. Why did they make the choices they did? What really happened? Why does it matter? Yeah, great questions to find out! The second book is the hardest - which is completely normal. Grace makes some frustrating choices and we have to yell at the book about how totally stupid (but extremely believable) she's being. When she finally figures some things out, she still has a stupid moment, but then she's back to being Grace and we love that! The third book is literally action-packed the entire time. Things happen so fast and furious Grace can't get everything under control. She has a difficult first part of the book before she has her strength moment and starts to make everything right. Wow. That was awesome. Bittersweet ending...so good.
Possible Spoilers (I don't think I gave anything vital away - the last one is the most questionable):
My favorite scene: This may be an odd scene to pick. I would think many would pick the basement warehouse scene near the end of the second book, or maybe the fight scene later that day... Or maybe they would pick the scene on the parish roof and afterwards in the first book...that was awesome too! Or the many other high-intensity action scenes... Or maybe some of the sweet, tender moments between Grace and Daniel. Yeah, they're all good and it's hard to choose, but I have one. It comes in the last book (The Savage Grace) after a pretty physically intense moment between Daniel and Grace, Daniel rolls away from her and puts his feet on the floor and his head down - putting distance between the two of them. He calms himself down and says that he doesn't want to do anything that would go against what they decided about staying abstinent until marriage. She, of course, loves him so much more for that statement at the same time that she wants to ignore what they decided before (very believable - great job Bree!). She moves to him and begins to kiss him again, and he stands up and walks away! THAT is love people! THAT is sacrifice! The book's themes cover so many 'I'd give up my life/soul/etc for you/yours' that this scene might fall under the radar. There are really so few times in our lives that we get the opportunity to sacrifice ourselves for another in a huge, tangible way like Grace and several others get to do somewhat often in the series, but that doesn't mean there aren't opportunities for sacrifice. That scene between Grace and Daniel happens so frequently to so many people every day except they let their passion for the moment make them forget who they are and what they want. And neither one stands up for the other and walks away. Neither one thinks much past the desires of the moment. They don't think about what the other person wants - really wants, not just physically craves in the moment - what that person decided before their mind became clouded and confused by physical intimacy. I love Daniel. He was such a good character in the series. His growth and actions and secrets and motivations and everything was so well done (and filtered through Grace's perception), but this is the scene that made me love him. This is the scene where I knew what kind of man he was. Perfect.
My favorite character: Yeah, not gonna happen. I loved so many of them! I thought I could come down definitively on this one, but no. Daniel is awesome. He really is (as per favorite scene), but as we see him through the eyes of someone who loves him, it's hard not to - so I'm going to ignore him as a candidate. I also love Jude. Again, she loves him, so how can I not? His character is fascinating in its complexity and I want to know more. If Bree had her fan fic contest now rather than a couple weeks ago, I may have had to write about him. But no, unfortunately I hadn't read any of her books two weeks ago! :) Ah well. Gabriel is another one of my favorites. He's got a whole shaolin monk thing going on that I love. However, I have to pull my favorite characters from the third book: Brent and Slade, two of the lost boys. I loved them. I loved how extremely deep she made them even though they were very side characters and didn't even enter until the last book. Perhaps I'm a little biased because I have trouble making my side characters this believable - and I'm jealous. I need to take lessons from her! - Honestly, I was going to come down with Brent as my favorite as I started writing this paragraph, just fyi.
My favorite surprise/tension: Talbot. Hands down. No contest. Bree was brilliant in her treatment of his character. I don't know how many times I went back and forth on his character, thinking I had all the information I needed this time, but then she's toss another scrap and I'd think 'wait, maybe...' and I'd go in circles that way throughout the second and third books. I was mostly right a lot of the time, but she definitely threw some surprises at me. I still have to wonder (and it might be fun to write an alternate story about this) if Grace had handled things differently, how much difference would that have made in the end? I think a lot. The further along in book three I got, the more tension I felt because of her choices concerning him. He would be another interesting character to write...so many motivations! Again, great job, Bree! :)
Hehehe, I tried to keep that as un-spoilery as I could.
Anyway, final thoughts: I really enjoyed the series. I basically read it like one book - back to back to back - so I would think it would be difficult to keep them separate, but she made each one distinct that it's surprisingly easy. That means a lot to me - especially since it's a trilogy. It seems that so many authors just stop the story instead of completing something in each book. She did an excellent job. At first I was annoyed at the ending of the second book because it seemed to come very abruptly, but that part of the story was completed...she just threw in something totally crazy (and new) at the end that I had to know that story too. Thankfully the last book is out now and that tension never needs to exist for you! (I had to wait two whole days...it was torture!) So, I recommend this series. Read it. It's good. :)