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Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Keeper of the Key by Debra Smith


Kate, an everyday book store owner, is thrown into a world of danger after receiving a letter from her deceased husband. She follows the clues into the arms of Xander, a tough guy she can’t stop herself from wanting. Her passions ignite from a single glance, and she is unable to control her desires. Her love isn’t enough to save her, because a human can never survive a vampire's hunger.

Xander admires the fiery temper of the seductive human he’s determined to help. She must follow the dangerous trail onto which her dead husband’s message leads, for it ends in the mythical land of Shangri La. In an effort to save her, Xander bonds them together, sentencing her to death unless he can reverse the blood tie. Though he craves her touch, he's forced to push her away while they battle their way to the chaos at the heart of Shangri La. Can he protect her from her family’s secrets and find a way for both of them to survive, or will their love be lost in the pits of a crumbling castle?

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Note: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

An interesting read by a new author who shows a lot of promise. A "return to Eden" kind of story where the protagonists are Kate, a bookstore owner who lost her husband a prior to the opening of the book and Xander, the vampire who had been one of her husband's colleagues. At the start of the book, Kate receives a mysterious package from her late husband that contains a pendant and a cryptic letter telling her that she's in danger and that she needs to find Xander and accomplish some unspecified task with the pendant. She dutifully heads out looking for Xander, and so the adventure begins.



We never really get to know a lot about Kate it seems, at least in terms of what her personality is really like, what her life has been like up to now, etc. There's talk of how her father was horrible, hints that he was perhaps abusive though such is never really substantiated, and that her brother and she were very close and stuck together for a "safety in numbers" kind of thing against their dad. We know that she was married, and that her husband died in some accident, but we are told nothing of what their marriage was like aside from impressions that it was the sweet candy and roses type romance, and that they loved each other in the way of high school sweethearts. We see flashes of intelligence from her, but the majority of the time she seems to just have knee-jerk reactions to things, and she's very prone to jumping into something or running off to do something without really thinking it through first. Like going to a strange bar in the seediest part of town to hopefully find some mysterious man, then agreeing to follow a shifty looking man who tells her he knows where Xander is and that he's "right around the corner here", with said corner leading into a dark alley. I had a really hard time buying that any modern woman with even just moderate intelligence would fall for that one, but she does. She does eventually learn to be a bit more cautious, but she continues to be far too trusting, and is far too much the stereotypical blonde almost to the end of the book. I did like her by the end, but I also quite often found her to be very annoying, and the degree of her apparent naivete a bit too unbelievable given that she isn't a newly minted adult fresh out of a sheltered life in a parochial school or something, but has been married and has been running her own business for a least a year, and presumably longer. Mostly though, she was an interesting enough character that I wanted to get inside her head more and learn more about what makes her tick, but we never get to really, nor do we really get a feeling for what she's like when she's not stumbling through trying to save the world, or at least a world.

Many of the same things can be said of Xander, for we only get little snippets about his past, and never enough to really form a picture of who he is and where he comes from, what motivates him, etc. However, unlike with Kate, he did have a palpable presence that came off the pages, and it was much easier to get a feel for what his personality is like and who he is inside. From the moment he is introduced (arriving on cue to rescue Kate from the very predictable attack that happens after she follows Mr. Helpful into that alley) we can tell that he's badass, totally Alpha, and protective. Maybe it was the way he calls her Princess in that scene and the ones following that immediately gave me a feel for him, or maybe I'm just more attuned to picking up on those sort of Alpha Male vibes than I am those of the hapless females they're protecting. Whatever the case, I loved Xander from the moment he made his appearance. The main thing that was a negative about him in my mind was the way he spouts the typical angsty vampire stuff of "it's too dangerous for me to be with you, I might hurt you or kill you on accident, so I'm going to leave you for your own good whether you're willing to take the risk or not". I always tend to roll my eyes at this kind of stuff, and want to smack the whiny vamp/shifter/whateverheis upside the head, but I do kind of understand why it's so heavily used in paranormal romances and don't really take off points for it being used. At least not unless the guy in question gets too angsty/whiny about it to the point of being annoying. Xander never quite does, so I can forgive him trying to be honorable even if it made them both miserable.

I liked the general concept of the story, and it's quite well written, though it does seem to flounder at times. Through the first half of the book especially, things often seem very rushed, at times to the point that it gets a bit hard to follow what's going on because things are happening so fast and with sometimes only sparse explanation. There was more than one time that I had to back up and re-read a portion because I'd have a "Wait, what?" moment where things suddenly didn't make sense and I'd failed to follow how things got from point A to point B. There is one scene where Kate and Xander are arguing that gets especially dizzying trying to follow what's going on and why because Kate keeps abruptly changing her mind or mood or whatever so she'll say one thing, then immediately contradict herself, and it gets very confusing. A lot of the first half could have benefited from slowing the pace down a bit, explaining things a bit more, and perhaps letting the relationship between Kate and Xander progress a little slower at a more natural pace. By the time they head to Shangri La it all begins to even out and the narrative flows a lot more smoothly. Once there, we start to get more answers about what's going on, and more explanations of what their world is like and how it works, or at least how it used to work and presumably how it could work again. In the end, the villain is dealt with a trifle too easily perhaps, but I actually felt that such an "easy" resolution fit with the story for at that point things pretty much had to happen very quickly and suddenly. We are left with a sense of resolution for the current story, but also the knowledge that this has only been one battle, though a significant one, and the war is not over. Hopefully this means there will be a sequel, for I can see this being a series that gets better as it goes along.

Overall, I have to say that I liked this book, though it is fairly rough around the edges in places. I'll admit that I wasn't so sure about it through the first half, because Kate is too often very annoyingly TSTL (too stupid to live) at first, but she settles down eventually and stops acting like a spoiled and sheltered teenager and steps up to the plate when it counts and does what needs to be done. Xander made it worth persevering through the rough spots, however, and eventually the author and her story won me over. I'll be looking forward to more of the story in future books, which hopefully there will be more. I give this 3½ stars for good writing, interesting story, and the hot Alpha Male hero, and look forward to reading more by this author in future.

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