Thursday, January 3, 2013

ARC Review: Aris Returns by Devin Morgan

Aris Returns: A Vampire Love Story (Infinity Diaries Trilogy, #1)
From the blurb:

Psychologist Sarah Hagan thought she had her life under control. She pulled herself together after a painful (and unexpected) divorce. She’s currently dating a successful but neglectful attorney—a relationship that is adequate, if not totally satisfying. She has a few good friends, lives in a beautiful condo in the heart of Chicago, and loves her work as a therapist. From the outside, it looks like her life is almost perfect. it only takes one patient -- a handsome younger man named Carlos who is on parole for car theft -- to put her well-ordered life into a tailspin. As she regresses him with hypnotherapy, she discovers an unusual presence. Is this some elaborate alter ego that Carlos has created or is something much stranger going on?
My rating:

When I first read the blurb, I was intrigued by the premise and requested the galley. It sounded like a fresh idea, and I couldn't wait to get started on the book.

After reading the book, I'm no longer intrigued, but rather disappointed. While the premise sounds great, the execution leaves much to be desired.

We are first introduced to Sarah Hagan, a 37 year old divorced psycho-analyst who specializes in past life regression therapy. We are told about her daily life in details ad nauseam, to the point where I was asking myself who edited this book, and why all these minuscule details were allowed to remain. Not only is everything described to the smallest piece of information, the writing is also rather juvenile, with short, choppy sentences. Not a great start.

The author then introduces Colleen, a parole officer and one of Sarah's best friends. She comes to Sarah with a request to help one of her parolee's, Carlos Havarro, to stay clean and crime-free by working with him through past life regression therapy. Carlos is a young twenty-something who's had a hard childhood and got into criminal activities as a teenager trying to escape his slap-happy father. He's portrayed as somewhat assertive, trying to get Sarah to meet with him outside of their session, with an attitude that could be described as cocky on occasion, but then is also giving a somewhat sensible side, with trying to get away from the gang and realizing that he's been giving another chance. As a romantic interest, I found him too young and unsuited for Sarah.

As Sarah begins to work with Carlos and hypnotizes him, a new character, Aris, emerges. Aris is a vampire, who was first turned when he was a soldier with Alexander the Great's army. Staked by Alexander himself, he languished for nearly 500 years before being 'awoken' again. With each new therapy session, Aris reveals more of his journey and how he came to England during the time of Henry VIII, he of the six wives. The author seems to have done her research into that time period very well, and incorporates some of the historical details accurately while still spinning them to fit Aris' involvement.

At this point, as Aris makes his interest in Sarah known, to the point of telling her that she is the reincarnation of his long-lost love, the author introduces a bit of a love triangle, with Sarah unsure whether she's attracted to Carlos or to Aris or to both. The author allows neither to fully develop, and the emotional whining on Sarah's part in regards to her growing attraction and denials of said attraction to Colleen is unimpressive. Carlos appears aware that Sarah is attracted to Aris, and even confronts her about this on one occasion, but again, the author doesn't take it any further than her denial instead of exploring the emotional connotations of the situations.

What impressed me was that whenever Aris speaks, the writing changes to something that I would have liked to see throughout the novel. The sentences get longer, the prose becomes beautiful and flowing and the voice of a millenia-old vampire is captured quite well. Of course, as soon as the sessions stop, we are jarred back into present time with Sarah and Carlos and their short, choppy sentences. I'm sure the difference was applied on purpose, but the discrepancy between the beautiful, flowing writing of the vampire versus the hacked up sentences we get from Sarah was too much. A more subtle approach might have worked better.

What I also really liked was the mythology this author used for the existence of vampires. Her ideas of how the species came to be, how they are perpetuated and how they are governed was impressive and fresh. And yet again, the reasons behind some of the actions of those governing vampires are left unexplored. For example, why does Akira defend Aris after his first transgression against the rules? No satisfactory explanation is given.

Sarah's character is little difficult to describe. On one hand, she seems to know how to stand up for herself with her mother, who would like to see Sarah married with children, and her ex-husband, who seems a complete jerk, coming to her to get help with his new marriage (to the woman with whom he cheated on Sarah) and then eventually to tell her that he wants another chance. Sarah kicks him to the curb, rightfully so, though I didn't quite understand the purpose of including him in this story at all, other than a side note about her divorce to establish a history. Sarah is also portrayed as intelligent enough to realize that she has issues of her own, which she's working on with her friend Bonnie, a fellow therapist, but these are also not fully explored.

And then we have this other Sarah, who is whiny and doubting and confused and doesn't quite know what to do about her growing attraction to Aris/Carlos. Meh - she was annoying. The dream sequences were also a tad odd, as if the author was trying very hard to introduce a sexual element to the story that never really panned out. Dreamlover didn't do it for me.

Carlos and the other main characters (Colleen, Bonnie) are adequately fleshed out, though they don't always make sense with how they act or what they say. Colleen, for example, is described as 'adjusting well' after getting married to a man she's been living with for a year prior to their marriage. What adjustment exactly does the marriage certificate require? I was confused.

Then the author introduces a sinister element with Manu, who is the leader of Carlos' old gang, and slashed tires, threats and phone calls from Carlos' mother who is worried about her son and his little brother. I say she introduces it, because that thread isn't followed through all the way. The danger Manu poses should have been better explored than a couple of threatening phone calls and a car accident that he may or may not have caused. It seemed rather weak, until the climax.

While the climax was well done, the resolution of the story left me unsatisfied. [ Aris takes over Carlos' body, why doesn't Sarah realize this, and how does she go home without even acknowledging this fact? (hide spoiler)]

The book also suffers from a severe lack of proof-reading and editing. Yes, this is an ARC so I can only hope that the many, many, MANY grammatical, punctuation and spelling errors were corrected in the published version, but I don't have high hopes for editing, considering I received this ARC very close to the publication date. At that point, it seems there isn't enough time to apply the red pen and strike many of the superfluous sentences and details and tighten the narrative. The timeline also jumps frequently, without preamble and in the middle of a chapter, and this made it difficult for this reader to follow along.

It's a shame, really. This could have been a fabulous book, but unfortunately, it fell flat.

I received a free ARC from the publisher via Netgalley. A positive review was not promised in return.

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Until next time,

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  1. Thanks for this honest review. You know I write off books as soon as I hear "annoying heroine". I just can't honor the time to try and understand a lot of whining or a heaping of insecurities. The plot sounds interesting, but at the same time it sounds like "too much book", know what I mean? Was this like 400+ pages?

    1. 235 pages on my Nook. Felt longer than it seemed.

    2. That's not so bad, however an unsatisfying resolution is never a good thing.


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