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Deborah Smith

Book 1 of the Waterlilies Series
2002, Jan, BelleBooks
Buy from Amazon.com (trade paperback)

Who recommends: Preeti, Linda, Lori, Isabel
Who discommends: Edith, Suzanne

This may be my favorite read of this year!! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!! I don't think anything will be able to top the awe and wonder I'm feeling after just finishing this book. There are few novels about mermaids or their offspring, and this is easily the best of them all.

The heroine, Alice, has grown up knowing she is different. People treat her like a freak. She's very withdrawn and cowed. The only time she feels happy and free is when she's submerged in the lake near her house. Alice has webbed feet, hair that needs to be cut every day, and can stay submerged for very long periods of time. After saving a drowning girl, she gets unwanted publicity that changes her life, bringing her to the attention of her older half-sisters. These mermaids teach Alice to accept and embrace her heritage.

Along with meeting her sisters and learning about their lives and loves, there is also a wonderful love story for Alice. She becomes instrumental in resolving past tragedies. All the characters are complex, which is to be expected from a Deborah Smith book. This is a many faceted book and there's no way to describe it simply. You have to read it for yourself!

The story is complete in itself and, of course, has a HEA for all. And as if the great story isn't enough, the author caps it off with a history of the mermaid race, the types and kinds of halflings who exist, and hints of what may be in the next book in the series. I hated to come back to the real world. I want to believe her's is real. :-)--Linda (08 Feb 02)

Yes! I've had my thoughts on this book hanging about in draft mode for a couple of weeks waiting for someone else to come up with a description first. Which, as Linda notes, is very difficult to do. Here's my attempt...

I want to start with saying that Deborah Smith is a storyteller par excellence whether she's writing mainstream women's fiction or ALICE AT HEART, a deeply felt story about mermaids in our modern world.

Alice is an orphan reviled by her kin and townfolk and an oddball who only feels safe when she's naked underwater--for hours--in the icy lake by which she lives. One day Alice "miraculously" rescues a young girl from drowning in the lake. This event triggers a psychic connection with an injured and drowning diver in a distant sea, whom she convinces to take a breath in the water. He does and survives.

The story takes off when Alice's previously-unknown trio of much older half-sisters come to claim her after reading a news story. These mermaid/sirens invite Alice back to their island home off the Georgia coast. There, Alice learns the fascinating and, more recently, troubled history of her eccentric and storied Bonavendier family. The loves and mistakes and betrayals and tragedies of the past generation are slowly revealed to Alice. She becomes the agent for healing the wounds of her family as she herself becomes a stronger person.

Essential to this process is the recuperating diver staying at his nearby family home. It turns out Griffin Randolph (I wondered if -dolph was supposed to evoke "dolphin") is the scion of a "Lander" family who has been at odds with Alice's family for generations. Alice and Griffin are powerfully drawn to one another. Another orphan, this brooding undersea treasure hunter is mistrustful of Alice's sisters and unknowing of his own nature. Both are victims of their parents' deaths, but it's the solving the mystery of his that finally sets things aright for everyone in the story.

ALICE AT HEART was a lovely story full of hope and love and wonder and compassion. I became so deeply immersed (no pun intended) in the characters' lives that even the perfect resolution to all the love stories didn't strike a false note. I was just achingly happy for them all. I do wish Deborah Smith had left the mermaid origin story more vague because I can't get the imagery out of my head that we're all some combo of fish and ape. The worldbuilding in general was weak. But otherwise, I just feel glad that a story this good was given voice and published.--Preeti (09 Feb 02)

I always have problems describing the books, and I'm also bad at figuring out what I liked. It's so much easier to comment about what bothered, or didn't work, for me.

Also essential is the fact that Griffin's mother was distantly related to Alice's family.

I wasn't totally blown away by the story. I enjoyed it, but I think I figured out the problem I had. Maybe. The book is quite short. It's a 300-page trade paperback with the largest type I've seen in anything less then a large-print book. And the story focuses a bit at times on other characters. So we are almost getting a novella for Alice's story, particularly as there's a certain amount of set up and introduction in this story, and a strong influence from other characters (necessary, but cutting into a fairly small space). That problem, however, may well be fixed by the next book.

The other thing that bothered me a bit was the idea that the water people, with their incredible voices and creativity, were responsible for the best singers and creative people (designers, artists, even scientists? etc.) on the planet. Or so Lilith implied. Maybe they struck me as a bit too perfect. (Gee, I'm usually the one who likes perfection, and perfect heroes. ) Also, she implied that there was such a huge community of water people scattered throughout the world that I wasn't sure how they'd gone unnoticed.--Lori (09 Feb 02)

A discommend, sigh. Didn't care about the characters at all. I was actually bored and I had so been looking forward to this book. By the time I finished I had found so many faults with it that very little could have retrieved it. I am beginning to wonder if something is wrong me or my taste. No SFR's have been working for me lately.--Edith (27 Feb 02)

I've also been on a Deborah Smith binge. I liked ALICE AT HEART but I agree with whoever said that it was too short for all Smith tried to fit in. I really wasn't convinced of the romance between Alice and Griffin, no inevitability about it at all. I was swept along while reading it but once I closed the book, I had no desire to reread the best bits which is my normal reaction after finishing her novels. In fact, after reading her latest hardcover and the Mossy Creek anthology, I reread A PLACE TO CALL HOME just to remind myself of Smith at her best.--Isabel (01 Mar 02)

I didn't enjoy ALICE AT HEART as much as I thought I would. I just discovered Deborah Smith this winter (thanks Edith) and have read a lot of her back list because she's a fine writer. This book is nothing like her other romances. I liked the premise, but I didn't think the execution was at nearly the level she usually writes at - it almost seemed like she was just going through the motions. Saying all this, I'll still read the next one and withhold final judgment on this series until then.--Suzanne (04 Jun 02)

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