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Saturday, October 31, 2009

'Blood and Chocolate' by Annette Curtis-KLAUSE


From the BLURB:

Vivian Gandillon relishes the change, the sweet, fierce ache that carries her from girl to wolf. At sixteen, she is beautiful and strong, and all the young wolves are on her tail. But Vivian still grieves for her dead father; her pack remains leaderless and in disarray, and she feels lost in the suburbs of Maryland. She longs for a normal life. But what is normal for a werewolf?

Then Vivian falls in love with a human, a meat-boy. Aiden is kind and gentle, a welcome relief from the squabbling pack. He's fascinated by magic, and Vivian longs to reveal herself to him. Surely he would understand her and delight in the wonder of her dual nature, not fear her as an ordinary human would.
Vivian's divided loyalties are strained further when a brutal murder threatens to expose the pack. Moving between two worlds, she does not seem to belong in either. What is she really--human or beast? Which tastes sweeter--blood or chocolate?

This is one of my all-time favorite YA urban fantasy novels. I love this book because it teeters on the brink of the young adult genre. Klause’s YA writing reminds me of Melissa Marr; because both authors allow their teenage characters to be somewhat sensuous, and sexual – making for a far more realistic read.

Vivian is an enigmatic Lolita-wolf; she knows her worth and flaunts it to her heart’s content. She is a werewolf princess (her father was the packs Alpha before his death) and that puts her in a privileged position. She is beautiful, self-assured and has the young male wolves panting after her.

But for all of Vivian’s self-confidence there is something fractured about her. She is carrying a good deal of guilt over her father’s death, and the unwitting role she played in the events that led her pack to flee West Virginia. Vivian is also coping with her mother, Esmè’s, widowhood. As the previous Alpha female, Esmè is scrambling to reclaim some power in the new pack hierarchy, by any means necessary. Vivian looks on as her mother flaunts herself for the new Alpha, Gabriel, and fends off other females. This is a new dynamic in the mother/daughter relationship, in which the line between adult and child is blurred, and just when Vivian needs her mother most. All of these pressures lead to Vivian’s avid curiosity in human boy, Aiden. Her growing infatuation for him is a safe harbor in a sea of uncertainty as she starts to wish for a simpler, human existence.

Klause’s wolves are deliciously animalistic. They have fights amongst the men to determine the new Alpha – and the females also fight one another for the privilege of being Alpha’s mate. In human form they pursue one another like wolves; aggressively, a flirt-and-retreat mating dance that is fascinating to read for its restrained animalism. We see a group of teenage wolves in their pursuit of Vivian, Gabriel is biding his time for the wolf princess and most interesting is reading Vivian’s approach to courting the human Aiden, as she applies her werewolf-learnt flirtation skills to the school boy;

She drifted inside and saw a bathroom, the tub still full. He didn’t have to bathe for her. She would have devoured his sweat, licked it from him, and rubbed herself against his fragrant body until she became his essence. No matter, she thought. I will make him sweat more.

I love this book so much. It is YA, but there is an underlying, pulsating sexuality throughout the entire book. Vivian’s werewolf side is a euphemism of sorts for teenage hormones, but there’s a deeper message in ‘Blood and Chocolate’. Ultimately the book is about acceptance – accepting events of the past. Accepting one’s mistakes and learning from them. And most of all accepting who you are.

I’m just upset that ‘Blood and Chocolate’ is a one off novel, and not a series. It was ‘adapted’ into a 2007 film of the same name – but that’s all the film and book have in common. It is one of the worst adaptations I have ever seen, and I do not recommend you waste you’re time. But I do recommend this book as an absolute must-read!

5/5

Friday, October 30, 2009

'Surrender of a Siren' by Tessa DARE


From the BLURB:

Desperate to escape a loveless marriage and society's constraints, pampered heiress Sophia Hathaway jilts her groom, packs up her paints and sketchbook, and assumes a new identity, posing as a governess to secure passage on the Aphrodite. She wants a life of her own: unsheltered, unconventional, uninhibited. But it's one thing to sketch her most wanton fantasies, and quite another to face the dangerously handsome libertine who would steal both her virtue and her gold.

To any well-bred lady, Benedict 'Gray' Grayson is trouble in snug-fitting boots. A conscienceless scoundrel who sails the seas for pleasure and profit, Gray lives for conquest-until Sophia's perception and artistry stir his heart. Suddenly he'll brave sharks, fire, storm, and sea just to keep her at his side. She's beautiful, refined, and ripe for seduction. Could this counterfeit governess be a rogue's redemption? Or will the runaway heiress's secrets destroy their only chance at love?

I have to admit I went into ‘Surrender of a Siren’ with very high expectations. I absolutely loved Tessa Dare’s debut romance, ‘Goddess of the Hunt’ – and therefore began reading her second novel with unmitigated enthusiasm, but ended up a little bit disappointed. It’s hard to pinpoint why I didn’t really like ‘Surrender’ without drawing comparisons to ‘Goddess’. Maybe it’s not fair to judge a book on its predecessor, but it couldn’t be helped.

One of the things I liked about ‘Goddess of the Hunt’ was its straightforwardness. It was a fairly simple romance, with a few emotional twists and turns for the female protagonist. In ‘Surrender of a Siren’ there’s a bit more at stake. For one thing, Sophia is travelling abroad under a false name and occupation – Miss. Jane Turner, governess. So from the get-go there’s a false identity to eventually be cleared up. Hazards of the sea mean there are also several spikes in the plot; including a shark attack, lightning strike and attempted mutiny. Such peaks in plot made for a lot of action, which was a stark contrast to the rather more sedate ‘Goddess of the Hunt’, which focussed solely on Lucy’s romantic conquest.

I also didn’t particularly like the leading man, Benedict “Gray” Grayson. He was a little bit too smooth, to the point of being even a little bit sleazy. And actually, I found his brother far more interesting. Gray is the Aphrodite’s owner, but his half-brother Joss is the ships’ captain. Joss had a fascinating background – he and Gray share the same father, but Joss’s mother was a black slave. The boys were raised together, but separated when Gray was sent to London for University. Dare made Joss into a real enigma – when we meet him Gray divulges very little information about his little brother, beyond saying he his still grieving for his wife, Mara, who died last year. Joss and Gray look very similar, except for Joss’s cocoa-coloured skin. I would love it if Tessa Dare wrote a book for Joss, because even though he has very few scenes his background was thoroughly intriguing. But it doesn’t bode well when I would rather read about the leading man’s brother than the leading man himself.

One of my favourite things about ‘Goddess’ was leading lady, Lucy. She was a clumsy, naïve, witty tomboy and a delight to read. Sophia is very different from Lucy - she’s a bit of a walking contradiction; a sensuous lady, novice temptress and above all else, a dreamer;

She’d been escaping for years now, thought clever lies and wicked fantasies. Surely Sophia was the only girl at school who kept a secret folio of naughty sketches buried beneath the obligatory watercolor landscapes. The only debutante at Almack’s who mentally undressed unsuspecting gentlemen between dainty sips of ratafia. Surely none of the other young ladies in the Champion of Charities Junior Auxiliary lay abed at night with their shifts hiked to their waists, dreaming of pirates and highwaymen with coarse manners and rough, skilful hands.

Sophia is determined to follow her passions, and on the one hand I really admired her courage. But she spends half the novel berating herself for her wicked thoughts, selfish actions and unladylike behaviour. In the end I got a little bit sick of hearing all of the contradictory shameful thoughts regarding herself.

Measuring ‘Surrender’ against ‘Goddess’ makes for harsh reviewing. ‘Surrender’ isn’t bad; it’s just not as good as ‘Goddess’. There are plenty of redeemable features in the book; Tessa Dare writes wonderfully sensuous love scenes, for instance, and her secondary characters are lively and compelling. I did like ‘Surrender’, I just didn’t love it and I was expecting a bit more than I got.

2.5/5

'A touch of dead' Sookie Stackhouse short story collection by Charlaine HARRIS


Urban Fantasy authors are a tricky bunch. They like anthologies, they like contributing to anthologies and if they are authors with a series they LOVE to write anthology-stories based in their established universes. This can be tricky for readers – most of us don’t really want to spend money on a collaborative book in which only one of our favourite author’s stories appears. It’s more likely we’ll try and borrow the anthology book from the library or just settle with never reading it at all. But it’s frustrating when one little story in an anthology ends up impacting on an author’s established series.

Case and point is Charlaine Harris. Charlaine wrote the Sookie-based short-story ‘One Word Answer’ for the ‘Bite’ anthology. Only problem was in the story ‘One Word Answer’ Charlaine introduced the back-story to a minor character who would go on to have a big impact on the 6th Sookie Stackhouse book; ‘Definitely Dead’. Cousin Hadley. Many Sookie Stackhouse fans complained that ‘Definitely Dead’ had a confusing plot because Charlaine wrote it expecting that her readers were familiar with the short-story ‘One Word Answer’, which was the starting plot point for ‘Definitely Dead’.

To aid confusion (and because ‘True Blood’ has seen the Sookie books blow up!) Charlaine has released a book compiling all of her Sookie-based short stories. Hallelujah!

There’s five all together; "Fairy Dust," "One Word Answer," "Dracula Night," "Lucky," and "Giftwrap”. Not all of the stories are as important to the overall Sookie series as ‘One Word Answer’.

‘Fairy Dust’ gives a lot of back-story to Claude, Claudine and their dead sister, Claudette. But the other stories are just a bit of frivolous Sookie fun.
My favorite is ‘Dracula Night’, in which Eric Northman throws a Halloween party for Count Dracula in the hopes that the famous vampire will make an appearance at Fangtasia.

I love Charlaine Harris – I’ve read all of her books and would gladly pre-order her grocery list from Amazon if she were so inclined to publish it. This collection of short stories is a real treat for die-hard Sookie fans. And there’s the added bonus of accompanying illustrations by Lisa Desimini for each of the five short stories.

I have only two complaints about the collection. The first is the ugly ‘True Blood’ promo on the front cover that detracts from Desimini’s beautiful illustration. My other grumble is the fact that there’s no new short story. After paying for the hardback collection I would have appreciated one new Sookie story for my money.

If you’re a big Sookie fan you’ve probably already figured out the cousin Hadley dilemma in ‘Definitely Dead’ by visiting chat boards or Charlaine’s FAQ page. And if you’re a mega-Sookie fan like myself, you’ve probably already read all these short stories. So ‘A Touch of Dead’ is probably not going to impact on your enjoyment of the series. But it’s nice to have the stories in one book, and they are Charlaine Harris stories, so they’re guaranteed to please.

4/5

Thursday, October 29, 2009

'Study' trilogy by Maria V. SNYDER


Poison Study: from the BLURB:

About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She'll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace -- and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia.

And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly's Dust -- and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison.

As Yelena tries to escape her new dilemma, disasters keep mounting. Rebels plot to seize Ixia and Yelena develops magical powers she can't control. Her life is threatened again and choices must be made. But this time the outcomes aren't so clear . . .

Maria V. Snyder’s debut trilogy hit shelves in 2005 with ‘Poison Study’, followed by ‘Magic Study’ in 2006 and concluding with ‘Fire Study’ in 2008. While it’s often touted as a Young Adult series, I think the ‘Study’ trilogy is a treat for YA and adult readers alike. I also think the books lean more toward adult subjects and conflicts.

When we meet Yelena she is 20 years old – though she acts much older, with the weight of the world on her shoulders. Kidnapped at the age of 6 and made into a slave, Yelena was frequently tortured and raped by her captors until she murdered one of them and managed to escape – only to head to the noose. Yelena is an extraordinary protagonist – she doesn’t mince words, is inherently distrusting and thick-skinned. She’s had an awful life, but never feels sorry for herself – rather she is proud to be a survivor. She’s also an adventurer and risk-taker;

My future appeared to be a long twisted road fraught with knots, tangles and traps.
Just the way I liked it.

‘Poison Study’ was my favourite book in the trilogy. The first book’s storyline is incredibly compelling – not least because Yelena’s past ordeals are slowly unravelled through her narrative. One of the most interesting aspects of ‘Poison Study’ is Yelena’s role as taste tester to the Commander – Snyder includes lots of interesting facts about the job of taste tester and her beautifully vivid descriptions of scent and flavour are a delight to read.

One of the things that ensured my love of this series was Yelena’s romance with her taste-testing teacher, Valek. A cold, cruel assassin, Snyder wrote one of the sweetest couplings between these two characters – and their romance works beautifully in ‘Poison Study’ because it’s a slow unravel of emotions, a bit surprising for the reader (and Yelena) when those emotions come to the fore.

I was a bit worried when I started reading the 2nd book, ‘Magic Study’. Yelena has just left the north with her magic tutor, Irys, as they head for the Citadel to commence Yelena’s magic training. After Snyder established such wonderful characters in ‘Poison Study’ I was really disappointed at the disappearance of Yelena’s bodyguards, Ari and Janco and especially her love interest, Valek. Even more so since ‘Poison Study’ ended on such a cliff-hanger for Valek and Yelena. But Snyder is such a compelling storyteller that I didn’t dwell on those characters’ absences, but rather enjoyed Yelena’s new adventure in a foreign land.

I love the ‘Study’ trilogy. But I’m not sure if it should be marketed solely to a Young Adult audience, since it appeals on so many adult levels. I loved these books, Yelena is one of my all-time favourite kick-ass leading ladies and the Yelena/Valek romance is one of the most heart-warming to read. And the covers are spectacular!

4/5

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

'Hush Hush' by Becca FITZPATRICK

Nora Grey doesn’t have time for romance. She’s far too concerned with keeping her grade-A average, maintaining her organic foods diet and keeping her best friend, Vee, out of trouble. But then Patch comes along. The two are forced to be lab partners and Nora finds herself disconcertingly attracted to the mysterious new boy, with his black eyes and devilish grin.

Flustered by her sudden attraction to Patch, Nora’s life is thrown into further chaos when a mysterious man in a ski mask starts following her, and lurking around her house at night. Is the appearance of Nora’s mystery stalker and Patch’s sudden interest in her somehow connected?

This was a case of a bad book ruining a fantastic front-cover. I was lured into buying Becca Fitzpatrick’s debut YA novel, ‘Hush Hush’, because of the wonderful cover art by photographer James Porto. I was also persuaded to purchase by Borders clever marketing that stacked the book beside Stephenie Meyer’s ‘Twilight’ and a sign that read; “if you liked Twilight, you’ll love ‘Hush Hush’”.

The books prologue has a noblemen being confronted by an angel who mysteriously insists on meeting with the man every Cheshvan (the start of the Hebrew month). The Angel’s parting message to the nobleman is the information that he is a Nephilim, the product of a human/fallen Angel coupling. Intriguing, true – but after that tempting prologue there is no mention made of the Nephilim until more than halfway through the book. The biggest problem with ‘Hush Hush’ is the lack of supernatural storyline. It’s false advertising – the beautiful front cover has an image of an angel and the tag line ‘A fallen Angel… A forbidden love’.

It puts the reader in an odd position – the cover and tagline lets us know what supernatural characters are to appear, but we are forced to read Nora’s none-the-wiser POV. There’s no suspense for the reader, we know what to expect – angels – but we have to sit through Nora’s confusion and her amateur sleuthing into Patch’s past. And it is amateur – Nora’s big break in the mystery comes in the form of a Google search; she literally types ‘angel wing scars’ into the search engine. And what prompted her search into fallen angels? - a carnival ride called the ‘Archangel’. If that’s not a sledgehammer to reader’s intelligence, I don’t know what is.

One of the reasons ‘Twilight’ worked so well was because, in conjunction with the Edward/Bella romance, there was the added mystery of animal attacks in Forks. The mystery angle upped the stakes for Edward and Bella and offered a respite from the romance, which would have come across sweet and cloying if not for the respite in storyline. In ‘Hush Hush, the added mystery is clearly an after-thought compared to the Nora/Patch romance. The storyline of a mysterious ski-masked man following Nora is occasionally thrown in for good measure, but other characters reactions to Nora’s tales of a spooky stalker are utterly contrived and unbelievable. And then the story behind the masked stalker is hastily wrapped up – there’s not even a scene drawing that storyline to a close, rather it’s explained through another character’s summary. Sloppy. The mystery storyline is further battered by the fact that Fitzpatrick has her bad-guys breaking the number one rule in the villain handbook. Never, under any circumstances (and no matter how large your ego), give away your evil intentions and motivations while you are in the process of carrying them out. Fitzpatrick literally has her cardboard-cut-out bad guys giving away all their evil intentions while holding Nora hostage.

The connection to ‘Twilight’ is dubious – one of the reasons for comparison is the fact that Nora and Patch are thrown together by a random biology seat-swap that turns them into lab partners. I wonder if Biology attendance has doubled in High Schools, since YA fiction would have us believe this is the perfect setting for budding teen romance. Ah, the sound of beakers clinking - like wedding bells. The smell of dissected frogs - a sweet and heady bouquet. And who can resist a man in a white lab coat and protective goggles?

The biggest 'Twilight' connection is that of a mortal human girl falling for a supernatural (replace ‘vampire’ with ‘fallen angel’) but whereas ‘Twilight’ made this big reveal quite early on in the book, it’s not until page 294 (of 391 pages) of ‘Hush Hush’ that this plot twist (but not really because there’s an angel on the book cover and the words ‘fallen angel’) comes to the fore. The fact that readers have known from the get-go that Patch is a fallen angel makes his big exposure pretty uneventful. It’s not until page 294 that Fitzpatrick delves into the Nephilim myth, which is actually pretty interesting. But when you read all the interesting myth and lore regarding fallen angels, it makes you wonder why Fitzpatrick didn’t just start her book at this point – why have 294 pages of Nora wondering about Patch’s mysterious past when as readers we’ve known all along that he’s a fallen angel.

I wish ‘Hush Hush’s’ ending had been the books starting point – because Fitzpatrick does come up with an interesting conclusion for Nora and Patch... and the possibilities of that storyline intrigue me far more than the entirety of ‘Hush Hush’. If there is a sequel I would be interested in reading it.

You really can’t judge ‘Hush Hush’ by its cover (though it is very, very pretty). Though readers know the supernatural outcome from the get-go it’s beyond frustrating to read the female protagonist plod along unawares. And don’t be fooled by the marketing hype proclaiming ‘Hush Hush’ to be the new ‘Twilight’ – fallen angels are not the new vampires and ‘Patch’ isn’t nearly as dignified a leading man name as ‘Edward Cullen’.

1/5

Sunday, October 25, 2009

'Looking for Alibrandi' & 'Saving Francesca' by Melina MARCHETTA


Ross: Rachel claims this is her favorite movie.

Chandler: Dangerous Liaisons.

Ross: Correct. Her actual favorite movie is?

Joey: Weekend at Bernie's

Ross: Correct.

If I’m feeling the need to impress people I’ll say that my favorite book is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ or ‘The Great Gatsby’. I do love these books, but if I were stuck on a desert island they wouldn’t be my first preference of reading material. That honor goes to two books that, upon reading them for the first time, I felt an instant kinship with the characters and author – Melina Marchetta.

‘Looking for Alibrandi’

From the BLURB:

For as long as Josephine Alibrandi can remember, it's just been her, her mum, and her grandmother. Now it's her final year at a wealthy Catholic private girls' school where the nuns couldn't be any stricter. But that doesn't seem to stop all kinds of men from coming into Josie's life, including her father!

Caught between the old-world values of her Italian nonna Katia, the no-nonsense wisdom of her mother Cristina, and the boys who continue to mystify her, Josie is on the ride of her life.

This will be the year she falls in love, the year she discovers the secrets of her family's past - and the year she sets herself free.

I first read this book when I was about 13. I remember sitting down and reading the entire book through in one day, and at the end I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I completely related to the title character, Josephine ‘Josie’ Alibrandi. At the time I was also attending a private all girl’s school and could relate to the great social divide Josie and her friend’s struggled with. As with most private schools, there were those students who came from money – who were born into, and well acquainted with privilege. Then there were those like Josie and her friends (and me) who came from a modest working-class background, whose parent’s scrimped and saved to give their children the opportunities they didn’t grow up with.

I could also relate to Josie’s eclectic family life. Josie comes from an Italian tribe of eccentric, over-bearing loud-mouthed ‘wogs’ (an Australian slang referring to ethnicity). Josie makes fun of her Nonna (grandmother) who is wired into the Sicilian grapevine, and her mother who bends to Nonna’s every wish like a dutiful Italian daughter (though she’s 40). My family is Austrian, and I completely related to Josie’s musings about embarrassingly rambunctious family dinners, nosy relatives and her grandmother’s determination to remain in the past.

Josie’s teenage angst is entirely relatable. She doesn’t feel like she fits in anywhere – not at school where she and her friends are the outcasts, forever relegated to the sandpit-sidelines, or at home where her families eccentricities cause endless humiliation. Josie’s world is thrown into further turmoil when her absentee father, Michael Andretti, suddenly reappears in her life. And to top it all off it’s Josie’s senior year and exams are looming.

There’s also a beautiful romance woven throughout the story, and in a perfect encapsulation of the rest of her life, Josie is drawn to two very different boys. John Barton is the head boy at an all boy’s school across town. He plays football with her cousin and they catch the train together – John is a barrister’s son and set to follow in his father’s footsteps, even if it’s not necessarily what he really wants to do. Josie lusts after John, he is the embodiment of everything she wishes her life could be.

Then there’s Jacob Coote – the dangerous head boy of the local public school, with a less than stellar reputation (the boy, and the school). Try as she might to dissuade him, Jacob is in hot pursuit of Josie and she can’t help but respond to his crass flirtations.

While writing ‘Looking For Alibrandi’ Melina Marchetta was working as an English teacher at a private school. You can tell that she has a lot of respect for teenagers and their problems; she never belittles their dramas, from school pressure to boy problems, and she gives them the perfect balance of cavalier attitude and deep-seated wisdom.

‘Looking For Alibrandi’ is the quintessential YA novel. Marchetta covers a lot of drama - everything from identity crisis, to single-parent families and even teen suicide. In Australia this novel held the prestige of being the most shoplifted book from bookstores and unreturned book to libraries. It was turned into a movie in 2000, which was one of the best adaptations I have ever seen. And to this day it remains the most influential book I have ever read. I re-read it a lot in my last 2 years of high school – when I needed Josie’s insightful musings on school and exams to get me through my own studying woes. I go back and re-read my favorite bits frequently, and still cry at all the same passages and laugh at the jokes I’ve re-read a hundred times now. To this day I still think there’s a little bit of Josie Alibrandi in me.


‘Saving Francesca’

From the BLURB:

Francesca battles her mother Mia constantly over what's best for her. All Francesca wants is her old friends and her old school, but instead Mia sends her to St Sebastian's, an all-boys' school that has just opened its doors to girls. Now Francesca's surrounded by hundreds of boys, with only a few other girls for company. All of them weirdos - or worse.

Then one day, Mia is too depressed to get out of bed. One day turns into months and as her family begins to fall apart, Francesca realizes that without her mother's high spirits she hardly knows who she is. But she doesn't yet realize that she's more like Mia than she thinks. With a little unlikely help from St Sebastian's, she just might be able to save her family, her friends, and especially herself.

Marchetta took 10 years to write her second novel, but ‘Saving Francesca’ was well worth the wait.

Set in a private school again, Marchetta wryly observes female/male interactions through a group of rag-tag girls who are the first females to enter into year 11 at the previously all-boys school, St. Sebastians. In ‘Saving Francesca’ Marchetta also comments on the absurdity of the friendships that are formed at school, where a bunch of people who would otherwise never willingly interact with one another are forced into co-habitation. Where ‘Looking for Alibrandi’ dealt with a plethora of serious teenage problems, ‘Saving Francesca’ has a definite focus on depression and the effects it has on the family unit. Francesca Spinelli narrates the story, as she deals with adjusting to St. Sebastians and how her normally boisterous family is rocked by her mother’s sudden decline into depression.

‘Saving Francesca’ also has a romance, and this one is incredibly sweet. Francesca unwittingly falls for William Trombal, the head of her schoolhouse. At first the two are at loggerheads over everything from sport equality among the male/female students, to who wrote Anna Karenina.

Francesca is an incredible female lead. We meet her at the lowest point in her life – lonely at her new school, dealing with the fall-out from her mother’s decline and worrying about her own coping mechanisms. She is a witty, smart, charming character and I never tire re-reading this book just so I can hang out with Francesca.

I also love re-reading this book because it never fails to give me bellyaching laughs. Marchetta writes smart, witty teenage characters who you wish were real people and real friends you could call and invite round for a catch-up.

Melina Marchetta's unique musings on teenage life heavily influenced and reflected my own adolescence. The stories are not diminished by time - rather they are timeless. Even now, more than a decade after my first reading, I still find these books to be comforting, insightful and the most relevant reflection of Australian youth.

I am thrilled to find out that Melina Marchetta is writing a sequel to ‘Saving Francesca’, called ‘The Piper’s Son’. This book will be told from the perspective of one of the male characters from ‘Saving Francesca’ – Thomas Mackee, and is set 5 years after ‘SF’. The book is due for release in March 2010.

'Tempt me at Twilight' by Lisa KLEYPAS

From the BLURB:

Poppy Hathaway, who has always longed for a normal, ordinary life, has been abandoned by her true love, Michael Bayning. Caught up in scandal, she has only one way out - to marry Harry Rutledge, a handsome and mysterious hotel owner. But Harry is a man of many secrets, and eventually Poppy faces a heart-wrenching question: What does a heroine do when she ends up married to the villain?

The 3rd book in Kleypas’s ‘Hathaways’ series follows the tale of middle-sister, Poppy. This is a very different book from Amelia and Win’s. The eldest and second-eldest Hathaway sisters married for love – Amelia to the Gypsy millionaire Cam Rohan, and the previously bed-ridden Win to the families foster brother, Merripen. Poppy has a very different marriage from her sister’s – one based on lies and one man’s selfishness. Not exactly a fairy-tale beginning.

Harry Rutledge has been a background character in several of Kleypas’s books – his Rutledge hotel being the setting and accommodation of choice for several of her previous books. Simon Hunt and wife Annabelle Peyton reside at the Rutledge in the first ‘Wallflowers’ book. The entire Hathaway clan has been frequenting the hotel for three London seasons. In ‘Tempt me at Twilight’ we finally meet the reclusive Hotelier.

Harry Rutledge makes no illusions about being anything other than the villain in this story. Upon their first chance meeting, Harry decides he’ll have Poppy for himself;

Harry felt he deserved Poppy. Any man who allowed scruples to get in the way of having a woman like her was a fool.

Harry devises a devilish plan to win Poppy for himself – forcing her into a compromising social situation that leaves her little room to maneuver. Though his intentions are deplorable, Harry’s craving for Poppy is intense and oddly flattering. Kleypas offers us little insight into Harry’s reasons behind his pursuit, which makes his actions all the more disturbing.

Kleypas is in her element when she writes rakish characters; they always end up being her most memorable and titillating. Sebastian St. Vincent is the most interesting bachelor in her ‘Wallflowers’ series, Hardy Cates the most alluring in the ‘Travis’ Trilogy and sure enough, Harry Rutledge for all his high-handedness is a fascinating new addition to the Hathaway clan. Kleypas does best with rakes because she understands that everyone has light and dark within, nobody is ever rarely entirely evil, and there are always explanations for such behavior.

I was a little sorry that Harry wasn’t more of a rake though. In the beginning his character is utterly sinister, but upon marrying Poppy he mellows a little too quickly for my liking. Considering his back-story I think Harry’s actions could have been plausibly more wicked and conniving. Granted, going into a Kleypas book you know what to expect, there’s not a whole lot of edge-of-your-seat suspense when you know from page one that you’re reading toward a happy ending. That being said, in quite a few Kleypas books I’ve had moments of ‘will-they-or-won’t-they?’ tension (‘Sugar Daddy’, for one). ‘Tempt me at Twilight’ has more of a challenge than most romances, because the couple is married fairly quickly and the story centers around whether or not they’ll find love in holy matrimony or total regret? I just think the happy-ending pay-off could have been heightened if Harry hadn’t succumbed to Poppy’s kindness quite so quickly, if he’d kept up his deplorable behavior for a little longer.

At times ‘Tempt me at Twilight’ reminded me of ‘Beauty & the Beast’. The hotel’s staff, including a genius French chef, busy-boding housemaid and assistant manager, all try their hand at matchmaking the newlyweds. Those scenes are sweet, if a little cheesy.

One of my favorite things about ‘Tempt me at Twilight’ was the groundwork Kleypas lays out for book 4. Harry has an interesting back-story, that’s made all the more intriguing for his connection to another character in the Hathaway family – the tutor, Miss Catherine Marks. I can’t give anything away, but Harry’s connection to Miss. Marks is extremely interesting. Even more interesting is Miss. Marks’ interactions with Hathaway brother, Leo. In previous books there have been opposites-attract sparks between the two, but in ‘Tempt’ those sparks are fast becoming a bonfire. Kleypas throws oil on the flames by finishing ‘Tempt me at Twilight’ on a romantic cliffhanger between the two.

I did like this book, then again I would happily read Lisa Kleypas’s shopping list. But this isn’t my favorite Kleypas book; the romance comes a little too easily and the male protagonist loses an otherwise intriguing edge too willingly.

2/5

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

'Sugar Daddy' by Lisa KLEYPAS


Lisa Kleypas is best known for her regency romance’s – she’s had plenty of success with series such as ‘Bow Street Runners’, ‘Wallflowers’ and ‘Hathaways’. In 2007 Kleypas released her first contemporary romance; ‘Sugar Daddy’, the first book in the ‘Travis’ trilogy that was concluded this year with ‘Smooth Talking Stranger’.

‘Sugar Daddy’ BLURB:

Liberty Jones fell in love with Hardy Cates when she was fourteen and three quarters and he was seventeen. However, Hardy wasn't going to let even love stand in the way of his ambition to escape the poverty of his childhood. He had left town - and Liberty broken hearted. But Liberty is also a survivor - and determined to make a better life for herself and her baby sister. Moving to the big city, she finds a job and an unlikely friend in billionaire tycoon Churchill Travis. But though Churchill's son is convinced she's nothing but a gold digger looking for a Sugar Daddy, their relationship goes deeper than most people think. But just as Liberty and her sister begin to feel settled in their new life, Hardy comes back into their lives...

I love, love, LOVE the Travis trilogy, but ‘Sugar Daddy’ is my favourite in the series. Liberty is an incredible female protagonist. We meet Liberty when she is on the cusp of womanhood and as reader’s we are there to witness the pivotal moments in her life – when she first falls in love, gets her heart broken – and the lowest point in her life, when her mother dies. Liberty suffers a lot in this book, but she also manages to retain an incredible resiliency that is inspiring and incredible. Liberty makes a lot of sacrifices in her life in order to adopt her half-sister, Carrington, after their mother’s death. The second half of the book explores Liberty’s struggles with being a single parent, and with each fresh defeat you love Liberty a little more and root for her a little harder.

Liberty is one of the best female lead’s I have read in a long time.

The other reason this novel works so well is the romance. Gage Travis is eldest son to Texan millionaire, Churchill Travis. At first Gage takes Liberty for a gold-digger, but as they get to know each other, sparks begin to fly. Kleypas is in her element with this romance. The first half of the book explores the sweet, first love between Hardy and Liberty. But it’s in the second half when focus shifts to Liberty and Gage that things really heat up. Gage is a wonderful leading man – he’s from the Mr. Darcy school of romance; a bit too uptight and confrontational in the beginning, but when he warms up he really warms up. The romance is kicked up a notch when Hardy reappears in Liberty’s life to shake things up, and both he and Gage start vying for Liberty’s affections.

“It was enough. You’re mine now. And I want you more than he ever did or ever will. You remember that while you’re getting your head straight. While he’s telling you whatever the hell it is you want to hear from him, you remember –“ Gage stopped abruptly. He wasn’t breathing well. His eyes were so hot you could have lit kindling off them. “Remember this,” he said in a guttural voice, and reached for me.

Kleypas did a fantastic job at modernizing her tried and true techniques. Kleypas often writes male characters who are reformed rakes and dashing rogues – to adapt such characters to modern times Kleypas made the wise choice of setting the ‘Travis’ trilogy in Texas – where men are still thoroughly rugged, masculine and a little bit cowboy. Her men aren’t chauvinistic, but they definitely have ideas about what it is to be a man and woman, and more importantly rules regarding ‘their’ women.

I adore this series, and I re-read all three books whenever I get an urge to read good romance. I think that’s why I love Kleypas’s books so much – they are utterly romantic. Happy-endings, sexy love scenes, dashing men… Kleypas knows her stuff and delivers every time.

This is Kleypas’s first contemporary romance, but she has promised it won’t be her last. She currently has an idea for a new series that will come out in the next couple of years.

5/5

'Cold Kiss of Death' Spellcrackers.com #2 by Suzanne MCLEOD


From the BLURB:

All Genny wants is to live the quiet life and to do her job at Spellcrackers.com but there's her tangled personal life to sort out first. She's being haunted by ghosts who want her help. Her witch neighbours want her evicted. Genny's sort-of-Ex - and now her new boss - can't decide whether he wants their relationship to be business or pleasure now he knows all her darkest secrets. And then there's the queue of vampires all wanting her to paint the town red - how long will it be before they stop taking 'no' for an answer?

But when one of her human friends is murdered by sidhe magic, Genny is determined to find the killer. Her efforts to find the real murderer lead her to some of the most dangerous and seductive fae - but her search is hindered by the vampires, who have their own political agenda.

Then when all the evidence points to Genny - she's the only sidhe fae in London - and she's named the main suspect; it's not long before she's on the run - and not just from the police - but from some of London's most powerful supernaturals.

This is the second book in Suzanne McLeod’s ‘spellcrackers.com’ series.

There is a lot going on in this book. One of Genny’s friends is murdered, and she is set-up to take the fall. Malik Al-Khan steps back into Genny’s life, and with him, problems regarding ‘Rosa’ (a vampire ‘disguise’ Genny borrows for her feedings) resurface. Finn is complicating her love life (or lack of). We are introduced to an ex-flame of Genny’s, a kelpie called Tavish. A ghost girl is following Gennry around. The London fae have the crazy idea that Genny has been single for so long because she is ready to start procreating. Her future child is thought to be the key to an ancient fae curse. Certain parties are interested in a mysterious Faberge egg gifted to her by the Earl. And the witch’s in her building want her evicted. Phew. It feels like there’s plots for at least 3 different books all crammed into one novel, and it is a little bit hard to follow and remain invested in all the different happenings.

Furthermore, because there are so many and varied plots, quite a few fall by the wayside to be hastily and unsatisfactorily wrapped up in the final few chapters. And some of the more interesting plots are unfortunately the ones not given enough exploration by McLeod. Finn’s character is off to a good start in this second book, especially after he came across as a vapid love interest for Genny in the first book. In ‘Cold Kiss of Death’ Finn and Genny’s relationship is more complicated, because he knows her familial secrets. But after appearing in the beginning, Finn disappears for the better half of the book, only to reappear toward the end. BUT the set-up for the third book looks to centre quite a bit on Finn and his place in Genny’s life.

The thickened plot also lead to an increase in characters, which was also a little confusing. Even more so when the characters you actually want to read about (Finn, D.I. Helen Crane) don’t get as much screen-time as new secondary characters.

One complaint I had was the many editing errors. I am no grammar genius, so the fact that I noticed the many mistakes is saying quite a lot. They ranged from missing quotation marks, to no spaces between words and glaringly obvious spelling errors. It’s such a shame because so much effort has been put into the cover artwork. Both ‘The Sweet Scent of Blood’ and ‘Cold Kiss of Death’ have stunning covers, and you’d expect the same sort of care to be taken with the text itself. I wonder if the somewhat sloppy editing job is also to blame for the abundance of plot – perhaps the original manuscript was in need of culling?

One thing I love about the ‘spellcrackers’ books is the setting. McLeod has made London a character in itself – from the ghosts haunting the London Bridge to the kelpie’s fae gate at Whitehall. McLeod has really immersed her novels in London and made the city as intricate to the story as Genny herself. Furthermore, McLeod writes beautifully about the London landscape – even Genny’s morning runs around St. Pauls evoke precise city imagery, making it pretty clear that McLeod knows London like the back of her hand.

I really like Genny. She has a lot going against her; she’s been accused of murder, she gets bruised up in an explosion and is constantly fighting her junkie blood craving. But, she never gets knocked down. She has a few ‘woe is me’ moments, but she soldiers on. She is a very cool female protagonist and it’s interesting to read about her rolling with the punches.

This probably isn’t the best follow-up to McLeod’s debut. The plot is a tangled web and because of the messiness it’s hard to sink your teeth into the book as a whole. But McLeod is a beautiful writer, Genny is a fabulous female protagonist and it’s refreshing to read an Urban Fantasy that’s set in London and takes advantage of the city’s history and icons. I am a big advocate of spellcrackers – McLeod definitely has fresh take on the Urban Fantasy genre and the series has a lot of potential to be long-running.

I may not have been overly thrilled with this second spellcrackers installment, but McLeod definitely whet my appetite for the third book (to be released next year) by beautifully setting up the potential plot (or one of them at least).

2/5

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

'Friday Night Bites' by Chloe NEILL

From the BLURB:

Ten months after vampires revealed their existence to the mortals of Chicago, they're enjoying a celebrity status usually reserved for the Hollywood elite. But should people learn about the Raves - mass feeding parties where vampires round up humans like cattle - the citizens will start sharpening their stakes.

So now it's up to the new vampire Merit to reconnect with her upper class family and act as liaison between humans and bloodsuckers, and keep the more unsavory aspects of the vampire lifestyle out of the media. But someone doesn't want peace between them - someone with an ancient grudge.

In my ‘Some Girls Bite’ review, I said I had a problem with the protagonist, Merit. I still don’t particularly like her, but she made a Stars Hollow reference that scored some points with me.

I think Merit was really wishy-washy in ‘Friday Night Bites’, particularly in her relationship with Navarre House master, Morgan. Admittedly, Merit knows she’s being unfair toward Morgan and is a little sheepish about her hesitation regarding their ‘relationship’. I can appreciate that while she is wishy-washy, she’s aware of her wishy-washyness. That being said, I understood Merit’s dilemma regarding her feelings toward Ethan and Morgan. Merit is attracted to Ethan, but doesn’t want to be. Merit wants to be as attracted to Morgan as she is to Ethan, but can’t seem to muster the feelings. It’s a pretty common dilemma, and I could relate to the relationship problems Neill gave Merit… even if I’ve never been stuck having to choose between an incredibly sexy vampire Master, and an insanely scrumptious vampire Master.

The thing I liked in ‘Some Girls Bite’ was the secondary characters. Catcher and Mallory, Luc and Lindsey do appear again in ‘Friday Night Bites’, but not enough for my liking. But maybe my disgruntlement stems from my feeling that Mallory’s life is more exciting than Merit’s, and believing there’s more spark between Luc & Lindsey than Ethan & Merit. I’m still not really reading heat between Ethan & Merit. They’re both see-sawing in their feelings toward one another; I can appreciate the ‘will they or won’t they’ element, but when I’m not particularly invested in either character it makes it a little hard for me to care whether or not they get a happily ever after between them.

And as much as I don’t particularly like Merit, I like Ethan even less… which makes their romantic overtures even more awkward to read. He reminded me a lot of Charlaine Harris’s Eric Northman, and I wasn’t all that surprised to read the revelation in ‘Friday Night Bites’ that Ethan was a Viking warrior in his human life.

I think I’m done with this series now. No offense, it’s just not for me. I have become an urban fantasy snob, I like what I like, and I just don’t like Chicagoland Vampires.

1.5/5

Sunday, October 18, 2009

'Hawksong' by Amelia ATWATER-RHODES


Danica Shardae is heir to the avian throne. A hawk shape shifter, ‘Dani’ has dealt with much tragedy in her 16 years. A war has been raging between the hawks and serpiente – snake shape shifters – for hundreds of years, so long that nobody can even remember the reasons behind the fighting. Dani has lost her father, grandparents, fiancee and recently her younger brother to this horrendous war.

Then one day the serpiente royal family, the Cobriana’s, suggest a temporary peace for negotiations. The ruby-eyed family put a proposition to Danica and her Queen mother – that Danica marry and form an alliance with serpiente heir, Zane Cobriana. Zane is the most fearsome serpiente warrior, it’s rumoured he can capture a soldier with his gaze and penetrate his mind, forcing him to slit his own throat on the battlefield before Zane gets within striking distance. Danica is terrified of the snake prince, but for her people and in the name of peace, she is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.

This is the first book in Young Adult series ‘Kiesha'ra’ by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes (published in 2003). I really loved the plot of ‘Hawksong’ – it’s a little bit of Romeo & Juliet, Beauty & the Beast and King Arthur. Rhodes has created a fanciful world and mixed in elements of well-known supernatural fables, but made them distinctly her own.

The major draw back of ‘Hawksong’ is that it feels like it should have been an adult book, rather than Young Adult. For one thing, I don’t know how much teenagers will empathize with the dilemma of a sixteen-year-old girl agreeing to an arranged marriage for the purpose of establishing political ties. The concept is just a little bit too complicated to be dealt with in a strictly PG-13 book. I think Rhodes missed out on a huge chunk of interesting plot by catering to a younger audience. I, personally, would have loved a nittier-grittier book that delved more into the reasons for the war, and any coup’s Danica and Zane’s marriage triggered.

‘Hawksong’ being a YA book also forced the Danica/Zane romance to be stilted. Zane is 18 to Danica’s 16, and Rhodes makes mention of Zane having a lover at the time he agrees to marry Danica. Zane is a thoroughly interesting character – we see flashes of his darker warrior side, and on more than one occasion he admits to lusting after Danica. Such revelations would have been far more interesting and fulfilling if this hadn’t been a self-conscious YA book and we could have seen Zane act on those instincts. I’m not saying I would have appreciated erotica smut – but reading the Danica/Zane exchanges, it becomes increasingly obvious that there is sexual tension that the novel’s genre doesn’t allow proper exploration of. Which is beyond disappointing.

‘Hawksong’ does feel too short, at a mere 256 pages. And the ending was so abrupt that I intend to read the second book, ‘Snakecharm’, if only in hopes of a more satisfactory conclusion to Danica & Zane’s story.

The book was so-so for me. I think Rhodes really limited herself by writing for the YA audience, I think if she’d gone for an adult readership it would have allowed more exploration of the character’s emotions and the interesting political plot.

2/5

Saturday, October 17, 2009

'Frostbitten' by Kelley ARMSTRONG


From the BLURB:

The Alaskan wilderness is a harsh landscape in the best of conditions, but with a pack of rogue werewolves on the loose, it's downright deadly.

Elena Michaels, the Pack's chief enforcer, knows all too well the havoc 'mutts' can wreak. When they hear of a series of gruesome maulings and murders outside Anchorage, she and her husband, Clay, journey to Alaska in the dead of winter in order to hunt down the dangerous werewolves. Trapped in this savage, untamed winter realm, she and Clay learn more about their own werewolf heritage than they bargained for, tapping a little more into the wild nature of the beast within.

I love Kelley Armstrong. She is one of my all-time favourite Urban Fantasy authors and her ‘Women of the Otherworld’ series is one of the very best in the genre. ‘Frostbitten’ is the 10th novel in the series and is narrated by fan-favourite, Elena Michaels. I admit, as much as I love the other series characters and their respective narratives, Elena’s story remains my personal favourite – and I think ‘Frostbitten’ has become my favourite book in the series.

Armstrong has seamlessly intertwined past, present and future in ‘Frostbitten’.

Fans will appreciate Armstrong’s reflection on past events in Elena’s life, especially fans that read the free PDF short-story ‘Beginnings’. There was a more in-depth explanation of Elena’s childhood than what was explained in the first series novel ‘Bitten’. In ‘Beginnings’ it was explained that Elena was abandoned at the age of 5 and put through foster care – and for as many hopeful mothers who saw Elena’s blonde hair and big blue eyes and had hopes of the perfect child, there were just as many ‘fathers’ who had a more predatory reason for wanting to welcome a little girl into their home. In ‘Frostbitten’ Elena receives a letter from one of those foster men from her past, a man who is in rehabilitation and begging forgiveness from his victims. This puts Elena in a strange frame of mind as she sets out to track down rapist mutts. As much as the letter unearths ghosts from Elena’s past, it’s also an opportunity for Elena to expunge those demons… and in ‘Frostbitten’ Armstrong articulates an incredibly powerful message to survivors of sexual abuse that is entirely heart wrenching and awe-inspiring.

Fans will also appreciate Elena and Clay’s reflections on a subject matter that has been a pink elephant between them in previous books – the fact that Clay bit Elena, infecting her with lycanthropy. There isn’t a long drawn-out discussion (neither character is the type to naval-gaze and talk out such feelings) but there is a sense of foreclosure on a subject fans have been curious to read about for quite some time.

Fans may be dismayed to find that ‘Frostbitten’ is set in Alaska, with Clay & Elena away from Stonehaven and their twins Logan & Kate. Fans who were hoping to read snatches of werewolf domesticity have no need to panic, Armstrong has artfully bypassed this disappointment by including a few phone-calls home that provide a wonderful glimpse into Elena & Clay’s family life. Armstrong, clever writer she is, has managed to imbue Logan & Kate with vivacious and distinct personalities, and fans will no doubt be looking forward to their appearance in future books. Through these glimpses of life back home, Armstrong has also managed to reveal what changes parenthood has had on our favourite werewolf pairing;

Clay was an amazing parent. The guy who couldn’t spare a few minutes to hear a mutt’s side of the story could listen to his kids talk all day. The guy who couldn’t sit still through a brief council meeting could spend hours building Lego castles with his kids. The guy who solved problems with his fists never even raised his voice with his kids.

And finally, Kelley Armstrong has done an incredible job of whetting our appetites for Elena’s next narrated book, by offering teasing future plots. In ‘Frostbitten’ Jeremy has recently revealed to Elena & Clay that he intends for Elena to take over his role as Alpha. Clay is perfectly happy with the promotion, admitting that he’s better as muscle than as a leader. It’s Elena who is hesitating over accepting the position – concerned by how her Alpha status will affect her and Clay’s relationship, and what problems it will cause trying to convince mutts that ‘female’ isn’t synonymous with ‘weak’. This is a truly fascinating element to Frostbitten’s plot, and a wonderful starting point for the next Elena book.

Armstrong also introduces three new intriguing characters in ‘Frostbitten’, all of whom I hope to see in future books, possibly in lead roles? With these three new characters the possibilities are endless, as they are each intriguing in their own way, with mysterious back-stories. Armstrong has definitely pricked my interest with these plot changes and character additions – and I cannot wait to see how they impact the entire ‘Women of the Otherworld’ series.

And finally, series fans will appreciate the many Clay & Elena interactions ‘Frostbitten’ has to offer. They are one of my favourite urban fantasy couples, and ‘Frostbitten’ reminds me why. Clay & Elena are the ultimate team – they trust one another implicitly, and have come a long way in their relationship since we first met them in ‘Bitten’. This book offers of a wonderful glimpse into the evolution of their mating, and excites the possibilities of where their relationship is heading.

I loved this book. I love this series, and I love Kelley Armstrong. All her series are amazing, ‘Women of the Otherworld’, its spin-off YA ‘Darkest Powers’ and the less popular but equally amazing ‘Nadia Stafford’ are all favourite's of mine. If you haven’t yet read anything by Armstrong, then you are seriously depriving yourself!

5/5

*** For those of you who didn’t get a chance to download Kelley Armstrong’s free short stories, she has unfortunately taken them down from her website… but for good reason. She is releasing another Women of the Otherworld anthology, in the same vain as her ‘Men of the Otherworld’ book, called ‘Tales of the Otherworld’ – to be released in April 13, 2010. Proceeds from book sales will be going toward charity!