Search This Blog

Loading...

Friday, February 26, 2010

'The Piper's Son' by Melina Marchetta



received from the publisher

From the BLURB:

Thomas Mackee wants oblivion. Wants to forget parents who leave and friends he used to care about and a string of one-night stands, and favourite uncles being blown to smithereens on their way to work on the other side of the world.

But when his flatmates turn him out of the house, Tom moves in with his single, pregnant aunt, Georgie. And starts working at the Union pub with his former friends. And winds up living with his grieving father again. And remembers how he abandoned Tara Finke two years ago, after his uncle’s death.

And in a year when everything's broken, Tom realises that his family and friends need him to help put the pieces back together as much as he needs them.


This is Melina Marchetta’s follow-up to her 2003 Young Adult novel ‘Saving Francesca’.
It’s been five years since the events in ‘Saving Francesca’, and this time around the story focuses on Thomas Mackee and his family.

The Mackee’s life changed forever after the death of youngest son, Joe, in the 2005 London Underground bombing. Their world was suddenly segregated into ‘before London’ and ‘after London’ and the fracture of past and present as the book observes the ripple effect that grief has on families and relationships.

The death of Tom’s uncle in the bombing had his alcoholic father seeking comfort at the bottom of a bottle. Tom’s aunt Georgie sought physical comfort with the man who cheated on her years ago, and she finds herself pregnant as a result. Tom closed himself off from the world; his friends, family and the girl he loved.

The book is set in 2007 and the Mackee’s are still reeling after Joe’s death. Tom’s family are broken and scattered in the wake of their loss; his mother and sister moved to Queensland when his dad hit the bottle and shortly after his uncle Joe’s death Tom’s father vanished. But just as a tragedy tore the Mackee’s apart, old heartbreak is bringing them back together. A mass unmarked grave is being exhumed in Vietnam, and one of the bodies is thought to be Thomas Finch Mackee – the family patriarch who was drafted but never returned.

Melina Marchetta is one of Australia’s most popular YA writers. Her books have won the prestigious ‘Book Council of Australia’ award and her first novel was adapted into a movie in 2000. ‘The Piper’s Son’ is very different from Marchetta’s other YA books – mainly because it straddles the line between YA/Adult fiction.

Marchetta is definitely writing to her original audience – those Aussie Gen-Y kids who were the first to read and love ‘Looking for Alibrandi’ and ‘Saving Francesca’. ‘The Piper’s Son’ is about them – those who are more ‘adults’ than ‘young adults’ nowadays and living in the limbo after High School. Like the characters in this book, that original audience are now; in University, graduated, dropped-out, aimless, driven or any number of in-between. There’s a little something here for everyone who grew up with Melina Marchetta’s books.

‘The Piper’s Son’ will also appeal to an older generation who may have missed out on the hubbub of Marchetta’s record-breaking YA fiction. This book does have a mature voice and is narrated by both older and younger characters. The book is also dealing with an intense, far-reaching subject matter that will resonate with the young and old alike.

Grief is at the core of this book. Australian identity is built around tragedy – starting with Gallipoli and evolving in Vietnam and most recently with Black Saturday. It is the measure of our spirit, the way our country stands in the face of adversity. Marchetta deals with two devastating historical events – the 2005 London underground bombing (which we cannot claim as our own but is close to home) and Australia’s involvement in Vietnam. Marchetta doesn’t over-analyse these events, but she does acknowledge them as having played vital roles in the lives of Australian families. And the Mackee’s are a wonderful blueprint for the typical Aussie family – Irish Catholic blue-collar workers who all live shoulder-to-shoulder in the Sydney suburbs. Among themselves they’re loud, bullying and judgmental – but they’re also fiercely loyal, protective and affectionate.

Although ‘The Piper’s Son’ has a heavy theme of grief, Marchetta still writes her trademark wit and peppers the book with cultural references. These references are ‘hit-the-nail-on-the-head’ for their observations of Australian life and times, like Tom Mackee claiming to be a member of the club; ‘Survivors of childhood subjugation to watching The Bill’. Marchetta evokes a picture of Australia, through her descriptions of the Sydney Suburbs as they speed by the train line and the Paul Kelly soundtrack that seem to accompany her scenes.

I was excited for this book, and to become reacquainted with characters I met in ‘Saving Francesca’. But it’s the new characters Marchetta creates that I fell in love with. Aunt Georgie was a combustible and wonderful narrator – she’s 42 and pregnant to the man who cheated on her seven years ago; she is constantly swinging between being petrified, ashamed and ecstatic. Georgie also writes e-mails to her dead brother, in which she writes all the things she can’t say out loud.

‘Saving Francesca’ alumni also return for this book – Francesca Spinelli, Will Trombal, Justine Kalinsky and Tara Finke. We met these characters in 2003, and it’s incredibly comforting to know that they’ve all carried on with their fictional lives and remained firm friends.

But of course the stand out character in this book is Tom Mackee. When we meet him, Tom wants oblivion. It’s as though he’s found solace in grief – it gives him an excuse to be a fuck-up who smokes pot all day, gets laid when he can (by whoever he can) and let the hours, days and months bleed into one another. Tom is frustrating to read, especially when he has flashes of sincerity that prove him to be better than he’s acting. But that’s the beauty of Marchetta’s characters. They are real and imperfect and I love them.

It may all seem doom and gloom – but ‘The Piper’s Son’ has real heart. Grief is at its centre, but the book isn’t overwrought with tragedy. You’ll definitely cry, but in between you’ll laugh out loud and enjoy watching these characters figure out their lives in the wake of catastrophe.

‘Saving Francesca’ was published in 2003, so its been a good 7 years since we last met these characters. It’s a testament to Marchetta’s work that ‘The Piper’s Son’ doesn’t feel disjointed, but rather a logical extension of ‘Saving Francesca’. For Marchetta fans, this follow-up book is like catching up with old friends down at the local; we know and love them, we’ve missed them and now they’ve returned, just like we've always known they would.

5/5

Thursday, February 25, 2010

'Unknown: Outcast Season #2' by Rachel CAINE

From the BLURB:

For a millennia, Cassiel was a powerful Dijn. But then she defied her ruler, who cast her out and reshaped her in human flesh as punishment. She found refuge among the Wardens - and discovered that her perceived human weaknesses may be her greatest strengths.

Living among mortals, Cassiel has begun to develop a reluctant affection for them--especially the intriguing Warden Luis Rocha. As the mystery deepens around the kidnapping of innocent Warden children, Cassiel and Luis are the only ones who can investigate within both the human and the Djinn realms.

But the more Luis and Cassiel search, the more dangerous the trail becomes, reaching not only into a fanatical splinter group, but into the highest ranks of Cassiel's immortal kin. As outcast from her own kind, Cassiel must now rely on her own limited earthbound powers to save young Wardens...if it's not already too late.

This is Rachel Caine’s second book in her Weather Warden spin-off series.

I love the whole concept of this spin-off. In the ‘Weather Warden’ series the Dijn (genies – but more ruthless, scary and powerful than we know them) are mostly secondary characters that readers learn about through protagonist, Joanne Baldwin. Joanne’s HEA, David Prince, is a Dijn himself – but by his own confession he is unusual among his kind because he loves and respects humanity.

In this spin-off series Caine has a former-Dijn as the protagonist. Cassiel refused to destroy humanity and as punishment she was made human and mortal. Cassiel is a wonderful narrator because she’s so foreign and bizarre. Though she is now a human, she still sees the world through Dijn eyes and is slowly learning about humanity. The Dijn are a very powerful, frightening race – they think of humans as blips on their radars and care little for the trials and tribulations of the human race.

Cassiel keeps getting more and more interesting. She was noble and conceited in ‘Outcast Season’ book #1, but in ‘Unknown’ we see a huge transformation in her outlook. Cassiel has come to care for the Warden family she was assigned to, and in particular Earth Warden Luis Rocha. Cassiel has also started to question the arrogance of the Dijn race – particularly when she comes face-to-face with a Dijn called Rashid who is the embodiment of Dijn egotism.
Cassiel’s transformation is fascinating to read – and makes for a fulfilling spin-off because it sheds so much light on the original ‘Weather Warden’ series.

My one complaint has to do with the slow progress of Luis and Cassiel’s relationship. Where the ‘Weather Warden’ series has Joanne and David getting hot-and-heavy in every book, and a David/Joanne/Lewis love triangle – by comparison Cassiel and Luis are moving at a snails pace. In this book the two freely admit their feelings for one another, but don’t act on them. To be fair they have a tough romantic road ahead of them – Luis isn’t exactly trusting of the Dijn (for good reason) and Cassiel is still adjusting to her humanity (and all those complicated hormones that come with it). But these two are so darn cute I want them to hurry it up already!

There’s lots of drama in ‘Unknown’. Villainous Dijn, Pearl, up’s the ante and focuses her attack on Cassiel. Caine writes drama so damn well – from a motorcycle pile-up to an FBI blow out, all of her action leaves you on the edge of your seat.

Halley shrugged. “Always wondered is all. You Wardens, you’re practically gods, what with all the slinging lightning bolts and healing the sick. Bea ain’t religious. So I just wondered.”
“We’re not any kind of gods, big G or small,” Luis said. “Ain’t even angels, man. We’re just people. Smart Wardens know that better than anybody. You play God, people die.”

I love Rachel Caine and I love her ‘Weather Warden’ series. I am really liking her spin-off series, mostly because (as well as being a genuinely interesting story) it offers new insights into the ‘Weather Warden’ world. Dijn are thoroughly frightening and interesting and in the ‘Outcast Season’ books we get one as a protagonist.

If you haven’t yet, I strongly recommend you read the first ‘Weather Warden’ book ‘Ill Wind’, and actually anything written by Ms. Caine is worth-while.

4/5

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

'Weather Warden SERIES' by Rachel CAINE


This is a very unique adult Urban Fantasy series. Rachel Caine’s ‘Weather Warden’ books are set in our world, but not as we know it. There are no vampires, werewolves or fae in sight. Instead there is a covert organization of humans with special talents for commanding the elements: earth, fire, wind and water. They use these powers to control Mother Nature - from tornadoes to tidal waves and bush fires. In this world regular humans are none the wiser about Weather Wardens and the risks they take every day to prevent and handle natural disasters.

Helping the Wardens are Dijn, or as they are known in popular culture, genies. But don't get them confused with the 'I dream of' variety. These Dijn are badass and dangerous. They have claws, fangs and can control space and time. The Wardens and Dijn have a master-slave relationship; the Wardens are able to control and command the Dijn because each one is imprisoned, bound to the will of whichever Warden has control of their ‘bottles’.

The protagonist of the ‘Weather Warden’ series is Joanne Baldwin: a low-level wind Warden who, when we meet her in book #1 (‘Ill Wind’) is on the run. Accused of murdering her boss, Joanne has to prove to the Weather Council that she is innocent and has been set-up. But first she needs proof of her innocence, and she doesn’t trust the council to take her on her word. She sets out in search of her old friend and crush, Lewis Orwell, who was last seen fleeing the council with three stolen Dijn bottles.

Joanne sets out in her hot purple Mustang (‘Delilah’) in search of Lewis and the truth…

When I started reading ‘Ill Wind’ I was a little skeptical of a UF premise with no vampires or werewolves, which was instead about the weather and magical genies. I was cynical, to say the least. I was also a little doubtful because ‘Ill Wind’ starts right in the thick of the action. When we meet her Joanne is already on the run for murder (which she maintains she did not commit). But it’s a big ask on Caine’s part, that she introduce a protagonist who is on the lamb and hope that readers will find her intriguing enough to keep reading, and trust her when she says she’s innocent so that those readers also hope she doesn’t get caught.

About 60 pages in, I was almost ready to put the book down and call it a ‘DNF’. And then this little gem of an excerpt hit me right between the eyes, and I was instantly intrigued;
“Hey, I can’t help it if I’m irresistible.” Yes, definitely, that was smugness in my voice. I was comfortable with it. “Which is why he’s going to help me out and give me a Dijn.”
He stared. “You’re fuckin’ crazy. Why the hell would Lewis do that?”
“Because,” I said, before I could think about it, “I think he used to be in love with me.”
Paul shook his head, got out of the car, and then leaned in the passenger side window. An east wind ruffled his hair – storm on the way.
“Jesus, Jo, he’s not the only one,” he said, and walked back into his castle.
All at once Joanne starts to unravel as Caine shows us bits and pieces of her past through flashback. Joanne’s memory-trips are linked to the Weather Warden’s – how she was discovered by the council, realized her ‘wind’ abilities and how she came to work under ‘Bad Bob’ – the man Joanne is accused of murdering. Her flashbacks also reveal her relationship with Lewis Orwell, a Warden she went to school with – and more importantly had an unrequited college crush on that neither of them have been able to let go of.
Flashbacks may sound like a contrite way to build characterization, but Caine does it so masterfully with wonderful memory triggers in present-day that make Joanne’s trip down memory lane entirely plausible.

Slowly but surely the pace of ‘Ill Wind’ picks up, and reaches a zenith when Joanne picks up a drifter on the side of the road. The man’s name is David Prince, but he’s no ordinary hitchhiker. David is a free Dijn – and when he joins forces with Joanne, both of them will learn more about the Dijn/Warden relationship than the council ever intended.

I love, love, love this series. There hasn’t been an installment I haven’t adored. There are so many reasons why I love ‘Weather Warden’; let’s see if I can name them all...

First of all, Rachel Caine is just plain brilliant. She is a very cinematic, able to write gripping, edge-of-your-seat, chew-your-nails-to-the-quick battle scenes. Sometimes when reading such dramatic fight scenes my interest wanes and I resort to skim reading – it’s not always a reflection on the author’s talent, it’s just a matter of ‘you’ve read one, you’re read them all’. But with Caine I find myself just as invested in the heavy action as in the scenes of revelation and romance.

Secondly, Caine’s series is ‘epic’. As ‘Weather Warden’ goes into its ninth book, it becomes increasingly obvious that Caine has had an overview of the series from book one. I love the fact that Caine has had a plot trajectory in mind from the get-go and each new book is another piece of the puzzle – a means to an end.

I love Joanne Baldwin. I have a fictional-girl crush on her. She’s feisty, sarcastic, bullheaded and loves to shop. She also isn’t your typical UF heroine. She’s not particularly kick-ass – and quite a few times throughout the series we see her utterly defeated, on the verge of downfall – beaten, trodden and just plain over it. She whines. She cries and sometimes wants to give up, give in to the bad guys and just go home. She is a very real hero – mostly because she doesn’t want to be a hero, she just so happens to have been in the wrong place, at the wrong time and is bearing the repercussions. Joanne has a lot of responsibility on her shoulders, and she constantly feels the weight of it. But no matter how much she rails against her responsibilities, about the unfairness of it all, she keeps stepping up to bat against the bad guys. That’s why I love her. She may be down, but she’s never out.

The ‘WW’ series also has one of my all-time favorite UF relationships between Joanne and Dijn, David Prince. Their love is set on a grand-scale and with each new book Caine explores new facets of their relationship and partnership. I also love Joanne’s relationship to her first-love, Lewis Orwell. There’s an entirely compelling love-triangle between Lewis/David and Joanne that keeps getting juicer with each new installment.
“I don’t like you,” he said. “Like has no pulse. No fever. No fire.” His right hand came out of the water now, joined the left in gliding up my shoulders, my neck. I could feel my pulse pounding wildly. Both my hands on his chest now, mapping the golden territory of his body. “Like isn’t what I feel for you, it never was.”
But most of all I love Caine’s ‘Weather Warden’ series because of all the twists and turns. Caine isn’t afraid to challenge readers and series conventions – she doesn’t bat an eyelash at killing off main characters, turning good guys bad (and vice versa) and leaving readers looking over the edge of a MASSIVE cliff-hanger. Reading this series is a roller-coaster ride, and I have come to expect the unexpected and relish Caine’s surprises.

5/5

Book # 9 ‘Total Eclipse’ will be released on August 3rd this year and is currently available for pre-order.
(P.S. - how smokin' hot is the cover!? Yowza!)

Monday, February 22, 2010

'Deaths Mistress: Dorina Basarab #2' by Karen CHANCE

From the BLURB:

Dorina Basarab is a dhampir—half-human, half-vampire. Subject to uncontrollable rages, most dhampirs live very short, very violent lives. So far, Dory has managed to maintain her sanity by unleashing her anger on those demons and vampires who deserve killing.
Back home in Brooklyn after the demise of her insane uncle Dracula, Dory’s hoping her life is about to calm down. But then she gets some visitors. A friend wants Dory’s help in finding a magical Fey relic, and the gorgeous vampire, Louis-Cesare, is desperate to find his former mistress Christine.

Dory and Louis-Cesare quickly discover that the same master vampire Christine is bound to is also rumored to be in possession of the relic. But when the master vampire turns up dead, they realize that there’s more at stake than a missing mistress. Someone is killing vampire Senate members, and if Dory and Louis-Cesare can’t stop the murderer, they may be next…


This is the second book in Karen Chance’s series ‘Dorina Basarab’, which is a spin-off of her popular Urban Fantasy series ‘Cassandra Palmer’.

One problem I have with Karen Chance is her penchant for a very slow beginning. I don’t know why, but all of her books seem to stall in the beginning – usually by having her title character carry out some menial task that has her flying solo for the first 60 pages or so before the cast of secondary characters burst onto the scene. The same thing happens in ‘Death’s Mistess’ as we read about Dorina going on a vampire-hunt sanctioned by the vampire senate and her father, Mircea.

It feels like ‘Deaths Mistess’ stalls more than any of Chance’s other books because a certain French vampire hottie is noticeably absent for the first 100 pages or so. Louis-Cesare is mentioned in passing and on Dorina’s mind, but he takes too long to make an appearance and it felt like the first half of the book was just a slow wind-up to that cameo. On the upside, when Louis-Cesare does enter stage right it’s a doozy as he and Droina pretty much pick up where they abruptly left off in ‘Midnigt’s Daughter’.

He grasped my hips, holding me tight as it went on and on, bright shock waves radiating outward to my skin, like my body was a live-wire that kept pulsing with pleasure. My hands fell away after a moment, too weak to hold on. He laid me back against the desk, kissing my neck under my sweat-slicked hair. My eyes slipped closed on a satisfied, groaning sigh.
“If that was hello, you need to go away more often,” I told him shakily.

I struggled with the storyline of this book. There’s lots of action and many over-lapping storylines as various vampires are murdered and runes stolen. It’s a lot to take in and a bit difficult to explain because of Chance’s penchant for summary over scene. What saves the book is secondary characters like Louis-Cesare and a beheaded vampire called Ray. But especially Dorina’s father, Mircea.

One of the reasons I enjoy this spin-off series so much is because of the character development of Dorina’s father (and Vlad Tepes brother) Mircea. Even though Mircea is lover to Cassie in her title series, he is still very much an enigma to readers of the ‘Cassie Palmer’ books. In ‘Dorina Basarab’ Karen Chance takes more time to flesh Mircea out and reveal more about his past – and in ‘Death’s Mistress’ we learn plenty about Mircea and his relationship to Dorina’s mother. I love the character development, but it’s making me impatient for Mircea to open up more to Cassie in that series. I can only hope all these little tidbits about him in ‘DB’ mean he’s ready to open up to Cassie the same way he has to Dorina.

The big question on most reader’s minds is ‘do Dorina and Cassie meet in this book’? Answer – no. BUT for the first time Cassie and her relationship to Mircea is hastily discussed (but not in any detailed way that makes sense to Dorina who overhears the convo). There were references to Dorina and her mother in the 4th Cassie book ‘Curse the Dawn’ – and I think all these sly mentions are leading up to a Dorina/Cassie crossover. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking on reader’s parts, because the idea of wise cracking Cassie Palmer coming face to face with her lover’s lunatic daughter is just too good to pass up, surely? At this point I think fans of both series are biting their nails for a Cassie/Dorina meeting – and if we don’t get it soon I think interest will wane. Especially because Karen Chance announced on her website that there would be no fifth Cassie Palmer book until Summer 2011 (due to health problems).

Chance has tried to pacify fans by promising them at least 4 short stories told from various character perspectives (Pritkin, Mircea, Claire & Francoise so far). These short stories will be free and available from Chance’s website, the first is Pritkin’s story and will be released on March 31st.
But even with this appeasement I think Chance fans will be disappointed if the third Dorina and fifth Cassie book don’t have a crossover meeting of the two heroines.

I didn’t love this second installment. There’s a lot of action to keep track of and many overlapping plot lines. I appreciated the fact that Chance delves deeper into Mircea’s background, but I’ll be mightily pissed if all those character revelations don’t lead to a Dorina/Cassie crossover in the fifth Cassie and third Dorina.

3/5

Saturday, February 20, 2010

'Prey: Werecats #4' by Rachel VINCENT

From the BLURB:

Sometimes playing cat and mouse is no game.

Play? Right. My Pride is under fire from all sides, my father's authority is in question and my lover is in exile. Which means I haven't laid eyes on Marc's gorgeous face in months. And with a new mother and an I-know-everything teenager under my protection, I don't exactly have time to fantasize about ever seeing him again.

Then our long-awaited reunion is ruined by a vicious ambush by strays. Now our group is under attack, Marc is missing and I will need every bit of skill and smarts to keep my family from being torn apart. Forever.

I have read the first 3 books in Rachel Vincent’s popular ‘Werecats’ series. But to be honest, I wasn’t blown away – mostly because I had a real problem with the female protagonist, Faythe Sanders. I found her to be self-centered, annoyingly naïve, whiny and ungrateful. Only those who are familiar with the series will know what I’m talking about – that although Faythe had a lot of unfair weight put on her shoulders as a Tabby, I thought her response to that pressure was utterly spoilt and pathetic. Furthermore I could not fathom how someone like Faythe could have two wonderful men (Marc and Jace) chasing after her in light of the fact that she is such an annoying and selfish individual. It’s not an understatement to say that I read ‘Stray’, ‘Rogue’ and ‘Pride’ with my teeth grit. That being said, I could appreciate the fact that Rachel Vincent knows how to tell a good story.

It was reading Patti and Tiffany’s reviews of the 5th book ‘Shift’ that prompted me to finally read book number 4. Both Patti and Tiffany spoke of huge plot-twists in book 4 that made ‘Shift’ an absolute rollercoaster of a read. So I was pushed to pulling ‘Prey’ off my TBR pile and putting up with Faythe Sanders at the promise of intense plot.

Vincent certainly delivers.

I found Faythe bearable in this book – mostly because she does a bit of reflecting on her past stupidity and is the most remorseful she’s ever been. I appreciate the fact that Faythe is imperfect (I hate Mary-Sue’s as much as the next person, *cough* Anita Blake *cough*) but she made so many hugely idiotic mistakes and sometimes came across as blasé regarding their impact. I also didn’t think she deserved the attentions of two very hot male Werecats, especially Marc who she put through the emotional ringer for five years (after practically leaving him at the altar!).
But I think Faythe makes up for past annoyances in ‘Prey’. She really steps up to the plate and starts thinking of her Pride’s future and her role as Alpha-in-training. This is the perspective she lacked in past books, where she insisted on ranting and railing against the unfair pressure put on Tabby’s, etc, etc, etc.
In ‘Prey’ Faythe does make yet another huge mistake in her love life – but the situation is somewhat understandable if not frustrating. And the ‘incident’ complicates her life so completely that I can forgive her stupidity, purely because it’s going to make things so darn interesting in future books!

The best thing about ‘Prey’ is the edge-of-your-seat plot. It is literally high stakes from the first page and only gets more intense from there on in. Vincent has a very tight mystery plot regarding Marc’s disappearance, but alongside that is a wider look at Pride politics that is very intriguing and beautifully sets up the trajectory of future books. This is a very tightly told story, and Vincent has perfectly paced the plot. There’s a great balance of action, romance and suspense.

I ran silently now, slipping between trees and soaring over brush, focused only on getting to Ethan quickly and unannounced. The sounds of the fight grew louder. A solid thunk. A low, feline moan of pain. A hiss. Then Ethan shouting, “Stay the hell back, you Benedict Arnold mother-fuckers, or I’ll bash your fucking skulls in!”

I have to hand it to Rachel Vincent as an author. She definitely isn’t one to let her series stagnate, and in ‘Prey’ she makes some very big changes that are both devastating, but impacting of the overall story-arc. She made me cry, she had me in a state of shock and awe and she has definitely gotten me amped up for book #5!

I can’t wait to read ‘Shift’ because so much happened in ‘Prey’ and there’s a lot hanging in the balance.

Thanks to Patti and Tiffany for kicking my butt and making me reconsider this series.

5/5

Thursday, February 18, 2010

'Blood Magic: World of the Lupi #6' by Eileen WILKS

From the BLURB:

As they plan their wedding, Lily Yu and lupus prince Rule Turner are facing a great deal of tension from both their families. Not everyone can accept their mixed marriage: she’s Chinese; he’s a werewolf. Even Lily’s grandmother is acting strangely distant, though Lily and Rule are about to discover that her behaviour has nothing to do with their upcoming nuptials.
A powerful, undying nemesis has come to San Diego to exact vengeance on Lily’s family and turn the city into a feeding ground. It’s up to Lily and Rule to stop her, in spite of ancient treaties and an inheritance passed down through the blood. Otherwise San Diego could go up in flames and they won’t live to make it to the altar.

This is the sixth book in Wilk’s ‘World of the Lupi’ series.

I’ve got to admit, I really wasn’t satisfied with this installment. I’m struggling to put my finger on precisely why I was so disheartened with this book – and I think it has to do with unmet expectations.

Wilks’s fifth book ‘Mortal Sins’ had such a beautiful heart-in-your-throat ending, and I thought it would be a great starting point for Lily and Rule in ‘Blood Magic’. At the end of ‘Mortal Sins’ Rule defied lycanthrope convention and proposed to Lily:

Her heart fluttered. “Why?” she whispered. “Why do you want this? I love you. We’re bonded for life. Marriage won’t…” Her voice trailed off. She swallowed.
“Why?”
“I want to plight you my troth.” His voice was soft now. Quiet. “It’s a lovely old word, isn’t it? Troth. It means loyalty, the pledge of fidelity. It comes from an Old English word meaning truth. You are my truth, Lily.”

I was really looking forward to ‘Blood Magic’ concentrating on the Lily/Rule wedding and Rule having to battle his clan and the press about how unconventional it is for a lycanthrope to enter into a monogamous marriage.
But the blurb’s opening line is very misleading; “As they plan their wedding, Lily Yu and lupus prince Rule Turner are facing a great deal of tension from both their families”. Lily and Rule do talk, briefly and heatedly, about their marriage plans – mainly the fact that Lily is stalling and possibly getting cold feet. After that the book concentrates on the dramatic mystery plot, putting Lily and Rule on the backburner.

I was even more frustrated by the lack of Lily/Rule discussion in ‘Blood Magic’ because the sneak-peek excerpt into book #7 (‘Blood Challenge’ – release date unknown – the excerpt is available from Wilks’s website) seems to hint that that book will concentrate heavily on the repercussions of their marriage. I was just annoyed that the blurb for ‘Blood Magic’ seems better suited to upcoming ‘Blood Challenge’.

My annoyance stems from the fact that Lily and Rule haven’t really had a chance to sit down and psychoanalyze their ‘mate bond’. Various world-ending catastrophes keep popping up and because they are still in the early stages of their relationship, both Lily and Rule tend to pussy-foot around their feelings for one another. In all the books Wilks does eventually write a scene in which Lily and Rule ‘have it out’ – but it’s usually a very slap/dash “we’re in the middle of a disaster and have to quickly address our personal issues” type of way. I was really hoping that a good portion of ‘Blood Magic’ would be dedicated to Lily and Rule’s personal problems.

Very early on I was quite excited by the plot developments in ‘Blood Magic’ – I was particularly intrigued by the appearance of a secondary character called Cody Beck who works for the Sheriff’s department and is Lily’s ex-boyfriend. I liked Cody’s appearance for two reasons – one is the fact that Wilks hasn’t really revealed much about Lily’s background before Rule entered her life. We know a lot about her family, and that she was a homicide detective, but readers (and Rule) are still very in the dark about her life before the mate bond.

Secondly, I thought introducing an ex-lover of Lily’s was a nice change of pace, because Wilks always mentions how Rule (and all lycanthropes, in fact) have very big sexual appetites – they don’t believe in marriage or jealousy and revel in pleasures of the flesh. As a result, Rule was a real play-boy before settling down with Lily – and throughout the series Lily has to contend with other people’s misconceptions about Rule’s promiscuity and her own jealousy at the fact that Rule has had a lot of lovers. I just liked the idea that Rule would be getting a taste of his own medicine.
Unfortunately this storyline doesn’t really pan out – we learn a bit about Lily’s previous relationship, but not enough to know how it impacted Lily emotionally. And there was never a big confrontation between Rule and Cody – Rule never even really admitted his jealousy.

The mystery plot of ‘Blood Magic’ is perhaps the best Wilks has written in the series thus far. She raises the stakes pretty high from the get-go by having Cullen Seaborne be the victim of an attempted assassination. From there the ‘whodunnit’ is intriguing and well-paced – the villain is complex and scary, and best of all has a vendetta against Lily’s Grandmother. Much is revealed about Grandmother’s past, and it impacts Lily in a very unusual way.

So while I did appreciate the dramatic plot of ‘Blood Magic’, I guess I was most disheartened because Wilks didn’t deliver on the emotional front. And it’s a shame because the end of ‘Mortal Sins’ was so heart-felt and romantic. I was doubly disappointed because there aren’t too many Lily/Rule lovey dovey scenes in ‘Blood Magic’. What there is, is pretty tame;

He clasped her hand and her waist, leaving several inches between them, and murmured, “We missed our dance.” And he began humming.
So she danced in bra and panties with her beautiful, naked Rule, with the lights of the city twinkling at them from the window wall. He danced her into the living area, humming a 1930s torch song, one that had been old-fashioned even back when he was born.

Wilks started out writing quite smutty Lily/Rule scenes in ‘Tempting Danger’, but hasn’t really managed to provide subsequent smuttiness in later books, unfortunately.

I think I had my expectations too high for this book. My fault. I thought Wilks would deliver on the Lily/Rule emotional front, but ‘Blood Magic’ is very plot-heavy and offers little insight into Lily and Rule’s relationship. On the plus side it looks as though book #7 ‘Blood Challenge’ will explore what ‘Blood Magic’ did not; the downside is that book seven will probably have a 2011 release date.

2.5/5

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

'First Drop of Crimson: Night Huntress world #1' by Jeaniene FROST

From the BLURB:

The night is not safe for mortals. Denise MacGregor knows all too well what lurks in the shadows - her best friend is half-vampire Cat Crawfield - and she has already lost more than the average human could bear. But her family's past is wrapped in secrets and shrouded in darkness - and a demon shapeshifter has marked Denise as prey. Now her survival depends on an immortal who lusts for a taste of her.

He is Spade, a powerful, mysterious vampire who has walked the earth for centuries and is now duty-bound to protect this endangered, alluring human - even if it means destroying his own kind. Denise may arouse his deepest hungers, but Spade knows he must fight his urge to have her as they face the nightmare together . . .

Because once the first crimson drop falls, they will both be lost.

This is the first book in Jeaniene Frost’s spin-off ‘Night Huntress’ series.

I’ve got to admit, I wasn’t overly excited to read this book (*gasp* *egads*!). Reason being that I was sort of indifferent to Spade as a protagonist. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against Spade – it’s just that I find Mencheres, Vlad, Tate, Juan and Ian more interesting than him. I was also pretty ‘meh’ about Denise as leading lady – once again, nothing against her character but I’ve never really paid much attention to her over the course of the ‘Night Huntress’ books.

So I went into ‘First Drop’ with low expectations, and finished the book with a slight smile on my face.

The book delves into Spade’s past; as a Baron-born nobleman who ended up on the First Fleet bound for Australia’s penal colony. Spade has a very interesting background, perhaps even more interesting than Bones’s prostitute turned bounty-hunter (if that’s possible?). Spade also has a very sad story to tell, about how he lost the love of his life during the Napoleonic Wars. I really appreciated all of the history on Spade, considering he’s always been in the background of the Cat & Bones books. Frost does a great job of feeding bits and pieces of information on Spade – making him into a puzzle piece for readers and Denise to figure out.

Denise is a mediocre leading lady. I didn’t hate her, but I didn’t love her either. I think it’s a case of if you compare Denise to Cat – who is so vibrant, self-deprecating and wisecracking – she pales in comparison. Denise sometimes had a witty comment to make, but they were far and few between. I didn't expect Denise to be a very interesting heroine, and I think I was right in my presumption.

I did like Spade and Denise’s romance – especially considering the romantic history of these two and the various prejudices/heartaches they each had to overcome. That being said, I think Spade’s feelings for Denise were a little rushed. We learn early on that Spade, having previously met Denise, did find her attractive and was ‘drawn’ to her. But it felt like after only 60 pages or so Spade had made up his mind to turn Denise into a vampire so they could be together forever. It really felt like he came out of left field: in one moment protesting his feelings for a human and then suddenly deciding to spend eternity with her.
Regardless of the rush-job, I was rooting for Denise and Spade – and they are quite a sweet Night Huntress couple;

“Ready?” he asked softly, but also with irony. “Life never waits until you’re ready. I wasn’t ready to turn into a vampire, but I did. I wasn’t ready to lose someone I loved a long time ago, but it happened. You weren’t ready to have your husband murdered, but he was. You certainly weren’t ready for a demon to brand you, but he did. And neither of us might be ready for what we feel for each other, but that doesn’t make those feelings go away.”
Spade leaned closer, his voice lowering. “Here we are, Denise. Ready or not.”

There is smut. But to put it in perspective so that Frost fans can gauge the level of smuttiness – I’ll just say that the sex scenes in ‘First Drop of Crimson’ are not as smutty as the (now infamous) chapter thirty-two of ‘One Foot in the Grave’.

One complaint I had with this book was the lack of Mencheres. His book (the second Night Huntress spin-off) is ‘Eternal Kiss of Darkness’, and will be released July 27th this year. Because Mencheres’s story is up next, I thought Frost would whet reader’s appetites and have him in a lengthy cameo. Not the case. Mencheres is in a ‘blink and you’ll miss him’ appearance toward the end. If I didn’t know better, I would have guessed that Ian would be the next Night Huntress spin-off story. I love Ian, and I was very pleased that he has such a lengthy cameo in ‘First Drop’. I think his story will be amazing, especially because his character is a bit of an enigma – at once sleazy and power-hungry, but absolutely loyal to his friends and willing to help when needed. But I also love Mencheres, and I was disappointed that he didn’t play a bigger role in ‘First Drop’. I’m actually frustrated because Ian did play such a big and great role in this book, but Frost doesn’t know if she’s going to write a spin-off for him!

One more small complaint - the various international settings are superfluous. Spade and Denise go jet-setting in this book; from St. Louis to England and Monaco. But whereas Frost spent time depicting the city of New Orleans in 'Destined for an Early Grave', she completely skips over the finer points of these cities in 'First Drop'. There's no descriptions and therefore no sense of 'place'. She could have just as easily kept the story in St. Louis and it would have made no difference.

I didn't LOVE 'First Drop of Crimson'. I liked it. I'm more looking forward to 'Eternal Kiss', purely because I think Mencheres is a fascinating (and sexy) character. And I am really hopeful for an Ian book.

3/5

Sunday, February 14, 2010

'Flirt: Anita Blake Novella' by Laurell. K. HAMILTON

From the BLURB:

When Anita Blake meets with prospective client Tony Bennington, who is desperate to have her reanimate his recently deceased wife, she is full of sympathy for his loss. Anita knows something about love, and she knows everything there is to know about loss. But what she also knows, though Tony Bennington seems unwilling to be convinced, is that the thing she can do as a necromancer isn't the miracle he thinks he needs. The creature that Anita could coerce to step out of the late Mrs. Bennington's grave would not be the lovely Mrs. Bennington. Not really. And not for long.

This is bad. Just, bad. So bad, in fact, that this will be the last Anita Blake book I buy. To be honest, I’m shocked that I’ve depleted my wallet and toughened the series out this far. From now on I’m either chucking in the towel and never reading another ‘Anita’ book, or relying on library loans.

‘Flirt’ is just one big ego-trip. It may as well be one of Ms. Hamilton’s blog posts for its pointless narcissism.

‘Flirt’ has 171 pages. But in actuality the Novella is 158 pages, and in a bout of truly worthless ego stroking, Hamilton has included a 13-page ‘afterword’. In this afterword Hamilton answers the question ‘where do I get my ideas?’ and then proceeds to detail an incident from her life when a waiter serving herself and her (apparently very attractive) friends became distracted and stuttering. Hence her idea for ‘Flirt’ – and incase Hamilton’s recount of these events isn’t enough to convince you of her awesome flirtation prowess, she’s also included a 10-panel comic strip.
Oh. My. God. Somebody deflate this woman’s ego, pronto!
It’s all well and good to read Hamilton’s blog posts and point and laugh at the self-absorbed world she lives in, but when you fork out approx US$20.00 for her hardback you really resent having to pay for the privilege of reading what she blogs for free.
Most authors would have rewarded loyal fans and made ‘Flirt’ a FREE online novella – but that’s too generous for Hamilton.

At this point the ‘Anita Blake’ series has nothing worthy to offer. The stories are flat and uninventive. Hamilton’s books are the literary equivalent of porn, with weak storylines that sluggishly move the characters toward derivative and repetitive sex scenes. This has been the case since ‘Narcissus in Chains’, when Anita’s ardeur made it necessary for her to have multiple sexual partners and participate in orgies at inappropriate moments. And it happens again in ‘Flirt’ – only this time it’s worse. Anita doesn’t just have sex with a stranger in this novella, she has sex with a stranger who has kidnapped her and threatened her lovers. So of course her response is to fuck his brains out. Of course. Totally reasonable and not at all disturbing.

I was willing to give ‘Flirt’ a chance because Hamilton’s previous novella, ‘Micah’, was bearable. I don’t mind Micah as a character (despite the fact that he’s as boring as a plotted plant) and I thought ‘Flirt’ would be half-decent if it was about one of Anita’s men who still peaks my interest. Nathaniel. Jason. Jean-Claude. Richard, etc. But while ‘Flirt’ does have Nathaniel, Micah and Jason making cameos, the novella is about Anita and random male were-lions who Anita sees fit to add to her cadre.

Anita was once an original and kick-ass heroine. She was also a walking contradiction – a tough-as-nails Marshall/Necromancer whose personal morals were a guiding light in the seedy supernatural underbelly of St. Louis. Now she is a cardboard cutout of her former self. This is made abundantly clear in ‘Flirt’ when Anita rehashes old personal issues – like the fact that she is annoyingly modest about her beauty because she thinks herself to be the ‘black sheep’ in her blonde-haired-blue-eyed family. And that her college fiancée dumped her because she wasn’t blonde-haired and blue-eyed, which left Anita with poor self-esteem (but something tells me her multiple beautiful bed partners is fixing that little confidence problem). Sound familiar? That’s because it is. In every ‘Anita’ book we manage to get a page or two recounting why it is Anita is so utterly beautiful but completely unaware of it. And as we do in every ‘Anita’ book, our flagging heroine also gives extensive (and pointless) descriptions of what Nathaniel, Jason and Micah look like.
The same way Hamilton repeats her sentences, especially in sex scenes (‘so tight, so wet’, ‘so hard, so eager’) she has reverted to repeating huge chunks of paragraphs by re-hashing physical descriptions and Anita’s romantic history.

Hamilton’s agent and editors need to take off the kid gloves when dealing with her. Hamilton needs a swift kick up the butt and for someone to explain why it is her readers are disillusioned with this once great series. And for the love of God, can her editors please explain to Ms. Hamilton that by book #18 her readership does not need yet another description of Nathaniel’s purple ‘Easter egg’ eyes or Micah’s short but muscled stature.

The ‘Anita’ series looked to be taking a turn with recent books introducing uber-villain ‘Marmee Noir’; the mother of all vampires. This is a promising storyline, but I really don’t think Hamilton is good enough to follow-through. Her kick-ass protagonist who once single-handedly faced down the Vampire Queen of St. Louis is a shadow of her former self. The storyline isn’t progressing and her character isn’t evolving. Each new ‘Anita’ book is just an excuse to write the same-old sex scenes, and Hamilton is too narcissistic to absorb reader complaints and save her series. I’m done. ‘Flirt’ is the end of the road for me. Maybe I will pick up her next (full-length) Anita book ‘Bullet’, but I won’t be paying for it and I won’t expect much.

0/5

Saturday, February 13, 2010

'The Dark Tide: Adrien English #5' by Josh LANYON


From the BLURB:

As if recovering from heart surgery beneath the gaze of his over-protective family wasn’t exasperating enough, someone keeps trying to break into Adrien English’s bookstore. What is this determined midnight intruder searching for?

When a half-century old skeleton tumbles out of the wall in the midst of the renovation of Cloak and Dagger Bookstore renovation, Adrien turns to hot and handsome ex-lover Jake Riordan -- now out-of-the closet and working as a private detective.

Jake is only too happy to have reason to stay in close contact with Adrien, but there are more surprises in Adrien’s past than either one of them expects -- and one of them may prove hazardous to Jake’s own heart.

This is the last book in Josh Lanyon’s ‘Adrien English’ series (*tear*).

A lot has changed since the events of ‘Death of a Pirate King’. It’s only been five weeks in the series timeline, but Adrien is recovering from open-heart surgery and Jake Riordan has retired from the force and come out of the closet. Jake has made it obvious that he wants a relationship with Adrien now that everything is out in the open – but Adrien is still recovering from the war wounds Jake inflicted two years ago and is reluctant to lose his heart again.

This book delves deeper than ever into Jake and Adrien’s relationship and their respective personalities – in particular, Adrien’s. We’ve known from book 1 that because of his heart murmur Adrien was living on borrowed time. But in ‘The Dark Tide’ his surgery means that he’s gained longevity and will most likely live to a ripe-old age. A lot changes for Adrien now that he isn’t scared of dying – and we see a few of his walls and defenses come crumbling down.

The best thing in this final book is the tentative rekindling of Jake and Adrien’s relationship. It isn’t an explosive re-coupling, but rather a slow burn indicative of the hurt Adrien endured because of Jake’s self-hatred. A lot of dirty laundry is aired and lots of pink elephants are finally addressed.

“I’m begging,” I said.
He looked at me and grinned. “You never begged in your life.”
“I suppose you have?”
An odd expression flickered in his eyes, a sudden recognition of something in the distance – or the past. “I begged for something once.”
To be straight? That would be about right. Or did he mean it in a sexual context I didn’t want to know anything about?
I said drily, “And did you get what you begged for?”
“Yeah.” His voice sounded funny. “I did.”

This is a very satisfying reunion, and entirely romantic. I never thought of this series as M/M erotica – yes, the sex scenes are hot, but above all else Jake and Adrien are an entirely romantic, sweet couple. Never more so than in ‘The Dark Tide’;

He smelled like soap and sleep and bare skin. He smelled familiar. Not the déjà vu familiar of Guy or Mel. Familiar like… the ache in your chest of homesickness, of longing for harbor after weeks of rough seas or craving a fire’s warmth after snow – or wanting back something you should never have given away.

I wasn’t too keen on the murder plot in this book. I didn’t mind that it was a cold case, some fifty-years out of date. I had a problem with the contrite way the murder was made to reflect Jake and Adrien’s life in a ‘Sliding Doors’, ‘what if’ kind of way. It was just a little bit too convenient and mushy for my liking – and I would have preferred the series to end on a hard-boiled bang.

Having read the series I’m a little disappointed that it wasn’t released under a more mainstream publishing house. The Adrien English books (and e-books) were released by independent publishers MLR Press (Man Love Romance). Maybe Josh Lanyon never wanted the likes of Penguin and Macmillan to represent his work – maybe he went straight to the experts for his genre and protagonist and never even thought of taking his series to the mainstream. I sort of hope that is the case – I would hate to think of this wonderful series being passed up by publishing conglomerates purely because of a homosexual protagonist and a healthy touch of M/M erotica. If that is not the case though, and MLR Press were the only takers for Lanyon’s series – then I find that very sad. Because these books are good.

Yes, the series does scratch that particularly smutty M/M itch and the romance is gush-worthy and intense. But aside from that, Lanyon is a damn good writer. He borrows from the old-school likes of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler and puts his own twist on the classic hard-boiled detective novel. He’s written an entirely engaging and enigmatic character in the form of Adrien English and devised interesting sleuthing expeditions to keep his protagonist sharp while also weaving an insanely complex and satisfying romance throughout the series. I have fallen head over heels in love with this series and my heart bleeds to think that there won’t be any more Adrien English books.

You cannot relegate the Adrien English series purely to M/M erotica, because it is above all else a murder-mystery series and a damn good one at that. I have enjoyed this series immensely and really wish that Josh Lanyon would write more books in the series. There’s still a lot of ground uncovered, mainly concerning Jake’s family and his new life as an out homosexual. Regardless, I enjoyed the ride while it lasted.

5/5

I would love to read more of Lanyon’s work – can anyone recommend which of his books/series I should read next?

Friday, February 12, 2010

'The Death of a Pirate King: Adrien English #4' by Josh LANYON

From the BLURB:

Gay bookseller and reluctant amateur sleuth Adrien English's writing career is suddenly taking off. His first novel, Murder Will Out, has been optioned by notorious Hollywood actor Paul Kane. But when murder makes an appearance at a dinner party, who should be called in but Adrien's former lover, handsome closeted detective Jake Riordan, now a Lieutenant with LAPD -- which may just drive Adrien's new boyfriend, sexy UCLA professor Guy Snowden, to commit a murder of his own!

This is the fourth book in Josh Lanyon’s ‘Adrien English’ series.

Two years have passed since the events in ‘The Hell You Say’ and a lot has changed. Adrien and the UCLA occult professor, Guy Snowden, are an item – with Guy pushing for more in the way of holy matrimony. Adrien has gotten used to his extended step family and even, dare say, loves them. Especially his fourteen-year-old steps-sister, Emma, who he shares a love of horses with. Adrien’s heart murmur has gotten worse and open-heart surgery looms. And Adrien hasn’t spoken to married Lietuenant Jake Riordan in two years…. Until one night at a swanky Hollywood party, Adrien is sitting next to a wealthy producer who keels over and dies. Enter Lt. Riordan, back in Adrien’s life and more confusing than ever.

Once again Adrien is suspected of murder. He is unwittingly bought into the sleuthing side of the murder investigation when bisexual film star, Paul Kane, insists that Adrien help Jake Riordan with the case. But there’s more to Paul Kane’s insistence that Jake and Adrien work together, and the plot thickens and congeals…

It was pretty risky of Lanyon to jump the book forward by two years, but it works really well. The hurt Jake inflicted on Adrien has had time to settle and fester, and as old wounds are reopened the emotional stakes feel higher than ever. I didn’t know how much worse it could get for Adrien when it came to his ex-boyfriend, Jake Riordan, but Lanyon manages to increase Adrien’s heartache ten-fold. I was literally gasping in certain passages, as Adrien learns more of Jake’s secrets and looks at his and Jake’s relationship from a whole new angle.

And I thought maybe I didn’t need to worry about my heart anymore because it had stopped beating a couple of seconds earlier, and I was still sitting there living and breathing – though admittedly I wasn’t feeling much of anything.

The increased emotional tension makes for intensely addictive reading. But it is also painful to read – Adrien isn’t really one for confrontation, and as he learns more about his and Jake’s previous relationship he remains tight-lipped - much to my chagrin.

In this book I really responded to the murder plot. It’s made more interesting by the fact that the players are all Hollywood moguls, and the added fact that certain persons have a personal relationship and interest with Adrien and Jake. This book definitely has a ‘noir’ feel to it; there’s lots of seedy underbelly being revealed and the sleuthing is better than ever.

And as if I didn’t love Adrien enough as it was. In this book he makes reference to one of my all-time favorite TV shows; ‘Veronica Mars’. Makes sense, since the show was about an amateur sleuth and leaned heavily toward the noir side of things… but I like to think the reference is yet another indicator that if Adrien English were a real person, he and I would totally be bosom buddies.

I loved this book (as I’ve loved all the Adrien English books thus far) and I’m going into the fifth and final book ‘The Dark Tide’ with a little trepidation. I don’t want the series to end! I want to prolong it for as long as possible, but I know my addiction to Adrien will win out.

5/5

Thursday, February 11, 2010

'The Hell You Say: Adrien English #3' by Josh LANYON

From the BLURB:

The long anticipated third novel in the Adrien English series finds the "ill-starred and bookish" mystery writer and bookseller battling demons--maybe literally.

After bookstore clerk Angus flees following terrifying death threats, Adrien must contend with a mysterious Satanic cult, a hot and handsome university professor, and his on-again/off-again relationship with closeted LAPD Homicide Detective Jake Riordan.

And, oh, yes, murder...


The third book in Josh Lanyon’s ‘Adrien English’ series proves to be just as good as its predecessors.

In this book Lanyon adds onto the cast of secondary characters by having Adrien’s society-belle mother marry a middle-aged councilman. The extended family make witty fodder for Adrien as he inherits three step sisters – all of whom are statuesque maidens Adrien coquettishly calls a ‘harem’.

Also joining the cast of secondary characters is University occult lecturer, Guy Snowden, who makes for sweet distraction when things between Adrien and Jake hit a serious roadblock.

From the first I feel like I’ve been holding my breath regarding Jake and Adrien. So all encompassing is Jake’s hatred of himself and the gay community, you just knew from the get-go that Adrien was going to get hurt in the midst of Jake’s denial. I feel sorry for Jake too, just as Adrien does – I mean, it can’t be easy hating yourself that much over something you have no control over. Regardless, I was vicariously hurt by Jake’s actions in ‘The Hell You Say’ and my heart goes out to Adrien. Their relationship is so intense that even when it turns depressing it’s still interesting and makes for addictive reading. I’m kind of going into the next 2 books with my heart in my throat though, because I can only imagine how much worse it can get for Adrien and Jake.

I was especially saddened by the events of ‘The Hell You Say’ because I love Adrien so much. I wish he were a real person I could call up and have a late-night chat with, or meet for cosmos in a fancy bar where we would proceed to quietly heckle those around us. He is all shades of awesome – and so (fictional character or not) I feel very precious and protective of him.

‘The Hell You Say’ has Adrien at his best, witty-saccharine self. Sure it becomes increasingly hard to believe that Adrien would bumble into these murder investigations, but the suspended belief is aided by Lanyon’s clever ‘story within a story’. Adrien is a murder-mystery novelist on the side, and he hosts a writers workshop with fellow mystery authors– who all poke fun at the absurdity of their own writing and the probability of their average-joe characters actually getting tangled in police investigations. The suspended belief is also aided by the fact that Adrien is just so darn charming and funny, so I don’t mind the ludicrousness:

So when the downstairs phone rang, I doubled back to pick it up, though I was already running late.
A pause followed my greeting. Then, “We’re watching you,” whispered the voice on the other end.
“Yeah? Did you see what I did with my keys?”
Silence. Then dial tone.
These younger demons. So easily discouraged.

I loved this book and I continue to adore the 'Adrien English' series.

5/5

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

'A Dangerous Thing: Adrien English #2' by Josh LANYON

From the BLURB:

In Josh Lanyon's "A Dangerous Thing", the second in his on-going series of Los Angeles based thrillers, featuring bookseller Adrien English, a holiday trip, following directly on from the 'Gay Slasher Killings' narrated in "Fatal Shadows" proves far less relaxing than English anticipates. But one corpse is not enough and as the body count mounts, so does the excitement.

This is the second book in Josh Lanyon’s ‘Adrien English’ series, which just gets better and better…

In this second installment Adrien escapes LA and his maybe-but-not-really-boyfriend, Detective Jake Riordan, and his yo-yoing affections. Adrien travels eight hours to the ranch he inherited from his deceased grandmother. Adrien has every intention of squeezing in some writing time for his second novel, and to forget about closeted homosexual, Jake.
Before he even gets through the front door, Adrien stumbles across a corpse lying in his driveway. He calls the Podunk town Sheriff’s, but when they retrace Adrien’s steps, the body has vanished.

Further complicating Adrien’s life; he discovers marijuana being grown on his abandoned property, and when he goes snooping he gets clocked on the head and lands in hospital. When he wakes, Jake Riordan is standing sentry and refusing to leave Adrien on his lonesome until they get to the bottom of these strange happenings.

“You’re not a cop, baby. You’re a bookseller. You don’t have a gut instinct. You have a knack for nearly getting yourself killed.”
I batted my lashes. “I didn’t know you cared.”
His eyes held mine briefly. “The hell you didn’t.”

This is a great follow-up to Lanyon’s first novel, ‘Fatal Shadows’. Not least of all because Lanyon has the Adrien/Jake romance cranking up a few notches. This is one of the most complicated romances I have ever read – on the one hand Jake is firmly in the closet and deep in denial. Jake’s obvious disgust with his sexuality is unbelievably sad and complicated, but thoroughly intriguing. Adrien is very aware and sensitive to Jake’s feelings, but he has to bear the brunt of his negativity and face the fact that Jake’s self-hatred probably includes Adrien. Despite this huge emotional obstacle, these two are H-O-T! ‘A Dangerous Thing’ marks Jake and Adrien’s first sexual encounter, and it absolutely sizzles. Lanyon isn’t writing the “Adrien English” series to be M/M erotica, but he definitely knows his way around a sex scene;

“Shhh. Turn off for a few seconds, Adrien.”
“A few seconds? Is that all it’s - -"I caught my breath as his finger moved knowledgably, unerringly.
“There’s the off button,” he murmured.
I pushed back hard on his hand. Not like I’d never felt this before, and yet somehow I’d never felt it quite so intensely.

In this second book I appreciate the romance more than the mystery. The ‘whodunnit’ is a little bit too layered with too many players and urban legends floating around. It’s still intriguing and keeps the pace moving, but I found myself more invested in the murder-mystery in ‘Fatal Shadows’ because those deaths were closer to Adrien’s heart.

I loved this book as much as the first, and I really look forward to reading the last three installments.

4/5

Monday, February 8, 2010

'Fatal Shadows: Adrien English #1' by Josh LANYON


From the BLURB:

Adrien English runs a small bookstore in Pasadena, which is reputed to have the largest collection of gay and gothic whodunnits around. But mystery invades his own life one morning when his best friend is found stabbed to death and he is seen as the most likely suspect. More murder and mayhem ensue in this nailbiting thriller with plenty of twists and turns.

This is the first book in Josh Lanyon’s popular ‘Adrien English’ series.

This series is not M/M erotica – there is an M/M love story at the series’ centre, but Lanyon’s book is first and foremost a mystery. That’s probably the best thing about Lanyon – he isn’t overly preoccupied with writing a gay series, he just so happens to be writing a murder-mystery with a gay hero.

Adrien English is a fantastic leading man. He’s witty, a little bit goofy and utterly charming. He’s also not your typical gay lead. In fact, as a writer he pokes fun at the gay stereotype prevalent in current fiction. Adrien is not particularly suave – he eats cereal in his underwear while watching old Errol Flynn movies. The only stereotype Adrien maintains (much to his chagrin) is that of mama’s boy – but only because his eccentric society mother, Lisa, is still reluctant to cut the apron strings. Adrien is also unlucky in love, still nursing a broken heart after his ex, Mel, walked out on him years ago and he’s been celibate ever since. To top it all off, Adrien has had a heart murmur since he was sixteen years old – a condition which will most likely mean Adrien won’t live to see 50. His heart condition is very defining of Adrien’s character and explains a lot about his ‘lone wolf’ persona and the armor he dons with those closest to him (or rather, those who try to get close to him). I loved Adrien. He was a completely delightful and unsuspecting hero.

Lanyon also writes some fantastic secondary characters. From Adrien’s nosy mother, Lisa, to his gay café-owner friend Claude La Pierra – the book is peppered with lovable eccentrics. And half the joy is in reading Adrien’s reactions to them – from Claude’s stereotypical flamboyant homosexuality to his mother’s insistence that he move back home.

Lanyon has also written a greatly complex love interest for Adrien English in the form of LAPD detective, Jake Riordan. These two have a less than auspicious meeting when Jake is assigned to the murder investigation of Adrien’s best friend, an investigation in which Adrien is the number one suspect. More than that though, Jake is a firmly closeted homosexual who is heavy into the BDSM scene. His sexual preference toward violence, dominance and submission is very Freudian and revealing of Jake’s feelings of shame and humiliation at liking men. Despite all the obstacles in their way, Jake and Adrien definitely have chemistry, and their tentative romance is a nice counter-point to the murder-mystery plot.

That grip on my arm was going to leave bruises. “I asked you to stay out of it. I specifically told you. What do I have to do? Arrest you?”
“Anything to get me in handcuffs?”
I don’t know why that popped out, but police brutality seemed imminent.

The murder-mystery is a real page-turner, I was guessing at the ‘whodunnit’ until the very end. This is where Lanyon really excels – having his bumbling leading man trying his hand at sleuthing. Though there is a gruesome murder at its centre, the book never becomes too dark because Adrien keeps things charming and interesting. It also helps that on occasion Adrien becomes slightly hysterical and funny.

I will definitely be continuing this series and would like to thank every book blogger who ever recommended Mr. Lanyon!

5/5


P.S. – Lanyon describes Adrien as closely resembling Montgomery Clift. When I cast this series in my head I picture Kerr Smith (‘Dawson’s Creek’, ‘Life Unexpected’) in the role – because, is it just me, or does Kerr bare a teeny resemblance to Mr. Clift?


Saturday, February 6, 2010

'Lead me on' by Victoria DAHL



From the BLURB:

Raw, animal magnetism…

…is a big red flag to prim and proper office manager Jane Morgan. After a rough childhood with a mother who liked her men in prison-jumpsuit orange, Jane changed her name, her look and her taste for bad boys. So why is she lusting for William Chase with his tattoo-covered biceps and steel-toed boots? The man blows things up for a living!

She gives herself one explosive, fantasy-filled night with Chase. The next day it's back to plain Jane and safe men.
But when her beloved brother becomes a murder suspect, it's Chase who comes to her rescue. And Jane discovers that a man who's been around the block knows a thing or two about uncovering the truth….

I really didn’t like this third instalment of Victoria Dahl’s ‘Tumble Creek’ series (*ACK!* put down your pitchforks!).

For starters, it’s not even set in Tumble Creek. Dahl did such a wonderful job of creating this fictional town and its characters in the first two books, but then she totally ditches the entire premise of her series in book three! Sure, there are cameos from the characters of ‘Start me up’, Lori Love & Quinn Jennings, but it’s not the same thing.

Secondly, I never warmed up to protagonist, Jane Morgan. With the first two female leads, Molly Jennings and Lori Love, there was an instant familiarity to their plights – they were two very relatable characters with everyday problems that I could sympathize with. Jane’s problems are bizarre. She had a very unconventional childhood. Her mother wasn’t exactly the best role model, as Jane explains it;

“She was a prison groupie. She married guys in prison. Four of them, to be exact. All of them men she met after they’d been sent to the big house. You are looking at the tender outcome of a conjugal trailer visit.” She put her hand to her mouth. “Oh, my God, did I say that out loud?”

As a result of her unusual upbringing, Jane went off the rails. She was having sex from the age of 12, in bar parking lots – she drank, partied hard and was on a serious downward spiral. A frightening incident scared her straight when she was a little older and she reinvented herself as Jane Morgan – boring secretary.

I could understand and appreciate a storyline about a woman who had a wild past she was ashamed of. But Jane’s history is so completely bizarre and I think only a very small fraction of people could actually relate to her background.

The complication for Jane in ‘Lead me on’ comes in the form of William Chase – a tattooed, hulking explosives expert who titillates Jane’s long-dormant wild side.

I really liked Chase. Physically he was very intimidating, but like Dahl’s other leading men, Ben and Quinn, Chase was a complete gentleman – very tender and polite. A contradiction to his outward appearance.
What I didn’t like was Jane and Chase together. I didn’t think she deserved him. From the get-go she sees Chase as an easy lay, a way to scratch an itch she’s tried to ignore. She constantly stereotyped Chase and often times treated him purely as a bed partner instead of a real human being. Chase calls her out on it many times throughout, but never really put his foot down.

I also didn’t really respond to Jane and Chase’s romance because it felt like something more appealing to men than women. When he meets her, Jane is an uptight secretary complete with crisp suits and her hair in a bun. But when Chase gets Jane into the bedroom she turns into a sex kitten – complete with massive boobs (which he waxes poetic about quite a bit) and tiny waist. It sounded more like a porn plotline (oxymoron?) more appealing to men than women. Sure, the scenes are hot (Dahl is exceptional at writing smut) but it kind of killed the mood when it turned out that the mousy secretary was stacked and had a Victoria’s Secret body.
I think I would have preferred a storyline in which Jane Morgan didn’t have a lecherous background and really was just a plain-Jane secretary walking on the wild side for the first time.

I know lot’s of people raved about ‘Lead me on’ – but I think a few of those reviews were reading the ‘Tumble Creek’ series for the first time with book #3 and had never read #1 and #2. I think ‘Lead me on’ would have worked better as a stand-alone novel, because it really doesn’t fit into ‘Tumble Creek’ and I was disappointed at how much this book skewed from the first two.

My biggest problem was with the heroine, Jane. She had a background story that was just too weird to be relatable, and I was kind of disappointed to learn that her ‘hum drum’ appearance was all just a façade to hide a roaring sex kitten.

2/5

Friday, February 5, 2010

'Start Me Up' by Victoria DAHL

From the BLURB:

Lori had always planned to get out of tiny Tumble Creek, Colorado, but when her late dad left her his beloved auto body shop, she'd stayed. Now, according to her crazy best friend, Molly, what Lori needs is some excitement, in the form of hot, no-strings-attached sex.and lots of it.

Quinn Jennings has buildings on the brain - not love and romance. A serious architect, he's delighted to discover that Lori is willing to skip dating protocols and head straight for the sheets. And aided by the steamy books on Lori's bedside table, he's busy indulging both of their wildest fantasies. But when life in Tumble Creek takes a dangerous turn for Lori, Quinn's protective instincts kick in.

Suddenly he cares. More than either of them ever expected…

I loved this book. I adore the ‘Tumble Creek’ series and I’m pretty sure I have a girl-crush on Victoria Dahl.

‘Start me up’ focuses on Lori Love, a character introduced as the heroine’s best friend in book #1 ‘Talk me down’. I really liked Lori, mostly because Dahl had me sympathizing with her from the get-go. Lori’s been dealt a bad lot in life – she was all set to escape Tumble Creek and take up an international college scholarship when her father was severely injured in a bar fight and she was forced to care for him. Then he died, and she inherited his mechanics garage and started working there to pay off all the hospital bills. Pretty soon 10 years had flown by and Lori found her life stagnating.

Even though it’s quite a sob story, I never pitied Lori. She’s a fiery, independent woman and not at all prone to ‘woe is me’ syndrome. I also really liked her interactions with Molly (heroine from ‘Talk me down’) – these two are kind of a laugh-riot and I want to be fictional best friends with them!

Dahl has written a fantastic hero for Lori’s feisty lady-mechanic in Quinn Jennings. Quinn is a bit of a beta hero. He’s definitely not like Alpha-male Ben from ‘Talk me down’ – instead Quinn is a little bit serious, nerdy and a self-professed ‘dork’. He gets plenty of female attention, but his work commitments translate to aloofness in relationships and he’s never been with one woman for very long. In his fling with Lori he explores another side of himself, taking on the role of dominant in Lori’s ‘tie me up, tie me down’ fantasies. It’s a nice switch-up – from seeing Quinn’s sweet dorkiness in social situations, to witnessing a bedroom transformation. As Quinn describes it at one point after a bedroom romp with Lori;

“I was a fucking sex ninja.”

One of the reasons I am enjoying Dahl’s contemporary romance series so much is the fantastic writing. She writes dialogue beautifully, as evidenced by the sharp rhetoric between Lori and Molly. But she also just writes vividly and beautifully, and some of her passages really grab me;

Lori was scared. She’d been scared for years, ever since her father’s injury. Little bits of her courage were scattered across the country. Some of it in Boston where she’d received the phone call. Some of it floating high in the sky in the trail of the plane that had flown her home. But most of it had fallen away in Grand Valley in the hospital where she’d spent weeks by her dad’s side.

Just as in ‘Talk me down’; ‘Start me up’ has a mystery plot running alongside the romance. Dahl once again does a masterful job of balancing out romance, smut and mystery so that while you’re invested in Lori and Quinn, you’re also keen to know the whodunit plot. She never lets the mystery overtake the romance, but keeps it interesting enough that you do care about the outcome.

And once again she writes impressive smut. In this book there is tame bondage play as Lori explores her sexuality – it is very tasteful smut, but hot nonetheless.

I love, love, love this series. Thanks again to Patti from ‘book addict’ for introducing me to Ms. Dahl.

5/5