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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

'Awakening' by Kitty Thomas

Received from the Author

From the BLURB:

Nerina has lived all her life as a mermaid, fascinated by humans and land but also repulsed by sex and unable to understand love. Her curiosity gets her captured by a human male intent on awakening her lust and turning her human. But Nerina doesn’t believe the legend is real and fears Kyros will kill her when he learns she can’t transform.

Nerina, a beautiful mermaid, has been caught. Tangled in a net and exposed to the lascivious gazes of fishermen – she is at their mercy, and could end up as a delicacy on their banquet table, or subjected to their monstrous human rutting.

But then the captain arrives – a dark and beautiful man called Kyros. He has been fascinated by sea nymphs, sirens and mermaids for a long time … and has often wondered what he would do if he ever caught one.

Now that Nerina is in his clutches, he intends to replace her fin with feet and introduce her to mankind’s baser pleasures.

‘Awakening’ is the new novella from dark literary erotica author, Kitty Thomas.
I love Kitty Thomas. Everything she writes is a delightfully dark delicacy and ‘Awakening’ is more of the same.

In the past, Thomas has written to the extremes of BDSM and fetishism. From captive/torturer plots to an island community dedicated to the master/slave dynamic. By comparison, ‘Awakening’ is tame-Kitty. The 21,500-word novella is sort of Kitty-lite, and would be a great ‘beginners’ novel for those who want to dip their toes in the pool of darker erotica.

‘Awakening’ definitely leans toward the more ‘literary’ end of Thomas’s usual literary-erotica genre. The novella is based around the idea of transformation and contradiction – mermaid to human, sea to land, innocence to guiltiness. Thomas explores these concepts through the ancient mythology of mermaids, who are in themselves a contradiction. On the one hand they are sexless – fins instead of genitalia. Yet, sea nymphs and sirens have been written as lurers of men to their watery graves.

With the character of Nerina, Thomas takes the traditional mermaid legend and twists it to romance and lust. The dastardly captain, Kyros, decides to force a human metamorphosis on the sea nymph Nerina and have his carnal way with her.

I knew Kyros was watching me, but I didn’t care. Let the human watch the only real pleasure he could ever give me. I wondered if he would become jealous of the water, how it made me come to life and caused bliss to spread across my features. Bliss he would never be capable of with his own hands. I was sure of it.


‘Awakening’ is less about domination than Thomas’s other works, as it has a far more romantic bent, as both Nerina and Kyros learn something about themselves with her transformation;

I sobbed into his mouth because I was afraid he was right. I feared he was awakening me from a long slumber caused by all my years living deep in the ocean, where maybe we didn’t dream because it was all a dream down there. Everything from my time in the sea somehow felt unreal and fuzzy in his arms. I couldn’t think with his mouth moving over mine like that. The way he held me. His possessive, proprietary kiss.


Kitty Thomas has done it again. She takes what would otherwise be an uncomfortable and squirm-inducing idea and crafts it into a beautiful tale of human dynamics and lust, exploring the many facets of want and craving. Divine.

5/5

'Shift' ** WINNER **

And the winner of my international 'Shift' giveaway is - Drum-roll, please . . .

Aik!

Congrats and happy reading!
And thanks to all who entered


Monday, August 29, 2011

'You'll Be Sorry When I'm Dead' by Marieke Hardy

Received from the publisher

Marieke Hardy, My Grandma & Me
... a review

Marieke Hardy comes from a famous family. Her grandfather was Australian communist writer of ‘Power Without Glory’, Frank Hardy. She is the grandniece of comedian Mary Hardy. Both of her parents were writers, producers and editors on many iconic television shows. Marieke Hardy was also a child actor – appearing in ‘Neighbours’ and ‘The Henderson Kids’. Later in life she became a television writer and co-creator. She has also been a radio host, frequent blogger, political commentator, columnist and book reviewer.

My obsession with Marieke Hardy started in 2007 when I first subscribed to the bi-monthly magazine of Australian hipster darlings, Frankie. I read a wonderful article of hers, titled ‘i'm sorry mum’ in which she lamented her rebellious youth and the impact it had on her relationship with her mother; concluding the article with a heartfelt apology and thanking her for having Zen-like patience. It was funnily ribald, concluding on a sweet note of honesty. I cut the article out and stuck it into a sketch-pad.

One day in 2008 I went to visit my grandmother and found her cackling over The Age Greenguide lift-out. Now, to put this into context; my grandmother is Austrian, and when the war started she became a nurse and later joined the people’s land army. She does not guffaw easily. So to see and hear her chortling over the TV guide caused me to raise my eyebrows. As it turned out, my grandma was laughing at the weekly opinion piece ‘Back Chat’, written by Marieke Hardy, in which she either bemoaned reality TV or gushed about her new favourite show or crumpet journo crush. My grandma admitted that she religiously read Marieke Hardy, and delighted in watching her be as funny on TV as she is in print, on the monthly show ‘First Tuesday Book Club’.

Thus, my grandmother and I had something in common: Marieke Hardy. And my sketch-pad started to grow as the ‘Back Chat’ articles were also ripped and stuck inside, along with her ‘Frankie’ gems.

I also went back and revisited the TV show Hardy wrote for, ‘Last Man Standing’, about three Melbournian bachelors living and loving in my hometown (so blokey good it’s a crime the show only ever saw one season!). And I was ridiculously thrilled when her new show ‘Laid’ got rave reviews. I bought the first season on DVD and constantly quote it randomly to friends (“It makes me want to live up a tree.”) Now I stalk her twitter feed for hints about Season 2, which is currently filming.

So when it was announced that Marieke Hardy had signed a multiple-book contract with Allen & Unwin, my grandmother and I were filled to the brim with unmitigated glee. And when an advance copy of ‘You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead’ arrived in my hot little hand – I was freakin apoplectic!

Marieke Hardy has left pieces of her soul scattered around Melbourne and the outer suburbs. Her childhood is imbedded in Whitten Oval, West Footscray. Flakes of her talent are scattered on the set and green rooms of Ramsay Street, Erinsborough. The Tote hotel in Collingwood was the final resting place of her hedonistic ‘bubble’ friendship group. A good portion of her heart seems happy to reside in a thin-willed Brunswick apartment. And her naked, painted backside even lives upon the wall of a bar in High Street. In ‘You’ll be Sorry When I’m Dead’ Hardy meticulously gathers these pieces, dissecting and lamenting some, proud as punch of others as she lays out the scattered ends for reader’s perusal and her future prosperity.

Hardy swings like a pendulum – between vulgar and witty, ironic and honest, superficial and then brazenly bare. Like her story about football. The ‘Maroon and Blue’ short begins harmlessly enough, as Hardy explains Victoria’s footy-obsession and her family’s loyalty to the Fitzroy Football Club. She talks about baking chocolate cakes for the footy players, crushing on number 24 and the family ritual of watching and dissecting the game. All fairly blasé stuff, the likes of which would appear in any Melbourne-based memoir worth its salt. But then Hardy unfurls. She reads between her own lines and makes something more and meaningful of the story. In this case, she talks about her rampaging teen years when following the footy was mortifying and she distanced herself from both her parents, and the game. Until, that is, the Fitzroy Football Club was disbanded and left for dead. They played their last match in 1996, and Hardy (then 20) flew interstate to watch the end of an era with her mother; realizing while she sat in the stands that this moment marked the end of something more than just a footy club;

I watched the team shuffle down the race into the rooms, heads lowered, full of shame and disappointment and a dark, confusing grief.
My childhood shuffled off with them. My family rituals shuffled off with them. When they had all left the ground, trainers trudging behind, I heard something click shut in my heart.
At that moment I felt my mother reach across and take my hand.

On the surface, ‘You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead’ is simply a collection of very funny stories by a very funny lady who seems to have been designated Melbourne’s pin-up girl. But it’s not until the short story ‘YTT’ that I really started to guess at another purpose of the book. ‘YTT’ is the story of Hardy’s obsession with a Young Talent Time heartthrob, Joey Dee, and how she once met him face-to-face with all the ensuing disaster of a pubescent girl meeting her pubescent idol. This story is triggered by an old friend of Hardy’s asking her to fill in the blanks of a long-ago childhood rift . . . something nearly impossible for Hardy to accomplish, since her mind is gin-soaked and stuttering, increasingly falling into a static ether of forgetfulness. Hardy hilariously explains (with pin-point accuracy) the fear/funny of literally losing her mind. And it was at this point that I decided the book was a sort of touchstone for Hardy. Like Leonard Shelby in ‘Memento’, writing notes to himself so he doesn’t inevitably forget.

The doors of my memory are closing in the most terrifying of ways, slamming shut with the clanging finality behind me like the credits of Get Smart. There are gaping holes where there should be anecdotes and pain and remorse. The lines between truth and fiction are so smeared I sometimes can’t remember if I was actually friends with the Goonies or whether they were just characters in a movie.

Apart from being very funny, Hardy is also audaciously honest (always good in a memoir/autobiography). But her honesty stretches beyond self-reflection and confession. The book includes e-mail exchanges with the people she (sometimes viciously) writes about. An old boyfriend corresponds with her after reading the short story about their prostitute-riddled relationship – an interesting e-mail in which he despairs the seeming lack of love she had for him, and is bewildered by her confession of his purely bad-boy appeal. An old friend carrying an old hurt responds to Marieke’s confessional story about the demise of their friendship – and it’s both awkward for being so relatable, while also brimming with surprising hope for social networking.

And of course the final story is all about Bob Ellis. This little quirk of Marieke Hardy’s is well-documented and met with scepticism and hopes of irony. She is obsessed with the Australian writer, journalist, film-maker and political commentator, Bob Ellis. He is a rotund and sweating man, visceral and mean. But he writes bloody brilliantly, as Hardy reiterates, and has even commemorated with a tattoo. She talks about their dancing around each other and eventually becoming sort-of friends and associates, explaining her deep loyalty and admiration for the man and the ramifications this love has had on her dog. And then, not surprisingly, she talks about her idol wobbling atop his pedestal.

But throughout this final story I couldn’t help but think of Marieke Hardy as being my Bob Ellis. Hardy has tucked pieces of Ellis’s writing away and emblazoned his sentences; I have two sketch pads filled with Marieke Hardy’s words and witticisms, and a twitter follow to show my devotion to her thoughts. There are little snatches of paragraphs and lines of poignancy throughout ‘You’ll Be Sorry’ which I will tuck away and keep for myself;

We would have babies and get fat and quit drinking and not spend every waking moment together. We would turn up to events for which we had accepted invitations without texting absurd excuses. We had grown up.
It was an essential part of letting go, deciding which ribbons of the past we wanted to tie around our fingers and which were best left on the maypole.
I could weep for the unfairness of it all now. For the necessity in closing the door on the travelling salesman of youth. I could weep with such fondness for us all.

Marieke Hardy is one demoness of a writer and a rapscallion memoirist. I have two sketch pads full of ‘Frankie’ articles and ‘Back Chat’ pieces that prove I love anything she writes . . . but I wasn’t prepared for how much I would enjoy ‘You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead’. I made a giggling nuisance of myself on the train and tram while reading this. No doubt I’ll attempt to shove it down my friend’s throats and hound them with requests for reading updates (“have you read this bit yet?” or “are you up to the part where___?”) . . . but first, I think, I’ll pass the book onto my grandmother and happily anticipate the delighted guffaws to come.

5/5


Sunday, August 28, 2011

'Hunters: The Beginning' by Shiloh Walker


I recently read (and loved!) Shiloh Walker’s stand-alone paranormal romance novel, ‘The Missing’. I had been meaning to read a Shiloh Walker novel for some time, based on the solid recommendations of many fellow paranormal-romance lovers who highly recommend her work.

So I decided to give her long-running paranormal erotica series, ‘The Hunters’ a read. This series is currently eleven books deep, and have recently been re-released to include two-stories-for-one with Amazon.

I was really excited to delve in Walker’s world, especially with the memory of ‘The Missing’ fresh in my mind. Sadly, I found these books to be quick, throw-away reads with little substance but lots of smuttiness.

Declan and Tori:

She was just doing her job, tracking down a nutcase who was stalking a young dancer. And then the unspeakable and impossible happened. She was bitten.

A newly turned vampire, Tori is alone and starving and she doesn't know what to do. But she knows who to turn to—gorgeous, mouthwatering Declan—a police detective who has a few secrets of his own.

Tori is a private investigator on the hunt for a psychotic stalker. This guy is a real nut-job, believing himself to be a ‘vampire’ and frightening his victim so much that she’s also convinced of his fanged bloodthirstiness.

But it’s too late for Tori when she learns the truth – vampires are real, supernaturals stalk the night and she has just been bitten . . . and is turning into a vampire.

She turns to the person she trusts most in the world – a local cop called Declan who she has been lusting after from their first meeting.

Declan can smell the change coming on Tori, because he is a werewolf. He can also smell that she is his mate, his to protect and save from the crazed vampire who is hell-bent on making her his master. Luckily, Declan is a werewolf and can offer a helping-hand with Tori’s transition . . . while at the same time succumbing to their mating bond.

“. . . Humans hate change. Hate trying the unknown.” She led him to the broken down recliner in the corner and curled upon his lap. “Why are you telling me all of this?”
Running one hand down her back, savouring the warmth of her flesh under the silk shirt she had snagged from his closet, Declan said, “I do not know what it is like to live with the monster you now have inside you. But I understand not being completely human. You’re not alone.”
He could feel her smile against his chest, feel the warm caress of her breath through the shirt he wore when she whispered, “I know.”

- Declan & Tori

Walker’s first book in ‘The Hunters’ series feels like half a novel. Reader’s are instantly on the back foot because Delcan and Tori have known (and worked) with each other for months already. Her as a PI, and he has her police informant. They have been fighting a burning attraction since their first meeting, or so we’re told.

It’s hard to play catch-up with this couple and really feel the attraction that Walker tells us is scorching between them. Honestly, it felt like Walker was rushing their romance so she could jump right into their bedroom sport (of which there is PLENTY).

I have no problems with a good bit of erotica. And paranormal-erotica is a particular favourite of mine . . . but even I need a bit more build-up and back-story before being thrown into such scorching sex scenes. It felt like Walker did a slight cheat by putting all of Declan and Tori’s attraction down to months of pent-up sexual frustration and yearning.

Things get particularly heated and ménage when Declan takes Tori to a vampire master friend of his, to show her the ropes. Elijah Crawford feels an instant attraction to Tori . . . and the three of them engage in some more bedroom shenanigans.

Once again, instant attraction + lots of sex didn’t really equal ‘hot’ to me. It all felt rushed, and slightly dirtily-lascivious in the wake of Declan and Tori’s bond (effectively a marriage). And I again felt like Walker copped-out by putting it down to (yet another) instant attraction between Eli and Tori. . .

Having said that, I was very intrigued by Eli. He is a very old, very lonely vampire – and while he enjoys his ménage with Declan and Tori, he also harbours a burning jealousy for what the two of them share. Knowing that Eli’s novel was #2 in ‘The Hunters’ series kept me going when I was experiencing some serious scepticism . . .

Eli And Sarel:

After three long centuries of aching loneliness, Elijah Crawford, Hunter of the Council, has finally found a woman. Maybe she can replace the obsession he has for Torrance Reilly, the wife and lover of his best friend.

Sarel is a lean, red-haired, wild-eyed witch with a soul to match his. She has a thirst for justice, and a yearning for a love to fill the void inside her. Sarel has been searching for Elijah. She is here now, prowling his grounds, waiting to get into his house.

Sarel has come to kill him.

Elijah Crawford is a centuries-old vampire, but he’s lonely and bored as hell. For years now he has watched his best friend reap the benefits of love with the women Eli also harbours an intense lust for. But what Declan and Tori have is not meant for Eli. And when a witch, hell-bent on misguided vengeance, sets out to kill him he almost welcomes the release of death-oblivion.

What he doesn’t count on is an intense attraction to the witchy hellion, and what he is willing to do to keep her, forever.

I quite liked the character set-up for Eli in book #1. He’s that lovely sort of tortured hero – ancient and lonely and on the brink of ending his mortality.

This series started to perk-up for me when Eli meets his mate in the most unusual of circumstances – with her hell-bent on murdering him.

But then Walker lost me again by skipping the novel ahead five years and (conveniently) saying that both Eli and Sarel had been pining for one another throughout those five years. . . urgh. Half a decade worth of wanting and lust and Walker just breezed over it and (once again) went straight to the sex.

I was really impressed with Shiloh Walker’s stand-alone paranormal romance thriller ‘The Missing’. That was a novel of sweet yearning and complex characters, and I thought that Walker’s first forays into paranormal romance would follow along similarly heatedly-multifaceted plot lines. Sadly, no. The first two novels in her ‘The Hunters’ series are cheap tricks; full of smut but little else. Admittedly, the first five novels of the series were published by Ellora’s Cave (notoriously smutty), while the last three books (with slightly naffier front-covers) are Berkley Sensation publications. It does look as though the series was improved over time . . . . but, honestly, I can’t be bothered wading through books 3 – 7 to get to the good stuff.

Admittedly, Walker knows what she’s doing when it comes to writing bedroom sport. Those scenes were gratuitously sexy (and if you want a bit of easy, sexy reading then I highly recommend) – but when there’s no characterization or plot to back it up, the books deteriorate into cheap erotic thrills.

2/5


Thursday, August 25, 2011

'Good Girls Don't' Donovan Brothers Brewery #1 by Victoria Dahl

Received from NetGalley

From the BLURB:

With her long ponytail and sparkling green eyes, Tessa Donovan looks more like the girl next door than a businesswoman – or a heartbreaker. Which may explain why Detective Luke Asher barely notices her when he arrives to investigate a break-in at her family’s brewery. He’s got his own problems – starting with the fact that his partner Simone is pregnant and everyone thinks he's the father. The last thing he needs is a nice girl like Tessa getting under his skin.

Tessa has her hands full, too. Her brother’s playboy ways may be threatening the business, and the tensions could tear her tight-knit family apart. In fact, the only thing that could unite the Donovan boys is seeing a man come after their “baby” sister. Especially a man like Luke Asher. But Tessa sees past the rumours to the man beneath.

Tessa Donovan’s week is going from bad to worse. First her younger brother ruins a business deal for her family’s brewery by sleeping with a client’s daughter. On the same day there’s a break-in at the brewery; computers are stolen and the police suspect a state-wide crime ring is behind the theft.

The only silver lining in the whole debacle is police officer Luke Asher – a handsome and captivating man who was college friends with Tessa’s younger brother, Jamie. But rumours abound about Luke – whisperings about his pregnant police partner and his messy divorce.

‘Good Girls Don’t’ is the first book in the new ‘Donovan Brothers Brewery’ contemporary romance series.

Victoria Dahl bleeped onto my radar last year with her sexy/sweet ‘Tumble Creek’ contemporary romance series. So I was really excited to receive an advanced copy of her new September-released book from NetGalley. Sadly, ‘Good Girls Don’t’ didn’t live up to my expectations.

The Donovan Brothers Brewery is the sticking-point of this new romance series. The brewery is run by siblings Tessa, Eric and Jamie. These three share a close bond, since their parents died when they were young, leaving Eric the family patriarch at the age of twenty-four. But now the siblings are in their adulthood and their relationship is somewhat strained. Eric continues to act more like a father than a brother, especially where Jamie is concerned. Jamie is nothing but a fun-loving Lothario in Eric’s eyes, and he can’t shake viewing his younger brother with vague disapproval and thinly-veiled disappointment. Jamie is given few responsibilities in the brewery, and when Tessa gets wind of his dalliance with an important client’s daughter, she nearly has an apoplexy. While Eric and Jamie have a strained relationship, Tessa takes it upon herself to be peace-keeper between them. Taking the burden of their bickering and concocting outlandish ways to smooth their temperaments and keep them out of each other’s hair.

I really liked the family-dynamic of this book. The Donovan family is akin to the town of Tumble Creek, in being a touchstone for the series and a nice basis for the characters. The sibling dynamic will prove to be a well-spring of drama, tension, fun and love in coming books, if ‘Good Girls’ is any indication. The siblings had a tragic childhood, which has bought them together to form an unbending (and sometimes unyielding) bond. But I found the two brothers more interesting than the sister in this first book. Eric is clearly a man who had to grow up too quickly – he had responsibility to his siblings and the family business, and as such has never had much time for fun and frivolity. Jamie, on the other hand, has always been disregarded by his two older siblings – and so deliberately lives up to their poor expectation of him, courting women and having fun, while deep down desperate to prove himself. These two brothers have such an interesting relationship, I can’t wait to read their stories and meet the women who ensnare their hearts.

I really liked the general brewery-basis of this series and will be reading the next two books. But as a series debut, ‘Good Girls Don’t’ didn’t impress me. I think it was a case of too many uninteresting and intersecting stories detracting from the main romance.

Dahl has so many back-stories and sub-plots going on, and none of them terribly interesting. There’s the story about the brewery break-in. A side-story about Luke’s police partner, Simone, and her pregnancy that has everyone whispering the baby is his. A story about Tessa negotiating deals with a slimy executive. Then there’s the rumour about Luke’s divorce that ended less than amicably. All of these plots are swirling around, but none of them hold much fascination. We get lots and lots of page-time dedicated to Luke and Simone’s police work on the brewery break-in; but these scenes merely reveal that police-procedural is not Dahl’s forte. Luke and Simone’s investigation drags into paperwork, running lab tests, reading computer files, making phone calls and occasionally chasing down small-time criminals for the hell of it. The really juicy stories about Luke’s questionable morals are the really interesting points – but there’s not much mystery about them since we get Luke’s interiority and his side of things.

I initially liked Luke and Tessa’s romance. He’s clearly in a very broken, dark place and she brings out the fun in him with her natural charisma and infectious personality. I chuckled at quite a few of their exchanges;

“So tell me why you look so beat up today. Big murder case?”
“You’re determined to turn me into a TV show, aren’t you?”
“Well, for a minute there, you were headed into Jerry Springer territory. I’m trying to steer you back toward CSI.”

But towards the end of the book I wasn’t finding Luke and Tessa’s romance terribly romantic. It’s partly because it spans a mere two weeks – not much time to be anything but a healthy flirtation and heated coupling. But also because there wasn’t much tension. Dahl started out by writing large obstacles for them in the form of Luke’s shady romantic past and possible love child. But like I said, because we get Luke’s (truthful) admissions about these accusations it detracts from their romantic tension and takes out all the ‘will they or won’t they?’ fun.

Victoria Dahl excels in writing community-driven, family-orientated contemporary romances. The touchstone of her new ‘Donovan Brothers Brewery’ is a family-run business where the sibling’s personalities clash and tensions are rife. I love the three character of Eric, Jamie and Tessa – their dynamic and strong bond is sure to offer up some very interesting stories in the two upcoming books. Dahl is also a master of romance – writing steamy couplings and mouth-watering sex scenes. Still, ‘Good Girls Don’t’ was a flat book for me. Too many uninteresting (and lengthy) subplots, coupled with a romance that was little more than a two-week fling left me unimpressed. Regardless, I will be looking out for ‘Bad Boys Do’ in October this year.

3/5


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

'Bloodlines' Bloodlines #1 by Richelle Mead



Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:


BLOOD DOESN'T LIE . . .

Sydney's blood in special. That's because she's an alchemist - one of a group of humans who dabble in magic and serve to bridge the worlds of human and vampires. They protect vampire secrets - and human lives. But the last encounter Sydney had with vampires got her in deep trouble with the other alchemists. And now with her allegiances in question, her future is on the line.

When Sydney is torn from her bed in the middle of the night, at first she thinks she's still being punished for her complicated alliance with dhampir Rose Hathaway. But what unfolds is far worse. Jill Dragomir - the sister of Moroi Queen Lissa Dragomir - is in mortal danger, and the Moroi must send her into hiding. To avoid a civil war, Sydney is called upon to act as Jill's guardian and protector, posing as her roommate in the unlikeliest of places: a human boarding school in Palm Springs, California. The last thing Sydney wants is to be accused of sympathizing with vampires. And now she has to live with one.

The Moroi court believe Jill and Sydney will be safe at Amberwood Prep, but threats, distractions and forbidden romance lurk both outside – and within – the school grounds. Now that they're in hiding, the drama is only just beginning.

When the Moroi world is in the midst of revolution and political upheaval, measures must be taken to protect the second most crucial member of the royal family.

Since discovering that Queen Lissa Dragomir has a half-sister called Jill, royal loopholes have thrown the young girl in danger. For her own safety she is being herded to Palm Springs, to live amongst humans and hide in plain sight.

Joining her will be dhampir bodyguard, Eddie, and two alchemist workers – Keith and Sydney. Adrian Ivashkov must also accompany the young woman, for reasons neither of them will reveal.

Though these vampires are fleeing from the turmoil within their own race, they’ll be even more surprised to find what lurks amongst them in the human world.

‘Bloodlines’ is the first book in Richelle Mead’s ‘Vampire Academy’ spin-off series.

I was ecstatic for this book. The sting was taken out of ‘Last Sacrifice’s’ finality purely because I knew there was a spin-off series in the works. I counted down the days, avoided spoilers and watched YouTube teasers. And in the end . . . I was a little underwhelmed.

Let me start out by saying the good. And because this is Richelle Mead, there is plenty of good.

For starters, this series has a very different feel to ‘Vampire Academy’. I don’t just mean the protagonist change of alchemist Sydney Sage versus dhampir Rose Hathaway. That’s obvious. I mean Mead has completely changed the atmosphere for this spin-off. In ‘Vampire Academy’ Rose and Lissa were nothing short of celebrities within the school grounds; Lissa, for being the last of the Dragomirs, and Rose for her attitude and eventually, kill rate. They were superstars and utterly cool. Because both Rose and Lissa were a part of the ‘inner circle’ it meant we read scenes with the queen, in the thick of political subterfuge and major social change.

In ‘Bloodlines’, that’s all gone. Jill is the illegitimate half-sister who needs to be kept in hiding. The people accompanying her in exile are likewise cast-offs and no-hopers. Eddie is a reprimanded dhampir, still being scolded for his actions in helping Rose. Adrian Ivashkov is a heartbroken drunk. And Sydney is under no illusions as to why she has been allowed on this mission – the alchemists have little love for vampires, and they wouldn’t send their best to guard one of them.

The characters in ‘Bloodlines’ are the bottom-of-the-barrel outcasts, and that makes them brilliant! By simply offering us these outskirt characters, Mead changes the entire focus and trajectory of the series. Suddenly we are able to bear witness to the Moroi societal changes from the bottom-up; we read what the little people really think of those above them, and how royal decree affects the little guys.

The other positive of this series won’t come as much of a surprise – Adrian Ivashkov. Ohhhhhh. . . Adrian! Richelle Mead really wrote lightening in a bottle when she came up with this tortured alcoholic royal. He is a fan favourite, even more so when he became the romantic under-dog of ‘Last Sacrifice’. Many VA fans who are unsure of venturing to a new series terrain should be implored to make the trek purely for Adrian because . . . he’s freakin Adrian Ivashkov!

I will say that in ‘Bloodlines’, Mead barely touches on the extent of Adrian’s heartbreak in the wake of Rose. He’s still at the point of bottling-up and being outwardly bitter. But he’s still the same smart-aleck wounded soul that fans fell in love with back in ‘Frostbite’. Part of Adrian’s brilliance simply lies in his truthfulness, however cutting. His utter honesty in all things means he has some brilliantly poignant scenes and is a wonderful interpreter for many other characters. He’s not always the snarky alcoholic, he does have occasional flashes of brilliance –


He eyed me. “Is it really so terrible being around us?”
I blushed. “No,” I said. “But. . . it’s complicated. I've been taught certain things my entire life. Those are hard to shake.”
“The greatest changes in history have come because people were able to shake off what others told them to do.” He looked away from me, out the window.

Now, for the not-so-good.

Sydney Sage is not a great narrator. She’s not bad, and though it pains me to compare – she’s certainly no Rose Hathaway. I know, I know! Richelle Mead wanted a very different protagonist to carry ‘Bloodlines’ – and you can’t get anyone more different to Rose than Sydney.

Where Rose was brash and cocky, head-strong and fiercely loyal, Sydney is meek. She has lived a sheltered and bookish life and feels closer to forty than twenty. Sydney does improve over the course of ‘Bloodlines’ – so by the end of the book she is a changed woman on the brink of upheaval, nearly ready to reject all she has ever known in the face of what she has come to learn from living with the vampires. But ‘Bloodlines’ is 421 pages long. . . and it takes a while for Sydney to get to that point of interest.

Though I did like Richelle Mead’s head-nod to Australia that came from an in-joke with Sydney’s name;


“And your name is?”
“Sydney.”
“Sydney . . .” she checked the clipboard and looked up in astonishment. “Sydney Melbourne? My goodness. You don’t sound Australian.”
“Er, it’s Sydney Melrose, ma’am,” I corrected.

Another problem I had with ‘Bloodlines’ was simply pacing. I was about 114 pages into the book when a character makes an off-hand mention that two days have passed. What!? Two days in 100+ pages? This is a very different time-line and pace from previous VA books, and it was hard for me to assimilate to the drag. Part of the reason for a sluggish pace is simply setting – Mead can no longer rely on fans’ touch-stone to the actual Vladimir Academy, instead Mead has to build up this new Palm Springs accommodation and set the scene for the human school. This takes a lot of time, and is one reason I sort of wish the books had gone back to the good old Vladimir Academy . . .

One more small complaint I had was romance. Considering ‘Vampire Academy’ had such an incredible illicit love story at its centre, as a fan you can’t help but look for the romance in ‘Bloodlines’. I won’t give anything away, but there are many male secondary characters in the book. Each time one of them trotted across the page I couldn’t help but wonder “is he the one? Will Sydney fall for him?” When it became apparent who the romance will be with, I was delighted/half-hearted. On the one hand; YAY! On the other hand . . . it will take a while to get there. That’s all I’m saying.

Honestly, ‘Bloodlines’ had me under-whelmed for about 300 pages of this 421-page book. But, of course, in the last sprint Richelle Mead writes her typical saving grace – a thrilling, action-packed ending that will leave your heart thundering. And her signature cliff-hanger is a fifty-foot freefalling doozy! Be warned! ‘Bloodlines’ wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for with the VA spin-off, but that ending will definitely have me coming back for more.

3/5


Book #2 coming May 1st 2012

Monday, August 22, 2011

'Kitty's Big Trouble' Kitty Norville #9 by Carrie Vaughn

From the BLURB:

Kitty Norville is back and in more trouble than ever. Her recent run-in with werewolves traumatized by the horrors of war has made her start wondering how long the US government might have been covertly using werewolves in combat. Have any famous names in our own history might have actually been supernatural? She's got suspicions about William Tecumseh Sherman. Then an interview with the right vampire puts her on the trail of Wyatt Earp, vampire hunter.

But her investigations lead her to a clue about enigmatic vampire Roman and the mysterious Long Game played by vampires through the millennia. That, plus a call for help from a powerful vampire ally in San Francisco, suddenly puts Kitty and her friends on the supernatural chessboard, pieces in dangerously active play. And Kitty Norville is never content to be a pawn. . . .

Kitty Norville is one curious werewolf. When she gets wind of a rumour about Civil War icon, William T. Sherman’s possible wolfy side, she turns into a dog with a bone. Kitty becomes desperate to pick the brain of every vampire and find out which other historic legends had a supernatural helping hand.

But Kitty gets side-tracked in her mission when the vampire Anastasia calls asking for help. She’s in San Francisco and on the hunt for an artefact of extreme power – and she needs to find it before Roman does.

So Kitty, with her alpha mate Ben and their unofficial human pack member, Cormac, trot off to San Francisco to get caught up in the usual vampiric Long Game and put an end to Roman once and for all.

‘Kitty’s Big Trouble’ is the ninth book in Carrie Vaughn’s ‘Kitty Norville’ urban fantasy series.

I have been a big fan of Vaughn’s ‘Kitty Norville’ series for a long time now. Her books are the quintessential urban fantasy – based around a werewolf radio host who uses her own struggles with lycanthropy and the supernatural community to reach out to like-minded and curious listeners. I like Kitty best of all because her books have been a real journey. She started out as a down-trodden werewolf, low on her pack’s pecking order – but over time and with growing courage, Kitty has risen to become alpha of her own pack and has forged strong bonds with two very important men – her husband Ben and his hunter cousin, Cormac. I am a fan of this series – but recent books have blunted my enthusiasm somewhat, and ‘Kitty’s Big Trouble’ is more of the same.

This ninth book starts off with an interesting premise. Kitty is doing some digging and discovers Civil War transcripts that discuss William T. Sherman’s werewolf background. This, of course, kicks our curious Kitty off on a gossip quest – she speaks to her closest vampy friends and tries to pick their brain about famous supernatural icons. Of course, the famous supernatural’s storyline has been discussed in other book series – most notably with the adorable character of Bubba in Charlaine Harris’s ‘Sookie Stackhouse: Southern Vampire’. But Vaughn takes such discussions to the slightly higher-brow, theoretical. This is an interesting bent, and I hope Kitty pursues this interest in the future. . .

But then the vampires step in and side-track Kitty’s hunt. The infamous bad-ass vampire, Roman, is on the hunt for a Chinese artefact, so Kitty and Co. have been called in to help keep it out of his hands. Once again, I really liked the Romance storyline – especially as it’s tied in with some fascinating Chinese mythology. Roman is also a notorious villain in the series, and I was happy to see his storyline revisited with such damning results.

Carrie Vaughn excels in writing high-octane action scenes. Her fights and brawls read like live-action movies on the page and the tension levels are always on a heart-palpitating high. The actual drama storyline is sinister and superb, and I cannot fault the detailed inner-workings of Chinese tradition and vampiric games.

What I have a problem with (and have been disgruntled by for the last few ‘Kitty’ books) is Carrie Vaughn’s determined avoidance of emotional development for her characters. The ‘Kitty’ series started off with such vibrant and complicated emotional relationships. Kitty first met Cormac when he was sent to kill her – a monster hunter with his sights set on the famous werewolf Kitty Norville. But what started as animosity turned into bewildering chemistry – and many fans were waiting with bated breath for Cormac and Kitty’s relationship to progress to the next level . . . and then Cormac’s lawyer cousin, Ben, entered the scene. At first he was nothing but an acquaintance, sometimes lawyer and then a sort-of friend to Kitty. But with a werewolf bite and sudden transformation Ben quickly came to mean a lot more to Kitty and the two soon embarked on a romantic relationship . . . while Cormac still seemed to be battling his feelings. When Cormac was sent to prison, Kitty and Ben’s relationship heated up – they become alpha mates and then husband and wife. And Cormac all but admitted his regret over not staking his claim on Kitty when he had the chance.

“You don’t have to worry about me,” he said, matter-of-fact, instantly – like a defence mechanism.
“Yes, I do,” I said.
“Get used to it,” Ben said, amused. “You’re part of the pack.”
“The pack?”
I hesitated, then said, “Pack of three. That’s what I've been calling us. I figure we have to look out for each other.”
“Huh,” he said, settling himself against the wall, adjusting his grip on the crossbow. I kept waiting for him to say something else, but this was Cormac. The strong, silent type.

Where we are in the series now is Kitty and Ben firmly established as a loyal and loving union . . . while Cormac has recently been released from prison. And that’s about it.

Vaughn hasn’t revisited Cormac and Kitty’s old attraction for a long time now. Kitty and Ben are bordering on dull – and even a quick mention of adoption in ‘Trouble’ is skirted over and relegated to a one-line utterance. For a lot of people the Cormac/Kitty ‘will they or won’t they?’ was a big selling point of the books – some even had hopes that it would turn into a heated love triangle between Cormac/Kitty/Ben. But the old romance hasn’t been mentioned for books now – Kitty and Cormac don’t share a scene with just the two of them in ‘Trouble’ and Cormac is so steely tight-lipped that you almost forget his presence in many scenes.

I don’t know why Vaughn seems doggedly determined to avoid discussing any sort of emotional/character development in her series anymore. Considering that the first few books were all about Kitty’s growth from subservient to alpha – and she went through a rather harrowing character arc – I can’t believe that recent books have stunted her so much. Kitty and Ben don’t even share many intimate scenes in ‘Trouble’, nothing to remind fans that they’re not this boring, steady couple who are becoming exceedingly dull in their matrimony.

And the lack of Cormac/Kitty is atrocious. He is such a beloved fan-favourite character – I think readers could forgive his lengthy stint in prison if only Vaughn would have made his freedom interesting by revisiting his feelings for Kitty with a vengeance. No such luck, and mores the pity.

I do still love these books – Vaughn’s action scenes are unparalleled brilliance. But I am quickly losing steam with the series because Vaughn’s characters seem to have stunted emotional growth.

3/5


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Interview with Kelley Armstrong


If you're a fan of paranormal then you have undoubtedly read Kelley Armstrong - one of the Urban Fantasy pioneers. Her series is epic and extraordinary, and currently standing at 12 books deep (with a final 13th slated for 2012)

In this interview I ask some tough questions, about the future of 'Otherworld' and the reappearance of Chloe!

So, without further ado, I present to you - Kelley Armstrong!




Q: How were you first published - agent or slush pile?

I've been writing all my life. In my twenties I started working on novels, and would sporadically send out query letters and sample chapters, but never got anything more than a form letter rejection. When I finished Bitten, I had an instructor look at it, to see how well I was progressing. He offered to recommend it to an agent, and things happened very quickly from there. Within a couple of months I went from being unpublished to having multiple book contracts. Definitely agent for me then. I don’t think I could ever have been plucked from the slush pile!


Q: ‘Bitten’ was first released in 2001 – which means you’re one of the pioneering supernatural authors who really got the ball rolling with vampires and werewolves! Were you already a fan of all things paranormal, or did you start reading in the genre after you got the idea for ‘Bitten’?

I've been interested in the paranormal since early childhood. I often jokingly blame Scooby Doo for setting me on the path, but that was probably my first exposure to werewolves, vampires and things that go bump in the night.


Q: Why ‘Women of the Otherworld?' I know you released the wonderful ‘Men of the Otherworld’ anthology in 2009, but what was it initially about the women’s supernatural stories that held more interest for you over their male counterparts?

It was more of a natural decision than a conscious one. With first person narrative, I'm most comfortable writing it from a woman's point of view. I've always been wary of taking on the "voice" of someone too different from myself--in gender, age, socioeconomic background etc--so when I started this series, I didn't consider using a male voice. I've done it since--with other works—and have for years just called it “The Otherworld.” The official title changed with the latest contract, though it was a quiet change :)


Q: With each new ‘Otherworld’ installment the universe grows. From werewolves to vampires, demon to necromancers. Are there any supernatural species that we haven’t met yet, but are still waiting in the wings?

With only one Otherworld book to go, I've hit the point where it really is too late to add more supernatural types. Instead, I’ve begun to explore that in the spin-off YA series (with a plot about resurrecting “extinct” supernatural types.)


Q: ‘Otherworld’ is one of the best ensemble paranormal series. Apart from your protagonist narrators, the books also offer a plethora of beloved secondary characters, and quite a few of them have strong fan-followings. What’s the likelihood that you’ll ever give Nick or Antonio a full-length book? Or even newest pack members, Reese and Noah?

The Otherworld will end (or go on hiatus) with book 13. I do hope to write more stories—and maybe even a future novel or two—but I’m ending the book-a-year schedule. If I do write more, though, you can be sure I’d do more with the secondary Pack members.


Q: Savannah Levine is a veteran of the ‘Otherworld’ series – having first appeared in book #2, ‘Stolen’. But you let her ‘cook’, so to speak. You didn’t pull a soap-opera time lapse and have her suddenly grow up in order to narrate. How hard was it for you to keep putting off writing her story and wait for her right moment?

I’ve long planned to end the series with a Savannah trilogy. I wasn’t sure exactly how old she’d be, though. At one point, I figured 19 or so, but as I drew closer to that age for her, I realized she wasn’t ready.


Q: ‘Spell Bound’ ends on such an emotional and drama-packed cliff-hanger. Things are stirring in the Otherworld, and Savannah is certainly gearing up for a showdown! Can you give us a little itty-bitty hint about what’s to come in the next book?

I’m going to answer that with a quote from the book that one of my editors pulled out as a good summation. “Anything you thought you knew about our world? Forget it. Someone has tossed out the rulebook. Ghosts can cross the divide. Hell-hounds can manifest. Demi-demons can possess living children And it’s not going to get any better until it’s over.” As you might guess from that, 13 is my Otherworld upheaval book, when everyone comes together to fight the biggest threat they’ve faced.


Q: You are currently contracted through to book thirteen (to be released next year). And you’ve said that three factors will determine whether or not you continue beyond the thirteenth installment – the readers, your publisher and whether or not you’re willing to write more. How are those factors looking at the moment? What’s the likelihood that we’ll get a book fourteen, or more?

I’d always planned to end at 13, but when I did my last contract, I’d begun to think maybe I’d go farther—hence that comment. I later realized that I really should end it when I’d planned to. Better to end on a high note rather than several books after I’m out of ideas.


Q: In 2008 you released the extremely popular ‘Darkest Powers’ YA trilogy. What prompted you to cross-over into the Young Adult market, and what has been the biggest challenge in changing your audience?

I had an idea inspired by my second adult novel, Stolen, but it was about supernaturals just coming into their powers, which in my world happens at puberty. That wouldn't work for an adult series. That idea was in the back of my mind as I began receiving an increasing number of emails from readers I considered too young to be reading my other books! So I decided to give my YA idea a try.

The biggest challenge was that I'm a whole lot older than my main character. As a teen, I hated it when adults tried to write in a teen voice and it was painfully obvious that they were on the wrong side of thirty. Having a daughter in the right age group made that easier--I had a built-in focus group.


Q: You’ve given a very good reason for not having much overlap between the ‘Darkest Powers’ and ‘Otherworld’ series’ (even though they’re based in the same universe and minor references have been made). You don’t want the adult ‘Otherworld’ characters swooping in and saving your ‘Powers’ kids. Why do you think that it’s so important for children to be their own saviors in the YA genre?

It’s important for any protagonist in any book to be their own saviors. They can have help. In fact, I prefer it if they do have help, which is more realistic. Ultimately, though, the protagonist should be instrumental in solving their own problem, regardless of whether they are a child, a teen or an adult.


Q: You’ve hinted on your website that you might not be done with Chloe and Co., even though her ‘Darkest Powers’ trilogy concluded and you’re now in the thick of ‘Darkness Rising’. Are you thinking of pulling Chloe, Derek, Simon and Tori out for a cameo – or another full-length book?

They will definitely get another book. They’re reintroduced in the last book of the Darkness Rising trilogy (book 6 overall) and I’m contracted for 3 more after that.


Q: You’ve also written a fantastic non-supernatural series in ‘Nadia Stafford’ – about a hit woman. The second book came out in 2009; do you have any plans to write more?

I’m planning to write the third one soon, probably as a direct-to-ebook project. My current schedule is so jam-packed that I’m reluctant to add another traditionally published book, but I do want to finish the story and character arc. Self-publishing in e-book might be the best way to do that.


Q: You’re one paranormal author whose really embraced the graphic novel extension of your book series, with ‘Becoming’ and ‘Hidden’. What’s the appeal of graphic novels for you and your storytelling?

Of all the forms of storytelling I like novels the best, because it's the least restrictive. But I'd go nuts if I couldn't write anything except novels. I have to mix it up with other forms, because it keeps me challenged and keeps things fresh. Graphic stories give me a rare chance to see my world come to life visually.


Q: 2013 is shaping up to be a very interesting year for you and your readers! You have two new books slated for release – ‘Omens and Shadows’ and ‘The Blackwell Pages’ (with the incredible Melissa Marr). Are these both serials or stand-alone? Are they YA or adult? And most importantly – can you tell us a little bit about the plot for one or both?

Omens & Shadows is a cross between the Otherworld and my Nadia Stafford books, which means the plots are more heavily mystery, but unlike Nadia, there are some paranormal elements. They are lighter elements, though—omens, portents, second sight rather than werewolves and witches.

The Blackwell Pages is a middle-grade trilogy based on Norse mythology. The main characters are pre-teens, distantly descended from the dead gods.


Q: Favourite book(s) of all time?

I usually say that my favourite is Pride & Prejudice, but only because I have so many that it's hard to choose one! Others include Watership Down by Richard Adams and anything by Stephen King.


Q: Favourite author(s)?

Like favourite book, my favourite writer changes all the time, but the one who was my favourite for the longest length of time is Stephen King. I've been reading him since high school.

Q: What advice do you have for budding young writers?

Keep writing. It’s boring advice, but it really is the most important thing, I think. You need to love writing and keep at it, always practicing and writing new things, even if you don’t get published quickly (most authors don’t)


Friday, August 19, 2011

'Spell Bound' Women of the Otherworld #12 by Kelley Armstrong

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Savannah Levine is in danger. That's not usually a problem. But, caught in the grip of a disturbing and violent murder case, Savannah swore to give up her unique gifts if it would save an innocent young girl. Little did she know that someone - or something - was listening... Now she has no idea how to restore her powers, just when she needs them the most.

In this compelling, fast-paced new thriller, Savannah has to face a host of deadly enemies bent on destroying not only her, but the very fabric of the supernatural world. As dark forces gather, Savannah isn't just fighting for her life, but for everything and everyone she loves...

Savannah Levine has always defined herself by her genetic reputation (Cabal father, dark witch mother) and her lethal magical ability. That’s who she is – it’s why she was kidnapped as a child, and why she had to be raised by the witch, Paige Winterbourne and her Cabal-connected husband, Lucas Cortez. It’s why Savannah is such an intricate part to their supernatural PI business, and how she found a place for herself in the larger paranormal community.

So what happens when the very thing that defines Savannah is taken away?

‘Spell Bound’ is the twelfth book in Kelley Armstrong’s superb supernatural saga, ‘Women of the Otherworld’.

When we left Savannah in her narrative debut, ‘Waking the Witch’, she was feeling forlorn and guilt-ridden in the little town of Columbus. Having just helped to convict a grandmother and ensure her granddaughter would run the foster care merry-go-round, Savannah made an impulsive and remorseful wish – that she would sacrifice her magical powers to help this family.

The wish came true, and now Savannah is a witch without powers.

And just as Savannah has wished herself defenceless and rudderless, the supernatural world is beginning to stir, with murmurs of discontent threatening the peace and privacy of the paranormal community.

A group called ‘The Supernatural Liberation Movement’ is an underground network of revolting supernatural’s with one disastrous motive – to reveal themselves to the human world. They want to rise up and claim their rightful, Darwinian-appointed place at the top of the food chain. Sick and tired of lurking in the shadows, they are calling on all witches, vampires, werewolves, necromancers and any other paranormal being to come forth and step into the light.

Curious though, that right when Savannah loses all her powers, these paranormal crusaders want to come forth and wave their freak flag?

In ‘Spell Bound’ Kelley Armstrong flips the entire ‘Otherworld’ story on its head and offers up a very interesting plot. The powers of the ‘Otherworld’ characters have, in the past, been a burden, blessing, and desire. . . but always they have been a given. Apart from some poisonous side-effects or dampening spells, readers have always been calm in the knowledge that Clay can defeat the bad guys with his werewolf strength and Paige can call on a spell to get out of a bind. So, for Armstrong to strip Savannah of her powers is both unheard of and a wonderfully complex game-changer.

Simply by making Savannah ‘normal’, Armstrong changes her entire persona. Savannah has always walked a fine line between apathetic and certifiable. She doesn’t bat an eyelash at gruesome decapitations, and she only feels protective and sympathetic to those people she knows and cares about. Otherwise, Savannah is a fairly dry-eyed character; having lived a tough childhood full of death, captivity and guilt. As a result she has a tough outer shell and little remorse or compassion to spare for strangers.

When her powers are taken away Savannah becomes emotional. She queries her self-worth and loses her hardened edge; she becomes a completely different person with the loss, and is far more interesting for it;

I took a step away.
“Don’t, Savannah,” he said softly. “Please don’t run.”
“What am I going to do?” I whispered. “Without my powers, I’m –”
“Exactly the same person you are with them. Just a whole lot less dangerous.”
He was trying to make me smile. Instead, fresh tears filled my eyes.
I was Savannah Levine, ultrapowerful spellcaster. Daughter of a Cabal sorcerer and a dark witch. Without my powers, I'd be a human PI working for an agency specializing in supernatural cases. As useful as an ashtray on a motorcycle.

Savannah has always been one of those prickly characters who readers will either love, or hate. She’s cocky and beautiful, certain of her powers and impeccable magical breeding. She has, in the past, come across as bratty and self-important. So to read such a complete character flip is both disarming and refreshing.

Savannah’s change in personality also seems to bring her private feelings to the fore . . . regarding her adopted parents, Lucas and Paige, but particularly where her best friend, Adam Vasic, is concerned. Savannah has been in love with Adam since she was 12 and he helped rescue her from a supernatural detainment facility. Regardless of their age-difference (he is 33 to her 21); Savannah has loved Adam with a private but unwavering devotion for most of her life. Adam, of course, is none-the-wiser and seemingly content in his big brother/best friend role. But when Savannah starts questioning her life as a mere human, she also starts thinking on her own mortality (so much more precious now that she can’t defend herself with magic) and what it would mean to never tell Adam how she feels about him.

Readers of ‘Waking the Witch’ will be familiar with Armstrong’s meandering pace where Adam and Savannah are concerned . . . well, expect much of the same (with some heated promises) in ‘Spell Bound’. Again, Savannah and Adam cannot be rushed. Their friendship has been meticulously built over the previous eleven books, so to bring it all crashing down with a big romantic reveal would feel cheap and convenient. I’m glad Armstrong is easing readers into this romance, and I look forward to more slow-burning chemistry.

‘Spell Bound’ is an all-stars ‘Otherworld’ instalment. Everyone comes out for the wind-up to book thirteen’s grand finale. Jeremy, Jamie, Hope, Paige, Lucas, Elena, Clay, Karl, Cassandra, Aaron. . . you name them, and they’re in here. The whole cast come out for the ‘Spell Bound’ book because the central mystery is B-I-G. It affects the entire, fragile Otherworld universe and has its roots reaching back to the beginning of the series. To give anything away about this central, mystery plot would be an absolute crime because Armstrong has plotted it beautifully and intricately.

Kelley Armstong is not contracted beyond book thirteen (again, to be narrated by Savannah, and slated for a 2012 release). Whether she continues the series beyond #13 is unknown. . . but what readers do know is that the Otherworld is rumbling. Armstrong is winding up for an epic ending that pulls all of our beloved characters together and throws them into a free-for-all finale. I can’t wait!

5/5