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Friday, April 30, 2010

'Pleasure of a Dark Prince' Immortals After Dark #9 by Kresley COLE


From the BLURB:

Can the beast seduce a beauty and make her love him...? A promise of pleasure ...from a brutal warrior determined to protect her. Never far from her bow, Lucia the Huntress is as mysterious as she is beautiful. But the secrets she harbors could destroy her-and those she loves-and every day brings more danger. It isn't safe for her to be with Garreth MacRieve, yet whenever she sees the fierce werewolf with his smoldering eyes, she finds herself surrendering to his kiss. An uncontrollable need ...that can only be sated with her touch. From the shadows, Garreth, prince of the Lykae, has long watched over Lucia, the lovely little Valkyrie who alternately maddens him and inflames his lust. He aches to claim the seductive creature as his own and keep her safe from harm, but first he must convince her to accept him as her guardian. To do that he'll exploit Lucia's greatest weakness-her desire for him.


‘Pleasure of a Dark Prince’ is the latest instalment in Kresley Cole’s ‘Immortals Afetr Dark’ series.

I started out absolutely loving this series. First book, ‘A Hunger Like No Other’, is one of my all-time favourite paranormal romance novels. It tells the story of werewolf king, Lachlain MacRieve, and his discovery of half Valkyrie/vampire mate, Emmaline. Since that first instalment, the series has spanned out to tell the story of other members of Emma’s Valkyrie family and Lachlain’s werewolf clan – and the series now stands at 9 books, with a 10th coming later this year.

I haven’t been as in love with recent books in the series. Books #5 and #6 focused on a new supernatural ‘Lore’ population of vampires and demons – and my interest started to wane. I am happy to say though that my love for this series is once again ignited with book #9, ‘Pleasure of a Dark Prince’.

Part of the reason that I loved this new installment is that it’s set during the timeline of book #1, ‘A Hunger Like No Other’. This new story is told from two new perspectives; Lachlain’s younger brother, Garreth and Emma’s aunt, Lucia the Archer. These characters appeared in book #1, and Ms. Cole did dangle fascinating tidbits - heavily hinting that their story would be told eventually. It has taken Kresley Cole nine books to get around to Garreth and Lucia’s story – but it was worth the wait!

I like that in ‘Dark Prince’ Cole has gone back to the basics of the series. The story once again focuses on the Valkyrie and Lykae (werewolf), and fan-favorite characters make their reappearance. Lachlain and Emmaline are back, as are Nucking Futs Nix (the Valkyrie soothsayer), werewolf Bowen and plenty more.

I especially loved the fact that a good portion of the book takes place at the Valkyrie home base (/sorority house) ‘Val Hall’. The Valkyrie females are a hilarious bunch: they’re all roughly one-thousand-years-old, a little bit wacky but still very contemporary and spout mile-a-minute witticisms and pop-culture references that keep me laughing.

“I hope they’re in town. I want to face them!” Regin stood and brandished one of the two swords that she usually wore in sheaths crisscrossed over her back – in addition to the dagger sheath she customarily wore on her forearm. “I’ll lunch on their balls!”
That was Regin’s new threat: to lunch on enemies’ balls. “Reege, when you threaten males with that, I don’t think it has the result you intend. They think less ‘Lunchables’, more ‘tea bag’.”
“Huh? Whatever!”

The second-half of the novel takes place in the Amazon jungle. Ms. Cole really loves grandiose settings for her novels, she has taken readers from the Scottish Highlands to New Orleans… and she clearly relishes the opportunity to write a more exotic location. There are piranhas, alligators and bloodthirsty natives, and Cole has a lot of fun with her location. She also introduces some interesting new secondary characters, including a drunken riverboat captain called Travis and a she-man called Izabel. I really hope we read these characters again, because Cole has written a very interesting subplot for them and I want to continue with it.

But the best thing about ‘Dark Prince’ is the steamy romance between Garreth and Lucia. These two are at loggerheads with one another – mainly because Garreth is not prepared for such a stubborn female for his mate. There’s real tension between these two, and it equates to some very H-O-T smutty scenes:

Just before he took her clitoris between his lips, he growled. “Come hard for your male,” then he suckled her.
“Ah, gods!” Her thighs fell wide open as she wantonly bucked to his mouth. Lightning flashed like bomb bursts outside. “Oh, yes!” She drew a breath, needing to scream again. But he put his palm over her mouth for her to cry out against.

I loved this book! I thought I was done with this series, but Kresley Cole has reminded me what I first loved about ‘Immortals After Dark’, and she dangles some very enticing future plot lines toward the end of ‘Dark Prince’. This is a steamy, romantic and fantastic paranormal romance read.

BIG thanks to ‘book addict’ Patti for gifting me this copy (and a delicious praline!).

5/5

‘Demon from the Dark’ coming 31 August 2010


Thursday, April 29, 2010

'Vampire Academy' SERIES by Richelle MEAD



St. Vladimir’s isn’t your typical boarding school. It’s here that the next generation of vampires, also known as ‘Moroi’, are educated. Vladimir’s is also where the Moroi’s half-human bodyguards, called ‘Dhampir’s’, are trained to defend their full-blooded vampire charges.

Rose Hathaway and Lissa Dragomir are the daredevil darling’s of St. Vladimir’s. Lissa is the Dragomir princess – a mortal vampire, the last of her royal line, with a strong bond of earth magic. Rose is her Dhampir bodyguard, and best friend since childhood – and it is her job to protect Lissa from the evil and immortal ‘Strigoi’ vampires.

When we first meet them, Rose and Lissa are on the run from St. Vladimir’s – convinced that someone is out to kill Lissa, and the school isn’t safe enough to protect her. But hot on their heels is Dhampir bodyguard and Vladimir teacher – Dimitri Belikov, assigned with the mission to drag both girls back to school and teach Rose a thing or two about being a guardian to the Moroi.

This is one of my all-time favourite YA serials. ‘Vampire Academy’ was my first Richelle Mead read, and I absolutely fell in love with her story and writing. From ‘Vampire Academy’ I went on to read (and LOVE) her ‘Georgina Kincaid’ and ‘Dark Swan’ series.
I read ‘VA’ soon after discovering Stephanie Meyer’s ‘Twilight’ series. I was itching for some more vampire teen romance – and at the time ‘Vampire Academy’ (first book published in 2007) was one of the only other series that fit the bill - the other was Rachel Caine’s ‘Morganville Vampires’ (first published in 2006).

I love Mead’s series because I think she really ‘gets’ teenagers. This may be a genre-book about vampires, but her character’s go through lots of typical and relatable teen problems, among them: best friends drifting apart because of new boyfriends, feelings of estrangement from a career-obsessed parent, breaking a boys heart because he likes you more than you like him, and crushing on an unattainable ‘idol’.

The last one is my favourite. Rose and Lissa each have their own ‘HEA’ love story – but it’s Rose’s romance that has fans frothing at the mouth. From book #1, Rose feels a certain tingly-toes infatuation for her teacher, Dimitri Belikov. Rose is 17 to Dimitri’s 24 – but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s tall, dark, Russian and the type of guardian Rose aspires to be.
Mead keeps things PG-13, as per the YA genre, but the Rose/Dimitri pairing is quite a mature one. I think Mead appreciates the fact that not all teenagers follow paint-by-numbers romances – sometimes our first relationships are tricky, complicated, unrequited or questionable. Mead does an impressive job of rolling all that angst into one Rose/Dimitri shipperdom.

Mead saves Rose/Dimitri from becoming creepy and inappropriate because she really develops their romance. Their relationship is an evolution– and while readers witness their unfurling feelings, she also reveals their true characters. Rose is a sharp-tongued, tough-as-nails sweetheart. She is a completely loyal friend to Lissa – the type of friend who ‘has your back’ and will gladly flatten anyone who raises a finger or bad word against you. But Rose also dons pretty impressive armour – her mother is a famous Dhampir guardian who all but abandoned Rose to pursue her body-guarding career. Rose also has the weight of a friendship on her shoulders – she is Lissa’s future guardian, and with Lissa being the last Dragomir princess Rose definitely feels the pressure of her future guardianship. All of this amounts to Rose suppressing a lot of her inner turmoil and donning a ‘brave face’. Except with Dimitri. With Dimitri Rose can be herself – share her fears and lament the price she has to pay always being in Lissa’s shadow.

I squeezed my eyes shut. “You shouldn’t. I’m going to become something terrible. I might already be something terrible.” I thought back to past behaviours, the way I’d been snapping at everyone. The way I’d tried to scare Ryan and Camille.
Dimitri pulled away so that he could look me in the eyes. He cupped my face in his hands. “You aren’t. You won’t,” he said. “I won’t let you. No matter what, I won’t let you.”

One of the best things about Mead’s teenage characters is the fact that she lets them be their own heroes. More often than not, her characters will save their own butts and be their own saviours. She really gives her YA readers some characters to look up to, and be inspired by.

One of the best things about ‘VA’ is the microcosm universe Mead has created. She’s blended vampiric gothic myth with modern teen romance in a most impressive concoction. She uses vampiric etymology and origin concerning the Dhampir/Stigoi/Moroi, but St. Vladimir’s is quite an inspired YA setting. Move over Hogwarts – there’s more shenanigans in the halls and dorms of Vladimir’s than in the entire enchanted castle.

‘Vampire Academy’ is a teen vampire series rivalled only by Stephanie Meyer’s ‘Twilight’ saga. And to be honest, if that rivalry was based on ‘content’ over ‘commercialism’ – ‘VA’ would win, hands down. Richelle Mead is a phenomenal writer. She writes action scenes like Tarantino, and romances which adults and young adults alike can sink their teeth into and get invested in.

Book #5, ‘Spirit Bound’, comes out 18 May. Book #6 ‘Last Sacrifice’ comes out 7 December and marks the conclusion of ‘Vampire Academy’… but a spin-off is on the way. At the moment this series is narrated by Rose – but ‘Last Sacrifice’ will mark the end of her series, and kick-off a spin-off narrated by a new character. Yay!

If you haven’t already, I strongly suggest you get on the ‘Vampire Academy’ bandwagon.

5/5

Book #5 'Spirit Bound' 18 May 2010


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

'Tales of the Otherworld' by Kelley ARMSTRONG


‘Tales of the Otherworld’ is a collection of short stories and novellas set in Armstrong’s ‘Women of the Otherworld’ universe. All of these short stories were initially e-serials, available for free on Armstrong’s website as a sort of ‘gift’ to her fans.

Fans aren’t disgruntled by the fact that these previously free stories are no longer available online – because (as Armstrong says in her author’s introduction) after she published her e-serials the number 1. fan question was ‘when will they be available in book form?’. Well, that time has finally arrived. And Armstrong’s even gone so far as to donate the proceeds of ‘Tales’ to the World Literacy of Canada – a nonprofit volunteer organization. Wow. As if fans needed another reason to heap praise on this legendary paranormal author…

‘Tales of the Otherworld’ is a collection of 8 short stories featuring some beloved characters, and a few secondary ones. Only 1 short story is original, and never before been available for download.

Rebirth’ is the story of Aaron, and his transition from human to vampire.

Bewitched’ is the new story in the collection, and is all about Eve Levine (Savannah’s mother). The story is a ‘prologue’ of sorts, recounting how Eve met and became lover to Kristof Nast.

Birthright’ is the back-story to a deceased werewolf pack member. It explains how Logan discovered his werewolf heritage and journeyed to Stonehaven to come face-to-face with his father for the first time.

Expectations’ follows Lucas Cortez in an early investigation of his.

Ghosts’ is another time-filler, set during the timeline of ‘Bitten’ when Jeremy is left alone at Stonehaven.

Wedding Bell Hell’ is a story that fills in the timeline gaps between books, by telling the tale of Lucas Cortez and Paige Winterbourne’s wedding

The Case of The El Chupacabra’ is a Lucas and Paige murder-mystery investigation.

All of the stories are wonderful. Of course they are when written by the masterful Kelley Armstrong and set in her colourful ‘Otherworld’ universe. A lot of them are filling in the gaps and fleshing out stories that were previously referenced in the ‘Otherworld’ novels, but only in passing.
It’s one of the wonderful things about the ‘Otherworld’ series; the narrators and characters change in each book, but when a narrator picks up the thread of their story they don’t get bogged down in recounting the missing months or years. It means that the series always moves at a swift, energetic pace, because Armstrong isn’t concerned with giving every minute detail of her character’s goings on… but it also means there are some gaps that fans want filled. Some stories that we miss out on and actually want to be told. Well, ‘Tales’ scratches that itch – well and truly.

My favourite short story was ‘Beginnings’ – it’s the prequel to Elena and Clay’s romance… the story of how they met.
Elena is my favourite narrator, and Elena/Clay are one of my all-time favourite Urban Fantasy couplings. I absolutely loved getting the back-story to their story.

Clay is teaching anthropology at the University of Toronto where Elena is studying journalism. From their first ‘encounter’, it becomes clear that Clay and his wolf are intrigued by Elena… she’s not like other flirty, vapid co-eds. She’s smart, tenacious and not afraid to stare Clay down. For him, Elena is the first female he’s ever had an interest in. Hell, she’s the first human he’s ever had an interest in.

Clay is a rare werewolf who thrives on his wolf-nature and instinct. He understands his beast better than his humanity, and as such he’s never been one for slaking carnal lust or one-night-stands. In Elena he sees a true mate.

From Elena, readers are offered a perspective on her first real healthy adult relationship. Elena’s character history is quite dark and sad; she was passed around from foster home to foster home, where she was repeatedly sexually abused. It’s a history that Armstrong recently addressed in ‘Frostbitten’, but is even further developed in ‘Beginnings’, adding more layers to Elena’s character.

Ultimately though, ‘Beginnings’ is completely romantic. Elena and Clay are one H-O-T couple who steam up the page in their ‘Otherworld’ novels. Armstrong definitely communicates that lust in ‘Beginnings’, but it’s a slow burn from first meeting, to tentative friendship, blooming relationship and then full-blown romance. And there’s a real element of forbidden love to them too – since werewolf pack law forbids any werewolf from entering into a long-term relationship.

He laughed and tugged me down in a kiss. Then, lips still close enough to feel them tickle mine, he said, “You know this is it for me, right? You’re it. First and last.”
I looked up and met his gaze. “Same for me. First and last.”

‘Beginnings’ is a very fleshed out, microcosm of a story. Elena and Clay both narrate, which is wonderful. Fans get rare insight into Clay’s thinking – particularly his decision (calculated or otherwise) to bite Elena and turn her into a werewolf… another issue that has recently been discussed between them in ‘Frostbitten’, but now holds more weight because of Clay’s point of view in ‘Beginnings’.

I loved this collection of short stories. It doesn’t feel like a mishmashed, haphazard collection, hastily thrown together… rather, all of the stories in ‘Tales’ offer new perspectives and insights into characters and side-stories. It is a very cohesive, layered collection that sheds new light on the ‘Otherworld’ universe.

If you are a ‘Women of the Otherworld’ fan, you MUST give this collection a read.

5/5

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

'The Castle in the Pyrenees' by Jostein GAARDER


Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Through five intense years in the 1970s, Steinn and Solrunn had a happy life together. Then they suddenly parted ways, for reasons that are unclear to both. In the summer of 2007 they meet again on a balcony of an old wooden hotel by a fjord in Western Norway. It is a place they both have fond memories from and their meeting turns out to be fateful. But is it purely coincidental that they meet at that particular spot at that particular time? Over a couple of weeks that summer they write emails to each other and it becomes clear that they have been living with very different interpretations of their shared past. THE CASTLE IN THE PYRENEES is both a love story and a novel of ideas, exploring the place of human consciousness in the universe.

Jostein Gaarder is a Norwegian writer who gained worldwide success and acclaim with his 1995 novel ‘Sophie’s World’. Few writers can boast selling 30 million copies – but it is especially impressive when the infamous book in question was a basic guide to philosophy.

‘The Castle in the Pyrenees’ is Jostein Gaarder’s latest novel. It is another philosophical novel, but with a love story woven between the dry facts…

I studied Philosophy in my first year of University (don’t we all?)… But all I can recall from those two semesters is my struggle to keep my head above water. I had to pour through dry texts commenting on Descartes dualism, learn the ‘structure’ of paradox and discuss Aristotle’s belief that animals have a soul. It was intellectual torture for me. And I think the main reason being that what was discussed wasn’t relatable. It had no grounding for me, no relevance, and was therefore a complete write-off.

But I think that’s where ‘Castle in the Pyrenees’ excels – in making these ideas pertinent. The back and forth e-mail communication between Steinn and Solrunn was quite a clever narrative structure for Gaarder’s explorations. For one, it makes the book a bit more accessible to a younger audience for whom ‘Pyrenees’ is their first philosophical read.

For another, the e-mail correspondence is in itself quite miraculous. There’s just something a little bit magical about the Internet and e-mail – in the age of facebook, twitter and youtube – it’s this idea that people can reach across time and space and leave their very own indelible cyber footprint.

We will step outside time, leave what we call ‘reality’.

For Steinn and Solrunn, the Internet is their reconnection, the means by which they rekindle what was lost so long ago…

I see this new contact as a stream of thought vibrating between two souls rather than an exchange of correspondence which will be there between us forever.

I think young and old readers alike can relate to the e-mail reconnection of these protagonists. Thanks to facebook and myspace, long-forgotten classmates, ex-lovers and childhood friends are rediscovering each other. That is essentially what ‘Castle in the Pyrenees’ is about – remembering. As Steinn and Solrunn reacquaint themselves, they rehash their past and the mysterious reasons that they drifted apart. But it becomes clear in their individual retellings that they have very different views of their collective past – and both their memories have played tricks on them.

There are some big questions asked in ‘Pyrenees’ – mainly concerning differing views of reality and the exploration of human consciousness.

Nowadays we’re constantly fooled into believing that our own ego is the very centre of the universe. But isn’t that a very exhausting way to live? I mean with the view that the hub of the universe only has a few years or decades left to exist.

I have to admit, this book wasn’t my cup of tea (there’s a reason I only studied Philosophy for one year). But no matter how dry and complicated Gaarder’s philosophical ideas, I’ve got to admire the way he brings philosophy to the masses. This is a very accessible book – Gaarder’s decision to weave an e-mail love story with his grandiose ideas on human consciousness is quite inspired. Even though I didn’t love the book, I would definitely recommend that University Philosophy Department’s everywhere put ‘The Castle in the Pyrenees’ on their reading list (to curb the first year drop-out rate).

3/5


Monday, April 26, 2010

'Flavia de Luce' Mystery SERIES by Alan BRADLEY



It is June 1950 and a sleepy English village is about to be awakened by the discovery of a dead body in Colonel de Luce's cucumber patch. The police are baffled, and when a dead snipe is deposited on the Colonel's doorstep with a rare stamp impaled on its beak, they are baffled even more. Only the Colonel's daughter, the precocious Flavia -when she's not plotting elaborate revenges against her nasty older sisters in her basement chemical laboratory, that is - has the ingenuity to follow the clues that reveal the victim's identity, and a conspiracy that reached back into the de Luce family's murky past. Flavia and her family are brilliant creations, a darkly playful and wonderfully atmospheric flavour to a plot of delightful ingenuity.


If Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie had a love child it would be Flavia de Luce.

Flavia is an eleven-year-old ‘mad scientist’ with a penchant for mischief and an unquenchable curiosity about poisons. She lives in the English countryside, in the dilapidated manor house called Buckshaw – with her widowed father, two older sisters, housekeeper and gardener.

Flavia is just the right amount of precocious and endearing, obnoxious and charming. Under Alan Bradley’s capable writing, Flavia is darn near impossible to dislike, and she steals the show with her cheeky voice and cunning.

If there is a thing I truly despise, it is being addressed as "dearie". When I write my magnum opus, A Treatise Upon All Poisons, and come to "Cyanide", I am going to put under "Uses" the phrase "Particularly efficacious in the cure of those who call one 'Dearie.' "

She rides around on her trusty bicycle (‘Gladys’) and does delightfully disturbing things like fashion lock-picks out of her dental braces. And if the occasion calls for it, she’ll also try her hand at solving murder mysteries, or proving her father’s innocence. All in a day’s work, really.

An eleven-year-old girl sleuth is bound to draw comparisons to Nancy Drew. Honestly though, Flavia has more in common with Veronica Mars than Nancy. Beyond the superficial similarities, these girl detectives have nothing in common, thanks in large part to Bradley’s masterful writing. Unlike ‘Nancy Drew’, the Flavia de Luce Mystery series appeals to adults and young adults alike. The mysteries in both books are juicy and Christie-esque enough to captivate older readers, while a dash of Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton keeps things interesting for younger readers.

And then there’s the fact that Alan Bradley’s writing is a sumptuous delight. He comes out swinging in his opening lines, and never lets up. Bradley writes first lines better than some author’s write entire novels:

The first line of ‘Sweetness’:
It was as black in the closet as old blood

The first line of ‘Hangman’s Bad’:
I was lying dead in the churchyard.

I loved the setting of 1950 rural England. It adds real flavor to the novel, not least of all because you get Flavia spouting ‘jolly good’ phrases; my personal favorite was “suck my galoshes!”



‘The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag’ BLURB:

The plot, beginning with the arrival in Bishop's Lacey of a traveling puppet show, features a grisly murder during a performance of Jack and the Beanstalk in the village hall and reaches back to an earlier, even nastier crime centering on an ancient, rotting gibbet that has lain like a shadow over the village for years. For Flavia, undoing the complex knot that ties these strands together will test her precocious powers of deduction to the limit - and provide a shocking insight into some of the darker corners of the adult world.
In the second book, ‘The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag’, the English countryside setting is even better utilized. In this second installment there’s a greater focus on the little village of Bishop’s Lacey, as readers are introduced to deliciously quirky villagers that add real pizzazz to the murder-mystery plot.

I had just been checkmated.
“You’re free to go,” he added, glancing at his wristwatch. “It’s probably past your bedtime.”
The nerve of the man! Past my bedtime indeed! Who did he think he was talking to?
“May I ask a question?”
“You may,” he said, “although I might not be able to answer it.”
“Was Rupert – Mr Porson, I mean – electrocuted?”

Alan Bradley has written a strong, sometimes precocious, and always cunning child detective in Flavia de Luce. She is a sleuthing heroine to rival Miss Marple, and she leaves Nancy Drew for dead! I absolutely fell in love with this series, and I cannot recommend it highly enough!

I was very pleased to learn that Alan Bradley’s 3rd ‘Flavia de Luce Mystery’ is called “A Red Herring Without Mustard” and comes out sometime this year. Yay!

5/5

Sunday, April 25, 2010

'Beautiful Creatures' by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl



Received from the publisher

From the BLURB:

There were no surprises in Gatlin County.
We were pretty much the epicenter of the middle of nowhere.

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she's struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town's oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything...

I was hooked from the first page.

‘Beautiful Creatures’ has one of the most intriguing openings I have ever read. The first chapter has Ethan cryptically explaining;
There was a curse.
There was a girl.
And in the end, there was a grave.
I never even saw it coming.

And it only gets better from there…

Ethan is the stories’ narrator, and I adored him. It’s so rare that YA books are written with a male voice these days – so ‘Beautiful Creatures’ instantly stands out for that reason alone. Having Ethan narrate means that this novel is as accessible for boys as it is for girls – which is fantastic, because I think the YA male readership has had a hard trot of late and been widely ignored in the genre.

Ethan isn’t an idealized storyteller either, with a mind to appeal to the female readership. He checks girls out, thinks about sex (a lot) and feels pressure from his friends to fit in, be ‘one of the crowd’. He’s also got the weight of the world on his shoulders when the story begins – his mother died in a car accident last year, and his father has become a recluse in the wake of her death. Now he is being raised by his Amma (grandmother), a woman who believes in superstition and that all lessons can be learned in a crossword puzzle.

Lena is a likewise original character for the YA audience to admire. She definitely marches to her own beat – wearing over-sized clothes, chuck taylors and no make-up. She’s a true individual to respect; even in the face of school bullying she maintains her originality. And she’s harboring even more personal burdens than Ethan. She has a battle raging within; because when Lena gets angry, the skies open up. Lightning, thunder... she can't control it, and she's terrified that it might be controlling her. Dun, dun, DUN!

‘Beautiful Creatures’ is peppered with literary references. I cringe at the thought that many of the Young Adult’s reading this book won’t know who Jack Kerouac is, or Scarlett O’Hara… even worse if they have no first-hand knowledge of Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’: because Garcia and Stohl work that reference in so beautifully. Ethan compares his hometown of Gatlin to Lee’s fictional Maycomb. Lena’s uncle is the town ‘Boo Radley’ – a likeness that Macon Ravenwood takes in stride, even naming his pet wolf after the infamous shut-in.

But the biggest way in which ‘Beautiful Creatures’ pays tribute to ‘Mockingbird’ is in theme. ‘Beautiful Creatures’ is a novel about bigotry. Stohl and Garcia explore injustice through the rugged terrain of High School, and the character of Lena Duchannes.
Lena is labeled ‘freak girl’ because her uncle is Gatlin’s recluse, Macon Ravenwood – Lena also has black hair when the trend is blonde, pale skin when fake-tan is in and the audacity to dress like an individual. As the novel progresses the town’s bigotry towards Lena and her family stems from superficial to supernatural reasons. There are weird going’s on in Gatlin, and the townsfolk are sharpening their pitchforks and pointing the finger at the haunted Ravenwood plantation and its inhabitants.

With prejudice and bias come another thematic ‘Mockingbird’ exploration of paradise lost and the death of innocence. Ethan Wate is a Gatlin local and popular High School basketball star. As our narrator, he is witness to Lena’s social torture, and often her protector against ragged ‘Southern hospitality’. As readers we are privy to Ethan’s changing perspective of the town he grew up in, and the only life he has ever known;

A month ago I wouldn’t have believed it, but now I knew better. This was Gatlin. Not the Gatlin I thought I knew, but some other Gatlin that had apparently been hiding in plain sight all along. A town where the girl I liked was from a long line of Casters, my housekeeper was a Seer who read chicken bones in the swamp and summoned the spirits of her dead ancestors, and even my dad acted like a vampire.
There seemed to be nothing too unbelievable for this Gatlin. It’s funny how you can live somewhere your whole life, but not really see it.

‘Beautiful Creatures’ is imbedded in the south. From gator swamps to majestic plantations – South Carolina is a character unto itself in the book. Garcia and Stohl evoke a precise image of the Deep South that transports the reader and captivates the imagination. Garcia and Stohl are particularly talented at writing southern intonation for their characters. I adored Ethan’s grandmother, Amma’s voice; it was lyrical and beautiful, and dripping in drawl;

“Well, you mind your manners and don’t raise your voice. You know what your mamma used to say. Any book is a Good Book, and wherever they keep the Good Book safe is also the House a the Lord.”

I especially loved the southern history discussed in the novel – in particular the ‘The War of Northern Aggression’ (the ‘American Civil War’ to those damn Yankees). As someone who only has a basic understanding of American history, I found the imaginative retelling an absolute delight.

The love story between Ethan and Lena is the main draw-card though. I loved their relationship because it was believable, yet epic.

This may be a paranormal romance, but Ethan and Lena are tackling very ordinary teen issues in order to be together. Mainly, the fact that Lena is despised by the school’s ‘in’ crowd, who also happen to be Ethan’s friends. Not to mention the fact that both Ethan and Lena’s families’ don’t want them to be together. Underneath all the normal teen issues about cliques, popularity and going against the grain, there is a supernatural force working against Lena and Ethan. Their relationship is equal parts fantastical and realistic, and one of the most romantic YA pairings I have ever read (right up there with Rose & Dimitri, Claire & Shane, Edward & Bella…).

‘Beautiful Creatures’ is 563 pages of addictive reading. A YA book you can really sink your teeth into, get caught up in and resent coming to the end of.

I’m thrilled to discover that Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl have a sequel coming out. ‘Beautiful Darkness’, released 26 October 2010. Hallelujah!

5/5

26 October 2010

'The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers' by Paul TORDAY

Received from the publisher

From the BLURB:

Hector Chetwode-Talbot, Eck to his friends, has left the army after a rather nasty moment in Colombia. From a privileged background, he is slightly at a loss as to what to do next, when he is approached by an old army pal, Bilbo Mountwilliam. Bilbo runs an investment fund company and persuades Eck to join the company. It is on a golfing trip to France with his friend Henry Newark that Eck first meets Charlie Summers, a fly-by-night entrepreneur who is hiding out in France after a 'misunderstanding with Her Majesty's Customs and Revenue.' Charlie's latest scheme is to import Japanese dog food into the UK. Henry casually mentions that Charlie should 'look us up' if he is ever in Gloucestershire. But not only does Charlie Summers look Henry up, he arrives with his suitcase, intent on staying with the Newarks and relaunching his dog food business in their area. But with the financial crash looming, Eck begins to ask himself if they are so very different...

Paul Torday hit the literary scene in 2006 with his debut novel ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’. ‘The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers’ is Torday’s fourth novel.

The novel’s protagonist is not, in fact, Charlie Summers, but one Hector-Chetwode-Talbot, ‘Eck’ to his friends. Eck has just left the army, and now drifts around London where he reacquaints with an old school friend, who runs a hedge fund. It’s the 2007 financial boom, and Eck soon finds himself flying high; wining, dining and golfing with investors as the city enjoys unparalleled wealth.
From there the book follows Eck and his relationship with various characters, one of whom is Charlie Summers. Through Eck’s narration, we are witness to Charlie’s numerous bumbling financial mishaps and his unintentional catastrophizing.

As the recession looms and banks become anxious, Eck’s work at the hedge fund becomes more sinister and morally questionable.

I liked the fact that the title character isn’t the story protagonist. It actually makes for a more robust character examination of Charlie Summers. Seeing him through Eck’s impartial eyes gives readers an unflinching summary of Charlie and his bumbling exploits. It feels a bit like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’, in that respect – Eck as narrator Nick Carraway, Charlie as the product of his storytelling, Jay Gatsby (though Charlie is far less suave);

I couldn’t leave Charlie alone and dripping on a chilly December day. I wasn’t sure that I liked Charlie. I felt that I had summed him up correctly the first time I saw him: a middle-aged drifter who left a trail of debts and damaged hopes wherever he went. But I couldn’t find it in me just to abandon him.

I appreciated the book’s timeline, as the story plays out during the 2007/08 ‘credit crunch’ that lead to the GFC (global financial crisis). I think this recent event offers a lot of food for thought and literary fodder, and Paul Torday certainly takes advantage of all the hilarious possibilities the global downturn has to offer.

The book is a study in contrasts, and wholly unique because of it. Torday has a wonderful writing style – blending quirky and banal to create a very distinct voice. The book is also a mix of high comedic drama, and dark undertones. Like the character of Charlie Summers, who is at once an endearing would-be entrepreneur and deluded middle-aged grifter. The novels’ contrasts are also beautifully encapsulated in the setting – as London goes from boom to bust in the wake of the credit crunch.

Ultimately though, I didn’t love this book. I appreciate the fact that Torday is brilliant at portraying hopeless middle-aged men who are plodding aimlessly along in life. But that wasn’t always a source of comedy for me, but more often derision. These ‘everymen’ bleak characters were quite predictable and sad, to me.
The plot also deteriorates into predictability toward the end. I also struggled to really understand Eck and Charlie’s connection and why Torday so insisted that the men’s paths keep crossing and their stories intertwine.

But for all of that, I was glad to be introduced to Paul Torday’s writing. Because when he’s funny, he’s really funny: laugh-out-loud and embarrass yourself while you’re reading on the train, funny.

2/5

Friday, April 23, 2010

'Charlie all Night' by Jennifer CRUSIE


From the BLURB:

Dumped by her boyfriend and demoted from WBBB's prime-time spot, radio producer Allie McGuffey has nowhere to go but up. She plans to make her comeback by turning temporary DJ Charlie Tenniel into a household name. And if he's willing to help her cure her breakup blues with a rebound fling, that's an added bonus.

Charlie just wants to kick back, play good tunes and eat Chinese food. He's not interested in becoming famous. But he is interested in Allie. And after all, what harm in a little chemistry between friends?

But suddenly their one-night stand has become a four-week addiction. Night after night on the airwaves, his voice seduces her. . .and all the other women in town. He's a hit. It looks as if Charlie's solved all Allie's problems. . .except one. What is she going to do when he leaves?

Jennifer Crusie was recommended to me on the promise that she writes superb ‘chick lit’.

I really liked ‘Charlie all Night’ – I absolutely gobbled it up in 2 days. But I can’t quite put my finger on why I liked it so darn much…. I am writing this view having let a week lapse since I finished reading the book. And now I’m trying to explain why I liked it so much, and I really can’t articulate.

The storyline starts at great heights – Allie McGuffey, radio show producer, has been dumped by her lover and talk-show star and passed over for her younger intern. To add insult to injury, Mark (her ex) has also insisted that Allie be removed from his premier drive-time radio slot so that his new (and younger) girlfriend can produce the show. That leaves Allie producing the graveyard 6PM – 2AM slot. And her new talk show ‘star’ is Charlie Tenniel – who has his own agenda that doesn’t quite factor into Allie’s plans.
Charlie is working undercover as a favor to WBBB owner, Bill. Someone has left an anonymous letter threatening to expose a drug-ring that’s working through the radio station. Charlie has a month to find the drug-pusher and fend off disaster.

So – a very intense plot is introduced.

But then Crusie lets things slide… Allie and Charlie have an instant attraction that makes a nice rebound for Allie, and a sweet distraction for Charlie. But somewhere along the way they become very sweet and enamored of one another – they start to appreciate the little things, like having a warm body to snuggle with at night. Crusie also delves into some very lovely and smutty sex scenes between the two;

She gripped the headboard until her knuckles went white, trying to stay with him, but his whisper pounded inside her and she couldn’t breathe because the heat was everywhere. “You’re so sweet.”
And then he licked inside her again and again, and she writhed in his grasp, and he moved his mouth harder against her, holding her hips harder against him, and she couldn’t twist away, didn’t want to twist away, had to twist away as the heat screamed through her veins until she cried out, “Oh, Charlie, now,” and he whispered, “Soon”, and he drove her on and on until she went over the edge, ecstatically out of control.

Charlie is still investigating the ‘drug syndicate’, but in a half-hearted way as he finds accidental success as a sleuthing radio DJ.
Allie is no longer upset at being dumped by ‘radio King’, Mark – and instead finds amusement in his schmaltzy radio gimmicks and pretentiousness.

It’s a bit strange – Crusie starts off by introducing these very complicated and tangled plots that you think will make for an intriguing climax and increase narrative tension… but then the plots just sort of patters out and becomes a ho-hum afterthought.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this book. It’s just that once I finished reading it and had to come back to describe what happened – I sort of realized that nothing much really happened. Crusie promises a lot, but doesn’t really deliver and it’s only in hindsight that I realize that’s maybe not a good thing.

There were aspects of ‘Charlie all Night’ that I really liked. For one thing, the unconventional male lead in Charlie Tenniel. Allie’s ex, Mark, was the devilishly handsome radio-show host. Charlie, in contrast, is this big guy who looks like a thug and whom Allie admits isn’t exactly good-looking. I loved that – the fact that Allie’s knight in shining armor isn’t an Adonis to rival her handsome ex, but this really sweet ‘guys guy’ who she clicks with in a very base way.
I loved to hate Mark – he acts exactly the way I think a ‘shock jock’ DJ would – and he’s absolutely hilarious!
Crusie also has quite a talent for writing sex scenes, which is always appreciated in a chick-lit author.

I did enjoy reading this one. True, I was in the mood for an easy ‘chick lit’ read and ‘Charlie all Night’ definitely scratched that itch. But the storyline doesn’t deliver, and that’s a real shame. Still, I think I will check out Ms. Crusie’s other works.

3/5

Thursday, April 22, 2010

'Impossible' by Nancy WERLIN

Received from the publisher

Lucy is cursed; like her mother before her, and her grandmother, and her great grandmother… all Scarborough women are doomed.

Scarborough women are destined to fall pregnant at 18, have a baby girl and then go completely insane. It’s true – because Lucy has seen it happen. She was adopted by Soledad and Leo when she was just a baby, because after she was born her mother lost her mind. Lucy is 17 now, and she still sees her birth mother, Miranda. Miranda is the bag lady who hangs around outside the school gates, she yells abuse at passersby and sometimes follows Lucy home… always singing a haunting tune…

That melody is the key to breaking the Scarborough curse. Steeped in folklore, the song ‘Scarborough Fair’ tells the tale of a woman completing three seemingly impossible tasks to keep her ‘true love’.

Make a magic shirt without needle or seam
Find an acre of land between the salt water and the sea strand
Plow the land with a goat’s horn, and sow it with one grain of corn.

It is up to Lucy to break the curse: complete the tasks and save the Scarborough women, herself and her unborn baby…


Wow. Just, ‘wow’. Nancy Werlin’s novel is a modern fairytale - equal parts macabre, fantastical and romantic.

Werlin’s book harks back to the darker tales of the Brother’s Grimm, as the story begins with a sinister plot trigger that sets events in motion. Lucy is raped, and nine weeks later discovers that she is pregnant. This is quite a dark beginning; but the rape scene and Lucy’s subsequent trauma are written with such honesty and tenderness that you can’t help but marvel at Werlin’s skill and finesse.

‘Impossible’ has a dark beginning… but Werlin does not turn Lucy into a victim because of it. Instead, her rape and subsequent pregnancy are what sets Lucy off on her heroes’ journey. Because with her pregnancy comes the revelation of her ancestry – and the truth behind the old folk song, ‘Scarborough Fair’.

At its heart ‘Impossible’ is a love story, in keeping with the fairytale archetype. There is true love’s kiss, happily ever after and a knight in shining armour. On the journey to breaking her families’ curse, Lucy enlists the help of her childhood friend and next-door-neighbour, Zach Greenfield. As Lucy sets out to complete the three impossible tasks, she also discovers that Zach is her true love…

“What are you thinking?” Lucy insisted.
Zach shook his head. His grip on her hands was as strong as hers was on his. His grin didn’t fade. “Just say it again, Luce. Say again what you just said.”
“About you being smug?” she teased
“No. The other thing.”
She cocked her head to the side. She peeked down at him through her lashes. She came to the same incredible conclusion, but this time she allowed an entire minute to pass before she smiled and said it again. “I love you, Zach.”

I loved Zach and Lucy’s relationship. They’ve known each other since they were children, growing up as next-door-neighbours. But in ‘Impossible’ Werlin tells the story of their evolving feelings – friendship to romantic relationship. Werlin beautifully articulates Lucy and Zach’s shifting feelings, from awkward encounters to heated professions of love. Their romance was the perfect counter-point to the novel’s sinister beginning, and acts as a life raft for Lucy when her world spirals out of control;

They were silent.
Then: “Thank you,” Zach said formally. “For choosing me. Trusting me. And, Luce?”
“Yes?”
“You could be having wild hallucinations, and still I’d be looking around for whatever caused it, because I’d know it was grounded in something real.”

'Impossible' drags fairytale and folklore into modern day and takes readers on a magnificent journey. The knight in shining armour is the boy next door. The riddle to be solved can be found in a Simon & Garfunkel song. There’s a bag-lady prophet. And the damsel in distress is an unwed pregnant teenager. Nancy Werlin’s novel is haunting and dazzling, and I loved every page of it.

5/5

'Scarborough Fair'

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
Remember me to one who lives there.
For once she was a true love of mine.

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt.
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
Without any seam or fine needlework,
and then she'll be a true love of mine.

Tell her to wash it in yonder dry well,
parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme;
where water never have sprung, nor drop of rail fell,
and then she'll be a true love of mine.

Oh, will you find me an arce of land,
parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme;
between the sea foam and the sea sand
or never be a true love of mine.

Oh, will you plough it with a lamb's horn,
parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme;
and sow it all over with one peppercorn,
or never be a true love of mine.

And when you have done and finished your work,
parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme;
then come to me for your cambric shirt,
and you shall be a true love of mine.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

'Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side' by Beth FANTASKEY


Received from the publisher

From the BLURB:

Marrying a vampire definitely doesn't fit into Jessica Packwood's senior year "get-a-life" plan. But then a bizarre (and incredibly hot) new exchange student named Lucius Vladescu shows up, claiming that Jessica is a Romanian vampire princess by birth - and he's her long-lost fiancé. Armed with newfound confidence and a copy of Growing Up Undead: A Teen Vampire's Guide to Dating, Health, and Emotions, Jessica makes a dramatic transition from average American teenager to glam European vampire princess.
But when a devious cheerleader sets her sights on Lucius, Jess finds herself fighting to win back her wayward prince, stop a global vampire war - and save Lucius's soul from eternal destruction

The undead can really screw up your senior year . . .

I have to admit that if I hadn’t received this book from the publisher to review, I probably would have never read it. I had seen it floating around; sitting on the shelf at Borders and on the blogosphere. But I never had the impulse to read it, mainly because I was thrown by the cover-art and title. The cover image of (what looks to me to be) a 13-year-old girl just screamed ‘tween’ rather than ‘teen’, and did not appeal.

That’s why I was pleasantly surprised (okay, ‘shocked’) that I liked this book so much. I was also surprised at how mature it was, especially because I had it pegged as appealing to an 8 – 14 age bracket (based purely on title and cover-art). In fact ‘Jessica’s Guide’ is a book that harks back to a truer vampire mythology – including the more dark and vicious blood sucking nature of a supernatural element that’s been glossed over by squeaky-clean tween romances in recent years.

This novel works so well on so many levels, not least of all because Beth Fantaskey is very aware of her audience. She’s writing this in the aftermath of ‘Twilight’, so she doesn’t get bogged down in vampiric mythology and explanation; because she knows that her audience is cluey enough already.
I also think she was very clever in not ‘talking down’ to her YA readers. At this point ‘Twihards’ have figured out the deeper meaning behind Edward refusing to bite Bella (until they’re married, of course). Fantaskey tackles this issue head-on, while still respecting the boundaries of the YA genre. She writes some quite poignant and heated conversations between Jessica and Lucius that address the vampiric bite metaphor, rather than dance around it;

A smile flitted across his lips. “Intercourse is a fleeting pleasure, indeed. Undeniably an intimate act. Not to be dismissed – or missed, for that matter. Indeed, crucial for procreation, beyond its other obvious virtues.”
The smiled faded. “But sharing one’s blood with another: exposing one’s most vulnerable place, where the pulse beats just below the skin, and trusting your partner to satisfy without subduing… It makes sex seem almost insignificant by comparison. An unequal act – male to female. But blood… blood can be shared as true equals.”

I started reading this book thinking that Beth Fantaskey had set a very hard task for herself, writing a YA vampire book when ‘Twilight’ and Richelle Mead’s ‘Vampire Academy’ are dominating the market. But Fantaskey’s novel holds its own in the sub-genre. For one thing, she has written a very strong voice in Lucius Valdescu - he definitely leaves Edward Cullen for dead! Lucius is a quite dark and sinister character, and coupled with a tormented childhood and sharp wit, he becomes utterly charming and intriguing. I laughed out loud at some of Lucius’s wry observations of American teen life (“The word ‘like’ has become completely unlikable”). His sarcastic and droll humor is best expressed in his letters home to his tutor and uncle, Vasile;

I have sampled eternity in Miss Campbell’s fifth period ‘social studies’ class. Three days on the concept of ‘manifest destiny’, Vasile. THREE DAYS. I yearned to stand up, rip her lecture notes from her pallid hands, and scream, “Yes, America expanded westward! Is that not logical, given than Europeans settled on the eastern shore? What else were they to do? Advance vainly into the sea?”

I loved Lucius! And I especially loved his evolving relationship and courtship with Jessica. There’s a rather big element of ‘will they or won’t they?’ to the couple, as well as opposites attracting. It’s a slow burn romance; equal parts sweetness and angst, and completely entertaining.

I’m no stranger to the YA vampire novel. I’ve read ‘Twilight’, love ‘Vampire Academy’ and salivate over Rachel Caine’s ‘Morganville Vampires’. At this point I feel like a connoisseur of the sub-genre, and as such I have no hesitation in adding Fantaskey’s ‘Jessica’s Guide’ to that list of teen-vamp heavyweights.
The novel is a bit of a contrast – at once dark and gothic, but with a tender romance at its centre. The characters are vivid and wonderful, spouting witticisms while dealing with a heavy load of pertinent teen issues (and a few supernatural ones).

I loved this book, and I didn’t think I would. If you can get past the schmaltzy ‘tween’ cover-art and title, you’ll discover that ‘Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side’ has a lot to offer. Sinister villains, a charming hero, down-to-earth heroine and a rather mature romance which readers can sink their teeth into.

5/5


'Stay With Me' by Maya BANKS

From the BLURB:

On the night of her fifth anniversary, Catherine Cullen-Wellesley intends to break the news to the two men in her life. She's pregnant with their child. It'll be the perfect preamble to the vacation they've promised her: Two weeks on a Jamaican beach. No cell phones, no emails, no business.
But when Logan and Rhys blow off the trip for yet another "business emergency", Catherine faces some difficult truths. She hasn't come first in her busy husbands' lives in a long time. Defiantly, she packs her bags for her long-awaited vacation-alone. It'll give her a chance to figure out what the hell she's going to do with the rest of her life.
When Logan and Rhys come home to an empty house, they realize two things: One, it was a mistake to take Catherine for granted. Two, they're not willing to just let her walk out of their lives.
Winning her back will be the most difficult battle of their lives-more important than any business deal they've ever negotiated.

I am a Maya Banks fan. And now that I’ve got myself a Kindle (*squeal!*) I am going through her back catalogue of e-books.

‘Stay With Me’ is a very different take on Banks’s signature plot. Her most popular books all centre around one woman embarking on a relationship with multiple partners. ‘Colter’s Woman’, ‘Brazen’ and ‘Be With Me’ all follow this premise. ‘Stay With Me’ looks at this plot from a different perspective. In this book the heroine; Catherine, has been married to two men, Logan and Rhys, for six years. While all was well in the beginning of their relationship, on the night of their sixth wedding anniversary Catherine has forced herself to take stock and accept the fact that their once happy partnership is in shambles. Rhys and Logan have buried themselves in work and completely neglected their marriage – and Catherine has had enough.

‘Stay With Me’ is about what comes after Maya Banks’s typical happy ending. The book explores the in’s and out’s, up’s and down’s of a multiple-partner relationship.

Now if this all sounds very plot-heavy for what is essentially a bit of smutty reading, you’d be as surprised as I was. This book is very different from Banks’ typical fare because it’s actually quite serious. Even a little bit depressing – something you don’t really expect from erotica.

To be honest it wasn’t all that smutty. When the plot was so solemn I was expecting a lot of sex to balance out the seriousness – but Banks doesn’t deliver. There is only one three-way sex scene, and even that is a little bit blasé.

I was really disappointed with this book. I expected a lot more but what I got was serious plot and too little smuttiness to make up for it.

1.5/5

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

'Heart of the Matter' by Emily GIFFIN


Received from the publisher

Tessa Russo has the perfect life – she has two beautiful children and is married to Nick, a pediatric plastic surgeon. She is the envy of other playground mothers, and her still single friends. But she can’t help this nagging suspicion that not all is right in her world. It’s partly the fact that she left her job as a University Professor to become a full-time mum. It’s a little to do with Nick’s job, and medicine making her a jealous mistress. But it’s also her mother, pointing out all these various cracks and fissures, warning Tessa of her own broken marriage and causing her to wonder “would Nick ever?...”

Valerie is a single-mother living out her worst nightmare. A phone-call in the middle of the night, telling her to come to the hospital because her six-year-old son has had an accident. Charlie, while at a sleepover, falls into a fire and burns one side of his face and his hand. Nick Russo is called in as his plastic surgeon... and so begins Valerie’s crush on the doctor-savior, which slowly turns into infatuation, that is eventually reciprocated…

Two women. Two very different lives. One man who will force them to intersect…

This was a hard book to put down. I absolutely ate it up, largely because it feels somewhat voyeuristic. Whenever you hear or read about someone’s adulterous affair a few questions run through your head – why did they do it? Who was she? How will the wife react…? That last one is especially juicy – how is Sandra coping? Will Elin divorce him?

2010 seems to be the year of the cheater. Tiger Woods, Jesse James, Ashley Cole… you can’t walk past a newsstand without seeing garish headlines proclaiming the end of ‘Brangelina’, because Brad’s gone back to Jen (who he left for Ang in the first place!). And I must confess to eating up such tabloid stories. As a general public, we can’t help ourselves. It’s partly the fact that celebrities misbehaving will always fascinate us. But I think it’s also the fact that cheating is such a relatable issue – infidelity is like an equalizer. Whether you’ve cheated, been cheated on or know someone of the former or latter, everyone has a story about unfaithfulness.

And that’s why Emily Giffin’s book is so darn fascinating. She explores those salacious issues – not just as they relate to the scorned wife, but also the ‘other’ woman. Each chapter alters between Valerie and Tessa – and the changing perspectives make for a very fulfilling and compelling read. Through both women, Giffin is able to tease out all those scandalous and hurtful questions - observing them from two very different angles.
Giffin deals with infidelity in a very tender and real way. Her characters make mistakes, have regrets and try to pick up the pieces of their damaged lives. This is not a book of absolutes, and is all the better for it. There are no villains in this book - no black and white solutions –, which means it is relatable and firmly grounded in believability and sympathy… because life is all about the gray areas.

The only perspective not offered is Nick’s, which works very well. He remains a bit of an enigma to readers as well as Valerie and Tessa. It leaves a certain amount of mystery and uncertainty in the lives of the characters – and you will keep wondering and guessing at the outcome of their lives, right up until the last page. That level of mystique is also Giffin showing respect for her readers – she does not give direct answers to her characters problems, nor does she make excuses for them. Instead, Giffin allows readers to make up their own minds, come to their own conclusions and try to analyze the various reasons behind characters actions.

Readers are somewhat predisposed to be more sympathetic toward Tessa. It's partly the fact that Giffin is writing for a female audience, and as a whole readers will be automatically more likely to side with the wronged party, no matter the extenuating circumstances… But it's also a certain writing technique Giffin uses. Tessa’s perspective is told in first-person – making readers privy to her innermost thoughts and feelings. But Valerie’s chapters are told in third-person. It’s quite a clever method that at once distances readers from Valerie, while giving a front-row-seat to Tessa’s world. That being said, by the end of the book lines really begin to blur and Giffin garners as much sympathy for Valerie as Tessa, pushing readers to alter their condemnations and allegiances.

Then she fiddles with her diamond ring, spinning it twice around, and says, “I could never forgive Daniel if he slept with a hooker. It’s just so gross. I couldn’t forgive anything that sleazy. I’d rather he fell in love with someone.”
“Really?” MC says. “I think I could get over something physical – maybe not a hooker, but a purely physical, one-night-stand kind of thing… But if Rick actually loved someone… that’s a different story.”
April looks contemplative and then says to me, “What would bother you more, Tess? Hot sex or love?”
I consider this for a second, then say, “Depends.”
“On what?” Romy says.
“On whether he’s having hot sex with the girl he loves.”

Emily Giffin is touted as being a ‘chick-lit’ author. That term is sometimes said in a derogatory way, as though ‘chick-lit’ is a lesser literary feat. I don’t believe it is, and I think Giffin is a perfect example of why that genre tag is not at all insulting. In ‘Heart of the Matter’ Giffin is exploring an old issue with a great deal of finesse and compassion. A plot centered on unfaithfulness may be what initially ‘hooks’ readers – but it becomes pretty obviously early on that there’s a lot more going on in ‘Heart of the Matter’. Ultimately Giffin’s book is about the repercussions our mistakes have on those we love, and the tightrope we find ourselves walking between forgiveness and trust.

This is a compelling read. The plot of infidelity is juicy and salacious, but it’s Giffin’s tenderness towards her imperfect characters that will appeal and resonate.

5/5

UK, US release: 11 May 2010


Monday, April 19, 2010

'A Matter of Blood' by Sarah PINBOROUGH

Received from the publisher

From the BLURB:

The recession that grips the world has left it exhausted. Crime is rising in every major city. Financial institutions across the world have collapsed, and most governments are now in debt to The Bank, a company created by the world's wealthiest men. But Detective Inspector Cass Jones has enough on his plate without worrying about the world at large. His marriage is crumbling, he's haunted by the deeds of his past, and he's got the high-profile shooting of two schoolboys to solve - not to mention tracking down a serial killer who calls himself the Man of Flies. Then Cass Jones' personal world is thrown into disarray when his brother shoots his own wife and child before committing suicide - leaving Cass implicated in their deaths.
And when he starts seeing silent visions of his dead brother, it's time for the suspended DI to go on the hunt himself - only to discover that all three cases are linked ...As Jones is forced to examine his own family history, three questions keep reappearing: what disturbed his brother so badly in his final few weeks? Who are the shadowy people behind The Bank? And, most importantly, what do they want with DI Cass Jones?

‘A Matter of Blood’ is the first book in Sarah Pinborough’s ‘The Dog-Faced Gods’ trilogy.

This is a dark and sinister read. Not least of all because it hits so close to home. Pinborough is writing about a not-too-distant future, only a few years away in fact. The GFC (Global Financial Crisis) has not abated, and in an effort to limit the fallout a conglomerate World Bank is created. Funded by billionaires Gates and Branson, in partnership with Japan, China and Russia, ‘The Bank’ now runs all of the Western World’s property and bank accounts in a bid to stave off a crippling depression. It is indeed a corporate-run world, and the times they are a changin’. Crime is on the rise, health-care is nonexistent and citizens are on-edge.

It is in this climate that the city of London is rocked by reports of a serial killer on the loose. ‘The man of flies is among us’ – preying on young women and leaving a gruesome maggot trademark that the papers would salivate over.

On the case is Detective Inspector Cassius ‘Cass’ Jones.
DI Jones brings to mind a very apt Raymond Chandler quote; “Police business is a hell of a problem. It's a good deal like politics. It asks for the highest type of men, and there's nothing in it to attract the highest type of men. So we have to work with what we get.”
Jones is an imperfect hero, to say the least. He is dogged by memories of an undercover stint, in which the criminal underworld lured him in, and never really let him go. He is a self-confessed skirt-chaser whose marriage to wife Kate has never fully recovered from his first, and subsequent, infidelities. He snorts coke (recreationally) and has far too much in common with the heavyweight criminals he polices.

But there’s something undeniably appealing about Cass Jones, even when there shouldn’t be. He is very aware of his various vices, even embarrassed by them. He believes himself to be irredeemable - a lifetime of bad choices and stupid mistakes and he’s all but written himself off. He is his own underdog, and you can’t help but hope that he finds something within himself that is worth fighting for.

Cass smiled back. ‘I’m capable of a lot of things, Gary. We both know that.’ He leaned in closer, as if about to whisper a secret, and was pleased to see a twitch of something close to fear in Bowman’s own expression. ‘And another thing we both is that I’ll always be the better fucking copper. So keep my case warm for me and I’ll see you when this is sorted.’
Cass turned and walked away before Bowman could speak. He hoped he couldn’t see his clenched fists in the pockets of his own off-the-rack suit jacket.

Despite all of his negatives, Cass Jones is a damn good cop. Not least of all because he feels an obligation to the victims whose murders he investigates. He imagines those victims are clawing at him, their hands always picking at his clothes as they beg for his attention and delivery of justice.

He squeezed his dead brother’s memory to one side and felt it instantly replaced by the cold fingers of the murdered dead that quietly pulled at him. It felt like they’d torn a way through his skin as easily as digging up through the soft earth of a grave. Coke was a fucker like that. When it woke you up, it woke all of you up.

It’s an eerie image that Jones conjures for himself; but it illustrates his relentlessness, and the heavy burden he places on himself to do the right thing. If not for himself, then for the dead whose afterlife is entrusted to him.

Jones’s already complicated life is further shattered when his younger brother commits murder-suicide; killing his wife, son and then himself. Jones is dragged into the murky depths of his brother’s murderous motivations – and Jones comes perilously close to the breaking point when he starts seeing his dead brother’s ghost.
What is this eerie apparition trying to communicate to Cass? And how does his brother’s death link to ‘The Bank’ and the ‘Lord of Flies’ serial killer?

This book is an absolute feast of genre. It is a thriller, but with heavy supernatural undertones that undercut the murder-mystery and make it all the more sinister and intriguing. Pinborough evokes such a bleak setting and her characters are so gray that her writing is reminiscent of noir 'hardboiled' fiction. And certain aspects are also quite Shakespearean; like Cass's dead brother haunting him from beyond the grave being Hamlet-esque in reference. Pinborough is quite masterful in her marrying of these various genres and sub-genres, making the book a truly exciting read.

Pinborough can write gritty and gruesome with the best of them, but it’s her over-arcing conspiracy/thriller plot that will lure you in and ensure that ‘A Matter of Blood’ stays with you long after you’ve put the book down.

In ‘A Matter of Blood’ Pinborough has built a very bleak future that is entirely too close for comfort. She weaves a tangled web that I cannot wait to unravel in the next two books of the ‘God-Faced Dogs’ trilogy.

5/5