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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

'Blameless' Parasol Protectorate #3 by Gail CARRIGER

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB
:


Quitting her husband's house and moving back in with her horrible family, Lady Maccon becomes the scandal of the London season.

Queen Victoria dismisses her from the Shadow Council, and the only person who can explain anything, Lord Akeldama, unexpectedly leaves town. To top it all off, Alexia is attacked by homicidal mechanical ladybugs, indicating, as only ladybugs can, the fact that all of London's vampires are now very much interested in seeing Alexia quite thoroughly dead.

While Lord Maccon elects to get progressively more inebriated and Professor Lyall desperately tries to hold the Woolsey werewolf pack together, Alexia flees England for Italy in search of the mysterious Templars. Only they know enough about the preternatural to explain her increasingly inconvenient condition, but they may be worse than the vampires -- and they're armed with pesto.

** SPOILERS ahead of book #2 ‘Changeless’ **

Gail Carriger’s second instalment of the Parasol Protectorate ended on a doozy of a cliff-hanger. At the end of ‘Changeless’ our buxom heroine discovered she was pregnant, and her werewolf husband Conall Maccon accused her of infidelity and kicked her out of his house.

When ‘Blameless’ begins Alexia is living in the aftermath of scandal. She has become the talk of London town for Conall’s abandonment, and when word gets out about Alexia’s delicate condition, she is kicked out of her mother’s house too. Everyone is convinced that Alexia was unfaithful to Lord Maccon because he is a werewolf and therefore dead, and thereby unable to procreate. But everyone seems to be forgetting that Alexia Tarabotti is a prenatural soulless – the first female soulless in history, and therefore an anomaly.

Desperate to prove everyone (namely Conall) wrong about the legitimacy of her unborn child, Alexia decides to travel to Italy and uncover information about her prenatural self.

Gail Carriger’s books are a breath of fresh air. Her ‘Parasol Protectorate’ series is historical paranormal romance with a healthy dose of Steampunk. In a word: ‘fabulous’. Gail Carriger is probably the most unique voice in the paranormal genre to date, and she continues her magnificence in ‘Blameless’.

This instalment sees Alexia Tarabotti in the uncomfortable quandary of being abandoned and pregnant. But Alexia is a heroine made of tough stuff, with a backbone of steel and enviable etiquette. In ‘Blameless’ Alexia really shines and proves her mettle – she faces down London gossip-mongers, nightgown-wearing Templars, rampaging vampires and killer ladybugs. Oh yes, Alexia Tarabotti is probably at her finest when she is backed into a corner, armed only with her Italian fortitude and weaponized parasol.
But ‘Blameless’ also reveals a softer side to Alexia, mainly triggered by her ‘infant-inconvenience’. The moments when Alexia allows herself to crumble and wallow are wonderful if only because they make her recovery that much braver.
“I believe that, if I do not lose this child, I may be forced to attempt to rid myself of it, or go insane. That, even if, by some miracle, I manage to carry through my confinement, I will never be able to share the same air as my own baby, let alone touch it. And I am so angry that my great lout of a husband has left me to deal with this alone. Couldn’t he have, oh, I don’t know, talked to me about it? But, no, he gets to blunder about acting all put upon and getting sloshed while I—“ Alexia interrupted herself. “That’s a fantastic idea! I should do something equally outrageous.”
‘Blameless’ also concentrates a lot on the series secondary characters. Accompanying Alexia to Italy is Madame Lefoux, the androgynous French inventor and hat-shop owner. I love Lefoux for her top-hat costuming, but also because she cares so deeply (and unrequitedly) for Alexia. There’s definite chemistry on Lefoux’s side for Alexia, and I love reading the heated remarks and undercurrents between these two women... I can’t wait for the time when those unreturned feelings boil to the surface.

Then there’s Professor Lyall, Beta werewolf-second to Lord Conall Maccon. Poor Lyall has a lot to contend with in this book, looking after his depressed Alpha while trying to navigate vampire politics. I absolutely adore Lyall; he’s an immaculately dressed sheep-enthusiast (don’t go getting the wrong idea...) who can turn into a proficient and vicious fighter when needs be. I really like the contrasting combination of Lyall’s Beta ruthlessness – he’s at once a well-dressed intellectual, and a formidable werewolf. I would love to read Lyall get a love-interest at some point in the series, because I think he would be very interesting when he falls in love. I’d even like it if Lyall got his own spin-off series, because I think he’s interesting enough to be his own protagonist (provided he gets his own love interest).

Everybody’s favourite secondary character, Lord Akeldama, does make an appearance in ‘Blameless’, albeit a small one. However, his storyline in the book will have repercussions in future novels... I don’t want to give anything away, but Akeldama’s love life just got interesting.

Conall Macon has a relatively small role in ‘Blameless’. But his minimalist role is understandable, what with being heartbroken and all. Regardless, Conall is at his absolute funniest in ‘Blameless’. Once again I don’t want to give anything away, but look forward to formaldehyde-soaked musings and a drunken werewolf fight. Hilarious!

One of the best things in any Parasol Protectorate novel is the ludicrously ingenious Steampunk inventions. In ‘Changeless’ it was the introduction of the dirigible (complete with attached teapot), and in ‘Blameless’ it is "homicidal mechanical dripping ladybugs" (yes, they are as cool as they sound!). Carriger seems to have an endless imagination for Steampunk contraptions, and I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next.

My one complaint with ‘Blameless’ was not enough Conall/Alexia goodness. Of course the storyline explains the reason for their lack of page-time together... but I love their relationship so much and they bounce off one another with such charming velocity that the book is a little lacking for not having enough scenes with the two of them. The need is further highlighted by their short time together which is entirely romantic, sweet and leaves you wanting *more* of the mushy stuff.

One thing that Gail Carriger does very successfully in ‘Blameless’ is secure the longevity of her Parasol Protectorate series. I don’t want to give anything away, but Carriger has set up a storyline of ensured durability that will likely take many more books (fingers crossed!) to unfold. The last page of ‘Blameless’ will have you jitterbugging for the next instalment, a far-away July 2011 wait (entitled ‘Heartless’)... but it will be well worth it!

4/5

Monday, August 30, 2010

'John Lloyd Branson' Mystery Series by D.R. Meredith

The John Lloyd Branson series, about an eccentric Texan attorney, was written by DR Meredith in 1988 and concluded with five books in 1993. This series was recommended to me by some crime-fiction aficionados on the Amazon discussion boards. Apparently the ‘John Lloyd Branson’ series is little-known, but hailed by the niche group of readers who live for all things crime-fiction. And I've got to say... I was impressed.

Each book starts with a crime, and the police officer who is on call to report it. In each instance that officer is Sergeant Larry Jenner of the Amarillo traffic police. Jenner is in his early thirties and happy to coast along as a traffic cop. But Ed Schroder, detective for the Special Crimes Unit, envisions great things for Sergeant Jenner... and in the first book Schroder takes the young cop under his wing (whether Jenner likes it or not.)

Meanwhile, in Canadian, twenty-four year old law student Lydia Fairchild is meeting John Lloyd Branson for the first time. Lydia has been assigned to understudy with the brilliant attorney on recommendation of her University Dean, but John Lloyd is not what Lydia expected. For one thing, John Lloyd is a southern gentlemen bordering on chauvinistic. He dresses like a riverboat gambler and his office is harks back to the Victorian era (though he’s 38 years-old). John Lloyd pushes all of Lydia’s buttons, and within a few minutes of meeting him she finds herself threatening to commit bodily harm on his person and cursing like a sailor... but John Lloyd seems to think theirs is a perfect partnership.

The mystery in each book varies greatly but with two consistencies; the first is that the murder is always the precipitating circumstance to bring all the characters together. The other constant is that each murder occurs in the Texas Panhandle; Schroder and Branson’s jurisdiction. Branson and Schroder investigate everything from prostitutes being killed by a Ripper serial killer, to a nasty divorce settlement that may have ended in poisoning. Branson investigates for his defence of the accused, while Schroder works to build the DA’s case.

Each book is a murder mystery, character exploration and family drama all rolled into one.
Branson and Schroder are the heavy-weights in their respective fields, and between them they leave no stone unturned. Character history is unravelled, eye-witnesses coaxed, last hours are played out and alternate suspects are sniffed out. In each book DR Meredith constructs a ‘whodunit’ mystery that is meticulous and brain-teasing. And there’s nothing in the technical crime-solving to hint that these novel’s were written in the late 80’s/early 90’s. Apart from a lack of mobile phones or mention of the Internet, there’s still forensic analysis and computer lab technology to placate crime-fiction connoisseurs.

I loved the narrative perspectives in each novel. Our two primary narrators are Lydia Fairchild and Sergeant Jenner. These two are navigating new partnerships with the ‘old-timers’ in their respective fields. For Jenner, he is partnered with Detective Schroder and unwittingly taken under the older policeman’s wing and taught how to defend the innocent and find the guilty party. Lydia Fairchild is likewise partnered with the best attorney in Texas (though to ask John Lloyd, he would say ‘the world’). Lydia is in her last year of law school and about to enter the courtroom arena, from John Lloyd she is learning about how to question witnesses, keep the police at a distance and uncover the truth away from prying eyes. I loved the contrast of old/new, up-and-coming versus old dogs. Just as Jenner and Fairchild are trying to figure out how their mentors tick, readers are likewise trying to keep up with these teachers.


But the absolute stand-out star of each novel (and the series overall) is without a doubt John Lloyd Branson. He’s a little bit of every witty curmudgeon, snobby intelligentsia and antihero hero that we love. I would liken him to Gregory House, Alan Shore and Sherlock Holmes... but with his own distinct style. He wears three-piece suits, boleros and Stetsons. He is a Southern gentleman through and through, but with a cut-throat sensibility. He doesn’t use contractions, and he prides himself on his manners. He is brilliant. And the best thing about John Lloyd Branson is that he is entirely believable. He opens his mouth and can cut a man down at twenty paces. He is *that* intellectually intimidating and sure of himself. But John Lloyd is only a man in his early thirties, and that comes across. John Lloyd has so much passion and fire, especially for the law and his role as an attorney, and when he talks about his responsibilities you know this is a man for whom the law is life, and his appreciation is infectious...
“You make it sound like a game, John Lloyd,” Lydia protested.
His hands tightened on the steering wheel and she suddenly noticed how strong his hands looked. He could wield a sword or a lance. And be totally merciless.
“What are games but life reduced to symbolic rituals? Trials are a symbolic re-enactment of the ancient practice of settling disputes by armed combat. Attorneys are champions chosen by each side to represent them on the field. We use statutes and case law rather than crude weapons, but we must use them just as skilfully. But my skill is useless if I cannot counter the thrust of my opponent’s sword because my limbs are bound and I lack freedom of movement.”

- ‘Murder by Impulse’ John Lloyd Branson #1
John Lloyd’s believable brilliance is not just in how other characters react to him either. It’s not a case of Schroder *saying* John Lloyd is clever and witty. It’s more a case of DR Meredith writing brilliantly acerbic dialogue for John Lloyd and perfecting his Southerly mannerisms. Still, it is hilarious to read character’s reactions to John Lloyd, and I think Schroder’s summary of his attorney reputation says it best;
“... you can figure we’ve caught the client with a smoking gun in his hand with his fingerprints on it, forty eyewitnesses, and video tapes taken by a passing TV cameraman. Not that it does us any good. John Lloyd Brandon will either prove the victim was stabbed, not shot, that the eyewitnesses were all legally blind, or that the video tape had been tampered with...”

- ‘Murder by Impulse’ John Lloyd Branson #1
Schroder and Branson have a wonderful dynamic. Schroder is perhaps the most mysterious character in the series, even more so than John Lloyd Branson. But we learn the most about Schroder’s character through his interactions with Branson. These two cowboys have been competing at the same rodeo for a few years now, and it shows. Every meeting between them feels like a cock fight and there’s lots of history, plenty of grudge but all tempered with a healthy dose of respect. Neither will admit it in front of the other, but spoken to Jenner and Fairchild we learn that Branson and Schroder acknowledge each other as being the best. These two push each other, compete with one another and have ended up being better for the competition.

Each novel is a murder-mystery of Machiavellian proportions, beautifully executed by DR Meredith’s talented pen. Whether John Lloyd Branson is posing as a sword-wielding pimp to uncover a serial murderer or Schroder is trying to get to the bottom of a deadly dinosaur... the mystery in each novel is superb. But what I responded to most of all (and much to my surprise) was the romance woven throughout...

From the get-go there’s definite heat and spark between Lydia and John Lloyd. Theirs is a slow-burn romance, since John Lloyd seems wholly aware of Lydia’s developing crush on him and hell-bent on preventing it. John Lloyd has secrets and a romantic past that impinge on his feelings for Lydia, which throughout five novels he is desperate to ignore. But John Lloyd can’t deny his feelings for long, or discreetly. Other characters remark on John Lloyd and Lydia’s dynamic and clear affection. Lydia herself is very honest in her feelings, and ruthless in her seduction. And the romance is made even greater by the pair’s push-and-pull dynamic. They trade verbal barbs one minute, and in the next John Lloyd is crushing Lydia to his side. It’s all very rollercoaster, and heart-palpitating.
“It is very difficult to kiss you when you are talking. I feel as if I am aiming for a moving target.”
“What?”
“It is your intention to kiss me, is it not? Since that activity is most rewarding when both parties participate, I intend to kiss you, also. Our decision is unwise, unprofessional, dangerously reckless, and one we shall undoubetedly both regret, but it is necessary.”
“Why?” she asked. If this were a dream, it beat the hell out of sea and sand and buccaneers.
“Thanksgiving,” he whispered. “That you are alive.”

- ‘Murder by Masquerade’ John Lloyd Branson #3
This series is superb. It is a crime-fiction delicacy to be savoured for its melt in your mouth brilliance. Everything comes together perfectly; the whodunit, the heroes and villains and an intimidating but brilliant protagonist to cut your teeth on. DR Meredith’s John Lloyd Branson series will go down as one of my all-time favourites.

5/5


Sunday, August 29, 2010

'By Midnight' by Mia JAMES

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:


April Dunne is not impressed. She's had to move from Edinburgh to Highgate, London, with her parents. She's left her friends - and her entire life - behind. She has to start at a new school and, worst of all, now she's stuck in a creepy old dump of a house which doesn't even have proper mobile phone reception. Ravenwood, her new school, is a prestigious academy for gifted (financially or academically) students - and the only place her parents could find her a place, in the middle of term, in the middle of London, on incredibly short notice. So she's stuck with the super-rich, and the super-smart . . . and trying to fit in is when the rest of the students seem to be more glamorous, smarter, or more talented than she is, is more than tough.
It's intimidating and isolating, even when she finds a friend in the conspiracy-theorist Caro Jackson - and perhaps finds something more than friendship in the gorgeous, mysterious Gabriel Swift. But there's more going on at Ravenwood than meets the eye. Practical jokes on new students are normal, but when Gabriel saves her from . . . something . . . . in the Highgate Cemetery, and then she discovers that a murder took place, just yards away from where she had been standing, April has to wonder if something more sinister is going on. . . . and whether or not she's going to live through it . . .


‘By Midnight’ is the first book in a new Urban Fantasy YA series called ‘Ravenwood Mysteries’. The author is Mia James (pseudonym of husband and wife writing duo John and Tasmina Perry).

The book kicks off with sixteen-year-old April Dunne moving with her parents to Highgate, London. April’s father is an investigative journalist who just lost his prestigious Edinburgh post and has had to move his family to Highgate to work for a small-time society rag. April is completely uprooted, and worst of all she has to attend the snooty Ravenwood Academy. Ravenwood is a high school for gifted and ‘genius’ kids, which April is not. The popular kids wear fur-coats, some of the kids are heirs to multi-billion dollar enterprises and all of them have their sights set on the Ivy League. April is out of her depth... even more so when beautiful boy Gabriel Swift takes a disconcerting interest in her.

But pretty soon April discovers the real reason for her father uprooting the family... A story about a Highgate vampire piqued his investigative interest.

I will warn that the beginning of this book is very, very slow. The action doesn’t properly start until about page 207 of this 436-page book. Mia James takes a good chunk of the beginning to world-build the Ravenwood scene and set-up the Highgate vampire mystery. This wind-up is necessary, but since this is a YA Urban Fantasy the pace would benefit from a speed injection. The young audience reading a book which promises vampires are probably used to a more helter-skelter tempo befitting this fantasy genre.

The slow-burn beginning could have been acceptable if there was more focus on the romantic plot. Unfortunately the romance picks up momentum around the same time as the main plot. I really wish Mia James had concentrated on developing the April/Gabriel relationship. They tread a fine-line between writing Gabriel as a mysterious boy and a non-existent character. I think they should have brought him out of the shadows earlier and given more page-time to his and April’s developing feelings. As it is, April and Gabriel’s attraction to one another comes across as slap-dash and almost superficial, as though they are *only* interested in one another’s looks rather than a more deep and meaningful connection.
The lack of romantic emphasis in the beginning also makes the first 207 pages come across as waffling, especially when the mystery plot and romantic plot converge and start picking up the pace at the same time. You do wonder why they didn’t just pick the story up at page 207 to start with?

The slow pace is a bit regrettable, because if readers stick with it ‘By Midnight’ actually has a lot to offer...

‘By Midnight’ is the thinking teenager’s answer to ‘Twilight’. The book is first and foremost a paranormal romance, but there’s also a great mystery woven throughout. Mia James has made the most of the book’s London setting with the legend of the Highgate Vampire. Mia James draws on various London legends to complement the vampire mythology; everything from Jack the Ripper to the bubonic plague is linked to vampires. At times April’s investigations into these various anomalies get weighed down in textbook investigation and summary. But the added layer of London mystery and intrigue makes for a creepy gothic spin and sets the book apart from most other fluffy YA paranormal romances.
“Listen, I’m sorry I've messed you about,” said Gabriel after a pause. “I should have called, I really should have called, I really should. It’s just...” he trailed off. Then, after a glance at her, he continued in a rush, “It’s just there are things I can’t explain right now, things you probably would rather not hear, and altogether it means I think we’d be pretty bad for each other.”
Then Gabriel turned to face her, those dark eyes glittering in the streetlights. “But I want us to be bad for each other, I want us to be...”
“What?”
“Together,” he said softly. “I want us to be together. Like this, like now, just the two of us, no one else. But believe me, things would always be difficult, there would always be things I couldn’t explain.”
The pop-culture aspect is spot-on. Ravenwood Academy and the cliques that populate it conjure an image of Gossip Girl meets Skins. The girls have claws and the boys delusions of grandeur – Mia James is definitely writing relatable and realistic teenage characters... with bite.
Mia James is also writing ‘By Midnight’ in the wake of the ‘Twilight’ craze, so I thought it was quite ingenious that they acknowledged that in the novel. At one point April daydreams a romantic interlude starring RPatz. Brilliant! I loved the fact that ‘Twilight’ isn’t swept under the rug, but rather openly used as a point of reference.

This is a more mature YA Urban Fantasy. As well as writing a sophisticated mystery plot and drawing on London gothic elements, Mia James is also writing some heavy emotional baggage for their characters. Not to give anything away, but April experiences some intense situations and harrowing experiences. Mia James handles the heavy emotions beautifully and with such finesse, and it’s nice to read a YA book in which family dilemmas aren’t brushed aside but rather made a main focus.

The book has a few problems, like a tendency to lapse into page-long summary and not enough romantic development. The slowly unravelling plot could also be a sore point for a YA audience that like a quicker pace... but if you stick with it this book has a lot to offer. A rollercoaster ending, heart-palpitating action and vampires that hark back to their original monster origins. Coupled with a high-school setting this is a fabulous new addition to the YA urban fantasy scene.

3.5/5


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Psychic Eye Mystery #1 & #2 by Victoria LAURIE

Abby Cooper is a P.I. No, not of the private dick variety. Abby is a ‘Psychic Intuitive’. She can foresee the future... or at least occasionally stumble across hints about what may possibly, maybe happen in the distant future.

Abby has ‘guides’, spirits who help her make sense of her intuitive abilities. Abby can ask a question of her guides and depending on which side of her body responds, she’ll have a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to her query. Sometimes Abby will feel compelled to speak a string of warnings and observations to a person, everything from telling them to get that wart checked out to knowing that they’re having problems with house-training their cat.

Despite her unique gift, Abby is firmly ‘vanilla’ flavoured ice-cream. She is boring. She hasn’t had a relationship in forever, she lives to renovate her house and the most company she keeps is with her pet dog, Eggy.

When we meet her, Abby is working in consultation, giving readings to clients... that is, until one of her clients turns up dead. Abby is thrown into the middle of a police investigation headed by hunky detective Dutch Rivers.

‘Abby Cooper, Psychic Eye’ and ‘Better Read Than Dead’ are the first two books in Victoria Laurie’s series (currently with 8 books). ‘Psychic Eye Mystery’ is a cozy mystery – with Abby Cooper as the unlikely sleuth protagonist. The ‘hook’ of having a psychic as an amateur sleuth is wonderful and provides a lot of opportunity for intrigue. I went into the books thinking that if handled incorrectly, Abby’s psychic ability could just be a quick escape route for a clumsy plot. But Laurie has written a very ‘straight’ psychic in Abby, and she is quick to warn people that her intuition doesn’t have an on/off button and is never crystal clear. It works really well that while Abby can provide some hints to the greater mystery, often times the real hunt is in trying to sort out the cryptic clues of Abby’s intuition.

The other benefit of a ‘cozy’ mystery is, of course, the romantic entanglements. Because cozy’s aren’t as reliant on blood/gore they do prefer the softer side of things, often including a long-running will-they-or-won’t-they romance for the protagonist. The ‘Psychic Eye Mystery’ is no different, and Abby’s love interest is detective (soon to be FBI agent) Dutch Rivers who links Abby to one of her clients who winds up dead.

The romance fell a bit flat in the first two books. In ‘Abby Cooper, Psychic Eye’ there’s a lot of back-and-forth between Abby and Dutch, as he tries to come to terms with his attraction and scepticism. In the first book their initial attraction leaves them yo-yoing and nothing is sure between them by book’s end. In book two, ‘Better Read than Dead’, Dutch is on his first undercover FBI job and therefore absent for most of the book... generally it feels like romance isn’t Victoria Laurie’s strong-suit, purely because she seems reluctant to write much of it. Admittedly, two books in you don’t really want to find resolutions for your protagonist’s HEA... but I wanted more on the romantic front. Book two was slightly better for Dutch and Abby’s romantic tension, especially since Dutch got assigned a hot FBI partner who provided many laughs for Abby’s pricked jealousy;
“I've got breaking news for you, buddy,” I said, wobbling slightly as the wine wrecked havoc with my balance. “You may not realize it, but you’re partnered up with Miss F-B-I’m-a-whore over there...”
The mysteries in each book are great. Like I said, Abby’s psychic ability adds a second layer of mystery to the plot. There were many times when Abby’s intuition provided red herrings and others when everything fell into place and previously disjointed plots and clues fell neatly together and I was able to step back and applaud Laurie’s writer foresight.

I will say that the one drawback of the series may just be Abby Cooper herself. In the beginning she admits that if she were a flavour of ice-cream, she would be vanilla. I started out liking the ironic contrast of a very straight-laced psychic, but at some point I just wanted her to be *more*. A little more funny, with a little more pizzazz and charisma. The comedic pace did start to pick-up in book #2, and I have a feeling that subsequent books will follow the same bent.

I really liked the first two books in the ‘Psychic Eye Mystery’ series. I do appreciate a good cozy mystery, and having a psychic amateur sleuth is a great cozy mix. But if you’re not a fan of the cozy then the ‘Psychic Eye’ series is unlikely to change your mind.
Victoria Laurie has me a little bit hooked, on the promise that character funniness and the protagonist’s appeal picks up in the books ahead. I will definitely be reading more, but I might pace myself.

3/5

Thursday, August 26, 2010

'No Such Thing As A Good Blind Date' Brandy Alexander mystery #2 by Shelly FREDMAN

From the BLURB:

When childhood friend and recent parolee, Toodie Ventura, suggests he exchange his plumbing services for the spare room of twenty-eight year old Brandy Alexander's house, the out-of-work new homeowner thinks it's a pretty good idea.
That is, until she discovers a dismembered body in her basement freezer and the suspect topping the list is the now missing Toodie.
Brandy refuses to accept that her old friend is a cold-blooded killer and with the help of her ex-boyfriend, Detective Bobby DiCarlo and the sexy mystery man, Nicholas Santiago, she sets out to prove Toodie’s innocence.
Soon, Brandy finds herself up to her neck in stalkers and deranged killers, all the while juggling some of the worst blind dates ever!

‘No Such Things as a Good Blind Date’ is the second book in Shelly Fredman’s ‘Brandy Alexander’ mystery series. I loved the first book, ‘No Such Thing as a Secret’, and this second instalment is a wonderful follow through.

Brandy was an LA fluff reporter... but coming home and solving her best friends murder (of sorts) really makes a girl nostalgic for her roots. So Brandy packed her bags and moved home to Philadelphia... her parents moved to Florida and sold the family home to her and now she’s staying for good. Or not so good, as the case may be...

Brandy is being stalked by her ex-boyfriend’s crazy wife who thinks Brandy and Bobby are carrying out an illicit affair. In actuality Bobby is avoiding Brandy and she feels the sting of his cold shoulder. Nick Santiago (the sexy Latino martial arts trainer and shady Philadelphian underworld character) has also been avoiding Brandy since their heated flirtations and rescue missions of the previous book.
With all these men avoiding her, Brandy is lonely. And her cute kitty, Adrian, is not enough company. So when her ex-classmate, Toodie, offers to be her roomie in exchange for his plumbing services, she jumps at the offer...
But their roommate agreement didn’t include Toodie hiding a torso in Brandy’s freezer. A *dead* torso!

I am really loving this series! Shelly Fredman is a tight-rope writer, walking the thin line between comedy and tragedy, light and dark, with serious flair. Brandy is pretty hilarious at times – she’s often bumbling, scared and stubborn, but always genuine. Her funniest moments are with the men in her life, Bobby and Nick. Her attraction to Nick is particularly hilarious because Brandy is so self-aware of his prowess and lothario reputation, compared to her self-doubt and four-year-long man drought. Amidst the scenario’s in which Brandy is in over her head, her flailing love life is a point of recognition for readers who will find Brandy’s struggles totally relatable.

But Fredman is also able to contrast the light and funny side with a sharper edge. Brandy is seriously threatened in this book; she is stalked, assaulted, harassed and the recipient of death-threats. This book goes darker than the first, and is the better for it. It’s great to read Brandy’s reactions to the various dangers – her responses vary anywhere from outright fear and dry-heaving to gob-smacked inappropriate laughing. She is definitely a woman on the edge in this book, and it’s wonderful to read.

But what I love most about Brandy is her steadfastness. Yes, she is shit scared most of the time. But she will not cry, dammit! and she will not let the bad guys win. That’s what I like in my heroines – a vulnerable side to be revealed, but their courage to come up trumps;
“Why do you keep helping me?” Shit. I meant to say something urbane.
He sat down next to me on the bed and brushed the hair from my eyes. “Maybe I’m just a sucker for a girl with bangs.”
“No, really. I mean it. I've caused you nothing but inconvenience since the day we met. What do you get out of this?”
Nick leaned forward, the dim light from the desk lamp casting a shadow on his beautiful face. “If I were ever in trouble I’d want you on my side, because I know you’d never give up on me.”
The love triangle between Bobby/Brandy/Nick is a page-turner as much as the murder mystery. Theirs is a complicated triangle, for Brandy and Bobby’s rocky past and Nick’s dangerous reputation. The romantic stakes are definitely raised for Brandy in this book, and I look forward to reading how she navigates the battlefield.

I do love Fredman’s light/dark within this series, but I found this book to be far darker than the first. I also found it to be quite sad, because Brandy really explores (and admits) her loneliness in this book and sort of questions if she’s wasting her time on Bobby and Nick... neither of whom can give her the companionship and security she wants and needs. ‘No Such Things as a Good Blind Date’ is quite a revolutionary book for Brandy’s character; she confronts a lot of her unspoken concerns and fears, and starts to really evaluate her life and what she wants out of it.

I am loving this series so hard! I am impatiently waiting for Amazon to ship me the next 2 books and have my fingers crossed that Fredman is contracted for a 5th...

5/5

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

'Saltwater Vampires' by Kirsty EAGAR

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:


He looked to the sky, praying for rain, a downpour, some sign from the heavens that he should refuse the abomination contained in that flask. But all he saw was the bloated white face of the moon smiling down on him …

And the sky around it was cold and clear and black …

They made their circle of blood. And only the moon witnessed the slaughter that followed.

For Jamie Mackie, summer holidays in the coastal town of Rocky Head mean surfing, making money, and good times at the local music festival. But this year, vampires are on the festival's line-up … fulfilling a pact made on the wreck of the Batavia, four hundred years ago. If their plans succeed, nobody in Rocky Head will survive to see out the new year.

‘Saltwater Vampires’ is being called ‘a distinctly Australian vampire thriller’.

The book opens in 1629, and introduces the Dutch shipwreck survivors of the Batavia. Among them is Jeronimus Cornelisz, an apothecary with a questionable offer of immortality for three other survivors; David Zeevanck, Gerrit Haas and Jan Pelgrom;
The apothecary leaned forward and whispered, “You want to know about the trick within the trick.”
Skip forward to present day and we meet Jamie Mackie; a fifteen-year-old Rocky Head native. He loves the sun, sand, surf and Rocky Head’s annual music festival. Jamie lives for the waves and the oblivion of riding inside a wall of water. Surfing has become quite cathartic to Jamie since a boating accident saw his best-friend permanently scarred and refusing to talk to him. Things have been tense between Jamie and Dale ever since the accident, but Jamie never thought that Dale would go so far as to attack him... While surfing one morning Dale starts swinging fists in the ocean, ending the fight with a vicious bite to Jamie’s neck. What follows is Jamie’s hunt for answers, along with his best friend Tanner, Dale’s girlfriend Kelly and new resident of Rocky Head, Talia – this group of surfer locals uncover more than they ever bargained for and discover a dark side to Rocky Head.
Jamie removed his sunglasses, squinting at Willem.
“Too bright for you?” Willem asked knowingly.
It was. Blindingly bright. Jamie had to jam his sunglasses back on. “How do you know it’s a bite?”
“I said, it’s a special kind of bite. And it must be real because I don’t know why you’d manufacture something like that. It’s completely at odds with your type.”
“My type?”
“You’re a capitalist waxhead. Not the type who’s into dark fantasy.”
“You got that right. Even if I still have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I’m talking about nigthwalkers, bloodsuckers, phantoms of the night...Vampires.”
Apart from Keri Arthur’s ‘Riley Jenson’ series, Australian authors really haven’t jumped on the Urban Fantasy/Vampire bandwagon. Personally, I think that all needs to change... because ‘vampires’ as a subject are not a passing fad. They are a genre unto themselves, and there’s definitely room in the Australian book market for some uniquely Aussie vampire tales... case and point, Eagar’s ‘Saltwater Vampires’.

How to describe this book? It’s an eclectic mix of the very best of Vampirism and Australian culture. It’s reminiscent of the 1987 cult-classic ‘The Lost Boys’, with a dash of Keanu’s ‘Point Break’, and a nod to the ‘Underworld’ movie franchise. But still with an Aussie flair, for Eagar’s writing style reminded me of our two heavy-weight authors (in their respective readerships) Tim Winton and John Marsden.

The pace is slow, and I found that initially hard to overcome. But at some point it clicked for me that this is an *Australian* vampire novel. Eagar isn’t writing to Urban Fantasy conventions as I've come to know them through American UF books. Eagar is instead putting an Aussie spin on an old gothic tale. And the fact of the matter is; every country in the world has different storytelling conventions, and Aussie books likewise have a different flavour. I would say our books prefer a more relaxed narrative style, letting the character’s introduce themselves and the story unravel as it will. The slower pace also works for the fact that this is a surfing novel, and there’s something about that culture that’s all about being laidback and carefree.

Eagar beautifully delves into characterization. As much as the vampire plot is exhilarating and terrifying, Eagar’s exploration of her character’s motivations is equally intricate and submerging. Jamie is a boy who hates himself. He let his best mate down and is now living with survivor’s guilt. Jamie is a wonderful hero for all his flaws and complexities, some of which are on the surface, but readers also have to work to recognize his deeper scars.

Jamie’s ‘Scooby gang’ consist of his best mate and quintessential surfer dude, Tanner (who yawns when he’s nervous. Ha!). Dale’s girlfriend, Kelly, with whom Jamie has his own complications. And new Rocky Head resident, Talia, who uses her hotness magic on the boys. This isn’t your typical crack-squad of vampire hunters, but they are very typical Australian teenagers and a chance for Eagar to hold up a very apt mirror to our younger generation.

Eagar has really used the Australian landscape to great horror advantage. ‘Saltwater Vampires’ takes place in and around the sea (Australia is an island; after all). The sand and surf make for an eerie backdrop to the collision and confrontations with the vampires. The eeriness of a black ocean at night, and the loneliness of crashing waves; Eagar captures this picturesque Australian scenery and turns it into an astonishingly spine-tingling gothic setting;
“By then, the tip of a lava-orange sun had appeared over the horizon. The ocean was purple and grey, bruised by the dawn sky.”
The story jumps between present day in Rocky Head, following Jamie as he searches for his friend Dale, and discovers more than he bargained for. Then a few chapters flashback to ‘Amsterdam, three weeks earlier’. In Amsterdam a covert organization called ‘Piravem’ guard the four original vampire bloodlines, but supernatural terrorism looms when Jeronimus Cornelisz steals the blood of ancient vampire, Vitus.
This jump-back was quite jarring, but once I let Eagar’s distinctly Australian narrative take the reigns the flashback paid off. Ten-fold. I had to stick with it, but the converging of storylines were worth the wait and moments of confusion.

The book does have a few problems. I had one small complaint about the vampire 'reveal', as it was a little too convenient and coincidental for my liking. Jamie bumps into a brainiac classmate who sees his neck wound and connects the dots because as well as being a super genius he is a fan of vampire fiction. The reveal was a little clunky for me. But having read a lot of Urban Fantasy, I know that lots of writers struggle with the plot technicalities of explaining vampires in the real world - at least Eagar didn't go the Stephenie Meyer route and have Jamie type keywords into a search engine.

Like I said earlier, Australian authors (or publishers?) really haven’t responded to the Vampire literary craze. I’m sure there’s lots of reasons for that – mainly that America has really cornered the market, and also that the Australian literary scene is by comparison smaller and heavy on the *literary*. I hope that changes, soon-ish. If Eagar’s ‘Saltwater Vampires’ is anything to go by, then we do have Australian voices out there that have a vampire tale to tell... and I, for one, would love to read about vampires in my backyard.

4/5



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Sunday, August 22, 2010

'No Such Thing As A Secret' Brandy Alexander Mystery #1 by Shelly FREDMAN

From the BLURB:

Meet Brandy Alexander, a young woman from South Philadelphia with a big mouth, an even bigger heart and a little problem with impulse control. It’s not her fault trouble seems to follow her around. Okay, it is her fault, but why quibble over details?

When Brandy (a puff piece reporter for a local Los Angeles TV news station) returns to her hometown after a four year absence, she is thrilled to be reunited with friends and family. But her joy is short-lived when her best friend, John, becomes the victim of a tragic accident. Brandy is alone in thinking that the death is “no accident” and as she sets out to prove her theory, she stumbles upon a political scandal of major proportions. Things begin to heat up, when it appears that her former boyfriend, police Detective Robert Anthony DiCarlo, is involved in sabotaging the investigation. The one thing Brandy knows for sure is that people keep turning up dead and if she doesn’t get some answers fast, she could end up on the short list.

As Brandy searches out the truth, she gains some unexpected allies including sexy, dangerous, street-savvy Nicholas Santiago and the now-married Bobby, who still holds a torch for his former girlfriend.

With humor, guts and determination, Brandy tackles each challenge – be it dodging a bullet or resisting that box of Tastykakes in the cupboard. Murder, mayhem and romance abound in Shelly Fredman’s novel, proving there really is No Such Thing as a Secret.

Okay, I’ll admit it. Cozy mysteries are my guilty-pleasure reading.

A cozy-mystery is a murder-mystery that is light on blood, gore, sex and violence (hence the ‘cozy’). And the ‘mystery’ is normally investigated by an unlikely sleuth. I love a good cozy mystery, and a few of you probably do too (without realizing it!). Josh Lanyon’s ‘Adrien English’ series is a little bit cozy (except he writes explicit sex), because Adrien fits the ‘cozy sleuth’ as a book-seller turned amateur dick. Charlaine Harris’s ‘Sookie Stackhouse’ series has been described as a little-bit-cozy for having a telepathic barmaid who in each instalment has a ‘whodunnit’ to figure out (who kidnapped Bill, who kidnapped her brother, whose been shooting the local shifters etc...).

Shelly Fredman’s ‘Brandy Alexander’ series is cozy mystery. Brandy is a small-bit LA reporter who does fluff pieces for a third-rate TV network (think dog-show expose). Brandy is a South Philly girl born and bred, but she fled her home after the love of her life and boyfriend of ten years abruptly ended things. Brandy is forced to come home after a four-year absence to attend her best friend’s wedding. But when her other best friend is killed in a boat explosion Brandy puts her journalism degree to good use and hunts down her friend’s killer.

‘No Such Thing as a Secret’ was a great introduction to this cozy mystery series, and I fully intended to stick with the books. I loved the fact that amidst the larger plot of discovering a killer, Brandy was dealing with some very relatable emotional issues. Returning home after fleeing heartbreak makes for a wonderful kick-off to this book. The emotional stakes are further heightened when Brandy learns that her ex-boyfriend, Bobby, has been having marital difficulties and could be facing a custody battle for his baby daughter. Things are made ten-fold worse when Brandy and Bobby are forced to work together on the murder investigation of a mutual friend.

The mystery is great, a real page-turner and brain-teaser. It’s a misconception that putting ‘cozy’ in front of ‘mystery’ instantly makes it dumber or less intricately plotted. Fredman proves how wrong that assumption is in ‘No Such Thing as a Secret’. Clues are dropped, red herrings dangled and curveballs thrown. She really keeps readers on their toes and writes an amateur sleuth to admire in Brandy Alexander.
“... it’s who I am, Bobby. I can’t stand by and watch the bullies win. And maybe I don’t always think things through, and maybe I don’t always get it right, but I’m never going to just sit by and do nothing while there are people in the world who can’t fight for themselves. You used to be able to accept that about me.”
“It used to drive me nuts, but I knew there was no stopping you. But this is different. This is life threatening.” He climbed off the bed and joined me at the window. “Brandy,” he said, forcing me to look at him, “I know I gave up the right to tell you what to do a long time ago. But I care about what happens to you.”
And underneath all the high-stakes drama and intrigue, Brandy is acknowledging the fact that she has missed her home. She left Philly for LA four years ago, and in a bid to avoid Bobby and opening old emotional wounds, she hasn’t been back very often. One of the highlights of this book is Fredman writing about Philadelphia and Brandy in all her South Philly home-grown glory. Fredman clearly knows and loves this city, and the suburban side of things. She writes about restaurants, food, sights and smells with such aplomb that I felt as though I was walking down those streets with Brandy. South Philly really becomes a character unto itself in the book, for Brandy’s love of the place and later for the insider knowledge that helps her in the murder investigation.

The secondary characters are also great and wonderful indicators of why Brandy has missed her home town so much. Her friends are loud and proud Philly natives; the women wear shorts skirts and big hair and the men frequent a local boxing ring for their work-out. A very different scene to Brandy’s life in LA. Her friends include twins Fran and Janine, and her gay best friend John. These characters are loud and wonderful and it soon becomes clear that Brandy has missed more than just the Philly food in her four-year absence.

Half-way through the book Brandy realizes that she needs to get an ‘in’ with the Philly underworld. Through a friend of a friend she is introduced to Nick Santiago, a shady martial-arts instructor who rubs the police the wrong way and is rumoured to have a hand in everything from weapons deals to training soldiers from the Congo. Nick is a sexy, suave and seductive man and a temptation for Brandy who has had a dry-spell since Bobby broke her heart. Nick steps in and does lots of leg-work for Brandy and the murder investigation, and at times it did feel like Nick was a scapegoat for the plot. Brandy still does plenty of legwork, but after Nick’s introduction he does a fair bit of heavy lifting. Plot semantics aside, Nick provides a hot and frustrating distraction for Brandy, and a nice alternative to Bobby’s complications.

The book did remind me a little of Janet Evanovich’s ‘Stephanie Plum’ series, because of Brandy’s two love interests. There’s Bobby DiCarlo, Brandy’s ex boyfriend/love of her life who dumped her four years ago for reasons unspecified but still devastating. Then there’s Nick Santiago, a karate trainer who is rumoured to do dodgy dealings with the Philly underworld and who sets the local police on edge. Bobby reminded me of Stephanie’s Joe Morelli, while Nick was reminiscent of Ranger. It was just a little similarity, and only so far as Joe/Bobby Ranger/Nick had similar jobs and contribution to ‘cracking the case’. But whereas Evanovich’s series is all about the funny, Fredman’s book is a wonderful mix of light and dark, comedy and tragedy. Brandy’s love life is far more robust as well – Brandy and Bobby have a complicated past, and while a few niggling questions are answered there’s still plenty still to be unearthed about these two and their rocky relationship. Nick is likewise an intriguing character, an obvious ladies man with a dark side but Brandy (and readers) can’t help but be a little bit smitten.

I really liked this book, and I am delving into the next three instalments with enthusiasm. I loved Brandy as an amateur sleuth, and as much as the murder investigation intrigued, the love triangle left me equally breathless. Wonderful start to a series!

4/5

Saturday, August 21, 2010

'Parker's Price' by Ann BRUCE

Received from NetGalley

From the BLURB:


She was sexy, smart…and not for sale. But that won’t stop him.

When Parker Quinn is forced to accept an outrageously high bid at a charity auction, she has no choice but to go out with the last man on earth she wants to spend time with. Dean Maxwell may be one of Manhattan’s most eligible bachelors, but he’s also the man who had an affair with her sister and abandoned her when she became pregnant with his child.

Dean doesn’t know why Parker hates him so much, but he’s determined to show Parker the type of man he really is. Whisking her away to a private island in the Bahamas for a sensual, sun-drenched week together, Dean leaves Parker’s preconceptions shattered and her desires inflamed.
But even as their passion reaches irresistible heights, Parker has a decision to make. Can she allow herself to fall for the seductive magnate, or will family secrets and a dangerous ex tear them apart?

Parker Quinn is a New York magazine editor who meets Dean Maxwell at a win-a-date charity auction. Dean is smart, suave and totally off-limits for Parker... because Dean is also her niece’s baby-daddy. Dean ran out on Parker’s younger sister when she told him of the pregnancy and his name has been blackballed by the Quinn family ever since.
But there’s undeniable heat and spark between Parker and Dean... and when he makes an outrageous bid for her body and whisks her away for a six-day weekend the inevitable happens.

This erotic romance didn’t sit well with me. There were so many niggling little problems with the entire relationship that I couldn’t just let my mind go and enjoy the titillating romance.

To start with, Parker and Dean’s first meeting left me cold. They bump into one another at a win-a-date charity auction, and Dean chivalrously saves Parker from a grabby ex. Their following exchange is a little bit heated, very flirtatious and bordering on sleazy. But there was nothing in Parker’s personality or Dean’s hot-n-heavy come-on that I found endearing or warranting of the slight obsession they develop of each other. And I mean ‘obsession’ – because the second Dean learns Parker’s name he researches her, can’t stop thinking about her and concocts a plan to win her over.... all in the space of a few hours. But I just didn’t get what was so fascinating about Parker, apart from the fact that Dean really liked her body, wanted to see her naked and enjoyed ‘the chase’.

More than anything though, I really couldn’t understand Parker’s attraction to Dean. I mean, yes he is handsome and rich and sophisticated... but he also impregnated and abandoned her little sister! Of course Parker battles a half-hearted protest with her conscience, but when Dean whisks her away to a private island for six days her resolve quickly crumbles.

What really didn’t sit well with me about all this was that Ann Bruce just throws money at the moral dilemma. ‘Parker’s Price’ really isn’t a female-empowering read... because Parker pretty easily drops her sister in favour of Dean and his ‘I know someone who has a private island and he has loaned it to me’ schtick. Parker believes that Dean left her sister high and dry when she was pregnant with his baby. I’m not saying that Parker’s attraction to Dean is based solely on his assets... but that’s kind of how it came across. But I’m sure the private island went a long way to easing Parker’s guilt over sleeping with the man who fathered her niece.
He lifted a brow. “You wouldn’t mind me being with another woman?”
Something dark and heavy and more than just unpleasant slammed painfully into her chest, making it hard to breathe. Was she jealous?
Parker deliberately backed away from that dangerous edge and told herself she had no right to be jealous. If Dean Maxwell fell into bed with another woman, did all the things to the other woman that he’d done to her and more, she had no right to want to viciously yank out every strand of hair on the other woman’s head.
The dilemma of Dean’s parenthood is examined in the second-half of the book... but Parker's confrontation of Dean does take a while to come about – she spends the first half of the book thinking about confronting him and raging at how immoral he is... but she’s still attracted to him and wants to sleep with him. Ick.

I never liked Dean. He just came across as sleazy and my female intuition was constantly red-alerting during his scenes. It was just little things that added up to a not-nice protagonist (though Bruce didn’t mean for him to come across that way). Little things like him undressing Parker when they arrive at the private island and tucking her into bed while she sleeps. Eew. And the fact that he kept suggestively touching Parker even after she firmly said “No. Don’t do that. Don’t touch me.”

Running alongside the Parker/Dean dilemma romance is a side-story about Parker possibly being stalked... because she finds her apartment door open and some lingerie missing from her drawer. Parker is obviously creeped out and concerned about this stalker – yet when Dean takes it upon himself to have a copy made of her apartment key she still can’t help but be attracted to him? I don’t think so. Dean just came across as a sleazy sexual predator to me. While it could have worked if Bruce had meant for Dean to be a not-nice anti-hero, she is writing him as a straight romantic interest and it did not compute for me.

Sorry. The sex scenes were hot; I’ll give the book that much. But otherwise this light romantic erotica did not work for me – I could never get past Parker’s moral dilemma or Dean’s sleaziness.

1.5/5

Thursday, August 19, 2010

'Bring on the Night' WVMP Radio #3 by Jeri SMITH-READY

** SPOILERS ahead **

From the BLURB:

WHAT'S BLOOD GOT TO DO WITH IT?

Recovering con artist Ciara Griffin seems to finally have it all. A steady job at WVMP, the Lifeblood of Rock 'n'™ Roll. A loving relationship with the idiosyncratic but eternally hot DJ Shane McAllister. A vampire dog who never needs shots or a pooper-scooper. And after nine years, it looks as if she might actually finish her bachelor's degree!

But fate has other plans for Ciara. First she must fulfill her Faustian bargain with the Control, the paranormal paramilitary agency that does its best to keep vampires in line. Turns out the Control wants her for something other than her (nonexistent) ability to kick undead ass. Her anti-holy blood, perhaps? Ciara's suspicions are confirmed when she's assigned to a special-ops division known as the Immanence Corps, run by the Control's oldest vampire and filled with humans who claim to have special powers. To a confirmed skeptic like Ciara, it sounds like a freak fest. But when a mysterious fatal virus spreads through Sherwood - and corpses begin to rise from their graves - Ciara will not only get a crash course in zombie-killing, but will be forced to put her faith, and her life itself, in the hands of magic.

‘Bring on the Night’ is the third book in Jeri Smith-Ready’s WVMP vampire radio series.

WVMP is the most unique vampire urban fantasy out there. Hands-down. In this world American vampires are under jurisdiction of the ‘International Agency for the Control and Management of Undead Corporeal Entities’, otherwise known as ‘Control’. Vampires need to be monitored by the Government because being undead has a few draw-backs. Mainly, vampires get mentally ‘stuck’ in the era in which they were turned, and they need the Control to help assimilate them into modern society and maintain a connection to this era. Another side-effect of vampirism is psychological ticks and oddities – most vamps develop OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) in various forms, partly because of the strain it takes them to live in current times and the mental/sensory overload of being a vamp.

Ciara Griffin is the main protagonist of WVMP. She grew up as a con-artist and stumbled across the great vampire conspiracy when she applied for a job at vampire radio, WVMP. The radio station is a Control company designed to shelter vampire DJ’s while also keeping them connected to the modern world – the DJ’s are able to play music from their decade, but interact with modernity.

Over two books Ciara has befriended these vampires, and fallen in love with 90’s DJ vampire, Shane. Ciara has also gotten mixed up with Control and become an agent for them.

This book follows on from the events of ‘Bad to the Bone’. In ‘Bring on the Night’ Ciara is finishing her Control training, completing her university degree and getting serious with Shane. Very early on in the novel Shane proposes to Ciara, and despite all human/vampire odds, Ciara agrees. Her fellow Control agents aren’t all as thrilled with the engagement, however;
“Ciara, listen.” David’s voice dipped. “Be Shane’s girlfriend, live with him as long as you can stand it, but don’t take this step. If you could look ten or twenty years down the road, you’d see all the things he can’t give you.”
But Ciara and Shane’s happiness is put on hold in wake of a chicken pox pandemic spreading through Sherwood. Ciara never had chicken pox as a child, and she is exposed to at least 2 other diseased people. The chicken pox plague breaks out at the same time that cadavers (i.e.: Zombies!) are spotted around town. It all coalesces to be a big ol’ bag of ‘holy hell’ for the WVMP crew and Control.
You know those war movies where the troops proceed in orderly fashion, taking on the enemy as a single-minded unit? And then you know those other war movies where the battlefield is complete fucking chaos?
This was the latter. This was the undead ‘Braveheart.’
‘Bring on the Night’ is perhaps the most important novel in the WVMP series thus far... because Ciara turns into a vampire. This is HUGE! With other Urban Fantasy series, readers have a fair idea of where vampire/non-vampire characters stand. Sookie Stackhouse fans know that Sookie isn’t going to be bitten any time soon because Ms. Harris has said as much, and it goes against her beliefs. Likewise, nobody was particularly surprised when Cat was turned fully vamp in Jeaniene Frost’s ‘Night Huntress’ series. But in WVMP Ciara being turned was totally up in the air. It could have gone either way, total 50/50. And I, for one, was shocked by Smith-Ready’s choice to turn Ciara. I think Smith-Ready also set the first half of the book up as a red herring of sorts, because with Shane’s proposal came Ciara’s worries about their human/vampire differences. I thought that was a hint at the rest of the series... and then Smith-Ready goes and turns everything on its head by vamping Ciara.
OH. MY. GOD.

I loved Ciara’s transition to vampire. It’s quite realistically handled, even the mundane side of things (waiting for your fangs to pop, for example). But more than that, Ciara’s turning is an emotional exploration. Smith-Ready really delves into Ciara’s grieving. And Ciara doesn’t just mourn the obvious things like sunshine – she laments losing her favourite foods, and her lost independence now that she is reliant on blood donors for her survival. Jeri Smith-Ready beautifully and sadly explores Ciara’s loss of life, and she does so with a totally new perspective. Ciara sees her need of willing blood donors as a sign of dependency, and a loss of independency – she likens drinking from blood donors to begging for scraps of food. I never thought of it that way, but I could understand Ciara’s sadness and fear completely.

But for all the negatives, Ciara’s vampirism allows her and Shane to have forever. This novel, more than the first two, delves into Shane and Ciara’s relationship. There’s a lot of delicious hot n’ heavy between them in ‘Bring on the Night’, and it is wonderful! Shane has always been a very romantic, intense guy. But in this third book he exceeds his previous romantic endeavours and becomes a hot combination of Alpha/Beta hero gorgeousness;
Shane raised his trembling hands like he wanted to seize me. But instead he rested them gently, one on each of my cheeks.
“Ciara.” He bent low and brushed my lips with nothing but his breath. “I’d have kicked God’s own ass to get you back with me.”
Shane and Ciara are one of my favourite UF pairings... and I love them even more after ‘Bring on the Night’. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the ending will have you tearing up and going “awwww!”.

This third book also has some kick-ass action and horror cool. One of my favourite scenes in the novel involved “incompetent zombie cheerleaders”. And that says it all, I think.

‘Bring on the Night’ is one of the best Urban Fantasy novels I have ever read, and it is a compliment to one of the most original UF series out there. Jeri Smith-Ready outdoes herself; she completely changes the trajectory of the series, overhauls her main protagonist and brings some seriously mushy romance to an otherwise zombie-butt-kicking novel. Amazing! I can’t wait for fourth book ‘Let it Bleed’ coming August 2011.

5/5

'Crossing Over' by Anna KENDALL

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:


Whether it's a curse or a blessing the fact remains: whenever Roger is in enough pain he can cross over to the Land of the Dead and speak to the people there. It's an unexpected gift - and one that, throughout Roger's life, his violent uncle has taken advantage of. Roger has been hauled from fairground to fairground and beaten into unconsciousness, in order to bring word of the dead to the recently bereaved. It's a hard, painful way of life, deceiving the living for a crust of bread. So when Roger has the chance of a new life, it seems a gift. He has a chance at safety and at living a life of his choosing, tucked away in the royal court. But life is unexpected and when Roger falls in love with the bewitching, willful Lady Cecilia he has no idea what he is letting himself in for. With every step he takes towards her, he is drawn deeper into court intrigue, into politics and even into war...

‘Crossing Over’ is Anna Kendall’s debut YA novel.

Roger is just a child when his uncle Hartah discovers he has a profitable talent. Roger can cross over into the land of the Dead. But he must be on the brink of death himself to make the journey... thus begins Kendall’s novel as we witness Roger’s numerous near-death beatings at Hartah’s meaty fists.

When Roger sees an opportunity for escape, he takes it. Freedom brings Roger to the Royal Court, but no closer to safety. He finds himself at the beck and cool of the Queen who has her own uses for Roger’s death talent. Later, Roger is caught between two Queendoms who use his ability to go to war with one another.

Though he also finds love with a lady of the Queen’s court, Cecelia, Roger’s ability is but a pawn in a battle he is forced to influence.

This was an admirable debut for Anna Kendall, and a very different YA fantasy.

The nuts and bolts of the book are brilliant. Roger’s ability to communicate with the dead is fascinating and eerie, further Gothicised for his having to be near-death in order to speak with them. Brilliant! The beginning of the book is quite sad and harrowing for Roger’s down-trodden existence at Hartah’s fists.

Kendall’s portrayal of the land of the Dead is wonderfully spooky. It is a land that reflects the living world but with fun-house-mirror differences; the land stretches and distorts, time slows and the dead sit peacefully examining stones and flora. Reading about this in-between place of death will give you delicious chills for Kendall’s deft descriptions.
“Please do not.” Her voice was reasonable, but reason barely holding back a storm of emotion.
“I must.”
“Why? To find a silly girl who doesn’t care three pennies about you?”
“I have to go, Maggie.”
The storm broke. “WHY?” she yelled. “To be killed? To have your soul taken? Why?”
“That’s a folk tale. No one can take souls from the Dead.”
“You don’t know that!”
“Yes,” I said slowly, “I do.”
When Roger arrives at the Royal Court the story turns to political intrigue. Roger finds himself a pawn between duelling Queendoms and his abilities are used by both Queens to get the upper hand. The political plot is delicious and cunning, a wonderful compliment to the fantasy storyline. The action does dip and wane in the middle of the book... but stick with it, because the final stretch is a hell-raising thrill ride.

One thing that didn’t work for me was the love story. Roger is quite young (14-15) so maybe that’s why the romance felt awkward and clunky to me. You can definitely tell that Kendall struggled to incorporate romance for her rather young teenage character. It reads as though she wants Roger and Cecelia to be hot n’ heavy, but is wary of writing anything overtly graphic, so you end up with this not quite substantiated romance. Kendall jarringly mentions Roger’s erections and raging hormones, but the spark between him and Cecilia wasn’t there for me. Kendall may have had an easier time of things (and more romantic freedom) if Roger had been 17 or 18-years-old?

‘Crossing Over’ is an impressive debut for Anna Kendall. This is a very different YA fantasy novel with a Gothic bent and a wonderfully tragic hero.

4/5

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

'Eleventh Grade Burns' Vlad Tod #4 by Heather BREWER

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:


Things are looking dark this year for Vladimir Tod. With Uncle Otis awaiting trial for crimes against vampirekind, Vlad seeks the help of a mysterious and powerful vampire, Dorian. Unfortunately, Dorian has his own agenda and Vlad is about to be the main item on it. Beset on all sides, from former friend and current foe alike, Vlad will have to use all his skill and training just to survive his junior year.

Heather Brewer continues to impress in this, the fourth book of her ‘Vladimir Tod’ YA series.

‘Tenth Grade Bleeds’ concentrated on Vlad’s shifting friendships, particularly with his childhood bestie, Henry. In ‘Eleventh Grade Burns’ Vlad’s focus shifts again to his romantic attachments.
He has been dating his long-standing crush, Meredith, for a while now. But having lost Henry as his drudge Vlad employs a new ‘blood donor’ in the form of a pretty girl called Snow. Meredith doesn’t know about Vlad’s vampirism, but Snow accepts him wholeheartedly. Vlad is suddenly torn between who he wants to be with Meredith, and who he lets himself be with Snow;
Her voice was calm, but hushed. “Does she know that you’re a vampire?”
He shook his head. “No. I haven’t told her. I just don’t know if she could handle it.”
They stood there, so close, for so long that it seemed that time had actually disappeared and the world had completely forgotten them.
“Maybe you need to find that out, Vlad. If you love her, you’ve got to give her a chance to know you. And if she loves you, she’ll love everything about you.” Snow’s voice was soft, but full of meaning. She took a breath and whispered, “The way I do.”
This fourth book is the most romantically inclined, and it comes at a perfect point in the series. Books 1 - 3 of 'Vlad Tod' have been quite male-orientated, though Vlad is an endearing enough character to appeal to both sexes. In 'Eleventh' the romantic plot becomes a focus, with Brewer layering vampire politics with Vlad’s raging hormones. It makes for fantastic reading as Brewer is quite clearly transitioning Vlad into a new phase of adulthood, while also exploring his monster side. The love triangle works to illustrate Vlad’s overarching struggle between his vampiric and human nature – with Meredith and Snow representing Vlad’s fighting halves.

What I love most about these books is the fact that Brewer’s vampires are *vampires*. They don’t sparkle. They aren’t vegetarian. Vlad is earnestly struggling with blood cravings and his predatory nature, all of which is exacerbated by his hormones. Brewer’s vampires are not always nice, and Vlad does occasionally make stupid mistakes that will have you pulling your hair out. But hey, he’s a teenage boy on top of being a vampire, so some leeway for stupidity is granted. I just like the fact that Brewer’s books are ‘Gothic Young Adult’ because of her willingness to explore the crueller, bloodthirsty side of vampirism.

And of course the genius of the ‘Vlad Tod’ series is simply in that this is about a teenage vampire. So Vlad has all the typical dramas and dilemmas – like being without a car and needing to ace his math test. He’s a very down-to-earth teen vamp and I have really enjoyed watching him screw up, come into his own and grow into a young man.

Really looking forward to the final book; ‘Twelfth Grade Kills’. It should be a doozy!

5/5



Box Set - Novemeber 11th 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

'Tenth Grade Bleeds' Vlad Tod #3 by Heather BREWER

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:


It's another awful year at Bathory High for Vladimir Tod. The evil vampire D'Ablo is hunting for a ritual that could steal Vlad's powers. His best friend, Henry, doesn't want to be his drudge anymore and it's getting harder for Vlad to resist feeding on the people around him. With the threat of D'Ablo looming closer and nightmares haunting him each night, Vlad realises that having a normal high school year is the least of his concerns. He needs to act fast, and even his Pravus powers won't save him this time.

This is the third book in Heather Brewer’s Vladimir Tod series. I read the first two books in this series and loved them... and Brewer continues the love in this third instalment.

Vlad is the only born vampire in existence. He had a vampire father and a human mother, both of whom are dead. Now Vlad lives with his aunt and is trying to cope with his vampire/human existence while also dealing with typical teen issues.

Vlad’s high school career got off to a shaky start... and tenth grade looks to be much of the same. Vlad’s vampire uncle and mentor, Otis, is going globe-trotter on his own adventure. Otis intends to keep in touch with Vlad via their mental connection... but once Otis leaves, Vlad only hears silence. He has no idea where Otis is or if he’s safe...

Otis aside, Vlad is also dealing with his complicated friendship with Henry... Henry who Vlad has known since they were boys, and who is Vlad’s ‘drudge’ (think, Renfield). Henry is expressing a desire to be cut-free from his drudge role, and his association with Vlad.

On top of all these problems, Vlad is still dealing with the Vampire council and their meddling.

The tension between Henry and Vlad creates a lot of stress, for Vlad and readers alike. This is a really poignant storyline; Henry’s drudge status aside, this is Brewer exploring a fading childhood friendship. Henry and Vlad have been friends for years. There were times when the relationship felt unbalanced, what with Henry being cool, handsome and popular with the high school ladies... while Vlad was labelled ‘emo’ and struggling with his awkward teenage/vampire phase. But throughout the first two books Brewer made it clear that these two had each other’s backs. Henry knew Vlad’s vampire secret, and Henry was one of Vlad’s few confidantes. They had a great bromance. But in ‘Tenth Grade Bleeds’ things between them are strained and Brewer is touching on a relatable conundrum - when you feel yourself drifting away from your childhood friends.
Henry met his gaze. His words were crisp, cold. “I’m tired of being your slave. I want out.”
Vlad felt as if every ounce of air had been sucked out of his lungs, and he nearly staggered in an effort to catch his breath. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. It was like his best friend had been replaced by one of the pod people. He shook his head, confounded. “You...you really don’t want to be my drudge anymore?”
Brewer highlights the friendship strain further when Vlad is welcomed into the goth kids fold at school. Suddenly Vlad is presented with a friendship alternative to Henry – but what will it mean for Vlad to lose his drudge?
This storyline is Brewer at her best. Yes, ‘Vlad Tod’ is a vampire series – but beneath the fantasy veneer Brewer is exploring universal teen issues. That she does so with such mythological aplomb is just one of the reason I love this series.

But of course this is a YA vampire series... so there’s also plenty to sink your fangs into. The vampire council storyline, planted in the first two books, is further explored in ‘Tenth’... and the plot thickens. Not to give anything away, but Vlad is in trouble with the council and there could be a reckoning in store for him. I love the contrast of Vlad’s dramatic vampire-related problems, versus his typical teenage struggles. The wider plot scope reflects Vlad’s inner battle between vampire and teenage boy, and it’s a great exploration and character arc.

But the vampiric plot is more interesting for the finer details Brewer explores. This third book has quite a darker, gothic bent as Vlad starts to exhibit some disturbing vampire behaviour. At some point in this book you start to wonder if you’re reading about a monster in the making... or if Vlad’s humanity will win over his baser vampiric urges. This book definitely delves deeper into Vlad’s psyche and his struggle for normalcy... it’s a fascinating character progression, and I can’t wait to continue on Vlad’s journey.

5/5



Box Set - Novemeber 11th 2010