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Thursday, September 30, 2010

'Siren' by Tricia RAYBURN

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Seventeen-year-old Vanessa Sands is afraid of everything--the dark, heights, the ocean--but her fearless older sister, Justine, has always been there to coach her through every challenge. That is until Justine goes cliff diving one night near the family's vacation house in Winter Harbor, Maine, and her lifeless body washes up on shore the next day.

Vanessa's parents want to work through the tragedy by returning to their everyday lives back in Boston, but Vanessa can't help feeling that her sister's death was more than an accident. After discovering that Justine never applied to colleges, and that she was secretly in a relationship with longtime family friend Caleb Carmichael, Vanessa returns to Winter Harbor to seek some answers.

But when Vanessa learns that Caleb has been missing since Justine's death, she and Caleb's older brother, Simon, join forces to try to find him, and in the process, their childhood friendship blossoms into something more.

Soon it's not just Vanessa who is afraid. All of Winter Harbor is abuzz with anxiety when another body washes ashore, and panic sets in when the small town becomes home to a string of fatal, water-related accidents . . . in which all the victims are found grinning from ear to ear.

As Vanessa and Simon probe further into the connections between Justine's death and the sudden rash of creepy drownings, Vanessa uncovers a secret that threatens her new romance, and that will change her life forever.

It might be an understatement to label Tricia Rayburn’s ‘Siren’ a ‘breath of fresh air’... it’s more like a tornado. When the YA paranormal scene is bombarded with vampires, angels and werewolves, Rayburn’s novel takes a different mythological route - sirens.

Vanessa is rocked by the death of her sister, Justine. But Vanessa refuses to stand at her sister’s grave and weep – she instead takes matters into her own hands and investigates the death. Vanessa delves into the mysterious deaths surrounding the Maine tourist town of Winter Harbor, and in the process she uncovers some unsettling information.

Rayburn draws on sea folklore – hinting at mermaids and other creatures of the deep that have been known to lure sailors to their watery graves. The main focus is on sirens though – and this is a pretty untapped mythology for the YA paranormal set; suffice to say I was completely fascinated.

Vanessa was a fantastic heroine; a wonderful conundrum of ballsy and cautious, brave and terrified. I love YA heroines who are relatable for their fear but commendable for their courage in the face of that fear. Vanessa is just that kind of protagonist, and a wonderful role model for young readers. She is especially wonderful for her driving force – the love and loss of her sister. Seeking to understand Justine’s tragic death is what compels Vanessa to start her investigations. As sad as this trigger is, I thought it was a wonderful motivation of love for Vanessa to be dragged into the underwater world of sirens in order to avenge Justine. And it meant that as a reader, I was there with her all the way – she had my sympathy and attention right from the get-go for her courageously sad mission.

During her investigations Vanessa’s long-time friend, Simon, starts searching for his missing brother, Caleb. Vanessa can’t help but be somewhat disturbingly envious of Simon (for he has a sibling who is *missing*, not dead) but she puts her emotions aside and agrees to team up with Simon and help in his hunt. There is, of course, a love connection between these two (it’s one of the YA paranormal ingredients, after all).

I loved Simon. Or to be more precise, Vanessa and Simon. These two have a blossoming romance and it was so sweet to read for all its tender-hearted infatuation;
“So you’re, like, crazy in love,” he continued before I could clarify Simon’s and my relationship. “You open your eyes in the morning and your first thought is her. You wonder how she is. What she’s doing. When you can see her again. Those thoughts stay with you all day. You share them with whoever will listen – including your best friends, who of course respect you but, after a while, out of the kind of concern only real friends have, seriously question your sanity. And you make all sorts of plans – big plans, like, post-high school – when the rest of us can barely wrap our heads around the fact that we only have two years left to get a clue.”
“I sound obsessed,” Simon said, reaching over to tug gently on my ponytail.
The Simon/Vanessa romance is also a nice counter-balance to Vanessa’s sad investigations into Justine’s death. The romance is a much-needed reprieve from the heavier moments of the book, as well as being a necessity in any YA paranormal read these days.

I will say that the pace of ‘Siren’ is quite slow. I didn’t mind, since I loved being caught up and educated on the mythology and folklore, but I could see the sluggish pace being frustrating for some.

As fascinating as the siren mythology was, and sweet as Simon and Vanessa were, it was Ms. Rayburn's writing that I really loved. She beautifully blends fantasy and realism, mythology and mystery and tops it all off with a wonderfully gutsy heroine in Vanessa. Tricia Rayburn is definitely an author to watch, and 'Siren' is a must-read.

4.5/5

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

'Sisters Red' by Jackson PEARCE

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Scarlett March lives to hunt the Fenris--the werewolves that took her eye when she was defending her sister Rosie from a brutal attack. Armed with a razor-sharp hatchet and blood-red cloak, Scarlett is an expert at luring and slaying the wolves. She's determined to protect other young girls from a grisly death, and her raging heart will not rest until every single wolf is dead.

Rosie March once felt her bond with her sister was unbreakable. Owing Scarlett her life, Rosie hunts ferociously alongside her. But even as more girls' bodies pile up in the city and the Fenris seem to be gaining power, Rosie dreams of a life beyond the wolves. She finds herself drawn to Silas, a young woodsman who is deadly with an ax and Scarlett's only friend--but does loving him mean betraying her sister and all that they've worked for?

At first glance Jackson Pearce’s novel looks like a modern red riding hood.... Well, yes and no. It is a modern retelling of the old tale, but with a few delightful twists. Like the fact that ‘red riding hood’ is two girls, sisters Scarlett and Rosie March. And these little reds are no meek basket-carriers; Scarlett and Rosie kick werewolf ass on a regular basis, they are knife-wielding, cape-wearing vigilantes hell-bent on ridding their little corner of the world of the Fenris plague.

This novel is glorious. There’s no other word for it. Everything from the drool-worthy cover to the last page sucked me in and kept me in a state of happy suspense. Ms. Pearce has taken elements of little red riding hood – red capes, woodsmen, grandma’s cottage and the big bad wolf – and written it with a modern-day spin. This is an original retelling of an old fable, and a wonderful new voice on the YA paranormal scene.

Fenris are werewolves – half man, half wolf. The stuff of myth and legend, come to horrible life and with only the March sister’s to rid Georgia of their plague.

Scarlett is not your ordinary heroine. She has been fighting Fenris since she was a child, and tackled her first slobbering beast after he killed her grandmother. Scarlett is a warrior, with the scars to prove it. Her entire body (save a smooth spot over her heart) is covered in scars and scratches, mutilated wounds and Fenris track-marks, and she is missing her right eye. Where her eye should be is a long jagged scare from hairline to jaw.
“All I’m saying is” – he chokes on the words as the mutation begins to overpower his vocal cords – “people might get the wrong idea, a pretty girl like you out alone on a corner like this.”
My lips curve into a grin as I draw the hatchet from my belt. There’s a swish as his clothes hit the ground, then the clicking sound of claws on pavement. “I’m not worried,” I answer, unable to suppress a sly grin. “I’m not that kind of girl.”
Rosie is the younger sister, 16 to Scarlett’s 18. Rosie lives in her sister’s shadow, always trying to follow in her hunter footsteps and care as much about the fight as Scarlett does. But Rosie dreams of a life beyond the Fenris – a life without hatchets and knives, blood and busted ribs. Tempting Rosie is Silas, the sister’s woodsmen friend who has been Scarlett’s hunting partner since they were children. Silas has returned from a year-long stint in San Francisco, and there’s something different about him. Something handsome and charming and that makes Rosie want to be close to him, even if it means leaving Scarlett behind;
... I see her cast Silas and me suspicious gazes every now and then. I think she knows we’re pulling at the ropes that bind the three of us together; I just don’t think she knows that Silas and I are pulling as one.
The Fenris fairytale is gory and fantastic. Pearce has written some truly heinous slobbering beasts and their presence on the page causes goosebumps. Fenris can look like handsome young men one minute, but turn into snout-faced monsters when they get a whiff of young, beautiful flesh. The fight scenes are fast and furious, with hatchets flying, skin-gouging brilliant action that will leave you panting in vicarious exhilaration.

I loved the fairytale gore of ‘Sisters Red’, and I adored the elder sister protagonist, Scarlett. Scarlett and Rosie are alternating narrators, but it was Scarlett who really clicked for me. She is a very different YA protagonist than I have ever read; unique for her scarring and warrior heart, she was a dark delight to read. That’s why I had a little problem with Jackson Pearce’s character arc for Scarlett and Rosie which somewhat tainted my response to the novel overall....

It did seem like Pearce overestimated Rosie’s appeal, and underestimated Scarlett’s. Rosie was just so generic; pretty and porcelain, innocent and unknowing. Scarlett was the interesting sister, yet Rosie was given a more intense character arc.

From the on-set I was more interested in Scarlett. What can I say? I love an underdog. And Scarlett is most assuredly an underdog; outcast and scarred, living for the hunt because she believes her life is meant for little else. There was something so tragically compelling about Scarlett that I absolutely loved her. But Pearce hasn’t written much of a character journey for the scarred sister, she instead reserves all of the best progressions for Rosie.
Scarlett’s journey started with her knowing she loved the hunt, and ended with her realizing she really loved the hunt. Whereas Rosie discovered that her life couldn’t revolve around hunting, or trying to be her sister, and this revelation came around the same time she developed feelings for her old friend Silas.

Maybe it’s trite and predictable, but I felt that Scarlett was more deserving of a love interest than Rosie – a love interest to really give her a character arc and transformation from tough warrior woman to something softer, more human.
On the one hand I do realize that it’s reality for people not to change – for there to be no groundbreaking light-bulb moment of realization. And that’s Scarlett – she remains the same from beginning to end. But in a YA book I think you need to give your character’s a push... especially because Scarlett was the more interesting character to tug at reader’s heart-strings. For me, ‘Sisters Red’ was all about Scarlett. I would have been quite content for the whole book to be told from her perspective, with nothing of Rosie’s interiority.

I also didn’t connect with Rosie and Silas’s relationship. For starters, there’s a five-year age gap. The age-gap wouldn’t be so bad, except that Rosie is 16 to Silas’s 21 and it did leave me wondering what he saw in someone so young, and why he couldn’t get a girlfriend his own age? Then there’s the fact that Rosie is just plain boring. I probably felt that way only when comparing her to the incomparable Scarlett, but I felt nothing for Rosie as a character beyond her role as Scarlett’s little sister. Silas was a wonderful character, but I did not understand what he saw in Rosie to make him fall in love with her 16-year-old self. As far as I could see Rosie and Silas connected on a purely superficial level - drawn to one another for their physical attractiveness (which just made me feel even sorrier and root harder for Scarlett!).

I did struggle to like Rosie. It wasn’t so much Rosie, per-se; it was more that I was rooting for Scarlett, the underdog scarred sister. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why Jackson Pearce didn’t give Scarlett more of a character journey. She was, by leaps and bounds, the most fascinating and unique facet of ‘Sisters Red’... yet she finishes the way she started, having learnt little about herself beyond what she already knew. Where Rosie and Silas have revelations of epic romantic proportions and face hard truths about what they want out of life, Scarlett remains stagnate and same.

I loved 'Sisters Red', regardless of my character-related disgruntlement. I consumed it in one sitting and got completely ensnared by Pearce's modern retelling of an old tale. The writing is lush, the monster's ferocious and the heroine's fearless. I would definitely recommend this novel.

Ms. Pearce does have a companion book to ‘Sisters Red’ coming out in June 2011, called ‘
Sweetly’. I will definitely read this companion, but only in the hopes that Scarlett is written in the limelight and Rosie is relegated to the shadows (where she belongs!)

3.5/5

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

'Monster High' by Lisi HARRISON

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:


The monster community has kept a low profile at the local high school, but when two new girls enrol, the town will never be the same. Created just fifteen days ago, Frankie Stein is psyched to trade her father’s formaldehyde-smelling basement lab for parties and prom.But with a student body totally freaked out by rumors of monsters stalking the halls, Frankie learns that high school can be rough for a chic freak like her. She thinks she finds a friend in fellow new student Melody Carver-but can a ‘normie’ be trusted with her big secret?

Frankie Stein is not your average teenager. Aside from the fact that she’s only 15 days old (having been created in a Fab Lab by her parents) she has bolts in her neck and a green tinge to her skin. As if life isn’t already hard, right?
In an effort to fit into society, Frankie’s parents send her off to ‘normie’ school (for regular, normal teenagers) in an attempt to help her assimilate. But Salem, Oregon is a monster safe-haven, and Frankie soon finds fellow monster classmates, or RADs (Regular Attribute Disorder). There’s Lagoona Blue, Draculaura, Deuce Gorgon, D.J./Jackson Hyde, Cleo(patra) and Claudine (CLAWdeen, get it?).

Lisi Harrison’s novel is definitely aimed at the younger end of the teen market. ‘Monster High’ is a bit of unabashed pop-culture fun for tweens. And to be honest, Harrison has done a really good job of appealing to this teeny bopper market.

The monster kids rock out to Lady Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas. They have freaky fabulous wardrobes and say things like ‘that’s VOLTAGE!’ But if you read beyond the glossy sheen and bubblegum flavouring, ‘Monster High’ actually has a lot to offer.

For one thing, Lisi Harrison has taken monster mythology and translated it to teen-speak while also writing subtext about fitting in. I know, that sounds like a lot of philosophizing about a book that has rhinestones on the cover, but give me a second...

I really liked the character of Frankie Stein. She looks different, she thinks differently to her peers and she desperately wants to fit in. But she never sacrifices who she is for how other’s will see her. It’s a hard lesson she has to learn, but Frankie has a great sense of self, bolts, green skin and all! I love the book’s tagline; ‘Fitting in is out’, it’s a nice message to send to younger readers, and all the better for being written with monster-mashing teenagers:
“I’m telling you to hide so you’ll be safe. But you can still feel proud of who you are,” he explained, like it was really that simple. “Pride has to come from within you and stay with you, no matter what people say.”
Huh?
Frankie crossed her arms and looked away.
“I built your brain and body. Strength and confidence have to come from you,” Viktor explained, as if sensing her confusion.
“How do I get it?” Frankie asked.
“You had it the morning we took you to Mount Mood High,” he reminded her. “Before you let those cheerleaders take it away.”
“How do I get it back?” Frankie wondered aloud.
“It might take a while,” he said, his squinty eyes peering over her shoulder to check on his guests. “But when you find it, hold on to it with all your might. And don’t let anyone take it away, no matter how hard they try. Understand?”
I also liked the fact that throughout the book Lisi Harrison throws in a few curve-ball references, like the Six Million Dollar Man and Freddy Krueger. I’m sure these head-nods to the first manifestations of horror will be over a lot of tweens heads... but as an older reader I appreciated the ‘wink, wink’.

I can see that ‘Monster High’ is the perfect middle-ground book for pre-teens who want to be a part of the ‘Twilight’ craze, but whose parents aren’t thrilled with the blood-sucking subtext. This is a nice gateway book, still with all the monster-antics promised in older YA fantasy (complete with teen crushes on cute boys) but without the eye-brow raising sexual euphemisms.

Yes, ‘Monster High’ is a bit of teeny bopper fun. It’s a light read, but don’t discount the book for its tween-appeal. Harrison is actually writing big concepts, with cool characters and a great message; ‘fitting in is out’, voltage!

5/5


With the launch of ‘Monster High’ comes a range of Mattel toys that are actually kind of cool (even if they are aimed at the really young pre-teen market).

Monday, September 27, 2010

'Second Chances' by Lauren DANE

Received from NetGalley

From the BLURB:


Ten years ago, Rori Simon left town shy, unattractive and with zero self-esteem. Now she’s back, older, stronger and finally loving herself—and it shows. Hot men are soon knocking at her door, including Jude Callahan, the bad boy who starred in her teenage daydreams…and her adult fantasies.

Jude can’t believe the sexy, confident woman before him is actually Rori! She’s gotten under his skin like no other woman has…and brings out secret desires he can’t resist. He wants to dominate Rori with every fiber of his being. Wants to own her and pleasure her. To cherish her as he makes her his.

Rori discovers she likes being controlled. She also knows Jude is not a one-woman man. Everything changes when she meets Zach Helm. Edgy, sensual Zach knows just what she needs, and before long, she’s in love. Jude watches them together and wonders if he’s lost his chance forever…

‘Second Chances’ is a scatter-brained erotica read. It feels like Lauren Dane has glued together three different erotica stories – creating a hodgepodge of characters, storylines and sex themes.
Reading the blurb I was under the impression that this was an ‘ugly duckling’ story with a sexy twist. Then I started reading and the story veered into Dominance/submission territory. And then things got really weird and the entire story took a totally different, emotional trajectory and by the end my head was spinning and my patience was wearing thin.

My biggest problem with this book was a feeling that Lauren Dane wasn’t wholly committing to the storyline. Let me see if I can adequately explain my issues...

In high school Rori was a slightly pudgy too-tall girl with acne. Her sister, Kelly, was the beautiful head-cheerleader and dated Max, the school’s football star. Rori’s mother constantly berated her ‘lesser’ daughter for her looks and as a result Rori had self-esteem issues. But at the same time Rori was treated well by all the local boys who regarded her as a little sister. Even the town’s hottie/bad-boy, Jude Callahan, took time to have deep and meaningful conversations with Rori.

As much as Rori seems to have built up her awkward high school phase, I just wasn’t buying her ‘woe is me’ memories. It’s not like she was a social piranha – especially because the hottest guys in town did talk to her, and did know that she existed (even if it was only as Kelly’s little sister). I went into this book thinking it would be a novel of redemption and rooting for the underdog. I thought Rori would be like a modern-day Carrie, if Carrie was returning to Bates High School after the pig-blood incident with a fabulous new body, new attitude and was going to make Billy Nolan salivate over her.
Umm.... no.

My first problem with the story was Dane’s inability to form an emotional connection with her readers. I know that in erotica, readers are willing to forgive a lot, like outlandish plots and cardboard characters, but the one necessary constant in all erotica is the ability to draw your readers into the emotional side of things. If I wanted to read straight-up smut I’d crack open a Playboy (or read Laurell K Hamilton. *shudder*). Erotica has to be a little more sensitive, and to do that we need somewhat plausible feelings and emotional actions from characters. I didn’t get that from Rori.
There are a few references made to Rori’s cheating ex whom she left behind in Paris after catching him in bed with their dog-walker. But there are no scenes of Rori crying into a tub of ice-cream. She has literally arrived in Oakley days after having caught her boyfriend cheating, and she is fine and dandy. She lived with this man, has had to move half-way across the world to get away from him.... but she’s fine. She and Kelly have no heart-to-heart about the ex, and Rori is quick to enter the Oakley dating circuit.

I did think that the cheating ex was a cheap ploy on Dane’s behalf to trigger Rori’s trip home. And I felt right in this assumption when Rori started chasing Jude Callahan...

Jude is the town bad-boy who Rori crushed on in high school... her, and every other girl in Oakley. Jude is a self-proclaimed womanizer and unremorseful about his hearty bedroom activities. On the day that Rori moves back to Oakley, Jude is making his moves... Rori knows that Jude doesn’t do commitment, and will be seeing several other girls on the side. But she’s okay with that;
Instead, she shrugged. “I don’t want to save Jude from himself. I want to date someone, not redeem them. I like Jude, I always have, but I know what he is and how he operates. I’m going into this with full self-respect, as well as an understanding that he views me like every other woman. I know we’re all interchangeable to him. He loves women, but not any particular woman. If I don’t remember that, I’ll end up hurt and I've been there, done that. Don’t want the Tshirt.”
Yeah, I wasn’t buying that one bit.
Rori has just relocated country’s to get away from her cheating partner and now she is back home for a day and willingly offers herself to the town bicycle? I don’t think so. Even without scenes revealing Rori’s tender emotions over her recent break-up, I found it hard to believe that she would so openly and happily start pursuing Jude Callahan, in spite of his womanizing reputation (of which he is *proud*).

The second thing that bugged me about ‘Second Chances’ was the late introduction of a major character. You’re a good portion into the book when Rori decides to cast Jude’s womanizing butt aside and start pursuing her best friend’s little brother, Zach Helm. In Zach Rori discovers her submissive side and the two fall in love over rope-play. Jude is hardly mentioned again, except for his passing feelings of infatuation and growing love for unattainable Rori in the aftermath of their break-up.

Okay... around about here things get really curve-bally and mind-boggling (considering this is a fun bit of erotica). Ahead are spoilers, highlight if you want to be spoiled.

** SPOILERS **

Zach and Rori fall in love, get married, blah, blah, blah and then BAM! Zach dies. Yep. I am 80% through this e-book and things take a turn for the ‘WTF?’
This is all especially disheartening because I really liked Zach and thought that his and Rori’s sex scenes were H-O-T. I thought this was going to be a smokin’ bit of fun reading and then the (second) main love interest DIES and suddenly my previous complaint of ‘not enough emotional connection’ turns into ‘stop heaping all this depressing stuff on me!’.

** END SPOILERS **

I was not impressed with this book one bit. Dane writes translucent plot triggers, emotionally unbelievable storylines and half-hearted characterization.... and then tops it all off with a depressingly random twist right in the middle. The sex is hot, but doesn’t make up for the emotional battery half-way through.

1.5/5

Second Chances is released October 25th

Sunday, September 26, 2010

♥ international GIVEAWAY ♥ X 3 copies of 'Last Night at Chateau Marmont'



I loved Lauren Weisberger's new book, ‘Last Night at Chateau Marmont’.

So I am absolutely delighted to announce that I have 3 copies to give away, courtesy of HarperCollins.

To enter, just tell me ‘which celebrity would you want to spend one night with at the Chateau Marmont?’.

To enter:

♥ Become a follower of my blog (if you aren't already)

♥ Answer the question; ‘which celebrity would you want to spend one night with at the Chateau Marmont?

♥ Include a way to contact you (e-mail addy is fine)

♥ One post per entrant

♥ This is an INTERNATIONAL giveaway!

♥ Contest closes October 20th.
I will announce the three winners on October 22nd



'Last Night at Chateau Marmont' by Lauren WEISBERGER

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Heartbreak, headlines and Hermes - welcome to Brooke′s new world...
Brooke and Julian live a happy life in New York - she′s the breadwinner working two jobs and he′s the struggling musician husband. Then Julian is discovered by a Sony exec and becomes an overnight success - and their life changes for ever.

Soon they are moving in exclusive circles, dining at the glitziest restaurants, attending the most outrageous parties in town and jetting off to the trendiest hotspots in LA.
But Julian′s new-found fame means that Brooke must face the savage attentions of the ruthless paparazzi. And when a scandalous picture hits the front pages, Brooke′s world is turned upside down. Can her marriage survive the events of that fateful night at Chateau Marmont? It′s time for Brooke to decide if she′s going to sink or swim...

Brooke and Julian Alter are practically penniless and perfectly happy. Brooke works two jobs as a nutritionist at a New York ER, and as a consultant at a private girl’s school. Brooke works to support her musician husband, Julian. Julian is really talented, like a cuter John Mayer with the voice of an angel. And it’s only a matter of time until he hits the big time. Married for five years now, Brooke and Julian are the perfect couple – sickeningly in love, the envy of their single friends and living the bohemian dream in the Big Apple. Life is good. And then fame comes a callin’ and life starts to unravel...

Julian signs a big contract with Sony and drops a successful album. Suddenly Julian’s song is in the Billboard charts, his face is on billboards and he’s touring with Maroon 5. He plays a gig on the Jay Leno show and at the Grammy’s. It’s a whirlwind fame-game for Julian Alter, the hot new kid on the Holllywood block, and his ‘civilian’ wife Brooke can barely keep up.

And then come the rumours. Tabloid gossip. Internet speculation. And finally an incriminating photo taken at the infamous Chateau Marmont that will put Julian and Brooke to the test.

Lauren Weisberger is the ridiculously successful author of ‘The Devil Wears Prada’. In the past Weisberger has written about the fashion world’s seedy underbelly, lifted the curtain on Public Relations and revealed the warts on Manhattan marriage. In ‘Last Night at Chateau Marmont’ Weisberger goes for the celebrity jugular, revealing the ins and outs, ups and downs of the fame game... and it is so, so good.

Weisberger’s book has perfect timing. Released in the aftermath of Tiger Woods and Jesse James, it’s fair to say that society as a whole have been grotesquely fascinated with the dirty laundry of cheating celebrities. ‘Last Night at Chateau Marmont’ is like a voyeuristic trip behind the closed doors of the famous and fabulous, observing the nasty underbelly of the red carpet and the destructive secrets of celebrity.

The story is ultimately about 15 minutes of fame through the eyes of a ‘civilian’. Brooke Alter is on the outside looking in at the celebrity juggernaut. She is a wonderful down-to-earth heroine; a career-driven carer and devoted wife who truly believes in her husband’s brilliance. Brooke is such a good protagonist because she is so relatable; from struggling to pay the bills, working two jobs and ignoring friend’s criticisms of her bread-winning role in her marriage. Brooke is also the perfect vessel through which to observe the glitz and glam of Hollywood. When Julian’s career takes off, Brooke is literally swept up in the grandeur of his fame, left in the whirlwind of parties, publicists and tour schedules. It’s great to read about fame one-stepped removed from the flashbulbs – the story is much more interesting and closer to home through Brooke’s eyes as an unwilling observer. I loved reading her hilarious reactions to meeting Jon Bon Jovi, worrying about losing thousands of dollars worth of jewellery at the Grammy’s and being embarrassed by ‘baby bump’ rumours.
... which showed a paparazzi picture of Brooke grocery shopping at her neighbourhood Gristedes. Her belly looked flatter, no doubt, but that wasn’t what did the trick. In the photo she held a basket with bananas, a four-pack of yoghurt, a liter of Poland Spring, a bottle of Windex, and, apparently, a box of Tampax. The Pearl version, super absorbency, should the world be interested, and it was circled with a thick black marker and a caption that screamed ‘No baby for the Alters!’ as though the magazine, through some sort of savvy detective work, had really gotten to the bottom of the issue.
The first-half of the book is quite a giggle-fest, and I did find myself chortling at some of the celebrity antics and Weisberger’s asinine observations of the rich and famous;
“... Which leads us all to wonder: will JBro go the way of TomKat and keep the faith? Stay tuned...”
“Did I hear you correctly? Did you just say ‘JBro’?” Brooke asked, convinced he’d made that part up.
“Scientology!” Julian nearly shouted before Brooke shushed him. “They think we’re Scientologists!”
The second-half of the novel is a slow slide into the sad side of celebrity. Julian becomes the victim of tall-poppy syndrome, and Brooke has to hear rumours about her husband that may or may not be true. Although Weisberger is writing about a celebrity, and the potential melt-down of a marriage in the spotlight, the relationships hurdles that Brooke and Julian face are universal. Cheating and trust are not the exclusive property of celebrities, no matter how much their dirty laundry dominates headlines. Although Weisberger puts an interesting spin on things by making her characters famous, their problems are no less relatable for their infamy;
Bangs exhaled a final smoke ring and stamped her cigarette out in the sink. “They’re dead in the water,” she announced with the confidence of someone who’s seen everything, been everywhere, met everyone. “She’s sweet and mousy, and he’s a god. Gods and nurses don’t mix.”
The one problem I had with the book was Julian, or to be more precise; Brooke and Julian. I wanted a little more time devoted to their marriage and to catching a glimpse of the man before he became a celebrity. Because when Brooke starts hearing rumours about her husband, and eventually sees picture-proof of his indiscretions, I felt frustrated that she hadn’t called him out sooner. But of course, Brooke protests (to herself, friends and family) that she loves and trusts Julian that he isn’t that type of man. I feel like I would have believed this, and accepted Brooke’s hesitation whole-heartedly if I had read more evidence of the love between them. As it is, I was practically yelling at the page for Brooke to ‘open her eyes’ and ‘dump his ass’! Consequently, because I was so quick to demonize Julian, I would have appreciated more apologizing/grovelling from him.

Weisberger is writing ‘Chateau’ in the wake of Tiger Woods and Jesse James, and she references them and other celeb infidelities quite a bit. Because of this, as a reader, I did vilify Julian and his behaviour. It’s bound to happen with a lot of readers – those of us who do read trashy mags and gossip blogs and have formed opinions of these celebrities based on whisper and rumour. Those readers who are ‘Team Aniston’ and murmur ‘poor old Sandra Bullock’ will have a hard time reconciling with Julian’s character. I was reading Julian as the next Jesse James or David Letterman, casting him as the book’s villain. For that reason I wish Weisberger had written more compelling reasons for readers to root for him and Brooke, and to not be so quick to persecute Julian.

I also loved Weisberger’s name-dropping throughout the book. She writes about the celebrities who grace the corridors of Chateau Marmont, Brooke and Julian attend a ‘Friday Night Lights’ show party and hobnob at the Grammy’s. And Weisberger peppers these star-studded scenes with real-life celebs; everyone from Benecio Del Toro to Nicole Kidman and KidRock is mentioned. The name-dropping and famous locations give the book authenticity, and a certain ‘wow’ factor that pops on the page.

Lauren Weisberger has written yet another fabulous novel that takes the sheen off the glitz and glamour, this time revealing the seedy underbelly of celebrity. ‘Last Night at Chateau Marmont’ is a summer-read chick-lit extravaganza not to be missed.

4/5




Saturday, September 25, 2010

'Happy Hour at Casa Dracula' by Marta ACOSTA

From the BLURB:

Latina Ivy League grad Milagro de Los Santos can't find her place in the world or a man to go with it. Then one night, at a book party for her pretentious ex-boyfriend, she meets an oddly attractive man. After she is bitten while kissing him, she falls ill and is squirreled away to his family's estate to recover. Vampires don't exist in this day and age -- or do they? As Milagro falls for a fabulously inappropriate man, she finds herself caught between a family who has accepted her as one of their own and a shady organization that refuses to let the undead live and love in peace.

‘Happy Hour at Casa Dracula’ is the first book in Marta Acosta’s ‘Casa Dracula’ series... and it is fabulous!

Milagro is a writer down on her luck. Nothing has really gone Milagro ‘Mil’s’ way since becoming a graduate literati from F.U. university. And to highlight Mil’s string of failed jobs and failed boyfriends is her ex, Sebastian Beckett-Witherspoon. The man she loved and who abandoned her is launching his first novel and Mil has to endure his dazzling success and well-aged looks with head hung low.
While at the launch for Sebastian’s book Mil meets a suave gentleman with dove-grey eyes called Oswald. She is oddly and hotly drawn to Oswald, and that’s why the events that follow their encounter are so deplorably despicable. Oswald happened to cut his lip, and Milago accidentally fell on his mouth and ingested some of his blood... completely unhappy coincidence. Now Mialgro is being tailed by her ex, an insane vampire vigilante group is after her and Oswald’s odd-ball family insist she stay with them.

Why in the heck have I only just discovered this series? There are currently four books out; ‘Happy Hour’ was released in 2006. Honestly, I am kicking myself that it has taken me this long to discover these books!

‘Happy Hour’ reminded me of Molly Harper’s ‘Jane Jameson’... if Jane was Latina. Acosta and Harper have similar voices, in so far as they are both hysterically funny and incredibly distinctive. Also, both series hinder on the excessive likability of the heroine. The same way that Jane Jameson was self-deprecatingly witty and quick with pop-culture comebacks, Milagro is self-deprecatingly Latina and quick with fabulousness.

Milagro has just my kind of humour; her observations are precise hit-the-nail-on-the-head perfections that will leave you weeping for their absolute truth;
Instead I had my mother Regina, rats in the walls, and boyfriends who were like beach reads, momentary fun but nothing you’d ever bother to buy in hardcover. I worried that perhaps I, as a nonserious person, was only a beach read as well. I had just reread ‘Middlemarch’, and I had a deep and sincere desire to be a deep and sincere character.
I was also really impressed by Acosta’s writing of Milagro’s vampiric transformation. For all of Acosta’s belly-aching laugh lines, she is capable of going very dark and gothic when the vampirism mythology calls for it. When Milagro becomes infected with Oswald’s blood, she undergoes a physical transformation. Her heightened senses and delirium have her hearing morse code from the rats scurrying in her walls. Acosta can be utterly creepy and respectful of the vampire lore – and I loved her ability to balance the serious horror with heightened humour.

The story really starts when Milagro is invited to stay at Oswald’s family estate, while she recovers from her ‘infection’. From here the storyline veers into Oswald’s family history, the persecution of ‘vampires’ and where Milagro fits in this tight-knit community of bloodsuckers. It is also during this time that Milagro and Oswald’s romance heats up...

Even Acosta’s descriptions are melt-in-your-mouth lusciousness;
His polite smile was even and his light brown hair was brushed in an unsuccessful attempt to subdue the natural waves. His eyes were brown, too. Slim and neatly groomed, he looked like a really sexy mathematician unaware that he was a prime number.
As funny as Milagro is, Acosta has written her with real heart. A lot of Milagro’s observations are about being a brown girl in a predominately white (Swedish-looking) world. Milagro muses on being mistaken for wait staff at soirees and silently communicating via head-nod with fellow assimilated Latinas. Milagro’s observations on middle-class racism are never a main focus, but they are interesting side-observations made by Acosta that serve to make Milagro a fascinating woman.

As much as I absolutely and thoroughly loved ‘Happy Hour’, the ‘Casa’ series also seems to have similar pitfalls to ‘Jane Jameson’; in that the character’s strong voice doesn’t seem to leave much room for plot. By the end of ‘Happy Hour’ I did realize that not a whole lot technically happened. In the same way that ‘Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs’ was lite on story, ‘Happy Hour’ is similarly plot-lite. It’s not a deficiency while you’re reading, and to be honest Milagro is so funny and fabulous that I don’t really mind the lack of forward plot momentum. It is only when it comes to reviewing the book that I notice the overall storyline wasn’t terribly meaty. To be fair, ‘Happy Hour’ sets up plots for future books, and regardless of plottiness (what? It’s a word!...now) I will keep reading the series because Milagro is just so darn funny and I have fallen in lust with Acosta’s writing.

‘Happy Hour at Casa Dracula’ is a fine and fabulous first book in what promises to be a superb series. The heroine, Milagro, is positively divine and under Acosta’s talented pen her magnificence pops on the page. If you like ‘Jane Jameson’, if you appreciate heroines with strong voice and an author with a killer sense of humour then you need to read this book pronto!

4.5/5

Thursday, September 23, 2010

♥ GIVEAWAY ♥ Sookie Stackhouse 'Dead in the Family'


Hello darling readers!

Sooooo... I had a wonderful giveaway planned for later in the month when Charlaine Harris was coming to visit Melbourne. I was going to give away a signed copy of Sookie Stackhouse #10 'Dead in the Family' (with the fab HBO front cover!).

Sadly, Ms. Harris has suffered a death in the family (morosely ironic) and will not be making her Australian book tour. My condolences to Ms. Harris and her family...

... But I still have this (unsigned) book to give away. Now, I know that a book with Ms. Harris's autograph would have been a pretty spectacular prize, so how about I sweeten the deal? In lieu of Charlaine Harris's pretty scrawl, I will make this prize a three-book pack. I'll throw in a copy of Tricia Rayburn's 'Siren' and Lili St. Crow's 'Jealousy':


So, one person will win a copy of Sookie Stackhouse #10 'Dead in the Family' (with the HBO front cover... guys, it has Alexander Skarsgard on it!) 'Siren' by Tricia Rayburn and 'Jealousy' by Lili St. Crow:
All you have to do is:

♥ Become a follower of my blog (if you aren't already)

♥ Leave a comment on this post (with a way to contact you, e-mail addy is fine) - only ONE comment per entrant

♥ This is an INTERNATIONAL giveaway!

♥ Contest closes October 10th

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

'Heartbreaker' by Julie GARWOOD

From the BLURB:

In the still shadows of the confessional, a madman tauntingly reveals his plan for a murder he is going to commit, pulling Father Thomas Madden into a twisted game by disclosing his next intended victim: Tom's sister, Laurant. In a frantic race to protect her, Tom calls upon his best friend, elite FBI agent Nick Buchanan, to track the predator who is closing in on Laurant. Now, as an electrifying attraction grows between Laurant and Nick, so does the danger -- and one false move will cost both of them everything that matters.

I’m a really big fan of murder-mysteries. I love them. Karin Slaughter, Lee Child, Patricia Cornwell, Michael Connelly… I have a serious addiction. And I like to think that because of my love for all things ‘whodunnit?’ I am quite a discerning reader of the genre. I wasn’t too keen on reading Julie Garwood’s ‘Heartbreaker’ – mostly because before she started writing her ‘Buchanan-Renard’ series (currently with 7 books), Garwood was strictly known for her historical romances. But I thought I’d give it a shot.

I really liked the premise of a killer going to confessional in a bid to provoke the FBI to play ‘cat and mouse’ with him. And after reading the opening chapter I was thinking that my initial reluctance was unfounded. Garwood writes an incredibly chilling confessional scene between Father Tom and the killer;
“You’ve heard it all before? Is that it, Father?”
Before Tom could answer, the penitent whispered, “Hate the sin, not the sinner.”
The mocking had intensified. Tom stiffened. “Would you like to begin?”
“Yes,” the stranger replied. “Bless me, Father, for I will sin.”
Really great stuff. Unfortunately it all goes a little pear-shaped from there. The mystery takes a back seat to the romance between FBI agent Nick Buchanan and the woman he’s assigned to protect, Laurent Madden. This was what I was afraid would happen – that Garwood wouldn’t be able to balance out thriller and romance.

It didn’t help that Laurent was hard to like. She’s described as being utterly beautiful – so much so that when she was a teenager living in France she was offered a modelling contract. Nick is constantly commenting on the fact that anytime they are out in public people (but especially men) openly stare at her. In an attempt to make her somewhat tolerable, Garwood has given Laurent the quirk of being wholly unaware of her beauty and even a little bit sheepish when complimented on her looks.

And to top it all off Laurent is damn close to Saintly – she is kind to her elderly busybody neighbours, agrees to help the Abbott in his restoration of the church and doesn’t seem to have a grumpy bone in her body. To be honest, it’s all a little bit much. Especially her being unaware of her affect on men – the local High School ‘track’ team accompany her on her early morning runs (when she’s decked out in spandex) and she seems completely oblivious to their ulterior motives (even when one of the boys brings a donut breakfast along on his run). I know Garwood probably had the intention of combining Laurent’s beauty with total obliviousness in an attempt to endear her to female readers – but what she does instead is make Laurent a bit of a unattainable ‘princess’ and dull-witted to boot.

I think the romance happened a little too quickly. Laurent suddenly decides, in the middle of this FBI investigation in which she is the intended victim, that she loves Nick. There wasn’t really a lot of opportunity for them to fall in love and when Nick tries to tell Lauren that she is experiencing ‘transference’ (or just being grateful that he’s playing her saviour) she adamantly denies. But as a reader I was thinking the same thing as Nick and was never convinced otherwise.

It’s a shame that Garwood insisted that the romance take centre-stage in this ‘thriller’. The FBI/confessional plot really worked for me in the first chapter, but form there on it seems that Garwood preferred to stick to what she knows – romance.

I really liked Julie Garwood’s historical romance ‘The Bride’. I think that genre is her strength, and ‘Heartbreaker’ confirmed it for me.

1.5/5

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

'Possessions' series by Nancy HOLDER

Received from the Publisher

Series SYNOPSIS:


Lindsay is leaving San Diego and her troubles behind. Having recently suffered a mental breakdown, she is shipped to Northern California and the medicinal sun, sand and surf. She is enrolled in the prestigious Marlwood Academy for Girls and things start to look up.

But there is something strange brewing in the Marlwood Academy.... Lindsay’s roommate and new bestie, Julie, is hell-bent on joining the popular clique. Queen bee bad-girl, Mandy, is a vicious and vindictive High School ruler and one night Lindsay witnesses the impossible. Mandy and her minions perform a séance; their eyes turn black and they call on the spirits of the dead. The spirits come, and they possess.

The first two books in Nancy Holder’s ‘Possessions’ series are wonderful modern gothic YA reads. Don’t be fooled by the sunny California setting – Holder is writing thrilling horror that will have you shaking in your boots. The gothic horror in both ‘Possessions’ and ‘The Evil Within’ are what makes the novels stand-out. Holder draws on old mythologies and voodoos, writing séances, spirits and superstitions with a bone-chilling flourish. The best scenes involve the Marlwood girls being physically consumed by the spirits, their bodies overtaken and overrun by the dead;
“You took my love from me!” Belle shrieked. “And then you killed me! Damn you to hell, Celia Reaves! You killed me!”
As Celia stared into Belle’s black eyes blazing at her from Mandy’s face, she dropped the rock.
We dropped the rock. I dropped the rock.
Celia was squirming and shifting inside me, agonized and confused. I felt her. I was her.
The darkness of the books is emphasized by Lindsay’s social struggles. The bullying and pecking order of the High School is a different sort of darkness to the horror/fantasy, but still compelling for Holder’s sombre writing. Mandy and her ‘Mean Girls’ are grade-A bullies; horrible and vicious social-climbers who live by their clique. Mandy herself is a just the type of antagonist we love to hate – she is truly awful, but awfully good to read. Mandy’s character becomes all the more fascinating in ‘The Evil Within’ when her brother, Miles Winters, steps onto the scene and Holder writes a twisted sibling relationship for them.

I will say that the relationships in both books didn’t always work for me. Lindsay is very quick to claim her roomie, Julie, as her ‘best friend forever’. But their relationship was very quick and too underdeveloped for me to believe their BFF tag. The relationships that did work for me were of a more twisted nature – Mandy and Miles, and even Mandy and Lindsay. Holder has written a wonderful hero/villain dynamic for these two, and I felt every push and pull of their relationship. I also enjoyed reading the creepy coupling of Lindsay and Celia, her possessing ghost. These were the unconventional relationships that worked for me, as opposed to Holder’s attempt at the cookie-cutter connection between Linday and Julie.

I also really loved Lindsay. When the book opens she is in a very fragile mental state, and is very aware of her shortcomings and desperation to be ‘normal’. Throughout the books Lindsay is battling herself as much as outside forces, and I loved reading her struggles. I also liked the fact that she was often a clumsy heroine – she gets into sticky situations, makes dumb decisions and at times I wanted to scream at her. But she soldiers on. Even when she is terrified she gets up, dusts herself off and does the right thing. I love reading a protagonist (particularly in YA) who isn’t perfect, but rallies regardless.

Nancy Holder’s ‘Possessions’ series is a dark, gothic YA read. It’s a horror-ific series and I am thrilled to learn that a third book called ‘The Screaming Season’ will be released next year.

4/5

Monday, September 20, 2010

'No Such Thins As A Free Ride' Brandy Alexander Mystery #4 by Shelly FREDMAN

From the BLURB:

Puff piece reporter, Brandy Alexander, is determined to win the battle of self-improvement. She is eating better, (or at least telling people she is) working out (if sparring with a guy who fishes doughnuts out of the gutter and eats them counts) and checking her impulsive behavior at the door. But it's hard to stay on track when her own therapist gives her up as a lost cause. What's even harder for Brandy is turning down someone in trouble. Enter Crystal, a young teenage runaway whose friend, Star, has gone missing. Star was last seen getting into a mysterious stranger's car. In her efforts to reunite Crystal with Star, Brandy quickly becomes immersed in the dangerous subculture of homeless youth. As Brandy gets in over her head with hostile street gangs, pimps and others who prey upon the young teens, she looks to the tough and savvy Nicholas Santiago to help her navigate the mean streets. Soon, Brandy realizes that there is more behind Star's mysterious disappearance than she thought, and enlists the aid of ex-boyfriend, Detective Bobby DiCarlo, to help her solve an ever-growing tale of intrigue. Add to an already full plate planning her best friend's baby shower and nursing a broken heart, courtesy of Nick, and you've got the makings for the latest BRANDY ALEXANDER MYSTERY.

‘No Such Thing as a Free Ride’ is the fourth and latest in Shelly Fredman’s ‘Brandy Alexander’ mystery series. And I LOVED it!

In this instalment Brandy stumbles into the dark, depressing world of teen runaways. Having literally stumbled across a bleeding child in the middle of the street, Brandy becomes all consumed with finding out about the young woman. And in the process of investigating, Brandy discovers something rotten in the state of Philly... pregnant runaways found dead, miscarried babies missing and white collar paedophiles. And of course Brandy Alexander can’t let all of this go unpunished.

The mystery plot of ‘Free Ride’ is spectacular and superbly noir. This is perhaps the most uncomfortable but brilliantly sinister of all Fredman’s mystery plots. Teen runaways was always going to be an emotional subject for Brandy to explore, but I was shocked/awed by just how dark Fredman goes. It is at times an intensely sad and sore subject to read about – but by God, it’s good. The blackness of the story raises the stakes and amps up Brandy’s emotional upheaval. I did wonder how Brandy would play in this novel, considering that in ‘Free Lunch’ she had a sort of acknowledged peace with the horrors in her life. That being said, teen runaways were the perfect subject for Brandy to get caught up in, because it ensured that no matter what reconciliations she’d previously reached in her work, this new cause demanded more of her heart.

Brandy’s investigation into teen runaways sees her going toe-to-toe with pimps, alpha females and tough-talking street walkers. All together making for some wonderful (if heart-pumping) action scenes;
“Stand still you crazy son of a bitch,” he barked, which only made Alphonso rock harder.
Beyond them lay the kid, curled into a fetal position and rolling around in his own vomit. The whole tableu was like something out of a Quentin Tarantino movie, only without the fun background music.
The runaways also made for important characterization when Brandy learns that the subject is close to Nick Santiago’s heart. Nick, mystery man; wanted by the police, untouchable and a drool-worthy bad-boy... also, the love of Brandy’s life (even if he doesn’t return the feelings). Nick started out bugging me in this book, as all the male characters seem to. Fredman writes real, so her men will not be found spouting long romantic and revealing diatribes. Damn. Nick is the most mysterious and tight-lipped character in the book, but I love the fact that by contrast Brandy is very open (and persistent) in revealing her feelings.

Though Nick is at once closed-off in this book, his and Brandy’s romance is gooooooooood. So, so good. I don’t want to give anything away, but this is really a turning-point book for Brandy, especially in regards to Nick.

‘Free Ride’ is hands-down and without a doubt my favourite so far in Shelly Fredman’s ‘Brandy Alexander’ mystery series. The book ends on a slight cliff-hanger that has me chomping at the bit for book #5... But that’s okay, because ‘Free Ride’ is so darn noir-good and brilliant that I don’t mind a little cliff-diving.

5/5

Sunday, September 19, 2010

'No Such Thing As A Free Lunch' Brandy Alexander Mystery #3 by Shelly FREDMAN

From the BLURB:

It's the new year and puff piece reporter Brandy Alexander has the best of intentions to keep her life safe, sane and simple...but she is having one tough week! It seems that everyone at her new job at TV station WINN hates her--everyone except for co-worker Tamra Rhineholt. But when their budding friendship is cut short by Tamra's apparent suicide, Brandy suspects foul play and (against the protests of her friends and family) sets out to prove it. Soon Brandy is up to her neck in kidnappers, convicts and conspiracies--all the while battling her growing feelings for sexy mystery man, Nicholas Santiago. Of course the amorous advances of her hunky ex-boyfriend, Detective Robert DiCarlo complicate matters even more. Toss in a visit with her well meaning but overbearing parents, her total denial of her own emotional exhaustion and the free lunches she'd been promised but never quite materialize and you have the recipe for the newest Brandy Alexander mystery!

This is the third book in Shelly Fredman’s addictive cozy mystery series, Brandy Alexander.

The book starts very soon after the events of ‘No Such Thing as a Blind Date’, the book in which Brandy was kidnapped and shot in her side.

When ‘Free Lunch’ begins, Brandy is feeling the burn of her post-traumatic stress. She’s not sleeping, with night terrors keeping her wide awake. She’s jumping at every little sound and seeing danger in shadows. But Brandy is a good Catholic/Jewish girl and thinks that suppressing her issues is better than addressing them.
Adding to Brandy’s stress is her new job as puff-piece reporter (and ‘C-grade’ celebrity) for a local Philadelphia TV station. Brandy is outcast at work and struggling with her co-workers cold shoulders. Only one of Brandy’s colleagues is half-way decent to her, Tamra Rhineholt, a hard-nosed investigative reporter. But Brandy notices a change in Tamra’s temperament after the two have a disastrous lunch together. Tamra is jumpy and calling Brandy in the middle of the night with talk of a big story about to break... and then Tamra winds up dead. Police rule suicide, but Brandy suspects differently.
Still reeling from the events of ‘Blind Date’, Brandy jumps helter-skelter into yet another dangerous investigation that sees her snooping too close to the truth...

I *love* the ‘Brandy Alexander’ mystery series, and Fredman’s third outing hits the spot...

I love the fact that in this third book, Brandy is burnt out. She has been through so much, and whereas most cozy mystery authors would brush their amateur sleuth’s near-misses under the literary rug and throw them helter-skelter into yet another investigation, Fredman actually takes the time to examine Brandy’s fracturing psyche. A good portion of the book involves Brandy questioning her own sanity, and fighting her growing anxiety. Fredman doesn’t turn Brandy into a ‘Debbie downer’ by revealing her soft underbelly; she just succeeds in making Brandy all the more relatable and lovable. See, despite her night terrors and anxiety attacks, Brandy soldiers on. She gets to a point where she is *so* scared that she can do nothing but accept the fear and push through it. I was really cheering Brandy on in this book, for her loyalty to her dead co-worker, and also for overcoming her fear. Brave girl, admirable heroine.

Fair warning, Brandy’s romantic entanglements are infuriating in this third book.

The romantic pacing is a little bit off for me. Right when I want Brandy to pipe up and talk about her feelings, she remains silent. Or when Brandy/Bobby or Brandy/Nick *finally* decide to quit walking on egg-shells and have a heart-to-heart, they say too little. When it comes to relationship dialogue, Fredman seems to prefer scarce and pithy one-liners to long diatribes.... and I *hate* that! The perfect example is an exchange between Bobby and Brandy – a momentous event has just occurred between them and the character’s sum it up in five short lines of dialogue. GRRR! I know it’s realistic of Fredman to not have these character’s expunging every little feeling they have, and spouting Dr. Phil rhetoric... but damn, as a reader I just want to put them in a room together and encourage ‘open communication’!

One thing that really bugs me is Brandy’s disinclination to talk to Bobby about how much he hurt her four years ago. Bobby and Brandy were high school sweethearts, until Bobby broke up with Brandy and broke her heart four years ago. In the interim Brandy moved to LA and started a fluffy journalist career, and Bobby got a one-night-stand knocked up, resulting in his daughter, Sophia.
In the first book, ‘No Such Things as a Secret’, Brandy seemed to have healed the wounds of her past, and she acknowledged that she didn’t need to have a big all-out with Bobby over his past actions. But as a reader, *I* still need Brandy to address Bobby’s past pain. It just irks me that Brandy has never really gotten overtly angry at Bobby for casting her aside... especially when, in this third book, Bobby makes his amorous feelings of reconciliation plainly known;
“I've got to be honest with you, sweetheart, except for Sophia, my life has been shit these past few years.” Before I could say anything, he added, “I did it to myself, I know. And I screwed you over in the process. But the way I look at it, we’ve got a chance to start over. And this,” he said, pulling me toward him, “would be an excellent place to start.”
Once again, I know it’s Fredman erring on the side of realism, but by gosh I was gritting my teeth with the need to yell at Bobby on Brandy’s behalf...
I did that a few times while reading this book, in fact. Sometimes I got so emotionally involved in Brandy’s predicaments that I was literally sputtering through scenes. And how wonderful that a character can rouse that sort of vicarious-indignity in me. It’s a sign of a truly good author and lovable character when readers get so invested.

And then there’s the other man in Brandy’s life, Nick Santiago... .ahh. Nick, Nick, Nick. Once again, as a reader and Brandy-fan I was really on the edge of my seat trying to decipher Brandy and Nick’s changing emotions. I sort of love that Nick is such an enigma, to Brandy and readers alike. It’s up to us to discern and dissect his words and actions, motives and motivations. As a reader I don’t think I’m any closer to discerning Nick’s feelings... but Brandy is likewise none the wiser.
Nick has been very honest with Brandy, telling her that he doesn’t do monogamy and can offer nothing but friendship. Brandy has also seen first-hand evidence of Nick’s voracious love life, after painful encounters with a few of his lady friends.
If Fredman hadn’t done such a good job writing Nick as a sexy and mysterious ‘bad boy’ with a heart of gold fans might be frustrated with Brandy’s continual romantic martyrdom. But the thing is, Fredman has done such a fine job sculpting Nick into a drool-worthy darling that we *get* it. I may be concerned for Brandy’s feelings, and sometimes frustrated with Nick’s stone-walling emotions, but by golly I can’t fault Brandy’s hormones!

I still love the ‘Brandy Alexander’ mystery series, three books deep. Fredman just keeps getting better and better, and despite jaw-clenching romantic tensions I can’t wait to read what happens next in Brandy’s crazy, muddled (love)life.

4/5

Friday, September 17, 2010

‘Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception’ by Maggie STIEFVATER

From the BLURB:

Sixteen-year-old Deirdre Monaghan is a painfully shy but prodigiously gifted musician. She's about to find out she's also a cloverhand - one who can see faeries. Deirdre finds herself infatuated with a mysterious boy who enters her ordinary suburban life, seemingly out of thin air. Trouble is, the enigmatic and gorgeous Luke turns out to be a gallowglass - a soulless faerie assassin. An equally hunky - and equally dangerous - dark faerie soldier named Aodhan is also stalking Deirdre. Sworn enemies, Luke and Aodhan each have a deadly assignment from the Faerie Queen. Namely, kill Deirdre before her music captures the attention of the Fae and threatens the Queen's sovereignty. Caught in the crossfire with Deirdre is James, her wisecracking but loyal best friend. Deirdre had been wishing her life weren't so dull, but getting trapped in the middle of a centuries-old faerie war isn't exactly what she had in mind . . .

Deirdre is a sixteen-year-old genius harpist. She is about to take the stage for a student music competition when a young man (who happens to have featured in some of her most recent and interesting dreams) approaches her. Luke Dillon is golden and beautiful, he plays the flute as well as Deirdre plays the harp, and together they make sweet music.
Deirdre knows that there is something strange about Luke. She knows it is odd when she starts finding four-leaf clovers everywhere, and the smell of thyme hangs in the air. But Luke feels so much a part of her, like her life was just stalling until he came along...

But Deirdre cannot ignore the unordinary for long. Not when her Granna insists she wear iron jewellery and watch out for ‘Them’. Deirdre cannot ignore Luke’s mysterious riddles or the fact that he’s always looking over his shoulder. And pretty soon Deirdre will have to face the fact that Luke Dillon is a faerie Queen’s assassin, and he has been sent to kill her...

‘Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception’ is sublime.
I really shouldn’t be surprised that I loved this book, considering the fact that Stiefvater’s ‘Wolves of Mercy Falls’ is an all-time favourite YA series of mine. But I had put off reading Stiefvater’s 2008 debut novel in case it didn’t hold a candle to ‘Shiver’... but as it turns out, I had nothing to worry about.

‘Lament’ is a modern faerie-tale. Stiefvater draws on Shakespearean and folklore tales and beautifully weaves old-world mythology into this modern-day young adult novel.
This is what I love most about Stiefvater, and what she does in ‘Wolves of Mercy Falls’ she also brings to ‘Lament’... and that is effortlessly blending ancient fantasy with the modern day. Yes, ‘Lament’ has toadstool-dancing faeries, but at its heart the book is a love story about young lovers and their desperation to be together.

Deirdre is a child prodigy; a musical genius destined for great things. But deep down, she just wants to be ordinary. Deirdre doesn’t want to be loved for her potential; she wants to be loved as she is. Likewise, Luke is a character haunted by his past who wants to be judged and accepted based not on his previous actions, but current loyalties.
Luke Dillon is utterly fascinated by Deirdre and her hunger for ordinariness. Deirdre is dazzled by Luke’s quirkiness and his secrets... they are each other’s soul-mate. They strive to make the other a better, truer person – to be honest about who they are and what they care about.

That’s another thing I love about Stiefvater’s books – the fact that they are romances, made no less epic for their teenage protagonists. Luke and Deirdre have a very deep, passionate love affair that is entirely believable and beautiful. Stiefvater is a YA author who treats her readership with respect and grants her young hero’s the weightiness they deserve. Her teenage characters are their own saviours, and their romances are not based on naive ‘puppy-love’ but a truer, deeper connection.
Though his mouth was as hot as the hidden summer sun, I shivered and closed my eyes. My hands were crushed between us – I wouldn’t have known what to do with them anyway. He kissed me again, farther up my neck, and I pushed him back against the wall.
My mind searched for logical thought, a rational life raft before I drowned in wanting to kiss him. I managed, “We’ve only met a few days ago. We don’t know each other.”
Luke released me. “How long does it take to know someone?”
I didn’t know. “A month? A few months?” It sounded stupid to quantify it, especially when I didn’t want to believe my own reasoning.
The double-edged sword which could work against ‘Lament’ is its similarity to the ‘Wolves of Mercy Falls’ series. On the one hand, as a Stiefvater fan coming to ‘Lament’ via ‘Shiver’, it was a relief that this book captivated me as much as her latest series. But the storylines are somewhat similar. Young girl discovers magical world in her ordinary life, falling in love with a boy from that universe. Music has a special significance in both books, and the romances are somewhat similar for the quiet girl/extraordinary boy dynamic.
It might be nice to read a Maggie Stiefvater book that is unlike anything she has ever written... but at the same time I love her writing and style and that old adage of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ may apply.

‘Lament’ also reminded me (faintly) of Melissa Marr’s ‘Wicked Lovely’ series. The obvious connection being the faerie theme, as both books hark back to old-world mythology and sonnet and both Maggie Stiefvater and Melissa Marr write a very mature romance for their YA readers. But the similarities are superficial at best – the overarching plot is entirely different, and each series is distinctive for the writer’s vastly different prose style. Still, if you are a fan of Melissa Marr’s books then ‘Lament’ will probably hit the spot for you too...

I love Maggie Stiefvater’s ‘Wolves of Mercy Falls’ series. Her debut book ‘Lament’ is just as brilliant; a young adult literary feat that delights for the melting romance and Stiefvater’s charming style. A definite must-read for YA connoisseurs.

5/5

Thursday, September 16, 2010

'Juliet' by Anne FORTIER

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:


Twenty-five-year-old Julie Jacobs is heartbroken over the death of her beloved aunt Rose. But the shock goes even deeper when she learns that the woman who has been like a mother to her has left her entire estate to Julie's twin sister. The only thing Julie receives is a key - one carried by her mother on the day she herself died - to a safety-deposit box in Siena, Italy.

This key sends Julie on a journey that will change her life forever - a journey into the troubled past of her ancestor Giulietta Tolomei. In 1340, still reeling from the slaughter of her parents, Giulietta was smuggled into Siena, where she met a young man named Romeo. Their ill-fated love turned medieval Siena upside-down and went on to inspire generations of poets and artists, the story reaching its pinnacle in Shakespeare's famous tragedy.

But six centuries have a way of catching up to the present, and Julie gradually begins to discover that here, in this ancient city, the past and present are hard to tell apart. The deeper she delves into the history of Romeo and Giulietta, and the closer she gets to the treasure they allegedly left behind, the greater the danger surrounding her - superstitions, ancient hostilities, and personal vendettas. As Julie crosses paths with the descendants of the families involved in the unforgettable blood feud, she begins to fear that the notorious curse - 'A plague on both your houses!' - is still at work, and that she is destined to be its next target. Only someone like Romeo, it seems, could save her from this dreaded fate, but his story ended long ago. Or did it?

Anne Fortier’s debut novel came to me in the mail from the publisher. But it was a bitter sweet review from Diana Gabaldon that piqued my interest in this Shakespearian retelling...

There are two stories in one running through ‘Juliet’. The present-day story of Julie Jacobs and the 1340 story of Guilletta Tolomei, both set in Siena, Italy. Add into the mix a hidden treasure and family curse and it becomes clear that Anna Fortier is riffing off of the Bard’s story, not emulating it.

Present-day Julie Jacobs retells the story of Guilletta and her Romeo in first-person accounts as she reads family documents and uncovers centuries old mysteries. Julie’s first-person narration also navigates her own modern romance, but I’m reluctant to mention specifics. Remember that in the original ‘Romeo and Juliet’, Romeo was first smitten with Rosaline, and Juliet was promised to Paris...

The book is a whopping 496-page fare. And Fortier flips between the present-day and 1340 Sienna – the storyline is languid and unfurling, and reader’s will need to be somewhat patient. It is a worthwhile wait and in the meantime Fortier’s sedate pace takes readers on a trek through Italy; the beautiful, hot countryside and the bustling cities.

Shakespeare, even in today’s world of 140-character Twitter posts and ‘lol’ sms speak, is still heralded as a poet and artisan. So revered and sacred is the Bard that often his work is put on a pedestal. Rarely is it imitated for fear of doing him injustice.
I've got to hand it to Anne Fortier for dusting off the Shakespeare plays and sonnets, breathing modern romance into the age-old saga, and making the star-crossed lovers her very own. The writing does start out with a certain amount of pretence and pompousness...
“You always preferred the company of the moon.”
“Because I was living in eternal night! Surely, the moon must be the sovereign of a wretch who has never beheld the sun. But morning has broken, Father, draped in the golds and the reds of marriage, and it is the dawn of my soul!”
“But the sun retires,” reasoned Commandante Marescotti, “every night.”
“And I shall retire too!” Romeo clenched a fistful of arrows against his heart. “And leave the dark to owls and nightingales. I shall embrace the bright hours with industry, and prey no more on wholesome sleep.”
But at some point Fortier gets wrapped up in the plot and storyline, and shakes off the shackles of old-world rhetoric and just lets the story flow... and then it’s amazing. When Fortier isn’t too conscious of syntax-imitation, her writing beautifully melds modern and erstwhile, and she imbues her scenes and sentences with old-world romance.
Only when I began unbuttoning his shirt did he speak again. “Do you,” he asked, briefly stopping my hands, “believe in forever?”
I met his eyes, surprised at his sincerity. Holding up the eagle ring between us, I simply said, “Forever started a long time ago.”
A good portion of the story revolves around Julie’s feelings of inadequacy and lacking self-confidence. Her fraternal twin Janice is beautiful, confident, selfish and narcissistic. To a certain extent I empathized with Julie’s plight of being ‘the other sister’, second-string never quite good enough and always second place. But when Janice steps on the scene in the latter half of the book, it became glaringly obvious why there was so much fuss about her. Yes, she’s awful... but she’s also awfully fun to read. I’m not sure if Fortier intended Janice’s appeal to be ironic, when readers discover her hype is real, or if she wanted us to reject her fabulousness in light of Julie’s plight...? Hmmm.

You don’t have to be a Shakespeare aficionado to appreciate ‘Juliet’. Even those with basic high school knowledge of his works, or Baz Luhrmann adaptations, will appreciate and follow the story. And really, Fortier is writing the most famous of Shakespeare’s plays – who doesn’t know about the story of more woe, than that of Juliet and her Romeo?

And as to whether or not Fortier’s ‘Juliet’ has the happily ever after denied the original star-crossed lovers?... well, you’ll just have to read it and find out.

4/5