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Monday, February 28, 2011

'Chime' by Franny BILLINGSLEY

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Before Briony's stepmother died, she made sure Briony blamed herself for all the family's hardships. Now Briony has worn her guilt for so long it's become a second skin. She often escapes to the swamp, where she tells stories to the Old Ones, the spirits who haunt the marshes. But only witches can see the Old Ones, and in her village, witches are sentenced to death. Briony lives in fear her secret will be found out, even as she believes she deserves the worst kind of punishment.

Then Eldric comes along with his golden lion eyes and mane of tawny hair. He's as natural as the sun, and treats her as if she's extraordinary. And everything starts to change. As many secrets as Briony has been holding, there are secrets even she doesn't know.

Briony Larkin is a witch, her Stepmother said so. Briony was a wolfgirl who let her jealousies bubble with the swamp; she set fire to the library and bought floods into the home. Briony was a wicked witch child, but it was her twin sister Rose who paid for her crimes.

But now Briony’s Stepmother is dead, and her clergyman father has opened the house to a man-boy University tenant. Eldric comes from London and suddenly Briony isn’t so certain of her witchy-ways. Because Eldric uncovers the truth, and changes Briony’s life forever.

‘Chime’ is the latest children’s fantasy novel from Franny Billingsley.

The book opens with the chilling words from self-proclaimed witch, Briony Larkin;
I've confessed to everything and I'd like to be hanged.
Now, if you please.
But before her neck snaps, Briony wishes to tell her story. On the cusp of the twentieth century, in the small English town of Swampsea, Briony tells of the rampaging swamp cough that chokes the villagers. She explains about the Chime Child who searches for witches (red hair is a dead give-away), and the belief she has in her bewitching self.

Briony is quite the enigma. She is self-deprecating to a disturbing degree; constantly proclaiming guilt at the crimes for which she is at the end of the hangman’s noose. But she cares for her twin sister. Rose is described as ‘peculiar’ – she is concerned with colour, does not like strangers and will scream in B-flat when she is displeased. Briony keeps a weathered eye on Rose and her peculiarities – but inwardly Briony despises her care-taker role, and dreams of running away to France or Greece to get away from Rose and the unending guilt of her sister;
The unnatural wind is a perfect memory to stuff into your mind. It will make you remember you hurt Rose. It will make you remember the swings, the froth of petticoats, Rose’s screams – those knitting-needle screams, which even when Rose was only seven, sounded just as they do today.
You must remember so you can hate yourself. It’s been ten years, but you mustn’t let yourself forget what you owe Rose.
Franny Billingsley has written a twisted fairytale worthy of Tim Burton. This novel is a fantasy feast worthy of big-screen adaptation. ‘Chime’ may be a young adult book, but Billingsley’s sophisticated writing and iridescent imagery mean that more than just young readers will enjoy diving into Briony’s witchy tale.
“Witchcraft be a sin,” said the Chime Child, “but hanging an innocent, that be a sin too.”
‘Chime’ is no fairy-floss read, to be sure. Billingsley’s novel is full of lyricism and melt-in-your-mouth sentences, coiled around a suspicious plot and narrated by a self-hating protagonist who is reluctantly determined to spit out her story. While the opening-chapter is curious enough to warrant further reading, the following chapters seem hazy and the plot does not immediately present itself. Persevere – let yourself be carried along by Billingsley’s nuanced writing and Briony’s begrudging storytelling.

At one point, Briony ironically confesses to hating poetry:
A poem doesn’t come out and tell you what it has to say. It circles back on itself, eating its own tail and making you guess what it means.
Ironic, because this is precisely what Briony does. She leaves ends dangling, and frays her story. She makes mention of an accident which left her as Rose’s caretaker, and incidents connected to the Swampsea swamps that left no doubt in her mind that she is indeed a witch. This spiralling storytelling may frustrate some readers, but others will appreciate Billingsley’s lyrical journey and the unfurling dénouement.

‘Chime’ reads like a Guillermo del Toro film. Franny Billingsley has set fantastical characters against the muddy backdrop of an English swamp town. Our protagonist is a self-proclaimed witch, eager to see herself hung, but reluctant to tell her story before the short drop and sudden stop. This is a decadent young adult fairytale, to be consumed with patience and the unwavering trust in the author to tell her story in a round-about, beautiful way.

5/5

'Unearthly' winners


Congratulations to the following winners.

A copy of Cynthia Hand's fabulous new book is on its way!



tetewa

Skye (In The Good Books)

Thyra

Romy @ Lost.in.Stories

Marina

'Bound by Blood' Faustin Brothers #2 by Evie BYRNE

From the BLURB:

The damned will be sucking snow cones in hell before Gregor Faustin succumbs to love and marriage. Or so he thinks. Until he ploughs his BMW straight into destiny. Madelena, with her smart mouth and her luscious ass, her old-man wardrobe and pointed questions, affects him like no woman he's ever met. Gregor can't decide if he'd rather throttle her, suck every sweet drop of blood from her body, or lock her in a room and make love to her until they both die of exhaustion.

Maddy begs the man who ran her over to keep her out of the hospital. In answer, he heals her with a kiss that leaves her haunted by erotic, soul-stealing dreams. But she's got too many problems to risk what's left of her heart on any man.

Gregor would like nothing better than to pull his usual disappearing act, but he finds himself entangled with Maddy in a way that goes beyond obsession. By tasting a few precious drops of her blood, he's bound his life to hers. Now both their days are numbered.

Gregor is living the high life. He has been dubbed the Vampire King of New York – a cheeky title that the media love without realizing how close it hits to the truth. Gregor is the second eldest of the Faustin brothers; from the Russian vampyr family line. He runs a series of successful clubs, made famous for the fact that they cater to New York’s vampire population – a publicity cachet the clubbers love, and the vampyrs appreciate. Gregor has his pick of women, and is at the top of his game, so the last thing he needs is for fate to interrupt his life. But when you’re a Faustin vampyr, you have to listen when destiny speaks . . . or suffer the consequences.

Gregor is told the name of his intended bride – Madelena. But Gregor ignores the heads-up and continues on his partying ways . . . unsuspecting, until fate intervenes with a crash.

‘Bound by Blood’ is the second book in Evie Byrne’s ‘Faustin Brothers’ trilogy. Though it is the second book, the plot timing seems a little out-of-sync with first book ‘Called by Blood’. In this book, Alex is a rampant bachelor and is yet to meet his wife, Helena. So really, it would make more sense that ‘Bound’ be the first book in this trilogy, instead of the second ...

I am really liking Evie Byrne’s ‘Faustin’ trilogy. I love the fact that Byrne is writing a modern vampire tale – her characters are clued-up about vampiric myths and fanged pop-culture icons, but there’s also an old-world vibe. Each brother finds his bride through premonition – fated by their mother who has dreams of her future daughters-in-law. In ‘Called’ Alex was ecstatic to finally find his bride, partly because his older brother had recently settled so well into holy matrimony. But as we back-track, it’s revealed that Gregor in fact found fate to be rather inconvenient. I love that Byrne marries some old-world mysticism with modern inconvenience – a New York vampire club owner who is put-out by his destined bride. Hilarity ensues when fate intervenes, brutally.

In ‘Called by Blood’, Byrne took a very different romantic route – by severely burning her Alpha hero, and leaving him looking like raw hamburger meat. Byrne does it again in ‘Bound’, this time posing a difficult dilemma before the heroine. I won’t give it away, but I really liked the hurdle before Gregor and Madelena, if only because it completely turned the tables on the traditional vampire/mortal romance.

But this is still a vampire *romance* - and the heat between the characters is the big draw-card of the book;
He turned her over for a kiss. Though Maddy would have sworn she didn’t even have the strength to pucker, she found herself moulding her body to his, smoothing her palms up his strong back, egging him on, and falling far, far down in a kiss without bottom.
When they came up for air, she gasped, “Damn! I love doing that. Who taught you to kiss, Faustin?”
“You did.” He ran a finger over her lips, his blue eyes soft and searching. “I can’t remember kissing anyone else.”
I like Evie Byrne’s paranormal romance. Once again, I wish the book had been longer, mostly because I think the really interesting part of the story would have come in the aftermath of the romance. But again, wishing a book to be longer is a fairly decent complaint.

4/5

Saturday, February 26, 2011

'Called by Blood' Faustin Brothers #1 by Evie BYRNE

From the BLURB:

Alexander Faustin has always wanted to be human. Even though he comes
from a family of powerful vampires, he's fascinated with the daylight world. Maybe that's why destiny gave him a human mate.

It's not like Helena to make out with a stranger on her front porch, much less invite him into her bed. Somehow Alex makes her feel safe, even while he's dismantling her defenses. But in the wake of a terrifying accident, her faith in him is shattered.

Alex must regain Helena's trust and persuade her it's possible to love a monster. To do this, Alex must first learn to embrace his true nature. Unfortunately, he has to make this voyage of self-discovery while dodging the sheriff's department, the Rocky Mountain sunshine, and one very pissed off elk. But there's no turning back, because if Alex can't convince Helena to love him, he'll never love again.

Alex Faustin knows who is destined wife is; now he just has to convince her she’s his one.

Alex is the youngest brother in the Faustin family – an old and respected Russian vampyr line. Alex’s mother and father still adhere to the Old Ways, including the absolute belief in dream premonitions of their son’s future wives. Alex is the first Faustian to be fated with a wife . . . the only thing is she lives in Colorado and will take a little convincing (of Alex’s love for her, their bond and the truth about vampires).

It’s true; there are some bad vampire love stories out there. But Evie Byrne’s first book in the ‘Faustin Brothers’ trilogy isn’t one of them. To be honest, ‘Called by Blood’ isn’t reinventing the fang – there’s a mortal love interest, a rich and powerful vampiric family and a lot of smexing going on. But Byrne’s series is oddly delightful, regardless of the well-trod territory.

One of the great things about this book is Byrne’s tongue-in-cheek humour. Alex Faustin lives in modern-day New York and his ‘mate’ is Helena, a modern woman. These people know about vampires – the movies, myths and romantic ridiculousness – and as a result, Byrne draws on many references and pokes fun at many a legend. I liked her vampiric brevity – it was refreshing, without denouncing all the typical vampire/mortal problems.

This novel is very sexy, first and foremost. It’s from Samhain Publishing – a notoriously hot publisher. But ‘Called by Blood’ has a surprisingly veering plot; when the rich and handsome Alex is burnt by the sun and spends a portion of the book resembling Freddy Krueger. That’s right, a vampire love story in which the smoking-hot dead dude looks nasty and blistered for much of the book. It means that Alex and Helena have to connect on a personal level before a physical one . . . but when they do get physical, Byrne brings the goods (while still keeping things light and funny);
She twisted around to look at him, going serious all of a sudden. “Is this how you always have sex?”
“How’s that?”
“Like a crazed, bloodthirsty rabbit.”
He cupped one of her breasts, just to watch her eyes lose focus. “I've been crazed and I'm always bloodthirsty, but I've never wanted another rabbit like I want you.”
My one small complaint about the book was the abrupt ending – I really would have liked another 100 pages or so. Since this is the ‘Faustin Brothers’ trilogy it would have been nice to meet all of the Faustin brothers and get a sense of the family dynamic (as it is, we only meet oldest brother, Mikhail). And with an extra 100 pages we may have been able to read about Helena assimilating to vampirism and New York. But that’s a small and complimentary complaint about wanting more, more, more from Evie Byrne’s wonderful novel!

4.5/5

Thursday, February 24, 2011

'Iron Crowned' Dark Swan #3 by Richelle MEAD

From the BLURB:

Shaman-for-hire Eugenie Markham is the best at banishing entities trespassing in the mortal realm. But as the Thorn Land’s queen, she’s fast running out of ways to end the brutal war devastating her kingdom. Her only hope: the Iron Crown, a legendary object even the most powerful gentry fear…

Who Eugenie can trust is the hardest part. Fairy king Dorian has his own agenda for aiding her search. And Kiyo, her shape-shifter ex-boyfriend, has every reason to betray her along the way. To control the Crown’s ever-consuming powers, Eugenie will have to confront an unimaginable temptation--one that will put her soul and the fate of two worlds in mortal peril…

** WARNING: this review contains spoilers of ‘Thorn Queen’ **

Eugenie is in the midst of a heated fae battle. Following her kidnapping and rape by Queen Katrice’s son, Eugenie and her lover King Dorian have entered into an all-out war. Kingdom fighting kingdom, people forced out of their homes and countless deaths rest on Eugenie’s shoulders . . . there seems to be no end in sight. Until mention of the Iron Crown.

The Iron Crown is worn by the strongest and most fearsome shining ones. Only determined and deserving warriors can wear the crown and conquer lands. But can Eugenie use the Iron Crown to bring peace and put an end to the war she started?

I love Richelle Mead. Straight-up, no lie, I would read her shopping list if it came out in paperback. I adore ‘Vampire Academy’ and salivate at the very mention of ‘Georgina Kincaid’. But I have an especially warm spot in my heart for her ‘Dark Swan: Eugenie Markham’ series. I think that ‘Dark Swan’ is the most underappreciated and poorly advertised of Mead’s series. Case in point; we haven’t had a ‘Dark Swan’ novel since 2009, despite Mead telling fans that ‘Iron Crowned’ was completed in 2010. The delayed release was purely because the final ‘Vampire Academy’ book came out in 2010, as well as fifth (and much-anticipated) ‘Georgina Kincaid’ book. Mead’s publishers thought that ‘Dark Swan’ would be swept under the rug and denied proper hoopla up against ‘VA’ and ‘Georgina’. And it’s not right! Because anyone who loves Richelle Mead is guaranteed to adore ‘Dark Swan’. It has everything that makes a Richelle Mead series so compelling and addictive – strong heroine, love triangle and twisted fates.

A lot happened in ‘Thorn Queen’. Dorian killed Leith after he kidnapped and raped Eugenie. Eugenie and Dorian finally stopped their lustful tango and became lovers. Eugenie seemed to finally accept the responsibilities that came with being Queen of the Thorn Lands . . . despite a war looming. Richelle Mead definitely had a lot of plot-points to untangle and investigate . . .

It’s hard to go into a lot of detail about the ins and outs of the storyline without giving away HUGE spoilers that would wreck the reading of ‘Iron Crowned’. But I can say that Richelle Mead was right (and kind) when she warned fans that there would be a few bumps in Eugenie’s road . . . as all Mead fans know, she is one author who loves to write messy situations for her characters to wallow in. Eugenie is no different from Rose and Georgina – ‘Iron Crowned’ is the turning point for Eugenie. It comes in all of Mead’s books – an instalment which throws the heroine into turmoil and changes the entire discourse of the series. Such is ‘Iron Crowned’.
“You need to find the Iron Crown.”
“The what?”
“The Iron Crown.”
She said it in a grand, ominous way . . . one that really deserved an echo chamber to give it its full effect.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll bite. What’s the Iron Crown?”
“An ancient artefact. One worn by the greatest, most powerful leaders in the shining ones’ history. Leaders feared by all, who ruled many kingdoms.”
I will say that attentive fans will be able to figure out a few of Mead’s curve-balls . . . but only because Mead revels in writing complicated fates for her characters. She writes tall-order prophecies for practically all of her heroines, and then delights in teasing and tripping fans up when it comes to fulfilling the foretelling.

There were a few times when reading ‘Iron Crowned’ that I had to grit my teeth and persevere. Eugenie does stupid things, and makes stupid mistakes (not least of all where her love life is concerned). But this is all part of why I love Richelle Mead so much. Her characters are not perfect, as much as fate plays a fickle game with their lives, her characters also get themselves into awful situations brought about by their own ignorance and fear . . . Eugenie is no different. She is fallible and all the more interesting for it. That being said . . . **SPOILER highlight to read ** Oh wow. I hate Kiyo. I looooove Dorian, but hate Kiyo. It was hard to read Eugenie’s betrayal and break-up with Dorian. . . made all the worse when she ran into Kiyo’s arms. Grr. The only reason this book isn't getting full-marks from me. I felt like Eugenie acted too hastily in dumping Dorian. It did seem like a somewhat contrite way to put a spanner in Eugenie's works. ** end SPOILER **

Richelle Mead is the best of the best. She is one of the stars of the urban fantasy genre, and ‘Dark Swan’ is among her masterpieces. This is one under-appreciated, fantastical series. Eugenie is an imperfect protagonist who is living in the eye of the storm caused by an ancient prophecy. ‘Iron Crowned’ is full of twists and turns – some you’ll see coming, others will knock you out . . . be prepared for Mead’s trademark brilliance.

4.5/5

'This Side of the Grave' Night Huntress #5 by Jeaniene FROST

From the BLURB:

Danger waits on both sides of the grave.

Half-vampire Cat Crawfield and her vampire husband Bones have fought for their lives, as well as for their relationship. But just when they've triumphed over the latest battle, Cat's new and unexpected abilities threaten to upset a long-standing balance . . .

With the mysterious disappearance of vampires, rumors abound that a species war is brewing. A zealot is inciting tensions between the vampires and ghouls, and if these two powerful groups clash, innocent mortals could become collateral damage. Now Cat and Bones are forced to seek help from a dangerous "ally"—the ghoul queen of New Orleans herself. But the price of her assistance may prove more treacherous than even the threat of a supernatural war . . . to say nothing of the repercussions Cat never imagined.

A war is brewing . . . one that could potentially wreak havoc and destruction across the supernatural playing field.

Vampire VS. Ghoul

Undead VS Undead

And Cat is at the centre of it all. Her new vampiric powers are potentially all-consuming and powerful, and she has the ghoulish world running scared.

‘This Side of the Grade’ is the fifth book in Jeaniene Frost’s ‘Night Huntress’ series.

The new ‘Night Huntress’ book is always a much-anticipated release. Fans salivate in anticipation of the new Cat and Bones instalment and countdown months, weeks and days until they can get their hands on this hot little paranormal. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in love with this book.

It’s really hard to pin-point precisely what didn’t work for me, but I think it has to do with lack of romantic tension.

One of the great things about this series is the cemented romance between Cat and Bones. ‘Night Huntress’ is unique for the fact that Frost put the ‘will-they-or-won’t-they’ technique to bed and gave fans an ongoing, committed relationship between her protagonists. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Cat and Bones being together and loved up. Heck, I have re-read Chapter 32 hundreds of times (who hasn’t?) but I like it when there’s tension between these two. I love it when Frost places a hurdle before their relationship – because even though Cat and Bones are together, and their love is the only sure thing in the ‘Night Huntress’ series, I loves me some tension between them!

In the past Cat and Bones have been torn apart by a secret government organization, Cat’s jealousy over Annette and Gregor’s obsession with Cat. But in ‘This Side of the Grave’ Cat and Bones are (unfortunately) stable and in a good place, romantically. There’s no real strain on their romance, no outside parties igniting jealousy or inner-demons inciting discontent. They’re just happy. And that’s great . . . but a little boring to read. I didn’t even find Chapter 21 to be overly steamy, despite many a reviewer comparing it to 32 of ‘One Foot in the Grave’. I'm sorry; I just needed a little more spark between Cat and Bones; I would have appreciated an appearance from Annette, or more flirting from Tate. Anything!

A big focus in ‘This Side of the Grave’ is on the changes Cat has undergone since being turned into a full vampire by Bones. Frost has written some very complicated changes for Cat to overcome and keep under wraps – to mention them would be to give away some big spoilers . . . suffice to say, these physical advancements will have a big impact on Cat and the entire trajectory of the series. I can’t wait!
I wished there was a better way. There wasn’t, of course. Not when it came to the undead, and if things had to get messy to stop a potential ghoul uprising . . . well, just call me Hannibal Lecter. With cleavage.
I appreciated reading some old fan favorites in this fifth book. Tate and Juan haven’t really been a big presence for a few books now – but I was thrilled to read them come back into Cat’s life. It was also nice to read a ‘guest-appearance’ from Kira and Mencheres, fresh from their book ‘Eternal Kiss of Darkness’. I'm a big Mencheres fan, and I loved reading him being loved up and gushy! But best of all was Vlad. He has a fairly big role in this book, and some brilliant interactions with Cat. I think Frost is gearing up for her two Vlad spin-off books . . . and after reading his appearance in ‘This Side’, I can’t wait for Vlad to take centre stage! Of course, I still have my fingers crossed for Ian, Tate and Juan spin-off books too...

‘This Side of the Grave’ was an enjoyable (and much anticipated) ‘Night Huntress’ addition. It wasn’t my favourite, but I like where Frost has taken Cat’s character and the reappearance of fan favourites to the storyline. I would have liked more romantic tension between Cat and Bones, to keep things spicy, but I realize that it’s an odd complaint when the protagonist’s cemented relationship is one of the big pluses of this series. Go figure.

3.5/5

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

'To the Moon and Back' by Jill MANSELL

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

When Ellie Kendall tragically loses her husband she feels her life is over. But eventually she’s ready for a new start at work, that is. She doesn’t need a new man when she has a certain secret visitor to keep her company...

Zack McLaren seems to have it all, but the girl he can’t stop thinking about won t give him a second glance. If only she d pay him the same attention she lavishes on his dog.

Moving to North London, Ellie meets neighbour Roo who has a secret of her own. Can the girls sort out their lives? Guilt is a powerful emotion, but a lot can happen in a year in Primrose Hill...

Ellie Kendall lost it all when her beloved husband, Jamie, died in a car accident. She lost the love of her life; all the memories and plans and growing old together vanished in a heartbeat. Her co-workers, friends and family started treating her differently, walking on eggshells and constantly apologizing for her heartbreak. Ellie may have even lost her sanity – because occasionally she still talks to Jamie (and sometimes he talks back). But all that is going to change now. It has been a year and a half since Jamie passed away, and Ellie needs a change.

She quits her job and moves into a sweet little apartment in Primrose Hill, courtesy of her father-in-law and movie star, Tony Weston. Ellie befriends her next-door-neighbour and ex-celebrity, ‘Daisy Deeva’ aka ‘Roo’. And Ellie reconnects with her and Jamie’s old friend, Todd. And finally, through luck, chance and Roo, Ellie scores a job as assistant to entrepreneur Zack McLaren. Zack may be drool-worthy, but he has a girlfriend and Ellie isn’t quite ready to jump back on that bandwagon . . . unfortunately for Zack.

‘To the Moon and Back’ is the new novel from contemporary romance author, Jill Mansell.

I have a confession to make, one I am quite ashamed of . . . this is my first Jill Mansell book. I know, I know! It’s atrocious. She is one author who has been recommended to me again and again but I've never got around to reading her, until now. And I've got to say – she was worth the wait.

Jill Mansell is the literary equivalent of Richard Curtis. She writes quaint little British romances that appear quite sweet and innocent, but pack an emotional punch and leave you with a swirl of emotions – from outright giggles to pathetic blubbering.

‘To the Moon and Back’ is a novel about losing love, and the myriad of ways that people cope with the fallout. Mansell writes an interesting cast of characters, all of whom have a trail leading back to Ellie Kendall.

There’s Roo, Ellie’s hopeless next-door-neighbour and new friend. Roo has started seeing the perfect guy – handsome, funny and good in bed. Except he’s married, a fact which won’t stop Roo from falling in love with him.

Tony Weston is Ellie’s father-in-law. He also happens to be a movie star; one of the few ex-pat Poms to have made it big in Hollywood. Ellie and Tony are keeping each other afloat since Jamie’s sudden death – they’re a tight unit bought together by their love for Jamie and caught asunder by their grief. Just as Ellie starts moving on with her life, Tony meets someone new, and he has never felt such an instant connection. Fifty-five is never too late to find true love.

Zack McLaren is a prominent London businessman who employs Ellie as his new PA. It’s thoroughly inappropriate and he feels awful; but Zack has the biggest crush on Ellie, from the moment he lays eyes on her. But Zack has a girlfriend. And inter-office relations are really quite inappropriate . . . especially when he can’t figure out of Ellie is dating the movie star Tony Weston and living in his Primrose Hill love nest?

And finally, Ellie Kendall has a hole in heart where Jamie should be. They were soul-mates, and they didn’t have enough time together. I loved Ellie best of all – she’s coping terribly with the loss of her husband, but she soldiers on with wry wit and the dogged determination that tomorrow will be better, easier. But in the meantime, Ellie has conversations with imaginary Jamie. . . she knows it’s crazy and deluded, but she misses him and she can’t stop conjuring him. Through these exchanges we can see how well Ellie and Jamie fit together. Their banter (even if it is all in Ellie’s head) is funny and ingrained with years of ‘in-jokes’ that reveal that these two were best friends as well as lovers.

Fair warning – you will cry. Ellie’s story is sad and tragic, made all the worse by the fact that she can’t see the good thing that’s right around the corner. Zack pines for Ellie while she goes out on bungled dates and tries to get on with her life and love life (much to Zack’s chagrin).
Ellie’s voice cracked as she struggled to maintain control. “I really miss all that stupid stuff. And the thing is, we had a camcorder and we used to record all the good times on film, but it never occurred to us that we should be recording the strops and the arguments because one of us might die soon and the other one might want to sit down and watch them again.” She stopped and took a deep breath. “Sorry, just ignore me. Stupid, isn’t it? And I'm lucky really, because hundreds of years ago people didn’t have photos or camcorders so if someone died they didn’t have any way of remembering them, except in their heads.”
Zack so badly wanted to make her feel better. “When it’s someone like that, someone important, you never forget them.”
“Probably not.” Ellie shrugged. “But I worry that I will.”
I loved Ellie and Zack. Mansell has all the perfect romantic ingredients – unrequited love, pining and tragedy, and always with that dry British wit to carry these two characters through their struggles.

‘To the Moon and Back’ is a sweet contemporary romance, and Mansell’s writing is reverently tender as she explores these flawed characters. She writes complicated and messy people that live in the gray areas. She explores adultery from many different angles and perspectives; sometimes the cheating is reprehensible and unforgiveable, but in other situations the faithlessness has an explanation. She also explores the inability of people to move on, and all the various triggers and prompts that people need in order to put the past to rest and break free.

Jill Mansell’s ‘To the Moon and Back’ is superb. It’s a book of high emotion – you will cry, and laugh and you will be torn in two by the various moral conundrums these characters face. But at the end of the day this is a feel-good slice of British humour wonderfully coloured by Mansell’s tender romance about moving on and finding love after heartbreak.

5/5

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

'7 Souls' by Barnabas MILLER & Jordan ORLANDO

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

When popular schoolgirl Mary wakes up on her seventeenth birthday she is shocked to find herself naked with scratches down her back in a sofa warehouse in downtown Manhattan and a street full of people staring up at her. What on earth was she doing the night before? This isn't like the usual hangover. The day gets progressively weirder from there. At school, no one treats her like the popular girl she's always been. Her boyfriend drops her for no reason. Everyone is behaving strangely. Mary finds herself in a wildly confusing world that keeps getting stranger and scarier. Eventually, she inhabits the bodies of seven people who were close to her, and finds out just what each of them thought of her -- and it isn't pretty.

Mary Shayne wakes up on the day of her birthday, butt-naked, in the display window of a Soho furniture store. Not the best start to the day. . . but things only get worse and weirder from there. Mary has no memory of the last 24 hours. She has mysterious scratches on her back. Her boyfriend has just dumped her and her Upper East Side best friends are completely blanking that today is her birthday. Her pudgy study-buddy is screaming at her that she’s in mortal danger, and her little sister’s scruffy best friend is asking her out on dates.

Mary’s perfect world is spiralling out of control. She is experiencing the worst day of her life and learning some uncomfortable truths. Things like this shouldn’t happen to girls like Mary. She’s beautiful and popular and all the boys want her and all the girls want to be her.

Only one thing is certain on this day of days; Mary Shayne is about to have one killer birthday.

I was surprisingly enraptured by this book from writing team Barnabas Miller and Jordan Orlando. I will warn that the book is deliberately hectic and confusing – hieroglyphics on the cover and a strange opening quote about the powers of death and the powers of life. All of these supernatural clues seem at odds with the opening chapter of party-girl Mary waking up from an all-night-bender . . . all I can say is ‘persevere’.

Miller and Orlando layer mystery upon conundrum and keep Mary spiralling out of control ... ‘7 Souls’ is constantly set at a fast and frenzied pace, and it’s brilliant. The helter-skelter plot and constant confusion actually lend a lot of heightened feeling and delicious tension to the book. So even while you’re scratching your head and wondering where the storyline is going, you can’t help but be sucked in and strung along for the duration. . .

At first the novel seems to be all about teen angst as the perfectly popular princess, Mary, learns a thing or two about being knocked off her pedestal. . . The novel is set in New York and Mary’s clique is the requisite Upper East Side darlings; her penthouse boyfriend and designer-clad besties.

But then things take a turn for the weird . . . Mary takes the old adage ‘walk a mile in someone else’s shoes’ to heart, with disastrous consequences.
Mary was crying again. “It’s the worst day of my life; it’s sucked since the moment I woke up. Everyone’s been out to get me, all day!”
“You sound paranoid,” Dylan said. He was shaking his head, looking more confused with each passing second. “There can’t be – ”
“I'm not paranoid!” Mary yelled. Her throat ached with the strain.
I am in gob-smacked awe at Miller and Orlando’s twisted plot. I spent the whole book trying to guess what was around the corner and the ‘whodunit’ mystery at the centre of it all. I was not prepared. I wasn’t even close to figuring it all out . . .

‘7 Souls’ is a cross between ‘Gossip Girl’, ‘Scream’ and ‘Jawbreaker’. This is a paranormal tale with a strong moral compass. Mary is the perfect protagonist and somewhat unreliable narrator – she’s a girl with a lesson to learn (even if she has to choke on her comeuppance). You will never guess the ending to this twisted tale, but you’ll love picking apart the pieces of the puzzle.

5/5

Monday, February 21, 2011

'The Zero Dog War' Zero Dog Missions #1 by Keith MELTON

From the BLURB:

After accidentally blowing up both a client facility and a cushy city contract in the same day, pyromancer and mercenary captain Andrea Walker is scrambling to save her Zero Dogs. A team including (but not limited to) a sexually repressed succubus, a werewolf with a thing for health food, a sarcastic tank driver/aspiring romance novelist, a three-hundred-pound calico cat, and a massive demon who really loves to blow stuff up.

With the bankruptcy vultures circling, Homeland Security throws her a high-paying, short-term contract even the Zero Dogs can’t screw up: destroy a capitalist necromancer bent on dominating the gelatin industry with an all-zombie workforce. The catch? She has to take on Special Forces Captain Jake Sanders, a man who threatens both the existence of the team and Andrea’s deliberate avoidance of romantic entanglements.

As Andrea strains to hold her dysfunctional team together long enough to derail the corporate zombie apocalypse, the prospect of getting her heart run over by a tank tread is the least of her worries. The government never does anything without an ulterior motive. Jake could be the key to success…or just another bad day at the office for the Zeroes.

Warning: Contains explicit language, intense action and violence, rampaging zombie hordes, a heroine with an attitude and flamethrower, Special Forces commandos, ninjas, apocalyptic necromancer capitalist machinations, absurd parody and mayhem, self-deluded humour, irreverence, geek humour, mutant cats, low-brow comedy, and banana-kiwi-flavored gelatin.

‘The Zero Dog War’ is the first book in a new paranormal-action series from Keith Melton.

The Zero Dogs are a bunch of paranormal mercenaries. There’s the permanently horny werewolf, Rafe. Shy succubus Tiffany. Wannabe ninja, Hanzo. Furry-demon lover, Mai. Demonic ‘Sarge’ and emotionally stunted empathy, Gavin. This rag-tag team of supernatural’s is lead by pryomancer, Captain Andrea Walker. It’s up to Andrea to keep this team in one-piece, a task that is becoming increasingly difficult when funds start dwindling.

Just when it looks like Andrea and the team are on their last round of bullets, the perfect job comes their way. A government-funded task to dispense of a maniac necromancer whose trying for world-domination through gelatine-making-zombies. But there’s a FUBAR-catch... The Zero Dogs have to welcome a green beret by the name of Captain Jake Sanders into the team. The Dogs don’t really play well with others – especially not stuck-up Army brats like Jake. Andrea is finding it especially difficult to welcome Jake into the fold, because all she wants to do is get hot n’ steamy with his green-beret-butt.

But there is a zombie herd to destroy and jell-O to blow-up. Just another Dog Day...

I loved this book! It’s like ‘The Expendables’ meets ‘Supernatural’ in a raucously riotous thrill-ride. Keith Melton writes an absurd mix of heavy-duty action and hilarious quips.

The book is told from Andrea’s perspective, as well as evil necromancer overlord, Jeremiah. Normally I dislike dual-perspectives, especially when one is from the villain. But Keith Melton has written such a balls-out funny villain in Jeremiah that I welcomed the narrative shift. Jeremiah was hilarious as an evil overlord who employs a PR person to help with his world take-over and image problem (but who denies him sexy ninja nurses as his bodyguard team).

Andrea was an equally amusing narrator. She’s one tough chick who rocks combat boots but dreams of Jimmy Choo’s. She loves her team and would do anything to keep them safe and in fatigues. Her world is rocked by the appearance of Captain Jake Sanders, a man who inspires lusty day-dreams and commandment insecurities. I liked the idea of Andrea and Jake . . . but I didn’t read enough sexual tension between them. I wish that Melton had written more scenes for them, because the ‘daydream’ to ‘actual interaction’ ratio was a little out of whack for me. I thought there was too much of Andrea thinking about Jake, and not enough of her and Jake actually exchanging heated quips and lusty banter. But that’s my only small complaint in a whole book of awesome.

Without a doubt the best thing about the new ‘Zero Dog Missions’ series is the cast of maniacally quirky characters. By themselves this cast of supernatural misfits would be hilarious – shy succubus, horny werewolf and douche-bag empathy . . . but Melton has made them even cooler and funnier by having them blow stuff up and have the fate of the world in their hands. Surprisingly awesome;
“All right, people, listen up.” My voice whip-cracked with command, and that made me pretty damn proud of myself. “Somebody’s fucking with us, and the Zero Dogs don’t take that shit.”
“That’s right,” Rafe growled. “I do the fucking around here.”
“And I do the fucking around, around here,” Gavin added.
Holy goddamned Glorious Reformed Churhc of Cthulhu, somebody kill me now. The localized zombie apocalypse was upon us and I had to deal with this. I should’ve gone to law school like Mother wanted.
I cannot wait for more books in the ‘Zero Dog Missions’ series. I really hope that the next instalment focuses on Rafe, and his search for his werewolf mate (a search that requires he be naked as much as possible). ‘Zero Dog War’ is one of the best new supernatural books I have read in a long time – explosions, jell-O, zombies and a permanently naked werewolf – a whole lot of LOL awesomeness.

4/5

Sunday, February 20, 2011

'Patience' Passion Quarter #2 by Lisa VALDEZ

From the BLURB:

A WOMAN CALLED PATIENCE. A DESIRE THAT WOULD PUT HER NAME—AND HER LOVE—TO THE TEST.

Known for her exceptional beauty, Patience Emmalina Dare has been pursued by admirers ever since coming of age. But suitor after suitor fails to inspire her love – or her desire. Certain she will never find a man who touches her deeply, she decides to forgo marriage in favor of pursuing her music. But just when Patience thinks she has her life well in hand, a passionate kiss with her enigmatic brother-in-law awakens a powerful need in her. How will she reconcile her desire for him and her desire for a life that's her own – and what will she do when he shows her a deep and hidden part of herself that she never knew existed?

When the secret of his illegitimate birth pushes Matthew Morgan Hawkmore from his place in society, the darkly handsome half-brother of the Earl of Langley plots his resurrection and his revenge. Betrayed and abandoned by the women he believed loved him, he swears to never again be controlled by love. But despite his vow, he is unable to resist the beautiful Patience, whose strength and self-reliance hide a need that he is perfectly suited to fulfill. Can he have her without loving her? What will he give up to keep her? And will her passionate surrender be the one thing that can stop him from making a tragic mistake that could destroy them both…

Matthew Morgan Hawkmore has just been ousted as the bastard son of his mother’s gardener. He has lost his title, his fiancée and his pride. Meanwhile, his elder brother Mark is living in wedded bliss to the woman of his dreams. The one plus to Mark marrying Passion Dare is that Matthew is now family to her delectable little sister, Patience. Patience of the fiery red hair, sensual mouth and kind nature. Now that they are related through their siblings, it’s impossible for Matthew to ignore his lust for Patience . . . with her he can explore his dominant side, and introduce her to the bliss of submission.

But Matthew still lives in ton society and is trying to claw his way out of the social faux pas his bastardry has created for him. He needs to navigate a social landmine that could see him lose his business and his standing in society, especially if his ex- fiancée’s father has anything to say about it . . .

‘Patience’ is the second book in Lisa Valdez’s ‘Passion Quartet’ series. I was warned about this follow-up being a little let-down from the outstandingly luscious ‘Passion’. I thought a lot of fan ire surrounded the fact that ‘Passion’ came out in 2005, while ‘Patience’ was only released last year . . . but having now read this second instalment, I can see that it was more than just a frustratingly long interim that displeased fans.

Passion and Matthew have a similar relationship-start to Mark and Passion in that it is quickly ignited. Mark and Passion met at London’s Crystal Palace exhibit. Matthew and Patience meet because of their sibling’s betrothal – and it’s a temptation neither of them can ignore. Living in close quarters and meeting at family events, Matthew succumbs to his lust and seduces Patience. And with her, Matthew unleashes his dominant side and ignites Patience’s desire for submission.

BDSM in the 1800’s is a little saucy, but the attraction is mostly sexual rather than charismatic. Patience and Matthew connect on a sexual-level, but their affection for one another feels rushed and artificial. Matthew decides very quickly that he is going to marry Patience; and honestly it was so rushed I felt reader whip-lash. Although Valdez throws in many declarations of love between the two, I still wasn’t buying it. In fact, I found such declarations overtly syrupy and I couldn’t help but giggle at their outlandishness;
The gold in his hair gleamed in the sunlight. “I will never leave you. You and I are forever.”
His words made her eyes sting even more. Her tears fell.
“What if there is no earthly forever, Matthew? What if forever only exists in heaven and fairy tales?” She drew a shuddering breath. “What if our forever, isn’t really forever?”
Matthew’s dark eyes caressed her. “Love is eternal, Patience.”
One of the great things about ‘Passion’ was the twisted concurrent plotlines that crashed together into a brilliant finale. While also writing about Mark and Passion’s meeting and falling in love, Valdez included a storyline about Mark being blackmailed into marriage with another woman . . . it heightened everything, the foreboding was nail-biting and the conclusion all the sweeter. But it feels like Valdez missed a few potential plot twists in ‘Patience’.

There is a small point of contention concerning Matthew’s suffering business, thanks to his illegitimacy. But to be honest, the business side of things was boring and clerical. Things could have picked up when Matthew’s ex-fiancée, Rosalind, showed interest in rekindling their relationship. Matthew could have been much more duplicitous in his dealings with Rosalind, and Valdez really could have heightened tension for readers by tempting Matthew to ruin Rosalind in a bout of revenge (but at what price to Patience?). I honestly thought that was where the storyline was going – towards a love triangle between Matthew/Rosalind/Patience. Sadly, no. Where Valdez wrote an intensely twisted plot in ‘Passion’, she misses the mark with ‘Patience’.

Valdez fails to deliver a satisfying follow-up to her brilliant ‘Passion’. The romance between Matthew and Patience is mostly compiled of good sex, making their relationship somewhat hollow. The BDSM storyline is titillating, but repetitive ‘tie-me-up-tie-me-down’ sex scenes, in the absence of a more interesting plot, means ‘Patience’ is a lukewarm historical romance. And it’s a real shame because ‘Passion’ was such an outstanding first-outing from Valdez. Hopefully things pick back up with third book ‘Primrose’.

2/5

Friday, February 18, 2011

'A Discovery of Witches' by Deborah HARKNESS


Received from the Publisher
From the BLURB:
When historian Diana Bishop opens an alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, it's an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordered life. Though Diana is a witch of impeccable lineage, the violent death of her parents while she was still a child convinced her that human fear is more potent than any witchcraft.
Now Diana has unwittingly exposed herself to a world she's kept at bay for years; one of powerful witches, creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires. Sensing the significance of Diana's discovery, the creatures gather in Oxford, among them the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire geneticist.
Diana is inexplicably drawn to Matthew and, in a shadowy world of half-truths and old enmities, ties herself to him without fully understanding the ancient line they are crossing. As they begin to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and their feelings for each other deepen, so the fragile balance of peace unravels...

‘A Discovery of Witches’ is the debut paranormal novel from Deborah Harkness.

I was initially intimidated by this 592-page extravaganza . . . but I've been reading very good reviews and was encouraged by more than a few people to persevere. So I did, and I was rewarded.

Diana is the last of the Bishop witches. An ancient and powerful line dating back to the Salem witch trials, Diana is a witch twice-over. Her mother was a Bishop, and her father a Proctor, an esteemed magician in his own right. But Diana’s powerful parents were killed by humans when she was just eight-years-old, and she has been scarred ever since. Diana made a promise to herself a long time ago, that she didn’t need magic. She would not be taught by her aunts, Sarah and Emily, and she would never rely on a coven of sister-witches.

Diana spent her young adulthood trying to control her compelling magic, and in adulthood she has devoted herself to academics instead of spirits. She is one of the youngest professors at Oxford University, specializing in alchemy and spending her time with dusty manuscripts. She lives a quiet, orderly life devoid of magic . . . until the day the magic finds her.

An old and mysterious book arrives for Diana’s perusal. In the hush of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, Ashmole 782 sings to Diana. It is a book of great power and many secrets, and Diana is terrified. . .

The moment the book sits before her, strange things start happening. Other witches cast her envious glances. Demons begin sending her kisses and stalking her in the stacks. Her apartment is broken into. And Diana meets the mysterious and breath-taking vampire, geneticist Professor Matthew Clairmont.

Matthew has been hunting down Ashmole 782 for centuries. The old alchemical book is said to hold a great many secrets about the supernatural races – demons, witches and vampires. But Diana is the first in hundreds of years to break the spell and read the book. Now all those supernatural races are curious and enviable of Diana, and she is in great danger. Matthew doesn’t know why he cares so much, but he is drawn to Professor Bishop. She shimmers, and her blood entices. She uses magic all the time, every day, without realizing it. She is an enigma who calls out his most territorial behaviors.

‘A Discovery of Witches’ is no light read. At 592-pages, this novel is epic and sprawling – an absolute feast of fantasy that will engross and imprint on you. There’s a little bit of every paranormal pleaser, from witches to vampire and daemons. There’s a star-crossed inter-species romance and twining, interlocking mysteries that draw on history, science and speculation. ‘A Discovery of Witches’ is really a paranormal saga.

The novel does have a slow start, but only because Harkness’s epic storytelling demands calm before the storm. The meandering opening lulls the reader, and Diana, into a false sense of security. The Oxford setting is wonderful, with Harkness evoking the Gothic spires of the old school with a supernatural twist, as Diana is surrounded by student daemons and vampiric professors. In the opening we learn about Diana and her difficult childhood, losing her parents at a young age and rejecting her magic because of their deaths. Diana has led an ambitiously academic life ever since, rejecting the covens of Oxford and her aunts attempts to bring her into the sisterhood . . . until Ashmole 782 lands on her desk and helps unleash her magic.

The novel kicks into a higher-gear when Diana meets Professor Matthew Clairmont – a fifteen-hundred-year-old vampire. In this world, there is barely-suppressed hostility between the demons, witches and vampires. But Diana and Matthew have an immediate connection – there is lust and home between them.
“It’s not your scent that pleases me. I can hear your witch’s blood as it moves through your veins.” Matthew’s cold lips were against my ear, and his breath was sweet. “Did you know that a witch’s blood makes music? Like a siren sings to the sailor, asking him to steer his shop into the rocks, the call of your blood could be my undoing – and yours’.” His words were so quiet and intimate he seemed to be talking directly into my mind.
Once Diana and Matthew begin their illicit affair, the novel really sizzles and the mystery burns. Diana’s powers are coming fast and furious since stumbling upon Ashmole 782 and meeting Matthew. But does her vampire lover want her, or the secrets of the book?
“He’s not my vampire.” I flushed.
“Are you sure?” she asked, staring into the chrome on the espresso machine as if it were a magic mirror.
“Yes,” I said tightly.
“A little book can hold a big secret – one that might change the world. You’re a witch. You know words have power. And if your vampire knew the secret, he wouldn’t need you.” Agatha’s brown eyes were not melting and warm.
The romance between Matthew and Diana is the big draw-card of Harkness’ novel. The romance is as sprawling and epic as the mystery itself. Matthew has a shady past; murders weigh on his conscience and the constant pull of Diana’s blood is a cocked-gun waiting to go off. These two have a lot to contend with, but theirs is a tender and fated romance to invest in.

Deborah Harkness’ ‘A Discovery of Witches’ is ‘Practical Magic’ meets Donna Tartt. There’s a little bit of paranormal for everyone and a fantastic old-world scholastic setting. The mystery of the book is captivating and twisted – especially when it’s so closely connected to Diana’s emerging witchy powers. The novel does end on a question-mark cliff-hanger . . . but ‘Discovery’ is the first book in what will be a series from Harkness, and I can’t wait for more. Yes, this is a whopping 592-page book; but that just means there’s more paranormal to love and a romance to really get invested in. Brilliant.

5/5

'Out of Time' by Monique MARTIN

From the BLURB:

New York in the 1920's is the world of Prohibition, speakeasies and an underground run by the underworld. Vampires and mobsters vie for power in the seedy underbelly of Manhattan.

A mysterious accident sends Professor Simon Cross and his assistant, Elizabeth West back in time to face demons real and imagined.

Simon Cross has spent his life searching for vampires and now that he’s found one, it just might take from him the only woman he’s ever loved. Simon’s life has been a ritual of research into the occult and stoic solitude. He prefers it that way. Until he meets Elizabeth West.

A gambler’s daughter, Elizabeth knows a bluff when she sees one. Behind Simon’s icy glares and nearly impenetrable armor beats the heart of a man in desperate need of love.

Trials of murder, intrigue and danger push Simon and Elizabeth to the edge of sanity.

‘Out of Time’ is a time-travel paranormal romance from Monique Martin.

I bought this e-book for two reasons. It only cost me 99¢ on Amazon, and Stella from Ex Libris wrote a smashing review (awesome on both counts!).

Elizabeth West is teacher’s assistant to Professor Simon Cross. Simon teaches classes on the Occult, and for as long as he’s been teaching about werewolves and vampires he’s been hunting for proof of the paranormal.

One day a package arrives for Simon. Inside of which is all the most precious artefacts belonging to Simon’s grandfather, another Occult explorer. Among them is a Scarab ring, and a mysterious pocket watch. On the night of the eclipse Elizabeth drops off some graded papers at Simon’s house, and the two study his grandfather’s prized possessions, with disastrous results . . . suddenly in a whirlwind Elizabeth and Simon wake up to New York in the 1920’s.

Elizabeth and Simon deduce that they can’t get back to the present until the next eclipse, in a month’s time. They make do and get jobs at a local speakeasy – Elizabeth as a waitress with moxie, and Simon as her piano-playing ‘husband’.

But 1920’s New York is a different and dangerous place - prohibition is stifling the city, and mob’s rule. The head-honcho of the big apple is King Kashian – a cool and calculating mobster without a soul . . . literally. For it takes Simon a trip into the past to find what he’s been searching for all his academic life – a vampire.

‘Out of Time’ is a wonderful and eclectic paranormal romance. There’s a little bit of everything to whet your fantastical appetite – time-travel, vampires and spooky premonitions. It’s an absolute feast of fantasy!

Elizabeth and Simon have a very sweet and slow romance. When the book opens and the time-travel begins, Elizabeth and Simon refer to each other as “Miss West” and “Professor Cross” – he’s almost 20 years older than her, and he’s her boss. But these two have both fantasized and lusted after one another in private. Being thrown into 1920’s New York and unsure if they’ll ever get back to their own time brings these two together. I will warn that there isn’t heavy ‘smut’, but there is sexual tension and affection that grows into more.

‘Out of Time’ features one of the best bad guys I've ever read, King Kashian. He’s a mobster vampire with a (small) soul. I loved him because he’s full of gray areas – yes, he’s ‘evil’ but Elizabeth provokes a sort of tenderness and territoriality in him that’s almost sweet. Reading Kashian made me (absurdly) want to read more mobster paranormal romances (a tall order, I'm sure). Honestly, Martin has done such a good job with Kashian – a mobster vampire with a crush, fantastic!
“Don’t be naive. Do you really think all he wants is the pleasure of your company? At worst, he’s a vampire and you won’t live the night. Or he’s a gangster, hardly better. At best, he’s a man whose interest in you goes far beyond dinner conversation, I can assure you. How can you possibly expect me to roll on my back while this creature, this man, goes after my wife!” His expression faltered and he turned away.
I really liked ‘Out of Time’. It’s definitely an eclectic paranormal romance, a bubbling hot-pot of fantasy genres and sub-plots to please and intrigue.

5/5

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

'Jinxed' by Inez KELLEY

From the BLURB:

Frannie learned the hard way that a McHottie doesn’t always equal marriage material. She’s happy with her vanilla life. She has friends, a career and a double-D-powered vibrator. Then Fate shoves her, literally, into Prince Charming's lap. His declaration of love at first sight is cute - and spikes her bullcrap meter into the red zone.

She's more than willing to give in with her body. But she's barricaded her heart behind castle walls - and permanently welded the gates shut.

Tragedy taught Jinx that time is too precious to waste, so when a series of uncanny coincidences thrusts Frannie into his life, he holds on tight. He knows she thinks he's several fries short of a Happy Meal, but he's determined to breach the fortress around her heart and give her a Happily Ever After.
Even if he has to carry her fanny-first into his kingdom.

Warning: Includes jelly shoes, a narcoleptic cat, and meatloaf. The steamy sex scenes may lead to fogged windows and wet panties, so proceed at your own risk. Do not attempt to read without the following items: tissues, napkins for spewed beverages, and a booty call on speed dial.

‘Jinxed’ is a contemporary romance novel from Inez Kelley.

Air-travel is stressful at the best of times, but Frannie Sullivan just had the flight from hell. As well as getting oh-so-flattering travel-hair, a crick in her neck and leg cramps, Frannie managed to pick up a stalker/nut-job at the airport. Tall, dark and wickedly handsome, Frances ‘Jinx’ Sullivan had a seat mix-up with Frannie, and from the moment he laid eyes on her decided he’d have her.

An advantageous luggage mix-up ensures the two meet up again and Jinx decides he definitely, absolutely, positively has to have Frannie for himself. A marriage proposal soon follows and Frannie is utterly creeped out (/mildly flattered).

Jinx suddenly infiltrates every aspect of Frannie’s life, and weasels his way into her heart. He’s everything she should want – handsome, loaded, caring and eager to commit. Frannie would be over the moon if it wasn’t for her horrendous first marriage that left her wary and scarred.

But Jinx has his own reasons for rushing his and Frannie’s romance, and he won’t be taking ‘no’ for an answer.

It’s hard to do justice to the storyline of ‘Jinxed’. When written down it does seem like Jinx is a crazy stalker and Frannie is succumbing to Stockholm syndrome. But that’s not it at all! Jinx and Frannie have an awkward/hilarious first meeting on the airplane, and again when there’s a luggage mix-up. Jinx quickly realizes that Frannie is the girl for him, but she’s reluctant to accept his instant infatuation. At first, readers will be like Frannie and quickly skeptical of Jinx’s attraction – after all, Jinx is smoldering and Frannie (according to her ex-husband) is a vanilla, mediocre plain-Jane. Furthermore, ‘love at first sight’ is something only seen in Fairy Tales and Richard Curtis movies. But Kelley quickly surpasses the unbelievability of the romantic situation by including a number of crazy coincidences and connections between Frannie and Jinx. Plus, later on in the novel she sheds more light on Jinx’s reason for a hasty coupling with Frannnie . . . it’s still tinged with a syrupy sweetness, but there’s an undercurrent of sadness that makes it poignant and understandable (if still outlandish).
“Who in the hell do you think you are with that arrogant, high-handed, sexually dominant crap? You know what? Never mind. I don’t care. Just leave, now!”
Jinx leaned on the door frame and chuckled, which sent her volcanic ire skyrocketing. “Damn, you’re feisty. I'm going to marry you, know that?”
“And I'm going to commit you. Now out of my house, fruit loop!”
The novel is told from both Jinx and Frannie’s point-of-view. Frannie’s is sometimes a hard slog. She’s got little to no self-esteem, thanks to a five-year marriage that left her ruined and shame-faced – she’s constantly in a state of flux between lusting for and being skeptical of Jinx and his affections. But I quite liked that Frannie was battling body insecurities, and that she didn’t feel that she was enough for Jinx. It meant that the romance was all about Jinx affirming his feelings for Frannie and showing her how much he loves her . . . it was so nice to read a man fight for his girl. To know he wants her, and do anything to get her. ‘Jinxed’ is literally a modern fairytale, but instead of slaying dragons Jinx is slaying Frannie’s inner demons.

Having read Inez Kelley’s ‘Sweet as Sin’ and LOVED it, I knew she could write a whopper of a sex scene. She brings it again in ‘Jinxed’ – smoldering smut that is made all the sexier for the heady emotional complications between Frannie and Jinx. The sex is great because you know that by the time Jinx and Frannnie do get together, they have well and truly reached a point of connection and trust that makes the sex all the sweeter.

Inez Kelley is fast becoming a must-read author for me. She writes contemporary romances that are a winning combination of thoughtful, titillating and tender.

5/5

'The Terror of Living' by Urban WAITE

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Phil Hunt and Bobby Drake are good men who live on opposite sides of the law. Hunt supports his family and struggling horse farm by guiding an occasional illicit delivery through mountain passes he's known since birth. Drake is a sheriff who is living down the legacy of his father, a police officer before him who augmented his earnings in the same trade as Hunt.

The two men's paths cross in the mountains north of Seattle, when Drake notices a horse trailer parked in an odd location and ends up disrupting a shipment. The operation that seemed benign when it worked smoothly now reveals to Hunt just how deadly his sideline has become. His suppliers unleash a singleminded fury known as The Chef to recover what's theirs. And Drake's and Hunt's world is explosively invaded by forces they've never dreamed of.

‘The Terror of Living’ is the debut crime-thriller from Urban Waite.

Deputy Bobby Drake is out hunting around Silver Lake when he sees an abandoned horse trailer and suspects drug trafficking.
Phil Hunt is in the middle of a drug exchange when he is spotted by Deputy Bobby Drake.
Phil escapes, but he has Deputy Drake in hot pursuit. Phil also had madman Grady Fisher on his trail and after his blood.
Hunt tries to out-run the lawman and the madman while the body count rises.

Read reviews of Waite’s ‘The Terror of Living’ and you’ll notice a movie-connection being observed again and again . . . the Coen brothers’ movie (and Cormac McCarthy’s novel) ‘No Country for Old Men’. It’s true, and it’s a compliment.

‘The Terror of Living’ harks back to those old Western’s – a good guy (Bobby Drake) a bad guy (Phil Hunt) and a cross-country trek for justice . . .

This novel is quite violent – there are a lot of corpses and many a bloody battle. Sometimes the violence is heightened to the point of outlandishness . . . but for the most part I thought Waite was in keeping with the crime-thriller genre. He writes gritty and revels in reader’s discomfort – to the point that your reading experience is a visceral one (literally squirming in your seat).

If I have any complaints about the novel, it may just be that the ‘villain’ was more interesting than the two main protagonists. Bobby could be boring and Phil downright annoying, but Grady was brilliant for his unrepentant malice (sick though that may make me). He definitely reminded me of Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem’s character in ‘No Country’) even if his weapon-of-choice isn’t an air tank. Grady is the archetypal ‘evil’ in the novel – and because his immorality knows no bounds, he was grotesquely fascinating to read;
“I have a bar trick for you, sort of a magic trick.”
“Yeah?”
“Watch.” Grady placed his arms straight out in front of him, flattened his hands, and turned his palms up, then down. “Nothing in my hands,” he said. Eddie sat transfixed, watching the hands. Grady flexed his forearm, and the knife came forward on the slide. Eddie made a quick movement with his gun, but the blood was already appearing in a line across his neck. The gun went off. It was quiet and the round hit the wall just above the television and made a solid thunk. “Magic,” Grady said.
Though ‘The Terror of Living’ is often a violent affair, it’s also a great novel of connections and characters. Many players are left un-named (like Phil’s drug-dealing accomplice), but others are seemingly secondary but they have a great impact on the main men. Like Nora and Sheir – Drake and Hunt’s respective partners. It’s interesting to read these women and how they reflect back on the men – how they may even redeem them a little bit. I loved that Waite’s novel wasn’t a simple throw-away thriller – there’s real heart here, and it’s best read in the relationships of his protagonists’.

I really enjoyed Waite’s debut novel. He has woven a tale of good versus evil against a gray backdrop where violence meets justice. It’s stark and gritty, macabre and unremorseful and an impressive first-outing for this author.

5/5

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

'Pictures of Lily' by Paige TOON

From the BLURB:

'Will you marry me?' I think of you, then. I think of you every day. But usually in the quietest part of the morning, or the darkest part of the night. Not when my boyfriend of two years has just proposed. I look up at Richard with his hopeful eyes. 'Lily?' he prompts. It's been ten years, but it feels like only yesterday that you left. How can I say yes to Richard with all my heart when most of it has always belonged to you? I take a deep breath and will myself to speak...

Ten years ago when Lily was just sixteen, she fell in love with someone she really shouldn't have fallen in love with. Now, living in Sydney and engaged to another man, she can't forget the one that got away. Then her past comes back to haunt her, and she has to make a decision that will break her heart - and the heart of at least one of the men who love her.

‘Pictures of Lily’ is the fourth book from contemporary romance author, Paige Toon.

Lily came to Australia when she was fifteen. She and her mum moved halfway around the world (and took a 24-hour plane trip!) to come and live in Adelaide with her mum’s new fella she met on the internet.

Lily was initially reluctant. Not even her sexy quasi-stepbrother, Josh, could sweeten the deal . . . and then she met the kangaroos, and koalas. Lily’s sort-of-stepfather, Michael, worked at a local conservation park, and Lily found herself enthralled. She discovered a love for nature photography, and developed a special bond with a joey koala. And then Lily met Ben. A fellow ranger at the conservation park, Lily and Ben soon became good friends. It didn’t matter that he was 28 to her 16. They connected, and Lily soon fell in love . . . and then Ben admitted to having a fiancée. A fiancée who lived in England, where he soon moved.

Ten years passed, with Lily constantly pining for what could have been. But she eventually, slowly, moved on. Moved on to Richard, her lovely boyfriend (née, fiancée). Moved on to Sydney and forgetting about Ben.

Until the day he reappears to turn her life upside down.

If ‘Pictures of Lily’ was a packet of chips, it would be plain flavour. Never have I read a more scintillating blurb (underage romance and love triangles!) with a more tepid execution.

I'm not sure what readership Toon is aiming for, whether adult or young adult? The romance is so PG13 that it reads like a thirteen-year-olds diary entry for all the “his arm brushed against mine, his eyes are blue like water” prostrating that Lily keeps up (even into her late twenties). The romance is so innocently dull that I was somewhat disturbed by Ben’s interest in sixteen-year-old Lily. It would have been one thing if Lily had acted older than she was – if she and Ben had partaken of some canoodling or serious flirting – but Lily is so innocent, and she reads so much into the most nonsensical gestures that she does come across as very naive.

The believability of Ben and Lily’s love affair is further hampered by the quick time-frame – from Lily’s arrival in Adelaide to Ben’s leaving for England, the entirety of their ‘romance’ spans a few weeks. It’s not nearly enough time (and nothing really actually happens . . . outside of Lily’s imagining) to warrant her ten-year-pining for the man who supposedly broke her heart.

Even if I didn’t love Lily and Ben’s ‘older man, younger woman’ love affair, I kept reading. I do appreciate a good love triangle, and I wanted to at least see if Toon could turn up the heat when a third wheel was added into the mix.

Sadly, no.

I slogged through 172-pages of Lily’s girlish infatuation in the hopes that her twenty-six-year-old self would be a bit more scintillating. Skip ahead ten years and Lily is engaged to Richard, a fairly nice bloke who is unaware of the affection Lily still carries for the one who got away. Poor Richard is even more clueless when Lily bumps into Ben (now divorced, how convenient!) and starts an affair that will end in tears for all three.
This isn’t fair. I love them both.
Somewhere deep inside me the chasm that cracked and broke open when Ben left splits even further apart. I can’t lose Ben again. But I don’t want to lose Richard, either.
I'm really amazed that between an older-man/younger-woman storyline and a love triangle, ‘Pictures of Lily’ remains determinedly tepid throughout. I could have handled the lukewarm romances if Lily at least had a bit of charisma to carry the narrative. Once again, sadly not. Lily is as tedious as her love life. She’s not funny – though Toon had plenty of opportunity for funny stories about a Pom assimilating across the pond.

I guess the majority of my frustration stems from the ambiguousness of the target audience for ‘Pictures of Lily’. If it’s meant to be a young adult read, then that explains the PG13 romance, but not why the novel skips ahead to twenty-six-year-old Lily coping with an adulterous affair? If this is meant to be for older readers, then why the kid-gloves with the romance?

It feels like ‘Pictures of Lily’ is two different books, mashed together. And as a result, the young-adult half feels unfinished while the adult second-half feels like it was holding back. And what a shame, because the bones of each storyline are scintillating and interesting enough.

1.5/5