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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

'Yours to Keep' Kowalski Family #3 by Shannon Stacey

Received from NetGalley

From the BLURB:

Sean Kowalski no sooner leaves the army than he’s recruited by Emma Shaw to be her fake fiancé. Emma needs to produce a husband-to-be for her grandmother’s upcoming visit, and, though Sean doesn’t like the deception, he could use the landscaping job Emma’s offering while he decides what to do with his civilian life. And, despite his attraction to Emma, there’s no chance he’ll fall for a woman with deep roots in a town he’s not planning to call home.

Emma’s not interested in a real relationship either; not with a man whose idea of home is wherever he drops his duffel bag. No matter how amazing his “pretend” kisses are…

Sean Kowalski has just arrived home from his last tour of Afghanistan, and he is treated to the strangest of home-comings . . . between greetings from his cousins, bear-hugs from his aunt and pile-on’s from his nieces and nephews, Sean Kowalski is informed that he is fake fiancée to his sister-in-law’s best friend, Emma Shaw.

It’s not as crazy as it sounds, really. Emma’s grandmother recently moved to Florida and was worried about leaving Emma alone in her big stately home. Worried that her grandmother would sell the house that means so much to her, Emma fictionalized a man around the house for Gran’s peace of mind. Lack of imagination and plausibility saw her dragging her best friend’s brother-in-law into the equation. But now Grandma Shaw is coming home for a visit, and Sean Kowalski is coming home from a tour of duty and Emma is finding herself between a rock and a hard place. . .

Luckily for Emma, Sean has some time and procrastination on his hands while he figures his life out away from the army. While acting as Emma’s fake fiancée, he will be working for her landscaping business and deciding on where life will take him after Grandma Shaw returns to Florida.

Meanwhile he and Emma are acting a little too much in love for either of their liking. It’s one thing to fool Grandma Shaw, but are Emma and Shaw also kidding themselves?

‘Yours to Keep’ is the third book in Shannon Stacey’s sweet contemporary romance series, the ‘Kowalski Family’.

I fell in love with the Kowalski clan back in March, with Stacey’s first book in the series ‘Exclusively Yours’. This is a family of strong, mule-headed men and the women who love them. This is one of the best contemporary romance series out at the moment, so I was thrilled to learn that a third book was scheduled. And ‘Yours to Keep’ does not disappoint in the least.

Once again Stacey kicks her book off with an unusual bang. Joe Kowalski convinced his lovely lady to go on a family camping trip for the sake of an exclusive news story. Kevin Kowalski found his one-night-stand on his doorstep with a bun in her oven. Sean is a Kowalski-cousin, but he has a similarly ludicrously sweet beginning when a beautiful woman knocks on his door, informing him they are (fake) engaged and would he mind carrying on with the charade for the sake of her poor grandmother? Admittedly the origins of this love story are fairly outlandish – but that’s as wacky as the story gets. What follows is a strange romance that unfolds under false pretences, hot wanting and lusty coupling.

All of the Kowalski men thus far have been hot, stubborn and lusty manly specimens. Sean Kowalski is no different. He’s a funny, laid-back guys-guy who hates broccoli, loves football and can’t believe his strenuous luck when a beautiful woman knocks on his door and invites him into her bed for a fake engagement. He’s so sweet and hilarious, I loved Joe and Kevin respectively, but Sean is just as lovable and I can’t choose between them! If I had any complaints about his character it’s that I would have liked a bit more back-story about his time in the army. As it is, Sean returns home and there’s not a word of how hard his time was, no talk of night-terrors or fallen comrades. I know that if Stacey had explored the ramifications of his army life then ‘Yours to Keep’ would have been a very different story . . . but I still would have liked some acknowledgement of his time in Afghanistan.

Emma Shaw was a wonderful heroine for the imposing Sean Kowalski. She’s a bit of a tomboy, without Stacey writing the usual clichés for such an un-girly heroine. Emma is a landscaper, who doesn’t mind getting dirty; she speaks her mind and doesn’t let Sean get away with anything. Emma being able to hold her own against Sean provide some great laugh-out-loud interactions between them;

He drummed his fingers on the wheel. “I just don’t want you getting any ideas, that’s all.”
Getting any ideas? Emma was speechless for a moment, unable to believe he’d actually said that.
“Since I was walking away from you when you spun me around and kissed me, I'd say you’re the one getting ideas.”
“Of course I’m getting ideas. You’re hot and I’m not dead. But I know enough not to confuse lust with anything else.”
She snorted and looked out her window. “Oh yes, Sean Kowalski. Your amazing kisses have made all rational thought fly out of my besotted brain. If only you could fill me with your magic penis, I know we’ll fall madly in love and live happily ever after.”
The truck jerked and she glanced over to find him glaring at her. “Don’t every say that again.”
“What? The madly in love or the happily ever after?”
“My penis isn’t magic.” His tone was grumpy, but then he smiled at the windshield. “It does tricks, though.”

I fell in love with the Kowalski’s back in March, so I was beyond thrilled to learn that Shannon Stacey intended to write a third instalment for her wonderfully addictive contemporary romance series. Sean and Emma were a wonderful couple, and their unconventional beginnings made for a lusty, tension-filled coupling. Now I can only hope that Shannon Stacey intends to write more stories for the ‘Kowalski Family’ – I have my fingers crossed for an instalment about Mitch Kowalski, the self-proclaimed Lothario of the K-men.

Shannon Stacey’s series keeps getting better and better, ‘Yours to Keep’ is more contemporary goodness and now I have my fingers-crossed for many more Kowalski love stories!

4.5/5

Monday, May 30, 2011

'Broken Wing' by Judith James

From the BLURB:

Set during the chaotic beginnings of Napoleon's rule, this saga tells the story of Gabriel St. Croix, a street survivor searching for a place to belong. Abandoned as a child and raised in a brothel, he has never known friendship or affection. Hiding physical and emotional scars behind an icy façade, his only relationship is with a young boy he has spent the last five years protecting from the brutal reality of their environment. But all that is about to change. The boy's family has found him, and they are coming to take him home.

Sarah Munroe blames herself for her brother's disappearance. When he's located, safe and unharmed despite where he has been living, Sarah vows to help the man who rescued and protected him in any way she can. With loving patience she helps Gabriel face his demons and teaches him to trust in friendship and love. But when the past catches up with him, Gabriel must face it on his own. Becoming a mercenary, pirate, and professional gambler, he travels to London, France, and the Barbary Coast in a desperate attempt to find Sarah again. On the way, however, he will discover the most dangerous journey and the greatest gamble of all is within the darkest reaches of his own heart.

Sarah and Ross Munroe have been searching for their missing younger brother for five long years. Following the sudden death of their parents, and an unfortunate marriage for Sarah, little Jamie Munroe was caught up in a family revenge plot and kidnapped . . . but now he has been found.

Ross and Sarah have had privateers and investigators searching every back street for a sign of their sibling for years, and now their search has paid off . . .
Jamie has been located in a French brothel, and the Munroe’s fear the worst for their kin. But when Sarah and Ross arrive at Madame’s they are shocked to discover an educated, well-adjusted and healthy young boy. The Munroe’s can credit Jamie’s safety to his friend and protector, the whore Gabriel St. Croix.

Gabriel had a similar fate to Jamie – bought and sold to a brothel as a child. But where Gabriel was left to surrender and buckle to the life of whoring and masochism, Jamie was spared. Gabriel took the child under his wing at a great cost to his own safety - he prevented any harm befalling the child, in exchange for breaking his own will.

Sarah and Ross are undeniably grateful. For five years Gabriel has been young Jamie’s protector, and the Munroe’s intend to repay him.

They buy Gabriel’s contract from the brothel and invite him to stay, for one year, on their country estate as Jamie’s ‘companion’. After one year he is free to do as he pleases – stay or go – either way, he is a slave no more and a whore never again.

But Gabriel is unused to freedom. He has been under lock and key his entire life, forced to depravity and made to please others. He is unprepared for the Munroe’s kindness . . . especially that of Sarah Munroe. In Gabriel, Sarah sees a wounded and beautiful soul. Despite his horrendous childhood, Gabriel still found the strength to save her brother from a twin fate. And now Gabriel is experiencing the joys and wonders of a life to be lived on his own terms . . . the chance to go where he pleases, and love who he chooses.

‘Broken Wing’ is the 2008 historical romance novel from Judith James.

‘Broken Wing’ starts off as a rather sweeping grand romance. James writes a Dickensian beginning for the poor hero, Gabriel St. Croix – his life as a young whore is understandably tragic and unbelievably saddening. When he is welcomed into the Munroe’s home he is initially stand-offish and mulish as he adjusts to freedom. He keeps waiting for people to use and abuse him – assuming that Sarah wants him for his body, and Ross cannot wait for an excuse to kick him out in the street. So Gabriel is shocked and unbelieving when Ross insists on beginning an investment fund for Gabriel, with a mind towards his future away from the whore house. Gabriel is doubly awed when Sarah stubbornly befriends him – despite his acerbic wit and wounding words – she is determined to win his trust and show him kindness.

Sarah and Gabriel have a sweetly tender romance. Because of his tragic past Gabriel is a hard nut to crack, so his and Sarah’s relationship is a slow unfolding. They begin their friendship star-gazing, with Sarah introducing Gabriel to the brilliance of modern technology and the wonders of a world he has been cut off from since childhood. Slowly but surely Gabriel finds safety and comfort in Sarah’s presence, eventually turning to her when the nightmares of his past get to be too much . . . and then Gabriel falls in love with her. Sarah shows him the first kindness and patience of his life – and for the first time in his memory, Gabriel is permitted to want someone for themselves, and not for their money. But it’s not so easy to forget the pains of a past as terrible as Gabriel’s, and with his love comes great fear;

A sudden bolt of fear seized him, twisting his vitals, and clamping tight around his throat. It couldn’t be real. Such a life was never meant for him. Certainly, not such a woman. She was clean and sweet, kind and wholesome, everything he was not. He needed to take stock, to slow this headlong rush toward destruction. He concentrated on breathing until his panic receded. If he were careful, he might keep her as a friend. But he had to be careful not to reach too high, not to want too much, or he’d lost it all.

Sarah and Gabriel were incredibly adorable. I loved the slow-burn of their romance; a much-needed unhurried pace considering Gabriel’s past pains. And of course Gabriel’s experience in the bedroom means he and Sarah experience a hot and sensual eventual coupling.

I loved the first-half of this book. Judith James wrote a brilliant balance of tragedy and romance, redemption and misfortune. But when Gabriel takes to the sea for a grand privateering adventure, the plot gets a little wonky. . .

In the second-half of the novel Gabriel does something absolutely horrendous and hurtful to his beloved Sarah. I fully expected Judith James to write an additional 100-pages involving Gabriel making up for his foolish mistakes and hurtful actions. However, Sarah is quick to forgive and love again. I was utterly gob-smacked by the lack of dramatic tension and believably resolution. The lacking ending almost ruined the entire book for me – it’s just a good thing that James wrote such a fascinating beginning and wrote an incredible hero in Gabriel, or else I would have been truly upset.

‘Broke Wing’ is an epic historical romance. It’s a novel of Dickensian beginnings, high-seas adventure and reforming love. Despite a poor second-half, the character of Gabriel St. Croix was endearing enough and his story so tragically epic as to make up for the let-down finale.

3/5

Saturday, May 28, 2011

'Beauty Queens' by Libba Bray

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Teen beauty queens. A lost island. Mysteries and dangers. No access to email. And the spirit of fierce, feral competition that lives deep in the heart of every girl, a savage brutality that can only be revealed by a journey into the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Oh, the horror, the horror! Only funnier. With evening gowns. And a body count.

Join Libba Bray in this wicked satire of beauty pageants, reality TV and teen pop culture.

Little girls want to be them. Boys want to bring them home to Mama. And dirty old men want to ogle them from the comfort of their couches ... they are the Teen Dream contestants. Competing for the title of ‘Miss Teen Dream’ in the beauty pageant that stops a nation (or at least it used to, when ratings were better).

On their way to film the opening dance number for the pageant, a terrible accident befalls these teen dreamers. Their plane crashes on a deserted island. Half the contestants, their handlers and the camera crew die in a fiery grave. There’s no cell phone reception. No radio contact. Nobody knows where they are . . . and their makeup is waterlogged!

There’s no polar bear on this mysterious island, but strange things are happening. Like giant, girl-eating snakes and men in black running around, not to mention a discovered supply of Lady StacheOff exploding hair removal cream . . . and reality-TV boy-band pirates.

It’s up to these teen dreamers (self-named ‘Sparkle Ponies’ and ‘Lost Girls’, for awesome effect) to beautify the island and carve out some survival tactics, while also practicing their question-and-answers and working on a killer tan.

‘Beauty Queens’ is the new young adult book from Libba Bray.

I was a little sceptical going into ‘Beauty Queens’. Sure, putting pageant misses on a deserted island is bound to offer up a few laughs. But I was doubtful of reading a running-gag for 390-pages. So it’s a good thing that Bray has written a book that’s jam-packed with hilarity, social commentary and fabulous feminism.

First and foremost, ‘Beauty Queens’ is a total snort-fest. The kind of book that induces you to laugh with abandon until snot comes out of your nose and people on the train look at you weird. Libba Bray isn’t giving us subtle, tongue-in-cheek humour here. She revels in stereotypes (the Beauty Pageant circuit offers a plethora to choose form) and she writes big, goofy typecasts that are outlandishly funny.

“Ahem. Dear Jesus,” Taylor intoned more fervently. “We just want to thank you for gettin’ us here safe–”
There was a loud, gurgling groan. Somebody shouted, “Oh my gosh! Miss Delaware just died!”
“– for gettin’ some of us here safe,” Taylor continued. “And we pray that, as we are fine, upstandin’, law-abidin’ girls who represent the best of the best, you will protect us from harm and keep us safe until we are rescued and can tell our story to People magazine. Amen.”

But Libba Bray also mixes some surprises amongst her characters. There’s Sosie Simmons (Miss Illinois) a deaf contestant and avid dancer. Petra West (Miss Rhode Island) is a girl with a big secret. Jennifer Huberman (Miss Michigan) is doing the pageant as a part of a juvie-outreach program and coming to accept her homosexuality. Nicole Ade (Miss Colorado) and Shanti Singh (Miss California) are the token ‘black girls’ who are competing against their skin colour and bending to family pressure. And then there’s Adina Greenberg (Miss New Hampshire) who is a beauty queen spy, intent on subterfuge for the sake of journalistic integrity and feminism. These characters elevate the story above a running-gag, and despite there being so many to keep track of, each of their stories is memorable and funny enough to keep them all in line.

There’s a shadowy presence throughout the novel. ‘The Corporation’ own the Teen Dream pageant, as well as a number of beauty products and fashion lines, they also produce movies and TV shows aimed at the young and beautiful set. Bray hilariously incorporates ‘The Corporation’ into the novel with footnotes, advertising, ™ and © references which gives some idea of the real-world pressures these teen dreamers cope with, while also perpetuating the mock media machine. This side-story, like the caricature Pageant Queens, is not subtle and requires no reading between the lines. This is Libba Bray mocking and criticizing people’s fascination with being beautiful, having the latest and looking the coolest. The Corporation make TV shows like ‘Design This!’, which allows a girl to interior decorate her worst enemy’s bedroom. They make stuff like ‘DiscomfortWear’ which has been known to eliminate circulation while minimizing lumps and bumps! This is Libba Bray flaying consumerism with witty subterfuge – she makes a mockery of teen sensations and latest crazes, by holding up a fun-house mirror of truth for readers to stare into, horrified and cackling.

‘Beauty Queens’ is big on laughs and determined to mock empty pop culture. But there’s also a fair bit of heart to this novel. For all that Libba Bray teases the Beauty Queen stereotype; she also shatters it by getting to the heart of the matter and remaking these baton-twirling, high heel-wearing dreamers into strong, lipsticked Amazonian warriors;

“I've been thinking about that book about the boys who crash on the island,” Mary Lou said to Adina one afternoon as they rested on their elbows taking bites from the same papaya.
“Lord of the Flies. What about it?”
“You know how you said it wasn’t a true measure of humanity because there were no girls and you wondered how it would be different if there had been girls?”
“Yeah?”
May Lou wiped fruit juice from her mouth with the back of her hand. “Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one’s watching them so they can be who they really are.”
Adina gazed at the expanse of unknowable ocean. “Maybe.”
There was something about the island that made the girls forget who they had been. All those rules and shalt nots. They were no longer waiting for some arbitrary grade. They were no longer performing. Waiting. Hoping.
They were becoming.
They were.

‘Beauty Queens’ is what you’d get if Diablo Cody and JJ Abrams wrote a novel together – it’s full of biting sarcasm and ridiculous hilarity, with an awesomely complicated survivor-esque plot. There’s consumerist propaganda, singing reality-TV star pirates and a swimwear component. Libba Bray has written a mock-pop-culture extravaganza that should be on everyone’s must-read list this year!

5/5

Friday, May 27, 2011

'Kiss of Snow' Psy-Changeling #10 by Nalini Singh

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Since the moment of her defection from the PsyNet and into the SnowDancer wolf pack, Sienna Lauren has had one weakness. Hawke. Alpha and dangerous, he compels her to madness.

Hawke is used to walking alone, having lost the woman who would've been his mate long ago. But Sienna fascinates him, even as he tells himself she is far too young to handle the wild fury of the wolf. Then Sienna changes the rules and suddenly, there is no more distance, only the most intimate of battles between two people who were never meant to meet. Yet as they strip away each other's secrets in a storm of raw emotion, they must also ready themselves for a far more vicious fight...

A deadly enemy is out to destroy SnowDancer, striking at everything they hold dear, but it is Sienna's darkest secret that may yet savage the pack that is her home and the alpha who is its heartbeat...

Sienna Lauren has loved Hawke from the moment she laid eyes on him . . . alpha-wolf, Hawke, and the SnowDancer pack have become Sienna’s new home since she and her family defected from the cold of PsyNet. But as much as Sienna loves Hawke, she has always known they can never be together. Hawke lost his true wolf mate when he was just ten years old, and there will never be another mate for him as long as he lives. Never mind that nineteen-year-old Sienna is considered a child next to the experienced older alpha, and he has worked hard for many years to ignore the inappropriate spark between them.

Regardless of all these obstacles, the heart wants what the heart wants . . . and Sienna has always wanted Hawke.

Meanwhile, Hawke is hard at work fighting his attraction for the ever-maturing Sienna. She is no longer the awkwardly cold teenager scared of her X abilities. Sienna has grown into a beautiful young woman, who is garnering attention from the young SnowDancer pups (much to Hawke’s chagrin). But regardless of his lust, Hawke doesn’t want to hurt Sienna by denying her the one part of himself that he knows she craves . . . his mating.

While Sienna and Hawke try to control and balance their feelings for one another, the PsyNet looms. Sienna’s dangerous X abilities are hardly subtle, and as the pressure within her grows the Net could discover her whereabouts and the truth about her family’s defection . . .

‘Kiss of Snow’ is the tenth book in Nalini Singh’s ‘Psy-Changeling’ paranormal romance series.

It’s here, it’s here, it’s finally here! Ever since Sienna first laid eyes on the gorgeous and sadly broken Hawke, readers have been salivating for their story. Hawke and Sienna are one of the few couples in the ‘Psy-Changeling’ series whom we have known would end up together. Their story has been slowly evolving over nine books, reaching a boiling-point when Sienna started dating DarkRiver cat, Kit. In every new instalment, Nalini Singh would revisit Hawke and Sienna’s ever-evolving and complicating feelings . . . from when Sienna realized her girlish crush, to Hawke beginning to notice her womanly changes. Fans have been mapping and anticipating this romance for so many instalments and now it’s finally here! Singh had some high expectations to meet with this couple, and I'm happy to report that she definitely delivers the goods!

Singh had quite a few hurdles to jump before Hawke and Sienna could embark on a romance. For one thing, Sienna was a young girl when she realized her feelings for the much older Hawke, and in ‘Kiss of Snow’ she is still only nineteen. It would feel wrong if Singh jumped right into their romance without at least considering the implications of a younger woman/older man scenario - especially when Hawke has a position of power over Sienna as her alpha. I really appreciated Singh taking the time to explore these difficulties, and reach a compromise between Hawke and Sienna, for readers’ peace of mind.

Then there’s the fact that Hawke lost his mate at the age of ten. Hawke and Rissa found one another when they were children – their mating was sweet and innocent then, that of very close friends who were glued at the hip throughout their childhood. But they were mates – destined for a lifelong commitment, until Rissa was sadly killed and Hawke’s life irrevocably altered. Hawke has considered himself ‘damaged goods’ since Rissa’s death, believing he will never have another mate. So when he develops deep feelings for Sienna, he feels guilty and confused. He wants Sienna, on a deep physical level . . . but he doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to give her his whole self. Sienna likewise understands Hawke’s inability to mate, but that doesn’t mean that she isn’t wounded by what he can’t give her;

Her emotions a tight knot in her chest, she closed the door after he left and walked back into the bathroom to pick up the brush on the shelf by the mirror. “Hawke’s mate is dead,” she made herself say to the woman who was her reflection, her fingers clenching to bloodless tightness around the carved wood of the handle. “He buried his heart with her.”
Even in the face of that harsh truth, the brutal compulsion inside of her refused to be extinguished, to be contained. Like the destructive power of an X, it threatened to consume her until only ashes remained.

I loved the development of Hawke and Sienna’s romance. Like I said, they had a lot of hurdles to jump over – but Singh takes the time to tease out their feelings, bringing them together on an intellectual and emotional level before embarking on an explosive physical relationship. And trust me, their romance is sizzling. Hawke is a demanding and predatory lover, and he wants to completely dominate Sienna on every level. Sienna, meanwhile, is both scared and exhilarated by Hawke’s demands and over-powering love. Coupled with pent-up sexual frustrations that have been brewing over nine books . . . this is quite possibly the most intensely sensual romance of any Psy-Changeling coupling. Yowza!

Towards the end of the novel the plot concentrates on the looming PsyNet danger, and the investigations of the SnowDancer sentinels into Sienna’s dangerous X abilities. At this point the plot becomes very intricate and complicated as Singh discusses the PsyNet, valves, overheating etc, etc. It does become very intense and convoluted, and somewhat detracts from the Hawke/Sienna side of things. But I have a feeling that all of this plot will become pertinent in upcoming books.

‘Kiss of Snow’ is quite possibly the most anticipated ‘Psy-Changeling’ instalment. Nalini Singh had a big task before her when she finally wrote a happily-ever-after for beloved couple, Hawke and Sienna. They had an age-difference and denied mating to combat, but still Singh managed to deliver one of the hottest couplings of the series so far. Hawke and Sienna are intense and sparking – theirs is a heart-palpitating romance that is bound to exceed expectations and cement Hawke and Sienna as the Psy-Changeling couple du jour!

4.5/5

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

'The Comet Box' by Adrian Stirling

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

It's 1986 and Halley's Comet is hurtling towards Earth. Everyone is talking about what the comet will bring - wishes could be granted, people might go mad, great disasters could happen...

When Andrew is asked to write down his greatest wish for the Comet Box, he can think of only one thing – that his runaway sister Amelia will finally come home. As the comet draws nearer he begins to learn the reasons why she left in the first place and the more he learns, the more he wants to forget.

When Amelia is captured and brought home she reveals a shocking secret that makes Andrew's once safe world begin to unravel. As the comet arrives, Andrew must choose whether to be blind to the mistakes of the people around him or to side with his sister as she tears his family apart.

A few weeks before Halley’s Comet arrives, Andrew’s sister runs away from home. The only traces of her are angry words between his parents and a name written on the wall of her room; Samantha Collins.

In the wake of Amelia’s disappearance Andrew starts to notice the cracks in his family, as well as the literal and figurative fissures that run beneath his suburban street. A shopping complex is being built, Halley’s comet is hurtling towards earth and Andrew’s family is being propped up with thin lies and a crumbling facade.

‘The Comet Box’ is the new novel from Aussie author Adrian Stirling.

‘The Comet Box’ packs a surprising punch in the first chapter. Stirling kicks the mystery off quickly, and leaves readers with the writing on the wall; Samantha Collins. He really does a masterful job of ferreting into your brain and dragging you along this quietly powerful story . . .

The beginning is quietly explosive – a fight in the middle of the night, a runaway child and mysterious phone calls from the missing girl. Andrew wonders at the reasons for Amelia’s disappearance, and knows that the entire neighbourhood is likewise curious as to her whereabouts. But Andrew’s mother and father remain tight-lipped and doggedly optimistic that she will return.

Andrew begins to realize that everyone is in on his family’s secret, except him. But now that a niggling has started in the back of Andrew’s mind, he can’t seem to switch off the lies around him. There’s his blind neighbour, Ruby, who lives in squalor she can’t see. Mrs Warnock watches her young, handsome neighbour from her window while her husband is at work. His best friend, Romeo, is terrified of his brutish father and secretly wishes for his death. All these lies and veneers and still Andrew is none the wiser about the lies within his own life . . .

"She never really belonged here," added my mother who had appeared in the doorway behind him. Her arms were folded. I stared back at the glass of Milo.
My father shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "Listen," he said. "It's not your job to run around interfering in adult problems . . ."
I stopped stirring the Milo and looked at him.
"Nobody tells me anything," I said, "so I have to find it out for myself."
My father glanced up at my mother. They weren't sure what to do next.
"Everyone has their own secrets," said my mother, "and just because you know them doesn't mean that you understand."

And then Amelia returns. She comes home carrying the weight of betrayal on her shoulders and it’s only a matter of time until Andrew catches up to his family’s secret. Will the lies affect him the same way they did Amelia? Or will Andrew choose to live the lie in sweet oblivion?

‘The Comet Box’ is a quietly unassuming novel. There’s a lot happening, but it’s never overtly explosive or melodramatic. The drama in the novel is more like ripples than waves. The novel is quite complex, using meteoric metaphors and Electra Complex characterizations. But Stirling revels in writing between the lines, rather than knocking his readers over the head with the obvious. He is clearly a writer who likes readers to work, to draw their own conclusions about character motivations and denials, and for that I am very grateful. ‘The Comet Box’ is a far more satisfying read for what Stirling holds back.

Even the compelling secret that pushes the story along is sadly suburban. An all too common hush-hush that many families experience. The point of the secret is more that it triggers Andrews’ self-awareness; marks his transition from child to adult and his own, small, version of ‘paradise lost’ within his family unit.

I loved ‘The Comet Box’. It’s one of those books that I started reading and two hours later I was on the last page, somewhat gobsmacked at how easily I was suckered in and carried away. Adrian Stirling got under my skin with this suburban mystery that reads like a river – calm on the surface, but with a whirlpool amassing in its depths. This was an utterly compelling and fascinating read for its intricate storytelling and mundane exposé of suburban secrecy.

5/5

Waiting on Wednesday: 'The Hunger Games' movie


"Waiting on Wednesday" is a weekly event, hosted by Jill @Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming release that we're eagerly anticipating.


So this is not a traditional waiting on Wednesday – because I'm not waiting (salivating, chomping at the bit, gagging, begging. . .) for a book. It’s actually a movie that’s based on a book. . . same, same – but different!

Suzanne Collin’s ‘The Hunger Gamesmovie adaptation to be released in 2012.

I have to admit, I was one of those nay-sayers who balked at the idea of Jennifer Lawrence in the role of Katniss Everdeen. Trust me; I am happy to repent in the wake of press photos. . . Jennifer Lawrence looks like she’s totally going to kick Capitol ass!


I am sorry that I originally wanted Kaya Scodelario in the role (though I do still think she would have made an incredible ‘girl on fire’!). But I have since watched ‘Winter’s Bone’ and been figuratively ‘shut up’ by Lawrence’s bow and arrow + hair-dye.

Though, in my defense, when Jennifer Lawrence was announced as Katniss Everdeen the only reference I had for her was looking like a Baywatch-wannabe at the Oscars:


I'm still a little iffy on Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy (yes, I was rooting for Robert Downey Jnr, just like everybody else!). And I'm not getting the same lusty heart-palpitations for Josh Hutcherson (Peeta) as I do for Liam Hemsworth (Gale) – but my initial doubts about Jennifer Lawrence have taught me not to count my eggs before they hatch, and not to judge a cast before you see their promo shots. Lesson learned!

And may the odds be ever in your favor!


P.S. – is it 2012 yet? Because I'm also hanging out for the ‘Arrested Development’ movie. Seriously, I'm so excited I could weep!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

'Fallen' by Celeste Bradley

From the BLURB:

What happens when society's wallflower is found in bed with London's most outrageous bachelor?

To save his inheritance, Lord Julian Blackworth must propose to a woman he would just as soon forget. Izzy Temple, spinster housekeeper, wants nothing more than her freedom. Together, they strike a deal to pretend an engagement until the fuss dies down.

But when the lie becomes the truth, can Izzy and Julian set free the hearts they've been protecting for so long?

Isadora ‘Izzy’ Temple is sensuously awoken from a wonderful dream by a strange man in her bed. Scared and angered at this predicament, Izzy knocks the offending gentleman into unconsciousness with a candlestick before anything untoward can happen . . . which in turn brings half a household to her room and sets in motion her downfall in society.

Lord Julian Blackworth stumbled into spinster Temple’s bedroom by accident. Intending to have a tryst with an unhappily married woman in the room opposite, Julian was brained for his miscalculation and hitched to a wife in order to save face and gain his inheritance.

But truly, Izzy doesn’t want to be married. She is quite happy as a free spinster, and even has high hopes of venturing to America . . . ironically enough, her accidental fiancée has made her travel wishes come true. Now that Izzy is a ‘fallen’ woman she no longer needs an escort and can truly be by herself (since she is ‘ruined’ beyond repair). Now if she and Julian can keep up appearances and continue this farce of an engagement, Izzy can venture to America and start her life afresh . . . but first she needs to set a scandal in motion and break her engagement . . . if Julian will let her.

‘Fallen’ is an historical romance novel by Celeste Bradley which was released in 2001.

This novel has a rather interesting premise as Bradley explores the freedoms of forbidden romance. Izzy Temple is an over-the-hill spinster (at the age of twenty-six). She is resigned to living out her days in dull, dark gowns and acting as governess, maid and gardener to her spiteful cousin. But an unexpected rendezvous with London’s most notorious bachelor turns Izzy’s life around . . . Izzy knocks Julian into unconsciousness before anything can really occur. But the damage is done when a houseful of ton guests burst onto the scene and think Julian to be a debauched rapist. Izzy knows it was a simple (drunken) mistake, and cannot bear the thought of this strange man being cast out of society for such foolishness. So Izzy makes the spur-of-the-moment decision to claim that she and Julian are old lovers and the candlestick-braining was a lover’s quarrel.

The events that follow send London’s notorious ton society into a tail-spin. They lap up the gossip of the plain little spinster who managed to snag a Lord on the same night that she brained him. Izzy becomes unaccountably famous overnight, with Julian’s help and society’s thirst for gossip;

“You are the flaming temptress who lured me to her bed. You are the fiery lover who brained me in a passionate rage. You are the mysterious woman who has always been there, but no one remembers ever seeing. If you kicked off your slippers and performed a French cabaret dance on the tabletop, you could not be more scandalous or outrageous than you already are.”

Julian and Izzy (despite a rocky start) actually become wonderful friends. Izzy understands Julian’s late-night mistake and finds it quite funny. Izzy is also all too happy to help Julian retain his inheritance by carrying out a sham-engagement (with the firm understanding that she will be leaving for America when news of the break-up gets out). She and Julian share many tender, funny moments as they navigate a new friendship while keeping up the appearance of a couple in love. . . until the lines begin to blur.

The novel starts out interestingly enough, and I quite liked that Izzy and Julian established an easy repartee and friendship early on. But half-way through the novel things get complicated and convoluted.

It’s as though Bradley realized that Izzy and Julian had it too easy and so began writing obstacles for them to conquer. There’s Julian’s over-bearing, villainous father. Izzy’s hateful, inheritance-stealing cousin. A lot of ‘much ado about nothing’ style misunderstandings and half-heard conversations which lead Izzy to believe that Julian is cheating on her, and Julian to believe that Izzy is in love with his best friend. The second-half of the novel didn’t work as well for me because of all these layered storylines and complications. I thought Izzy and Julian had an interesting enough coupling to begin with, and didn’t think that Bradley needed to layer so many more obstacles before them.

‘Fallen’ was a wonderful historical romance with an interesting premise about a fallen spinster navigating her new popularity in ton society. Celeste Bradley lost me a little halfway through, when she starts piling complication on top of misunderstanding for the sake of a more spectacular ending . . . but otherwise I enjoyed this romance.

3.5/5

Sunday, May 22, 2011

'When Darkness Comes' Guardians of Eternity #1 by Alexandra Ivy

From the BLURB:

It's been a hell of a day for Abby Barlow. In just a few hours, she's survived an explosion, watched her employer die, had a startling dream, and now she finds herself in a seedy Chicago hotel with the sexy, unearthly Dante, a man she both desires and fears. For 341 years, Dante has stood as guardian to The Chalice, a mortal woman chosen to hold back the darkness. A terrible twist of fate has now made Abby that woman. Three hours ago, Dante would have used all his charms to seduce her. Now she is his to protect. And he will do so until his very death. A terrifying plan has been set in motion, one that will plunge Dante and Abby into an epic battle between good and evil - and a desperate race to save their love...

Abby is having a terrible day, and it's about to get worse. It’s bad enough being an assistant to the employer from hell, Selena. Between having to mix her nasty green weight loss concoctions and getting hit on by her boy-toy, Dante, Abby is about ready to throw in the towel (no matter how much she needs the money). But then the most awful thing happens . . . Selena is murdered. Brutally and in her own home, Abby and Dante are there to witness her charred bodies last breath. And then something strange happens. As Abby touches the body, prepared to give CPR, she is thrust into a strange delirium. Something happens to her body, and when she awakens Dante is determined to get her out of the house and into hiding. Because, apparently, when Abby touched Selena’s dying body she had the Phoenix transferred to her . . . whatever that means.

According to Dante the Phoenix is a supernatural being that banishes the dark Prince (of hell!) from the earth – since the two of them cannot occupy the same plane of existence simultaneously. The Phoenix lives inside a ‘Chalice’, a chosen one who inhabits its powers and keeps the Phoenix safe from demon-kind who would have the Chalice killed (thereby killing the Phoenix) and allowing the Prince to walk among us.

Not only that, but Dante turns out to be a vampire . . . a vampire who has been shackled to the Chalice for hundreds of years. And now Abby is his new assignment, and he will protect her (and the Phoenix) with his life.

‘When Darkness Comes’ is the first book in Alexandra Ivy’s ‘Guardians of Eternity’ paranormal series.

This series has been on my radar for a while now, mostly because whenever I'm on JR Ward’s Amazon page, Ivy’s books come up as ‘recommended reads’. I can see the correlation between the series – apart from the vampire characters; Ivy’s series is currently eight books deep with a changing HEA for each instalment. Ward’s first book, ‘Dark Lover’ came out in 2005. Ivy’s ‘When Darkness Comes’ was released in 2007. But Ivy’s ‘Guardians’ series is more of a ‘lite’ version of the epic Black Dagger Brotherhood series. And this first instalment is nothing too spectacular (or overly original). But it’s a case of ‘just-missed-the-mark’ as opposed to ‘failed-epically’.

When we meet them, Abby and Dante have been living together in a mansion owned by Selena (Abby’s employer and Dante’s assumed sugar-mama). Dante has been affectionately calling Abby his ‘lover’ and been partaking of some serious flirtations which have been frustratingly tempting for Abby. The book literally begins on a BOOM – with Selena dying brutally and passing the Phoenix onto Abby (thereby installing Dante as her very own personal vampire bodyguard). From the moment that Selena dies, Abby and Dante are being hunted down by demons who want the Phoenix dead so that the dark Prince may reside on earth . . . so yeah, a lot happens in the first chapter.

I quite liked the action starting from the get-go. The novel was immediately infused with an adrenalin rush and the quick pace ensured that Dante’s explanations of the Phoenix were quick and to the point (honestly, there’s so much back-story about the Phoenix that Ivy could have written pages and pages of summary, so I'm glad she went the quick-fire route!). I also quite liked the fact that Dante and Abby already had a lot of sexual tension between them. They’ve been experiencing this strange flirtation for months now – but Abby has been put-off by her assumption that Dante was Selena’s boy-toy, and she also thought he was too cocky by half. For Dante, he’s been with countless women and experienced just about everyone and everything, so he’s a little surprised by his dogged flirtation with Abby. He is drawn to her pure soul and determination to ignore her attraction to him. The Phoenix binds Dante and Abby together to ensure that neither can escape from their true feelings for one another . . .

On the one hand, it’s hard to be dumped into the middle of Dante and Abby’s established attraction. But on the other hand, I quite liked the fact that there’s not much will-they-or-won’t-they . . . it’s more a matter of ‘when’ than ‘if’. Dante reminded me a little of Jean Claude from the Anita Blake series for his persistent pet-name of ‘lover’ (named before he and Abby even kiss let alone get between the sheets!) and his sensuously persistent flirtations.

Romantic tension can be so over-done in the paranormal romance genre, so I quite like it when authors like Alexandra Ivy give us a couple that are devoid of overt tension. But it’s a double-edged sword. Abby and Dante were a ‘sure thing’ and pretty much immediately affectionate; but it’s also a little boring when there’s no drama or guess-work involved in the romance. It does ensure that there are lots of sexy interludes between the two, and it helped that Abby and Dante sparked together. They had plenty of witty exchanges that kept me chuckling;

“Adventure?” Abby swatted at a biting mosquito with a grimace. “An adventure is walking through St. Mark’s Square in Venice, or sipping coffee in a charming bistro in Paris. Not wading through a briar patch in search of witches.”
“Actually, the last time I attempted to enjoy coffee in Paris, I nearly had my head lopped off by the guillotine,” he murmured. “So you see, lover, it’s all a matter of perspective.”
Abby stumbled at the off-hand confession. “Good Lord, would you stop that?” she complained.
“What?”
“Mentioning the past so casually. I thought I was ancient because I can remember Melrose Place.”
He merely laughed.

One thing that didn’t work for me in this novel was Abby. She became quickly repetitive and somewhat annoying. A big deal is made of the fact that Abby has a ‘pure soul’, which demons can sense and are attracted to. But Abby’s soul is made all the purer because she has had a tough childhood – which we know about, because Abby mentions it all the time (at the drop of a hat). It got to the point where Abby spoke about her violent-daddy-drunk-mother-abandoning-brothers so many times that I lost all sympathy for her. I wish she’d kept a little something back, and not put her heart on her sleeve. As it was, it really read as though she slipped her broken childhood into just about every conversation with Dante. Grr!

Realistically, ‘When Darkness Comes’ isn’t reinventing the paranormal wheel. JR Ward has done it bigger and better. Dante and Abby were a so-so couple, with plenty of sexy interludes but not much interesting tension. What saves this book is also what saved ‘Dark Lover’ – the promise of other characters. Dante is friends with a powerful older vampire called Viper, who runs a supernatural brothel. This guy is dangerous . . . and wickedly tempting. His is the hero of the second novel, and I just know that I've got to keep reading to get his story! Ivy also mentions some of Viper’s minions – Egyptian vampire twins who are sinfully attractive and rumoured to have bedded many President’s wives in the past. I have my fingers crossed that those two make an appearance in future books!

I may not have LOVED ‘When Darkness Comes’, but I did enjoy it. I will keep reading because I thought the same thing about Ward’s ‘Dark Lover’ – and I was glad I persevered with that series beyond Wrath and Beth’s ‘meh’ story.

3/5

Thursday, May 19, 2011

'Rampant' Little Goddess #4 by Amy Lane

From the BLURB:

Lady Cory has carved out a life for herself not just as a wife to three husbands but also as one of the rulers of the supernatural communities of Northern California-- and a college student in search of that elusive degree. When a supernatural threat comes crashing into the hard-forged peace of Green's hill, she and Green determine that they're the ones in charge of stopping the abomination that created it. Their vow to protect leads Cory, Bracken and Nicky to Redding--where a tight-knit family of vampires threatens the people Cory loves to keep a terrible secret. It also leads them to a conflict of loyalties, as Nicky's parents threaten to tear Nicky away from the family he's come to love more than his own life.

Cory has to work hard to hold on to her temper and her life as she tries to prove that she and Green are not only leaders who will bind people to their hearts, but also protectors who will keep danger from running RAMPANT.

Cory is really starting to thrive in her new royal role. Alongside Green, Bracken and Nicky, she is coming into her authority with wise words, a firm hand and vicious tenderness. So when there are numerous reports of puma killings (were-puma), Cory and her people are quick to assume control of the situation. And when Nicky’s family are so distraught by his foursome relationship that they want to drag him home to bumfuck Montana, Cory and her men bandy around their brother and lover with fiery determination.

‘Rampant’ is the fourth book in the ‘Little Goddess’ series.

Previous books has seen Cory deal with her newfound supernatural tendencies, an unconventional multi-partnered romance and the responsibilities of her kingdom. In ‘Rampant’ we are reading Nicky’s perspective and understanding the many ways he is balancing his unpredictable and unscripted life. Previous books have concentrated on Cory’s relationship with Bracken and Green, so ‘Rampant’ is really Nicky’s time to shine. I didn’t think much of Nicky as a character until this fourth instalment . . . but I feel like, now that Cory knows is role in her life and vice versa, I finally get (and appreciate) him too. His journey in this book is cringe-worthy funny, and also sweetly moving. I find that Amy Lane does that juxtaposition a lot. Cory herself is a young woman of wise and lyrical words who can switch to gutter-mouth in a New York minute. I like that flipside in this series – when Amy Lane can write a highly erotic scene, followed by a blood bath.

‘Rampant’ also introduces some new characters in the form of Green’s Hill werewolves – Teague, Jack and Katy. Apparently these characters appeared in short story instalments which were originally free to download on Amy Lane’s website, but have now been bought by Torquere Press. Short stories 1 and 2 are currently available for purchase, but the other four won’t be out until June, August, October, and December this year. It’s a little frustrating to read their concurrent storylines, because Teague occasionally narrates. Their story of a threesome werewolf pack isn’t so convoluted that you can’t follow it, but there seems to be a lot of delicious back story that I resent not having read yet. These short stories will definitely be on my TBR list though!

‘Rampant’ is the last book in the ‘Little Goddess’ stories for the time being. I don’t know when Amy Lane intends to release the fifth instalment, but I hope it’s soon . . . because ‘Rampant’ leaves on a jaw-dropping, spine-tingling cliff-hanger that is full of spectacular possibilities.

I have been really impressed by this series. Amy Lane writes a sensuous and intense romance between four very different characters. Her writing is lush and poetic, and the universe is set on a grand, fantastical scale;

Some demons couldn’t be kissed away. Some of them had the right to ride you, to rend the skin of your wellness with ragged, dirty nails.

I am really looking forward to more books in the ‘Little Goddess’ series. It’s been a grand journey so far, and I can only imagine where Amy Lane intends to take these characters in the future. . .

4/5


'Bound' Little Goddess #3 by Amy Lane

From the BLURB:

Humans have the option of separation, divorce, and heartbreak—for Corinne Carol-Anne Kirkpatrick, sorceress and queen of the vampires, the choices are limited to love or death. Now that she is back at Green’s hill and assuming her duties as leader, her life is, at best, complicated. Bracken and Nicky are rivalling for her affections, Green is gone taking care of his people, and a new supernatural enemy is threatening the sanctity of all she has come to love. Throw in a family reunion gone bad, a supernatural psychiatrist and a killer physics class, and Cory’s life isn’t just complex, it’s psychotic.

Cory needs to get her act and her identity together, and soon, because the enemy she and her lovers are facing is a nightmare that doesn’t just kill people, it unmakes them. If she doesn’t figure out who she is and what her place is on Green’s hill, it’s not just her life on the line. She knows from hard experience that the only thing worse than facing death is facing the death of someone she loves.

Because loving people is easy—living with them is what takes the real work, and it’s even harder if you’re BOUND.

Cory, nee Lady Cory, is settling into her role as Queen of the fae foothill slowly but surely. With Green by her side as well as her elfin husband Bracken and her Avian partner, Nicky, Cory is assimilating to her Queenly role with aplomb (and only a few minor hiccups).

Cory is also finding time to finish her university degree – with a concentration on business and kingdom ruling. She is even making new human friends while she attends school, giving her tenuous connections to the world she left behind.

But a sinister presence threatens to destroy everything that Cory has worked so hard to protect and accept. A malevolent presence – with a smell of decay and nails-on-chalkboard sound – is stalking the foothills. It’s up to Cory and co to protect their own and eradicate this new evil, nicknamed the ‘Hollow Man’.

‘Bound’ is the third book in Amy Lane’s ‘Little Goddess’ paranormal erotica romance series.

In the first book, ‘Vulnerable’, it seemed as though Cory’s journey was all about accepting her ‘otherness’ and opening her eyes to the supernatural. ‘Wounded’ saw Cory nursing her grief while struggling to accept the responsibilities of the foothill. ‘Bound’ sees Cory’s focus shift to the mending of her love life as she compromises and accommodates her three permanent lovers and mates.

Green is away on business for two weeks when ‘Bound’ begins, as his sexual healing takes him inter-state to strengthen his various allegiances. But being away from his beloved is soul-crushing for both him and Cory. While Green is away on business, Cory must step up and become leader in his absence – a task she is overwhelmed and humbled by, even more so when the Hollow Man comes to terrorize. It’s interesting to read Green and Cory apart – in many ways their romance has been an assured constant since the first book. As distance makes the heart grow fonder, it’s nice to read how much they depend on each other and crave one another.

But ‘Bound’ is really about Cory’s evolving relationship with the other two men in her life. Bracken is her ‘husband’ – they are bound in mortality and fidelity. Their relationship is fiery and intense, and as vital as breathing to both of them. Nicky is an ‘Avian’, a shape-changing bird/man. He and Cory were accidentally bound in a mating ceremony, and because Avian’s need their mate to live, Cory has no choice but to accept his complicated love. Nicky and Cory’s love is tepid and complicated compared to her lush passion for Green and Bracken. In this book, Cory has to find a balance with Nicky and accept the boundaries of their mating.

This book really highlights Cory’s growth. She is becoming impressively queenly, especially in how she gathers new supernatural’s to the foothill and protects those in her kingdom;

“We live in a vast world, Davy. Bigger than you imagine, more complicated than you ever thought possible. And Kyle has made you a part of it, and that’s for him to explain. It’s scary. There are deaths and pain and brutality that I don’t ever want you to imagine, much less know.” I turned to Bracken now, and was going to take his hand, but he wrapped his arm around my shoulder, giving me just enough room to turn to her, as she sat on the wet metal bench in the rain. “But there’s sweetness here too, Davis Stacia – remember that when you talk with Kyle. So much of it hurts, but there is sweetness, and beauty, and love.”

‘Bound’ is a great new instalment in the ‘Little Goddess’ series. Cory is coming leaps and bounds in her queenship, and her romance is heating up and balancing out. I love Green and Bracken, and while Nicky still reads like a third-wheel, I'm impressed by how Cory works the complications of their mating. I can’t wait to read fourth book, ‘Rampant’.

5/5

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

'Wounded' Little Goddess #2 by Amy Lane


From the BLURB:

Green: "If someone gives their life for you, it is because they can not bear to live in a world without you. This is a great gift and a terrible burden, and if you are going to live, you need to be grateful for the gift and prepared to bear the burden."

Cory: "I do fearsome things, when I'm touching people who love me..."

Cory fled the foothills to deal with the pain of losing Adrian, and Green watched her go. Separately, they could easily grieve themselves to death, but when an enemy brings them together, they find out what a great and terrible force love can be.

*** This review contains SPOILERS of the first book in the ‘Little Goddess’ series, ‘Vulnerable’ ***

It has been months since Cory left her newfound fae home in the California foothills. She left behind her new, supernatural life and the man she loves, the fearless foothill leader Green. She left with grief in her heart and despair in her eyes . . . for she still mourns the death of her first lover, the vampire Adrian.

Adrian was taken from her too soon, with too little to remember him by. She and Green both grieve for him and miss him, but Cory feels the suffocating need to leave for school in San Francisco to deal with her wounded heart in private.

And it is in this glorious new city that Cory is attacked. A strange supernatural presence has stolen Cory’s ‘first’s’ – the most important of which are linked to Adrian.

So Green, along with his faithful elf second, Arturo, Adrian’s adopted-brother and lover, Bracken and a cache of fighting fae leave for San Fran to protect Cory and get back what was ripped away from her.

‘Wounded’ is the second book in Amy Lane’s paranormal romance series, ‘Little Goddess’.

I went into this book a wee-bit sceptical. I did enjoy the first book of the series, ‘Vulnerable’, but was flabbergasted and somewhat disheartened by the ending in which Adrian sacrificed himself for his and Green’s people. I loved Adrian – I thought he had a terribly tragic past and that there was lots of potential between him and Cory and what they bought out in each other. I was looking forward to reading a series in which a romantic threesome was established and maintained. Alas, that was not Amy Lane’s intended trajectory for this series. . .

‘Wounded’ sees Cory and Green in the latter stages of their grief, which has been worsened by their distance and time apart. When a malevolent being forces Green to rush to Cory’s rescue, they are both forced to admit their feelings and struggles in the wake of Adrian’s death. Green must acknowledge that Cory will need to take another lover (or two) because as a sex-healing fae, Green cannot give himself completely or monogamously to his beloved. Meanwhile, Cory is surprised to learn that a college classmate has been crushing on her for four months, and that Adrian’s adopted-brother, best friend, romantic rival and sometimes-lover, Bracken, is lusting after Cory and desperate to be her new bedmate.

Despite the changing tides of Cory’s affections as she opens her heart up to new lovers and romantic possibilities, Green is her constant. Their love is spectacular, and open. Yes, Green gives his body to numerous Sidhe and fae in order to heal emotional and physical wounds, as well as strengthen alliances . . . but what he has with Cory is distinctly different in heart and tone. His sexuality may be fluid and frequent, but Cory is a boundless love that Green has not had the pleasure of experiencing since Adrian came into his life. I love Green and Cory, even if there’s still a small part of me that believes Adrian was Cory’s more interesting partner.

Bracken is a surprising new addition to Cory’s ‘harem’. He was a sidelines character in ‘Vulnerable’, one who had a combustible and unfriendly first encounter with Cory. But since Adrian’s death Bracken has reassessed his intentions and decided he wants in Cory’s bed and even a more permanent place in her heart if she will allow. I really liked Bracken – he’s a nice new romantic addition (in replacement of Adrian) and his being polar-opposite to Green makes for a nice, fiery balance in Cory’s life. Bracken is possessive and jealous, and Cory knows that a relationship with him will be full of high-drama and pitfalls . . . but by the same token he is caring and noble, and Cory feels safe in his arms like she hasn’t done since her first lover’s death. Bracken and Cory are a somewhat tangled web, for Bracken’s previous relationship with Adrian – but as this series progresses Amy Lane really highlights how fluid and open the fae sexuality is, and as a reader you don’t even bat an eyelash at some of the trickier couplings.

Cory is slowly coming into her own in this book. She made so much progression in such a short time in ‘Vulnerable’ – from an angry Goth girl, to lover of a fae and vampire, respectively. But Adrian’s death has put her two steps back in emotional development. It’s interesting to read her struggles with a changing world view while dealing with the very raw, human emotion of grief and loneliness;

“ . . . My whole life I wanted I wanted to get out of the freaking foothills of California, but now all I can think of is going back, because I fell in love with Green’s home, and Green’s people, and now I want to be there again. I mean I'm what? A hundred and fifty miles from home?”
“Too far.” Bracken murmured. “You’re too far from home.”
“It feels like a hundred and fifty mile hole in my heart.” I told him, feeling that hole heal a little, just to say it. “Can you really fall in love with a life? With a . . . preternatural flop house for the fey and undead, just by falling in love with its leaders?”

I'm still not 100% convinced that Adrian’s death wasn’t a trigger-happy plot ploy. I still feel like he was a missed opportunity and he is sorely missed in ‘Wounded’ (but still with infinite possibilities?) . . . but I am interested to read the next two books in the ‘Little Goddess’ series. I am loving Cory’s emotional maturity and changing view of the world – not to mention a brand new kick-butt attitude and powers to match. The romance in this book is fiery and lush, with plenty of couplings and romantic tension.

4/5

Sunday, May 15, 2011

'Vulnerable' Little Goddess #1 by Amy Lane

From the BLURB:

Working graveyards in a stop & rob seemed a small price for Cory to pay in order to get her degree and get the hell out of Nor-Cal. She was terrified of disappearing into the aimless vortex that awaited the lost and the young that haunted her neck of the woods. Until the night she actually stopped looking at her books and looked up. What awaited her was a world she had only read about--one filled with fantastical creatures that she was sure she could never be. And then Adrian walked in--and she discovered that risking your life was nothing compared to facing who you really were. And then falling in love.

Cory had a plan to get out of the California Foothills. She was going to study hard, escape her parent’s double-wide and hitch a ride on a University scholarship. In the mean time, she works the graveyard shift at a gas station.

The graveyard shift is pretty monotonous and soul-sucking. So it suits Cory’s Goth-bitch persona pretty damn well. But in between crunching out English essays and barely tolerating her customers, Cory stumbles across a whole new world as it tramples through her gas station . . . because the late-night shift brings strange folk through Cory’s door. A cache of weird and wonderful people – impossibly beautiful and sensual with sharpened teeth and pointed ears.

It’s all in the back of Cory’s mind, until one of her customers opens her sight to the real world. Suddenly Cory can see them. Sidhe – they are the stuff of myth and legend, Shakespearian sonnet and paranormal erotica. Goblins, elves, vampires, shifters, red-caps . . . they all pass by Cory’s counter, buying Malboro’s and Dr. Pepper on a nightly basis.

And then he walks through her door. Adrian. Impossibly beautiful and lethal – a predator in heart-throb’s clothes. Adrian is a vampire, and he wants Cory. For months and months Adrian courts her, drawn to her sarcasm, brutality, honesty and potential greatness.

Cory resists. Adrian is one-hundred and fifty years old and beautiful to boot. What would he want with Cory – who is nineteen, plump and unhappy? But want her he does . . . until Cory simply can’t resist.

Adrian brings Cory back to his faerie hill home. Adrian built the hill with his mentor, brother, lover and soul-mate, Green. Green is a high-Sidhe and he is the one who discovered and saved Adrian from a terrible human life. Green is the centre of the universe for Adrian and all of the Sidhe who live in the hill. But when Adrian brings Cory home, it changes everything . . .

Adrian loves Cory. Green wants her. Adrian and Green want each other, and Cory is only just starting to realize her own sensuality. But a dark presence looms, threatening to destroy Adrian, the hill and all that Green holds dear.

‘Vulnerable’ is the first book in Amy Lane’s ‘Little Goddess’ paranormal romance series.

I read Amy Lane last year, her beautifully erotic book ‘Truth in the Dark’. I've had her on my TBR shelf for a while now, and finally decided to give her series a read.

I initially thought that ‘Little Goddess’ would be a young adult series – because of the somewhat tame front covers, nineteen-year-old protagonist and a blurb that failed to hint at the lustful couplings within. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover that ‘Vulnerable’ is a cross between Sunny’s ‘Monere: Children of the Moon’ and Laurell K Hamilton’s ‘Merry Gentry’ series. This book is like a modern Midsummer Night’s Dream; with a frenetic plot and fiery romance.

The story is told from alternating points of view, swinging between Cory, Adrian and Green as their romance intertwines, the stakes are raised and danger looms.

Cory was a wonderful and very human protagonist. She’s a teenage girl with a chip on her shoulder and a dream in her heart; a self-conscious Goth who feels the need to act tough in order to get by. Cory is hyperaware of being mediocre – plain instead of pretty, somewhat smart and all together too average. She reminded me a little of Juno, for her quick wit and sharp tongue, her self-deprecation and unrelenting humour. So she’s a little amazed when the Nor-Cal fae take an interest in her. It starts with an elf called Arturo giving her ‘the sight’, and suddenly Adrian is walking into her life and determined to have her heart. Cory is doubly surprised when she meets Adrian’s first true love, the high Sidhe Green – because pretty soon it becomes apparent that Green wants and loves her too.

I'd see him again, but suddenly I missed him when he left. It was like being the last two people at a party – lonely and companionable at once.
I looked at Adrian’s eyes, beautiful, mesmerizing. Not human. I didn’t feel lonely at all. “You’ll take me places?” I asked. His answer was important, even though my decision was already made.
“You can’t imagine where we’ll go.” He said, sincerely. He no longer looked vulnerable. He looked assured. He looked happy. He smiled, and doubt and sense and worry all fell away. “You’ll enjoy the trip.” He murmured, lowering his head.

I really loved Green and Adrian’s romance. Adrian had a shockingly awful childhood, until Green saved him – and they’ve been lovers and best friends ever since. Together, Adrian and Cory built a faerie hill sanctuary where every piskie, elf, gnome and vampire could seek refuge in the foothills. Though Adrian is besotted with Cory, he still knows deep down that he won’t ever truly give himself to anyone who can’t also accept Green into their relationship. So Adrian is relieved and amazed when Green’s lust for Cory matches his own.

Green is a high Sidhe with a magic touch, literally. He heals emotional and physical wounds through love and sex. So he’s always helping people through intimacy and affection, but it has been a while since he was last truly in love – until Adrian brings Cory to the hill.

The romance in this book is pretty wonderful. Adrian and Cory have enough sensual chemistry together, but add Green into the mix and things really heat up. First it’s a longing kind of love – and then it evolves into a strong and steadfast triangular relationship that also helps Cory to experience her personal powers.

‘Vulnerable’ is first a foremost a romance, but there’s also a lot of great magic and myth in the story too. Lane writes a frenetic winsomeness that’s initially hard to follow, but merges into a wonderful and distinctive voice. She writes an outlandish and extravagant storyline with plenty of fae explanation and new twists to old legends.

I was all ready to give this book 5/5 stars and happily delve into the next three books of the series . . . until the ending crept up on me. I don’t want to give anything away, but the ending was a total kick in the pants. Really, I felt blindsided and a little short-changed by the explosive finale. I thought I knew what the ‘Little Goddess’ series would be exploring, and I was excited to read a series that promised such love in the first book. But with the ending I did wonder if Amy Lane was a little too trigger-happy. I suddenly found myself a little reluctant and unexcited to breach the second book because of the game-changing end of ‘Vulnerable’.

‘Vulnerable’ is the first book in a sensuous and extravagant paranormal romance series. Amy Lane has written fae and myth with her own unique twist and offered up a deeply satisfying and sexy romance. I am disheartened by the surprise ending because it changed the entire outlook of the series for me, but I will soldier on and try the second book.

4/5