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Sunday, July 31, 2011

'Days Like This' by Alison Stewart

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

She has to escape.
But who else is out there?
And can anyone survive days like this?

I want to go back to the days when life made sense. The days before our parents became strange; before the warming ate away at all the living things in the world; before The Committee and their Blacktroopers. Before the Wall.

Lily is a prisoner in her own home. Forced to stay inside by The Committee and guarded by their increasingly distant parents, Lily and her brother Daniel are beginning to ask why. Then, when Daniel disappears just before his seventeenth birthday, Lily knows she is next.

Lily, her brother Daniel and their little sister Alice have not left the house in three years. They, like all other children, have been locked away from the outside world for their own safety, so say the Central Governing Committee. The Committee have had the people’s best interests at heart ever since The Wall was built 12 years ago. When water became scarce and only the privileged could afford to drink, The Wall was built to cordon off the wealthy areas around Sydney Harbor, keeping out the riff-raff with the help of patrolling Blacktroopers. But since their captivity, Lily and her siblings have noticed a change in their parents. Their mother and father no longer touch them when they’re sick, they insist on feeding them strange serums and there is whispered talk of ‘serum enhanced’, ‘hormonally lucrative’ and an upcoming ‘harvesting’. When Daniel disappears in the middle of the night, Lily is certain she’s next, so she escapes. She steps out of her house for the first time in three years, and what she discovers on the outside is worse than she and Daniel ever imagined. With the help of an underground network of child survivors, Lily is determined to find her siblings and save them all.

The Wall was supposed to keep them safe, but all it has done is keep them in.

Days Like This’ is a new YA dystopian novel from Alison Stewart.

‘Days Like This’ was always going to be a show-stopping release. It was shortlisted for the 2010 Amazon/Penguin Breakthrough Novel Award and picked as one of three finalists in the young adult section. But more than that, this novel is a hotly anticipated addition to an ever-popular genre . . . Australian readers can rejoice – we have arrived! Finally, we have a dystopian novel to call our own! Not just that, but this dystopian is based in and around Sydney Harbor in a post-pharma state where aging adults have become the enemy and children are, literally, walled in.


‘Days Like This’ was impressive for a number of reasons, but the two big selling points for me was Stewart’s clever hark back to history, and her empowering of the young characters.

The novel’s references and can be likened to a number of historical events. The Wall that has been erected around Sydney Harbour is reminiscent of the Berlin wall, erected in 1961 to segregate East and West Berlin. The Central Governing Committee’s Blacktrooper soldiers, who patrol the Sydney streets, are reminders of Hitler’s SS or Russia’s KGB, for their distinctive look and brutish behaviour. And when Lily ventures beyond her house and bands together with a group of other Wall-outsiders and child survivors, their underground network is akin to guerrilla war efforts – like the Vietnamese Viet Cong.


Alison Stewart never outright cites these major historic events – but they’re impossible to miss and chilling in their reinvention on the page. Stewart has done a wonderful job of blending histories past mistakes to create a frighteningly controlled dystopic world.

At night Lily often woke in a sweat from a recurring dream in which all her memories were rubbed out and she was alone in a closed-up world. She had to work hard then to remember what outside even felt like.

Dystopia is a genre which inherently understands that young characters should be their own saviours and must empower themselves. Dystopia doesn’t often rely on adult characters to save the young people as the combination of societal explorations and thrilling adventures means that the young protagonists are at the helm of their destiny – urged to fight for themselves against the establishment. This is never truer than in Stewart’s ‘Days Like This’ – mostly because in this alternate world, adults are not saviours, they are the enemy. Stewart has created a chilling and villainous institution in the Central Governing Committee, and their greatest threat lies in their parent-soldiers who help to control and manipulate the children. It’s utterly spine-chilling and blood-curdling to read Lily’s parents, Pym and Megan, react to her teen rebellions and curb her mini mutiny.

Lily wanted to go back to the days when she and Daniel could run and play and climb trees, before her parents became strange, before the warming ate away at all the living things in their shrivelled-up world. Before the Wall.

I think many young Aussie readers will enjoy ‘Days Like This’ purely for the Australian setting. Dystopian books are nice, but clearly Aussie Dystopian books are better. And everything about ‘Days Like This’ is inherently linked to our culture and community – right down to the fact that Sydney was walled up when water became so precious that only the wealthy had access. Australia is currently in the double-digits of drought years, so even including this little tid-bit of background is an instant cultural understanding for readers.


‘Days Like This’ may seem all doom and gloom – but there are lighter moments. Fans of Dystopia like a little romance to break up the bleak, so they’ll be happy to know that Lily has a small love triangle between two boys from the other side of the wall; Kiernan and Luca. I don’t want to give anything away, but one is a bad boy and the other sweet, and the triangle will keep you on the edge of your seat.

I really, truly loved ‘Days Like This’ for a number of reasons. Alison Stewart has done an impressive job of making heroes out of her young protagonists; the kinds of characters you can cheer for and live their bravery vicariously. The novel is also a brilliant mesh of past histories, so that the Dystopia-setting feels like a culmination of this century’s worst political and societal mistakes – making the bleak setting all the more terrifying for its pseudo-reality. But, above all else, Stewart’s ‘Days Like This’ invokes chest-swelling, fist-pumping pride purely for being a true-blue Aussie YA Dystopian novel! Let’s just hope this it is the first of many.

5/5

Saturday, July 30, 2011

'Shift' by Em Bailey

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

There were two things everyone knew about Miranda Vaile before she'd even arrived at our school. The first was that she had no parents - they were dead. And the second? They were dead because Miranda had killed them.

Olive Corbett is definitely not crazy. Not anymore. These days she takes her meds like a good girl, hangs out with her best friend Ami, and stays the hell away from the toxic girls she used to be friends with. She doesn't need a boyfriend. Especially not a lifesaver-type with nice eyes and a broad back. And she doesn't need the drama of that creepy new girl Miranda trying to make it with her ex-friends. But then, against all odds, Miranda does make it with them. Or she best-friends one of them and makes the others go away. As Miranda emerges from the shadows, Olive begins to realise something sinister going is on. Something almost…parasitic. Either Olive is losing her grip on reality, or those crazy rumours are true. Maybe Miranda is a killer. But who would believe Olive? She does have a habit of letting her imagination run away with her…

Miranda Vaile was infamous long before she set foot in the small suburb of Jubilee Park. Stories about Miranda were swirling in the weeks prior to her arrival – stories about her life in Europe, the crazy aunt she was coming to live with . . . and the fact that she killed her parents.

The attention and attraction of Miranda is a reprise for Jubilee Park’s resident psychotic – Olive Corbett. Olive, whose family life has disintegrated in the wake of her ‘mistakes’ and recovery from circumstances unknown. Olive, who used to rule the school with her best friend, Katie – but in recent months has filled out, quirked-up and shut herself away. Not even the cute new guy at school, Lachlan, can distract or tempt Olive back to the glamorous clique. She seems content to wear her frumpy op-shop clothes and hang with her new friend, Ami.

But when Miranda and Katie start an unlikely and suffocating friendship, Olive becomes suspicious. The closer Miranda and Katie become, the more Katie seems to be vanishing before her very eyes – wasting away into a thin, sunken-eyed shell of her former self. Meanwhile, Miranda flourishes – her glassy eyes reflect Katie’s old verve, her hair has a similar shine and lustre that once crowned Katie’s head and Katie’s boyfriend is even gracing Miranda’s arm.

Something is not right about Miranda Vaile. But, then again, something is not right with Olive Corbett either.

Shift’ is the new YA novel from Australian author Em Bailey – a pseudonym for Meredith Badger, of the highly-acclaimed ‘Go Girl’ and ‘Zac Power’ books for younger readers.

I saw this novel advertised at the recent Australian Bookseller’s Association book fair – the cover was utterly striking, and when I read the blurb I was doubly intrigued. And it seems my curiosity served me well . . . because I think ‘Shift’ is shaping up to be a hot new Australian release.

Our narrator is Olive Corbett – a wise-cracking, self-imposed outcast from a broken home who is hefting a heavy weight on her shoulders. Olive is initially intrigued with Miranda Vaile for the same reason as everyone else – the rumour of her parricide. But when Miranda is revealed as an ordinary orphan, content to slink into the background, Olive’s private hopes for a little excitement are dashed . . . until Miranda takes a keen interest in Olive’s ex-best-friend and current tormentor, Katie.

Miranda’s fascination with the beautiful and popular Katie is at first hopelessly embarrassing, but quickly progresses into an unlikely friendship, and then devolving into an unhealthy obsession. As the girls seclude themselves into a private clique, Olive becomes increasingly paranoid that Miranda is up to something – convinced that the new girl has ‘mirror eyes’ and is starting to resemble Katie . . .

And herein lies the brilliance of ‘Shift’ – for just as Miranda’s behaviour becomes increasingly disturbing, so too does Olive reveal some deep cracks within herself. Olive talks cryptically of fearing the ocean since her ‘incident’. She blames herself for her parent’s divorce, but won’t discuss the circumstances surrounding her father walking out on the family. Olive admits to having seen a Dr. Richter for some time, but refrains from detailing the reasons for her visits. Thus, as Olive begins to notice Miranda’s strange behaviour, so too will readers begin to pick up on Olive’s oddity . . .

Em Bailey has written a mystery within a mystery as ‘Shift’ straddles the line between psychological and paranormal, sinister and supernatural – taking readers on a rollercoaster thrill ride that dips into the damaged psyche of a young girl, and then soars back into a horror novel of epically spine-chilling proportions.

The novel is a real chill-ride for a number of reasons – not least of which is the genre guessing-game. ‘Shift’ works so well because Bailey has captured and distilled the menace of high school with ironic brilliance. It’s disturbing that, as you read, you’re never quite sure if Miranda is something dangerous and supernaturally ‘other’ . . . or if she’s in fact just another queen-bee bitch from the popular hive. Is Olive seeing something dangerous and paranormal in Miranda – or is she simply another high school menace?

There’s also a small romance in the novel, as Olive becomes begrudgingly enamoured of the popular new boy, Lachlan. But Olive’s murky past and her current loner-status make her wary of starting something with one so beautiful and clearly meant for better things than her frumpy old self. I really enjoyed this romance, even if it wasn’t always the focus of the novel. Lachlan is charming and sweet, a rarely understanding teenage boy who is enraptured by Olive’s quirkiness. And as the novel progresses, he also becomes a lodestone for Olive’s sanity.

“Do you believe that weird things can happen?” I said. “You know – the kind of things that you shouldn’t really believe in if you’re a normal, sensible person?” I was speaking quickly, before I could change my mind.
Lachlan was silent for a moment. The water lapped around us. “I guess I believe in grey,” he said eventually.
“What does that mean?”
“It’s something my grandpa used to say,” said Lachlan. “Some things aren’t straightforward. Not everything is true or false. Real or imaginary. It’s not that simple.” He looked at me, a shy smile on his face.

Olive was wonderful for her imperfections. She’s a very messy character (not least because she’s an unreliable narrator) – but Olive’s cryptic past, her self-hatred and coping mechanisms make her infinitely fascinating. She’s definitely not your typical heroine – but I found myself liking her for her flaws and rooting for her, regardless. If I had any complaint it’s that I felt Bailey didn’t address Olive’s home life satisfactorily by book’s end. Much is made of her father walking out on the family months ago – and I expected a dénouement would have to include a confrontation with the absent patriarch . . . but it never happens, and Olive’s ending seems slightly unfulfilled because of it.

Em Bailey’s ‘Shift’ is ‘Jennifer’s Body’ meets ‘The Roommate’ in a novel that’s supremely chilling and psychologically thrilling. Bailey writes a masterful mystery and plays a guessing-game with readers as she meshes supernatural horror with high-school melodrama through the fissured psyche of a young girl.

5/5

Publication date: 1st September 2011

Friday, July 29, 2011

'Forever' Wolves of Mercy Falls #3 by Maggie Stiefvater

From the BLURB:

In Maggie Stiefvater's SHIVER, Grace and Sam found each other. In LINGER, they fought to be together. Now, in FOREVER, the stakes are even higher than before. Wolves are being hunted. Lives are being threatened. And love is harder and harder to hold on to as death comes closing in.

This story started with a girl, and her wolf in the woods. A fairy story with an impossible transformation that breached two worlds and bought the young lovers together – a boy who turned into a wolf in the winter months, and turned back into a boy to be with his summer girl.

But then the story changed. The boy was cured, the lovers united and all seemingly right with the world . . . until the roles were reversed. Now it’s the girl who is a wolf and the boy who pines in the long and never-ending cold, waiting for his love to return.

‘Forever’ is the third and final book in Maggie Stiefvater’s glorious literary YA trilogy, ‘Wolves of Mercy Falls’.

In the build-up to the book’s release, I pined for months – salivating over the cover, pondering the conclusion and crossing my fingers for a happy ending. But I found that when the book was finally delivered into my hot little hands that I was reluctant to get stuck into it. Ironically enough, it took me forever to read ‘Forever’ because I didn’t want ‘Forever’ to end. . . and by the last page I had conflicting feelings – unsatisfied but pleased, unsurprised but frustrated.

Let me just start by saying that I knew ‘Forever’ wouldn’t be an easy book to read. For one thing, Stiefvater had set up the emotional turmoil back in ‘Linger’ with the tragic role-reversal between Sam and Grace. The angst had been well and truly built up for the finale as Grace and Sam were written back to square one as star-crossed lovers, separated by a gulf of transformation and the endless wood. Secondly, I know that Stiefvater is a tough author. Her series is a bit of a contradiction – at once touting the current supernatural/werewolf fad, but with real literary flair (you need only look at the pages peppered with Rilke and Yeats to get the idea that this is no ordinary YA). And I know from reading her first novel ‘Lament’ that Stiefvater is not the sort of author to finish her book in a neatly-tied bow. I knew all of this, and yet I still came out of ‘Forever’ a little bit miffed and dazed.

One problem I had with the book was the character of Cole St. Clair. I know that when Cole first appeared in ‘Linger’ there were many fans who were perplexed and disgruntled by his new narrative role. I, personally, loved Cole’s addition and his complex almost-romance with Isabel Culpeper. I thought Cole and Isabel as two snarky, jaded and lustful lovebirds was genius (if a little warped) – Isabel as the Mercy Falls queen bee bitch, and Cole as an infamous rocker from the band NARKOTIKA who is on the run from fame, fortune and himself. True, Cole being a rocker on the run who was recruited to lead the Mercy Falls wolves was a little strange – but I appreciated his and Isabel’s imperfect characters to balance out the squeaky-clean and sweet Sam and Grace. However, in ‘Forever’ Cole really stood out to me as a glaringly odd character in the series. I was willing to take on his curious background as a world-famous musician who was self-destructive and thought the only way to escape his life was to follow a crazy, wolfy scheme. Okay. A little ‘out-there’ but otherwise fine and interesting . . . what’s hard to swallow in ‘Forever’ is the subsequent convenience that not only is Cole a sociopathic rocker with a death wish – but he also happens to have a brilliant scientific mind (thanks to his scientist daddy) and is on the hunt for a cure to the malaria-like wolf gene.
Huh.
When you type it out like that his whole storyline does seem really contrived and down-right ridiculous. And, honestly, even with Stiefvater’s brilliant characterization and pin-point writing, Cole was a bizarrely awkward character in ‘Forever’.

That’s not to say I didn’t like Cole. I think the series needed a Cole-like character, someone whose perversely jaded outlook on life could balance out Sam’s sometimes sappy-sweetness. And I think Stiefvater communicates some brilliant insights through Cole’s musings;

Life was a cake that looked good on the bakery shelf but turned to sawdust and salt when I ate it.

I also really liked Cole and Isabel’s relationship. Both of them are self-destructive, self-hating pessimists who fight their attraction to one another tooth and nail. I loved their difference to Grace and Sam and their puppy love romance. But by book’s end I felt like maybe Stiefvater had tipped Cole and Isabel’s relationship-scales too much to the side of doom and gloom without offering up enough slivers of hope for their young souls.

Cole St. Clair was really the only aspect of ‘Forever’ that was out of step for me – but it was a pretty big misstep, especially because it seemed another aspect of the series was sacrificed for Cole’s sake. One of the things I loved about the first two books ‘Shiver’ and ‘Linger’ was Stiefvater’s concentration on Grace’s family life. So often YA books sweep parents under the rug and conveniently write them out of the entire book. Stiefvater took that commonality and flipped it on its head – making the absence of Grace’s parents into a really compelling (and infuriating) side-story that offered up plenty of home-life melodrama. I really missed that in ‘Forever’.

But, of course, ‘Wolves of Mercy Falls’ has always been the Sam and Grace show. From the moment Sam sang about his summer girl readers were hooked into their doomed romance – and with good reason. Stiefvater has turned the hotly popular werewolf story into a Machiavellian/Shakespearian tragedy of epic proportions. Grace and Sam have a seemingly impossible romance – made all the more bitter sweet for them being soul-mates of the highest order. A good portion of ‘Forever’ articulates the rift that Grace’s wolfiness has caused to Sam’s life, and it’s brilliantly heartbreaking;

Without Grace, I was a perpetual motion machine, run by my inability to sleep and my fear of letting my thoughts build up in my head. Every night was a photocopy of every day that had come before it, and every day was a photocopy of every night. Everything felt so wrong: the house full to the brim with Cole St. Clair and no one else; my memories edged with images of Grace covered in her own blood, shifting into a wolf; me, unchanging, my body out of the seasons’ reach. I was waiting for a train that never pulled into the station. But I couldn’t stop waiting, because who would I be then? I was looking at my world in a mirror.

Throughout ‘Forever’ I kept thinking how ingenious Stiefvater’s wolf-world is. She really has turned the old werewolf mythology into an utterly unique tragedy – a conundrum to twist her character’s lives that keeps readers guessing how it will all end.

True to Stiefvater’s tough, literary reputation ‘Forever’ doesn’t finish neatly. There’s no contrite happily-ever-after or quick-fix finale. Rather, the book finishes with a nice open-endedness that can be read as either fulfilling or frustrating for the way that her characters seem about ready to live on – beyond this trilogy and the woods of Mercy Falls.

3.5/5

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Kelly Gardiner interview

I recently read Kelly Gardiner's new historical YA novel 'Act of Faith' and I was enthralled. The book has it all - murder, treason and plot set amidst a grand European adventure and with a marvelously gutsy heroine at the helm.

So I was delighted to have the opportunity (thanks to HarperCollins) to pick the author's brain and ask some burning questions.

Without further adieu, I give you - Kelly Gardiner!




How long did it take you to write ‘Act of Faith’, from concept to final manuscript?

I researched and wrote it in two phases: the first, longest phase, began when I lived in New Zealand a few years ago and took probably a year including the research. The second phase, redrafting, took about six months part-time, once I’d moved back to Australia – and there was a long gap between the two, which I don’t recommend, because I forgot some of the things I’d researched and had to do it all over again. But real life intervenes sometimes.



How were you first published – agent or slush pile?

I was first published by HarperCollins New Zealand from the manuscript that I submitted for the first Swashbuckler book. I like to think it never sat in a slush pile, but I guess it did. I posted it in, waited the recommended six weeks, then rang up, terrified, and the lovely Lorain Day picked up the phone and said the words every author dreams of hearing: “Hello, yes, I would LOVE to talk to you about your wonderful manuscript”. Only later did I understand how extremely rare that is.

Then I got an agent to help me with the contracts and rights, about which I absolutely no idea at the time, and she also pitched my picture book to Random House a few years later. But right now I don’t have an agent and do it all myself.



‘Act of Faith’ takes Isabella on quite the epic European sojourn – from England to Amsterdam, Verona and Venice. Being a travel writer must have helped you recreate these destinations – but did you write any of ‘Act of Faith’ while in these countries and cities, walking those cobblestone paths?

Not in this case, although the sense of place is always very important to me - and I do feel as if my memories of the times when I have walked along the canals in Venice and stood in St Marco are only a heartbeat away. But I do think it’s important, if you can, to write and research on the spot. It’s not always possible, especially in a book where there are so many settings. I wished I could sail up the Rhine, and ride across Italy on horseback, but those things are a little tricky when you also have a day job.

With the Swashbuckler books, I drafted two of the novels, and then went to Malta for fact-checking and to just absorb that glorious place and its history. I’m doing the same with my current work in progress – going to France later this year. Walking in your characters’ fictional footsteps is always safest – harder work than people imagine, but so much fun.



If Isabella was a modern woman living with no misogynistic roadblocks in 2011, what do you imagine her career path would be?

What a great question! I suspect she would be an Orange prize-winning author and philosopher. Or maybe she’d run an independent publishing house – with the signora, of course.
She might even be the Pope. That’d put the cat amongst the Vatican pigeons.


I was ecstatic to read that ‘Act of Faith’ has a sequel coming out in 2013, called ‘The Sultan’s Eyes’. Can you tell us a bit about the sequel (and if Signora Contarini’s prediction of a man to match Isabella’s wit will come to fruition?)

It’s set initially in Venice and then moves to Istanbul, when Isabella, Willem, Al-Qasim and Signora Contarini are forced to flee the new Inquisitor of Venice – Fra Clement. Many of the familiar faces return, including some who may be unexpected, and there is a whole new cast of characters from the court of one of the world’s great empires: The Sultanate of the Women which at the time ruled the Ottoman Empire.

The plotting so far is rather more labyrinthine, so I’m still not sure where some of the threads will lead. As for Signora Contarini’s prediction – well, that would be telling. But you never know.



You work at the State Library of Victoria, and there are some beautiful illustrations within ‘Act of Faith’, from the Sticht Collection of the library’s Rare Books Collection. How long did it take you to find these gorgeous images? And how much fun was it to go searching through those dusty tomes?

The collection at the Library is so huge I had no idea those items were even there, but while I was doing the final drafts I did – like many other researchers – ask to look at amazing maps and books printed by people similar to Master de Aquila and Signora Contarini. Then the Director of Collections suggested I look at the Sticht Collection, which consists of hundreds of book leaves, frontispieces and printer devices from the early centuries of printing in Europe.

The first time I looked through them, I nearly cried. They are stuck (decades ago) on loose sheets of creamy cardboard, each in its own protective cover, and you take them out of these boxes in which they are carefully sorted by the country and city of the printing house. We don’t have dusty tomes!

First I looked through and narrowed them down, then I went back and took some photos, then the book designer, Jane Waterhouse, and publisher, Lisa Berryman, came in and we chose our favourites together. They are all from Dutch and Italian printers of around 1650 or earlier. The poor librarian had to get the boxes out of storage about five times, but she was delighted to hear us ooh and ah over them. It was like a magic/time travelling link to the fictional world and we all came over a bit emotional. When we left that afternoon, Lisa said “Let’s not tell anyone how much fun we have at work – they’d never believe it!”



All of your novels thus far have been swash-buckling, historic young adult adventures. What’s the appeal of history – and why do you so enjoy writing for the younger set?

My head is full of history all the time. I can’t help it. Always has been. One of the reasons for that is that when I was younger I read my way through one of the great eras of historical fiction: the books of Rosemary Sutcliff, Leon Garfield, Geoffrey Trease and others. I used to go to the library and stock up every week, and then read them all over again. I’d like to think that I’m continuing their tradition – detailed research, interesting history and a rollicking adventure. That’s the dream, anyway!


On that note – would you ever write an adult novel?

I’m working on one now – it’s part of my PhD project and it’s a novel based on the life of a real swashbuckler, Mademoiselle de Maupin. I’ve also written one set on the Somme in World War I, but it needs more work before it sees the light of day.



If you stumbled across a time-machine (akin to the Tardis) – what moment in time would you most like to visit?

The moment when Elizabeth I met the Irish pirate queen Grace O’Malley.



Favourite book(s) of all time?

War and Peace.


Favourite author(s)?

Changes all the time – at present, probably AS Byatt, EL Doctorow and Emma Donoghue.



What advice do you have for budding young writers?

Read. Write. Read. Write. And again. That’s all. Just keep being as good as you can be. On a more practical level, read passages out loud so you can hear if they ring true – and if something makes you hesitate or wonder, then it needs more thought. I learned that the hard way.

I’m currently writing in 25 minute bursts with a five minute break in between, just about chained to the desk so I can’t get distracted. It really works, especially for rough drafting. If I can’t think of the right word or I don’t know some historical fact, I just write “something” and go back to it later. Otherwise I can spend twenty minutes looking up the etymology of one word or the price of boat hire on the Thames in 1640 and not write any more for hours.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

'Fallen' Will Trent/Atlanta #3 by Karin Slaughter

From the BLURB:

There’s no police training stronger than a cop’s instinct. Faith Mitchell’s mother isn’t answering her phone. Her front door is open. There’s a bloodstain above the knob. Her infant daughter is hidden in a shed behind the house. All that the Georgia Bureau of Investigations taught Faith Mitchell goes out the window when she charges into her mother’s house, gun drawn. She sees a man dead in the laundry room. She sees a hostage situation in the bedroom. What she doesn’t see is her mother. . . .

When the hostage situation turns deadly, Faith is left with too many questions, not enough answers. To find her mother, she’ll need the help of her partner, Will Trent, and they’ll both need the help of trauma doctor Sara Linton. But Faith isn’t just a cop anymore—she’s a witness. She’s also a suspect.

The thin blue line hides police corruption, bribery, even murder. Faith will have to go up against the people she respects the most in order to find her mother and bring the truth to light—or bury it forever.

** Contains SPOILERS of previous books in the ‘Grant County’ and 'Will Trent/Atlanta' series **

Faith Mitchell returns home one day to every police officer’s worst nightmare. A bloody handprint on the door. The sound of her screaming baby. A dead man in the laundry and no sign of her babysitting mother, but every sign of a violent struggle.

Evelyn Mitchell has been kidnapped, and as a highly-decorated police officer who once worked a dirty narcotics squad, the possibilities for her kidnappers are endless.

A police officer is missing – not just any officer, but one of Atlanta’s first female policewomen to rise in the ranks and retire with the respect of her colleagues and medals to decorate her lapel. Her kidnapping pulls in all the big guns – including Deputy Director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI) and one of Evelyn’s best friends, Amanda Wagner. Also on the case is Faith’s partner, Will Trent. But Will’s loyalties are torn in two – on the one hand he would take a bullet for his partner. But Will was also in charge of the investigation which looked into Evelyn Mitchell’s possible involvement in a scamming narcotics squad which saw him put her entire team behind bars – while Evelyn retired from the force, and never went to trial. Will’s old investigation could hold the key to Evelyn’s kidnapping . . . but neither Amanda nor Faith is willing to believe the worst of her.

Faith Mitchell is having a mini-breakdown in the wake of her mother’s kidnapping. Will Trent is trying to conduct an old investigation into Evelyn’s nefarious police work. Dead bodies of Atlanta gang members are turning up everywhere, and leaving a trail that leads right back to Evelyn’s past . . . and Sara Linton has stepped back into Will’s life, as a civilian consultant on the case, perhaps his only ally in the investigation into one of Atlanta’s most beloved cops.

‘Fallen’ is the third book in Karin Slaughter’s ‘Will Trent/Atlanta’ series.

I love Karin Slaughter. I devoured her ‘Grant County’ books, and it remains the only crime fiction series I read devoutly. I have tried my hand at other murder mysteries, but I can never seem to find that perfect Slaughter-balance of interesting police investigation and human drama. Her books are page-turners for the mystery element in each, and the central investigation that propels the story and chills the spine . . . but I keep coming back to Slaughter because of her characters. From the first moment I read Grant County coroner and paediatrician Sara Linton spar with her cheating ex-husband and police chief, Jeffrey Tolliver, I was hooked. Slaughter’s characters are messy and real, weaving complicated lies and inevitable heartbreak into their lives and relationships – making for fascinating, vicarious reading. So I, like many other fans, was devastated when Slaughter lived up to her name and severed the ‘Grant County’ series with the death of a beloved main character . . .

Thus, Slaughter’s new ‘Will Trent’ and ‘Georgia’ series have become her main attraction . . . even more so when Sara Linton crossed-over to become a main character (and possible love interest) for Will.

I have to admit, I was a reluctant reader of ‘Triptych’ through to ‘Genesis’. I was still in denial regarding Jeffrey’s death, and found no enjoyment from the battering Slaughter put Sara (and readers) through in the wake of his death. However, I started to perk-up by the second ‘Will Trent/Atlanta’ book, ‘Broken’ – when it looked as though Sara would get her chance at happiness in the form of Will Trent.

Will is a complicated, brilliant but broken young man. He was an orphan, raised by the state with occasionally disastrous bursts in foster care. While in state care he met and fell in love with a fellow damaged soul called Angie – a girl who was so sexually abused that she has grown into a spiteful woman who uses sex as a weapon, especially against her poor husband Will. He is also dyslexic, and thoroughly ashamed of the fact. Will’s body is riddled with foster-care war-wounds, some even self-inflicted. But for all of his tragic past, Will is an accomplished investigator – quietly intelligent and humble, loyal to a fault and charmingly gentle. It was clear from his first meeting with Sara Linton that these two needed each other.

I was happy to get back into Slaughter’s series once it became obvious that she intended Will for Sara. I needed that romantic balm in a series that had quickly become a gut-churning emotional wreckage. So I was really looking forward to ‘Fallen’ – the third book which would surely unite these two lost souls.

I do love the emotional, character-driven element of Slaughter’s books. But in ‘Fallen’ it was the murder mystery that really dragged me in. This book has so many layers – on the surface it’s all about Evelyn Mitchell’s kidnapping – but as Will delves into her past, Slaughter’s book veers off into many different and fascinating directions. She takes a particular interest in the women of the force in the 1970’s, as Will investigates Evelyn and Amanda’s lustrous careers. Slaughter looks at the gender imbalance and how these feminist pioneers overcame sexism in the force.


“. . . The Atlanta you know today was fought for by the women in those classes. Black officers weren’t even authorized to arrest whites until ’62. They didn’t have a precinct building. They had to hang out at the Butler Street YMCA until someone thought to call them. And it was even worse if you were a woman – two strikes, with the third hanging over your head.” Her voice took on a solemn tone. “Every single day was a struggle to do right when everything around you was wrong.”
“Sound like you and Evelyn went through a trial by fire.”
“You have no idea.”

This novel also takes a disturbing look at the powerhouses of the jail system. As gang deaths litter the Atlanta streets, Will and Amanda speak with various imprisoned criminals to get their take on the gang upheavals. This is chilling, particularly for the grains of truth that Slaughter slips in. Though these men are behind bars, they are still connected to the outside criminal world. In some cases, they still have a hand in running it. This thought is crystallized in Will’s flippant factoid that when a recent prison riot went down, the New York Times was inundated with calls from inmates, from their illegal mobile phones, explaining their list of demands for the prison warden. This is the state of the penal system in which criminals aren’t really taught a lesson, but given new avenues to misconduct. But Slaughter also looks at the harsher reality of imprisonment – particularly when Will and Amanda meet death-row inmates.

The investigation really suckered me into ‘Fallen’, partly because the character element which Slaughter usually excels in fell a bit by the wayside . . . Sara Linton felt like an afterthought. She’s conveniently in the right place at the right time to offer a helping hand in the investigation. Amanda, Will and Faith all use Sara as a sounding-board for their theories; which felt a little far-fetched and clumsily convenient once again. I understand that Slaughter wants to integrate Sara into the ‘Will Trent/Atlanta’ series – and I really, really want her there. But I needed a bit more believability in her presence.

That being said, I do love Sara and Will. They are the reason I will be eagerly anticipating the fourth ‘Will Trent/Atlanta’ book in 2012. Sara and Will’s tentative romance will be the reason I scour chat boards for spoilers and the balm I needed in the wake of Jeffrey’s senseless (but brilliantly written) death.

4/5


Sunday, July 24, 2011

'Play Dead' by Ryan Brown

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:


For the first time in Killington High School history, the Jackrabbits football team is one win away from the district championship where it will face its most vicious rival, the Elmwood Heights Badgers. On the way to the game, the Jackrabbits's bus plunges into a river, killing every player except for bad-boy quarterback Cole Logan who is certain the crash was no accident—given that Cole himself was severely injured in a brutal attack by three ski-masked men earlier that day. Bent on payback, Cole turns to a mysterious fan skilled in black magic to resurrect his teammates. But unless the undead Jackrabbits defeat their murderous rival on the field, the team is destined for hell. In a desperate race against time, with only his coach's clever daughter, Savannah Hickman, to assist him, Cole must lead his zombie team to victory.

Killington and Elmwood Heights have a long, nasty history. Their rivalry goes back to the town’s founding fathers – but in recent years the animosity has been taken out on the football field between the rival high schools.

Tensions are running especially high when victory is in sight. Three teams are left and for the first time in a long time the Killington Jackrabbit’s are close to a win, after a long dry spell. But the rumour around town is that the Elmwood Heights Badgers have a little more than just talent on their side . . . and these jacked-up hot-heads are willing to do anything to win.

Jackrabbit QB, Cole Logan, has two missing fingers to show just how bad the Badgers want this victory . . . but not even he can predict the killing lengths they’ll go to.

When the entire Killington team meets a watery end, it’s up to Cole and his coach’s daughter, Savannah Hickman, to reanimate the team and drag them out of their watery graves, to have their revenge and win the game. No matter the cost.

‘Play Dead’ is the debut horror thriller from actor turned novelist, Ryan Brown.

I was a little wary going into this novel. The zombie genre has exploded to the point of ridiculousness –flesh-eaters have rewritten classic literature, retold history and even shuffled into the romance department. I haven’t really jumped on the zombie bandwagon, and the fact that ‘Play Dead’ is a zombie football novel left me a little cold. I’m Australian, so American grid-iron holds little interest for me . . . beyond being addicted to ‘Friday Night Lights’, I know next to nothing about the game itself. Still, I was intrigued by the premise of ‘Play Dead’ and loved the front cover, so I soldiered on – and, boy, am I glad I did!

‘Play Dead’ is like ‘Varsity Blues’ meets ‘Supernatural’ in a slice of Southern Gothic brilliance. The novel is told from a number of perspectives, but the narrative mostly shifts between QB from the wrong side of the trailer-park tracks, Cole Logan, and the coach’s daughter with journalistic aspirations, Savannah Hickman. In between we get narratives from various Killington town busy-bodies, football-mad parents and the ravaged meat-head QB of the Elmwood Heights Badgers. The various voices of Killington add to the small-town atmosphere – more to the point, they illustrate the small, Southern football-crazy town atmosphere. This is a Texas state that worship at the altar of the pigskin, and even when the dearly departed High School football team come back as slobbering, meat-eating zombies, the zealous football fans are happy to turn a blind eye for the sake of a hometown win. Killington’s determined ignorance also allows for some nice tongue-in-cheek observations of the teenage psyche;

“Let me ask you somethin’, Cleatus. Has your boy done much talking to you lately . . . I mean even before the crash?”
Cleatus thought about it, then shook his head. “Not unless he needs money.”
“See? It’s the same with my boy. They’re teenagers, Cleatus. They don’t want to talk to us. Let me ask you somethin’ else: What does Wyatt do most times around the dinner table?”
Cleatus shrugged. “I suppose he just sort of . . . stares off into space, eats.”
“So there you go. Wyatt’s right as rain.” Farley gave Cleatus a healthy slap on the shoulder.

Our main protagonist is Cole Logan – and he’s wonderful. Logan lives in a trailer and his mama is the town whore (even since his daddy skipped out of town last year, with the family funds). He smokes, drinks, has screwed every cheerleader and his arm is the main reason the Jackrabbits are close to winning the finals. He’s acerbic and dangerous, a good-looking bad boy with a grudge against the world. When he finds himself the last player standing after his teammates meet a watery grave, he feels the first burst of school-spirit – and with the help of his coach’s daughter, and school paper journalist, Savannah, the two of them set about reanimating the bodies of his teammates to snatch victory and gain salvation.

Savannah is a great, fiery, counterpoint to Cole’s acerbic wit. She’s the only girl in school who hasn’t batted her eyelashes at him, and the only person in town who won’t let his throwing arm endear him to her. As the two embark on a soul-saving football mission, they also begin a tentative and sweet romance. These two are great – swapping verbal barbs even as they start a slow-burning attraction. I have to admit, I would have liked a little more romance between these two to balance out the blood, gore and zombies – but their characters sparked on the page regardless of the lacking explicit scenes.

Towards the end my lack of football knowledge was a small hindrance . . . but Brown has written such cinematic action with heart-palpitating drama that my lack of football know-how mattered little for the edge-of-your-seat finale.

‘Play Dead’ is a book of Southern Gothic brilliance. Even if you don’t especially like the idea of a ‘zombie’ novel, the book has a lot more to offer – the story of a football-crazy small town, with a rebel protagonist, an unlikely romance and a game with souls on the line. Ryan Brown is like the male Charlaine Harris – using the dynamic South for a horror backdrop – and ‘Play Dead’ has ensured he is now a supernatural author to watch.

5/5

Saturday, July 23, 2011

'Act of Faith' by Kelly Gardiner

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

When ideas were dangerous, one girl found the courage to act.

England, 1640. Sixteen-year-old Isabella is forced to flee her home when her father′s radical ideas lead him into a suicidal stand against Oliver Cromwell′s army. Taking refuge in Amsterdam and desperate to find a means to survive, Isabella finds work with an elderly printer, Master de Aquila, and his enigmatic young assistant, Willem.

When Master de Aquila travels to Venice to find a publisher brave enough to print his daring new book, Isabella accompanies him and discovers a world of possibility - where women work alongside men as equal partners, and where books and beliefs are treasured.

But in a continent torn apart by religious intolerance, constant danger lurks for those who don′t watch their words. And when the agents of the Spanish Inquisition kidnap de Aquila to stop him printing his book, Isabella and Willem become reluctant allies in a daring chase across Europe to rescue him from certain death.

The year is 1640 and Europe is on the brink of religious upheaval. Catholics in England are being executed, while other countries are burning ‘heretics’ at the stake unless they take up the Catholic faith. The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition in Spain (aka ‘The Spanish Inquisition’) ride to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms – beating and imprisoning those who go against the church and God.

It is the worst time to be an intellectual. And Heaven forbid a man of intellect should wish to share his knowledge with others – to put pen to paper and give life to his musings. But that is just what Master Hawkins does – a teacher and a scholar, he is also a talented author with a most popular (if banned) book called ‘Discourse on Liberty’. Except, Master Hawkins is not alone in his scholarly pursuits. He gets a helping hand from his daughter, Isabella.

Isabella pens letters to her father’s overseas colleagues. She helps him with his notes and engages in constant intellectual battles with him. She lives a happy life, content to be pushed to her intellectual edge.

But then Oliver Cromwell’s army marches. Her father is imprisoned and accused of blasphemous dealings against God. When Isabella helps her father escape the stocks, tragedy follows them in a shipwreck on the way to Amsterdam. . . Isabella is suddenly alone in the world, an orphan.

She is taken in by a printer – Master de Aquila, an old friend of Isabella’s father and another intellectual zealot. Aquila is also walking a fine line, printing scandalous and informative books. But it is here that Isabella finds her rightful place – helping to create the words that will change the world.

When Master de Aquila is kidnapped like her father was, Isabella and a printing apprentice, Willem, decide to fight tooth and nail to save their master and protect a book that could see him burn at the stake.

‘Act of Faith’ is the new historical young adult novel from Australian author Kelly Gardiner.

Gardiner’s new novel is a sweeping historical saga that takes readers from Cromwell-ravaged England, Amsterdam, Germany, all the way to progressive Venice. In between we read the tentative peace of the English countryside, the canals of Venice and the Jewish Ghettos of Verona. The novel is expansive and impressive, and with Gardiner’s eloquent words and literary flair she acts as fictional tour-guide – breathing life into these cobblestoned walkways and Ghetto communities.

The settings in ‘Act of Faith’ are wonderful and easy to fall into. But the true brilliance of the novel lies in our protagonist, Isabella. She is a wonderful heroine – out of step with her times, she is a whip-quick scholar who has lived her life being encouraged and nurtured in her intellectual pursuits, regardless of her sex. She finds brilliance in the printed word, and is inspired by the idea that people’s thoughts will be immortalized in between the precious pages of books.

Isabella has such a wonderful voice. She is at once very aware of the constrictions around her – terrified by the treatment of her father and running scared at the thought of further retributions against intellectuals. But still Isabella can see that the treatment of scholars and the word of the Church are at odds and causing unfair repercussions against those who love God, but not the limitations of the pope. Isabella is the best sort of heroine to read – she’s fearless regardless of her terror, she speaks though others try to silence her, and she thinks for herself even when others try to cloud her thoughts.

The other brilliance of the novel comes in Gardiner’s meticulous recounts of printing and book production in the 1600’s. We read about this scandalous enterprise – when printing the wrong sort of book would lead to a fiery end. As Isabella becomes fascinated with the process of editing, translating, correction, and typesetting, Gardiner treats readers to some interesting insight into the world of the first bibliophiles. Anyone who loves books and worships at the altar of the printed word will find Gardiner’s explorations fascinating and uplifting – to read about these pioneers of knowledge who fought tooth and nail for freedom of speech, when it wasn’t an absolute right. This is the truly uplifting and inspiring tale of ‘Act of Faith’.


There were maps, finely etched, of a world I'd never seen before. Here was Jerusalem, there London; Amsterdam, a dot at the top of the circle that was the earth. No Heaven on this map – no Hell. Just oceans and lands and cities, as if seen by a bird. Or by God.
I held the whole world in my hands. I held a heresy in my hands.
“Master,” I whispered, “what have you done?”
We should not try to explain the world, that’s what the priests and preachers said, no matter what their doctrine.

I will say that from reading the blurb I thought there would be a romance in the story. Master de Aquila’s printing apprentice, the young man Willem, is mentioned twice in the blurb. I thought this was a hint-hint, nudge-nudge that Gardiner included a little romance for her young heroine. But as I started reading, I did think the novel was full enough without including a love match for Isabella. The settings, conspiracies and printing histories are enough to carry the story and immerse the reader. So I was somewhat pleased to discover that there is no such romance with Willem – the blurb is simply a little misleading (or maybe it was just me that assumed the relationship?). I can see that some readers may be disgruntled by the lack – but for me I was pleasantly pleased to read that Isabella had more important things on her mind than a boy’s affections.

Kelly Gardiner’s new novel is a divine story, dripping in history and delivering a wonderful message of freedom, loyalty and bravery. I loved this novel and will recommend it to bibliophiles both young and old.

5/5

Thursday, July 21, 2011

'Shameless' House of Rohan #4 by Anne Stuart

Received from NetGalley

From the BLURB:


A long string of tragic loves haunts Viscount Benedick Francis Alistair Rohan. Cool and cynical, he's weary of life's fickle games and wants a prim and proper wife he can ignore while indulging his sensual appetites.

Lady Melisande Carstairs is nothing less than a tornado storming into Benedick's measured life. Possessed of boundless energy and the soul of a reformer, Melisande always conquers, whether it's saving the souls of soiled doves or seducing the man she's inconveniently fallen for. When she informs Benedick that his brother's newly revived Heavenly Host has graduated from simple carnal debauchery to sadistic violence, he's compelled to investigate, undercover. Under those covers, however, is Melisande herself, playing a dangerous game in the name of justice.

And the Heavenly Host has just seen her hand, and more…

Decades ago Benedick Rohan’s grandfather birthed ‘The Heavenly Host’. A decadently erotic party where the elite ton could let down their hair and partake of scandalous orgies and phony demonic rituals. The ‘Host’ tradition was passed down the Rohan line, to Benedick’s father and then it vanished into gossip oblivion . . . until now.

Benedick Rohan is the eldest of the Rohan clan, and the most jaded. He has lost two wives to childbirth and a sister to the devilish Scorpion. His younger brother, Brandon, has come back from war horribly scarred and intent on opium oblivion. Benedick’s life has been an endless stream of heartache and sorrow of late, so it is with hellish intent that he decides to search for a new bride, get her with an heir (and a spare) and then cavort around London town with every prostitute, madam and widow who will have him.

There’s only one catch to Benedick’s full-proof plan . . . and that is Lady Melisande Carstairs.

While Benedick has been in reclusive mourning, London nightlife has changed dramatically. Lady ‘Charity’ Carstairs is a wealthy widow on a mission – to aid and reform London’s prostitutes. She is taking in tainted-ladies and educating them to be cooks, maids and dressmakers in a bid to get them off the streets once and for all.

But Melisande’s do-gooding is putting a serious crimp in Benedick’s plan for fornication. She is taking all the best ladies of the night and turning them into . . . *shudder* . . . respectable women.

Worse than that, Melisande has decided that she needs Benedick’s help in debunking the newly reformed ‘Heavenly Host’. She believes that Bendick’s familial ties to the Host will help her in disintegrating their horrific meetings – especially since Brendan Rohan has started participating, and the Host has become decidedly violent and degrading . . . especially against the unwilling prostitutes the members kidnap.

‘Shameless’ is the fourth book in Anne Stuart’s decadent historical romance series, ‘House of Rohan’.

‘Shameless’ really feels like a full-circle instalment in the ‘Rohan’ series. First book, ‘Ruthless’ was based entirely around ‘The Heavenly Host’ gathering. Second book ‘Reckless’ made the notorious ‘Host’ a little bit tamer, and by third book ‘Breathless’ the naughty gathering was barely a blip on the plot’s radar. Well, in ‘Shameless’ the Host has arisen from the ashes and distorted into something worse than idle gossip and faux-derelict. In this fourth book, the rumours of the Host have manifested into reality – members are kidnapping prostitutes and abusing them, they have become the ton’s own worst nightmare.
So it’s only befitting that since the Host started with a Rohan, it should end with one too. Enter Benedick – a widower with a jaded heart and an awakening libido, reluctantly thrust into the role of hero.

I loved Benedick. He really has been put through the emotional ringer of late – losing two wives to childbirth and his sister to a thieving husband. When he meets Melisande he is just about at the end of his tether – and a saintly reformer is the last thing he wants to deal with.

But Melisande is unlike any woman he has ever met. She is outspoken and loyal, bull-headed and righteous. . . and Benedick is utterly in awe of her, while also disgruntled by his attraction.

He released her wrists, but she didn’t hit him. An odd stillness has crept over her limbs, and it seemed to be affecting him, as well. She could see the glitter of his eyes in the darkness, but she couldn’t see his expression.
“Lady Carstairs,” he said in a soft voice after a long moment, “I’m beginning to believe you might be a very dangerous woman.”

Melisande and Benedick have one of the more complicated ‘Rohan’ romances. There are a lot of superficial things keeping them apart – like Melisande being intent on wrecking Rohan’s fornicating fun. But beneath all that is Rohan’s fear of losing another woman he loves – and it’s that undercurrent that makes their scenes so intense and luscious.

‘Shameless’ takes a slight detour from Stuart’s previous books in the series. In all the other ‘Rohan’ instalments Stuart has given readers two-stories-in-one: there has always been a secondary romance running concurrently with the main couple. In ‘Ruthless’ it was between Lydia and Charlies, ‘Breathless’ included Jane Pagett and Jacob Connelly’s steamy romance. I have often preferred the secondary romance to the main relationship conundrum – so I was a little miffed to read no such secondary romance in ‘Shameless’. Stuart sets one up – between the scarred Brandon Rohan and Melisande’s good friend (and ex-madam) Emma Cadbury. Emma recounts meeting a wounded young soldier and nursing him back to health . . . but being scared off when she realized he was from the respectable Rohan family. But this story was severely under-developed, garnering pittance page-time and ending on an unsatisfactory, open-ended note. I only hope that the reason for this lacking is that Stuart has more ‘House of Rohan’ books planned, and she has deemed Emma and Brandon worthy of a book unto themselves.

I love Anne Stuart’s decadent ‘House of Rohan’ series. Her rakes are dark and dangerous, seductive and sensual and her romances are twisted delights. ‘Shameless’ feels like a full-circle of the series; harking back to the Heavenly Host and their dangerous fun. I do hope that Stuart has more ‘Rohan’ stories planned – especially for the wounded Brandon Rohan, whose romance was sadly lacking in ‘Shameless’.

4/5

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

'Breathless' House of Rohan #3 by Anne Stuart

From the BLURB:

Ruined beyond repair and shunned by London society, lovely Miranda Rohan rebelliously embraces the freedom that comes from having nothing left to lose. However, this dangerous course throws her under the power of the darkly enigmatic Lucien de Malheur—known to many as the Scorpion.

Seeking to destroy the Rohans, Lucien traps Miranda in a marriage she thinks is based on friendship but instead is rooted in vengeance. Yet even when she realizes the truth, their enmity fuels a shocking passion—and perhaps even more.

Such a man might drive anyone to murder....

Miranda Rohan lost her virginity and her social standing with one stupid flight of fancy. But while the ton turned their back on her, Miranda discovered freedom – freedom from social obligation and standing on ceremony. As a fallen woman without a husband, she could live on her own, go out by herself and enjoy a life free from stifling norms. And with her powerful and loving family behind her, Miranda feels she has lost nothing with her fall.

Little did Miranda know that her fall from social grace was a precisely orchestrated debauching . . . planned to the letter by one Lucien de Malheur, aka ‘The Scorpian’. Lucien hates the Rohan family, believing the oldest brother to be the reason for his half-sister’s suicide. So he plots his revenge on the Rohan’s by stealing away their sister . . . forming an unlikely friendship with her, and then proposing marriage. A life lived with him in abject misery, and the Rohan’s won’t be able to do a thing to stop him, since he will be her rightful husband.

What Lucien doesn’t count on is falling for the beautifully exuberant Miranda Rohan, and realizing that revenge is not best served cold, but piping hot . . .

‘Breathless’ is the third book in Anne Stuart’s delectable ‘House of Rohan’ historical romance series.

I loved the first book in this series, ‘Ruthless’. It was my first Anne Stuart read, and I was introduced to her signatory blend of hotly-villainous heroes. I was less impressed with the second installment and the love between a shallow woman and bored man in ‘Reckless’. So I went into this third book with mild trepidation, wondering if I would be putting this series to bed if the third novel was another miss. . . Thankfully, ‘Breathless’ offers up more debauched brilliance from Anne Stuart, even if I found the secondary romance to be the more compelling.

Lucien de Malheur is an evil hero to rival all of Anne Stuart’s previous dastardly bastards. Not only is he the type of man to orchestrate a young woman’s fall from grace, he is also a slighted brother hell-bent on familial retribution. Coupled with immense facial scarring and a permanently crooked leg, he is a veritable ‘Beast’.

She shivered. Shivered because he was touching her, shivered because she reacted to it, to the caress. But she didn’t move, and her eyes flashed fire.
“You wouldn’t do it.”
“You think not? I had no qualms about endangering your life with a carriage accident. Trust me, the name Scorpian isn’t an accident. I’m cold and lethal – society shuns me for good reason.” He leaned his face down, and brushed his lips against her cheekbone. “I’m sorry I’m such an ugly brute, my precious, but you can always close your eyes and pretend I’m someone else.”
She did close her eyes then. Not because of the scars – those she’d ceased to notice long ago. The sight of his betrayal was new, though, and she couldn’t stand it.

Anne Stuart takes her rakes and villains seriously. She revels in writing anti-hero protagonists and love interests, and their villainy is never watered-down or tame. She writes dark-chocolate heroes – rich and blackened, bordering on too bitter. Lucien is more of the same, but without Adonis good looks to endear him to society. I loved him – scars and all. What I didn’t love was the lack of back story about him. . . I wanted a little more concentration on how he got those scars and on his dangerous journey from Jamaica to London at a young age. I felt like Stuart rushed the culmination of his character, she wrote so many great lead-ins to his history and dark character, but left many of them dangling by book’s end.

Miranda was a lovely counter-point to Lucien’s brooding. She is a fiery and beautiful young woman, not easily intimated but able to see beyond Lucien’s brutish exterior. Since this is the ‘House of Rohan’ series, I would have liked more interaction between Miranda and her family . . . particularly her brothers, the eldest of whom is the hero of the fourth book in the series, ‘Shameless’.

I liked Lucien well enough and thought Miranda was lovely. But the real selling-point of this book came in the unlikely secondary romance. This is a staple of the ‘House of Rohan’ series; a second romantic plot running alongside the main couple’s. I always enjoy Stuart’s second-fiddle romances, such was the case with Lydia and Charles in ‘Ruthless’, and once again between two unlikely opposites in ‘Breathless’.

In ‘Breathless’ this two-for-the-price-of-one romance is between Miranda’s plain best friend, Jane Pagett, and Lucien’s thief-on-hand and London's notorious King of Thieves, Jacob Connelly.

Jane is to be married in three months time, to the stuffy and cold-lipped Mr Bothwell. In the mean time, she is happy to take Miranda up on her offer of masked-soirees and scandalous balls, in the hopes of experiencing some real fun before her stifling marriage. It is at one of these masked balls that Jane stumbles upon a robbery-in-process, as Jacob Connelly steals the jewels of their lady host. Jane and Jacob share a heated kiss, and he stakes his claim by slipping a stolen diamond on her finger.

Jane puts their delicious kiss in a darkened room down to a one-off encounter, one she will cherish well into her dotage and unhappy marriage. What neither Jane nor Jacob count on is their affiliation with Miranda and Lucien, respectively, which throws them together and helps their romance along.

I loved Jane and Jacob. She is a veritable plain-Jane, succumbing to an unhappy marriage in order to avoid being underfoot in her parent’s household. By contrast, Jacob is the king of London thieves – a notorious rake and debaucher of innocents. Theirs is a glorious opposites-attracting love affair that I enjoyed far more than Lucien and Miranda’s. And I think Stuart started to feel the same towards the end of the book . . . Jacob and Jane’s scenes came more frequently and were lengthy towards the end, and their romance seemed fuller than Miranda’s by book’s finale.

Bloody hell. “Lass, you can’t imagine the things I want to do to you. I want to take you to bed and not let you out for days. I want to take you every way I can, so hard that neither of us can walk. I want you in my bed and in my life, for the rest of my life, and if you don’t want to believe it you can check your hand.”
“My hand?” she echoed, confused. She looked down, and saw the huge, winking diamond on it. “When did you do that?”
“Just now, love. You’re mine, Miss Jane Pagett, and you know it, too. I was just trying to be polite about it.”

I loved Jacob, best of all. He spends a good deal of the book wanting Jane, but believing himself to be beneath her. He was such a bad-boy hero, and so damned romantic by the end. He definitely stole the spotlight from poor, beastly Lucien.

I really did enjoy Anne Stuart’s third book in the ‘House of Rohan’ series, but not for the reasons I thought I would. I wished for more back story about the villainous hero and in the end was more invested in the second-fiddle romance between a plainly unhappy affianced lady and London’s King of Thieves.

4/5