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Saturday, July 31, 2010

'The Pirate Next Door' by Jennifer ASHLEY

From the BLURB:

What is a proper English lady to do when a pirate moves next door? Add the newly titled viscount to her list of possible suitors? Take his wildly eccentric young daughter under her wing? Let the outlandish rogue kiss her with wild abandon? As everyday etiquette offers no guidance, Alexandra Alastair simply sets aside her tea and follows her instincts -- whether that involves rescuing her new neighbor from hanging, fending off pirate hunters, plotting against aristocratic spies, or succumbing to a little passionate plundering. Forget propriety! No challenge is too great and no pleasure too wicked, for Grayson Finley promises the adventure of a lifetime.

Jennifer Ashley pens a rollicking and sensual adventure that will take readers from the high society of London to the high seas of the Atlantic.

I was so impressed by my first Jennifer Ashley book, ‘The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie’ that I straight away went foraging through her back list looking for more gems. I read and was thoroughly disappointed by one of her earlier books, ‘Penelope and Prince Charming’. And I am yet again disheartened by ‘The Pirate Next Door’.

The plot starts in the thick of action when Alexandra Alastair overhears a pirate hanging her next door neighbour from a chandelier. Alexandra rushes to Viscount Stoke’s aid and enamours herself of him. But Viscount Stoke, Grayson Finley, is more than just her next-door neighbour. He is an ex pirate who has recently been hired to find the exiled French king. He is also caught up in a bitter jealous rivalry with one James Ardmore, whom Grayson stole a Tahiti beauty from years ago, incurring his vengeance. Grayson is also a new father, just six months ago having discovered that that Tahitian beauty gave birth to his daughter, Maggie, without his knowing twelve years ago. Then there’s a secondary story-line about Maggie’s governess, Mrs. Fairchild, who had a hot affair with Grayon’s ten years younger second-in-command, Mr. Jacobs five years ago and intends to rekindle.

There is just too much going on in this book, not helped by the fact that it gets off to a shaky start. The book literally begins with Alexandra saving Grayson from James Ardmore. When we meet her Alexandra has already met and been bewitched by Grayson Finely, and Grayson has likewise been casting smitten looks Alexandra’s way. Alexandra has also been in the process of compiling a list of eligible bachelors, hell-bent on having a better second marriage than a first in which her husband acted as cad around town with no discretion. That’s a lot of back-story recounted in summary instead of scene. We don’t even get to read about the first time Alexandra and Grayson clap eyes on one another – we are instead thrown headfirst into the helter-skelter plot that eventually turns into many, many helter-skelter plots. Phew!

When a plot is so thick and fast, the only thing that can really save it is a compelling romance. But it’s not there for Grayson and Alexandra. They fall into bed together rather quickly, and there’s a lot of emphasis on their sex life being the basis for attraction. I would have been more convinced of their romance if they’d taken more time to get to know each other and spark away from the bedroom. Jennifer Ashley is great at writing smut, there’s nothing lacking in that department, but the firmer foundations of the romance aren’t strong enough.
A shudder went through her as he touched her, all hot and dark and wet. “You beautiful, beautiful woman.”
“How can you say beautiful?” she whispered shyly, “I am such a mess.”
“I like you a mess.” He withdrew his hand and touched fingers to his lips, then closed his eyes to savour her.
When he opened his eyes again, she was watching him, red lips parted. “Lovely lady,” he whispered. “May I taste you?”
To be honest I thought Mrs. Fairchild and Mr. Jacobs’s romance was more enticing – the illicit older woman/younger man love affair had steamy potential. But it is a firm side-storyline, and as such there’s not enough to sink your teeth into and too much that detracts from the main romance.

All in all, this was a disappointment. I have yet to find a Jennifer Ashley book I love as much as ‘The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie’. I’ll keep looking, but I’m becoming disheartened.


Friday, July 30, 2010

'Eternal Kiss of Darkness' Night Huntress World #2 by Jeaniene FROST

From the BLURB:

Chicago private investigator Kira Graceling should have just kept on walking. But her sense of duty refused to let her ignore the moans of pain coming from inside a warehouse just before dawn. Suddenly she finds herself in a world she's only imagined in her worst nightmares.

At the center is Mencheres, a breathtaking Master vampire who thought he'd seen it all. Then Kira appears - this fearless, beautiful....human who braved death to rescue him. Though her burns for her, keeping Kira in his world means risking her life. Yet sending her away is unthinkable.

But with danger closing in, Mencheres must choose either the woman he craves, or embracing the darkest magic to defeat an enemy bent on his eternal destruction.

This is the second book in Jeaniene Frost’s ‘Night Huntress World’ spin-off series.

I was not a huge fan of the first book in this spin-off series, ‘First Drop of Crimson’. But I do admit that Spade was never of interest to me, so I was sceptical from the get-go. By contrast, I did have strong suspicions that I would enjoy this second book about grandsire vampire, Mencheres.

Mencheres has always fascinated me, right from his first appearance in ‘Halfway to the Grave’. I find Mencheres very appealing; he’s tall, dark and exotic and his physical descriptions tick all of my ‘yeah, baby!’ boxes. I have also been fascinated by Mencheres since the 3rd ‘Night Huntress’ book introduced his villainous wife, Patra, and hinted that their ruined marriage left Mencheres with deep emotional scars. Then there’s the fact that Mencheres is over 4,500-years-old, and was originally an Egyptian pharaoh. Not to mention the fact that Mencheres is sire/grandsire to most of the male characters in the ‘Night Huntress’ world. Since he stepped onto the series’ stage Mencheres has just pushed all the right buttons for me, and I was *desperate* for his story.... and Jeaniene Frost did not disappoint.

When the book begins, Mencheres is ready to die. By his own admission he is ‘older than dirt’; he was once a pharaoh and he has his own pyramid in Giza. Mencheres has seen and experienced it all, and after the events in ‘At Graves End’ that saw his wife go on a murderous rampage resulting in her death – he wants to end it all. But Mencheres is harbouring some serious dark guilt over Patra’s death and his actions over the last couple thousand years... because he doesn’t just want to die, he wants to be murdered. Mencheres wants to surrender himself to death-by-ghoul, or perhaps even let his old nemesis, Radjedef, finally have his vengeance.
It is during one of these intended suicide attacks that a female Private Investigator called Kira Graceling intervenes. Kira, without knowing anything about Mencheres’ wealth and power, steps in and tries to save him from a horde of ghouls. When Kira is mortally wounded in the process of rescuing him, Mencheres saves her by giving her his blood. But then the potency of his blood means he cannot erase Kira’s memories, and he is forced to keep her captive until the immunity wavers...

I really liked this spin-off book. My biggest complaint about the first spin-off, ‘First Drop of Crimson’, was lack of chemistry between the protagonists. Frost makes up for Spade & Denise’s lacklustre romance by turning up the heat between Kira and Mencheres. Woah! For one thing, Mencheres hasn’t had sex since being married to Patra for 900 years – let’s just say he has a lot of catching up to do.
Mencheres is very drawn to Kira, and not necessarily just by her beauty. He is more enchanted by her strength, loyalty and bravery – and you really get the impression that they have a deep, profound bond. Of course, there is a physical attraction there too. And when Kira and Mencheres do finally hook-up Jeaniene Frost delivers more of her trademark smut... a particular scene in a bathtub erotically illustrates the benefits of vampire’s lack of oxygen.
A noise of astonishment escaped her as Kira drew back to look at him. "You haven't had sex in over nine hundred years?" She swallowed. "If you're trying to say you want to take things slow, wait until we get to know each other better-"
He laughed, pulling her down into the tub with him. "No. I'm warning you that I will show you no mercy."
I really liked Kira. She’s a 31-year-old P.I. divorcee whose ex-husband was an abusive crooked cop. She is also the primary care-giver for her younger sister who has cystic fibrosis and the primary bank-teller for her dead-beat, drug-addict younger brother. There’s a lot of history that leans a little toward ‘woe is me’ characterization... But it works - mostly because Kira is ballsy and stubborn in the face of adversity. Above all else I loved the way Kira treated Mencheres – amongst other ‘Night Huntress’ characters Mencheres is a father-figure, mentor and aloof vampire head-honcho. But Kira treats him like a man. She is also very aware of the scars his wife left behind, and Kira is actually quite gentle with Mencheres and his feelings.

I had high hopes for a deeper exploration into Mencheres as a character... and I got what I wanted! In ‘Eternal’ he does display his cold, calculating master vampire side, but with Kira he lets his guard down and reveals just how damaged and desperate for love he is. And I loved all of Frost’s descriptions of his ropey muscles, washboard abs and skinny-dipping. He is just my kinda fella!

I had a few niggling, miniscule complaints. The first was that I wanted a little more exploration into Mencheres and Patra’s marriage. A lot of it was revealed in ‘At Grave’s End’, but I thought that Patra was such an interesting part of Mencheres’ past that I wanted *more* about them in this book. There were a few times in ‘Eternal’ when Mencheres makes comments which hint that he really, genuinely loved (and possibly still loves) Patra... and I just wanted to delve deeper into those feelings.

The second complaint is to do with no guest appearance by Ian! Ian is Bones and Spades’ sire, he was turned vampire directly by Mencheres. Because Ian is Menchere’s direct-descendant it felt like there was definitely a place for him in this story. But he’s a no-show, which is a real shame. Ian is one of the funniest characters in the series, but recent appearances in ‘First Drop’ and even his roles in the recent ‘Night Huntress’ books hint that he has a lot to offer in the way of angst and back-story. I don’t think these Night Huntress World books would be complete without an Ian instalment.

Likewise, I either want a spin-off book for Vlad or a spin-off series. Vlad does appear in ‘Eternal’, and he’s another very complex secondary character who is a scene-stealer. I am desperate for his story and have my fingers crossed that he gets a series!

I really loved ‘Eternal Kiss of Darkness’. Honestly, a book all about Mencheres was always going to please me... but Jeaniene Frost delivered the goods ten-fold!


Thursday, July 29, 2010

'Nicholas Dane' by Melvin BURGESS

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

When Nick's mother dies suddenly, the fourteen-year-old is sent straight into a boys' home, where he finds institutional intimidation and violence keep order. After countless fights and punishments, Nick thinks life can't get any worse - but the professionally respected deputy head, Mr Creal, who has been grooming him with sweets and solace, has something much more sinister in mind. The scarring, shaming experience he suffers at the hands of Mr Creal can never quite be suppressed, and when the old hatred surfaces, bloody murder and revenge lead to an unforgettable climax.

Melvin Burgess is a British writer, ‘Nicholas Dane’ is his latest YA novel.

Burgess has been described as a modern-day Dickens, and in ‘Nicholas Dane’ he lives up to the compliment. This is not always a comfortable read – the novel is often bleak, infuriating and terrifying. This is a very twisted modernization of ‘Oliver Twist’; set in 1980’s Manchester, the book is about young Nicholas Dane who is thrown into a boys’ home when his mother dies. But this isn’t an examination of forgotten children in the 18th century – this is the 1980’s and Melvin Burgess writes about the violence and sexual abuse these kids suffer.

The most frustrating thing about the book’s subject matter is how close to home it hits. With the 20/20 vision of hindsight, we now know that the foster care system (and any organization that has children in its care) can be rigged by society’s most deviant individuals. ‘Nicholas Dane’ isn’t a memoir, but that doesn’t make the book any less honest or impacting.
Burgess really challenges society, and in ‘Nicholas Dane’ Burgess turns his pen to the black-hole of care homes and the children who get lost in them.
Davey shook his head. He was sick of this. “Stop coming on like some kind of fucking social worker on me,” he said. “We’re out. We’re out! What more do you want?”
“I want Creal locked up.”
“Oh, right. You want justice, is that it? There is no justice, Nick. ‘Aven’t you learned that yet?”
Nick looked away. “People like him get locked up...”
“People like him get away with it. Grow up.”
But in that very Dickensian way, ‘Nicholas Dane’ is a novel that swings between bleakness and hope. And in fact, when there’s so much darkness in the book those radiant moments of optimism and faith shine that much brighter for the reader. Nicholas Dane himself is a beacon of such hope – he’s a tenacious little warrior, and even in his saddest moments he never loses sight of what he believes in.

This novel has very strong themes and often graphic scenes. There’s violence and swearing, and I would say this is for a slightly older teen audience... But this is also a book that should be read by adults. And despite the disturbing events in the book, teenagers shouldn’t be shied away from it. This is an impacting book, and any discomfort reader’s feel while reading it will be because it hits so close to the truth.


'Nicholas Dane' is out now in the UK, and will be released December 7th 2010 in the US

'Play Dead' by Harlan COBEN

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Ex fashion model and successful business woman Laura Ayers' perfect world is shattered at a time which should have been the happiest of her life. On her honeymoon, her sports superstar husband goes for a swim - and never returns. But what has happened to David - can he really be dead? Whilst struggling to cope with her almost overwhelming grief, Laura is plagued by questions and doubts. Was it an accident? Or suicide? Or is it some terrible, ill-judged hoax? As events begin to unfold, Laura starts to question David's mysterious disappearance. She begins to uncover a conspiracy which reaches deep into the past and is now slowly beginning to destroy everyone involved. Someone will do anything to keep Laura away from the awful truth - and she has no idea who she can trust...

Harlan Coben has made a name for himself with his bestselling series ‘Myron Bolitar’. ‘Play Dead’ is his first published novel, first released in 1990.

I don’t know why I've never read a Harlan Coben novel before – I suppose I always thought his books were more ‘macho’ male-orientated. Colour me surprised when this, his debut, has an ex fashion-model as the main protagonist!

Laura is 23 and retired from the glamorous fashion industry. She is now a successful businesswoman and married to a famous basketball player, David Baskin. Laura and David are deeply in love, and when the novel begins they are enjoying their honeymoon in Palm Cove. One day of their honeymoon David goes for a swim and never returns. The local police hint at suicide, but Laura knows she and David were in love and just beginning their life together. Suggestions of David being a poor swimmer are refuted – he was an athlete! Eventually David’s best friend and Boston police officer, T.C, comes to investigate. Soon, David’s ruined body is discovered.
In the reading of his will Laura uncovers some disconcerting facts. Like David having recently transferred large amounts of money to a Swiss bank account. Laura intends to investigate her husband’s untimely death... but as she starts to make enquiries she is warned off the trail and cautioned to keep herself and her loved ones safe.
She hugged him, her eyes closing. “I love you too, David. I couldn’t live without you.”
“Grow old with me, Laura, and I promise I’ll always make you happy.”
“You’ve got a deal,” she said gently, “and you better stick to it.”
“Forever,” he said.
Laura kissed him then, not realizing that the honeymoon was over.
It becomes clear early on that Harlan Coben prefers his stories to err on the side of implausible. David conveniently having a police-detective best friend is the least of the outlandish. But at some point I just decided to throw disbelief out the window and go with it – and I found that I really enjoyed Coben’s heightened sense of reality and the plots dubiousness. Yes, it’s far-fetched, but it does heighten the suspense and make the reading genuinely *fun*. Often mystery novels and thrillers are gloomy and debased stories, but the little bit of over-the-top in ‘Play Dead’ gave the book a real entertaining edge.

I did enjoy the coincidences in the plot, but at some point I would have liked Coben to reign them in a little bit – but I did keep in mind that this was his first novel. And actually, in this re-release of ‘Play Dead’ there is an introductory note from Coben in which he both apologizes and defends his first writing foray. It’s a very humorous introduction in which Coben blames a little bit of the books' vigour on his own youth at the time, but he says he learnt a lot from his first book.

I thought Laura was a great lead. I was initially wary of having an ex-fashion model protagonist, afraid that I wouldn’t be able to sympathize (or stomach) the details of Laura’s charmed existence. But Coben does such a fantastic job of absolutely destroying Laura’s idyllic life that I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her and marvel at the wreck of things. She was also one tough bird, and I really admired her tenacity and guts. I think her being an ex-model was more a case of Coben building her up to knock her down, and really just a by-line to her character.

This is a completely implausible thriller that is both fun and serious. Coben does a great balancing act and even manages to support the plot’s more outlandish coincidences. Sometimes he’s a little too free with impossibilities, but otherwise ‘Play Dead’ was a great read and a fantastic introduction to Harlan Coben.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

'Truth in the Dark' by Amy LANE

From the BLURB:

“I am not beautiful…”

Knife’s entire existence has been as twisted as his flesh and his face. The only thing beautiful in his life is his sister. When Gwennie is obliged to turn a suitor down because she fears to leave her brother to the brutality of their village, Knife is desperate for anything to ensure her happiness.

Her suitor’s cousin offers him a way out, but it won’t be easy. Aerie-Smith has been cursed to walk upright in the form of a beast, and his beloved village suffers from the same spell. Aerie-Smith offers Gwen a trousseau and some hope, if only Knife will keep him company on his island for the span of a year and perform one “regrettable task” at year’s end.

Knife is unprepared for the form the island’s curse takes on his own misshapen body. In one moment of magic, he is given the body of his dreams—and he discovers that where flesh meets spirit and appearance meet reality, sometimes the only place to find truth is in the darkness of a lover’s arms.

‘Truth in the Dark’ is a Dreamspinner e-book by Amy Lane. It is a very different type of M/M erotica and *utterly* brilliant.

Naef was born ‘crooked’. He has a club foot, twisted spine, too-big teeth and walks with a limp. In his little fishing village he grew up tormented and teased, abused and violated by the villagers. His only saviours were his mother and sister. Naef grew up despising himself, and throughout his life he has refused to look in a mirror.
One day his beautiful and tender-hearted sister, Gwennie, falls in love. Her man is a sailor called Klyn who offers for her hand, but an obligation to stay with Naef and defend him against village persecution forces Gwennie to refuse. Klyn will not give up so easily however, and sends his cousin to help him in his courting.

And so Aerie-Smith, Klyn’s cousin, arrives on the island, proposing that Naef come away and live with him on his own private isle for one whole year in exchange for a marriage chest for Gwennie. Aerie-Smith is a nobleman, rich and well-connected. He is also half-lion.
A ten-year old curse has seen Aerie-Smith take the shape of a lion-man; able to walk on two feet and speak through his muzzle, but with fur and a mane he looks more beast than man.
For his sister, Naef agrees to the year-long exile to Aerie-Smith’s island. But Naef gets more than he bargained for when he realizes that Aerie-Smith’s curse extends to the inhabitants of his island, humans who have taken the forms of animals. And Naef is further surprised when he reaches the island’s curse and his twisted body is made smooth and beautiful...

I loved this book! It is a very odd type of MM – a combination surrealist/fantasy/fable. There’s no clear time period in which the novel is set, and it could plausibly be modern day, alternate universe or from ‘a long, long time ago’. Either way, I was hooked from the first page of this book. ‘Truth in the Dark’ is a very poetic MM romance, and I’m not actually 100% comfortable with labelling it ‘erotica’ because I think there’s a lot of merit in the book beyond the smut.

Don’t get me wrong, the romance is hot and sensual, even when half of the couple is a lion. The sex scenes are intense and blush-worthy. Half of the joy in reading them is because Naef genuinely loves Aerie-Smith and adores his body. He doesn’t care that he looks like a lion, because when he touches him all Naef can feel is man. It’s beautiful and adds a layer of intensity to the lovemaking.

Amy Lane’s writing is beautiful – lyrical and passionate and utterly charming. The opening chapter is confronting and awful, truly harking back to brothers Grimm fairytales in which the hero is existing in the worst of circumstances. Naef is a wonderfully complex character – he thinks himself ugly on the outside, and has therefore made himself ugly on the inside. But scenes with his mother and sister reveal a tender-heart that he safeguards, and for good reason. Naef’s life is sad, lonely and the opening chapter is heartbreaking.
Enter the white-knight, Aerie-Smith who whisks Naef off to his private and cursed island. It is here that Naef’s body is transformed by the curse. Where the magic made all of the island’s humans take animal form, the magic gives Naef the body he was denied. Naef’s complexities are revealed when he rages against his new perfection;
“Change it back,” I muttered, hating it. My insides matched my outsides... I had spent years...I had spent my entire life twisting myself inside so that I could match the body and the face the fates had plagued me with. “Change it back!”
“I can’t!”
‘Truth in the Dark’ is an MM romance – emphasis on the *romance*. The fable quality of Naef and Aerie-Smith’s coupling is wonderful. The obvious connotation is ‘Beauty and the Beast’, but when I was reading I was reminded of the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche. That Greek myth has a moral message about trusting your love, and seeing with your heart what you can’t with your eyes. I think that’s the message in this book, and the love between Naef and Aerie-Smith.

I highly recommend ‘Truth in the Dark’ for those who want to read slightly high-brow MM erotica. Amy Lane does wonders with the prose and characterization, but at its heart this is a sexy fairytale romance, and one that will surprise you.

I would say if you enjoy Josh Lanyon's variety of M/M romance (à la 'Adrien English') then this book is for you.
I must thank K.C. of ‘smokin’ hot books’ for recommending this to me.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

'Fatal Circle' Persephone Alcmedi #3 by Linda ROBERTSON

From the BLURB:

Destiny sucks. . . .

There was a time when Persephone Alcmedi thought her life was hard to manage, what with wondering how to make sure she took adequate care of both her grandmother and her foster daughter, Beverley, whether she'd end up in the unwanted position of high priestess of a coven, and whether her wærewolf lover, Johnny, would resist the groupies who hang around his band Lycanthropia.

But that was before the fairies started demanding that Seph's frightening, unpredictable ally - the ancient vampire Menessos - be destroyed . . . or the world will suffer. Seph and Menessos are magically bonded, but that's a secret she dares not reveal to her fellow witches lest they be forced to reject her and forbid her use of magic. And, despite the strain this casts on her relationship with Johnny, as a showdown with the fairies nears, she and Menessos badly need the wærewolves as allies.

Life, death, and love are all on the line, but when destiny is calling, it doesn't help to turn away. With the individual threads of their fates twisted inextricably together, can Seph, Johnny, and Menessos keep the world safe from fairy vengeance?

This is the third book in Linda Robertson’s ‘Persephone Alcmedi’ series. This book picks up where ‘Hallowed Circle’ left off – literally the same night that the second book concluded.
Persephone has accepted the mantle of ‘Lustrata’ – a witch who balances the supernatural world, mainly between vampires and werewolves. Persephone has also realized that she is master to Ohio’s vampiric head-honcho; a blood bond with Menessos has turned him servant to her master. Persephone has also accepted her feelings toward werewolf-biker, Johnny, and they have entered into a tentative relationship. Oh, and there are killer fairies hell-bent on their destruction. As Johnny summarizes;
“Wolves in your attic and corpses in your cellar.” Johnny’s hands rested on the black denim at his lean hips. “Just another glorious day in ‘Ohio: The Heart of It All.”
I love this series. It has all the usual elements of an Urban Fantasy; vampires and werewolves – but it stands out in the genre and offers a slightly different flavour of fantasy. In Robertson’s universe the supernatural elements are out in the open – the witch’s council send out PR releases about policy decisions, vampires offer live telecasts of their rituals and two banking heiresses are loud and proud waere (they emulate the Hilton sisters by doing drunken table-top dances at the local lycan bar. Go figure.) I love the touch of realism in Robertson’s world – it’s actually really believable and logically presented, and I never have any trouble suspending belief when I delve into a ‘Persephone’ book.

In this instalment Robertson offers tons of tid-bits about Persephone’s main fellas – Johnny and Menessos. We learn more about their background and shady history, and it makes for very interesting reading. Especially when both Johnny and Menessos make moves on Persephone and let her know they *both* want a romantic entanglement with her. Readers are really inundated with back-story on Johnny and Menessos, which is a happy reprieve after they were both so mysterious in the previous two books. Persephone’s learning about them makes matters of the heart all the more complicated as her heart strings are pulled in two different directions.
Robertson is setting up a very tangled and complicated love triangle for Persephone, and I revel in reading it. At times I thought it hit a little close to the Jean-Claude/Anita/Richard triangle of Laurell K Hamilton’s ‘Anita Blake’ series... but then again, Robertson is a much better writer than Hamilton and I’d rather read her version.

There is a fairly massive cliff-hanger by book’s end, and Persephone is lumped with even more responsibility than when she started. This series is all about reading Persephone get deeper and deeper into her Lustrata role, and I am really enjoying reading her progress. And I don’t mind the cliff-hanger so much because we get the 4th book December this year. Yay!


Monday, July 26, 2010

'Matched' by Ally CONDIE

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

On her seventeenth birthday, Cassia meets her Match. Society dictates he is her perfect partner for life.

Except he's not.

In Cassia's society, Officials decide who people love.
How many children they have.
Where they work.
When they die.

But, as Cassia finds herself falling in love with another boy, she is determined to make some choices of her own.

And that's when her whole world begins to unravel .

Ally Condie’s stand-alone YA novel is amazing. Flat-out, hands-down incredible! And it will most certainly be featuring on my ‘2010 favourites’ list!

Cassia trusts the Society. The Society chooses everything – what people eat, where they work, who they marry, when they have children and when they die. Everything is orchestrated by the Society. Cassia, like everyone else, trusts the Society. She trusts them to choose her life-partner and is excited for her Matching Banquet where mathematical calculations will show Cassia who her optimal partner will be. Cassia is especially trusting of the Society when they choose her best friend, Xander, as her match. She and Xander have been friends since they were children, and now that they are matched she can start seeing him as more than just a friend...
But then, for one split second, Cassia sees another possibility – a boy called Ky Markham. Ky is an Aberration – an orphan from the Outer Provinces who must remain single.
Cassia is matched to Xander, and Ky is an Aberration. Society has calculated the possibilities and probabilities and Cassia knows her match... but what if the Society is wrong?

This novel is simply stunning. ‘Matched’ is a book about paradise lost and discovering Dystopia. Cassia is a 17-year-old girl on the cusp of womanhood. She has just started her matching courtship that in two year’s time will see her ‘bound’ to Xander. She is almost finished with school and will become a sorter for the Society. It is at this critical time in her life, on the brink of it all, that Cassia starts questioning everything. Not long after she is matched with her best friend Xander, a glitch in the computer system has her noticing another boy, Ky. Cassia has known Ky her whole life, but after her matching she starts seeing him in a different light.

‘Matched’ is ultimately a love story – albeit one set in Dystopia. Cassia is torn between order and chaos as her heart lies with two very different boys. Her best friend and official ‘match’ is Xander. But she is in love with the forbidden; an Aberration boy called Ky. ‘Matched’ is all about the heart-breaking love triangle that Cassia must endure.

Ally Condie’s world is bleak – and the root of the misery lies in the characters being none the wiser to their desolation. In this world the Society has eliminated creativity and curbed free-will. The Society have limited art and creation, allowing only a Hundred songs, Hundred poems, Hundred Paintings and Hundred stories to exist – everything else from ‘before’ was destroyed. The Society gives people three pills – blue, green and red – to be taken at moments of extreme anxiety. Handwriting is no longer required; all written forms of communication are typed. There are strict curfews, and trees that don’t grow uniformly are cut down.

The turning point for Cassia comes with a forbidden poem passed down from her Grandparents, one that is not on the authorized list of Hundred poems. Cassia reads the chilling words of Dylan Thomas; ‘Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ With those lines, Cassia’s world is forever changed, her thinking altered. She starts questioning the Society, and her matching with Xander. She allows herself illicit moments with Ky, and forbidden feelings.
“Cassia,” she says kindly. “Teenagers are hot-blooded. Rebellious. It’s part of growing up. In fact, when I checked your data, you were predicted to have some of these feelings.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Of course you do, Cassia. But it’s nothing to worry about. You might have certain feelings for Ky Markham now, but by the time you are twenty-one, there is a ninety-five percent chance that it will all be over.”
A good portion of ‘Matched’ is devoted to Condie’s world-building. It makes for a sometimes slow pace, but honestly I revelled in every detail. Condie’s world is terrifying and precise, an Orwellian existence dependent on people’s complacency and the Society never being questioned. Visually, Condie’s book reminded me of the cinematic world of Gattaca and Equilibrium – for all those gleaming edges, chrome surfaces and inhuman perfection. It is terrifying!

‘Matched’ is an exquisite novel. You will feel elated, devastated and a burning need to admire some Dylan Thomas poetry after reading this book. Condie sucked me in with her vision of a perfect prison, and she kept me hooked with an unfolding love triangle. This is one of the best YA books I have ever read and it is most definitely going on my ‘2010 favourites’ list.


US release:
November 30th 2010

'Live to Tell' D.D. Warren #4 by Lisa GARDNER

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Danielle often thinks about that night when her childhood her ended. The sound of her father shooting her mother and then hunting down her brother, as she cowered under her duvet, trying to drown out the sound. She can remember the sound her brother made as he was killed. And she can remember her father standing in the doorway of her bedroom, saying 'I'm sorry, Danielle...' before he turned the gun on himself. Haunting enough for any child, but Danielle has always wondered, why not her too? Why did her father let her go? Years later, Danielle is working in a hospital that deals with the most violent and damaged of children. And someone there knows something about her past and is prepared to kill to keep it quiet...

This is the fourth book in Lisa Gardner’s Detective D.D. Warren series.

D.D. Warren is a thirty-eight year old woman, and head of a three-person homicide squad unit in the Boston police department.
The catalyst for this whodunit thriller is rather tragic and all-too believable in today’s GFC (great financial crisis) climate. A family man who could no longer bear the weight of financial ruin performs a murder-suicide. The case is sad and horrific, but not exceptional until a second family dies in the same manner the following night. D.D. Warren’s instincts are pricked, and she starts making connections between the families – leading her to a psych unit for troubled children.

I haven’t read any of Gardner’s books before, but Karin Slaughter has an endorsement quote on the cover and that’s good enough for me.

Though this is the fourth book in the series, I was never too lost reading it as a stand-alone. Mostly because D.D. Warren shares the narrative with two character’s who are not series’ regulars. Danielle (great name!) is a caregiver at the children’s psych ward, and amidst the heinous murders she is coping with memories of her disturbing childhood. Then there’s Victoria, a mother of one of the ‘troubled’ children. The three narratives start out quite disjointed, but as the pace quickens and story tightens the three coalesce for a grand finale.

The subject matter of violent children is disturbing, but Gardner’s writing is a twisted delight. She lures you in, tightens her hold and never lets you go until the very last page. No matter how disconcerting the story, you simply cannot put the book down.
I especially liked this book because I was in the dark for most of it... but I was never frustrated by Gardner’s curve-balls or the plot’s surprising trajectory. There are supernatural elements in the story that put a thrilling spin on things – and it was those elements that really kept me on my toes and threw me for a loop.
“A kid in such an elevated rage-state is having an out-of-body experience. You can’t reach them with words, with love, with logic. They’re gone, in orbit. Afterward, they’ll remember almost nothing of what they said or did, including that they bashed the brains out of the family dog, or tore apart their own favourite teddy bear. Hiding is the best policy. And in the aftermath, the entire family needs post-traumatic stress counselling, especially the siblings.”
I think I will go back and read this series from the first. I liked Gardner’s style of writing a main protagonist’s narrative alongside the characters of her current investigation. I am especially intrigued by the series because of a potential love interest for D.D. in Professor/Detective Alex Wilson – and I’d like to read the progression of their maybe-romance.

This novel was disturbing, but invigorating. It’s a mystery thriller, the likes of which I have never read before and an absolutely must-read for lovers of the genre.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

'One Dance with a Duke' Stud Club #1 by Tessa DARE

From the BLURB:

A handsome and reclusive horse breeder, Spencer Dumarque, the fourth Duke of Morland, is a member of the exclusive Stud Club, an organization so select it has only ten members - yet membership is attainable to anyone with luck. And Spencer has plenty of it, along with an obsession with a prize horse, a dark secret, and, now, a reputation as the dashing 'Duke of Midnight.' Each evening he selects one lady for a breathtaking midnight waltz. But none of the women catch his interest, and nobody ever bests the duke - until Lady Amelia d'Orsay tries her luck.

In a moment of desperation, the unconventional beauty claims the duke's dance and unwittingly steals his heart. When Amelia demands that Spencer forgive her scapegrace brother's debts, she never imagines that her game of wits and words will lead to breathless passion and a steamy proposal. Still, Spencer is a man of mystery, perhaps connected to the shocking murder of the Stud Club's founder. Will Amelia lose her heart in this reckless wager or win everlasting love?

I measure all of Tessa Dare’s works against her first (brilliant) book ‘Goddess of the Hunt’. Maybe that’s unfair – but she set the bar so high with her debut, and sadly she hasn’t managed to reach those heights since.

‘One Dance with a Duke’ begins with a murder. A gentleman of the ton is killed and three of his acquaintances think that his death has to do with a ‘Stud Club’ he created. The club's purpose is to share tokens amongst men for breeding privileges between their mares and an elite horse stud (owned by the murdered man). The three men decide to conduct their own investigations into the murder. And for one of them, Spencer Morland, the death hits close to home and prompts him to take a wife and get an heir.
Enter Amelia d’Orsay – a past her prime wallflower who is too plump and too clever for most ton gentlemen. But Spencer is charmed and drawn to her, and promptly proposes.

I think my biggest problem with every Tessa Dare novel since ‘Goddess of the Hunt’ is convolution. The main reason I liked ‘Goddess’ was because it was a very simple story about boy likes girl, boy gets girl. Her subsequent novels involved high-seas drama and complex political dealings. And ‘One Dance with a Duke’ is complicated by a murder. I was a little frustrated by the ‘whodunnit’ sideline plot because it was just that – a sideline. Murder Mystery is clearly not Ms. Dare’s forte, and that plot thread was pretty quickly and carelessly tossed aside.

As far as the romance went – I did like it. Spencer and Amelia were wonderful, mostly because Amelia was fighting an uphill battle with Spencer’s guarded emotions. He was a real reclusive bachelor, more interested in horses than humans;
She stared at him in horror. “You want a broodmare!”
He said evenly, “When you draw that comparison, you demean us both. I have many fine mares in my stables, and yet there is not a one of them I would allow to mother my children or manage my household, much less introduce my cousin to society. No, I do not want a broodmare. I want a wife. A duchess.”
But once Spencer started opening up to Amelia he revealed himself to be a very compassionate and loyal romantic.

I didn’t like the conclusion. It was a rather layered ending, a lot of scene-changing and character monologues describing their actions and motivations... I think it was a rather weak ending. But overall I think the ‘Stud Club’ is shaping up to be a stronger trilogy than her previous and I will be reading subsequent books.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

'Little Paradise' by Gabrielle WANG

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB

As Mirabel watched him, she could not bear the thoughts creeping up on her. JJ was in the Chinese army and his mission in Australia would one day be over. Then she would be just like the others, a girl left behind in the wake of war. 'I'm afraid,' she whispered. 'When the war ends . . . what's going to happen to us?'
He put his arm around her and stroked her face. She knew he could not answer that question. But she wanted him to lie, to say that he would take her with him, that they would be together always.

Melbourne, 1943, and Mirabel is seventeen. She's leaving school, designing dresses, falling in love. Then fate intervenes, her forbidden affair is discovered, and JJ is posted back to China where a civil war is raging. Despite all warnings, Mirabel sets off for Shanghai to find him . . .

Gabrielle Wang’s YA novel ‘Little Paradise’ is based on the true story of how her parents met.

When the book begins Lei An is changing her name. She is a third generation Chinese-Australian (her grandparents came over in the gold rush) and she wants a more Aussie name. She settles on ‘Mirabel’, and visits a soothsayer to bless the name. But the soothsayer has only ominous words to offer;

Dressing the dead
Treasure not wed
Lost on the sea
To fortune you’ll flee

The novel skips ahead to Melbourne in 1943. War hasn’t touched Australia the same way it has Europe and Asia. American soldiers have made base in the city and school children are armed with air-raid kits. But Australia is otherwise far removed from the war, although people are still on-edge after the Japanese attack on Sydney Harbour last year.
Mirabel is in her last year of school and coping with a hectic home life. Her older sister Lola is dating an American soldier, much to her parents chagrin. Mirabel’s mother is having another ‘episode’, battling the highs and lows of her emotions that force the family to send her away to a facility in the country. Mirabel has her head in her art books, but decides to join the army cartography unit once school finishes.

Then Mirabel meets Lieutenant Lin. Lieutenant Jin Jing, or ‘JJ’ as he prefers, is a liaison between Chinese and Australian forces. JJ was a peasant in Shanghai, but left the city when Japanese forces invaded, now he is in Melbourne working a special assignment for the two governments. He and Mirabel cross paths a number of times, before being officially introduced by her father and told to escort JJ around Melbourne to show him the sights. JJ is tall, strong-jawed, and respectful and the handsomest man Mirabel has even seen – she falls in love instantly. Soon she and JJ are spending every spare minute together, including a clandestine trip to Tasmania. But just as war bought them together, it also tears them apart. JJ leaves for Shanghai in the midst of political upheaval with the communist party. In 1945 peace-time brings new immigration restrictions in Australia and no way for JJ to return... not even when Mirabel sends word of her pregnancy.

I loved this book! This is the sort of novel you wish had been on the syllabus when you were in high-school. There’s a lot of merit in the book, from Wang’s lyrical writing to the sweeping historic landscape. But at its centre, ‘Little Paradise’ is a wartime romance and addictive reading.

If the old adage is ‘write what you know’ then it’s obvious why Gabrielle Wang chose to tell this story. She has clearly grown up hearing the tale of her parent’s meeting and star-crossed love, and their romance is grand-scale and incredible enough to merit book-form. JJ and Mirabel’s romance is swoon-worthy, playing out during World War II and the impending communist take-over of China – theirs is an epic love story. Wang did well to not lose these two characters amidst the historic back-drop; she beautifully describes their first meetings and timid affection, which eventually grows into a heated romance.
“One day we will be together again,” JJ said.
She put a finger on his lips. No, they could only talk about this room, this bed, their love, and the sad note that lingered on the strings of the Chinese violin.
But a tiny seed of hope had been planted.
Melbourne is my home-town, so I loved reading about the city in 1945. Wang offers a little snatch of Melbournian history and brings the wartime town to life. Wang also does a wonderful job painting a picture of a third-generation Chinese-Australian family. She touches on Anglo prejudices, Melbourne’s ‘melting pot’ and the strict familial obligation Mirabel has to her parents. Wang offers a fascinating glimpse into Chinese family and tradition, and sets up many seemingly impossible obstacles (both familial and historic) for Mirabel and JJ to overcome.

Melbourne's Flinders St. Station, 1945

Though the first-half of the book is set in Melbourne during war-time, it’s the second-half based in Shanghai that really captivates. China is on the brink of revolution, and the Kuomintang government are trying to weed out communists and sympathizers to curb the red fever. Mirabel and JJ find themselves caught in the midst of revolution, when the country is on the precipice of the communist take-over. This was fascinating reading for me, as Wang brings this giant historic event to a more personable level through Mirabel and JJ. The second-half of the book also offers some of the most heart-rending scenes, like Mirabel’s visit to the devastated city, Hiroshima. In the second-half Wang really stretches her literary wings and absolutely soars with the plot and narrative.

‘Little Paradise’ is an epic saga of wartime romance, revolution and one girl’s destiny. I really did love this novel, and wholly wish something like ‘Little Paradise’ had been on my reading list when I was in school.


Friday, July 23, 2010

'The Eternal Ones' by Kirsten MILLER

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Haven Moore can't control her visions of a past with a boy called Ethan, and a life in New York that ended in fiery tragedy. In our present, she designs beautiful dresses for her classmates with her best friend Beau. Dressmaking keeps her sane, since she lives with her widowed and heartbroken mother in her tyrannical grandmother's house in Snope City, a tiny town in Tennessee. Then an impossible group of coincidences conspire to force her to flee to New York, to discover who she is, and who she was.

In New York, Haven meets Iain Morrow and is swept into an epic love affair that feels both deeply fated and terribly dangerous. Iain is suspected of murdering a rock star and Haven wonders, could he have murdered her in a past life? She visits the Ouroboros Society and discovers a murky world of reincarnation that stretches across millennia. Haven must discover the secrets hidden in her past lives, and loves before all is lost and the cycle begins again.

‘The Eternal Ones’ is Kirsten Miller’s first stand-alone YA novel.

For as long as Haven can remember she has loved a boy called Ethan. When she was just a child Haven would often speak about having to find Ethan Evans in New York City, and she would refer to herself as Constance Whitman. Haven scared her parents by having ‘fainting spells’ and waking with clear memories of another life in New York City and the love of a man named Ethan.
In her small Tennessee bible-belt town of Snope City Haven quickly gained the reputation of being ‘demon possessed’. Her grandmother, Imogene, insisted that Haven have regular counselling sessions with the local preacher to try and curb her evil ways. Haven’s visions did eventually stop, around the same time her father died in a car accident and her mother went into an asylum. In those dark days all memories of Ethan Evans vanished...

When we meet her Haven is 17 and the visions are back. Haven is fainting again, and remembering blissful nights wrapped around Ethan. Her best friend, Beau, is concerned. Her grandmother is about to have a conniption fit and the entire town are about ready to burn Haven on the cross. But she can’t help herself, she can’t stop the visions and she can’t help but feel that her past is connected to Iain Morrow... a NYC dilettante play-boy whose image on the news one night sends Haven into a faint. Somehow she knows that the answers to all of her, and Constance’s, questions lie with Iain. Now it’s up to Haven to journey to the Big Apple and learn the truth of her past and past life.

I loved the concept of reincarnation and love across time. When other authors are touting the ‘vampire romance’, Miller has tapped into what is at the heart of all those paranormal love stories... immortality. That’s one of the big selling-points of any vampire romance, the idea that you can be with and love someone *forever*. But Miller takes that idea and uses the ages-old concept of ‘reincarnation’ for her star-crossed lovers. Brilliant! There’s such potential for epic love, and it’s grounded in such a familiar yet whimsical concept. I think it’s an inspired idea.
“Who are you?” Constance asked. “How do you know these things?”
“I've been looking for you,” he said. Suddenly his face was close, his lips brushing hers. She closed her eyes.
“Constance!” A voice screeched across the piazza. “Get away from her at once!” Her mother was rushing toward them, wielding her Japanese parasol like a sword.
“Now it’s your turn to find me,” Ethan whispered, slipping a card into Constance’s hand.
She looked down. Printed on the back of the card was an illustration of a silver snake swallowing its tail.
I loved ‘part one’ of this book. The first 151 pages are all about Haven living in Snope City when her ‘visions’ reach a zenith. Miller writes about small-town prejudice and pressure as town residents turn on Haven. Throughout the first chapters, as Haven recounts snatches of another life lives in New York, you get the idea that the meat of the plot will take place when Haven leaves town... but part one of the book never dragged for me. Miller does a fantastic job of scene setting the Tennessee Mountain town and communicating Haven’s suffocation. I became completely immersed in Haven’s struggles and fascinated by her ‘visions’. Miller has also written some fantastic secondary characters, my favourite being Haven’s best friend, Beau. Beau is a star football player, drop-dead-gorgeous and gay. He and Haven have been friends ever since she admired the Barbie lunchbox Beau bought to school. I absolutely adored Beau – he’s a witty, saccharine Southern gentleman and there’s real affection between him and Haven as two outcasts who cling to one another to stay afloat in small-minded Snope. Their scenes provide some of the funniest dialogue and imbue the otherwise depressing first chapters with much-needed warmth.

It does become apparent early on that the real meat of the story won’t take place in Snope City. Haven has to leave the town and travel to NYC before the crux of the story can really kick-off....But the book goes a bit pear-shaped in the middle.

In the middle of the book, ‘part two’, Haven finally leaves Snope City (and Beau) behind and journeys to New York City. Her relationship with Iain/Ethan is instantaneous and whirlwind, but in the midst of bliss Haven starts uncovering uncomfortable truths. Like the fact that Iain is in the papers, accused of murder. Or that he seems to be a ‘cad about town’. Haven seeks to discover more about Iain Morrow, while simultaneously researching Constance Whitman and Ethan Evans’s past. It is at this point that Miller starts piling mystery upon conspiracy, and throwing curve-balls to tangle already complicated plots.

At one point Haven thinks that Iain is playing her for a fool and acting Lothario behind her back. At the same time, Haven uncovers clues that indicate Constance had the same suspicions about Ethan back in the day. Miller introduces two possible ‘mistresses’ for Iain and it all becomes a bit much, especially because Iain is also being accused of murder. Meanwhile, there’s a convoluted story about a reincarnation society called the ‘Ouroboros Society’ who might be sending ‘gray men’ to follow and spy on Haven and Iain.
At that point, half-way through the novel, I thought Miller should have adopted the ‘less is more’ approach.

Miller turns Haven into a Nancy Drew girl-sleuth. But Haven doesn’t suit the role of amateur detective at all. While unearthing clues about Iain Morrow and Ethan Evans, Haven swings between thinking the men innocent, and then guilty. She flips her mood on a dime, one second berating herself for doubting Iain’s love and then utterly sure that Ethan Evans murdered her reincarnated self, Constance Whitman.
Then there’s the fact that the bulk of Haven’s ‘sleuthing’ involves phoning her BFF, Beau, in Tennessee and asking him to conduct internet searches. That plot device at once had me asking why Miller didn’t just keep Beau in the story to begin with, instead relegating him to the sidelines as Haven’s ‘phone a friend’, and also acted to illustrate Haven’s investigating incapability.
I am a reader of crime thrillers, so I love a good ‘whodunnit’ ... but there was just too much in ‘The Eternal Ones’. Miller throws out so many red herrings, curveballs and layers mystery atop of mystery that it started to do my head in.

But just when I thought to put this book down as a ‘DNF’ Miller miraculously brings it all together. In the last 100 or so pages the pace quickens and the plot tightens – the mystery finally narrows down and comes together for a helter-skelter conclusion. A truly heinous bad-guy with demented motivations is presented for the final curtain, and the ending makes up for a few of the previous grumblings.

The back covers touts ‘The Eternal Ones’ as being “epic, paranormal romance like you’ve NEVER read before...”
The thing is, the book isn’t terribly romantic. The concept of reincarnation and coming back to this world because you’re drawn to one particular person is very romantic. But Miller works so hard to cast doubt on Iain/Ethan and she weaves such a complicated mystery surrounding the men that (like Haven) I was never sure about them. I never completely warmed to them, or trusted them. Miller invested so much energy in the conspiracy ‘whodunnit’ plot, casting Iain/Ethan in the worst light, that by the time she wanted Haven (and readers) to warm to them I was beyond being convinced, unable to shake my suspicions of them.

I think ‘The Eternal Ones’ has a great concept at its centre. Reincarnation as the crux of an epic love-story is a book I’d like to read.... but Kirsten Miller’s execution of the idea is a little lacking. She focuses too much on a convoluted mystery storyline, and leaves the romance ‘too little too late’. If the mystery plot had been culled and the romance amplified this would have been a truly terrific book. As it is, Miller just misses the mark; with a great idea, poorly delivered.


US Release:
August 10th 2010

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cover Art - 'River Marked' Mercy Thompson #6

Car mechanic Mercy Thompson has always known there was something different about her, and not just the way she can make a VW engine sit up and beg. Mercy is a shapeshifter, a talent she inherited from her long-gone father. She’s never known any others of her kind. Until now.

An evil is stirring in the depths of the Columbia River—one that her father’s people may know something about. And to have any hope of surviving, Mercy and her mate, the Alpha werewolf Adam, will need their help…

This cover-art is being passed around the book blogs at the moment. I just needed to post a little something about how darn *excited* I am for the sixth Mercy Thomspon novel.

I am a rabid Patricia Briggs fangirl, and the newest Mercy book is always my 'most anticipated' title every year... and for good reason. There hasn't been a 'Mercy' book I haven't loved, and this year's 'Silver Borne' was no exception. The events in 'SB' have got me *so* pumped for 'River Marked', and that cover/blurb have me chomping at the bit for book #6! Mercy's Native American heritage has never been fully addressed, so I really appreciate that now her love life is under control, Briggs will start an investigation into where it all began with out girl Mercy. I Can't. Wait!

Dan Dos Santos has delivered another exquisite cover; every time I see the new Mercy cover I always say that one is my new favourite... I love the 'Bone Crossed' and 'Silver Borne' covers, but I think 'River Marked' may be my favourite yet. Mercy looks absolutely stunning - and is it just me, or does she have quite a contented expression on her face? Mayhaps that calm is thanks to Adam and good lovin'?

I really, really need 2011 to roll around so I can get my Mercy-fix!

River Marked 'Mercy Thompson' #6

by Patrica Briggs

January 25th 2011

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

'Firespell' Dark Elite #1 by Chloe NEILL

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

When Lily's guardians decided to send her away to a fancy boarding school in Chicago, she was shocked. So was St. Sophia's. Lily's ultra-rich brat pack classmates think Lily should be the punchline to every joke and on top of that, she's hearing strange noises and seeing bizarre things in the shadows of the creepy building. The only thing keeping her sane is her roommate, Scout, who keeps disappearing late at night and won't tell Lily where she's been. But when a prank leaves Lily trapped in the catacombs beneath the school, Lily finds Scout running from a real monster. Scout's a member of a splinter group of rebel teens with unique magical talents, who've sworn to protect the city against demons, vampires and Reapers, magic users who've been corrupted by their power. And when Lily finds herself in the line of a firespell, Scout tells her the truth about her secret life, even though Lily has no powers of her own - at least, none that she's discovered yet...

Chloe Neill has already established a name for herself with the Urban Fantasy series ‘Chicagoland Vampires’. Neill continues her love of all things Chicago in her first YA series, ‘Dark Elite’. ‘Firespell’ is the first book in the series, and one hell of an introduction.

Lily Parker’s world has been turned upside down. Not only is she staring down the tunnel of her senior year, with SAT’s and college applications looming... but she’ll be slogging through her final two years in a Chicago boarding school while her parents traipse around Germany. Okay, maybe ‘traipse’ isn’t the right word since they’ll be on a teaching sabbatical, but still! It’s a disaster of epic proportions for Lily, who has to leave her Sagamore NYC home, and say goodbye to her friends and parents. She is losing everything she holds dear, and trading it all in for the elite St. Sophia’s boarding school in Chicago.

It is at St. Sophia’s that Lily meets Millicent ‘Scout’ Green, her strange new roomie and future BFF. Scout isn’t like the other pencil-skirt-wearing, straight-laced Sophia snobs – she has a nose ring, an appreciation for ‘Man vs. Wild’ and a penchant for sneaking out at night for ‘exercise’. Lily follows Scout on one of her late-night ‘exercises’ and discovers something lurking in St. Sophia’s basement. Lily also meets two of Scout’s friends; Montclare private school boys Michael Garcia and Jason Shepherd. This trio of rich-kids claim to be ‘cleaning up Chicago’... but Lily isn’t convinced. And to top off all the weirdness is headmistress Foley making some radical claims about her parents.
The more Lily digs to uncover Scout and St. Sophia’s secrets, the more she discovers they may lead to secrets that are closer to home...

This is an outstanding new addition to the ‘Urban Fantasy’ genre, and YA readership. ‘Firespell’ has heart-pumping action, mysterious monsters and two heroines’s to admire. This is Urban Fantasy du-jour and an absolute joy to read!

I loved the fact that Neill coupled outlandish supernatural monsters with Lily’s more relatable and devastating discovery that her parents have been keeping secrets from her. It really heightened the personal drama, and ensured there was plenty of mystery spiced with the action scenes.
I’d walked into St. Sophia’s thinking I was beginning day one of my two-year separation from people who meant more to me than anyone else in the world – two people who’d been honest with me, even if we hadn’t always gotten along. (I was a teenager, after all.) But now I had to wonder. I had to look back over my life and decide whether everything I knew, everything I believed to be true about my mother and father, was a lie.
The reason ‘Firespell’ works so well is that Neill is writing teenagers as heroes. Adults are side-lined in this book, and the kids take centre stage and battle-glory. At its heart, the ‘Dark Elite’ series will be an exploration of Good vs. Evil – a universal battle set in downtown Chicago, being fought by spoiled little rich kids. Brilliant!

Neill's characters are quick and quippy, throwing around pop-culture references and wry witticisms like they’re in a Joss Whedon TV show. I loved them. Lily and Scout are on the fringe of popularity, they’re hounded by the popular ‘Brat pack’, but they relish the verbal sparring rather than weakened by it. They aren’t mainstream teenagers; they reference Pete Wentz and put-down Blair Waldorf and are utterly charming for their quirkiness. They are the type of characters you wish were real people, so you could call them up and have a good gossipy chat.

There’s also plenty of potential romance to get stuck into, as Michael and Jason present interesting ‘cute boy’ diversions for Scout and Lily. Neill doesn’t give too much up in this first book, but she lays the groundwork for a budding romance that acts as a nice balance with all the monsters and fast-paced action.

If there’s one thing Neill does well, it’s writing secondary characters. In ‘Firespell’ the mean-girl ‘brat pack’ are as interesting as the main characters, and surprisingly enough the ‘bad guys’ prove to be equally fascinating players. Not to give anything away, but I found myself as interested in the head-honcho villain’s back-story as I was in Lily’s – and I hope Neill cultivates those minor plots in future books.

I really liked this book, and look forward to more to come in the ‘Dark Elite’ series. I actually prefer the premise of ‘Dark Elite’ than Neill’s adult ‘Chicagoland Vampires’ series.
‘Firespell’ finishes off on a Grand-Canyon-sized cliff-hanger (dammit!). Book two, ‘Hexbound’, is set for January 2011 release.


Dark Elite #2 'Hexbound' - Jan 4th 2011

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

'Love in the Afternoon' Hathaways #5 by Lisa KLEYPAS

From the BLURB:

As a lover of animals and nature, Beatrix Hathaway has always been more comfortable outdoors than in the ballroom. Even though she participated in the London season in the past, the classic beauty and free-spirited Beatrix has never been swept away or seriously courted.and she has resigned herself to the fate of never finding love. Has the time come for the most unconventional of the Hathaway sisters to settle for an ordinary man - just to avoid spinsterhood?

Captain Christopher Phelan is a handsome, daring soldier who plans to marry Beatrix's friend, the vivacious flirt Prudence Mercer, when he returns from fighting abroad. But, as he explains in his letters to Pru, life on the battlefield has darkened his soul - and it's becoming clear that Christopher won't come back as the same man. When Beatrix learns of Pru's disappointment, she decides to help by concocting Pru's letters to Christopher for her. Soon the correspondence between Beatrix and Christopher develops into something fulfilling and deep.and when Christopher comes home, he's determined to claim the woman he loves. What began as Beatrix's innocent deception has resulted in the agony of unfulfilled love - and a passion that can't be denied.

‘Love in the Afternoon’ is the fifth and last book in Lisa Kleypas’s ‘Hathaways’ series. As a HUGE Kleypas fan-girl I can unequivocally pledge that this is one of her finest novels to date.

I was very sad to begin ‘Love in the Afternoon’. I, and many fans, have fallen hopelessly in love with the Hathaway clan. They came from humble country beginnings, thrust into ton society with the unexpected death of a distant relative which passed a Lordship title to the only male Hathaway, Leo. With the death of both their parents still fresh in their hearts, the rambunctious Hathaway clan traipsed to Stony Cross to accept responsibilities none of them were equipped for. Amelia, the eldest Hathaway, who was forced to become surrogate mother to her sibling brood. Winifred, who was still frail and feeble, recovering from an illness which killed Leo’s beloved fiancé leaving him to drown in grief. Poppy, the beautiful middle sister who only wanted to find contentment and safety in marriage, the same as her parent’s had. And youngest Hathaway, Beatrix, who found more in common with animals than the debutante’s she was forced to socialize with.
I've read all of their trials and tribulations, heartbreaks and triumphs. Amelia who found love with gypsy-man, Cam Rohan. Win and her childhood crush, Merripen. Poppy and her unconventional rogue husband, Harry Rutledge. Leo and his unlikely pairing with tight-lipped governess, Catherine Marks...

I was reluctant but insanely curious to see how it would all end with the littlest Hathaway, Beatrix.

I admit to going into ‘Love in the Afternoon’ with trepidation, mostly concerning the book’s heroine. For four novels now, Beatrix has been an entertaining and charming Hathaway edition... she was always in the background of her sibling’s books; a gentle-hearted tomboy who never met an animal she didn’t love. But I wondered how she’d be as a romantic heroine, rather than just a bit of comic relief. I think Lisa Kleypas had a very hard task in writing Beatrix’s story, in making her character more than just the affable little sister with a sunny disposition... and I am delighted to say that Kleypas not only makes Beatrix into a stunning romantic lead, but ‘Love in the Afternoon’ is an example of Kleypas at her very best.

Beatrix has been writing letters to Captain Christopher Phelan as he fights in the Crimean war. Beatrix writes of the Stony Cross forest, the smell of autumn, the local livestock auction and singing her stockinged feet by the hearth. Her words are a balm to Christopher who is miles and miles away, fighting in a war he doesn’t believe in. When he reads Beatrix’s letters of banal country life, creature comforts and home he is transported and given a moment of reprieve. From Christopher, Beatrix reads about fighting the Russians, disease spreading through the trenches, and Christopher’s faithful canine friend, Albert, who carries messages along the line.
Letter by letter, word by word, Beatrix and Christopher fall in love.
Only, Christophe doesn’t know it is Beatrix he’s writing to. Christopher is under the impression that he is writing to the beautiful and flirtatious Prudence Mercer. He does not know that Pru was bored by his letters and annoyed with his gloom. Christopher doesn’t know that it was Beatrix who happily took up the task of writing to him, offering him relief on the page. He doesn’t know, until he receives this cryptic letter;
Dearest Christopher,

I can’t write you again.

I’m not who you think I am.

I didn’t mean to send you love letters, but that is what they became. On their way to you, my words turned into heartbeats on the page.

Come back, please come home and find me.

- [unsigned.]
Thus begins one of the most charming and heart-rending historical romances I have ever read.

I loved Christopher and Beatrix’s unconventional and complicated courtship – the letters between them are beautiful to read and clearly a progression of feelings developing. It is a tangled web Beatrix weaves for herself, especially because Christopher doesn’t actually *like* her. Christopher is an upstanding gentleman, and before leaving for war he met and was unamused by Hathaway antics, especially Beatrix’s, commenting that she belonged more in a stable than a drawing room.
“You do not know Beatrix. You haven’t spent nearly enough time with her.”
“I know that she’s unruly, opinionated, and far more cheerful than any reasoning person should be. She wears breeches, climbs trees, and roams wherever she pleases without a chaperone. I also know that she has overrun Ramsay House with squirrels, hedgehogs, and goats, and the man unlucky enough to marry her will be driven to financial ruin from the veterinary bills. Would you care to contradict any of those points?”
Audrey folded her arms and gave him a sour look. “Yes. She doesn’t have a squirrel.”
The first half of the book is all about Christopher’s return home, and his hunt for the ‘Pru’ of the letters. But when he meets the vapid and narcissistic Prudence Mercer, Christopher quickly realizes she is not his beloved letter-writer.

Christopher’s hunt for Beatrix, his lettered love, is not the crux of the book however. The real, juicy storyline has to do with Christopher reconciling his time in the war with his new civilian life.
The Crimean war changed him – he has bouts of anger, night terrors and jumps at loud sounds. He is a man recovering from post-traumatic stress, without current psychological jargon to articulate his problems. Therein lays the heart of ‘Love in the Afternoon’, as Christopher struggles with himself in the wake of war. And who better to comfort, care and love him than Beatrix Hathaway whose tender patience has healed many winged and four-footed creatures.

I love, love, loved this book! I was worried about Beatrix as a womanly heroine, having read her for four books past as an entertaining little sister to the other Hathaway’s. But in ‘Afternoon’ Beatrix sheds all of her girlish attributes and is a dashing heroine. She and Christopher have a beautiful, burning love and plenty of sensual scenes that banish all thoughts of immaturity. I LOVED them!

I was sad to read the end of the ‘Hathaways’, but ‘Afternoon’ is a fitting conclusion to a wonderful series and I only feel a great sense of closure as the series ends with Christopher and Beatrix’s romance. I had a tear in my eye and breathed a happy sigh of relief at the last page.


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