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Saturday, October 30, 2010

'Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague' by Geraldine BROOKS

From the BLURB:

When an infected bolt of cloth carries plague from London to an isolated mountain village, a housemaid named Anna Frith emerges as an unlikely heroine and healer. Through Anna's eyes, we follow the story of the plague year, 1666, as her fellow villagers make an extraordinary choice. Convinced by a visionary young minister, they elect to quarantine themselves within the village boundaries to arrest the spread of the disease. But as death reaches into every household, faith frays. When villagers turn from prayers and herbal cures to sorcery and murderous witch-hunting, Anna must confront the deaths of family, the disintegration of her community, and the lure of a dangerous and illicit love. As she struggles to survive, a year of plague becomes, instead, annus mirabilis, a "year of wonders." Inspired by the true story of Eyam, a village in the rugged mountain spine of England. Year of Wonders is a detailed evocation of a singular moment in history.

Geraldine Brooks debut novel, ‘Year of Wonders’ is one of my all-time favourites. The book was published in 2001, and I read it when I was about 15. The afternoon I first read this book is imprinted on my memory forever - it was during the summer school holidays; I read it on a swing chair in my backyard and cried and cried and cried for a whole afternoon. But when I finally closed the book I breathed a sigh of relief and knew I had found a ‘keeper’. And in the years since I have gone back and re-read the book for the comfort and sadness it brings. Geraldine Brooks has gone on to become a famed literary author – winning a Pulitzer for her novel ‘March’ and the Australian Literary Fiction Award in 2008 for ‘People of the Book’. But for me, ‘Year of Wonders’ will always be my favourite of hers.

‘Year of Wonders’ is a fictionalization of a true historic event. It tells the story of an English village in Derbyshire called Eyam. When the black plague swept across England in 1666 this little village did something that is still heralded to this day as a great feat of courage and sacrifice. When a travelling tailor called George Viccars unwittingly bought plague to Eyam via flea-infested cloth, the townspeople and their vicar, Reverend William Mompesson, made the decision to quarantine the village to stop the infection from spreading to the rest of Derbyshire. By the end of the plague Eyam had suffered greatly for the bravery. The plague raged in the village for 14 months and killed at least 260 villagers with only 83 villagers surviving out of a population of 350.

The novel is told from the perspective of one Eyam resident, Anna Frith. Anna is the housekeeper at the Eyam rectory, working for the Reverend William Mompesson and his wife. Anna is also a mother and widower, having lost her husband to a mining accident a few years before the plague breaks in 1666.

Geraldine Brooks created Anna as a character accidentally at the centre of it all. Anna happens to rent a room to one George Viccars, the man who accidentally brings the plague to Eyam. By working for the Reverend Mompesson, Anna is also privy to the many discussions and strategies concerning Eyam’s isolation.

Anna may be a fictional player in the grand true story of Eyam, but she is a wonderful narrator. Anna’s brilliance lies in her ordinariness; a mother hopelessly trying to protect her family and survive during the end of days. Through Anna and her relatable struggles, Geraldine Brooks asks of her readers; “what would you do?” and “how would you cope?” I loved the fact that Anna was just an ordinary woman living in extraordinary times.

The entire story of Eyam is at once heart-wrenching and inspiring. Geraldine Brooks started her life as a journalist - she was once a foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. This means that Brooks pays attention to detail – she thrives on facts and weaves a fascinating fictional narrative from her historic research. The ins and outs of Eyam’s isolation are fascinating to read – everything from Reverend Mompesson’s decree that family’s bury their own dead, to the system they worked out to buy food supplies from surrounding villages (a little well was filled with vinegar for outside traders to clean coins in and food was left at the town’s entrance). But these are just the bare bones facts that Brooks researched. The really magnificent storytelling comes from her imagination – as the town downslides into paranoia and leadership struggles, as whispers of witchcraft threaten the townspeople’s sanity and Mompesson struggles to keep a hold on his parish and Anna witnesses it all. . .

First and foremost however, ‘Year of Wonders’ is a bitterly sad tale. The book opens in the aftermath of plague – when we meet Anna she is alone and struggling to cope with all that she has lost. In fact, the entire town of Eyam is devastated in the wake of plague.
If there’s one thing I can’t stand anymore, it’s the scent of a rotting apple.
Then the book back-tracks to tell the story of the town’s isolation. . . It’s an incredible literary feat that even though Brooks starts out by telling us Anna suffers greatly, every single blow and loss she bears is a blindsiding curveball. You will bawl your eyes out in this book – fair warning. Not to give anything away, but there is light at the end of the tunnel (and even a growing infatuation between Anna and the Reverend). . . but it’s a long, dark read to get there;
When I woke, the light was streaming through the window. The bed was wet, and there was a wild voice howling. Tom’s little body had leaked its life’s blood from his throat and bowels. My own gown was drenched where I’d clutched him to me. I gathered him up off the gory pallet and ran into the street. My neighbours were all standing there, their faces turned to me, full of grief and fear. Some had tears in their eyes. But the howling voice was mine.
Geraldine Brooks is a beautiful writer. Really, her prose is magnificence on the page. . . but when coupled with her unflinching ability to wring emotion and empathy out of her readers she is a literary powerhouse.

This book is sad - there’s no getting around that. But at its heart, ‘Year of Wonders’ and the story of Eyam is one of humanity and hope. This is a town that isolated and sacrificed itself for the sake of community. Eyam saved countless lives with their martyrdom, and when you read ‘Year of Wonders’ and remember that this courageous act actually happened. . . it is heartrendingly incredible. And the true story of Eyam village lives on to this day. A play called ‘The Roses of Eyam’ by Don Taylor tells the plague story. And Eyam has gained scientific notoriety - research has been done into the DNA of Eyam plague-residents who survived, particularly those like the town’s gravediggers who were repeatedly exposed to the bubonic plague but were one of the few town survivors.

I also owe Geraldine Brooks for my discovery of Diana Gabaldon. It was because I loved ‘The Year of Wonders’ so much that I went onto and scoured recommended reading pages. . . and one book popped up as being a historical fiction recommendation – ‘Outlander’. And we all know how that reading turned out. . .

I will always hold a special place in my heart for ‘Year of Wonders’ – a little unassuming book that I can’t even remember what compelled me to buy it. But I spent one glorious sunny afternoon crying through this book, and discovered a favourite amidst its pages.


Friday, October 29, 2010

★Have you heard about 'Across the Universe'?★

Hello darling readers,

I have absolutely, positively GOT to share my new obsession with you. . . Beth Revis.

Her debut YA novel is called 'Across the Universe' and is set for a January 11th 2011 release. The book is a huge Razorbill/Penguin coup and the publishers are doing a fabulous publicity push for the book. But to be honest, I'm not sure they'll need it because this book will sell itself.

I read it one day.
I am adding it to my 2010 favourite's list.
I am obsessed!

The book is a dystopian sci-fi romance extravaganza! And best of all is that 'Across the Universe' is the first book in a trilogy! YAY!
I spent one whole day with my eyes glued to the page, my heart beating out a samba in my chest and my hands were shaking as I read the last page.

Hands-down, incredible!

Razorbill/Penguin are doing some great promotions for this book. You maybe have already heard some blogosphere whisperings and rumblings since ARCs of 'Across the Universe' are being handed out like black-market contraband to a lucky few. If you are a book blogger with an affiliation with Penguin, then I suggest you offer up your first-born for an advanced reader's copy (trust me, it'd be worth it!).

If your supplier (publisher) can't get a copy for you, then don't panic. There is a fabulous book website for 'Across the Universe' where you can read the first chapter (it's a doozy!)

I can't post my review until December, but I loved the book so much that I had to say
something about it's epic fabulousness. . .

From the BLURB:

A love out of time. A spaceship built of secrets and murder.

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awake on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into a brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone—one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship—tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now, Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

'Forget You' by Jennifer ECHOLS

From the BLURB:


There’s a lot Zoey would like to forget. Like how her father has knocked up his twenty-four- year old girlfriend. Like Zoey’s fear that the whole town will find out about her mom’s nervous breakdown. Like darkly handsome bad boy Doug taunting her at school. Feeling like her life is about to become a complete mess, Zoey fights back the only way she knows how, using her famous attention to detail to make sure she’s the perfect daughter, the perfect student, and the perfect girlfriend to ultra-popular football player Brandon.

But then Zoey is in a car crash, and the next day there’s one thing she can’t remember at all—the entire night before. Did she go parking with Brandon, like she planned? And if so, why does it seem like Brandon is avoiding her? And why is Doug—of all people— suddenly acting as if something significant happened between the two of them? Zoey dimly remembers Doug pulling her from the wreck, but he keeps referring to what happened that night as if it was more, and it terrifies Zoey to admit how much is a blank to her. Controlled, meticulous Zoey is quickly losing her grip on the all-important details of her life—a life that seems strangely empty of Brandon, and strangely full of Doug.

Zoey Commander is blonde and beautiful. Her father owns the local waterslide park, ‘Slide with Clyde’, where all her friends work over the summer. Zoey has started dating her good guy friend, Brandon and she is swim captain. But that’s all just surface. . . underneath it all Zoey is a hairsbreadth away from following her mum to the loony-bin.

For starters her family fell apart after her dad got a perky twenty-four year old Slide with Clyde employee called Ashley pregnant. Her parents got divorced and her dad kicked Zoey and her mum out of their beach-front house in order to start his new family. Zoey and her mum have been living in an apartment complex, having good days and bad days, highs and lows in the wake of the divorce. And then Zoey came home to find her mum half-dead, having left a suicide note and swallowed a bunch of sleeping pills because she couldn’t cope with it all.

Now her mum is at a mental institution. Zoey’s dad has taken custody of her, but doesn’t intend to postpone his and Ashley’s Hawaiian elopement (or take Zoey with them). Furthermore, Zoey’s dad doesn’t want the town knowing about her mum’s attempted suicide – he doesn’t need any more gossip added to his tabloid life - and has therefore forbidden Zoey from talking to anyone about the ordeal. In attempting to cope with the night’s events, Zoey ‘hooks up’ with Brandon, ignoring his player rap in order to gain some normalcy in her spiralling life.

But then things get even weirder. Zoey’s high school arch nemesis, Doug Fox, gets very angry about Zoey and Brandon’s relationship. Something happens at a post-game beach party that holds special significance for Zoey, if only she could remember it. . . but being in a car accident and saved from the wreck by your arch nemesis does funny things to your memory. . . add onto that your mental mother an abandoning father, memory loss and a peculiar attraction to your possible ex-arch nemesis and things get complicated.

I have been reading some rave reviews of Jennifer Echols stand-alone YA novel, ‘Forget You’. . . and for good reason. Echols absolutely captures teen voice in this cast of characters. From dour and surly Doug Fox, to Zoey’s contradictory hyper-aware obliviousness – she speaks to so many familiar teenagers, and keeps their voice believable even amidst quite outlandish storylines;
This had nothing to do with Doug. The non sequitur tingling must be what happened when you had sex for the first time and then got a concussion and thought you’d had sex again when you didn’t and then found out you wouldn’t be alone with your boyfriend for at least a few more days. That is, brain damage.
I loved Zoey – I think Echols nailed her character completely. Zoey is definitely a victim of circumstance, just trying to cope with the many curveballs life throws at her. And I loved the fact that Echols has written a very complex psychological character exploration for Zoey. Like the fact that for all of her father’s rotten behaviour and general awfulness, Zoey loves him and craves his attention/affection. As a reader I could step back and get angry on Zoey’s behalf for the way her father treats her, I can even see disturbing similarities between Zoey’s father and her ‘boyfriend’, Brandon. But true to life Zoey is pretty oblivious to her own plight and pointless attempts at gaining her father’s approval by being the (impossibly) perfect daughter. I think that’s so, so true to life. I also loved the fact that Zoey reacts to her mother’s attempted suicide with anger and embarrassment – maybe it’s not politically correct, but it felt so true.

I also adored Doug Fox. This is one crush-worthy guy – equal parts dark and mysterious, full of James Dean teen rebellion but completely gentle and caring, a solid rock for Zoey to lean on. I also loved Doug for his complexities. His home life is as bad as Zoey’s, but not outwardly so since his father isn’t concerned with public appearance;
“What kind of potshots?” I asked, beginning to worry.
“Insults for not drinking beer,” he said huskily. “Because you know that means you’re gay. Teetotalling and homosexuality are the twin and intertwined forces of evil.”
There was lots about ‘Forget You’ that I loved. But to be honest, it felt like there were two very different books here and only one of them got a befitting ending.
On the one hand, a lot of the book is about Zoey’s home life – her father’s cheating and her mother’s downslide. And then there’s seemingly another book about Zoey and Doug – their antagonistic high school relationship and then their mysterious car accident that left Zoey with amnesia and a burning desire for Doug.

I really loved and got invested in the story about Zoey’s parents. I felt such instant rage at the many ways in which her dad screwed up – banging a twenty-four year old employee, divorcing Zoey’s mum, kicking Zoey and her mum out of their house and eloping with his mistress. . . all examples of impressive ego and pseudo-parenting. And then the story about Zoey’s mother – so heartbreaking and full of emotional potential.
But Echols wraps their storylines up so poorly and half-heartedly that it becomes a gaping plot-hole and really detracts from the good parts of ‘Forget You’.

I really felt like three climaxes needed to be reached in ‘Forget You’ – one between Zoey and Doug, one with Zoey and her mother and one between Zoey and her dad. But we only really get the Doug/Zoey storyline wrapped up. I was waiting and waiting for the emotional pay-off concerning Zoey’s parents – I wanted her to acknowledge that her dad is a bad parent, and to rant and rave at him - pointing out his many foibles. I wanted Zoey to sit down with her mum and let her know she is there for her, loves her and supports her.

But by the last page the conclusion with Zoey and her dad is written in summary - off-scene and to the utter detriment of the book. I wanted that confrontation! – after Echols had written such a nasty character in her father, I wanted Zoey to confront him and admit to herself how awful he is and that his disinterest in her isn’t her fault! But the supposed ‘heart to heart’ happens off the page, in a couple of lines of recounted summary that just fell so abysmally flat.

And then after Zoey spends a good deal of the book with displaced feelings of anger towards her mother. . . this storyline is also wrapped poorly. Things end so neatly and conveniently, in a scene in which Zoey has a ‘heart to heart’ with her mother on her mobile phone! Come on! That’s an emotional rip-off - totally denying readers a potentially brilliant and heartrending scene-setting character journey!

I was so invested in the parental side of the ‘Forget You’ story that at times all the Doug/Zoey exploration grated. It got to the point where I didn’t want the teen romance, I wanted a few pages dedicated to Zoey and her mum. . . especially since her mother’s suicide is the plot-trigger of the whole book. And really, a parent’s attempted suicide really deserves more finesse and attention than Echols ended up giving it.

I really did love ‘Forget You’. Kudos to Echols for writing terribly true teen characters. But on the other hand I needed more from the story – Echols initially raised the emotional stakes, but the pay-offs were either non-existent or fizzled. What a shame!


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

'Gamblers' series by Lisa KLEYPAS

Have I ever mentioned that I love Lisa Kleypas? No? Well let me enlighten you. . .

I adore Ms. Kleypas. She is a historical romance genius and I have devoured her Hathaways, Wallflowers and Bow Street Runners series as if their pages were chocolate-coated. I am also a devout follower of her newer contemporary romance ‘Travis’ trilogy and I’m chomping at the bit for her new ‘Friday Harbor’ series. All in all, I’m a little bit obsessed, and in a bid to feed my addiction I have been going through Ms. Kleypas’s backlist. Thus, I discovered her brilliant ‘Gamblers’ historical romance books.

The series is so named for a gaming establishment called ‘Cravens’ found in a lowly part of London, but frequented by the ton elite. The series revolves around the club’s infamous owner, and one of its most fabulous patronesses.

‘Then Came You’ tells the story of Lily Lawson. A beautiful and wild spinster who men lust after and the ton gossip about. Lily lives a seemingly hopeless life – an independent tomboy, she is the only woman allowed to gamble at Cravens gaming hell where she flits and flirts her way to enormous profit. But secretly Lily is in hell. Her daughter, born out of wedlock, has been taken prisoner and being held for ransom – and Lily is working herself to the bone to stay above water and keep up the payments for her daughter’s safe return. Enter Alex, Lord Raiford. Alex is betrothed to Lily’s meek and lovely younger sister, Penelope. But Penelope loves another and after meeting Lily, Alex is determined to have the other sister. . .
“Any other woman would be flattered by my proposal. Even grateful. I’m offering you something a hell of a lot better than some scandalous liaison.”
“In your conceited, self-righteous opinion I suppose it is! But I’m not flattered, and certainly not grateful. I’ll be your mistress or nothing at all.”
“You’ll be my wife,” he said inexorably.
“You want to own me!” she accused, trying to crawl away from him.

- ‘Then came You’
‘Dreaming of You’ is about the owner of gaming hell ‘Cravens’, Derek Craven himself. Derek came from nothing – born in the gutter, once a chimney sweep and grave-robber - Derek rose in society’s ranks and made profit between the sheets of the ton, selling his body to the bored and wealthy ladies. He built Cravens and is now one of the tons most infamous revellers – rich men want to be him and rich women want to be with him. But neither cast of society would invite him into their house during the day. . . because for all of Derek’s nightlife infamy, he is still a cockney guttersnipe.

Derek may have more money now than he did growing up, but he’s still just as hard. And one night Derek’s carousing catches up with him. A ton woman he threw overboard when he got bored wants vengeance, and sets Derek up for a beating. Knifed, beaten and bloody, Derek is practically dead in the gutter when one country mouse saves him. Sara Fielding is a famous London writer, sneaking around the low streets of London to gain inspiration for her next novel. . . when she stumbles across Derek and his attackers. Sara saves him, and to say thank-you she asks to be allowed into the hallowed gaming hell of Craven’s. . .
His body was solid and powerful, hunching over hers to accommodate their difference in height. She felt him tremble with the force of his need. He spoke just beneath her ear, his voice thick with tormented pleasure. “You have to leave, Sara. . . because I want to hold you like this until your skin melts into mine. I want you in my bed, the smell of you on my sheets, your hair spread across my pillow. I want to take your innocence. God! I want to ruin you for anyone else.”

- ‘Dreaming of You’
This series is set in 18th century London, and there’s a strong connection to the elite ton society of that time. But Lisa Kleypas takes her usual unconventional route by observing those people on the periphery of that society – gamblers, spinsters and female writers. All these people who the ton gossip about, carouse with and perhaps secretly want to be. . . but who are, for all intents and purposes, ‘outsiders’. Ms Kleypas is always at her best when she’s writing outcast characters – gypsy men in the ‘Hathaways’ series, reluctant brides in ‘Wallflowers’ and London detectives in ‘Bow Street Runners’. She does it again in ‘Gamblers’ and it makes for fascinating reading, not least of all because these characters can have a foot in both the lowly and upper societies without drowning in the politics of either.

The ‘Gamblers’ series is another Kleypas historical romance that concentrates a lot on family, and again in the unconventional sense. Family is always a big theme of a Lisa Kleypas historical romance, and really only the ‘Hathaways’ series is about an actual blood-ties family. Her other series’ are about the family we make, the people we collect and friends we love. The ‘Gamblers’ series is no different, with the family formed around gaming hell Cravens. I loved the club setting: the contrast of a riotous gaming ‘hell’ with the sweet story of those people who have found love while rolling the dice.

The ‘Gamblers’ series is Lisa Kleypas at her very best. Strong women, dark rakes and impossible social situations. I loved it!


Monday, October 25, 2010

'Double Cross' Justine Jones / Disillusionist trilogy #2 by Carolyn CRANE

From the BLURB:


Justine Jones lived her life as a fearful hypochondriac until she was lured into the web of a mysterious mastermind named Packard, who gifts her with extraordinary mental powers - dooming her to fight Midcity's shadowy war on paranormal crime in order to find the peace she so desperately craves.

But now serial killers with unheard-of skills are terrorizing the most powerful beings in Midcity, including mastermind Packard and his oldest friend and worst enemy, Midcity's new mayor, who has the ability to bend matter itself to his will.

As the body count grows, Justine faces a crisis of conscience as she tests the limits of her new powers and faces an impossible choice between two flawed but brilliant men - one on a journey of redemption, the other descending into a pit of moral depravity.

There’s an old literary idiom called ‘Chekhov’s gun’. Based around the writings and musings of the beloved Russian writer, Chekhov’s gun dictates that if there’s a rifle on the wall in the first act, it has to go off in the third.

While reading Carolyn Crane’s explosive second instalment in her ‘Disillusionist’ trilogy, I kept thinking about Chekhov and his gun. A thick sense of foreboding permeates ‘Double Cross’ and the entire novel is rich with the smell of gunpowder... metaphorically speaking, of course.

The book begins shortly after the events of ‘Mind Games’. Hypochondriac Justine Jones is forced to work for a group of Disillusionists in order to control her cranium-centred anxieties. Justine and her troop of hypochondriacs ‘zing’ their various concerns, worries, and fears into unsuspecting criminals. They’re a type of ‘psychological hit squad’ who bring down villains with their vicarious neuroses. And heading this hit squad of fretfulness is highcap Sterling Packard – a man who can see people’s psychological make-up and can lessen the angst of his neurotic assassins.

Justine and Packard have a rocky relationship. Following a heated encounter Justine discovered that Packard tricked her into working for him, and relying on him to keep her sane.

In the wake of Packard’s betrayal, Justine fell into the arms of Midcity Mayor, Otto Sanchez, another highcap who can control building structures. Otto and Justine share cranial hypochondria and Justine believes she has found her soul-mate in the upstanding mayor.

But things are cutting into Justine and Otto’s blissful romance. Namely, a group of vigilante snipers dubbed ‘The Dorks’ who are targeting and killing highcaps. The Dorks have Otto run off his feet and Packard determined to put an end to the highcap deaths. And Justine is caught in the middle. . .

I loved this book. I went in with high expectations and came out utterly impressed. ‘Double Cross’ lives up to its name - the book is full of curveballs, character hurdles and jaw-dropping reveals. This is a book about gray areas; none more so than where characters are concerned. I finished ‘Mind Games’ liking Packard, but rooting for Otto and Justine. But while reading ‘Double Cross’ I kept swinging back and forth – from Team Packard to Team Otto and back again – and I loved the indecision! I don’t like reading about straight-up Good vs. Evil, or black and white characters. Otto and Packard are conundrums, each with a complicated past and weighing guilt. Otto and Packard grew up together for a time, and their shared history can be told from different perspectives. And at different times in the novel each man will be cast in a heroic and villainous light;
Packard says, “You love to remind me that I’m a villain, Justine, but when I do something the least bit villainous, you act outraged.”
I loved the way that Carolyn Crane kept me guessing. I was on the edge of my seat from page 1 to 326 and I didn’t want it to end.
I feel a little ill. “We’re helping people.”
“You’re contorting so wildly to pretend you’re on the good side, you’re like a fucking sideshow act. Reality check, sister. We’re the bad guys. We work for a power-hungry megalomaniac. Otto’s a megalomaniac.”
Justine grows a lot in this book. We saw a lot of her tender-heart in ‘Mind Games’, when she felt awful for ‘zinging’ people with her paranoia. But in ‘Double Cross’ she really takes a guilt trip and pushes herself to reform. I love Justine; she’s hands-down one of the best female protagonists out there. I love the fact that she lives a lot of her life in fear, but doesn’t want to take the easy way out and unload her problems onto other people. I read Justine as being a very strong character, but utterly oblivious to her own capabilities. Half the fun (/frustration) of reading this series is waiting and hoping that Justine realizes her own brilliance.

There is a HUGE cliff-hanger at the end of ‘Double Cross’. We’re talking Grand Canyon-sized, ‘who shot J.R.?’, will those Chilean miners survive type of cliff-hanger! And really, I would be angry with Carolyn Crane for such an ENORMOUS gaping-hole of an ending. . . if it weren’t so brilliant. I mean, this is one heck of a Chekhov’s gun ending – that rifle went off with a BANG and I can’t wait to see what happens when the smoke clears in the third and final book. . .


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Books You're not Reading but Should be...

Hello darling readers,

I thought I’d do a post today about diamonds in the ruff – those books and authors who seem to fly underneath the radar and have a smaller fan base than their brilliance demands.

The idea germinated from an author interview with Marta Acosta, who struggled to find an audience for her wonderful ‘Casa Dracula’ series after it was incorrectly categorized as being paranormal romance.

So the following list is comprised of books that I love, and think should have a bigger readership. I hope I’m not insulting any authors by listing their books – any offence is entirely unintentional, I promise you. I’m not saying the following books aren’t brilliant, or are without a devoted readership – I’m saying that they’re popularity should be more in accordance to their fabulousness. . .

'Casa Dracula' series
by Marta Acosta

I must confess that when I read first book ‘Happy Hour at Casa Dracula’ I was under the misimpression that Acosta’s series was paranormal romance. It’s not. Many Amazon tags have labelled it as such – whether because of the fun and flirty front cover, the promise of ‘vampires’ (and all the blood-lust that that implies) or due to the fact that the series’ heroine is a buxom Latina beauty. The ‘Casa Dracula’ series is not paranormal romance. Yes, there is a love triangle, a deliciously dark bad-boy to tease our heroine and sexy/bloody foreplay. But Acosta’s series is more unique than the banal tag of ‘paranormal romance’ implies.

The ‘Casa Dracula’ series is a comedy-of-manners and errors, an enlightened situational comedic series of Oscar Wilde-esque proportions and brilliance. The series is about a lowly Latina novelist who gets bitten into a family of vampire socialites and how she copes amidst the fanged and fabulous.

If you don’t want to read another same-old, same-old vampire book then give Marta Acosta’s series a read. You will not be disappointed, but you will be in stitches.

'Dark Swan: Eugenie Markham' series
by Richelle Mead

I know what you’re thinking – ‘Richelle Mead is ridiculously popular! Her “Vampire Academy” series is selling like hotcakes and a movie deal is in the works. . .’
Very true. Richelle Mead has become one of the reigning queens of urban-fantasy alongside Charlaine Harris, Jeaniene Frost and Patricia Briggs. Her ‘Vampire Academy’ books are New York Times bestsellers and her adult ‘Georgina Kincaid’ series has a devout, rabid fan-following. But her third series, ‘Dark Swan: Eugenie Markham’, always seems to be eclipsed by Georgina and Rose. But to be honest, I can’t choose which series is my favourite out of the three. I love them all for very different reasons, and each series is very unique. ‘Georgina Kincaid’ and ‘Dark Swan’ have an adult readership in common, but that’s about it. Richelle Mead’s penchant for writing messy, heart-breaking lovelife’s for her characters is there in all three series. . . but the romance’s and leading men are vastly different.

The ‘Dark Swan’ series is all about Eugenie Markham, who has spent the majority of her young life sending supernatural creatures back to their natural, magic habitat. Until the day that Eugenie discovers she is part fae (fairy). . . in fact, she is fairy gentry and fated to produce a child-King. Now all the royal fairy’s want a piece of Eugenie – whether to prevent her from producing a Kingly heir, or to try and impregnate her themselves. . .

I love this series, and I’m always a little frustrated that ‘Vampire Academy’ and ‘Georgina Kincaid’ have stolen the spotlight (to the point that Mead’s publishers decided not to release ‘Dark Swan’ #3 this year for fear that the VA and GK release’s would overshadow!).

'Harper Connelly' series
by Charlaine Harris

Charlaine Harris is another ridiculously successful author who’s most popular series, ‘Southern Vampire: Sookie Stackhouse’ has unfortunately overshadowed her other equally wonderful series. Just go onto the Amazon discussion boards and scroll through the many posts asking if ‘Lily Bard/Aurora Teagarden/Harper Connelly is in any way similar to Sookie Stackhouse?’

I’m going to make a big call and say that, in many respects, I prefer the ‘Harper Connelly’ series over ‘Sookie Stackhouse’. Charlaine Harris is first and foremost a mystery writer, but that’s sometimes easy to forget in the Sookie books where the crux of the series revolves around Sookie sinking deeper and deeper into vampire politics. I think Harris marries paranormal and mystery much better in the ‘Harper Connelly’ series.

Harper is a young woman who was struck by lightning as a child. . . and as a result she can sense the dead. Don’t go imagining ‘Sixth Sense’ though; Harper’s technique is a little trickier. When she comes near a dead body she can ‘sense’ the corpse – pinpoint its location and even glimpse the last moments of the person’s life before death. Harper and her step-brother, Tolliver, travel across the country helping out cold cases, missing persons and the flat-out bizarre. But Harper’s sole motivation for using her ‘skills’ is the hunt for her little sister, Cameron, who disappeared when Harper was a young girl. She and Tolliver scour the country looking for other people’s missing persons in the hopes that they’ll stumble across one of their own. . .

I love this series. Harper is a very tricky character who had a horrendous childhood and is now coping with her adult freakdom. There is a romance, but to mention it would be giving away a HUGE plot twist and delicious tension. . .

If you need any more reason to read the ‘Harper Connelly’ series, you should know that CBS is developing the books into a TV show. It’s all very early stages, but a screenplay is being written (headed by Kam Miller) and fans should know around January if the show has been picked up. Oh, and I should mention that Scott Free is producing - that’s Ridley Scott and Tony Scott. Yeah. . . this series just got awesome(r)!

This is a paranormal romance/erotica series of epically delicious proportions! The series is all about Mona Lisa – orphaned as a child she has never felt as though she fits in. . . Until one day a beautiful man comes into the hospital where she works as a nurse. Mona Lisa is drawn to him, and he to her and they have a combustible night together. The stranger, Gryphon, explains their strange intensity – telling Mona Lisa that she is a Monere (moon) Queen. She is descendant of a strange, fae-like race who has so few females that their women are revered and crowned royalty – and encouraged to consort with all the men they want in order to keep the Monere race growing.

This series is somewhat similar to Laurell K Hamilton’s ‘Merry Gentry’ – insofar as a royal woman has to take multiple lovers for the good of her race/kingdom and in order to produce heirs. But Sunny’s series is far superior to Ms. Hamilton’s.
For one, the book-covers beautifully encapsulate the elegance and beauty of the series. Sunny never loses sight of story and character in the face of smut and sex (which there is a lot of, consequently). And in fact, the ‘Monere’ series covers a lot of themes and storylines – from power-struggles and corrupt politics to immortal love. This series is very much about the characters with sensual sex scenes as a side-benefit.

'Void City' series by
J.F. Lewis

As a seasoned reviewer and reader of urban-fantasy I really didn’t think there was any vampire ground I hadn’t read/tread or a vampire book left that could surprise me. I was wrong. So, so wrong. Enter J.F. Lewis and his anti-hero protagonist, Eric.

This is a series full of antagonists and morally-bankrupt characters. . . and it’s wonderful.
Throughout the books you will cringe, scoff, yell, say ‘eew’ and have generally violent emotional reactions. But you’ll also be incapable of putting the books down. For one thing, a male protagonist in an urban fantasy is refreshingly unique. For another, an antagonist protagonist in urban fantasy is a tornado of fresh air.

The character’s and their actions are often deplorable (i.e.: sleeping with your girlfriend’s sister) but if you wade through the moral muck you will find some redeeming qualities in these despicable characters and discover that half the fun of investing in this series will be rooting for the bad-guy, hoping they make good and waiting to see if any sort of redemption shines through.

The moral bankruptcy is often balanced out and smoothed over by J.F. Lewis’s quick-wit. His is a very dark humour, and while reading you will find yourself slack-jawed and saying “Oh my God, he just went there!” Brilliant, in a ‘so-wrong-it’s-right’ kind of way.

'Texas Vampires' trilogy
by Diane Whiteside

Vampires and desperados – oh my! I love this paranormal erotica trilogy so, so much. But I've read some negative and ‘wtf?’ reviews.

To be honest, the trilogy is very unique for Whiteside’s perspective storytelling. The first book is ‘Bond of Blood’ (‘The Hunter’s Prey’ was published first, but is a collection of short stories featuring characters, but unrelated to the trilogy itself). ‘Bond’ tells the story of Don Raphael Perez, a vampire and former Spanish knight who mourns his human wife who died decades ago. Don Raphael is given a second chance when his wife is reincarnated in the body of Grania O’Malley, a beautiful young veterinarian who is new to Texas (which is consequently Don Raphael’s vampire ‘territory’). But before he and Grania can live happily ever after and get their second chance, Don Raphael must quell a potential take-over from a rival vampiress.

The unusual perspective is due to the fact that book #2 ‘Bond of Fire’, and book #3 ‘Bond of Darkness’ are all centred around the same plot point as ‘Bond of Blood’. What changes however, is the character perspective, as the 2nd and 3rd books are about two of Don Raphael’s vampire lieutenants and their own tricky romantic loves.

So, essentially the same story is being retold from three different perspectives. And like I said, I have read some negative reviews – but one person’s unique is another person’s frustrating, I guess.

I personally love this series. The romance is epic; the sex scenes are H-O-T and Whiteside writes very elegant (but smokin’!) paranormal erotica.

'World of the Lupi' series
by Eileen Wilks

In Wilks’s universe, werewolves are celebrities. They are hounded by the paparazzi, lusted after by groupies and gossiped about in tabloids. None more so than Rule Turner, whom the San Diego media have labelled ‘werewolf prince’ for being the son to the area’s alpha.
But things change for Rule when he is implicated in the murder of one of his mistress’s husband’s. On the case is San Diego detective Lily Yu - a unique individual who can ‘feel’ magic. What neither Rule nor Lily counted on when they meet one another is a powerful mating bond joining them together – they are literally each other’s soul mates. The series is all about Rule and Lily adjusting to their romance and mateship, amidst tabloid prejudice and werewolf society.

I love this series – it is one of the most unique urban fantasy’s out there. Wilks’s werewolf mythology is wonderful for hitting so close to home. And the romance between Rule and Lily is lust-worthy. As much as each book is a magical ‘whodunit’, it’s Rule and Lily’s unlikely coupling that keeps me coming back for more. These two are so romantic – a wonderful case of opposites attracting and a relationship thriving under impossible odds.

The series is currently six books deep, with a seventh due for release next year. A series you can sink your teeth into, for sure!

Friday, October 22, 2010

'Bayou Moon' The Edge #2 by Ilona ANDREWS

From the BLURB:

Cerise Mar and her unruly clan are cash poor but land rich, claiming a large swathe of the Mire, the Edge swamplands between the state of Louisiana and the Weird. When her parents vanish, her clan’s long-time rivals are suspect number one.

But all is not as it seems. Two nations of the Weird are waging a cold war fought by feint and espionage, and their conflict is about to spill over into the Edge—and Cerise’s life. William, a changeling soldier who left behind the politics of the Weird, has been forced back into service to track down a rival nation’s spymaster.

When William’s and Cerise’s missions lead them to cross paths, sparks fly—but they’ll have to work together if they want to succeed ... and survive

‘Bayou Moon’ is the second book in Ilona Andrew’s paranormal romance series, ‘The Edge’.

The ‘Edge’ universe is a complicated one. It is our world infused with magic and with other dimensions and universes. There is the ‘Weird’ and the ‘Broken’ - alternate universes that are mirror images of each other. Same continents, same oceans – only slightly skewed. Then there is the ‘Edge’ – a thin strip of universe that divides the Weird and the Broken. It is in the Edge that those with little or no magic exist – aware of the alternate universes, and having longer life spans, but most of them are unable to cross over to the more magical Weird.

It is in the Edge that Cerise Mar lives, on a bit of swamp land called the Mire – with the state of Louisiana on one side, and the Weird on the other. Cerise is the eldest daughter of the Mar clan – called ‘rats’ by the locals for their family numbers but poor social status. The Mar’s are a rag-tag family of gamblers, ex-soldiers and mad scientists and for as long as anyone can remember they have been in a family feud against neighbouring land-owners, the Sherillee’s.

The blood feud is heating up when Cerise’s mother and father, Genevieve and Gustave, go missing and the Mar’s suspect the Sherillee’s of foul play. . .

Meanwhile, an ex changeling soldier called William is residing in the Broken, having escaped the Weird and military service. But all that is about to change – he will be forced to leave his cosy trailer, action figurines and CSI-watching when he is compelled to exact vengeance on an old foe. A man called Spider works for secret organization, ‘The Hand’. . . he hates changelings and has been murdering changeling children for his own blood sport. But worse than that, Spider is looking for something in the Mire that could gift him with great power and strength. . . and it’s up to William to stop him.

While travelling the Mire’s oozing swamplands, William and Cerise cross paths and reluctantly join forces when they discover that William’s nemesis and Cerise’s parents are linked to the same mission. . .

Ilona Andrews have done it again, much to nobody’s surprise. This husband and wife writing team are an urban fantasy juggernaut and with each book release they get better and better.

‘Bayou Moon’ comes on the heels of first book ‘On the Edge’, in which William was first introduced but lost the girl and exited with his tail between his legs. William was a cagey conundrum in that first book, but fans sensed something deeply dark and compelling about him nonetheless. Fans were right to be fascinated. William is a complex character, with a tragic background and the weight of the world on his shoulders. He is Heathcliff-tragic, but never ‘woe is me’. William is fiercely independent and accepting of his hard lot in life (a childhood spent in a military training facility!) and as a result he has a very ‘get the job done’ attitude that is a teensy-bit psychotic, but still impressive. Above all else though, William’s fascination lies in his secret desires. He wants a family. He is dumb-struck by the very concept of ‘family’, and cannot fathom what that sort of unconditional, supportive love would feel like. I loved William! And I especially loved his very befitting romance with Cerise Mar. . .

Cerise is one ballsy chick. When her parents are kidnapped she becomes the leader of her family clan – but really, Cerise has been in the pilot seat for many years now ever since her father quietly handed the financial reins over to her. Cerise has the weight of her family on her shoulders, but she shoulders the burden with aplomb and hardly a bitter word. She is so strong and independent, but underneath her armour is a young woman denied a life – denied a chance at love and marriage. Hell, the closest Cerise has come to ‘love’ is fighting her enemy, the eldest brother of the Sherillee clan, Lagar Sherillee.

Together Cerise and William are a complicated romance, but completely compelling. . .
I thought Curran and Kate had an auspicious first meeting with “here kitty, kitty” but William and Cerise take the cake for best first impressions;
The girl showed him her stained finger and reached toward him slowly, aiming for his face.
“No,” William said. “Bad hobo.”
The finger kept coming closer.
“You touch me, I’ll break it off.”
From there on in William and Cerise experience light-heartedness with one another that they don’t exhibit with anyone else. And from antagonistic flirtations to a heated repartee, these two are an impressive match. Even more so for William’s often strange courtship ritual;
They swarmed her. She whirled, cutting through them, slicing limbs in half, severing muscle and bone. Blood sprayed, she paused again, and the fighters around her fell without a single moan.
Four seconds and the deck was empty. Nothing moved.
She was the most beautiful think he had ever seen.
He would have to fight her before this was over, just to find out if he could beat her.
The ‘Edge’ series, much more so than ‘Kate Daniels’, offers a lot of intricate politics and subplots. While the series overall is more romantic than ‘Kate Daniels’, the political underpinnings are crucial to the book universe and story. There’s a lot of double-talk about the Hand, and the Mirror – secret organizations. And if you aren’t concentrating, then a lot of vital information will be lost. At times all the information about back-door dealings and crazy political villains tires when what you really want is William + Cerise. But Ilona Andrews are masters of world-building, and as tedious as the inundation of information can be, it pays off in the end.

I loved ‘Bayou Moon’. I thought Declan in ‘On the Edge’ would be my definite favourite of this series, but William takes the cake. I love this series as much as ‘Kate Daniels’ and I can’t wait for more ‘Edge’ in 2011.


WINNERS - 'Last Night at Chateau Marmont'

Thanks to everyone who entered!

The winners are: Spav, Misha 1989 and Kulsuma


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

'Anastasia's Secret' by Susanne DUNLAP

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

The Romanov family have been ousted from the imperial palace by the Bolsheviks and exiled to Siberia. Life as a privileged member of the Russian Royalty has come to a shattering end.
As the debate about their future rages within the ranks of the newly empowered, Anastasia, youngest daughter of the Tsar Nicholas, discovers love – and with it all the secrets and danger this brings into her strange new life.

Will the strength of that love be enough to save Anastasia from her tragic fate? What happened in the last days of the Romanov family? And did Russia's last princess live in love after all?

Inspired by the mysteries that have long surrounded the last days of the Romanov family, Susanne Dunlap's new novel is a haunting vision of the life – and imagined love story – of Russia's last princess.

In his preface to ‘Leaves of Grace’, Walt Whitman wrote: “As soon as histories are properly told there is no more need of romances. . .” a beautiful sentiment, perfectly captured in Susanne Dunlap’s historical young adult novel, ‘Anastasia’s Secret’.

The Russian revolution fascinates for many reasons, but especially for being a case of history sadly repeating itself - echoing the bloody French Revolution, particularly in the role that the imperial family played in unfolding the future... The Russian Revolution of 1917 led to the creation of the Soviet Union which in turn opened an entirely new chapter in European history... but amidst the horrors of World War I, the grandeur of a proletariat uprising and the promise of Leninism there was one sad note in history whose tune would carry on in the world’s imagination...

The Russian Revolution saw Russia’s Tsarist autocracy destroyed. An imperial family who had divinely ruled Russia since the 16th century was overthrown and cast aside, and the imperial family of the time was left to the fate of revolution. Susanne Dunlap’s book ‘Anastasia’s Secret’ is their story, retold and recounted with equal parts imagination and accuracy in this beautiful and bittersweet young adult novel.

Dunlap’s story is told from the first-person perspective of the most infamous member of the royal Romanov family - Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanov. Her father was Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. Her mother was Alexandra Feodorovna, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Anastasia was the fourth of five siblings; with three older sisters Olga, Tatiana and Maria, and one younger brother named Alexei. But her blueblood royalty is not the reason she has remained in infamy...

If you know the story of Anastasia and the Romanov family, then Dunlap’s book is full of bittersweet foreboding. Even more so when the prologue begins in May 1918, a mere month before the family is to become victims of history. The book then backtracks to 1913, when Anastasia is 12-years-old and meets Alexander Mikhailovich Galliapin, or ‘Sasha’ as she will come to call him. Sasha is in the Composites, a corps who guards one of the Tsar’s many palaces. He is an imagination of Dunlap – a boy soldier whom Anastasia befriends over a mutual love of ‘peasant’ music and who offers her insights into the world beyond the palace walls, sometimes telling hard truths about the troubled times and the Romanov families portrayal to the ‘common’ people;
“That way of thinking is what will ruin your family and all of the Russian nobility as you know it,” he said.
Perhaps it is farfetched that Anastasia would befriend a common soldier; but Sasha is Dunlap’s biggest flight of fancy in the novel, and he really is a pivotal fictionalization. If it weren’t for Sasha, the entire book would be quite narrow for Anastasia’s perspective of the world around her. Not through any fault of her own, but because of her sheltered royal upbringing. At times Sasha is a soapbox (befitting his Bolshevik-leanings, or appearance of) spouting newspaper diatribes and anti-imperialist propaganda - but his meetings with Anastasia begin to mould her world view, contextualize historic events and push the story’s pace.

But above all else, Sasha is vital to the book for being Anastasia’s ‘secret’. As they remain friends through the troubles in Petrograd, the Bolshevik uprising and the 1917 revolution, Sasha becomes the one constant in Anastasia’s life, and what started as a friendship becomes a heated romance.Dunlap’s attention to detail and history is superb. She has breathed life into research and made endearing characters out of historical figures. It’s wonderful to read the Romanov’s day-to-day life, the many ways in which they were just a regular family and the slowly forming cracks and fissures that would be studied and examined by historians for years.

Some of Dunlap’s best characterization is in the Tsar and Tsarina of Russia. If you’re a history geek like me (for whom the Russian Revolution holds a special fascination) then you’ll already have a lot of background knowledge about these historical players. Tsar Nicholas II as a family man completely unsuited to the military roles he would insist on performing. The Empress Alexandra, a victim of circumstance for having German blood at the worst possible moment in history, and her lack of self-awareness. Dunlap has really finessed these characters – and as a lover and studier of Russian history, I could tell that she condensed a lot of character research and secondary sources into a child’s perspective of her family. There’s one moment in the novel when the family is in exile, and Nicholas says he is bored and can find nothing to do – and Anastasia realizes her father’s utter lack of imagination. That one insight that Anastasia has into her father is worth countless chapters in a history book.

Dunlap does it time and time again – weaving her literary magic through history. It’s little things, like Alexei Romanov trying to make his voice deeper, despite the pain etched in his face. It’s Nicholas referring to his wife as ‘Sunny’ and refusing to heed his mother’s advice. All of this is Dunlap beautifully twining history with character and creating a distinctive voice for the dead and dusted.

I was particularly impressed by Dunlap’s woven history when she refused to make Rasputin a major player in the novel. I’m sure it was mighty tempting to make more of him than he was – purely because there’s so much myth and mystery surrounding him. But if you’ve ever studied Russian history then you know that Rasputin was really just a blip on the map, a small-time player that history has written more gossip than fact. It’s frustrating (especially because he had such a big role in the Disney animated version!). But I’m glad Dunlap relegated Rasputin to the book’s periphery – though his scenes are spine-chillingly creepy nonetheless. In ‘Anastasia’s Secret’, as is also true of history, Rasputin has more significance in superstition than he ever did in life. Fantastic!
Anastasia’s voice is really the stand-out in this novel that offers so much. Dunlap has perfectly captured Anastasia in moments of time – from the age of 12 when she is an inquisitively perceptive young child who has a unique view of the world;
Moscow! I loved Moscow. It was so different from Petrograd. The onion domes and colourful buildings, the ancient history from the days before the tsars.
To her growing up with a reformed world view, courtesy of Sasha. Anastasia is a revered and beloved historical figure, and I was impressed by how well Dunlap imbued her with independence and charisma.

I did have one small problem with the book – that there was a lot of summary over scene. I completely understand why Dunlap needed to summarize so many events and moments – a lot happened leading into the Russian revolution between the events of 1913 and 1917. Dunlap had a very hard task condensing a lot of history in order to keep the pace moving towards pivotal scenes. . . but there were times when I wished she hadn’t stuck so closely to timeline and had had more fun with the book. I would have liked more interaction between Anastasia and her siblings, and just a general departure from the rigidity of summarized history. There are often pages and pages without action or dialogue, and I could see that becoming dry for some younger readers. . . but for the most part I loved it all – the details and fascinating facts, I lapped them all up - even while recognizing the many summaries as a potential problem.

I will say that the book didn’t end where I thought it would. At first I was a little frustrated; there was a gruesome, fatalist part of me that wanted to see the story through to the bitter end. But upon reflection I realize the story didn’t need it. Foreboding permeates the entire novel (even if you’re not a Russian history-aficionado) and it’s befitting that Dunlap leaves reader’s in a similar mindset to Anastasia at the end of the novel; unsure of the future, begrudgingly hopeful and for the moment unaware of what is to come.
I repeated the conversation as accurately as I could.
“You mean, we could be free?” Olga said.
“Except Papa and Mama won’t agree to it, because they don’t want to leave Russia or split us up.”
“I would never want to leave Mama and Papa,” Mashka said. “I’d rather stay here and face whatever is coming with them.”
Susanne Dunlap set herself a hard task by tackling one of the most intricate of revolutions, and fictionalizing one of the world’s most infamous historical figures. But she does a smashing job – weaving history and romance against the backdrop of a beautiful and forbidding Russia. Sublime.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Marta Acosta interview + international giveaway

I recently read (devoured/inhaled) Marta Acosta's 'Casa Dracula' series and completely feel in lust with this author's unique brand of humour, à la Moliere's comedy-of-manners.

Luckily for me, Ms. Acosta doesn't mind having rabid fan-girls beg her for interviews...

So, without further ado, I present to you the luminous laugh-out-loud brilliance of Marta Acosta!

Q: How did you get published, agent or slush pile?

I had an agent. Of course, I went through a lot of rejections when I first queried agents. This was before the Twilight-inspired craze when no one had even heard of the term “urban fantasy.” Now everyone and her cousin has written a book with vampires or werewolves.

Q: Favourite book of all time?

I’ll give you a few: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Persuasion by Jane Austen, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, and anything by P.G. Wodehouse.

Q: Favourite author?

Any of the above on any given day, but you’d have to toss Henry James and Mark Twain into the mix.
Q: Can I assume that you have a soft spot for my fair country, Australia? In ‘Midnight Brunch’ Milagro meets some boisterous Aussie blokes at a wine tasting. In ‘Bride of Casa Dracula’ the wacko Don Pedro (Mr. Nascimento) claims to have "taken a walkabout” in the Australian outback. Milagro likewise believes that “everyone loves a good platypus story.” Have you ever visited Australia, and if so what did you think of our sunburnt land? (and if not. . . can you please come and visit? Puh-lease?!?)

I haven’t visited Australia, but I have partied with Australians and Australians party hard. My ex-pat brother hangs out with a lot of Aussies and visits Australia, and he speaks a lot of Aussie slang. I think I wrote the Aussie scene after a conversation with him. Don Pedro’s story came because I was thinking of Nicholas Roeg’s classic film, Walkabout. Yes, I draw from art to make jokes. Also, who doesn’t love a good platypus story? I’d love to visit sometime if only to see the platypus in its natural habitat.

Q: You mention some really wonderful multicultural monsters throughout the ‘Casa Dracula’ series. From La Llorona to Chupas. What made you settle on vampirism for your protagonist?

With humor, you often throw two disparate ideas together. I’d just watched a sci-fi movie where everyone was running around in gray lycra jumpsuits, and I started ranting about clichés in film and books. This led me to thinking about clichés about vampires as wealthy, accomplished, and gorgeous. Wouldn’t they be dreadful snobs?

I thought that using a comedy-of-manners structure about social class would work if I spoofed those clichés. How would those vamps react if they had to deal with a quirky, outspoken, broke, and rather aimless young woman? Now don’t you regret asking?

Q: Let me borrow a quote from Moliere to frame the next question: “Reason is not what decides love.” In ‘Haunted Honeymoon’ Milagro has made her choice between bad-boy Ian and sweetheart Oswald. Did you know from book #1 who Milagro would end up with?

In my first version of book #1, Milagro walks out on Oswald and her college beau, by saying, “If either of you decide to grow up, give me a call.” My agent then said that she couldn’t sell the book without a happy ending. I rewrote the ending so that Milagro stays with Oswald, but we sense her ambiguity. She keeps and hides the gifts that Ian sends her.

I always wanted that first ending, though, where Milagro stands on her own two feet, because I felt that’s an important stage in a young woman’s life, when she can be independent. I was able to do that in The Bride of Casa Dracula. When Milagro finally makes her decision to marry in Haunted Honeymoon, it’s motivated by love, not a desperate need for companionship.

Yes, I always knew who I wanted her to choose. I think my affection for the character comes through in the scenes and dialogue that I gave him.

Q: You released a book under the name Grace Coopersmith entitled ‘Nancy’s Theory of Style’. The book is a spin-off of sorts, about one of the character’s who appears in the Casa Dracula world. Why the pseudonym? And did writing under a different guise affect your ‘voice’?

The whole story is long and complicated and we’d have to drink a six of Fosters while I explained it. A short version is that we thought the sales would be better with a pseudonym since my sales hadn’t been great for The Bride of Casa Dracula (book 3), since no one knew about Midnight Brunch (book 2) because it looked more like a cookbook than anything else. There were a lot of missteps with the placement and covers of my books. People still can’t find them in bookstores. (They’re in General Fiction.)

Q: Don Pedro ironically hates “phoniness and pretense”. What are some of your pet-peeves?

Where to start? Don Pedro has hired Milagro to write his memoir, which she calls a fauxoir, since she made up the whole thing. One of my pet peeves is how the literary world will praise an obviously bullshit memoir. When the hoax is discovered, they’ll condemn the author. James Fray, JT Leroy, Carlos Castaneda anyone? You Aussies have Marlo Morgan’s Mutant Message from Down Under. I love the hoaxers, and I hate it when an author’s former admirers act like affronted virgins.

Q: Milagro gets burned repeatedly by the literati and publishing world throughout the ‘Casa Dracula’ series. Don Pedro refuses to acknowledge that she ghost-wrote his ‘fauxoir’, and her ex boyfriend, Sebastian Beckett-Witherspoon, gains unjust notoriety for a pretentious novel. Is the world of publishing/writing really so awful? And were any of Milagro’s experiences a case of art imitating life?

What I say about publishing is that it’s a business run by people who wanted to read books in college. Make of that what you will.

Milagro’s writing is fiction imitating fiction. More specifically, I was a little inspired by Kilgore Trout, a character who appears in Kurt Vonnegut’s novels. Trout is a dreadful writer, but he has brilliant ideas. I never say if Milagro’s stories are good or not. I think she’s at her best when she lets go of her notions about what good writing should be and she pens the flamboyant fauxoir.

Q: Who would you like to write a fauxoir for?

I would choose someone unknown because then I’d have the freedom to make up anything and everything. I always admire those people who think of money-making religions like L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer who expressed a desire to invent a religion. He later founded Scientology. I even have the main theme of my moneymaking religion: “It’s not my fault – they fucked up.” I haven’t decided if it would have an intricate alien-extraterrestrial tier structure. Sadly, I lack Hubbard’s ambition and drive.

Q: Milagro carries a certain Llama (Llorona) story around “like a dead albatross”. Have you had any such seabird-addled stories in your career?

I often make mistakes with my spell-check programs, but nothing like Milagro’s continual humiliation with the llama story. (She intended to write a story about La Llorona, the famous wailing woman of Latin American folklore.) One technique with humor is to commit to a joke, which is why I often drive my friends crazy and why I keep bringing up the llama story.

Q: You make a lot of wry social observations throughout the 'Casa Dracula' series, particularly concerning Latin Americans and US racism. How important is it to you, as a Latina, to use your mighty pen and write about such issues?

It was really important to me to present a protagonist who broke the media stereotypes about Latinas as maids, welfare mothers, and illegal immigrants. I wasn’t interested in the well-intentioned, but equally clueless literary stereotypes either: all noble savages and magical realism. No thanks.

Milagro’s a type of girl who’s not uncommon to real Latinas and to real young women everywhere: she’s bright, funny, sexy, lively, and informed.

What I’m trying to say in my books is: here is our common humanity. We all feel like outsiders sometimes. We all seek love, family, and a home. We all make mistakes, and most of us try to do better. When readers who come from different backgrounds empathize with Milagro, I feel that I have succeeded. When Latinas identify with her, I feel that I have succeeded.

Q: Were publishers wary of a book series with a Latina heroine?

At the time that the book was first sent out, publishers were looking for a “Latina Terry McMillan.” They wanted someone who could write a chick lit book that would sell across color/ethnic markets. The trade paper edition was given a cover that practically had dancing jalepeños on it. Red ruffled dress? Check. Gold hoop earrings? Check. Crazy fiesta party font? Check. I got them to pull back a little, but I never thought the cover reflected the style and content of the story. They’ve never really known what to do with me.

Q: Is ‘Haunted Honeymoon’ really the end of Milagro de Los Santos?

I’m pretty sure it is. This series still doesn’t sell in the numbers that most popular paranormal romance does. A lot of people have never heard of my books or if they have, they just won’t pick them up. I don’t know why because people who actually read them say they love them.

I am having a harder time saying goodbye to Milagro than I thought I would. I wouldn’t mind bringing her back in a different series with her sexy husband, very Nick and Nora Charles of The Thin Man, all clever banter, flirting, parties, and danger.

Q: Word on the blogosphere is that you have a YA book coming out in 2012 called ‘The Shadow Girl of Birch Grove’. Can you tell us a little bit about this new project?

I began this gothic story as homage to Jane Eyre. My own Jane is a foster girl who decides to escape her grim, miserable existence by studying hard. She’s invited to attend the exclusive Birch Grove Academy for Girls on a full scholarship and she can live in the groundskeeper’s cottage.

The school is amazing and the students are smart, interesting young women. The headmistress and her attractive sons take an interest in Jane’s welfare and happiness. It seems too good to be true. It is. Jane discovers that a former scholarship girl left under very mysterious circumstances. She’s got to decide what she’ll risk to stay at Birch Grove.

I went to an all-girls school and my fictional girls were inspired by those real girls who were passionate about physics, or literature, or sports.

Q: I can’t wait to read your YA book! What are some of the obstacles you’ve had to face in writing for a younger audience?

I didn’t know what would be accepted in terms of sexuality and language. I did what I do with my other books, which is to imply rather than specify.
One big challenge for a YA and for any book these days is mentioning gadgets, songs, and movies. There’s about a two-year time lag between turning in a manuscript and having it published, so you can’t bring up anything so trendy that it will date a story. It was easier for plotting when people only had one phone in their houses and it was a landline.

Q: And finally, to end on a Moliere quote. “Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money.” – which one are you up to?

My husband said I had to stop telling people that the best thing about writing is getting paid because they always look at me as if I’m a barbarian. To me, the money proves that what I’m doing has value to other people. Gigi Barton, one of my characters, scoffs when Milagro turns down payment for a garden design and tells her, “It’s like prostitution: unless you get paid, you’re just an enthusiastic amateur.”

Danielle, thanks so much for having me here at Alpha Reader. I was thrilled to discover your reviews of my books, especially since you really seemed to understand what I’m trying to do as a writer. It makes me feel quite appreciated…like receiving a check from my publisher!

International GIVEAWAY!
I have the first and fourth book in the 'Casa Dracula' series to give away to one lucky follower...

To enter:

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

♥ Leave a comment on this blog post

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

♥ One post per entrant

♥ This is an INTERNATIONAL giveaway!

♥ Contest closes November 20th.

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