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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

'The Auction' novella by Kitty Thomas

Received from the author

From the BLURB:

Belle Walker lives in a strict society where women are treated as property, sold to the highest bidder soon after their eighteenth birthday. But the auction isn’t the only danger. Though she’s never seen them, she knows monsters live outside the city. These creatures have allowed the humans a small area to inhabit with the promise to leave them in peace as long as they never cross the boundary. On the day Belle is sold, one of the monsters breaks that promise and enters the city, intent on having her as his own.

Set in an ambiguous future, humanity has left behind the ‘source planet’ and settled in a new and backwards world. Science and technology have regressed, books are artefacts and women are commodities once again. On her eighteenth birthday Annabelle ‘Belle’ Walker, along with other ripe young women, are being auctioned to the highest bidder. Under the pretence of redistributing city funds, nubile young women are put on the block and sold for a price – the lucky ones have family members and lovers who will buy them back and set them free. But for the unlucky sold it’s a life of quiet humiliation . . . or, as Belle is about to discover, something much worse.

Belle’s fiery spirit attracts the wrong sort of buyer – a monster from the city outskirts, a dragon-man with red skin and orange eyes, sharp teeth and an impressive wing-span. Belle is taken back to his cave, where she will pleasure both him and his blue-skinned brother, referring to them as ‘Master’ and ‘Sir’ respectively.

But will this monster be Belle’s end, or will he help set her free?

‘The Auction’ is a new novella from dark literary erotica author, Kitty Thomas.

I love Kitty Thomas. Honestly, she can do no wrong. I haven’t read a novel of hers that I haven’t loved, and ‘The Auction’ is another slice of perfection from her deliciously dark pen.

You wouldn’t know it to look at the beautiful front cover, but ‘The Auction’ is actually a sci-fi/dark erotica novelette. Although this gorgeous renaissance-feel cover doesn’t scream ‘sci-fi’, it actually leads into the world-building of ‘The Auction’. In this indeterminate future, humanity has had to relocate from Earth and in the process society has taken a giant leap backwards. Women are property once again – to be traded and sold according to the gavel of the auctioneer. Thomas does swift world-building and orientation for the reader with regards to this new-world/old-world society – almost conjuring the universe of Joss Whedon’s ‘Firelfy’.

We see this strangely regressed world through the eyes of Belle Walker. She is a young woman who has found fascination in the books of the past, and has come to articulate the auctioning of women as a barbaric and bizarre – likening it to virginal sacrifice and debutante balls. Belle has been dreading her auction and has been preparing for her day of sale. She has been strategically pleasuring the city’s richest sons; in the meagre hopes of gaining their coin and her freedom upon purchase. But she doesn’t count on an outskirts monster raising his hand for the highest bid.

When Belle is taken to the monster Master’s cave and introduced to his brother, ‘Sir’ (her other bed-mate) she is shocked, horrified . . . and aroused. These men are dragon-like, with wings, blue and red-tinged skin and reddened eyes. But they are also thoroughly masculine; lean and muscled to perfection. Belle cannot believe the way she wants them, and is willing to succumb to them. Her obvious arousal in captivity perverts her conscience and she wonders if she is losing a bit of her soul and dignity, bit by bit, every time she wantonly and willingly succumbs to these brothers . . .

He loomed, his shadow spreading over me like something that was separately alive and sentient, something that might want to do wicked things with my body. Something I might invite inside.
“Come, now,” he snarled.

I loved the world Kitty Thomas created. It’s a little bit sci-fi, with a touch of historic slavery and plenty of dark erotica. I thought the inclusion of ‘monster masters’ was quite ingenious – so often in Kitty’s works the dominant (human) male is bordering on demonic (‘Comfort Food’, being a prime example). But in ‘The Auction’ the heroine’s sexual partners are, literally, monsters – and one of them even has a devilish resemblance. It’s a nice bit of fantasy to play with. And, this being a Kitty Thomas novel(la); the sex scenes are divinely delicious. This is a short story, 20000 words, but she takes the time to write languorous and decadently-detailed sex scenes that will leave readers sizzling.

My only complaint about ‘The Auction’ is that it was too short! I wanted more, more, more! I would love to read another novella set in this universe (perhaps revisiting the monster family?) or even a full-length novel set in the same world. ‘The Auction’ was another lovely bit of sexy-sinister writing from the darkly talented erotica author, Kitty Thomas.


Kitty's next novella is coming soon, and is mermaid-themed. I can't wait!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

'We'll Always Have Summer' Summer #3 by Jenny Han

From the BLURB

It's been two years since Conrad told Belly to go with Jeremiah. She and Jeremiah have been inseparable ever since, even attending the same college-- only, their relationship hasn't exactly been the happily ever after Belly had hoped it would be. And when Jeremiah makes the worst mistake a boy can make, Belly is forced to question what she thought was true love. Does she really have a future with Jeremiah? Has she ever gotten over Conrad? It's time for Belly to decide, once and for all, who has her heart forever.

** MAJOR SPOILERS of ‘We’ll Always Have Summer’ **

Belly made her choice, and she chose Jeremiah. Conrad didn’t want her, may never have loved her, despite her ages-old devotion to him. But Jeremiah – he was always there, and Belly finally realized that. They have been together for two years now. Two perfect years of contentment and love, spent at the same university and heading in the same, permanent, direction.

But when that love is tested by a hurtful mistake, Jeremiah takes drastic measures to keep Belly. A proposal on the back of an apology, and suddenly Belly finds herself growing up faster than she may be ready . . .

‘We’ll Always Have Summer’ is the final book in Jenny Han’s wonderful ‘Summer’ trilogy.

I wanted this finale to go out on an explosive BANG – instead I got lukewarm and slight disgruntlement with this, the final installment to a wonderful contemporary romance series . . .

The book kicks off with a betrayal. Jeremiah does something not unusual, but still heartbreaking and disappointing. What follows is an appalling marriage proposal (on the back of an apology over a meaningless and regrettable one-night-stand). And Belly accepts. At the tender age of eighteen, Belly decides to marry Jeremiah Fisher and start a life with him. But her mother’s adamant disappointment in the whole affair is a tragedy, and Belly escape to Susannah’s summer house to finish planning her wedding (with just two months preparation before the big day!). But when she arrives at the summer house, she discovers a live-in resident in the form of Conrad, home from California and his premed studies. Belly has managed to run from her torn-in-two love for the Fisher boys, but an impending marriage to one of them stirs up old feelings for the boy she always thought she’d end up with . . .

I had a few grumbles with this finale. The first, and most annoying, was Belly’s seemingly stilted personal growth. When she discovers Jeremiah’s infidelity (via an overheard confession from the scarlet woman) she initially assumes his ‘hook-up’ was a kiss. Oh, dear. When she learns that ‘hook-up’ is college-speak for ‘sex’, Belly’s heartache is ten-fold. She is adamant on leaving him, and disgusted at their tainted love.

But when Jeremiah apologizes and proposes marriage (practically in the same breath) Belly is quick to forgive and put the past behind them . . . and, really, Jeremiah’s infidelity is hardly touched upon again. Belly doesn’t even think about his betrayal, nor discuss it with her friends . . . once that ring is on her finger, all is forgotten.

Sorry, but I wasn’t buying that. Forgiven, but not forgotten – and not when the boy in question is your first serious, *serious* boyfriend whom you picked colleges with and have known your whole life. Belly’s determined silence about Jeremiah’s hurtful mistake spoke volumes and turned into a character flaw on her part – making Belly into a child, content in her blissful ignorance. I would have at least liked a proper confrontation with the ‘other’ woman.

My second complaint about ‘Always’ was Jenny Han’s absolute character assassination of Jeremiah. The book begins with his unfaithfulness, and he only gets worse from there . . . devolving into a parody frat-boy whose glaring childishness made me cringe at every turn. The highlight was when he requested a Quentin Tarantino themed wedding (I’m still not sure if he was kidding. . . ?)

The ‘Summer’ series hinged on Belly’s growing into a young woman, and being torn between the brothers, Conrad and Jeremiah. In the beginning there was only ever Conrad for Belly . . . until he eviscerated her heart and forced her to question if he ever had feelings for her. Jeremiah, by contrast, was Belly’s loyal and stead-fast friend, the boy waiting in the wings hoping for the day when Belly would look away from Conrad long enough to notice him. . . this was a brilliantly complex love triangle. And Han started out by complicating matters further when she made both Conrad and Jeremiah true contenders for Belly’s heart.

I would always have Conrad in my heart. He would inhabit just that tiny piece of it, the little-girl part that still believed in musicals, but that was it. That was all he got. Jeremiah would have everything else – the present me and the future me. That was what was important. Not the past.
Maybe that was how it was with all first loves. They own a little piece of your heart, always. Conrad at twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen even seventeen years old. For the rest of my life, I would think of him fondly, the way you do your first pet, the first car you drove. Firsts were important. But I was pretty sure lasts were even more important. And Jeremiah, he was going to be my last and my every and my always.

In ‘Always’, there is no competition and no real conflict of love. Jeremiah bears no resemblance to himself from two books previous, and can therefore never be taken seriously as a contender for Belly’s love. By default, it has to be Conrad. Although, I wasn’t even overly thrilled with the choice of him. . .

In ‘Always’ we get Conrad’s POV alongside Belly’s. We come to understand his conflicted love for Belly, which came at the inconvenient time during his mother’s final months. We learn that Conrad decided to pretend he never wanted her, never loved her – thereby pushing Belly into Jeremiah’s arms. But now that his brother is marrying ‘his girl’, Conrad wants her back – for good and forever.

At one point in ‘Always’, Belly’s previously air-head friend, Taylor, makes the astute observation that Conrad is like a child. A little boy who put his toy down and walked away, but is now upset that someone else is playing with it. He’s like the dog in the manger. Throughout ‘Always’ Han tries to reconnect Conrad and Belly (via wedding preparations for her and Jeremiah’s wedding. Awkward!) but it feels forced and there’s a severely missing spark between them. I was inordinately annoyed when Conrad proclaimed his love for Belly, and asked her not to marry his brother. Big talk. But that’s all it was – talk. In my opinion, Conrad never did anything to earn Belly’s love. It was always her, chasing after him . . .

And that leads to my final complaint about ‘We’ll Always Have Summer’. We needed more. We needed at least another 250-pages to read Belly grow up and Conrad earn her love. Han rushes the ending, leaving present-time Belly on a sour note and dumped at the altar, only to summarize in the epilogue that she spent two years doing a lot of growing (student exchange to Spain!) and falling back in love with Conrad – enough to marry him. Skip to – happily-ever-after. But it’s too fast. By the end of ‘Always’ I still wasn’t convinced that Conrad was the guy for her. I needed to read him fight to regain her trust and fight for her, for them – I needed to read Conrad’s long, outpouring love letters to Belly while she was away in Spain . . . I needed to read the brother’s reconciliation since Jeremiah and Belly’s disastrous break-up. I needed more. Not this rushed amalgamation of a happily-ever-after tied up with a neat little bow.


Monday, June 27, 2011

'It's Not Summer Without You' Summer #2 by Jenny Han

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

When something is perfect, you hope it never ends . . .

Isabel's lazy, long hot summers at her family friends' beach house are over.

Conrad – sexy and unavailable - is the only boy she's ever loved. He's left for college, taking her heart with him. Jeremiah, his gorgeous brother, is still Isabel's best friend – but maybe friendship isn't enough for him anymore . . .

Isabel just wants everything to stay the same, because change means moving on. But if she stops looking back, will she find a future she never knew she wanted?

** Contains MAJOR spoilers of Book #1 ‘The Summer I Turned Pretty’ **

Susannah is gone and Belly’s heart with her. There will never again be a summer with Susannah at the house in Cousins – no more singing along to Aretha Franklin, no more blueberry muffins and no more heart-to-hearts with Belly’s pretend-mother. Susannah is dead, and Belly’s sadness engulfs the summer season . . .

Belly is seventeen and spending her first summer without Susannah and her summer boys, Jeremiah and Conrad . . . and maybe that’s for the best.

Following the explosive last summer vacation, Belly finally admitted her feelings to Conrad. Heart on sleeve, Belly revealed all – every ounce of love in her heart – and Conrad wanted her right back. For six whole months they dated long-distance while he was away at college. Speaking on the phone every night and even sneaking out to the summer house for one memorable evening. While his mother was slowly dying, Belly was Conrad’s constant in a suddenly turbulent life.

. . . So it’s pathetically sad how they ended. With Belly crying at her Prom and Conrad walking away, not even looking back.

Then Susannah died and Conrad slipped even further away. In the process, Belly cut herself off from Jeremiah, right when he needed her most.

Now Conrad has run away. Jeremiah and Belly know where he has taken refuge, but not why. Belly lost her best friend and first love when Conrad rejected her months ago, but her summer boys need her now and she won’t turn her back on either of them.

‘It’s Not Summer Without You’ is the second book in Jenny Han’s YA contemporary romance ‘Summer’ trilogy.

I was crying from the first page of this book. Susannah’s death was inevitable since the tragic reveal of her worsening condition in ‘The Summer I Turned Pretty’. Still, I was blubbering like a fool for the first half of this book.

Susannah’s passing is the carrying tragedy of the follow-up book. Her death impacts everyone – Belly’s mother, Laurel, is withdrawn and distant since losing her best friend. Conrad has become self-destructive, and Belly is heartsick at losing her pretend-mother. Susannah’s loss is felt by all, even the reader. She was just a lovely presence in the first book, and clearly an impact on Belly’s young life. The sorrow of her death reverberates throughout this second novel.

But Han’s trilogy is focused on young love. And for that reason I found myself crying for the romantic heartbreaks in Belly’s young life as for the more saddening and maddening death of Susannah.

When ‘The Summer I Turned Pretty’ ended, Belly and Conrad were embarking on a tentative and tender new romance. When ‘Without You’ begins, Belly speaks haltingly about her and Conrad’s disastrous break-up, and a fall-out that has yet to be fixed. This second book doesn’t have the same year-leaping flashbacks as ‘Turned Pretty’ did, instead Han slowly revisits Belly and Conrad’s crumbling relationship bit by bit. And it is a disaster; of epic proportions (at least it is for a sixteen-year-old girl). The height of Belly’s heartbreak comes at her prom, where she is left crying and bedraggled, watching Conrad stride away and knowing that they are over (if they were ever even together?).

Now, in the grand scheme of plot Susannah’s death is far more gut-wrenching than Conrad and Belly’s collapsed puppy love. But I absolutely bawled my eyes out during Belly’s recount of her prom-date heartbreak. I think it’s because Han is so evilly and wonderfully good at recounting the disasters of youth. You feel Belly’s crushed hopes with visceral tenderness as Han forces you to remember your own first love, and the inevitable first heartbreak. She deftly conjures those feelings of crushed dreams and tormented love – all of it felt deeper and was heightened for being your first. But it’s even worse for Belly – for most people first loves are classroom disasters and playground fancy – but Belly had known Conrad her whole life, and loved him for almost as long. His rejection of her is a tragedy from a much greater height.

We stood there, looking at each other, saying nothing. But it was the kind of nothing that meant everything. In his eyes, there was no trace of what had happened between us earlier, and I could feel something inside me break.
So that was that. We were finally, finally over.
I looked at him, and I felt so sad, because this thought occurred to me: I will never look at you in the same way ever again. I’ll never be that girl. The girl who comes running back every time you push her away, the girl who loves you anyway.

I really didn’t like Conrad in this book. Objectively, I can see his appeal (and understand his crush-worthiness for a young Belly). Conrad is smart and reclusive; he keeps to himself and doesn’t trust easily. But when he loves you, he protects you viciously and gives so much of himself. There’s an addictive quality to him – this unattainable, gentle soul. But he’s also somewhat selfish, and cowardly in his love for Belly. I couldn’t get past his prom debacle, nor his subsequent ill-treatment of the heart-wounded Belly. I understand his appeal, but as far as I can tell, he has done nothing to earn Belly’s devotion.

Now, Jeremiah is a different story all together. Jeremiah is a goofball who is never happier than when he’s making other people laugh. Part of ‘Without You’ is told from Jeremiah’s perspective – and for the first time we get to understand his angst at being Conrad’s shadow (to their father, and now Belly). We read his changing feelings of protective love towards the girl who is his best friend. I loved Jeremiah! He is such a sweetheart, and I hate that he feels second-best in all things to Conrad (especially Belly). I can’t wait to read how that all changes in the final book . . .

‘It’s Not Summer Without You’ continues Jenny Han’s ludicrously addictive ‘Summer’ trilogy. In this instalment Belly deals with loss and heartbreak in one disastrous year, devoid of summer. She learns the perils of loving and starts to understand that a person’s first may not necessarily by their last.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

'The Summer I Turned Pretty' Summer #1 by Jenny Han

From the BLURB:

Everything that happened this past summer, and every summer before it, has all led up to this. To now.

Every year Isabel spends a perfect summer at her family friends' house. There's the swimming pool at night, the private stretch of sandy beach . . . and the two boys. Unavailable, aloof Conrad – who she's been in love with forever – and friendly, relaxed Jeremiah, the only one who's ever really paid her any attention.

But this year something is different. They seem to have noticed her for the first time. It's going to be an amazing summer – and one she'll never forget . . .

Isabel ‘Belly’ Conklin measures her life in summers. Each year it’s a countdown to the glorious months spent in Cousins, at Susannah’s summer house. Belly’s mother and Susannah are childhood friends, as close as sisters. Belly and her brother Steven have been visiting the summer house since infancy, and spending long, lazy summer days in the company of Susannah’s boys, Conrad and Jeremiah Fisher.

As much as Belly loves the summer house and visiting her pretend-mother Susannah, she always feels out of step with her childhood friends. She is the youngest of the summer kids, and the only girl in this close-knit boys club. She was always pleading to tag along or being left out – desperate to be a part of the group, but always out of sync.

Things became even more complicated for Belly when she developed her first real crush on Conrad, the elder of the Fisher boys. Jeremiah was always funny and smiling, he is Belly’s best friend in the whole world. But Conrad, he’s different. The eldest of the kids, he is quiet and aloof, full of pride and quiet intensity and Belly hero-worshipped him throughout her younger years. As a young teenager her crush turned to love of the first and permanent kind . . . but as much as Belly pined after Conrad, he remained oblivious to her devotion . . . Until this summer.

This summer, Belly is turning sixteen, and Jeremiah and Conrad are both noticing her in a whole new light.

The summer house is where Belly did most of her growing up, and experienced the majority of her first’s. First kiss. First crush. First love. First heartbreak.

‘The Summer I Turned Pretty’ is the first book in the contemporary romance YA ‘Summer’ trilogy from Jenny Han.

I have had all three ‘Summer’ books sitting in my TBR pile since April. I impulsively bought them when the final book in the trilogy was released, and ‘Summer’ fandom seemed to reach a fever-pitch. I was pretty sure I'd love these books – they sounded like a good, juicy bit of contemporary romance fun and I adored the whimsical front covers. Still, I was a little taken aback by just how much I loved these books . . . consuming all three in one weekend and devouring a box of Kleenex in the process!

The same way that other children measure the year according to Christmas’s approach, Belly measures by summers. Every year for as long as she can remember she, her mother and brother would leave their father behind and venture to Cousins and the summer house. It was here that Belly took comfort in the nurturing home of Susannah, her mother’s dearest friend and Belly’s confidante (whom she often felt closer to than her own biological mother). But the summer house was most special for Belly’s boys – Jeremiah and Conrad. These are two people she has grown up with – from bullying kids to surly young adults and finally turning into intriguing young men . . .

Belly’s story is that of young love. Because as much as her calendar is a countdown to summer, Belly’s life has been marked by these two boys and their impact on her. . .

Jeremiah owns her first kiss. Conrad taught her to dance. They have, in turn, been her best friends and worst enemies. Jenny Han marks the up’s and down’s of Belly’s tumultuous friendship with the boys – from young buddies to blossoming crushes – through flashbacks of various other summers. As Belly lives out the summer of her sweet sixteen, she is in turns astounded and curious at the impact her changing self is having on Jeremiah and Conrad . . . as their dynamic alters, she thinks back to the summer’s when she was 11, 12, 13 and nothing but an annoying tag-along to their big boys club.

I’m not always a huge fan of the flashback, but Han utilizes it superbly – equal parts informative and whimsical. It’s the retrospect of a young girl; so Belly swings between being outraged by the boy’s bad behaviour, to heart sick with love for the older and elusive Conrad. Her flashbacks are tragic because they’re so relatable, never more so than when she’s 13 and watching from the sidelines as Conrad starts to take an interest in the opposite sex (except for her) and when he starts treating her more like a little sister than an equal. I loved Belly’s younger voice, particularly because Han’s deft pen does give Belly a different echo between her rewinding younger self, and current sixteen-year-old bewildered by her newfound magnetism.

“You’ve always been lovely, but oh honey, look at you.” She shook her head like she was in awe of me. “You’re so pretty. So pretty. You’re going to have an amazing, amazing summer. It’ll be a summer you’ll never forget.” Susannah always spoke in absolutes like that – and when she did, it sounded like a proclamation, like it would come true because she said so.
The thing is, Susannah was right. It was a summer I'd never, ever forget. It was the summer everything began. It was the summer I turned pretty. Because for the first time, I felt it. Pretty, I mean. Every summer up to this one, I believed it’d be different. Life would be different. And that summer, it finally was. I was.

When these books were initially released and creating a furore, I was a little sceptical of the title. ‘The Summer I Turned Pretty’ sounded sickeningly egotistical, and I worried that this would be a book about a girl realizing her body’s new effect on the opposite sex. Let’s face it, as women we’ve all known girls like that . . . those who were so sweet in their younger years, but became boy-crazy in puberty and saw fellow female as ‘the enemy’. Thankfully, Han’s title is a little misleading . . . It’s clear from Conrad and Jeremiah’s reactions to her that Belly has grown from a child into a young woman in the span of one year. To read their responses to her, we can tell that Belly has even turned into quite the beautiful young woman. But Belly herself remains none the wiser. She still prefers oversized T-shirts to dresses. She hates heels and lives in sneakers. And she marks herself as wanting when she compares her looks to the girl’s Conrad is interested in. Han also discounts Belly’s vanity by comparing her to her best friend, Taylor, who visited the summer house at age 14 and was indeed one of those girls who was pretty, and knew it.

I loved Belly. I loved that she was oblivious to herself, yet acutely aware of those around her. She is a very observant young girl, especially when it comes to Jeremiah and Conrad. She wisely observes the fact that she feels a twinge of jealousy when Jeremiah takes an interest in Taylor (when he has never noticed Belly in such a way). And she can read Conrad like an open book, even when his actions belie his true feelings . . . . Belly is just like so many young girls. Awkward and blossoming, unknowing of herself and unbelieving of people’s interest in her.

I loved Belly and her evolving relationship with the summer boys. But I also think that ‘The Summer I Turned Pretty’ is a rather impressive character exploration. Conrad and Jeremiah are not boy-crush-prototypes. They’re both complicated and messy young men – Conrad in his surly anger and quiet pride, and Jeremiah’s hidden feelings of inferiority against his older brother, beloved by their father. And it’s not just that boys who get deep back story – the adults in Han’s novel are as important as their children. Susannah is keeping secrets, and it’s more than just her crumbling marriage. Belly can’t figure out why her parents divorced, but believes it’s because her mother is an enigma. . . I love any YA book that puts parents in the spotlight and doesn’t just sweep them under the rug. Han writes an excellent intertwining story of young and old, heartbreak and romance by including stories that concern the young characters and their parents.

‘The Summer I Turned Pretty’ is a great little slice of contemporary romance. It’s a very tame romance, since Belly is just starting out in womanhood . . . but the book is full of wanting. Belly’s heartache bleeds on the page and every girl reading (and a few women too!) will completely and utterly live Belly’s soaring crush and devastating heartbreak. It’s young love, in all its up and down glory.


Friday, June 24, 2011

'Chosen by Blood' Para-Ops #1 by Virna DePaul

From the BLURB:

Five years after the Second Civil War ends, humans and otherborn— humanlike creatures with superhuman DNA—still struggle for peace. To ensure the continued rights of both, the FBI forms a Para-Ops team with a unique set of skills.


Leader of an Otherborn clan, half-breed vampire Knox Devereaux would do anything to find a cure for the anti-vamp vaccine slowly starving his people into extinction. When the FBI contacts him about leading a team of hand-selected Others on a mission to reclaim the stolen antidote, Knox accepts. His new assignment places him in direct contact with Special Agent Felicia Locke, the beautiful human he’s craved since their very first meeting.

In an alternate history the US Second Civil War has all but wiped vampires out of existence, and in the aftermath of peace they are on the brink of extinction. A vaccine was invented that tainted human blood, ruining it as a food source for the vampire population. As a result, the number of fanged are dwindling.

Now the US vampire population live in a sanctuary called ‘The Dome’, and are led by Knox Devereaux – a dharmire human/vampire hybrid, and among the last few unaffected by the vaccine.

Knox was a soldier in the Second Civil War, but now he lives to lead his dying race . . . a heavy task to fall on his shoulders. As the vamp leader, Knox is expected to marry a pure vampire female and help to procreate and save the fading population. He already performed his duty when he married the vampire Noella, and had two beautiful children with her. But even though Knox married Noella, he has always been in love with her best friend – the human female, and FBI hostage negotiator, Felicia Locke.

Knox’s leadership role is about to get even more complicated. The FBI have got wind of an antidote to the vaccine – something that could eliminate the contamination of human blood and restore the vampire’s food supply, thereby saving an entire race of paranormal people.
And sine Knox has the most to gain from this antidote, he is heading up the mission to find proof of its existence. Together with a walking-dead-woman simply called ‘Wraith’, a werewolf called Hunt, psychic human O’Flare and a mage named Lucy, Knox will put his life on the line to save his people . . . but when Felicia joins the task-force, Knox suddenly has more to lose, and gain.

‘Chosen by Blood’ is the first book in Virna DePaul’s new paranormal series, ‘Para-Ops'.

It’s always nice to read fresh blood in the urban fantasy / paranormal genre. Old favourites will always be anticipated New Year releases, but the promise of a fresh new series to sink one’s teeth into is equally exhilarating. So it was with great enthusiasm that I delved into DePaul’s first book, ‘Chosen by Blood’. . .

This novel is the establishment of the series focus Para-Ops team. In DePaul’s alternate world, paranormal people are marginalized and ostracized in the wake of Civil War. Thanks to a vaccine, humans gained the upper hand in the war by eliminating themselves as a food source for vampires. But when a cure is rumoured to exist, all paranormal factions see it as an opportunity to right the imbalance between humans and paranormal’s.

‘Chosen by Blood’ mostly concerns the Para-Ops leader and vampire head-honcho, Knox Devereaux. Not only does Knox have the weight of his people’s existence on his hands, but he is being confronted with his own personal wants and desires in the form of human FBI agent, Felicia Locke.

In theory, Felicia and Knox have a good romance – full of unrequited love and unimaginable yearning, stirred up with controversy over her being a human and Knox being part vampire. Knox has been pursuing Felicia since they first met, despite her uneasy attraction to him and his marriage to her best friend. Noella and Knox even proposed a mating-pair arrangement, whereby Felicia would be Knox’s mistress. But Felicia wanted monogamy and fidelity, and she had no interest in being ‘the other woman’. When the novel opens, Felicia is attending Knox and Noella’s wedding anniversary when Knox succumbs to lust and proposes this ‘ménage’ arrangement to a disgusted and heartbroken Felicia. Skip ahead two years and Noella is dead, murdered the only way a vampire can be – her heart ripped out and burned. Felicia has managed to avoid Knox, who has been in France for some time arranging his new marriage (which will strengthen ties with the European vampires). But Knox is still adamant that Felicia be his mistress – and he hopes that when they are reacquainted, Felicia will be willing to shake off the shackles of close-minded human fidelity.

Right away, DePaul is on the back-foot with regards to Knox and Felicia. First off, she references their first meeting where, apparently, sparks were flying and lust was running high. But readers are given little to no back-story about Knox and Felicia’s first meeting. We don’t even really know how Felicia came to be best friends with the vampire Noella (strange, since their friendship probably kicked-off in the wake of vampire discrimination?). But most detrimental of all is that readers never experience Knox and Felicia’s first meeting, either in flashback or detailed remembering, it’s always just stated as a fact that they have a heart-tugging attraction to one another . . . Urgh. True love, soul mates and love at first sight all rolled into one. If you’re like me, then this romantic premise really bugs you because it gives the author a scapegoat – ‘soul mates’ can replace actual attraction, and ‘love at first sight’ is cited instead of actual scenes of sexy repartee and genuine affection. Such is the case with ‘Chosen by Blood’. Knox need only be in the same room and Felicia creams her pants. And even when Felicia is heart-broken and insulted by Knox’s offer of mistress-status, Felicia still wants him and can’t deny her attraction to him. It’s telling, not showing; DePaul is telling readers that Felicia and Knox want each other, without showing us much evidence to back it up.

For some people, Knox’s offer of blatant infidelity will be quite off-putting to the overall romance of the novel (especially when vampires in most paranormal romances ‘mate for life’). But DePaul actually works this unorthodox offering into the story . . . Felicia is frustrated by Knox’s presumptuous and hollow offer of an extramarital affair. But it’s the norm for vampires to marry pure-bloods, but take other lovers – while Knox believes that Felicia should ignore her stuffy human preconceptions about fidelity and monogamy – both of them are ruled by their cultures and beliefs, but are desperate to change the other’s thinking.

I thought that Knox and Felicia’s tug-of-war romance, with the hurdle of misconceptions about fidelity and marriage, was interesting and tension-filled. But their actual ‘sparkage’ and heat just wasn’t there . . . as evidenced by their first sex scene. This was clunky and unsatisfying. Considering the fact that Felicia had been ignoring her lustful pull towards Knox for years, you would think that their first coupling would be explosive and soul-affirming – instead it read awkward and unfulfilling.

Knox and Felicia were a pretty awful first HEA couple for the new Para-Ops series. But there is hope for two secondary characters introduced in ‘Chosen by Blood’. The living-dead-girl, Wraith, and human psychic Caleb O’Flare. I loved these two – they are both combative and hurtful towards one another, but only to hide their true (awkward) attraction. These two stole the romantic spotlight, completely. I’m thrilled that the next book, ‘Chosen by Fate’ is about their romance . . . and whereas DePaul just told us that Felicia and Knox were attracted to one another (as opposed to showing us), I can definitely attest to O’Flare and Wraith’s sizzling chemistry.

The romance in ‘Chosen by Blood’ felt completely flat to me, but I did like DePaul’s world building. The story of an alternate history and Second Civil War is ingenious and full of possibility. The vaccine/antidote storyline of this book is a good introduction to this universe, in which vampires are dwindling and ‘Others’ are discriminated against. But there’s plenty of leeway for deep exploration . . . in the wake of war one group is always the down-trodden, the loser forced to succumb to the whims of the victor. That’s humans and ‘Others’ in DePaul’s world. I’m willing to forgive a lot of the romantic fizzle, purely because I loved this Civil War storyline so much;

The door opened and Knox Devereaux stepped inside. He was, as always, impeccably dressed. Tall and grim-faced, his dark pants, expensive black duster jacket, and polished boots made him look like a GQ outlaw.
Yes, indeed, Mahone thought. The times had changed.
The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness no longer applied just to humans.
Wraiths had a right to vote. A court had just ruled that a mage’s right to practice magic was akin to one’s right to worship. And vamps, both full vampires and dharmires alike, couldn’t be denied health coverage based on ‘malnourishment’ being a pre-existing condition.
The Others were demanding their due and making their presence known.

I will also say that the ending of this book didn’t entirely work for me. The dénouement drags, and a lot of previously-unmentioned villains pop out of the woodwork to complicate the finale . . . . But like I said, I’m willing to forgive a lot of DePaul because I loved the back-story universe she created. I’m also really excited to read Wraith and O’Flare’s romance – which is sure to wash out the bad taste Felicia and Knox left behind.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

'Grave Sight' Harper Connelly Graphic Novel by Charlaine Harris

‘Grave Sight’ is a graphic novel adaptation of the first book in Charlaine Harris’s paranormal ‘Harper Connelly’ series. ‘Sight’ Volume 1 was released in June this year, with two more instalments due for release (the second instalment is coming in September).

When she was younger Harper Connelly was struck by lightning. Ever since then, she has been able to ‘sense’ death. If she is near a dead body she can recount the final moments of the corpse’s life, often giving clues as to the where, what, how and who of their death (and often, murder). Harper is the ultimate lemons into lemonade girl, turning her ability into a profession; she (along with her step-brother, Tolliver) tours the country, helping search for missing persons (for a price).

When ‘Grave Sight’ begins, Harper finds herself in Sarne Arkansas, helping local law enforcement and a grieving family search for answers in a runaway teen cold case. But the longer Harper and Connelly stay, the messier their investigation gets. Harper finds more mysteries with her ‘sense’ and the longer she stays in town, the murders keep piling up . . .

It seems that 2011 is the year of the under-appreciated paranormal. I just recently read Volumes 1 and 2 of Richelle Mead’s ‘Dark Swan’ graphic novel, adapted from her least popular paranormal series of the same name (least popular in comparison to ‘Vampire Academy’, mind you!). ‘Harper Connelly’ is the same sort of beleaguered darling of literary juggernaut, Charlaine Harris.

Harris’s ‘Southern Vampire: Sookie Stackhouse’ series has been ruling bestseller lists and dominating the box with its HBO ‘True Blood’ TV adaptation. By comparison, Harris’s other work of paranormal fiction is an under-appreciated afterthought. For a little while there was rumblings that ‘Harper’ could be as big as Sookie, especially when CBS bought the film and TV rights to Harris’s work, with every intention of turning it into a TV series. But this year CBS passed on the ‘Harper Connelly’ pilot and it looked as though Harper had missed her time in the spotlight . . . but now the series has been given a new (and better?) revisit, via the ever-popular graphic novel adaptation!

I have been a big fan of ‘Harper Connelly’ for years now. It’s not as supernatural as the ‘Sookie’ books – there’s not a vampire or werewolf in sight. But Harper has a somewhat similar ‘ability’ to Sookie, not telepathy, but rather a sixth sense for death. Harper’s world is our world, real life examining the supernatural from a realist perspective – and Harper is a protagonist dealing with other people’s pessimism and blatant distrust of her and her abilities. In this series Charlaine can explore the ‘what if’ aspects of the supernatural in everyday life.

The ‘Harper’ series is darker than ‘Sookie’ (or, rather, it’s as dark as the most recent Sookie books). Not only is Harper frequently fleeing from pitch-fork-wielding townies who claim she is a witch, but Harper and Tolliver are dealing with their own grief over a missing person. When they were younger, Harper’s older sister and Tolliver’s step-sister was abducted while walking home from school . . . never to be seen nor heard from again. As Harper tours the country, selling her ability to uncover death, she is always on the lookout for Cameron, hoping that the next body she ‘senses’ will be that of her missing sister.

The ‘Harper’ series is dark indeed, as can be expected when it’s all about a woman’s ability to find the truth of death. But this is also a series with real heart – seen in the bond between Harper and Tolliver, and the step-siblings constant hunt for the truth about Cameron’s abduction.

This graphic novel adaptation is covering the plot of the first book, ‘Grave Sight’, in three volumes. To be honest, ‘Grave Sight’ is perhaps not the best ‘Harper Connelly’ novel to visually adapt. That first novel is a lot about the nuances and whisperings of the small town of Sarne, Arkansas. In the novel, Harper and Tolliver spend the majority of their time wheeling and dealing with the town folk who hired them to find a missing girl . . . meanwhile, having talks with a few locals who have a few things to say about the missing teen. So in this graphic novel there’s lots of speech boxes and little action.

Regardless, I’m quite impressed with William Harms’s screenwriting of Charlaine Harris’s work. There’s lots of back-story about Harper to condense – both about the lightning strike that changed her, and Cameron’s disappearance. Harms uses very poignant storytelling, coupled with some sublime images from Denis Medri, to communicate a lot of story in very few panels.

I was also impressed at the way Medri visualized Harper’s ‘sight’. In the novel, Harris writes a visceral experience of the visions that plague Harper when she approaches a dead body . . . Medri has done well to make these visions equally chilling, represented in distinctive blood-red panelling with a mesh-effect to disorientate and frighten.

This first instalment of the ‘Grave Sight’ graphic novel is slow-going, but only because of the back story that must be told in order to understand the complicated Harper Connelly. It’s dragged down by a lot of conversation and nuanced double-dealings. But both Medri and Harms shine in the scenes of more action, and eerie flashback. There is promise for a graphic Harper yet. I know that the books get darker, and Harper comes up against some formidable foes – I look forward to these future instalments, because I also know that Harper is an impressive leading lady in her own right.


Written by: Charlaine Harris & William Harms
Art by: Denis Medri
Colors by: Paolo Francescutto
Letters by: Bill Tortolini
Cover A by: Benoit Springer
Cover B by: Denis Medri
Contributing editor: Rich Young
Consultation: Ernst Dabel & Les Dabel

Volume 2 coming September 2011

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

'The Duff' by Kody Keplinger

From the BLURB:

Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn’t think she’s the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She’s also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her “the Duff,” she throws her Coke in his face.

But things aren’t so great at home right now, and Bianca is desperate for a distraction. She ends up kissing Wesley. Worse, she likes it. Eager for escape, Bianca throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with him.

Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out Wesley isn’t such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.

Bianca Piper has just been let in on a little secret. Something profound that’s made all the more hurtful for being so honest . . . she is the Duff of her friendship group – Designated. Ugly. Fat. Friend.

This little slice of wisdom comes from Wesley Rush, the Hamilton High man-whore. Womanizer extraordinaire, a young Casanova and walking-STD.

“What I’m saying is, girls – like your friends – find it sexy when guys show some sensitivity and socialize with the Duff. So by talking to you right now I am doubling my chances of getting laid tonight. Please assist me here, and just pretend to enjoy the conversation.”

Bianca has always known she isn’t Top Model material. She knows that her best friends, Casey and Jessica are ‘the pretty ones’. Bianca sees that she has small boobs and big thighs, mousy brown hair and no inclination to socialize or dance to the (non) beat of techno music. But to have this fact so rudely thrust upon her is . . . disarming. And it becomes the cherry on top of a perfectly horrible week. A week that sees her absentee mother finally file for divorce, with no warning and no preparation, thereby throwing her alcoholic father back into the bottom of a whiskey bottle. Not to mention the boy who broke her heart is back in town, with his fiancée in tow. So is it any wonder when faced with all these harsh realities, Bianca just wants to escape for a little while . . . and Wesley’s womanizing arms look terrible tempting? Even if he has affectionately nicknamed her ‘Duffy’?

‘The Duff’ was the 2010 debut YA novel from Kody Keplinger.

I knew I would love this book. Everything just screamed; ‘keeper’ to me. The bold bubblegum cover, at odds with the harsh acronym title. The Gen Y ugly-duckling tale. All the rave reviews. I knew that I would adore this book. So I squirreled it away for a reading-slump – knowing I'd pull it out when I needed a pick-me-up in my reading habits. And, lo and behold, it worked . . . and I am in love.

Once upon a time, YA author Judy Blume was praised for her books about tough teen issues like parental divorce, questioning religion and exploring sexuality. But since the days of Blume that yardstick has been moved, and it’s with a new sense of audacious honesty that Keplinger writes her teen melodrama.

In ‘The Duff’ the existential exploration comes when Bianca has the knowledge of her ho-hum looks crudely explained to her via the secret codex of a teenage Lothario. This is the new body-awareness discussion, and it comes on the back of a hurtful comment that is mired in today’s obsession with beauty and being a certain jean-size.

The exploration of sexuality is less of a journey and more blasé acceptance. Keplinger is writing teenagers very, very honestly – so that when Bianca admits to losing her virginity at age fourteen, you can imagine people of a certain age quirking their eyebrows and thinking ‘surely not!’ . . . but teens reading the novel will not bat an eyelash. Nor will they be particularly surprised when Bianca and Wesley begin a purely sexual relationship that’s all about sensual distraction in the wake of family dysfunction. This is not a watered-down slice of teen fiction . . . this is Keplinger writing brutal, high school honesty and representing Gen Y with absolute sincerity.

No matter how raw and frighteningly messy Keplinger’s teenager’s are, they still have a lot of growing up to do. And the novel is ultimately about Bianca realising the pigeon-holed draw-backs of high school, in particular how girls are competing with themselves as much as each other in the nasty stakes;

Calling Vicki a slut or a whore was just like calling someone the Duff. It was insulting and hurtful, and it was one of those titles that just fed off of an inner fear every girl must have from time to time. Slut, bitch, prude, tease, ditz. They were all the same. Every girl felt like ne of these sexist labels described her at some point.
So, maybe, every girl felt like the Duff, too?

I loved that ‘The Duff’ was a great big of teen melodrama. It’s like ‘Mean Girls’ – all gloss on the top, made all the more addictive for having an opposites-attracting, hot n’ heavy romance at its centre . . . but really, Keplinger is mixing in a lot of deeper explorations like feminism, self-image and realizing that boys are as breakable as girls when it comes to sex and relationships.

Dare I say, Kody Keplinger Judy Blume for Gen Y? She writes with a wry cynicism and brutal honesty – mixed with fantastic young melodrama and a biting romance. She is a new automatic-buy author for me.


Monday, June 20, 2011

'Silvermay' by James Moloney

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Sixteen-year-old Silvermay Hawker feels drawn to the newcomer in her village - a young man of solemn good looks named Tamlyn. But only heartache can come of this, because Tamlyn is devoted to Nerigold and to little Lucien, her son.

So things seem, until the dark forces of Coyle Strongbow come in search of Nerigold′s baby and Silvermay is swept up in the young family′s escape. When Lucien is entrusted to her care, she discovers the startling horror of what he might become, and the truth about Tamlyn, too.

Can Lucien be spared his fate, or is he doomed to become like Coyle? And Tamlyn, can he be trusted, can he be loved and can he love in return? Silvermay′s heart will not give him up, but what happens when devotion becomes a weapon in the hands of the ruthless?

Silvermay Hawker’s life is forever changed when a fleeing couple enter her village. A young man named Tamlyn (masquerading as Piet) and his wife, Nerigold, whom has recently given birth to a son. Nerigold is near death when she and Tamlyn come to the village, and it is Silverymay’s kind, healer mother who nurses her back to health. The town elders frown upon Nerigold and Tamlyn having a child out of wedlock, but the Hawker’s welcome the young couple into their home and as Silvermay looks after the little baby, nicknamed ‘Smiler’, she comes to care deeply for this travelling family.

But as the days pass, Silvermay begins to notice uneasiness in the young, handsome Tamlyn. He is wary of the tax-collectors who come on the King’s behalf. He watches the skies for sign of messenger birds. And he sits vigil outside the Hawker house at night.

When it comes time for Tamlyn, Nerigold and little Smiler to leave, Silvermay is adamant she goes with them – to help care for the baby, and a still weak Nerigold. But agreeing to journey with this couple will put Silvermay’s heart, and life, at risk . . . for as she falls deeper and deeper in love with the mysterious and forbidden Tamlyn, she also learns that the couple are fleeing Coyle Strongbow – a most dangerous man to have on your tail.

‘Silvermay’ is the first novel in James Moloney’s new young adult fantasy trilogy.

It has been a long time since I've read a James Moloney novel. He was a staple of my high school reading life, and I can still vividly remember pouring over ‘A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove’ and discussing ‘The Book of Lies’. So it was with great expectation and excitement that I read ‘Silvermay’, from one of the greats of Australian young adult literature. And I am thoroughly delighted to report that it’s as brilliant as I had hoped.

The book opens on one of the most powerfully disturbing prologues I have ever had the spine-tingling pleasure to read. Narrated by Silvermay as she recounts the day that changed her life, we are privy to the dark thoughts which now haunt her in the aftermath of change. And most awful of all is the confession that Silvermay boldly admits;

Or should I tell you, instead, that I've held a blanket over a baby’s face to smother it, and to this day I’m not entirely sure I was wrong to do it?

Thus begins Moloney’s haunting fantasy tale of a young woman caught in the middle of political and magical upheaval.

Silvermay is our protagonist on this epic journey, and she is quite the warrior woman in training. We read Silvermay’s conflicting youth; as a young woman falling in love for the first time, but whose girlish fantasies are interrupted by a journey of great import that will see her risk her life for people she barely knows, but quickly trusts. I loved Silvermay. She’s heroic and bold, loyal and observant. But I especially love her for being a little player in a big story. Silvermay is almost like a footnote in history – an unsuspecting girl whose presence in a baby’s life will change the course of history. The fact that she is just a girl from a village, the daughter of a healer and bird-trainer, makes her presence in the novel so much more meaningful for being accidental.

I also loved Silvermay and Tamlyn’s romance. This marks Silvermay’s real transition to womanhood – as she develops feelings the wrong man, but will face all sorts of danger for the sake of him. Talk about epic. Moloney touches on notes of longing and bravery with regards to Silvermay and her unrequited love the Tamlyn . . . and their romance is further complicated when Silvermay learns the truth of him.

If sleep had been out of reach before I ventured into the night air, afterwards it fled to another kingdom. We had stood beneath the moon and spoken of love. Not a love between him and me; of course not. I wasn’t pretending for a moment that we had. But even to say the word out loud to any man was a first for me, and, no matter how I told myself otherwise, there had been an intimacy in the things we’d said that seemed stronger than any of the girlish dreams I'd painted inside my head since he arrived in the village.

One of the best aspects of the book are the dark villains and magical monsters chasing after the travellers. In this world the bogeyman who strike fear into the hearts of children everywhere are called Wyrdborn, and they are at Coyle Strongbow’s beck and call. The Wyrdborn are wizards, with dark magic and unimaginable power. Moloney has made these wizards as pervasively evil as possible, partly through the mystery surrounding them. All Silvermay knows of the Wyrdborn is what she has heard in stories and gossip – rumours of girls who are taken from villages and spend time in the Wyrdborn castles, only to leave months later with no remembrance of their time, but a loss of innocence.
Coupled with Coyle Strongbow, ‘Silvermay’ has no shortage of evil. Here is a man with nefarious, but unknowing purposes. And it’s only when Silvermay comes to understand more about the baby Smiler that she sees a connection to the dangerous and dogged Coyle Strongbow . . .

I adored Moloney’s new fantasy novel. ‘Silvermay’ is set on an epic and fantastical scale, with a simple village girl at the centre of it all. This is a wonderful novel, with an empowered and courageous young woman to carry the story of upheaval. I can’t wait for the second and third novels, Tamlyn, will be released in June, 2012 and the third book, Lucien, the year after.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

'Dark Swan: Storm Born Volume 1 and 2' by Richelle Mead, Grant Alter and Dave Hamann

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Eugenie Markham never asked for any of this. Until now, she’s been content with her job as a freelance shaman, battling and banishing Otherworldly creatures.

When a prophecy suddenly makes her the Otherworld’s most popular bachelorette, Eugenie finds herself fighting off unwanted supernatural suitors, as well as the evils that begin emerging from her past…

Eugenie Markham has spent the majority of her young life sending supernatural creatures back to their natural, magical habitat. Eugenie’s work day consists of the usual banishments and exorcisms, carried out with her trusty wand and with the help of protective, magic-infused tattoos. But something strange is happening to Eugenie and the creatures she banishes . . . her name is being bandied about and dangerous fae spirits are making untoward sexual advances. Something is going on with the Sidhe, and Eugenie is somehow in the middle of it all. . .

‘Dark Swan’ is the new graphic novel serial from Sea Lion Books, based on the series by urban fantasy author Richelle Mead.

I am a big fan of Mead’s ‘Dark Swan’ series, having jumped on the Eugenie bandwagon back in 2007. Mead’s ‘Georgina Kincaid’ series brings the sizzling sex appeal, while her highly popular ‘Vampire Academy’ is a fantastic blend of romance and action. ‘Dark Swan’ is the perfect blend and balance of Mead’s two more popular series. It’s set on a grander scale, wandering between the human world and a fae dimension – complete with Sidhe kingdoms. ‘Dark Swan’ is also the most violent of Mead’s books, often delving into dark abandon and gory sensationalism.

I have always thought it’s somewhat unfair that Eugenie is perhaps the least popular (and lesser known) of all Mead’s work. Adults have ‘Georgina Kincaid’, while ‘Vampire Academy’ is beloved world-wide. Eugenie often gets pushed to the backlist (to the point that publication of third novel ‘Iron Crowned’ was delayed a year because Mead had too much publicity work to do for her ‘Georgina’ and ‘VA’ instalments). So I was thrilled to learn that a graphic novel adaptation was in store for Eugenie . . . and now having read Volume 1 and 2, I am beyond delighted to say that the folks at Sea Lion Books have treated Eugenie Markham and ‘Storm Born’ to the fantastical fanfare it justly deserves!

The first two issues are covering quite a lot of back story, with plenty of scene-setting and character introductions. Those unfamiliar with Mead’s ‘Dark Swan’ books may think the beginning is a slow-go, with lots of Eugenie’s interiority and necessary segue’s introducing her family, roommate and clients. But I really have to applaud scriptwriter Grant Alter – he has done a marvellous job at plotting and laying the foundations for an epic series. Loyal readers of the ‘Dark Swan’ books will know that all of this plotting preparation is necessary – now that we are three-books deep into the series, it becomes apparent that Richelle Mead has had an end-game in mind all along, and if you go back and reread ‘Storm Born’ there’s lots of intricate foreshadowing and build-up. Alter has done a brilliant job of leaving breadcrumbs throughout Volume 1 and 2, writing just enough back story to educate, while also trailing plenty of loose-ends to scintillate.

The artwork is phenomenal! I always heap praise upon Richelle Mead for writing action scenes that pop on the page and read like a movie scene. Artist Dave Hamann had a dually hard and easy task of visualizing Mead’s breathtaking scenes – she writes action very fluidly, but with plenty of precise direction. Hamann’s drawings are a lovely representation of Mead’s story and Alter’s script - vividly beautiful and stunningly complex. He does a brilliant job of bringing freakish fae creatures to popping life on the page, while also perfectly visualizing beloved characters. Eugenie is pitch-perfect, at once ab-tastic and stunning (I loved her tattoos!) while her love-interest, Kiyo, is gorgeously hunky. I especially appreciated Hamann’s artwork when it came to the lush, sexy scenes – this is another important component to the ‘Dark Swan’ series, and if Eugenie and Kiyo’s scenes are any indication, fans are in for a treat when Eugenie gets intimate with a certain fae King.

Volume 1 and 2 of Richelle Mead’s ‘Storm Born’ graphic novel is a visual treat and phenomenal urban fantasy. The novel is the perfect introduction for those unfamiliar with Eugenie, while also being a superb adaptation to delight and excite long-time fans of the darkly fantastical series. I can’t wait for Volume 3, since things are sure to get dangerously interesting when Eugenie literally crosses over to the other side. . .



Published by: Sea Lion Books
Written by: Richelle Mead & Grant Alter
Art by: Dave Hamann
Coloured by: Nelson Cosention De Oliveira
Lettered by: Dave Lanphear
Cover Art: A- Jennyson Rosero; B- Dave Hamann

Release Date: September 20th 2011

Thursday, June 16, 2011

'Black Painted Fingernails' by Steven Herrick

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

'How about we toss a coin? Heads, it's west and a lift. Tails, it's still west, but no lift.'

James is heading into the country on his first teacher-training round when a mysterious girl asks him for a ride. Sophie has him all worked out: 'You live with your parents and they bought you this car, and a very nice car it is too...' At first James can't see past her wild hair and attitude, but then Sophie trusts him with a secret she's been keeping too long.

Steven Herrick masterfully reveals the essence of his characters in this tough and tender story about opening up to love and living a life that's true. Black Painted Fingernails is a captivating novel by the author of By the River and other popular, award-winning books.

With the toss of a coin James finds himself with company on his way to the country. Sophie with her black fingernails and slipping black dress is going as far as James can take her.

While James is leaving home for the first time, Sophie is returning after a long absence.

Along the way they’ll share laughs, burgers and secrets.

‘Painted Black Fingernails’ is the new young adult novel from Australian author Steven Herrick.

James and Sophie’s story is based on the assumption that you can always open up to a stranger because you’ve got nothing to lose by telling them your secrets. On the dusty highways and backwoods roads leading into the country Sophie and James trade banter and stories that slowly open them up to hard truths and old scars.

James and Sophie couldn’t be more different. James grew up in privilege, firmly attached to his mother’s apron-strings and benefitting from his father’s job as a surgeon. He studied hard in school and had few friends, and as he heads into the country for his first teaching job in a primary school, James reflects on all that pushed him out of home. He seems at once elated and terrified to be leaving the nest, while at the same time we begin to understand that the path he’s currently on is not necessarily of his own choosing.

James was a lovely and sweet character, if a little dull. He’s very sheltered and almost fragile – and despite being a bit of a drip, there’s a lot of him that’s relatable. He’s just beginning his adult life, and thrilled to be leaving his over-protective mother behind . . . but still terrified of the big, bad world and unsure of his place in it. Sophie is the perfect antidote to James’s fragility. By contrast she’s brash and funny, alluring and evasive. She has more secrets than James to share, and more to lose by going home.

Sophie looks at me for a long time before speaking. “Do you ever feel like screaming in public, but stop yourself, because of what people . . . ” She looks in the direction of the kitchen. “Because of what people you don’t know and don’t care about might think?”
“I’m scared of what everybody thinks,” I answer.

The story is told from alternating chapters between James and Sophie, and James’s mother and father whom he has left back home. I’m still not sure if the mother/father perspectives were necessary. Beyond better understanding James’s claustrophobic home life, I think these narratives were more intended to let young readers know how hard parents have it when they find themselves with an empty nest. Perhaps this is Herrick asking his home-leaving readers to take a care for those they’re leaving behind?

Two strangers in a car, one leaving home while the other is returning. A boy who is finally admitting what he wants out of life and a girl who needs to face the family she left behind. ‘Black Painted Nails’ is a wonderful little character road trip with an unfurling narrative and two compelling protagonist’s riding shot-gun.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

'American Gods' by Neil Gaiman

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

After three years in prison, Shadow has done his time. But as the time until his release ticks away, he can feel a storm brewing. Two days before he gets out, his wife Laura dies in a mysterious car crash, in adulterous circumstances. Dazed, Shadow travels home, only to encounter the bizarre Mr Wednesday claiming to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America. Together they embark on a very strange journey across the States, along the way solving the murders which have occurred every winter in one small American town. But the storm is about to break...

Disturbing, gripping and profoundly strange, Gaiman's epic novel sees him on the road to the heart of America.

Shadow is an ex-con about to be released from prison . . . but before his release he learns that his wife, Laura, has died. Suddenly freedom doesn’t taste quite so sweet.

Shadow’s life as he imagined it is no more, and in the midst of the ruins a stranger emerges . . . Mr. Wednesday is looking for an assistant, and Shadow takes him up on the offer of curious work.

But Mr. Wednesday is even more mysterious than Shadow first suspected. Because the old Mr. Wednesday is on a quest, of sorts. The once mighty Gods of old mythology are dying. They need humans to live – they need our belief and prayer, but modernity is taking over the piety of humanity – nowadays the human race worship at the altars of technology and marketing.

Mr. Wednesday, along with his faithful side-kick, intends to round up the Gods of yesteryear – every divinity from Egypt to Russia. Wednesday is gathering them in preparation for a storm that’s brewing – a day of days. And Shadow is intricate to Wednesday’s grand plan, even if he doesn’t know it yet. . .

"There's never been a true war that wasn't fought between two sets of people who were certain they were in the right. The really dangerous people believe they are doing whatever they are doing solely and only because it is without question the right thing to do. And that is what makes them dangerous."

‘American Gods’ was released in 2001. It won Neil Gaiman a Hugo and Nebula award, and remains a staple of the modern fantasy genre. The book is once again in the spotlight, with Gaiman recently announcing on his website that a Tom Hanks-produced HBO series is in the works. And to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of this beloved novel, a new edition has been released, complete with an introduction by Gaiman (in which he says that he’d love to revisit Shadow!).

I have always meant to read ‘American Gods’. It’s inevitable when you love fantasy/sci-fi as much as I do, that Gaiman’s name and this novel will be recommended. So I was thrilled to receive the special tenth anniversary edition in the mail – I needed no more encouragement to happily delve into this twisted fantastical mythological tale.

‘American Gods’ is a cross-genre extravaganza. Gaiman explores Biblical, mythological and fantasy worlds all within the framework of modern, desolate America. The novel is complex, less for the ideas Gaiman is exploring and more for the way he presents his narrative. The book consists of many mini-plots as Mr. Wednesday and Shadow go off on their quest to discover deities and idols of the past. I initially struggled with the veering storyline, wishing instead to concentrate solely on Shadow’s quest. But it quickly becomes apparent that Gaiman’s twisted tale is as much about the little-big God characters as it is about the wandering protagonist of Shadow. In the end I loved the side stories as much as Shadow’s over-arching journey . . .

Gaiman’s narrative may be initially difficult to follow, but his explorations are clear as day, as ‘American Gods’ asks the big questions in a fantastical way. Gaiman observes the shifting of humanity from God-fearing worshippers to technological consumers. He asks what happens to Gods and idols when there’s no one left to believe in them, and does our society still need worship? These sound like big, scary concepts – but Gaiman is exploring them with infinite wit, fancy and beauty. That was one of the things I loved best about ‘American Gods’ – that there’s a quotable-quote on practically every page;
"What I say is, a town isn't a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it's got a bookstore it knows it's not fooling a soul."

Neil Gaiman’s epic mythology-fantasy novel is like Jack Kerouac meets Homer. Gaiman takes readers on a sweeping, rollicking journey across America – from Chicago to Rhode Island and many a dusty town in between. Every sort of idolized God is along for the ride – from those of Norse mythology to Egyptian deities. Armageddon is coming and Mr. Wednesday and Shadow need to get to the real American heartland for the coming battle.

Incredibly epic, ‘American Gods’ is truly a must-read novel.

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