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Sunday, October 30, 2011

'Crossed' Matched #2 by Ally Condie

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

In search of a future that may not exist and faced with the decision of who to share it with, Cassia journeys to the Outer Provinces in pursuit of Ky - taken by the Society to his certain death - only to find that he has escaped, leaving a series of clues in his wake.

Cassia's quest leads her to question much of what she holds dear, even as she finds glimmers of a different life across the border. But as Cassia nears resolve and certainty about her future with Ky, an invitation for rebellion, an unexpected betrayal, and a surprise visit from Xander - who may hold the key to the uprising and, still, to Cassia's heart - change the game once again. Nothing is as expected on the edge of Society, where crosses and double crosses make the path more twisted than ever.

Cassia and Ky are living outside of Society, and both are forming plans on how to find one another.

Cassia is in a working camp helping to keep up appearances for the Society by planting cotton, in the hopes that the mysterious ‘Enemy’ will be swayed by prosperous plantations. Her official matching partner and best friend, Xander, has initiated their courtship once more in every hope that Cassia will join him in city central when her work detail is finished.
But it is while working the cotton fields that Cassia meets and forms an unlikely alliance with a fellow worker girl called Indie, who has just as many reasons as Cassia to make a mad dash and escape to the Outer Provinces.

By stark contrast, Ky is interred at a camp where aberrations are terrorized and brutalized. Ky’s days are spent hefting dead bodies into a supposedly poisoned lake. It is here that Ky meets and befriends a young aberration boy called Eli, who reminds Ky of Cassia’s little brother. He also forms an escape-alliance with a natural-born-leader by the name of Vick, who has his own girl he’s running back to.

Cassia and Ky have been separated by Society . . . but they have no intention of going gentle into that good night. Cassia has found an unlikely match in Ky, and she will do anything it takes to get back to him. Even if it means risking life and limb in the dangerous Outer Provinces, where whispers of a rebellion are hard to ignore . . . Link‘Crossed’ is the second book in Ally Condie’s YA dystopian ‘Matched’ trilogy.

This second novel is an Odyssey, of sorts. Since the explosive happenings of ‘Matched’, Cassia has had her eyes opened to the short-comings of Society. She now sees the detriment in having only One Hundred Poems and One Hundred Paintings. She questions the life-limitation imposed at the age of 80. She has learnt to write when writing is forbidden, and she has fallen in love with an aberration boy who was not chosen for her. ‘Crossed’ is a very different book from ‘Matched’, purely because Cassia’s narrative is suddenly self-aware and questioning. Her easy compliance and blinkered non-questioning of ‘Matched’ is no more, and when ‘Crossed’ begins Cassia is an entirely different person.

We also get Ky’s interiority in this novel, and his viewpoint is decidedly romantic. Ky is so focused on getting to Cassia, it’s incredibly sweet to read his heartfelt yearning and just how deeply ingrained she has become on his heart, and vice versa.

If you love someone, if someone loved you, if they taught you to write and made it so you could speak, how can you do nothing at all? You might as well take their words out of the dirt and try to snatch them from the wind.
Because once you love, it is gone. You love and you cannot call it back.
Ky is heavy in my mind, deep in my heart, his palm warm on my empty hands. I have to try to find him. Loving him gave me wings and all my work has given me the strength to move them.

But ‘Crossed’ is much more than a romance this time around . . . in this second novel, Condie is setting up a legend. As Ky and Cassia search for one another, they also hear whisperings of an uprising against their society. Other people like them want to change the way their world is run, and an unauthorized Tennyson poem is the language of rebellion;

Crossing the Bar

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

In this novel Condie’s world-building expands beyond the regimented Society, to become something much, much more. Ky and Cassia travel across Grand Canyon planes and meet other outsiders like themselves – people who speak of a revered but undiscovered ‘Pilot’ who will lead the rebellion and bring freedom from the society. With this whispered-legend, it feels like Condie is writing the history of an uprising, concentrating on the grass-roots of the fight’s greatest leader – a veritable Che Guevara, Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela in the making. But the big question remains – who is Pilot?

I loved ‘Crossed’. Condie had a big task to deliver something as impressively heartbreaking as ‘Matched’ – and she has done it with absolute aplomb in this second novel. ‘Crossed’ feels epic – as though readers are on the verge of a great discovery, being swept up in the hysteria of revolt and the promise of change. I can’t wait for the third book in this impressive series.


Friday, October 28, 2011

'Last Breath' Morganville Vampires #11 by Rachel Caine

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Claire Danvers is concerned when three vampires vanish from Morganville without a trace. The last person seen with them is someone new to town – a mysterious individual named Magnus. Claire is convinced creepy Magnus isn't human . . . but is he a vampire, or something else entirely?

Claire's hunt for answers leads her to solving another mystery that's long been puzzling her: why do vampires live so far out in a sunny desert when they're sensitive to sunlight? The answer has nothing to do with sunlight, but with water – and an ancient enemy who has finally found a way to invade the vampires' landlocked community. Vampires aren't the top predator on earth. There's something worse that preys on them . . . something much worse. Which means if Claire, and Morganville, want to live, they will have to fight on to the last breath . . .

** This review contains spoilers of previous 'Morganville' books **

Claire Danvers and the Glass House Scooby Gang have battled super computers, Bishop the bad-ass vampire and even survived an unsuccessful human coup that nearly tore the town apart.

Throughout it all Claire, Shane, Eve and Michael have stuck together and weathered countless storms. But this next hurdle may just be their undoing . . . it might actually mean the fall of Morganville and their town as they know it, because this next challenge is so momentous, it’s impossible to envisage how everyone will escape unscathed . . . Eve and Michael’s wedding!

‘Last Breath’ is the eleventh book in Rachel Caine’s epically awesome ‘Morganville Vampires’ young adult paranormal series.

What’s really strange about going into ‘Last Breath’ is that it doesn’t feel like book eleven. Honestly, it’s a little startling to look at the entire shelf of my bookcase lined with ‘Morganville’ instalments. And it’s even crazier to be cracking open number eleven in a series that first started in 2006! It’s odd, purely because ‘Last Breath’ reads as fresh and heart-palpitating as those first forays into Morganville from all those years ago. Eleven books in and Rachel Caine’s series is a steadfast and beloved paranormal series because it is constantly reinventing itself and keeping readers hooked. . . and she does it again in ‘Last Breath’.

This book is a game-changer, for a lot of reasons. First, because Caine is changing the narrative structure with this book, taking it away from Claire’s limited third-person perspective, and throwing in first-person narration from Amelie, Eve, Michael and Shane. Caine did this to a lesser extent in ‘Bite Club’ when she offered up only Shane’s perspective during his character assassination (and rebuilding). In ‘Last Breath’ we only get one or two chapters in alternating character’s perspectives – and they are told for crucial plot reasons when Claire can’t physically be in the scene for us to know what’s going on. The majority of the book is told from Claire’s point of view. I really quite enjoyed these perspective swaps – and I totally understand why Caine had to do it. I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone, but quite a few important things are happening to the structure and politics of Morganville, and it’s important to know Amelie’s take on things. If I had any complaint about this structure switch-up, it’s that Caine wasn’t consistent with the third-person and first-person narration. It is fairly seamless, and it took me doing a re-read of a few paragraphs to realize the switch from “he” to “I”, but once I did I couldn’t stop wondering why she didn’t choose to keep consistent narration?

Small qualm aside, ‘Last Breath’ is the ultimate Morganville rollercoaster ride. My emotions were running rampant throughout my reading. One moment I was cracking up at the various Myrnin shenanigans and Shane one-liners (of which there are many):

“Will you come?” Myrnin asked. He sounded calmed now, but also oddly needy. “It’s been very lonely here these past few days. I'd like your company at least for a little while.” When she hesitated, he used the pity card. “Please, Claire.”
“Fine,” she sighed. “I’m bringing Shane.”
After a second of silence, he said, flatly, “Goody,” and hung up.
“You’re kidding,” Shane said. “Do you think I want to visit Crazy McTeeth in his lair of insanity?”
“No,” Claire said, “but I’m pretty sure you won’t like it if I go alone when I just kind of promised to be with you. So. . . ?”
“Right. I've been missing Nutty McFang anyway.”
“Stop making up names for him.”
“What about Count Crackula?”
“Just stop.”

But then Caine veers the story into dangerous and daunting territory. She throws a curveball with such force that it literally sent me reeling and dragging my jaw up off the floor. And this is why Rachel Caine’s ‘Morganville’ series is still going strong eleven books deep. Heck, this is why her series will undoubtedly go way past her contracted thirteen – because she is a ruthless writer. She will sacrifice characters for a good cliffhanger. She’s willing to shock and even anger readers; only to make it up to them ten-fold as the series continues.

I can guarantee that at the end of ‘Last Breath’, many readers will have had the wind knocked out of them, left scratching their heads and wondering where the story is going to go next. To those reeling readers I say ‘trust’. This is Rachel Caine we’re talking about . . . yes, ‘Last Breath’ ends on a catastrophic cliffhanger, but that just means the pay-back will be ten-fold. Get ready for ‘Black Dawn’, because it’s going to be explosive.


'Morganville' #12 will be released May 2012

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

'Froi of the Exiles' Lumatere Chronicles #2 by Melina Marchetta

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Blood sings to blood, Froi . . .
Those born last will make the first . . .
For Charyn will be barren no more.

Three years after the curse on Lumatere was lifted, Froi has found his home - or so he believes.

Fiercely loyal to the Queen and Finnikin, Froi has been trained roughly and lovingly by the Guard sworn to protect the royal family, and has learned to control his quick temper. But when he is sent on a secretive mission to the kingdom of Charyn, nothing could have prepared him for what he finds. Here he encounters a damaged people who are not who they seem, and must unravel both the dark bonds of kinship and the mysteries of a half-mad Princess.

And in this barren and mysterious place, he will discover that there is a song sleeping in his blood, and though Froi would rather not, the time has come to listen.

Five days of the unspeakable.

Ten years in exile.

Three years later…

Queen Isaboe of Lumatere is a great and benevolent ruler. Together with her King consort, Finnikin, they have been watching their once displaced people grow and prosper and learn to live in peace once more.

But a faraway kingdom with a brutal King recluse and mad Princess could threaten everything Isaboe and Finnikin have worked for … especially their growing family.

Froi is a most loyal (but rarely humble) servant to his king and queen. Trained by the Guard, under the tutelage of Finnikin’s father Trevanion, he has become a brutal killer and a natural assassin. So when an opportunity presents itself to send a decoy into the Charynite kingdom, Isaboe orders Froi to do what he has been trained these past three years … get in, kill the King and leave no trace back to Lumatere.

Under the guise of lastborn Olivier, Froi enters the kingdom where the Charynites believe he has come to bed the Princess until a seed is planted and their childless curse is broken.

But it is in the Charyn cliff kingdom that Froi encounters many mysterious players with twisted hearts and hidden agendas.

There is the mad Princess, Quintana, who speaks in multiples and is fated to break her kingdom’s barren curse.

Lirah is the King’s Serker whore and Quintana’s mother – locked in the tower all-alone, her daughter calls to her from the windowsill.

The doomed twins Gargarin and Arjuro – one a godstouched disgraced Priestling, and the other a respected intellectual, coveted by many noblemen to sit at their court. Between these two brothers is a secret so vast, it could make or break a kingdom. . .

‘Froi of the Exiles’ is the second book in Melina Marchetta’s fantasy series, the ‘Lumatere Chronicles’.

This has got to be one of the most anticipated Australian novels of the year. Fans have been chomping at the bit for this second instalment since 2008, when ‘Finnikin of the Rock’ was first released and readers travelled across Skuldenore with a band of Lumatere exiles searching for home. It has been a long wait for readers. When we left them, Finnikin and Isaboe were beginning the task of reforming a displaced kingdom, and assuming their roles as ruler and consort. When we revisit them in ‘Froi’, it has been three years and much has changed.

Lumatere is trying to recover funds from their land and make money from dead soil. They are, begrudgingly, sharing their valleys with Charyn refugees and Isaboe is in the process of peace-making with those kingdoms who so cold-heartedly turned her people away in their exile. But most importantly, Finnikin and Isaboe have a two-year-old daughter called Jasmina. Their growing family gives Isaboe the impetus to instigate an assassination plan and send her loyal Froi to Charyn, to execute their king and secure her family’s safety. . .

‘Is it true that she’s mad?’ Froi asked.
The grimace was back on Gargarin’s face. ‘True enough,’ he responded. ‘But if you should believe anything, believe that everyone is out to kill her, Olivier. Her only delusion is the belief that she’ll break the curse.’
‘Then why am I here if everyone believes that she’s delusional about last and firstborns?’
‘Because the King doesn’t believe she’s delusional. Because the King is frightened by his own child and is convinced that she’s mad. When a mad Princess whose birth cursed a kingdom states that the gods have spoken, the King takes heed of her words.’

But when Froi arrives in Charyn, at their kingdom on the cliffs, he becomes caught up in palace lies and the Charynite’s futureless future. Under the alias of lastborn Olivier, Froi must spend time with the mad Charyn princess – the girl who does not speak of herself as an ‘I’ but a ‘we’, and who has been subjected to countless couplings with lastborn men to try and break her kingdom’s childless curse. She is a mad and feral princess, motherless and scorned by her people for her constant barrenness.

But Froi is intrigued by Quintana, the mad royal. She has suffered greatly in her life, but does not seem a victim. She lives in her cluttered, hazy mind – far away from the cold Charyn kingdom where her worth lies between her legs. A promise to Queen Isaboe means that Froi will not share Quintana’s bed without her wanting – and he finds that he desires nothing more than to be welcomed into this feral royal’s bed.

Meanwhile in Lumatere, people are still assimilating to life after exile. Those who were stuck in the Lumatere kingdom and those who were left to wander outside its walls . . . the adjustment period is especially difficult since Charyn refugees have taken to the Mont’s valleys since the curse was broken. Now the Lumatere residents are forced to live across the river from the same people who abused them during their cursed time. There is unease in the air, and violence on the verge.

Tesadora turned her attention back to the old man before her.
‘Give him a blanket, Japhra,’ she said quietly. Japhra placed a blanket around the man’s shoulders and he walked away.
‘Do you give everyone a blanket?’ Lucian asked, watching as Japhra had to almost drag the next woman to Tesadora.
‘Just those who are dying,’ Japhra said, when it was obvious that Tesadora had already dismissed him.
Lucian was livid. ‘If he’s contagious he can’t stay in the valley,’ he hissed.
Tesadora’s stare was hard. ‘The only thing contagious around here at the moment, Lucian, is fear and ignorance. The Charynites are afflicted with one and the Monts with the other.’

‘Froi of the Exiles’ brings readers to the middle of Marchetta’s ‘Lumatere Chronicles’. The page-count has grown along with Marchetta’s universe. ‘Finnikin’ was 399-pages long . . . whereas ‘Froi of the Exiles’ is a 593-page mammoth book to get lost in. This series is epic fantasy, not unlike George R.R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’. With ‘Froi’, readers find themselves in the thick of the story – trekking through Marchetta’s expansive universe and tangled in the aftermath of death and exile. Readers should be warned that, whereas ‘Finnikin’ left readers with satisfying open-endedness , ‘Froi of the Exiles’ is all about Marchetta walking readers to the edge of a cliff and preparing us for the inevitable fall . . .

I love, love, loved this book. I have been desperate for the continuation of the Lumatere story since 2008, and re-reading ‘Finnikin of the Rock’ last month just whet my appetite to drooling-proportions. I had high expectations for ‘Froi of the Exiles’, and it should come as no surprise to anyone that Melina Marchetta met, and exceeded, those expectations.

The main story in this book is, obviously, Froi’s. Froi was the wretched street urchin we met in ‘Finnikin of the Rock’ – feral and brutal, he tried to rape Isaboe and at one point begged Finnikin to kill him. He was always bound to be a wonderful protagonist – a man of many shades. And three years since his first introduction and Froi is still utterly compelling – vicious but loyal, cheeky and cruel. His and Quintana’s story is epic romance, and at times unsettling to read. ‘Froi’ is a more violent book than ‘Finnikin’, in my opinion. What the Princess Quintana has been subjected to is gut-wrenchingly awful. She has been abused throughout her young life, indeed from the moment she started bleeding she was being bedded to break a barren curse. It’s a sad character history . . . and for that reason, Froi treads lightly. But when he breaks through Quintana’s shields and armour, theirs is an epic and beautiful romance to rival that of even Finnikin and Isaboe.

There are more side-stories and intersecting plots being told in ‘Froi’. A returning story is that of Queen’s guard and Finnikin’s father, Trevanion, and his tortuous rekindled love with the Lady Beatriss . . . the woman he thought dead these past ten years. When we left them in ‘Finnikin’, Trevanion was coming to terms with the fact that Beatriss had become a mother in the ten years of exile – raped by the guard’s of the impostor king, and subjected to violence and torture, simply because she was Trevanion’s wife. Trevanion spent his ten years of exile in a dungeon, not knowing that Beatriss was alive. But when the two faced one another again, after so long and so much heartbreak, it was a sad case of love not necessarily conquering all. Instead, love takes time to heal. And in ‘Froi’ the past continues to haunt Trevanion and Beatriss. . . I am so glad these two are still a focus for Marchetta! I got especially caught up in their story upon my re-reading ‘Finnikin of the Rock’. It’s so heartbreaking and tragic, but with plenty of room for redemption and romance.

The other side-story is that of Isaboe’s cousin, Lucian, and his Charyn wife, Phaedra. Theirs was an arranged marriage; a way by which to mend the past and move on from the Charynite’s cruel treatment of the Mont people all those years ago. This is setting up to be the other big romance of the series, and I do wonder if Lucian will get his own book? I love this couple, almost as much as Beatriss and Trevanion. Phaedra is subject to her husband’s keen dislike of her people, and he is not afraid to admit that he married her out of obligation and nothing more. Lucian, meanwhile, is unbelievably lonely and self-doubting since taking over the care of his people. He hates the Charyn and despises his wife. But as they spend more time together, and work to learn the other’s ways, a romance blossoms.

One of my favourite things about ‘Froi of the Exiles’ was the Charyn city setting. Marchetta said that she got the physical lay of this land from villages and castles in Turkey, Italy and Wales. She has envisioned this place beautifully – so it felt like I was really jumping between balconies with Froi, and I could feel the cold stone of the dark cliff-face rooms. Setting is so important in this series, as all the characters are looking for home whether because they were exiled from the physical place, or never knew the people of their blood. Melina Marchetta articulates place and setting beautifully, and Charyn is a testament to her landscape prose.

Readers have been anticipating ‘Froi of the Exiles’ ever since we left Finnikin and Isaboe to their recovered kingdom back in 2008. This second outing is sure to please fans, while also leave them panting for more. In ‘Froi’, Marchetta is pushing readers off a cliff, sending us hurtling and plummeting towards book #3, ‘Quintana of the Charyn’ which is due for release in 2012. And I, personally, cannot wait for that fall.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

'Shut Out' by Kody Keplinger

From the BLURB:

Most high school sports teams have rivalries with other schools. At Hamilton High, it's a civil war: the football team versus the soccer team. And for her part, Lissa is sick of it. Her quarterback boyfriend, Randy, is always ditching her to go pick a fight with the soccer team or to prank their locker room. And on three separate occasions Randy's car has been egged while he and Lissa were inside, making out. She is done competing with a bunch of sweaty boys for her own boyfriend's attention

Then Lissa decides to end the rivalry once and for all: She and the other players' girlfriends go on a hookup strike. The boys won't get any action from them until the football and soccer teams make peace. What they don't count on is a new sort of rivalry: an impossible girls-against-boys showdown that hinges on who will cave to their libidos first. But what Lissa never sees coming is her own sexual tension with the leader of the boys, Cash Sterling...

Lissa is sick and tired of coming in second best to her boyfriend, Randy. For the last ten years Hamilton High has had a bitter Civil rivalry going on between the football and soccer players. The football boys hate that their funding was cut to make room for the soccer team, and the soccer stars despise being treated like second-class citizens just because they don’t participate in the great American past-time.

The boys take the rivalry seriously. There are car-eggings, dangerous pranks, cafeteria slinging matches and a great divide throughout the school. Soccer VS Football. Even the soccer player’s girlfriend and football player’s girlfriends avoid each other.

Lissa even ‘broke up’ with her best friend because she started dating footballer Randy, while Ellen dated soccer captain Adam.

So Lissa has had enough. She will not keep coming second to this rivalry – Randy will never again leave her shirtless in the back seat of his car after it has been egged. Because Lissa has a full-proof plan. A plan that will require both sporting girlfriend’s join forces and end this rivalry. No more sex until the boys play nice with each other.

But Lissa’s plan could be compromised by soccer star, Cash . . . Cash, who Lissa has been crushing on ever since a disastrous party a few months ago. Cash, who flirts with every girl at school but doesn’t date any of them. He could just be the boy to end this sex strike, if he can get Lissa to compromise her mission.

‘Shut Out’ is the new young adult novel from Kody Keplinger.

After I read ‘The DUFF’ (Designated. Ugly. Fat. Friend) I was convinced that Keplinger was the modern Judy Blume – a fresh and edgy new voice for the younger readership. I was impressed with Keplinger’s frank and cutting examination of high school sexual politics, and her risqué writing was impressive and addictive. So when I read the blurb for her second novel, ‘Shut Out’, which is loosely based on the Greek Aristophanes' play ‘Lysistrata’ (about a sex strike to end a war) I was really excited. Another titillating plot, focused on teen sexuality and with a dangerous rivalry as the trigger! Yay! Except . . . ‘Shut Out’ doesn’t quite live up to ‘The DUFF’, and that cutting provocative voice I loved so much isn’t as well done in this second novel.

I thought the idea behind ‘Shut Out’ was great, especially because there are very few authors who would be brave enough to tackle Lysistrata for the teen set – for all of its focus on sexual warfare. I especially loved that the ‘war’ was a civil one – being fought between boys from the same school, over a ridiculous sporting rivalry. It is such an ingenious plot, and one that allows Keplinger to examine the power of sex – the one-upmanship of sexuality between girls and boys, and between girls too. She looks at the conflicting sexual normalities between the sexes, and the unfairness of sexual stereotypes like ‘slut’ and ‘prude’, when compared to the boy’s sexual lexicon of ‘stud’ and ‘player’. I loved all of these explorations . . . but I didn’t so much appreciate Keplinger’s execution.

It just seemed to me that Keplinger did a lot more hand-holding in ‘Shut Out’ than she did in ‘The DUFF’. Both books explore similar themes (albeit, with vastly different plots) – and one of the duel topics was regarding unfair male and female stereotypes. In ‘The DUFF’, I felt like Keplinger allowed readers to reach their own conclusions and decisions regarding unbalanced typecasts – and she did it without shoving ideas down reader’s throats. In ‘Shut Out’ I felt like Keplinger steered readers a lot more aggressively, by using Lissa’s inner monologue to pretty much lay out all of the messages of ‘Shut Out’. I didn’t love this. Whenever authors use interiority to do a play-by-play of the ‘themes’ of the novel, I do feel talked down to. As though the author thought I couldn’t get there on my own, without hand-holding. This example of ‘illustrating the obvious’ was distilled in her naming of Lissa’s boyfriend, Randy – because, guess what?, his main role in the novel is as a slimy horn-dog. Hence, Randy. Subtle.

There were a lot of things I wasn’t getting lately. Like how it wasn’t okay to like sex too much because then you were a slut, but not having it made a girl weird. Or how boys like Cash could get away with flirting too much but a girl would get trash-talked for doing the same thing. Or how my boyfriend seemed to think it was okay for him to put me second to this rivalry crap, but when I decided to do something about it, he wouldn’t take me seriously.
I was starting to think I just didn’t understand anything. Like there was some handbook to adolescence and dating and boys that was passed out in middle school on a day when I was absent or something. I wondered if other girls were as clueless about all this stuff as I was.

Keplinger did this in ‘The DUFF’ too, another novel told in first-person perspective. I don’t know why, but her hand-holding just seemed a lot more prominent in ‘Shut Out’. And it’s kind of a shame, because Keplinger didn’t need to lay it all out so blatantly for readers, we didn’t need her help to get there and state the obvious. She set up these explorations beautifully by framing them around such a tight plot with its roots in a Greek satire.

The above complaint aside, I did enjoy ‘Shut Out’. I especially loved the main romance of the novel. Cash is swoon-worthy; he’s a sensitive and bookish boy who struggles with his clear crush on Lissa. He’s so gorgeous, and he and Lissa are adorable together! Keplinger writes romantic teen tension brilliantly, as she illustrated with Bianca and Wesley in ‘The DUFF’, and again with Lissa and Cash. Sublime teen romance is fast becoming Keplinger’s trademark.

I maintain that Keplinger is a fun and fresh new voice for the young adult readership. She writes cutting-edge teen politics and isn’t afraid of a little sex to spice things up and get her message across (she just needs to avoid shoving that message down reader's throats!) . . .


Monday, October 24, 2011

'Where She Went' by Gayle Forman

From the BLURB:

It’s been three years since Adam’s love saved Mia after the accident that annihilated life as she knew it . . . and three years since Mia walked out of Adam’s life forever.

Now living on opposite coasts, Mia is Julliard’s rising star and Adam is LA tabloid fodder, thanks to his new rock star status and celebrity girlfriend. When Adam gets stuck in New York by himself, chance brings the couple together again, for one last night. As they explore the city that has become Mia’s home, Adam and Mia revisit the past and open their hearts to the future—and each other.

Three years ago, Mia had a choice. Stay or go. Live or die. Him or them.

She chose to stay. But she didn’t choose him.

Three years ago Adam lost the girl he loved. It was a gradual losing, the petering out of a song, the gradual hush of harmony . . . until the day came that Mia got on a plane to NYC and Julliard, and never looked back. Never came back. Cut all ties.

Three years later and Adam is lead singer and songwriter for Shooting Star. He is labelled as the new Kurt Cobain, and his romance with Bryn is tabloid fodder and on high-alert baby-bump watch. Adam is about to start a 63-day European tour. And he couldn’t be more terrified or miserable.

It has been three years since they last saw each other . . . but a poster beckons and Adam finds himself at Carnegie Hall, listening to Mia play in her first major concert. Tomorrow she leaves for Japan. In a few hours he boards a plane to London. They have one night to make up for three lost years – a night to explore New York, and learn each other all over again.

‘Where She Went’ is the sequel to Gayle Forman’s heartbreaking success, ‘If I Stay’.

I went into this book weary. My heart still felt bruised and battered from ‘If I Stay’. . . reading the sequel’s blurb and knowing that Adam and Mia’s clear love from that first book didn’t end happily-ever-after was another kick-in-the-guts. I didn’t know if I could take reading this sequel, and being heaped with more sadness. But I, like many fans must have, found myself wanting to know what happened next . . . does love prevail? Is there a silver lining? Did Mia regret her decision? I will say that at the end of ‘Where She Went’ I wasn’t 100% convinced that Forman needed a sequel . . . but I was glad I read it.

As the title hints, ‘Where She Went’ is not told from Mia’s point of view. ‘If I Stay’ was all in Mia’s first-person narrative. As suggests the new third-person title ‘Where She Went’ is not Mia’s story, but Adam’s. The sequel is told this time from his first-person narration, and it’s not always a pretty perspective.

Adam got what he always wanted – fame. Rock stardom. The cover of Rolling Stone and Shuffle magazine. He got the groupies and now the famous girlfriend. But clichés are clichés for a reason, and fame is not all it’s cracked up to be. Adam is scared of crowded spaces after a mob incident. He is ostracized from his band mates for his rising star and tabloid popularity. And he has taken to popping pills to stop his hands from shaking. Adam knows where it all went wrong, and who he owes his fame to. Without Mia and the heartbreak she inflicted, Adam would have never written the album ‘Collateral Damage’ that catapulted Shooting Star into rock stardom. But to get there and write those lyrics, Adam had to have his heart ripped out by the only girl he ever loved. . .

Adam is pondering and panicking the band’s upcoming European tour when he decides, on a whim, to hear Mia play Carnegie Hall. A chance meeting has the two old flames reuniting for one night – a night to explore New York and remember each other. A night, perhaps, to right the wrongs of the past.

In ‘Where She Went’, Forman tries to adhere to the narrative structure of ‘If I Stay’, with varying results. In the first book Mia’s narrative flipped between watching her present-time battered body in a hospital room, and remembering moments of great import from her past. In the sequel, Adam is wandering around the Big Apple with Mia in present day, while also remembering his crash course of stardom and his crash and burn love with Mia after her accident. I thought the present-day Mia and Adam storyline was sublime. Pitch-perfect between heartbreak and redemption, hope and hurt. But the flashbacks didn’t work so much for me this time . . . they were crucial to ‘If I Stay’ – both for readers to understand the severity of Mia’s loss (and how hard it would be for her to stay) but also for her to realize all the reasons she has to hold on, and who she has to hold on to. By contrast, Adam’s flashbacks in ‘Went’ are squirm-inducing as he remembers countless one-night-stands with groupies and his first meeting Bryn at the MTV awards.

Whoever said that the past isn’t dead had it backward. It’s the future that’s already dead, already played out. This whole night has been a mistake. It’s not going to let me rewind. Or unmake the mistakes I've made. Or the promises I've made. Or have her back. Or have me back.

These flashbacks, while important to understanding Adam’s stardom, were just plain uncomfortable. Mostly because of Mia and Adam’s epic love story, set up beautifully in ‘If I Stay’. It’s hard to read Adam’s recounts and how much they sully what was so pure and perfect in the first novel – so that, as a reader, you feel somewhat betrayed to read of Adam’s heartless hook-ups with girls he can’t remember the names of. And especially his tabloid-followed relationship with movie star Bryn. It’s spine-shiveringly awkward to read these, and I was just happy that Forman balanced the awkward with Mia and Adam’s present-time romance.

In present-time we read how Mia has rebuilt her life in the wake of tragedy. It ignites readers with a certain chest-swelling pride to read how much Mia has progressed and overcome. We fell in love and heartache with her in ‘If I Stay’ – so it’s like proud parents that we read of her achievements in spite of heartache. And it’s with equally loving affection that we read Mia and Adam patch their past and heal old wounds . . .

I will say that I would have liked more focus on the setting of New York in this sequel. I think the city could have been a character unto itself in this book, but it felt a bit like a photo-shoot backdrop. Nothing especially unique or igniting about it. But, honestly, Mia and Adam’s rekindled romance kind of steals the show.

I’ll put a worry to rest for a few of you, and say that ‘Where She Went’ is romantic (*hint, hint, nudge, nudge*). I went into this with a wincing heart – concerned that I'd come out with more bruises inflicted by Forman. Fear not. This is a story of reconnection and forgiveness. It’s about the myriad of grief and how we deal, and don’t cope, with its ramifications. It’s the story of Mia and Adam, who had to go there to come back to each other.

There is a part of me that thinks ‘If I Stay’ should have been left untouched. It was literary perfection and didn’t need a sequel. I think of that old writing idiom, that says ‘leave the reader cold’ – leave them with a little bit of wanting, a smidge of read between the lines and make up your own mind. ‘Where She Went’ doesn’t do that – the sequel ties up loose ends and puts a definitive ending on Mia’s story . . . and I don’t necessarily think we needed that. That’s not to say I didn’t thoroughly enjoy ‘Where She Went’ (or appreciate Forman’s closure to Adam and Mia’s story). But there’s also a (fairly large) part of me that thinks ‘If I Stay’ was all the more powerful for being left on the precipice.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

'All I Ever Wanted' by Vikki Wakefield

From the BLURB:

Mim knows what she wants, and where she wants to go—anywhere but home, stuck in the suburbs with her mother who won’t get off the couch, and two brothers in prison.

She’s set herself rules to live by, but she’s starting to break them.

Now Mim has to retrieve a lost package for her mother. Does this make her a drug runner? Why is a monster dog called Gargoyle hidden in the back shed? And Jordan, the boy she sent Valentines to for years, why is he now suddenly a creep? How come there’s a huge gap between her and her best friend, Tahnee? And who is the mysterious girl next door who moans at night?

Over the nine days before her seventeenth birthday, Mim’s life turns upside down. She has problems, and she’s determined to solve them herself. But in the end, she works out who her people are, and the same things look entirely different.

Anywhere but here. That’s what Mim thinks – that she’d rather be anywhere but these suburbs that are haunted by a missing girl. Anywhere but down the road from the Tarrant house, where a dog called Gargoyle patrols the perimeter. Anywhere but in this family, with a mother addicted to home shopping and two brothers stuck in prison. Where childcare workers take her brothers’ bastard kids away the second Mim’s mum starts loving them.

So Mim has made rules to live by, rules to get out of this dump. No tattoos. Virginity intact. No drugs. No drugs. No drugs.

But all it takes is her perfect-boy crush, Jordan Mullen, smiling at her to send everything spiralling out of control.

‘All I Ever Wanted’ is the debut Australian Young Adult novel from Vikki Wakefield.

‘All I Ever Wanted’ came out in June this year, and was heralded as a landmark YA Australian novel. I put off reading it, for God knows what reason … and now that I have been inducted into the Vikki Wakefield fan-club, all I can think is that I took too long to get here.

This book is a lesson in duality. On the one hand, Wakefield’s novel is dealing with raw and gritty circumstances, as told from the perspective of a sixteen-going-on-seventeen-year-old girl dreamer. Mim’s family is reminiscent of the Cody clan in David Michôd’s ‘Animal Kingdom’ – and Mim’s circumstances are close to that of Ree in ‘Winter’s Bone’, the Debra Granik film. Her family have a reputation – they are a criminal element with a parole record to prove it. But Mim doesn’t want that for herself; she has a sagging bookshelf of Lonely Planet guides and a stuck globe reminding her that what she really wants is just over the horizon. But when her mother asks her to collect some ‘gear’, Mim doesn’t refuse. She pedals her bike into a world of trouble, bought on by beautiful boy Jordan Mullen.

What follows is Mim’s fallout from a pick-up gone wrong; and how she tries to backtrack on a mistake that could end in a territorial clash.

With this subject matter, Wakefield could have gone over-the-top and written something bordering on ‘Underbelly’ for the teen set. But instead she goes the other way – she writes Mim’s criminal family with heart and depth, gives them personality and camaraderie. The residents of Mim’s neighbourhood are a collection of odd souls and kind hearts – Lola, the phone-sex worker next door. Benny and his call of ‘Bloke!’ in underpants with beer in hand. Mim’s best friend, Tahnee, who has broken one of their golden rules. And Mrs Tkautz’s, who calls Mim a ‘godless child’. These are rough people living in an undesirable neighbourhood – and even though we’re reading about them through Mim’s disdainful eyes, readers can see the hodge-podge family knocked together in this suburban wasteland.

Mim, on the other hand, hates everything about this place. The people, her family, the unwritten law that says you avoid walking past the Tarrant house. All of it is getting on Mim’s nerves, and she’s just about at breaking point;

I can see how a perfectly sane, ordinary person might one day shoot strangers in a mall, or hold up a service station, or drive into a reservoir with three kids in the back seat. You hear about them, the quiet people, the ones nobody notices until they snap. They keep to themselves. I reckon it’s not when things are white-hot that they do stuff you read about in the papers. It’s in the flat feeling, the afterburn, when it can seem almost normal doing the extreme. When part of you gives up and gives in. The numb spot.

Mim thinks Jordan Mullen is her ticket out. He’s the beautiful boy from the posh neighbourhood – the boy all the public school girls drop their knickers for, and who is taking a gap year from his Uni course. Jordan is an idle fantasy that takes Mim out of this hellhole – dreaming about him has been a little slice of salvation for many years. But when Jordan double-crosses Mim, and his sister Kate crosses her path, Mim’s view of her ‘people’ and her daydreams go on a collision course.

Mim is a new favourite YA character. She’s a skinny wanderer full of bad blood and big dreams. I loved her. She’s a little bit blind to her own reality, and sometimes too harsh on those who love her. But her faults are her armour – and when she has come from so much muck, you can’t help but admire her.

‘All I Ever Wanted’ is a wonderful novel from new Aussie YA author, Vikki Wakefield. It’s a novel of dualities – our protagonist is a dreamer from a family of brutes. The setting is suburban wasteland, occupied by kind-hearted residents. The story is criminal, with a hidden agenda. And the boy crush is beauty, with a bad streak. Fantastic.


Friday, October 21, 2011

'Farsighted' by Emlyn Chand

Received from the Author

From the BLURB:

Alex Kosmitoras’s life has never been easy. The only other student who will talk to him is the school bully, his parents are dead-broke and insanely overprotective, and to complicate matters even more, he's blind. Just when he thinks he'll never have a shot at a normal life, a new girl from India moves into town. Simmi is smart, nice, and actually wants to be friends with Alex. Plus she smells like an Almond Joy bar. Yes, sophomore year might not be so bad after all.

Unfortunately, Alex is in store for another new arrival—an unexpected and often embarrassing ability to “see” the future. Try as he may, Alex is unable to ignore his visions, especially when they begin to suggest that Simmi is in danger. With the help of the mysterious psychic next door and new friends who come bearing gifts of their own, Alex must embark on a journey to change his future.

Life has never been easy for Alex Kosmitoras. He is constantly bullied at school by a bonehead called Brady. He has no friends, and his family struggles financially, while suffocating him emotionally … but they worry for a good reason, because Alex is blind.

Born blind, Alex has never seen the world as others do. Instead his heightened senses allow him to smell, hear and feel the world around him … and occasionally, foresee the world too. Because Alex has another ‘gift’ – the power of second sight.

When a lovely new female Indian student called Simmi arrives at Alex’s school, life takes a dramatic turn for the better … until Alex’s foresight has him ‘seeing’ Simmi in danger.

With the help of his psychic next-door-neighbour, Alex is determined to turn his second sight into a force for good and save the girl he is kinda-maybe-definitely falling for.

‘Farsighted’ is the debut YA paranormal novel from Emlyn Chand.

Chand set a difficult task for herself when she decided to write a blind protagonist for her debut YA paranormal. It’s no mean feat, cutting readers off from one of their narrator’s most crucial sensory perceptions – but Chand, like Alex, compensates. There’s a fullness to the story, detailed in Alex’s other senses – his heightened smell, touch and hearing mean that for pages and pages you’ll forget that you’re reading the voice of a blind boy, who is skimming over the most encompassing perception – sight. I was really impressed at how Chand jumped over this difficult hurdle with her precise and flavourful descriptions of everything Alex smells, hears and touches. Not to mention what he foresees …

There are two types of visions. Those that will happen no matter what, and those that can be stopped. Now more than ever, I wish I could tell them apart.

Alex is a veritable Cassandra – able to see the future, but not necessarily alter it. I loved this very clever take on ‘second sight’ – a cruel gift when Alex is blind. Alex has never felt more impotent than when his foresight shows him his crush, Simmi, in danger. But he is determined to turn his ‘curse’ into a rescue mission, and do whatever it takes to save his girl.

One thing I really liked in ‘Farsighted’ was Chand’s descriptions and focus on bullying. Fair warning, you will want to box the bully, Brady, around the ears (regardless of ‘violence is not the answer’!). I kind of loved that Alex wasn’t written wrapped in cotton wool just because of his being blind. Brady doesn’t care or sympathize with Alex, he just attacks him. Bullying is a big issue in itself, but I really commend the way Chand dealt with it in Alex’s everyday life.

I really did enjoy this book … but more the second-half than the first. Chand takes a while to warm the story up – due partly to the fact that she’s battling the difficulties of writing in first-person from someone who does not have sight. It’s mostly a logistical problem, as Chand works around all that Alex can’t tell us, while also establishing this world and setting. But once the story puts the pedal-t0-the-metal, there are enough careening twists and turns to keep readers breathless and drooling for more.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

'Relatively Honest' by Molly Ringle

Received from the Author

From the BLURB:

Eighteen year-old womanizer Daniel Revelstoke leaves his native London to study at the University of Oregon, dreaming of seducing one American girl after another. But he soon meets a new kind of woman in classmate Julie French. Her cleverness and resistance land Daniel in love for the first time in his life, to his deep confusion.

However, Julie's long-distance boyfriend and a bizarre family secret stand in Daniel's way to winning her. Since he can't quit obsessing over her, he decides to hide a few truths in order to draw closer to her, hoping that maybe she'll return his love and, when she finds out his devious path, forgive him. It's a gamble, but all's fair in love and college.

Daniel Revelstoke is leaving London with his hotelier parents, and kicking off his college life abroad. It’s perfect timing for Daniel, since his latest one-month girlfriend was getting a little too clingy (and even used the ‘L’ word), and Daniel has a particularly delicious weak-spot for American girls. Bring on the University of Oregon!

In his first week in the States, Daniel meets and begins an infatuation with Julie – a beautiful and sweet girl whose boyfriend is working at Daniel’s parent’s resort. Luckily though, Julie’s boyfriend is attending university inter-state, and conveniently leaving Julie all on her lonesome, with Daniel’s shoulder a prime place to dry her eyes.

But an incriminating ‘Don Juan’ email from Daniel’s last London ex has Julie wising up to his flirtatious ways. And as if things aren’t bad enough . . . Daniel’s mother is acting strange and keeping secrets and the family will not be prepared for the explosive reveal that’s to come.

‘Relatively Honest’ is the new contemporary romance YA novel from Molly Ringle.

This was a great, fun read. It’s a contemporary YA romance novel about a British ex-pat moving to America and discovering family secrets while falling in love for the first time in his life.

I initially had a small problem with the novel’s tepidness. The first line of the blurb labels Daniel as a young ‘womanizer’ – and that word instantly had me picturing a very particular kind of teenage boy. Except Ringle’s Daniel Revelstoke is the furthest thing from a ‘womanizer’, and when compared to real-life teen boy anecdotes he comes across painfully tame. Daniel is a self-confessed Casanova, admitting to putting a one-month cap on all his girlfriends and never getting too attached to them.

I wandered down the corridor, feeling high as a transcontinental jet. God, I loved the beginnings of flirtations. At such times I almost believed I could be in love – not that it ever turned out that way.
Not so far, at least.

Except as the story unfolds you realize that there’s a disconnect between Daniel (and Ringle’s) idea of a modern-day teen ‘womanizer’ and the reality of teenager’s sex lives today. Daniel admits to Julie, with much embarrassment and self-consciousness, that he has kissed (/snogged) fifty girls. Gasp! More than that he has had a ‘home run’, gone all the way and sexed up . . . four girls! Scandal! Daniel is eighteen, and just come from a fast-track London life. I honestly wasn’t raising eyebrows at kissing fifty and shagging four. That’s exceedingly tame, and aside from a few probable bouts of glandular fever, not terribly titillating. Considering some of the sexcapade stories I have heard from my male friends (beginning when they were sixteen, if not younger) I really wasn’t impressed by Daniel’s revelations. Other teen authors have written modern-day YA ‘rakes’ a lot better – Simone Elkeles, Jamie McGuire and Kody Keplinger to name a few.

On the flipside of this complaint, is the fact that Daniel is really likable. I was all prepared when I saw the word ‘womanizer’ to have to slog through chapters of his misogynistic revelries until he finds his heart (which is what happened with the books of those above authors). But Daniel isn’t really a womanizer at all – so he’s instantly adorable and fantastic to read. The fact that he’s British is half the fun – being Aussie, there’s a little less ‘dazzle’ attached to Daniel’s nationality, but I still found it great fun to read the Oregon girls reactions to Daniel’s use of the word ‘jumper’. It was too cute!

There is a BIG ‘twist’ to the book – concerning a family secret that will drag Daniel and Julie into its orbit. I did not see this twist coming . . . and while it was a little over-the-top, I still got completely caught up in the big reveal and found myself with a death-grip on my Kindle during the dénouement.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

'The Hypnotist's Love Story' by Liane Moriarty

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Ellen O'Farrell is an expert when it comes to human frailties. She's a hypnotherapist who helps her clients deal with everything from addictions to life-long phobias. So when she falls in love with a man who is being stalked by his ex-girlfriend she's more intrigued than frightened. What makes a supposedly smart, professional woman behave this way? She'd love to meet her!

What she doesn't know is that she already has. Saskia has been masquerading as a client, and their lives are set to collide in ways Ellen could never have predicted.

This wonderfully perceptive new novel from Liane Moriarty is about the lines we'll cross for love. It's about the murky areas between right and wrong, and the complexities of modern relationships.

As Ellen is about to discover, we're all a little crazy – even her.

Ellen might just be on the cusp of something. After three failed long-term relationships (one of which hurt, quite a lot) and trawling through Internet dating sites, Ellen might just have found something worthwhile. Patrick. A surveyor; man of maps. Widowed, with an eight-year-old boy called Jack. He might be ‘the one’ (not that Ellen necessarily believes in ‘the one’, thanks to a feminist single mother, but it would still be nice…)

But on their fourth date Patrick announces that he has something to tell Ellen, something quite important. Oh, no. He’s going to say he still isn’t over his dead wife – can never love again. Or he’s baffled by her hypnotherapy practice and doesn’t see himself with someone hippy-dippy like her. Or he doesn’t ‘do’ monogamy. The wheels start turning. Her heart and hopes start packing up, and she’s already mentally preparing herself to get over him. But Patrick’s confession is both a relief, and creepily curious. He has a stalker. Her name is Saskia. They dated for three years, and she has been stalking him for three years. Ellen is okay with this; she can handle a non-violent stalking ex-girlfriend. To be honest, she’s even a bit titillated by the news.

Saskia can’t believe it when Patrick seems smitten with ‘The Hypnotist’. Ellen. She probably eats legumes by the barrel-full and dances under the full moon. Honestly. Patrick doesn’t seem to understand that she and him are still connected – even if he ended things three years ago. Doesn’t he understand that she was Jack’s mother – she helped raise him and toilet-train him and teach him to say ‘please’. Patrick can’t just erase her from his life. So she’ll try and become apart of their new life – his and Ellen’s. If she can’t say her peace and let him know how much she hurts, then Saskia will be content to be on the sidelines, a third appendage to this budding romance.

‘The Hypnotist’s Love Story’ is the new stand-alone novel from Aussie author, Liane Moriarty.

I loved this book! I went into the novel with an open mind, thoroughly intrigued by the title and hypnotism focal point. I had a friend who was cured of nail biting via hypnotherapy, and when I worked in retail I had a regular customer who was a hypnotherapist (I admit, I was a little disappointed that he never wore capes and top-hats, just regular business-casual clothes). I loved the book, but not for the reasons I thought I would …

First of all, I have to say that the hypnotism isn’t really the crux of the story. It’s a convenient (and peculiar) plot trigger, and a thinly-veiled metaphor for relationships in general. Still, I did really enjoy reading about Ellen’s sessions and the finer details of hypnotherapy. It was fascinating to read the delicacies of wording, rhythm, and recollection. But I was also quite relieved that Moriarty (and Ellen) were aware of the stigmas attached to hypnotherapy as a quack profession. Ellen reveals that past boyfriends have treated her occupation with patronizing contempt, which is nothing compared to what her GP mother thinks of her practice. Plus, Moriarty has fun with the hypnotism schtick, and I found myself cackling at a few of Ellen’s insights into her profession of the mind;

‘I’m wondering if you can visualize a wall. And I’m sorry to tell you that it’s painted apricot. But the good news is you’re repainting it an exquisite blue. Your paintbrush is moving up and down in rhythmic strokes. Up … and … down. Up … and … down.’
Too complicated? Ellen had found she needed to be careful with her metaphors. Men often got too literal. A man might say afterwards, ‘You should have had me paint an undercoat first.’ Women tended to go off on tangents. One of her earliest clients had said that she loved to sunbake, so Ellen did what she thought was a pretty safe induction about lying on a tropical beach. Afterwards, the client admitted that she’d spent the whole time trying to choose which swimsuit to visualise herself wearing.

Regardless of the novel’s title, ‘The Hypnotist’s Love Story’ is not really about hypnotism. It’s more about what hypnosis represents – it’s about relaxing your mind to delve into the subconscious, to induce yourself into remembering (sometimes reliving) moments of your life (or past life) in order to view them with new perspective. And that is the crux of ‘The Hypnotist’s Love Story’.

All of the characters are living in their delusions, unable to break away from how they see the past, and the present. Saskia is the worst of all – a woman who doesn’t like being called a ‘stalker’, but admits (in her first person-narration) that she and Patrick didn’t have a clean-cut end to their relationship, instead it was left to infection and fester … and now she’s stuck in her role as ‘the crazy lady’. As readers we are initially thrown by Saskia, the clearly deluded female stalker. Stalkers are usually men, they’re normally ex-lovers or ex-husbands who are brutal and frightening and don’t know when to stop. Very rarely are stalkers women – unless, of course, we’re talking females who stalk their celebrity crushes in the glitzy land of Hollywood;

‘Where’s the woman’s self-respect?’ snapped Julia. ‘Just move on, for God’s sake. She’s making us all look bad.’ There was a real edge to her voice, as if she was personally offended.
‘You mean she’s making women look bad?’ said Ellen. ‘It’s normally men who do the stalking. It’s good. She’s showing women can stalk just as effectively as men.’

But as the story unravels, and more perspectives are put into the pot, Moriarty does a most curious and wonderful thing – she lets us walk a mile in the stalker’s shoes, and even (for me at least) take her side. We learn of Patrick’s rather harsh treatment of Saskia when their three-year relationship ended. We discover that it wasn’t so much losing Patrick that stung worst of all, but losing Jack – the boy she had helped to raise. But Moriarty delves further still … into Patrick’s badly handled grief over his wife’s passing. The bad timings that wreck relationships worse than infidelity. And the pure pain of ‘just letting go’.

And of course there is Ellen – herself the product of a badly timed coupling that saw her raised by a cutting feminist single mother and two beloved godmothers. Ellen, who is experiencing similar difficulties with Patrick that Saskia must have – particularly where his ex-wife is concerned, Colleen, who sits upon a pedestal in his mind.

Ellen and Saskia do cross paths – unknowingly and cunningly – but it’s when they don’t share scenes that they connect the most. They think about each other, obsess even. Saskia wonders what Ellen has that she didn’t, and she envies her new family with Patrick and Jack. Ellen, meanwhile, is fixated on this woman from Patrick’s past – this woman who is clearly hurt and must have once meant something to him. Ellen even forms an odd little unknowing bond with Saskia, as she commiserates over the ‘wonderful’ and dead Colleen, a woman who must have also stuck in Saskia’s craw for her still importance in Patrick’s love life.

It’s also interesting to read the duality and juxtaposition of Saskia’s envious musings about Ellen, versus Ellen’s less-than-perfect reality with Patrick. Saskia seems to remember her time with Patrick and Jack as being perfect – meanwhile as their relationship develops and grows, Ellen can attest to the less than wonderful aspects of coming into an already-established family.

I loved Liane Moriarty’s ‘The Hypnotist’s Love Story’. It’s a book that looks quite cutesy and deceptively quirky on the surface – pretty front cover, interesting hypnosis topic. But there’s a lot going on below the surface. Moriarty is exploring the complexities and fall-outs of unconventional modern relationships, she is investigating matters of the heart and how we all live a little in our fantasies. ‘The Hypnotist’s Love Story’ does have romance, but more than anything it’s observing the delusions of love, the cling-with-white-knuckles insanity of falling for someone who doesn’t fall back. It’s a beautifully complex novel, coloured in grey and utterly compelling.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

'Wildwood' Wildwood Chronicles #1 Written by Colin Meloy with Illustrations by Carson Ellis

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Prue McKeel's life is ordinary. At least until her baby brother is abducted by a murder of crows. And then things get really weird.

You see, on every map of Portland, Oregon, there is a big splotch of green on the edge of the city labeled 'I.W.' This stands for 'Impassable Wilderness.' No one's ever gone in—or at least returned to tell of it.

And this is where the crows take her brother.

So begins an adventure that will take Prue and her friend Curtis deep into the Impassable Wilderness. There they uncover a secret world in the midst of violent upheaval, a world full of warring creatures, peaceable mystics, and powerful figures with the darkest intentions. And what begins as a rescue mission becomes something much bigger as the two friends find themselves entwined in a struggle for the very freedom of this wilderness.

A wilderness the locals call Wildwood.

Prue McKeel’s baby brother has just been abducted by a murder of crows … worse still, the murder have swooped and taken said baby brother into Portland’s Impassable Wilderness.

The Impassable Wilderness (I.W.) is a wooded and dangerous area; nobody who has gone in has ever returned. But with her baby brother at stake, and a geeky classmate called Curtis willing to help, Prue will brave the Wildwood and save her blood …

Wildwood’ is the first book in a new children’s trilogy. Written by Colin Meloy (singer/songwriter of ‘The Decembrists’) and illustrated by Carson Ellis.

Art copyright © 2011 by Unadoptable Books LLC

I think everyone who has listened to ‘The Decembrists’ and know of Colin Meloy’s haunted and chilling lyrics are going into ‘Wildwood’ like trepid explorers … a lot curious, a little bit fearful but overall hopeful. This is, after all, the man who wrote ‘
The Rake’s Song’ – a grotesquely gorgeous tune about a man who kills his three ‘pest’ children after his wife has the good fortune to die in childbirth. Meloy’s lyrics are disarming and charming, mixing beauty with brutishness to create mouth-watering prose that sing like three-minute short stories;

Some had crumbled you straight to your knees
Did it cruel, did it tenderly
Some had crawled their way into your heart
To rend your ventricles apart
This is the story of the boys who loved you
This is the story of your red right ankle.

- “Red Right Ankle”, album ‘Her Majesty’ (2003)

‘Wildwood’ lives up to Meloy’s reputation – combining his penchant for vivid storytelling and word-smithing, with an elaborate fantasy tale, which is actually pitched-perfectly at the younger set (seemingly at odds with Meloy’s preference for dark subject matters). And when combined with Ellis’s adorably evocative drawings, the ‘Wildwood Trilogy’ is sure to go down as a classic.

‘Wildwood’ reminded me of so many old Fairytales and legends. And the book certainly seems to draw on Meloy and Ellis’s childhood fantasizing and remembered daydreaming – but never in a way that feels re-hashed or ripped off. But ‘Wildwood’ is less reminiscent of the sanitized Disney versions, and more along the original lines from the likes of Grimm and Andersen – a lot of dark mixed in with morals and crusading.

The tale reminded me a lot of the 1986 Bowie-extravaganza, ‘Labyrinth’. The connection is obvious, for a girl following her kidnapped baby brother into lands unknown … but the similarities end there. There’s also a boy called Brendan, the King of the Bandits, who is obviously a hark back to J.M. Barrie’s reluctant adult, Peter Pan, who is fiercely independent and original in Meloy’s ‘Wildwood’. The wood is also inhabited by many speaking animals including an Owl King (leader of the Wildwood avian) – who reminded me of the 1982 cartoon ‘The Secret Of NIMH’ (based on the Robert C. O’Brien novel). ‘Wildwood’ is, first and foremost, a Fairytale. The book reads like a classic, and the novel’s villainess, the Dowager Governess, could have been plausibly ripped from a Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen Fairytale for her timelessness and tragedy.

I loved our protagonist, Prue. She’s gutsy and glorious, a whip-quick girl who uses wit and wiles in her Wildwood journey to saving her brother. I especially loved that Prue was a girl – she’s the protagonist mothers will want their daughter to read, and she’s the girl to meet the wishes of anyone who ever fantasized what ‘Harry Potter’ could have been with Hermione in the lead (she’s that cool!).

And, of course, how can I not touch on Wildwood itself – the book’s title and, arguably, most important character. I loved the setting, especially since it’s actually situated in a future Portland (as opposed to a wardrobe wonderland or rabbit hole dimension);

There were no city names here; no network of wandering yellow lines demarking highways and roads. Only vast puddles all shades of green and white and the occasional squiggly blue line linking the myriad remote lakes that peppered the landscape. “There are places in the world where people just don’t end up living. Maybe it’s too cold or there are too many trees or the mountains are too steep to climb. But whatever the reason, no one has thought to build a road there and without roads, there are no houses and without houses, no cities.” He flipped back to the map of Portland and tapped his finger against the spot where “I.W.” was written. “It stands for ‘Impassable Wilderness.’ And that’s just what it is.”

I loved that Wildwood was situated and juxtaposed with reality – it seems to bring a little bit more magic to the tale.

‘Wildwood’ is an impressive new children’s book, and should go down as a modern classic. Amazon lists the reading age to be between 9–12 years (possibly even lower … if read with an adult for hand-holding during some scary battle scenes). But Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis have also come up with an accompanying soundtrack list for the book, which features at least two Led Zeppelin songs – and this should be some indication that ‘Wildwood’ is not just meant for the enjoyment of the younger set. Anyone who has hummed along to one of Meloy’s dark songs will know that they’re in for a treat with his children’s literary foray. In the overgrown and magically overrun landscape of the Wildwood, where a murder of crows ambushes a baby boy and ivy has a taste for blood… Meloy’s wicked melodies and haunting lyrics are actually well suited to a Grimm-esque Fairytale world with a kick-butt heroine whose guts and determination will have you turning the page to keep up with her. Brilliant!


Sunday, October 16, 2011

'Alien Proliferation' Katherine "Kitty" Katt #4 by Gini Koch

Received from the Author

From the BLURB:

After the wildest wedding ever, Katherine “Kitty” Katt-Martini and her Alpha Centaurion husband Jeff are hoping life will settle down. But alien attacks are on the increase, and someone is testing a dangerous new drug on unwilling subjects within their group. As if that’s not enough, Kitty and a number of the A-C women are expecting their first babies.

No one is certain what this baby boom will lead to, but after almost losing Kitty in childbirth, they discover that their newborn’s talents are off the charts – and potentially dangerous. And just to add to their worries – the bad guys want their baby.

The last thing anyone in Centaurion Division needs after that is a conspiracy to kill the heads of the C.I.A.’s Extra-Terrestrial Division and the Presidential Terrorism Control Unit, otherwise known as Charles Reynolds and Kitty’s mother, Angela Katt.

Then, suddenly, key members of Alpha and Airborne start vanishing.

Can Kitty, her remaining team members, friends old and new, and a totally unexpected new partner rescue everyone and figure out how and why Kitty’s become a superhuman? Most importantly, can they pull it all off before the event Kitty dreads most – her Alpha Centaurion baby shower?

Following the events of ‘Alien in the Family’, Katherine “Kitty” Katt is now officially Mrs Jeff Katt-Martini, and enjoying wedded bliss to her Alpha alien honey. But hot on the heels of Jeff and Kitty’s nuptials was more joyful news of a baby on the way.

With baby and baby shower looming, Kitty is holed up on bed rest and hating every minute of it. Carrying an alien baby means Kitty’s breasts are turning to torpedoes and baby’s kicks are rocket-powered.

Kitty also hates having to take to bed while Jeff and his cousin, Christopher, go off on all the dangerous missions and shoot-up’s. It’s little consolation that in her bed-ridden state, Kitty has been meeting with her best friend, Chuckie, and discussing ways to improve the C.I.A.’s Extra-Terrestrial Division (headed by Chuckie himself).

But then a phone call in the middle of the night throws Kitty’s maternity leave into a tail-spin. . .

Her best friend from high school, Amy, is running around the Paris Métro, being chased by twenty thugs. Jeff and Christopher swoop in to rescue Kitty’s bestie – but Amy brings more trouble upon her safe return. Like hints of a mole in the A-C division, and rumours of an assassination-in-the-making for Chuckie and the head of the Presidential Terrorism Control Unit (a.k.a: Kitty’s mum!).

Contractions are three minutes apart, there’s a spy in the team and alien agents are disappearing. As Kitty would say, Welcome to DEFCON Worse.

‘Alien Proliferation’ is the fourth book in Gini Koch’s astronomically cool ‘Katherine “Kitty”(-Martini) Katt’ series.

The new ‘Katherine “Kitty” Katt’ book is always a treat. My ARC (advanced reader copy) arrives in the mail and I turn into a jittering junkie until I can become safely ensconced in bed and get stuck into the latest blasting adventure of Kitty and Martini. ‘Alien Proliferation’ was a particularly hard book to wait for . . . ever since Daniel Dos Santos’s (drool-worthy) cover-art was revealed with a swaddled baby cradled in Jeff’s arms. The wait has been hard, but the pay-off is totally worth it.

I’ll start by answering the question burning in most fan’s minds . . . yes, baby is born. Daniel Dos Santos wasn’t just playing a mean trick on us, and Koch isn’t doing a three-seasons-long soap-opera maternity trick. Kitty is at the end of her pregnancy when the book opens, we read a labour to rival Bella’s in ‘Breaking Dawn’ and the rest of the book is all the bad guys and gun-toting drama we’ve come to love . . . plus baby!

Never fear though, motherhood hasn’t softened Kitty (much). She’s still as kick-ass as ever, but now she’s just kicking butt and taking names with a Snugli baby strapped to her! Jeff in daddy-mode is gorgeous and doubly Alpha; his goal in life now is to take care of his family, and beat the living daylights out of anything that tries to hurt his wife or baby. It’s super swoon-inducing to read Jeff be all sexy baby-daddy. And I love that Koch is doing what so many paranormal/fantasy writers are reluctant to do . . . build a family for her protagonist. Koch’s series was unique enough for having Jeff and Kitty get together early on in book one (pretty much from page three onwards, lol). Now we’re reading Kitty and Jeff’s evolving happily-ever-after, complete with bundle of joy. If ‘Proliferation’ is any indication, it will be really fascinating to read all the usual drama, explosions and conspiracies that Jeff and Kitty deal with, but now with baby in tow. Not to mention the implications of what has happened to Kitty's post-baby body (dun, dunnn, DUN!) Bring it on!

Christopher is a big focus in this book (I can hear his fan-girls squealing in the background. . . ) Poor Christopher is the ultimate lovelorn underdog. His first love, Lissa, died before she could properly choose him over Jeff. Then Christopher went and fell for Kitty, when she was firmly Jeff’s girl. In ‘Proliferation’ both Christopher and Kitty address the previous awkwardness of his romantic feelings for her – and it’s a cathartic discussion, for both of them. We needed this, especially after Chuckie came on the scene and sent Jeff’s jealous-streak into overdrive. Jeff’s he-man antics over Chuckie are still very much lingering, so it’s nice that at least one of Kity’s previous admirers can be put to bed (so to speak). It also helps that motherhood has given Kitty a new, somewhat clucky, perspective. She loves Christopher, and she wants him to be looked after and loved. Their scenes together are heart-meltingly sweet and long overdue;

I managed not to shriek. Good, good. I was calm, cool, and collected.
“Yeah.” He swallowed. “Is this the part where I make that horrible laugh and turn evil and then try to kill everyone I love, right before you and Jeff kill me to save the world?” He was serious, and trying not to cry.
“Oh, honey, no.” I hugged him as best I could, stroked his hair, and kissed his forehead. “Having power is one thing. Using it unwisely is another. Honey, you’ve always been powerful. And all you and Jeff have done with that power is protect people and worlds, and you both could have taken over without even trying hard. Chuckie thinks you and Jeff were already genetic evolutionary steps.”

But the real big draw-card of ‘Proliferation’ for Christopher fans is the introduction of his very own honey . . . that’s right, Christopher gets his very own happily-ever-after and it’s sexy, sweet and smouldering! I refuse to give anything away about the who, what and where. But I will say that I look forward to reading Christopher and ____ being loved-up and cute in upcoming books!

Just when you think Gini Koch’s ‘Kitty Katt’ series can’t get any better – the explosions can’t be bigger, the stakes higher or the alien men hotter – she wallops readers with ‘Alien Proliferation’ . . . and you realize that Gini Koch has a lot more blockbuster fun up her sleeve. Bring on ‘Alien Diplomacy’, pronto!


'Alien Proliferation' will be released December 6th 2011
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