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Friday, December 30, 2011

'Shadow Heir' Dark Swan #4 by Richelle Mead

From the BLURB:

Shaman-for-hire Eugenie Markham strives to keep the mortal realm safe from trespassing entities. But as the Thorn Land's prophecy-haunted queen, there's no refuge for her and her soon-to-be-born-children when a mysterious blight begins to devastate the Otherworld...

The spell-driven source of the blight isn't the only challenge to Eugenie's instincts. Fairy king Dorian is sacrificing everything to help, but Eugenie can't trust the synergy drawing them back together. The uneasy truce between her and her shape shifter ex-lover Kiyo is endangered by secrets he can't--or won't--reveal. And as a formidable force rises to also threaten the human world, Eugenie must use her own cursed fate as a weapon--and risk the ultimate sacrifice...

It’s not many people that can say they hold the fate of the world in their hands. But for Eugenie Markham such proclamations would be true . . . except the fate of humanity rests in her womb.

Eugenie is daughter of the Storm King. Ancient Otherworld prophecies predict that Eugenie’s first-born son will bring the human race to its knees and raise the Otherworld atop of the food chain once again.

Five months pregnant with twins, a boy and a girl, Eugenie is starting to feel the weight (figuratively and literally) of her decision to keep the babies. Their father, kitsune Kiyo, is hell-bent on killing his son before he is born. Maiwenn, queen of an Otherworld province, has raised an army to hunt Eugenie down and kill her before her babies are born. And Fairy King Dorian has pledged allegiance to her unborn and will sacrifice anything to see Eugenie and her babies safe.

With assassination attempts and increasing violence plaguing her kingdom, Eugenie makes a difficult decision. To leave the Otherworld and her kingdom behind, and take her chances in the human realm . . .

‘Shadow Heir’ is the fourth and final book (for the foreseeable future, at least) in Richelle Mead’s urban fantasy ‘Dark Swan’ series.

I have been most excited for the conclusion of the ‘Dark Swan’ series for quite some time. Richelle Mead excels at cliff-hangers and nail-biting twists, and that was especially true of her third book ‘Iron Crowned’. Gauntlets were thrown down, fate kicked into gear and Eugenie’s story became intensely twisted. This year has been a big one for Ms Mead, with her ‘Georgina Kincaid’ series coming to a definite conclusion, and her first ‘Vampire Academy’ spin-off book whetting reader’s appetites (and, oh yeah, she had a kid to top it all off . . .) so ‘Shadow Heir’ feels like a fitting finale to a fine year.

I must admit, early on in ‘Shadow Heir’ I found myself biting my lip and worried that I wouldn’t enjoy this ending ... Because very early on in the book, Eugenie leaves the Otherworld in favour of human medicine and the safety of anonymity to have her children. Eugenie’s departure was especially frustrating because it meant few scenes with King Dorian. Now, I have been a BIG Dorian fan since the beginning of ‘Dark Swan’. He’s an egotistical, beautiful red-headed Fairy King who’s quick with the one-liners and wickedly deceptive. I love him. But he and Eugenie have had a rocky relationship from the start . . . which was put on permanent hiatus when he tricked her into taking the Iron Crown (and all but beginning the Storm King prophecy!).

At the end of ‘Iron Crowned’, tensions between Dorian and Eugenie were electric. For starters, she is carrying her ex-boyfriend (Kiyo’s) children after she ran back into his arms upon learning of Dorian’s deception. Kiyo turned out to be an infanticide freak who would do anything to kill his and Eugenie’s babies if it meant stopping the Storm King prophecy, which marks Eugenie’s first-born son as the destroyer of humanity. Still, Dorian persevered and pledged allegiance to Eugenie and her unborn babies – he even wanted to be a prominent fixture in their lives, regardless of who their natural father is. When ‘Shadow Heir’ begins there is still plenty of crackling chemistry between Eugenie and Dorian, tempered by Eugenie’s lingering mistrust and awkward pregnancy situation . . .

A bizarre thought came over me, one that made my heart stop for a moment. All this time, I'd assumed Dorian just found me entertaining in his usual perverse way, that he’d liked my attentions and the prestige of being connected to my children. But I'd figured any romantic attachment had died after the Irown Crown. Now . . . now I knew I was wrong.
“Dorian . . . are you upset because. . . ” The words came out awkwardly as I found the courage to speak them. “Are you upset just because you won’t see me? Because . . . you’ll miss me?” It was a pathetic way to phrase it, but we both knew what I meant.
He glanced back at me over his shoulder, a smile on his face but sadness in his eyes. “Eugenie, do you know what I love about you?” I waited expectedly since Dorian used that rhetorical question in nearly every conversation we had, and his answer was always different. His smile grew, as did the sadness. “I love that that is the absolute last conclusion you came to.”

I will say that I shouldn’t have worried about a potential lack of Dorian in this finale. Sure, he’s physically absent for the first half of the book, but he’s never far from Eugenie’s thoughts. And in the second-half, a very Narnia-like occurrence in the Otherworld means he and Eugenie have to join forces once again. And when they do, Mead gives readers what we have all been hoping for – romantic tension, epic declarations of love and Dorian’s signature wit (Thundro – Ha ha!).

This is a Richelle Mead book, and even at the end she likes to pull punches and swipe the rug out from under reader’s feet. There is a HUGE double-twist towards the end of the book . . . HUGE, and clever. I didn’t see it coming (I mean, I’d hoped . . . but I didn’t know how it would work). Richelle Mead handles this curveball with utter aplomb, making the race to the finish a complete, surprising pleasure.

Now, as to the ending . . . I will say that I was a little bit frustrated. But I think a lot of how the book ends has to do with Eugenie’s new outlook as a mother. And, fair enough, that’s not necessarily something I can completely comprehend (except in an abstract, round-about kind of way). For some people that ending will dampen the rest of the book, but for me I liked the open-endedness of the end. Because Ms Mead has said she isn't entirely sure of how many books will be in the ‘Dark Swan’ series, only that the likely number is four. And, to be honest, now that she has a baby of her own (art imitating life indeed!) I would think her big priority would be on family and the new Vampire Academy spin-off series (admittedly, her real money-maker). And that’s fine. I actually think it might be nice to revisit Eugenie & co. in a few years time, to make the events and character progress authentic.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

'The King's Pleasure' by Kitty Thomas

Received from the Author

From the BLURB:

In the kingdom of Himeros, Abigail is despised for her gypsy heritage. Pushed to the fringes of society, she’s forced to break the law in order to help feed her family. When a castle guard catches her stealing bread, he intends to cut off her hand for the offense.

Niall has just taken the throne and is determined to prove he isn’t a monster like his father. Awakened by the cries of a gypsy, he spares her from the guard’s blade and takes her as his slave instead. When he learns she doesn’t understand the kingdom’s carnal ways, he becomes determined to strip her of all inhibitions until her every desire is in service to the king’s pleasure.

Abigail has just been spared, upon mercy of the King. Caught stealing bread from within the palace walls, punishment should be swift and merciless, an eye for an eye. Abigail’s punishment should be especially severe, since she is part-gypsy. But King Niall has intervened, desperate to show his people he’s not the tyrant his father was.

But Niall has big plans for Abigail. Because he’s not sparing her life for nothing; he intends to make her his slave – the first (and quite possibly only) woman in his harem. With Abigail by his side, Niall intends to mend the discrimination against gypsies and set the kingdom of Himeros on a new, peaceful, course.

‘The King’s Pleasure’ is the new novella from literary erotica author, Kitty Thomas.

The novella is set in an alternate world that is at once like ours, but with a skewed history. There is limited technology, a feudal system and very different outlooks on sexuality. In the kingdom of Himeros to be one of the King’s slaves is a great honour. Women are groomed for the harem from birth. But the new king, Niall, is uneasy with the customs of the harem. The women are robotic and calculating, they play at love and lust like a masterful game of chess, and Niall can’t help but feel more like the pawn than the king.

And then he meets Abigail, in the most unusual of circumstances. True, when Niall first discovers Abigail, stealing from the palace kitchen, he is quick to spare a beggar girl an unnecessarily cruel punishment. But when Niall discovers that she is also part gypsy, an idea forms in his head . . .

When she looked up, her long, raven locks fell away from her face. The king almost took a step back in reaction to the brilliant green of her eyes and the trembling in her full lips. Tears tracked down her face, and he was already lost.

The Himeros elite expect Niall to treat Abigail and the other gypsies the same way as his father, the former King, did. But although Niall is an expert warrior, he has no wish for such unnecessary cruelty in his kingdom. Through Abigail he has found a way to mend the wrongs of the past, and set his kingdom on a peaceful path. But Niall gets more than he bargained for when he starts to feel for Abigail as more than a political ploy. . .

As with all of Kitty Thomas’s erotica novellas, ‘The King’s Pleasure’ is a world unto itself and a succulent little slice of story. There’s so much packed into this little novella; politics, love, romance and a beautifully erotic tale between a king and his ‘slave’ (whose love turns a kingdom on its head). Beautiful, as always, I can’t wait for Thomas’s next novel, ‘The Last Girl’, coming early in 2012.


Coming in 2012

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

‘Slice: Juicy Moments From My Impossible Life’ by Steven Herrick

From the BLURB:

Darcy can cope with parents, parties and punch-ups. He can handle his infatuation with the beautiful Audrey, spending quality chess-time with his nerdy friend, Noah, even the misadventures of kayaking on a school excursion. He's a teenage boy, he can deal with it. If only he'd learn to keep his mouth closed.

Meet sixteen-year-old Darcy; he can’t play soccer to save himself, he runs his mouth off and he spies on his next-door-neighbour (and love of his life), Audrey while she does yoga in her backyard.

‘Slice: Juicy Moments From My Impossible Life’ was the 2010 contemporary YA novel from Australian author Steven Herrick.

I really loved this book. Darcy is a lovable and sweet protagonist; navigating the pitfalls of having a barrister for a mother (he gets away with nothing, and never gets a fair trial) and his embarrassing soccer-obsessed father (who is looking for an outlet from his ho-hum accounting job). Darcy has to learn not to run his mouth off at school, because it can occasionally land him in a canteen-line punching match.

I'm sixteen years old and my mouth runs ahead of my brain. Our friend Pete would describe it as - ahem - premature enunciation. Mum say I talk without thinking. She's wrong. I mean what I say, I just shouldn’t say it aloud.

He also has to learn finesse when it comes to comforting his chess-playing friend, Noah, who divulges some truths about his tough family life in the wake of his father’s stroke. And then there’s Audrey – the beautiful (yet attainable) next-door-neighbour who Darcy would do anything to make his girlfriend.

If it sounds like there isn’t much actual plot in ‘Slice’, then that would be because there isn’t. ‘Slice’ is definitely character-driven, and as the title suggests, it is just moments of wacky hilarity from Darcy’s ‘Impossible Life’. There’s no triggering event powering the story, nor is there much character-arc. This book is more of a lark than a well-rounded book with character motive & journey. And that’s okay, it just took me a little while to figure it out and let Darcy’s voice overtake the lack of story.

Once I allowed Darcy’s personality to be the driving force of ‘Slice’, I found myself settling into a wonderful little Aussie YA book. Herrick’s book is full of fresh and witty humour, narrated by a charming and well-meaning young man as he navigates love, life and the art of kayaking.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

'The Necklace in 2D' by Danielle Binks for the Sydney Morning Herald

The Necklace in 2D

"Graffiti girl's yellow necklace is dribbling down her bricked neck..."

I wrote a short story for the Sydney Morning Herald's crowd-sourced novel, 'The Necklace'. My story doesn't quite fit into the official chapter timeline of the ongoing online novel, but the SMH editor's were kind enough to include my magical realism anyway. And I quite like that my piece is called a 'tangent'.

Surry Hills, Sydney.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

'Magic Gifts' Kate Daniels #5.4 novella by Ilona Andrews

From the BLURB:

A dinner date after a hard day at work sounds heavenly. Of course, when that date is between the Beast Lord and Kate Daniels, things don’t go as planned. Before you know it, undead are running amok, heads are being chopped off, lawyers are deployed and used with extreme prejudice, and drunk vikings are calling people out.

Read at your own risk.

Life in Atlanta just got a whole lot more complicated for Kate Daniels and her mate, Curran. The Pack’s Chief of Security, Jim Shrapshire, is close to quitting when his workload becomes overrun by Kate’s procrastination. Kate is dreading having to break a stalemate in the recently leader-less Mercenary Guild. And to top matters off, Kate and Curran have just been witness to a curious murder by necklace. Now they are running against time to save a child from strangulation-by-jewellery . . . their rescue mission will require deer sacrifices, drunken Vikings and Ghastek the blood-sucker.

Magic Gifts’ is a super-sweet treat from beloved urban fantasy authors, Ilona Andrews. It is available to download from Ilona Andrews’ website for 2 weeks from Christmas Day. The novella is approximately 35,000 words long, and takes place right after the fifth Kate Daniels book, ‘Magic Slays’. But this novella is also super-special because it is set at the same time as Andrea Nash’s spin-off book, ‘Gunmetal Magic’, which will be released in the summer of 2012. In other words, ‘Magic Gifts’ is pretty much required-reading for devoted Kate Daniels fans.

This isn’t your typical Christmas novella, not at all. ‘Magic Gifts’ is full of vital information in the set-up for the events in Andrea’s ‘Gunmetal Magic’. It’s not imperative that fans of the series read this novella in order to understand the back-story behind ‘Gunmetal Magic’ (especially since the timeline of both stories runs concurrently, so events will be explained again in Andrea’s version). However, ‘Magic Gifts’ certainly gives fans an idea of what Andrea will be up against in her new (and much-anticipated) spin-off series. . .

One story focus of ‘Magic Gifts’ concerns the leader-less Mercenary Guild. Kate has been tasked with listening to the nomination spiel of both an individual mercenary who wants to lead the guild, and a group who want to lead by committee. The outcome of this decision hints that the future of the Guild will be a very different one from the organization that Kate left, and which kicked Andrea out (for being beastskin). In other words, watch this space.

There is actually a rather action-packed, helter-skelter plot at the heart of ‘Magic Gifts’, concerning Norse runes and a cursed necklace strangling an innocent boy. Kate and Curran are working to beat the clock and save a child’s life before it’s too late. Throw in some drunk Vikings and vampire diplomacy, and this is a compact but adrenaline-fuelled novella.

And, of course, since this is a super-sexy Christmas gift from the lovely Ilona Andrews, there’s also plenty of “Awwww!” moments between newly-mated Kate and Curran. Proving, once again, that marriage has not dimmed their sexy repartee or smouldering chemistry;

“Don’t,” I warned him.
“Mmmm, Kate, Chief of Security. Sexy. Who better to guard my body than the woman who owns it?”
“Curran, I will punch you.”
“Rough play.” Curran pretended to shiver in excitement.

Ghastek is a big player in this novella, and I've got to say I have never liked him more. I found myself chuckling at quite a few of his scenes, and a certain encounter with a boorish and soused Viking was particularly entertaining. I've never really rated Ghastek as a secondary character before, but after his turn in ‘Magic Gifts’, he has certainly grown on me (like a fungus);

The vamp’s red eyes bulged, struggling to mirror Ghastek’s expression.
“Kate, perhaps you need to explain to your significant other that he is in no position to give me orders. Last time I checked, his title was Beast Lord, which is a gentle euphemism for a man who strips nude at night and runs around through the woods hunting small woodland creatures. I’m a premier Master of the Dead. I will go where I please.”

The big draw-card of ‘Magic Gifts’ is the hints it provides for Andrea’s book. Andrea has long been a secondary character, and close friend of Kate’s, who has captivated fans and stolen her fair share of scenes. Andrea has a tragic past mired in her bouda-upbringing; she saw her mother repeatedly raped and beaten, and was herself a victim of childhood cruelty and violence. Andrea went on to become a member of the Mercenary Guild, but only because she acted human and hid her beastskin nature. For a little while, however, Andrea’s prickly temperament and self-loathing was soothed and on-the-mend thanks to bouda prince and reformed Lothario, Raphael. He and Andrea had a particularly lovely and steamy short story in the anthology ‘Must Love Hellhounds’.

However, In recent books Andrea has been kicked out of the organization she dedicated her life to, and abandoned her nearest and dearest in favour of slinking off to lick her wounds. She and Raphael have not spoken since book four, ‘Magic Bleeds’, and he was noticeably absent from ‘Magic Slays’. Well, let me warn you that readers will find out the reason for Raphael’s disappearance (well, part of the reason at least) . . . and Raphael/Andrea fans should prepare themselves. This is about to get messy. Catastrophically heart-breaking, even. I’m just saying, if we thought Kate & Curran had a lot to overcome in their relationship, just wait till you read what’s in store for Andrea and Raphael!

Ilona Andrews have certainly treated their readers to a delicious Christmas treat! I have been anticipating Andrea’s spin-off for months now. And now that I have read the tempting teaser that is ‘Magic Gifts’, I've got to say I’m now even more excited. Ilona Andrews have set up some interesting new Guild politics, and even more fascinating (if heartbreaking) personal hurdles for Andrea Nash to overcome. Look out for ‘Gunmetal Magic’, which can’t get here quick enough for Summer 2012 . . . but in the mean time, get excited by reading ‘Magic Gifts’ (but don’t worry if you miss out on the novella freebie, apparently it will appear as a bonus at the back of ‘Gunmetal Magic’).


Merry Christmas

Hello Darling Readers,

I have absolutely, positively no idea where 2011 has gone. All of a sudden car antlers are everywhere and my ears are bleeding to the dulcet tones of Justin Bieber ft. Mariah Carey. I don’t know how it happened, but I’m glad Christmas is here . . . now it’s time to crack open the Rekorderlig Winter Cider, nestle in for the Doctor Who Christmas episode (and the Downton Abbey special too, though I have an inkling it won’t be anywhere near as cheery) and let the good times roll!

And once the discarded wrapping is cleaned away, & the left-over Pavlova eaten, then it will nearly be time to ring in the New Year. I’ll be finishing 2011 on a high, and now I’m looking forward to what 2012 has to offer. There are good books to be read, creative endeavors to explore and the Hunger Games movie cannot get here quick enough!

Stay safe over the holiday break. All the best to you and yours, and may the odds be ever in your favor!

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

'Naked in Death' In Death #1 by J.D. Robb

From the BLURB:

It is the year 2058, and technology now completely rules the world. But New York City Detective Eve Dallas knows that the irresistible impulses of the human heart are still ruled by just one thing-passion.

When a senator's daughter is killed, the secret life of prostitution she'd been leading is revealed. The high-profile case takes Lieutenant Eve Dallas into the rarefied circles of Washing-ton politics and society. Further complicating matters is Eve's growing attraction to Roarke, who is one of the wealthiest and most influential men on the planet, devilishly handsome... and the leading suspect in the investigation.

Lieutenant Eve Dallas should be on leave. Having just tied up a case that resulted in the death of a child, and Eve shooting the murderer, all she needs now is rest and recuperation. But there’s no such luck for Lieutenant Dallas when a high-profile politician’s granddaughter is murdered. The case is complicated by Sharon DeBlass’s profession – high-class escort – and a note left beneath the body promising ‘ONE OF SIX’.

The case is made all the more baffling for the murder weapon used – an old-fashioned Smith & Wesson gun; an archaic museum piece since the gun-ban was initiated, but also a vital clue since only the wealthiest of collector’s can now afford such a relic.

Eve’s investigations lead her to Rourke, an Irish-born millionaire living in New York who had close ties to Ms DeBlass’s family and an interest in bygone weaponry. But upon meeting the dark-haired, whiskey-tongued Roarke, Eve is convinced he’s no murderer. Or at least, she hopes he’s not – otherwise this attraction and fevered wanting she feels would be a problem for both of them …

‘Naked in Death’ is the first book in Nora Robert’s (writing as JD Robb) ‘In Death’ romantic crime-thriller series, which began in 1995. The series is currently thirty-three books deep, with a 34th book scheduled for 2012, and it’s entirely likely that the series will continue well beyond that …

I really didn’t want to like this book. Oh, sure, I’d had this series recommended to me time and time again and was assured that I’d love them. People would utter the name ‘Roarke’ with almost biblical reverence and be positively horrified if I dared admit to never having read a single one of JD Robb’s books. But still, I really didn’t want to like this book, because liking this book would mean reading the series. A series that, as of 2012, will have 34 books to its credit. I knew if I read one and got hooked, I’d have to read them all (and my to-be-read pile is toppling as is!). So, like I said, I really didn’t want to like this book … but damned if Roarke & Robb didn’t reel me in, hook, line and sinker.

Robb’s ‘In Death’ series is set in the future, in the year 2058. Inter-planetary travel is now possible, food is delivered by AutoChef, books come on discs (paperbacks are now viewed in museums), guns have been banned for a number of years and prostitution is legalized and regulated. These are just a few of the subtle futuristic scene-setters that are casually dropped throughout the book, and I quite liked that the sci-fi aspect was very low-key. Robb doesn’t pull focus to the futuristic setting so much as she integrates it into the story, which I was pleased about since the future-setting had me a little irked when I read it in the blurb. I’m still not 100% sure why the book had to be set in the future, except that things like the antiquity of the murder weapon (a standard issue Smith & Wesson) and legalized prostitution leaked into the murder investigation and put an interesting spin on the crime.

The real draw-card of the book (and I suppose, the series) is the characters of Eve and Roarke. Eve Dallas is a tough cop with a black past. On paper she sounds like a stereotype, but Robb has written Eve with many sides. She’s stubborn and perceptive, tough but feminine. She’s very much a lone wolf, but with inner scars that have her yearning for company and understanding. I liked Eve instantly; when we meet her she’s coming off the tail-end of a child murder which resulted in Eve killing a deranged criminal. She’s in a very fragile state of mind, but the instant she sees Sharon DeBlass’s butchered body, she’s on board this new murder investigation and wholly committed. I liked that she was so dedicated to the dead – Eve really sees this job as showing respect to those victims, and getting them justice in death.

Because of Eve’s rather fragile psyche when the book begins, she is utterly railroaded by murder suspect Roarke. Just ‘Roarke’ – a millionaire enigma with a criminal past but high-society presence. Roarke is painfully handsome, with an Irish lilt and a sharp mind. As much as Eve is amazed at her instant attraction to Roarke, he is even more shocked at his fascination with her. As Roarke admits, he doesn’t have much love for cops, but Eve with her awful shag haircut, whisky hair and sorrowful eyes has him lulled and lustful.

“I want to see you again." He stopped, took her face in his hands. "I need to see you again."
Her pulse jumped, as if it had nothing to do with the rest of her. "Roarke, what's going on here?"
"Lieutenant." He leaned forward, touched his lips to hers. "Indications are we're having a romance.”

As promised, Roarke is incredible. Even better is his and Eve’s instant attraction and coupling. This is, obviously, one of the reasons Robb’s series is so beloved. Unlike practically every other crime series with a dash of romance, Robb’s will-they-or-won’t-they is put to bed early on, instantaneous and highly flammable. The real interest of the series will come from how Eve and Roarke will cope with their sudden and unexpected presence in each others lives.

I know that Nora Roberts’s forte is romance – as evidenced by the dark and dashing Roarke, and his simmering romance with Eve. So I wasn’t overly shocked or too disappointed to read that the criminal side of things in ‘Naked in Death’ aren’t quite on par with other crime books. The ‘whodunit’ mystery is wrapped up in a fairly obvious, if disturbing way. Eve’s investigation is more paint-by-numbers than harrowing thriller. Fair enough, I wasn’t expecting Karin Slaughter-levels of criminality. Clearly the focus of the ‘In Death’ series is the romance between Eve and Roarke, it’s crime-lite romance-centric, and since I knew that going in, I wasn’t baffled or annoyed by the lack.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Australian Women Writers 2012: National Year of Reading Challenge

Hello Darling Readers,

I just thought I'd tell you about a little Aussie reading challenge I'll be participating in next year. Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge encompasses all genre's and readerships, with just one common factor - Australian female authors.

The objective, as the website states:

Objective: This challenge hopes to help counteract the gender bias in reviewing and social media newsfeeds that has continued throughout 2011 by actively promoting the reading and reviewing of a wide range of contemporary Australian women's writing. (See the page on gender bias for recent discussions; also this page for the rationale behind the challenge.)

Readers should approach this challenge with a spirit of willingness. There are no failures, just personal goals. Reviews can be long or short, favourable or "this book is not for me". Hopefully, along the way, we'll all discover some future classics and perhaps a few surprises among genres we're not familiar with. The main aim is to have fun.

Next year is an especially great time to get involved in this challenge, because there will be a lot of events going on in preparation for the first Stella Prize in 2013. For those of you who don't know, the Stella Prize will be Australia's first annual literary prize for Australian women's writing. It's a fantastic initiative, and has been a long time coming;

From the Website:

It will raise the profile of women’s writing, and will reward one writer with a $50,000 prize. The shortlisted and winning books will be widely publicised and marketed in order to bring readers to the work of Australian women writers.

In short, the Stella Prize will celebrate and recognise Australian women’s writing, encourage a future generation of women writers, and significantly increase the readership for books by women.

So next year, as apart of my Australian Women Writers challenge, the first two book reviews I post on my blog will be by (and about!) Australian women writers. The first book will be Loretta Hill's new release, 'The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots', a magnificent contemporary outback romance. For my second challenge review, I'll be looking an illustrated biography about one of Australia's first and most successful writer/illustrators, 'May Gibbs: More Than a Fairy Tale' by Robert Holden and Jane Brummitt.

I don't need much incentive to read books by Australian female authors (ALL of my favorite Aussie YA books are by female writers!) but it's nice to take a stand and actively support the cause!

This challenge is going to be really fun, so I hope some of you think about getting on board and promoting those Aussie female writers we love so much!

I intend to be a Stella-Dabbler. Here are the challenge specifics:

Genre challenges:
Purist: one genre only
Dabbler: more than one genre
Devoted eclectic: as many genres as you can find

Challenge levels:
Stella (read 3 and review at least 2 books)
Miles (read 6 and review at least 3* )
Franklin-fantastic (read 10 and review at least 4 books)*
* The higher levels should include at least one substantial length review

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

'Attachments' by Rainbow Rowell

From the BLURB;

Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder know that someone is monitoring their interoffice email …

But they can’t quite bring themselves to take any of it very seriously. Jennifer tells Beth everything she can’t tell her husband about why she doesn’t want to start a family. And Beth tells Jennifer everything, period, especially if she thinks it will get a laugh.

Lincoln O’Neil knows that he should stop reading Beth and Jennifer’s email.

He should just send them a warning. He should have sent it the first time he caught them breaking the company rules. But they both seem so nice… They’re smart and funny and interesting, and he likes them. Especially Beth.

By the time Lincoln realizes how much he feels for Beth, it’s too late to unread all of her personal messages. And it’s way too late to introduce himself. What would he say? “Hi, I’m the guys who reads your email, and, also, I love you …”

But he can’t just do nothing. Falling for Beth makes him realize he’s been doing nothing for far too long.

It’s 1999 and the corporate world is preparing for Y2K. The Courier newspaper is getting behind the new millennium, to a degree. As a part of their recent internet introduction, they have hired twenty-nine-year-old IT guy Lincoln O’Neil to monitor staff emails and ensure there’s no funny business.

This isn’t exactly the job that Lincoln envisioned for himself upon (finally) leaving University. He thought he’d be doing proper security, stopping corporate espionage in its tracks . . . not lurking around the building at night, on the graveyard shift, and sifting through day-worker’s private emails looking for flagged offences. This is the last sort of job Lincoln needed, especially since his private life is so utterly abysmal. Still not over the high-school sweetheart who broke his heart (pummeled ad obliterated would also work) but he has recently moved home with his mother.

The one bright spot in Lincoln’s work life is Jennifer and Beth. Jennifer is a copyeditor, and Beth is her best friend and Courier movie critic. They send each other emails all the time – personal emails that fly in the face of company policy and create numerous red-flags in the WebFence security system. Emails that Lincoln has to read . . . but he never reports them. Because he likes Beth and Jennifer. But Beth especially. He likes reading about Jennifer’s marriage to the perfect guy, which could be hitting a few baby-bumps. And he laughs at Beth’s stories about her guitar-playing boyfriend who won’t take the next step.

And Lincoln especially likes reading about how Beth has labelled him as her cute guy. ‘The Cute Guy’ (TGY), to be precise. Because Lincoln feels the same attraction to her (even if she doesn’t know it), but there’s the little matter of explaining how they first met . . .

‘Attachments’ is the debut contemporary romance from Rainbow Rowell, which came out earlier this year.

I have got to give a big shout-out THANK YOU to Bree of ‘1 Girl 2 Many Books’ infamy. It was Bree’s lovely review which prompted me to read Rowell’s book. And boy oh boy, did I fall hard for Lincoln and this screw-ball, tender romance.

When we meet him, Lincoln is pretty much at rock-bottom. He has been single for more years than he’d wish to admit, never having quite gotten over the bitter ending to his high-school sweetheart and first-love. The only commitment in his life is to a Dungeons & Dragons troupe he meets with every Saturday, and he has just recently moved back home with his mother, a temporary state of affairs until he decides what he really wants to do with his life. He takes the Courier job now quite knowing the details of ‘internet security’, but feeling slightly sleazy when he realizes it entails reading personal emails and sending out warning notifications for improper use of company time. In light of the Murdoch/News of the World scandal, it’s easy to understand Lincoln’s reluctance.

While monitoring the email system, two co-workers keep popping up in Lincoln’s WebFence security – Jennifer & Beth. They bounce emails back and forth between them, discussing everything from Julia Roberts/Tom Cruise conspiracy theories, to Beth’s olive-picking Italian arms. The two best friends also share intimate secrets and personal stories – like Jennifer’s complete reluctance to cave to her husband’s wish for a baby (which doesn’t mean she won’t snap up a Baby Gap bargain when she sees one!) to Beth’s dismay at being the last of her siblings to be unwed (despite having the longest relationship with her boyfriend, Chris, which has been going for nine years now). Lincoln doesn’t send Beth and Jennifer a red-flag warning . . . not with the first email, and eventually not months after the fact. Because as he reads about their lives, inanities and funny frankness, Lincoln comes to care for both of them. And then he starts to really care for Beth . . .

Massive Kudos to Rainbow Rowell – she had two giant hurdles to overcome in ‘Attachments’, two enormous obstacles that are especially gargantuan for this being a romance novel. The first is that we, just like Lincoln, don’t actually get to read any physical scenes between Beth and Jennifer. The second is that Lincoln and Beth don’t actually, technically ever meet (or do they. . .? I won’t spoil it for you!) but they are the romantic focus of this book. Two big hurdles, and Rainbow Rowell absolutely leaps over both of them with finesse and aplomb. . .

Jennifer and Beth’s scenes, for most of the book, are in instant-messenger dialogue format. We read their email exchanges; the rapid-fire back-and-forth between two good friends who are only vaguely aware of a security presence is monitoring their banter. There are only a few pages in which Jennifer and Beth actually become physical presence, beyond just cc-ing dialogue. You would think this lack of character intimacy would create a lag between Lincoln’s infatuations with them, but Rainbow Rowell completely overcomes this through force of character. Beth and Jennifer are so real, so fleshed out, funny and relatable in their candid exchanges that (just like Lincoln) the reader forgets that we haven’t actually ‘met’ these women. Beth is particularly hilarious, quick with pop-culture references and self-deprecating black humour. Her insights come fast and furious, and had me snorting while reading. I particularly liked her bitter wedding musings, as her (younger) sister’s big day looms, Beth becomes scathingly hilarious;

And when she told us her wedding song – of course, they’ve already picked their wedding song, and of course, it’s “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong – I said that choosing that song is the sonic equivalent of buying picture frames and never replacing the photos of the models.

Jennifer and Beth aren’t just funny talking-heads though. Rowell really fleshed them out with personal problems as they share heart-breaking intimacies. Jennifer, in particular, is going through a rough patch when her husband starts her biological clock ticking . . . but, always, both women remain funny and loveable, laughing through their pain and endearing Lincoln (and readers) to them. So many times I found myself whole-heartedly agreeing with Beth & Jennifer’s observations, particularly Beth’s (since I consider myself a bit of a movie/pop-culture junkie) many of Beth’s musings had me sputtering along in utter agreement;

Have you ever seen The Goodbye Girl? Don’t watch it if you still want to enjoy romantic comedies. It makes every movie ever made starring Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock lash itself in shame. Also, don’t watch The Goodbye Girl if it would trouble you to find Richard Dreyfuss wildly attractive for the rest of your life, even when you see him in What About Bob? Or Mr. Holland’s Opus.

If anything I’m a bit peeved with Rainbow Rowell for making Beth & Jennifer so darn loveable. Because when I finished the book, I kinda wished they were real people I could call up and organize a movie-night with. Or meet up for drinks down at the pub. I was like Lincoln who had become addicted to their repartee – I wished them to be real, to inhabit this world. Sappy, I know, but I love when fictional characters make me wish they were real through their sheer awesomeness.

And then there’s Lincoln O’Neil. *Sigh*. This, right here ladies, is one hell of a fella. Lincoln is sensitive and caring, he’s funny and handsome (John Wayne handsome, ‘manly’ handsome of the old-school variety). He was never a cliché, and he made me swoon. He’s the good guy, the one who usually finishes last, but should be first in everybody’s book. When we meet him he’s still nursing a broken heart and cursed with low self-esteem. But through it all he remains a gentleman and gentle giant. My God, I loved him.

Rainbow Rowell proves herself a formidable force in the contemporary romance genre with this debut. It’s brilliant, not least of all because two of the main characters are scene-stealers who don’t actually have scenes, and the main romance involves the guy falling for the girl (without seeing her) and the girl falling for the guy (without knowing who he is . . . while he secretly knows every little thing about her). ‘Attachments’ is incredible, and I cannot wait to read more from Rainbow Rowell; something tells me she’s here to stay, and will be a firm-fixture on my readings lists for many years to come.


Coming April 12th, 2012

Monday, December 19, 2011

'God is in the Pancakes' by Robin Epstein

From the BLURB:

Fifteen-year-old Grace Manning is a candy striper in a nursing home, and Mr. Sands is the one patient who makes the job bearable. He keeps up with her sarcasm, teaches her to play poker . . . and one day cheerfully asks her to help him die. At first Grace says no way, but as Mr. Sands's disease progresses, she's not so sure. Grace tries to avoid the wrenching decision by praying for a miracle, stuffing herself with pancakes, and running away from all feelings, including the new ones she has for her best friend Eric. But Mr. Sands is getting worse, and she can't avoid him forever.

Grace Manning isn’t having the best year. In a wholly ironic twist of hypocrisy, her father did not practice what he preached and left the family for a woman he met at bible group. Six months have passed and Grace’s mother swings between blistering hatred for Grace’s deserting father, and constant complaining about her thankless job.

Grace’s older sister, Lolly, continues to date a boneheaded boy called Jake, even though all signs point to heartbreak. And Grace’s best friend, Eric, is rising in the popularity ranks at high school. Ever since Eric became one of two sophomores to join the basketball team, girls have been paying attention to him and Grace isn’t sure how she feels about his divided attention.

The one bright spot in Grace’s anti-social life is Mr. Sands. Mr. Sands, or ‘Frank’ as he insists she call him, was a Korean War vet now suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease in the Hanover House home where Grace works as a candy striper. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s) is a motor neuron disease that will eventually leave him bed-ridden, trapped in his slack body but with a fully functioning mind.

Frank has become a father figure to Grace since her own father abandoned the family. Frank is funny and charming, with a quick-wit and no-nonsense attitude … and when he asks Grace to do a terrible, awful thing to ease his suffering, she can’t refuse him.

‘God is in the Pancakes’ was the 2010 YA contemporary novel from Robin Epstein.

This title has been beckoning me from the TBR pile for months now, but I resisted reading. The blurb hinted at heartache, and I was never in the right mind-set to jump head-first into a, no doubt, compelling but heavy novel. But, finally, it felt like the right time (to borrow a metaphor, this pancake was ready to be flipped). And, oh boy, is this novel sublime!

Told in first-person narration, this is the novel of a dying man’s incredible request to an already mixed-up girl. Grace Manning already has enough problems on her plate – between her sister’s cheating boyfriend, hormonal surges for her best friend and unanswered messages from her adulterous father – when her new/old friend, Mr Sands, asks her to take his life. What follows is a quick timeline that sees Frank Sands deteriorate before Grace’s eyes as Lou Gehrig’s disease turns his body against him.

With Frank’s request weighing heavy on her mind, Grace turns to God. She hasn’t had much to do with the big guy ‘upstairs’, since her mum is agnostic and it was always her dad taking the girls to Sunday mass followed by pancakes at the local IHOP (an American version of ‘Pancake Parlour’, for those of us down under). But since Grace’s dad didn’t really lead by example, Grace kind of figured the whole ‘good Christian’, praying and kneeling thing was over for her. Little does she know that when she most needs answers, God is the only one she’s willing to ask questions to …

Having an answer is a comfort. It's when you start asking questions and those questions pull threads in the larger fabric, you're forced to wonder what you're left with. And for people of any age, it's scary to think the fabric of the universe - or the universe as you've always believed it existed - can just unwind, you know?

The title of Epstein’s book is a wee bit misleading and suggests that the ever combustible topic of religion is a major focus. Yes, Grace does turn to God for answers … but she receives no definitive’s, and throughout the novel she is unsure and firmly on-the-fence about her belief in Him and His role in her life. She’s between a rock and a hard place with Frank’s request, so she turns to a childhood comfort – praying. Epstein is in no way shoving God down reader’s throats. Instead she’s using him as a crutch for a confused girl. And, actually, I kind of liked that Epstein wrote a little back-story for Grace’s dad’s affair, a nice little nuance that the woman he was cheating with is someone he met at bible study. It reminds me a little of that bumper-sticker joke: ‘I've got nothing against God, it's his fan club I can't stand.’

If I had any complaints about the book, it's that the relationship between Grace and her father was left a little too open-ended. It seemed like Epstein was deliberately dropping hints about Grace's dad trying to reconnect (and perhaps repent?) but this part of the narrative just sort of fizzed towards the end, and I would have liked a little more conflict and confrontation.

I also liked that the real conflict of the novel, Frank asking Grace to help him die, was watered down somewhat by Grace’s many problems. This could have been a very heavy, depressing novel if not for side-stories about Grace’s sister, Lolly, and her best friend, Eric. All of which add up to a sort of ‘softening the blow’ when based around Frank’s request. It’s also a means by which Grace can put her life into perspective – seeing that the truth is never easy, and that some things are worth fighting for … two lessons she comes to learn through her interactions and conundrums with Frank and his death wish.

I knew I’d love ‘God is in the Pancakes’, but I didn’t know how much. I laughed, I cried, I want to read absolutely every other bit of YA that Epstein comes up with. A beautiful novel, not for the faint-hearted, and definitely one to be read in the right mind-set, about a young girl coming to grips with God, life and perfect pancakes.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Benjamin Andrew Footpath Library - Book Donations

Hello Darling Readers,

So the end of year is nearly here. No doubt your Christmas list is bulging with book wishes, and you’re making room for all your new paperback lovelies. You’re probably sorting through your bookshelf, looking which books will be ‘keepers’ and which you can pass on to friends and family, or put up for a book swap.

Well, how about an alternative? Instead of gifting your books to your nearest and dearest, how about donating books to the homeless and marginalized?

The Benjamin Andrew Footpath Library is a wonderful organization. Founded in 2003, the non-profit charity looks to give reading resources to homeless and marginalised people. It all started when a soup kitchen volunteer saw a man reading a book while he waited for the food van to arrive. She started bringing him a few books every week, and thus the Footpath Library was born. The library is currently based in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and will be opening in Perth early in 2012.

I love this organization – they’re a group of book-loving volunteers who are challenging misconceptions about the city’s homeless population.

I know lots of us in the book blogging/reviewing community get inundated with books throughout the year. Some of them we don’t even read, for various taste and time constraints. So I would implore you to do something wonderful and pass those books on to people who will truly appreciate them (and clear some room on your, no doubt, bulging bookshelves!).

The Library has a few stipulations about what sorts of books they’ll accept, and it goes without saying that they should be in excellent condition.

Book Donation Guidelines
The Footpath Library accepts high-quality books in the following genres:

  • Women’s, men’s and children’s fiction
  • Non-fiction, including dictionaries, simple cookbooks, parenting, and self help
  • National Geographic, Australian Geographic, motorcycle and car magazines.
Please note, out of respect for our customers we do not accept:
  • True crime
  • Travel/wine/restaurant guides
  • Get-rich-quick/investment/ financial guides
  • Coffee table books
  • Home decorating, gardening, sewing, craft, fashion
  • Sport (unless biographies)
  • Any books with suicide, depression, or drug themes
  • Computer manuals
  • Text books of any description
  • Magazines, except National Geographic, Australian Geographic, motorbike and car
  • Encyclopaedias
  • Street directories
  • Religious material
  • Used crossword/puzzle books.

And it’s not just books they accept – the Library also appreciates donations of bookcases, knitted goods and monetary offerings.

This is a really great cause for Australian-based book bloggers to get behind.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

'The Good Daughter' by Honey Brown

From the BLURB:

Rebecca Toyer and Zach Kincaid each live on the outskirts of town, but come from very different sides of the tracks. When Zach's wealthy mother goes missing, Rebecca – the truckie's daughter – is implicated in her disappearance.

In the weeks that follow, Rebecca and Zach are drawn into a treacherous, adult world. Eager to please, Rebecca finds herself in danger of living up to the schoolyard taunts she so hates, while Zach channels his feelings through the sights of his gun.

In the fading summer light, grudges are nursed and tempers fray, and as old lies unravel it seems nobody can be relied on. But beyond the fallout, the hard lessons in love and betrayal have not been wasted. Rebecca and Zach realise that judgements can be flawed – and that trust is better earnt than given.

It begins in the backseats of a bus. Rebecca Toyer is the old cliché, girl from the wrong side of the tracks pining after her town’s prince, Zach Kincaid. Most of this little outback town is settled on Kincaid land, even the house where Rebecca and her stepfather, the truckie, live.

Rebecca’s mother started the Toyer women on bad reputations – town bicycle, easy pickings – and the slander has stuck to Rebecca even after her mother’s death. Try as he might, Zach Kincaid can’t get Rebecca out of his head – and their secret fumbling in the bus keep him thinking about her over the school holidays…

But pretty soon Zach has other things on his mind. He overhears a conversation between his mother and father, angry accusations and bitter words are exchanged as it comes to light that Ben Kincaid has been giving weekly payments to local restaurant owner, Kara Claas, and her son Aden. Her son, who is Ben’s illegitimate child and Zach’s older half-brother.

Joanne Kincaid is distraught by her husband’s admittance. Even if the child came before she and him started dating. Joanne is known about town as being a little bit flighty; prone to crying fits and quick to blame her manic mood swings on a creative mind.

When Rebecca comes across Joanne Kincaid, puffy-eyed and thick-tongued from crying, she offers her a lift into town, to the Claas restaurant. She watches Mrs Kincaid walk around the back, and then she waits… but Joanne doesn’t come back, and no one inside the restaurant claims to have seen her.

Suddenly Rebecca is the last person to have seen Zach’s mother alive. Aden Class, the gorgeous twenty-two-year-old bike-riding, pot-selling town bad boy is quick to comfort a shaken Rebecca as she sits with the police and recounts Joanne’s movements the day she went missing.

But something isn’t adding up. Zach’s father is adamant that Joanne is just off on one of her flighty fits. Zach starts wandering around the expansive Kincaid property with a rifle, looking for baby graves and sneaking along Rebecca’s property line, spying on her and Aden Claas as they grow closer and more intimate.

‘The Good Daughter’ was the 2010 contemporary mystery novel from Australian author, Honey Brown. The book was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award 2011, and shortlisted for the 2011 Barbara Jefferis Award.

This novel absolutely sucker-punched me. Brown’s writing is claustrophobic and disquieting, as she explores a small town mystery that is exacerbated by town politics, secrets and family fall-outs.

The story is told in third person, but focused on Rebecca and Zach. Through Rebecca we read about a misjudged sixteen-year-old who has already lived her fair share of tragedy. Her young half-sister died at the age of five, and her mother had a long, slow death from cancer not too long ago. Rebecca is the product of her mother’s reputation – she doesn’t know who her biological father is, and everyone assumes she’s as loose as her mother once was.

Rebecca becomes unwittingly caught up in Joanne Kincaid’s disappearance when she is the last person to see or speak to her, alive. But Rebecca is slowly let in on the town secret – that the restaurant where she dropped Mrs Kincaid off is owned by the woman who her husband has been paying child-support to, and Joanne is not a stable woman at the best of times. Rebecca is snared in this small town secret when twenty-two-year-old local Lothario, Aden Claas, explains the faux-pas she has unwittingly let loose by calling the police about Joanne’s disappearance.

What comes next is a rapid slide into adulthood as Aden turns his amorous intentions on Rebecca. Caught up in the drama of the police investigations, Rebecca succumbs to Aden’s well-worn charms, hardly dissuaded by the age gap between them, or the fact that a day ago she was harbouring similar feelings for his younger half-brother, Zach.

As Rebecca’s story unfolds, we read about it through Zach’s eyes as he trains his rifle on Aden from the bushes surrounding the Toyer property. Zach watches with envy and jealousy as his bastard brother steals Rebecca off her feet. But Zach is also watching the other people in town, people seemingly disinterested in his mother’s disappearance. There’s Nigel, Aden’s best friend whose alibi for the night Joanne went missing is that he was ‘with’ Rebecca and Aden. Luke Redman, a local boy turned cop, who is still somewhat plagued by his reckless youth that doesn’t exactly translate well into a position of authority now. And Zach’s father, who is hell-bent on not searching for Joanne and keeping her away from Zach when, or if, she does resurface.

Honey Brown weaves a tangled web indeed. Her characters become mired in suspicions and guilt by the connections they establish. Within the first few chapters Rebecca has swung from Zach to Aden, and her interest in both boys look suspect. Even more eyebrow-raising is Aden’s sudden intense (and illegal) interest in Rebecca, the girl who is also conveniently the only witness to have last seen Mrs Kincaid

There is certainly a lot going on in this novel, and no one is as they seem. Brown writes Aden in shades of grey – so charming and sexy in one scene, so that you almost forget his twenty-two to Rebecca’s naïve sixteen is both wrong, and possibly calculating. Brown writes about small town corruption with a Raymond Chandler eye, particularly in her explorations of crooked cops (borne more from them being local boys who already knew the lay of the land, than an inclination to dishonesty in the general police force). She definitely writes outback noir;

Police do nothing to build a person’s confidence in them. They seem so civilian. What from a distance looks good, someone she might trust and confide in, up close looks too much like men with food crumbs on their chests, nicks from shaving, ugly mouths and bad breath. Taking her statement seems a chore they have to get done so as to get back to bitching in corridors.

Honey Brown is also exploring quite a few devious themes in ‘The Good Daughter’. One recurring and disturbing examination is that of pack behaviour, particularly men and their pack-like antics. Rebecca keeps a litter of six dogs on her property; these mutts and mongrels yap and snarl, turn on one another and enjoy pack hierarchy … just like the men in town. One particular scene involves Rebecca being cornered in a house full of young male tenants, drunk and showing off for one another and when Rebecca (the town ‘slut’) is thrown into the mix, their one-upmanship takes a harrowing turn. This scene is every girl’s worst nightmare, and reading it was like having someone fisting my heart for an entire chapter.

The small town is so remote, like a country unto itself, that it wasn’t until halfway through the novel when a character’s birth date is mentioned, that Brown even reveals that the book is set in 1986. Small towns just seem to be a step out of time, so much so that I thought it was a given the backwards nature of the policing and technological advances. And Brown really plays that up in ‘The Good Daughter’ – that everything is dictated by the history of this town. People have long memories in small towns, they rarely let people break out of the boxes they were originally put in, and town gossip can have a vicious backlash;

His gaze tightens. His tone grows firm. ‘You might be surprised, Rebecca, at how cops in a small town aren’t always about throwing the book at people. We do try and help.’
His eyebrows pinch in. ‘Sure?’ He glances up at the two dining on the veranda. He returns his gaze to her. ‘If we don’t charge somebody for something, or if we let something go, it’s because we know what’s really going on.’ He continues quietly, ‘You should have a little more respect for the system.’ His voice drops to a whisper. ‘I could help you, but you make it hard on yourself. I could tell you what’s going on, but it’s like you don’t want to know. Everyone’s got the backing of someone else in this town, but you’ve got the backing of no-one – you’ve got no-one behind you.’

‘The Good Daughter’ is an incredible and frenetic novel. Following the lives of two sixteen-year-olds from opposites sides of the track as one event inextricably links them, and forces them into adulthood. This is a disquieting novel, beautifully told. Zach and Rebecca are two innocent’s in a town of old memories, and reading about their near-misses and awful discoveries made me want to bundle them in blankets and keep them safe, just for a little bit longer. Fantastic. I can’t wait to get my hands on more of Honey Brown’s books!


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

'Head Rush' Disillusionists trilogy #3 by Carolyn Crane

From the BLURB:


In an attempt to put her unhappy past behind her, Justine Jones throws herself into nursing school and planning her wedding to Otto Sanchez, the man of her dreams. But something is off. Random details aren’t adding up…and is it her imagination, or are her friends and fiancé keeping secrets from her? And what’s with this strange sense of unease, and her odd new headaches?

Justine tries to stay upbeat as Midcity cowers under martial law, sleepwalking cannibals, and a mysterious rash of paranormal copycat violence, but her search for answers leads her into the most dangerous mindgame yet.

With the help of unlikely allies, including her paranoid dad and best frenemy Simon, Justine fights her ultimate foe…and unravels the most startling mystery of all.

Product Warnings
This book contains high-speed rollerblade chases, a mysterious green dashboard ornament, a father of the bride in full hazmat gear and a delicious kebab.

For the longest time Justine Jones was ruled by fear. Her mother’s premature death by vein-star syndrome dictated her entire outlook on life and turned her into a neurotic hypochondriac. Justine couldn’t hold down a relationship, women’s health magazines were her kryptonite and any slight headache had her checking into the ER and going on hospital blacklist’s.

And then she met Sterling Packard, and he changed her life. . .

Justine was inducted into a neurotic superhero club – the Disillusionist’s – tasked with protecting the streets of Midcity from serial killers and con artists. Packard turned Justine’s neuroses into a power – able to inject people with her own hypochondriac fear and paralyze them with the power of her stoked terror. Packard, able to see people’s deep psychological secrets, introduced Justine to a justice crew of neurotics – people whose varying neuroses (from an absence of fear to an overabundance of gloom) could rehabilitate criminals and killers.

Justine also met Otto Sanchez – Midcity prince, former police chief and current mayor extraordinaire. Also, one of Packard’s oldest friends, turned worst enemies.

Otto and Packard had a history that started on the Midcity streets when they were homeless children. But now their bitter rivalry has turned deadly – with Packard on the run for the murder of a man Justine considered friend, and her best friend loved dearly.

While Packard is on the run for Avery’s brutal murder, Justine is planning her upcoming wedding to Otto. But when cold feet turns to icy realization, Justine knows she has to don the superhero guise once again and save Midcity from itself.

‘Head Rush’ is the long-awaited third and final book in Carolyn Crane’s ‘Dissillusionists’ trilogy.

Thank god for ‘Head Rush’ and Carolyn Crane’s tenacity in the face of adversity! This book almost dissolved into the ether, when Crane was dropped from her Spectra publisher (who only contracted her for the first two books . . . in a trilogy!? Yeah. Massive WTF?). But two other publishers came in to save the day and reassure fans – Samhain and (two publishers who now have my complete loyalty and fan thankfulness!). True, there were some odd release dates and formats (the audio book was released first, followed by the eBook and the paperback is a forthcoming 2012 release). Honestly, I don’t care how the final book got here, I’m just glad it arrived because if I had missed out on this catastrophically brilliant finale I'd have been pissed, and heads would have rolled!

‘Head Rush’ picks up where ‘Double Cross’ left off, give or take a few weeks. Justine and Otto are in the thick of wedding plans, and counting down the days to their big day. Only one black cloud looms over their happiness – Sterling Packard. Murderer of Shelby’s beloved Avery and currently MIA. Justine can’t stop thinking about what Packard did – what she saw him do. She can’t shake the image of Packard shooting Avery, point blank, and then fleeing the scene. And every time she does think about it, she gets a searing pain in her head that further exacerbates her vein-star fear . . .

Told from Justine’s perspective, fans are privy to the push and pull between her head and heart. Logically she knows that Packard is a murderer, but in her heart there is doubt. And if she and Otto don’t feel quite right, if she doesn’t really fit with him just yet, surely that will come with time and effort . . . but when Packard suddenly shows up, risking Otto’s bodyguards and stationed snipers, Justine’s loyalties and instincts become ever more scrambled, because Packard may just have a reason for her feeling so torn;

He comes nearer, gaze intense.
I back up.
“You asked me if I think you’re stupid. No, Justine, I don’t think you’re stupid at all.” Lapels in hand, he pounds his fists to his chest, once. Hard. The sound of the pound reverberates through my own chest. “I’m stupid. Me. I’m stupid,” he said. “I know it’s impossible to come back from a revise, but I want you to come back anyway. I want you to remember what really happened. I want you to know I could never kill a man. I want you to remember us.”
I watch him through the haze of pain. He seems so genuine. But he always has.
His voice softens, like the air is going out of him a little. “I need you to remember us . . .”

‘Head Rush’ is an understatement. In this finale Carolyn Crane is pulling out all the stops and tugging fans headlong into a fast and frenetic conclusion that sees Justine’s mind unravel, Midcity murderers cut loose and a wedding showdown extravaganza. ‘Head Rush’ is beyond apt, it’s freakin’ sublime!

The ‘Disillusionist’ trilogy has been one of the best urban fantasies I have had the good fortune to read. It’s a genre meshing of romance and action, crime fighting and psychological exploration. Our protagonist’s are neurotic superheroes, and it’s a series that pits bad guys against worse guys and turns heroes into frauds. Carolyn Crane has written some doozy characters – from the likeable, kick-ass hypochondriac Justine Jones to shady yet lovable double-dealer Sterling Packard. All her secondary characters shine too – like chip-toothed Russian Shelby who can find black in any silver lining, and recklessly dangerous Simon who revels in tempting fate. But one of Crane’s very best characters is Otto Sanchez . . . I admit, I had a great height to fall with regards to Otto’s character transformation, because at one point I was firmly on his Team. I was one of those readers whose jaw literally dropped at the end of ‘Double Cross’ (again with the beyond-apt titles, Crane!) because I was so firmly committed to my Team Otto stance. But therein lays the brilliance of Crane’s trilogy. She revels in writing murky characters that live in the grey areas.

I perish the thought this finale almost didn’t get into our hot little hands (Samhain & Audible should know that avid readers tend to have very long memories, and we won’t soon be forgetting how they made ‘Head Rush’ possible. Works on the flipside too, Spectra.) Fans of the ‘Dissillusionist’ trilogy will not be disappointed with ‘Head Rush’. We get a helter-skelter, all-guns-firing ending that will have your heart racing and hands shaking as you turn the page. I’m sad to read it end, but with a finale like that I can’t be too bitter. Brilliant!


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