Search This Blog

Sunday, January 29, 2012

'Glory in Death' In Death #2 by J.D. Robb

From the BLURB:

It is 2058, New York City. In a world where technology can reveal the darkest of secrets, there's only one place to hide a crime of passion-in the heart.

Even in the mid-twenty-first century, during a time when genetic testing usually weeds out any violent hereditary traits before they can take over, murder still happens. The first victim is found lying on a sidewalk in the rain. The second is murdered in her own apartment building. Police Lieutenant Eve Dallas has no problem finding connections between the two crimes. Both victims were beautiful and highly successful women. Their glamorous lives and loves were the talk of the city. And their intimate relations with men of great power and wealth provide Eve with a long list of suspects-including her own lover, Roarke.

After an intense murder investigation that put them on a collision course, Eve has finally succumbed to entrepreneurial play-boy Roarke’s affections. They have been quietly dating, trying to avoid the spotlight (for Eve’s recent popularity with her successful murder investigation, and Roarke’s notoriety as a prominent NYC businessman).

But Eve is struggling with Roarke’s demanding affections. He wants everything from Eve, her love and her commitment. But Eve has demons in her past, old hurts and traumas that make loving and trusting nearly impossible.

Eve’s line of work doesn’t help. And when a murder investigation of a prominent New York business woman leads back to her wealthy family, Eve thinks she has found more evidence of why human beings aren’t made for trust.

‘Glory in Death’ is the second book in J.D. Robb’s futuristic ‘In Death’ murder series.

I really enjoyed the first book in this (mammoth) series, ‘Naked in Death’. We met Eve Dallas, a prickly young lieutenant whose childhood as a forgotten orphan with traumatic memories continues to influence her stern outlook on justice. And Roarke (just ‘Roarke’) a prominent NYC businessman who has a playboy past and a tabloid-splashed life . . . Roarke got caught up in Eve’s murder investigation, and upon being deemed innocent, he also became caught up with Eve romantically.

When ‘Glory’ begins, Eve and Roarke are still in deep. Though not as deep as Roarke would like. Eve is holding back; because of her haunting childhood memories, bleak job and ingrained trust issues. Throughout ‘Glory’ Eve and Roarke are at loggerheads – Eve is trying to take little steps with Roarke, but he wants grand romance and to sweep her off her feet. If only Eve would let him.

A murder investigation into two dead women doesn’t help matters . . . especially not when one of the dead used to have a sexual relationship with Roarke, once upon a time.

I did like ‘Glory in Death’. In this book we delve deeper into Eve’s damaged psyche, while still only skimming the surface of her deeper hurts. This novel is more about her building trust with Roarke, and Roarke’s frustrations when things between him and Eve don’t move quickly enough. Eve and Roarke are the big draw-cards of this series. For Robb to be 34-books deep into this series, in which the romance is firmly established in book one is fairly incredible . . . and I can see why the relationship is kept fresh. Because Eve is her own roadblock, haunted by the past that is now affecting her trust in Roarke makes for plenty of tensions and explorations.

I should also mention that the secondary characters keep this series fresh. There’s Summerset, Roarke’s mysterious and cantankerous butler who has it in for Eve. And Eve’s best friend Mavis, someone she busted years ago but who is now a dear friend. Mavis is especially fantastic, she sings like a dying cat and dresses like Lady Gaga. What’s not to love?

She stepped out of a torrential spring downpour, handing a speechless Summerset her transparent cloak strung with tiny lights, and turned three circles. More, Eve thought, in awe of the hallway than to show off her skin-hugging red body suit.

Once again, the murder investigation isn’t exactly top-notch. It’s definitely not Robb’s strong point, which is odd in a murder series spanning 34 books. The real point of interest comes from Robb delving into Eve’s personality and memory, picking apart the reasons she does what she does with such ferocity;

Calmer, with the twist of her earlier words unravelling in his gut, he slowed, glanced at her. “How many homicide victims have you stood for in your illustrious career, Lieutenant?”
“Stood for? That’s an odd way of putting it.” She moved her shoulders, trying to focus her mind on a man in a long, dark coat with a shiny new car. “I don’t know. Hundreds. Murder never goes out of style.”

I did enjoy this second book, not as much as the first in the series, but I did like it. I’m mostly enjoying the up’s and down’s of Eve and Roarke’s tender new romance, and piecing together the puzzle that is Eve Dallas. I’m still reading, even though I’m still daunted by the many, many books to come . . .


Friday, January 27, 2012

'Butterfly Tattoo' by Deidre Knight

From the BLURB:

Michael Warner has been drifting in a numb haze since the death of his lover, who was killed by a drunk driver. As the anniversary of the wreck approaches, Michael's grief grows more suffocating. Yet he must find a way through the maze of pain and secrets to live for their troubled young daughter. Out of the darkness comes a voice, a lifeline he never expected to find—Rebecca O'Neill, a development executive in the studio where he works as an electrician.

Rebecca, a former celebrity left scarred from a crazed fan's attack, has retreated from the limelight, certain no man can ever get past her disfigurement. The instant sparks between her and Michael come as a complete surprise—and so does her almost mystical bond with his daughter. For the first time, all three feel compelled to examine their scars in the light of love. But trust is hard to come by, especially when you're not sure what to believe when you look in the mirror. The scars? Or the truth?

Michael Warner’s daughter, Andrea, doesn’t call him ‘daddy’ anymore. That name is reserved for her dead father, Alex. The father she was in a car crash with, that left her with a scar running down her leg and recurring nightmares.

Michael takes Andrea to family counseling, where he is told to be patient and wait for her to start treating him like her father again . . . as opposed to the ‘left-over’ parent, the substitute.

Rebecca O’Neill is moving up in the film business. She is about to close a big novel adaptation deal that is already generating Oscar-buzz. And she has just received some good news; her parents are moving back to Georgia after staying in California for three years and nursing (coddling) Rebecca back to health. Rebecca is grateful for all they’ve done, since the stalker-attack that left her with a scarred face and prematurely destroyed her acting career.

Michael and Rebecca meet on the Hollywood lot, where Michael works as an electrician and first glimpses Rebecca in the dark . . . but they both feel the attraction.

But their heat and chemistry is a burden for both. Rebecca, because she can’t imagine someone as beautiful as Michael being attracted to her damaged self. And Michael because he was in a committed relationship for many years . . . with a man.

Rebecca and Michael can’t deny their attraction for long, though. And things become especially complicated when Michael’s daughter, Andrea, starts to open up to Rebecca about her scars and the car crash that killed her daddy. Forces are pulling Michael and Rebecca together, and all that stands in the way is their own doubts.

‘Butterfly Tattoo’ was the 2009 contemporary romance from Deidre Knight.

I admit, I was a little skeptical going into this book . . . I am an avid reader of M/M romances, and there was a small part of me that read the ‘Butterfly Tattoo’ blurb and worried this would be a book about a gay man miraculously falling for a woman (with a few not-so-subtle connotations about choosing your sexuality etc, etc). Oh, how very, very wrong I was . . .

When we meet him, Michael is barely back on his feet since his husband died one year ago. Michael is left with their young daughter, Andrea, who refuses to call him ‘daddy’ and does not talk about the accident, ever. Strained relations with Alex’s family in the wake of his death, and Michael’s own estranged father (a minister, who didn’t take kindly to Alex) mean that for the last year, Michael has felt fairly isolated in his grief. He has relied on the kindness of his and Alex’s friends, but he knows that it’s time to start returning to the living, at least for Andrea’s sake. . .

Rebecca O’Neill, meanwhile, is a lesson in slow-to-recover. It has been years since the attack that ended her career and left her face scarred . . . and in that time Rebecca hasn’t dated, she still jumps at every little noise and is wary of her TV fan-base. She is convinced that no one will want her, the way she is now.

Enter Michael, and Andrea. Michael is the local electrician on the Hollywood lot where Andrea works, and one day a black-out has them crossing paths. Michael brings Andrea along to his last-minute job, and the young girl is fascinated by Rebecca’s obvious scars, which can’t be hidden, not like Andrea’s. The two of them strike up an unlikely friendship, and Michael is awed (and even a little bit jealous). But Rebecca’s connection with Andrea is a good excuse, because Michael wants to see Rebecca again. Even though that’s nuts. He was with Alex for years, and despite his dead husband’s protests that he’s bi-sexual as opposed to homosexual, Michael is still reeling at his attraction to Rebecca.

‘Butterfly Tattoo’ is a gorgeous and sensual romance, telling the tender-tale of loving blindly and healing slowly.

What made me skeptical in the blurb is actually a rather beautiful and logical love story woven by Deidre Knight. Michael has a romantic track-record of loving the person, not their gender or their looks. This explains his and Alex’s relationship, which evolved from friendship, to confusion, and finally into a happy marriage full of love. And this explains his attraction to Rebecca – who he finds beautiful, despite her scars, and who sparks life in him after a year of drowning in grief.

And let me just say, there is a lot of grief in this book. Despite falling for Rebecca, Michael still misses and loves Alex, and Knight spends a good portion of the book examining grief and longing;

Andrea and I've spent the past year steadily erasing Alex’s fingerprint from this place. Bedroom shoes, eyeglasses, razor, toothbrush, these are the things that mark a home as belonging to someone distinct, and so long as that person is alive, you take every balled-up athletic sock, every discarded tissues and half-finished Coke for granted. It’s only afterward, when you wander through each room, that you’re spooked by the illusion that your lover might simply waltz through the ether into your bedroom, slip on those eyeglasses, and finish the novel he left cocked open bedside.

I really, really appreciated the fact that Michael didn’t stop longing for Alex after meeting Rebecca. As he is slow to realize, there will be no ‘getting over’ Alex. The pain of losing him, the joy of loving him, will remain with Michael, always. That’s a tough lesson to learn, in conjunction with falling for someone new (who is painfully aware of the hole in his life, left by his dead husband). Add onto that the fact that Michael is also battling his attraction to a woman, after being married to a man for so long . . . it sounds like it should be a soap-opera, but Deidre Knight reigns in the outlandish and focuses on the tender heartbreak inherent in the story.

‘Butterfly Tattoo’ is a gorgeous and tender novel that looks at love, from all sides, and examines the process of healing (but not forgetting). I owe a big thank-you to Mandi of Smexy Books for recommending this novel to me. I absolutely balled my eyes out through a lot of this book . . . but days after I finished reading the characters are still with me, the story lingers and definitely imprints on the heart. Sublime.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

'Salvage the Bones' by Jesmyn Ward

From the BLURB:

A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch's father is growing concerned. A hard drinker, largely absent, he doesn't show concern for much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn't much to save. Lately, Esch can't keep down what food she gets; she's fourteen and pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pitbull's new litter, dying one by one in the dirt. Meanwhile, brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child's play and short on parenting.

As the twelve days that make up the novel's framework yield to their dramatic conclusion, this unforgettable family---motherless children sacrificing for one another as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce---pulls itself up to face another day. A big-hearted novel about familial love and community against all odds, and a wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty, Salvage the Bones is muscled with poetry, revelatory, and real.

China is birthing puppies and people are battering down the hatches, expecting a big storm. Esch is feeling morning sickness, in the early stages of her pregnancy to one of the many boys she lays down with. Her brother, Skeetah, is preoccupied with China’s pups and wellbeing. Esch’s father is prone to drink since their Mama died giving birth to Junior, and fourteen-year-old Esch keeps looking at Manny out of the corner of her eye…

These are the twelve days leading up to Hurricane Katrina – the days ‘before’, when nobody was prepared for the destruction about to befall them all.

‘Salvage the Bones’ was the 2011 National Book Award winner by Jesmyn Ward.

Ward’s novel is by no means a comfortable read. It’s partly that there’s a pervading sense of grim foreboding throughout the novel, as readers wade through the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. We know of the destruction to come, but as was the true-to-life case in 2005, the characters in ‘Salvage’ have no foresight, and are utterly unprepared for the Hurricane that will kill 1,833 people and decimate areas already burdened by poverty. But the book is also uncomfortable because Ward puts those areas under a microscope – observing the rural poor, and examining the many ways that their lives were already shambolic before the Hurricane hit.

Esch, our narrator, is fourteen and pregnant. She’s a bright young girl, who reads plenty and makes keen observations about her family and friends. But she is mother-less, and from a young age has sought comfort and gratification with local boys and her brother’s friends. Her reactions and thoughts on ‘laying’ with these boys are cringe-worthy for their innocence – when she thinks that she can’t say no, because it’s now expected of her. Or when she muses that she always thought local boy ‘Big Henry’ (who is in his 20’s) would one day come calling for her, like all the other boys, she’s surprised that he hasn’t already.

Esch’s thoughts are disarming and horrifying, mostly because Ward presents them so calmly and with a matter-of-fact innocence that wrenches the heart. It’s doubly heart-breaking because Esch is brilliant and intelligent, some of her observations are wonderfully perceptive;

“Junior, stop being orner.” It’s what Mama used to say to us when we were little, and I say it to Junior out of habit. Daddy used to say it sometimes, too, until he said it to Randall one day and Randall started giggling, and then Daddy figured out Randall was laughing because it sounded like ‘horny’. About a year ago I figured out what it was supposed to be after coming across its parent on the vocabulary list for my English class with Miss Dedeaux: ‘ornery’. It made me wonder if there were other words Mama mashed like that. They used to pop up in my head sometime when I was doing the stupidest things: ‘tetrified’ when I was sweeping the kitchen and Daddy came in dripping beer and kicking chairs. ‘Belove’ when Manny was curling pleasure from me with his fingers in mid-swim in the pit. ‘Freegid’ when I was laying in bed in November, curled to the wall like I was going to burrow into another cover or I was making room for a body to lay behind me to make me warm.

It did take me a while to finish this book, because there is a lot of sadness to wade through. Not to mention a feeling of hopeless uselessness – as you read these people prepare for a storm that is going to rip their lives asunder. But I was surprised that as the story progressed there was a lot of heart to be found in Esch’s family saga. There’s a feeling that in the aftermath of Katrina this family, no matter their flaws, will band together and find each other in the rubble.

No wonder Ward won the prestigious ‘National Book Award’ for ‘Salvage the Bones’. She writes a raw and honest portrayal of life before destruction – in an unflinching examination of what life is like for a good portion of the under-privileged population. Her words are disarmingly beautiful, and Esch is one character who stays with you long after the last page.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

'Me Before You' by Jojo Moyes

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Lou Clark knows lots of things.

She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.
What Lou doesn't know is she's about to lose her job or that knowing what's coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he's going to put a stop to that.
What Will doesn't know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they're going to change the other for all time.

Louisa Clark has lived in the shadow of her town’s tourist attraction, the Castle, all her life. She has never left her small town, and has worked at the Buttered Bun cafe for so many years, she knows the in’s and out’s of all her regular customer’s lives. So when the Buttered Bun is closed to make way for more Castle-associated tourist cafes, Louisa ‘Lou’ finds herself jobless in the middle of Britain’s recession. She has no schooling or qualifications other than waitressing. She needs a job, and fast, because her parents, grandfather, single-mother sister and young nephew rely on her paycheques. Her boyfriend, Patrick, can’t help her out either – he’s obsessed with the ‘Viking’ marathon and fat-ratio-body-count zero-carbs dieting.

So when the job centre recommends Lou try for a job as carer to a quadriplegic, she reluctantly goes for the interview. But Lou really isn’t qualified to ‘wipe bums’ – she’s not even very good at helping her mother take care of her grandfather who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Lou’s interview takes her to the affluent side of town, to the Traynor family mansion. The Traynor’s own the Castle, are descendants of the original royal occupants. They are moneyed and infamous in Lou’s small town, but she never knew about the troubles they’ve had at home . . . the eldest Traynor child, Will, was in an accident two years ago that has left him a quadriplegic. He has movement of his neck, but minimal control of his hands and fingers. Everything else is paralysed, and he is confined to a chair and needs 24/7 care, especially after a suicide attempt put the family on high-alert.

Lou doesn’t think she’s qualified to be Will’s carer, at all. But Mrs Traynor is adamant that she does not want a nurse-maid for her son. She just wants him to spend time with someone who oozes joie de vivre, who will entertain and be a companion to him. Will already has a qualified nurse, a New Zealander called Nathan. Now he needs someone to be his friend – and the Traynor’s think Lou fits the bill. She’s chatty and quirky, dressing in colourful tights and sparkly gumboots. She’s just the sort of positive influence Will needs in his life right now.

But Will Traynor is not the easiest person to get along with. He’s bitter and depressed – constantly reminiscing about his life ‘before’ and ‘after’ the accident. He used to ski, bungee jump, rock climb and just generally travel the globe looking for the next adrenalin-rush. Now he is chair-bound and suicidal.

Lou has six months to prove her worth to the Traynor’s and make a difference in Will’s life. And what originally starts as an easy paycheque and cozy new job turns into a mission of hope. . .

‘Me Before You’ is the new novel from British author, Jojo Moyes.

I was hearing a lot about Jojo Moyes last year, thanks to her novel ‘The Last Letter from Your Lover’. Ms Moyes has been releasing books since 2002, and already had seven books under her belt before ‘The Last Letter’ was released as her break-out hit in 2010. The novel won a slew of awards throughout 2011, including the UK’s ‘RNA's Romantic Novel of the Year Award’, and is now being adapted for the big screen. More than that though, I kept hearing whispers from my fellow book bloggers that ‘Last Letter’ was something very, very special. Still, I didn’t read it – God knows why. And then ‘Me Before You’ came my way – the all-important next book to be released after Moyes’s surprise hit. I had high expectations, based purely on previous book hype . . . and I've got to say, Moyes met and exceeded every single one of them.

Reading the blurb of ‘Me Before You’, I thought I had a pretty good idea of where this book was going to go, and I did have my reservations. Purely judging a book by its cover (and blurb), I thought I had this novel pretty well pegged from the first page. But I was very, very wrong. Moyes surprised me at every turn, never more so than in how deep she delved into the ‘issues’ of this novel, without ever preaching.

Will Traynor lived a full and adventurous life, until it was cut short one rainy London day. Now, in his early thirties, Will is a quadriplegic who needs round-the-clock care for his physical ailments, but for his mental road-blocks his mother has hired Lou Clark to be a companion to Will. Lou’s contract will last up to six months, after which time Will has a decision to make about his life . . . he’ll either find the will to live, or his family will let him go to Dignitas, an assisted dying organisation based in Switzerland.

In the beginning, Lou is none-the-wiser about Will’s ultimatum. She reluctantly goes to her new job at the Traynor’s plush mansion and grows to dislike Will and his curmudgeon behaviour. But slowly, very slowly, he starts to let a little of his old self seep in . . . Lou sees a charming and enigmatic young man, with strong opinions and a dried-up thirst for life. Lou also witnesses the many ways that Will’s life has vastly changed from two years ago. She meets Will’s ex girlfriend and his ex best friend. She stares at photos of Will standing tall upon a ski-slope and hears him tell tale of his trek up Mount Kilimanjaro. Lou finds it hard to reconcile that man with her wheelchair-bound charge. But Lou understands a thing or two about transformative events, and how hard it is to reconcile the ‘before’ and ‘after’. Because Lou has her own personal tragedy and remembered history which keeps her in this small town, never to venture beyond the shadow of the Castle.

Will, likewise, comes to care for Lou. Very slowly he starts to see her as more than just a dumb waitress from the bad part of town. He encourages her to read the books from his personal library and begs her to leave their small town, to see Paris or Sydney, just expand her four walls. But when Lou discovers the real reason behind her short six-month contract, and Will’s potential life-or-death decision, their time together becomes even more important. Lou becomes desperate to convince Will of the reasons to live, and she plans outings and activities to do just that. 

Jojo Moyes is exploring a rather contentious issue – euthanasia. Going into this novel, I already knew where I stood on the topic of euthanasia – and that was that people should be allowed to die with dignity, on their own terms, and in their own time. But my stance was garnered from newspaper articles and raw, flat facts. In ‘Me Before You’ Moyes really does put a face and emotion behind this issue. And it should be noted that the book is full of gray areas – Will has plenty of people in his life (including Lou) who do not agree with this potential decision to die at Dignitas. But Moyes digs – she delves and explores the myriad of reasons for Will’s decision to live or die . . . and one of the reasons to stay is a powerful one – love.

But Moyes has certainly done her research, and in the book Lou trawls internet forums and speaks to other quadriplegics in her attempts at understanding Will. The potential diseases which could end his life, the various dangers of the body (regulating body temperature could be the difference between life and death). It’s all very fascinating, if heartbreaking.

But this novel isn’t just about Will and Lou. Moyes has peppered the book with a cast of lovable characters who enrich the story. There’s Patrick, Lou’s long-term boyfriend who has become a fitness fanatic, much to her chagrin. Lou’s sister, a single mother to Tomas who dropped out of university to be a mother to him. Lou’s parents, an affable duo who are struggling to keep their heads above water in Britain’s recession. And then there’s Will’s family – his polished mother whose cracks are beginning to show, and unfaithful father who selfishly feels the strain of Will’s condition. Moyes has certainly filled out Lou and Will’s lives with this cast of characters – and she delves into the gray areas with these people too, when she provides certain chapters told from their perspective. We learn of Camilla Traynor’s divided heart – her love for her son versus the condition which has turned him into someone she doesn’t really know. I loved these little asides, especially because Moyes offers them up at exactly the moment when you think you have the character figured out – she then lets us pick around in their brain and read their perspective, know their struggles and illicit unlikely sympathy.

I did cry buckets in this book. I won’t give anything away, but throughout parts of the book I was a blubbering mess. Moyes certainly plays the heart-strings with a deft pen, and she does keep you guessing until the very end. But as much as I cried throughout the book, by the last page I was taking deep, cathartic breaths and feeling better for having read ‘Me Before You’. Moyes pushed me to think about an issue I was already firmly (stubbornly?) decided on, more than that though, she gave an ‘issue’ real heart and perspective. I loved ‘Me Before You’ so much, that I rushed out and bought a copy of ‘The Last Letter from Your Lover’ (and after that, I intend to read every single one of her backlist books too). I'd say be prepared for ‘Me Before You’ – Moyes forces her readers to think and feel every awful, beautiful, heart-rending and chest-constricting emotion. Sublime and powerful.


Monday, January 23, 2012

'Playing Beatie Bow' by Ruth Park

From the BLURB:

The game is called Beatie Bow and the children play it for the thrill of scaring themselves. But when Abigail is drawn in, the game is quickly transformed into an extraordinary, sometimes horrifying, adventure as she finds herself transported to a place that is foreign yet strangely familiar . . .

Abigail Kirk’s life is about to be upended – in more ways than one. Her mother has just announced that she has been seeing Abigail’s father again, the man who left the family for another woman four years ago. Abigail and her mother reside in Mitchell, the high-rise tower Abigail’s architect father helped create, in an affluent part of Sydney called ‘The Rocks’. Even worse than the news of her mother’s rekindled romance, is her announcement that they are moving to Norway with her father while he studies at a prominent university over there.

Abigail is disgusted and ashamed at her mother’s eagerness to take her husband back. But Abigail is also scared – scared to love her father again, after hating him for so long. And she’s terrified by the idea that her mother might just choose to leave Abigail in Sydney, with her despicable grandmother, while she follows ‘true love’ all the way to Norway. Needing a distraction from fighting with her mother and thinking about her father, Abigail offers to babysit two children who also live in the Mitchell tower.

While at the playground with young Natalie and Vincent, Abigail observes the children playing a peculiarly gruesome chanting game, which culminates in the giggled shout – ‘It’s Beatie Bow, risen from the dead!’ Also watching this odd game is a child who Natalie refers to as ‘the furry girl’, for her shaved head. The child watches the others play, but doesn’t join in. And when Abigail tries to approach her, she scampers off down the laneways … so, Abigail follows. She chases her down the crooked cobbled streets that make up The Rocks, and then Abigail finds herself staring down a horse-drawn carriage and knocked on her backside by a burly man waving a sword about.

When Abigail wakes from unconsciousness she finds herself transported to a very different Sydney. There is no Harbour Bridge, and no familiar curved Opera House on the horizon. The people here speak in an odd broken English, and believe Abigail to be a lady for her lily-white skin and perfectly soft hands. There’s Granny tending to Abigail’s twisted ankle, a sweet-faced woman called Dovey and cousin Judah, a rugged sea-man. And then there’s Beatie Bow ('furry girl'), who begs Abigail not to tell Granny where she came from – because Beatie Bow does not wish to be cursed with the Gift.

It is the Gift of time, for Abigail wakes up in her beloved home town of Sydney, but not as she has ever known it … for this is the colony of New South Wales, in the year 1873.

Ruth Park’s ‘Playing Beatie Bow’, originally published in 1980, is an Australian classic. It won the 1981 ‘Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Award’, as well as the ‘Boston Globe Horn Book Award’, and continues to be a staple of many English reading lists and a recurring favourite amongst Australian children. It was also adapted into a 1986 movie starring Peter Phelps (which, if you can get your hands on a copy, is worth watching for Phelp's mega-sideburns, and a psychedelic keyboard soundtrack).

‘Playing Beatie Bow’ is, without a doubt, one of my all-time favourite books, ever. I read this back in year six, and it was for English class so I was understandably hesitant. Reading the blurb I thought for sure that the book would be a history lesson, masquerading as fiction… but, oh, how wrong I was!

That first year I discovered ‘Beatie Bow’, I re-read it about 20 times, but haven’t really cracked it open since. Recently I was feeling nostalgic for one of my most dog-eared ‘keeper shelf’ lovelies, and so much time has passed since I last read ‘Beatie Bow’ that it deserved a trip down memory lane …

Ruth Park’s novel has, ironically enough, stood the test of time. The book has a bit of everything, without ever being cloying or over-the-top. There’s teen angst in the form of Abigail’s absentee father. A superb fantasy time-travel plot to make H. G. Wells proud, lovely little romantic asides, and plenty of action, along with stinging sadness. And to top it all off, the book is also thoroughly Australian and set against an iconic and fascinating backdrop.

The book hinges on its Sydney-setting. It’s intricate to the plot, but also makes for some wonderful imagery and atmosphere. When Abigail first wakes up in 1873, it’s the lack of iconic Sydney landmarks that triggers her dawning realization… and even re-reading this scene some twelve years later, I still felt goose-bumps at the big reveal;

‘The Bridge has gone, too,’ she whispered. No broad lighted deck strode across the little peninsula, no great arch with its winkling ruby at the highest point – nothing. The flower-like outline of the Opera House was missing.

From there the novel follows Abigail as she takes up residence with Beatie Bow’s immigrated Scottish family. Her drunkard Da, cousin Dovey, brother Judah, and her beloved Granny. They are a peculiar but welcoming bunch. Granny and Beatie Bow speak often about the ‘Gift’, which allows Beatie to travel forwards in time… and Abigail is anxious for Beatie to weave her odd magic to get her back to modern-day Sydney and home.

But while stuck with Beatie Bow’s family, Abigail develops strong feelings for her older brother, Judah, and becomes reluctant to leave him behind. He is promised to Dovey, but Abigail can’t help the pull she feels towards him, marking the first time in her life that she has felt a connection to someone enough to let them see behind her armour;

She jumped and blushed.
‘What’s the matter, Abby? For you seem sad today.’
‘I think – I think –’ She swallowed. Surely she wasn’t going to cry? She looked away. ‘I think this is my last day.’
‘Did Granny say so?’
‘Well, then?’
Abigail managed a smile. ‘I have gifts of my own, you know.’
‘Ah, Abby love, don’t go! Not to that grievous world you’ve described. Stay here with us.’
His arms were around her. Her hat fell off into the water and floated away. His cheek rubbed against hers, and she put up her hand and stroked his face.
‘Why, Abby, dinna weep, you must not, what’s there to weep about on this bright day?’
But she couldn’t stop. A huge shameful gulping hiccup came out of her. Judah grinned.
‘Don’t laugh at me, damn you!’ cried Abigail.
‘Why, Abby –’ he said, as though astonished. ‘My little one, my Abby.’

I remember that Abigail and Judah’s romance was one of the first I read, and actually enjoyed as a young adult. In the past I treated romance storylines the same way that Fred Savage’s character does in ‘The Princess Bride’ movie (“is this a kissing book?”). But Ruth Park wrote a really innocently sweet love story between Judah and Abigail, that does sort of sneak up on you (the same way it does for Abigail). There is a lesson for Abigail to learn, in her feelings for Judah (when he’s promised to Dovey) that translates to her mother’s predicament with her father back in present-day. But Ruth Park is never heavy-handed with this lesson, and as a result Abigail and readers come to the inevitable conclusion with a sense of deep meaning and quiet appreciation.

‘Playing Beatie Bow’ is a deserving Australian classic, which has stood the test of time. Ruth Park’s novel is cunning and delightful, weaving fantasy elements with colonial history, while putting a family saga front-and-centre amidst a teenage girl’s first lessons in love and loss. A wonderful novel, and upon re-reading I am happily reminded why it’s still a favourite of mine.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

'Envy' Novel of the Fallen Angels #3 by J.R. WARD

From the BLURB:

Seven deadly sins. Seven souls to save. And a man and a woman treading the lines of danger, desire and deliverance . . .

As the son of a serial killer, homicide detective Thomas 'Veck' DelVecchio, Jr, grew up in the shadow of evil. Now, on the knife-edge between civic duty and blind retribution, he atones for the sins of his father - while fighting his inner demons.

Assigned to monitor Veck is Internal Affairs officer Sophia Reilly, whose interest in him is both professional and arousingly personal. And Veck and Sophia have another link: Jim Heron, a mysterious stranger with too many answers . . . to questions that are deadly. When Veck and Sophia are drawn into the ultimate battle between good and evil, their fallen angel saviour is the only thing that stands between them and eternal damnation.

Thomas DelVecchio Jr is a household name, for all the wrong reasons. He made headlines as a teenager, when he discovered his mother’s murdered body … she was also, consequently, his father’s thirteenth murder victim.

Thomas DelVecchio ‘Veck’ Jr could have chosen the same path as his father… he has often felt the push and pull of evil within him. Instead, he joined the police force. He may not always be the most upstanding member of society (what with a quick temper and easy lusts) but he does believe in truth and justice.

But now Veck is questioning everything he stands for. He has just found himself hovering over the bloodied body of a serial killer – but Veck can’t remember anything. No signs point to his stabbing the victim, but Veck isn’t so sure. Enter Internal Affairs officer, Sophia Reilly. She knows Veck is dangerous and lethal, but she doesn’t think he’s a cold-blooded killer either, no matter his family history suggesting otherwise.

While Veck and his new (tempting) partner, Reilly, are assigned to a new case looking for a missing girl called Cecilia ‘Sissy’ Barten, a war rages up above.

Angel Jim Heron is down by one in the battle for souls. Evil demon-bitch, Devina, isn’t playing fair and Jim doesn’t know how to bring the game back in his favour. Not even his angel buddies, Adrian and Eddie, are much help to Jim. Even worse though, he’s consumed and obsessed with saving an innocent lost soul he found in Devina’s hellish dungeon … a nineteen-year-old girl called Cecilia ‘Sissy’ Barten.

‘Envy’ is the third book in J.R. Ward’s ‘Fallen Angels’ paranormal series.

Hold the phone. Check the skies for swine, and get ready to ice-skate in the underworld … because I just read a ‘Fallen Angels’ book, and I liked it! I have made my feelings clear about the Warden’s Caldwell-based angel series, and the first two outings of ‘Covet’ and ‘Crave’ were not at all to my liking. But with ‘Envy’, I am starting to change my tune…

First up, I really loved the character of Veck. He’s an interesting conundrum –a good cop with a strong moral compass (even if it swings towards a quick temper sometimes) but who feels like he’s fooling everyone. Because Veck’s father was ‘evil’ – a serial killer who is now sitting on death row, whose last victim was Veck’s mother. Understandably, Veck is confused about his standing in the world – is he his father’s son, putting on a good show for everyone? Or does evil skip a generation? Veck’s concerns are bought to the fore when he is found standing over the bloodied body of a killer … Veck doesn’t remember attacking, and the physical evidence says he didn’t. But Veck believes, deep down, that his blood runs bad.

Veck was brilliant. I loved him – I loved his struggle and his Brother-esque attitude (more believable in this human cop than any other ‘saved soul’ we’ve met so far). And I especially loved how his battle of wills was heightened when he met Sophia Reilly – another cop who makes his blood run hot. Reilly and Veck were great, and I think part of the reason I liked them was that the focus was primarily on Veck. We learn a little about Reilly’s childhood, which was hardly idyllic, but for the most part the focus of ‘Envy’ is on Veck’s redemption (something I was thankful for after the calamity HEA of Marie-Terese in ‘Covet’). And the Warden has written some great conflict between Reilly and Veck – with her as Internal Affairs investigating Veck’s potential attack on a murder suspect. There’s enough tension within their professional life and unethical attraction that Reilly didn’t need to get bogged down in back-story. Less is more.

Of course, the battle for souls still rages. Devina is nastier than ever, and going particularly loony since becoming ‘intimate’ with Jim in ‘Crave’. Devina is sinking her claws into all the angel boys, and the consequences are dire;

“You know, Adrian, you ever get bored with being a Goody Two-shoes, you could come over to my side.”
“Because you have cookies, right.”
Those black eyes returned to his own. “And so much more.”
“Well, I’m on a diet. Sorry—but thanks for the invite.”

I have said it from the start, that Devina is one hell of a bad-guy in this series. Ironically enough, she was the only redeeming feature of both ‘Covet’ and ‘Crave’ for me – a truly terrible villain is often hard to find, but Devina fits the bill. In ‘Envy’ her crazy knows no bounds as she sets her sights on a ‘romantic’ relationship with Jim (*gag!*).

But the real stand-out storyline for me in ‘Envy’ was that of Jim and lost-soul Sissy Barten. I said I liked this in ‘Crave’, and I was over-the-moon to discover that a good portion of ‘Envy’ is focused on Jim getting side-tracked by Sissy’s missing-persons case, and saving her from Devina’s wall of the damned. I can see why some people aren’t too keen on this apparent Jim/Sissy pairing (I think it’s all but confirmed in ‘Envy’ that they are each other’s HEA) but I like it. I like that Jim and Sissy are arcing over several books, and I love their grandiose epic love story, which is in itself a battle of Good VS. Evil.

I also really liked Adrian and Eddie in ‘Envy’. In the previous two books I could pretty much take them or leave them, but in ‘Envy’ we get more of Adrian’s backstory with Devina… but more importantly, we get a better sense of what Eddie and Adrian mean to each other.

One thing that still isn’t working for me (no matter how much the Warden dresses it up with M/M) is the portrayal of heaven and the angels Nigel and Colin. Yeah. I’m still not buying heaven as being full of foppish croquet players who sit around munching on scones all day. It’s just a little … ‘meh’ for me. Unfortunately Nigel and Colin take up quite a bit of page-time in ‘Envy’, and all signs point to a recurring storyline, unfortunately.

Overall I was pleasantly (okay, shockingly) surprised by how much I enjoyed ‘Envy’. Maybe it’s that I’m going into this series with slightly lowered expectations now, but I really think the Warden is hitting her stride. I look forward to the continuing Jim/Sissy saga, and more devilish cra-cra from everyone’s favourite she-bitch, Devina.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

'Bigger Than a Bread Box' by Laurel Snyder

From the BLURB:

A magical breadbox that delivers whatever you wish for—as long as it fits inside? It's too good to be true! Twelve-year-old Rebecca is struggling with her parents' separation, as well as a sudden move to her Gran's house in another state. For a while, the magic bread box, discovered in the attic, makes life away from home a little easier. Then suddenly it starts to make things much, much more difficult, and Rebecca is forced to decide not just where, but who she really wants to be. Laurel Snyder's most thought-provoking book yet.

One night during a black out Rebecca’s life changes forever. Her parents have been fighting ever since her dad crashed the taxi and began ‘job hunting’ (from the comfort of the couch). But until that black out, everything seemed to be staying pretty much the same, just with louder fights. But after that night Rebecca’s dad takes to sleeping on the couch. There are fewer angry words exchanged, and more silences. And then one day Rebecca returns home from school to find her mother and a pile of suitcases. They’re going ‘home’, mum says. Home means Atlanta and Gran’s house. And they’re not coming back until things feel right, whenever that may be. And dad’s not coming.

So Rebecca, her mum and two-year-old Lew get in the family car and drive to Atlanta. Rebecca cannot forgive her mum for just packing up and leaving, taking her and Lew away from Baltimore and dad, dancing to Bruce Springsteen in the living room and playing with Mary Kate at school.

So Rebecca takes to her Gran’s attic … and up there she finds a breadbox. But not any ordinary breadbox, a magic breadbox. Close the lid and make a wish for something, reopen and that something magically appears. A little bit of magic might go a long way to curing Rebecca’s hatred of her new school, new nickname and missing her dad. Maybe.

‘Bigger Than a Bread Box’ was the 2011 US middle-grade novel from Laurel Snyder.

I unabashedly loved this novel. I had no idea from that quirky title and even quirkier magic source that Snyder’s book would have so much depth and be so full of heart.

I’ll have to borrow Snyder’s own words – from the novel’s ‘acknowledgements’ page (I love reading those things!) – when she thanked her agents for persevering with her rather wacky story idea, which she pitched as;

a “middle-grade book about Bruce Springsteen songs and seagulls and divorce and a magical bread box.”

And that’s exactly what this book comes down to, well, superficially at least.

Rebecca is caught in the middle of her parent’s breaking-point. She knows that they’ve been fighting a lot since her dad crashed his taxi and lost his job. She knows that her mother, a nurse, is exhausted by her day job and the feeling of ungratefulness she gets at home as wife and mother. But Rebecca doesn’t understand why her parents can’t talk instead of yell, or why her mother feels the need to flee to Gran’s house for an unspecified period of time.

Snyder borrows heavily from her own childhood, remembering her parent’s divorce, to articulate this sad and awkward time through twelve-year-old Rebecca. She wants things to remain the same, but doesn’t know how to do that. And when a magical bread box appears, she thinks that all her wishes will be answered…

The bread box delivers an iPod, television, clothes, an old spoon, chocolates, bus tickets and seagulls (to remind her of Baltimore). What the bread box doesn’t give is a way to fix her parent’s marriage. Rebecca has to find that out on her own, through a series of misguided bread box wishes and a damning discovery of just where all this magic comes from.

Along the way Rebecca will learn the truth behind Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Heavy Heart’ lyrics (nowhere near as cheery as the beat);

Nobody said anything else for a bit, and I stared at the road, at the back of my silent father. I wondered what he was thinking. Mom switched on the radio.
Then, because sometimes crazy things happen, because the world is big and small and full of magic, or coincidence, the song came on. Out little car filled with that familiar voice, full of gravel and ache.

Rebecca will also discover that her little brother, Lew, is a wonderful companion, her gran is rather wise, and that ‘followers’ are not the same as ‘friends’. But Rebecca’s biggest lesson of all is simply that some problems are bigger than they first appear, and the answers to them won’t necessarily fit inside a bread box.

A wonderful, charming and gently complex coming-of-age novel.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

'I'll Be There' by Holly Goldberg Sloan

From the BLURB:

Raised by an unstable father who keeps the family constantly on the move, Sam Border hasn't been in a classroom since the second grade. He's always been the rock for his younger brother Riddle, who stopped speaking long ago and instead makes sense of the world through his strange and intricate drawings. It's said that the two boys speak with one voice--and that voice is Sam's.

Then, Sam meets Emily Bell, and everything changes. The two share an immediate and intense attraction, and soon Sam and Riddle find themselves welcomed into the Bell's home. Faced with normalcy for the first time, they know it's too good to last.

Told from multiple perspectives, Holly Goldberg Sloan's debut novel offers readers fresh voices and a gripping story, with vivid glimpses into the lives of many unique characters. Beautifully written and emotionally profound, I'll Be There is a story about connections both big and small, and deftly explores the many ways that our lives are woven together.

Sam Border has never settled down in one place. His father, Clarence Border, hears voices in his head, voices that tell him to run and never look back. So that’s what the Border’s have been doing – running, and hiding and never looking back.

It’s Sam’s job to take care of himself and his little brother, Riddle: because Clarence isn’t exactly the nurturing type. Sam and Riddle scavenge for food in bins and dumpsters. Riddle sketches the inside of things, speaks through his older brother and tries to avoid Clarence’s wrath.

Sam keeps a battered old guitar with him, the one constant in his sixteen-years of travel. He received the guitar from a blind man, and taught himself to play. Because for Sam, music is God. No matter where he goes, what town he ends up in or running away from, Sam seeks out music at Sunday sermons.

But one Sunday is different from all the others. Because this Sunday, Emily Bell is (reluctantly) singing – to him. To Sam she sings a song that triggers a series of catastrophically brilliant events that winds them ever closer …

I'll reach out my hand to you
I'll have faith in all you do.
Just call my name and I'll be there.

‘Ill Be There’ was the 2011 young adult novel from debut author Holly Goldberg Sloan.

Told from an omniscient third-person narrator, ‘I’ll Be There’ is the twisted journey of lost boys, Sam and Riddle Border – and how they imprinted on the lives of a little town that couldn’t let them go.

It all begins when Emily Bell spies Sam in the back pew of her family church, while she sings a terrible rendition of a Jackson 5 number;

She could not really sing.
That was just a fact.
But it was also a fact that she was riveting. She was raw and exposed and not really hitting the notes right. But she was singing to him.
Why him?
He wasn't imagining it.
The girl with the long brown hair had her small hands held tight at her sides and, maybe because of how bad she was, or because she was staring right at him and seemed to be singing right to him, he couldn't look away.
She was saying she'd be there.
But no one was ever there. That's the way it was. Who was she to tell him such a thing?
It was intimate and suddenly painful.
Not just for her.
But now for him.
Very painful.

Emily and Sam share a connection – while she warbles and he watches, their lives become entwined, for better or worse. Emily searches for the illusive boy all over her town, to no avail. The Border’s have been taught to lay low and avoid notice. They are squatting in an abandoned rental property, and Clarence is partaking of petty thieving for some extra cash. But Clarence also sleeps in their truck every night, with a loaded shotgun, saltine crackers and a barrel of vodka – ready to escape if the voices warn him of impending doom.

A local ad for cheap haircuts throws Sam back in Emily’s path… as does a chance encounter during Emily’s bad date with classmate Bobby Ellis. Sam and Emily embark on a doomed relationship – Sam, unable to keep up with Emily’s conversations (he doesn’t have a mobile, email or Facebook, for starters) and Emily’s mother and father are wary of Sam’s odd behaviour and reluctance to admit much about himself.

Bobby Ellis is also curious about Sam, and how his appearance in town coincides with a slew of robberies. The more curious Bobby becomes of Emily Bell and her mystery boy, the more he wants Emily for himself … and luckily Bobby has the resources to do some snooping – thanks to his parents, a lawyer and detective respectively.

Slowly, the Bell’s come to accept and care for the Border boys. Sam is a musical prodigy, and should be enrolling in Tim Bell’s university music program. And Debbie Bell is determined to nurse and care for little Riddle, who suffers from Asthma and appears to have never had a doctor check-up.

But just when things start to settle for the Borders, when Sam starts to fall in love with Emily and the Bell family become smitten with Riddle … the voices warn Clarence to escape.

‘I’ll Be There’ is a superb debut from Goldberg Sloan. The novel has a perpetual feeling of doom – as we move back and forth between Sam’s history ‘on the run’ with his unstable father, to the present and how Clarence is becoming increasingly suspicious of his boy’s behaviour. We know that this push-and-pull between Sam and Clarence’s ‘fight or flight’ will not end well. But, despite this foreboding, Goldberg Sloan has also imbued the novel with a lot of heart and warmth.

Sam and Riddle are gorgeous. Sam is simply delectable – a caring and sweet young man, unencumbered by pop-culture ideas of masculinity and ‘norms’; being in perpetual motion with his crazy father has made Sam, unwittingly, into a rather charming and kind young man. Totally different from his teenage adolescent male contemporaries. Sam only wants to protect his little brother, be near the girl he likes and play his music. He’s utterly charming.

Riddle, likewise, is a darling. He wheezes when he breathes, speaks through his brother and looks at things from the inside-out, or bottom-up. He is a bright and curious child, who makes you want to reach into the book and wrap him in a warm hug.

The plot is beautifully crafted – and even though I thought I knew where the book was going, I was surprised to find the story being carried into the wilderness … For all the sense of menace and foreboding, the heart of ‘I’ll Be There’ comes from the Border boys being wanted. When the inevitable happens and Clarence insists on fleeing, Emily’s presence in Sam’s life makes a difference – suddenly he and Riddle are not so easily let go. It’s a heart-warming lesson in the centre of a story so full of craziness.

I will say that ‘I’ll Be There’ reminded me a lot of the (brilliant) 1988 River Phoenix film ‘Running on Empty’ – about an activist family on the run from the FBI. The book and movie have similarities in the brotherly bond, a girl that makes the runaway want to stay, but especially for the music connection … the one big difference being that, in the movie, family is a safe harbour and hard to let go of. In ‘I’ll Be There’ Clarence is a confused villain – living on the whims of his mental illness, he is a brilliant ‘baddie’ for his unpredictability.

I loved 'I'll Be There', and fully intend to read whatever else Holly Goldberg Sloan writes. Sam Border is a real treasure, and this novel will not be easily forgotten.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Extract from 'The Reluctant Hallelujah' by Gabrielle Williams

Enron helped me move the couch. We pushed all four of Grandma’s tables to one side. Enron hoisted the coffee table off the floor with one hand and left it on the couch with all the cushions. Something Mum would definitely not approve of.

‘Last thing,’ Minty said, nodding down at the Persian rug that took up a large chunk of the lounge room floor. Enron took one corner, Minty took the other and I went to the middle and we peeled it back, like the pastry lid of a pie dish.

In the middle of the carpet was a neatly cut square, slotting perfectly into the pattern so you might miss it if you weren’t looking, but easy enough to find if you knew what to search for.

We stepped back from it a moment. Instinctively I looked towards the front windows, even though the shutters were closed.

We lifted the square of carpet, and there it was.

A solid iron trapdoor. With a lock. An ornate, old-fashioned lock that would fit an ornate, old-fashioned iron key perfectly.

I’d seen enough NCIS to know that two missing parents and one locked trapdoor is a combination for great TV but not so great in real life.

I slung a glance at Minty. She was watching me carefully, ready to sweep me up in case I fell to pieces.

And at that moment, we heard another key in the front door. Turning in the lock.

We looked to see who it was. More than anything, I wanted it to be my mum. I wanted it to all be some ridiculous misunderstanding. I didn’t care what was in the basement. I didn’t care that we had a lock in the middle of our lounge room floor. Mum could tell me it didn’t involve me, and I’d be fine with that. Better than fine. Great. I would never peel that Persian rug back again. We could put that ornate old key back on the mantelpiece and forget about it. We’d put the couch back. Take the coffee table off the furniture. Put everything back the way it was.

Including my life.

The front door clicked shut. Not so quietly this time.

Coco walked down the hallway, heading for the kitchen. Eyes down, headphones in, texting as if everything was good with the world. As if everything was fine. No problems here, thanks for asking.

I felt like smacking her.

‘Are you right there?’ I said, feeling furious that she didn’t even care less whether Mum and Dad were okay or not. ‘You right? Texting like everything’s tickety-boo.’

She looked at the furniture all butted up against each other, and peeled her headphones out of her ears.

‘What’s going on?’

‘Mum and Dad still aren’t home.’

She faltered for a moment, looked over at Minty and Jools and Enron, the white cord of her iPod dangling from her hand, and I could see her brain starting to grasp the fact that something was wrong, but struggling with what that could mean. She plunged her iPod into the side pocket of her school dress and zipped the pocket up, an instinctive reaction. I could feel myself getting teary again.

They say you can take the measure of a man by how he deals with stress. Well, here was my measure. I was a basket case.

I couldn’t stop crying. It wasn’t my problem anymore. Coco was going to have to deal with it. It wasn’t fair that just because I was two years older I was supposed to take control. Didn’t mean I was two years better at coping with stuff. In fact, being older made it worse, because I felt more pressure. If something happened, I was expected to deal with it.

I wasn’t up to it.

‘Dodie,’ Coco said, dragging my hands away from my face to look me square in the eye. ‘Have you called Mum and Dad? Have you tried to ring?’

‘There’s something down there,’ I said, and nodded towards the trapdoor. ‘Once we’ve got rid of it, we’re calling the police.’

Coco didn’t say anything. It was as if she didn’t trust her mouth to come up with any kind of response.

‘They were looking after something,’ Enron was saying, his voice soothing and deep. Calm. ‘I’ll get it. You don’t need to come down, and once I’m gone you can call the police.’

I looked across at Coco to see how she was reacting. She was frowning at him, not saying a word.

And then Enron knelt down and put the old key that was still in his hand into the lock in our floor.

Publication date: 22 February 2012

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

'Saving June' by Hannah Harrington

Received from NetGalley

From the BLURB:

Harper Scott’s older sister has always been the perfect one so when June takes her own life a week before her high school graduation, sixteen-year-old Harper is devastated. Everyone’s sorry, but no one can explain why.

When her divorcing parents decide to split her sister’s ashes into his-and-her urns, Harper takes matters into her own hands. She’ll steal the ashes and drive cross-country with her best friend, Laney, to the one place June always dreamed of going California.

Enter Jake Tolan. He’s a boy with a bad attitude, a classic-rock obsession and nothing in common with Harper’s sister. But Jake had a connection with June, and when he insists on joining them, Harper’s just desperate enough to let him. With his alternately charming and infuriating demeanour and his belief that music can see you through anything, he might be exactly what she needs.

Except June wasn’t the only one hiding something. Jake’s keeping a secret that has the power to turn Harper’s life upside down again.

June is dead and only her sister, Harper, remains. There are no answers to June’s suicide – no warning, no note, no explanation. Suffocating in the house where her overbearing aunt is overseeing the Scott family’s grief, Harper is stuck in the aftermath of tragedy. Her mother cries all the time, and her absentee father is continuing to pretend like his first family was just a false start.

Harper’s best friend, Laney, offers some comfort. But Laney has secrets and problems of her own to deal with, in the wake of June’s suicide.

Then there’s the boy … the mysterious, dishevelled beautiful boy who made a cameo appearance at June’s funeral. His name is Jake Tolan. He and his brother work at a music shop in town. But he's not anyone that Harper can imagine June hanging out with … except they did. Jake gave June a mix-tape. She tutored him. They have history. But Harper doesn’t know the first thing about Jake Tolan or what he meant to her sister. But she’s about to.

June is dead but she still has wishes to be carried out – like getting to California. Which is exactly what Harper, Laney and Jake are going to do – take June’s ashes and get her the hell out of dodge, and fulfilling her final wish.

‘Saving June’ was the 2011 debut contemporary YA novel from Hannah Harrington.

To be fair, I put off reading this novel for a long time because I thought I had read it before. It’s just a sucky coincidence that 2010-11 were a big two years for deaths in young adult fiction. Jandy Nelson’s ‘The Sky is Everywhere’, ‘Please Ignore Vera Dietz’ by A.S. King. ‘Sing Me To Sleep’ by Angela Morrison. And many, many others. I sort of thought that ‘Saving June’ was a little bit ‘been-there-read-that’. Regardless, credible reviewers kept recommending this one to me and I eventually caved … and I’m glad I did.

The novel begins at June’s funeral. She committed suicide and her sister Harper muses on the perceived ‘ripple effect’ suicides seem to have on a small town – people are keeping their eye on Harper, especially, lest she follow her sister’s fate. While at the funeral a mysterious and cute boy drops by and exchanges some cryptically non-sympathetic words with Harper.

Harper is stuck in her grief. June left no suicide note, so part of Harper’s stagnation is merely in asking herself ‘why?’. There are no answers to June’s seemingly senseless death, no clue to her state of mind or breaking point. It’s a particularly maddening sort of grief when there is no closure offered. But in the wake of her sadness Harper finds evidence of June’s last true wish – to move to California. So, come hell or high water, Harper is going to get her sister to California whatever it takes.

From here the novel turns into not-your-average road-trip saga. Along for the ride is Harper’s steadfast friend, Laney, a boisterous, curvaceous girl and loyal friend who will do anything to help Harper get closure.

Also coming along for the adventure is Jake Tolan, the mysterious boy from June’s funeral. Turns out, June tutored Jake and helped him graduate. Jake owes June a debt of gratitude – and since he has the van (affectionately named ‘Joplin’) – the girls agree to him tagging along.

The road to California is paved with good tunes, messy company and hard truths.

‘Saving June’ is a grief road-trip. Armed with June’s ashes Harper, Laney and Jake set out along the coast. They meet up with some of Jake’s old activist friends. They learn secrets about one another and listen to good tunes and guilty pleasures (ABBA, I’m looking at you).

Music is a big component of this book. Unfortunately it’s also a big aspect of other books that are already similar to ‘Saving June’ (Nelson and Morrison’s books in particular). But in ‘June’ the appreciation comes from listening to good music, as opposed to creating it. Jake is into old rock and punk. He likes vintage tunes and has a little something to say about all the greats – from Janis Joplin to the Kinks and Jimi Hendrix. True, this is the music your dad listens to, but Jake has good taste and a connection to these soulful golden-oldies;

“It's just nice, I guess. Knowing that someone else can put into words what I feel. That there are people who have been through things worse than I have, and they come out on the other side okay. Not only that, but they made some kind of twisted, fucked-up sense of the completely senseless. They made it mean something. These songs tell me I'm not alone. If you look at it at that way, music... music can see you through anything.”

When the trio set out it’s initially all about finding closure for Harper and paying respect to June. But by the end Laney has a secret unearthed and Jake reveals a little about his sad past.

I loved the soundtrack to ‘Saving June’. Tensions boil over, laughs are had and hip-hop debated, all while listening to ‘Ruby Tuesday’, ‘Good Vibrations’ and the like.

Something I really loved about ‘Saving June’ was the lack of insight into June’s suicide. For some people this might be frustrating – there are no definite answers or explanations as to why June took her own life. But that felt true. If Harrington makes readers feel frustration from not knowing, I’d say that’s something that speaks volumes about the real-life grief of losing someone to suicide. I feel like Harrington gained more from saying less, and that was a little bit of brilliance.

I can’t lie and say that ‘Saving June’ was a wholly original novel, but it was enjoyable regardless. Death will forever fascinate us, and it’s especially poignant for young people who start encountering the fallout at such an early age. Music as catharsis is also nothing new to the teen scene – even if many readers will be hearing about some of the music in ‘Saving June’ for the first time. But I liked the road-trip aspect of this novel – and the ashes to California was a poignant mission for Harper to accomplish.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

'Lothaire' Immortals After Dark #12 by Kresley Cole

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:


Driven by his insatiable need for revenge, Lothaire, the Lore’s most ruthless vampire, plots to seize the Horde’s crown. But bloodlust and torture have left him on the brink of madness—until he finds Elizabeth Peirce, the key to his victory. He captures the unique young mortal, intending to offer up her very soul in exchange for power, yet Elizabeth soothes his tormented mind and awakens within him emotions Lothaire believed he could no longer experience.


Growing up in desperate poverty, Ellie Peirce yearned for a better life, never imagining she’d be convicted of murder—or that an evil immortal would abduct her from death row. But Lothaire is no savior, as he himself plans to sacrifice Ellie in one month’s time. And yet the vampire seems to ache for her touch, showering her with wealth and sexual pleasure. In a bid to save her soul, Ellie surrenders her body to the wicked vampire, while vowing to protect her heart.


Elizabeth tempts Lothaire beyond reason, as only his fated mate could. As the month draws to a close, he must choose between a millennia-old blood vendetta and his irresistible prisoner. Will Lothaire succumb to the miseries of his past . . . or risk everything for a future with her?

Lothaire is an exiled heir. Legitimate King to the thrones of two vampire factions – the Horde and Dacia – he has spent centuries trying to take what is rightfully his. Plagued by his mother’s dying wishes for her little prince, Lothaire has gained a name for himself as ‘The Enemy of Old’ – and he earned it well and bloody.

A prophecy foretells that Lothaire can only take the two thrones with a blooded bride by his side. Good thing then, that his initial instincts that a mere mortal girl living in the Appalachia Mountains proved incorrect, she is not his bride . . . instead, Lothaire’s intended is a cursed goddess, who has taken up residence in this girl’s body.

Elizabeth Peirce has a demented goddess living inside her body. Nothing, not exorcism or death by lethal injection, will rid Elizabeth of Soroya’s menace. And when a red-eyed demon swoops down and commands Elizabeth to keep his bride safe, she knows her soul is doomed and her body will be taken from her.

‘Lothaire’ is the twelfth book in Kresley Cole’s ‘Immortals After Dark’ paranormal romance series.

This twelfth book is, without a doubt, the most-anticipated in Cole’s series. Lothaire piqued fan’s interest as the ‘Immortals’ bad-boy du-jour, especially with his appearance in book eleven, ‘Dreams of a Dark Warrior’. Lothaire very much came across as an ‘out for himself’ cruel villain. He doesn’t care a fig for others and is wholly consumed with his own desires – mainly, the crowns of two vampire factions. Lothaire’s special vampiric power comes from gaining memories from those he takes blood from. And he uses his ‘ability’ with great cunning and little sympathy. He was deliciously dark and dangerous, and many fans swooned and drooled at the prospect of his book . . . not least of all because the paranormal romance genre has taught readers that, the more devilish the rogue, the better the HEA. Which might be why ‘Lothaire’ doesn’t quite live up to the hype of fan’s lofty expectations . . .

We learn from the start that Lothaire despises humans. They killed his beloved mother, and ever since then he has treated them as little more than fleas. So when Lothaire felt a draw to the Appalachia Mountains, and a young human child called Elizabeth Peirce, he was convinced there was some sort of mistake. He felt no blooded-bride pull towards her, but regardless kept returning to the Mountains at various times to see her turning from a child to woman. Still, he was disgusted by the mere thought of a human for his bride, and was relieved when he returned one day to find a thousand-years old goddess had taken up residence in Elizabeth’s body. A goddess called Soroya, who kills indiscriminately and is making Elizabeth’s life hell. But she is powerful beyond measure, and far more likely to be Lothaire’s intended life mate. Not least because Lothaire cannot fathom being bonded to a human, let alone a ‘hillbilly’ human’;

“How do you know it’s not me who’s . . . blooded you?”
A muscle ticked in his jaw. “Because fate would not slight me so unspeakably. I'd seek a noon-day sun if I were paired with one such as you.”
“Such as me,” she repeated blandly. She’d been mocked too often over her lifetime to take offense. Her skin was as thick as armour.
“Yes, you. An ignorant, mortal Kmart checkout girl.” He took the sharpest knife from his place setting, absently turning it between his left thumb and forefinger.
“Kmart? I should’ve been so lucky. Those jobs were hard to come by. I worked at my uncle’s outfitter shop.”
“Then you’re even worse. You’re an outfitter checkout girl with aspirations for Kmart.”

Now all Lothaire needs is a magic ring to kill Elizabeth’s soul, make Soroya a vampire and keep her preserved in Elizabeth’s body forever. No problem. Except that an evil mummified she-villain is hot on their tail and he has one month to blood his bride . . . all while resisting the annoying allure of the human, Elizabeth Peirce. No problem.

I think one of the down-falls of this particular ‘Immortals’ book, is the lack of secondary characters. I think the last time an ‘Immortals’ book was focused primarily on just two characters was in the second instalment, ‘A Hunger Like No Other’, which also had a kidnap/hostage storyline. But the problem with doing a similar story in this twelfth book is simply that, as a reader, you miss that cast of hilarious and unique secondary characters we’ve come to know and love. We have become so used to a cache of Valkyries, Berserkers, Witches and Lycans that to read a book in which they make minimal appearances (mere paragraphs in some cases) feels lacking somehow. And when Lothaire is such an anti-hero, the book felt doubly claustrophobic because his hatred of Elizabeth and humanity becomes a little too all-encompassing and dreary. I think the book only started to pick up for me towards the end, when Elizabeth starts hanging out more with Lothaire’s resident oracle, a poison-skinned Immortal called ‘Hag’. And when Thaddeus (the Eagle Scout/Quarterback and half-vampire of book eleven) makes a delightful reappearance, acting as Lothaire’s only best-buddy. When these other characters were thrown into the mix, the story started to feel more like an ‘Immortals’ instalment, when Lothaire and Elizabeth had these other people to bounce repartee off of, things got funny and a little more light-hearted.

As it is, because much of the book is just Lothaire and Elizabeth, the progression of their relationship also came across as a hellacious case of Stockholm Syndrome. Lothaire really makes it hard for Elizabeth to fall for him – what with his total degradation of her humanity, family, socio-economic standing etc, etc, etc. And I also had a problem with the fact that pretty much the only thing that draws these two together is good looks. Lothaire laments that Elizabeth is so beautiful, because it makes resisting her that much harder. And when Elizabeth can find nothing redeeming in Lothaire, she still falls for him (presumably because he’s pretty on the outside, regardless of being ugly on the inside). It’s not a great message to send out – all looks, no substance – and it’s disappointing because Cole’s characters are usually deliciously witty and crass, laugh-out-loud funny and with a certain verve that makes them irresistible, despite otherwise prickly demeanours.

Still, the book did pick up towards the end . . . when Lothaire starts interacting with other vampires and Elizabeth meets the Valkyrie. When surrounded with these secondary characters we have come to know and love, the book’s pace picks up and careens us towards a most fulfilling and interesting end. Not to mention things just get a heck of a lot funnier when more Immortals are added into the mix;

Then, to the sounds of a shocked chorus of Valkyries . . .
— “Oh, come on, the vamp won’t actually do – DUDE! She fucking did it!”
— “Ellie’s my best friend.”
— “I liked her before I even met her – you hate her compared to how much I like her.”

And I was over-the-moon with the ending, because it hints at more Lothaire appearances in book thirteen in a truly cunning twist of fate. And I do think that Lothaire’s character transformation at the end of this book will make him easier to swallow in upcoming ‘Immortals’ appearances . . . as it is, Lothaire is a bit too much of the evil anti-hero throughout a lot of this book. Perhaps we needed him diluted with a bit more humour (even of the mocking variety), but for me the much-anticipated ‘Lothaire’ instalment was a wee bit underwhelming.


| More