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Saturday, March 31, 2012

'Love Reborn' Black Dagger Brotherhood #10 by J.R. Ward

 Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

In the darkest corners of the night in Caldwell, New York, a conflict like no other rages. The city is home to a band of brothers born to defend their race: the warrior vampires of the Black Dagger Brotherhood.

Now back in the Brotherhood – and unrecognisable as the vampire leader he once was – Tohrment is physically emaciated and heartbroken beyond despair. When he begins to see his beloved in his dreams – trapped in a cold, isolating netherworld – Tohr turns to a self-serving fallen angel in hopes of saving the one he has lost. When he’s told he must learn to love another to free his former mate, Tohr knows they are all doomed . . .

Except then a female with a shadowed history begins to get through to him. Against the backdrop of the raging war with the  esser, and with a new clan of vampires vying for the Blind King’s throne, Tohr struggles between the buried past, and a very hot, passion-filled future . . . but can his heart let go and set all of them free?

** WARNING: This review contains 'Lover Reborn' spoilers, and spoilers of all other BDB books. Don't read if you haven't read 'Reborn' yet! **


‘Lover Reborn’ is the tenth book in J.R. Ward’s paranormal ‘Black Dagger Brotherhood’ series . . .  ‘Reborn’ is one of the most-anticipated books of this long-running series because it is Tohrment’s story, and it has been a long time coming.

One year ago Tohrment’s life was ripped apart. His pregnant shellan, Wellsandra, was murdered by the lesser society and Tohr has been mourning her and their young ever since. Immediately after her death he took himself away from the Brotherhood, but was dragged back by the angel Lassiter whose job it was to see Tohr through his dark time.

For many books now, Tohr has been a shell of his former self. He has watched his brothers find their own shellan’s, as he grows embittered by empty memories of his two-hundred-year mating with Wellsie. Recently, Tohr’s adopted son, John Matthew, found his own shellan in the form of half-sympath vampire, Xhex. But Xhex hasn’t been the only new female addition to the Brotherhood mansion . . .  following the events of ‘Lover Mine’ which revealed Xhex’s origins, her long-lost mother also came to stay with the Brotherhood.

Rosalhynda was a female of worth, once upon a time. Until a sympath kidnapped and raped her, and impregnated her during her needing. Hundreds of years ago Tohrment and his mentor, Darius, rescued Rosalhynda and spent months keeping her safe during her pregnancy. . .  but after giving birth to Xhex, Rosalhynda took her own life with a dagger to the gut – so full of shame for her fall from grace, she could not go on living, not even for her young.

Unbeknownst to Tohr and Xhex, Rosalhynda did not go into the Fade. Instead she went to serve The Chosen and Scribe Virgin, going over to the other side and renaming herself No’One – donning a hooded robe and dedicating herself to a life of servitude as penance for her sins.

Now No’One is back, and living in the Brotherhood Mansion with orders to serve the Chosen female, Payne, but also to reconnect with her estranged daughter, Xhex.

But No’One’s presence is rubbing salt in Tohr’s wound. No’One has seemingly returned from the dead, permitted to have another life on earth . . .  yet his Wellsie and their young are gone forever, lost to him in the Fade. Or so he thought.

Lassiter finally decides to break his silence and explain to Tohr that Wellsie and their son have not migrated to the Fade – they are not in peace. Instead, they are in-between. Neither here nor there, in a barren grey landscape, tethered only because Tohrment cannot let them go.

If Tohr wants his family to find peace in the Fade, he must find peace here on earth. And he might just find it in the most unlikely of places, with No’One.

J.R. Ward had such a big task on her hands, writing Tohr’s story. She had a lot of balls to juggle in getting his HEA just right, and that’s partly why his story has taken so long to write. The Warden had to ensure that enough time had passed since Wellsie’s death, before Tohr’s moving on could be told with any credibility. And I think now is the right time. This is book ten, and it feels definitely like Tohr is due his healing.

It was obvious in ‘Lover Mine’ that No’One would be taking on the difficult role of Tohr’s soon-to-be chosen female. A tough task, since the Warden herself admitted that within her series universe, hellren who lose their shellan’s don’t mate again. They get one chance at happily-ever-after, and that’s it. But the groundwork for Tohr and No’One’s HEA was laid when the Warden revealed that they’d had a connection some two-hundred-years ago, before Tohr’s mating to Wellsandra, back when No’One was Rosalhynda.

When ‘Lover Reborn’ begins, No’One has been in the Brotherhood mansion for some time, but hasn’t settled in. The Doggen (servants) treat her like a female of worth, but she has spent the last couple hundred years in a designated role of servitude to the Chosen females, and she’s uncomfortable being the mother to a Brother’s shellan, and therefore treated better than she thinks she deserves.

No’One has also found it difficult to assimilate in the Brotherhood mansion because of Tohr. She feels his anger towards her, but doesn’t quite know why he’s casting her glacial looks at Last Meal. Tohr, of course, sees No’One’s very presence back on earth as an affront to his dead shellan. The Scribe Virgin permitted No’One to return from death – heck, the Scribe Virgin also saved Rhage’s Mary from death, and bought Doc Jane back as a ghost for Vishous. But Wellsie is dead and gone. It’s not fair, and it’s part of the reason that he’s finding it so hard to move on.

But when Lassiter comes to Tohr with the horrifying news that Wellsie is not enjoying peace in the Fade, that she is in fact stuck in the barren wasteland of in-between, Tohr is spurned into action. . .  and intent on ‘moving on’, if only to save his shellan.

Lassiter has grand plans, for Tohr and Wellsie, but also for No’One. The way Lassiter sees it, the wheel of fate started turning two-hundred-years ago when Tohr had to bury Rosalhynda beneath an apple tree after she took her own life. . .
As he smiled at her, his expression was that of a holy man. “My name’s Lassiter, and I’ll tell you all you need to know about me. I’m an angel first and a sinner second, and I’m not here for long. I’ll never hurt you, but I’m prepared to make you pretty goddamn uncomfortable if I have to, to get my job done. I like sunsets and long walks on the beach, but my perfect female no longer exists. Oh, and my favourite hobby is annoying the shit out of people. Guess I’m just bred to want to get a rise out of folks – probably the whole resurrection thing.”
No’One’s hand crept up and held her robe together in a tight grip. “Why ever are you here?”
“If I told you now, you’d just fight it tooth and nail, but let’s just say I believe in full circles – I simply didn’t see the one we’re in until you came along.” He gave her a little bow.

I really liked Tohr and No’One. There’s lots of talk in this book about Wellsie being in the ‘in-between’, neither here nor there, stuck in limbo. And that’s also true of Tohr and No’One. All these players are stagnate – stuck in their respective black holes. It’s only when Tohr and No’One connect that they find a tether in one another, and are able to pull themselves out. . .

I liked that Tohr and No’One had a slow-burn romance. They had a lot to contend with; Tohr’s grief and the fact that he’s still very much in love with Wellsie. And No’One martyrdom, her thinking that she’s unworthy because of her past. It is a very slow, meandering romance – but when things start to heat up, J.R. Ward brings the romance. And it’s lovely and heart-warming to read Tohr getting a little slice of happiness after being miserable so long.

That’s not to say Tohr and No’One’s romance wasn’t without fault. I, personally, think that their HEA was rushed towards the end. At one point Tohr absolutely blasts No’One – he accuses her of martyrdom and being in love with him only because she knows he won’t ever love her back. He yells at her for punishing herself again and again and again, and claims that their romance isn’t healthy for either of them. And, you know what?, I agreed with every single word he said. I had been thinking all those things about Tohr and No’One’s HEA from the beginning – and I was head-nodding throughout Tohr’s grand, vicious speech.

No’One leaves to lick her wounds, bunking with Xhex while she sorts her life out. It’s during this time that she decides she won’t be a martyr anymore – but if she doesn’t want to be a society princess ever again, and she doesn’t want to serve others, what can she do? Xhex, wisely, counsels that she’ll have to figure out what she wants to do. YES! It was at this point that I despaired to see the end was so close. . .  because it was at that *exact* moment, that I wanted another 200 pages. I wanted to read about No’One being by herself in the real world for a little while – going to University perhaps? Joining Marissa at the women’s shelter, maybe? I wanted Tohr to take some time to accept his new level of acceptance with Wellsie’s death (and even take some time seriously making amends to No’One). Instead, the Warden writes a race to the finish. . .  
Meet the Maker

Straight up – I hated the ending. I thought the Warden wrote a total cop-out by turning to celestial hocus-pocus waffle regarding Wellsie’s Fade ceremony. This isn’t the first time I have rolled my eyes at the Warden writing a quick ethereal scapegoat to wrap up her book. I wasn’t overly thrilled with the Scribe Virgin’s quick-fix of Mary in ‘Lover Eternal’. And I hated the Casper magic she weaved on Doc Jane in ‘Lover Unbound’. The end of ‘Reborn’ was more convenient plot scapegoating, in my opinion. And I can’t help but think Tohr would have questioned, again, why No’One was bought back but his Wellsie was definitely relegated to the Fade. . . ?

So, I did like Tohr and No’One. But I felt like their relationship didn’t really hit an emotional and truthful stride until the end. . .  when I wanted more proof from Tohr that he was wanting to move on, and had enough room in his heart for a second shellan (and I would have really appreciated a mating ceremony on top of that!). I would have liked another season in which No’One took proper command of her life, for the first time, and spent time with her daughter figuring out who she is and what she wants to do with herself. And I would have *really* appreciated a non-sucky finale that didn’t rely heavily on transcendence wackiness to explain everything.

What I didn’t like about this romance, however, was made up in the form of Lassiter. He has a starring role in Tohr and No’One’s romance and he is divine. Literally! I can’t wait for him to get his own HEA, because hints are dropped in this novel about his one-and-only and never again love that had me raising my eyebrows. Not to mention he’s so downright funny and lovely and I just want him to meet someone and fall in love!
Band of Bastards

I really hated ‘Lover Unleashed’, but one good thing to come out of that book was the introduction of the Band of Bastards – a group of vampire warriors (trained by the Bloodletter) who have moved from the old country into Caldwell, with every intention of overthrowing Wrath and taking control of the glymera.

I love, love, loved the introduction of these fresh characters. I admit, beyond Tohr and Qhuay’s books, I didn’t quite know where the Warden would take this series next. . .  but I was so happy to read so much potential in the Bastards.

There’s Zypher, a handsome vampire who gives Rhage a run for his money in the ‘hottie’ stakes. Throe was a son of nobility, now unlikely second-lieutenant in the Bastards. And their fearless leader is Xcor – a vicious fighter with scarred face and black soul who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. And on the sidelines lurks Assail, a well-to-do vampire who is moving in on Rehvenge’s old drug territory, for reasons unknown. . . 

The Bastards are here, and their scenes have taken over from the old lesser point-of view chapters (something I only ever skim-read!). These are some mighty-fine bad guys. . . mainly because (unlike the lessers) they each have room for redemption. I always hated the lesser POV chapters because they were just bad guys – with no wriggle room. With the Bastards, half the fun will be falling for them while they butt heads with our beloved Brothers. I can definitely envision the Warden pulling fans in all different directions with these Bastards, and I can’t wait.

My only complaint with the Bastards is their similar characterization to the Brothers we’ve already read. Assail is a Rehvenge-type anti-hero (and many characters draw this comparison throughout ‘Reborn), while Zypher is another warrior cursed with good looks, like Rhage. Xcor has a scarred face like Zsadist, and a similarly mean outlook on life. I hope these are only superficial similarities – and not just regurgitated character arcs.
The Iron Mask

A big portion of ‘Reborn’ is also dedicated to Xhex and John Matthew, and their trouble in paradise. John isn’t coping well with Xhex’s warrior status in the brotherhood, and Xhex can’t envision their mating continuing as it has been. . .

I was really happy to revisit this couple, particularly because it made sense that they had a starring role in Tohr and No’One’s book (Xhex being No’One’s daughter, John being Tohr’s son). Xhex and John definitely have unique hurdles to overcome in their mating – and it’s something no other Brother has had to deal with, which makes it so interesting (and somewhat heartbreaking). These two are still great, and reading about them was a nice revisit.
The Chosen

Verily, I have hated Layla for a long time. I have made my feelings absolutely clear about this Mary-Sue too-perfect-to-be-likeable Chosen female. I still don’t like her after reading ‘Reborn’, but I like where her story is going. . .

Layla meets both Throe and Xcor from the Bastards – and she feeds both of them with the best of intentions (and thinking them to be members of the Brotherhood). Both Throe and Xcor are enthralled by Layla (because she’s so stunningly beautiful, face like the sun. . .  yadda, yadda, yadda). And Layla is equally intrigued by Xcor, a male she is oddly drawn to. . .  until she learns the truth about him and the Bastards.

Thank God for the Warden – she’s taking a fairly disliked character and giving her an intriguing storyline and potential HEA. I particularly like the Layla/Xcor possibility because of the Beauty and the Beast connotations. But while I like where Layla’s *story* is heading, I still don’t like her. In ‘Reborn’ she again comes across like a smiling idiot whose value is only skin-deep. But you know what? With such a good story for her in the works, I want the Warden to prove my assumptions wrong. I want Layla to be totally misunderstood and more than just a pretty face – because now her story demands it.

On that note. . .  I feel like I again have to say I’m a little over all the Chosen/vampire females who have been overpopulating this series. I said it in my ‘Lover Unleashed’ review, and I’ll say it again. I miss the human female love interests! I am *dying* for Rhage and Mary’s short-story and I am desperate for a Brother to have a shellan who isn’t vampirically beautiful, hairless and all-round perfect. I am so keen for a human female to come in who’s real and relatable and has as good a romance as Mary did with Rhage. Seriously! Enough of the hairless vampire Glamazons – I want a down-to-earth human chick to get some Brotherhood booty! 

Get ready to squeal because. . .  it’s happening! Definitely. Irrefutably. I am 99% sure that ‘Reborn’ is the book before Qhuay. . . and, guys, it’s going to be goooooood. Warden promised us bumps in their road to happily-ever-after and she delivers them in ‘Reborn’. Qhuinn is tangled in new family matters, and Blay is coming to terms with his never-gonna-die feelings for his best friend. Warden absolutely, positively sets these two up for a glorious HEA.  Get ready, because theirs might just be the most anticipated Brotherhood book of all!

The Warden definitely makes up for the lacklustre ‘Unleashed’ with Tohr’s ‘Reborn’. It was wonderful to finally read Tohr get a little slice of happy, and with a female who was equally deserving of a little bit of peace. Lassiter shines in his heavenly role, and I think after Qhuay, fans will be clamouring for his HEA. Speaking of Qhuay. . . it’s freakin’ happening and I couldn’t be more delighted! The Band of Bastards are an intriguing lot of anti-hero’s who will be devilishly delicious to read about. . .  particularly for Xcor and Layla’s possible HEA. ‘Love Reborn’ is another wonderful, rip-roaringly exhilarating instalment in J.R. Ward’s superb ‘Black Dagger Brotherhood’ series.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

'The Children of the King' by Sonya Hartnett

 Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Three children have been sent to live in the countryside, safe from the war in London. When they find two boys hiding in a castle, the past and future come together to make an extraordinary adventure.

Cecily and Jeremy Lockwood, along with their mother, are fleeing London and going to the countryside. While the city blackens itself in preparation for air raids, and newspaper headlines scream that France will fall… the Lockwood children are being whisked away to Heron Hall, to stay with their Uncle Peregrine while their father holds the fort in London.

Upon arrival at the country train station, the number of children with nametags and suitcases delights twelve-year-old Cecily. She begs her mother to take home one of the evacuee children, and fourteen-year-old Jeremy agrees – though his reasons are purely patriotic, while Cecily envisions taking home a friend to amuse her at Heron Hall. Cecily chooses a black-haired girl called May Bright, who is ten-years-old and wise beyond her years.

Life at Heron Hall is not at all what May is used to. There’s a cook who takes food orders, maids and grandiose bedrooms. The mansion sits on a sprawling bit of land that May enjoys exploring with Peregrine’s dog, Byron. To escape Cecily’s incessant chatter and avoid disturbing Peregrine’s important thinking work, May walks around the estate… and discovers a river, on the other side of which lays ruins.

The ruins intrigue all three children, even more so when Uncle Peregrine tells them that it was once a place called Snow Castle. He assures the children that there’s a terrible tale associated with the place, a tale that is “unfit for childish ears.” Ever persistent, the children manage to coax a story in instalments out of Peregrine, about the dastardly devious story behind Snow Castle…

But even as the tale is being told, the Castle holds a new fascination for Cecily and May. Two boys are hiding in the castle’s ruin, brothers who speak of spies and watching eyes…

Meanwhile, Jeremy feels the valour and bravery are pulling him back to London, back to his father. As the war unfolds, he feels a sense of duty that belies his young years.

‘The Children of the King’ is a new young adult novel from popular Australian author, Sonya Hartnett.

Hartnett’s book really feels like a hark back to children’s stories of long ago – very reminiscent of C.S. Lewis and Enid Blyton. The connections, for me, were in Hartnett’s masterful use of language and description – her writing is lyrical and wonderful, but not difficult (I’d say, a 12+ age-bracket readership). And even though Hartnett uses an omniscient narrator, she still gives wonderful perception and insight into each of the characters. I particularly loved Cecily – who starts out as a snobbish princess, and doesn’t precisely command likability… but as the novel progresses and Hartnett writes a sway in her character and perception, you do start cheering her on and revelling in her transformation. May Bright was an equally wonderful character, even more so for being so young – at just ten year’s of age she’s whip-quick and wise beyond her years, a thoughtful young lady with an iron-clad backbone that would be enviable in an adult, but in such a young protagonist is downright brilliant!
Alarmed to find herself pulled into the discussion and, worse, made its central object, May changed the subject. ‘My father went to France,’ she offered.
The statement cooled the room. ‘Your father’s a soldier?’ asked Peregrine.
‘He wasn’t before the war, but he became one.’
‘He volunteered?’
‘Yes, he volunteered.’
‘France!’ said Cecily. ‘Are you very worried about him?’
‘Of course she’s worried about him! Don’t be thick, Cecily.’
May glanced around at her adopted family, who gazed back as if she were a most exotic thing. When she spoke, it was carefully. ‘My mum says being worried can’t change what happens. It can’t make things better. So you should just live and – be happy about what’s good. That’s what I think, anyway.’

Jeremy is another incredible young character, and his journey is the most heartbreaking of all. Not to give anything away, but some of his scenes had my heart leaping into my throat – they are brilliant and tragic for the way Hartnett writes a crumbling of innocence, a confrontation of mortality courtesy of the war.

In thinking that Hartnett’s story was reminiscent of Lewis and Blyton, I was half expecting the novel to take a fantastical turn. The children are thinking the same thing, though for very different reasons. May and Cecily are coming to think of Snow Castle as a mystical place, particularly when they discover two brothers camped out there and Uncle Peregrine starts telling a story that connects to Richard III (and the 'Princes in the Tower'). Jeremy, on the other hand, has delusions of war – he, like many young men his age, think of fighting as a patriotic duty and the glory of victory.

Hartnett’s story had me thinking about the infamous quote from ‘Hamlet’: There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. The children come to learn (as does the reader) that there are, literally, ‘more things in heaven and earth’… for all that readers, and the children, feel like there is something grand and magical lurking, they soon realize that the adventure and the tragedy is in their own lives and the past. As the war creeps into their young minds, as they are each confronted with the truth and brutality of war, they soon realize that whatever they dreamed up could not possibly match what is playing out in battlefields across Europe, and the Pacific. Equally chilling for the children is the historic 16th century murder mystery of the 'Princes in the Tower', which is more frightening than anything Uncle Peregrine could have dreamed up. Thus, ‘The Children of the King’ is part ghost story, part coming-of-age (with the loss of innocence), as we read Cecily, Jeremy and May navigate their war-torn childhood, to become a little bit wiser, and tougher.

Sonya Hartnett is, without a doubt, one of Australia’s master storytellers – that title should not be bandied about lightly, and when you read a novel as hauntingly sublime as ‘The Children of the King’ you do realize it is an utterly deserved title.


Australian Women Writers 2012 Reading and Reviewing Challenge 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What advice do you have for young writers?

Thomas Mann hit the nail on the head when he said:

"A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people."

Amen to that!

Every writer stumbles and hits roadblocks. What can help pick yourself up and trudge on is advice from authors who have been there, and overcome the very same roadblocks. 

Below are a few writers I have interviewed over the years, and their answer to my question: "What advice do you have for budding young writers?". Some are wacky, others are practical. All are worth thinking about.

 If you have a good piece of advice, then please share it in a comment. Every little bit helps, after all :)

Don’t be afraid to write and keep writing, but also don’t be afraid to edit. Don’t be put off by rejection – easier said than done! It goes without saying that you should read widely and when you come across something you love, take note of how the author has achieved this. And as I said earlier, enter your writing in competitions. You never know your luck!

Read. Write. Read. Write. And again. That’s all. Just keep being as good as you can be. On a more practical level, read passages out loud so you can hear if they ring true – and if something makes you hesitate or wonder, then it needs more thought. I learned that the hard way.

I’m currently writing in 25 minute bursts with a five minute break in between, just about chained to the desk so I can’t get distracted. It really works, especially for rough drafting. If I can’t think of the right word or I don’t know some historical fact, I just write “something” and go back to it later. Otherwise I can spend twenty minutes looking up the etymology of one word or the price of boat hire on the Thames in 1640 and not write any more for hours.


Read as much and as widely as you can - not just in the areas where you're already a fan but in new genres.

Don't just focus on "being a writer" and living in your own imagination - have another life, another career, that feeds into your writing by connecting you to the real world.

Write a lot, and again, write widely. Try lots of different ways to tell the stories, or communicate the impressions, that you carry around inside you. That way you'll find the forms that suit you.

Get a really terrible job first. I worked on a building site for a short time and it was horrible. When I find it hard to write or just don't feel like it, I remember how it felt holding those bricks around. If you really want to be a serious writer, don’t get married or have kids.

Get a wife.

And also, don’t try to do it all on a laptop. Even is all you have is a laptop, buy a separate keyboard that you can set up to reach ergonomically. Seriously. Look after those tendons. You only have one set.

Keep writing. It’s boring advice, but it really is the most important thing, I think. You need to love writing and keep at it, always practicing and writing new things, even if you don’t get published quickly (most authors don’t)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

'The Grimstones' series by Asphyxia

  Received from the Publisher

From the Hatched BLURB:

Hello, my name is Martha Grimstone. Shall I tell you my best secret? One day I'm going to be Lady Martha the Magnificent. I don't know what my special talent is, but I hope to find it any day now.

I live in a grand old house in a valley full of rare and precious herbs, which my grandfather uses to heal and comfort people. But they haven't worked on Mama; she cries a lake of tears every night. If only I could get into Grandpa Grimstone's apothecary and work my very own spell!

Hatched is a gothic fairytale about a girl who keeps her secrets safe between two pieces of cardboard, a mother who sews garments lined with love, and a giant egg that seems to take forever to hatch.

Martha Grimstone lives with her mother and grandfather in a dilapidated house built by her Grimstone ancestors. Her grandfather, Elcho, is a talented apothecary, using the many herbs and plants that grow in abundance around the old house to heal people. But Elcho cannot cure Velvetta Grimstone; Martha’s mother who cries for her lost love and Martha’s father, Mortimer. Also living in the Grimstone house is Aunt Gertrude – a terrible cook and Martha’s tutor – and August; the resident repairman and gardener whose family has served the Grimstone’s for many generations. And of course there’s father, who rests in the family crypt.

Everyone in the Grimstone household has their chores and talents. Mother is a talented seamstress, grandfather is a respected healer, August the reliable housekeeper and Aunt Gertrude, who runs the household like a navy captain. The only person who feels out of place in the Grimstone family is Martha – and that’s just because she hasn’t found her special talent yet. But all that’s about to change. . .

‘The Grimstones’ is a new children’s book series by Asphyxia.

‘The Grimstones’ is a book series companion to a puppet show of the same name. Asphyxia is a circus performer, puppeteer and writer. ‘The Grimstones’ puppet plays have toured Australia and overseas, and have now been adapted into children’s books (a sort of companion to the plays) for readers eight and older.

The heart of the story is a family trying to repair itself. Martha’s mother misses her father, Mortimer, who died when Martha was a child. Velvetta visits Mortimer’s crypt daily and not even grandpa Elcho’s herbs can stop her river of tears.

Martha has started a diary as she tries to grasp her special Grimstone family talent – and within its pages she draws pictures of the plants that grow wild around the old dilapidated house, as well as some of Elcho’s remedy recipes.

‘The Grimstones’ is a Gothic series – a cross between Mary Shelley and Tim Burton for the younger set. And I know that sounds odd and scary for younger readers. The puppets do have a ghostly, drawn appearance – with black-rimmed eyes and white complexions. And there is talk of a family crypt and the death of Martha’s father. But the books have real heart – at its crux, ‘The Grimstones’ is about family. It’s about moving on from tragedy and appreciating what you have instead of what you’ve lost. And Martha is a charming young narrator with a detailed eye and endless empathy for her mother’s heartache.

The novels are chapter books, but instead of illustrations, photos from the puppet play accompany the story. And this is the real brilliance of ‘The Grimstones’ – Asphyxia’s set designs and puppets are absolutely gorgeous. At the end of ‘Hatched’ there are pictures from the author’s workshop, where we see that mother Velvetta’s little Bobbin & Co. sewing machine was handcrafted from a piece of wood.

‘The Grimstones’ series is Gothic fairytale, told in puppet pictures and with a really lovely, heartfelt story at its centre. The books are sort of the best of Tim Burton (with lovely Gothicism and intricate puppetry) with a delicate but difficult story at its centre, not dissimilar to Neil Gaiman and the like. I think this is a fantastic series for younger readers – especially if parents take their children to the puppet show and give them an extra dose of this fantastical world.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

'Spoiled' by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

 Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

16-year-old Molly Dix loves her ordinary life in suburban Indiana, so when her single mother passes away, she is shocked to discover that her biological father is Brick Berlin, world famous movie star and red carpet regular.

Equally intrigued and terrified by her Hollywood lineage, Molly moves to Southern California and plunges head-first into the deep end of Beverly Hills celebrity life. Just as Molly thinks her new life and family couldn't get any stranger, she meets Brooke Berlin, her gorgeous and spoiled half-sister whom welcomes Molly to la-la land with a healthy dose of passive-aggressive "sisterly love."

Set against the backdrop of a sparkling and fashion-filled Los Angeles, this deliciously dysfunctional family soap opera will satisfy every reader looking for their next lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous beach read.

Brooke Berlin is one party away from making the Hollywood ‘it’ list. She has all the credentials – movie star daddy, tragic tale of childhood abandonment, killer good looks, enviable fashion sense and a requisite nemesis. Now all she needs is a sweet sixteen party to introduce her to the media and world stage.

Her father, action hero movie star Brick Berlin, has promised Brooke a sweet sixteen party that will make MTV viewers weep. But Brick has an even bigger surprise for his little princess… in the form of an out-of-wedlock half-sister.

This is not good news for Brooke. The only thing the media loves more than a movie star’s daughter taking to the limelight is a movie star admitting he’s had a secret love child living in the suburban backwoods of Indiana for sixteen years!

You’d think that discovering your father is a Hollywood heartthrob and red-carpet regular would be a dream come true – but not for Molly Dix. Her mother, the only family she has ever known, has just passed away and now she has to leave her home in Indiana and move to Los Angeles after learning of her real father’s celebrity-status by way of her mother’s death-bed confession.

So now Molly is moving to Beverly Hills where the girls are catty, the boys are metrosexual and her father’s high profile has put her on the paparazzi’s hit list. But that’s nothing compared to her half-sister, Brooke. Upset at being upstaged, Brooke wages a war against her yokel half-sister... it’s certainly not the welcoming Molly was expecting.

‘Spoiled’ is the young adult novel from Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan – the hilarious fashion commentators behind the ‘Go Fug Yourself’ blog. 

Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of perusing ‘Go Fug Yourself’ will not be surprised to learn that Cocks and Morgan have put their devilish comedic talents to an LA-based YA novel. The girls are just too good not to branch out beyond the blog. Their observations of red-carpet fashion are wonderfully astute, sometimes snarky and always hilarious. In 2005 ‘Go Fug Yourself’ was listed in TIME magazine’s ’50 Coolest Websites’, and in 2006 the blog made ‘Entertainment Weekly’s’ list of favourite entertainment sites. Fans and newcomers to Cocks and Morgan’s special brand of hilarity will not be disappointed with their foray into Young Adult land.

In ‘Spoiled’ the girls walk a fine line between mockery and wisdom, cynicism and tenderness. Of course their book is based in LA, so with the setting comes all the requisite mocking of the celebrities their blog has also teased. Brooke Berlin being entrenched in the Beverly Hills lifestyle leaves plenty of room for hitting-the-nail-0n-the-head observations of crazy celeb antics and superficiality;

Abandoning Brooke and Arugula, Shelby signalled the ‘Hey!’ photographer, who obligingly started snapping her as she ran over to a table where one of the lesser Kardashians was autographing a pile of three-hundred-dollar tank tops from her new line, Klothes. The girls shrieked, then hugged without actually touching.
“Something about that makes me uncomfortable,” Arugula warned in a low voice.
“I know, right?” Brooke rolled her eyes. “That family needs to buy another consonant.”

This is where Cocks and Morgan excel, obviously. But what’s wonderful is how they turn all that ridicule on its head, particularly with Brooke’s character.

Brooke hasn’t seen her mum in years; she walked out on Brooke when the relationship with Brick went belly-up. But Brooke writes lengthy unsent emails to her absentee mother. This is just the beginning of Cocks and Morgan peeling back Brooke’s layers, wiping off the glitz and glamour, the bitchy rivalries and paparazzi obsession to get to the heart of what makes this girl tick. And her journey was surprising.

Molly is a real change of pace, compared to Brooke. Not only is she dealing with the fall-out of losing her mother, moving away from her friends (and potential-maybe-boy-crush-best-friend) but she has her father’s notoriety and her half-sister’s jealousy to contend with. And the paparazzi/media obsession is a whole other ball game she is completely ill-equipped to deal with;

Brooke Berlin was the most mysterious variable in the entire scenario. Laurel had known nothing about her, and in the few short chats Molly had with Brick to discuss logistics, all he’s said was that Brooke asked for a sister for Christmas when she was eight.
“Her Wikipedia page was hilarious,” Charmaine said. “But that had to be accidental.”
“You mean, ‘Brooke Ophelia Mayflower Berlin is the regal daughter of one of Hollywood’s most cherished actor-directors, known throughout the city for her tiny ankles and tremendous talent’?” Molly recited from memory.
“You’d think any0ne who allowed the Internet to say that about her would’ve thrown in a picture,” Charmaine complained.

‘Spoiled’ is laugh-out-loud funny. If you get a chuckle (like I do) from reading the ‘Go Fug Yourself’ blog entries, then be prepared for sustained belly-aching laughs when Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan turn their talents for witty observation to a 300+ pages young adult novel. This book is begging to be a CW-adaptation, and I cannot wait to read the second installment, ‘Messy’, coming June this year.


June 2012

Saturday, March 24, 2012

'Nice Girls Don't Bite Their Neighbors' Jane Jameson #4 by Molly Harper

From the BLURB:

Just as Jane Jameson’s unlife seems to be stabilizing, fate sinks its fangs firmly into her butt. Despite her near-phobia of wedding planning, her no-frills nighttime nuptials to her sexy boyfriend, Gabriel, are coming along smoothly. That is, until she turns a fatally wounded teenage acquaintance, and the Council pronounces her responsible for the newborn vamp until he can control his thirst.

Jane’s kitchen barely holds enough Faux Type O to satiate the cute teen’s appetite and maintain Gabriel’s jealous streak at a slow simmer. As if keeping her hyperactive childe from sucking the blood out of the entire neighborhood isn’t enough to deal with, the persnickety ghost of Jane’s newly deceased grandma Ruthie has declared war on the fanged residents of River Oaks. Suddenly choosing monogrammed cocktail napkins and a cake she can’t even eat seem downright relaxing in comparison.

Tensions inside the house are growing…and outside, a sinister force is aiming a stake straight for the center of Gabriel’s heart. Most brides just have to worry about choosing the right dress, but Jane fears that at this rate, she’ll never make it down the aisle for the wedding all nice girls dream of…

Things have been quiet around Half-Moon Hollow. Zeb has settled into parenthood with his werewolf wife, Jolene, and they are happily being driven mad by their twins. Dick and Andrea have tied the knot and are still enjoying wedded bliss (so long as no one mentions the probability of Dick turning their basement into a ‘man cave’). Even Jane Jameson’s high-strung older sister, Jenny, has mellowed and been getting along swimmingly with her vampiric sibling.

And as for Jane? Once considered a spinster with limited shelf-life, Jane has adapted and thrived as a vampire . . .  with the help of her lover and sire, Gabriel. Now Jane and Gabriel are settled into a comfortable and committed relationship;

We were settled, as so many people were when they reached their thirties. It had just taken Dick and Gabriel a while to get around to it. We spent weekends at my house, watching movies, the babies asleep upstairs in the old nursery. You’d think a bunch of supernatural creatures would find this boring as hell, but after two years filled with blood, heartache, hostage crises, and death, a quiet movie night seems downright decadent.
Sometimes I marvelled at how grown-up we’d all become, and then Dick would recite a sixteen-stanza penis-based epic poem, and I'd take it back.

So with everything so settled at River Oaks, it seems the perfect time for Gabriel to pop the question (again) and ask Jane to be his wedded wife from here to eternity.

Now Jane is organizing an undead wedding, and reaping the rewards of bridesmaid vindictiveness. So of course it’s the perfect time for everything to go wrong.

First her Grandma Ruthie dies. Then Gabriel gets a creepy stalker. And to cap things off, Jane is witness to the murder of her old babysitting charge, all-American teenage boy, Jamie. Jane decides to save Jamie’s life by turning him into a vamp, and takes Jamie on as her sire.

Half-Moon Hollow isn’t so sleepy anymore. Jane is sire to a sullen teenage boy. Gabriel is on some homicidal redneck’s hit-list and to top it all off, Jane has a wedding to plan!

‘Nice Girls Don’t Bite Their Neighbors’ is the fourth book in Molly Harper’s hilariously magnificent ‘Jane Jameson’ paranormal comedy series.

It has been so long since the last ‘Jane Jameson’ book (2009!) that when this fourth instalment landed in my hot little hands, I took my time and savoured the reading . . .  especially because Molly Harper has no more Jane books planned. Instead she has two spin-off books coming out, the first of which is ‘The Care and Feeding of Stray Vampires’ in August, which features a character we meet in ‘Neighbors’. And while Jane and her gang will feature in the spin-offs, Harper hasn’t got any more Jane-only books planned.

Going into this book, knowing it’s a finale of sorts, means that readers have heightened expectations. There are a few loose ends that need tying – like Jane’s Grandma Ruthie harbouring old resentments, and Gabriel finally popping the question to Jane and getting an affirmative answer! What I wasn’t prepared for was all the curveballs and ‘OMG’ jaw-droppers that Harper throws on as icing on this finale cake.

Jane siring her old babysitting charge, Jamie, is hilariously and awkwardly awesome. Jamie is a hot young high-schooler, and all-American teenage God who is cut-down in the prime of his life, right before his old babysitter’s eyes. Luckily vampire Jane is on hand to sire him. . .  but with siring comes many responsibilities. Jamie moves into Jane and Gabriel’s home at River Oaks (not exactly conducive to their sex life). Jamie is not being allowed to see his good Christian parents for fear he might eat them. To top it all off, Jamie has all the usual surging teen hormones. . .  now with vampire reflexes and blood-lust.

Jamie’s death has Jane seeking advice from vampire council member, Ophelia, yet again. This teenage vampire is all kinds of creepy – doubly creepy is the immortal teen’s instant infatuation with Jamie. Not to mention that Jane discovers a little secret Ophelia has been keeping. . .  in the form of her young vampire sister, who she turned some three hundred years ago. Little vampire Georgie makes Damien from ‘The Omen’ look like a boy scout;
“Does someone need a nap?” I asked, patting her head.
“Does someone need to be defenestrated?” she retorted, whirling on me.
I have to admit that having those little china-doll eyes narrowed at me sent a chill down my spine. So I did what any sensible person would do when confronted with a miniature killing machine . . .  I leaned closer and provoked her.
I smiled in that saccharine way that drove Jenny nuts. “I don’t know what sort of low-rent vampires you’re used to dealing with, but I know exactly what ‘defenestrated’ means. And if you think you’re strong enough to push me out a window, bring it on, Pocket Vamp.”
Georgie’s lip curled up as she ground her tiny baby fangs together. The tension in her face suddenly snapped, and she turned to Ophelia.
“I like her,” Georgie said as Ophelia handed her a handheld game unit.

Reading Molly Harper is always a bit of a health hazard . . .  because she will leave you in stitches, every single time. Seriously, side-splitting is an understatement. Harper brings the big laughs when Jane has to plan her wedding – from dealing with her insane mama to accepting the inevitable hen’s night backlash.

Everyone’s favourites are back – Gabriel, Andrea, Dick, Zeb and Jolene. And everyone is revelling in Jane’s wedding planning discomfort, not to mention her siring hits and misses. Gabriel and Jane are steamy as usual, and equally sweet are newlyweds Andrea and Dick. Molly Harper also introduces a few newbies to the series – like human vampire wedding-planner Iris Scanlon, who is the protagonist of the August spin-off book.

‘Nice Girls Don’t Bite Their Neighbors’ is a brilliantly funny send-off for our girl, Jane Jameson. I’m going to cross my fingers that Molly Harper writes more Jane-centric books. . .  but Harper has proved with her ‘Naked Werewolf’ series and contemporary romance stand-alone that she has a lot more up her sleeve than just Ms Jameson (fabulous as she is). I’ll miss her, but this was a great goodbye for ‘Jane Jameson’, and I do look forward to the promising spin-off books.


August 2012

Thursday, March 22, 2012

'The Hunger Games' movie review

  ** It goes without saying that there are SPOILERS in this review, of all the books in Suzanne Collins’s series **

24 tributes enter.
Only one will survive.
Let the games begin.

This is it. The moment fans have been waiting for since they first read about The Capitol, District 12 and Katniss Everdeen back in 2008. The adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s first book in her ‘Hunger Games’ trilogy is here, and it’s bloody spectacular.
Great Expectations

I was lucky enough to win tickets to an advanced screening of the film (Thank you, Empire Magazine!) last night. I went to the film in two minds… being a HUGE fan of the book series I did have my reservations about an adaptation. I ashamedly admit I was one of those people who scoffed at the announced casting of Jennifer Lawrence in the epic role of Katniss. I can admit it now (with hanging head) that I was rooting for Kaya Scodelario and couldn’t imagine Jennifer, blonde bombshell and Oscar nominee, as everybody’s beloved volunteer tribute. Oh, how wrong I was!

I was also concerned, like many fans, about the supposed PG+13 rating of the film. I couldn’t imagine how director Gary Ross could do Collins’s book series justice with a PG leash, when violence and glorified blood sport is not only the backbone of the plot but an intricate reflection of the distorted dystopian society. Luckily the film ended up with an M-rating, recommended for mature audiences… And in the film Ross proves that the violence can be impacting and justifiably horrifying, without being overtly bloody or gratuitous.

And, finally, I was most concerned by the casting of Josh Hutcherson as Katniss’s fellow District 12 contribute, and potential love interest, Peeta Mellark. Josh is 20 to Jennifer Lawrence’s 22, but his short stature and baby-face make him appear even younger… especially when compared to Liam Hemsworth who plays Gale Hawthorne, Katniss’s friend and eventual rival for her affections in the next two books. My worries about Hutcherson were not helped when I started perusing the premiere photos of him with his co-stars. The height and age difference in real-life seemed a (laughably) too big hurdle to overcome, and I wondered if the awkward red-carpet poses would translate to the big screen….
A World Away

First of all, the look of ‘The Hunger Games’ is fantastic! I think Gary Ross was doing a bit of a head-nod to the fact that Collins’s books have been compared to George Orwell’s ‘1984’… while watching I did think that parts of the District 12 and Capitol worlds were reminiscent of the 1984 film adaptation. It was in the ‘fancy’ blue clothing that the District 12 children wore to their Reaping, and the smooth granite façade of the Capitol’s stadium.

District 12 will feature more prominently in the next two adaptations, but the glimpse we got in this first movie was exactly what I wanted. It’s like a time-warp, made all the more noticeable when compared to the glitz and glamour of the Capitol. And it was here that Ross’s adaptive vision really excelled…

I said in my book review of ‘The Hunger Games’ that the look of the Capitol and its residents all leaked into the Dystopian theme… District 12 is the coal district, and its residents are hard done by - they’re all a little ragged and dirty and in a 1950’s depression era look, whereas the Capitol is full of outlandish abundance. Women dye their skin fanciful colours and men wear gravity-defying hair dos. There’s no doubt that this fictional future dystopia is our current society in a fun-house mirror – embellished and ruined. But Gary Ross’s Capitol has the feel of Marie Antoinette’s Versailles – for all the pompous wigs and garish colour schemes. Marvelous!

My one complaint with costume design had to do with Katniss and Peeta’s all-important fire costume (which gives Katniss the nickname, ‘The Girl on Fire’). I know this was a tall order, costume-wise, but the flames were underwhelming and too fake looking. I liked their coal-black costumes, but the flames were a bit of a CGI giggle. What worked better, I thought, was Katniss’s twirling flames number, when she’s interviewed by Caesar Flickerman. Now *that* looked cool!
All the Men and Women, Merely Players

What really stood out for me in this movie was the absolute spot-on perfection of the secondary characters.

The smaller players in the books actually come to mean a great deal as Katniss’s story progresses… and for some of them, their roles gain weight in the next two books. So I was pleased-as-punch to discover that the casting of secondary characters was absolutely nailed! There were three stand-outs for me...

Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, Katniss and Peeta’s Capitol-assigned escort. Banks could have been swamped by the outlandishness of her character, and furthermore by her gloriously over-the-top costume. But she really, truly excelled in this role (small as it may be). She was funny, while managing to remain a Capitol darling who doesn’t quite gain our sympathy just yet…

Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman was PERFECTION! Caesar is the host of the Hunger Games televised event; he interviews the tributes and narrates the goings-on of the actual arena games. I’m a big Tucci fan anyway (coolest dad ever in ‘Easy A’!) but I thought he outdid himself and fan expectation in this role. Even without garish prosthetics (there was rumour of false teeth) he managed to convey the disturbing hilarity of Caesar’s role to narrate the bloodthirsty games for the viewers at home. Tucci’s smile alone was totally Caesar – through and through.

Finally, Amandla Stenberg as Rue, the young District 11 Tribute. Now, Rue’s book character has a big fan-following, and was always going to be favourite. So I do wonder if part of my being impressed by Stenberg was just the fact that she had a great character to play (courtesy of Suzanne Collins), but upon reflection I just think she was another example of hit-the-nail-on-the-head casting. Rue’s early scenes drew some sweet giggles from the audience (particularly her antics during Tribute training) but it was her climactic death that really proved she was a force to be reckoned with. It’s a pivotal scene for a lot of reasons – Katniss’s first close quarters kill, among them. But the scene was just heartbreaking and both Stenberg and Lawrence did a wonderful job. The sound editing in this scene, and switched-perspective were also masterful.

One of the more contentious secondary character castings in the movie was Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, previous District 12 winner, now Katniss and Peeta’s mentor. I know everybody wanted Robert Downey Jnr (me included!) to play the alcoholic curmudgeon. But Harrelson did a surprisingly good job (distracting blonde, straggly locks aside). Something I liked in this adaptation was how Gary Ross showed the behind-the-scenes workings of the Hunger Games. He takes viewers out of the arena on occasion, to show Haymitch schmoozing with Capitol sponsors and getting people on the outside onside with Katniss and Peeta. This was brilliant, and a very important component to the Games! I also liked Haymitch’s interactions with Games coordinator, Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley – with a FANTASTIC beard!), which illustrated just how badly the odds are, and not always in anyone’s favour because much of the Games is scripted. Likewise, Seneca’s scenes with President Snow (Donald Sutherland – again, more brilliant casting) are a nice leeway into the next two books…

Probably the worst casting was Lenny Kravitz as Cinna (Katniss’s designer). He pretty much just played Lenny Kravitz (tight leather pants, but no sunglasses – thankfully!). His scenes illicited a few giggles, only because of the absurdity of Lenny Kravitz dishing out deep and meaningful’s.
Heroes and Legends

Now, to the most important casting of all… Katniss and Peeta.

I won’t comment on Liam Hemsworth as Gale. As fans of the books know, Gale’s role in the first novel is absurdly small and it’s impossible to say anything about Hemsworth’s role beyond “he did good”. If I was Josh Hutcherson I might be mildly ticked off at having to share the red-carpet with an co-star who had a diminished role in comparison to my own… but, hey, Gale’s importance lies in book’s two and three.

I bow down before Jennifer Lawrence and take back every single negative thing I ever said about her casting. She was perfection. I always think that with ‘Twilight’, fans are smitten with the series because of love interests, Edward and Jacob (nobody actually likes Bella, do they?). But with ‘Hunger Games’ it seems like all fans have a bit of a crush on Katniss. We want to be her and we want the best for her… so much so that her character has taken on a cult-like following, akin to her role in the District revolution. But fans forget that while she kicked butt in ‘Catching Fire’ and ‘Mockingjay’, she started out as just another scared tribute in ‘Hunger Games’. Jennifer Lawrence bought such a fantastic, steely vulnerability to the character – she was sublime, and I think she will have exceeded many fan’s expectations.

Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, I’m a little more on-the-fence about. I admit, I went in with low expectations and came away pleasantly surprised… but not totally convinced. I still think that in the romance stakes, there’s no competition between him and Liam Hemsworth, and knowing the outcome of the love triangle I’m afraid lots of people will be wondering a big WTF? when it comes time for Katniss to choose. So I didn’t feel much sizzle between Peeta and Katniss (admittedly though, we’re meant to be constantly questioning and double-guessing Peeta’s affections for Katniss… so maybe that worked well in hindsight?). I just didn’t take Peeta seriously enough, I don’t think. I mean, there was one camouflage scene that had me (and the entire audience) cracking up in hysterics, but I still don’t know if that was actually meant to be serious (instead I was left to wonder why the Capitol included a M.A.C. cosmetics counter in the arena?). I think Josh Hutcherson will really be given an opportunity to show his mettle in ‘Catching Fire’, and I really hope he doesn’t botch it up. It could go either way at this stage.
The Sound and the Fury

Finally, I feel like I have to mention the violence. I really, truly think that the violence was necessary in this adaptation, because it’s intricate to the books. The unnatural violence of kids killing kids for sport and entertainment is so viscerally wrong, it’s part of how Collins framed this as a Dystopian world.

Gary Ross does bring the violence in this movie. It’s not overly bloody, and it’s not unnecessary and does stay true to the books… but I know that at the advanced screening there were people wincing and flinching, gasping at certain death scenes. And you know what? – good! It’s meant to impact. It’s mean to provoke a feeling of horror and wrongness – juxtaposed with the scenes of Capitol viewers going crazy with blood-lust as they watch the big screen.
May the Odds be Ever in Your Favour

All in all this is a superb adaptation – and a befitting tribute to Suzanne Collins’s wonderful series. If you loved the books, rest assured they have been adapted with the upmost care, respect and craft. I can’t wait for the next two films – bring it on!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

'Losing It' by Julia Lawrinson

 Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

To avoid Losing It in the bushes with some random guy in a heavy-metal T-shirt after too many tequila shots, four best friends make a bet: to lose it before schoolies week – and preferably in a romantic, sober way that they won't regret.

What follows is a sometimes funny, sometimes awkward, but always compelling comedy of errors as Abby, Mala, Bree and Zoe each try to find their Mr Right . . . or at least get laid.

Meet Bree, Zoe, Abby and Mala – the GeeGees (aka ‘Geek Girls’). The GeeGees quickly banded together as the outcast scholarship kids at prestigious SMAC (aka ‘St. Michael’s Anglican College), and ever since then they have been inseparable.

Bree is the glamazon of their group – she turns boy’s heads but has a reputation as an ice queen.

Abby is a sweet Christian girl – but don’t be fooled, because it’s the quiet ones you’ve got to look out for.

Mala is the dutiful daughter who is slowly being suffocated by her lovingly over-protective family.

And Zoe is trying to control her insatiable love of men’s muscly arms, and trying to keep her jealousy of Bree in check.

All four girls are currently still in possession of their V-plates (aka ‘virginity’) but all that’s about to change… Schoolies week is, statistically speaking, the time in a young girl’s life when she is most likely to pop her cherry. But losing it on a sandy beach surrounded by boozing teenagers and empty bottles does not sound overly romantic. So the GeeGees have made a pact to lose ‘it’ before Schoolies.

Four girls.
One challenge.
Potential catastrophe.
Game on.

‘Losing It’ is the new YA novel by Australian author Julia Lawrinson.

For some readers, ‘Losing It’ will be a head-nodding, cathartic and hilarious read that will either trigger memories of your own befuddling experience, or act as a ‘what not to do’ as you navigate the treacherous terrain of virginity. And then for a few other readers, ‘Losing It’ will no doubt be a special glimpse into the secret world of girls … and all our neurotically romanticized ways.

When we meet the GeeGees – Bree, Abby, Mala and Zoe – they are formulating a plan to avoid a dreaded Schoolies week cherry-popping;
'Okay,' Zoe said. 'Here's a better idea. Why don't we still have the rules, but also say that nobody's forced to participate if they don't want to.'
'What's the point of that?' Bree said. 'We may as well just leave it to chance.'
'Well, no,' Zoe said. 'It could be a challenge, instead of a bet.'
'What's the difference?' Bree asked.
'A bet is something juvenile, shallow, something you do with no thought. A challenge, on the other hand, is something you rise to, so to speak –' she ignored the giggles '– something that has a moral element, something that implies that you're overcoming the thing that is holding you back, that you're a new and better person by the end of it.' Zoe raised her fist in the air. 'It's about freedom – freedom to become somebody different!'
'You sound like you're talking about a new political movement, not getting laid,' laughed Mala.

From there we follow the girls’ individual journeys through year twelve, on their missions to lose ‘it’.

We meet Zoe – a science geek with an inconvenient penchant for muscle-bound jocks. For a few years now Zoe has been quietly stewing over the fact that her best friend, Bree, seemingly turned into a glamazonian hottie over night … leaving the rest of the GeeGees to pale in comparison. Zoe is especially frustrated at having to watch Bree parading around with her gym buddies – handsome older guys with bulging pectorals and drool-worthy arms. In a fit of frustration Zoe turns to Matty, honorary brother-like GeeGees member and Zoe’s science partner. It’s not love, it’s not even lust… and the back of a Yaris is hardly the place to get amorous. But a girl’s gotta lose what a girl’s gotta lose – and Zoe is hell-bent on losing her V-plates while she’s trying to get her P-plates.

Abby is a good Christian girl whose faith in love was rocked when her Youth Group sweetie got cold feet and chose abstinence over her virginity. Abby is struggling to get close to anyone since her first romantic disaster, and she doubts she’ll even be in the virginity competition. Putting a further dampener on her cherry-popping is the reappearance of her terrible, atheist older brother, Zeke. He’s back from the wheatbelt and he has a few revelations to share with the family…

Mala is a good, dutiful daughter with an impossible crush on her cousin, Mo. From an early age she knew that Mo was the one for her – but what’s acceptable in the old country is considered incest in Australia… and Mala has to put aside her romantic notions about the beautiful and dark-eyed Mo.

Finally, Bree is the St. Michael’s Anglican College resident ice queen. All the girls want to be her, and all the boys want to get in her pants… but nobody knows what really makes Bree tick. The St. Michael’s boys don’t interest her, and she envies her friend’s crushes and flirtations – their enviable lust leaves Bree feeling like a late-bloomer. But all that changes when she has a revelation at the gym one day.

First off, I should say that ‘Losing It’ is not Julia Lawrinson writing a lengthy and raunchy advocacy of promiscuity. The GeeGees are not entering into this ‘competition’ for one-upmanship or to participate in any of those rainbow party type shenanigans that ‘Today Tonight’ so likes to scare parents with. The girls enter into the ‘competition’, rather blindly, simply because they want to get the task of losing their virginity over and done with … and since they are not thrilled with the statistic that predicts they’ll most likely lose it at Schoolies week, they decide to do the deed beforehand. Now, if you’re tut-tutting and shaking your head at this naiveté, then never fear!… Lawrinson explores the myriad of ways that all four girls realize the pitfalls of their plan.

I really liked the fact that Lawrinson didn’t preach in this book. Readers, and the GeeGees, all have to come to the realization that losing your virginity to a competitive timeline is probably not the smartest move. All of the girls have mini-breakthroughs about themselves in the course of ‘Losing It’… but Lawrinson doesn’t shove these life lessons down reader’s throats. She doesn’t make situations too easy on her female characters either. Like Abby, who thought she had her brother all figured out until he shocked her with his reappearance. Or Bree, who everyone else has all figured out until we read her point of view and realize how wrong they are. This really is Lawrinson inviting readers into the secret world of girls (whether to commiserate or learn a little something) and she doesn’t pull punches or write an easy way out for her protagonist’s tricky situations. I liked that, a lot.

Really, all of the girl’s individual stories were juicy enough to warrant a book all to themselves. I really wished some girl’s stories had been longer (or stand alones) in particular, Bree & Abby’s – whose revelations (both personal and familial) really intrigued me, and by the end of the book I was wishing we’d been able to spend more time with those two girls in particular. I would have especially liked to read the fallout and ramifications of their situations…

I also wish the book had focused more on the GeeGees friendship group. We don’t really get many scenes with the foursome – and for that reason it felt like their talked about camaraderie was missing, not really shown. In the beginning I was concerned that the ‘losing it’ competition was made in spite – that these girls weren’t really close friends and the comp was a bit of sabotage by some of the girls in the group. But as the novel progresses and we read each of their perspectives, we do come to understand that the girls do care about each other and value their friendship. I just think that might have been a bit clearer though, if we had more scenes with the GeeGees hanging out together. On the other hand, each of the girls has secondary characters that become big players in their individual stories… science geek, Matty, was a particular favourite!

Funny and endearing, Julia Lawrinson has written an unflinching and hilarious journey through the momentous time in four girl’s lives when they decide to lose ‘it’, on their own terms.


Australian Women Writers 2012 Reading and Reviewing Challenge
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