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Thursday, May 31, 2012

'Obsidian' Lux #1 by Jennifer L. Armentrout

From the BLURB:

Starting over sucks.

When we moved to West Virginia right before my senior year, I'd pretty much resigned myself to thick accents, dodgy internet access, and a whole lot of boring.... until I spotted my hot neighbor, with his looming height and eerie green eyes. Things were looking up.
And then he opened his mouth.

Daemon is infuriating. Arrogant. Stab-worthy. We do not get along. At all. But when a stranger attacks me and Daemon literally freezes time with a wave of his hand, well, something...unexpected happens.

The hot alien living next door marks me.

You heard me. Alien. Turns out Daemon and his sister have a galaxy of enemies wanting to steal their abilities, and Daemon's touch has me lit up like the Vegas Strip. The only way I'm getting out of this alive is by sticking close to Daemon until my alien mojo fades.
If I don't kill him first, that is.

Katy and her mum are looking for a fresh start; they need to finally get on with their lives, three years after Katy’s father suddenly died of cancer.  So they’ve packed up and moved from sunny Florida to a small-town in West Virginia.

Maybe a fresh start should also mean a feistier, more outgoing Katy too. She’s a proud and geeky bibliophile, obsessed with her book review blog, and the highlight of her week is often getting a latest release in her letterbox. So when Katy’s mum spies their next door neighbours, a brother and sister about her age, Katy sucks up her courage and goes to make nice . . .  but what she finds is a surly, shirtless smart-arse.

Daemon is God-like in his beauty; unforgettable green eyes and a body worthy of Calvin Klein underwear ads. But he’s also unfathomably rude – taking an instant and cutting dislike to Katy that she cannot comprehend. Daemon’s sister, Dee, is another story entirely. She’s just as beautiful as her twin, with the same green eyes and willowy, model-like frame. But Dee is decidedly sweeter; she’s obsessed with ice-cream and eager to make a good impression on her new next-door-neighbour, even going so far as helping Katy with her passion for gardening. Katy and Dee strike up an instant friendship, in spite of her brother’s vehement objections; not to mention all of Dee and Daemon’s equally gorgeous friends who seem to have a bone to pick with Katy.

Then strange things start happening in this small, sleepy West Virginia town . . .  Katy notices that some of the residents treat Dee and her friends with outright hostility or fear. The town has a reputation for missing girls, presumed dead. Dee and Daemon’s friends speak odd, cryptic things about sun and light; particularly Daemon’s on-again-off-again girlfriend, Ash, who vows vengeance on Katy after a spaghetti incident. And then there’s the night that Katy is attacked by a man who is looking for “them”. . .  luckily, Daemon is there in the nick of time to save her; but even that is an odd moment that Katy isn’t quite able to remember, save for the fact that Daemon wasn’t there one second but appeared the next.

Then there’s the inexplicable fact that while Katy loathes Daemon and his mean streak, she’s also inexplicably drawn to him . . . and sometimes, when he’s not being a total jerk, Katy thinks Daemon feels the same way.

‘Obsidian’ is the first book in a new paranormal YA series called ‘Lux’, by Jennifer L. Armentrout.

I bought this book on a whim – having seen the impressive blogosphere tour campaign and being suckered in by a scruffy boy with green eyes on the cover. I thought I'd read the first couple of pages, see if it would be my cup of tea . . . Fast forward to two hours later and I'd read nearly half the book. Armentrout suckered me in from page one and I remained enthralled throughout. Though I must admit, Ms Armentrout used a particularly clever ploy to initially drag me in – and that was mentioning Katy being a book blogger on page one. Yes, I’ll admit it; I got a tiny thrill at reading a female heroine who I shared a book review blogging obsession with. Well played, Armentrout, well played. I suspect Katy being a blogger was a bit of a suck-up (because she’s also very cool and self-deprecating about her book obsession – as many review bloggers tend to be) but I liked how authentic Katy’s blogging was – she even mentions her “Waiting on Wednesday” post!

Like attracts like aside, one of the things I really appreciated about ‘Obsidian’ was that Katy is a ballsy female protagonist. I was beyond thrilled to read that the heroine in Armentrout’s series was not cut from the all-too-prevalent ‘Mary-Sue, damsel in distress’ cloth *cough* Bella! *cough*. As a reader and feminist I am drawn to characters like Rose Hathaway and Claire Danvers – feisty females who have their flaws, insecurities and limitations, but whose inherent fight and loyalty is something young readers can aspire to. Readers are given a glimpse of Katy’s ballsy attitude early on, when she’s confronted by a shirtless and rude Daemon. The all-important first meeting of the series HEA couple is a doozy – with Daemon being ludicrously mean and making the worst first impression possible. But what I liked was that Katy didn’t take it lying down – sure she got a tear in her eye afterwards (honestly, his out-of-the-blue rude tirade warranted a little sniffle) but she puts on armour and flings some verbal abuse his way too. And from there on in, she is wary of Daemon and constantly fluctuating between loathing and lusting after him.

There were countless incidences of Katy standing up for herself – putting a brave face on and spouting out some warrior-woman diatribe. I loved it! She did it again and again, sometimes as a cover-up for hurt feelings, but most of the time because she won’t take insults lying down. She called Daemon’s nasty ex-girlfriend, Ash, out on her bitchiness (and made her pay for it in spaghetti). But more importantly, when Dee and Daemon’s true natures are revealed and the bad guys start closing in, Katy still didn’t shy away. She’s not a wallflower to run and hide when people tell her to – she’s more likely to come out swinging and I loved that. Girls got guts, and she’s an admirable protagonist with attitude to spare!

This is a paranormal YA, so Armentrout did occasionally fall into cliché when revealing the species-focus. But, because Katy is a bookish geek, it also gave Armentrout some leeway to play around with those clichés and offer some tongue-in-cheek reveals. I really appreciated this because anyone who reads as much paranormal YA as us review bloggers (and by association, Katy!) would know what questions to ask;

Frustration whipped through me. “You say you’re not human, and that limits the pool of what you can be! You stopped a truck without touching it.”
“You read too much.” Daemon exhaled slowly. “We’re not werewolves or witches. Zombies or whatever.”
“Well, I’m glad about the zombie thing. I like to think what’s left of my brains are safe,” I muttered. “And I don’t read too much. There’s no such thing as that. But there’s no such thing as aliens either.”
Daemon leaned forward quickly, placing his hands on my bent knee. I froze at his touch, my senses ran hot and cold at once. His stare penetrated me, locked me onto him. “In this vast, never-ending universe, do you think Earth – this place – is the only planet with life?”

Honestly, the few clichés that Armentrout falls into were not ‘deal-breakers’. Sure, there’s a Twilight-esque incident involving a careening truck, and the friends who despise Katy felt very Rosalie-like in their ‘you are not one of us’ hatred. But I was willing to forgive these few missteps when the book was so darn entertaining.

As the blurb reveals, the ‘Lux’ series is an Alien-centric one. I haven’t really read much Alien-YA (I am a big fan of Gini Koch’s ‘Kitty Katt’ series though!) so I really liked the change-up . . .  especially because the Lux aliens are very much Armentrout’s creation. There’s no X-files, ET rip-off going on here. They are an interesting, powerful alien race and I enjoyed Katy discovering more and more about them – and their genesis leaves plenty of room for further world-building.

Now, to the really important part of ‘Obsidian’ – the hero and series romance. The durability of ‘Lux’ pretty much rests on Daemon’s shoulders and his romance with Katy. A ballsy heroine is fine, but she needs an equally enchanting fella to bounce off of if this series is going to be any kind of contender in the fit-to-burst paranormal YA scene. And I've got to say . . .  Daemon is a heavy-weight contender; fit to join the paranormal hunks parade.

Daemon is awful. Truly, he’s a total jack-ass when he first meets Katy, and then he continues to make terrible impressions by being snippy and rude, condescending, sarcastic and downright irritating. But I loved him, and you will too. It’s not even that he’s described as having jade-green eyes or washboard abs. It’s that he plays the bad-boy role so darn well with the right amount of bravado and quip, mixed with flashes of sincerity. As the story progresses and Katy learns about the Lux race and their sad, brutal history she starts to understand why Daemon and the other aliens may be wary of her . . .  but she still can’t fathom why he hates her so very much. Of course in between bouts of teasing and ridicule, Daemon shows his soft underbelly – like when he comes to Katy’s rescue, or is angered by a football jock’s interest in her. Daemon is an enticing puzzle that readers will enjoy deciphering as much as Katy. And it also helps that Armentrout writes some lovely, steamy scenes between the duo – scenes that are just this side of PG13 – they don’t read like filler, but actually help to push the story forward and reveal characterisations. Yes, Ms Armentrout gets top-marks for the devilishly delicious hero of Daemon.

‘Obsidian’ was a fun, compelling read. Is Jennifer L. Armentrout reinventing the paranormal wheel? No. But she does know how to write a darn good yarn (and an insanely appealing bad-boy hero!). The book has a few minor (miniscule, really!) flaws that are kind of inherent in the shallow pool of paranormal YA – but I can’t deny that I was glued to the page, from first line to last sentence. And I can’t wait for the second book in the series!


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

'Tangle of Need' Psy-Changeling #11 by Nalini Singh

 Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Adria, wolf changeling and resilient soldier, has made a break with the past - one as unpredictable in love as it was in war. Now comes a new territory and a devastating new complication: Riaz, a SnowDancer lieutenant already sworn to a desperate woman who belongs to another.

For Riaz, the primal attraction he feels for Adria is a staggering betrayal. For Adria, his dangerous lone-wolf appeal is beyond sexual. It consumes her. It terrifies her. It threatens to undermine everything she has built of her new life. But fighting their wild compulsion toward one another proves a losing battle.

Their coming together is an inferno...and a melding of two wounded souls who promise each other no commitment, no ties, no bonds. Only pleasure. Too late, they realise that they have more to lose than they ever imagined. Drawn into a cataclysmic Psy war that may alter the fate of the world itself, they must make a decision that might just break them both.

Riaz Delgado is adjusting to his SnowDancer home. It’s not easy for Riaz, who spent a good deal of time as a lone wolf, and who is also struggling with the fallout of finding his unattainable mate.

Riaz was on a mission in Venice when he met Lisette, a beautiful Frenchwoman working in the sinking city. His wolf knew her immediately – he felt the bone-deep knowledge that she was his, the woman he was destined for. Unfortunately for Riaz, Lisette is happily married to her husband, Emil, and aside from a heightened awareness of what lies between them, she is unaware of the mating bond. And that’s the way it has to be. Riaz will never fulfil his mateship with Lisette, will never jeopardize her happiness for his own – and as a consequence, Riaz’s gut roils at the thought of touching a woman who is not his mate. He has not had skin privileges for a year, so disgusted is he at the thought of being with anyone who is not his destined mate. . .  until he meets Adria.

Adria Morgan is making a new home for herself in SnowDancer too, after her disastrous long-term relationship with a submissive male wolf came to an ugly end. As an alpha female and senior soldier, Adria is still coming to terms with the power plays and inadequacies that made that relationship crumble, and she’s still feeling very fragile in the aftermath... Which is why the last thing she needs is an attraction to alpha wolf and Lieutenant, Riaz Delgado.

Riaz feels the same way, and is thoroughly disgusted at the lustful reactions Adria ignites in him. What starts as sneering and sniping between the two quickly combusts into a heated and love affair that neither of them is prepared for.

‘Tangle of Need’ is the eleventh book in Nalini Singh’s paranormal romance, ‘Psy-Changeling’ series.

Last year Ms Singh released the most-anticipated book in her ‘Psy-Changeling’ series – finally telling the story of alpha wolf, Hawke, and his young Psy-X sweetheart, Sienna Lauren. It was, hands down, the most complex and celebrated book in the series; and many fans wondered where Ms Singh could possibly go from there, I would hazard a guess that many fans even wondered if there was any need for further exploration? A ten-book series is no small feat, and when your tenth book is also centred on the most-anticipated pairing of the entire series, few fans would have begrudged Ms Singh going out on the high-note of Hawke’s HEA. So a lot is riding on ‘Tangle of Need’, to establish the longevity of an already immense series, and to discern if fan’s interest will wane now that everyone’s favourite character has had his time in the spotlight. Well, I can safely say that Ms Singh assuages everyone’s doubts and fuels the series fire once again in this eleventh book.

‘Tangle of Need’ is primarily centred on the romance of Riaz and Adria – exploring their complicated affections and love-hate relationship. These two are an interesting coupling, particularly for how their relationship answers some questions about the entire ‘Psy-Changeling’ universe and the complexities of the mating bond. Riaz and Adria are explosive simply because they start out hating one another – they raise each other’s hackles, and there’s an instant chemistry on the page simply for how they rub each other the wrong way. And, yes, it is a textbook case of ‘the lady doth protest too much’ – which is always an interesting premise to any romance. But the real conflict between Adria and Riaz is in the fact that Riaz has already found his mate – and it’s not Adria.

Riaz met Lisette in Venice, and felt the mating bond tugging them together. Unfortunately for Riaz, Lisette is happily married to her husband, and as such Riaz would never jeopardize her happiness for his own. As a side note; I was unclear whether or not Lisette was human or wolf. She was in Venice working with the wolves, but it seemed as though she was unaware of the mating bond (making me think she was human). She acknowledges that she felt an odd pull towards Riaz, but if she had been wolf surely she would have known what it was, beyond the odd quirk of being attracted to this strange man? Regardless, the hurdle for Riaz and Adria is that their attraction and growing affection is happening, despite knowing that Riaz has a mate bond with another. . .  it’s an interesting conundrum that Singh has written, and very much unlike anything explored in the ‘Psy-Changeling’ series thus far. I really liked this romantic complication – it’s sort of the antithesis to lots of cliché love stories in the paranormal romance genre, where writers will so often depend on the ‘mating bond’ and ‘ethereal-unintelligible-spiritual-something-magical’ connection between two people to explain why they love each other. For Riaz and Adria, they’re coming together in spite of Riaz’s ‘bond’ with another.

It’s a juicy little conundrum, and as such I wish Singh had explored it more in depth than she did. Towards the end of the book Lisette is thrown as a literal spanner in Riaz and Adria’s budding relationship – and that was the moment things got really interesting for me. I would have liked it if Riaz/Lisette/Adria had been a more thoroughly explored triangle throughout the book, instead of marginally towards the end.

But fans will be happy to learn to ‘Tangle of Need’ is not just Riaz and Adria’s love story. They actually share the spotlight with, none other than. . .  Hawke and Sienna!

That’s right! – Nalini Singh clearly recognized the power of Hawke and Sienna's romance, and has used ‘Tangle of Need’ as their continuing story. As a result, we get plenty of ‘awwww!’ moments between the newly mated Hawke and Sienna, and we follow them in the months following their mating – when they’re still finding their footing with one another (Sienna learning to live with an alpha, while Hawke is trying not to suffocate his new mate with his alpha-ness). It’s a fantastic ongoing story between the two of them – and the Psy-related events of ‘Tangle’ even have me wondering if the twelfth book will continue to follow Hawke and Sienna? Either way; the ongoing saga of Hawke and Sienna is the real, surprising draw-card of ‘Tangle’, and will leave fans very happy and satisfied, particularly because Singh has them discussing the finer details of their marriage and mateship that wasn’t covered in ‘Kiss of Snow’ (everything from kids to Sienna’s standing with the maternal females);

The howl that went up in the clearing was multiharmonic and piercingly joyful, a song that was a gift. Linked as he was to Sienna, Hawke felt her stunned wonder and knew she didn’t realize the significance of the act.
“They’re welcoming you,” he whispered, his chest vibrating with the need to add his voice to the song, “not as my mate, but as their alpha’s mate.” The distinction was important, and when untrammelled sunshine lit up her face, he knew she understood.

As to whether or not the ‘Psy-Changeling’ series has promise beyond everyone’s beloved Hawke? Before reading ‘Tangle of Need’ I was on the fence; half wondering if the series shouldn’t end on the ‘Kiss of Snow’ high note? But, Ms Singh uses this eleventh book to start planting the seeds for new and interesting stories, beyond the wolf SnowDancer and leopard DarkRiver packs.

In ‘Tangle’, the SnowDaner/DarkRiver alliance is approached by the BlackSea clan to join their coalition. Unofficially led by the beautiful Miane Levèque the BlackSea are, as the name suggests, a collective of sea-bound changelings. Now, this is very interesting. In the paranormal genre we’ve had any number of were-animals and changeling animals, but not any from the sea (mermaids aside, in a category all their own). I love that Singh has fun with this new concept, which will surely have fans interest piqued; 

“Jellyfish,” Riaz said, after considering the other inhabitants of the sea. “Seriously, there cannot be jellyfish changelings.”
Hawke turned to look over his shoulder. “What the hell have you been smoking?”

And of course Singh hints that the ‘Psy-Changeling’ series still has life in it yet, not least because Psy Councillor Ming LeBon is still plotting and scheming.

I went into ‘Tangle of Need’ not entirely convinced that Nalini Singh’s ‘Psy-Changeling’ series shouldn’t have concluded with Hawke and Sienna’s much-anticipated and very fulfilling tenth book. However, Nalini Singh has officially convinced me that her beloved paranormal romance series still has a lot of life left in it. I am immensely curious about the new changeling alliance with BlackSea, and the possibility of further side-stories about everyone’s favourite couple; Hawke and Sienna. I went in a little unsure and hesitant, but I finished ‘Tangle of Need’ more curious than ever about the trajectory of this evolving series.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

'Olive's Ocean' by Kevin Henkes

From the BLURB:

Sometimes life can change in an instant

Martha Boyle and Olive Barstow could have been friends, but they weren't. Weeks after a tragic accident, all that is left are eerie connections between the two girls, former classmates who both kept the same secret without knowing it. Now, even while on vacation at the ocean, Martha can't stop thinking about Olive. Things only get more complicated when Martha begins to like Jimmy Manning, a neighbor boy she used to despise. What is going on? Can life for Martha be the same ever again?

Olive Barstow died before anyone could really get to know her. She was the shy new girl who had only been in Martha’s class for a month before a tragic accident took her life. Her death was a shock and terribly sad, but it’s not like Martha really knew the girl . . .  at least, that’s what she thought. But right before Martha and her family leave for their annual holiday at her grandmother ‘Godbee’s’ house by the ocean, Olive’s mother pays Martha a visit. She has a note for Martha, a note that Olive wrote, about her hopes and dreams for the coming year; and it turned out that one of the things she most wanted, was to be friends with Martha.

‘Olive’s Ocean’ was the 2005 Newberry Honour book from young adult and children’s author, Kevin Henkes.

I’m still on my Newberry/Printz book kick, and still on a winning streak with Henkes’s deceptively deep, ‘Olive’s Ocean’. The book is ultimately about death, and the moment in a young person’s life when they come to realize their own mortality and fleetingness. Martha Boyle is about to go to her Godbee’s house by the ocean, a trip she looks forward to every year, but she is waylaid by the appearance of Olive Barstow’s mother; who appears on Martha’s doorstep a month or so after the death of her daughter who was hit by a truck while riding her bike. Olive’s mother just wants Martha to know that her daughter had hopes of a friendship with her, that along with dipping her toes in the very ocean Martha is about to go visit, she most wanted to be friends with her because she seemed nice . . .  thus, Martha leaves on her family vacation with Olive’s note in her pocket, and her thoughts keep retuning to the dead girl.

Martha spends a good deal of her holiday thinking about the many small coincidences and links between herself and Olive, and she inevitably thinks about how Olive is no longer here to live out all those dreams she put into a note. Also turning Martha’s thoughts to life’s passing is her grandmother, ‘Godbeee’. Godbee is getting on in years, and she speaks cryptically about maybe not being around forever. Godbee devises a plan over a game of Parcheesi to get to know her granddaughter a little better, and impart some wisdom before it’s too late;

"I have an idea," Godbee said suddenly. "You have to tell me something about yourself each day you're here. Something I don't know." She paused. "And, to make it fair," she added, "I'll do the same for you. What do you say?"
"I guess." How could she disappoint her favourite grandmother?
"Good," said Godbee. "Who knows, this might be our last summer together." And then her eyes strayed and fluttered shut, and she tilted her head to take full advantage of the sun.

While the theme and touched-upon subject of death may seem a deep and dark one, I feel the need to stress that ‘Olive’s Ocean’ isn’t all doom and gloom. Martha is a twelve-year-old girl who is really only just starting to grapple with the concept of death, prompted by her classmate’s sudden tragic death and her grandmother’s obvious aging. Henkes does a truly marvellous job of counter-balancing all the talk of dying and mortality by also including all the typical things that matter to twelve-year-old girls.

There’s Martha’s rambunctious family; her one-year-older brother, Vince, whom Martha is in a constant tug-of-war, love/hate battle with. Her toddler sister, Lucy, who likes to give “good one” kisses. And then there’s Martha’s parents – her radio-host mother who mortifies Martha on a daily basis in her drive-time program. And Martha’s father; a lawyer turned stay-at-home dad who is starting to feel the strain of babysitting Lucy day in, day out with little else to occupy his mind (not even the novel he’s attempting to write). Henkes does a phenomenal job of writing a very tight-knit and complex Boyle family unit; imbuing the story with little familial struggles and side-stories. I loved reading about her father’s boiling over temper, about to flare at any moment under the strain of banana baby food and too little sleep. I also really loved Martha’s talks with her grandmother – especially one in which they both lament Godbee’s aging, crab-like hands which were once so beautiful a boy asked to draw them. . .

The other distractions in Martha’s holiday are the Manning brothers. Five brothers who live down the beach from Godbee’s house, and who Vince always falls into easy friendship with, while Martha has gone through summers of loathing and tolerating the pack of brothers. Except this year Martha is paying attention to oldest Manning brother, fourteen-year-old Jimmy (which has her unknowingly putting a dampener on Tate Manning, the brother closest to Martha in age).

And then there’s the fact that this summer, Martha has decided what she wants to do with her life – be a writer. She wants to write novels, and she’s starting her first one this summer – about a girl called Olive who escapes to the ocean. . .

I loved ‘Olive’s Ocean’. It’s a powerful young adult novel, delving into a young girl’s first confrontations of death and dying while life and love move all around her at the holiday house she visits every year with her family and which, she’s coming to realize, may not ever be the same without her grandmother. Kevin Henkes’s Newberry-winning novel is smart and thoughtful, a serious look at the frail fleetingness of life, but still including a story about a twelve-year-old girl’s first kiss. Loved it!


Friday, May 25, 2012

'Vampire Academy' graphic novel by Richelle Mead

From the BLURB:

After two years of freedom, Rose and Lissa are caught and dragged back to St. Vladimir's Academy, a school for vampire royalty and their guardians-to-be, hidden in the deep forests of Montana.  But inside the iron gates, life is even more fraught with danger . . . and the Strigoi are always close by.

Rose and Lissa must navigate their dangerous world, confront the temptations of forbidden love, and never once let their guards down, lest the evil undead make Lissa one of them forever . . .

Vampire Academy’ is the graphic novel adaptation of Richelle Mead’s immensely successful paranormal young adult series of the same name. Illustrated by Emma Vieceli and adapted by Leigh Dragoon, this is the adaptation of the first novel, and tells the story of how Rose Hathaway and her best friend, Moroi (vampire) princess Lissa Dragomir, are dragged back to St. Vladimir's Academy after being on the run.

Let me just start by saying that this graphic novel adaptation is one of the most thorough retellings I have come across. Nothing is left out; and the four primary characters are well established. We get to see Lissa and Christian Ozera’s initial flirtations, which turn into a full-blown love story. I actually thought that the Christian/Lissa love story works better in graphic adaptation than it did in the original book – mostly because in the book we’re always reminded that what we know of Lissa and Christian is coming through Rose’s special Spirit connection. That’s put-aside in the graphic novel, and instead of getting clouded with Rose’s hesitations about Lissa and Christian, we’re left with just their unusual connection and chemistry.

Something that didn’t work so well in Leigh Dragoon’s back-story details was the explanation about the various species in this vampiric world – the Moroi, Strigoi and Dhampir. The graphic novel explains them with this weird mannequin chart, which just reminded me of the Greendale Human Being mascot from ‘Community’.

What really, well and truly worked for me in this novel was the graphic representation of everybody’s favourite hero and heroine; Rose Hathaway and Dimitri Belikov. Emma Vieceli did a fantastic job of bringing these two to drawn life – Rose is that perfect mix of fiery beauty and disarming strength. She has fly-away hair and is quick with a scowl – and I feel like Vieceli did a great job of communicating her vivacious nature just in these tell-tale facial quirks and physical appearance.

But, all that really matters is whether or not Dimitri’s comic adaptation lives up to fan-girl’s hopes and dreams. . .  Let me assure you, drawn Dimitri meets, and exceeds expectations and is extremely deserving of fan-girl squeals.

 With the hair of Ben Barnes and physique of Taylor Kinney – the true triumph of this graphic adaptation lies in the pitch-perfect drawing of Mr Belikov. Ahem:

I was also happily surprised that this graphic adaptation brings the heat to the page. Everyone knows the scene I’m talking about – when a spelled necklace puts Rose and Dimitri into a compromising situation that is the catalyst they needed to reveal their true, forbidden feelings. This scene requires a bit of PG13 representation, and I was happy to discover that Vieceli doesn’t shy away – I'd even say that this scene in a movie would be a lot more watered down than it is in this graphic novel.

I’m really glad that I finally got around to reading the graphic novel adaptation of ‘Vampire Academy’. I will definitely be hunting down a copy of second novel, ‘Frostbite’ now that I know Richelle Mead, Leigh Dragoon and Emma Vieceli have gone above and beyond in representing this beloved series in graphic format... and, yes, because I want to drool over a drawn Adrian Ivashkov!


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Interview with Leah Giarratano, author of 'Disharmony'

Today is the happy release of Leah Giarratano's new Australian paranormal YA book, 'Disharmony', the first in a new series called 'The Telling'.

'The Telling' follows three siblings on their path to destiny; a psychopath, an empath and a genius. From Romania to Sydney Australia, these three teenagers hold the fate of the world in their hands - and whether or not their coming together will bring about peace, or destruction, is entirely up to them.

And, yes, it is as cool as it sounds. I was lucky enough to get my hands on an early copy of 'Disharmony' and I was thoroughly impressed with this dark new paranormal tale... and I was doubly-lucky when I got to ask Leah Giarratano a few burning questions!

So, rush out and buy 'Disharmony' today! And in the meantime, check out my interview with the lovely author;

Q: How long did it take you to write ‘Disharmony’, from first idea to final manuscript?

Well, that's a tricky question - and it's only your first one (LOL!). You see I have a 'day job' too, practising and teaching psychology, so I tend to have blocks of writing time between blocks of 'shrink' time. I think that writing and planning Disharmony took around a year... no, probably longer when I think about the editing process to arrive at the final manuscript, but by then I'd already written the second book in the series.


Q: Are you a plotter or a ‘pantser’? – That is, do you meticulously plot your novel before writing, or do you ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ and let the story evolve naturally?

Well, I'm quite organised, ordinarily, and there is a lot of planning involved in writing a series. Having said that though, once I have a plot, I do enjoy following my characters down alleyways and through portals and uncovering their adventures on the run. It can be scary not knowing what's going to happen to them next - being a 'pantser', as you say. Sometimes it's so scary I end up with my pants on my head in a corner, rocking!

Q: Where do story ideas generally start for you? Do you first think of the character, theme, ending? Or is it just a ‘free-fall?’

My stories usually begin with my characters. In this case, I just had to have an adolescent psychopath: think of all the hell he could get up to! As he grows into his powers, his darkness really begins to emerge in Book Two.

Q: ‘Disharmony’ is your first foray into YA, after releasing four adult crime novels. What made you want to write for a younger audience, and what has been the biggest challenge in writing for young adults?

I've always wanted to write YA urban fantasy - way before I wrote my first crime novel. But after completing my doctoral placement in Long Bay gaol, studying psychopaths, I had so many gruesome and terrible stories in my head that my tales were far too dark and bloody for young minds. After four crime fiction novels, though, I'd slaughtered enough baddies and was zen enough to write YA. The biggest challenge - to be honest - has been not using too many swear words when my characters speak! I realise that lots of teens swear (some kids I've worked with in lock-ups are particularly gifted at finding new and creative uses for the F-bomb), but I don't want to potentially alienate some younger readers.

Q: One of the characters in ‘Disharmony’ is Samantha White, and she’s a gypsy fortune-teller living in Bucharest, Romania. Sam’s background was so interesting to read about – from her perspective on Gaje (a Romany word for non-gypsy) lifestyle, to her curious pickpocket friends. What inspired you to write a gypsy character, and how did you conduct research into the Romany gypsy life?
I'm fascinated by all types of magic - gypsy magic included. And the romance of the nomadic gypsy lifestyle has always appealed to me. I liked exploring the juxtaposition of the romance and magic with the hard realities of the modern gypsy lifestyle - poverty, a crime culture, facing extreme racism. I read a lot about gypsy traditions and spoke with lots of people to try to understand the Rom.

Q: On the other side of the ocean is Luke Black, staying in a Juvenile Detention Centre in Sydney. Luke has a really sad history of foster homes and violence. What’s really interesting is that you have a background as a psychologist, and are an expert in psychological trauma, sex offences and psychopathology. Did you draw a lot on your work experiences in creating the character of Luke and his ordeals?

All of my characters have been influenced by people I've worked with, and I've certainly met lots of 'Lukes' in my work - well, maybe not quite as special as this Luke. I think the best thing about having a background in psychology is that I have a lot of insight into how people think and behave. I also have had access to 'special' worlds, like psychiatric hospitals, gaols and juvenille detention centres, which can add authenticity to the settings.

Q: What was the last great book you read?

'What I Loved', by Siri Hustvedt and I enjoyed 'The Magicians' by Lev Grossman.

Q: Favourite authors of all time?

Thomas Harris, Stephen R. Donaldson, Enid Blyton, JK

Q: Is ‘Disharmony’ the first in a trilogy, or an open-ended series? Can you give us some small hint about the second book (and when it will be released?)

Well, that depends on what happens when I'm writing the third manuscript. At the moment it's planned to be a trilogy, but the series could extend to five books. In the second novel the siblings are hunted and tempted by dark forces, and the psychopath, especially, begins to feel the power of the plans his mother put into effect decades ago. I believe it will be released Feb 2013.

All pictures were found on 'we heart it'

'Disharmony' The Telling #1 by Leah Giarratano

Received from the Publisher 

From the BLURB:

A psychopath . . . an empath . . . a genius.

Three siblings who will save the world – or destroy it. They know nothing of each other. They know nothing of the Telling. But they'll need to learn fast if they're going to survive . . .

A gripping new series about a collision of worlds, the power of destiny, and the darkness in us all . . .

We live in a world of chaos, but it has not always been this way. Wars, murder, poverty… they all started five thousand years ago. And when the chaos started, a prophecy foretold of three children who would one day bring an end to it. A psychopath. An empathy. A genius.
One, a child with no capacity to feel emotional pain and no ability to understand the emotions of others.
Another, the opposite, a child of such pure emotional connection that she would have known where and why you had an itch before you even knew that a mosquito bit you.
And the third, a laser beam of concentrated brilliance – pure, personified intelligence.
And there you have it. The Psychopath, the Empath and the Genius.
Together, they can create harmony. You know, heal the world. Peace, love and hummus, baby.
But the big problem was, according to the Telling, they could also be used as a weapon if the wrong person got a hold of them, schooled them up the wrong way. You see, they have to be taught about their Calling. They have to be instructed from their earliest years in how to use their powers, in how to fulfil their destiny, in how to save the rest of us. They need guidance, the right parents. They need love.

Those children were born to the witch, Morgan Moreau, who died birthing the genius. Then the children were separated – and that’s where the story really begins.

‘Disharmony’ is the first book in a new Australian YA series by Leah Giarratano.

 Samantha White is a stolen Gaje-princess, living with her adoptive gypsy family in Pantelimon, Romania. She is sixteen-years-old, and loves her family dearly, even if she knows she isn’t really one of them. Lala is the closest thing to a mother that Sam has ever had, and she teaches her how to trick foolish Gaje (non-Romony) out of their money during fortune-teller sessions. Only, sometimes Sam’s gypsy witchery is real – sometimes she can tell when a person’s heart is breaking, or they’re too blind to see their own ignorance. Sam loves walking through the forest at night, hanging out with her best friend Mirela or meeting up with her pickpocket friend, Birthday Jones, in the streets of Bucharest. Sam also loves being near Tamas – a fellow gypsy boy who tends to the camp’s horses, and has held Sam’s heart since she was just a girl.

But the winds of change are coming; Sam can feel them chilling her skin. The gypsy king – an overweight ex-mobster – has his sights set on Sam and her ability to read people’s fortunes with such pin-point accuracy, beyond just a gypsy show. Sam and her friends find themselves running through the city streets, being chased by gypsy mobsters, female ninjas and other villains who belong in comic books, not real life;
The girl seemed clad in a black rubber membrane. Toe to throat, she wore a single skin-like sheath that slicked across lean limbs and muscles. She wore a high, shiny-black ponytail, a filigreed-blossom tattoo on her neck, and a smile like nuclear waste. Samantha’s first thought was to wonder whether they might be the same age; her second was to decide that she had never seen a more beautiful girl. Her third thought tore at her heart: who or what had created a creature so completely devoid of human feeling?

Meanwhile, across the seas in the Dwight Juvenile Justice Detention Centre, Sydney, Australia resides Luke Black. A childhood spent in foster care has taught Luke a thing or two – about never trusting anyone and always looking out for yourself. So he’s a little surprised when new inmate, Zac Nguyen, defends him during a scuffle with a fellow kid. And why Zac keeps saving his butt when a weird new inmate attacks him for seemingly no reason, after mistakenly calling him ‘Lucifer’.

‘Disharmony’ switches between Luke’s story and Samantha’s, as they both battle with mysterious foes and begin learning the secrets of their orphaned past … all the while we, the reader, are seemingly being led down the plotted path by ‘User: Intellicide’ – a mysterious narrator logged-in who needs us to know of The Telling, to understand what is coming.

If it sounds like a lot is going on in Giarratano’s debut YA book, you’d be right. She throws us into the deep end and then writes at a break-neck pace – sliding between Romania and Sydney, dropping hints of ‘The Telling’ and unwinding the complicated histories (and even more complicated destiny’s) of our two protagonists . . .

What makes ‘Disharmony’ even more complex is that as readers, we know more about Sam and Luke than they do. Our protagonist’s are living in ignorance of their true selves, and while readers are made privy to the history and mystery surrounding ‘The Telling’ and the murderous mother witch, Morgan Moreau, Luke and Sam only start to play catch-up when assassins and ninjas start coming out of the woodwork and conspiring to let them in on the secret of their lives. Heck, even readers know that Sam and Luke are twins – different sides to the same coin, an empath and a psychopath, two pieces to the prophetic puzzle. So ‘Disharmony’ feels like a lot of push and pull, between readers piecing the puzzle together and then reading how Luke and Sam are slowly coming to see the truth. . .  it doesn’t always work, this disparity between the reader knowing more than the protagonists, but it is an interesting plot twist. What’s even more interesting is how we are all waiting, with bated breath, to know more of ‘the genius’ – the third child of the prophecy who is conspicuously missing from ‘Disharmony’s’ narration.

One thing I really loved in the book was Samantha’s story, set in a Romanian gypsy camp. I’m going to reveal a guilty pleasure and say I’m a big fan of the TV show ‘Big Fat Gypsy Weddings’ – and I was really impressed at how Giarratano wrote such a true and fascinating gypsy home for Samantha. Everything from their Gaje-cons, to the lovely family community and male-dominated households was very honest and compelling. I also loved the people in Sam’s life – like Birthday Jones (his quirky real name, courtesy of a smart-aleck night nurse) a pick-pocket living on the streets. Then there’s Tamas – Sam’s crush and a veritable horse-whisperer with killer smile and allergy to t-shirts. Giarratano wrote a really vibrant community around Sam, and I look forward to how that community will hold up in the wake of Sam’s revelations. . .

Luke’s story is much bleaker – set in a juvenile detention centre and revealing the hard-knock life he has had.  Leah Giarratano is a psychologist, and I think it showed in Luke’s story, with regards to the bullying inside the government facility (from staff, as well as fellow boys), really interesting if a little disheartening. The bright spot in Luke’s story is his developing friendship with Zac – a new inmate whose rake-like vegan physique belies his whip-quick fighting skills. Luke and Zac have some fantastic moments in ‘Disharmony’, and are a great buddy-pairing. I do wish though, that the character of Luke had revealed a bit more of his psychopathic-tendencies. I don’t mean I wanted to read about him killing kittens or anything, and I’m not even sure if  Giarratano intended for readers to be guessing if Luke was the genius or psychopath (once it became obvious that Sam was the empath) – I just needed a little more evidence of Luke’s nature. It might also be because ‘Disharmony’ is told in third-person, omniscient narration that we don’t get inside Luke’s head to know how unfeeling he really is, but by the time it was revealed that he was the psychopath – I wasn’t entirely convinced.

Overall, I really enjoyed ‘Disharmony’. Giarratano has written a dark and twisted new series that’s wholly unique and has the potential for great longevity. She left enough tantalizing breadcrumbs in ‘Disharmony’ to have me eager for the second instalment, to continue Luke, Sam and their mysterious sibling’s journey to prophecy. . . and the big question remains; will their coming together bring about peace, or destruction? I don’t know, but I’m going to enjoy finding out!


Sunday, May 20, 2012

'Mary Bennet' by Jennifer Paynter

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

'I prayed for a brother every night. My two older sisters also prayed. They felt the want of a brother equally keenly, for our father's estate was entailed upon a male heir, and without a brother to provide for us or a rich husband to rescue us, we would all be destitute.'

Mary Bennet has been long overshadowed by the beauty and charm of her older sisters, Jane and Elizabeth, and by the forwardness and cheek of her younger sisters, Kitty and Lydia. From her post in the wings of the Bennet family, Mary now watches as Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy – and Mr Wickham – glide into her sisters' lives. While she can view these three gentlemen quite dispassionately (and, as it turns out, accurately), can she be equally clear-sighted when she finally falls in love herself?

In this elegant retelling of Pride and Prejudice, Mary at last learns – with a little help from the man she loves – to question her family's values and overcome her own brand of 'pride and prejudice'.

Poor Mary Bennet is the sister most forgotten in Jane Austen’s beloved classic ‘Pride and Prejudice’. She was the first Jan Brady; and if she had been in the Three Tenors, Seinfeld would have called her “the other guy”. Mary is firmly stuck in her ‘middle child’ role, between beautiful older sisters, Jane and Elizabeth, and her silly younger siblings, Lydia and Kitty. Austen was hardly kind to the middle bookish Bennet sister, describing her thus;

Mary, who having, in consequence of being the only plain one in the family, worked hard for knowledge and accomplishments, was always impatient for display.
Mary had neither genius nor taste; and though vanity had given her application, it had given her likewise a pedantic air and conceited manner, which would have injured a higher degree of excellence than she had reached.

Um? Ouch!

If you go to the ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Wikipedia page there is a line beside Mary’s character summary that says it all; ‘She is included very little in the book.’

But the good thing about Mary is that she’s the closest thing to a clean slate that the classic has to offer – so underwhelming a character in ‘Pride and Prejudice’, who is often overlooked (or turned into a comical embarrassment in movie adaptations!) that the bare bones of Austen’s forgotten character is ripe for adaptation and reinvention. And so, Australian author Jennifer Paynter has written her debut novel around the forgotten middle sister, ‘Mary Bennet’.

The novel gives us a glimpse into Mary’s childhood, and then sweeps through Elizabeth and Jane’s courtships that became the focus of ‘Pride and Prejudice’. The story looks at Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s timeline from Mary’s (often scathing) perspective, and then Paynter veers off into the wilderness and writes a new destiny for poor old Mary, taking her away from the Longbourn Estate and travelling to colonial Australia.
Mary wasn’t just an overlooked character because she was stuck firmly in the middle of the rambunctious Bennet family – it was also the case that Jane Austen did a bit of a character assassination on Mary. She’s bookish and pious, thinks herself terribly wise and clever but is actually anything but. It’s a tough gig to write about such a prickly character whose very off-putting nature is sort of her only characterization . . .  Paynter had her work cut out for her because, while it was all fine and well for Ms Austen to make Mary thoroughly unlikeable, when she’s the heroine of her own story as Paynter as made her, you sort of have to make her likable to be readable. I don’t know if Paynter entirely succeeded. There were times when I wanted to reach into the book and give Mary a jolly good slap. But I can’t deny that parts of Mary’s prickly nature were explained, quite satisfactorily, and she did garner some sympathy from me. . .

Paynter does a fine job of writing back-story for Mary, who seems to have had the weight of the Bennet family resting on her shoulders from birth. Mr Bennet put all his hopes and dreams on Mary being a boy, and heir to the Longbourn estate. Thus, when Mary was born she seems to have been a thorough disappointment – and, unfortunately, Mr Bennet only seemed to have reconciled his wishes for a boy by the time Lydia and Kitty were born;

'And how will you like having a little brother, Lizzy?' he would say, whereupon Elizabeth would clap her hands. 'But it may be you'll have to make do with another sister.' At which Elizabeth would frown and shake her head. I am told this caused my father much amusement.
He was not amused however to hear of my own arrival—telling my aunt when she tried to sympathise: 'Mrs Bennet will bear me a son eventually, depend upon it. And if she does not, I can always divorce her, like King Henry the Eighth.'
I am told Papa made these sorts of remarks more often after I was born. He had always enjoyed teasing Mama, but hitherto his jokes had been good-humoured. Mama, of course, was incapable of laughing at herself even at the best of times (a failing my father believes I have inherited), and soon tears and hysterics became the rule at Longbourn, my father spent more time than ever in his library and the Bennets could no longer pass for a happy couple.

Sadder still is the story that when Mary was a month old, her mother’s nerves got the better of her and Mary was “farmed out” to a wet nurse by the name of Mrs Bushell (whose husband was gamekeeper at the Great House of Stoke). Mary recollects that she spent a good deal of time with Mrs Bushell in her infancy, even after she was weaned. Mary eventually returned to her family and the Longbourn estate, but the Bushell’s continued to have an impacting influence on Mary – when she came to witness Mr Bushell’s drunken state, and consequently become terrified of men. And then there is Peter Bushell, the gamekeeper’s son. Peter proves an interesting influence on Mary, and he is the object of her (prickly) affection.

No doubt Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are the benchmark for any Austen-inspired romances. I can’t say that Peter and Mary were as splendid a couple, but I certainly enjoyed reading their romance in this story. Paynter stays true to the original message of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, in writing the courting of Mary by Peter – possibly because in this instance, Mary is the Darcy to Peter’s Elizabeth? She is the stand-offish one who we come to slowly care about and come to understand and forgive. . .

One thing I really loved in ‘Mary Bennet’ was Jennifer Paynter’s enviable Austen voice. The novel really does have an authentic echo of Ms Austen, and that seamless voice makes it easier to get lost in the adaptation. If the novel falls short it’s only because Paynter was too true to Austen’s original Mary Bennet – continuing with her off-putting, high and mighty nature that made her the very unlovable middle sister in the first place. I think Paynter’s prose and narration were authentic enough to warrant a little more of her own characterizations for Mary, that didn’t so closely adhere to Austen’s original blueprint.

All in all, ‘Mary Bennet’ is an interesting and thoroughly believable re-imagining of Jane Austen’s oft-overlooked Bennet sister. Paynter’s voice is so very, lovingly Austen-esque that you can really imagine ‘Mary Bennet’ to be the story she would have written, if she had been so inclined to be a little bit kinder to the “only plain one in the family”.


Friday, May 18, 2012

'The Golden Day' by Ursula Dubosarsky

From the BLURB:

There were only eleven of them, like eleven sisters all the same age in a large family. Because it was such a very small class, they had a very small classroom, which was perched at the very top of the school - up four flights of stairs, up in the high sky, like a colony of little birds nesting on a cliff. 

'Today, girls,' said Miss Renshaw, 'we shall go out into the beautiful Gardens and think about death.'

In the Gardens they meet a poet. What follows is inexplicable, shocking, a scandal. What really happened that day? Is 'the truth' as elusive as it seems? And do the little girls know more than they are letting on?

The Vietnam War rages overseas, but within the confines of a girl’s school in Sydney, a classroom of eleven girls are listening as their teacher, Miss Renshaw talks to them of death and hanging, injustice and the need to be open-minded.

The eleven little girls, in their matching ginghams and straw hats, take Miss Renshaw’s words very seriously. And when Miss Renshaw asks them not to tell their parents or other teachers about Morgan, the little girls are determined to keep their teacher’s secret; “our little secret.”

Morgan is the poet who tends the grounds of the Ena Thompson Memorial Gardens. He is a conscientious objector, and he has an owl’s voice.

Georgina swears she saw Morgan and Miss Renshaw kissing in the gardens, but nobody believes her.

And then one day, on another poetry outing with Morgan, Miss Renshaw takes the girls down to the rocks, to see a cave with artwork by the Aborigines inside. All eleven girls troop down to the water’s edge, holding on to their straw hats in the strong breeze, they enter the cave… and when they emerge, Miss Renshaw and Morgan are nowhere to be seen.

A search begins, but the girls cannot tell. They cannot tell their teachers, parents or even the police about Morgan… because he was their little secret with Miss Renshaw.

‘The Golden Day’ is a children’s book, written by Ursula Dubosarsky and recently named in the Children’s Book Council of Australia, shortlist of books for older readers.

This book haunts me. It’s beautifully sinister, for underneath the gorgeous prose there lays an eerie mystery. 

Dubosarsky says in her author’s note that the seed for ‘The Golden Day’ was planted by a Charles Blackman painting called, ‘Floating Schoolgirl’. But she was also inspired by a collection of sad and sinister real-life stories. Such as Lennie Lawson, the painter and killer who murdered a Moss Vale schoolgirl in 1962. The disappearance of Juanita Nielsen from Kings Cross in 1975. And the disappearance and subsequent murder of Samantha Knight in 1986. All these tales of mystery and murder swim around ‘The Golden Day’ – and perhaps that’s why the book reads like it could be the true account of a murder mystery, because its seed was planted in history and inspired by true-to-life horror stories.

The book opens with Miss Renshaw talking to eleven little girls about death, more specifically the upcoming hanging of murderer Ronald Ryan on February 3, 1967 (he will be the last man hanged in Australia). It just so happens that this year, 1967, will be one marred by death for the eleven girls – “The year began with the hanging of one man, and ended with the drowning of another” – come December 1967, Prime Minister Harold Holt will drown on Point Nepean, his body never to be found. But for the eleven at this Sydney school, 1967 will be a year of death much closer to home – when their teacher Miss Renshaw vanishes, foul play suspected.

‘The Golden Day’ is wonderful. It’s amazing that Dubosarsky creates a feeling of creeping catastrophe from the first line, but still manages to lull readers into the story, capturing a moment from her own childhood in a 1967 Sydney school, and the class of eleven girls who are like their own little family.

The setting of the Sydney school read like my own experience. I attended a private all girl’s high school on the Mornington Peninsula. I wore checkered ginghams (dresses) and straw hats were compulsory. My school was situated on a hill, and overlooked Port Phillip Bay, with the city of Melbourne in the distance. There is even an old school song called ‘The Little Grey School by the Sea’. So I found it quite eerie how similar my school was to the one in ‘The Golden Day’;
Because it was such a very small class, they had a very small classroom, which was perched right at the top of the school. Up four flights of stairs, way up in the sky, like a colony of little birds nesting on a cliff,  blown about by the wind with the high, airy sounds of the city coming up the hill in the ocean breeze.

Reading ‘The Golden Day’, I was transported to my own school days when the world behind the gates seemed far removed from reality. I could almost feel that old straw hat sitting atop my head, and smell the breeze from the bay that filled the classrooms…

Dubosarsky’s novel is told in third-person, but pays special attention to two of the eleven girls – Cubby and Icara. They have been friends since the first day of school, and while they are not particularly close outside of the school gates, Cubby and Icara have a special bond; 
'Far-flung,' wrote Miss Renshaw on the board in yellow chalk. Miss Renshaw had large, round, sloping, marvellously neat blackboard writing. Nobody could write on the blackboard like Miss Renshaw. 'Icara is far-flung.'
But with Cubby, Icara was not far-flung. She was nearby-close-at-hand-a-stone's-throw-away. They were friends without either of them really knowing why. It was as though, after that first day when Icara had taken Cubby's frightened hand, she had never let it go. Cubby and Icara could sit together in the playground or on the bus or in the library not saying much for hours, just a lovely rhythmic silence, like the sound of breathing when you're asleep.

When Miss Renshaw disappears after their outing with Morgan, Icara is the first to suggest she may be dead. Other girls protest and proclaim that Miss Renshaw will return… but the years tick away to 1975, and she never does.

I could not put down Ursula Dubosarsky’s book. It really is an absolute marvel – at once beguiling and beautiful, full of rich prose and wonderful characterizations. But when the story turns dark and foul play is afoot, Dubosarsky did an equally wonderful job of chilling me down to the bone, and making my hair stand on end. I think this book has one of the best endings I have ever read – wickedly delightful!

At one point in the novel, Cubby remarks that history doesn’t seem real, almost like a hoax; “Millions and millions of people, living and dying. It’s sort of unbelievable. How could the world have so many people in it?” – and I think that’s the crux of the story. The disbelief in our own history’s – that memory is ravaged by time, truth and fiction blur and our own past’s can seem so much like someone else’s story… and, sometimes, those stories haunt us.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

'Naomi's Wish' Cypress Hollow Yarn #3 by Rachael Herron

From the BLURB:

It had always been Dr Naomi Fontaine's dream to practice small-town medicine - an ambition that has brought her to the quirky, tight-knit community of Cypress Hollow. But no matter how hard she tries, the locals still treat her with suspicion.

Then ruggedly handsome Rig Keller walks into town and Naomi's heart stops for all the wrong reasons.

For a few months back Rig was a rip-roaring, throw-caution-to-the wind one night stand. Now he's her partner at the practice - and keen to play doctors once more...

Will the instantly popular new medic wreck her dreams? Or be the one to help make her wish come true...?

Dr Naomi Fontaine might have made a huge mistake in moving to Cypress Hollow. The townsfolk are wary of her and even after months of being the only doctor in town and eating at the same diner every morning, nobody has really warmed up to her. Not that she can blame them . . .  Naomi knows that while she’s a great doctor, her bedside manner leaves a little something to be desired. She can’t do chit-chat or idle small-talk; she’s painfully shy and in the past that aloofness has come across as stuck-up.

Naomi could have helped herself if she’d just explained the reason she moved to Cypress Hollow in the first place – Eliza Carpenter. The famed knitter and writer was Naomi’s patient, and eventually a very dear friend . . .  until she died of cancer. But in the months that they’d had to grow close to one another, Eliza spoke constantly of Cypress Hollow – and instilled a great wish in Naomi to move to the little town and call it home. Naomi started out with high-hopes for the Hollow – and even opened a free clinic, in honour of her deceased father; a doctor who Naomi loved dearly, so much so that she followed in his footsteps.

But everything is falling apart, and maybe it’s all Naomi’s fault. . .  so maybe that’s why she had a hot, intense fling at an out-of-town conference with the handsomest man she had ever seen.

Just when Naomi is at her lowest, a stranger comes to Cypress Hollow – a stranger who Naomi sort of knows, after their one night together.

Hank ‘Rig’ Keller has returned from his lonely job as doctor on the oil-rigs to stay with his widowed brother, little nephew Milo and elderly father, Frank. He is even thinking of buying into the local practice, currently manned by one doctor . . .  who, surprise-surprise! happens to be the one-night stand he can’t stop thinking about.

Rig Keller didn’t expect to trip over Doc Fontaine ever again, but now that he has he can’t seem to get her out of his system. Not even with the complication of them working together (or the technicality that Naomi is his boss). Rig can’t even help his attraction when Naomi’s little sister, by all accounts a reckless wanderer, turns up on her doorstep seven months pregnant, sending Naomi’s carefully organized life spiralling into orbit. . .

‘Naomi’s Wish’ (called ‘Wishes and Stitches’ in the US) is the third book in Rachael Herron’s lovely-addictive contemporary romance series, ‘Cypress Hollow Yarn’.

I have really enjoyed this series. I read first book, ‘Eliza’s Gift’ last year, followed by ‘Lucy’s Kiss’ and was absolutely bowled over by how much I enjoyed the sweet little romances – set in the country town of Cypress Hollow, and loosely tangled around a renowned knitter called Eliza Carpenter. To be more precise, the stories are about the people who find themselves at loose ends after Eliza dies of cancer – but her friendships, plotting and patterns are still felt in the Hollow.

In the case of ‘Naomi’s Wish’, Dr Naomi Fontaine was Eliza’s doctor who, in the wake of Eliza’s sad passing, decides to pack her city life up and move to the Hollow. When the book begins, Naomi has been living in Cypress Hollow for quite a few months – but you’d never know it. The townspeople barely register her presence, and Naomi is too shy to initiate friendships or even acquaintances. It’s rather painful to read how shy Naomi is, and how misjudged by the town for her aloofness. So it’s rather a surprise when big, handsome Rig Keller walks through the door of the local diner, and Naomi is horrified to discover it’s the man she had a one-night stand with a few weeks ago. Seems that Naomi enjoyed letting her hair down outside of Cypress Hollow, but in a twist of fate that one moment of recklessness is coming to bite her in the behind. . .

Rig is actually in town for a few reasons. His brother, Jake, is a widower whose wife died three years ago. Jake and Megan had a big love, and her loss nearly crippled him. It’s something Rig has seen before – in their father, Frank. When Jake and Rig’s mum died, Frank stayed in bed for six months and it was only with coaxing and tough-love that Jake and Rig were able to save him from himself. Rig has come to Cypress Hollow and intends to stay; to help his brother and father any way he can, and watch his beloved nephew, Milo grow up. Jake is doing okay – he’s just a little over-protective and over-cautious, and he refuses to move or change anything that Megan touched.

When he sees Doc Naomi Fontaine, Rig is counting his lucky stars that he decided to leave the oil-rig life behind and move to the Hollow. Memories of her have been plaguing him for weeks, and he can’t believe his luck that the small town he has decided to move to comes complete with the woman of his dreams. But he’s a little surprised to discover that the Naomi from his day-dreams is a little more cold-shouldered in real life, less self-assured and painfully shy.

One of my favourite things in this book was the Keller family. Jake, Rig, Milo and Frank were wonderfully sweet, and offered some hilarious moments;
“So,” said Jake, and Rig could see the effort he was putting into cheering up. “How did your first day go as a new citizen?”
“I’m going to have to work with the hottest one-night stand I ever had.”
Jake said, “Rig!”
Milo bounced once, hard, and said, “My nightstand is next to my bed. Where’s yours?”

I found it really interesting that both Jake and Frank are wounded men – missing the loves of their lives. For Rig, his dad and brother’s heartbreak offers a warning not to lose your heart – but I thought it was really interesting to read about these men who have had to pick up the pieces of their lives after great loss.

I liked Naomi’s family a little less – mainly, her sister. Anna is Naomi’s half-sister, they share the same mother, but Anna’s father is their mother’s second husband, whom she is still married to. Naomi has always felt that Anna was their mother’s favourite – despite her recklessness. Anna ran away from home and has had a number of dubious jobs and relationships, and she is known to call up in the middle of the night and beg for money to be wired. When Anna winds up on Naomi’s front-porch, seven months pregnant and refusing to speak of the father, Naomi is upset but not all that surprised. There was so much friction and a history of hurt between Naomi and Anna, and I felt like we needed more page-time with the sisters. I also thought it was odd when Jake and Anna grew close . . . I thought that Anna was just using Jake at her convenience; she can’t hold down a job, has a baby on the way, so she sees leaching on to widower as the easy way out. Maybe Naomi loves her sister too much to think that critically of her, but I was really not keen on the Anna/Jake pairing and I wished someone would have pointed out the imbalance in the relationship.

I also thought that a lot of revelations happened to Naomi towards the end of the book. . .  and I wished that they had been more evenly distributed. Because they were such BIG revelations, I wanted Naomi (and the reader) to spend more time dissecting them – instead it felt like we were led to a galloping conclusion without the in-depth emotional examination I would have liked.

But those are my only small complaints about this book. Everything else worked for me. I loved Naomi and Rig – he was such a charming man’s man, while she was an awkward wallflower and it was adorable to read how those clashing personalities actually complemented one another. I also had quite a swoony moment, when Rig nursed Naomi through a bout of food-poisoning. I think everyone, at some stage, has wondered what their loved one’s gross-out limits are. Childbirth is probably a pretty good indicator; but food-poisoning has got to be up there because it ain’t pretty. And if my partner reacted the way that Rig did, they’d have my eternal devotion;
And even pale as she was, face shiny with dried sweat, her curls tangled as if they’d been in a blender, Rig’s heart twisted when he looked at her. He pressed kiss after kiss into her temple, her forehead, her cheek, and when he did, she snuggled closer to him, her arms wrapping around his neck or his arm, whatever was closest to her. He wasn’t sure if it was just because she was sick, but he hoped not. He loved it.

As with all the ‘Cypress Hollow Yarn’ books, I loved the custodial wisdom of Eliza Carpenter’s knitted words of wisdom. They’re lovely, interspersed throughout the chapters and surprisingly easy to apply to real-life;
Grace is knowing when to bind off.
-    E.C.

‘Naomi’s Wish’ was another beautiful romance by Rachael Herron. Reading one of these books is the equivalent to throwing a lovely knitted shawl over your shoulders and snuggling into the warmth. Lovely, lovely, lovely – and I do so hope it’s not the last time we visit Cypress Hollow, because I already want to return!


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