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Monday, March 30, 2015

‘The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex’ by Gabrielle Williams

From the BLURB:

A rock chick.

An artist with attitude.

A girl with a past.

A party animal.

Four lives collide when one of the world's most famous paintings is stolen. It's a mystery that has the nation talking, but while Picasso's Weeping Woman might be absent from the walls of the National Gallery, in other parts of Melbourne the controversial painting's presence is being felt by Guy, Rafi, Luke and Penny for four very different reasons.

Life, love, art and one giant party intersect in this offbeat comedy about good intentions, unexpected consequences and the irresistible force of true love.

‘The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex’ is the new young adult novel from Australian author Gabrielle Williams.

So I had the absolute pleasure of reading this story when it was still a manuscript, and now it’s in my hot little hand as a finished book and I need people to know that it’s one of my favourites of 2015, and should be on everyone’s must-read list.

Allow me to explain …

This book opens with a history lesson;

On 2 August 1986, a group calling itself the Australian Cultural Terrorists stole one of the world’s most iconic paintings – Picasso’s Weeping Woman – off the walls of the National Gallery of Victoria and held it to ransom, demanding an increase in government funding for artists in Victoria. The painting was the subject of an international manhunt involving Interpol, Scotland Yard and the Australian Federal Police. 
The Australian Cultural Terrorists were never found.

Pretty cool, right? You can definitely see how this little slice of Aussie history got the wheels churning in Gab William’s very clever, writerly mind. The theft of The Weeping Woman has its own Wikipedia page and everything – and is even more intensely fascinating because there’s so many question marks hanging over the whole episode (that’s where Williams steps in with some creative licence for this story!).

‘The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex’ is narrated by an omniscient narrator, as we follow the four very different characters of the title (Guy, Rafi, Luke and Penny) each of whom is in some way touched by the disappearance of The Weeping Woman. I almost don’t want to say too much about any of the main characters, because it will give too much away about how each of them fits into this mystery puzzle like pieces of a jigsaw. I will say that through these four young characters, Gabrielle Williams explores everything from school atrophy, grief and mental illness, single-parenthood and egomania.

And while the whole story hangs on a famous piece of artwork – from one of the forefathers of Cubism, no less – the book isn’t necessarily about the transcendence or even the beauty of art. Instead it looks at a darker side of the profession and imagination – at the pursuit of beauty no matter the cost, and the manic-drive to create that which is in our heads, even at the day-to-day, hand-to-mouth struggle of most artists. There are even some very funny interludes in the form of letters-to-the-editor, where people complain about the ugly impenetrableness of art – and these had me laughing-out-loud.

I’ve got to say, Gab William’s exploration of the darker side to the art world is utterly refreshing. I’m currently struggling to chew my way through Jandy Nelson’s Printz-winning I’ll Give You The Sun which is lovely but full-to-bursting at the seams with talk of the magical, healing properties of art creation and appreciation and I’ve got to say … I roll my eyes at a lot of it. Going from that book to Gabrielle Williams’ is like taking a big gulp of refreshing, no-bullshit air. I especially appreciate Gab William’s frankness because the pivot-point of her novel is Picasso’s Weeping Woman, and there’s even some exploration here of the “great master” as kind of a misogynist – it feels like there’s some Guerilla Girls politics subtext in this book, for the way a male-driven art world is portrayed in none-too flattering light against the women who are sometimes trodden on in their pursuit of greatness.

I also loved this book for the reason I love most of Gab William’s books – Melbourne. From her first Beatle Meets Destiny to The Reluctant Hallelujah, I always love seeing my city through Gab’s eyes on the page. And Melbourne of the 80’s through Gab’s eyes is pure enjoyment;

The Crystal Ballroom was all sticky carpet and cigarette smoke and body-slamming music. The Withers had come and gone, and John Lydon (ex-Johnny Rotten) had just taken the stage. He gripped the microphone in his fist and yelled, ‘God Save the Queen,’ out to the audience, riling them up and making Penny feel chalky and brittle. She hadn’t realised punk was still such a big thing in Melbourne. She thought it had died back in the late seventies, but apparently not. Not if the spiky, safety-pinned crowd at the Crystal Ballroom was anything to go by.

I also loved ‘The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex’ because it’s a young adult book edging towards New Adult. There are characters in their early-20’s here who are so relatable for all the ways that their life is still hanging onto the dregs of childhood, and they have some tough times ahead that nudges them more fully into adulthood … but the same way that Gab takes the glowing sheen off the art world, she likewise portrays both teen years and early-20’s in equal hardships, highlighting the many ways we can all stand to grow up a little bit more.

I love ‘The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex’. I loved it in manuscript form, and now that it’s a finished book I love it even more. I can’t even begin to tell you how much you need this book in your life right now.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

'If I Stay' movie review

Life changes in an instant for young Mia Hall after a car accident puts her in a coma. During an out-of-body experience, she must decide whether to wake up and live a life far different than she had imagined. 
The choice is hers if she can go on.

If I Stay is the 2014 movie adaptation of Gayle Forman’s bestselling young adult novel, and the movie was released on DVD in February this year.

I remember seeing this in cinemas last year and being fairly underwhelmed. But to be fair, Forman’s book has become sort of a modern YA-classic since its release in 2009 and probably from the moment that it hit shelves, fans have wanted a movie adaptation. Couple this with the book’s inherently tricky narrative – our protagonist Mia is narrating from a comatose state and weaves the story between her past (centered on her family, and falling for a boy called Adam) and her present, lying in a hospital bed after the accident which has just killed the rest of her family … it’s kind of a recipe for an underwhelming film adaptation.

I did cry during the movie, but came away with that frustrating slogan ringing in my head: “the book was better.”  

So, I thought I’d re-watch the film on DVD, and give it a second chance – maybe I judged too quickly, or as too big a book-nerd. But, alas, no matter how much I wanted to be more open-minded and less judgmental upon my re-watch … I just can’t like this film very much.

Chloë Grace Moretz plays Mia Hall, and I didn’t love her in the role. Moretz’s performance wasn’t helped by some fairly clunky dialogue – particularly around transitions between flashback and hospital scenes. I can’t quite put my finger on it, except to say that in these serious roles Moretz playing coy girl-next-door comes across as frustratingly contrived and not at all natural. By comparison, Shailene Woodley in The Spectacular Now was more what I was hoping for from Mia and the whole movie … actually, something that struck me about The Spectacular Now was how natural the film looked. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley looked like regular teens, and there was no make-up or artifice to them physically or theatrically. Perhaps it’s because If I Stay has such tragedy at its centre that the filmmakers really wanted to emphasize the surreal – almost magical realism – quality to the story. But in reading the book the opposite actually came across to me, that Mia’s reflections on her family and first love were how she found the strength to go on – finding the beauty in the ordinary.

 It’s also the fact that Moretz was out-performed by just about everyone around her. When I first saw Jamie Blackley cast as Adam, my biggest hurdle was trying to picture him in the most recent version of Adam that Gayle Forman wrote in sequel book, Where She Went. But actually he brings the naturalism to the role that I was hoping Moretz could convey – he’s not drop-dead-gorgeous, but Adam isn’t mean to be. His gravitas comes from his talent, and I think Blackley was true to that.


The real stars of the movie though were the adults … which could be seen as a real shame in a young adult adaptation, but I can’t hold any grudges against Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard, who play Mia’s ex-rocker folks. And Stacy Keach who has a small, but impactive role playing Mia’s Gramps. Again, Enos and Leonard bought a natural, free-spirited kindness to their roles – and any scenes of just the two of them were the most touching. One in particular involves them sitting outside a younger Mia’s room as she practices the cello for hours on end, and the two of them marvel at being the creators of this obsessive, talented creature. I found myself liking Moretz’s Mia more (but only slightly) because of them – any family scenes were elevated by having them in it.

The screenplay – written by Shauna Cross – never really accomplished the hardest task of smoothly transitioning the trickier bits of Forman’s plot. It often relied on Moretz’s voiceover orienting viewers on the medical goings-on of her family, and a cheesy “white light” appearing in the hospital hallway amidst flashback scenes of Mia’s life. That it was quite cheesy was the biggest problem, because the book never was.

I also think that director R.J. Cutler went for the wrong look in this movie. It is very blockbuster, melodrama – but some scenes, like those showing the Hall family life, were quieter and stronger for it. It’s also a shame that the film wasn’t shot in Portland (it was British Columbia, Canada instead). Look, I obviously don’t know Portland (I do watch Portlandia though!) but I do remember that in the book the city was a character unto itself – not least because of Mia’s parents and Adam’s intense love of music that is both fed and impacted by the musical city around them. And I wasn’t the only one who was disappointed by the lack of Portland – Anna Klassen for Bustle wrote a great article on the matter.

I did cry the second-time round, which is probably a good thing in a film that’s entirely designed to tug on the heartstrings. But I maintain that most of my tears at the end were bought on for Stacy Keach’s beautiful performance as Gramps. At the end of the day I do really only like the film for four people – Keach, Mireille Enos, Joshua Leonard and maybe even Jamie Blackley a little bit. I do think a lot of what let the film sink into mediocrity was Chloë Grace Moretz being miscast, the lack of Portland and a too-ritzy shine on R.J. Cutler’s overall look, that’s more powerful in quieter moments. And, yeah, the book was better.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

AUDIOBOOK: 'When You Reach Me' written by Rebecca Stead, narrated by Cynthia Holloway

From the BLURB:

Four mysterious letters change Miranda's world forever.....

By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it's safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner.

But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda's mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper:

I am coming to save your friend's life, and my own.
I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.

The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death - until the final note makes her think she's too late.

Written by: Rebecca Stead
Narrated by: Cynthia Holloway
Length: 4 hrs and 19 mins
Unabridged Audiobook

Rebecca Stead is one of my favourite authors writing today, and when I first read ‘WhenYou Reach Me’ (winner of the 2010 John Newbery Medal) I instantly wanted to re-read it. It’s just one of those books that’s both so clever and heartfelt, that once you finish reading you want to go back and trace the author’s steps (all those breadcrumbs she left behind) but you also just want to hang out with the characters again.

Sadly – as readers can attest – you can’t ever read something a second time in quite the same way as the first. It’s not that the magic is gone, or the shine’s worn off. Rather, that you can only look on something with fresh eyes once. It’s why I’m always a little bit envious when somebody says they’re going to start reading one of my all-time favourite books … I’m just a little bit jealous of their first time discovering those characters and that story.

But, I have found a new way to re-read beloved books that does bring some new perspective to them, and is probably as close as anyone can get to discovering a story anew for the second time. Audiobooks, my friends. Audiobooks.

I was an audiobook hold-out for a long time. I couldn’t imagine the appeal of listening to something when I could be reading it and truth be told, I wondered if they were a bit of a cop-out. Then I had my hallelujah moment with ‘The Piper’s Son’ on audiobook, read by Michael Finney.

Admittedly, right now I’m enjoying revisiting old favourites on audiobook while I’m out walking. I know I need to start listening more to books that I’ve never read before – but for right now, I’m enjoying discovering new facets to old faithfuls.

Behold; ‘When You Reach Me’ by Rebecca Stead, unabridged audio narrated by Cynthia Holloway. Author and children’s book-buying specialist Emily Gale highly-recommend this audiobook, and she was not wrong.

Cynthia Holloway captures Miranda’s voice so well and generously, I felt all of her twelve-year-old woes, particularly around her best friend Sal cutting off their friendship. I remember when I read the book that I loved details of Miranda’s home-life, with her single-mum and her mum’s boyfriend Richard. But listening to the audiobook I was struck by the friendships Miranda is developing with Ann-Marie, Colin and Marcus – these characters who I now paid so much more attention to, as this was a re-reading and I knew how important they each were to the story. Even Julia – Miranda’s pseudo-nemesis – was beautifully portrayed, her middle-school tragedy emphasised when running alongside Miranda’s friendship woes and triumphs.

In listening to the audiobook I was able to appreciate the intricate plot a lot more, and just the interiors of Miranda’s school life and budding friendships were beautifully articulated. I would highly-recommend this audiobook for and young readers who loved Stead’s book and want to love it in a new way – listening to the story is just as enjoyable as reading the book was that first-time round!


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

'The Comeback of Roy Walker' The Bakers of Baseball #1 by Stephanie Doyle

Received via NetGalley

From the BLURB:

Roy Walker never did like the taste of humble pie. Too bad he's getting his share of it now that he needs to pitch one more season of pro baseball. Worse, he can't achieve it without the help of physiotherapist Lane Baker; the one woman who won't have anything to do with him. Somehow he has to make amends for the past.

But his intentions to be a better man get sidelined by the combustible connection between him and Lane. Ego aside, it's time to admit he never stopped wanting her; and his greatest comeback will be winning her!

‘The Comeback of Roy Walker’ is the new Harlequin contemporary romance novel from Stephanie Doyle, and what is the first in a new series I believe is tentatively titled ‘The Bakers of Baseball’.

I requested this book from NetGalley on a whim – I just really felt like reading some sports-themed romance, and this one about a retired baseball pitcher who needs to get back in the game intrigued me.

Roy Walker is retired, and was once good enough to be a hall-of-famer. But then he blew his 80-million dollars retirement fund on a bad tech start-up and now he’s hoping there are more bullets left in his arm to get him back into the major leagues and back on top.

But to get back in the game he has to first start out in the minors, working for his old baseball manager, Duff – and with the hopes that Duff’s physical therapy daughter, Lane Baker, will forgive Roy a mistake he made five years ago enough to help him get back in the game.

Five years ago Lane was married to a fellow teammate who Roy knew was doing the dirty behind her back. Roy and Lane were close friends then, and Roy harboured a serious crush on her … which is partly what motivated him to break the news of her husband’s infidelity in (with hindsight) what was the most painful way possible. Lane hasn’t spoken to Roy in five years, until she’s called home around the same time that Roy is looking to cancel his retirement – called home because her younger sister, Scout, is worried about their dad, Duff’s ailing health.

I really, thoroughly and unabashedly enjoyed this novel. For starters, I loved that Roy is genuinely down and out when we meet him – he’s nearly flat broke (his accountant told him to file for bankruptcy, but Roy decided to pay off his creditors instead and now has nada). I’ve never read a romance novel in which the hero is so genuinely down on his luck, and still very much the hero. Roy’s misfortune is tied to his romance with Lane … because Roy is so embarrassed by his failure, coupled with how he hurt her five years ago, he’s so convinced that he’s not good enough for Lane. 

By contrast, Lane’s backstory isn’t as well filled out. It’s initially interesting and very meaty, but falls by the wayside in a way that Roy’s anti-retirement and embarrassment linked to that isn’t – somehow his has more emotion behind it, and explored because of it. I also love that Roy is older than Lane – she’s in her late twenties, he’s in his earlier forties – so as an athlete he especially feels over the hill, when he has to start competing against young up-starts who also look up to him for having been in the major leagues. 

Lane kind of has every right to be angry at Roy for something that happened five years ago, and I love that Doyle doesn’t allow that to slide and she teases that out too … it also makes for some lovely friction between the two in the beginning, adding to the build-up when they start to find their way back to each other.

“… He made us say over and over again that relationships were worth fighting for. They were the only thing worth fighting for. So I fought and I fought harder. But the harder I fought, the harder it was to have the energy to keep fighting. During that time you and I were becoming friends, I thought it was all so perfectly innocent. Until you kissed me and I couldn’t pretend anymore.” 
“That’s what upset you the most that nigh. I was right about that, wasn’t I?” 
“I cheated, Roy. I cheated on my husband … with you. You weren’t just my friend.” 
Roy sighed. “What’s your biggest secret, Lanie? I want to hear you say it.” 
She looked at him then. “I don’t hate Roy Walker.”

There’s also a side-story going on about Lane’s dad Duff, whose ailing health has everyone concerned. Then there’s Lane’s sister Scout – who works with Duff, and is just as baseball-mad as he is –Scout’s story will be the next in ‘The Bakers of Baseball’ series. At first I hated having to read the cut-away to Sctou’s side-story, setting up her novel … it wasn’t as interesting to me as Lane and Roy’s rekindled romance, not until Scout’s love interest actually makes it onto the page and then I was intrigued by their chemistry and history. Certainly I’ll be coming back for book #2 (and, actually, I’m keen to look up some of Stephanie Doyle’s backlist, because she so impressed me with ‘The Comeback of Roy Walker’).


Sunday, March 15, 2015

'Vision in Silver' The Others #3 by Anne Bishop

Received via NetGalley

From the BLURB:

The Others freed the cassandra sangue to protect the blood prophets from exploitation, not realizing their actions would have dire consequences. Now the fragile seers are in greater danger than ever before—both from their own weaknesses and from those who seek to control their divinations for wicked purposes. In desperate need of answers, Simon Wolfgard, a shape-shifter leader among the Others, has no choice but to enlist blood prophet Meg Corbyn’s help, regardless of the risks she faces by aiding him.

Meg is still deep in the throes of her addiction to the euphoria she feels when she cuts and speaks prophecy. She knows each slice of her blade tempts death. But Others and humans alike need answers, and her visions may be Simon’s only hope of ending the conflict.

For the shadows of war are deepening across the Atlantik, and the prejudice of a fanatic faction is threatening to bring the battle right to Meg and Simon’s doorstep…

‘Vision in Silver’ is the third book in Anne Bishops’ ‘The Others’ fantasy series.

This book takes place shortly after ‘Murder of Crows’, after the explosive events of that book, which saw Meg Corbyn’s old compound (where she and other cassandra sangue blood prophets were kept) being liberated and some of the women freed. It also picks up on the increasingly zealous activity of the HFL (Humans First and Last movement against the Others).

Some characters I haven’t ever really concentrated a lot on in my reviews of this series so far, are the humans who are working with the Lakeside Courtyard and its inhabitants – the female staff who work in the café and bookshop – and especially the police officers who are increasingly finding their impressions of the Others challenged the more they get to know them. All of the humans have been bought together and interact more than ever with the Others because of Meg Corbyn’s arrival. ‘Visions in Silver’ gives a big chunk of the storyline to one officer in particular – Montgomery – when is daughter arrives at Lakeside unexpectedly, and a mystery surrounds why her mother Elayne would let her travel to see her father after so long refusing him custody rights … Monty, and his fellow officers, suspect the answer lies with Nicholas Scratch – charismatic leader of the HFL movement, and Elayne’s boyfriend.

“I heard a couple of his recent speeches, and he’s a persuasive bastard,” Pete continued. “If I wasn’t almost one hundred percent certain that the HFL were behind the threats to my family, I’d be more than halfway to believing they had the answer to anything and everything. Want your children to have more milk? Kill a Wolf.” 
“Pete,” Burke began, looking toward the doorway of his office. 
“It’s not our fault that, as a species, you’re pretty stupid.” 
Monty winced, then turned to face Simon Wolfgard as the Wolf stepped into Burke’s office. 
“I think we’ve shown we can be dangerous,” Pete said, 
“Being dangerous doesn’t make you less stupid,” Simon Replied.

I so love reading this series for the Lakeside community – I love reading about Meg interacting with the likes of Simon Wolfgard and his pack, Vlad and the vampires, the various crows and ponies …. The more fantastical characters definitely steal the limelight in this series, so when it comes to finally sitting down and reviewing the human characters tend to get shoved to the side in my mind. Not so in ‘Vision in Silver’, when Bishop writes such a good mystery around Monty and his daughter that the story felt perfectly balanced with the quite wild events of Lakeside.

And make no mistake; events are turning wild for the Others. Meg finds herself a cassandra sangue expert, when those left caring for the freed blood prophets turn to her for help in assimilating them into the world they’ve only ever known from pictures. The HFL movement is mobilizing in a way that’s of real concern to non-violent humans and Others alike … and both Simon and Meg find themselves questioning each other’s increasing importance in their respective lives;

He watched her as she ran around making squeaky noises, pretending to be prey while the pups chased her and the adult Wolves made sure the game didn’t get too rough. He watched as she played tug with Sam. 
She had spent most of her life isolated, even when she was surrounded by other humans. Now she was learning as much from the Wolves as she was from the humans about what it meant to have family. 
She wasn’t a Wolf. She wasn’t terra indigene. Despite that, Meg was becoming one of them.
I particularly love the slow tease of Meg and Simon …. and it is slow, but I can’t imagine it any other way when Meg is still so naïve about the world in many ways, and Simon battling his anti-human views. Bishop is pacing them just right, to keep fans anticipating but staying true to their characters.

This was another stellar instalment in what has fast become my most-anticipated series to come back to every year. Anne Bishop’s world is smart and expansive, fantastical, even while shining a light on the worst aspects of humanity. ‘Vision in Silver’ is another favourite from Anne Bishop and this fabulous series of hers.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Things no one tells you about romance readers

This weekend just gone, I attended the Australian Romance Readers Convention (ARRC) in Canberra. It was my first time going, and I had a really good time. Not least because I got to meet some authors and bloggers I've long admired in person! 

So I wrote a summary of the Convention for Daily Life: 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

‘Pride of Baghdad’ written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Niko Henrichon

From the BLURB:

In the spring of 2003, a pride of lions escaped from the Baghdad zoo during an American bombing raid. Lost and confused, hungry but finally free, the four lions roamed the decimated streets of Baghdad in a desperate struggle for their lives. In documenting the plight of the lions, PRIDE OF BAGHDAD raises questions about the true meaning of liberation – can it be given or is it earned only through self-determination and sacrifice? And in the end, is it truly better to die free than to live life in captivity?

‘Pride of Baghdad’ was the 2006 stand-alone graphic novel written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Niko Henrichon.

Fair warning: this is not The Lion King of your childhood. You could probably guess that if you’re at all familiar with Brian K. Vaughan’s work – Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina or Saga, take your pick – this guy likes tough stories. ‘Pride of Baghdad’ is actually based on a true event from 2003, about lions that escaped from Baghdad zoo, amidst the bombing of the city by US troops. So it’s already grounded in pretty gritty reality, by Vaughan manages to add layers upon layers of intrigue and disturbia to an already pretty upsetting story.

We follow two lions – a cub called Ali and older lion called Zill – along with two lionesses, Ali’s mother Noor and oldest among them Safa. When we meet them, Noor – the leader of their ramshackle pride – is concocting yet another doomed-to-fail plan to escape from the zoo and get back to the wild she remembers from her cub-days. Safa is always sceptical, and doesn’t want to leave the safety of the zoo and daily meals provided for by keepers – Safa has her own memories of the wilderness, and they’re not all happy ones. Ali, meanwhile, doesn’t know what a horizon is and Zill is getting old, fat and grumpy.

One day the sky starts falling – fighter jets fly over head and the keepers throw a zebra carcass into the lion pen, a meal that’s meant to last them days, possibly weeks … and then the zoo is blown up and all the animals escape – Noor, Ali, Safa and Zill included.

We follow them as they roam the fallen city of Baghdad, encountering the outside world for the first time since they were each (except Ali) plucked from the wild and caged. The outside world as beautifully drawn by Niko Henrichon is burning: stark oranges, reds and yellows fill the page along with plumes of smoke as they walk through the debris of a bombed city. When the lions find their way into Saddam Hussein’s palace, it’s a stark contrast to the burning world outside but still eerie –like a mausoleum.

Brian K. Vaughan hauntingly imagines these lions roaming “free” for the first time. But he takes this anthropomorphism to another level – there’s sexual tension between Zill, Safa and Noor and a truly sickening flashback to Safa’s life in the wild provides some clues as to her craving for the confines of a cage. Ali’s encountering of a tortoise brings some not-so-subtle political leanings to the story, with talk of the “black water” that humans fight over. And there’s real heartbreak to this story too – as there’s bound to be from the outset, when Noor prophetically says that freedom should be earned, not given freely.

It’s quite impressive really, how Vaughan manages to tie this rather odd true-story of a bombed zoo (giving me hints of Sonya Hartnett’s ‘The Midnight Zoo’) to the wider political arch of why those bombs were falling in the first place … But he does so, and it’s a compelling – if depressing – tale.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

'Dead Heat' Alpha and Omega #4 by Patricia Briggs

Received from NetGalley

From the BLURB:

For once, mated werewolves Charles and Anna are not traveling because of Charles’s role as his father’s enforcer. This time, their trip to Arizona is purely personal, as Charles plans to buy Anna a horse for her birthday. Or at least it starts out that way...

Charles and Anna soon discover that a dangerous Fae being is on the loose, replacing human children with simulacrums. The Fae’s cold war with humanity is about to heat up—and Charles and Anna are in the cross fire.

‘Dead Heat’ is the fourth book in Patricia Briggs’ insanely addictive ‘Alpha & Omega’ urban fantasy series. We haven’t had a new instalment in the series since ‘Fair Game’ came out in 2012, and left fans on one hell of a cliffhanger.

At the end of ‘Fair Game’ – and after a traumatic investigation – the Fae revealed themselves to the public and declared war against humanity at the same time. It was a dramatic and fantastic place to leave Anna and Charles Cornick and the werewolf population in general … Briggs also hinted in that book, that Anna was starting to think about wanting a family with Charles, and that’s where ‘Dead Heat’ picks up.

She hid that monster from everyone because it would hurt Charles if he knew that she carried those scars still. But since she was admitting her weakness here, if only to herself, she also worried that it would interfere with his image of the person he thought she was. He thought she was brave and true and good, and she wasn't. Inside, she was dark and ferocious. If he truly understood that she had this twisted and broken part, maybe he could not love her. 

Evidently some time has passed since the Fae declared cold war, enough that Anna is now openly addressing her want for children with Charles. This is a frightening concept for Charles – his mother Blue-Jay Woman was a Flathead Indian, and used magic to carry Charles to term against her own werewolf instinct to change … suppressing her wolf side killed her. When Anna starts broaching the topic of having a child with Charles, she speaks of how his brother Samuel is dabbling in medicinal ways to help women carry to term, and Charles is adamant that no magic will be used – something Anna agrees to avoid, but may still use as a last resort.

But just as quickly as Briggs dangles this deep, emotional storyline before readers, she snatches it away as Anna accepts that Charles needs time to process. Instead, the two of them travel to Arizona in the lead-up to Anna’s birthday, to find her an Arabian horse as a gift … but also so Charles can catch up with an old, dying friend who he has avoided seeing for the last 20 years (he is human, and Charles can’t bear to see him old and dying). But Charles and Anna arrive in Arizona at the house of Charles’s old friends, just as strange happenings are affecting the family … soon they find themselves embroiled in a Fae kidnapping case that could have deep ramifications for human and supernatural alike.

I was initially really excited at where this story was going. When we arrive in Arizona, readers and Anna realise that Charles’s old friend – Joseph – has known Charles since he was very young, and Joseph’s family were once the closet friends Charles had ever known. We also discover that Joseph’s wife once had a love-affair with Charles, and though Maggie is an old woman now, she still stirs Anna’s jealousy in weird ways. And this was all really good – I love any Briggs story where there’s a strong focus on the old lives of these werewolf characters, the likes of Charles and his father Bran (the Marrok) especially because they’ve been around for so long. But then the story gets bogged down in everything else – extraneous detail and a ho-hum whodunit – and it all started to lose me …

There are pages and pages of boring scenes about the Arabian horses Anna and Charles are checking out. Either Briggs is a little horse-mad or she did a hell of a lot of research – either way I commend her attention to detail, but I just didn’t care in this book. It’s the fourth in Anna and Charles’s story, and Briggs normally brings high-adrenaline in her urban fantasy tales … so all these scenes observing horses and talking about how many hands they are, how strong their backs and long their legs – I’m sorry, but *snore* – right when I had the big emotional upheaval of Anna wanting babies dangled in front of me, all these slow scenes horse-shopping just infuriated because it bought the tension that had been established way down.

I also didn’t love how involved Charles’s old friends were in the whodunit. Readers meet Joseph’s family in this book which centres around his daughter-in-law and grandchildren especially – again, we spend a lot of time learning this family’s dynamics, when all I really wanted was more time to explore Anna and Charles’s emotional struggles. The grandchildren characters also started to grate on me towards the end – Max, Michael and Mackie didn’t read very childlike to me, Mackie especially is a big focus in this book but her ‘old soul’ spiel just kind of had me eye-rolling.

There wasn’t as much Anna and Charles in this book as I would have liked – the horses and getting to know Charles’s old friends seemed to take a lot of page time away from them. And after that emotional bomb that went off in the first chapter, I was frustrated.

"You need to understand something," she said intensely. "Charles is my husband. You can't have him. Mine. Not yours. There are lots of nice, unattached men out there, I'm sure. Pick one of them and you might live longer." Then her body relaxed and her voice regained its usual cheeriness. "Thank you for your time, Ms. Newman." 
As they left, Charles turned back toward the teacher and shrugged helplessly. Then he put on his meekest face and turned around to follow Anna. 
"I saw that," she muttered at him. 
"Saw what?" asked Charles in mock innocence. 
Brother Wolf was pleased with her claiming of them. So was Charles. 

But the whodunit is pretty good – it’s based around a Fae mythology that lots of people will be familiar with, so Briggs is really building on an ages-old spook story that will really captivate readers. And for all that I wanted more Anna and Charles (especially because we haven’t had a book with them since 2012 – I was starved of them and I wanted to gorge!) Briggs does mark some very important growth in their relationship that’s touching and tender, and I really look forward to where these new revelations take them in future books …


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