Ah-ha! I've had my Kindle for about a year and this is the first book I've read (and finished) on it so far - success! It helped that this was a well-...moreAh-ha! I've had my Kindle for about a year and this is the first book I've read (and finished) on it so far - success! It helped that this was a well-written, enjoyable story with some interesting deviations from the urban fantasy genre.
Cailleach ("Kay-lex") McFay - Callie to her friends - has recently got her Ph.D in English and her thesis, "The Demon Lover in Gothic Literature: Vampires, Beasts, and Incubi" has been published to wide acclaim as Sex Lives of the Demon Lovers, and now she's looking for a university teaching job. Her first choice is the University of New York, where her long-standing boyfriend, Paul, can join her once he finishes his Master of Economics degree in California, but she's not putting all her eggs in one basket. The unique folklore department at the small Fairwick College in New York state draws Callie, as does a beautiful old Victorian house in the woods across the road from the inn where she's staying for the interview.
Honeysuckle House isn't just up for sale; it used to be the home of Dahlia LaMotte, a popular gothic romance novelist from the early 20th century. The house comes with all of LaMotte's documents and manuscripts, and Callie finally has an idea for her next book. In an impulsive move, she not only accepts a teaching position at the college, but buys the house as well - without even discussing it with Paul.
As soon as Callie moves into Honeysuckle House, however, the dreams begin: dreams of a sexy, seductive man made of shadow and moonlight who leaves her sore and aching in the morning. Callie thinks it's the same dream man as the one who comforted her when she was little and her parents died; he told her fairytales, but he too came with the scent of honeysuckle and sea salt. But it takes Callie a while to admit to herself that this dream lover isn't really a dream at all, and the small town of Fairwick - and Fairwick College itself - is more than what it seems as well.
There's a lot more to the plot than that but I don't want to reveal too much. Suffice it to say, that the book takes some interesting turns, and develops a few mysteries that add intriguing layers to the overall plot. Juliet Dark is a pseudonym for Carol Goodman, who writes literary mysteries and gothic historical fiction, and she brings to the genre a new kind of heroine and a new approach that is refreshing - more on that later.
This was an engrossing read for me, the fast pace and smooth prose eagerly carrying me across the pages and through the story. The main draw was Callie herself, who, as an English academic with a love for gothic romances, folklore and myth, spoke to me and seemed more real than any of the kick-arse, demon slaying, silent-'n'-stubborn heroines of most Urban Fantasy. That Callie is a bit of a nerd, that she has a passion for books and old houses, only made me like her all the more. She fights demons with her brain (and sometimes her heart) rather than her muscles, and it makes for a very nice change.
She may be a bit slow off the mark, though - the plot contains a few mysteries that are very obvious to the reader, but Callie, who narrates, gives us all the clues without being able to put two-and-two together, herself. Not sure that I entirely buy that, as she seems quite smart in so many other ways. But I'm not going to hold it against her, because it's not like anyone'd expect any of this to be real.
In some ways, the story didn't go where I was expecting, partly because I also saw it categorised as Paranormal Romance, which has a pretty simple formula. This isn't a romance novel, though: there's no detailed or complete sex scene (though there's lots of sex; Callie just doesn't share much of it with us), and there's no happy ever after romantic ending. In fact, it seems to be setting us up for a series about Callie and Fairwick, though I haven't seen anything about that online (Goodreads usually has that info but it's mum on this one). I liked that it didn't go where I was expecting, but I did find myself somewhat confused as to how to read it - as a romance or as a fantasy novel.
There definitely wasn't a romance feel to it at all, not even when Callie shacks up with another teacher (I would say his name but I can't remember it and the problem with e-books is that you can't flip through the pages! Very frustrating). In fact, one of the things that disappointed me with this book wasn't the lack of complete sex scenes, but the unconvincing romantic relationships. Having Callie narrate made her a strong character, but she failed to convince me of her feelings for the demon lover and her boyfriends.
I did love Ralph, the mouse, though. He was very sweet. And I was fascinated by many of the other characters and the history of the town, and Honeysuckle House itself was quite vividly drawn, but I was very confused by Callie's possible connection with faerie - not the doorkeeper part, but the riders/companions part. There were many fun references to popular television and fiction, and I loved the smooth, relaxed prose style and Callie's voice. I had mixed reactions to this story overall but it's a fun piece featuring demons, fairies, witches and gothic romance that'll keep you entertained.
My thanks to Random House and NetGalley for a copy of this book.(less)
This review contains a spoiler that I consider to be a pretty obvious plot development, but anyway, here's your warning!
Lucy Ashton, only child of the...moreThis review contains a spoiler that I consider to be a pretty obvious plot development, but anyway, here's your warning!
Lucy Ashton, only child of the widowed Marquis of Stonebrook, is alone once more now that cousin Isabella has married her neighbour, Lord Black. But life is not dull: she knows that her lover Thomas is not dead after all, and she's determined not only to find him but to prove to the Duke of Sussex, Adrian York, that he isn't the enemy, that he didn't kill Mr Knighton, that he isn't in league with the man they know of as Orpheus - or Orpheus himself - who is bent on stealing the artefacts the Brethren Guardians - Black, Sussex and Alynwick - have pledged their lives to protect.
There's another reason why Lucy is so vehemently opposed to Sussex: he hasn't given up hope of marrying her, and her father is determined she shall marry him too. Lucy once had dreams of marrying for love, and thinks not just of loving Thomas, an artist, but her childhood friend Gabriel, the butcher's boy, who her father through out of the house after he gifted Lucy with a handmade bed for her doll's house. But ever since the day she last saw Gabriel, she has hardened herself, turned herself into a typically superficial society miss. Only Sussex seems to see right through her defences, but it will take a lot for him to prove to her he isn't the aloof, priggish gentleman she believes, that he has limitless passion for her and doesn't want a mere union for the sake of having a beautiful wife and an heir, as Lucy thinks. But as Lucy's pride diminishes and Sussex's passion increases, their secrets become dangerous as their true enemy closes in on them.
As the title would indicate, Pride & Passion gives a nod to Pride and Prejudice in some small ways, but is overall a completely different book and isn't meant to be compared to the latter. I wasn't terribly impressed with the first book in the trilogy, Seduction & Scandal, and honestly if I hadn't come across it on Netgalley I don't know that I would have bothered reading on. But I'm glad I did, because even though I still have my complaints, this was a better book in many ways.
True to Featherstone form, the sexual tension is like an electrical current in the air, and the intimacy between Lucy and Adrian becomes intense. Featherstone doesn't disappoint on that score. And the Brethren Guardian-powerful relicts-evil mastermind plot wasn't as dominant here as in its predecessor, which was all to the good because I find it all rather ridiculous and over-the-top.
But when it did come into the story, it was just as snigger-worthy as ever. I'm sorry, I really can't suspend disbelief and take it seriously, even for the sake of the novel. It either bores the crap out of me or makes my eyes roll. Orpheus in particular is not a well-written Bad Guy. I could just picture him rubbing his palms together and laughing inanely at his own cleverness (right before he's foiled, of course).
The real problem, though, lies in the sheer predictability of Pride & Passion. You could see a mile away that Adrian had once been Gabriel, even if you weren't sure how that worked out in the details. And once you figured that out, it was pretty obvious who Orpheus is. (Stonebrook is a clumsy red-herring.) There are also little inconsistencies, like characters suddenly appearing in a scene, but I know I'm not supposed to discuss the writing because this is just a proof, not the final book. All I can say is, I really, really hope it gets a thorough edit!
Lucy matures nicely in this book - I didn't care for her at all in the previous one because she was such an idiot, dabbling in seances and the occult in an attempt to reach her lost lover, Thomas. For the character, her past and her personality, it was deeply realistic for her to have had a big love affair with a struggling artist, to have fancied herself in love with very little to compare it to - her parents never showed her any affection and her father verbally and physically abused the one friend she had as a child. In terms of writing people and their faults, Featherstone writes extremely well. Addicted proved that. Anyway, by the end of Pride & Passion, Lucy is sensible and pragmatic instead of petty and childish.
But it was Adrian York who stole the show. Unashamedly in love, determined and sexy, he was living and breathing on the page and made me care. It was sometimes a stretch to like him considering he found Lucy so adorable even when he thought she was being an idiot, and he was high-handed at times too (one of the nods to Darcy; others include a couple of lines that are very close to famous lines in Pride and Prejudice), but once you know that he was Gabriel, you can understand why he stayed true to this girl who he knew before she became jaded and disparaging.
There's plenty of action but none of it particularly nail-biting - probably also because I find it a bit silly. When one of the minor characters turns up dead, that was one of the most chilling bits; otherwise, the danger didn't feel very real to me. But I did like that this one focused mostly on Adrian and Lucy, with less emphasis on the secret powerful relics/Orpheus plot, which makes me giggle.
Now that I've come this far, I'll definitely be reading the third and final book in the story Temptation & Twilight. If you're new to this story and I haven't put you off, start with the first book, Seduction & Scandal, mostly because it gives a lot more background exposition on the Brethren Guardian that would help you understand what all the fuss is about in this one. Otherwise, it could stand on its own.
My thanks to Harlequin and Netgalley for a copy of this book.(less)
It's 2195 and the world is a very different place. Climate change has driven the surviving human population to the land on the equator, and in New Vic...moreIt's 2195 and the world is a very different place. Climate change has driven the surviving human population to the land on the equator, and in New Victoria - where Mexico used to be - society has reverted to old social mores of politeness, proper behaviour and corsets while maintaining and increasing their technological savvy. Those who rebuffed the tech left New Victoria for southern lands, becoming "Punks" who utilise steam-driven power. Fights on the border persist, and the New Victorians are sold the line that all Punks hate what they are and are the enemy.
Nora Dearly has finished not just another year at St Cyprian's School for Girls but also a year of mourning for her father, Dr Victor Dearly, who left her an orphan in the care of her Aunt Gene. Against social proprieties, Nora walks home into the high-tech underground neighbourhood of the Elysian Fields; not far from her front door she is accosted by a hooded man who claims to have known her father. A glimpse of his face is enough to send fear from her, and the cops help her home. A couple of nights later, though, her home is broken into by a host of skeletal men with missing bits of flesh intent on kidnapping her.
Rescued by a secret army of "good" zombies led by Captain Abraham "Bram" Griswold, Nora discovers that the Punks aren't the real threat after all. The highly contagious infection causing people to die within six hours and then reanimate, sometimes with their sanity intact but often without, is a danger to both sides of the border. Nora and her new undead friends are fighting not just rabid zombies but also prejudice against the "sane" undead.
I found that summary ridiculously hard to write without giving too much away; with a book that covers Romance, Science Fiction and Horror, where do you even start? How about we look at them separately.
On the Romance front, this is a sweet and also bitter-sweet love story between a mortal girl, Nora, and a zombie boy, Bram. Bram is one of the sane ones: his mind - and emotions - are intact and in that respect he's the same person he was when alive. Their blossoming feelings for each other provide a nice human story to balance the tech and horror aspects; it's also a story of looking beyond the surface issues and overcoming prejudice, a cross-class, culture and, in a way, race love story. Bram was definitely my favourite character, though Nora's best friend Pamela Roe had her moments of stealing the story. More on Nora and Bram later.
The novel is clearly Science Fiction in premise and setting - and no, I would not call this dystopian. It's past time we stopped calling every YA Science Fiction novel "dystopian" just because it sounds better. I found the futuristic premise intriguing - a new ice age drives everyone south to the equator (or north, I guess, depending on where you started); the North Americans who fled south decide to establish a society based on the Victorian era - but with high-tech digital technology. A bit of a weird mix, but okay. I like original. The Punks, on the other hand, have the same Victorian ideals but with the steam-driven technology; we get very little of the Punks however, so the steampunk aspect was minimal. It also presents a very interesting scenario, having "sane" zombies: some people reanimate with everything intact except for their slowly disintegrating bodies. It makes me wonder: is such a life worse than death?
And thirdly, on the Horror front, we have some pretty tense action scenes that move fast. When the zombies break into the Dearly home and Nora races for her father's gun cabinet, that was pretty thrilling. Later, when the infection is let loose in the city, there is a general sense of fear and chaos and confusion - Pamela's neighbours, the Delgados, are particularly sad and tragic. Then there's the more high-octane run-for-your-life dash through the city, with zombies hot on your heels.
So that should hopefully give you a sense of how this book weaves together the different elements, which it does do well - to a degree. I felt that, while strong attempts were made to flesh out the setting and solidify the life of a young woman in New Victoria - the expectations, the social calls and chaperones - I still found it difficult to picture this world, both geographically and visually, in my imagination. It wasn't described in any great depth, from the houses to the climate, the terrain to the people - I just couldn't picture it. I was often confused over where they were and the distances between places - Bolivia is mentioned several times, and a mix of sea and air voyages, but where the army bases were in relation to anything else I don't know. I was also confused over how New Victoria was established, in terms of a flood of (predominantly) white English-speaking people into land already occupied. Certainly Victorianism and Colonialism go hand-in-hand together, but this wasn't present, making the set-up for this city less believable. I'm the kind of reader who really needs to get a sense of place and time as a solid foundation for the story, and here I felt it was lacking. It was too light on descriptions, tending towards a story made up of dialogue, action and a bit of thinking.
Which brings me to the characters. While Nora is undoubtedly the common thread that brings the different narrators together, she is not the only person who narrates. Bram, Pam, Nora's father Victor Dearly and Captain Woolf, living leader of the zombie army, all take turns to narrate. This threw me a bit at first but it worked well, narratively and structurally. However (yeah you're starting to expect these "buts" aren't you?), their individual voices weren't distinguishable from each other - and I'm not looking for obvious quirks or anything here, but when you got Pam, Nora and Bram in a scene together, I often forgot who was "I" in the chapter and floundered, and I sometimes hated leaving a scene for a whole new one and a new character, which interrupted the flow for me. To be fair, though, a lot of readers will probably find that the chapters and changing perspectives move smoothly one to the other and work for better flow and pacing. We all read differently.
And the pacing was good: steady, fairly fast, didn't linger overmuch on "boring bits". It was easy to get caught up in the action, and the interactions between Bram and Nora are really quite lovely and endearing. I've no idea where their relationship could possibly go, and while I could believe that Nora could fall for a zombie - he really is a wonderful character - I still found it hard to believe that a living person could find a dead person attractive, physically. I've never before found myself blanching at a kissing scene until I read this.
One thing that the story touches on throughout that I really appreciated was an ethical and "racial" debate regarding the sane undead's place in society. We get Woolf's unabashed prejudice from the beginning, which gets us thinking and juxtaposes Bram's obviously intact humanity; by the time we get to the end where the idea of the living and the undead co-existing becomes a real issue, Dearly, Departed is touching on some real social issues and leaving it open to further exploration.
There's definitely lots to enjoy here, especially if you take it less seriously than I did, and the series has great potential. But for such a long book, I was disappointed at the lack if setting, and I found it rushed at times - especially the epilogue, which rather ruined things. It's just that, at the end of it I found myself wondering where that word count had gone. What made up this story, really? Bottom line is: I'm not hugely fond of Habel's writing style, and while she has some fantastic ideas I wish they'd been better fleshed out. Still, if you want a new take on the zombie story (and let's face it, they're long overdue for one - zombies are pretty dull creatures, being mindless!), this could be just the thing.
My thanks to the Random House and NetGalley for a copy of this book.
In a far-off future, long after a fourth world war has reshaped the world as we know it into large amalgamated countries and empires, a poor cyborg gi...moreIn a far-off future, long after a fourth world war has reshaped the world as we know it into large amalgamated countries and empires, a poor cyborg girl called Cinder plies her skills as a mechanic at the market of New Beijing, capital city of the Eastern Commonwealth. Her only friends are an out-of-date android called Iko and her younger stepsister, Peony. Her legal guardian, Adri, forces Cinder to work and uses the money to maintain herself and her two daughters, Pearl and Peony, in a land where cyborgs have no real rights.
But this market day brings two changes to her daily life: young and handsome Prince Kai, son and heir to the Emperor, brings her an old droid to fix; and the letumosis plague claims a victim in the market square: the baker across from Cinder's stall. Both events lead to discoveries that drastically change everything Cinder thought she knew about herself.
Cinder is a mix of fun, well-paced adventure and predictable, clunky plotting. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would have read it in one sitting if it weren't for all the interruptions in my life - like Alex Flinn's Beastly, it's light entertainment that can nevertheless connect with you emotionally. It's at times pleasantly inventive, and at others rather clichéd - but it did do a great job of retelling the "Cinderella" fairytale in a new, fresh way. It was fun watching where it aligned with the original tale, and where it diverged into its own territory.
The world is better fleshed out than some YA futuristic novels I've read lately - like The Pledge and Dearly, Departed - but there was still plenty of room to really explore the uniqueness of New Beijing, which has traces of Oriental culture in the name honourifics, dress and food utensils, but which is really a blend of various cultures (though I would still have expected them to all be Asian, really). But considering how little is ultimately unfamiliar in Cinder, Meyer did a great job of helping me visualise it, with nice touches of the senses, especially smell and sound.
There are several elements to the plot, but the big one that continues the story is the threat of war from Queen Levana of Luna (that is to say, the moon). The Lunars are a race evolved from human settlers (if I've got that wrong I apologise - the annoying thing about e-books is you can't flip the pages to find the bit that explains it), developing the ability to manipulate electromagnetic currents and thereby making people see what they want them to see, do what they want them to do and even think what they want them to think. Some, called Shells, are born without this ability and under Queen Levana's despotic rule, they are killed. Levana has her people under her complete control, and now she has set her sights on Earth too. She sees a marriage with Prince Kai as a means of securing power on Earth, after which she'll no doubt kill him and bring war to Earth anyway. The only hope anyone has - the escaped Lunars living in disguise on Earth, and Prince Kai himself - is to find the only other heir to the Lunar throne, Princess Selene, believed to have been killed in a fire at the age of five.
The Lunar element of the story brings "magic" to it, and creates a kind of wicked witch character out of Levana. The fantasy side of the story neatly balances the science fiction side, so that neither dominates. But the story is predictable, and it's clear from the beginning who Cinder really is, so much so that when it's "revealed" at the end, I just felt baffled. The simplicity of the plot was perhaps the most disappointing element of the story.
Since the story continues, I hope we will get a better fleshed-out Kai, and since it looks like Cinder will be temporarily escaping her plight for Africa, maybe we'll get to see a new remarkable setting as well, to farther flesh out the world-building. But that's all in the details. Overall, the writing was very good, the pacing excellent for the story it told, and Cinder herself was a wonderful heroine who never once annoyed me. (It's such a shame that I expect that these days.) She's mature, resilient, determined, and loyal, and despite the many obstacles and shocking truths thrown at her, she soldiers on. I loved reading the story, and look forward to the next instalment.
My thanks to Feiwel & Friends and NetGalley for a copy of this book. (less)
Avry of Kazan has been on the run for several years now, living incognito in small towns throughout the Fifteen Realms until an act of compassion lead...moreAvry of Kazan has been on the run for several years now, living incognito in small towns throughout the Fifteen Realms until an act of compassion leads to discovery, and then flight. Such is the case now, in the town of Jaxon, when the daughter of her neighbour is dying. Avry heals her, an act of magic that takes the sickness into herself, and in so doing reveals her healer status. Before she can escape the town, she is caught and imprisoned, with execution facing her in the morning. It has been that way for several years: all healers are under threat of execution, with a bounty placed on their heads, and Avry is the last one left. Ever since the plague broke out, a plague that healers couldn't heal without killing themselves, healers have been viewed with hatred for refusing to heal people.
It is not the end for Avry, this time. She is rescued by a man called Kerrick, a warrior judging by appearances, who has been travelling throughout the land looking for a healer for a couple of years. Now that he's found Avry, he's not going to let her go, even when she finds out who he wants to heal and refuses point blank to do it. The dying man is Prince Ryne of Ivdel Realm, a man Avry blames for many ill things, including the persecution of the healer guild by blaming them for the plague in the first place. Ryne has the plague, but a death magician has placed him in a stasis until a healer could be found. Kerrick is determined to see Ryne healed because only Prince Ryne has the intelligence and strategy know-how to counter the rise in power of Prince Tohon of Sogra, who in the wake of the plague is taking over as much land as he can, and Estrid who has established the heavily religious realm of New Ozero and is persecuting the unconverted.
Travelling through the plague- and war-decimated land to the Nine Mountains where Prince Ryne awaits with a group of loyal retainers, Avry gets to know her surly protector-captor, Kerrick, as well as his men: gentle bear-like Belen; funny swordsmen Vinn and Quain, and young ex-thief Flea. She in turn becomes a part of their group, and as their journey is beset by one drama after another, Avry finds her feelings change - her feelings for Kerrick, her feelings about healing Ryne, and her feelings about the fate of the Fifteen Realms. No longer simply a victim or a fugitive, Avry finds herself in the position of influential pawn. As the last healer in the land, she is coveted by the very leaders who put a bounty on her head. But which way will she decide?
Having enjoyed one of Snyder's previous trilogies, the Glass books, I was excited to read this. I know what I'm going to get with Snyder: a fast-paced, adventure-packed fantasy, modern in tone, romantic in characterisation, and surprising in direction. Touch of Power did not disappoint, and Snyder's writing continues to grow in confidence and style.
Avry narrates (thankfully not in present tense - that's really becoming something of a pet peeve of mine!), and her voice is quite modern and familiar-sounding. I forget exactly how old she is but I want to say about twenty-two, while Kerrick is twenty-five but seems much older because he's so cold and grumpy all the time. While you could see the romance between Kerrick and Avry coming a mile away, it was still written well, a gradual teasing out, with Avry seemingly keeping a low opinion of Kerrick right to the end and yet her changing feelings come across in more subtle ways. Kerrick is a forest magician, and a prince in his own right, though whether he has a home realm left to rule I'm not sure, and I don't think he is either (he left it in the care of his brother but can't know if he's even alive still).
Tohon of Sogra is a life magician, and the most powerful magician in the land. He's also very attractive, seductive, a sociopath and insane. While he makes for a fun read, he is a pretty cliched character. The fun makes up for it, though, and he's an unpredictable character (who you can predict quite often, sadly, but Avry doesn't and it still makes him interesting).
Snyder's established a solid world here, perhaps more so than in the Glass books (though I think that's because I haven't yet read the Study trilogy, which comes first and is set in the same world), and there are some really nice details. Because I was reading a galley on my kindle, I didn't have the map that's printed in the book, which I would have really liked to have (I've since ordered the book because I enjoyed it so much! so I'll have the map handy for my re-read) - they end up all over the place and with fifteen realms, it's hard to get a visual context. The most interesting touch is of course the lilies - the Peace lily and the Death lily, and what they really mean to this world.
Avry's healing magic is pretty nifty, a gift as well as a burden. She heals super fast, which enables her to recover from taking on other people's injuries and illnesses - except for the plague. And she can use her touch to stun or even kill people, which is useful in a fight. There are many kinds of magic, though not that many magicians left - and of the ones that are still around, most of them are fairly weak in their power.
This is a great comfort read: it's got adventure, excitement, romance, betrayals, sacrifices, discoveries, magic and fighting. The next two books in the trilogy (which is called "Avry of Kazan" in the UK and "Healer" in the U.S.) are called Scent of Magic and Taste of Death, respectively.
My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book. (less)
(First let me apologise if I've got any little details in my summary wrong - the frustrating thing about e-books is that you can't flip through the pa...more(First let me apologise if I've got any little details in my summary wrong - the frustrating thing about e-books is that you can't flip through the pages, finding those things your memory is fuzzy on!)
Katlyn and David met while studying pre-med together in New York; instantly attracted to each other, David didn't even want to be friends with Kat at first because of his upbringing, his father, and his track record with women. His father, Richard, a successful surgeon and a powerful man in his community and industry, brought David up to be in his own image: to treat women as little more than objects for his enjoyment, in whatever form that would take, and to see to their domestic needs and wishes. David's own mother, Ellen, has spent decades under Richard's abusing control, and David has been a witness to it. Richard is a controlling, brutal man that David must put a second skin on for, sleeping with a different woman every week because he knows his father will ask.
A real relationship with Kat seemed beyond David's ability, beyond his understanding and something he wasn't sure he had any right to even want. How could he possibly introduce her to his father? How could he keep his father from interfering in their lives? So he keeps his distance, until one night when he finally stops fighting his feelings for Kat - and learns that she is a trained and experienced submissive, one who would very much like for him to be her Dominant.
David is untrained and inexperienced as a Dominant. He doesn't even understand the concept of a D/s relationship, until Kat explains it to him. It is eye-opening for him, to say the least: in this kind of relationship, the woman has the power, and he must earn her trust - the opposite to his parents' relationship. Afraid of hurting her in his inexperience, David secretly contacts her previous Dom for help and advice.
Years later, David has nearly finished his medical training (to be anything other than a doctor is unthinkable to Richard, who's paying his way) and Kat has a year of teaching under her belt, having dropped out of pre-med and lost her scholarship when her father died and she dropped out in her grief. Not only that, but they have married in a private ceremony. The time has come to introduce Kat to his parents - not as his wife and long-time partner, and certainly not as his submissive - but as his new girlfriend. But all the preparation and warnings for Kat cannot really prepare her for the reality of Richard and his cruel, misogynistic brutality.
This is a stellar work of erotica, only available as an e-book (at this stage anyway) - Blair has the first two chapters up on her website for you to read before purchasing. I was warned about the first chapter so I knew what to expect, but it was still a hugely confronting scene that really set the tone for Richard and everyone's relationship with him.
The characters are very well drawn for such a short book - Kat and David we take some time getting to know, while Richard and Ellen are presented more consistently - until toward the end, when we discover a whole new side to Ellen that'll really make you warm to her. And in a way, BDSM is a kind of character in this story. While this isn't a good introductory book to this kind of story - it's much heavier and less romancey than the mainstream erotic romance novels, even the ones containing some BDSM (like Maya Banks and Beth Kery) - it does provide a really sound, clear and healthy understanding to BDSM and why some people need it. Kat, for example, is a strong, intelligent woman (and I loved the way she was written, so refreshing from the Maya Banks heroines, for instance, who are more reminiscent of Christine Feehan's petite and gentle creations) who understands her own sexuality and her own needs and doesn't waste a moment feeling guilt or shame about them. I love that, I love characters (and real-life people!) who know themselves and embrace their own desires and sexuality, and aren't self-indulgently agonising over it all the time. Kat and David's relationship is depicted in such a way that you would be sure to feel immense respect and understanding for them.
The contrast is Richard and Ellen. To really highlight the difference between a respectful D/s relationship and one of plain abuse: domestic, sexual, physical and mental abuse. In the light of his parents' relationship, you can clearly see how healthy David and Kat's is, for them at least (the lifestyle is hardly for everyone). Blair starts her story off with a quote that really does capture - in some ways - the essence of the story, as well as being very apt and wise. I have to include it here:
"Violence is not merely killing another. It is violence when you use a sharp word, when we make a gesture to brush away a person, when we obey because there is fear. So violence isn't merely organized butchery in the name of God, in the name of society or country. Violence is much more subtle, much deeper, and we are inquiring into the very depths of violence." - Jissu Krishnamurti
The story is written by turns in the present, and in flashbacks to the past and how Kat and David meet and get together. The chapters alternate and as we learn more about the past, it builds a stronger picture of the present - the structure worked really well. The chapters are short, and while in general I'm a reader who loves depth and details, the concise, well-crafted writing means you learn what you need to know: Blair is nothing if not articulate. And perhaps, for such a heavy, at times dark story, short is better than too long. There is palpable tension in the story, residing in the expectations Richard has of his son's relationship with Kat; in fact, it gets a bit nail-biting at times, with that feeling of a looming electrical storm on the horizon.
The plot takes an interesting turn towards the end, in resolving the problem with Richard. I wasn't at all sure how it could be resolved, or what awful things would happen before it got to that point. What I loved about the resolution was what it did for Ellen, David's mother, and how the emotional scarring affected David - and, in turn, his relationship as Dom to Kat. The story does end abruptly, though; as I got closer and closer to the finish (thanks to that little bar and percentage mark at the bottom of the screen), I kept thinking, "no, not yet!" I suppose it would have been weaker to drag it out any further, but I still wasn't quite ready to say goodbye to Kat and David. I also wanted a few more scenes between them, because their chemistry and intensity was so engrossing.
At its heart, this is a story about facing your past and your fears, and about the effect of violence on people, be they the victims (Ellen) or the onlookers (David) - as well as the different types of violence, especially the subtle kinds - because David is a victim too, and it takes the love of a strong woman to help him recover, grow strong and learn the difference between sexual play and abuse.
[At time of writing, this e-book was available for US$0.99 from Amazon.com.]
Note: I've seen that people are doing lists like "What to read after finishing 50 Shades of Grey" and this book is listed in their recommendations. Be wary of such lists! It really does depend on what you've been reading and where your comfort level is at on the scale of erotica/erotic romance. Read Blair's wonderfully articulate and intelligent post on "Why My Book is Not 50 Shades of Grey" and I think you'll get a clear grasp of whether this book is for you or not. :) (less)
Rose Zarelli has had one hell of a summer holiday. Her father, an out-of-work engineer who took a contractor job in Iraq in order to supplement her mo...moreRose Zarelli has had one hell of a summer holiday. Her father, an out-of-work engineer who took a contractor job in Iraq in order to supplement her mother's psychiatrist income, died in an explosion along with several American soldiers. She's pretty angry about that. Her mother hardly speaks, and doesn't seem to notice what her daughter is going through, merely offering to set her up with counselling. That makes her pretty mad. Her older brother, Jess, has moved away from home to attend university, seemingly abandoning her when she most needs him, not even coming home on Thanksgiving, leaving her to spend a miserable dinner alone with her mum. That makes her furious.
Rose has just started grade 9, and already she feels like her best friend Tracy has turned into another person entirely. All she talks about is whether she should sleep with her boyfriend, Matt, and once she joins the cheerleading team she's subjected to some rather ruthless initiations that she takes on without complaint, even when the striptease cheer dance ends up on YouTube. Rose can't relate to anything happening in Tracy's life, but knows enough to bite her tongue - most of the time.
There's one high point in her life, such as it is: Jamie Forta, an older boy who sits across from her in Study Hall in the mornings, until he leaves to attend an make-up English class. She's attracted to his dark looks and his "badass" reputation, and in a heady moment lets him kiss her in his car. But that's before she finds out that her brother Jess asked him to keep an eye out for her, and before she learned that he's sort-of going out with the bitchiest girl on the cheerleading squad.
All in all, there's little for her to be happy about in the aftermath of her dad's death, and plenty of occasions to unleash her anger at the crap going on in her life.
I really enjoyed this. I'm sure I'm not the only person to say this, but it reads rather like a more serious, harder-edged, gritty Jessica Darling. Rose has the same academic intelligence and love of big words, but not the smart-ass sense of humour. I don't want to compare the two or say that Rose is a lesser version: she's not written as a copy, she can stand on her own two feet. This is a different story; I mention the similarity mostly to give you an idea of the kind of book it is, and whether or not you'd enjoy reading it.
I enjoyed it, that's for sure. Rozett has a smooth, relaxed style that is easy to get into, and has created a strong, distinct voice for Rose. I forgot entirely that there was an author behind Rose; it was more like hearing Rose directly. In my head? I guess so. ;)
One of the things I enjoyed most about it was the grittier, realistic subject matter. Teen sex, drinking, peer pressure, bullying, vandalism, harassment - these are tough issues and they're faced by teens every day, whether they participate or not. Rozett handles them deftly and with understanding, not sugar-coating anything but not dramatising it either. In this regard, the novel brought to mind Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak - there's even a scene where Rose has to call 911 at an underage party, bringing the cops in, though here, Rose stays to see it through and takes on the flak that results from it. In many ways, she's a great role model, even if she does struggle with her temper at times. The way she works through things, I think teens will be able to relate to her, regardless of how similar or dissimilar the issues involved are. This is the kind of book I enjoyed reading when I was 14, 16 etc. One that didn't pretend teens never swear, never feel the pressure to have sex, never make really stupid decisions, and can't learn from them. The worst thing you can do is pretend they're not like this. Far better to openly discuss it, work through it, show that it's all actually very common, depressingly so. And that there are ways to stand up to it, and survive it.
This is the first book in a new series and there's a lot more to explore. Rose's friendship with Tracy went through some serious upheavals here, and weathered it. Her fledgling relationship with Jamie is a mere beginning, and I loved that it wasn't the focus of this story: I'm turned off by so many YA books presenting intense, eternal-never-dying love between adolescents, crammed into one book (I struggle with it in one sense because I never experienced that kind of emotion as a teen; not only was there no one to bestow that kind of love on, it was an emotion I didn't properly learn until I was a young adult, at university. Not saying high school students can't feel legitimate, "true" love for someone, just that, to me, it's a fun fantasy but not that realistic). Here we have the possible beginning of something, with a lot of room to grow and develop, or not. I'm sure it will, but its slow birth will make it all the more believable. Also, Rose is very young, and Jamie's right to be reluctant to have a relationship with a 14/15 year old. It's not said exactly how old he is, but he seems to be at least eighteen (plus he was held back due to failing grades). It would be too creepy to have him in a full-blown relationship with someone that young.
Speaking of Jamie, you don't get to know all that much about him in this book, enough to see what Rose likes about him and to know that he's worth it, despite his bad taste in cheerleaders (and yet there's a good reason even for that). But there's still so much to learn about him, we've barely scratched the surface, so I'm definitely keen on reading the next book in that regard.
Overall, this was an absorbing, engaging read, fast-paced and snappy, belligerent yet hopeful in tone due to a part of Rose that is hiding under her grief and anger, and sad too. I connected with this emotionally and wished only for a bit more substance to the story: it felt too short and too fast, though how much of that is due to reading it on my e-reader is hard to say (the format does affect how I read, greatly). If you enjoy gritty YA fiction, you'll definitely want to give Confessions of an Angry Girl a try.
My thanks to Harlequin and Netgalley for a copy of this book.(less)
Sarah Alice Kent - Sally to anyone who knows her - grew up the only daughter in a naval family. Her father is the well-known Captain Kent, and all thr...moreSarah Alice Kent - Sally to anyone who knows her - grew up the only daughter in a naval family. Her father is the well-known Captain Kent, and all three of her older brothers - Matthew, Dominic and Owen - are in the royal navy. Now it's her fifteen-year-old brother Richard's turn to join up as a midshipman, despite the fact that he's never had any interest and wants only to learn sermons. With everyone else at sea (and her mother long ago deceased), Sally goes with Richard to the dock, but when he slips away and disappears, Sally decides to take matters into her own hands in order to preserve the Kent family honour.
It's not the only reason why Sally decides to board the HMS Audacious in disguise: she's always loved the sea, having spent years on board her father's ship growing up, and having tested all her brothers in preparation for their own navigation exams, she knows far more than a midshipman is expected to know. But nothing could prepare her for the discovery that the first lieutenant on board is David Colyear - Col to his friends, which would include the entire Kent family. He never knew Richard well, but all her brothers have written to him to tell him what to expect from their sermonising brother.
Sally isn't discovered, not at first. At nineteen, she's able to pass for a lithe, slender but strong fifteen year old boy. It's when she sings a song on deck that Col recognises her, and remembers the girl he'd spent time with before at her family's home. With England at war with France's Emperor Napoleon, the British navy needs all the men she can get - that's the argument Col makes to himself anyway, though he's at war with himself: his needs to keep Sally close and to keep her from the possibility of injury or death during battle are deeply conflicting.
Sally quickly proves herself to be a quick-witted, observant, knowledgeable sailor and officer, winning over most of the crew - except Gamage, who has been midshipman for too many years to count; he bullies the other boys and steals their things, and Sally is determined to stand up to him. As the Audacious joins the blockade of French and Spanish ships under Captain McAlden in 1805, Sally gets her first taste of real battle - and Col gets his first real taste of what it could mean to lose her.
This was so much more than I was expecting. I was prepared for another generic historical romance, but there is nothing generic about Almost a Scandal. It reads more like historical fiction with a romantic focus, or aim, or just a really lovely blend of the two. Unlike so many romances, Essex doesn't bend the rules of historical accuracy or relegate her setting to a mere place-holder for the romantic action.
No, Sally-the-sailor is front and centre, and so is life at sea on a naval frigate in the middle of a war. The attention to detail is impressive - I'm not familiar with many of the terminology but I feel like I learnt a lot from reading this, and I don't get to say that often about romance! Sally herself is a real classic tomboy, the kind of heroine that always appealed to me - ever since reading The True Adventures of Charlotte Doyle by Avi in grade seven; no, before that, in primary school when I read books featuring a spunky girl like Sally or Charlotte, though Charlotte comes to mind because she too became a sailor. Sally is never once annoying, or blindly stupid, or stubborn - none of the traits that typically infect romance heroines and bog a story down. She's brave, practical, intelligent yet also passionate, and her genuine love for the sea and life on board ship comes across strongly.
Col, too, was a strong character, a blend of romantic hero - strong, stalwart, handsome, in command - while also being true to himself, his own personality, and his circumstances. He's fairly rigid, and comes across as very "British" without being a stereotype. He's a figure that everyone on the ship looks up to, Sally too, but she never goes giddy over him. She actually does a better job at showing restraint than he does, but even so, the chemistry and sexual tension between them is present, if kept on the down-low - it simply wouldn't be possible to have a brazen affair on a ship at war, not with about two hundred men on board and zero privacy. They do have moments of quiet reflection, and Sally is not impervious to the struggle between what she wants to do with her life (but which society dictates she is not allowed to do), and what she could have as a lady:
Sally hung the small lantern on the peg beside the mirror and took a good, hard look. And to think she had thought herself cleaned up enough for the captain's cabin when she had run her fingers through her windblown hair and washed the sulfurous stink of gunpowder off her face. But it was still there, the rime of grime, ringing her face like a high tide mark.
But Mr Colyear had not seemed to mind. He had touched her anyway and told her she looked just fine. Clearly it had been a merciful lie.
The bruise around her eye made her look like a bailiff's mongrel dog. What could he have been thinking when he touched her face like that?
Sally laid her own finger across her lip to try and understand, to test if she could make the shivery feeling come back. But it wasn't the same. Nothing was the same. When he touched her everything changed.
She had thought that by coming aboard, by becoming Richard, she had finally slipped the leash of ladylike expectations. But when Col had touched her, she felt suddenly feminine beneath the surface of her skin. Under the obscuring cover of her clothes, she became aware of her physicality in an entirely different way than she had while reveling in the athletic glory of climbing the shrouds. [Location 2310]
What she might give for a proper bath, with a copper tub full of hot water and a bar of lemon soap like Mrs Jenkins made from the fruit grown in the potted trees at home. What might Col think of her if she were really clean, and dressed in something other than a worn-out blue coat? In something fine and pretty?
It was a useless thought. She'd never once in her life looked fine and pretty. She wasn't that kind of girl. Never had been. If Col admired her, at least she was sure he admire her for what she truly was. For understanding oranges and speaking Spanish for the Captain, not for useless accomplishments that meant nothing at all in the real world. [Location 2324]
At times, recreating life on board the ship overshadows the romance and slows the novel down a bit, but in general I didn't mind. It was refreshing, and that side of the story was very interesting. It's kept taut by the constant fear of discovery, Sally's worry and expectation that Col will turn her in to the Captain, and a distinct unpredictability. The story and the subplots never went the way I half-expected them to go. I could predict it at all, though as a romance, I knew Sally and Col would get their happy ending somehow.
And I loved that it didn't have one of those awful, corny scenes so common in American movies, any movie where the protagonist is pretending to be something they're not, or deceiving people in some way: they always have, towards the end, a big reveal, where the main character gives a public confession. I hate those scenes with a passion, and I was half-afraid this book would have one, some hideously public scene where Sally is unmasked and humiliated and has to apologise. Ugh, so tacky and moralising. What actually happened in Almost a Scandal (and see, the title is a clue right there!) was more dignified, more honest, more realistic, and more true to the characters. Big relief.
While this was a slower read than most romances and lighter on the romance side, it is refreshing in its approach and fascinating in its subject matter. I really enjoyed Almost a Scandal, and was so happy that Sally didn't have to sacrifice one dream for another, in the end. Looking forward to more instalments in the Reckless Brides series.
My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book.(less)
Jacqueline used to know exactly where she stood in life and what was in her future. A musician who plays the double bass, she opted to follow her high...moreJacqueline used to know exactly where she stood in life and what was in her future. A musician who plays the double bass, she opted to follow her high school boyfriend, Kennedy, to his university of choice rather than go to one with a better music program, to avoid a long-distance relationship. But uni is not high school, and it's not long before Kennedy tells her he wants to break up with her so he can "sow his wild oats." (Seriously. I'm not kidding.) Not long after, she reluctantly goes to a Halloween party with her best friend and roommate, Erin, and Erin's boyfriend Chaz, as the designated driver, but after seeing Kennedy get up close and personal with random girls, she bails. Walking to her car in the dark, trying to find her keys, she's taken by surprise by a friend of Kennedy's, Buck, who tries to sexually assault her. She's saved from being raped by Lucas, a lean, handsome guy who looks like a dropout (Jacqueline's thought not mine), with a ring through his lip; but he handles Buck easily, and takes Jacqueline home.
Upset from her breakup with Kennedy, Jacqueline had fallen behind in her Economics class (which she took only because Kennedy was taking it), in order to avoid him - and because they have assigned seating and the last thing she wants to do is sit next to the guy who's called her "Jackie" for as long as she's known him. Kennedy has aspirations to be a politician, and president of the country some day, and thinks it's a fine joke for them to be Jackie and Kennedy.
Shedding the now-hateful "Jackie", she pulls herself together and goes to see the professor, who has some sympathy for her and puts her in touch with the class tutor, Landon. Because tutorials clash with her music responsibilities, they correspond only by email as he helps her catch up and make up a missed grade. She finds Landon easy to talk to, and they end up having some fun banter online.
In her daily life, though, she's suddenly noticing Lucas everywhere. In her economics class, working at the Starbucks she now goes to because Kennedy will be at the cafe they used to frequent together; at the self-defence class Erin decided they'll both take. And as she gets to know him, she finds that falling for Lucas is easy, but finding herself and learning to protect herself against Buck's continuing unwanted advances is much more difficult. The first step is to put some trust in Lucas, and also in herself.
I've been talking for ages - in bits here and there - about the lack of stories set at universities, in that pivotal time of our lives when we're 18 to 21 years old. Not that they have to be set in uni's, but that age range is sorely missing from fiction. It pops up in gritty adult literature from time to time, but not in any real way, or even in a fun way. Certainly, when I was at college (that's years 11 and 12, or age 16-18, in my home state), I would have loved to read books set at uni, ones like this. What, did life just stop at the end of year 12? Hardly. Not to mention all the under-represented kids who didn't even go to college but stopped at grade 10, or those who didn't go to uni: where are their stories?
So I was all for embracing this new self-published YA novel after hearing about it on Angieville. I was disappointed by Jennifer Echols' Love Story, also set at uni, so I was more than hopeful that a different author would come through for me. And in many ways, Easy didn't disappoint. And in other ways, it definitely did.
Where Easy is strongest is in the smooth writing and fast, steady pace: it's easy to simply start reading and keep going, ignoring everything around you. Jacqueline is only in first year uni, and she sounds realistically enough like a high school student still - I remember finding it easy to tell the kids who had been to private or posh schools (they still wore uniforms, only in casual clothes, and hung out in small cliques while everyone else ignored them, until they shook off their previous lives and got grubby with the rest of us), and the dorky ones who lived in residences: it's not very common, so we tended to look down on them a bit (when we heard the latest story of their stupidity) as kids who didn't know how to take care of themselves. Most people at uni live in sharehouses, or rent a flat somewhere, even when their parents live in the same city (living more like Lucas does, for example).
The differences in the system (my husband went to uni in the States and said you're kinda expected to live in a dorm, for the first couple of years at least) do tend to make it a bit hard for me to relate to these stories at times. I don't know about universities on the mainland (though I've never heard of it), but we didn't have fraternities and I don't really understand what the "Greek system" is, outside of what I've gleaned from American popular culture. They have a bit of it here in Canada too but I haven't experienced it, so I don't get it. That side of the plot in Easy left me feeling a bit confused and more than a bit outraged. The idea that the boys' fraternity wanted to cover up Buck's sexual assault made me feel ill. Oh it happens, I believe that, but these fraternities sound so rotten at their core, and the clique-iness of their structure, the old secret handshake do-my-boy-a-favour and he-got-a-good-job-because-of-his-dad/fraternity is downright creepy and gross. (There are even cases of kids dying in their stupidly irresponsible and pointless initiation rituals!) Webber assumes her readers know the system as well as her characters do, so sometimes there seemed a bit of a disconnect for me as I gnawed away at it, trying to understand their motivations and their lives. I didn't learn anything new about living in a dorm at an American university, only the same details that you find in movies and the occasional book. I still don't know how they're run, who supervises (I assume there are supervisors), what they eat and where (Jacqueline doesn't seem to eat much in this story), or what it's really like to have to share space - and a bathroom! - with so many other people (I did learn they do their own laundry, at least). I'd hate it, I really would, but I still want to understand it and experience it vicariously through fiction. ;)
But in general, they're young and human and uni's not so different (the lack of any real responsibility and the oodles of time on your hands, the subjects that lit up your brain and the fun with friends) and I enjoyed the setting - and the details - a lot. It's a minor thing in an otherwise engaging story. It begins "heavy", and it doesn't hurt to be forewarned, because I started reading it and was like, "Whoa! What am I reading here?!" Buck (dear god where do they get these names from??!) is your quintessential popular preppy guy with a massive sense of entitlement - as is Kennedy, who's a real selfish dickhead. Honestly he gave me the willies. The details in Webber's descriptions of him, especially when Jacqueline contrasts him to Lucas, were very telling. In contrast, Lucas is a much more familiar uni student stereotype to me, mostly because there were loads of Lucas's at my uni. Not necessarily as handsome, though! He's artistic, and has a scarily scary past. The story of what happened to his mother - and him - made me cry, it was so awful. (I doubt very much any newspaper would have printed all the details that Jacqueline found, though.)
I could understand Jacqueline wanting to pretend Buck's assault hadn't happened, and the way that plot played out - from Buck's end at least - wasn't unexpected. In fact, it was quite predictable (as was the deal with Landon; spotted that immediately, it was pretty obvious). It did get a bit telly-movie-cheesy at the end, it was a lot like watching one of those cheap films laden with drama and an ending that you can see coming from a mile away. Despite that, I still got emotionally invested in the story and came to really like Jacqueline and Lucas. I wish we could have learnt more about Jacqueline's music and Lucas's private life, but there you go. Jacqueline's parents seemed awful at first, though they come through for her; mostly by biggest fear was that Jacqueline would fall for Kennedy's oily charm again. I would have lost all respect for her at that, and nearly did when she caved and spent time with him for Thanksgiving.
This review has come out sounding far too negative, and I'm sorry for that. If I'd written this after finishing it two and a half weeks ago, it might have sounded a lot more enthusiastic. After the uncomfortable beginning, and a bit of back-and-forth in time, it zips along and is well edited. While I did find Jacqueline to be a bit lacking in personality, I still came to like her. The supporting cast of characters weren't very fleshed-out, but were nicely, if scantily, detailed. For a mature, well-written if sometimes cheesy and predictable story about young love, being a woman on the cusp of true adulthood, and learning to stand on your own two feet, Easy is a highly enjoyable and satisfying read.(less)
While their mother recovers from serious burns in a hospital bed in Arizona, thirteen year old Augie and her half-brother, P.J., are being looked afte...moreWhile their mother recovers from serious burns in a hospital bed in Arizona, thirteen year old Augie and her half-brother, P.J., are being looked after by their grandfather, Will, in small-town Broken Branch, Iowa. Their grandmother is with their mother, Holly; it's been decades since Holly has seen her parents, when she left home as a teenager, eager to escape the stifling small-town environment and her parents' cattle farm that she blamed for all her ills. It is the Friday before March break, and Augie and P.J. are looking forward to flying out to see their mother. But when an armed gunman with unknown motives enters their school, causing an immediate lockdown and general panic, everyone starts to wonder whether they'll see their loved ones again.
In Mrs Oliver's grade three classroom, where P.J. sits with fifteen other eight-year-olds, Evelyn Oliver has plenty of time for reflection: to regret wearing a horrendously decorated denim dress one of her students made for her on what could be the last day of her life, and to remember her past, including her first marriage and how she met her current husband, Cal, a tall man with wise words who keeps her grounded. She's been a teacher for several decades years, and in the face of many crises she's always stayed calm, but never before has she had a man with a gun walk into her classroom, threatening the lives of everyone in it.
Meg Barrett, a police officer in Broken Branch, can't help but feel relieved that she let her eight-year-old daughter, Maria, start her holiday a day early. Safely out of the way with her ex-husband, Tim, Meg is able to focus on the hostage situation at the school, and as various locals, many with children at the school, tell her their theories for who could be responsible, she checks them out. Pestered by phone calls and text messages from a former lover and dodgy journalist, Stuart, Meg reflects on how she came to live in this small town, and Stuart's betrayal.
In her hospital bed across the country, Holly Thwaite is kept in ignorance of what's happening at her children's new school. With her face, arms and hands badly burned from a kitchen fire, she has her mother's calm presence and her own thoughts for company. Meanwhile, her father Will Thwaite is just as anxious as everyone else about his grandchildren, and with little information at hand about what's actually going on inside the school, it's easy to imagine the worst. When some of the children manage to escape, Augie decides to remain behind, determined not to leave without her brother.
As the characters move along their separate trajectories towards a final deadly confrontation, the truth is far from what anyone expected.
Told from the perspectives of multiple characters (Holly, Augie, Will, Meg and Mrs Oliver), Gudenkauf is able to cover a lot of ground and share the contrasting, often conflicting, viewpoints of Inside vs. Outside. The chapters are short, giving it a fast, snappy pace, and go back and forth in time as the characters reflect on their own lives, filling in back-story. Augie and Holly tell theirs in first person present tense, while the other three perspectives are told in third person past tense. I tend to find this a little odd and a bit, well, gimmicky. I like consistency, and I didn't feel that there was any real need to have two characters tell their side of the story in present tense, or even first-person narration for that matter. Present tense is designed to add a sense of immediacy and unpredictability to a story, putting you in the here-and-now, but it's often mis-used and if you write it in the same way as you'd write in past tense, as too many writers do, it doesn't work at all. In contrast, ironically, past tense tends to have a stronger sense of immediacy - it all comes down to how you write in it. It's one thing to have multiple narrators, but when you start switching up the narrative style as well, things start to get needlessly messy.
I liked the story, but this wasn't a book that worked for me. It had too much of a telly-movie feel (that's "made for TV" in American-speak), an almost cheesy, Friday-night low-budget flick thing happening. It's partly the subject matter, the plotting, the style and also the format. I connect much better with books when I read them in their physical form, not on an e-reader. That's not Gudenkauf's fault, and I try hard not to let that affect how I read, but it does.
The other problem was expectations. The story opens with a very charged chapter from Holly's perspective, which is actually a chapter from towards the end of the book, repeated at the front to draw you in. It introduces us to a badly burned woman in a hospital, who receives a phone call from her daughter, Augie, who tells her there is a gunman in the school, he has P.J., she is locked in a closet, and then there is the sound of gunshots and Holly screaming. This leads you to expect a very tense, show-down kind of story, something with action and nail-biting chills even. (It also somehow put the idea into my head, perhaps because of the way Augie said the gunman had P.J., that this was a personal thing against Holly. A red herring or just me?) What the story actually is is a more gentle, gradual piecing-together of the lives of certain people in this town. The short chapters somehow clash with this reflective narration, making it hard at times for me to settle into the story. I never knew which way I was going to be pulled next.
But the characters were interesting, and their stories well fleshed-out. Really, the drama of the gunman is just an excuse to explore their lives and mend some bridges. On the mystery side, I guessed the gunman about two-thirds in, because the red herrings were too obvious, but I had no idea what the motive could be. It did seem a little far-fetched, but then people who take guns into schools and threaten small children are not going to be all that rational, are they.
The action takes place over just the one day, but because the characters spend so much time recalling the past, it feels like a much longer span of time. Every time we dipped into the past, it slowed the action in the present down, but to be honest, there wasn't much real action happening in the present anyway. Tension was a bit forced, by having the short chapters and revolving perspectives, and by switching point-of-view at the peak of action. This upset a more natural flow to the story and again made me feel like I was watching a movie on TV, and having to endure ad breaks.
I liked Will Thwaite, Augie's grandfather, a lot. He reminded me a bit of old farmers back home (I grew up on a Tasmanian sheep farm); in contrast, I didn't like Holly much at all. She was still so immature, after all these years, still thinking the same way she had when she left home as a teenager. I felt so, so sorry for P.J., who doesn't know who his father is (neither does Holly) and who just wants to be loved. It always breaks my heart a little when fictional children suffer because of poor adult decisions. The characters kept me reading, and I did want to know what would happen, because it certainly wasn't obvious. In a way, the lack of drama made it more realistic, but there was still a sense of cheap drama to it, perhaps in the way it was told. And perhaps I just don't care as much for these breezy-type books, that do a lot of telling and not so much showing.
Overall, an enjoyable book as long as you don't expect a different kind of story! Reading some reviews beforehand would probably help.
My thanks to Harlequin for a copy of this book.(less)
What a mess! Can't tell how much of it is the lack of formatting and chopping up of the text in my e-book galley from Netgalley, and how much of it...moreDNF
What a mess! Can't tell how much of it is the lack of formatting and chopping up of the text in my e-book galley from Netgalley, and how much of it is the story itself, but either way I just can't finish it.(less)