This is a really engaging picture book which my mum sent Hugh for Christmas (and had the illustrator, who's from Tasmania, sign it for him!). It's aboThis is a really engaging picture book which my mum sent Hugh for Christmas (and had the illustrator, who's from Tasmania, sign it for him!). It's about a boy who, though he loves the regular animals at the zoo, wishes there were dinosaurs there too. He thinks about writing a letter to the zoo to tell them they should get some, but as he's thinking about what it would be like to have dinosaurs there - and what would happen if they escape - he changes his mind and decides to be content with what he has.
The text is quite funny, and the illustrations match - like the poor dejected monkey sitting on his suitcase, waiting to go home, because the T-Rex has taken over his enclosure. I love illustrations in picture books that add to the story, so that you can read the pictures as much as the text.
It's also a great introduction to dinosaurs, how big they were, what they ate, how loud they roared - I can imagine a child would really enjoy that blurring of reality and fantasy. It's very Maurice Sendak, if you will....more
I was quite happy to find this book, a sequel to Little Blue Truck which is very popular here. This one follows the same kind of pattern, involvingI was quite happy to find this book, a sequel to Little Blue Truck which is very popular here. This one follows the same kind of pattern, involving Little Blue helping someone else and saving the day with his good manners and considerateness.
He's in the big city, which has something of a 30s look to it, and completely overwhelmed and amazed at how big and fast and rather scary it is. The other vehicles on the road are all so impatient and bossy and soon a traffic jam ensues, and the mayor's limousine dies so Blue offers him a ride, and they all continue on their way in single-file rather than pushing and shoving.
While these books do carry a message, a moral, I find I don't mind them too much - there's just something nice about the way the text flows and the message has a good lead-up, as well as being a good lesson for children to learn (hell, and adults as well)....more
I hadn't heard of this book before coming across it rather randomly at a little shop in a small Ontario town, but it was rather cute and the kids loveI hadn't heard of this book before coming across it rather randomly at a little shop in a small Ontario town, but it was rather cute and the kids love anything to do with trains and trucks etc.
The story purports to be about Engineer Small and his little engine, but it's really just about the little engine and it's journey from Tiny Town to the city.
The illustrations have that 1940s look to them, and rules of perspective are enthusiastically thrown out the window, but they're very engaging and there's some nice details in them for the kids to find. It also has some nice sound-effects, which are always fun to make when reading aloud....more
I hadn't realised this was a Mem Fox book until I was looking for a couple of little board books for Hugh for Christmas. To be honest, I found the covI hadn't realised this was a Mem Fox book until I was looking for a couple of little board books for Hugh for Christmas. To be honest, I found the cover so ugly - something about the colours and typeface and overall design - that I'd never picked it up before.
But I love Mem Fox - I grew up with Possum Magic which was a huge favourite of mine, and Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. A friend gave us Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes at our baby shower, which Hugh (and I) love, but this is new to me.
It's quite sweet and very simple. Each double-page spread features a mother animal and her offspring, and the rhyme goes like this:
It's time for bed, little mouse, little mouse, Darkness is falling all over the house.
It's time for bed, little goose, little goose, The stars are out and on the loose.
And so on. About halfway it changes from "it's time for bed" to "it's time to sleep", and it ends with a little girl being put to bed with the lines:
The stars on high are shining bright-- Sweet dreams, my darling, sleep well... Good night!
It has a very soothing lullaby rhythm to it that makes it perfect for bedtime reading, though of course I'll happily read it whenever they bring it to me to read. ...more
I love Jeffers' boy and penguin series, so I was keen to get his new book, which is quite different. Even the illustration style is very different. II love Jeffers' boy and penguin series, so I was keen to get his new book, which is quite different. Even the illustration style is very different. I can see Jeffers' style in the drawings, but these are incorporated with blurry, pixilated paintings (they lose the pixilated effect somewhere along the way - they have some kind of effect that makes them look, well, different. The illustrations are also messy-looking, different again from his clean style in other books.
The story is really endearing and full of irony that perhaps only adults will get, though I'd never put it past children to pick up on irony, especially in pictures. It's about a little boy called Wilfred who owned a moose he called Marcel. He had lots of rules for Marcel but the moose wasn't very good at following them - here the difference between the text and the illustrations becomes humorous and ironic.
This is a book better suited to older children, as the story is more involved, longer and complicated than what toddlers can follow. ...more
None of the Diary of a Wombat books have been quite as good as the very first one, when it was fresh and absolAlso called Diary of a Christmas Wombat.
None of the Diary of a Wombat books have been quite as good as the very first one, when it was fresh and absolutely hilarious, but they're still funny, enjoyable and entertaining.
In this third book, the wombat's schedule of eating, sleeping and scratching is interrupted when he manages to hitch a ride on Santa's sleigh after taking the carrots left out for the reindeer.
What follows is his (her?) naive narration of accompanying Santa as he delivers presents, which has all the trademarks of wombat self-absorbed'ness and greed which is always so amusing (so long as it stays on the page!). The illustrations are just as lovely as in the previous books, though they are still a bit too much for a young toddler. ...more
Twins Jack and Holman Wang, from British Columbia, have hit upon a new and fun way to bring the classics to small children. I picked this up while atTwins Jack and Holman Wang, from British Columbia, have hit upon a new and fun way to bring the classics to small children. I picked this up while at Chapters because of the cover - I didn't know whether to laugh or not, but the fact that it's pretty funny (the concept and execution) to adults probably helps make it fun to read over and over again, because believe me, the kids LOVE this book!
Each double-page spread features a photo illustration on one side - all made out of felt and model sets but photographed so that it looks life-sized - and a word on the opposite page. They have reduced the story of Pride and Prejudice to the following words: friends, sisters, dance, mean, sick, muddy, yes?, no!, write, read, walk, marry. Not a bad way of summing up the story, is it?
Rather than just intone a word per page, I turn it back into a story. I'll say the word, and then put it in a sentence using the characters' real names and make silly comments (it's really hard not to, it's just so funny!). For some reason, the kids really enjoy this book, and my boy in particular makes funny little grunting laughs at each page. They also like jumping in with the word they know is coming next - well, so far the only word in the book that they can say with confidence is the "No!" but they have a lot of fun saying it before I've even turned the page!
(As an aside, this caught my eye mostly because the felt figures reminded me of that hilarious yet disturbing knitting porn from, ah, France or somewhere, where the actors are wearing full-body knitted suits, it's really weird and bizarre and I rather wish my sister hadn't sent me the link! Which thankfully I've lost so I won't be sharing it! But it's not what you want to be thinking of when you read a children's book, is it.)
Other books in the series so far include Moby-Dick, Les Miserables and War and Peace. ...more
The kids love this book, and actually, so do I! I wouldn't mind getting some more of these.
I don't really remember this series of books from when I waThe kids love this book, and actually, so do I! I wouldn't mind getting some more of these.
I don't really remember this series of books from when I was a kid, though the bears and style of illustration do look familiar. Can't say if I ever read this when I was a kid, but it's lots of fun and thankfully, one of the few books I honestly don't mind reading over and over again.
The text is very plain - just "new hat" "tall hat" etc, but you can flesh out the story very easily by adding to the narration - or not, as you like. The toddlers love following the story as the bear tries on all different kinds of hats (Hugh does his funny little grunt-laugh that he's been doing recently, that always makes it sound like he gets the joke). And it's no surprise that the toddlers love playing with the random hats we have, putting them on and showing off in them. There's just something about hats, I guess. ;) ...more
With a title like this, how could I possibly resist reading How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You? I'd never heard of The Oatmeal (Matthew IWith a title like this, how could I possibly resist reading How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You? I'd never heard of The Oatmeal (Matthew Inman) before or his website, but I can easily see the popularity and I love when they take this kind of thing from a website and make it into a book, which I've always found much more accessible (to read, not to access - arguably websites are easier to access!).
I've lived with cats all my life, except for three years in Japan, one year in Melbourne, and now (we had to find homes for our three cats after Hugh was born - long story). I'm very much a cat person, even though I'm now allergic to them. They have so much personality, and if they only had opposable thumbs they'd take over the world. We've definitely had cats who had that "I'm coming for you" look in their eyes at times - or sure, it's just my imagination. OR IS IT??!! ;)
This book is a gathering-up of individual cartoon drawings, stand-alone sketches if you will (I can't think what the word is for them, if there is one), and The Bobcats, from Monday to Saturday. The Bobcats are two cats called Bob who work in an office and really, they fit right in:
The rest is a mix of one-offs, funny graphs and charts, and series of cartoons like the one showing how desperate for attention a cat can get when their human is glued to the internet:
A quick read that will have you giggling, I found it a mix of witty insights into cat (and human) behaviour, and some more ordinary, less clever jokes that were only mildly entertaining for being a bit too obvious. Overall - and the Bobcats carry the greater weight - it was a good chuckle-fest, and a handy book to have on-hand when you need a light distraction or a quick pick-me-up (of the good cheer kind, not the alcoholic variety)....more
Vera Cole is twenty-five and still recovering from having a heart transplant, after years of suffering the debilitating effects of a disease she inherVera Cole is twenty-five and still recovering from having a heart transplant, after years of suffering the debilitating effects of a disease she inherited from her father, who already died of it. It's been about a year, and while her family and others in her town are still careful around her, Vera has overcome the guilt and depression she felt after the operation that saved her life, but she still suffers from a deep-seated self-consciousness and belief that men would find her repulsive once they see the large scar that runs down the centre of her chest. But Vera is not about to sit back and let life go on without her: the budding artist and sculptor has booked her flight to Spain where she'll live with an aunt for a year and study sculpting, and with just six weeks to go before she leaves, she can't wait.
Everything she felt certain about in her life is shaken when she meets Leeson Stone, her mentor Kelly's younger brother. Kelly died a month ago, leaving her art gallery in Melbourne empty, and Leeson has been looking for Vera, hoping she will take Kelly's place to keep the gallery going. Leeson is devastatingly handsome, a young and very successful entrepreneur with a big secret he's terrified will come out and ruin everything. Because of what he's hiding, he's never had a committed relationship with a woman, but his attraction to Vera - who is clearly hiding something herself - draws him back to her again and again. Having her stay in his little-used house in Melbourne for five weeks gives him ample opportunity to see her, and as their chemistry ratchets up hotter and hotter, everything Leeson thought was certain in life becomes shaken, too.
With her time in Leeson's gallery so short, Vera must make a decision to trust Leeson with her secret and brace herself against his rejection. But can Leeson make the same leap, and trust Vera in turn? Or will he risk a long future with the woman he's fallen in love with for the sake of a childhood shame that he's never overcome?
This romance e-book from Penguin's new imprint, Destiny Romance, won me over from the first line: "How much for the TARDIS?" I'm a huge Doctor Who fan, and the humorous references scattered throughout the story made me feel like I was in the hands of a very good friend. That was just the first little nod: I quickly became enamoured of this story for many reasons, and found it very hard to put down.
Since moving to Canada in 2006, I have read so many American novels and books with an American setting, I have to say it was refreshing and endearing to read a book set in my home country. It's not that there's a great deal of referencing to the setting here - it's a romance, after all, with a focus on the characters - but everything from the way they speak, their expressions and turns of phrase, to how they react to situations etc., is different from the American romances. I felt much more comfortable, reading this, than I ever have reading a contemporary romance set in America. It's just what you're used to, right? And I wouldn't say it was drastically different, not at all - it's subtle, I think, and I only noticed it because I hardly ever get to read Australian novels these days, while American ones dominate my shelves and reading lists. I don't at all mean to imply anything negative by this, it's more an observation and a reminder of just how different English-speaking Western countries really are from each other.
That aside, the characters, the story and the romance were key elements in cementing my enjoyment of Uncovered By Love. Ash writes smoothly and articulately, wasting neither words nor time on padding of any kind, focusing her astute eye on these troubled individuals who together find the strength to face life without ducking and hiding. Romance novels always revolve around conflict of some kind - conflict and/or obstacles (sometimes one word works better than the other). Ash deftly balances Vera and Leeson's personal obstacles, their secrets and the barriers these create within themselves, as well as the conflict generated by the resulting trust issue.
I could completely sympathise - empathise even - with both Vera and Leeson, even though I've never suffered from either of their problems (I won't tell you Leeson's, don't want to give everything away!). It's a fine achievement in writing this kind of story, when you can create characters that you can relate to no matter how different they are from readers, and personal, inner conflict that has readers both sympathising with them and yet also urging them to take a leap of faith and move on. I had that with Vera and Leeson - I could completely understand why they were keeping things hidden, and why they had trust issues, but I also desperately wanted them to reach out to each other. This nice balance was achieved through the great chemistry that exists between them, and a fleshed-out sense of humanity in both their characters.
Their conversations were often full of witty banter, which I very much enjoyed, and the novel also touches on class issues and disparity of wealth. While the focus is very much on the two main characters and their personal lives, we get to see enough of their working world to get a three-dimensional picture of them, and see how their individual principles and work ethics carry out in a broader sphere. It's just enough to satisfy my curiosity, at least.
I didn't mark any pages while I was reading this because I was too caught up in the story and wanting to see how it was resolved. Which is another thing I liked: the ending wasn't a drawn-out melodrama. It is of course based on a misunderstanding, as romance novels often are, a very believable misunderstanding and both of them handle it very maturely, I felt. The resolution is likewise free of self-indulgent dramatics (if there's one thing I hate in fiction, it's self-indulgence); it's refreshingly simple and clean and quite beautiful for it. Granted, part of me wanted a longer ending, to spend more time with them, but that's just because I was enjoying it so much.
Uncovered By Love emphasises chemistry and sexual tension over graphic descriptions of sex, but where there is sex, it's nice and simple and as far as I can remember, never corny or cliched. Though there was a moment where I thought we were getting the famous scene out of Ghost, which I'm sure Ash purposely, jokingly intended. The sense of humour that balanced the darker issues inherent in the characters' secrets was nicely done. I also loved Jayden, one of Vera's twelve-year-old twin brothers, and the close bond they shared. For a minor character, he certainly made his presence felt!
This is a really lovely romance story, the kind of story that makes me want to use the cliche "heart-warming" in all sincerity. Ash's ability to write drama without being melodramatic wins major points from me, and I loved how naturally her characters grew up and matured. They felt like real people, with real problems, even if the hero was a multi-millionaire as romance heroes so often are. The fact that Leeson's success and the emphasis he placed on monetary wealth were all important facets of his character made it much more interesting and original. Highly recommended.
My thanks to the publisher via Netgalley for a copy of this book....more
I'm a big fan of Alison Lester - her set of four little board books (Happy and Sad, Bibs and Boots, Crashing and Splashing and Bumping and Bouncing) aI'm a big fan of Alison Lester - her set of four little board books (Happy and Sad, Bibs and Boots, Crashing and Splashing and Bumping and Bouncing) are huge favourites at our house, and I've picked up a couple of her Imagine books too, so when I saw this one of course I had to get it.
It's the sweet and simple story of Noni the pony who is friendly and funny. "She lives on a farm near Waratah Bay" and likes to prance and dance for the "ladies" (cows) next door. She has two best friends, Dave Dog and Coco the Cat, who hang out with her in the paddock, playing hide-and-seek and jumping the creek. Noni's so gentle and kind, she "never lets anyone get left behind." Noni really is the best friend you could hope for - when "Coco and Dave feel lonely or gray, Noni tells stories to brighten their day."
There's no moral of the story or plot, just descriptions of how Noni spends her time, growing fat and shiny in the paddock, with her two friends, but that doesn't mean it's a shallow or empty story. She lives life to the full, she protects her friends (she sings to them when there's a breeze that sounds like monsters in the trees), and she is friendly and kind. Stories about good friends are popular with kids, and this one will go down well with kids who love horses and ponies, too....more
This short little book explores the largely incomplete history of today's iconic Christmas tree. As Brunner puts it, "What drove people to go off intoThis short little book explores the largely incomplete history of today's iconic Christmas tree. As Brunner puts it, "What drove people to go off into the forest, chop down a tree, put it in their house, and decorate it in the first place? Is it really just a pagan remnant - as conventional wisdom has it - or is the history behind it more complex? What is the symbolic message it conveys?" [p.3]
As German writer Brunner digs deep into the few records and vague accounts of the tree, it quickly becomes clear that there's no definite answer, no straight-forward path to the origins of the Christmas tree, no pivotal moment - nothing as clear-cut as, say, Coca-Cola's dressing of Santa Claus in red and white for their advertising, something we've been stuck with ever since.
Still, I had thought that, Christianity co-opting a pagan festival at the winter solstice just as they did for Easter, that the tree must go way back and have some quietly profound meaning. Let's just say, I was hoping to hear that, because it would have been so interesting. I was also remembering that British TV show where a group of people went off the grid and lived exactly as people lived in the middle ages, from the food they cooked and how, to building their own homes with the tools they would have had etc. I remember seeing the episode around Christmas time and they made a feast and brought in greenery to decorate the house, and I think there was some mention of superstitions. Brunner does delve into some of the superstitions, but often they were superstitions against having a tree in the house.
In fact, according to Brunner, the Catholic church was the last denomination to embrace the Christmas tree - for the longest time, they outright denounced it. It seems that, by and large, the Christmas tree came together in an adhoc manner, originating in certain parts of Germany, and it is a natural evolution of our deep connection to the natural world, no matter how industrial and computerised we become.
The attraction of all things green, colorful, and glittering in the cold season is elemental. Green has long been considered the color of hope, and midwinter greenery was thought to radiate and summon vitality and fertility, to keep harm at bay. The custom of celebrating the changing year with greenery was already known among the Romans, who used bay branches. In the fourth century, Saint Ephrem the Syrian reported that houses were decorated with wreaths for the festival on January 6. Medieval sources mention evergreen branches, with sharp needles, fastened to the door of the house or hung in the home. Demons, witches, lightning, and disease - they believed - were powerless in the face of this life force. [p.12]
According to Brunner's digging into historical records, the Christmas tree is quite the modern invention, one that didn't really take root until the 19th century - so it's not near as old as I'd imagined. The details of the early versions of the trees is quite fascinating, especially the mechanised trees under which nativity scenes or other decorations were placed. Later, the practice of putting presents under the trees evolved. They used to put real candles in the branches, and house fires were unsurprisingly common at that time of year. There are lots of interesting little details in this book, along with some colour plates and other reproductions of paintings in which early versions of the Christmas tree figure.
Brunner does some solid research here, and his writing - translated as it is - is smooth and clear. He doesn't have that personable, charismatic or charming quality that goes so well with popular non-fiction: he can be a bit dry at times, though perhaps you can only write as interestingly as your subject-matter. There was only one moment of humour, and the lack of historical documentation to support research into the Christmas tree was disappointing. But not Brunner's fault. He did an admirable job of picking out descriptions and other details of its origins and metamorphosis from old novels, newspapers, advertisements, public announcements and various other sources. It was me who was disappointed, that something I love so much should have had such ordinary beginnings, and could just as easily have disappeared as quietly as it had arrived.
It will only take a few hours out of your day to read about the history of the Christmas tree, but it it well worth it. If nothing else, it fills the little gap of ignorance in your head that is always there when we think about Christmas trees - and I love filling the many little holes of ignorance that exist in my knowledge, and understanding the history of things helps me understand the world I live in better. ...more
My nephew Angus, who is about 6 months older than my own boy, loves this book, and I got him the next one in the series, Demolition, for his 2nd birMy nephew Angus, who is about 6 months older than my own boy, loves this book, and I got him the next one in the series, Demolition, for his 2nd birthday on the 28th of December. I hadn't heard of the books or Sally Sutton until my sister told me about them, but I thought, if Angus loves this book, it must be good.
True to form, when it arrived in the mail and we opened the parcel and got it out last Thursday (6th December), I had to read it four times in a row - and many times since!
Each double-page spread tells a stage in the building of a road, from surveying and marking it out with pegs, to clearing the ground, moving rocks and earth around, spreading tar, putting up street lights, signs and even breaking for lunch! The text is a four-line verse ending in onomatopeias - for example, on the first page:
Plan the road. Plan the road. Mark it on a map. Hammer in the marking pegs. PING! BANG! TAP!
The illustrations by Brian Lovelock are great too, simple and straight-forward yet with some nicely-placed details that has the kids asking lots of "what's that?" questions. They already seem fascinated watching the progress of the new road, though how much they really get is hard to say. What's great is that it goes well with another new addition to the picture book library, On the Move, which shows photos of excavators, dump trucks, cement mixers and loads more (another book they're currently addicted to). ...more
Devadas is a warrior and the younger prince of Catiscal, but when he is captured by neighbouring Horvald, he is put in The Pit, there to fight HorvaldDevadas is a warrior and the younger prince of Catiscal, but when he is captured by neighbouring Horvald, he is put in The Pit, there to fight Horvald's warriors-in-training until he dies. No one knows he's a prince, and as far as Devada is concerned, he is dead to his country and his parents as soon as he was captured. He maintains his own code of honour in a warring country that he sees as wanton: they keep slaves, the women walk around practically naked, and the people have an open attitude towards sex and sharing partners.
When Lissa, the young princess of Horvald and the king's only child, takes an interest in Devadas, he took the opportunity hoping to find a way to escape or somehow exploit the situation. But Lissa wants only a fit man to train her in the arts of love making, and Devadas has a month, at first, before she's married off. Those plans don't eventuate, and instead the two explore each other in depth, Devadas learning as much about how to pleasure a woman as Lissa learns from him.
When her father, the king of Horvald, takes Devadas along with the other warrior slaves to join his army in his latest venture, Lissa is distraught. From long exposure to Devadas, her attitude towards her people's cavalier slave keeping has changed, and when a storm comes through with her father absent, she ditches forever her luxury and her frivolous clothes and joins the people in rebuilding the town and planting new crops, negotiating with neighbouring Catiscal which also suffered in the storm. When her father returns and tells her he killed Devedas along with a number of other slaves who attempted to escape, she grieves deeply then locks her heart away, planning to stay chaste forever.
Ten years later, the growing empire has decimated her father's army and killed him; its leader, a general who calls himself Lord Death, comes for Lissa. In shock, she recognises Devadas, but he has changed - and worse, he plans on exacting revenge on Lissa for the long months she took advantage of him, rather than finding a way to free him and the other slaves. His demands of her are terrible, and she is humiliated by the finely made gold chains he makes her wear - and especially by the leash - but bargains the safety of her people and their fields in exchange.
When the new king of Catiscal, Devadas' older brother Anton, arrives in Horvald, thinking to take it for his own and Lissa for his bride, Devadas decides to marry her himself. But Anton plays dirty, and it takes seeing how he treats Lissa for Devadas to realise just what she means to him, and how abominable his behaviour towards her was.
Between the new Harlequin/Mills & Boon romance e-book imprint, Escape Publishing, and Penguin Australia's new romance e-book imprint, Destiny Romance, my Kindle is suddenly chokkas with great new romance fiction. I picked this one from Escape because it combines erotic romance with fantasy, two of my favourite genres, though I didn't realise until I started reading it that it's actually a fairly short novella. I like novellas, but I think in this case, as well written as it was, it would have been a more satisfying novel if it had been, well, novel length.
Everything that needed to be there was there, from some general world-building (put together in your head from minor details and bits of info scattered throughout), to character motivations and some good plot developments. But it's the characters that you want to read romance for, in whatever form it comes in, and in the case of Chains of Revenge it skimmed along a bit too lightly, without really delving deeply into their psyches. Individually, I felt like I understood and could sympathise with the characters, no problem, but together, I wanted a bit more chemistry, especially in the beginning. It rushed through those months and then told us they were falling in love with each other, without really showing it (or showing them holding back, since their positions - mistress/princess and slave - is a perfect relationship obstacle).
Things heated up considerably when they meet again ten years later, and the story became more interesting too, but the problem of developing things between the characters remained a bit stunted. They just never quite built up momentum, and that was disappointing. I don't mind the lightly sketched in world-building, for a novella, and I don't mind a fairly uneventful plot - but the most important thing in a romance story is the romance, right? and building up chemistry between the characters. Developing that more deeply at the beginning would have given the rest of the story a really solid footing, and strong past history that would have added mouth-watering tension and gut-clenching sexual chemistry.
Otherwise, I enjoyed it and found parts of it particularly fun and juicy to read. The chain harness was a nice erotic touch, but one of the things that stood out for me was how much I liked Lissa. She grew and matured and changed quite a bit, rising to a new challenge and coming to realise that, much like in a democratic system, a leader is nothing without healthy, happy people to lead, and so she puts them first, over her own wants and needs. Devadas has a lot to learn, too, and is not a straight-forward character. So while I didn't find that their chemistry sizzled as much as it could have, the potential for it was there, and I could believe in them as people and lovers....more
The Bite Before Christmas contains two novellas, "The Gift" by Lynsay Sands (Argeneau #15.5) and "Home for the Holidays" by Jeaniene Frost (Night HuntThe Bite Before Christmas contains two novellas, "The Gift" by Lynsay Sands (Argeneau #15.5) and "Home for the Holidays" by Jeaniene Frost (Night Huntress #6.5).
In "The Gift", Port Henry's middle aged bachelor police chief, Teddy Brunswick, gladly accepts Margeurite Argeneau's offer of her cottage in Muskoka to avoid being alone and pitied on Christmas. But the morning after he arrives, he wakes up to find that a storm has taken out the power, his truck is completely snowed in (even the door handle is frozen), and a fallen tree has blocked the road. He has no food and his mobile phone needs recharging - all he has is a fireplace and some heat.
When he treks out to the road to survey the damage, he encounters a lovely young woman called Katricia, who is also alone and borrowing the neighbouring cottage which belongs to friends of hers (Mortimer and Sam, from The Rogue Hunter). She has loads of food but no heat, so they decide to pool resources. Tricia brings over the food, something she didn't think she'd need since she hasn't been interested in eating for centuries - but now that she's met her life mate, Teddy, it's one of the things that's returned to her.
Like all her kind, she'd despaired of ever meeting her life mate, and now here he is - and they're confined to a cottage on a lake for a few days. It seems the perfect situation to Tricia, but Teddy is fifty and thinks he's way too old for her, and that his attraction to her is a little creepy. But he knows about her kind, coming from Port Henry where immortals are a kind of half-open secret, so Katricia has every hope that he'll welcome the idea. She just has to find the right moment to tell him.
"Home for the Holidays" begins with a surprise birthday celebration for Bones, organised by his loving wife Cat, to which all the old crowd is invited (their main paranormal crew is there except for Vlad - Ian, Spade, Fabian, Elisabeth, Denise, Mencheres, Kira and Annette). Annette is late to the party, though, and when Ian goes to her hotel to fetch her, he finds her being assailed by an unknown man, the room covered in blood. The assailant flees out the window and Annette is strangely reticent in giving Bones any information.
That night, a stranger breaches their property, a vampire in a frilly shirt who calls himself Wraith and claims to be Bone's half-brother, and a loner whose Sire is dead. Bones is sceptical, but hopeful, for he's never known where he came from. But soon after Wraith is welcomed into the house, Cat notices something strange. Everyone except her, Denise and Ian are entranced by the vampire as he tells long-winded story after long-winded story. When Bones completely loses interest in Cat and doesn't show any of his usual reactions towards her, she becomes as worried as Ian. The two of them have to work together to figure out what's going on and how to fix it, before Bones is lost to her forever.
I enjoyed both of these stories a great deal, though "Home for the Holidays" was the stronger one - and glad I was of it too, since the last Cat and Bones book I read was pretty disappointing for me.
"The Gift" was a fun read, returning to the lighter early books in the series in tone, with no dark sub-plots, just a scenario that brings together two people and gives them time to explore things. Interestingly, after Teddy is turned (not a spoiler, since of course he's turned) and becomes young again - about twenty-five - I found myself missing the Teddy I'd come to know, the older man facing retirement. Of course it changes things, getting your youth back, and if this were a longer story, or a work of speculative fiction rather than romance, it could have become a very dark story, if Teddy wasn't as lovely as he is. But I really liked him, so it was easy to be happy for him and to smile at his sudden youthful enthusiasm. Still, when you fall in love with a person, having them suddenly lose decades would make me feel like I was now stuck with someone I didn't know. Interesting thought, anyway.
Overall, it was great getting back to Canada and a quieter, more light-hearted story in the Argeneau series.
With "Home for the Holidays", Frost struck gold, creating a neat, tight story, plenty of action, a situation that seemed unsolvable (Kresley Cole has turned me into a fan of these kinds of twisted plots!), and Cat gets to seriously kick arse, again. Plus, you will actually like Ian in this story, since he gets to act hero without losing his crude and irreverent sense of humour.
More than that, though, we learn more about Bones' lineage and past, and that glimpse of repressed hope that Cat sees in his eyes when Wraith dangles the long-lost-brother card makes your heart break a bit. The ghosts get some good air time too, action-wise, which I always love, since the vampires always ignore and underestimate them. And on the romance front, there are some lovely intense scenes between Cat and Bones - not the sex, interestingly enough, but before that.
Overall, a winning novella in the Night Huntress world that reinvigorates my previously waning love for the series....more
This is a fun little book (literally - this edition is a very small board book), about all the noises Mr Brown can make and how wonderful he is at makThis is a fun little book (literally - this edition is a very small board book), about all the noises Mr Brown can make and how wonderful he is at making noises, and encouraging readers to make them too. The babies/toddlers (they're around 18 months old) aren't yet at the stage of making animal noises (except for one who can make a dog noise), but they love hearing me make them and I'm sure it'll be only a matter of time before they're joining in.
Some of the onomatopeias are fun to make, like the cork and the horse feet, and others are tricky - the sound of lightning (which comes after the sound of thunder -- !!) is "a very, very hard" noise to make: "Splatt splatt splatt". I can't make that sound like lightning, not at all! I wonder how that sounded in Seuss's head when he wrote that?
It has no plot, just a series of wacky sounds in a vaguely rhyming text and Dr Seuss' trademark illustrations. My personal favourite is the sound of rain: "Dibble Dibble. Dibble Dopp. Dibble Dibble. Dibble Dibble. Dopp Dopp Dopp." It's really very sweet. :) ...more
Anna loves to climb: she climbs the fridge, but falls on her head. She climbs her dresser, but falls on her tummy. Her parents tell her not to climb aAnna loves to climb: she climbs the fridge, but falls on her head. She climbs her dresser, but falls on her tummy. Her parents tell her not to climb and to go play outside ... so she heads to the TREE and with careful planning, climbs it to the top! Now her parents want her to get down, but are they careful enough?
The cover has the Toronto skyline in the background, but Munsch dedicated it to a girl called Anna from Guelph (from which you can't see Toronto!); really though Anna and her home can represent any developed country, and her adventures are delightful fun. Thankfully the falls and injuries are exaggerated for comic relief!
The kids really enjoy this one; at about a year and a half old, they love the illustrations and the up up up up up up fallllll down and other sounds in the text. It's quite timely really, because it contains a lot of words and concepts they're learning right now. It's also a great story for older kids, with a home-grown adventure they're sure to identify with. ...more
Bronte Talbot has worked hard since graduating to establish her career in advertising, and would never have imagined giving up her great life in New YBronte Talbot has worked hard since graduating to establish her career in advertising, and would never have imagined giving up her great life in New York for any man. But when she meets sexy "Mr Texas" at a party hosted by her British friends, David and Willa, she decides to let this all-American, fun-loving investor based in Chicago whisk her off her feet and take care of her. Unfortunately, after several months, Bronte realises that their relationship is going nowhere - unless she moves to Chicago. It's her last-ditch, drastic measure to make their romance a romance again, and maybe head it onto the commitment path, but everyone she knows can see it as a desperate measure.
And sure enough, as soon as she lands in Chicago she can see that Mr Texas preferred to have her as the odd-weekend girlfriend from afar. After they break up, Bronte focuses on her career again, now in a boutique advertising agency, and lets the depression creep up on her. Months later, she's in a bookshop when she literally stumbles into a very sexy man with a very sexy English accent.
Max Heyworth is finishing up his PhD in economics after which he plans to move back to London, to enjoy his unfettered years before he has to take up the mantle of dukedom - which will hopefully, with his father's good health, be quite some time. He's always resisted the role he was born to, but he's learned it well all the same.
Bronte and Max embark on a passionate romance with a fixed end-date, Bronte clear all the time that Max is her rebound guy. She wants eight weeks of fun, sex and honesty, and Max happily agrees - but there are two things he's not honest with Bron about from the beginning. One, his title (viscount, a placeholder) and looming inheritance; and two, that he's in love with Bronte and has no intention of ending things in eight weeks time. He's confident that when he asks her to move to England with him, of course she'll say yes.
Things change though when his father falls ill and Max has to head back early, and Bronte refuses to go with him. It's a breakup neither of them were ready for, and after months of moping, Max decides to hunt her down and propose. But even though she's had a lifelong fascination with British royalty, Bronte doesn't really want to be an aristocrat herself - not to mention the fact that Max's mother scares the crap out of her. Can they work things out to achieve their happily-ever-after?
I may not read chick-lit very often, but I usually enjoy it when I do. A Royal Pain was definitely in the 'enjoyed' camp, for several reasons. The novel may be chick-lit, but it's also heavily romance too. I don't think I could define my own understanding of what chick-lit is, except that it's like romance without sex or graphic descriptions, they tend to by humorous, and more realistic in some ways. The difference here is that there're graphic descriptions, and the story is wholly focused on Bronte and Max's relationship. It's a very satisfying blend of the two genres, I have to say, and definitely entertaining.
Bronte started out strong, and while in many ways she's a completely different person to me, I could empathise with her when it came to how her relationship with Mr Texas (real name never disclosed because his persona was just too huge) ended, and her withdrawal and depression afterward. Mulry doesn't dwell on this time and it doesn't make the story heavy in any way, but it's yet another aspect of the story and Bronte's life that gives it that chick-lit realistic edge over the romantic fantasy.
Not that the fantasy isn't there too: Max Heyworth is the romantic hero through-and-through, the ultimate fantasy man. Having said that, he's not a walking cliche - at least, he didn't feel that way, most of the time. The interesting thing is, my impression of Max during their initial relationship in Chicago is almost of a different man altogether to the one who smouldered all over Bronte in New York later (where he became quite the glowering alpha), who was again different to the man who was her fiancé in England. Frankly, I enjoyed the character regardless, and it certainly satisfied my romantic need, but he wasn't particularly consistent.
Along this very bumpy road, Bronte has to overcome her insecurities and low self-image, as well as her fear of commitment - a fear that fitted her character well except for that notable exception, of drastically upheaving her life and moving to Chicago for Mr Texas. I did have to wonder: how does a woman who shies away from real commitment, do that? Wouldn't she have secretly preferred using Mr Texas's own lifestyle choices as an excuse not to commit to him? Yet it's never that simple either, and her reasoning behind moving to Chicago seemed so realistic and even familiar, that it totally made sense. It was more that I was surprised at how, later, with Max offering her everything, she balks time and again. Sure the dukedom complicates things, but that's just an excuse. Perhaps it's that, deep down, subconsciously, she recognised that things with Max are real, as they weren't with Mr Texas, where there was no real danger of anything permanent ever happening.
Bronte did disappoint me toward the end, though, when she became noticeably difficult and stubborn and, yes, scared. I got a bit annoyed with Max too, and thought he could have handled things better. I don't want to give away the ending, but there was a new complication thrown in that really bothered me - hard to discuss it without spoiling it and I'm tempted to regardless, because I really don't like how these ... things, are used in romantic plot-lines. It just saddens me, and angers me a bit. (The same thing, more or less, happened at the end of The Marriage Bargain which I read recently; it's a bit of a fallback plot-line.)
This is a great story to read when you want something entertaining and engrossing, that will connect with your emotions without leaving you feeling in any way morbid, a story full of classic misunderstandings, almost-missed opportunities, realism, great love, class divide and humour. It's intelligently written, with a focus on growing up and facing your own flaws, rather than dealing with any kind of social issues or things like that. Perhaps because I expected something a sillier, or because I was wary of an American story about British royalty, but this did not disappoint, and I would happily recommend it to readers of chick-lit and contemporary romance alike. ...more
Julia Lichtenstein lost her dad when she was just a little girl, but still holds wonderful memories of how perfect her parents were together, and putsJulia Lichtenstein lost her dad when she was just a little girl, but still holds wonderful memories of how perfect her parents were together, and puts their stories of their honeymoon in London up on a pedestal. She's convinced there's an "MTB" - "meant to be" - man out there for her, and she's equally convinced it's Mark, a boy she's known since kindergarten who's recently returned to her town and her school. But after nearly a year, Mark still hasn't spoken to her.
When a field trip to London comes up, Julia leaps at the chance to visit the city her parents loved - as well as for the extra credit and because she's a book nerd who carries a Pocket Shakespeare everywhere - even though it conflicts with a swim meet, and she's the star butterfly stroke swimmer on the team. Unfortunately, none of her friends on the swim team sign up for it, so Julia goes alone, with a group of teens who are mostly rowdy, immature, and more interested in shopping than seeing where Shakespeare lived. Julia, on the other hand, has packed five different travel guides, each with copious amounts of sticky notes. She has plans.
Those plans seem to be mostly ruined when their teacher, Mrs Tennison, assigns them all buddies based on where their surnames fall in the alphabet - Julia is teamed up with the class clown, Jason Lippincott. Red haired, freckled, irreverent, and a real charmer of the ladies, Jason is what Julia considers her nemesis, ever since the time in grade nine when her red pen leaked and Jason stuffed loads of tampons into her locker. He won't even use her name, instead calling her "Book Licker".
On their first night in London, Jason talks her into going out after curfew to a party, where Julia gets drunk and hands out the number to her field trip mobile phone to several guys there. The next day, hungover and irritable, she starts getting suggestive and keen text messages from someone called Chris. She has no idea who he is, but when Jason finds out, he offers to help her track him down so that she can see him before agreeing to meet. In exchange, he wants Julia to write his daily reflection papers for him.
With Jason at her side, Julia's trip to England is nothing like what she expected. Rather, it's a richer, more exciting and never dull experience. And Jason isn't what she thought he was, either - not entirely. As her feelings towards him start to change, a new complication turns up: Mark. And he's not just talking to her, he wants to spend time with her. With her "meant to be" guy now practically throwing himself at her, and Jason acting oddly, Julia decides this could be her one chance to find her MTB.
Like me, you're probably thinking this sounds a bit like The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and Anna and the French Kiss - it's definitely along the same theme (American teenagers overseas, love story etc.), but just as the other two books were very different from each other, so is this one. It certainly stands on its own as an endearing, intelligent, rather cute, entertaining YA romance. It has that same sense of anticipation and build-up of a good romantic comedy; in fact, it would probably make a good romantic comedy film. (It just occurred to me that they haven't yet started making movies out of these contemporary YA romances, have they? Anna and so on would make for good movies, don't you think?)
This was a mix of the old and the new: classic book-loving, rule-abiding, neurotic girl meets free-lovin', popular prankster and has her life turned upside-down, with positive outcome. But Julia's also sporty, and she does a very good job of convincing us readers that she's pretty plain, has an unattractive swimmer's body, and is far too uptight to be saved. Likewise, Jason has his moments of being absolutely delightful and downright charming - serenading her at a skate park, dancing with her in a bookshop - but he doesn't "change" and continues to have his silly immature moments. Julia and Jason have to meet somewhere in the middle, and in the process, Julia especially learns how to be not so judgemental and critical of others.
It was satisfying, to say the least, how things with Mark turned out, and also that Julia was never stupid enough, or stubborn enough, to persist in her fantasy despite the obvious. Overall the story had a wonderful sense of realism, and perhaps because the characters were removed from the typical American high school setting, it was much easier to relate to them, sympathise with them, and enjoy their antics. The realism extended to the characters drinking, the flirting and snubbing, the mood swings and, of course, Julia's preoccupation with her possible, potential love life.
The plot and its Chris mystery were engaging, and a few possibilities went through my head - I didn't guess the truth until about the last third of the book, though there was an element to it all that had passed my notice, so it wasn't entirely predictable. The mystery plot didn't overwhelm the novel, nor was it the only driving force for the novel. At times the plot seemed to lose cohesion, when it started going in one direction and then just ... stopped, or jumped forward a bit, or went sideways... I sometimes felt like my copy was missing scenes. The only other thing that kept me from full-out loving this was the slightly slow pace, where too often a slower scene seemed to get more attention than a more interesting one.
Overall though the language was more mature than a lot of contemporary YA - just something about the style, Morrill's word choice, the tone and also the things the characters did and said. There was also a pleasant dose of humour throughout, and the London setting and Julia's interest in literature certainly appealed. I was a little surprised that all the pop culture references (movies mostly) were so old - truly, how many teenagers today would have heard of Pretty in Pink, much less seen it? I haven't seen it - I tried once, when it was on TV, and couldn't get past the first ten minutes. Even for a kid of the 80s and 90s, that movie was dated. Morrill looks younger than me, otherwise I'd be wondering, but what does this say about today's movies, that they're not even worth referencing?
This was a solid debut novel from Morrill, with a surprisingly complex plot, lively characters, and some very sweet moments. I would have loved a longer ending, to draw out the final scene, because I really wanted to snuggle into that culmination and coming-together of Julia and Jason that we'd been waiting for so long. Meant to Be is well worth reading and I'll be looking out for Morrill's next novel, that's for sure. ...more
Maya Kirkwood had the career of her dreams in New York's couture fashion world, only to have to suddenly vanish thanks to her duplicitous ex. It feelsMaya Kirkwood had the career of her dreams in New York's couture fashion world, only to have to suddenly vanish thanks to her duplicitous ex. It feels like her past happening all over again. But Maya's not one to give up in a ball of shame: instead, she moves to San Francisco, changes her name, and reinvents herself as a textile artist. At her first exhibition, her agent encourages her to meet a prospective new client, a successful tech nerd from Silicon Valley called Derek Whitley. Only, he's not the pasty, paunchy nerd she expected: he's young, tall, fit, lightly tanned and very handsome - and when she sounds him out about her artwork, Maya learns he doesn't like it.
But Derek still wants to commission her to produce an installation for the new wing of his company building, and whether he personally likes her work or not he sees as irrelevant. Derek is all work and no play, and he seems mostly irritated and annoyed by Maya, especially her persistence and argumentativeness. Over the two weeks she spends at his company, working on the commission, she doesn't learn that much more about the private, taciturn man. But when her father, whom she hasn't seen in years, suddenly turns up in her life again, it's Derek who is there to support her and help her rebuff the man's attentions. With Maya's secrets unravelling, a new kind of friendship begins between her and Derek. Only trouble is, she's not the only one with a past she's been keeping secret, and the truth about Derek could be an obstacle Maya can't overcome.
This was such a fun, delightful, intelligent read. It's a smooth blend of chick-lit and romance, being chick-lit in plot, tone, structure, all those key points, but with a romantic focus: getting the heroine and hero together, with some sex included for the full experience. It's a fairly short novel, one that skips along at a steady, merry pace, easy to read in one sitting. I want to use the word "breezy" but thanks to those awful, annoying Covergirl commercials, I now hate that word.
Maya was an engaging narrator and an interesting protagonist, who had some pretty shitty things happen to her but held it together and continued doggedly on. She's definitely tenacious, and I liked that she was a textile artist - both my mum and my sister are textile artists, with different styles of course, so Maya felt like someone I knew right off the bat. I also liked the way she handled the situation at the end: I respect and appreciate romance heroines who stay calm and don't devolve into melodrama, and who stand firm on an issue - and who are also flexible enough to change their minds or something later, at the right time.
Derek was a classic chick-lit hero, so aloof and stoic and reserved, so that the moments when he couldn't help himself and laughed or otherwise enjoyed himself, became that much more precious and meaningful. It was great to read about a couple who didn't dance around each other and pretend things. Maya came clean, and Derek did too. They were open about their feelings. It didn't solve all their problems, but it was just refreshingly mature and intelligent (the ridiculousness of the heroines' stubbornness and the heroes' refusal to admit his feelings in so many paranormal romance books is what made me take a prolonged break from reading the genre).
My one complaint, if you can call it that, was that I would have liked a slightly longer story. It was just a bit too fast, considering how much I was enjoying it and wanted to get to know the characters more (on the positive side, it's a well-plotted story that doesn't suffer from "filler syndrome" or an author who can't self-edit and loves the sound of their own voice. I appreciate that, I really do, especially after Thoughtless). I was surprised the side-plot of Maya's father and what happened to her in New York didn't get revisited, yet also pleased that the story didn't follow any predictable formulas for following-through on them. I wanted to get to know the supporting cast more, and see more of Maya and Derek's lives play out. I say that because I enjoyed it, but also because it left me with the slight feeling of having eaten hollow carbs: too much sugar, not enough fibre? As much as I had fun reading it and loved the slightly fast pace, I can't help but have the niggling feeling that it was a bit too fast at times. I'm torn though, because I also love that it wasn't drawn out or padded unnecessarily.
Regardless, I recommend this as a light, breezy read about two people who have to overcome their pasts and live for the moment - and a future that's brighter with each other in it. If you're looking for a fun, mature romance that's not at all shallow or prone to clichés, definitely give Libby Mercer's Unmasking Maya a read.
My thanks to the author for a copy of this book. ...more
When Karou regained her memories of her previous life as Madrigal, a chimaera soldier who fell in love with the enemy anThis review contains spoilers.
When Karou regained her memories of her previous life as Madrigal, a chimaera soldier who fell in love with the enemy and was executed as a traitor, she also learned what her lover, the seraphim Akiva, did in retaliation: Loramendi is a smoking ruin, her beloved family, the chimaera who raised her from a (human) baby, are dead - Brimstone, the resurrectionist, is gone. Her people are dead, the survivors enslaved. When she travels through the portal to the world of Eretz, the new reality leaves her shattered and harbouring a new, heavy guilt.
Desperate to make amends and to save her people from the seraphim, she takes on Brimstone's role and works with Thiago, the White Wolf, leader of the revenant army - the man who she was meant to wed before she met Akiva, who makes her flesh crawl, who tortured Akiva and had Madrigal beheaded. It's soon apparent that Thiago not only doesn't trust her, but has made sure she's isolated from everyone else at their stronghold, even young, handsome Ziri, the only one left of her race, who used to idolise her as a boy.
Meanwhile, Akiva delicately balances his immense guilt, his grief over losing Karou, and his complete disillusionment with the endless war between the seraphim Empire and the chimaera, with the ruthless reputation he's garnered for himself - the other seraphim call him Beast's Bane now, after the fall of Loramend - in order to avoid suspicion. Gradually his two lifelong friends and siblings, Hazael and Liraz, join him in his silent, subtle rebellion, and together they plot a way to end it all.
The last lines of Laini Taylor's acknowledgements read: "And thanks, lastly, to the readers of Daughter of Smoke & Bone for such marvelous enthusiasm and support. There is no motivation quite like the excitement of readers, and it has been a truly amazing year. From the depths of my heart, I hope you like this one, too." Well Laini (may I call you Laini?), I do. I really really do. Not "like", that's too casual a word. Try, hm, how about "love"? I don't think we have a stronger word in this context in the English language, but it's seems like such a short, paltry little word for the awesomeness that is this series, this book. Daughter of Smoke & Bone speaks right to my Fantasy-loving, Fantasy-craving soul, it fires up my imagination and all my emotions, and makes my brain tick over in that way that makes me feel justified for having one.
Days of Blood & Starlight was immensely satisfying, highly surprising and unpredictable, and utterly compelling. It is slightly a filler novel, but if you're a fan of epic fantasy like I am, you'll know that there's really no such thing as a filler novel, only another step forward in a much bigger story. It is not really filler because there are so many new and important developments, lots of small ones that add up to a complete change in landscape by the end. The main characters, Karou and Akiva, as well as many supporting characters, undergo some important character development and growth. But it could be called a filler book because it is about moving the characters into certain positions for what I expect is to be a final battle, a final book. But Fantasy isn't about the big battles, not really, it's about how you get there, the finer, more complex and sometimes even subtle manoeuvres, and, most importantly, the characters.
Karou is not the same Karou we met in the first book, and at some point in the story, she realises it too. She's lost her confidence, her ability to nag and pester and question (something she used to do with Brimstone quite a bit). She seems to have lost her sense of adventure and become more circumspect and cautious, too. She's more easily afraid - and with good reason. The dynamics of the chimaera soldiers under Thiago living under the same roof as Karou, who they've been taught is a traitor, albeit one they need for her ability to resurrect them, is like a tense, dangerous dance, the atmosphere always balancing on the knife edge of something truly awful happening.
When Karou's best friend Zuzana and her boyfriend Mik turn up unexpectedly, it's amazing the new feelings that wrestle with the sense of looming danger. They bring with them life in its best forms, and remind the revenant soldiers about love, laughter and music.
They're not the only ones who arrive unexpectedly: Akiva finds Karou, and their meeting - the first time after Karou got her memories back and Akiva told her what he'd done - is so, so tragic and painful. Their romance might take a back seat to other elements of the plot and character development in this instalment, but the chemistry and unresolved tension between them is pervasive and scents every page, each scene. But they both need time and space to figure things out, Akiva to somehow atone for what he did, and Karou to learn that he did what he did out of love for her, devastated, heartbreaking love. It doesn't excuse it, but it should go a little way to helping Karou come to terms with it and understand what Akiva did, from his perspective. Because if they can't work things out, their races will never have a chance.
The story, or world-building, is based in part on a never-ending war between the seraphim (angels) and the chimaera (beasts) of Eretz. In the previous book, we learnt that the war began because the seraphim invaded with the intent to colonise and "civilise". They met with fierce resistance and, thanks to Brimstone's resurrectionist magic, the fight between them has been going on for centuries. The over-arching plot, or theme, is how fights like this one go for so long that people on both sides lose sight of what they're fighting about, who's right or wrong (not that it's ever that simple, usually), and not only scrap any attempts at negotiating peace, but are outright against it. It's like a battle royale of countries or nations or ethnicities. Genocide on all sides until there's only one superior race left. It does, of course - and this is the beauty and power of Fantasy fiction - speak to (or reflect) several ongoing conflicts in our own world, in our own lifetime. I was especially reminded of the Israeli-Palestine conflict, which is a touchy subject at the best of times. Both sides have done horrible things, and both sides are fighting for the right to exist in peace. But both sides no longer see a way of doing so as long as the other exists. It's so tragic, and of course it's the innocents who pay the price for it. I confess I'm anxious to see whether the seraphim and chimaera manage what we have not, and how they do it.
The writing is just as lovely and vivid and skilful as I remember it from Daughter of Smoke & Bone, and while some themes are a bit overdone - the recurring theme of hope, especially - there are some really wonderful, insightful messages and lines. Several tropes are explored, and one I find most fascinating is the coexistence of Karou and Madrigal, which reminds me of Eric van Lustbader's awesome Pearl saga (in which an alien prince is put inside a girl's body, becoming a whole new person and, even, a new gender).
She experienced a queer collision of reactions these days. Karou's were foremost, and most immediate, but Madrigal's were hers, too: her two selves, coming together with a strange kind of vibration. It wasn't disharmony, exactly. Karou was Madrigal, but her reactions were informed by her human life and all the luxuries of peace, and things that might have been commonplace to Madrigal could still jar her at first. Burnt heads strung from a sweet arza tree? If Madrigal hadn't seen exactly that, she had witnessed enough horror that it had no power to shock her. [p.105]
It's not an element of the story that gets much focus, but such is Taylor's skill that you can notice the two personalities blending together in this story. Karou and Madrigal might be the same person, but it's not just their bodies or species that are different: their personalities weren't really the same, either. With the memories of being Madrigal back, Karou is still Karou but she's also Madrigal: the two halves have come together to form a new Karou, a slightly different Karou. Interestingly, Akiva loves both, or rather, he loves her, which raises whole new questions about the resurrection magic and what exactly makes us who we are - questions about the soul, and whether our personality is inseparable from it. Oh you could really get into something here!
Ultimately, though, it's the story as a whole that I love, with all its component pieces. Each piece is a gem, but put them together and you have a crown. Oh wow that's corny! But apt. But so corny it hurts my eyes! Oh you get the picture, anyway. I'm writing this quickly and have run out of time to find a better way of describing the magical storytelling Laini Taylor is capable of. It's now going to be a painful wait for the third book, which I hope will be out next year....more
Kiera Allen met Denny Harris, a brilliant student from Queensland, at Ohio University. Now she's going with the handsome, loving Denny to Seattle, wheKiera Allen met Denny Harris, a brilliant student from Queensland, at Ohio University. Now she's going with the handsome, loving Denny to Seattle, where she's transferred to Washington State University for her third year, and Denny has a promising internship at a high-profile advertising agency. Denny's arranged for them to live with his old friend Kellan Kyle, whose family he lived with for a year of high school on an exchange program.
Kellan is the lead singer of a local rock band called The D-Bags (for "douche-bag"). He's devastatingly attractive and a real slut (not that I like to use the word, but "womaniser" just doesn't capture his style of sleeping around - the English language is sadly lacking in some ways). His band plays regularly at a place called Pete's Bar, where Kiera gets a waitressing job on her first night in Seattle - which will help with the bills and to fill time, since it's only June and the school year doesn't start for three months.
When Denny has to leave Seattle for three weeks to help set up a new branch of his company in Tucson, Kiera is devastated. They've never been apart for more than a couple of days before. She turns to her fledgling friendship with Kellan, who makes her blush constantly, and willingly and deliberately, if not consciously, treats him like a boyfriend minus the intimate stuff. Holding his hand, cuddling with him on the couch; Kiera has no clue of the mixed messages she's giving out. She just misses Denny.
After several days of phone silence, Denny finally calls - to say that the company has offered him a job, but it means staying in Tucson for two years. What's worse, he's already accepted it, without discussing it with her. In a fit of despair, anger and panic at being abandoned in Seattle, Kiera tells him it's over and hangs up on him, then starts drinking. When Kellan comes home, he brings out tequila slammers, and Kiera gets completely drunk. What happens next changes everything.
The next day, Denny comes home: he's turned the job down and lost his internship, and Kiera feels immense guilt at ruining his career just as it was going good, and for sleeping with his best friend. She vows that it will never happen again, and she and Kellan both agree never to tell Denny. But the attraction between her and Kellan only grows in intensity, and Kiera learns never to say never again.
Ha ha, I couldn't resist that corny last line. It's well in keeping with the entire novel, which is a huge soap opera cheesefest. And I have to say how much I hate this cover. It's dark and dull, yes, but what really bugs me is the photo - aside from being ugly, I can't for the life of me figure it out. The body parts just don't make sense. I don't know what I'm looking at. And it's just plain seedy. It was originally self-published in 2009, and based on its success was picked up by Simon & Schuster. I don't know how much editing was done, but I've seen that the e-book was over a thousand pages long, and this is half that - a difference in font size or cutting back on over-writing? (Another review of a different edition noted it's page length at 364 pages, a significant difference. Are we reading the same book?)
It's hard to know where I start, with a book like this. It reminded me of Jennifer Schmidt's Risking it All, which I read recently - it also featured a "love triangle" and a main character who didn't want to risk her friendship with the hot guy or being alone and so avoided making a decision and acting mature, which only made things worse. The difference though is in the writing quality, and how the events played out, and how responsibility was doled out and taken. It was a much more mature story, in all ways, though certainly lower on the angst scale.
Contrast that with Kiera, who narrates Thoughtless. I'm willing, just, to suspend disbelief that such a dim-witted, naive, "innocent" (how I loathe the word!) twit could exist, though with a sister like Anna, and living in the 21st century, well, I have to really suspend disbelief. She's worse than Anastasia, which is saying a lot. She thinks "damn" is a swear word, blushes at Kellan's band mates' stories of their sexual exploits (Griffin is a chauvinist pig, but disgust would be a better emotion towards him), but worst of all is her behaviour towards Kellan. I actually felt sorry for the guy, and really very angry towards her. He does tell it to her face later on, calling her a prick tease and other colourful expressions, and she does finally admit to it and apologise for it.
I was relieved that [Kellan] was happy to stay over by me. I started to wonder over that, but then decided he was pleasant to be around, and not too bad to look at, and that was a good enough answer for right now. Besides, I had been so lonely lately and, right or wrong, his closeness was making that feeling fade.
Relaxing for the first time in what felt like weeks, I turned and slipped my arms around his waist, resting my head against his chest. I felt him stiffen a little at how closely we were connected, and then he relaxed too, his thumb lightly stroking my back. I wasn't sure why I did that, but I sighed contentedly at the warmth of his embrace. [p.88]
And after their fateful night, after Denny's come back:
Purely intending to give him a hug, as he seriously looked in need of one, I leaned over his chest, bringing my hands underneath him. He radiated warmth, but he was trembling, breathing shallowly. He left his arms on the couch, not returning my hug. His body stiffened slightly. Sighing softly, I remembered how easy and comfortable touching him used to be ... Apparently, that was gone now too. I pulled back a little, to ask him if he needed anything.
My breath stopped when I noticed his face, his eyes. He looked pained, like I was hurting him. His eyes were gazing past my shoulder, intently focused on anything but me, and they were narrowed in anger. His breathing was shallow and fast through his open lips. I immediately let go of him. [p.139]
The problem with having such a detail-oriented narrator is that, she notices all these little details, but can't interpret them. That was my problem with Kiera, and with the writing. There was no subtle space for readers to understand and interpret more than Kiera, because really, Kiera KNEW. She knew bloody well what she was doing, and why Kellan behaved as she did, because she had already picked up on ALL the clues. She just chose to blind herself to the truth. Essentially the whole fiasco could have been avoided if Kiera hadn't made stupid decision after stupid decision, including not trusting or respecting Denny, and thinking that if she just has more time, she'll have the courage to make a decision. By the end, I wondered what the hell either man saw in her. Sure, she's only human and a flawed character makes for a good, interesting character. It wasn't her flaws that angered me, it was her "selfish disregard for the feelings of others" (to quote a much better love story).
In contrast, Denny was lovely, though his depiction as the ultimate cuckolded partner completely smothered any personality he might have had. He occasionally comes out with some Queenslandisms (sure they're called Australian expressions in the book, but let's face it, Queenslanders have plenty of their own weird colloquialisms and I didn't recognise most of them here), but thankfully Stephens doesn't overdo the whole Australian angle. Kellan is fairly two-dimensional, but he did become interesting after telling Kiera the story of his abused childhood and why he sleeps around - Kiera doesn't deserve him, and I couldn't blame him for trying to sever things with her, multiple times. I find I don't care for love stories in which love is an addiction, something characters succumb to despite themselves, something they feel they have to fight, and "beat", something tainted with lies and betrayal. But it does make for some epic angst-riddled soap.
And that's what this book is: a soap opera of epic proportions. It's minutely detailed with day-to-day living and each little bit of body language (as you can see from the quotes above), which I normally like, but it goes way overtop with the details, many of which are quite superfluous and only slow the story down. It's also epic in the sense of the drama, which is, frankly, completely over-the-top. No one behaves very well in this story, they all come across as pretty immature, and the mis-communications and mis-understandings are some of the only things driving the plot forward - which isn't a good thing. The degree of angst is hard to believe, but I will tell you this: it is hugely addicting. I now have a better understanding of why reality TV and drama shows like Grey's Anatomy are so popular, not that I could watch them. For as much of a train wreck as Kiera's life is, I just had to keep reading to find out how it would end.
As engrossing as it was, it was hugely bogan, and the attitudes towards women portrayed by some of the characters - and Kiera's silent acceptance of them as normal - was pretty appalling (the men - oafish, arrogant, chauvinist, etc. - weren't portrayed that much better, to be honest). Not to mention, the contrast between "innocent" Kiera and her "harlot" of a sister, Anna, was alarming. The idea that the "good" girl always wins - never mind all the crap that went on, the fact that she is essentially depicted as a "good" girl; that only good girls can have real relationships or the commitment of a loving man, is a clear message. Kiera has to grow up and face her mistakes, free the men and become "good" again - atone for her sins with a bout of loneliness etc. - before she can have what she really wants.
I rated this based mostly on how addictive it is, but let's be clear: it's not a particularly well-written book, the characters make me want to pull my hair out, and I really can't see the point in a sequel (Effortless) - why on earth would I want to read more, especially after the issue has been resolved? What plot could there be, really? I think a more satisfying and mature ending for Thoughtless would be for Kellan to move on and find love with a different woman, because the things that those two went through, I don't know how a committed, trusting relationship could really arise out of that train wreck. ...more
Ariadne Mitchell is the quiet, self-conscious, studious good girl - so different from her older sister Evelyn who cared more about boys than books andAriadne Mitchell is the quiet, self-conscious, studious good girl - so different from her older sister Evelyn who cared more about boys than books and who got pregnant young. As a result, Ari constantly gets the beware-of-boys speech from her mother, a teacher, never mind that she's never had a boyfriend and had only one disastrous kissing experience. It's not surprising then that she has a crush on Evelyn's handsome fire-fighting husband, Patrick, going so far as to steal one of his shirts to cuddle at night.
When her family hears the news that Ari's bachelor great-uncle has died and left them all his money, her mother decides to invest in Ari's education by transferring her to the private prep school that Ari's best friend Summer goes to. It's further away, in Manhattan, but with university looming, it's what Ari needs. Never mind that Ari likes her public school and doesn't want to switch. And when it's time to start school, Summer isn't even there - she's broken her leg and refuses to be seen on crutches. Alone, Ari slowly makes friends with a girl called Leigh, who gets to flout school rules because her rich lawyer uncle, Stan Ellis, donates so much money to the place.
Ari meets Leigh's cousins: Del, who's opening his own nightclub; and later Blake, an undergrad student whom his father, Stan, intends to work in his law firm and later take it over - despite the fact that Blake would rather be a firefighter than a lawyer. After a brief crush on the older, scarred womaniser, Del, Ari turns her attention to dishy Blake, and is surprised to find that he returns it. He takes her out on dates, compliments her, even thinks she's prettier than Summer - who once won the prettiest girl in class award when they were younger.
Their relationship becomes serious, and Ari has never been happier. She's sure Blake is the one, and so is he, but when his father has a heart attack, he suddenly draws away and then drops her altogether, putting his energy back into working towards his father's ambition for him. Ari is devastated, and her life turns bleak in her depression. It's a harsh life lesson, and a slow, hard journey to heal herself.
This poignant and very realistic coming-of-age story set in the late 1980s rings true in so many ways, even if the details aren't familiar. Ari embodies the quiet teenager afraid of taking the step into the next stage of maturity, and instead takes a giant bound and gets burned. Well, to be honest, there's no way of not getting burned when you're a teen, and Ari's "type" is contrasted, or off-set, by her best friend Summer, who transferred to the private school after too many rumours and harassment about her sleeping around. Ari's stuck by Summer as much as Summer has stuck by Ari, and it takes a theft for Ari to finally face up to the fact that Summer is shallow, vain, petty and not the nice girl she always believed in.
I would say though that the blurb, the publisher's summary, is a bit misleading, setting up the novel a big intense romance (think Twilight). It's not, and that's not the point of the story at all. In fact, one of the disappointments of the story for me was how thinly sketched-in Blake is. I had to wrestle with myself while reading this, because I wanted to connect more closely to the story and the characters, except that that would be a distraction, a tangent, from the point of the story. And the point is simple enough, deceptively so. It's not about Ari falling in love, it's about Ari learning the difference between types of love, and more importantly, learning what's truly important to her - not anyone else. And the big lesson: how to pull yourself up out of depression.
No, this book isn't a romance, it's a guide book for how to get through adolescence. It's exactly the kind of book you want to read when you're sixteen, seventeen, eighteen - when the things Ari's going through are so close and sharp and familiar. I'd go even farther - read it when you're fourteen, and it might have helped you cope with what life throws at you, or even helped you avoid some heartache. Maybe. The teenage soul is nothing if not masochistic, because it's such a perfect way to feel alive, as the consciousness is clicking over from childhood and realising, Wait, I exist, holy shit, what do I do?
The characters aren't all as thinly sketched as Blake is - and he may be a shallow sketch, but everything is there for him to make sense as a character, as a person. In particular, Ari's mother and her sister Evelyn are much more complex and vivid, especially Evelyn. Since Ari is narrating (in present tense, yes, my pet peeve), we get only so far as she can see into things, but it's very easy to read between the lines and see what she's not seeing. Like when, after the birth of her second child, Evelyn sinks instantly into post-partum depression again, gains weight and eats poorly, she remarks off-handedly that Ari's breasts are uneven. Ari, of course, immediately has to check, decides her sister is right, and that this is a major flaw - one of many. While a part of her does recognise what Evelyn's up to, she's only a teenager, and the criticism bites deep.
It's not just growing pains and first love that the novel touches on: it also parallels rich and poor, Evelyn's ugly house in Queens with Blake's posh apartment and his father's law firm in the Empire State Building, and how it goes to working middle class Ari's head a bit. Ari has her own flaws, and is slow to realise them: when she meets Blake, she starts ignoring Leigh, and when their relationship takes off, she drops Leigh altogether. Another common trait among teenagers, which as adults we continue to do but somehow, for some reason, we stop taking it personally (usually - maybe we're just too tired and stressed out to care?). I guess because our lives are no longer shallow petri dishes of teen drama.
While the book connected with me in many ways, it disappointed me in others - and this is, I think, the kind of disappointment that only adult readers will feel. Because I've been there, adolescence: I've learned a lot and moved on and would want something a bit deeper in revisiting it. Something new. I am not the target audience for this book. Teenagers are. Would I recommend it to them? Sure. They would get a lot more out of this than I did. It was a great story, well told, and realistic. The inside of Ari's head is an interesting place to be. Like other readers, I did wonder why it was set in the late 80s, but I figure it was because that's when the author was a teenager - I don't know for sure, it's just a guess, that it's a comfort zone. Except for the absence of modern technology, and the mention of the date, it was easy to forget that it's the 80s. Maybe, also, the fact that there's no real difference to what teens go through in the 80s compared to today, and it might make teen readers feel a bit more comforted: look how many girls have gone through what I'm going through, and survived, and found love again. It's a well-trodden path, devastating and cruel at the time, but something we do heal from. Ari will show you the way....more