Three years after the events of If I Stay, and things with Mia and Adam are very different. Adam is living the rock 'n' roll dream, with his band, SThree years after the events of If I Stay, and things with Mia and Adam are very different. Adam is living the rock 'n' roll dream, with his band, Shooting Star, the new Big Thing in music, while Mia - well, Adam's not entirely sure where Mia is or what's she's doing, because he hasn't seen her since she got on a plane for New York to attend a prestigious music school three years ago.
The last three years have been hell on Adam. Having taken a hiatus from life in general in order to stay with Mia every day while she recovers from her injuries, when she left him he ceased to function, spending months holed up in his old bedroom at his parent's house, working a tedious data entry night shift at a factory. When he finally comes out of this self-induced pity-fest, he channels his feelings into new songs and presents them to his bandmates. The resulting album skyrockets them to instant fame and fortune, and their second album does just as well. But the touring, the roadies, the one-night-stands, none of it helps Adam adjust to a life without Mia - and a life not knowing where she is or why she left him. She just stopped talking to him altogether.
Now he's living with a Hollywood movie star several years older than him, on prescription anti-anxiety meds and smoking to get through the day. In New York to wrap up a recording a promo session before heading to the UK for the start of big tour, Adam seems ready to combust. He's volatile, has a quick temper and a poor reputation with journalists. After a disastrous interview, his manager gives him the rest of the day off. It's while walking around the city that Adam comes across a concert performance by one Mia Hall, cellist. As famous as he is, he can't sit incognito in the audience like he thought, and at the end of the performance Mia has called him backstage.
So begins their one night of seeing each other again after all this time and all this silence, of Adam and Mia skirting around each other and the issues that have come between them. But the old chemistry is still there, at least on Adam's side. After all, he never wanted to break up with her. And the why of it all is just eating him up inside. But it seems like Mia has moved on, and she sure seems to think he has.
Structured much the same way as its predecessor, If I Stay, taking place mostly over a 24-hour-period (though it goes longer than that) and alternating with flashbacks that tie in to what's happening in the present, Where She Went is told from Adam's perspective, and it comes with his tone: one of sheer angst, fiercely repressed emotion, and molten anger. He's barely functioning, his love for the music has withered and died under the assault of fame and other people's expectations, and he can't handle the lack of privacy no matter how hard he tries. And now he's facing sixty-seven days on the road with the band, who are barely speaking to him and who stay at a different hotel from him, and he feels ready to crack.
...the tour is sixty-seven nights. Sixty-seven. I repeat it in my head like a mantra, except it does the opposite of what a mantra's supposed to do. It makes me want to grab fistfuls of my hair and yank. And how do I tell Aldous, how do I tell any of them, that the music, the adrenaline, the love, all the things that mitigate how hard this has become, all of that's gone? All that's left is this vortex. And I'm right on the edge of it. My entire body is shaking. I'm losing it. A day might be just twenty-four hours but sometimes getting through just one seems as impossible as scaling Everest. [pp.26-7]
This book is tight with Adam's feelings, constrained and silent to everyone around him but flowing over on the inside, where we can hear him. His first meeting with Mia after three years of silence, with his Why question burning inside him, is so tense and confused it's almost painful to bear witness. Because, after everything that they went through, we too are burning to know: Why? What happened, from Mia's side of things? To have dumped him with no explanation, to have just ceased communicating with him, leaving him to wonder, and despair, is something akin to emotional torture - and we feel it along with Adam.
That night, instead of sleeping, instead of reading, I paced my room for four hours. As I walked back and forth, pushing permanent indentations into the tread of my parents' cheap shag carpeting, I felt something febrile growing inside of me. It felt alive and inevitable, the way a puke with a nasty hangover sometimes is. I felt it itching its way through my body, begging for release, until it finally came tearing out of me with such force that first I punched my wall, and then, when that didn't hurt enough, my window. The shards of glass sliced into my knuckles with a satisfying ache followed by the cold blast of a February night. The shock seemed to wake something slumbering deep within me. Because that was the night I picked up my guitar for the first time in a year. [p.66]
For much of the book, I felt what Adam felt: that Mia was being unnecessarily cruel, had been unspeakably mean in the past, but sure that, somehow, there must be a good reason for it. And there is. At least, when Mia does finally explain, it makes a lot of sense, and is tragically realistic. It wouldn't work so well if we hadn't had so many flashbacks, filling in the gaps of the past and how Mia was changed after she woke from her coma. But knowing anything at all about human nature, her feelings, and how she dealt with them - as appalling selfish and mean to him as it was - clicked.
The story is, like the first one, short. There's a lot crammed in there, and it keeps its focus tightly on Adam and Mia and the drama of their lives, but the ending still came too quickly, suddenly and soon. There are some really poignant moments, most notably the one where Adam finally cracks and asks her why she broke up with him, as well as Mia's impassioned explanation that is full of pain. If nothing else, Forman excels at capturing the raw emotions of the heart and presenting realistic, engaging characters who can't fail to feel like people you know and care deeply about.
In many ways, I preferred this story to If I Stay - while I was caught up in the sheer tragedy of If I Stay while reading it, it still only had one real outcome in terms of Mia dying or staying, so a feeling of heavy foreboding hung over it (I know that Mia staying should be cause for a sense of hope, but the fate of her family, especially her brother, and the very real sadness of not following after them, coloured it so that there was no real happy ending). Whereas, with Where She Went, there was the unexplained Why? and the uncertainty of what Mia wanted. I actually thought for a while there that she had moved on, and like Adam, I had to reconcile myself to that - and I was okay with it. It was just as realistic an option as any other. So maybe the ending we do get was a bit too "happy ever after" in comparison.
But the reason why I slightly prefer it is that there's so much more going on in this book than the first one, it's more layered, more raw in many ways. I suppose the fate of the living has more of an impact on me than that of the already deceased. That said, after having finished both of them - and for as much as I enjoyed them while reading them - afterwards I'm left with the taste of having overdosed on melodrama. If the books were longer, more drawn-out and nuanced, then it might be different. The short-coming of the 24-hour narrative structure is that it constricts a hefty, emotional, dramatic story into a tight timeframe, and forces a resolution that probably needed more time to naturally evolve. The structure definitely adds to the emotional wallop of the overall story, and the fact that time's running out for both of them (in terms of their job schedules), adds to the tension. But it runs the risk of coming across as emotionally manipulative.
Overall, a well-written, absorbing conclusion to Mia and Adam's story, and a story that makes me infinitely glad that neither I nor my husband have (or want) these kinds of public-face careers. Being in a relationship with someone in the media spotlight sounds truly awful. ...more
Juliette Ferrars is 17. She's been locked up in isolation in a mental asylum for 264 days. She hasn't spoken to anyone, let along seen anyone, for 264Juliette Ferrars is 17. She's been locked up in isolation in a mental asylum for 264 days. She hasn't spoken to anyone, let along seen anyone, for 264 days. She doesn't know what's going on outside, though she can see the strange colours of the sky from her window, and sometimes some dead leaves, but never a bird. All she has for company are a hidden diary and the memory of what she did three years ago, the accident that finally made her parents hand her over to the authorities after a lifetime of being different, a freak, a monster.
Because Juliette's touch can kill. She doesn't know why or how, but after the accident she can't pretend it doesn't exist. And because of her selfless nature, she feels that it's best to be kept away from everyone else, for their sake. But she has never known touch, never had a mother's hug, never been kissed by a boy. She's lived a life of isolation - what's one more cell but a physical manifestation of everything she's used to?
So when she suddenly gets a cellmate, it's a big, unexplained change. Not only that, but it's a boy - a boy she recognises. She went to school with Adam Kent and has been secretly in love with him for years. He never spoke to her, but he also never tormented her. She's sure he doesn't recognise her, but his presence in her cell and his probing questions are uncomfortable. When the soldiers of the Reestablishment come for her several days later, the truth becomes clear, but that's the least of Juliette's problems. A young, attractive, ruthless and sickly ambitious leader, known only as Warner, has been studying Juliette for years and is determined to mould her into a weapon, one in his control. Since Juliette's touch can kill, Warner wants to harness this skill for his own uses - for the Reestablishment.
While I was looking up this book just now I came across many reviews that spoke of the hype, that this was one of the most-hyped books of 2011. Perhaps the reason why I enjoyed it so much was that I completely missed that hype. I may have seen a cover image here and there, but not so that it registered in my consciousness. Instead, I got this book recently after seeing it on some Top Ten Tuesday lists towards the end of the year, and instead of letting it sit around on my shelf for years, I read it straight away. So, without the hype, I didn't have any expectations and in fact, based on my experiences with YA books, my expectations were pretty low. I was fully prepared to find myself reading another Wither.
A few things made me wary, to start with. Namely, the use of present tense. I don't know if anyone else has noticed it, but present tense in YA books is a current fad, and a hugely over-done one to boot. If I could, I'd like to say to writers: please don't. Present tense is not a tense to be used lightly, and it's very, very hard to use it well. It's designed to bring a sense of immediacy and unpredictability to a story, so you'd think, in theory, that it'd be perfect for the kind of science fiction currently saturating the YA market. But the truth is, past tense usually works better at achieving this, especially because, if you don't change the way you write, present tense reads like a mistake. Too many authors, like Suzanne Collins to name a big one, write in present tense the same way they, you, anyone would write in past tense. And it doesn't work that way.
Therefore, I'm usually put on alert when I encounter present tense, these days. If it takes me a hundred pages to realise the author is using present tense, that's an author who knows how to write in it. If I notice it on the first page, then it's sticking out because it doesn't work.
Another problem, and one that ties into the present tense issue, is the idea, presented at the beginning of Shatter Me, that this is Juliette's diary. First of all, no one writes a diary in present tense. People think in present tense. Also, since she often refers to writing in the little book, or hiding it, and later loses touch with it quite often, it's clear that this isn't a diary at all. But it's not clear, at first, just what exactly this is. But in that case, it's her thoughts that she's self-censoring, and once I got that, I actually really liked it. Juliette's thoughts are oft-times repetitious, but they're also very telling. The way she crosses out lines - the true, honest thoughts that she quickly represses, thoughts that are crossed out but that reveal her insecurities - build a main character who is feeling vulnerable, insecure, bewildered, lost, longing, crying out for human touch but too afraid of herself to do it. More importantly, the way those crossed-out lines start to decrease, until they finally disappear as Juliette finds her inner strength, and the strength of conviction, as well as friendship and love to reaffirm her sense of identity and the understanding that there are people who like her, and love her - that was done very well.
If some of Mafi's poetic lines were a bit much, overall I liked them and found they worked with Juliette's character. Some weren't as effective as others, but I appreciated that Mafi tried to avoid cliched expressions to find a new voice for Juliette. Lines like (pulled at random), "So many thoughts are tangling in my head I can't untie the insanity knotting itself together" work so much better than "my head is bursting with so many thoughts I feel like I'm going insane", which is dull in the extreme. But Juliette's voice won't be for everyone, especially if you can't get past the opening chapters where it's so strong because there's no action.
Once the plot picks up, though, that's where I got really involved and engrossed in the story. This is the set-up: climate change is fully unleashed and the world has changed in just a handful of years. Birds have disappeared, the sky has changed colour, weather is all over the place. Across the world, a regime called the Reestablishment is attempting to take control, ostensibly to reestablish equilibrium with the planet to restore some of its order, but naturally it takes the shape of repression and control of the human population. It is very much modelled on the Soviet Union, especially with the wealth of the land in the hands of a few while everyone else starves, and since you could say that the Soviet Union was a real-life dystopian place, so too is the world of Shatter Me, with one main distinction: in this novel, we have the fascinating premise of a world in the process of becoming dystopian. The Reestablishment has taken control in most places but their control has not yet defeated the population, or been accepted.
And that's where we come to the superhero part. By the end, when Juliette and Adam find themselves in something of a safe place, Shatter Me becomes distinctly X-Men, and since I love the X-Men, it was all win for me. I do find, with these kinds of science fiction stories, that the advanced technology is all a bit too convenient, especially considering it's not that far in our future, but I approached this novel hoping for a good story and I got something much more fun and engaging than I expected. Not a whole lot really happened in terms of plot, but I actually liked that it focused on character development and world building, which in turn made the action and conflict scenes more tense.
But Juliette's insecurities could put a lot of readers off - for me, it's was nicely balanced by a tough interior that came through in her resilience and determination and a sense of quiet pride. When Adam talks about the things he admires in her, you can see how his words bolster her sense of self until she is able to believe in herself more. I liked Adam too, he had an honourable spirit and is protective without being micromanaging: he believes in Juliette's ability to look after herself, appreciates her strong qualities, and so in turn reinforces them in her.
I didn't find Warner to be an original character - I did, after all, recently talk about the angelic-looking, power-hungry Hugh from Kate Elliott's Crown of Stars series (Warner is a younger, less clever version of Hugh) - but I did still find the character mesmerising, just like I do with Hugh. I guess I love characters who are obsessive, within the confines of a novel. ;)
Overall, I have to admire Mafi for really thinking about how she would write Shatter Me, and developing the main character through the prose. She took risks, and while I don't think present tense was the best way to go, and I don't think I could read the next book immediately after this one (too much of Juliette's voice all at once could do a Phèdre no Delaunay on me), I was deeply engrossed in the story, thoroughly enjoying the clichés as much as the original touches, and came very, very close to loving it. I also really liked that she ran with the climate change premise rather than some virus or nuclear war etc., because this is a very, very real near future for us, and fiction is the perfect avenue for exploring human nature in a given situation. This is just one version, but it was a gripping story with great potential for delving into some very real social issues and power constructs. I'm interested to see where this story goes in the next instalment. ...more
Hadley Sullivan has barely spoken to her dad since her parents separated, after he moved to England for a great job opportunity and fell in love withHadley Sullivan has barely spoken to her dad since her parents separated, after he moved to England for a great job opportunity and fell in love with another woman, Charlotte. Now he's marrying her and Hadley is one of the bridesmaids even though she's never even met Charlotte and is sure she won't like her. Her mother has had to insist she attend the wedding so it's with great reluctance and more than a little teenage stubbornness that Hadley arrives at the airport with her dress crumpled up in a suitcase. But she's four minutes late and has missed her plane. She has to wait until a later flight which will land in London after 10am the next day, leaving her with less than two hours to get to her dad's wedding at noon.
But four minutes can make all the difference in the world. Because she was four minutes late, she meets Oliver, a university student going back to England for what Hadley presumes is a wedding, too, though he never actually says. They click together quickly. Hadley finds him easy to talk to, and halfway to England it's clear that the attraction is mutual. But when she arrives at Heathrow, they're separated and she can't find him again. In the course of the day, through her dad's wedding and the personal revelations that Hadley has, she gets a second chance, not just with her relationship with her dad, but with Oliver too.
The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight takes place over the course of 24 hours, from the airport in New York to the reception at her dad's wedding, and for such a short novel it's a nice balance of busy and gentle. Here's a novel that's not crowded with plot devices, or supporting characters thrown in for added drama, or a meandering narrative. Smith knew what she wanted to write, and she stuck to it, creating a tight, well-structured narrative that neatly brings up scenes from the past when needed, and doesn't give us the entire plane trip ad nauseam.
At first it threw me a bit, because I had been expecting it to take place entirely at the airport and then on the plane - and I wasn't exactly looking forward to that, either. So I was pleasantly relieved when it moved through those sections smoothly and without lagging, and then continued on. Makes much more sense, doesn't it. Because after hearing Hadley harp on about her dad and prospective stepmother, reliving memories that show her touchy relationship with her dad, I definitely wanted to meet Charlotte and find out why Oliver was flying back to England - and why he was so tight-lipped about it.
It's not a complicated story, nor a hugely unpredictable one, but it catches a moment in time, one of those beautiful times that you'd look back on with great fondness, reliving often. I think we all have times like those in our lives. Certainly, how Adam and I met is one of those personal anecdotes that we go over now and again, marvelling at how close we came to missing each other entirely. So I could relate to Hadley and Oliver, and I loved that she followed her gut to find him again.
Oliver is a warm, sweet, genuine guy who catches your attention and holds it throughout the novel. Hadley herself is a fairly typical teenager whose personal dramas are larger-than-life and who grows up a lot in the course of 24 hours. She may be seventeen but she's brave, because it takes courage to open your heart to things that upset you, and to people who you feel have betrayed you. None of the characters are sentimental or over-drawn: there is space for the reader to glimpse things Hadley misses, and to get a sense for the characters without being told everything.
While it didn't speak to me like, say, Stephanie Perkins' books did, it is still a very endearing story about chance encounters and growing up, featuring a girl and a boy who will rank right up there with Anna and St Clair....more
It's been five months since Katharine "Kitty" Katt's fast and crazy introduction to the reality of aliens on Earth, five months of being Commander ofIt's been five months since Katharine "Kitty" Katt's fast and crazy introduction to the reality of aliens on Earth, five months of being Commander of Airborne in Centaurion Division and enjoying explosive sex with her gorgeous alien boyfriend and head of Field, Jeff Martini. Her high school reunion is coming up and both Jeff and her longtime best friend, Chuckie Reynolds, are encouraging her to go.
Then news arrives that a shuttle and its three astronauts had returned to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida under suspicious circumstances, and that they brought something alien back with them. But getting to Florida is suddenly a contentious issue, and there's pressure on the Alpha Centuari (A-C) aliens to appear more "normal", which means taking a commercial flight. From the very beginning, Kitty is clear that something's up, and it's not good. In fact, the whole Florida trip is one death-defying disaster after another, with anti-alien terrorists, bombs going off, a crazy A-C woman threatening Kitty over a man Kitty hadn't seen in ten years, and a couple of very determined alligators - not to mention a thrilling and scary high-speed car chase, a meet-the-parents Incident with a capital "I" and some very sexy tangoing on top of three marriage proposals. This is Kitty's life now, and it's time to bring out the big guns.
Fun fun FUN! I absolutely loved this, was glued to the page and reluctant to put it down. High adrenaline, heart-pounding, hair-raising exhilaration. The first book, Touched by an Alien, was lots of fun and definitely made me keen to read more, but it also suffered a bit from having to introduce A LOT of new info to Kitty and us, all crammed into two days (now I'm more familiar with the world, I'm amazed that it wasn't more messy and confusing than it was). Alien Tango builds on it, reinforces what we new, and doesn't overwhelm us with lots of new info, which means you can really dig in and enjoy the ride.
And what a ride! Again, the story takes place pretty much over just a couple of days, with a two-week interlude between the main action and the final showdown. The plot was just as all-over-the-place as the first book, if not more because here we have three distinct plots that are all interrelated: the Club 51 alien-haters, their political connection and their big Plan; the astronauts and the entity they brought back with them; and the nutjob A-C intent on hurting Kitty. There're lots of side-plots too, but I never once felt overwhelmed like I did in the first book.
Part of the fresh genius of this new favourite series of mine is Kitty herself. She brings new meaning to the adjective, "kick-arse", literally: she knows some kung-fu, races to the rescue of her new alien friends even though they're stronger and faster, and has the best brainwaves I've ever had the thrill of reading. I mean, c'mon, alligators? Brilliant. Kitty is fantastic. So often this type of heroine (predominant in urban fantasy and paranormal romance) is just plain obnoxious and infuriating, but Koch has got exactly the right recipe here for a heroine I can love and really cheer for. I don't have much in common with her, but that doesn't put me off. I really like that she doesn't do lots of introspective thinking and re-thinking like some protagonists do - she doesn't overdo it (yes, I am thinking of Sirantha Jax right now). She's just right.
I felt sorry for Jeff - Chuckie too, yes, but Jeff had established himself with me well before so I side with him. Aside from the attempts on his life and everything, he just didn't seem as relaxed and easy-going as he did in the first book. He was often angry and stressed and I really missed the Martini who could laugh with Kitty. I mean, he's still there, and when the two of them are alone together he's the Martini we all fell in love with in the first book, but when anyone else is around he's so much more tense than I remembered him being (and having started the third book already, I can say this stressed-out Martini continues - the guy really needs a holiday).
I felt bad for Chuckie too, but honestly, his fault for not making a move sooner. This is one love triangle (Christopher's interest isn't really a problem anymore) that is quite fun, and doesn't feel at all contrived. There's a big fat clue at the beginning of the story as to who Chuckie is these days, so the whole book I was just waiting for that meeting - at the reunion - when the three would be brought together. Didn't happen at all like I expected/predicted, which was great. It was better!
With a wonderful supporting cast of aliens and humans alike - yes, including Martini's mother - this is a world I'm quickly falling in love with. It's detailed, intensely fleshed out, and exciting. Alongside all the excitement and people trying to kill them are some really sweet moments and some pertinent questions around race and xenophobia.
Overall, Alien Tango takes all that made Touched by an Alien great and amplifies it, and isn't bogged down by the things that made the latter sometimes slow and confusing. Alien Tango has as many comic moments to fill you with glee as it has thrills, chills and steaming sex. In a word: AWESOME!...more
Six months after accepting sexy alien Jeff Martini's marriage proposal, Kitty and the other Alpha-Centauris (A-C's) learn that a beacon has been triggSix months after accepting sexy alien Jeff Martini's marriage proposal, Kitty and the other Alpha-Centauris (A-C's) learn that a beacon has been triggered, alerting the A-C home world of the impending marriage. Why should it matter? Unknown to Jeff and his cousin, Christopher, they are the last direct male heirs to the ruling monarch on Alpha Centauri. That's right, Kitty's marrying royalty, and it looks like the home world is sending a delegation to discover whether Kitty is worthy.
Only, naturally, it's not that simple. Multiple plans are afoot, and because of the impending invasion, the A-C division has been taken over by the CIA: namely, Kitty's best friend, Chuckie Reynolds. Throw in fanatic assassins, an inter-galactic plot, a visit to Alpha-Centauri and a lavish weddings and you've got a typical weekend in the life of Kitty Katt.
The majority of this book was true to form: fast-paced, high adrenalin, complex and multi-layered, with engaging characters, serious fight scenes, and some very cool new aliens. Kitty finally faces her love for Chuckie and deals with her guilt, and Jeff is dealing with his jealousy problem. But I still missed the lighter-hearted Martini - I guess, as you get to know someone, it stands to reason you're going to see the less fun side of them too, but it's more the public scenes where Martini always seems so angry and hostile. He doesn't get much opportunity to show his smarts either, when he's around Kitty and Chuckie. This mostly upsets me because I like Jeff A LOT, much more than Chuckie who is so smug and high-handed. (Oh, and why don't the Dazzlers find Chuckie appealing? He should be exactly their type, right? Hope we find out!)
I wasn't so keen on the long wedding preparations, which took a chunk of the book at the end; it's wonderful for on-going character development but wasn't very interesting to me. I'm not a big fan of weddings, and it just highlighted to me the unrealistic side of this series, which I've been doing such a great job of ignoring until now. Like, how similar the Alpha Centauri customs are to western Anglo customs. I get the psychology behind making the aliens familiar rather than, well, "alien", but it's still a bit of a cop-out. Also, Kitty's supposed to be a feminist - there's always the comment about her reading the Feminist Manifesto - and yet before the wedding she says, I must stop calling Jeff "Martini" because now I'm going to be a Martini too! (I forgot to mark the page so I couldn't find the exact quote, I'm paraphrasing here.) It was one little sentence but it threw me for a loop. I wouldn't have expected Kitty to just automatically change her name. It wasn't even a topic for discussion. Kitty's an educated, intelligent, independent woman with a great role-model for a mother. It didn't gel.
But overall, Alien in the Family was fun, exciting, gripping and intense. Kitty is still lots of fun, and the world of aliens and master-plots continues to grow. If the plot seems full of holes and too confusing at times, stick with it: the questions do get asked and it does all make sense eventually, as Kitty and Jeff figure things out. Oh, and there is a serious mention of God in this volume, but such is the nature of the story and the scene's context, that it didn't bother me much or feel too tacky. ...more
In the wake of their parents' death in a car accident, teenage sisters Georgia and Kate move to Paris to live with their paternal grandparents. They eIn the wake of their parents' death in a car accident, teenage sisters Georgia and Kate move to Paris to live with their paternal grandparents. They each have their own ways of grieving: Georgia, the attractive, social older sister, goes out almost every night, clubbing and making friends, though Kate hears her sobbing at night sometimes. Kate, on the other hand, is a quieter, bookish type, and holes up in her room, unwilling to go out. Finally her sister convinces her to at least go to a cafe and read, if read is all she wants to do. It's there, at the cafe Kate goes to almost every day to read on the patio, that she sees the boys for the first time - in particular, one dark-haired gorgeous boy and his two friends.
After seeing him the first time at the cafe, Kate next sees him while she and Georgia are taking a midnight walk along the river - he's on the bridge, trying to talk a girl out of jumping. Underneath the bridge, they hear a fight - with swords. One of the other men Kate's seen the mystery boy with comes to lead them away. She finally meets him - Vincent - properly at the Picasso museum, and a flirtatious friendship begins. But Kate is aware that something is a bit off with Vincent and his friends, right from the beginning - or from the moment she watched him dive off a bridge to save a girl's life while his friends battled unseen foes. When she follows him and one of the others, Jules, into the Metro after overhearing a confusing conversation, she witnesses something unbelievable and shocking: a man jumps onto the tracks in front of the train, and Jules jumps down too, pushes him out of the way and takes the hit.
Kate can't understand why Vincent is so calm about it and doesn't seem upset that his friend just died. Unable to comprehend it, she severs the friendship. But while researching the Paris riots of 1968 she comes across a death notice for Vincent, and his friend Ambrose - the names were different, but the photos were exact matches, give a change of hairstyle. They were firefighters, the obituaries said, who died saving people from a building fire. But it's when she sees Jules, alive and well though denying knowing her, that Kate realises the only way she'll be able to make sense of any of this is to go to Vincent, and get answers.
Vincent and his friends - Jules, Ambrose, twins Charlotte and Charles, an older man called Gaspard and an old man called Jean-Baptiste, the leader of the group - live in one of Paris' private palaces, one of Jean-Baptiste's many properties throughout France. Convincing Jean-Baptiste to let her in to write Vincent a letter, since he's unavailable, she finds herself alone and in the position to do some snooping. Nothing could have prepared her for the sight of Vincent on his bed, dead. Only, he's not dead. He's something else, something more. A Revenant. He dies for other people. They all do, this group of mostly young people, and they have dangerous enemies too.
Kate's just lived through the experience of her parents dying, way too young. Can she continue beings friends - no, more than friends, something deeper and more lasting, with Vincent, only to watch him die again and again? What is the cost to herself, and can she pay it? Can she love him enough to stay with him?
I am feeling a bit mixed about this book; since finishing it last week, the things I liked about it have faded away almost completely. It is well written, I loved the Paris setting, and I liked the new paranormal element: the revenants, which is a very interesting concept and nicely played out. It is lacking some of the more frustrating, common elements of YA paranormal romance, though it does still have a bit of "insta-love" as others have called: instantly falling in love with one look at the beautiful boy across the way. Still, Kate kept a level head, didn't do anything too silly, and overall was a pretty decent teenage role model. Though she still put Vincent on a pedestal.
Right about now, you've probably spotted where I'm going with this. Die For Me is, for better or worse, the Twilight anti-novel. Or the anti-Twilight novel. I had the strong sense that Plum had taken all the things that annoyed her - or rather, all the things that readers hated about the Twilight series, from Edward's stalker and over-protective behaviour to Bella's apparent uselessness - and rewritten them. It bears a lot of similarities, not just because it follows a format common to the genre. Vincent is a patient, understanding young man who backs off when Kate demands space, and who (mostly) stays away when she breaks up with him. He's still god-like, to Kate's eyes anyway, and he's still immortal. His friends could easily be stand-ins for the Cullens: Ambrose, the big muscular black guy with the goofy sense of humour, is Emmett. Charlotte with her pixie haircut is Alice. I suppose Jules and Charles are the two sides of Jacob: Jules is always half-jokingly hitting on Kate and Charles is full of angst and anger. You've got tongue-tied poet Gaspard and J-B as the parent figures. None of this is important, of course, it's just something that really stood out to me.
Not to mention all the in-jokes. There're plenty of references to vampires and the fact that Vincent's not one, and other comments that seem to make fun of Twilight, like Vincent reassuring Kate he's not stalking her. None of this bothered me - I loved the Twilight series but I don't take it seriously. It's hard not to see comparison in books that follow, and that have so much in common. It's just that, with Plum's novel, I got the distinct impression that it was all deliberate, which gave it a tone of self-consciousness - and, even, smug superiority - that I hate finding in books. Possibly my only point in mentioning this is that, if you hated Twilight, you'll probably love Die For Me. (Then again, if you loved Twilight, you'll probably enjoy this, since it is paranormal romance and follows much the same structure and formula.)
Where I struggled with Die For Me was in regards to structure and timing, a lack of real chemistry between Kate and Vincent - this tends to happen when you remove the intensity typical of paranormal romance and let plot and world-building take over the story - and a heroine whom I found, at times, to be a bit wishy-washy and lacklustre.
There's a lot of new information to be doled out in this first volume, and some of it came just too late to appease my feelings of frustration and confusion. Vincent is very forth-coming about who and what he is, but in the interests of not over-loading Kate, the text and readers all at once, it's spread out. The problem was, I didn't fully understand what had happened early on in the novel until near the end, when I finally got the pieces I needed to have a clear picture. By then, I was a bit irritated at not knowing. I can't help but feel frustrated when the main character doesn't ask what, to me, seem like the most obvious questions. I find it very distracting, though not enough to ruin a book on its own.
Kate and Vincent were very likeable, but - dare I say it - too goody-goody-two-shoes for me. Everyone has flaws, weaknesses, or moments of weakness. Quirks of character. Things that make us interesting, unique, in small ways or big ones. I found Kate to be very ordinary, and a replica of the classic book-loving, always-reading, quietly-passionate but surprisingly-obtuse heroine common to YA. Sure I can identify with a girl who loves to read. But when that's the only thing that really distinguishes her character, I tend to lose interest pretty quickly. What kept me reading was wanting to find out what the deal was with Vincent and his friends, in detail. And I love a good romance. Keeping in mind that I'm not really Plum's intended, juvenile audience, but an adult who's read some pretty, a-hem, risque stuff over the years, the romance was disappointingly bland for me. That's not to say I don't enjoy quieter, slow-burning love stories - I do, they're probably my favourite kind. But I need some intensity, a tangible sense of tension, a back-and-forth play of wills maybe, or just straight-out sincerity. I'm not effusive with my emotions in real life, but I love living vicariously - and feeling it - through books. I didn't feel it with this one. I didn't really feel much at all.
The things that I enjoyed and the things that disappointed me are balancing each other in my reaction to this book, leaving me feeling like I'm on the fence. There were parts I really enjoyed, and other parts that were way too obvious. Like Lucien, it was blatantly obvious what the deal was with him as soon as we meet him. And I found myself feeling almost indignant that Kate is praised for not running away "like anyone else would have done" at the end, when in fact that was the first thing she did try to do! Was that forgotten in the final edit? And why did she attempt to flee, leaving Vincent's body completely vulnerable? In that moment, she seemed like a fraud. At least admit to a moment of human weakness, I'd respect her for it more.
I failed to make a real emotional connection with the main characters, and that meant that the story couldn't really hold me. I only felt moderately interested in the evolving plot, which was very simple and quite uneventful. Usually, the romance side of things provides ample entertainment in the place of an action-packed plot, but that wasn't the case here. I'm not sure that I completely liked Vincent - I'm not sure I completely trust him, even though there's no reason not to; and I found Kate pretty lacklustre at best. All my criticisms aside, I did find the writing to be solid and smooth, and I have respect for that. Especially considering I don't find very many YA novels to be all that well written. Where the writing faltered was in constructing plot, main characters and romance. You'd think, in that case, that the writing wasn't any good at all, but I have to be fair and say that my negatives on this one are mostly subjective. A different personality type will probably find that there is plenty of chemistry between Vincent and Kate, etc., and I want to allow for that.
Will I read the next book? I don't feel any particular urge to do so. I'm not terribly interested in where the story goes from here, because without a great romance, or an exciting plot, or characters that felt real and interesting to me, I have no motivation to invest more time in the story. ...more
Ellery Sharpe writes high-brow book reviews for Vanity Place magazine in New York, but her witty, contemptuous review of the memoir of romance publishEllery Sharpe writes high-brow book reviews for Vanity Place magazine in New York, but her witty, contemptuous review of the memoir of romance publisher Bettina Moore has her boss, Buhl Martin Black, seeing red. He's just started an affair with Bettina, so for punishment, and to appease Bettina, Black gives her a new assignment: write an ode to romance. It's a suitable punishment: Ellery thinks romance novels are drivel and not worthy of serious consideration; but also, unknown to Black and almost everyone else in her life, Ellery is a top contender for a new publisher job, and an article that takes romance novels seriously will ruin her chances.
To top it off, Black has assigned her ex-boyfriend Axel Mackenzie as her photographer. Axel still has a thing for Ellery though they broke up in Pittsburg five years before. But Black offers Axel more money if he can get Ellery to write the article he wants, and Axel has a dream of buying his friend's microbrewery. So he gets Ellery three romance novels and plans their itinerary: a trip to Pittsburgh to the real Monkey Bar, where Bettina Moore's big selling paranormal romance novel, Vamp is set; then on to London to meet a romance reader's group and interview a couple of university professors on the topic.
Along the way, Ellery and Axel do little to fend off their mutual attraction, fuelled perhaps, on Ellery's side, by the romance novels she's now reading. The journey doesn't just enlighten Ellery to a side of being human that she never really considered before, or show the merits of romance novels, but forces her to confront the reasons why she broke up with Axel, and what she really wants in life.
This book is really an ode to Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, which Cready acknowledges as the book that inspired her love of romance novels. So one of the three books Axel gives Ellery is Kiltlander, starring Jemmie Forster and Cara, and throughout A Novel Seduction are snippets of Outlander and, for the third book, Cready used one of her own: Flirting with Forever. I wasn't sure whether Vamp was representative of one book or paranormal romance in general. Essentially, this is a book romance lovers will really appreciate, and Cready did a good job of explaining why we love romance, and the value to be found in it, with her usual humour and intelligence. I love the discussion Ellery has towards the end with a German sociologist at Edinburgh University, Dr Albrecht, which may be obvious but is still fun and satisfying to read:
"So you think [romance books] are literature?" Ellery said, grabbing a stray carrot. "I suppose if vun vuz going to eliminate them from the hallowed world of literature, it would be for their overused plot drivers; the central conceit of characters overcoming impossible odds to fall in love; and happy endings--" "Exactly." "--in which case you'd have to eliminate Chaucer, Jane Austen, Dorothy Sayers, and half of Charles Dickens as vell." "But wait," Ellery said, thrown for a loop, "what about the sex?" "You're right. Toss out Shakespeare, Toni Morrison and Philip Roth too." "But--" "The characteristics you identify vith good literature - unadorned, complex prose, dark themes, moral ambiguity - are constructs of the twentieth century. And," she added with a sly smile in Ellery's direction, "very male-driven." [p.250]
I loved how realistic Ellery was, and also how I could identify with her reluctant appreciation of romance novels - because it reminded me of me, and I'm sure a lot of women will identify with her if they, too, always dismissed romance novels, found one they loved, and then struggled to reconcile their intellect with their enjoyment. Some genre fiction are more "acceptable" than others - notably, the ones men enjoy like science fiction and mystery/crime - while the others, we have to constantly defend our liking for.
Ellery's well-paced introduction to romance novels, her resistance to taking them seriously, how she ran and hid in the loo to feverishly read a bit of Kiltlander, is reminiscent of those stories, movies especially, where the heroine learns to let her hair down - figuratively and literally (it's a common and effective device in films for the uptight heroine to start off with a very controlled hairdo, and by the end of the film her hair is wild and free and relaxed and so is she). It wasn't until Ellery heard her own old arguments against romance echoed back at her by the publisher she's hoping to work for that she realises how wrong she'd been, and how much her thoughts have changed.
And then there's the corresponding romance - or re-ignition of - with Axel. We get chapters from both Ellery and Axel's perspectives, interspersed with short chapters from a few minor characters, and Axel was another wonderful, realistic, fun character. He also grows during the story, and he has none of the annoying tics of many romance heroes - he's fresh, real, and very sexy. He felt like a good mate, since Ellery had dibs. Flawed, honest, and easy-going, he's not a rehash of Cready's previous heroes but a man in his own right. There could be nothing worse than a romance novel extolling the virtues of romance novels that is itself poorly written and full of clichés: A Novel Seduction is extremely well-written, an ode to romance novels that maintains a high degree of freshness through its engaging characters and a plot that moves.
This is an intelligent, fun and funny romance novel for the intelligent, fun woman who enjoys her romance and isn't afraid of it. It's also the romance novel for those of you who've yet to try a romance novel because you're sure they're just bodice-busting drivel full of historical inaccuracies, impossible sexual positions, weak character development and tired plots. Yes, this is like reading a romantic comedy, but it's a really good romantic comedy.
And it really makes me want to re-read Outlander!...more
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 VicIt'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.
As far as contemporary YA romance goes, you absolutely can't top Stephanie Perkins. And I don't say that lightly, especially considering how disappoinAs far as contemporary YA romance goes, you absolutely can't top Stephanie Perkins. And I don't say that lightly, especially considering how disappointed I've been with YA fiction over the last couple of years. Perkins writes with humour, clarity and consciousness, bringing to life wonderful heroines and turning their simple, everyday lives into deeply engrossing fiction.
Lola - short for Dolores - has been in love with Cricket Bell since she was five and he was six and he built her an elevator for her doll house. Now, she is deeply upset when her old neighbours, the Bell family, move back in after two years away. She's had two years to get over Cricket after their last disastrous parting, and now she has a boyfriend, rock musician Max, even if he's twenty-two and her parents disapprove of him. She's working on a full-scale, elaborate Marie Antoinette dress for the winter ball that she plans on wearing with platform combat boots, and life couldn't be better - if only her dads would ease up on Max.
Now the Bell twins - the beautiful figure skating queen Calliope and the tall, lanky inventor Cricket - are back and suddenly Cricket is everywhere she goes, looking at her with eyes that yearn. And this time, he makes it clear that he's interested in her. But Lola is sure she's in love with Max, that she's moved on emotionally - if only being with Cricket weren't so easy she'd be able to believe the lies she tells herself, that she's not still in love with the boy next door.
The only time I found myself comparing this to Perkins' debut, Anna and the French Kiss, was to note that it didn't have the witty banter of Anna, but this was hardly a point against it. It still has humour and a lightness, a freshness to the narrative that doesn't downplay the weightier issues touched upon. Lola and Cricket aren't Anna and St Clair, and you wouldn't be able to confuse them. I actually really liked that Anna and St Clair have minor roles in this story - they both work at the cinema where Lola has a part-time job, and St Clair lives in the same dormitory at the same university as Cricket; it helped me put aside their story and focus on Lola's, but it was also sweet to see them so strong together still.
Lola is a wonderful character, very much her own person. I loved that she is a designer, making her own clothes and always wearing "costumes", a different look every day, right down to the wig. She expresses her creativity and her talent, and when Max accuses her of being fake, that she's a different person every time he sees her and he doesn't know who she is, it's Cricket who understands that her outward expression is exactly who she is, and appreciate her for it. We all wear uniforms when we put clothes on, usually unconsciously - clothes that tell people how to read us, both our position in society (class) and something of our personality. Clothing is also armour, a shield to protect ourselves and take comfort in. Lola understands it well, and I loved the descriptions of her flamboyant outfits. She felt so real to me that I reacted to events in her life as if I knew her in real life.
It took me a bit longer to warm up to Cricket, only because Lola doesn't give us enough to go on at first - as she's the one narrating her story (in present tense, yes, one of my pet peeves, but it works here - at the very least, it's not distracting or awkward), when she first sees Cricket again it's not in a complimentary way, not the way Anna described St Clair. It's only as Lola lets Cricket be friends with her again that she starts letting slip the things about him that she admires and, yes, loves.
The story is real on multiple levels, not least how it handles the relationship between Lola and Max, that felt - not familiar, as I never had a relationship like that, but they were around me as many of my peers, as teens, went out with much older guys. It was rather icky, it's true, when you think of it from the men's perspective - it's not the number of years between them but the difference in their place in life. Being a high school student and a minor is so very different to being in your twenties, living independently etc. that you have to wonder what they have in common. To Max's credit, he didn't approach Lola because she was sixteen (at the time), and she did lie to him about her age. But when I see sixteen year olds around, they look so young that I have to wonder if I really believe Max. Anyway, her relationship with him, going back to his flat and losing her virginity, was pretty much exactly what I remember from those years, of the girls I knew anyway. (I'm not joking, I was a pretty boring teen.)
Then there are Lola's parents, Nathan and Andy, who, since they live in San Francisco, are nothing out of the ordinary in terms of same-sex parents. It's always refreshing to have a book present homosexuality as something normal, not even an issue but just the way it is (like Wildthorn, which I read before this). Considering that in America, only two - TWO! - states have legalised same-sex marriages and common-law unions, fiction is well-placed to help normalise homosexuality and homosexual relationships. Besides, Nathan and Andy are lovely, and being gay doesn't stop them from being pretty typical parents!
But this review wouldn't be complete without discussing the romance as well. Lola and Cricket are a couple you'll definitely cheer for, and I developed a real soft spot for Cricket. Perkins writes the romance side of things with a light hand, relying on well-placed descriptions of the way Cricket looks at Lola to convey almost everything that boy feels, and it makes you warm and gooey inside. She writes healthy teen relationships, not sudden loves based on lovely hair (if that's one of your Twilight gripes), and the boys are worth loving.
It doesn't matter whether you read this book first or Anna or the next one Perkins writes, you'll love these stories for the great characters, the wonderful writing, the sweet romance, the relevant teen issues deftly touched upon - there's no melodrama here, only a true-to-life story of a girl in love with the boy next door....more
After the tragic accident that killed her mother, Erin Blackwell has lived on her grandmother's multi-million dollar racehorse farm in Kentucky. WhileAfter the tragic accident that killed her mother, Erin Blackwell has lived on her grandmother's multi-million dollar racehorse farm in Kentucky. While her grandmother has always insisted Erin do a business degree in order to take over the family business, Erin decides instead to pursue her desire to write with an arts degree in New York City. In retaliation, her grandmother makes the stableboy, Hunter Allen, heir to the farm and bestows upon him the means to do the business degree. Meanwhile, Erin is living the life of a poor student, supplementing her scholarship with meagre wages from cafes.
Since Hunter is at the same university as Erin, she knew their paths would cross at some point, but she never expected to have him transfer into her creative writing class - on the very day the students are reading her short story, a historical romance where a socialite develops a clandestine relationship with the stable boy. Fearful that Hunter will reveal that he is Erin's stableboy, thus losing her a coveted internship at a publishing house, Erin must talk to him. But even with his promise not to tell, it's clear from his short story that he has a message for her. As their stories go back and forth, and Erin finds herself in his company more and more, it's clear that there's something going on with Hunter that has nothing to do with her grandmother's racehorse farm.
I enjoyed Echols' previous two drama novels, Going Too Far and Forget You immensely, so when this came out I instantly got a copy. That was last year. Since the novel opens with Erin's first short story, "Almost a Lady", it failed to pull me in and after a page I put it aside. I did that a few more times before finally committing myself to reading it. Unfortunately, that initial impression held true for the rest of the book.
I wanted to like this so much more than I did. It was about university-aged kids, for a start, and I've always felt that the university years get strangely ignored in fiction in general. It was about writing, which I could completely relate to - though I realised I know little about the American university system, because all Erin's references to being in the "honors program" made me think at first that she was a fourth year student. And I thought that the premise and structure of Love Story had immense promise and potential - combined with horses, and I thought it was going to be a book I'd love. Sadly, not the case at all.
Ultimately, the word that comes to mind in describing this book is "mess". Love Story was a more complicated plot than the other two, though it really didn't need to be - the plot was loose, unravelling, messy, confusing and quite frankly didn't seem to know what was going on. I felt the same way. Between trying to figure out what the big deal was with Erin's grandmother and the horse farm, and what kind of prior relationship she'd had with Hunter before university, if any, and what all the back and forth was all about. I honestly couldn't understand what was going on, now, because I didn't know what had happened - if anything - before. That didn't have to be a problem, but the way Erin narrates, the cryptic comments and weird impressions and all her subtext readings were like red herrings. I spent most of the novel waiting: waiting to understand, waiting for Erin to actually have a concrete thought, something.
If you look at it another way, though, Erin is a perfect example of the unreliable narrator, whose perspective is skewed by her own personality and her own interpretations of things. Added to this is her mostly negative impressions of Hunter which unsuccessfully hide the fact that she's practically obsessed with him.
In turn, Hunter is something of an enigma for most of the book, but the true Hunter comes through despite Erin's red herrings - though his comments about her playing at being a poor girl, while there's a reason for them, made him come across as a real arsehole. Actually, a lot of Hunter's scenes make him look like an arse, though by the end of the book I was more sympathetic towards him than I was Erin (which says a lot about how annoying Erin became), because the reader is able to see past Erin's misinterpretations and hang-ups to the real boy, and since we don't get his internal monologuing, he get to see what he's going through rather than just being told. In fact, we're not told a whole lot in regards to him - nothing much trustworthy, anyway.
And the whole horse farm thing, and Erin's yearning for a father who was a lazy bum who physically assaulted her mother on numerous occasions when they lived with him in California, most of that didn't make sense to me. Yes so she has daddy issues, but with her memories of him hitting her mum, and being the indirect cause of the accident that killed her, why does she still wish he would come for her? Don't answer that, I know, he's the only parent she's got, she's lonely, and who doesn't want to be loved by their parents? It makes sense when I think about it, but it doesn't make sense the way it's presented in the story. Likewise the horse farm thing - I couldn't tell, and still can't, whether she's actually upset that her grandmother disinherited her, pissed off that Hunter "stole" it (she refers to it that way many times, and yet it rings hollow), etc. She loves horses and riding and has a natural gift for the races (or, rather, a lot of experience), but her motivations and reasoning just didn't gel with other parts of her character to the extent that I couldn't understand what she actually wanted.
Some of the debates in Erin's creative writing class could have been really good; they certainly started out that way. Since Erin's first story was an out-and-out romance, and the first person to critique it was a boy who dismissed it as trash not worthy of the course, there was a real opening for some interesting debate. Likewise with the other stories that are included here. But their conversations were disappointing, or not included at all, and often disintegrated into immature jokes. I know, it's first year uni, and more realistic than what I was hoping for, but it was just one more thing to be disappointed by. I found that most of the issues brought up in this novel were skirted in the same kind of way, leaving me with little to grasp.
The ending was abrupt, especially considering how many misunderstandings between Erin and Hunter it follows, and nothing was really resolved. I found myself very surprised that Echols' editor didn't advise further revisions to make this a tighter, better fleshed out, more smoothly coherent story. ...more
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-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-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....more
When Anna Oliphant's father, a popular author of maudlin soap fiction, tells her that he's enrolled her in a boarding school in Paris for her final yeWhen Anna Oliphant's father, a popular author of maudlin soap fiction, tells her that he's enrolled her in a boarding school in Paris for her final year of high school, she's not at all pleased. She likes living in Atlanta with her mum, hanging out with her best friend Bridgette and working at the local cinema with cutey-boy Toph, who she was hoping was going to be her next boyfriend. Now she's been completely uprooted, one of a hundred kids at the School of America in a country where she doesn't speak the language and is intimidated by the natives.
But when she makes friends with her neighbour, Meredith, and Meredith's friends Étienne St Clair, Josh and Rashmi, she finds that their lively company quashes her homesickness. And Anna is quickly drawn to St Clair in particular - he may be no taller than she is, but he's very attractive, has a great sense of humour and loads of charisma - and a British accent, even if he claims to be American. Anna and St Clair hit it off from the beginning, and even though she still has hopes for a relationship with Toph and St Clair has a girlfriend, Anna has to acknowledge that she has much deeper feelings for St Clair than mere friendship.
But how does St Clair feel about her? His easy-going manner and good cheer hide a fear of being alone and problems with his own father, a controlling man who keeps both St Clair and his mother tightly under his thumb. It's a year of friendship, love and tears, and the kind of life lessons you can only learn when you're living on your own in another country.
I loved this book. It was funny, warm, believable, endearing and, yes, very very sweet. I fell into the story quickly and lived in Anna's world; it felt like I was living it. It was so realistic without becoming dull and depressing because of it. I've spent a mere two weeks in Paris, staying with my sister Tara when she lived there, so I could definitely picture it - and totally empathise with Anna's feelings: I too was intimidated and while "thank you" and "please" were the first words I learned when I moved to Japan, I was too scared of saying it wrong in French to even open my mouth, relying totally on my sister's fluency. Anna's fear of being hated for wearing white sneakers (as, apparently, all Americans do when overseas) made me laugh.
The sense of humour prevalent in the novel is one of the things that made it work - there's fantastic banter between Anna and St Clair, as well as Anna's thoughts, to entertain. But it's also the characters, and the simplicity of the plot, that ensure Anna and the French Kiss's success. The story follows a full school year, and is about as eventful as a school year tends to be: that is, not very. But that just made me appreciate it even more: if you have really strong characters and excellent dialogue and lots of chemistry, you don't need a mystery-abduction-love triangle-threat to your life-ridiculous plot to keep a romance going. On the contrary, I love (and search fruitlessly for) romances that are entirely character-driven, as this one is. I don't want a silly mystery, or an abduction of the heroine, or some other weird plot-line. Just give me wonderful characters who I fall in love with, an engaging narrative voice, and a slowly evolving depth of feeling - that's what real romance is!
I loved too the little digs at Twilight: when Anna first sees St Clair, she has to mention his beautiful hair - in fact, she uses those words and gets quite excited by it, and she mentions his hair several times. It may be unintentional, but it instantly made me think of how Bella was always going on about Edward's hair. ;) It also, indirectly, acts as a counter to that story by depicting a realistic, healthy relationship that began as a very strong friendship (I loved Twilight, but I read it as a fantasy).
There was also what I read to be a dig at authors like Nicholas Sparks - at least, when I read the description of the self-indulgent, melodramatic, depressing books Anna's father writes, Sparks is the author who instantly came to mind. I haven't read any of his books, but the previews of his movies look thoroughly self-indulgent and maudlin (which is why I can't bring myself to try one of his books). I did see the first, oh, thirty minutes of Nights at Rodanthe and nearly tore my eyes out. So it's fair to say that I saw eye-to-eye with Anna about a lot of things - and Perkins too no doubt, who is a librarian by day and interspersed the story with references to several books I loved, like Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress.
The side-plot regarding St Clair's parents could easily have slipped the novel too far into soap opera drama, but it never came to the forefront or dominated the story for it to cheapen it.
I can see this becoming a comfort read quite easily. It's a quick read, being light in tone, smoothly written and loads of fun; with one book, Perkins re-established my love and appreciation for Young Adult novels, which has suffered such a beating over the last couple of years with so many badly written, trite stories out there, quickly published in order to grab the tail end of a fad. Anna and the French Kiss was a breath of fresh air to this jaded reader. ...more
London Lane lives an unusual life. Every day she wakes up with no memory of what has gone before - but she can remember things if they are in her futuLondon Lane lives an unusual life. Every day she wakes up with no memory of what has gone before - but she can remember things if they are in her future. She sees the future as flashes of memory, sometimes clear, other times hazy, just like the way we remember our past. She's been like this since she was a little girl and doesn't remember it any other way. Now she lives with her mum - her dad they don't speak of - and every night she writes down the important things: what to expect the following day (like a test coming up, or an altercation to expect), and what's been happening already. Only her mum and her best friend, Jamie Connor, know about her affliction and help her navigate her life, day by day.
When she meets Luke, a new arrival at school, she doesn't remember him. She searches her memories of the future and comes up blank, so despite her instant attraction to him she omits him from her daily diary, assuming she'd never see him again. But not only does London continue to "meet" Luke, their friendship grows into romance. And yet she still cannot see him in her memories of the future. Every day it is like meeting him for the first time.
At home, clues left her by herself the previous days lead her to uncover an envelope of photos from her mother's desk, photos that clearly point out the lies her mother's been telling her about her father. And not long after Luke came into her life, she starts having a recurring dream, a frightening memory of the future - of her mother, at a grave at a cemetery, along with other people she mostly doesn't recognise. What does it mean? And is it really a memory of what's to come, or the only memory she's ever had of her past?
The concept of being able to remember the future rather than the past is, when you think about it, quite terrifying. Not only does London wake up a bit lost each day, and has to be on constant alert to fudge her way through conversations and meetings with people (just think how often we refer, in conversation, to some random thing in the past and expect the other person to have the same memory?), but she only "remembers" something as long as it's in her future. She only remembers her mother because her mum is in her future - once her mum is dead she'll cease to remember her. That's her future. Or in her own words:
It's obvious that the mourners today triggered this particular memory. But knowing why doesn't soften the blow of the harsh underlying reality. I remember forwards. I remember forwards, and forget backwards. My memories, bad, boring, or good, haven't happened yet. So, like it or not - and like it I don't - I will remember standing in the fresh-cut grass with the black-clad figures surrounded by stone until I do it for real. I will remember the funeral until it happens - until someone dies. And after that, it will be forgotten. [p.30]
There must also be a great weight of responsibility, and of constantly having to watch what you say and not reveal things that you can't possibly know - how easy it would be to slip up, or want to actively help someone. Her friend Jamie had made her promise never to divulge anything about her own future, and this is an added burden on London, especially when she knows what's coming in Jamie's life. Add to all that her ability to completely wipe something from her future by not writing it down - as she does with Luke, thinking that he's not in her future so why bother mentioning him in her notes? It would take work and effort and determination to keep writing things down and reading over them - on the one hand, you'd want to do that to make sense of your world and be less confused, but on the other hand it'd be so easy to "forget" something to ease your stress or your conscience later. After all, we censor and change our memories of the past all the time, just less deliberately.
It's becomes clear fairly quickly that something caused this to happen in London's head - and her mother has taken her to see doctors in the past. Now they just live with it. But there is mystery to this story, and it is a mystery that is gently teased out and explored. It wasn't entirely unpredictable - the truth of her memory of the funeral was pretty easy to figure out - and while I had my theories of what trauma had occurred to do this to London, I wasn't all that far off.
Mild Spoilers Patrick created a unique character in London, who has an alien memory and thus a different perspective on life. At times it feels like your own head is getting turned inside-out, but you're in good hands. Probably the only plot point that wasn't clearly explained was regarding Luke's death - she averted it so that it won't happen, but you could almost read the implied thought that she still thought it would, which was confusing. The other plot point that puzzled me was London's plan to avert Jamie from her path of self-destruction (which she can remember happening) - it didn't seem any different from what she remembered happening, and yet Jamie came out of it unscathed. I just needed a bit more detail and explanation to understand what was going on there, for the ambiguity and mystery London sometimes speaks with got a bit frustrating. /Spoilers
Luke is absolutely lovely, and really makes the story. London is a great narrator and protagonist, but Luke adds zest and romance and really brings the whole novel to life. And he keeps such a positive face on it all, especially considering the girl he loves never remembers who he is - that'd be a major stress on anyone else. (It did, for a moment, make me think of that silly Adam Sandler movie Fifty First Dates, but thankfully not for long!)
Forgotten is a short, fast read and one that you'll want to read in one go if you can - it helps with remembering, ironically enough. It's a sweet, tragic story about a family coping with something utterly terrible and terrifying and its repercussions, and its a poignant love story. A superb debut novel from an author definitely worth keeping an eye on....more