It's 2195 and the world is a very different place. Climate change has driven the surviving human population to the land on the equator, and in New Vic...moreIt's 2195 and the world is a very different place. Climate change has driven the surviving human population to the land on the equator, and in New Victoria - where Mexico used to be - society has reverted to old social mores of politeness, proper behaviour and corsets while maintaining and increasing their technological savvy. Those who rebuffed the tech left New Victoria for southern lands, becoming "Punks" who utilise steam-driven power. Fights on the border persist, and the New Victorians are sold the line that all Punks hate what they are and are the enemy.
Nora Dearly has finished not just another year at St Cyprian's School for Girls but also a year of mourning for her father, Dr Victor Dearly, who left her an orphan in the care of her Aunt Gene. Against social proprieties, Nora walks home into the high-tech underground neighbourhood of the Elysian Fields; not far from her front door she is accosted by a hooded man who claims to have known her father. A glimpse of his face is enough to send fear from her, and the cops help her home. A couple of nights later, though, her home is broken into by a host of skeletal men with missing bits of flesh intent on kidnapping her.
Rescued by a secret army of "good" zombies led by Captain Abraham "Bram" Griswold, Nora discovers that the Punks aren't the real threat after all. The highly contagious infection causing people to die within six hours and then reanimate, sometimes with their sanity intact but often without, is a danger to both sides of the border. Nora and her new undead friends are fighting not just rabid zombies but also prejudice against the "sane" undead.
I found that summary ridiculously hard to write without giving too much away; with a book that covers Romance, Science Fiction and Horror, where do you even start? How about we look at them separately.
On the Romance front, this is a sweet and also bitter-sweet love story between a mortal girl, Nora, and a zombie boy, Bram. Bram is one of the sane ones: his mind - and emotions - are intact and in that respect he's the same person he was when alive. Their blossoming feelings for each other provide a nice human story to balance the tech and horror aspects; it's also a story of looking beyond the surface issues and overcoming prejudice, a cross-class, culture and, in a way, race love story. Bram was definitely my favourite character, though Nora's best friend Pamela Roe had her moments of stealing the story. More on Nora and Bram later.
The novel is clearly Science Fiction in premise and setting - and no, I would not call this dystopian. It's past time we stopped calling every YA Science Fiction novel "dystopian" just because it sounds better. I found the futuristic premise intriguing - a new ice age drives everyone south to the equator (or north, I guess, depending on where you started); the North Americans who fled south decide to establish a society based on the Victorian era - but with high-tech digital technology. A bit of a weird mix, but okay. I like original. The Punks, on the other hand, have the same Victorian ideals but with the steam-driven technology; we get very little of the Punks however, so the steampunk aspect was minimal. It also presents a very interesting scenario, having "sane" zombies: some people reanimate with everything intact except for their slowly disintegrating bodies. It makes me wonder: is such a life worse than death?
And thirdly, on the Horror front, we have some pretty tense action scenes that move fast. When the zombies break into the Dearly home and Nora races for her father's gun cabinet, that was pretty thrilling. Later, when the infection is let loose in the city, there is a general sense of fear and chaos and confusion - Pamela's neighbours, the Delgados, are particularly sad and tragic. Then there's the more high-octane run-for-your-life dash through the city, with zombies hot on your heels.
So that should hopefully give you a sense of how this book weaves together the different elements, which it does do well - to a degree. I felt that, while strong attempts were made to flesh out the setting and solidify the life of a young woman in New Victoria - the expectations, the social calls and chaperones - I still found it difficult to picture this world, both geographically and visually, in my imagination. It wasn't described in any great depth, from the houses to the climate, the terrain to the people - I just couldn't picture it. I was often confused over where they were and the distances between places - Bolivia is mentioned several times, and a mix of sea and air voyages, but where the army bases were in relation to anything else I don't know. I was also confused over how New Victoria was established, in terms of a flood of (predominantly) white English-speaking people into land already occupied. Certainly Victorianism and Colonialism go hand-in-hand together, but this wasn't present, making the set-up for this city less believable. I'm the kind of reader who really needs to get a sense of place and time as a solid foundation for the story, and here I felt it was lacking. It was too light on descriptions, tending towards a story made up of dialogue, action and a bit of thinking.
Which brings me to the characters. While Nora is undoubtedly the common thread that brings the different narrators together, she is not the only person who narrates. Bram, Pam, Nora's father Victor Dearly and Captain Woolf, living leader of the zombie army, all take turns to narrate. This threw me a bit at first but it worked well, narratively and structurally. However (yeah you're starting to expect these "buts" aren't you?), their individual voices weren't distinguishable from each other - and I'm not looking for obvious quirks or anything here, but when you got Pam, Nora and Bram in a scene together, I often forgot who was "I" in the chapter and floundered, and I sometimes hated leaving a scene for a whole new one and a new character, which interrupted the flow for me. To be fair, though, a lot of readers will probably find that the chapters and changing perspectives move smoothly one to the other and work for better flow and pacing. We all read differently.
And the pacing was good: steady, fairly fast, didn't linger overmuch on "boring bits". It was easy to get caught up in the action, and the interactions between Bram and Nora are really quite lovely and endearing. I've no idea where their relationship could possibly go, and while I could believe that Nora could fall for a zombie - he really is a wonderful character - I still found it hard to believe that a living person could find a dead person attractive, physically. I've never before found myself blanching at a kissing scene until I read this.
One thing that the story touches on throughout that I really appreciated was an ethical and "racial" debate regarding the sane undead's place in society. We get Woolf's unabashed prejudice from the beginning, which gets us thinking and juxtaposes Bram's obviously intact humanity; by the time we get to the end where the idea of the living and the undead co-existing becomes a real issue, Dearly, Departed is touching on some real social issues and leaving it open to further exploration.
There's definitely lots to enjoy here, especially if you take it less seriously than I did, and the series has great potential. But for such a long book, I was disappointed at the lack if setting, and I found it rushed at times - especially the epilogue, which rather ruined things. It's just that, at the end of it I found myself wondering where that word count had gone. What made up this story, really? Bottom line is: I'm not hugely fond of Habel's writing style, and while she has some fantastic ideas I wish they'd been better fleshed out. Still, if you want a new take on the zombie story (and let's face it, they're long overdue for one - zombies are pretty dull creatures, being mindless!), this could be just the thing.
My thanks to the Random House and NetGalley for a copy of this book.
There was a time when I had real enthusiasm for these books; now, I can barely summon the energy to write a review of one of them. That's the problem...moreThere was a time when I had real enthusiasm for these books; now, I can barely summon the energy to write a review of one of them. That's the problem with genre fiction. The first few that you read are great, and then you read a few more and the formula starts to smack you on the head. Which ones you love just depends on which ones you read first. This is especially true of Fantasy fiction, but even more so for YA Paranormal Romance. If I was a graph nerd, I could show you on a daggy graph how my enthusiasm has petered out the more of these I read, each one getting less and less, the excuses I make for them getting fainter and fainter, the gaps between reading them longer and longer.
But I also want to be fair, and give a new author a go. You never know, do you, what the next book you'll love will be. And I DO enjoy some good ol' paranormal romance, I truly do. I'm just becoming disillusioned with the whole - not genre, but formula. Even when authors try new things, it still feels like the same formula to me. I don't even mind the formula, if the characters are strong enough and have enough chemistry to carry it. If I care. It seems like such a small thing to ask for.
This one was purely a whim purchase; that, and I'd left my book at work and needed something to read on the subway home, so I stopped in at the bookshop to get one. And thought, why not? Let's try another one. Are you familiar with the formula? No? It's quite straight-forward: New girl/boy in school with a mysterious past and a Big Dangerous Secret that's oh so obvious from the beginning (is either a vampire, a werewolf or has some other supernatural power). Romance and sexual tension between Protagonist (often with some tragedy in their past) and Newbie begins suddenly but hits snags of Hesitation, Mystery, Poor Manners, Miscommunication, Rivalry and whatever else you can throw in. Toss in some third party that's out for blood and there you have it: yet another Young Adult Paranormal Romance.
Yes, I know, you can hear my jaded cynicism (yes even my cynicism has become jaded); like I said, I don't really have the energy to dust it with sugar. It's not that the formula is particularly bad, even if it is repetitious and tiring; worse than that, it feels like all these new YA authors are reading each other's books and learning bad habits from them. They all feel like they're written by the same author. The style is the same. The characters are the same, or could be.
The story in 13 to Life is much the same as all the others. Jess is the Protagonist With Some Tragedy in her Past: her mother died in a car accident a year ago. She lives with her father and younger sister, Annabelle Lee, on their property outside the small railway town of Junction, where Jess has taken over her mother's horse stud. She's moderately smart and works on the school newspaper, and has been spending a lot of time researching reports of mysterious wolf prints in a neighbouring town (I mention this specifically because I will come back to it).
She's assigned to show a new boy around the school. Pietr is an instant hit with all the girls in their classes, but Jess has eyes only for popular Derek who plays on the football team. But having Pietr around constantly, sparks begin to fly. For some reason that wasn't clear, Jess pretended not to be interested. Her best friend Sarah latches onto him instead, and because Jess has made it her mission to help Sarah ever since Sarah was in an accident and "changed", Jess tells Pietr to go out with her. That's essentially the plot for most of the book.
(As I'm writing this, it sounds stupid and ludicrous and all my nagging problems with the story are only becoming stronger. It doesn't help to learn that Delany originally wrote it as a "cell phone serial"!)
I honestly don't know how to summarise this book to make it sound like it has a plot, or a plot that isn't entirely predictable, or just not ridiculous. Pietr's a werewolf, and it's blatantly clear to us from the beginning - but for some reason Jess, who narrates, can't see it. Even when he tells her. She's very good at not seeing, at not thinking.
You know what else she was good at? Manipulating people. I sort of liked her (although she seems to have been written as the antithesis of the Bella Swan character who comes across as passive and sweet to many people), but I really hate people who try to fix other people's lives, who make projects out of other people because they want to help them. I know people like that - you probably do too - and they're bossy, patronising, emotionally manipulative, superior and repressive. I can't stand people who "only mean well" - it's no excuse! In fact, people who "only mean well" often do more damage than good, because they're really doing it for themselves.
Well, Jess was one of those. Sarah was her pet project, and I don't know what was scarier: Jess or the truth about Sarah.
I'm holding back that "truth" because I don't want to spoil everything (other reviewers have spilled the beans, if you really want to find out), but it does bring me back to the mysterious wolf prints I mentioned earlier. What was Jess's interest in the crazy wolf stories anyway? I mean, originally. What was she looking for? She seemed to be following a very specific train of thought, but it never materialised. And when or how did Pietr know about this? Maybe I just missed that detail ... It was all rather disjointed. The story read fine at the time, but trying to think of it as a coherent whole after having finished it just doesn't seem possible. There are way too many plot holes and inconsistencies in this book. There are too many things that aren't explained - not things that are deliberately not explained because it's Heavy and Deep and part of the Big Plot; but things that are minor yet necessary to the overall forward momentum of the plot. Like the "mysterious" wolf prints. It begins by the author wanting to set up a bit of mystery, not give too much away all at once. It ends by them forgetting to clarify things, and if there's enough of these little holes, the whole plot starts to look moth-eaten before we've even reached the Big Reveal (i.e., the climax).
I won't list them. I didn't take notes while I read. But I did notice them. The story rushed on, heedless, and littered along the way. I don't know why Pietr fell for Jess, what he saw in her, or what "triggered" it. Just, all of a sudden, he became interested in her. I didn't find Jess's attraction for him convincing either, and I didn't get why she kept stringing Pietr along and being such a cow (another sign of her manipulative behaviour: you only realise she's a cow later, upon reflection). There were lots of things that didn't really make sense to me. I don't get (and maybe am not meant to) what the title refers to (except for some comments towards the werewolves' life spans). That annoys me, because it's the title AND the title of the series. So it is rather important.
There is some good humour here though. Amy, Jess's other best friend, is the "wise cracking" character; I couldn't help but wish that she were the protagonist, though: she was the only person to tell Jess that what she was doing to Sarah was wrong, and many other bits of wisdom, and I lost respect for Jess the more she stubbornly held onto old decisions that no longer applied. It became hard to feel sympathy for her - which is a big problem. I did like Pietr though. He was sometimes a bit wooden, and I don't know what he saw in Jess, or why he would go out with Sarah at all - and then be snogging Jess in the barn! (Yeah Delany skimmed over those scenes!)
And then we came to the climax, and it got really ridiculous. I won't tell you what it is because that would spoil the fun - seriously, you'll laugh. You're not meant to laugh, but it's hilarious. (I'm dying to make a snarky remark, but I'll refrain.)
For all the above, Delany's 13 to Life is not the worst in the genre that I've read. It's got lots to offer those new to the genre, and I can see where the author tried to do new things. It can still be a fun read, but what kept me reading to the end was that I was waiting for something to happen. It might have been better if Delany had gone the way of Twilight and built up the relationship between the two main characters earlier, instead of the Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side route whereby the main characters seem to hate each other until the very end (why is that fun?). Instead I kept reading and wondering when Jess would finally find out that Pietr is a werewolf, and when it did happen it was quite the let-down. If I'm going to read a cheesy book, I'd like some cheese please! Overall, it just wasn't very satisfying.(less)
At the start of her last year at high school in rural Pennsylvania, seventeen year old Jessica is spooked at the bus stop by the appearance of a myste...moreAt the start of her last year at high school in rural Pennsylvania, seventeen year old Jessica is spooked at the bus stop by the appearance of a mysterious young man who won't stop staring at her - and she could swear she heard him say her birth name, Antanasia, a relic from having been born in Romania before being adopted by her American parents.
When she gets to school, he's there in her English Lit class, an exchange student from Romania called Lucius Veldescu, domineering the teacher and, again, watching her. It's when he turns up for dinner at her parents farm that things get really freaky - especially when he claims he's a vampire prince and she's a vampire princess and his betrothed, that they must marry to fulfil the pact so that war doesn't break out between their clans ... and her parents pull out a musty old scroll to prove it.
Determined to think Lucius is crazy as well as charming, arrogant, attractive and, yes, dangerous, Jessica refuses to let him have his way even if he does seem to have her parents on his side. Until he's nearly killed by a horse and then starts dating cheerleeder-blonde-bitch extraordinaire, Faith Crosse, Jessica thought she could get rid of him and be happy settling for "nice" and simple Jake; now the pact is being threatened by Lucius himself, who no longer seems to want her, just as she discovers how much she wants to be a part of his world.
It's a fairly obvious thing to point out that this book is aimed at all the teen Twilight fans out there. Let's cover this so we can move past it. Both books: a) are debut novels b) are romances between teenage girls and teenage vampires c) have vampires who are, at times, mean to the girls who love them d) have vampires who are very charming, sexy and fascinating e) draw the teenage heroines into their world and put their lives at risk
There may be a few more comparisons but what does it matter, really? Fact is, when we like something we always want more of it. That's why so many of us are fat. Problem is, you can't help comparing Lindt chocolate to fake Hershey chocolate - likewise, you'll end up comparing this book with its highly successful predecessor.
But I'd like to talk about this book for its own sake, if I can. Lapses may happen but I'll try.
First up: plot. The premise is fairly straight-forward: Jessica and Lucius' parents made a pact by betrothing their only children to each other at birth, before being killed by mobs of scared, angry Romanian peasants. Nearly two decades of peace amongst vampires later, Jessica and Lucius must marry after her 18th birthday to seal the pact and prevent war from returning - after all, the vampires are a vicious, blood-thirsty lot, going by the scars Lucius sports from being educated by his uncle, Vasile.
I can buy that. Hell, why not? If you're going to suspend disbelief to get all excited about vampires, you may as well go the whole hog. There are a few quirks on the vampire myth - sunlight is no problem, they can eat regular human food as well, female vampires must be bitten by a male vampire to become a fully-fledged vampire, otherwise that side of their nature remains dormant - hence why Jessica had no idea what she was. The structure is fairly formulaic and predictable for a romance, right up to the cataclysmic moment when either character realises they're in love.
Next, the characters. Jessica narrates and does a passable job. She's a surprisingly bland character who never seems to laugh. In fact, Lucius comments on that and I admit I hadn't even noticed until he did, and then it irked me. I wanted her to lighten up. She wasn't terribly well-developed, nor very inspiring as a role-model. She's a good girl, a "mathlete" and a show jumper who has few aspirations. She's only interesting because she's got a vampire stalker.
Speaking of Lucius, he's the only really interesting character here. His character grows, develops, shifts, rebels, reverts - goes through all the phases of adolescence in just a few months, all thanks to the American influence. In the beginning he's insufferable but alluring, charming but arrogant, pompous but clever. We learn how he thinks through his letters to his uncle, which reveal his incredibly dry, quirky sense of humour that had me laughing out loud more than once. He undergoes so much change that it's a bit dizzying, though, and makes it harder to believe that Jessica could fall in love with him in a short period of time, especially knowing so little about him, as a person, because she refused to get to know him. Not quite sure what he saw in her, either.
As for the prose, well, it's decent, moves at a fast pace, is mostly dialogue, and has some suspense. Also pokes fun at environmentally-concerned people who grow their own organic food - though considering they're her parents, it's not surprising. Some of things the characters say weren't "correct", and there was that fault common to fantasy books of characters guiding their horses with their knees. I've gone into that before so I won't bother with that again.
For a first novel it's not bad - a fun, light read that quite often pokes fun at the whole deal - but not gripping or emotionally intense either. The title alludes to a flippant kind of novel - and Lucius is certainly flippant - but it's also surprisingly serious, which makes the title seem misleading. Not sure what else you could call the book though.(less)
Ever since Isabelle Novak's sister Angela was brutally murdered by a demon called to Earth by the warlocks, she's been out for revenge. When she could...moreEver since Isabelle Novak's sister Angela was brutally murdered by a demon called to Earth by the warlocks, she's been out for revenge. When she couldn't track the demon she turned her attention to the leader of the Duskoff Cabal, Stefan. Stefan is a powerful fire witch-turned-warlock, but Isabelle is a very strong water witch with a plan and the need to avenge her sister - the one person she cared about in the world - driving her on.
Her plan had just come to fruition, too, when the leader of the Coven shows up. Thomas Monahan, an earth witch, isn't blinded by personal revenge and knows they need Stefan alive. With Stefan now in the Coven's prison, Thomas and Isabelle turn their attention to the demon who's killing more witches. Things get even more personal, however, when the attraction between Isabelle and Thomas leads from mind-blowing sex to something more long-lasting and deeper - something Isabelle, with her long history of independence and fear, yearns for.
But the demon has his own plan, and Isabelle is an important piece in it. He needs to kill witches of a certain power and at certain times in order to open a doorway between the human realm and the daaeman one: and Isabelle is on his list. His ultimatum seals her fate: go willingly with him to die when it's time, or have another witch sacrificed in her place - and don't tell Thomas, or he'll die first. It's no choice, really, and Isabelle knows it. They're one hope is to destroy the demon first, but how do you destroy something so much more powerful than any earthly witch?
This sequel to Witch Fire was very enjoyable for several reasons. It adds depth to the world of witches and warlocks, revealing their history and how they came to be. It created a very sweet romance that took the time to build the chemistry between Isabelle and Thomas. And it didn't feature one of those annoying hero's who must prove how strong he is by resisting his feelings for the heroine, because love is such a weakening emotion and oh she'll be hurt! I am so sick of those men, who are nothing but cowards really, and rather boring and repetitive - but they've popped up way too many times in romance books. Honestly I don't think they're worth the time the heroines give them. Thomas wasn't like that at all, and it was refreshing.
Isabelle was tough and sarcastic but not too much so, and she had a wealth of vulnerability and paranoia that made her character make sense. We've all known someone who's hidden their insecurities and fears behind an aggressive or bitingly witty demeanour. The nice thing about Isabelle was that she didn't go the way of those annoying heroes either - she wanted what Thomas could give her but her own demise was ticking closer. Every Romance needs an obstacle, and this was a pretty effective one.
The book is short, which I also appreciated - the plot wouldn't have been able to hold up anything longer - and the ending gave it fresh life and new beginnings. The demon doesn't make sense, but then he is alien and doesn't understand them, so in a weird way it makes sense. He was an interesting character, actually - a homesick demon: I could sympathise with that. (less)
The troubles on Fair Isle between the Ghebite invaders and the rebels, led by the T'En Reothe, continue to disrupt any chance of peace on the island e...moreThe troubles on Fair Isle between the Ghebite invaders and the rebels, led by the T'En Reothe, continue to disrupt any chance of peace on the island even now that Imoshen has stripped him of his powers. Worse, Tulkhan's brother, the Ghebite leader, has become the new enemy and Tulkhan must turn traitor and fight against him to save the land he has come to think of as home.
The last book in the series, Desperate Alliances focuses on the clash of cultures and the sacrifices for peace that must be made. Even without his powers, Reothe is still a threat to the fragile stability that Tulkhan and Imoshen have worked hard for - politics is at the forefront, but there's still room made for romance and the mystery - or secrecy - surrounding their child, Ashmyr, and what will happen to him when the spirits Imoshen called upon to save his life come to claim their side of the deal. This subplot is never satisfactorily resolved and remains a mystery by the end of the book, which is disappointing.
Where the second book was dark and full of mistrust, the third has firmer footing and more hope, though the differences between the races can never be fully overcome. As an exploration and critique of our own squabbles - for land, for rights and freedoms, for superiority - this trilogy presents an engrossing look into a somewhat exaggerated - in the best possible sense - situation that echoes our own problems with racism, religious intolerance, classism, traditions versus an invader's culture etc.
These books have very different titles in North America, which really confused me at first. The only one I prefer is the third one, Desperate Alliances - it makes a lot more sense. I prefer the Australian covers, though. The US editions (of which this is one) are just plain tacky.
Roman Draganesti leads the largest vampire coven in America; he's also a scientific inventor who changed everything for humans and vampires alike with...moreRoman Draganesti leads the largest vampire coven in America; he's also a scientific inventor who changed everything for humans and vampires alike with his creation of synthetic blood eighteen years ago. Now the world's vampires are divided - they're either modern Vamps who drink synthetic blood from a glass, or Malcontents (who call themselves the True Ones), who believe themselves superior to humans and that it's unnatural to drink any other way than from the source: mortals.
When Roman's head of marketing, Gregori, brings one of their scientists to Roman's New York townhouse with a new idea for making drinking synthetic blood more palatable, or fun, for the Malcontents, Roman decides to test it out himself. Laszlo's invention is called VANNA: a life-size, realistic human sex toy equipped with a pulse to stimulate blood flow and special tubing to bite into. The trouble is, the doll's synthetic flesh and skin is a tough bite, and one of Roman's fangs is wrenched out of his mouth. Knowing he has to get it put back in before he falls into the dead sleep, during which his body will heal all wounds; otherwise he'll be a one-fanged vampire for the rest of his existence.
Shanna Whelan works the night shift at a 24-hour dentistry clinic. The nights are long and slow and lonely; her only interruption is usually the pizza delivery she orders every night. She has to remind herself that boring is good: since being put in the witness protection program after being the only witness to a Russian mob killing at a restaurant, she needs to lay low. Tonight everything changes, though. The Russians have found her and are coming, and then a darkly handsome man turns up - despite the door she's just locked - asking her to put a wolf's tooth in his mouth.
Roman quickly takes control of the situation, rescuing Shanna from the Russians and convincing her she needs his help - especially when he sees that a Malcontent called Ivan is involved with hunting Shanna for reward money. He takes her under his protection, but will need to do something creative to get her to help him with his tooth, since she resists mind control.
In Roman's home, Shanna learns new things about Roman: like how he has night guards who are all large Scottish men in kilts, and a harem of mostly mean women demanding to have sex with him. There's plenty that's fishy about Roman and his home, but Shanna also finds him sexy and charming, as well as a genius and a great philanthropic man. She wouldn't have a problem following her hormones on this one, if it weren't for the harem.
As the Malcontents come closer than ever to grabbing Shanna and wrecking serious havoc at the compound where synthetic blood is made, dark secrets come to light and Shanna must make a decision that she will have to live with, forever.
Several years ago I read the third book in this series, Be Still My Vampire Heart, and liked it but not enough to want to read more of the series. But I kept seeing them, with their lively covers (most are much better than this one) and funny titles, and decided to try another one, the sixth book, Secret Life of a Vampire. That one was much more fun, and wasn't saddled with much of a Malcontent sub-plot, so I happily got back into the series. I finally got around to getting the earlier books that I'd skipped over, and have lots to catch up on. I already knew a few bits of Shanna and Roman's story - I knew that she was a dentist, and I remembered there being something funny about a tooth, and about Shanna waking up next to Roman during the day and thinking he was dead. But it's always fun to get the full story.
This series is the closest vampire paranormal romance series to Lynsay Sands' Argeneau series that there is, in terms of humour and characters and general plot. But the vampires are more traditional, following the usual rules for vampires, and more diverse too. The relationship, romance side of the story is propelled forward by the drama and escalating action - in this first book, there's quite a bit of action and plotting, while the romance builds slowly and takes quite a while to become physical. As an introduction to the series, it's pretty exciting, but it wasn't as good as some of the later ones. It can take a while for an author to hit their stride, perhaps.
I like Roman a lot, and as you'd expect with a vampire who's lived a really long time, he's a pretty consistent character. Once a monk, the sins he believes he's committed weigh on him, and he thinks he has no soul - thus doubling the sins even more. I liked Shanna a great deal at the beginning, but after a while she seemed to be just like all the other paranormal romance heroines, a blend of fiesty, stubborn, argumentative, and sometimes bereft of common sense. Why must these women do stupid things in order to come across as strong and independent? Or is the aim to make them seem more human, a human in unusual circumstances. I don't know any women like this, that's for sure.
There was enough action to keep the story zipping along at a good pace, tempered by quieter, slower moments where Roman and Shanna get to know each other. Roman was a fairly serious character, but the people around him could lighten a scene. It's a good intro to the series, though certainly not the strongest book. Well worth reading for fans and newbies of the genre. (less)
Regina is still getting over her breakup with cheating Greg when her four friends, Ava, Corrine, Missy and Danice, decide it's her turn to be "fixed"...moreRegina is still getting over her breakup with cheating Greg when her four friends, Ava, Corrine, Missy and Danice, decide it's her turn to be "fixed" - the Fantasy Fix, where they make a fantasy come true for one of them. It's Reggie's turn and they won't hear no, so she writes down some nonsense fantasies like being abducted by aliens and being seduced by a vampire, but then runs out of ideas and puts down a real fantasy: being spanked, bound and dominated.
Her friends take her to the Vampire Ball where people dress up and pretend, but Reggie doesn't hang around to meet the man Ava's set up for her: she's been captivated by a dark, handsome stranger with psychic powers. They end up back at her apartment where some really sexy things go down, and he - Dmitri Vidame, born 1199 - comes to realise that she's his mate, and no one else is going to have her.
This is a short, quick book to read, entertaining and sexy and with just enough of a subplot to maintain it without crowding out the sex. Let's face it, that's what we really want, right? Well Warren delivers! There's nothing fancy about the prose, the characters aren't particularly strongly developed, but the chemistry between Misha (Dmitri) and Regina is intense enough that none of that really matters. And I liked the dig at Feehan's Carpathian books: "He needed no woman to return light and joy to his life, nor did he require love to keep him from turning evil as he aged" (p126) - it made me laugh :D I appreciated Warren taking the vampires back to the basics, and I like these books when they combine various kinds of supernatural beings like werewolves and faeries etc. There's an honesty and simplicity to this story that helps ground it in the growing relationship between two people. Definitely recommended.(less)
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 futu...moreLondon 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.(less)
The T'En are a legendary race, exiled from their homeland six centuries ago, washed-up on the shores of Fair Isle where they conquered the people and...moreThe T'En are a legendary race, exiled from their homeland six centuries ago, washed-up on the shores of Fair Isle where they conquered the people and brought culture, music, art and equality, making it an island rich in trade, wealth and culture. A race of slightly matriarchal aristocrats with silver hair, wine dark eyes and mind powers, Imoshen is the last of them - called a "Throwback" - and her relatively peaceful, complacent land has just been conquered by the invading Ghebites led by General Tulkhan. The invaders are patriarchal and somewhat cruel, but the General - a big, intelligent man - finds there's something more in his attraction to Imoshen, though her spirited mind and temper often throw him off balance.
The Ghebite Empire is young but fierce, the Ghebites having left their nomadic lifestyle behind only three generations ago. They are astoundingly masogynistic and patriarchal, so issues of gender equality play a big part in this trilogy, among other things such as discrimination, politics, rewriting history etc.
Imoshen learns that there is one other T'En Throwback still alive, however: her betrothed, Reothe, leads a band of rebels in the hills. He comes back for Imoshen but by then she has given her word to Tulkhan, and will do whatever she can to save Fair Isle and prevent further bloodshed. But Tulkhan doesn't trust her, though he does listen to her and he definitely desires her - but he can't even trust this desire, for he's heard all about the fabled powers of the T'En.
The great thing about this fantasy story is that it's not about a battle, and the lead-up to the battle - though it does end in a final, deciding battle that, thankfully, is dealt with briefly compared to some other authors - it's more about what happens after being conquered: what happens when two vastly different cultures collide and try to live together. Imoshen, though only 17, feels a great weight of responsibility for although she was an outcast in her own family for being a Throwback, she is at the same time revered. She is a clever young woman, and very strong-willed. Her motivations are clear, though I don't always understand why she doesn't speak honestly with Tulkhan when she so obviously should.
If you like fantasy with some romance going on, it's definitely worth your while to hunt down this book. It's the first in a trilogy but it took me a while to get my hands on the others. (less)
This book is so bad I got halfway through and then skimmed the rest, merely to find out if the bits at the beginning would ever make sense, and just t...moreThis book is so bad I got halfway through and then skimmed the rest, merely to find out if the bits at the beginning would ever make sense, and just to see if what I'd predicted would happen, happened. Surprise surprise, it did.
The premise is interesting enough but what book am I talking about here: An American woman called Claire goes back in time to the Scottish Highlands and falls in love with a big Scottish warrior? Yes, it does sound awfully like Outlander, doesn't it? Joyce could have at least given her a different name. The Scottish warrior in this case, Malcolm, is a Master, an immortal-ish member of an ancient brotherhood that answers to ancient Gods (older than Christendom, though bizarrely enough Malcolm says he's Catholic) and seeks to protect Innocence from Evil. Alright, fair enough, though I'm really not a fan of black and white labels like Evil.
The biggest problem with this book - apart from the plotholes, inconsistencies, amazing leaps of reasoning, conveniently forgotten details and weak, repetitious characterisation - is Claire herself. I don't think I've ever read a more annoying heroine (and having read as much paranormal romance as I have, that's saying something). She's whiny, clingy, slow, poorly defined, agonises over things even after she's come to a resolution about them, internalises everything, goes on and on in her head over the same tired old points, and I honestly don't get the attraction between her and Malcolm.
The story itself is slow and uneventful, the Evil character is laughable, and the plotholes so deep I tripped numerous times. Just note the early chapter when Claire first encounters Sibyll and Malcolm at her bookshop, and what they say when they meet her. Keep it in mind. It won't make sense later, and that's just one of the many frustrating things about this book.
The sex scenes were awful, icky, emotionally-uninvolved/detached things. I've never been so put off. But really, Claire? Talk about utter drongo. And she's supposed to have a Masters degree in medieval history!
Give this one a BIG MISS - and I'm not going to bother reading anything else by this author either. HQN's paranormal romances are more often duds than successes, it seems.(less)
I loved Echols' previous book, Going Too Far, and so I've been eagerly awaiting this next one - it's not a series, they're standalone books, but they'...moreI loved Echols' previous book, Going Too Far, and so I've been eagerly awaiting this next one - it's not a series, they're standalone books, but they're similar. I can't speak for any pre-Going Too Far books, but I haven't been tempted to read them because they have some weird tacky covers. Anyway, I wasn't disappointed - far from it, I think I loved this one even more.
On the surface, Zoey is a popular and attractive rich girl, captain of the swim team, and with everything figured out. But that's just an image, one she mechanically works hard at. In truth, her life is messed up. Her parents divorced when her father, a self-made entrepreneur, got his much younger mistress pregnant; only a few months later Zoey's mother, a lawyer who hails from a wealthy family, tries to commit suicide. Zoey finds her and gets her to the hospital, but isn't allowed to see her - and when her father turns up, he angrily tells her not to tell anyone, that her mother is going to an institution, and he even threatens the local cop to keep quiet or he'll lose his job.
He's a real charmer, is Zoey's dad. Unable to talk to anyone about it, and stuck living with her dad and his fiance in her old house, Zoey's biggest fear is that the cop's younger brother, Doug, who saw her at the hospital, will talk. Because as far as Zoey's concerned, Doug has hated her for years - and he has reason to.
So why, after having an altercation with him at the football game, she later wakes up in her car to find Doug pulling her to safety, and is held so lovingly in his arms like he really cares for her? And the next morning, why is he the one to visit her, broken leg and all, and not her boyfriend Brandon? Why can't she remember what happened leading up to the accident? Why does Doug think there's something between them now?
Since her dad has threatened to lock her up too if she shows signs of amnesia - because it would spoil his trip to Mexico for his wedding - Zoey must figure out what happened on her own, without anyone knowing she can't remember anything. The only person who seems to know what really happened is Doug, and the more time she spends with him, the more she realises how lonely and empty her life has become.
I will confess something right up: I may have fallen a bit in love with Doug. All right, quite a bit. Well, lots. How could I not? He was the perfect hero. A black sheep with a heart of gold. He's tall, built (a powerful swimmer=hot swimmer physique), is part Japanese so has lovely dark hair but bright green eyes - very striking. He's got a dark past, and it was Zoey who made sure he didn't get hired as a lifeguard at her father's water park in the summer by letting Ashley, the girl her father was having an affair with, know he'd been to juvie - she just never knew why.
There's no black-and-white when it comes to either Zoey or Doug. Zoey makes mistakes. She deludes herself; she's naive and so lonely she can't see that she never was in a relationship with Brandon to begin with - but also so pointlessly loyal. She hurts herself by trying to be what she isn't. It can be hard, watching her make mistakes, but as a teen narrator she's also extremely likeable and sympathetic - it comes down to the way she talks and thinks, her quiet approach - and it helps that we have context for liking her: anyone with a father like hers needs sympathy, especially when she's not the spoilt brat he seems to think she is.
Doug too isn't perfect. He also comes from a crappy home, and has a father who is more like an enemy. He doesn't always make the best decisions either, and even though we get only Zoey's perspective, we can see him more clearly than she does, and we can see when he should have spoken up, spoken truth, and perhaps some of the crappiness could have been ameliorated.
This isn't a plot-heavy book by any means, but it doesn't need to be: the plot is a framework against which Zoey and Doug can both work to rescue themselves (they're very similar, in many ways). It's a beautiful tale of growing up, facing yourself, facing the outcomes of decisions made. It was delicately told, perfectly paced and balanced - it's the kind of YA fiction you wish there were more of, intelligent, emotional stories with characters who might be a little beyond the realm of your own experience (seriously, I can't think of any guy I knew as a teen who was much like Doug - but I think we girls all dreamed of one!). There was less teen angst, high school drama or petty rivalry, which is always cliched, boring and, to me, unrealistic.
It's been about a week or so since I read this (in one sitting - it's quick and also hard to put down, a winning combination!) but it left a warm fuzzy feeling for quite a while. It'll be a comfort read, I'm sure. The content is mature and adult, respectful to warring teen hormones and dilemmas as well as the trials and tribulations of growing up and figuring yourself out. I guess Zoey's story reminds us that no matter how screwed up everything seems to be, you still have friends and loved ones, or new love, and there's always hope. You always have options. (less)
There's something decidedly off, combining erotic romance with a serial rapist-killer. Just putting those words in the same sentence together makes me...moreThere's something decidedly off, combining erotic romance with a serial rapist-killer. Just putting those words in the same sentence together makes me cringe. It seemed ... tasteless, to me.
It's a suspense-thriller with so-called erotic sex and it fails miserably. Nikki is a surgeon with a high-stress career and secretly wants to be dominated in bed; her search for fulfilment leads her to exchange emails with a man who likes to dominate, Richard. After a few weeks of exchanging emails that get more and more explicit, she agrees to meet him. There's something wrong though, and before anything happens she's rescued by Detective Thomas Cavanagh, who's after a serial killer who rapes and tortures women before removing their hearts.
Thomas has read all Nikki's correspondence with Richard and wants to be the man to dominate her - forced to live together for her protection at a safe house, he gets his wish but does she really mean it? And who is the Amy he talks to in his sleep, saying he loves her, that makes Nikki jealous? There's plenty of miscommunication or lack of entirely that strings out their relationship, but ultimately the juxtaposition of sexual play alongside grisly murders just turned me off. I confess I skimmed a lot of it, something I very rarely do. I've read one short story by Black and liked her style, and hoped this would be good. But I should have looked more closely into it before picking it up, because if I'd known it would have been about this I wouldn't have bothered.(less)
When she was eleven years old, Grace was taken from her swing and dragged into the woods by a pack of wolves. They bit her and toyed with her until on...moreWhen she was eleven years old, Grace was taken from her swing and dragged into the woods by a pack of wolves. They bit her and toyed with her until one, one wolf with yellow eyes who held back, stopped it and took her back to her home.
For six years, Grace has been fascinated with the wolf pack that lives in the woods behind her house - especially with one wolf, the wolf she considers hers, the one with yellow eyes that watches her back.
When a boy from school is attacked by wolves and later goes missing from the morgue, a group of men take to the woods with guns to hunt the wolves down. Grace tries to stop them but she's too late; when she gets home the yellow-eyed wolf is there, on her porch, bleeding from a gunshot wound - a naked boy, human, with yellow eyes and the smell of wolf on him. Her wolf.
His name is Sam, and if two people could love each other without having ever really met, it is Grace and Sam. But the cold brings on the transformation and Sam knows that this is the last time he'll be human, that he's had his last summer and soon he'll be a wolf, permanently. As Grace and Sam try to prolong their time together and understand why Grace never turned into a wolf, the cold closes in, wolves from his pack threaten to destroy their happiness, and the yearning and hope for a cure leads them to take the ultimate risk.
This is a beautiful book, beautiful to look at, wonderful to hold in your hands, and beautiful to read. I don't like Scholastic's paperbacks, which are cheaply put together so that the pages pucker, but this hardcover is simply lovely. The cover sets the atmosphere perfectly, and is truly shivery. I've never wrapped my head around Fahrenheit, being a Celsius girl myself, so the temperature readings at the beginning of each chapter didn't mean much to me. However, the cold, the frigid air and the threat it carried came across clearly in the prose. It was odd reading this book during a humid summer, but while reading it I did actually start to feel cold. It may have helped that the typeface was a lovely yet chilly blue.
This is a sweet, simple romance with an edge of tension, that time's-running-out kind of tension. Grace is one of the better, more realistic YA heroines I've read in a while, level-headed, mature, passionate, caring, open-minded. Her parents are neglectful and I had a problem with this because it was such an obvious plot device. So much wouldn't have happened or would have happened differently if they'd had time for their daughter or looked after her better. In fact, the whole story hinges on this, really. Yet they do love her, and I liked the non-judgemental tone of the story. This isn't a simple black-or-white tale crammed full of morals, though it does toe the line.
Sam was a little too melancholy for my taste, but he was alive to me in many other ways and I did care for him, and for him and Grace together. Considering his predicament, a little melancholy goes a long way.
Where the story faltered a bit was in the quieter moments, the days of Nothing Much Happening where you would generally focus on character growth and more subtle things. Perhaps because there was no conflict between Grace and Sam - they had no clichéd obstacles or struggles, since she was completely accepting of his wolf side (loved it in fact) - and the only problem was that he was not going to stay human for long, but it lacked ... something. Something that, for all its problems (and I hate to use this book as an example but it's one I'm confident a lot of people are familiar with), Twilight had in spades. I'm not comparing the two books, only saying that the romance here struggled to stay alive for any length of time and relied too heavily on the characters reiterating their feelings in their heads.
There are some precious moments, like in the chocolate shop, or upstairs in the bookshop, and their love for each other is believable. Should I be complaining that it came too easily? Is being a wolf for most of the year not a pretty big obstacle in itself? Do I really want to read yet another cliché? Not really, but maybe something could have been done - written - differently to add more of a spark. (Perhaps the cliché is in me wanting an element of danger - I guess I've read too many paranormal romances.)
Overall though, it's a successful novel, very real and believable and sympathetic, and Grace and Sam are honest and alive, their love true and strong - just not quite epic.(less)
Jane has just arrived in New York City to start a new life, only to lose her job before she's even started and with no where to live but a crummy hote...moreJane has just arrived in New York City to start a new life, only to lose her job before she's even started and with no where to live but a crummy hotel. So she does something she's never done before: go to a seedy bar for a strong drink.
Obviously a bad idea for a young, innocent woman, she's saved from an attempted rape by a beautiful, brooding yet charismatic man called Rhys Young. Going back to the alley later to look for her necklace, she comes across Rhys again, this time while he is being attacked ... by a vampire.
The morning after the attack, she wakes up in a lavish bed in a lavish apartment next to Rhys, who suddenly thinks he is the Viscount of Rothmere, is living in Regency London and that she is his American fiance. His younger brother, Sebastien, rescued them both and brought them to the apartment. He likes the new - or is that old? - Rhys, who laughs and talks and smiles and loves.
Sabastien convinces Jane to stay to take care of Rhys and protect him from the real world until his memory returns, though he knows that Rhys has done this to himself because he could never enjoy Jane without suppressing his vampire self.
This is a fun, entertaining, sexy romp - a little like Lynsay Sands but a bit more serious. It's a more original premise than most, and the characters are great. The prose is quick and precise, with none of those long-winded, syrupy lovey-dovey scenes that get so repetitive.
The premise behind Mona Lisa Awakening has nothing to do with Italian painting. The Monère are an alien race who (don't laugh) once lived on the moon,...moreThe premise behind Mona Lisa Awakening has nothing to do with Italian painting. The Monère are an alien race who (don't laugh) once lived on the moon, and who get their power from moonlight. Their gifts vary, from shape-shifting to mind compulsion to being invisible. They live amongst us, our world divided up into territories ruled by Queens.
Mona Lisa is an orphan, her name coming from the silver cross she was wearing as a baby when found. Now working as a nurse, though only twenty-one, she is drawn to a patient, a young man called Gryphon with a deep wound in his abdomen who recognises her for what she really is: a Monère Queen, and a Mixed Blood to boot - an unheard-of combination. The "Mona" in her name means Queen, by the way.
Gryphon draws her into his world, awakening her true power and gifts. She's a spirited woman, a great heroine, and throws the Monère's world upside-down with her uniqueness. She's hunted by those who want her gifts for themselves and feel threatened by her, and desired by many.
You won't find this book in the fantasy or the romance section*. There are some graphic scenes - and some violent ones - in this book, but no more so than in Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series. I'm trying to think of the main reason why it's not with other books of its kind, and my guess is mostly the language - less corny and sickly, more frank in its descriptions - and the violence, perhaps, though nothing too bad ever really happens. She manages to save herself in time, and protects others too, though she does have trouble keeping her clothes on (and makes a joke about it herself).
The writing style is a simple, first-person narrative, a similar style to P.C. Cast and easy to read. The cover recommends it to fans of Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake vampire-slayer books, and Anne Bishops' Black Jewels trilogy. I've read and enjoyed the latter, and there is a similarity in the matriachal-but-power-corrupted leaders, among other things. If you enjoyed those books you'll probably enjoy this one, which is the first in a trilogy (so far).
*It was moved from erotica to romance when the fourth book came out.(less)
You've just got to love the premise behind "Beauty and the Beast", don't you? Anything that shines the spotlight on our preoccupation with looks and o...moreYou've just got to love the premise behind "Beauty and the Beast", don't you? Anything that shines the spotlight on our preoccupation with looks and other superficial qualities, right? Yes, the whole "beauty is on the inside" started sounding corny long ago, and I still think that there's something off about how you see plenty of beautiful women with, ah, less than attractive men, but you don't see gorgeous men with less than attractive women, but I'm a romantic at heart and I like seeing the guy humbled in this story.
Here we have a Young Adult, modern day re-telling, and I found it great fun. Haven't seen the movie adaptation, but looking at the movie tie-in cover of my edition, they clearly didn't stick with the hairy beast description used in the book but went with something more visually interesting. I read the book in a day - it's a quick read, and easy to get drawn into.
The story is narrated by Kyle, a popular, attractive boy who lives alone with his TV news anchor dad who has taught Kyle to only care about outward appearances and how much money someone has. When he plays a baseless, mocking trick on a girl at school, Kendra, who he considers incredibly ugly, it turns out she's a witch and - more out of pity than revenge - she casts a curse on Kyle, turning him into a beast and giving him two years to make a girl fall in love with him.
What I really liked was how understandable Kyle was. Clearly a product of his upbringing, he starts out as an arrogant snob, becomes petulant and depressed when cursed (and outraged, naturally), and eventually matures into someone utterly sympathetic and likeable. His world is to all intents and purposes completely foreign to me, but I had no problem seeing through it to the terrible loneliness at its core - loneliness is one of those basic human experiences we find so easy to identify with and feel compassion for.
Also, as Kyle was forced to live a secluded life, pretty much abandoned by his father who didn't want the embarrassment of Kyle going public, he reads classics like Jane Eyre - and for the first time I noticed the parallels between that book, one of my utter favourites, and the classic fairy tale. What was Mr Rochester if not a beast of this kind? In a dark and eery castle-like abode, he is moody, gruff, forbidding, abrupt, not handsome and, probably in his own eyes at least, cursed (with a mad wife and no chance at happiness). And despite it all he makes a plain, penniless girl, far beneath his station, fall in love with him. It was a lightbulb moment that now seems so obvious, but there you go!
The heroine of the story is Lindy, a scholarship girl whose father is a drug addict and dealer. She will probably be a bit too sweet for most people but I found that she provided such a nice counter to Kyle (who renames himself Adrian), that I quite liked her. Quite possibly I liked her because Kyle/Adrian liked her so much - and that I did believe, not matter how strangely it began.
Another aspect worth mentioning is how the novel is broken into segments that begin with an online chat kind of thing, a forum for fairy tale like creatures - there's a mermaid considering trading her life for a chance to have two legs and win the heart of the man she loves; a cursed frog bemoaning his chances of ever finding a girl who'll want to kiss him; and Grizzlyguy, who I couldn't quite work out to be honest. It added to the fairy-tale theme, broadened it into something more plausible because it connected the reader with other strange goings-on, and provided a light-hearted banter as well as a taste of what was coming, and was a good way of introducing the Beast.
My rating here reflects how much fun I had reading it, with no preconceptions or expectations. It was just what I needed.(less)
Betsy has had a bad day. She gets laid off from work and then hit by a car and smashed into a tree. When she wakes up in a coffin at the funeral home,...moreBetsy has had a bad day. She gets laid off from work and then hit by a car and smashed into a tree. When she wakes up in a coffin at the funeral home, wearing a ghastly pink suit and her "stepmonsters" cheap pink heels, she thinks she's a zombie and tries to top herself. Again and again and again. It takes a six-year-old to point out to her that she's got fangs and is a vampire.
That's just the beginning of Betsy's really bad week. Her best friend Jessica takes it all in her stride, and so does her mum, but she discovers there's a power-hungry, badly-dressed vampire king who sees her as a threat and has put a price on her head - because all the usual weaknesses don't affect her: the sun doesn't burn her, crosses and holy water don't affect her, she can control her thirst and dogs just love her. She may be the prophesised queen they've been waiting millennia for, but all Betsy wants is to rescue her collection of designer shoes from her stepmonster and resist the lure of one oh-so-sexy vampire, Sinclair.
Undead and Unwed is flippant, irreverent, funny, sexy and very very annoying. That is to say, Betsy is very annoying. She's caring at heart, but her superficiality does not make her a likeable character. Her flippancy does, though. It's a tough juggle, humour and sexiness, but Davidson just manages it. I have to agree with most of the other characters, though, when they tell Betsy to SHUT UP! God she can talk!
On a completely unrelated note, you don't fill a teapot with water and put it on the stove to boil. That's a kettle. And, as far as I was aware (maybe this is a cultural thing?) a handbag is a largish bag with a long strap that can hold wallet, keys, tissues, lipstick etc., and a purse is the feminine version of a man's wallet, not the other way around. Oh, and the past tense of "tread" is "trod", NOT "treaded" - which isn't a word. (less)
Maria Martingale has found the perfect premises for her new shop and her dream of owning the best patisserie in London is finally about to come true -...moreMaria Martingale has found the perfect premises for her new shop and her dream of owning the best patisserie in London is finally about to come true - the only problem is that it's right next door to the home of Phillip Hawthorne, Marquess of Kayne. Maria, the daughter of the Hawthorne family's old chef, grew up alongside proud, snobby Phillip and his younger, happy-go-lucky brother Lawrence, but when she and Lawrence attempted to elope at seventeen, Phillip - the new head of the family at nineteen - put a stop to it and bought Maria off with a thousand pounds and a promise that she never go near Lawrence again.
Which was easy enough while he was away in America. But now, with her bakery opening and Lawrence back in England, Phillip will do anything to keep them apart and preserve the family name. But is that all there is to it, or does Phillip harbour secret desires for Maria himself, desires so intense he can't stand the thought of Maria and Lawrence together?
You don't need to have read the previous two books in this series, And Then He Kissed Her and The Wicked Ways of a Duke, but I do recommend them, simply because, for historical romance, they're very good. Guhrke's handle on the period - late 19th century - her character development and, yes, the romance, set her way above the others I've read in this genre (which, granted, aren't all that many).
Secret Desires of a Gentleman is an enjoyable retelling of Pride and Prejudice, with Lawrence a stand-in for Mr Bingley, but it's also very much its own story. It does have that wonderful First Proposal scene, with insults being hurled both ways - always so much fun! - yet it retains the qualities of the series that I enjoy so much: the tradeswomen struggling to make a living against social and class pressures and prejudices, the emerging "modern" society and classism, and good old-fashioned romance with a bit of tastefully-written sex thrown in towards the end.
It's the characters that really make Guhrke's stories so enjoyable: with some wit worthy of Georgette Heyer and realistic development as the characters work through - in this case - their secret desires, I always feel like I've actually come to know them as real people. It does help that the female protagonists are a new breed (for the period) of modern women who are trying to make their way through a man's world and its slowly changing social mores, because they're more familiar and easier to identify with.
Guhrke is one of those authors whose books I'll buy as soon as I see them, simply based on how much I enjoyed the previous ones. I don't rate them as high as I could, and I'm not sure why - for pure enjoyment's sake I could give them five stars. I haven't been disappointed yet.(less)
This review contains spoilers, but trust me, it won't make any difference.
Not so far in the future, New York is a city of underwater streets infested...moreThis review contains spoilers, but trust me, it won't make any difference.
Not so far in the future, New York is a city of underwater streets infested with the malnourished poor - called the Depths - and towering skyscrapers graced by the wealthy elite - the Aeries. The Aeries is divided between two powerful families, the Fosters and the Roses. Aria Rose, seventeen and beautiful, wakes up one day to the news that she is engaged to Thomas Foster, son of her father's rival, and that they're to be married only weeks after the upcoming mayoral election, for which Thomas' older brother Garland is running.
Everyone is rejoicing that these two feuding families have put aside their differences and joined together through Aria and Thomas' romantic love story. The only problem is, Aria can't remember anything about it. She's never met Thomas before, feels nothing for him beyond mild admiration for his good looks and buff body: he doesn't stir in her any of the feelings she always thought would come with love. But her parents told her she overdosed on Stic and it wiped her recent memory - she has never taken the drug that she can remember, but she believes them.
In her efforts to remember the past and rekindle the love she must have felt for Thomas to have gone sneaking around in the Depths with him, Aria meets Hunter, a young rebel Mystic from the Depths. The mystics are the things of legend, propaganda and scary stories. Long blamed for the Conflagration - a bombing that killed several people, including a Mystic leader, Ezra Brooks - their punishment is to be drained of their magical power twice a year. The Mystics had built the Aeries, their magic powers the city and from it is made Stic, among other things. Now, the ruling families of the Aeries drain their power from them and hoard it, leaving them weakened and vulnerable far below.
As Aria gets to know Hunter more, she learns that everything she had thought was true, is not, and the people who are meant to love and protect her, are doing the opposite. Who can she trust? What is in her wiped memories, and can she get them back? And when the time comes, which side will she choose?
This book was full of promise, with an exciting if unoriginal premise (I was reminded, for instance, of NK Jemisin's Inheritance Trilogy) - and, yes, a very pretty cover. But if fell, and it fell hard. I hadn't gone farther than the first chapter before I was frowning, mumbling to myself, grimacing, and getting increasingly frustrated and annoyed. It's such a shame, especially considering that all its problems could have been fixed through better editing and better writing. The list of issues I had with this story is long, and I'm not sure how best to get it across - but maybe a list is all I need.
1. Aria: She's stupid, naive, gullible and yeah, did I mention stupid? Oh she's nice, and kind, but so vacuous I can't understand what Hunter could possible see in her - Hunter loving Aria just gives me a low opinion of Hunter, really. For instance - and this ties into other issues that I have - she believes Elissa when the drained mystic tells her she's a double agent, and is too stupid to realise that if she was working with the rebels, she wouldn't need Aria to get a message to them, drained or not. See what I mean by gullible?
When she confronts Thomas to ask him point-blank whether he's a Stic dealer and he says whoever told her that was lying, she says, "Why would someone lie about that to me?" [p.248] (She has a similar reaction to learning the truth about mystics and the Conflagration.) See, it's not that I object to having a protagonist this naive and stupid, but that one minute she's thinking something pretty honest about, say, her father's line of work - hell, she's seen him or his bodyguards shoot people point blank but she still thinks he's a decent man??? - and then the next minute she's surprised that someone lied to her. She's a dupe, and she's a painfully slow one: even by the end of the book, I couldn't tell you that she'd grown a brain or had her eyes opened wide enough to actually make her THINK.
And try this: during her first visit to the Depths, she is assaulted and knifed by a group of poor teens until Hunter rescues her (she's often the damsel in distress); another day, she wanders around the Depths in a dress "studded with Swarvoski crystals" and "high-heeled sandals that tie around [her] ankles." [p.102] You can see that she really gets it, yeah? She learns from her mistakes, this one.
What makes it especially laughable, is when Aria says things like this: "Maybe when I get to know her better, I'll ask her more about her choices. But for now I have to remain Johnny Rose's naive daughter, so as not to raise suspicion." [p.128] Oh dear, Aria really believes she's not naive? That she's worldly enough to be manipulative? Absolutely nothing in the entire book gives evidence of this. As a narrator (in the first person), she is rendered - not unreliable, but so dumb you want to push her aside, roll up your sleeves and just sort it out while she keeps her mouth shut. Oh right, just the way her family treats her.
Speaking of, Aria has zero backbone, which makes for one incredibly lacklustre heroine. Not even being aware that she's being manipulated makes her do anything about it. And sadly, I don't think the irony was deliberate in this telling scene:
"Aria, may I have a word with you?" Before I can respond, Kiki answers, "No, Davida, you may not." I'd laugh if Kiki's tone weren't so serious. "What's your deal, Kiki?" I ask. Kiki tugs on the hem of her striped cotton day dress "I promised your father on my way in that I'd escort you to work and make sure you got there in time," she says, "and I won't disappoint him." Kiki takes one final bite of her apple, then drags me into the foyer. My purse is in my hand, and before I know it I'm out the door. "I hate how she orders you around," Kiki says, tapping her foot impatiently as we wait for the elevator. "You should get rid of her once and for all." [p.219]
Aria is one giant push-over, and while she does go through a little bit of character growth by the end of the book, she's still pretty vacuous and incredibly dumb.
2. World-building: This New York doesn't make sense, as it's described, and so it seems to contradict itself. We're told the streets are underwater, navigated by raised footpaths in some areas and motorised gondolier taxis in most places. But then Hunter's friend Turk has a motorbike, and when convenient, the streets suddenly become dry. I've never been to Manhattan, but I understand that it's pretty flat - that and it being at sea level is part of the concern regarding rising sea levels, right? So how can some parts be submerged and others not? And the subway tunnels - the water fills them, and yet doesn't. It could easily make sense if it were better explained, but it wasn't, which is typical of the entire novel.
Also, in such a changed and damaged world, there's no way that people would have the same kind of consumer goods - from food to designer bags - that they do now. It pays to study some economics and, indeed, climate change, if you're going to write a novel that uses it as a framework, a structure, because it effects everything. Food production is a big one, but the thing is this: as climate change effects people's livelihoods, they turn to crime in poorer countries without any social welfare or support, which further disrupts economics. It's not that New York couldn't still be prosperous in this world, but beyond its city limits, there's just a fog, a void, a nothing. I wouldn't mind, for the sake of a good story and great atmosphere, but we get neither of that here, so it all sounds as vacuous as Aria.
The weakest part for me was the construction of the Depths and its population. It was hard to get a clear picture of what exactly life was like for them. They're poor, right, got that. Malnourished, yes, that's mentioned several times. Dirty, that too. Down-trodden, that I can see. But they still have school, apparently. And the buildings are flooded and falling apart, but people still live in them? It needed more concrete details, really. I loved seeing where the Rebels live, in converted subway cars underground, but the mystics are only a small portion of the population, and there seemed to be yet another divide, between the poor, and the mystics. There was an emphasis on the wrongs done to the mystics, but no one cared about the non-mystic poor. It reminded me of the American war against the British, back in the day: the Americans wanted freedom from the British, but it was only ever a freedom for the white colonials, not for the slaves.
On a related note, it was bizarre but oh-so-convenient that, even though the residents of the Aeries don't ever use cash (everything is electronic, computerised), Aria just happens to have accumulated a small pile of coins over the years. Where on earth from? She's never been to the Depths before all this mess - and if she had just a small pile, wouldn't she have used them all when she was mucking about with Hunter before having her memory wiped? Maybe not, but still, the fact remains, that it seems highly unlikely that she'd have any coins.
And if you have walkways, bridges over space, as high up as the Aries (and we're never told exactly how high up that is), then it's going to be very windy up there. But there's no wind. It would normally be very cold, too, but "global warming" (an out-dated and now useless term) has brought on incredible heat, even up there.
3. Climate change: I appreciate that Lawrence has made climate change a background issue, or rather, its effects, but he doesn't seem to understand how a little thing called GRAVITY works. Cue this:
The heat, they say, is because of the global climate crisis, the melting of snow and ice around the world and the rising sea level that swallowed Antarctica and all of Oceania. Global warming is also to blame for the canals that line the Depths, filling what used to be low avenues and streets with saltwater. Soon, the scientists say, the rising waters will overtake the entire island. [pp.15-16]
Um, right, so rising seas will completely cover mountainous New Zealand and ancient Australia, among other places, but Manhattan will only have slightly submerged streets? Dear me, on what planet could that happen?!! That is not how water works, that is not how GRAVITY works. And that was only page 15. You can understand why, then, my trust in the author took a nose-dive fairly early on.
4. Poorly sketched out supporting cast: Take her father's job, for instance. You have to piece it together with scraps of information, because Aria is too flaky to just tell us what her father does for a living. For a while, it seemed like she had absolutely no idea what he did. And while all we really learn is that he is one of the people who arranges for mystics to be drained, that's clearly not the extent of his business empire (and she only learns of it during the story).
To be honest, we learn extremely little about any of the characters, despite Aria's supposed curiosity and drive to understand what's going on. For someone who is so obviously being manipulated, she seems incapable of being suspicious - of anyone. She has so little reaction, or feeling, towards people when she finds out they've betrayed her. It takes her a long, long time to say anything to her mother, for instance, and that should have felt like the biggest betrayal of all.
5. Plot inconsistencies and holes: These are rife throughout, most of them fairly small details, but it doesn't matter how apparently minor they are: each and every one jarred me. It was like the story had been edited so many times, scenes rewritten over and over, that the author lost track of what people had said or done. That's what proof readers are for, though. Little things like, Hunter's mystic-powered touch gives her a jolt, a zap, when they touch, and he apologises, and at one point Aria thinks he's making an effort to control it or something; and yet, mixed in with that thread, other times he touches her and it's just warm, like the first time on the balcony, and after he rescues her from the gang and heals her arm. So which is it? Pick one and stick to it!
Another example: Elissa tells Aria about her job monitoring the Grid, and keeping watch on the subway tunnel entrances, where the rebels are hiding. Later, Aria is following her servant, Davida, in the Depths and when they reach a subway entrance, Aria recalls that "Elissa Genevieve told me how her team was searching for a way into the underground subway tunnels to flush out the rebels. How all the entrances are blocked with mystic shields." [p.202] Except that Elissa never said anything about mystic shields. When the little things don't add up, it gets annoying very fast.
6. Cliches: I know, what book is without cliches? It's not even necessarily a bad thing. But some of the cliches in Mystic City were just so glaringly cheesy I actually noticed them. Like, the mysterious metal door which Aria tells us about when she starts working as a coffee girl at her father's company:
After I take the elevator, I walk down the hallway, passing Benedict's office and those of some of the other executives, and a stainless steel door without a keypad or a touchpad. I'm not sure what it's for, and nobody else seems to know, either. Then the hallway opens into a maze of cubicles, which is where I work." [p.123]
BA BA BOOM! It's like in a really corny movie, when the important details practically have neon signs pointing to them, y'know, in case you missed it. I wanted to clock Aria over the head. And then, maybe, the author, too.
There is a rustling outside, from the balcony. [...] I go over to the windows and open them, stepping out onto the balcony in my bare feet. No one is here. "False alarm," I say. "Too many mystics coming to visit lately. Puts me on edge, I guess." Davida climbs out behind me and scans the balcony. She points to a tiny green pill between two paving stones. "A mystic wouldn't be taking Stic." Davida holds the pill up to the light, then shoves it in her pocket. "Only someone who needed a power boost to get to this balcony in the first place. Somebody is spying on you. Or trying to, at least." [pp.244-5]
How convenient, that the voyeur just happened to leave an incriminating piece of evidence behind. And why would they have a second pill on them, when they'd just taken one? It's lazy writing.
Then, don't forget the C-list movie ultimatum:
George Foster pulls away, ad Dad motions to Stiggson. "Fine. Cuff the boy." Then he speaks directly to Hunter. "You'll lead us to one of the mystic entrances and allow us to go through. If we find out that you've warned your people of our arrival, Aria will die. If you do as we say... she'll remain unharmed." Hunter nods, as though he's actually considering this ridiculous plan. He can't be, though - can he? "And what happens to me?" "You'll die, of course. But I promise to make your end as painless as possible." "No!" I shout. "This is unacceptable, this is -" "Aria," Hunter says, "there's no point in fighting. It's the best way - the only way." "You can't honestly believe that," I say to him, as though we're the only ones in the room. We've just gotten each other back; I'm not going to lose him again. [p.356]
I was caught between wanting to roll my eyes and pulling a face to say, "Really?" Aside from the theatrics, it has to be one of the biggest cliches out there. And the whole, "you'll die, of course" bit really tipped me over the edge of wanting to laugh into outright incredulity.
Then sometimes it's just a line, a sentence, one that I've read time and time again. Like this one: "The pity washes away, leaving something else in its wake: fury." [p.377]
7. Aria's relationships with others: This is an extension of 1. above, but it annoyed me so much I felt it deserved it's own spot. I'm not sure that I can see beyond the glaring words STUPID, NAIVE and SHALLOW; I'm not sure that there's anything more to it, but it really tested my patience, having a heroine, a protagonist, who thinks like this:
How could Davida never have told me any of this? How could I not have known, never have suspected? I've lived under the same roof as the girl for practically my entire life. I feel betrayed. By Davida and by my parents, who've manipulated me to no end. [p.303]
Why didn't she tell you? Oh, I don't know, because you're a ROSE and she's a SERVANT? (and in the Aeries, you don't speak to the servants except to give them orders - they're all from the Depths, anyway.) Why should she tell you anything, you silly twit? What right do you have to feel betrayed by Davida? What does she owe you, really? Why should she trust you? Oh and this comes days after Davida confesses a part of her story, or a version of it, and Aria hugs her and tells her that from now on, they'll tell each other everything.
Which Aria of course never did, but now she's upset that Davida didn't either?
8. Present tense: I'm sick to death of present tense in YA fiction, now. Use it once, maybe it works. Use it in every second book, and it's just silly. I wouldn't mind so much if people could actually write it properly.
It can be a great affect, when done well, but you have to know when to use it and when to use past tense, which is a much more versatile, flexible and forgiving tense. I used to think past tense was a bit boring, but now I can appreciate its strengths. In contrast, present tense can have oomph but it can also be very limiting. You have to obey its rules, and one of those rules is you can't play with time. You can't really even acknowledge time, not in the many ways you can with past tense. You can't say, "Later that day..." or "eventually..." or "after a while..." That's what you'd say in past tense, but in present tense you're confined to the moment, the present.
Lawrence falls for these traps quite often, but otherwise he uses present tense pretty well. I don't think it adds very much to the story, but I can see why he'd choose to use it, given Aria's lack of memories, and to emphasise the sense of danger and tension. __________________________
There were parts of the plot that had me interested, engaged even, but with so many problems that I just couldn't overlook, I simply couldn't enjoy this story. I can be very forgiving of weak writing and other things, when I'm sucked into a story and its characters' lives, but that was far from happening for me here. Within the scope of the story, Aria did make sense as a character, but the fact that she never really wised up and did anything decisive, never really learnt anything, made me want to bang my head against a wall. Or throw the book.
And if Aria was a weak character, the plot too was weakly devised. The mystery is no mystery, not to us, not from the very beginning. Every so-called plot twist is only a surprise to Aria, not the reader, and every double-crosser practically has an arrow pointed to their head. Any true mystery, like who gave her the locket with the note that says "Remember" at her engagement party, is impossible for the reader to solve because Aria is so hopeless at putting two-and-two together. She doesn't compare handwriting, for instance. (oh god, I feel another rant about Aria's naive stupidity (less)