Vera Cole is twenty-five and still recovering from having a heart transplant, after years of suffering the debilitating effects of a disease she inher...moreVera Cole is twenty-five and still recovering from having a heart transplant, after years of suffering the debilitating effects of a disease she inherited from her father, who already died of it. It's been about a year, and while her family and others in her town are still careful around her, Vera has overcome the guilt and depression she felt after the operation that saved her life, but she still suffers from a deep-seated self-consciousness and belief that men would find her repulsive once they see the large scar that runs down the centre of her chest. But Vera is not about to sit back and let life go on without her: the budding artist and sculptor has booked her flight to Spain where she'll live with an aunt for a year and study sculpting, and with just six weeks to go before she leaves, she can't wait.
Everything she felt certain about in her life is shaken when she meets Leeson Stone, her mentor Kelly's younger brother. Kelly died a month ago, leaving her art gallery in Melbourne empty, and Leeson has been looking for Vera, hoping she will take Kelly's place to keep the gallery going. Leeson is devastatingly handsome, a young and very successful entrepreneur with a big secret he's terrified will come out and ruin everything. Because of what he's hiding, he's never had a committed relationship with a woman, but his attraction to Vera - who is clearly hiding something herself - draws him back to her again and again. Having her stay in his little-used house in Melbourne for five weeks gives him ample opportunity to see her, and as their chemistry ratchets up hotter and hotter, everything Leeson thought was certain in life becomes shaken, too.
With her time in Leeson's gallery so short, Vera must make a decision to trust Leeson with her secret and brace herself against his rejection. But can Leeson make the same leap, and trust Vera in turn? Or will he risk a long future with the woman he's fallen in love with for the sake of a childhood shame that he's never overcome?
This romance e-book from Penguin's new imprint, Destiny Romance, won me over from the first line: "How much for the TARDIS?" I'm a huge Doctor Who fan, and the humorous references scattered throughout the story made me feel like I was in the hands of a very good friend. That was just the first little nod: I quickly became enamoured of this story for many reasons, and found it very hard to put down.
Since moving to Canada in 2006, I have read so many American novels and books with an American setting, I have to say it was refreshing and endearing to read a book set in my home country. It's not that there's a great deal of referencing to the setting here - it's a romance, after all, with a focus on the characters - but everything from the way they speak, their expressions and turns of phrase, to how they react to situations etc., is different from the American romances. I felt much more comfortable, reading this, than I ever have reading a contemporary romance set in America. It's just what you're used to, right? And I wouldn't say it was drastically different, not at all - it's subtle, I think, and I only noticed it because I hardly ever get to read Australian novels these days, while American ones dominate my shelves and reading lists. I don't at all mean to imply anything negative by this, it's more an observation and a reminder of just how different English-speaking Western countries really are from each other.
That aside, the characters, the story and the romance were key elements in cementing my enjoyment of Uncovered By Love. Ash writes smoothly and articulately, wasting neither words nor time on padding of any kind, focusing her astute eye on these troubled individuals who together find the strength to face life without ducking and hiding. Romance novels always revolve around conflict of some kind - conflict and/or obstacles (sometimes one word works better than the other). Ash deftly balances Vera and Leeson's personal obstacles, their secrets and the barriers these create within themselves, as well as the conflict generated by the resulting trust issue.
I could completely sympathise - empathise even - with both Vera and Leeson, even though I've never suffered from either of their problems (I won't tell you Leeson's, don't want to give everything away!). It's a fine achievement in writing this kind of story, when you can create characters that you can relate to no matter how different they are from readers, and personal, inner conflict that has readers both sympathising with them and yet also urging them to take a leap of faith and move on. I had that with Vera and Leeson - I could completely understand why they were keeping things hidden, and why they had trust issues, but I also desperately wanted them to reach out to each other. This nice balance was achieved through the great chemistry that exists between them, and a fleshed-out sense of humanity in both their characters.
Their conversations were often full of witty banter, which I very much enjoyed, and the novel also touches on class issues and disparity of wealth. While the focus is very much on the two main characters and their personal lives, we get to see enough of their working world to get a three-dimensional picture of them, and see how their individual principles and work ethics carry out in a broader sphere. It's just enough to satisfy my curiosity, at least.
I didn't mark any pages while I was reading this because I was too caught up in the story and wanting to see how it was resolved. Which is another thing I liked: the ending wasn't a drawn-out melodrama. It is of course based on a misunderstanding, as romance novels often are, a very believable misunderstanding and both of them handle it very maturely, I felt. The resolution is likewise free of self-indulgent dramatics (if there's one thing I hate in fiction, it's self-indulgence); it's refreshingly simple and clean and quite beautiful for it. Granted, part of me wanted a longer ending, to spend more time with them, but that's just because I was enjoying it so much.
Uncovered By Love emphasises chemistry and sexual tension over graphic descriptions of sex, but where there is sex, it's nice and simple and as far as I can remember, never corny or cliched. Though there was a moment where I thought we were getting the famous scene out of Ghost, which I'm sure Ash purposely, jokingly intended. The sense of humour that balanced the darker issues inherent in the characters' secrets was nicely done. I also loved Jayden, one of Vera's twelve-year-old twin brothers, and the close bond they shared. For a minor character, he certainly made his presence felt!
This is a really lovely romance story, the kind of story that makes me want to use the cliche "heart-warming" in all sincerity. Ash's ability to write drama without being melodramatic wins major points from me, and I loved how naturally her characters grew up and matured. They felt like real people, with real problems, even if the hero was a multi-millionaire as romance heroes so often are. The fact that Leeson's success and the emphasis he placed on monetary wealth were all important facets of his character made it much more interesting and original. Highly recommended.
My thanks to the publisher via Netgalley for a copy of this book.(less)
Cora has had enough of being alone. Now that her father is dead, she has no family left, no boyfriend, and no one to spend Christmas with, and she's n...moreCora has had enough of being alone. Now that her father is dead, she has no family left, no boyfriend, and no one to spend Christmas with, and she's never felt so lonely. It's September now, and she comes to a decision: she will take matters into her own hands, meet a man, and have someone to spend Christmas with. And, hopefully, the rest of her life, too.
The night she stays up doing "research" - poring over romance books and movies - her loud music brings her downstairs neighbour, Matt, up to complain. They've never met before, but soon Matt is hearing all about "the man plan" - a safe person to talk to, since Cora quickly learns he doesn't commit and has no interest in finding a woman to love and stay with.
Their friendship takes off from there. Cora finds it easy to talk to Matt and share her ideas for meeting men, and doesn't mind when he laughs at her - like when she pretends she can't change a tyre while wearing skimpy shorts, waiting for a man to offer assistance. And Matt enjoys spending time with Cora, hanging out on the weekends, making her dinner - she's a low maintenance friend, a woman who's not trying to get into his pants. Their feelings for each other creep up unnoticed, and, they each think, unreciprocated. Worse, they both think there's no point. Cora understands that Matt could never offer her what she wants, what she needs. And Matt, an only child, still suffers from the emotional and verbal abuse of his parents, who hate each other and drag their son into their conflicts. With role models like that, he doesn't even think he's capable of having a real relationship.
It will take a leap of faith from both of them to not let this chance go, to take a risk and leap together.
Quite simply, I LOVED this book. It had everything I liked and plenty I didn't even know I liked. Maybe I don't read enough contemporary romance, but it was fresh and, while staying true to the genre, deviated from many typical cliches. Matt was no billionaire, for a start. He's a hard-working middle class man, a project manager for a construction company. His parents are middle class too, though they way they speak to each other, and to him, makes them sound incredibly vulgar and lower class. Cora, likewise, is middle class, working as an editor at a publishing house. This puts them on equal footing from the beginning. Money isn't an obstacle or a sticking point. An abundance of it doesn't give Matt a position of authority over Cora. No, they're just two adults who live in a low-rise apartment building in Port Melbourne, the kind of people that Melbourne is full of (especially in the suburbs around the bay), and this is the fun and lively story of two of them meeting.
One of the things I loved about this book was its tone. Ackers writes with a light, friendly, bantering kind of tone, setting an atmosphere that is so welcoming, warm and, why not: cuddly. The kind of story you can snuggle with, a real comfort read. It connects with your emotions without being at all melodramatic or manipulative, and is realistic and familiar in setting, plot and characters which makes it easy to simply enjoy it for its own sake. It's well grounded in the familiar, with popular culture references and a running Superman joke. There's also humour here, with light banter between Matt and Cora, and some of the characters are funny in the way they're described. Matt continuously makes fun of Cora, calling her crazy because of her man plan, and in true Aussie style, she goes along with it, giving as good as she gets.
She watched him, too surprised to comment. He dumped the pan int he sink, ran the water for a moment then helped himself to the cutlery drawer. Seconds later, he was pressing the bowl into her hands, a fork poking out of the top. She gazed down at the spaghetti bolognese. "Are we sharing?" He laughed. "No. That's just for you." "Where's yours?" "Are you kidding? I don't want to have dinner with you. You're as nuts as they come; you'd probably think it meant something and then go ahead and fall in love with me." "You're safe there," she muttered, stung yet amused. "I'd never fall in love with someone like you." "Someone like me?" "A hopeless case. What's the point of falling in love on your own?" "I couldn't agree more. And on that note, I'm out of here."
It was so much fun, watching their friendship grow, seeing Matt become increasingly jealous of the men Cora does meet, yet in such good-natured denial about his own feelings. He doesn't agonise over it, his turmoil isn't belaboured, there's just enough self-reflection to flesh him out and get the reader on the same page, without boring you. Certainly there are men out there who are like Matt without having any kind of reason for it, it's just their lifestyle of choice and I don't know, maybe they're just inherently selfish. While there are other romance books where the male lead is reluctant to commit because of his parents' example (like Jennifer Probst's The Marriage Bargain, as a recent example), but the fact that Matt's parents are just so ordinary in every other way, and whose horribleness is so believable without the artificial gloss of wealth - everyday people are much more relatable, rather than alienating, and this was, overall, one of the things I loved the most about this book.
It didn't hurt that I loved Cora and Matt. Cora is grieving over the loss of her father, but turns her loneliness into a positive plan for action, rather than wallowing. She's frank and open about it, and her motivations are believable, understandable, and make her very human.
"... I want someone for me. Just for me. Who gives a damn if they don't hear from me during the day, who calls me with their news. I want to be someone's top priority." She pressed her thumb and forefinger to her closed eyes and sighed. "I know it sounds like a lot to ask, but it's really not. I just want to be the one for someone. I want to be a part of something bigger than me." He was quiet for so long that she lifted her head and opened her eyes. "This Man Plan..." he said, trailing off. "Feminists might hate me for saying it, but I need a man. If a man loves me, he might marry me. If he marries me, we might have kids." "You want to build a family for yourself." She nodded. "Exactly. My parents met when they were toddlers. My mother once pushed mud into my dad's mouth. They went through school together and became a couple at my mum's fourteenth birthday party. They completed each other, you know? They were all either of them ever needed and they took on the world together. I want that. Even to be a fraction as happy as they were would be a dream come true."
And that is, of course, the point of romance fiction, why it's the biggest selling genre of all genres: the fantasy - if it even is a fantasy - lives strongly within us. Because very few people actually like being alone. Matt thinks he does, he likes his life, but after spending so much time with Cora - on outings and hanging out that, to anyone but those two, looks clearly like they're a couple - his life starts to feel increasingly empty without her. There was good solid chemistry between them, a slow-burning sexual tension, one that isn't satisfied until the very end - and no graphic content (if you like romance but don't like the sex scenes, you might be interested to hear that).
And finally, I loved the conversation between Will and Cora at the end, that made her take that risk, to take a chance on Matt.
"Tell me this: do you think he is incapable of love?" "No." "Then do you believe that when - yes, when he falls in love with you - that he'll do it to whatever capacity he can?" Something light and ticklish fluttered in her stomach. She pressed a hand there to stop it. "Yes." He nodded. "Isn't that enough? Isn't that all we can ask of anyone - to love us with all that they are?" Her hand found her mouth. "I'm being an idiot, aren't I?" "No, Cora. You're just taking a breath before you take the biggest chance of your life. [...] Don't do this if you're hoping to change him." She blinked up at her old friend, aghast. But then she considered this more deeply. Will waited in silence, understanding the gravity of the moment, then he smiled when he saw something new in her eyes. "He's perfect as he is." "Right answer."
Yep. I completely adored this book.
My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book via Netgalley. (less)
In Dr Chandler's Sleeping Beauty, Dr Katherine "Kitty" Cargill has come to Sydney for a three month appointment in the emergency department to give h...moreIn Dr Chandler's Sleeping Beauty, Dr Katherine "Kitty" Cargill has come to Sydney for a three month appointment in the emergency department to give herself time to recover from her fiance's betrayal with her best friend and the end of a relationship that dates back to childhood. Her first meeting with Dr Jack Chandler, the head of the department, doesn't go well and the two seem to instantly dislike each other. But they're also drawn to each other, attracted by looks and the thrill of going at each other - and they're neighbours, living in the same townhouse complex near Bondi Beach, and keep running into each other outside of work too.
But Jack's never hidden the fact that he's not interested in a relationship, preferring one-night-stands and short flings, and Kitty's still bitter and resentful about her best friend Sophie sleeping with her boyfriend, Charles - and to top it off, Sophie's asked her to be her maid of honour at their wedding. They both have personal obstacles to overcome; can they take open their eyes to see what's right in front of them before it's too late?
In Her Christmas Eve Diamond, Cassidy Rae returns to her post as the formidable dragon lady in charge of the nurses in her ward at a hospital in Glasgow after seeing her gran settled into a care home, to find three new doctors in the ward - and one of them, registrar Brad Donovan, takes it upon himself to charm the nurse into friendship. As Christmas - Cassidy's favourite time of year - nears, her relationship with Brad only strengthens, until he tells her about his little girl, a daughter he had with another doctor back in Sydney who he's been trying to find ever since the mother disappeared with her, possibly to America.
Knowing that Brad isn't going to stick around once he finds his daughter, Cassidy despairs - after all, she has no intention of leaving Scotland, no interest in living anywhere else. Can they find a middle ground, a way to stay together without compromising the things they love most in the world?
I've never read a Medical Romance before, and it not something I ever saw myself reading either. I don't remember where I came across this, possibly on an e-newsletter late last year, and at the time it appealed. I thought both stories were going to be set in Australia, which was one reason why I wanted to read it, another being a possible Christmas theme (I got this in December last year). The first story is an Australian one, while the second, even though it has an Australian character, is British.
I didn't mind the medical setting, even though some of the details - people's job titles for example - were over my head; I'm pretty well practiced at simply ignoring details I don't understand. As Mills & Boon stories, I was surprised at how little graphic content they contained - they were almost (but not quite) PG rather than MA. The sex was disappointing mostly in how it was described rather than quantity - it was quite dull. The only thing that actually stood out to me is how, in the first story, he puts on a condom before she gives him fellatio. Now, the first thing that makes me think is how disgusting that would be, as the woman, and secondly: Jesus, just how many STDs does he have that he needs a condom for a blowjob?! Let me discuss these stories separately now, as they're quite different.
Dr Chandler's Sleeping Beauty has nothing to do with the fairy tale, just in case you were wondering. If Kitty is a sleeping beauty, it metaphorical only: she needs to be woken up, to see things differently. But so too does Jake Chandler. He's your classic Mills & Boon hero: a womaniser - a slut, if you will, though I don't like to give that word any credit - and arrogant to boot. He's a doctor, not a millionaire, but he has the attitude of one. I didn't find him to be an attractive character which was part of my problem in connecting to this story - the other being Kitty herself, who didn't strike me as very bright and I couldn't see what the attraction was except for her cleavage. How am I supposed to believe people like Jack and Kitty fall in love with each other in just a few months when, rather than give me any reason to believe in it, you've gone out of your way to make them quite unloveable? I wasn't able to buy into it, it was just too forced and contrived.
Her Christmas Eve Diamond was more interesting and a bit different, and I liked Cassidy a lot more than I liked Kitty. More importantly, Brad was very likeable, very honourable, a real dear in fact. Only problem was that, funnily enough, he lost his sex appeal along the way. The two are not mutually exclusive, but there wasn't enough focus on the romance/sex side of the story, the relationship/family drama/character side took precedence instead. I normally wouldn't mind, but for as strong as Cassidy and Brad's friendship was, they lacked chemistry. I mostly just empathised with Brad losing his daughter like that - that would be so horrible, his ex sounds like a right cow, it's not like he was abusive or anything but she acts like he's a bad man. Though he's a bit of an idiot for not setting up formal custody rights at the very beginning. The romance is a bit of a side issue, the focus being more on Brad finding his daughter and Cassidy learning not to be afraid of living in other places.
Of the two, Her Christmas Eve Diamond was the one I liked more, it had atmosphere and a good sense of setting - it's winter and the hospital is freezing, and most of their patients are old people who can't afford to turn the heater on and nearly die of hypothermia - and focused on developing the characters. But neither of the stories offered the kind of emotional intensity or sexual chemistry - let alone tension - that I appreciate in romance fiction, and that made this a disappointing read.(less)
The Bite Before Christmas contains two novellas, "The Gift" by Lynsay Sands (Argeneau #15.5) and "Home for the Holidays" by Jeaniene Frost (Night Hunt...moreThe Bite Before Christmas contains two novellas, "The Gift" by Lynsay Sands (Argeneau #15.5) and "Home for the Holidays" by Jeaniene Frost (Night Huntress #6.5).
In "The Gift", Port Henry's middle aged bachelor police chief, Teddy Brunswick, gladly accepts Margeurite Argeneau's offer of her cottage in Muskoka to avoid being alone and pitied on Christmas. But the morning after he arrives, he wakes up to find that a storm has taken out the power, his truck is completely snowed in (even the door handle is frozen), and a fallen tree has blocked the road. He has no food and his mobile phone needs recharging - all he has is a fireplace and some heat.
When he treks out to the road to survey the damage, he encounters a lovely young woman called Katricia, who is also alone and borrowing the neighbouring cottage which belongs to friends of hers (Mortimer and Sam, from The Rogue Hunter). She has loads of food but no heat, so they decide to pool resources. Tricia brings over the food, something she didn't think she'd need since she hasn't been interested in eating for centuries - but now that she's met her life mate, Teddy, it's one of the things that's returned to her.
Like all her kind, she'd despaired of ever meeting her life mate, and now here he is - and they're confined to a cottage on a lake for a few days. It seems the perfect situation to Tricia, but Teddy is fifty and thinks he's way too old for her, and that his attraction to her is a little creepy. But he knows about her kind, coming from Port Henry where immortals are a kind of half-open secret, so Katricia has every hope that he'll welcome the idea. She just has to find the right moment to tell him.
"Home for the Holidays" begins with a surprise birthday celebration for Bones, organised by his loving wife Cat, to which all the old crowd is invited (their main paranormal crew is there except for Vlad - Ian, Spade, Fabian, Elisabeth, Denise, Mencheres, Kira and Annette). Annette is late to the party, though, and when Ian goes to her hotel to fetch her, he finds her being assailed by an unknown man, the room covered in blood. The assailant flees out the window and Annette is strangely reticent in giving Bones any information.
That night, a stranger breaches their property, a vampire in a frilly shirt who calls himself Wraith and claims to be Bone's half-brother, and a loner whose Sire is dead. Bones is sceptical, but hopeful, for he's never known where he came from. But soon after Wraith is welcomed into the house, Cat notices something strange. Everyone except her, Denise and Ian are entranced by the vampire as he tells long-winded story after long-winded story. When Bones completely loses interest in Cat and doesn't show any of his usual reactions towards her, she becomes as worried as Ian. The two of them have to work together to figure out what's going on and how to fix it, before Bones is lost to her forever.
I enjoyed both of these stories a great deal, though "Home for the Holidays" was the stronger one - and glad I was of it too, since the last Cat and Bones book I read was pretty disappointing for me.
"The Gift" was a fun read, returning to the lighter early books in the series in tone, with no dark sub-plots, just a scenario that brings together two people and gives them time to explore things. Interestingly, after Teddy is turned (not a spoiler, since of course he's turned) and becomes young again - about twenty-five - I found myself missing the Teddy I'd come to know, the older man facing retirement. Of course it changes things, getting your youth back, and if this were a longer story, or a work of speculative fiction rather than romance, it could have become a very dark story, if Teddy wasn't as lovely as he is. But I really liked him, so it was easy to be happy for him and to smile at his sudden youthful enthusiasm. Still, when you fall in love with a person, having them suddenly lose decades would make me feel like I was now stuck with someone I didn't know. Interesting thought, anyway.
Overall, it was great getting back to Canada and a quieter, more light-hearted story in the Argeneau series.
With "Home for the Holidays", Frost struck gold, creating a neat, tight story, plenty of action, a situation that seemed unsolvable (Kresley Cole has turned me into a fan of these kinds of twisted plots!), and Cat gets to seriously kick arse, again. Plus, you will actually like Ian in this story, since he gets to act hero without losing his crude and irreverent sense of humour.
More than that, though, we learn more about Bones' lineage and past, and that glimpse of repressed hope that Cat sees in his eyes when Wraith dangles the long-lost-brother card makes your heart break a bit. The ghosts get some good air time too, action-wise, which I always love, since the vampires always ignore and underestimate them. And on the romance front, there are some lovely intense scenes between Cat and Bones - not the sex, interestingly enough, but before that.
Overall, a winning novella in the Night Huntress world that reinvigorates my previously waning love for the series.(less)
Bronte Talbot has worked hard since graduating to establish her career in advertising, and would never have imagined giving up her great life in New Y...moreBronte Talbot has worked hard since graduating to establish her career in advertising, and would never have imagined giving up her great life in New York for any man. But when she meets sexy "Mr Texas" at a party hosted by her British friends, David and Willa, she decides to let this all-American, fun-loving investor based in Chicago whisk her off her feet and take care of her. Unfortunately, after several months, Bronte realises that their relationship is going nowhere - unless she moves to Chicago. It's her last-ditch, drastic measure to make their romance a romance again, and maybe head it onto the commitment path, but everyone she knows can see it as a desperate measure.
And sure enough, as soon as she lands in Chicago she can see that Mr Texas preferred to have her as the odd-weekend girlfriend from afar. After they break up, Bronte focuses on her career again, now in a boutique advertising agency, and lets the depression creep up on her. Months later, she's in a bookshop when she literally stumbles into a very sexy man with a very sexy English accent.
Max Heyworth is finishing up his PhD in economics after which he plans to move back to London, to enjoy his unfettered years before he has to take up the mantle of dukedom - which will hopefully, with his father's good health, be quite some time. He's always resisted the role he was born to, but he's learned it well all the same.
Bronte and Max embark on a passionate romance with a fixed end-date, Bronte clear all the time that Max is her rebound guy. She wants eight weeks of fun, sex and honesty, and Max happily agrees - but there are two things he's not honest with Bron about from the beginning. One, his title (viscount, a placeholder) and looming inheritance; and two, that he's in love with Bronte and has no intention of ending things in eight weeks time. He's confident that when he asks her to move to England with him, of course she'll say yes.
Things change though when his father falls ill and Max has to head back early, and Bronte refuses to go with him. It's a breakup neither of them were ready for, and after months of moping, Max decides to hunt her down and propose. But even though she's had a lifelong fascination with British royalty, Bronte doesn't really want to be an aristocrat herself - not to mention the fact that Max's mother scares the crap out of her. Can they work things out to achieve their happily-ever-after?
I may not read chick-lit very often, but I usually enjoy it when I do. A Royal Pain was definitely in the 'enjoyed' camp, for several reasons. The novel may be chick-lit, but it's also heavily romance too. I don't think I could define my own understanding of what chick-lit is, except that it's like romance without sex or graphic descriptions, they tend to by humorous, and more realistic in some ways. The difference here is that there're graphic descriptions, and the story is wholly focused on Bronte and Max's relationship. It's a very satisfying blend of the two genres, I have to say, and definitely entertaining.
Bronte started out strong, and while in many ways she's a completely different person to me, I could empathise with her when it came to how her relationship with Mr Texas (real name never disclosed because his persona was just too huge) ended, and her withdrawal and depression afterward. Mulry doesn't dwell on this time and it doesn't make the story heavy in any way, but it's yet another aspect of the story and Bronte's life that gives it that chick-lit realistic edge over the romantic fantasy.
Not that the fantasy isn't there too: Max Heyworth is the romantic hero through-and-through, the ultimate fantasy man. Having said that, he's not a walking cliche - at least, he didn't feel that way, most of the time. The interesting thing is, my impression of Max during their initial relationship in Chicago is almost of a different man altogether to the one who smouldered all over Bronte in New York later (where he became quite the glowering alpha), who was again different to the man who was her fiancé in England. Frankly, I enjoyed the character regardless, and it certainly satisfied my romantic need, but he wasn't particularly consistent.
Along this very bumpy road, Bronte has to overcome her insecurities and low self-image, as well as her fear of commitment - a fear that fitted her character well except for that notable exception, of drastically upheaving her life and moving to Chicago for Mr Texas. I did have to wonder: how does a woman who shies away from real commitment, do that? Wouldn't she have secretly preferred using Mr Texas's own lifestyle choices as an excuse not to commit to him? Yet it's never that simple either, and her reasoning behind moving to Chicago seemed so realistic and even familiar, that it totally made sense. It was more that I was surprised at how, later, with Max offering her everything, she balks time and again. Sure the dukedom complicates things, but that's just an excuse. Perhaps it's that, deep down, subconsciously, she recognised that things with Max are real, as they weren't with Mr Texas, where there was no real danger of anything permanent ever happening.
Bronte did disappoint me toward the end, though, when she became noticeably difficult and stubborn and, yes, scared. I got a bit annoyed with Max too, and thought he could have handled things better. I don't want to give away the ending, but there was a new complication thrown in that really bothered me - hard to discuss it without spoiling it and I'm tempted to regardless, because I really don't like how these ... things, are used in romantic plot-lines. It just saddens me, and angers me a bit. (The same thing, more or less, happened at the end of The Marriage Bargain which I read recently; it's a bit of a fallback plot-line.)
This is a great story to read when you want something entertaining and engrossing, that will connect with your emotions without leaving you feeling in any way morbid, a story full of classic misunderstandings, almost-missed opportunities, realism, great love, class divide and humour. It's intelligently written, with a focus on growing up and facing your own flaws, rather than dealing with any kind of social issues or things like that. Perhaps because I expected something a sillier, or because I was wary of an American story about British royalty, but this did not disappoint, and I would happily recommend it to readers of chick-lit and contemporary romance alike. (less)
Julia Lichtenstein lost her dad when she was just a little girl, but still holds wonderful memories of how perfect her parents were together, and puts...moreJulia Lichtenstein lost her dad when she was just a little girl, but still holds wonderful memories of how perfect her parents were together, and puts their stories of their honeymoon in London up on a pedestal. She's convinced there's an "MTB" - "meant to be" - man out there for her, and she's equally convinced it's Mark, a boy she's known since kindergarten who's recently returned to her town and her school. But after nearly a year, Mark still hasn't spoken to her.
When a field trip to London comes up, Julia leaps at the chance to visit the city her parents loved - as well as for the extra credit and because she's a book nerd who carries a Pocket Shakespeare everywhere - even though it conflicts with a swim meet, and she's the star butterfly stroke swimmer on the team. Unfortunately, none of her friends on the swim team sign up for it, so Julia goes alone, with a group of teens who are mostly rowdy, immature, and more interested in shopping than seeing where Shakespeare lived. Julia, on the other hand, has packed five different travel guides, each with copious amounts of sticky notes. She has plans.
Those plans seem to be mostly ruined when their teacher, Mrs Tennison, assigns them all buddies based on where their surnames fall in the alphabet - Julia is teamed up with the class clown, Jason Lippincott. Red haired, freckled, irreverent, and a real charmer of the ladies, Jason is what Julia considers her nemesis, ever since the time in grade nine when her red pen leaked and Jason stuffed loads of tampons into her locker. He won't even use her name, instead calling her "Book Licker".
On their first night in London, Jason talks her into going out after curfew to a party, where Julia gets drunk and hands out the number to her field trip mobile phone to several guys there. The next day, hungover and irritable, she starts getting suggestive and keen text messages from someone called Chris. She has no idea who he is, but when Jason finds out, he offers to help her track him down so that she can see him before agreeing to meet. In exchange, he wants Julia to write his daily reflection papers for him.
With Jason at her side, Julia's trip to England is nothing like what she expected. Rather, it's a richer, more exciting and never dull experience. And Jason isn't what she thought he was, either - not entirely. As her feelings towards him start to change, a new complication turns up: Mark. And he's not just talking to her, he wants to spend time with her. With her "meant to be" guy now practically throwing himself at her, and Jason acting oddly, Julia decides this could be her one chance to find her MTB.
Like me, you're probably thinking this sounds a bit like The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and Anna and the French Kiss - it's definitely along the same theme (American teenagers overseas, love story etc.), but just as the other two books were very different from each other, so is this one. It certainly stands on its own as an endearing, intelligent, rather cute, entertaining YA romance. It has that same sense of anticipation and build-up of a good romantic comedy; in fact, it would probably make a good romantic comedy film. (It just occurred to me that they haven't yet started making movies out of these contemporary YA romances, have they? Anna and so on would make for good movies, don't you think?)
This was a mix of the old and the new: classic book-loving, rule-abiding, neurotic girl meets free-lovin', popular prankster and has her life turned upside-down, with positive outcome. But Julia's also sporty, and she does a very good job of convincing us readers that she's pretty plain, has an unattractive swimmer's body, and is far too uptight to be saved. Likewise, Jason has his moments of being absolutely delightful and downright charming - serenading her at a skate park, dancing with her in a bookshop - but he doesn't "change" and continues to have his silly immature moments. Julia and Jason have to meet somewhere in the middle, and in the process, Julia especially learns how to be not so judgemental and critical of others.
It was satisfying, to say the least, how things with Mark turned out, and also that Julia was never stupid enough, or stubborn enough, to persist in her fantasy despite the obvious. Overall the story had a wonderful sense of realism, and perhaps because the characters were removed from the typical American high school setting, it was much easier to relate to them, sympathise with them, and enjoy their antics. The realism extended to the characters drinking, the flirting and snubbing, the mood swings and, of course, Julia's preoccupation with her possible, potential love life.
The plot and its Chris mystery were engaging, and a few possibilities went through my head - I didn't guess the truth until about the last third of the book, though there was an element to it all that had passed my notice, so it wasn't entirely predictable. The mystery plot didn't overwhelm the novel, nor was it the only driving force for the novel. At times the plot seemed to lose cohesion, when it started going in one direction and then just ... stopped, or jumped forward a bit, or went sideways... I sometimes felt like my copy was missing scenes. The only other thing that kept me from full-out loving this was the slightly slow pace, where too often a slower scene seemed to get more attention than a more interesting one.
Overall though the language was more mature than a lot of contemporary YA - just something about the style, Morrill's word choice, the tone and also the things the characters did and said. There was also a pleasant dose of humour throughout, and the London setting and Julia's interest in literature certainly appealed. I was a little surprised that all the pop culture references (movies mostly) were so old - truly, how many teenagers today would have heard of Pretty in Pink, much less seen it? I haven't seen it - I tried once, when it was on TV, and couldn't get past the first ten minutes. Even for a kid of the 80s and 90s, that movie was dated. Morrill looks younger than me, otherwise I'd be wondering, but what does this say about today's movies, that they're not even worth referencing?
This was a solid debut novel from Morrill, with a surprisingly complex plot, lively characters, and some very sweet moments. I would have loved a longer ending, to draw out the final scene, because I really wanted to snuggle into that culmination and coming-together of Julia and Jason that we'd been waiting for so long. Meant to Be is well worth reading and I'll be looking out for Morrill's next novel, that's for sure. (less)
Maya Kirkwood had the career of her dreams in New York's couture fashion world, only to have to suddenly vanish thanks to her duplicitous ex. It feels...moreMaya Kirkwood had the career of her dreams in New York's couture fashion world, only to have to suddenly vanish thanks to her duplicitous ex. It feels like her past happening all over again. But Maya's not one to give up in a ball of shame: instead, she moves to San Francisco, changes her name, and reinvents herself as a textile artist. At her first exhibition, her agent encourages her to meet a prospective new client, a successful tech nerd from Silicon Valley called Derek Whitley. Only, he's not the pasty, paunchy nerd she expected: he's young, tall, fit, lightly tanned and very handsome - and when she sounds him out about her artwork, Maya learns he doesn't like it.
But Derek still wants to commission her to produce an installation for the new wing of his company building, and whether he personally likes her work or not he sees as irrelevant. Derek is all work and no play, and he seems mostly irritated and annoyed by Maya, especially her persistence and argumentativeness. Over the two weeks she spends at his company, working on the commission, she doesn't learn that much more about the private, taciturn man. But when her father, whom she hasn't seen in years, suddenly turns up in her life again, it's Derek who is there to support her and help her rebuff the man's attentions. With Maya's secrets unravelling, a new kind of friendship begins between her and Derek. Only trouble is, she's not the only one with a past she's been keeping secret, and the truth about Derek could be an obstacle Maya can't overcome.
This was such a fun, delightful, intelligent read. It's a smooth blend of chick-lit and romance, being chick-lit in plot, tone, structure, all those key points, but with a romantic focus: getting the heroine and hero together, with some sex included for the full experience. It's a fairly short novel, one that skips along at a steady, merry pace, easy to read in one sitting. I want to use the word "breezy" but thanks to those awful, annoying Covergirl commercials, I now hate that word.
Maya was an engaging narrator and an interesting protagonist, who had some pretty shitty things happen to her but held it together and continued doggedly on. She's definitely tenacious, and I liked that she was a textile artist - both my mum and my sister are textile artists, with different styles of course, so Maya felt like someone I knew right off the bat. I also liked the way she handled the situation at the end: I respect and appreciate romance heroines who stay calm and don't devolve into melodrama, and who stand firm on an issue - and who are also flexible enough to change their minds or something later, at the right time.
Derek was a classic chick-lit hero, so aloof and stoic and reserved, so that the moments when he couldn't help himself and laughed or otherwise enjoyed himself, became that much more precious and meaningful. It was great to read about a couple who didn't dance around each other and pretend things. Maya came clean, and Derek did too. They were open about their feelings. It didn't solve all their problems, but it was just refreshingly mature and intelligent (the ridiculousness of the heroines' stubbornness and the heroes' refusal to admit his feelings in so many paranormal romance books is what made me take a prolonged break from reading the genre).
My one complaint, if you can call it that, was that I would have liked a slightly longer story. It was just a bit too fast, considering how much I was enjoying it and wanted to get to know the characters more (on the positive side, it's a well-plotted story that doesn't suffer from "filler syndrome" or an author who can't self-edit and loves the sound of their own voice. I appreciate that, I really do, especially after Thoughtless). I was surprised the side-plot of Maya's father and what happened to her in New York didn't get revisited, yet also pleased that the story didn't follow any predictable formulas for following-through on them. I wanted to get to know the supporting cast more, and see more of Maya and Derek's lives play out. I say that because I enjoyed it, but also because it left me with the slight feeling of having eaten hollow carbs: too much sugar, not enough fibre? As much as I had fun reading it and loved the slightly fast pace, I can't help but have the niggling feeling that it was a bit too fast at times. I'm torn though, because I also love that it wasn't drawn out or padded unnecessarily.
Regardless, I recommend this as a light, breezy read about two people who have to overcome their pasts and live for the moment - and a future that's brighter with each other in it. If you're looking for a fun, mature romance that's not at all shallow or prone to clichés, definitely give Libby Mercer's Unmasking Maya a read.
My thanks to the author for a copy of this book. (less)
Kiera Allen met Denny Harris, a brilliant student from Queensland, at Ohio University. Now she's going with the handsome, loving Denny to Seattle, whe...moreKiera Allen met Denny Harris, a brilliant student from Queensland, at Ohio University. Now she's going with the handsome, loving Denny to Seattle, where she's transferred to Washington State University for her third year, and Denny has a promising internship at a high-profile advertising agency. Denny's arranged for them to live with his old friend Kellan Kyle, whose family he lived with for a year of high school on an exchange program.
Kellan is the lead singer of a local rock band called The D-Bags (for "douche-bag"). He's devastatingly attractive and a real slut (not that I like to use the word, but "womaniser" just doesn't capture his style of sleeping around - the English language is sadly lacking in some ways). His band plays regularly at a place called Pete's Bar, where Kiera gets a waitressing job on her first night in Seattle - which will help with the bills and to fill time, since it's only June and the school year doesn't start for three months.
When Denny has to leave Seattle for three weeks to help set up a new branch of his company in Tucson, Kiera is devastated. They've never been apart for more than a couple of days before. She turns to her fledgling friendship with Kellan, who makes her blush constantly, and willingly and deliberately, if not consciously, treats him like a boyfriend minus the intimate stuff. Holding his hand, cuddling with him on the couch; Kiera has no clue of the mixed messages she's giving out. She just misses Denny.
After several days of phone silence, Denny finally calls - to say that the company has offered him a job, but it means staying in Tucson for two years. What's worse, he's already accepted it, without discussing it with her. In a fit of despair, anger and panic at being abandoned in Seattle, Kiera tells him it's over and hangs up on him, then starts drinking. When Kellan comes home, he brings out tequila slammers, and Kiera gets completely drunk. What happens next changes everything.
The next day, Denny comes home: he's turned the job down and lost his internship, and Kiera feels immense guilt at ruining his career just as it was going good, and for sleeping with his best friend. She vows that it will never happen again, and she and Kellan both agree never to tell Denny. But the attraction between her and Kellan only grows in intensity, and Kiera learns never to say never again.
Ha ha, I couldn't resist that corny last line. It's well in keeping with the entire novel, which is a huge soap opera cheesefest. And I have to say how much I hate this cover. It's dark and dull, yes, but what really bugs me is the photo - aside from being ugly, I can't for the life of me figure it out. The body parts just don't make sense. I don't know what I'm looking at. And it's just plain seedy. It was originally self-published in 2009, and based on its success was picked up by Simon & Schuster. I don't know how much editing was done, but I've seen that the e-book was over a thousand pages long, and this is half that - a difference in font size or cutting back on over-writing? (Another review of a different edition noted it's page length at 364 pages, a significant difference. Are we reading the same book?)
It's hard to know where I start, with a book like this. It reminded me of Jennifer Schmidt's Risking it All, which I read recently - it also featured a "love triangle" and a main character who didn't want to risk her friendship with the hot guy or being alone and so avoided making a decision and acting mature, which only made things worse. The difference though is in the writing quality, and how the events played out, and how responsibility was doled out and taken. It was a much more mature story, in all ways, though certainly lower on the angst scale.
Contrast that with Kiera, who narrates Thoughtless. I'm willing, just, to suspend disbelief that such a dim-witted, naive, "innocent" (how I loathe the word!) twit could exist, though with a sister like Anna, and living in the 21st century, well, I have to really suspend disbelief. She's worse than Anastasia, which is saying a lot. She thinks "damn" is a swear word, blushes at Kellan's band mates' stories of their sexual exploits (Griffin is a chauvinist pig, but disgust would be a better emotion towards him), but worst of all is her behaviour towards Kellan. I actually felt sorry for the guy, and really very angry towards her. He does tell it to her face later on, calling her a prick tease and other colourful expressions, and she does finally admit to it and apologise for it.
I was relieved that [Kellan] was happy to stay over by me. I started to wonder over that, but then decided he was pleasant to be around, and not too bad to look at, and that was a good enough answer for right now. Besides, I had been so lonely lately and, right or wrong, his closeness was making that feeling fade.
Relaxing for the first time in what felt like weeks, I turned and slipped my arms around his waist, resting my head against his chest. I felt him stiffen a little at how closely we were connected, and then he relaxed too, his thumb lightly stroking my back. I wasn't sure why I did that, but I sighed contentedly at the warmth of his embrace. [p.88]
And after their fateful night, after Denny's come back:
Purely intending to give him a hug, as he seriously looked in need of one, I leaned over his chest, bringing my hands underneath him. He radiated warmth, but he was trembling, breathing shallowly. He left his arms on the couch, not returning my hug. His body stiffened slightly. Sighing softly, I remembered how easy and comfortable touching him used to be ... Apparently, that was gone now too. I pulled back a little, to ask him if he needed anything.
My breath stopped when I noticed his face, his eyes. He looked pained, like I was hurting him. His eyes were gazing past my shoulder, intently focused on anything but me, and they were narrowed in anger. His breathing was shallow and fast through his open lips. I immediately let go of him. [p.139]
The problem with having such a detail-oriented narrator is that, she notices all these little details, but can't interpret them. That was my problem with Kiera, and with the writing. There was no subtle space for readers to understand and interpret more than Kiera, because really, Kiera KNEW. She knew bloody well what she was doing, and why Kellan behaved as she did, because she had already picked up on ALL the clues. She just chose to blind herself to the truth. Essentially the whole fiasco could have been avoided if Kiera hadn't made stupid decision after stupid decision, including not trusting or respecting Denny, and thinking that if she just has more time, she'll have the courage to make a decision. By the end, I wondered what the hell either man saw in her. Sure, she's only human and a flawed character makes for a good, interesting character. It wasn't her flaws that angered me, it was her "selfish disregard for the feelings of others" (to quote a much better love story).
In contrast, Denny was lovely, though his depiction as the ultimate cuckolded partner completely smothered any personality he might have had. He occasionally comes out with some Queenslandisms (sure they're called Australian expressions in the book, but let's face it, Queenslanders have plenty of their own weird colloquialisms and I didn't recognise most of them here), but thankfully Stephens doesn't overdo the whole Australian angle. Kellan is fairly two-dimensional, but he did become interesting after telling Kiera the story of his abused childhood and why he sleeps around - Kiera doesn't deserve him, and I couldn't blame him for trying to sever things with her, multiple times. I find I don't care for love stories in which love is an addiction, something characters succumb to despite themselves, something they feel they have to fight, and "beat", something tainted with lies and betrayal. But it does make for some epic angst-riddled soap.
And that's what this book is: a soap opera of epic proportions. It's minutely detailed with day-to-day living and each little bit of body language (as you can see from the quotes above), which I normally like, but it goes way overtop with the details, many of which are quite superfluous and only slow the story down. It's also epic in the sense of the drama, which is, frankly, completely over-the-top. No one behaves very well in this story, they all come across as pretty immature, and the mis-communications and mis-understandings are some of the only things driving the plot forward - which isn't a good thing. The degree of angst is hard to believe, but I will tell you this: it is hugely addicting. I now have a better understanding of why reality TV and drama shows like Grey's Anatomy are so popular, not that I could watch them. For as much of a train wreck as Kiera's life is, I just had to keep reading to find out how it would end.
As engrossing as it was, it was hugely bogan, and the attitudes towards women portrayed by some of the characters - and Kiera's silent acceptance of them as normal - was pretty appalling (the men - oafish, arrogant, chauvinist, etc. - weren't portrayed that much better, to be honest). Not to mention, the contrast between "innocent" Kiera and her "harlot" of a sister, Anna, was alarming. The idea that the "good" girl always wins - never mind all the crap that went on, the fact that she is essentially depicted as a "good" girl; that only good girls can have real relationships or the commitment of a loving man, is a clear message. Kiera has to grow up and face her mistakes, free the men and become "good" again - atone for her sins with a bout of loneliness etc. - before she can have what she really wants.
I rated this based mostly on how addictive it is, but let's be clear: it's not a particularly well-written book, the characters make me want to pull my hair out, and I really can't see the point in a sequel (Effortless) - why on earth would I want to read more, especially after the issue has been resolved? What plot could there be, really? I think a more satisfying and mature ending for Thoughtless would be for Kellan to move on and find love with a different woman, because the things that those two went through, I don't know how a committed, trusting relationship could really arise out of that train wreck. (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)