Echo Emersen feels a far cry from normal. No longer the girlfriend to the hottest, most popular boy in school, Luke. No longer hanging out with her frEcho Emersen feels a far cry from normal. No longer the girlfriend to the hottest, most popular boy in school, Luke. No longer hanging out with her friends Lila, Grace and Natalie; in fact, she doesn't even go to the cafeteria anymore. Now, everyone whispers about her. Everyone speculates about what happened. She's the outcast, the freak, at school, wearing long-sleeved tops and gloves to hide the new scars that cover them - scars she can't remember even getting. What happened that night at her mum's place? Why can't she remember? Did her mother, a bipolar artist, really assault her?
Even before that night, Echo's life was scarred by the tragic death of her older brother Aires from a road-side bomb in Afghanistan. Now there's no one to help support her in the face of her father's controlling tendencies, his decision that Echo will study business, not art. No one to help her deal with Ashley, once her babysitter and now her step-mother, and pregnant as well.
Mrs Collins, the new clinical social worker at Echo's school, wants to help. But that would require Echo to trust her, and to actually say the words that come into her head. To help Echo raise the money to fix Aires' car, Mrs Collins organises for her to give tutoring lessons, to help the other student she sees regularly: Noah Hutchins, a foster-care bad boy almost constantly in trouble. Even though Noah thinks Echo is hot - she's got curly red hair and has "big tits" - and smart, he also thinks she's a pretty typical princess who thinks she's above people like him. Their first tutoring session doesn't go well, and that's before Noah sees the scars on Echo's arm.
Echo's sure he'll tell everyone and the gossip mill will start up again, but strangely, it doesn't. After more edgy confrontations, they become friends with a shared goal: to access their files in Mrs Collins's office. Echo knows that the truth of the night that changed everything is in her file, and Noah wants to learn the names and address of the couple who have his two little brothers, Jacob and Tyler. He's determined to find proof that they're not being well cared for, and just as determined to petition for custody as soon as he turns eighteen, which is soon.
As Echo and Noah get to know each other, their tentative friendship turns into a passionate relationship. But with Echo's forgotten past leaving such deep scars on her psyche, and with Noah's vague plans for the future seeing him look after two young children while shelving any ideas for furthering his own education, where can their relationship go?
There are quite a lot of YA novels about people, girls mostly, who have no memory of whatever traumatic event caused them to be traumatised now. In general, they don't appeal to me, but I have read a few and it's true, they are different, but it's not a possible comparison that bothers me. I'm more put off by what's becoming a cliched narrative device. Being an adolescent is hard enough - it's a hormonally-charged, lonely, scary time - without such massive, dramatic tragedy piled up on top of it, so it always seems like masochism to want to read such books.
Instead, it's other elements of these stories that appeal to me, and keep me reading: character growth, and romance. I like romance, when it's written well. And that's the other cliche turning up a lot in YA (and no doubt has been for decades): the resident good girl cozying up with the resident bad boy. Fun, but hardly original. Realistic? Sure, why not. But often the stereotypes are firm and inflexible, including the big one: that the bad boy is simply struggling against forces set in motion against him, that he's really a good boy at heart, and smart, and never pressures the girl for sex. All the right stuff. Everything else is an image, or other people's judgement, or circumstance. Nature vs. nurture, right? Here you can choose to look past the cliche to the social commentary, which is hopefully the authors' intention.
Take Noah Hutchins. I've never been in a situation like his, but I felt immense sympathy for him. A standard by-product of a flawed foster care system, he got an unfair reputation for violence that ruined his chances of being able to spend time with this brothers - and he fears they will forget him, especially the youngest. It's like being put in a mental institution, and saying you're not crazy. Once you're in the system, no one's going to believe anything you say. I could understand Noah's anger, and his fear, and his lack of trust. This is a very urban story, in the sense that there are many teenagers - too many - like Noah, who have responsibility for younger siblings, responsibility they should never have to bear, and it means they end up sacrificing other areas of their life, especially school. They are always late because they're having to get their siblings out of bed, dressed and fed, and taken to school. With no one supporting them, no parent to talk to, they can lack the coping skills to handle other people, resulting in confrontations that get them in trouble. And so on.
In Noah's case, his parents died in a fire - a fire he blames himself for. He's had a shitty time in foster care until now, living with a couple who have taken in two foster kids for the money and basically ignore them. His foster-brother, Isaiah, and the niece of his foster parents, Beth, are his best friends and his siblings. They form a tight unit and look out for each other. So Noah is a strong teen, and a well-developed character. Where I winced a bit was in his flowery, romantic language when thinking about Echo. Moving on from the cringe-inducing "big tits" comment (one I'm sure was used as an aid in establishing his bad boy, foul-mouthed character), he reverts to "nymph", "siren" and "goddess" (to add to this pile of corniness, Echo tells Noah that she was named after a wood nymph from Greek mythology) - I sometimes felt like I was reading an adult romance, because some of his lines (and Echo's) could have jumped straight off the page of one.
Echo was a bit harder to like. It wasn't that she couldn't stand up for herself, especially with her father, and it wasn't that she was a quiet tragi-queen. I found it hard to relate to, and sympathise with, her apathetic effort to be "normal" and accepted again, by letting her ex-boyfriend Luke absorb her into a relationship again - that especially I didn't get, since she had broken up with him before for good reason - and for putting up with comments from her "friends" about how everything would go back to normal if she just sat with them at lunch and went out with Luke again. I'm sure the point is just that, that it's a fake normal and you should be true to yourself, and Echo's not the same person, etc. etc. But it made for hard reading at times. Echo could be frustratingly dim. Her friends were pretty awful, even Lila, who supposedly "had her back". And while I am sure Echo is a talented budding artist, I found it a bit much that galleries across the country were already wanting to buy her work. A far-fetched device to establish her independence from her father, but I wish it had come more naturally, from both of them.
Of them all, I liked Mrs Collins the best, but that leads me directly to my problem with this book: I felt played. While reading it, I enjoyed it a lot. Yes it's big on the tragedy and the dramatics, and the romance is pretty formulaic. But I liked the writing in general, and I was genuinely curious about what had happened with Echo and her mother, that night she can't remember. And I was probably more upset than Echo, at her mother's words and behaviour when she sees her again for the first time since that night. I felt for Noah's predicament, and felt his pain at being separated from his brothers, and having someone tell him he wasn't allowed to see them, or what he could and couldn't say to them when he did see them. There's chemistry between Noah and Echo, the pacing is steady and just fast enough to keep up the momentum, and it's got layers.
And yet, and yet. When I finished it, I felt a bit odd. And the more time went by, the more disillusioned I felt with it. Basically, I felt emotionally manipulated. That I had been led along by the hand. I felt everything I was supposed to feel and nothing more, nothing less. I liked the characters I was supposed to like, and as for the others, well I went through Echo or Noah's perceptions, like with Echo's father, who I actually felt sorry for by the end. It all felt so deliberate, and therefore somehow fake. I could have used less religion, too, but that's just me. I think it just got too heavy-handed and melodramatic for me, perhaps because it tackled so many issues facing adolescents: drinking, sex, drugs, abuse, the system, fitting in at school, relationships, popularity, peer-pressure, bullying, loneliness, betrayal/back-stabbing, broken family, post-traumatic-stress-disorder, right down to deciding what to wear. (I just finished another YA book that was similarly over-loaded, though a very different story, which probably just adds to this sense of being overwhelmed.)
I wasn't sure whether to say any of this, because it makes me think: but isn't all YA like that these days? Which means I'm being unduly harsh towards this book. But no, I don't think all YA is like this. It's a subtle thing, and I don't want to make it into a bigger thing than it is. Bottom line is: this is a good book, a well-written book, dealing with some tough issues. McGarry has worked hard to create distinct voices for Echo and Noah, who take turns narrating in first-person, and she's done pretty well at it (though for Noah in particular there are some rather obvious devices used, like his language). And I do enjoy these kinds of contemporary YA romances, with or without the drama. But I can find no other way of explaining why, after finishing it, I found I liked it less than I had while reading it.
Fans of Simone Elkeles, Louise Rozzet and Jennifer Echols will enjoy Pushing the Limits; for me, it was a solid coming-of-age story about two young people finding their way and finding each other, successfully tackling some hefty issues, but sadly it left me feeling hollow at the end....more
Aria has always lived inside the utilitarian, uniform grey walls of Reverie, one of a group of domes called "Pods" constructed to save people a long tAria has always lived inside the utilitarian, uniform grey walls of Reverie, one of a group of domes called "Pods" constructed to save people a long time ago. Her mother, Lumina, is a geneticist working on a top-secret project, and left for another Pod called Bliss. Aria hasn't heard from her in five days and she's becomingly increasingly worried about what might have happened at Bliss to bring the communication channels down. Outside the Pods, the environment is a death zone to people like Aria: with its poisonous air she knows she wouldn't last hours - there's a reason why it's nicknamed the Death Shop - so the thought of Bliss attacked by one of the increasingly frequent Aether storms and even partially destroyed, is enough to make her feel panic.
In an attempt to find out information, she and her friend Paisley agree to tag along with three boys, led by Soren, the son of Counsel Hess, one of their leaders, into a damaged service dome used for agriculture but now sealed off. Soren is a wild card, though, and discovering a fully-grown forest within the dome leads him to the decision to start a fire, something strictly forbidden inside the Pods for the risk of killing them all. The boys go crazy and attack the girls, and Aria is saved by a Savage - one of the uncivilised peoples who live outside the domes. But later, when Aria tries to tell the story of what really happened inside the service dome, she finds herself betrayed and cast outside Reverie.
Alone and at the mercy of the elements, Aria is shocked to find that she hasn't died from breathing the noxious air, though an Aether storm nearly finishes her off. Instead, she has been rescued from certain death by the very same Savage who helped save her from Soren inside Reverie: Peregrine, or Perry for short. The younger brother of the leader of a tribe called the Tides, Perry is "Marked" and has two talents - super-powers derived from evolved genetic mutations. He can smell people's emotions, giving him an extra sense for what people are thinking or about to do, and he has nocturnal vision. When his nephew Talon is captured by the "Moles", or Pod dwellers, he makes a plan for getting him back and that plan involves Aria.
Together these two very different people traverse a wild and inhospitable landscape to reach the one person Perry is sure can help them. Along the way they build trust where there was none, friendship where there was hostility, and come to value each other for more than their skills (of which Perry has lots but Aria, none but singing). Their quest to rescue Talon and find Aria's mother leads them to dual truths: the truth behind the disappearances of other people Perry knows, and the secret as to why Aria can survive outside the domes.
I am a big fan of post-apocalyptic stories featuring domes - or any kind of story featuring domes, really, it doesn't have to post-apocalyptic like this one. My love affair started with Isobelle Carmody's Scatterlings, which at a guess was the first YA book featuring a dome to be published. As such, I have a habit of measuring similar stories against it - it can't really be helped. Under the Never Sky has plenty in common with Scatterlings and other stories featuring domes, but it forges its own path too. It takes the familiar tropes of dome vs. wilderness, people mutated by manmade toxins into a new kind of human, someone from the inside at the mercy of the elements on the outside, and a quest story - it takes these elements as the common threads but spins a new story with enough original elements to help it stand on its own feet.
And there is plenty to like here. The biggest strength this novel has is the writing. The prose is controlled, confident and clear. The pacing is smooth and fairly fast, and even the parts where not much is happening read well and are interesting. I've read my fair share of poorly written YA and this is definitely not one of them, and I have a high appreciation for good storytelling and good prose. There are other parts to this too, like Aria.
Aria started out as a fairly conventional heroine, with a distinctly familiar-sounding voice. She's spent her whole life not only confined to a sterile dome, but has spent most of that time actually living inside the Realms: computer programs that simulate everything from ancient Rome to a nightclub to the opera - places that don't even exist anymore. That's where everyone "lives", experiencing everything through simulation. They might touch each other or even have sex inside a Realm, but outside it, they do little more than eat and sleep and physical contact is strange. They don't even have children the "natural" way anymore, and people give their kids little genetic tweaks - like how Aria was given a stellar singing voice, or Soren was given a tan. "Upgrades", they're called. So her whole life is artificial and very tragic, and she's never learned anything useful. She would never have survived the world outside Reverie without Perry, and she knows it.
But Aria is not one of those annoying, whiny, difficult heroines we've all read. She's smart, she learns from her mistakes, she listens and she's not narrow-minded. She's super ignorant and the mistakes she makes ring true for her character and upbringing, but they garnered more sympathy from me than annoyance. And she grows. She really does grow as a person, in a life-changing way. She "comes into her own", as they say. She finds her inner strength, a confidence and resilience she never would have discovered if she'd stayed within Reverie. But she doesn't change in a way that's unrealistic or too fast; she's still a nicely flawed - or we should say "imperfect" - character who has plenty to learn.
Then there is Perry. He's a bit more typical, being a bit stubborn and taciturn, but at least it fits his character and he, too, grows up some. He's got a long way to go too though. His situation is interesting and a marked contrast to Aria's, and he moves fluidly within the landscape that shaped him. I found it hard to get a good mental image of him, as one of the rare times when the prose stumbled was in describing things like Perry running his hands through his long dark blonde hair, when we'd already been told he had dreadlocks - bit hard to run your hands through dreadlocks like that! I'm not a huge fan of the silent moody heroes anymore than I like the stubborn, mouthy heroines, but I did come to like Perry. I rather wish he went by the name "Peregrine" though, because I really like that name and I'm not so keen on "Perry", which makes me think of a rather nerdy suburban middle class kid who'd really like to be popular but has a daggy haircut.
So where did my love for this story fall short? Everything was there, in place, all the elements for something truly outstanding. And I did enjoy reading this, don't get me wrong. But somehow, at the end of the day, it was all a bit ... safe. Slightly conventional. There was nothing specially new here, for me. It lacked that zing, that spark to make it really stand out. Everything was just a bit too ... neat - including Aria and Perry's slowly growing romance (though, yay, no "instalove"!). I don't know how else to describe it, and it's quite likely that had I read this at a different stage in my life that zing would have been there for me. That's the trouble with growing up and having life experiences, or with reading a lot of books: it gets harder to feel energised and surprised and zapped by books. Maybe I'd feel the same way if I read Scatterlings for the first time ever, now. How sad. Sigh. Anyway, this is a solid story with a fast-moving, exciting storyline and two strong, memorable characters who are taking the overall story in a new, untamed direction. I'll have to read on to find out what's at the other end (or I could just wait for the film)....more
Five years ago Evangeline Bailey, then only nineteen, met the man who set her aflame and got married - not in that order, and not even with the same mFive years ago Evangeline Bailey, then only nineteen, met the man who set her aflame and got married - not in that order, and not even with the same man. She married her dear friend, Leo Fitzherbert, because he was trying to get into politics but was gay - to help him avoid the scandal of being caught by a journalist in a compromising situation, they gave the paper a juicier story: a wedding. It was always meant to be a temporary thing, to appease his parents and get his career started. But it stretched into five years before they finally divorced.
Now, twenty-four and a bit more mature, Eve and her four-year-old son, Tyler, have arrived at a tropical resort island in Asia for a much needed holiday with Leo, sparking rumours that they might be getting back together. Leo has fallen in love with a man and is gearing up to come out of the closet, while Eve is simply enjoying spending time with her son. Or so she tells herself. But when she sees Gabriel Gray at the resort, Leo's cousin whom she hasn't seen in five years - not since her wedding night when a chance encounter led to a night of passion that ended abruptly when Gabriel discovered she was married - everything she'd kept locked away threatens to burst out into the open.
Gabriel still feels the same searing anger when he sees Eve again as he did when he first discovered her betrayal: betrayal of his cousin, betrayal of him. Despite his anger, he still feels on fire at seeing her again, talking to her, dancing with her. Ignorant of the truth of Eve's marriage - and that of her son's parentage - Gabriel takes a warped kind of pleasure at tormenting them both, and Eve rises to the bait each time. But as they're thrown into each other's company more and more, they start to learn about each other, and come to realise that neither is the person they'd built up in their heads for all these years.
Alexandra Slater's debut novel is pretty standard romance fare, plot- and character-wise, but the writing is capable and there's potential here. My biggest problems with Evangeline's Secrets are the lacklustre plot, the immature heroine and the unlikeable hero. Romance depends on its characters, rather than plot: they need to be likeable, loveable even, and there needs to be strong chemistry between them. I found neither here. Certainly, I was told the chemistry was there, repeatedly, but I didn't feel it, precisely because Gabriel was such a bastard and seemed to relish saying cruel things to Eve and being unpleasant and rude in his manner all round. His thoughts are as toxic as his dialogue.
Setting his jaw, Gabriel headed back down to the ground floor and tried not to think about the last time he had held Evangeline in his arms.
"I hate what I become when I'm with you."
Her final accusing words returned to haunt him, as they had haunted him for the past three days, filling him with molten fury.
How dared she attempt to make him feel as if he was the only guilty one in this sordid affair? [Location: 1544]
Gabriel's mental reasoning often confused me, not that a character has to understand everything of course. But since I was trying to get my head around this pair, trying to understand what they saw in each other and why they kept torturing each other, I was disappointed that he misunderstood Eve's comment so drastically. They were like two characters performing two different plays together, following a different script. It could get frustrating.
Gabriel has some excuse for his anger and bitchiness, but he failed to be a better man and handle it in a mature way. He continually did everything to make me dislike him, and even feel contempt for him, so that I couldn't understand why Evangeline still found him so attractive. I like to think that personality makes up a huge portion of man's attractiveness - for me it does, anyway (on a related side note, I may have found the Fifty Shades books fun to read, but I would never find Christian Grey attractive in real life: arrogance and superiority, and all his other issues, would make him quite repulsive to my eyes). So why was she "gagging for it", so to speak, when he's being such a prick?
Was he destined to become a carbon copy of his father, whose pursuit of his own selfish desires twenty years ago had caused his family untold heartache and ripped apart two marriages?
I'm damned if I'll be the cause of that kind of misery!
But confronted by the fresh, delicate beauty that had been responsible for his unintentional lapse five years before, Gabriel felt bitterness rising in his throat like bile.
Because of her you broke a solemn vow. Don't forget that. She may look like an angel, but underneath she's ... [Location 413]
I wanted to like Gabriel for having standards, and morals, and I could understand and sympathise with how he must have felt when, having made such an explosive connection with Eve, he learned that she was shagging him on her wedding night. I can understand the contempt he feels. But what I don't understand is his attraction to her, and her to him. Especially when Eve is so stupidly immature:
"Evangeline, Rachel is..."
"Your PA?" Eve cut in, sarcasm dripping from every syllable.
Gabriel's expression hardened and he turned to face her. She looked away instantly and stared straight ahead, thrusting her jaw out mutinously, refusing to return his gaze.
"That's right," he drawled. "And no. I have no problem with Rachel. She can be trusted. Happy now?"
Bastard! [Location 539]
When I first started reading it, I had somehow created an idea of Eve as a graceful, calm, patient sort of woman, one who might tease a man like Gabriel with softly-spoken jibes and clever innuendo, but who didn't tend to show how she really felt. I'm not sure where this impression came from except the first chapter, where we first hear of Evangeline Bailey and her ex, arriving at the island resort, but haven't met them yet. I don't know, it was just me putting together a picture of a woman I could respect, one I would be interested in knowing more about, the kind of woman who had helped a friend out by marrying him, had a son without the support and love of his father, and who was keeping all these secrets in order to protect others. That's no one's fault but my own. I wanted to like Eve for her own sake, as her character slowly came together, but I have little patience for sulky, immature people who make things difficult for themselves and then whinge about it.
"By the way, that's some dress you're almost wearing," Gabriel muttered, curling his hand round hers in a curiously possessive gesture as he led her on to the dance floor.
Eve's cheeks crimsoned. "Whatever," she replied sulkily. [Location 787]
Gabriel is, of course, a philanthropist, not just a millionaire businessman - he's like every Mills & Boon hero in that way. It was heavy on the cliches:
"That man is so modest," sighed a lavishly-clad woman standing to Eve's right. Leaning towards her rapt female companion, she added confidingly, "GG Inc my foot! He funded the entire project out of his own pocket. Sir Terence was telling me this morning."
Feeling more bewildered with every passing second, Eve gazed up at Gabriel's autocratic profile. How could a man so unprincipled in his personal life be so dazzlingly altruistic in business? [Location 1574]
The two of them do the usual dancing around each other: lusting after each other, refusing to acknowledge it, almost deliberately misunderstanding each other, and showing none of the usual signs of actually caring. Eve does finally acknowledge to herself that she knows nothing about Gabriel, but she doesn't make much effort to get to know him. Same goes for Gabriel. The only time you get to see him act "normal" is when Eve is laid up in bed for a week and he spends all his free time playing games with Tyler and keeping them both company. That week is mostly glossed over, so we still don't get to know Gabriel much better. And I've never cared for romantic heroes who play the stoic card, the "I want this woman but I WILL rise above it, dammit!" Like that's a show of strength or something.
At the end of the day, there'd be no drama between these two if they'd just act like sensible, mature adults and had a calm conversation, or even if they made an effort to get to know each other enough to trust each other with the truth. Since trust and communication are such key attributes of a loving, respectful, successful relationship, I spent the entire novel uncaring whether they got together, and thinking that I'd actually rather they didn't get together.
This debut novel falls into too many old and worn pitfalls, uses too many formulaic cliches, and struggled to hold my interest. If only it had had steamier sex scenes, I might have at least picked up on their supposed chemistry. A disappointing read, but I think Slater has potential....more
Hugely enjoyable, this one was. Really, I'm so glad I gave this series another try after starting with book 3 (Be Still My Vampire Heart) and dislikiHugely enjoyable, this one was. Really, I'm so glad I gave this series another try after starting with book 3 (Be Still My Vampire Heart) and disliking it so much, because all the other books I've read (eight so far) have been so much fun and not at all annoying. Toni is a solid heroine, hired as a day guard by the "good Vamps" to watch over them while they sleep because her fighting skills impressed Connor so much when he rescued her from a group of Malcontents.
There are several storylines going here, including Ian's search for a nice Vamp lady to marry that results in some rather hilarious (and rather sad) dating fiascos, and Toni's neighbour Carlos' big secret. Lots of action and some attempt on the part of the bad guys (the Malcontents) to use some brain cells and come up with a plan of attack. Plus there's some delightful chemistry between Toni and Ian and we get to see young Constantine work his magic. Literally. ...more
Mara Dyer isn't her real name. In a letter at the beginning of the story, Mara explains that it's a pseudonym, and that without her, "no one would knoMara Dyer isn't her real name. In a letter at the beginning of the story, Mara explains that it's a pseudonym, and that without her, "no one would know that a seventeen-year-old who likes Death Cab for Cutie was responsible for the murders. No one would know that somewhere out there is a B student with a body count. And it's important that you know, so you're not next." It all begins with her best friend, Rachel: at her birthday, Rachel's new friend Claire brings out the Ouija board, and one macabre question - "How does Rachel die?" - brings the answer: "Mara". Ominous? The girls just think the board wants Mara to ask a question, so they think nothing of it. But not long after, the three girls and Claire's brother Jude, who is also Mara's boyfriend of two months, sneak out in the middle of the night to do a tour of the abandoned mental asylum. A few days later, Mara wakes up in the hospital, her friends and boyfriend dead, and no memory of what happened.
To help her deal with the loss of Rachel, Mara and her family move from Rhode Island to Florida for a fresh start. Mara's mother enrols her and her older brother Daniel into a private school some distance away, and it's there that Mara meets Noah. Noah is the school's ultimate hottie and bad boy, with a reputation of sleeping around and breaking girls' hearts, and he seems to have fixated on Mara. But Mara isn't dealing so well: she's hallucinating, seeing her dead friends in mirrors and injuring herself when she imagines a force holding her arm in a scalding hot bath. Days later when she gets the bandages changed, the second-degree burns have vanished.
There's definitely something strange going on in Mara's life, and that's just the beginning. When people start turning up dead after she's imagined their death, in the exact same manner of death that she had imagined, she starts to realise she's far from innocent. And as the memories of what happened in the asylum slowly resurface, she learns a scary truth. Only Noah can understand what's going on, and help her. But there's someone else out there, abducting children and teens and leaving their bodies for the alligators, and the culprit may be closer to home than Mara ever expected.
This is quite a confusing book, in some ways, and painfully simple and cliched in others. The plot is very busy, and for the first, say, half, I had it figured in my head that this was a horror novel. The mysterious deaths of her friends in an asylum, the hallucinations - that were really quite scary - and the general sense that Mara was going crazy. Also, unlike many readers, I always assumed, from the very beginning, that the murderer Mara refers to in her letter at the start is her ex-boyfriend Jude, not herself. We learn early on that they never recovered his body, and Mara keeps seeing things, seeing him. This attempt to be tricky and twisty with the plot just annoyed me, because it was a bit clumsy. The Death Cab for Cutie (a band) is something of a red herring, because practically everyone in the book seems to like the band. Anyway, we'll have to wait and see with the next book, The Evolution of Mara Dyer.
Anyway, so at some point it turns into a romance, and then into a kind of paranormal, urban fantasy-romance thing, throwing new shit at the page as if the story were slipping down a cliff and Hodkin was hoping something would help halt its fall. I was quite enjoying it at first, even though there are too many YA stories about girls with amnesia and some secret or traumatic past. And then she arrives at the new school. First of all, why is she lost? I mean, before you start a new school you do a tour, right? New kids at my schools always came through with their entire families days before they started. Mara and Daniel, though, just suddenly start, and Mara spends a great deal of time being lost, as do all YA heroines these days. But worse than that was this shining light into the American secondary school system, that I hope to God is not as indicative as it comes across, considering it's represented this way in all the books and TV shows and movies I've come across - this condensed scene from Mara's English class, taught by a Ms Leib:
"[...] I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume you've read the Three Theban Plays at your previous school?"
"Yep," I said, fighting self-consciousness.
[...] Then she continued on with her lecture, most of which I'd heard before. [pp.58-9]
(I did say "condensed", yes?) Two things here leap out at me, as a high school English teacher (even if I'm not teaching these days): 1. it's implied - not just here - that all schools read the same books, throughout the country. Unlikely, and also somewhat disturbing. But that's just something that makes me frown. What really bothered me about this scene was the line: Then she continued on with her lecture, most of which I'd read before. First of all, all teachers ever seem to do in American high schools - and primary schools!! - is lecture. Really, really bad. I hope this isn't true-to-life. And secondly, the idea that the teachers all have the same lecture - as if one person wrote them all and handed them out to all the English teachers at the beginning of the year - is just so, so wrong. As if, there is only one interpretation of a book etc., only one answer to a question, only one way to think, and question, and analyse. Sorry to go off on a tangent - no, I'm not sorry, this really makes me mad, because even if these are just fictional characters, I still want to know that they're getting a good education, and being taught NOT the right answer to a question, but HOW TO ANALYSE AND QUESTION things! The one thing I've always stressed to students, the real genius of the subject of English, is that you can argue anything, as long as you can back it up. There is no right or wrong answer, only poorly articulated, weakly thought-out arguments lacking substantive evidence. The idea that these kids are expected to memorise one interpretation, that there's only one angle, one perspective, one interpretation - that's so awful I can't even comprehend it. I just had to get that off my chest.
Back to Mara. She comes afoul of the bitchy popular girl in school, Anna Greenly, and her giant gay sidekick, Aiden Davis. She makes friends with a boy called Jamie Roth who is, get this, black AND Jewish AND gay - no, bisexual. Because gay would be too straight-forward. These supporting characters are weakly fleshed out, pumped up with tired old stereotypes that keep them afloat, barely. Mara half-heartedly befriends Jamie - she isn't even all that friendly towards him, considering he's her only friend, but he's a good tutor - and he seems to function mostly as a mouthpiece for all the bad gossip about Noah.
Jamie crouched with me. "You're unraveling the very fabric of Croyden [High] society."
"What are you talking about?" I shoved my things into my messenger bag with unnecessary force.
"Noah drove you to school."
"Noah doesn't drive anyone to school."
"So what?" I asked, growing frustrated.
"He's acting like your boyfriend. Which makes the girls he treated like condoms a trifle jealous."
"Condoms?" I asked, confused.
"Used once and then discarded."
"He is." [p.255]
If Mara is a hard character to get to know, Noah is someone who filled me with ambivalence. On the one hand, he was quite clearly a mortal version of Edward Cullen, if Edward had an English accent (a completely unnecessary English accent, as is much about Noah). His family is filthy rich - again, why? - he's sexy and gorgeous, he's a "bad boy": wearing a dishevelled version of the private school uniform, with messy "bed hair", and a reputation as a slut - one all the girls chase and make eyes at. (It's a tough ask of readers, to establish a character this disreputable and then to turn around and say, But he's really very sweet and trustworthy!) I could handle all that, if I stopped thinking about it for long. I didn't find him "stalkerish" like a lot of other readers did, or overbearing. Actually, after their secrets are out in the open, I thought he was sort-of sweet. Certainly a lot less complicated than Mara. And it seemed that he had generated, or encouraged, the gossip that he sleeps around and breaks girls' hearts, but that it wasn't really true. That's what Noah seemed to say to Mara, though I notice he never actually refuted any of it, except Anna. So it was hard to know whether you could trust him.
And am I the only one who found the whole Joseph-kidnapping-midnight-rescue thing upsetting, disturbing, weird and creepy?
The novel is long, but a lot of its length is made up of dialogue, especially between Mara and Noah. It was sometimes fun, this dialogue, but other times it was just frustrating. This escalated in time with the changes in the plot, in general, so maybe it was all one and the same. There are a lot of unanswered questions in this first volume - a lot of answers too, but for every answer there seem to be two new questions. I kept expecting a twist (based on reviews I'd read last year, when it first came out - it took me nearly a year to decide to read this!) but never got one. I would have liked this a lot more if it had stuck with the horror genre, which says a lot considering I don't really read horror.
In many ways, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer plays it incredibly safe. The characters are ones you've read before, and most of them serve as plot devices (like to help with red herrings, or to propel Mara in a certain direction), while the plot is so busy being original and surprising that it may leave readers bewildered. By the end it had become The X-Men, and I love the X-Men, but this new theme started to sink almost immediately under the next new genre, murder mystery. It's amazing I didn't get dizzy and nauseous.
However, for a novel that tries too hard to be many things, including a by-the-numbers crowd-pleaser, it certainly is pretty readable. A hunger for answers will keep people reading, if nothing else. Or you could read it for the romance, since that takes up a good portion of the story - a very virginal romance, of course; as I said, this is a crowd-pleaser, and to sell well you need to please the Bible Belt mothers. (Murder is okay, as long as the heroine doesn't have pre-marital sex. Oh see how books like this bring out my snarky side?!) I liked it well enough, despite all my criticisms, but it's not one I want to spend too much time thinking about, lest I grow more and more annoyed with things that didn't bother me too much as I was reading it....more
I really enjoy this series. They're warm, funny, they focus a lot on building chemistry and genuine love between the main characters as well as touchiI really enjoy this series. They're warm, funny, they focus a lot on building chemistry and genuine love between the main characters as well as touching on the practicalities and logistics of mortals having relationships with vampires (Shanna and Roman from book 1 are often handy for providing insight to the newest female mortal on how a relationship could actually work). Plus the idea of "good Vamps" surviving on synthetic bottled blood is a better solution than Lynsay Sand's "bagged blood" from blood banks - that's always bothered me a bit because of how hard it is to get people to donate blood in real life, and so the idea that so much of it would get sidelined for vampires to drink has never really sat well with me. You know what they say: even fantasy must be believable, plausible, realistic (within the realms of said fantasy). Okay so "they" don't say it but I do.
Heather and Jean-Luc were an engaging pair and well suited. Plus in this book the first were-animal is revealed, and Ian finds a way to physically age so he no longer looks like a teenager despite being over five hundred years old. There's a lot of tension and excitement in this one; a very good addition to the series....more
Four years ago, a spot of nighttime journalism leaves Darcy Newhart dead - and reborn as a vampire. She didn't choose it, and she hasn't adjusted allFour years ago, a spot of nighttime journalism leaves Darcy Newhart dead - and reborn as a vampire. She didn't choose it, and she hasn't adjusted all that well, and after four years stuck in Roman Draganesti's harem, her opinion of vampire life hasn't improved all that much. Things have changed now for the vampire coven master: he's getting married to a mortal woman, and has kicked the centuries-old harem out of his house. Now Darcy's forging her own path, trying for a spot as news' anchor on the vampire television station, DVN.
Unfortunately, vampires are notoriously chauvinistic, and the going theory is that no one will want to listen to a woman giving the news - they'll be too distracted by her womanly bits. Instead, Darcy's given the chance to direct DVN's first-ever reality TV series, a show where male contestants vie for the position of master to Roman Dragenesti's master-less harem - and a million dollars. Darcy hits upon the idea of calling it The Sexiest Man on Earth, and to add an extra layer of surprise, sets out to recruit a few mortal men to throw into the mix of vampires. She knows a mortal isn't allowed to win - that would cost her her job - but the vampires' general sense of arrogant superiority annoys her enough that she wants to prove human men can be their equals. To a point, anyway. She also has to convince the harem women to take part as the judges, which is no easy feat after their lifetime of indulgence and high expectations.
The undercover Stake-Out team is paying close attention to this new TV show. Their leader, Sean Whellan, is Shanna's - Roman Dragenesti's new wife - father, and he thinks she's been brain-washed and wants to rescue her. Sean doesn't understand that there are two kinds of vampires, the "Vamps" who drink synthetic blood and wouldn't hurt anyone, and the "Malcontents", Russian-based vampires who see it as their right as superior beings to take whatever they want, including mortal lives. Austin Erickson is on the Stake-Out team, and with his high-level telekinesis and telepathic abilities, he's a formidable foe to the vampires. He goes undercover as a contestant on the show to gather intel on the vampires and find out where Shanna is, but his objective becomes muddied after meeting Darcy Newhart, whom he can't take his eyes off.
Austin is sure Darcy is human - she must be, with her thoughts of sun and the beach and her kindness. Vampires, Austin has been taught, are only one thing: evil monsters. Discovering that Darcy is in fact a vampire shakes his world, and her state of being isn't enough to put Austin off. But something has to be sacrificed: his new love for Darcy, or his career with the CIA. Someone will end up betrayed. And he's not entirely sure what he's willing to give up.
The second book in the Love at Stake series is hugely entertaining and so much fun! While there are definitely moments of serious introspection and tension, not to mention life-changing decisions, the tone overall is one of humour, silliness and a playful mockery of reality TV.
I don't watch reality TV shows, whether they're reality game shows or the cameras-inside-the-house type, I can't stand them, I find them incredibly boring and I don't see anything of merit in them at all, but as Darcy, the harem ladies and the contestants work their way through the different tests and elimination rounds, I was engrossed. Being "behind the scenes" was much more fun than watching the edited version on the telly, plus you get the added layer of plot with Austin and one of his co-workers from the Stake-Out team, Garrett, working undercover. Some of the scenarios as well as the harem ladies were really very funny, and as a mortal reader naturally it's fun to see the vampires - so sure of their superiority - get taken in by a couple of mortals.
Darcy is very sweet, with enough backbone in her to propel her forward and make her a strong protagonist. Her situation - having to give up her life, her family, her career all because of an attack by a Malcontent and then being converted by a Vamp in order to save her "life" - is sympathetic because it's one of those "that could have been me" scenarios. Darcy's a modern-day woman and she's now in hiding from the world she used to live in; that has to be tough. The other Vamps had been changed centuries ago, or in times of war or other upheavals, and have no particular attachment to the current age, so that they can have more fun and they've had more time to come to terms with things. Everything's still very fresh for Darcy, and she can see the world she used to belong in but isn't allowed to move around in it. Her character-growth arc was very satisfying, watching her make a place for herself in the Vamp world, make new friends, and ultimately a big decision - it worked well.
Austin is also very likeable. He's a fun blend of modern man, sexy man, dangerous man, skilled man. He's not perfect, but he's relatable, familiar. When he first sees Darcy, he's instantly struck by his lustful desire for her - she ticks all his boxes, and he ticks all of hers. A happy coincidence! Lust turns to love after they spend more time together on the set of the game show. Probably the thing I liked about him the least was the unapologetic way he'd trespass on Darcy's mind and listen to her thoughts. But he makes up for it in other ways. Austin and Darcy have some solid chemistry, and while there's little in the way of graphic sex scenes (I think I remember there being one), there's some very heated kissing and some well-timed interruptions that add to the tension nicely.
I've read quite a few of the books in this series now, having read them slightly out-of-order, but whether you're coming to the second book as a new reader of the series or you've been reading later books before returning to the beginning, like me, Vamps and the City offers great world-building, introduces new characters, and presents a great story that can easily be read as a stand-alone. Reading the first book, How To Marry a Millionaire Vampire, would help supply some backstory to this one, especially in regards to the Stake-Out team and who the kilted vampires are, but it's not hugely necessary. Vamps and the City is a funny, entertaining, well-paced and plotted romp. Makes me remember why I used to love reading Paranormal Romances so much!
Roman Draganesti leads the largest vampire coven in America; he's also a scientific inventor who changed everything for humans and vampires alike withRoman 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. ...more
Omaha, Nebraska, 1986. Eleanor has just moved back home after a year spent sleeping on the couch at the Hickman's, which was only supposed to be for aOmaha, Nebraska, 1986. Eleanor has just moved back home after a year spent sleeping on the couch at the Hickman's, which was only supposed to be for a weekend - but her new stepfather, Richie, took longer than that to cool down and let her back into the family. The oldest of five children, Eleanor hates and fears Richie, and for good reason: he's an abusive alcoholic with a precarious temper who regularly beats up their beautiful mother, who seems incapable - or afraid - of striking out on her own and raising her kids without a man (and she picks the worst kind of men). Even though Eleanor doesn't look much like her mother - she's a big girl, overweight with curly red hair and lots of freckles - she's seen Richie looking at her. Everyone lives in fear of Richie, but Eleanor worries most of all for her much younger brothers and sister. The truth is, they have nowhere else to go.
She takes the bus to her new high school, wearing a random assortment of clothes her mother has picked up from the Goodwill - mostly men's clothes, embellished with ribbons and scraps of fabric. No one wants to share a seat with the new weird girl on the bus, but finally one boy lets her sit next to him: a beautiful Asian kid called Park who reads comics on the bus. No one talks to her, and it's a while before Park realises she's reading his comics surreptitiously. He starts lending them to her and she stays up all night, reading them. Next he's leaving piles of his immaculate comics for her, which she carefully returns to him in the exact same condition.
Finally, they start talking. Park learns that Eleanor is very tight-lipped about her personal life, and quick to interpret things negatively. But he's fascinated by her. She's so completely different from anyone he's ever known, and the two become friends, then more than friends. Park introduces Eleanor to songs she's always wanted to hear, and makes her mixed tapes - only she doesn't want to tell him she can't listen to them because she can't afford batteries for her walkman. She doesn't want him to know that her family has no money, or what it's really like living with Richie and having to use a bathroom that has no door, or that she's being harassed at school by some of the other girls. But gradually, Park learns more about Eleanor's life, and his growing love for her never wavers.
Keeping her new friendship - and new relationship - from both her mother and her stepfather takes up a lot of effort on Eleanor's part, and with her siblings no longer trustworthy, she knows it's only a matter of time before Richie finds out and there'll be hell to pay. She has a new plan, but it will require her to sacrifice what she has with Park.
I loved Rowell's first book, Attachments, so when this became available in the UK I decided not to wait for the smaller trade paperback edition to be released in North America next year: I wanted to read it NOW. And I don't regret that for a second. This is very much a different story, a story that never once leans on its predecessor, and the two aren't comparable.
Eleanor & Park is about two teenagers, two very different teens, who look past the usual social boundaries to discover kindred spirits, best friends, future lovers. Eleanor has an absolutely awful home life, a really shitty situation, and you can't help but feel for her and worry about her - and her mother and siblings too. But Eleanor won't let you pity her. She's strong, and independent, and while beneath her prickly armour she's vulnerable and sensitive and full of potential, you have to admire her for her ability to soldier on.
She remembered her books today, and she was wearing fresh clothes. She'd had to wash her jeans out in the bathtub last night, so they were still kind of damp... But altogether, Eleanor felt a thousand times better than she had yesterday. Even her hair was halfway cooperating. She'd clumped it up into a bun and wrapped it with a rubber band. It was going to hurt like crazy trying to tear the rubber band out, but at least it was staying for now.
Best of all, she had Park's songs in her head - and in her chest, somehow.
There was something about the music on that tape. It felt different. Like, it set her lungs and her stomach on edge. There was something exciting about it, and something nervous. It made Eleanor feel like everything, like the world, wasn't what she'd thought it was. And that was a good thing. That was the greatest thing.
When she got on the bus that morning, she immediately lifted her head to find Park. He was looking up too, like he was waiting for her. She couldn't help it, she grinned. Just for a second. [p.58]
She's intelligent and does very well at school, but with her looks and her chubbiness and her poverty (she doesn't even have a toothbrush), the deck is stacked against her. Which makes the sweet, blossoming romance between her and Park all the more wonderful. It happens so naturally, so organically, and feels so real. Park is a real sweetie, caring little for stereotypes and what people think, he just wants to love Eleanor and spend time with her. Told from their alternating perspectives, the story reads almost like a puzzle that you patiently piece together, unhurried, knowing that the end picture will be worth it.
That morning, in English, Park noticed that Eleanor's hair came to a soft red point on the back of her neck.
That afternoon, in history, Eleanor noticed that Park chewed on his pencil when he was thinking. And that the girl sitting behind him - what's her name, Kim, with the giant breasts and the orange Esprit bag - obviously had a crush on him.
That night, Park made a tape with the Joy Division song on it, over and over again.
He emptied all his handheld video games and Josh's remote-control cars, and called his grandma to tell her that all he wanted for his birthday in November was double-A batteries. [p.61]
Watching her slowly thaw and open up to him was a bit scary, because of how tenuous her home life is, and you're never sure what awful thing is going to happen to them, you just know that something awful will happen - because people like Eleanor don't get a happy ending without the awful, first. Not with someone like Richie eyeing her. He's so volatile, a real lowlife bogan, the worst kind of bogan there is. The kind of man you want to take out the back and shoot like he's a rabid dog threatening your flock.
Eleanor and Park's influence on each other, how they bring out each other's best qualities, is subtle and something like a warm buzz throughout the pages. Eleanor isn't the only one with drama in her home life: Park's parents have their moments too, but it's never black-and-white. They come to really like and care for Eleanor, which brings with it a sense of relief. The worst thing to witness about kids like Eleanor, is when all adults turn their backs on them, assuming the worst, judging.
Eleanor & Park is full of pop culture references from the 80s - I was particularly happy to see a reference to The Young Ones, which was a show I grew up watching with my family but I had no idea people in America had heard of it. I didn't get all of them of course, some where specific to the setting and the country it's set in, but I got most of them. There was a real sense of place and time, though it felt like it could have been my own rather than a foreign country.
Rowell's ability to create realism, and believable characters, to bring to life a story that is at once new and alien and also deeply familiar, is quite something. And for as heavy as the subject-matter can get, her snappy sense of humour underlies it all, making it equally entertaining. I absolutely loved this; it's not as fundamentally happy as Attachments, and it's more serious in theme (there, and I said I wouldn't compare!), but I enjoyed it just as much, just for different reasons. It spoke to me on a personal level, because looking beyond Eleanor's awful home life, she's someone I could relate to, or at least feel genuine sympathy and empathy for. We have a few things in common. She's pretty awesome, in fact, and Park was just lovely. The ending is quite open, and in my imagination I give them the happy ending they definitely deserve. ...more
Abby Abernathy has moved as far away from her town and her father as she can get when she picks her university, and takes her best friend America withAbby Abernathy has moved as far away from her town and her father as she can get when she picks her university, and takes her best friend America with her. Her plan is simple: don't drink, don't swear, date nice boys, wear cardigans. Her hope is to leave her past behind and not drag anyone else down with her. But through America's boyfriend Shepley, Abby meets his cousin, Travis Maddox, with shaved hair and tattoos and a reputation of never being beaten in the secret underground fights called The Circle, through which he makes enough money to get himself through uni.
Travis is known as the university's Walking One-Night Stand, and when he shows an interest in Abby, she's quick to tell him she won't sleep with him. Instead, they become friends, and everyone's amazed: Travis doesn't do "friends" with girls. When Abby loses a bet to Travis and has to live with him for a month, even sharing his bed with him, it becomes apparent that Travis doesn't just want to be friends, and he's not handling that well.
As Abby and Travis navigate their way through new territory - for both of them - the tension ratchets up higher and higher. Being Travis' first real girlfriend is a strange new experience for both of them, but can it last? Especially when Travis is dragged into Abby's real world, her past life, and Abby sees nothing but ruin in their future.
This is another self-published success story, following on from EL James: you can now get Beautiful Disaster from Atria Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster). Judging by what McGuire says on her website, there was some editing done, so to be clear, I read the second edition of her self-published book, and all quotes in this review come from there.
I enjoyed this far more than I expected to (it is self-published, after all), and if it wasn't for the ending I would have rated it higher. The ending was awful, very tacky and cloying and bogan and rather ridiculous as well as unnecessary, even given Travis' nature. But I'm not going to talk about the ending beyond that, so, moving on.
The writing is clear and confident and pretty well-edited. The story reminded me of Tammara Webber's Easy except with no rape/attempted rape and an arguably more interesting heroine. The comparison is based mostly on the university setting, which was quite similar, though there was less time spent in classes in this book than in the other. The focus was strongly placed on the ever-changing relationship between Abby and Travis, and it's amazing they got any work done at all half the time.
Abby, as I said, was quite interesting. She managed to keep Travis out of her pants for quite some time and was good at sticking to her convictions, though too often her method of dealing with Travis was to pretend things were fine to his face and then sneak out the back door and run away. Which would send him on a real bender of angst-riddled violence and craziness. Their relationship was incredibly intense, whether they were friends, going out together, breaking up or getting back together. I think it may have given me whiplash, it changed so often, so suddenly. It was actually hard, at times, to read it, because it's hard to watch a grown man fall apart so easily, or be so dependent on someone in such a desperate way. Yet I always love those kind of scenes - they just get to me, they really do, even though afterwards I cringe a bit. And Travis was as vulnerable and fragile as he was violent and obsessive. That said, I do love a story with major intensity and raw emotion, which is why I enjoyed the Fifty Shades trilogy, and plenty of other, better-written books, so much. I love the raw emotion, even though I have to agree with Abby's roommate, Kara, on her assessment:
"Do you know what co-dependency is, Abby? Your boyfriend is a prime example, which is creepy considering he went from having no respect for women at all to thinking he needs you to breathe."
"Maybe he does," I said, refusing to let her spoil my mood.
"Don't you wonder why that is? I mean ... he's been through half the girls at this school. Why you?"
"He says I'm different."
"Sure he does. But why?"
"Why do you care?" I snapped.
"It's dangerous to need someone that much. You're trying to save him and he's hoping you can. You two are a disaster."
I smiled at the ceiling. "It doesn't matter what or why it is. When it's good, Kara ... it's beautiful." [pp.232-3]
Basically, Abby and Travis were a mess, a chaotic, drama-fuelled, obsessive mess, always at the edge of violence if not going right over. Not towards Abby, no, but Travis has serious impulse-control issues and for a guy who we're told is such a genius (book smarts), his only comeback to the snarky or lewd comments of others towards Abby is to punch them. Repeatedly. Not that he ever gets in trouble for it: the people he punches seem to take it as just deserts, as if it wasn't a gross over-reaction. Very bogan, and very gross. Abby did have some positive influence over Travis, but mostly her very existence seemed to make him more volatile.
Which is partly the point of the story, from Abby's perspective at least: she's convinced she's no good for him, and that it's her and her baggage that's at fault. Don't you love a heroine who blames herself for how violent her partner is? Worrying, yes. But this isn't a YA novel, don't forget: it's adult romance, and the whole point of being an adult is to not be impressionable. So, while I was reading this, I enjoyed it. Doesn't mean I'd ever want it in real life, or wouldn't be worried if a friend got into a relationship like this. Keep it on the page, right? It's not Travis' obsessiveness that bothers me, it's his violence. His unpredictability. How easily and quickly he can slip off into crazy-land and how dependent he is on Abby to pull him back out again.
I reached my hand across the table, sliding my fingers into his. "You meant what you said last night, didn't you?"
He began to speak, but Chris' laughter filled the cafeteria. "Holy God! Travis Maddox is whipped?"
"Did you mean it when you said you didn't want me to change?" he asked, squeezing my hand.
I looked down at Chris laughing to his teammates, and then turned to Travis. "Absolutely. Teach that asshole some manners."
A mischievous grin spread across his face, and he walked down to the end of the table where Chris sat. Silence spread across the room, and Chris swallowed back his laughter.
"Hey, I was just givin' you a hard time, Travis," he said, looking up at him.
"Apologize to Pidge," Travis said, glowering down at him.
Chris looked down at me with a nervous grin. "I .. I was just kidding, Abby. I'm sorry."
I glared at him as he looked up to Travis for approval. When Travis walked away, Chris snickered, and then whispered something to Brazil. My heart began to pound when I saw Travis stop in his tracks and ball his hands into fists at his side.
Brazil shook his head and huffed in an exasperated sigh. "Just remember when you wake up, Chris ... that you bring it on yourself."
Travis lifted Finch's tray off the table and swung it into Chris' face, knocking him off his chair. Chris tried to scramble under the table, but Travis pulled him out by his legs, and then began to whale on him.
Chris curled into a ball, and then Travis kicked him in the back. Chris arched and turned, holding his hands out, allowing Travis to land several punches to his face. The blood began to flow, and Travis stood up, winded.
"If you even look at her you piece of shit, I'll break your fuckin' jaw!" Travis yelled. I winced when he kicked Chris in the leg one last time.
The women working in the cafeteria scampered out, shocked at the bloody mess on the floor.
"Sorry," Travis said, wiping Chris's blood from his cheek.
Some of the students stood up to get a better look; others remained seated, watching with mild amusement. The football team simply stared at Chris's limp body on the floor, shaking their heads. [pp.216-7]
Where the hell is campus police in all this? It's like the whole university believes that this is an acceptable method of communicating.
And I have to say, wow the sex was boring. Abby's first time was realistic enough, but it seemed like Travis - who's such a lady's man and has the women he's shagged practically begging for a second go - only has one style of sex, and almost zero foreplay. Not inspiring, for a romance. I mean, for such an intense relationship outside the shagging, it was surprising how un-intense the shagging was. Make sense? Not that there's a lot of it.
The novel follows a year, or almost a year, and is full of drama. I sometimes couldn't quite get over just how much drama there was. I tend to steer clear of drama, in my life, so if people really do have this much crap going on, or react to things in this way, I've never been witness to it. But it does have the feel of realism, and it was easy to get involved in the story and forget about the world around you. The first half was much better than the second half, and I have to say that it often didn't go in the direction I had half-heartedly predicted (based on similar stories), which was nice. The pacing is steady and the writing has just enough description and reflection to flesh it out without slowing it down or losing the tension. For a first novel, it's pretty good if you like these kinds of stories, just don't take it too seriously if you want half a chance at enjoying it.
Walking Disaster, a companion novel told from Travis' point-of-view, will be available next year. (Midnight Sun anyone? At least this one isn't going to be aborted.) Not entirely sure if I want to read it - not because I wouldn't mind getting Travis' point of view, but because I don't think I want to live through this drama all over again. Well, maybe next year... ...more
Jacqueline used to know exactly where she stood in life and what was in her future. A musician who plays the double bass, she opted to follow her highJacqueline used to know exactly where she stood in life and what was in her future. A musician who plays the double bass, she opted to follow her high school boyfriend, Kennedy, to his university of choice rather than go to one with a better music program, to avoid a long-distance relationship. But uni is not high school, and it's not long before Kennedy tells her he wants to break up with her so he can "sow his wild oats." (Seriously. I'm not kidding.) Not long after, she reluctantly goes to a Halloween party with her best friend and roommate, Erin, and Erin's boyfriend Chaz, as the designated driver, but after seeing Kennedy get up close and personal with random girls, she bails. Walking to her car in the dark, trying to find her keys, she's taken by surprise by a friend of Kennedy's, Buck, who tries to sexually assault her. She's saved from being raped by Lucas, a lean, handsome guy who looks like a dropout (Jacqueline's thought not mine), with a ring through his lip; but he handles Buck easily, and takes Jacqueline home.
Upset from her breakup with Kennedy, Jacqueline had fallen behind in her Economics class (which she took only because Kennedy was taking it), in order to avoid him - and because they have assigned seating and the last thing she wants to do is sit next to the guy who's called her "Jackie" for as long as she's known him. Kennedy has aspirations to be a politician, and president of the country some day, and thinks it's a fine joke for them to be Jackie and Kennedy.
Shedding the now-hateful "Jackie", she pulls herself together and goes to see the professor, who has some sympathy for her and puts her in touch with the class tutor, Landon. Because tutorials clash with her music responsibilities, they correspond only by email as he helps her catch up and make up a missed grade. She finds Landon easy to talk to, and they end up having some fun banter online.
In her daily life, though, she's suddenly noticing Lucas everywhere. In her economics class, working at the Starbucks she now goes to because Kennedy will be at the cafe they used to frequent together; at the self-defence class Erin decided they'll both take. And as she gets to know him, she finds that falling for Lucas is easy, but finding herself and learning to protect herself against Buck's continuing unwanted advances is much more difficult. The first step is to put some trust in Lucas, and also in herself.
I've been talking for ages - in bits here and there - about the lack of stories set at universities, in that pivotal time of our lives when we're 18 to 21 years old. Not that they have to be set in uni's, but that age range is sorely missing from fiction. It pops up in gritty adult literature from time to time, but not in any real way, or even in a fun way. Certainly, when I was at college (that's years 11 and 12, or age 16-18, in my home state), I would have loved to read books set at uni, ones like this. What, did life just stop at the end of year 12? Hardly. Not to mention all the under-represented kids who didn't even go to college but stopped at grade 10, or those who didn't go to uni: where are their stories?
So I was all for embracing this new self-published YA novel after hearing about it on Angieville. I was disappointed by Jennifer Echols' Love Story, also set at uni, so I was more than hopeful that a different author would come through for me. And in many ways, Easy didn't disappoint. And in other ways, it definitely did.
Where Easy is strongest is in the smooth writing and fast, steady pace: it's easy to simply start reading and keep going, ignoring everything around you. Jacqueline is only in first year uni, and she sounds realistically enough like a high school student still - I remember finding it easy to tell the kids who had been to private or posh schools (they still wore uniforms, only in casual clothes, and hung out in small cliques while everyone else ignored them, until they shook off their previous lives and got grubby with the rest of us), and the dorky ones who lived in residences: it's not very common, so we tended to look down on them a bit (when we heard the latest story of their stupidity) as kids who didn't know how to take care of themselves. Most people at uni live in sharehouses, or rent a flat somewhere, even when their parents live in the same city (living more like Lucas does, for example).
The differences in the system (my husband went to uni in the States and said you're kinda expected to live in a dorm, for the first couple of years at least) do tend to make it a bit hard for me to relate to these stories at times. I don't know about universities on the mainland (though I've never heard of it), but we didn't have fraternities and I don't really understand what the "Greek system" is, outside of what I've gleaned from American popular culture. They have a bit of it here in Canada too but I haven't experienced it, so I don't get it. That side of the plot in Easy left me feeling a bit confused and more than a bit outraged. The idea that the boys' fraternity wanted to cover up Buck's sexual assault made me feel ill. Oh it happens, I believe that, but these fraternities sound so rotten at their core, and the clique-iness of their structure, the old secret handshake do-my-boy-a-favour and he-got-a-good-job-because-of-his-dad/fraternity is downright creepy and gross. (There are even cases of kids dying in their stupidly irresponsible and pointless initiation rituals!) Webber assumes her readers know the system as well as her characters do, so sometimes there seemed a bit of a disconnect for me as I gnawed away at it, trying to understand their motivations and their lives. I didn't learn anything new about living in a dorm at an American university, only the same details that you find in movies and the occasional book. I still don't know how they're run, who supervises (I assume there are supervisors), what they eat and where (Jacqueline doesn't seem to eat much in this story), or what it's really like to have to share space - and a bathroom! - with so many other people (I did learn they do their own laundry, at least). I'd hate it, I really would, but I still want to understand it and experience it vicariously through fiction. ;)
But in general, they're young and human and uni's not so different (the lack of any real responsibility and the oodles of time on your hands, the subjects that lit up your brain and the fun with friends) and I enjoyed the setting - and the details - a lot. It's a minor thing in an otherwise engaging story. It begins "heavy", and it doesn't hurt to be forewarned, because I started reading it and was like, "Whoa! What am I reading here?!" Buck (dear god where do they get these names from??!) is your quintessential popular preppy guy with a massive sense of entitlement - as is Kennedy, who's a real selfish dickhead. Honestly he gave me the willies. The details in Webber's descriptions of him, especially when Jacqueline contrasts him to Lucas, were very telling. In contrast, Lucas is a much more familiar uni student stereotype to me, mostly because there were loads of Lucas's at my uni. Not necessarily as handsome, though! He's artistic, and has a scarily scary past. The story of what happened to his mother - and him - made me cry, it was so awful. (I doubt very much any newspaper would have printed all the details that Jacqueline found, though.)
I could understand Jacqueline wanting to pretend Buck's assault hadn't happened, and the way that plot played out - from Buck's end at least - wasn't unexpected. In fact, it was quite predictable (as was the deal with Landon; spotted that immediately, it was pretty obvious). It did get a bit telly-movie-cheesy at the end, it was a lot like watching one of those cheap films laden with drama and an ending that you can see coming from a mile away. Despite that, I still got emotionally invested in the story and came to really like Jacqueline and Lucas. I wish we could have learnt more about Jacqueline's music and Lucas's private life, but there you go. Jacqueline's parents seemed awful at first, though they come through for her; mostly by biggest fear was that Jacqueline would fall for Kennedy's oily charm again. I would have lost all respect for her at that, and nearly did when she caved and spent time with him for Thanksgiving.
This review has come out sounding far too negative, and I'm sorry for that. If I'd written this after finishing it two and a half weeks ago, it might have sounded a lot more enthusiastic. After the uncomfortable beginning, and a bit of back-and-forth in time, it zips along and is well edited. While I did find Jacqueline to be a bit lacking in personality, I still came to like her. The supporting cast of characters weren't very fleshed-out, but were nicely, if scantily, detailed. For a mature, well-written if sometimes cheesy and predictable story about young love, being a woman on the cusp of true adulthood, and learning to stand on your own two feet, Easy is a highly enjoyable and satisfying read....more
Maddie's mother Phoebe has died recently, but Maddie's all about looking at the bright side: she finally left her abusive, emotionally manipulative boMaddie's mother Phoebe has died recently, but Maddie's all about looking at the bright side: she finally left her abusive, emotionally manipulative boyfriend, Alex; and while she lost her job in L.A., it does leave her free (but broke) to claim the inheritance her flaky, hippie mother left her and her two half-sisters, Tara and Chloe, on the coast of Washington State at a little town called Lucky Harbor.
The inheritance turns out to be an old inn a mile outside the tiny town, badly in need of renovation and new everything, a little caretaker's cottage, and a mariner that rents out boats and slips to locals. Maddie is determined to stay and make it work, but her sister's - cool, "steel magnolia" Tara with the gorgeous husband and successful life, and "wild child" Chloe who wants to be off chasing the next best thing (work at a spa in New Mexico) - want to sell up fast and forget all about it. Maddie convinces them to give her until Christmas to do some repairs, and since that might help the resale value, the others agree.
For Maddie, life in Lucky Harbor is vastly different from life in L.A., but much more enjoyable and relaxing. Especially with sexy biker guy, Jax Cullen, one of the first locals she meets, who takes a marked interest in her. In fact, the entire town is watching as Jax tries to win Maddie over. Problem is, after Alex, Maddie has sworn herself off men, especially lawyers. While she doesn't know (yet) that Jax used to practice law at his father's successful law firm in Seattle, he's still a man, and that makes him off-limits.
Jax is a changed man from the days he worked as a lawyer, getting wealthy slimeballs and obviously guilty people off scot-free. He helps everyone in town, and currently fills the office of mayor, while running his own business as a contractor/carpenter. While his life is now more fulfilling - and ethical - than it was in Seattle, until Maddie came into town, it was also quite lonely. He quickly falls for Maddie, and patiently coaxes her into being the confident, assertive woman that Alex had coerced (and slapped) her out of.
But Maddie's battles aren't all internal: she still has to convince her sisters to give Lucky Harbor a go, or there's no way she can stay here. It takes the cathartic bearing of old pain and a near-tragedy to change the way her sisters think about their mother's legacy.
The cover might be incredibly tacky, but the story is delightfully fresh in many ways, highly entertaining, funny and enjoyable. I haven't read anything by Shalvis before and had kept my expectations pretty low, but after finishing it I immediately went and got the second book, The Sweetest Thing, because I definitely want to revisit Lucky Harbor and the fun characters that live there.
While Maddie had some cliched romance-heroine traits - cute bumbling clumsiness, some lip biting, stubbornness - she also had an openness about her, an honesty that was refreshing. She was able to admit to her own silliness and, later in the story, acknowledge in a clear-headed way that she was being unfair towards Jax, while trying to understand her own feelings. She still reacts in-the-moment, and sometimes over-react, but when she's had a moment to cool down, she doesn't stick to her original feelings out of stubbornness or not wanting to look foolish; she evaluates her reaction and her feelings and apologises or explains (without going on about it, too). This helped me not get annoyed at the way she reacted to some things, and understand that she has a real growth curve in this book, as she tries to recover from her previous relationship, but to be honest she didn't really have anything to be mad about, and I had to admire Jax for being so understanding.
Jax, as well, was a pleasant mix of classic romance tropes and fresh realism. He didn't suffer from pigheadedness or a silly refusal to admit his feelings, nothing so tiresome. He's honest with himself as well as Maddie, and I quickly came to really love his character. He's patient and generous and caring, and his reaction to the way Maddie flinches from him as if she's going to be hit speaks loudly to what a truly good guy he is. He's not perfect, but I love how he didn't fall into the macho stereotypes. He was a fun mix of urban educated sophisticate and small-town handyman.
The supporting cast were also an interesting group of people, all quite different, all people you want to get to know more - and if I read on in the series, I know I'll get that, until the town becomes a real place in my mind, like those towns in TV shows that seem larger-than-life (I'm thinking the ABC's Seachange and the BBC's Hamish Mabeth as personal favourites). While Lucky Harbor itself isn't deeply explored in this first book, the pieces are starting to shift into place, and the atmosphere and sense of small town life is present.
There's a whole gamut of elements at play here, within the classic romance formula: lively banter; heartfelt, non-cheesy sex; a wide range of emotions; fun characters and an engaging setting. It definitely had its moments of being cheesy, too, but the kind of cheesy that makes you laugh. It was easy to curl up with this book and not emerge until it was finished; sometimes you really need a book that offers this kind of comfort. (On a side note, I was curious to hear that she wrote a book called Aussie Rules - as in, our football? But she's American? I had to look it up and, sadly, it isn't about Aussie Rules Football at all, but a pilot... Bummer.) ...more
My love for this series is undying. Which is ironic, considering that most of the characters are too. :)
Elizabeth "Ellie" Pierce had been living a preMy love for this series is undying. Which is ironic, considering that most of the characters are too. :)
Elizabeth "Ellie" Pierce had been living a pretty content life, up in the Appalachian mountains with her family, a large mining clan who mostly live in trailers. Then an force of sheer evil took possession of her body, Soraya the Soul Reaper, Goddess of Death who takes the utmost pleasure in taking over Ellie's body and killing people. A last desperate bid to rid herself of this interloper results in the mass murder of several priests come to do an exorcism, and the arrival of the police. Determined to end things by provoking the police to shoot her, Ellie is instead saved from this out by the sudden appearance of a terrifying man: tall, muscled, white-blond hair, dressed in black leather with dark red eyes, he takes the bullets without a care and tells her he wants her to spend two years in prison, keeping the body - and Soraya - safe until he can come back and claim her as his Bride.
Lothaire is an ancient vampire, one of the oldest beings in the Lore - as old as Nix the Ever-Knowing, in fact, his old friend-nemesis-betrayer. He is constantly planning and scheming, and keeps a thick book of all the debts people in the Lore owe him. He seeks revenge on two groups of vampires, one powerful and hidden in the mist, the other the Horde - both of which he is descended from, and determined to get their crowns for himself. To do that, he needs a queen worthy of being at his right hand. When seeing Ellie blooded him, he knew it was Soraya who is his rightful Bride, not the human host, and hatched a new plan that will oust Ellie from her body, allowing Soraya to take over, after which he will pursue his blood vendetta from a millennium ago and finally achieve his goals.
But Soraya, unknown to Lothaire, is a virgin queen, her power lies in being untouched, and she cannot stand Lothaire's advances. Instead, she encourages him to use Ellie, who he has sprung from prison just as she was about to be executed, much to Ellie's dismay. To Lothaire, Ellie is a hillbilly, the very opposite of the queen he needs, and he treats her with cruel disdain. Escaping Lothaire is impossible, but her new plan is to win him over, for only if he loved her would he stop his plan to banish her soul forever.
As always, the plot sounds complicated but is revealed at a steady, well-timed pace so that it all makes sense, your understanding building as the story progresses. It helps to have the knowledge and context from the previous books as well - these are recurring characters and over-arching themes and plots that weave in and out. The first book, A Hunger Like No Other, may have been quite simple and even formulaic, but ever since then Cole has been steadily and patiently building her world and developing her impressive cast of characters, in such a way that she puts many epic fantasy writers to shame.
I loved Ellie - someone else described her as "scrappy" and I love that, it's spot-on. She's short, small, wiry, confident and has none of the annoying habits of truly whiny, delicate romance heroines. She has conviction, pride, determination, willpower, ambition, loyalty and compassion. Lothaire, after releasing her from prison, takes her to his sealed-off penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park in New York City. There, he lays it all out for Ellie, and she's quick to understand that once Lothaire has the ring he needs to remove her soul from her body, he won't waste time using it. Ellie's had enough. She's already lost five years of her life, locked up in prison, away from her family and the mountains and everything that makes living worthwhile, all so the evil bitch inside her is safe for Lothaire. Killing herself seems preferable to his plan, but Lothaire gets in the way of that, too. After a millennia of working on his Endgame, and being so close to achieving it, he's not about to let one scrappy human woman thwart him.
Lothaire, too, I loved. He's appeared in several of the books in the series before, and he is truly the "Enemy of Old" - everyone fears him, mixed in with some hatred, and not without reason. His age makes him strong, he's cunning, he's relentless, and a great many people owe him favours. He's also narcissistic, selfish, elitist, arrogant, cocky, demanding, merciless and alone. He has no friends, aside from Nix though that's a weird friendship if it is one, and no real allies. He works alone, seeking to rule what he hates. We get to learn a bit about his past, even his childhood, but thankfully, Cole has written a character like this only to have him "redeemed" at the end through love. No, he stays the same Lothaire, only now he has a woman to tease him and make him strive towards new, healthier goals.
This is very much a character-driven story. Several of the others have had exciting, adventuresome plots propelling the story, and the characters, forward, but here we have a slower story, spending more time on establishing the characters, having them learn each other and grow to love each other, with the pending threats and dire countdowns adding tension and suspense. It worked really well, especially considering Lothaire's not a character you could easily fall in love with, no matter how pretty he is. He's such a bastard. And the fact that Ellie's essentially forgives him for what he put her through, well that's a bit of a tough pill to swallow - or would be, if Cole hadn't given them the time and space to really understand each other. Because even after Lothaire falls in love with her, and saves her over Soraya, he still acts high-handed and selfish and doesn't understand why she's upset that he's deciding her future for her - oh and what she does to him after their fantastic argument, it's funny and satisfying even though it's gory, because Ellie manages to do what no one in the Lore has ever come close to doing. (Naturally, he's pissed.) That's the fun thing about characters who rarely really die: they go through maimings and curses and lost limbs and they're okay. Ellie could see in Lothaire what no one else could. Lothaire doesn't become a better person, not really - he's still the Enemy of Old - but with Ellie, he has better intentions, better motivations, and someone to make happy.
This has all Cole's trademark humour and unexpected plot turns, as well as an ending that resolves all the things you thought could never be resolved. She's great at that. And between the banter, the sex, the imaginative world-building and supporting cast, the twists and turns and high-stakes adventure, and two main characters who totally steal the show, this is another one to add to my favourites. And now the wait begins for a new Kresley Cole book! If you enjoy paranormal romance of any kind, but especially the kind that leans heavily into Fantasy terrain, with original, exciting characters, intelligent, clever plots and fun banter, you absolutely have to get cracking on Immortals After Dark!
Note on the series: Depending on which list you follow, this is either the 11th or 12th book in the series. Fairly recently on Goodreads - which is the best place outside the author's website to get accurate info on a series - the original novella, "The Warlord Wants Forever", available on its own as well as in the anthology, Playing Easy to Get, has been listed as #0.5, which is a bit weird to me, and A Hunger Like No Other has gone back to being the #1 book. Which makes this the 11th. But if you still count "The Warlord Wants Forever" as the first book, then this is #12. Confused? Don't care? Just wanted to make clear why I have this down as #12 while Goodreads says it's #11, in order to be consistent with the numbering on my previous reviews. ...more
Three years after the events of If I Stay, and things with Mia and Adam are very different. Adam is living the rock 'n' roll dream, with his band, ShThree years after the events of If I Stay, and things with Mia and Adam are very different. Adam is living the rock 'n' roll dream, with his band, Shooting Star, the new Big Thing in music, while Mia - well, Adam's not entirely sure where Mia is or what's she's doing, because he hasn't seen her since she got on a plane for New York to attend a prestigious music school three years ago.
The last three years have been hell on Adam. Having taken a hiatus from life in general in order to stay with Mia every day while she recovers from her injuries, when she left him he ceased to function, spending months holed up in his old bedroom at his parent's house, working a tedious data entry night shift at a factory. When he finally comes out of this self-induced pity-fest, he channels his feelings into new songs and presents them to his bandmates. The resulting album skyrockets them to instant fame and fortune, and their second album does just as well. But the touring, the roadies, the one-night-stands, none of it helps Adam adjust to a life without Mia - and a life not knowing where she is or why she left him. She just stopped talking to him altogether.
Now he's living with a Hollywood movie star several years older than him, on prescription anti-anxiety meds and smoking to get through the day. In New York to wrap up a recording a promo session before heading to the UK for the start of big tour, Adam seems ready to combust. He's volatile, has a quick temper and a poor reputation with journalists. After a disastrous interview, his manager gives him the rest of the day off. It's while walking around the city that Adam comes across a concert performance by one Mia Hall, cellist. As famous as he is, he can't sit incognito in the audience like he thought, and at the end of the performance Mia has called him backstage.
So begins their one night of seeing each other again after all this time and all this silence, of Adam and Mia skirting around each other and the issues that have come between them. But the old chemistry is still there, at least on Adam's side. After all, he never wanted to break up with her. And the why of it all is just eating him up inside. But it seems like Mia has moved on, and she sure seems to think he has.
Structured much the same way as its predecessor, If I Stay, taking place mostly over a 24-hour-period (though it goes longer than that) and alternating with flashbacks that tie in to what's happening in the present, Where She Went is told from Adam's perspective, and it comes with his tone: one of sheer angst, fiercely repressed emotion, and molten anger. He's barely functioning, his love for the music has withered and died under the assault of fame and other people's expectations, and he can't handle the lack of privacy no matter how hard he tries. And now he's facing sixty-seven days on the road with the band, who are barely speaking to him and who stay at a different hotel from him, and he feels ready to crack.
...the tour is sixty-seven nights. Sixty-seven. I repeat it in my head like a mantra, except it does the opposite of what a mantra's supposed to do. It makes me want to grab fistfuls of my hair and yank. And how do I tell Aldous, how do I tell any of them, that the music, the adrenaline, the love, all the things that mitigate how hard this has become, all of that's gone? All that's left is this vortex. And I'm right on the edge of it. My entire body is shaking. I'm losing it. A day might be just twenty-four hours but sometimes getting through just one seems as impossible as scaling Everest. [pp.26-7]
This book is tight with Adam's feelings, constrained and silent to everyone around him but flowing over on the inside, where we can hear him. His first meeting with Mia after three years of silence, with his Why question burning inside him, is so tense and confused it's almost painful to bear witness. Because, after everything that they went through, we too are burning to know: Why? What happened, from Mia's side of things? To have dumped him with no explanation, to have just ceased communicating with him, leaving him to wonder, and despair, is something akin to emotional torture - and we feel it along with Adam.
That night, instead of sleeping, instead of reading, I paced my room for four hours. As I walked back and forth, pushing permanent indentations into the tread of my parents' cheap shag carpeting, I felt something febrile growing inside of me. It felt alive and inevitable, the way a puke with a nasty hangover sometimes is. I felt it itching its way through my body, begging for release, until it finally came tearing out of me with such force that first I punched my wall, and then, when that didn't hurt enough, my window. The shards of glass sliced into my knuckles with a satisfying ache followed by the cold blast of a February night. The shock seemed to wake something slumbering deep within me. Because that was the night I picked up my guitar for the first time in a year. [p.66]
For much of the book, I felt what Adam felt: that Mia was being unnecessarily cruel, had been unspeakably mean in the past, but sure that, somehow, there must be a good reason for it. And there is. At least, when Mia does finally explain, it makes a lot of sense, and is tragically realistic. It wouldn't work so well if we hadn't had so many flashbacks, filling in the gaps of the past and how Mia was changed after she woke from her coma. But knowing anything at all about human nature, her feelings, and how she dealt with them - as appalling selfish and mean to him as it was - clicked.
The story is, like the first one, short. There's a lot crammed in there, and it keeps its focus tightly on Adam and Mia and the drama of their lives, but the ending still came too quickly, suddenly and soon. There are some really poignant moments, most notably the one where Adam finally cracks and asks her why she broke up with him, as well as Mia's impassioned explanation that is full of pain. If nothing else, Forman excels at capturing the raw emotions of the heart and presenting realistic, engaging characters who can't fail to feel like people you know and care deeply about.
In many ways, I preferred this story to If I Stay - while I was caught up in the sheer tragedy of If I Stay while reading it, it still only had one real outcome in terms of Mia dying or staying, so a feeling of heavy foreboding hung over it (I know that Mia staying should be cause for a sense of hope, but the fate of her family, especially her brother, and the very real sadness of not following after them, coloured it so that there was no real happy ending). Whereas, with Where She Went, there was the unexplained Why? and the uncertainty of what Mia wanted. I actually thought for a while there that she had moved on, and like Adam, I had to reconcile myself to that - and I was okay with it. It was just as realistic an option as any other. So maybe the ending we do get was a bit too "happy ever after" in comparison.
But the reason why I slightly prefer it is that there's so much more going on in this book than the first one, it's more layered, more raw in many ways. I suppose the fate of the living has more of an impact on me than that of the already deceased. That said, after having finished both of them - and for as much as I enjoyed them while reading them - afterwards I'm left with the taste of having overdosed on melodrama. If the books were longer, more drawn-out and nuanced, then it might be different. The short-coming of the 24-hour narrative structure is that it constricts a hefty, emotional, dramatic story into a tight timeframe, and forces a resolution that probably needed more time to naturally evolve. The structure definitely adds to the emotional wallop of the overall story, and the fact that time's running out for both of them (in terms of their job schedules), adds to the tension. But it runs the risk of coming across as emotionally manipulative.
Overall, a well-written, absorbing conclusion to Mia and Adam's story, and a story that makes me infinitely glad that neither I nor my husband have (or want) these kinds of public-face careers. Being in a relationship with someone in the media spotlight sounds truly awful. ...more