Last Rake Standing, by Jane Fresina

  • Title: Last Rake Standing
  • Author: Jayne Fresina (author website)
  • Published: January, 2011
  • Pages: 78 (PDF ebook)
  • Genre: Historical Romance
  • Standalone or series: Standalone 
  • Why I read it: When the author contacted me directly to read and review this title I was completely hooked by the excerpt!
  • Source: provided by author

Summary: (from publishing page)

In Victorian London, Emma Hale leads two lives. As Le Petite Oiseau, in corset and pink feathers, she’s the reigning queen of the music hall; offstage she’s a prim-faced theatre seamstress. For years these two women have shared one body; now they share something else—forbidden love for a man who could destroy them both.

Marcus Craven, Duke of Penhale, wants Le Petite Oiseau as his mistress, but he’s also sworn to hunt down and revenge himself on the hazel-eyed girl who once shot at him with a dueling pistol. On this winter’s evening when he finds both women in his path, he suddenly faces a dilemma.

What exactly does Marcus want? The fiery, passionate actress or the quiet “mouse” hiding in her shadow?

Perhaps this notorious rake wants them both.

My thoughts:

I love a good mistaken identity/disguise plot, I’ve adored so many from The Scarlet Pimpernel  to Eloisa James’ The Taming of the Duke and I know I’m not alone since so many great ones have been written, and Last Rake Standing should definitely be added to the list!

Reading Last Rake Standing was a thrill, not just for the edge-of-your-seat excitement of worrying about Marcus discovering Emma’s dual identities, and her super-sekrit-past-run-in with him, but also for the sultry lusty scenes. There, I said it! This delicious historical romance had quite the steamy side as neither Marcus nor Emma were shy, I didn’t know how lusty this ebook was going to be, but now that I’ve shared you can be warned – to enjoy it too! 

The story opens with a deftly described look at life as La Petite Oiseau, I really felt like I was on the stage with her, in the glaring bright lights, looking out into the dark, anonymous audience, but knowing all eyes were on her. That theme of detailed descriptions went throughout the book, whether it was characters’ emotions, thoughts, or the Victorian setting. The only thing that remained a mystery was did Marcus know about Emma’s secret identity? Did he recognize her from when she took her brother’s place years ago in a duel at dawn before leaving for the continent? Has Emma cared about him for all those years? You’ll just have to read to find out!

Emma and Marcus’ story was quite short, so while overall I enjoyed this sexy romp through Victorian England I just wish it had been a bit longer with some of the background more developed and some of the revelations more fleshed out. That said I’m looking forward to checking out some of the more full length reads from this author!

Grade: B-

All I Ever Wanted, by Kristin Higgins

  • Title: All I Ever Wanted 
  • Author: Kristin Higgins
  • Published: July 2010
  • Pages: 384 pages (mass market paperback)
  • Genre: Contemporary Romance
  • Standalone or series: Standalone
  • Why I read it & source: I read my first, and only, Kristin Higgins book  in April and really liked it so when FSB Associates contacted me with a review copy I jumped at the chance!
  • Callie Grey starts out in a tough spot, trying to stay positive long after her parents divorce and dealing with two siblings full of issues, pining for her boss who dumped her on her birthday for another woman, and dealing with the new dating life of her roommate, who also happens to be her crotchety grandfather. With the upheaval in her family, in her career, AND in her personal life Callie has got quite a journey ahead of her and it was awful fun to go along for the ride!

    I really enjoyed how Ms. Higgins explored family issues in a previous book of hers and that theme definitely continued here. There is quite a bit of a character study here into Callie’s intrinsic nature to look on the positive side of things, what she calls her “Betty Boop” side. Even at 8 years old, when her parents divorced, it was important to her to not let her dad see her cry as he drove away, and her stoic facade continued to present day.

    Callie’s pretty self aware about her nature, so even written in first person narrative we get a great sense for what makes her tick, why she’s such a romantic, and how she’s held on to her positively throughout the years, like in this quote:

    The truth is, I believed in Love. After my father moved out, I resolved that Life Would Still Be Happy. I was helpful with my baby brother, cheerful in the mornings to counterbalance Hester. I made sure I always skipped out to my dad’s car when he came to pick us up for his nights and pretended to love bowling because he loved bowling. Made Mom tea when she came in from work. Always kept my room neat. Smiled when I felt like crying, and when I did cry, made sure I went into me closet so no one would hear.

    Love would be my reward.

    Unfortunately her love for her boss, Mark, was to go unrequited. Boy was he a jerk! There were many times when I wanted to strip away Callie’s Betty Boop side and give him a big ol’ slap upside the head, swear never to talk to him again, and make a grand exit, but she has a really hard time shaking her feelings and hopes about him.

    Enter new love interest stage left – Ian MacFarland, new vet to the area whom Callie, and every other single woman in the small town, flock to meet with their pets in tow. Their first few meetings are a little rocky to say the least, and even as Callie warms up to Ian, he still remains fairly cool and aloof. We’re given tid-bits of insight into his past, and why he’s a tough nut to crack, so I had to admire Callie’s perseverance with him since he really didn’t give her much to go on.

    For every difficult situation Callie was put in, there was always a good dose of humor to balance it out. Pleeeeeeeease believe me when I say this book is Laugh Out Loud Funny. No really, I’m not just saying that (these expressions are becoming so trite) but even just thinking back on a scene will STILL ellicit a chuckle, even though a read it a few weeks ago!

    Part of this I think is because Ms. Higgins is a pretty humorous writer, but also Callie had such a funny inner monologue, even in not-so-fun circumstances, partly because she’s always making the best of things, but also because she’s just funny! Even when her hiking shorts won’t fit, when she’s buying embarrassing medicine, when she’s having some public digestive issues, when dealing with her grandfather’s prosthetic leg, when on a horrible internet date, or when she thinks she’s run over an animal.

    Speaking of which – THE TURKEY SCENE. Oh my lord I had to catch my breath for laughing so hard during that one. Seriously one of the funniest things I’ve read in a while. Just trust me, if you read this you better be somewhere you’re comfortable LOL-ing when you get to that part.

    Take this scene for instance, Callie’s just met the replacement in Mark’s affections, Muriel, who has also just been hired to work in their office:

    I stood up, my legs unsteady and walked to the door, hoping not to look as shaken as I felt.

    “Callie?” Muriel called, writing something on the pad.

    “Yes?”

    She didn’t look up. “Don’t forget your snack.”

    “They’re for everyone,” I said defensively. “I always bake on Mondays. Production meetings.” She didn’t answer, just shot me a dubious look, as if she knew I’d be galumphing across the hall with my scones and stuffing all twelve in my mouth.

    Taking care not to accidentally let the tray, oh, I don’t know…hit her in the face, I picked it up and left, closing the door quietly behind me.

    And as a lover of curvy heroines (*ahem* I’ve only mentioned this a time or two), and as I love my own curves, I absolutely adored seeing that side of Callie!

    …but I looked pretty smokin’, if I did say so myself. Curvalicious even…If I was the equivalent of, oh, let’s say a really good hamburger, juicy, comforting, and delicious, Muriel was a rawhide shoelace.

    I thought the writing had some really smart moments as well, which is why I can’t stop including quotes! Callie has a pretty good character arc of growth, even as self aware as she is, and seemingly happy with always looking on the positive side, this clever passage shows us how she’s changing:

    I closed my eyes and let my head fall back against the smooth maple [of my rocking chair]. Sometimes it seemed like my life was spent shoveling fog…trying so hard to be that adorable hedgehog everyone liked. Some days, optimism was an ill-fitting wool coat, heavy and uncomfortable.

    Some things that didn’t quite work for me though were that I felt like the book concentrated equally on Callie’s family drama, her issues with her ex, and her new love interest Ian – I would have preferred more of an emphasis on Ian. I get that he was an enigmatic type of guy and that there was a lot going on in Callie’s life, but I wanted to see more of him, in page time, and a look into his character.

    Also, while Callie referred to one side of her nature as Betty Boop, she always wished she were more practical and that part of her conscious tried to give her advice as if from Michelle Obama. I definitely see the analogies between the two characters rerferenced…but it jerked me out of the story a little bit because Mrs. Obama isn’t a fictional character, and frequently referencing what her advice would be threw me off a little.

    Lastly, there were no lusty scenes. Not one, all off page with a few nice kisses here and there. So while this is absolutely a romance novel in the sense there are a H/H and a happy ending, since it’s set in first person from the heroine’s point of view, covers her many different relationships (not just with the hero) and with no love scenes I would say it’s not your “typical” romance novel. Which is certainly not a bad thing, as I greatly enjoyed it and can recommend it to my chick-lit loving friends who claim to dislike romance novels *rolls eyes at them*

    So just a few minor little niggles. Like I said above, I would recommend this to a wide circle of readers looking for a good family drama, romance, laugh out loud fun, and a happy ending.

    Now I just have to get my hands on some more Kristin Higgins books!

    Heart of Stone, by Jill Marie Landis GIVEAWAY and review

    • Title: Heart of Stone
    • Author: Jill Marie Landis (author website here)
    • Published: March, 2010
    • Pages: 312 pages (trade paperback)
    • Genre: Historical Romance
    • Standalone or series: The first her new Irish Angel series. The next one, Heart of Lies, doesn’t have a release date just yet that I could find.
    • Why I read it: The publisher contacted me, and I remembered seeing it on KB’s future releases post so I thought I’d give it a try!
    • Source: Publisher – one copy for me and one copy for YOU to win!

    She had the darkest of pasts. And he had everything to lose by loving her. Laura Foster, free from the bondage of an unspeakable childhood, has struggled to make a new life for herself. Now the owner of an elegant boardinghouse in Glory, Texas, she is known as a wealthy, respectable widow. But Laura never forgets that she is always just one step ahead of her past. When Reverend Brand McCormick comes calling, Laura does all she can to discourage him as a suitor. She knows that if her past were discovered, Brand’s reputation would be ruined. But it’s not only Laura’s past that threatens to bring Brand down—it’s also his own. When a stranger in town threatens to reveal too many secrets, Laura is faced with a heartbreaking choice: Should she leave Glory forever and save Brand’s future? Or is it worth risking his name—and her heart—by telling him the truth?

    Before I even cracked the cover I did a little research because I had a feeling Heart of Stone was more of an “inspirational” or “Christian” romance novel and I had never read one before. I just wanted to make sure I had the right expectations going into the reading, because no one likes to pick up a glass of pop thinking its a Diet Coke and really it’s root beer. You know what I mean? I was interested to find the answer right on Ms. Landis’ website where she shared, “In recent years, as market demands turned to tales of vampires, erotica, and hotter, sexier historical romances, I turned to writing Inspirational Western Romances… I truly feel like I’m back in the saddle again, working on stories that are a joy to write. The two books I’ve just completed…are very much like my early Western, Americana historical romances. These new books are chock full of memorable characters, the emotion my readers have come to expect, page turning plots, and the requisite happy ending. They are also books that can be savored and shared by mothers, grandmothers and teens alike.”

    After finishing Heart of Stone I agree wholeheartedly! I’m so glad to dip my toes in this new-to-me sub genre, it was indeed a nice break from some of my more usual, lusty and action packed, reading affairs. Heart of Stone was sweet, but still serious; heart-warming with a side of heart-wrenching angst; Christian, but not preachy.

    The best part for me was the heroine, Laura Foster, previously known as Lovie Lamonte. She was complex, intriguing, a bookworm (!), and goes through such character growth, I loved being in her head.

    Sailing away from the Potato Famine didn’t stop her parents from passing away as soon as Lovie and her three younger sisters settled in the poor district of New Orleans. Her horrible uncle immediately sold 11 year-old Lovie and one of her sisters into prostitution where they were separated on their first night. The story opens about 20 years later, Lovie made enough money to escape that life and is now living a as respectable widow Foster but has never stopped searching for her sisters. She has an unshakably sad view of herself – although she has built a new life for herself she sees it all as false and hasn’t forgiven herself or truly moved on from her past that was, of course, in no way her fault.

    Told from both her and Brand’s point of view we get an idea from the very beginning of how rigidly Laura holds herself apart from people, and how she thinks of herself. On page 31 Brand starts to make his interest in her known:

    The answer to Brand’s question [to call on her] was simple: his intent might be innocent, but she was not. He was a preacher, she was a whore. If he knew attending Sunday services was simply a part of her new persona and had nothing to do with faith, he wouldn’t be asking at all.

    Laura is so harsh on herself, but as we learn more about Brand’s empathy, forgiving nature, that he’s also made big mistakes, and his views on faith we start to see that her assumption of him could be very wrong.

    Another thing I love is when the characters really show us, really explain what attracts them to the other. Especially in a situation like Brand’s and Laura’s where the book starts with them already knowing each other and him already attracted to her. On pg 73 he’s thinking about what draws him to her,

    Granted, Laura was lovely, but there was something more, something haunting about her. He’d noticed the first Sunday she walked into church. Since then he’d found there was so much more to her than her lovely countenance. There was a wistful sadness about her despite her strength…Her isolation made him want to introduce her to another way of life – a life full of love, laughter, and family.

    He doesn’t want to “save” her in any sense, but love her, and bring her the joy he knows she’s missing.

    I felt the “inspirational/Christian” part was more a background theme due to Brand’s position as Reverend, and Laura coming to forgive herself and find peace from her past life. The characters did not sleep together at all, there was a teensy bit of kissing, and a little lustful thinking, but it was implied that the rest was all being saved for after they got married. At some points I felt it was a little overt, Brand kept saying it was God’s plan and that He brought them together and when Laura runs away to spare Brand’s reputation she just happens to meet someone who recommends she read the Bible and later she finds a copy and thinks it’s a “sign.” The only other thing that didn’t 100% work for me was that I wasn’t really sold that an entire town (minus one family) would be totally accepting of Laura’s past and even Brand’s secret that comes to light.

    I’m very pleased with my first foray into this sub-genre, but the strong and interesting Heroine and detailed setting in post Civil War Texas were my favorite parts and will have me coming back for more Jill Marie Landis!

    I am happy to be able to give away ONE COPY of Heart of Stone to a lucky commenter! Please leave a comment on this post to be entered the drawing. This giveaway will end Sunday, March 21st at midnight.

    Three Days to Dead, by Kelly Meding

  • Title: Three Days to Dead
  • Author: Kelly Meding
  • Published: November 2009
  • Pages: 416 mass market paperback
  • Standalone or series: Debut novel and first book in Dreg City series. Next book As Lie the Dead will be released in July 2010.
  • Why I read it:  I can’t remember where I saw the first reviews but after several super positive ones popped up, and I lost several contests to win it, I had to go out and buy it.
  • Two things that I feel MUST be mentioned right away:

    1. If you like: Get this book into your little mitts IMMEDIATELY if you like Charlaine Harris or Anne Aguirre. Any fans of Sookie Stackhouse or Corine Solomon will just adore Meding’s Evy Stone and her supernatural adventures.
    2. Romance: this is not a romance novel. this is not a paranormal romance. just fyi. i saw it reviewed on a lot of romancelandia book blogs and had different expectation. it is straight urban fantasy.

    The premise of this book got me hook, line, and sinker. Seriously you could probably see a scar on my upper lip from where I was reeled in straight to the bookstore to buy it. The countdown to death, waking up in a new body, and solving a supernatural conspiracy just reached out and grabbed me.

    Here is the official summary:

    She’s young, deadly, and hunted—with only three days to solve her own murder…

    When Evangeline Stone wakes up naked and bruised on a cold slab at the morgue – in a stranger’s body, with no memory of who she is and how she got there – her troubles are only just beginning.  Before that night, she and the other two members of her Triad were star bounty hunters — mercilessly cleansing the city of the murderous creatures living in the shadows, from vampires to shape-shifters to trolls. Then something terrible happened that not only cost all three of them their lives, but also convinced the city’s other Hunters that Evy was a traitor . . . and she can’t even remember what it was.

    Now she’s a fugitive, piecing together her memory, trying to deal some serious justice – and discovering that she has only three days to solve her own murder before the reincarnation spell wears off. Because in three days, Evy will die again – but this time, there’s no second chance…

    I loved Three Days to Dead. I love the Sookie Stackhouse series and saw some of the same cleverness, detailed characterizations, and action packed adventure in this great debut novel. I think this is a new author to watch.

    Told in first person narrative by Evy Stone I enjoyed the rhythm of her thoughts, her spunkiness, and was happy to go along with her for the ride of why she died, why she woke up in a stranger’s body, and how she dealt with her new life…even though it was only going to last for three days. Set in an urban fantasy world we are introduced to the supernatural world of Dreg City filled with goblins who bleed fuchsia, bridge trolls who can sink into concrete, vampires with purple eyes, gargoyles who turn to stone in the sunlight, and an underground fairy paradise. The way we learn of the backstories of all the creatures in this fantasy world is injected subtly into memories, conversations, and observations by Evy. Every time she went to visit a new creature I got excited to find out what the story behind their mythology would be!

    As I mentioned at the top this is straight urban fantasy and as the Evy Stone series continues you can guess (SPOILER) that she doesn’t die after three days. But other than that you should be prepared for some sad scenes, people close to Evy dying and some pretty brutal violence and torture.

    I did think there was a lot of potential in the world building, in fact this book gets a A+ for potential, but B-ish for execution. I will readily admit that I am a speed reader, and sometimes miss out on details in my haste to get to the next page. However I had a hard time visualizing the city this is set in, I’m not even really sure what the name of the city was. I also had no idea what season it was, while great detail was given to the fight scenes, imagery of characters, and the legends of this supernatural world I felt that some detail was lacking in the physical surroundings. Something as simple as the weather or the season seemed to be missing for me which again made it hard for me to visualize everything and get totally into it. And then very last thing, supposedly the humans in [insert city name here] didn’t know about the supernatural world. But anything about humans was hardly touched on and the goblins and other “dregs” always seemed to be out in plain sight, I didn’t think enough detail was given to this part of the world building either.

    But like I said, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough and loved Evy’s character. I would recommend this to any paranormal or fantasy fans and I will absolutely be buying the next book in the series! B grade for me.

    Anybody Out There?, by Marian Keyes

  • Title: Anybody Out There?
  • Author: Marian Keyes
  • Published: William Morrow, May 2006 
  • Pages: 464pgs trade paperback
  • Standalone or series: Can be read as standalone, but it is her 4th book about the Walsh sisters. I had no idea the others existed until I was google image searching for this post, so you’re really not missing anything, more info here
  • Why I read it: I enjoyed the first Keyes book I read earlier this year Sushi for Beginners and saw this one while browsing at my library
  • Marian Keyes writes clever dialogue, realistic characters, and relatable yet entertaining plots. Similar enough to our lives to relate, but different and exciting enough to draw us into her fiction. She captures relationships of all types so well: familial, platonic or romantic ones. In Anybody Out There? we follow Anna Walsh as she recuperates from an accident with her family in Ireland, all the while wishing she is back at her fabulous job and life in New York City.

    Not much background on her accident or life in New York are shared with us at first, so we really get to know her kooky family and life in Ireland. I can see why three other books have been written about Anna’s sisters, they are all such characters!

    Here is the thing though, the summary of the book on the back cover was TOTALLY MISLEADING! I was expecting a Bridget Jones or Shopaholic type book, when really I should have had the kleenex box handy. This is not a light Chick Lit read, but a poignant and darkly humorous look at struggling with grief, tragedy and relationships with friends and family.

    Here is the summary:

    Life in the Big Apple is perfect for Anna. She has the best job in the world, a lovely apartment, and great friends. Then one morning, she wakes up in her mammy’s house in Dublin with stitches in her face, a dislocated knee, hands smashed up, and no memory at all of what happened. As soon as she’s able, Anna’s flying back to Manhattan, mystified but determined to find out how her life turned upside down. As her past slowly begins coming back to her, she sets out on an outrageous quest—involving lilies, psychics, mediums, and anyone who can point her in the right direction.

    So um, she doesn’t have amnesia actually and her quest is more bittersweet than “outrageous.” I can’t say any more than that without spoilers since we don’t find out what the real deal is until almost 200 pages in.

    But seriously the writing is brilliant, and super funny. Keyes just “gets it” for me, like when describing one of Anna’s dates she gets the imagery, pop culture references, and comedy all once:

    I prepared for my date with Greg, the baker from Queens. Although it was October and far from warm, he’d suggested a picnic in the park…

    Reclining on the rug, Greg opened his basket, took out a loaf, then closed the basket quickly, but not before I’d seen that all that was in it was loads of bread.

    “This is my sourdough,” he said. “Made to my own recipe.”

    He tore off a bit, in a real bon vivant’s way, and approached. I could see the way this was going: he was planning a seduction via bread –  once I’d tried his creations, I’d go all swoony and fall in love with him. I was dealing with a man who’d seen Chocolate once too often.

    “Close your eyes and open your mouth.” Oh, cripes, he was going to feed me! God, how excruciating, how 9 1/2 Weeks.

    But he didn’t even let me eat the damn thing. He rubbed it around inside my mouth and said, “Feel the roughness of the crust on your tongue.” He moved it back and forth and I nodded yes, I was feeling the roughness.

    Oh God, this was a public place, I hoped no one was looking at us. I opened my eyes and shut them again quickly: a woman walking her dog was in fits. Her hands were on her knees she was laughing so much.

    I would have had my hands on my own knees if I wasn’t sitting down when I read this! Hilarious.

    But Anna’s friendship with Jacqui was also captured so well, with all the little details that show how complex women friends can be, and how special these little details make it. Like inside jokes, there are a couple words or phrases that my friends or hubby and I use that will always make me laugh, and Jacqui and Anna were just the funniest together. My favorite bit of theirs seems to be inspired by some real life friends of Keyes as she notes in her acknowledgements-she gave thanks to two friends, “for virtual support, New York information, and, most of all, the Feathery Stroker™ rant.”

    So here’s the Feathery Stroker deal-Anna’s just gone a first date with a guy named Aiden and is discussing it with her friend Jacqui when we learn of the Ultimate Inside Joke:

    I set my jaw and held her look, “He is not a Feathery Stroker.”

    “I’ll be the judge of that,” replied Jacqui.

    Jacqui’s Feathery Stroker test is a horribly cruel assessment that she brings to bear on all men. It originated with some man she slept with years ago. All night long he’d run his hands up and down her body in the lightest, feathery way, up her back, along her thighs, across her stomach, and before they had sex he asked her gently if she was sure. Lots of women would have loved this: he was gentle, attentive, and respectful. But for Jacqui it was the greatest turn off of her life. She would have much preferred it if he’d flung her across a hard table, torn her clothes, and taken her without her explicit permission. “He kept stroking me,” she said afterward, wincing with revulsion. “In this awful feathery way, like he’d read a book about how to give women what they want. Bloody Feathery Stroker, I wanted to rip my skin off.

    And so the phrase came about. It suggested an effeminate quality that instantly stripped a man of all sex appeal. It was a damning way to be categorized and far better, in Jacqui’s opinion, to be a drunken wife beater in a dirty vest than a Feathery Stroker.

    What followed was a whole list of the Feathery Stroker criteria you really have to read it, it is so funny!

    But the funny didn’t last forever. While I thought Keyes’ writing remained clever and insightful it was just very sad and it was harder for me to deal with because I didn’t expect it. Maybe 0-1% of my reading is “sad” I just don’t prefer to read that type of stuff. The book was seriously so good, and did get me to think about how people handle tragic situations, that I would absolutely recommend it. As long as you know what you’re in for! B grade for me and I will absolutely be reading more of her stuff.

    Kushiel’s Dart, by Jacqueline Carey

    • Title: Kushiel’s Dart
    • Author: Jacqueline Carey
    • Published: Tor Fantasy, March 2002
    • Pages: 816 mass market paperback
    • Standalone or series: First in Kushiel’s Legacy series, which is made up of three related trilogies. The first of which follows protagonist Phèdre.
    • Why I read it: On a recent Smart Bitches recommended fantasy reads post this book was allllll over the comment thread. I had never ever heard a peep about it before, but as soon as I mentioned it on twitter I got so many responses I went out and got it from my library immediately.

    There is no way to summarize, reflect upon, or have even the most superficial discussion about Kushiel’s Dart without mentioning the religion of the world Ms. Carey created. The religion of Terre D’Ange is the foundation for all the characters’ personalities, actions, goals, culture, biases, and motivations.

    I found Kushiel’s Dart to be similar to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon or The Firebrand in general and for the significance placed on religion.

    More on their religion shortly, but you’ll have to bear with me for a few first. Also, this post is SOOOOO LOOOONG, consider yourself warned. Also I expect a discussion at the end from those of you who’ve read it!!!!!

    Check out all my thoughts after the jump… Continue reading

    Hunger, by Michael Grant

    hunger_grant As you may recall I read the first book in Michael Grant’s new series, Gone, and ADORED it, in fact it was my best read in July. Whenever I read something that grips me, that I dream about, that I stay up until 2:30am until I turn the last page, I obviously just can’t get enough so I look outside the book for more information.

    Basically I google the sh*t out of the author. You know what I found out about Michael Grant? He is a CHARACTER, like a real interesting dude. In a few of the interviews I found he references Seinfeld, shares his personal life, touches on the horror elements in his books, and how Stephen King and the TV show Lost were some of his influences for this series.

    I really enjoyed reading extra scenes set in the Fallout Alley Youth Zone (nickname for the area in which the books are set, fallout alley from a 15 year old nuclear plant malfunction, and youth zone since everyone over the age of 14 disappeared one day), these scenes are found on the semi-promotional website TheFAYZ.com

    I also found out that he contributes to a YA lit blog with a few other authors as well. After reading Gone and Hunger written from the perspective of teenagers it was sort of weird for me to read his interviews and blog posts written in his own voice, as an adult. It was a little jarring also, especially as he is a character (did I mention that already? I don’t know how else to put it).

    ENOUGH STALLING, I read Hunger over a month ago and have been procrastinating on writing this post because I didn’t like it as much as Gone. Whereas The Book Smugglers’ Thea (whose much more detailed reviews prompted me to read these books) liked Hunger much better.

    Per usual, here in the summary and then some of my thoughts:

    It’s been three months since everyone under the age of fifteen became trapped in the bubble known as the FAYZ.

    Three months since all the adults disappeared.

    Gone.

    The Darkness has awakened. And it is hungry.

    Food ran out weeks ago. Everyone is starving, but no one wants to figure out a solution. And each day, more and more kids are evolving, developing supernatural abilities that set them apart from the kids without powers.

    Tension rises and chaos is descending upon the town. It’s the normal kids against the mutants. Each kid is out for himself, and even the good ones turn murderous.

    But a larger problem looms. The Darkness, a sinister creature that has lived buried deep in the hills, begins calling to some of the teens in the FAYZ. Calling to them, guiding them, manipulating them.

    It’s a war of teens and children with guns and Superpowers battling against each other over food, the plant that supplies electricity, and burgeoning prejudices of regular humans versus those with superpowers.

    The pacing in Hunger was still excellent, with appropriate introspection scenes from each main character mixed with dramatic fight sequences, events shaping the social order of the FAYZ, self discovery, continued discoveries of the changes brought to the land animals and people, and coping mechanisms within the FAYZ. There is no doubt about it, Hunger was an absolute page turner covering so many angles of the “what would happen if…”

    The two factions of kids left in Perdito Beach, the townies lead by Sam, and the private school kids from up the hill led by Caine (who we found out it Sam’s secret twin brother!) continue to plot against each other and try to kill each other multiple times. Sam should have killed Caine when he had the chance in the first book! Arrghh, the bad kids here are sooo evil, Drake (Caine’s second in command) especially frightens me. As in the first book I appreciated the moral questioning some of the good guy characters go through, like hesitating to pull the trigger, to balance out the scary bloodthirsty nature of the others. Bloodthirsty 11 years olds was too weird to me, it seemed very uncharacteristic, and upset me in both books. But honestly, Drake and Caine need to be destroyed!

    There is also a HUGE reveal about The Darkness, in Gone we knew little to nothing about it, just a lot of hints and vague references. In Hunger we get it’s whole back-story, how it got in the mine, what it is made of, why it has reached into the minds of some of the children, and why and what it is hungry for. The first book definitely had plenty of fantasy/sci fi elements but Hunger descends even further down that path, which is an unfamiliar route for me.

    In terms of plot creativity, pacing, character growth, and writing style Hunger was excellently written. But I didn’t like it as much because it disturbed me.

    It gave me nightmares a little bit. It made me a sorta queasy. I shut the book and wrinkled my nose and swallowed heavily a couple times. I think I remember reading one of Mr. Grant’s interviews where he said he WANTED to give readers nightmares. He didn’t want the characters to EVER catch a break. No rest for the weary here.

    There are scenes of kids murdering their pets for food, mutant flesh eating worms crawling through kids’ cheeks, killing kids stripping them down to their bones while other kids watch, using their superpowers to kill a deer and eating it raw because they’re so hungry, trying to lynch each other, shooting off a little girl’s legs and she drags herself across the floor leaving a bloody trail and then gets buried alive…

    This is why I don’t watch scary movies or read Stephen King. I know myself and I can’t do horror. Especially with my ridiculously overactive imagination.

    So I have to be totally honest, as cool as these books are, as AWESOME as the premise of the FAYZ is, as much as I adore Sam and his love interest Astrid the genius, as much as I want to find out what happens next…I don’t think I’m going to read the third installment coming out next year called Lies. All these horror elements are just going to get worse. And I also think I saw this series is planned to be 6 or 7 books long, which is just too much of a commitment to find out what the resolution is.

    It’s just not fair to myself or to Mr. Grant’s fantastic writing skills. I STRONGLY RECOMMEND THESE BOOKS to readers of all ages. As long as you have a stronger stomach than I.

    Legend of Four Soldiers series, by Elizabeth Hoyt 3in1 review

    It’s time for a blitzkrieg review! Maybe that has too much of a negative connotation…review-blitz? lighting round review? Since I have been reading at the speed of light (8 books in 7 days = speed of light, it’s science) it is only fitting I do a quick review round.

    I just finished the first three books in Elizabeth Hoyt’s Legend of Four Soldier series, and the fourth is set to release this fall. Here is what I thought in a nutshell:

    B Grade for all of them. No squeeing from my corner, but no waves of dislike, thought they were “good books,” but would only re-read one.

    Sigh, I’m not ‘splainin this very well, am I?

    Here is the thing-the characters were fresh and new, even slightly unconventional because:

    1. none of the 3 heroines were virgins (gasp!)
    2. one of the heroines had been deeply in love with her previous husband, who returned her love (double gasp!)
    3. one of the heroines started out as another man’s Kept Woman, Mistress, member of the Demimonde, etc etc etc
    4. one of the heroes was “comical looking,” never described as attractive, just funny looking (wtf?)
    5. one of the heroes was missing one eye, 2 fingers on one hand, and had half his face burnt off

    Since I read SO MANY romance novels, I definitely appreciate when an author goes off the beaten path of romancelandia a little bit, and mixes things up. But EVERY hero and heroine? I mean EVERY one of them had to have something weird? I think reading all three back to back in two days maybe was a bit much for me.

    Not to say I didn’t like them, I just didn’t lurrrve any of them. I found that I have a surprisingly strange affinity for the “old school” romance tropes and traditional characters of yore.

    Onto specifics…

    Book 1: To Taste Temptation

    tastetemptation

    Emmeline totally reminds me of one of my favorite characters of all time, Jane Austen’s Emma. Emmeline is forever speaking of men’s annual incomes, guiding younger girls through treacherous social waters, facilitating matches, and is very secure with her good standing in society. However she is still rocked by the losses of the three closest men whom she had loved most dearly and always expected them to be there for her: her father, her husband, and her brother.

    Speaking of her brother, Reynaud, he served in the Colonies but was killed after a massacre at “Spinner’s Falls” during the French and Indian War. The American scout from his troupe, Samuel, is our Hero and he has come to England because the massacre at Spinner’s Falls was no accident! They were betrayed! So he prances around London in his moccasins determined to find the traitor so he can finally rest easy.

    Emmeline and Samuel are so opposite that of course they are attracted to each other. And HOT DAMN are the love scenes sizzling! I can’t think of any other “traditional full length” romance novels I’ve read recently that seemed so…erotic. Maybe it’s a new to me publisher?

    Overall it was a fun read, although Emmeline’s main reason for not wanting to be with Samuel reversed itself a little too quickly for me at the end, I would still say it was a good book. That is all.

    Book 2. To Seduce a Sinner (PS I love the titles)

    seducesinner

     So this was my favorite of the three. I was intrigued by plain and quiet Melisande as Emmeline’s best friend in the first book and I was so happy to see she was the next heroine! So now she has been in love with the “comical looking” gentleman (whom I mentioned before) named Lord Vale, for the past 6 years, but he didn’t even know her name! For shame man! And of course Lord Vale also was part of the troupe at the Spinner’s Falls massacre so with Samuel on newlywed cloud 9 bcak in good old America, Vale has to take over the investigate to exorcise his demons. Although he acts the entertainer in Society, he has depths that no one recognizes, except Melisande of course!

    Again, their sex scenes were very provocative, but overall I just really liked Melisande, and the scene at the end where Vale gives her a gift that represents her from the outside and inside I was in romancelandia heaven. Sooo cute.

    Book 3. To Beguile a Beast

    beguileabeast

    And here we have the gorgeous blonde Fallen Woman, Helen Fitzwilliam, paired with the disfigured man, Sir Alistair Monroe. The scars, of course, received from his torture by Indains following the Spinner’s Falls massacre. And NO the traitor has not been found yet!

    There have been ooodles and oodles of raving reviews of this book around the ‘net, so again while I wasn’t OMGobsessed with this book, I still thought it was quite good. It’s just not my escapist fantasy to clean a disgusting old Scottish castle with a mean and ugly man living it. Also – Yes, this is a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast, and Yes I thought Ms. Hoyt handled Alistair’s disfigurement well, how he needed to cope with it, and how Helen was able to look past it.

    Lastly I am VERY MUCH looking forward to the release of Book Four: To Desire a Devil (have I mentioned I adore these titles?) in November 2009. Because it has one of my favorite romance/soap opera plot points of ALL TIME: the hero COMES BACK FROM THE DEAD! Lalalalala – that is me skipping and signing with joy. Oh I adore heroes who come back from the dead, and this time it is Emmeline’s brother, Reynaud. Can’t wait!

    Wifey, by Judy Blume

    wifeyJudy Blume’s novel Wifey is not her usual fare. Obviously as an adult fiction book it is automatically set apart from how we all knew her in our childhoods with Fudge-a-mania, Blubber, etc. I read Summer Sisters (one of her other adult novels) a while ago, and the girls in that book discover the “power in their pants” and how to “rub it until they get the electric buzz” so I wasn’t totally surprised that Wifey covered a lot of sexual scenes and issues, but what did surprise me was the tone.

    Wifey covers difficult and sad topics, and while it was a fast page-turner with plenty of narration and action moving the story forward, it was hard because it was depressing – and after reading the introduction it was more depressing knowing that a lot of the issues mirrored Ms. Blume’s own life.

    Set in the 1970’s I couldn’t decide whether I should label this as contemporary or not as there were many details that made it a period piece. For example I now know more about diaphragms as birth control than I ever wanted to. But I digress…

    Here is the only summary I could find online, I don’t really like it but:

    Wifey is Judy Blume’s hilarious, moving tale of a woman who trades in her conventional wifely duties for her wildest fantasies-and learns a lot about life along the way.

    Sandy Pressman is a nice suburban wife whose boredom is getting the best of her. She could be making friends at the club, like her husband keeps encouraging her to do.

    Or working on her golf game.
    Or getting her hair done.

    But for some reason, these things don’t interest her as much as the naked man on the motorcycle…

    My impression is that Sandy Pressman was living in a fog, she had everything her mom and husband said she should want, but never thought for herself, or even thought about anything at all. She muddled through each day taking care of her 2 children, following her husband’s orders about her daily activities, and never questioning her own wants.

    After a bout of illness followed by sending her children away to summer camp, Sandy has more time to herself, but is forced into golf and tennis by her husband to keep busy. On top of her distaste for the club activities she starts to observe the people around her and how unhappy they are, and resent her husband for his expectations. She finally begins to examine her own happiness and doesn’t like what she finds.

    What follows is mainly an internal struggle, even though I thought Sandy was pathetic I liked her narrative voice and enjoyed following her thoughts. She acts out on her newfound dissatisfaction in her marriage by cheating on her husband with her best friend’s husband (her friend is in an open relationship so this is “okay” [wtf?!?]) and her sister’s husband (who is also her gynecologist). These are HUGE NO-NO issues for me most of the time but Sandy isn’t really a “heroine” that I had expectations for, just the protagonist who was making mistakes, but at least they were her own choices that she had the potential to learn from.

    The only affair she had that I was “ok with” was with her first-love from high-school Shep, who she decides she is still in love with and wants to leave her husband and run away together.

    But Sandy doesn’t get it. Well she does get it, if “it” is gonorrhea or orgasms. Is it wrong that I thought it was hilarious she got an STD? And also she can achieve orgasms like no other, having two by “thinking about it hard” during plain-old-intercourse.

    But anyways Sandy doesn’t get that her problems can’t be fixed with another man, that it is HER that needs to change, she never sees positive options for herself as an individual and that was my main gripe with the novel.

    Full rant with spoilers after the jump… Continue reading

    The Laurentine Spy, by Emily Gee

    In honor of the fabulous blog I found this book on I’m using their book review format:

    laurentine_spyTitle: The Laurentine Spy

    Author: Emily Gee

    Genre: Fantasy with strong romantic elements

    Publisher: Solaris

    Release Date: May 5th, 2009

    Paperback: 410 pages

    Stand alone or series: Stand alone

    Summary: The Corhonase citadel is a place of virtue and debauchery – and deadly secrets. For the Laurentine spies embedded there, every day brings danger. Nothing is as it seems, whether in the ballrooms and salons of the nobles’ court or the catacombs beneath it all.

    Saliel has many secrets; her spying is one, her past as a pickpocket in Laurent’s slums is another, but her most deeply guarded secret is the magic she posses. She walks a narrow path between discovery as a spy and being burned as a witch. With a sadistic Spycatcher closing in, Saliel and her fellow spies are tested to the limits of their endurance. In the fight to stay alive they must trust each other – or die.

    Why did I read this book: Ana’s review at The Book Smugglers was the impetus for me, I wanted to try a new genre to mix up my reading and keep things fresh, but still with my ever-favorite romantic elements and a happily ever after.

    Review: After turning the last page I’m still waiting for my heart to start beating normally again. That was intense!

    The adventure/action/intrigue scenes were agonizing in a good way, I’ll admit to skimming some pages to find out What Happens Next because Gee was great at keeping the reader in suspense and building up to events. Although I did find some of the conflicts seemed to be elongated just to keep the characters together, like a key breaking and having to wait 5 days for a new one to be made, just seemed a bit too much of a plot contrivance to me.

    I agree with a lot of Ana’s points, though billed as a Dark Fantasy this definitely had more of a romance feel to it – it had so many more character driven points, following the relationship development between two main characters, Saliel and fellow undercover Laurentine spy Athan, with less fantasy world building. But overall I think it was most appropriate it was in the Sci Fi section of my bookstore when I bought it. Gee included plenty of little details like the difference in Laurent and Corhona’s cultures, freedoms, social behavior, even the sounds of the languages that still shaped my imagination to create another time in another universe comfortably.

    The repressed society of Corhona actually reminded me of a Margaret Atwood type world, like The Handmaid’s Tale maybe? It’s been a while since I read that one though.
    Also I would have loved a map of Corhona/Laurent/Marillaqa etc. as the second half of the story follows Saliel and Athan’s flight from Corhona to return to their native Laurent traveling through other countries along the way.
    I was really emotionally tied to what the characters were experiencing to all the extremes. I genuinely feared and detested the spycatcher and his witch’s Eye (he could make people tell the truth) but LOVED that Saliel could resist it! I love it when the heroine has speshul qualities like that.
    That being said poor Saliel really had the deck stacked against her. In the relationship conflicts with Athan every revelation was something bad on HER part: orphan with no knowledge of her parents, growing up in the slums, stealing, having the Eye… While she has an amazing personality, internal strength, quiet determination, beauty and all her other positives, the negatives were just a little too much.
    Not that I wanted her to pull a Captain Lone Starr in Spaceballs where he turns out to be a Prince at the very last minute…that plot line can really annoy me, but I thought she was just given a bit too harsh of a time.
    It certainly made Athan’s struggle to accept her more interesting as Laurent has a very strict caste system and other characters shun Saliel when they find out about her heritage (or lack of one), and his love for her that much more meaningful. Without giving too much away I’ll just say it was a very satisfying HEA.
    Notable quotes/parts: When Athan is analyzing how he feels about Saliel and trying to understand her now that he knows the many dark secrets of her background:
    “He’d watched a painter once, over several days. The man had created his background meticulously, using layer upon layer of pigment. When the painting was completed none of those individual layers had been visible to the eye. With Saliel he’d seen the final result. He’d known who she was as a person – private, relying on no one but herself – without knowing why…She wasn’t unusual; she was remarkable.”
    Verdict: Fast paced, heart pounding adventure with a strong historical romance feeling theme.
    Grade: B+