Monday, 23 January 2012

Fantasy Lover, Sherrilyn Kenyon

Ooh, its a bit toasty in here, isn't it? OR, maybe I am just hot under the collar, because this book is like, mighty sexy. Grace Alexander is probably one of the luckiest women in the imaginary literary world; thats not a plot point or anything, just my own observation. Julian is an amazing creation of Sherrilyn Kenyon's. That woman has a beautiful imagination, congrats to her.

Wow, just re-read that last paragraph, and I sound like a sex-obsessed teenager. Fantasy Lover does have a storyline, I promise! A storyline that actually involves temporary abstinence, so 50% plus of the sexy in the this book is not-having-sex until it literally drives you crazy with the God's madness. Erm, storyline, right, FOCUS Rachel!!

Dr. Grace Alexander has a great life; a fantastic best friend, a great career as a sex therapist, a great wardrobe (cream Ralph Lauren dress, yes please!), but a non-existent sex life. A lack of a love life isn't a problem for Grace, but her fantastic best friend Selena disagrees- in fact the book opens with Selena loudly declaring in public "Honey, you need to get laid." Grace has been hurt before, and what she needs to get her confidence back up, according to Selena, is a fling with a man who will fulfill her every need. And Selena happens to have found a man who fits the bill exactly: Julian of Macedon, a sex slave who has been trapped in a scroll for the past 2000 years, who, once summoned, will be at his summoners sexual beck and call for a whole month.

Grace plays along with Selena's odd idea, because she is certain that the summoning ceremony won't work, and because she is too nice to tell Selena (who earns a living as a fortune teller in central New Orleans) that magic isn't real (oh, how wrong Grace is).

So, ceremony over, a naked Julian pops into being, and jumps into his job role, quickly seducing Grace and nearly getting into her panties, before she puts a stop to all that nonsense. The girl has morals, and principles etc. Grace then goes on a "treat Julian like a human, not a sex slave" mission, and feeds and clothes him and whatnot, all whilst correctly assessing that he too has plenty of issues. How can you be an immortal sex-slave for 2000years and not have a few issues? Right?

Love, sexual tension and conflict fill the rest of the book as Grace tries to help Julian in breaking the curse holding him as a sex slave kept in a scroll. And there's lots of greek gods and goddesses who all turn up at the most awkward moments possible, and a madman stalker. 'cause every story needs one of those to make life just a tad more dramatic.

Grace is kind, smart and loving and believably normal (that's a good thing) and Julian is, as I have already mentioned, rather buff. But he is also kind and considerate and generous, as well as being a spartan general who loves kids. And he protects Grace from a weirdo stalker. He is a pretty good all-round package of both love interest and decent character.

The book is definitely an easy read, it's fun and sexy, and the constant sexual tension is made a part of the plot rather than an awkward aside or imposing secondary thought. Theres enough action but also lots of focus on how their relationship develops, with some really nice couply scenes together. Compared to some of Sherrilyn Kenyon's other books, there are some Kenyon-habits that are missing, but this is probably a good thing- Kenyon has a tendency to pause telling the story to give you a brief background of the mythology, and she has the annoying habit of introducing so so many characters to be the focus of later Books. Overall, this is my favourite SK book, and a good prequel to the Dark-Hunter series,8stars.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Review: Mr Darcy's Daughters, Elizabeth Aston

(originally published as 'The Way of the World')

I have read a lot of Austen fan-fiction, especially Pride and Prejudice sequels, but this series is probably the best one I have read- note that I say series, not book. This isn't my favourite of the series, but it acts as a really good introduction to the later books, although they can easily be read as stand-alone books. Elizabeth Aston's series probably works so well as a P&P sequel because it doesn't actually include Elizabeth and Darcy, as they are off page, cavorting off to Constantinople on a diplomatic mission. This way, there is no chance that their characters can be butchered by well-meaning writers.

So, 21 years after Pride and Prejudice, Darcy and Elizabeth are off on a diplomatic mission to Constantinople, leaving their five daughters in the care of Colonel Fitzwilliam and his wife, Fanny, in London. Poor Mr. Darcy, having seen all the trouble that five daughters caused Mr. Bennet, only to go and have five himself. And all attractive, especially when you factor in their dowries of fifty thousand apiece. So it's not long at all before they all are the subject of gossip in London. There's Letitia, the most beautiful, but also prudish, and increasingly evangelical, and Camilla, too witty, just like her mother, and a bluestocking. Then the twins, Georgina and Belle, or Night and Day, who drive all the men wild, and finally Alethea, the musical prodigy, still in the schoolroom, but she's acting so innocent that she must be up to no good. Camilla is the primary POV character, and probably the most level headed of the sisters, and definitely the most deserving in terms of her love life. I did think that her relationship with her eventual husband needed a bit more development, as by the last third of the book there is so much going on with the other sisters that it looses focus a bit, but at the same time, I am all like yay, wuv and marriage.

Some of the characters that were in the original pride and prejudice are present in the book, altered with varying degrees of artistic license being employed. Lydia is back and remarried after Wickham's death, which means that he is preserved as Lydia's "dear Wickham", while Lydia is now wealthy, extravagant, and a terrible influence upon some of the Darcy girls, all of which I think is fantastically done. On the other end of the scale is Colonel Fitzwilliam, who has left the Military for a political career, which of course comes with a free personality transplant. For someone with a supposedly happy marriage, he is such a grumpy git. Of course, the daughters are all slight modifications of the original Bennet sisters, but it feels to me more like an homage rather than a blatant copy, and anyway, who am I to doubt the power of genetics. Mrs Bennet and Lydia were silly beyond all belief, so, once out of reach of Darcy's influence, I don't see why some of their relatives shouldn't be silly too.

If you oversimplify the plot then it does correlate a lot to P&P, but the difference is in the details, and so there's enough difference to keep me happy. The viewpoints switched around quite a lot, but Camilla remained the focus, at least from the viewpoint. But the other viewpoints that are dotted around the book do help to keep interest in the plot up, and do help you to get to know some of the background characters a lot better (and helping to show some motivations, because else a lot of their actions wouldn't make sense).

A nice bit of Austen-fan-fiction, obviously not a patch on the original Pride and Prejudice, but its good enough to hold its own. 6.5?

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Review: Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

note the amazing description at the top
"Mom's fishing for husbands-
But the girls are hunting for love"
so Predatory!
I needed to use some extracts from Pride and Prejudice in my dissertation (the bit about Lydia being lost forever), so I cashed in some Waterstones points for the book, after not being able to believe that I don't already own it. So, typically, I re-read Pride and Prejudice AGAIN, instead of actually spending time on my dissertation. And I have to say, it is literary perfection. The  characters are wonderfully ridiculous, and Elizabeth's family fantastically cringe. I love Mr. Bennet's enjoyment of ridiculous people, and his sly sarcasm gives me major LOLs. I wish I could be friends with him and Lizzie, and sit back and laugh at all the silly busybodies, because I'm cool like that.

I love how the book is written; Austen's style is so flowing and carefully constructed. I love how everything is shown to the reader, rather than told, and how it allows you to work out the intricacies of each character for yourself, and it feels like you know them all better for it. Plus, because you are shown their thoughts, it helps to expose the hypocrisy of their behaviour, and how they are so often deceiving and deluding themselves. Plus, I really like how there is a balance of character driven plot, and the tiniest push from convenience (like the trip to Derbyshire is oh-so-nice coincidence, and exceedingly good timing, but then Darcy totally owns that whole awkward, I proposed and you rejected me, your mean words cut me deep and I am a changed man thing, and I am like yes, fall in love with him already!).

I swear this dance scene is the best part of the movie
Jane Austen manages to make the most normal everyday events seem totally super important, which makes sense, because those are the things that matter to everyday people. Like who you marry, money worries, and how your friends and neighbours perceive you, and your worries about what a silly tart your sister is.

Bit of a side note, because it's not actually about the book, but I really like the different films/tv series that come out of this book, and there is massive competition in my head for who looks like what actor who portrayed them based on the yay-ness of their performance. So, I think I would have, Jennifer Ehle from the BBC 1995 version as Elizabeth, both Colin Firth and Matthew MacFitty-I-mean-Macfadyen alternating as Darcy, depending on the scene, Lydia as played by Julia Sawalha, and the majority of the other cast members from the 2005 version, mostly because I am snobby and pick the better-looking, more Hollywood cast.

what the devil are they looking at?

And another side note; get a load of the image of the book cover I found. I seriously can't believe that this got approved as a cover. I never thought of either Lizzie or Darcy to be big wearers of pink, and if they are, then I'm not sure I want to be friends with either of them.

There is only one thing that I don't like about this book.... ok, that's a lie, there's not one thing that I can think of that I don't like. I mean, it doesn't have a car chase, or magic, or an Elvis impersonator, but then it really doesn't need those things, and they would ruin this little chunk of perfection where they may improve some other chunk of non-perfection. Maybe I just want to think of something wrong with it because I am so annoyed that I can't actually be Mr. Bennet's friend and that I didn't come up with the phrases "earth-shattering Janeaustegasm", or "George Wickham is a cock-blocking braggadouche of startling proportions" (which are part of a loltastic review here that makes me want to force everyone into reading this book for their own good).

Oh, I'm gonna have to just say it if I can't find anything wrong with it by the end of this sentence... nope, ok. Pride and Prejudice is perfect. 10!!!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Review: Water for elephants, by Sara Gruen

Yet another review of a book that has been turned into a film based upon it's mass perceived awesomeness. I really ought to widen my reading into more obscure books, where Hollywood has yet to shine it's bright lights. In this instance, I am grateful to Hollywood and it's well funded advertising campaigns, as, without these, I would have probably overlooked this book and it's awesomeness.
I'm a fairly soft hearted person in denial (can you even admit to being in denial?). Anyway, I hate crying at sad films and so will avoid any film that will almost certainly make me cry (Armageddon, Marley and Me, The Time Traveller's Wife, I Am Legend, the list is endless), and if I'm watching a film which I is suddenly sad, I'll find an reason to leave the room to avoid all of the sadness.

But anyway, rambling aside, where was I? Shiny lights, crying, avoiding sad films, get told by a friend that they cried at the film, and so avoiding this film. And then I saw the book and read that as an alternative to crying at the film. And then I cried at the book instead, but it was totally worth it.

So I'm reading the prologue thinking "ooh circus animals and chaos, and escaping animals, oh and was that a murder?" then it goes into the present day where an old man is having a flashback/telling the story/remembering it etc. and I'm waiting for it to be dreadful, because flashback introductions are nearly always padding, and nearly always terrible. (Wuthering Heights much?) But luckily, naffness just doesn't appear, because it's actually two stories about one man, woven together beautifully. Old Jacob has just as much personality, depth and character and grumpy but cool old man realness as young Jacob has youthful screwed-over-by-life-sadness. And because it's two stories, and not padding, it's extra good because then, when it comes to the bit at the end (deftly avoiding spoilers here), the bit that I thought was going to be super sad and tragic becomes empowering and happy! Yayness! So naturally I bawled my eyed out in a really happy way, whilst only looking mildly like a complete idiot.

Just in case anyone doesn't know what
a pink hipster elephant looks like...
So, plot points: old Jacob is moping about in his old people's home when the circus comes to town and reminds him of his youth. Young Jacob drops out of veterinary college when his parents die, leaving him penniless. A chance stroll leads him to be walking along the train track when a train passes and he feels compelled by writers whim to jump on. It turns out to be a travelling circus. After a chapter or two of confusing circus lingo and several personal trips to Google  Jacob is introduced to the Crazy Boss Man.
The conversation then goes along the lines of; "you're a vet, that's most convenient, as we have animals. Have a job, and while you're at it, get a look at my beautiful wife Marlena, who I abuse even though she is pretty and lovely and hangs out with horses."

A horse is killed to feed the lions, and the falling in love begins, as does the slow unveiling of the drunken crazy Boss man actually being total psycho Boss man. Add in circus politics, an elephant and a monkey, and slap it all onto an American prohibition era backdrop and it totally revolutionises the boy-meets-married-girl-and-chaos-reigns genre. Love, love, love it! 8.5 and maybe an extra half for really good twists- so a total of 9 stars. I may even go so far as to watch the film version.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Review: Practical Magic, by Alice Hoffman

A magical read (puns are always intended!) about two sisters, Sally and Gillian Owens, and how their family heritage of witchcraft affects their lives and their relationships.  Alice Hoffman skilfully weaves magic into everyday life, making it seem like a natural part of their lives- which makes, sense, as it was a sizeable portion of the Owens sisters' upbringing. Hoffman's use of the present tense is done beautifully, making a difficult technique seem effortless.

I love that the Owen's women's emotions provoke a physical, external response. Instead of Gillian being so in love that she might fly or some other cliche, she is so in love that all of the butter in the house melts, even when it is kept in the fridge. Not only does this demonstrate all of the family's power without constantly flaunting charms, potions and spells, but its also a novel way to demonstrate the intensity of their emotions.

Having watched the film first (Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman and Stockard Channing- definitely worth a watch!), I was kind of expecting a different plot; the film was inspired by the book, so there are lots of differences between the book and film. But I think that this was for the best, as they then have different strengths (although who-ever did the editing for the film needed to be fired- so so many continuity errors, but I love it anyway.). The full book would be too long and complicated for a film, but the film gave the Aunts a much larger role throughout the film than was given to them in the book, and the Aunts as portrayed by Stockard Channing and Diane Wiest are just fantastic. So, although the film and book are very different, I enjoyed them both, lots, separately. But this is a book review, not a film review...
The amazing house from the film- suitably witchy, I think!

So, yes, it is beautifully written, and it covers such a long period of the characters' lives that it really feels like a character driven story, even though there are certain events that help the story develop. This is well done too, as there's no feeling that this thing or situation must happen so that they can be doing this thing next, just because the author wants it to happen type of writing, which bugs me lots! I like too that you get to see Sally's daughters grow up and that they also become primary characters in their own right. Hoffman has got female sibling dynamics encapsulated perfectly in the book, which each different pair of sisters and each different relationship being different but realistic, with lots of differences, similarities and competitiveness between all of the family, throughout the book. All of these little differences help prevent the relationships from descending into stale repetitive stereotypes.

Finally, I've read somewhere (deep within the book reviews on some reviews condemning the book for encouraging a lack of morals, poor behaviour and bad habits, as well as teaching bad parenting habits, without showing any concept of responsibility etc. I find this view totally ridiculous. The Aunts are fantastic characters and I'm glad that their characters were highlighted within the movie. The book in no way endorses them as ideal guardians and the ways in which the Owens sisters are brought up is shown to be unconventional, and is shown as a flawed method, through the reactions of both Gillian and Sally. They are not meant to be perfect women, or perfect guardians, and ultimately the dynamic between them and Gillian and Sally does change, showing that they aren't two dimensional prop characters. Boo for unrealistic expectations. Yay for magic and silliness, chocolate for breakfast and no set bedtimes.

9.5 stars
(Plus, I totally followed the books advice, and now put pepper on my mashed potatoes... yum!)