Review: grl2grl

grl2grl by Julie Anne Peters

This is a collection of 10 short stories. Some short, some long. Some make me feel like I’m standing on top of a mountain just breathing in the sharp, pure air until my lungs burst. Some cause my heart to beat just a little faster as it grows with pride and joy. Some are broken pieces wrapped in warm, cocooned prose – it’s deceptive! – that are too real to be described “sad”; sad is too plain a word. It’s carefully neutral. Try trapped, smothered, banked until only a thin strand of smoke is all that’s left.

These stories are all about teenage girls except for Vince from “Boi”. They are – except for Vince – gay (Vince is, in case you haven’t guessed from the title, FTM). They are confident, confused, cautious, hurting. Each story is different from the other. None of them is: girl meets girl, insta love, then HEA. Most stories left me with “Oh nooooooo” or “Shiiit”. Very quick read, never boring, never repetitive.

The thing is, Julie Anne Peters’ prose is not sensationalistic. She’s not out to twist you up inside. grl2grl didn’t make my heart bleed or my eyes fall out. Instead, it’s a quick, bloodless swipe, and it’s only after you’ve put down the book that you know the stories are going to circle around your mind over and over.

August Wrap-Up

I read 11 books in the month of August 2015. The funny thing is that I read five of them in the last three days of the month. Anyway, here’s an overview:

August 2015 wrap-up(You can’t see Haunting Violet because I read it on my tablet.)

The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski
The Bad Queen by Carolyn Meyer
Bloom by Elizabeth Scott
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Sea Swept by Nora Roberts
Rising Tides by Nora Roberts
Inner Harbor by Nora Roberts
The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side by Agatha Christie
A Little History of Literature by John Sutherland

 

A Little History of Literature1. A Little History of Literature by John Sutherland
From Ancient Greeks to E. L. James, John Sutherland guides the readers through the history of literature, starting from myths, touching on epic poems, plays, the King James Bible, poetry, novels and e-books. There are also chapters that are book-related but that do not focus on a certain literary period, genre or author; such as the rise of the printing culture and censorship. Although the title does not specify the literature as the English literature, it pretty much remains within its geographical boundaries as far as the authors go (some authors do go outside of the Great Britain, which becomes relevant in topics such as colonialism), although Sutherland ventures to other European or sub-Saharan or formerly colonized countries. One chapter is devoted to the American literature and some references to it made afterwards in other chapters.
The only consistent feature in the structure of this book is that it is roughly chronological. Some periods are explained through one defining work; others through famous authors during those times; and yet others through literary movements (e.g. modernism). There are chapters devoted to literary periods that were created through external (i.e. (trans)national politics, economy and wars) circumstances. These bite-sized chapters are of course too short to fully satisfy the readers’ curiosity; but it does a great job at whetting their appetite and gives an overview.
I personally learned a great deal about the (past) English culture and biographical details about certain authors. All these information become very useful when I read books from that period or by those writers. For example, why those men were rehearsing a play in the beginning of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or what I should look out for when I read The Fearie Queene, or why Thomas Hardy’s books are so pessimistic. Some chapters, I found, skimmed only the surface – like Jane Austen and the Brontës chapters. But for the most of the time, I was like a child visiting a bookshop for the first time. Fascination, curiosity, and a whole lot of fun! Now, the 20th century generally doesn’t hold my interest (I’m not sure why), so the chapters on modernism, Plath and Kafka were kind of lost on me. But there’s no guarantee how my taste will change.
I wouldn’t recommend A Little History of Literature to be your very first foray into the subject because the book mentions about a hundred different titles and authors, many of them only fleetingly. So unless you already have heard about the majority of them, all the name-dropping might get frustrating. However, if you already have a vague outline of the English literary periods in your head along with their major writers/poets, then I enthusiastically encourage you to pick up this book.

Come As You Are2. Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski
Provocative title, tagline and cover aside (love ’em, though!) Come As You Are offers a detailed, scientific yet easy-to-understand guide to understand your sexuality and to improve your sex lives (if you are so inclined, of course). My apologies to transgendered readers as I have no idea how useful this book will be to you. Come As You Are is primarily targeted at cisgender females but I’d recommend this book to everyone even if they are not a woman or dating a woman.
While reading the book, I felt like as if Emily Nagoski had figuratively taken my hand and led me through the topics of her book, all the while being warm, open, funny and insightful. Indeed she tries to establish a writer-reader connection by telling us about her personal life, addressing us directly and telling us we can contact her about questions or our own experiences.
Come As You Are guides us through: 1. the female anatomy; 2. the dual control model (this also applies to males) – we have both sexual excitation system and sexual inhibition system that can be differently sensitive -; 3. the importance of context in regards to emotional context and cultural context (this can be applied to anything that our culture “teaches” us); 4. what arousal is (especially important: nonconcordance!); 5. what desire is (= arousal in the right context); 6. the orgasm; and 7. the meta-emotions (how we feel about how we feel).
Read this book if you feel more or less ready to learn more about your body, embrace your body and be open and honest about your body.

Sea SweptRising TidesInner Harbor3. Sea Swept, Rising Tides and Inner Harbor by Nora Roberts
I had arrogantly forgotten how much it hurts on the first day when you have your wisdom teeth pulled out. I had all four of them removed in the month of August, one side at one time and the other side at the second time. I weathered the first time better than the second because I was braced for something much more horrifying but the recovery turned out to be pretty smooth (smoother than I expected, anyway). So by the second time, I was more relaxed… and underestimated the discomfort of the first few days. To distract myself, I dove into the world of Nora Roberts’ Quinn brothers.
In Sea Swept, we have open, honest and force-of-nature Anna Spinelli and hot-headed and protective Cameron. Rising Tides centers around the quiet and thoughtful Ethan who is the master of hiding his past pains, and the level-headed and loving Grace Monroe with her toddler Aubrey (so cute <3). Emotionally more intense than the two previous books is Inner Harbor, in which we meet observe-rather-than-participate Sybill Griffin and Phillip – whose sophisticated and at-ease exterior hides a violent and tumultuous source of emotions deeply buried inside. A lost boy, Seth DeLauter, brings all these people together; the three brothers Cam, Ethan and Phillip, who promised their dying father to look after Seth. They themselves had been runaways and lost boys when Ray and Stella Quinn had saved them and given them a family.
The Chesapeake Bay quartet is about family, friendship, and love. The Quinn family is quite a special kind of family – open, loving, openly loving, loud and crowded and sometimes pushy. But they always have each other’s back and their love for each other makes them who they are. It is also about the small community in St. Christopher, Maryland, and the lives of people who make their living from the Bay.
I used to be a huge Nora Roberts fan for years until I realized that I wasn’t anymore and got rid of the most of my collection. I kept only the books that have a special place in my heart (mostly her trilogies and quartets), and the Chesapeake Bay series is one of those. It was a re-read for me this time and Inner Harbor is still my favorite. There is of course the fourth book, Chesapeake Blue, a Seth story after he has grown up (I think he is in his late 20s or early 30s) but I didn’t re-read it this time.

Quiet4. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Another non-fiction and another re-read undertaken by me in August was Susan Cain’s Quiet. The first time I read it, about two years ago, I wrote this quite angry post about my experience of being an introvert. I initially took the book as an excuse to be on my own and to avoid parties. I still prefer a night in with me curled up with a book than a night out partying. But for a long time after reading Quiet, I still lived under the Extrovert Ideal mantra. I still felt like I was inadequate and criticized myself for not being as out-going as I “should” be. So I stayed in, citing introversion as my (silent) excuse, but I still wasn’t happy. When I re-read it after two years, I was ready to accept myself for the way I am. In the end I have the impression I learned more about myself and how I operate, and how I can stretch my boundaries when I need to. But most importantly, I know now that there is nothing wrong with me.
I wish more extroverted people read this book so that they can understand. There is also a chapter of this book about the communication between introverts and extroverts that I found helpful.

 

The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side5. The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side by Agatha Christie
I’m going through Miss Marple books in the recommended reading order this year, and The Mirror Crack’d was next up! Incidentally, this is the first ever Agatha Christie book that I read (or was read to) two years ago. I knew who the killer was, of course; but that’s not why I re-read Miss Marple’s stories. I read them for the pure coziness it radiates – it’s the little details of Miss Marple’s breakfast, Mrs Bantry and her garden and the walking through The Development, and so on. The investigation itself wasn’t as dull as I’d remembered, either. It really makes a difference whether you read it yourself or whether you were read to. It seems I’m too impatient for audio books!
The thing that left me curious and dissatisfied at the end of 4:50 From Paddington has been answered in The Mirror Crack’d! It turns out Chief-Inspector Craddock is still single (p. 147, or Chapter 10)!
Anyway, in regards to the Miss Marple books: Miss Marple does appear in The Moving Finger, A Murder Is Announced and A Pocket Full of Rye but her appearances are short and towards the end. Just a warning not to get your hopes up! My favorite Miss Marple books (so far) are The Murder at the Vicarage, 4:50 From Paddington and The Mirror Crack’d.
Just a brief excursion to Monsieur Poirot while we are at Agatha Christie: I’m going through the Poirot books chronologically and so far I really enjoyed them all! And I’ve become quite fond of the small detective with huge ego <3 Next Poirot for me is The Mystery of the Blue Train.

Haunting Violet6. Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey
As I mentioned above, I read this as an e-book. I got this a long time ago and it was a spur of the moment decision to read it, a I-need-a-book-to-read-for-half-an-hour-before-I-go-to-sleep kind. Well, any book that keeps me up until 3 in the morning gets a nod of acknowledgment from me. They also tend to stick in my memory.
Haunting Violet is set in the Victorian era England, and I mostly read for the historical setting of the story than the plot, actually. Violet’s mother runs a con as a medium – a trick that has been kept secret for some time and has allowed her to rise to a semi-fame. She has recruited two other then-children, Colin and Marjorie, and along with her daughter Violet, they have been helping her run the con. Now they are all invited to Lord Jasper’s manor so that he can entertain his guests with the medium. What none of them factors in is that Violet is a real medium… and her powers awaken just before they arrive in the manor. Confused and disoriented, Violet learns that a tragic accident had happened a few years ago near Lord Jasper’s manor. A tragedy that Violet now knows to be a murder.
Haunting Violet could have been another mediocre YA novel with a love interest thrown in and a half-hearted attempt at investigation – and a dramatic revelation. What I really like about this book is that the story is actually a blend of creepy and normal historical fiction. I also love Violet’s friendship with Elizabeth, her cautious respect for Lord Jasper and her situation of being courted by a rich tradesman’s son and not being sure whether she likes it! Even her dysfunctional relationship with her mother was quite interesting. Oh, and she loves books. Really, a girl after my own heart! The only thing predictable about Haunting Violet is the choice, or opportunity, offered to them at the very end. I would have preferred sheep-keeping.

Bloom7. Bloom by Elizabeth Scott
Another re-read! I had fully intended to give this one away and I thought to myself ‘I’ll just leaf through it before I do’ and ended up reading it cover to cover. Bloom is, in a way, a classic study of the high school structure and the arbitrary rules of “popularity” and the self-esteem that goes with it (for many students anyway). Lauren is the narrator of the book and she’s the girlfriend of the most popular guy in the school – a guy who is smart, caring, rather quiet and nice. Lauren is honest about how she feels about Dave: “grateful” that he chose her, wondering what he sees in her, enjoying the fringe benefit of being the “average” girlfriend of the most popular guy, and all the while knowing that she won’t be broken-hearted if he breaks up with her. She likes Dave, and she feels safe with him. And feeling “safe” is very important to Lauren. Of course there’s another love interest that causes her to feel all the feels.
What makes Bloom better, in my opinion, than other YA books with similar topics (and believe me I read a lot of them over the past six years) are Lauren’s difficult relationships with her father and her “best friend”. She loves her father and knows he loves her, but at the same time she’s very careful not to let him affect her too much. She tries very hard not to be like her parents (her mother left them when she was five or so, and her dad has become a serial dater ever since), as if separating her identity from theirs will prevent her from making the same mistakes. Lauren’s “best friend” is Katie and here is how Lauren describes their friendship in chapter 1: “When we first met we used to talk endlessly about how we’d get boyfriends and what we’d do when we had them, and it was only when we actually got boyfriends that I realized without the acquiring of them to talk about, we had absolutely nothing in common. And that sucks, because [she’s] my best friend.” This dynamic changes a bit throughout the novel but nevertheless there is no Big Realization Moment in which Lauren realizes that she can actually have deep, soul-searching conversations with Katie and she’d been just prejudiced and now they’ll be BFF forever ever.
Lauren’s life, in a way, is rather average. And that’s what makes it so relatable. Most of us don’t have a soul-sister or soul-brother as a best friend in high school. We don’t usually meet our life’s companion in the concrete box of education, either. (Although it could be argued that is exactly what the ending of the book implies.)
Oh, and Lauren plays the clarinet. I am, for unknown reasons, fond of characters who play an instrument.

The Bad Queen8. The Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-Antoinette by Carolyn Meyer
The sixth book in the Young Royals series (although they don’t have to be read in order!) takes us to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and to the young Antonia just as her betrothal to the French dauphin (later Louis XVI) is being considered. We see the willful and rather awkward 13-year-old girl undergo a painful physical transformation and instructions in French and the French etiquettes. We see her marriage to the dauphin Louis-Auguste and how she learns to tread the treacherous water of the French court. (We also see her unable to manage the inaction in the bedroom with her husband.) Death of Louis XV, becoming the queen, one expensive project after another (Petit Trianon, Le Hameau, the theater, etc.), Axel von Fersen, becoming a mother, scandal and gossip (always scandals and gossips), rising unrest, July 14th 1789, death by guillotine.
Going against the title of the series (Young Royals), Carolyn Meyer accompanies Marie-Antoinette until her death. She did the same thing with Anne Boleyn in Doomed Queen Anne, and Duchessina wasn’t young either when Duchessina ended, but the sheer length of this volume (414 pages compared to 228 and 258 pages, respectively) still stood out.
I usually read historical fiction to get acquainted with that particular period in the particular country. It often piques my interest in the era and country, and I find myself looking up additional information afterwards. Historical accuracy isn’t my main motivation although I haven’t found Carolyn Meyer to be an exaggerating type (aside from some romantic sidelines). Her other books in the series include Bloody Mary, Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn, Catherine of Aragon and Catherine de’ Medici. Some of these women have gained notoriety in their later life. The author’s aim, I understand, is to explore the difficult and often life-threatning childhoods of these young royals and how they might have shaped their adult lives. I found I could empathize with these teenage girls in all cases except one (I just don’t like Anne Boleyn) – and now Marie-Antoinette. I have no sympathy for her disinterest and ignorance in the public life, and that clockmaker husband of hers is no better. Did she deserve to die? No. Was I moved by her ordeal of dealing with the court fashion, distrustful French people, pouring heaps of money on renovating buildings, enjoying card games and theaters? Nope. The author’s ability to create details and atmosphere, however, was impeccable as usual.

 

Batch Review #7

O'Hurley's ReturnSkin Deep by Nora Roberts
I found myself – surprisingly enough – really liking Chantel O’Hurley. She has become a famous actress who often portrays the role of femme fatale, and she takes no shit from anyone. She really warmed my heart when she totally dissed Quinn Doran the chauvinist pig who did change a little throughout the book. Anyway, so when this security expert tells her that as a heart-breaker, she ought to take a few crank calls (uh, make that sick crank calls plus obscene notes plus some wacky ideas of romance) in stride, Chantel totally pins him down, not that he cares.
Chantel looks hard on the surface, but beneath her armor is a soft heart and cool head. By her vulnerability I do not mean anything negative (when did it acquire its negative connotation, anyway?) – it has a feel of openness and generosity in it, although also some hurtful past.
I found the ending a bit too… dramatic. But whatever works.

O'Hurley's ReturnWithout a Trace by Nora Roberts
Mmmm. Trace is not my type. Although it did wonders to me to watch him change thanks to Gillian. I think I bonded with Gillian over her type of relationship to her father – I totally get that. Like, not the follow-my-footsteps kind, but the just-not-loving thing.
Without a Trace was parts boring and parts fascinating because it was my first second Nora book about an intelligencer and while I do think that the ending was way too easy, I enjoyed the masquerade and the travels quite a lot.

 

 

Virgin RiverVirgin River by Robyn Carr
So I have this picture of a perfect small town, right? Secluded, peaceful, clean, comforting, brimming with nice people and a small cabin filled with books and furnished in a simple yet elegant way.
The cover totally indicates that way, as do the genre (contemporary romance set in a small town!) and the heroine’s first thoughts as she drives there.
Then Robyn Carr sets me right – the cabin is a dump, there is not a smallest sign of a bookstore, or a supermarket, or a clothing store. People are not always friendly and not always up to a talk about medical emergencies (unless they’re a doctor or patients). The nature can be fierce, and there’s a dark side to even the brightest towns.
But as Mel eased into a small-town life, I gradually relaxed, and let the book’s flow carry me.
Two things that kinda bugged me: 1. The references to Grace Valley characters who are June, John, Jim and Susan, and I got the lot confused quite a few times, especially since a one-sentence introduction was all I got.
2. The way Mel so easily found herself even more in love than the first time around in six months’ time. Her grief was totally authentic and heart-wrenching. And then she healed really quickly, which was good to see. Then she decides she is so over her first love already, whom she had loved for five years, because she is more in love with a guy she’s known for six months.
I’m probably not gonna continue the series, at least not anytime soon, but I’m so glad I gave it a chance.

Bratfest at Tiffany'sBratfest at Tiffany’s by Lisi Harrison
So after enduring four books in a row ranging from “meh” to downright “ugh”, I’d vowed off the series. Until one day when I was sitting in my rocking chair, feeling numb because of the cold, and I flipped through The Revenge of the Wannabes. Suddenly I was gripped by the nostalgia that the first three books in the series have provided – the wit, the fun, the ridiculous, the ignorant and spoiled girls who are yet oddly so human. I decided to give the ninth book a chance.
And boy, was it ridiculously fun.
Maybe because Massie put the NPC on a boyfast, which, after the last two books’ headaches, I totally heart. This book’s focus lies in Massie, and to a smaller extent in Alicia and Claire. I somehow missed Massie’s bossiness, her egocentric worries, her action as a fashion diva, her clever comebacks and sarcasm. And her insecurities. I think one of the reasons I have become so fond of her is because she lets me relax in my should-filled thoughts. I can be as “bad” as Massie if it weren’t for my conscience plaguing me. It’s a constant battle between being confident, feeling good, and doing the right thing. Massie is juggling this in her own way, even though I fully admit I’d be horrified if my own daughter acted so without morals and attempts at kindheartedness. (And she knows fashion.)
In het world it’s all about being a social Alpha and maintaining that position. Its simplicity (and yet so crucial to Massie herself) allows me to calm down my own troubles for a while.

Shadow and BoneShadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand there is this unique high fantasy setting based on Russia, a wasteland-like Dark Fold that reminds you of yoma-infested countries without their king or queen*, and a villain that is so chillingly scary that it gives you a tug-and-pull kind of reaction. On the other hand, however, we have the first two hundred pages that feel like a long, long prologue. Alina doesn’t wake up until two-thirds in. She rambles and describes her surroundings in painstaking details, but something is missing. Her it is missing – her personality, her self-recognition, her own voice.
The ending came less as a shock than expected, mostly because I automatically suspect any and every new friend the hero / heroine makes.
I’m unsure whether I want to continue with the series. That remains to be seen.

*a reference to Fuyumi Ono’s Twelve Kingdoms series, in case anyone is interested

Batch Review #6

The NamedThe Named by Marianne Curley
Book No. 1 in The Guardians of Time trilogy – a re-read after two and a half years; written by an Australian author, and as such, a different feel in the language & atmosphere that is not American and not English. At first a bit frustrating to re-read esp. since I know all the nine members of Veridian and the matters of heart (pretty easy to figure out by the end of the first book); LOVE time-traveling and love Citadel; some issues are resolved quite easily, see conflict between Ethan and Shaun; LOVE Isabel’s character, so intelligent & courageous & sporty & honest with herself; grew to appreciate Ethan’s character as well, esp. for his sense of justice and impulsive actions; kind of wish Arkarian would remain mysterious with no POV from him but he gets one in The Dark (which I’m currently reading for the first time), but at least we keep Isabel’s POV. Wanted to punch Matt in the face for the first two-thirds of the book. Carter for the first third of the book. Someone else I wanted to punch? Mmm, I think not.

The DarkThe Dark by Marianne Curley
More time-travels. More cruelty. Tensiiiiion is in the air. Neriah makes an appearance. Rochelle makes a re-appearance. The ending made me go all mushy inside.

 

 

 

The KeyThe Key by Marianne Curley
(a note about cover: That arrow, though. I hate that arrow.)
Even though I was prepared, even though the author kept giving us hints (and hopes), I am too stunned and heart-broken to do much of anything. (And I keep thinking how much I would have liked to see one more appearance of Matt’s father.) It’s so unfair, it’s outrageous.
Because I am being petty, I will also mention that Ethan’s family situation has completely dropped out of focus, just like Isabel’s mom and Neriah’s, too, after a certain event. Also, Dillon is being extremely annoying. Matt is like a transformed person after his visit to his dad, which oddly suits him.
The only thing I have left is the consolation that even Dartemis will be with his soul-mate eventually (which leads me to believe that he won’t come down to Athens, after all), so the same thing should happen to our brave young warrior who loses his heart to death. Ahhhh WHY Marianne Curley, WHY!?!?!!!

Violet by Design

Violet by DesignViolet by Design by Melissa Walker
#2 in Violet series
published in March 2008
by Berkley JAM

In this second installment of the Violet trilogy, Violet Greenfield returns to her modeling career after what was planned as a one-time stunt in São Paulo – she is wildly in demand, which takes her to Spain and other European countries. Or at least it would have taken her to other European countries had it not been for her MySpace blog and her entries about the crazy obsession over weight in the fashion world.

In the whole course of the book, Violet is a living embodiment of conflicting emotions, values, and wants. On the one hand she loves her family, her friends and her tranquil life. But she also revels in the glitz and excitement of the modeling world – seeing other countries, living in luxurious hotels, meeting designers and wearing gorgeous clothes and seeing the huge crowd watching her on runways. Violet knows this. She also knows what a hypocrite it makes her and the people from fashion industry when they say they support the “natural looks” of women and how starving for runways and photo shoots is sick, but once they have said goodbye to the press people, they immediately start talking about how Violet needs to lose five pounds in three days (five pounds are like, 2.5 kg). Violet, while angry and ashamed, agrees. Her friend Roger is totally frustrated at the way Violet seemingly isn’t able to make up her mind, and plays the role of “the voice of reason”, which can be harsh at times. In fact, Roger is one who doesn’t seem to have problems following his principles, it’s almost not human.
I was really glad that Violet had support of both Veronica and Sam in this book, because this time she wasn’t on her home turf with her aunt or other members of her family. Julie also plays small role here compared to Violet on the Runway.
Although it was kind of frustrating to go through the crap Violet had to face, I’m glad she made the decisions she did and finally started figuring out what kind of person she wants to be.
Oh, but could someone please explain to me how a high school graduate doesn’t spend a minute thinking about the fact that abandoning a campaign in the middle of it is breaking the friggin’ contract, which her employer totally can sue her of? And they would for sure win, which means, since the jurisdiction lies in the States, Violet would have to pay huge amount of money as damages. Like, thank you, Veronica, for stepping in. Still not quite sure how shifting the contract to Double V will solve all problems, but whatevs.

Bright Young Things

Oh, fiddlesticks. What a ridiculous series!

*contains spoilers for Bright Young Things (#1) and The Lucky Ones (#3) by Anna Godbersen.
*contains also spoilers for Rumors (Luxe #2) by Anna Godbersen.

I always thought this would be Cordelia. It turns out it's Astrid Donal!
I always thought this would be Cordelia. It turns out it’s Astrid Donal!

It starts out well enough: Two young girls from middle of nowhere in Ohio escape to NYC during the heights of Prohibition – Cordelia Grey (who just got married to her country “sweetheart”) and Letty Haubstadt/Larkspur, who has a beautiful voice but not the confidence to match.

Yay, fun! Parties, pretty things, lots of booze as if Prohibition don’t mean a thing. Well, yes, it’s all that… and almost nothing else.

I got bored quite easily. The three girls start out separately after Cordelia and Letty fight over petty things. Once Cordelia finds her long-lost father she’d never known Darius Grey, who is now a famous bootlegger (aka illegal alcohol provider during Prohibition), she eases herself into the glittery – and bloody – life of the bootlegger’s daughter. There she meets Astrid Donal, the third girl of the series and who is supposed to look like the girl on the cover (<-). She’s also the sweetheart of Cordelia’s half-brother, Charlie.
At the end of the book all three girls get chummy and not just Cordelia-Astrid or former Cordelia-Letty.

Astrid: party, booze, napping till noon, doing whatever young rich people do, making lovey-dovey eyes at Charlie, getting mad at Charlie, running away from Charlie, being mollified by Charlie’s attempts to woo her back.

Cordelia: party, alcohol here and there, napping till noon, getting to know her father, being wary of her half-brother Charlie, hanging out with Astrid, falling for “Romeo”, feeling guilty about it and resolving to cut all ties to “Romeo”, giving in to “Romeo’s” advances again.

Letty: working as a cigarette girl, blushing, resenting Cordelia every now and then, feeling shy, working, singing, blushing, being innocent.

The girls were quite tedious. None of them interested me although I mostly had fun reading the book. The plot only picked up at the end when Darius Grey gets assassinated. I flipped through Beautiful Days and The Lucky Ones, and it seems Cordelia meets a new young man, with whom she possibly commits a double-suicide at the end of the series; Astrid finally realizes Charlie has head-problems and runs away with her other true love; Letty singing and being adored and being taken advantage of her naiveté, only to elope with her real love to California and becoming famous.

In the prologue in Bright Young Things, the narrator (who turns out to be Billie Marsh) says that “one would be married, one would be famous and one would be dead” referring to these three girls. It’s as I thought – Cordelia’s the dead one, Letty’s the famous one, and Astrid’s the married one; although all three of them were married, actually. Cordelia to John Field, Letty to Grady and Astrid first to Charlie and then to Victor.

This series, compared to Godbersen’s Luxe series, is a lot more bloody. I mean, Will gets shot (speaking of which, there’s a guard called “Keller” – hope his last name is not “Cutting”!) in Rumors and that old man dies at the end of Splendor but other than that, relatively bloodless. Ah ah ah, we are dealing with gangstas in BYT series – and there’ll be more blood than necessary because Charlie is a raging lunatic.

So the conclusion to the series was pretty dramatic but the story dragged its feet like petulant child (or so it feels, even though I’ve only flipped through the pages of the second and third books); I don’t give a damn about the characters, with the possible exception of  Darius Grey, who is dead already by the end of the first book; the romances were insipid. I know it’s not fair, but I kept comparing the characters with care-free and brave Diana, wary and romantic Lizzie, cunning and seductive (yet unscrupulous) Penelope, and even with jealous and petty Carolina.

Ah!!! FRUSTRATION!

EDIT (3/12/2014): I feel the need to add something. I knew that “bright young things” was a term that actually existed, but it wasn’t until today that Wikipedia told me that they were “young aristocrats and socialites who threw fancy dress parties, went on elaborate treasure hunts, were seen in all the trendy venues, and were well covered by the gossip columns of the London tabloids” because apparently they were young people of England! I didn’t know that.
ANYWAY so maybe Anna Godbersen was right in portraying the whole people and scenery as she did – you know, excessive amount of parties, glamour, showing off of wealth, speakeasies and drinking and all that. Maybe the plot was meant to be boring, to put us into the right atmosphere… Eh. Okay, probably not.
So maybe I have read Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald first, after all. I could have gotten to know the whole era in a more memoir-ish manner (although Z is a historical fiction) before jumping into pure fiction. So what I’m saying is that I’m willing to give the whole trilogy another shot… in far away future.

The Beautiful and the Damned

*The Beautiful and the Damned is a spin-off to the Hollow trilogy (The Hollow, The Haunted, The Hidden).
**contains spoilers for the Hollow trilogy & The Beautiful and the Damned

Cyn is not sure what exactly happened at the Sleepy Hollow cemetery. She has a vague memory of a girl called Abbey, but she’s been dead for months. But Cyn has a bigger problem than her screwed-up memories or the fact that other beings seem to live inside her: When she woke up next to her boyfriend, Hunter, he was very definitely dead and her hands were full of blood. Has she killed him during one of her black-outs? Horrified and scared out of her wits, Cyn runs away – to New Hampshire. (She didn’t really run. She escaped with a car. Or two?) The Beautiful and the Damned
Avian aka Thirteen is the only off-spring between two original Revenants (Crash course: In the beginning, before the Shades took over the jobs, six pairs (one angel, one demon) of Revenants took care of the souls and played Reapers. Avian’s parents, well, hooked-up and now Avian is kind of the thirteenth “original” Revenant.) and has inherited powers from both sides. But mostly he is odd man out. When he sees Cyn, he realizes she’s an Echo. Because of his past with Echoes, he really doesn’t want to help her.

Anyway, The Beautiful and the Damned is more like a novella to the Hollow series in length and plot. Both could have been more fleshed out and expanded onto. I would have LOVED to read a 600-page book for this story!!! For example, there was this f***** Vincent who had escaped to Cyn when he was banished in The Hidden. What did he do? In the end nothing but terrorizing Cyn, which wouldn’t be the first time. Or the psycho-brother would have made a great villain (he was, but he could have played the role a bit longer). And the thing between Cyn and Avian – they share one kiss! One. Kiss. After the shocks I’ve gotten from The Hidden, I was subconsciously wanting for more than one kiss. But it was a good one, though. The rest between them was great, even the oh-so-frustrating ending. Cyn’s sense of independence/being on her own wars with her fight for survival, and Avian’s I-don’t-care-attitude aside, he’s irritated every time Cyn gets into trouble. Will they work out some sort of friendship-relationship in New Orleans? I hope so. Even though he’s immortal and she’s… not. Maybe that’s why the author left the ending wide open? Because pulling off another The Hidden-ending would be repetitive and take the magic out of The Hidden?
I really wouldn’t have minded if Jessica Verday had concepted The Beautiful and the Damned as the first of a new trilogy, but she apparently didn’t, and to continue now like this would be very very awkward anyway. Instead I’ll look forward to her new book coming out this fall, Of Monsters and Madness!!

P.S.: What was that tiny cameo of Abbey and Caspian in the end??! Caspian’s so funny and a-do-ra-ble <3 And wasn’t it clever of the author to include that leather-pants-wearer reference from The Hidden?

Book Review: Secrets of My Hollywood Life

Secrets of My Hollywood Life Title: Secrets of My Hollywood Life
Series: Secrets of My Hollywood Life #1
Author: Jen Calonita
Publisher: Poppy (Hachette Book Group USA)
Publication year: 2007
Date finished: October 3rd, 2013
Rating: 4 STARS

Kaitlin Burke is a famous teenage actress and idol. Although she doesn’t mind the glitz and the comfort of being a part of Top 25 Famous People Under 25 and although she manages to not reveal the fact that her co-star Sky from the soap opera Family Affairs is in fact her nemesis, Kaitlin is determined to have “normal” high school experience. So she goes undercover (a new name and disguise and all) to her best friend Liz’ high school. But soon it gets more and more difficult for Kaitlin to keep up her cover…

I enjoyed Secrets of My Hollywood Life a lot more than I thought I would. First off we have Kaitlin, the teenage star who is honest enough to admit that she wants to keep the fame, and her work as actress. It’s not my-life-is-miserable-I-want-to-be-normal kind of story. Although Kaitlin definitely longs to have “normal” high school experience, she lets everyone know it’s only during her annual hiatus. And she still appears to do press work.

I also loved Kait’s friendship with Liz, the daughter of her lawyer, who is definitely in the Hollywood society yet not part of it. Liz understand what Kaitlin goes through, and she supports Kait fully in her wish to go to high school – albeit a bit doubtfully.

There are, of course, some cliché aspects: the Mean Girl and Her Sidekick, the Good, Popular Boy who’s dating Mean Girl, and a Dramatic Spring Fling. To give the author credit, it’s not one of those messy love triangles – oh no. Austin ends things with Lori before even remotely beginning anything with Rachel (Kaitlin’s alter ego).
But the whole point was for Kait to learn that high school isn’t much different than Hollywood: There is always backstabbing and people who catch you when you fall.

Speaking of which, I love Kaitlin’s mismatched, odd entourage: her manager / mom, her producer / dad, her wannabe actor / brother, her publicist Laney (scary yet competent), her only sane personal Nadia the organizer and Rodney the driver. Kaitlin family appears shallow and rather comical (they are not mean) but they are there for Kait whenever she falls. Partly, I suppose because their “careers” and entry to the Hollywood depends on Kaitlin remaining a famous actress. But deep in their hearts, they want Kaitlin to be happy.

So, after 250-something pages of drama, Hollywood gossip (albeit purely fictional) and lots of fun, will I read On Location? I don’t know yet – the first book ended on a perfect note, so it can only go downhill, right? Do I really want to read about it? Who knows.

Sequel Review: My Soul to Save

Soul Scramers Vol.1Title: Soul Screamers: Volume One
Review Title: My Soul to Save
Series: Soul Screamers #2
Author: Rachel Vincent
Publisher: Harlequin Teen (Harlequin Books S.A.)
Original publication in: 2010

This U.S. bind-up edition was published in 2011.

Date read: July 24th 2013

Kaylee and Nash are at a concert – tickets courtesy of Tod -, having a blast, when Eden the pop star suddenly falls dead in the middle of her performance. And here is what’s weird… Kaylee does not feel the need to wail a soul song. It gets weirder, because the reason for the absence of the song is Eden has sold her soul to a hellion. The weirdest part? Addison Page, another famous teenage pop star and Tod’s ex-girlfriend he has never gotten over, has sold hers, too, and it is up to Kaylee, Nash and Tod to get it back.

My Soul to Save was… depressing. I should have known better than to expect from Rachel Vincent to end a book with a neatly tied bow with a kiss on the forehead; instead, it was a punch in the heart, painful and relieved at the same time.

Now, I hate, hate, hate it when main characters become involved in a stupid, suicidal, save-the-humanity-because-I-can’t-not-do-anything mission when it is entirely someone else’s fault. I’m a firm believer of responsibility. If you have gotten yourself into a deep shit, it’s your job to get out of it. Help is fine as long as you do the majority of the job. Help’s not fine when you twiddle your thumbs, look scared and desperately wish some superheroes will save you.

This time, though, I can’t really blame Addy because she’s not a bean sidhe and the hellion is in the Netherworld. But she could have definitely helped with Regan. Me? I would have knocked her out, scared the crap out of her and have her gagged and stored in the cellar or something.
I do admire Kaylee for wanting to help Addy, be it out of conscience and/or Tod’s desperate look. And I admire Nash for jumping in because of Kaylee.

Speaking of Kaylee and Nash, they have quite a few of sexy times in My Soul to Save. Nope, they don’t have sex but they both want it. Or rather, Nash does seem to be want it more than Kay. It doesn’t mean that Kaylee is intimidated or feels pressured by Nash. She wants it too. But there is fear lurking in her mind that Nash will dump her once they have sex… that she is just another one of his conquests. Other than those moments of insecurities, Kaylee seems to trust Nash 100 %, though. She trusts him to watch her back, to be with her when no one else is and to protect her.

I have a feeling the series is taking a dark turn, and from what I can gather by reading the blurb of the next two books – My Soul to Keep and My Soul to Steal – I have the feeling this was just a beginning.

Book Review: My Soul to Take

Soul Scramers Vol.1Title: Soul Screamers: Volume One
Review Title: My Soul to Take
Series: Soul Screamers #1
Author: Rachel Vincent
Publisher: Harlequin Teen (Harlequin Books S.A.)
Original publication in: 2009

This U.S. bind-up edition was published in 2011.

Date read: January 2012

Kaylee Cavanaugh is in a club with her best friend, Emma, when she feels another scream making its way up through her body. Amazingly enough, the hot senior Nash Hudson manages to calm her down outside the club.
But Kaylee’s premonition is never wrong – the next morning she sees in the news that the strawberry blonde from the club has died. When more girls start dropping dead out of blue with no reason for death, Kaylee starts to investigate, with the help of Nash.

Reading over, I realize I made the blurb sound boring. But My Soul to Take is actually a great book. But it had a bad beginning. Oh, it was so bad.

The book starts with the clichéd and over-used “beautiful best friend and the protagonist, who is content to be in her friend’s shadow” concept and went on with “the hot, popular guy who goes through girlfriends like tissues seems to be genuinely interested in the protagonist, not BBF (that’s beautiful best friend)”.
Now, to give the characters – actually the author – credit, Nash never said the dreaded “Oh, Kaylee, the love of my life, you are the one” and Kaylee didn’t make lovey-dovey eyes at Nash and say “Oh Nash, I’m soooo in love”.

Ugh. That would have been very, very bad.

Now, the teenagers seem to understand that there’s this wild attraction between them but they don’t label it as “love”, which is just too easy to do when you are a teenager. Maybe even as an adult if you haven’t really grown up.
Nash and Kaylee are awfully comfortable with each other in awfully short amount of time, but since they are under duress, I will let that one past.

Once you get past the first four or five chapters, things start to get really interesting. The source of Kaylee’s scream is revealed, plus more information regarding the bean sidhes and reapers and other unworldly creatures.
The side characters are equally intriguing. Kaylee has lost her mother when she was a toddler and her father has left her in his brother’s care, meaning Kaylee grew up with her good-natured Uncle Brendon, health freak and caring Aunt Val and vicious cousin Sophie. Then there is Emma, who gets Best Friend Award from me, and the reaper at the hospital and Nash’s mom, Harmony… I can’t wait to read more about them.

So, don’t let my prejudices and spoiled beginning cloud your mind about some amazing parts that are hidden in the book. Enjoy!