Thursday 29 August 2013

#CBR5 Book 108. "Messy" by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Green-haired alterna-girl Max MacCormack only goes to Colby Randall, a posh Hollywood prep school, because her mother is the principal. She's full of scorn for the rich and spoiled around her, and especially loathes that her mother forces her to take part in extra curricular events like planning the spring carnival. Max needs to earn money, and her current after school job is not working out as well as she expected. When she is offered insane amounts of money to ghost write Brooke Berlin's blog, she can't afford to refuse. Now she just has to spend most of her free time with a girl she can't stand, and convincingly channel her on the internet.

Brooke Berlin, Hollywood starlet and daughter of mega superstar Brick Berlin (think Arnie, Bruce Willis and Tom Cruise rolled into one) is convinced that she's one step away from the stardom she deserves. A popular blog showing the world what an "It Girl" she is, will help launch her rising star, she just doesn't have time to write it herself. So why not hire some creative writing nerd who will be grateful for any time she gets to spend with Brooke? Unfortunately, the only serious applicant to her ad is the spiky malcontent Max, Brooke's half sister's best friend. Can this girl be trusted to help jump start Brooke's career?

Brooke and Max are forced to agree to a truce, and before long, they're spending most of their time together, after Brooke's blog becomes a roaring success. Can the two wildly different girls learn to be friends? Even when there's a cute boy in the middle?

Messy is the second novel from Go Fug Yourself goddesses Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. It's a sequel of sorts to Spoiled, where Brooke discovers that her father has a second daughter, whose mother has just died, when the girl (Max' best friend) comes to live with them in Hollywood. While Brooke was more of the antagonist in that book, here she gets to be one of the protagonists, and a very fun one at that.

The authors have admitted that when they were writing Spoiled, their model for Max was Mac from Veronica Mars. Max copes admirably with the fact that she is seen as somewhat of a freak at Colby Randall, and that her best (and pretty much only) friend is dating her brother, but her main worry is the terrible case of writer's block she suffers; not useful when she needs to write an admissions essay for a creative writing class in New York. That class is also the reason she needs to earn money. Unlike most of her classmates, Max' parents are not loaded. In fact, Max' father is unemployed, and the entire family are managing on her mother's salary. So when Brooke offers Max a ridiculous paycheck to ghost write her blog, Max forces herself to accept.

Naturally, as the two very different girls spend more time together, they start discovering that they may have more things in common than they expected. They even start approaching something close to a friendship, at least until a cute boy enters the mix. Max has been infatuated with the school quarterback for years and is so used to pining for him, that she refuses to accept her obvious  mutual attraction to Brady (real name Taylor!) Swift. Brady/Taylor is Brooke's co-star in the new edgy Nancy Drew movie (where Nancy grows up in a slum, trying to read Les Miserables by candlelight, and her father's a drug dealer - I would pay good money to see this film!).

Brooke doesn't really like Brady (he's shorter than her and quite geeky, after all) but she knows all about how romances between co-stars can help publicise a film. Max keeps insisting that she doesn't really like Brady as anything but a friend, and when Brooke really puts the moves on a boy, he's pretty powerless to resist. Normally such a love triangle can feel contrived, but as the main focus in Messy isn't the romance angle - which girl will Brady choose in the end, but rather, will Brooke and Max realise that despite their differences, they've actually become really good friends? Brady is just the device to put some tension between them, which they have to work through to come out better friends in the end.

I liked Spoiled, but it didn't amuse me as much as Messy, which had me cackling with laughter several times while reading it. The authors, as anyone who reads Go Fug Yourself will know, have a wonderful snarky wit, and their observations on celebrity culture, both real and made up for this fictional universe, are wonderful. There are so many digs at movie stars, and reality shows, and celebrity culture, and at the same time, they manage to make both Brooke and Max so very likable. If you want a light-hearted, amusing read, you could do a LOT worse than picking up this book.

Saturday 24 August 2013

#CBR5 Book 107. "Blade Song" by J.C. Daniels

Page count: 174 pages
Rating: 2.5 stars

Kit Colbana is a mercenary, who will work as a thief, investigator or even hired killer, if the pay is good. She's a half-breed (her mother's family are some sort of Amazon-like species who can turn invisible at will, and summon their favourite weapon to them by just thinking hard), rejected by her relatives. She keeps having vivid dreams where the local vampire bigwig invades, and tries to sway her to work for him/most likely become his new chew toy, and she's generally not doing super great. Then the dangerously mentally unstable Alpha of the local Cat shifters hires her to locate her missing nephew. Along for the ride until she finds the boy, is the Alpha's sexy lieutenant, who will stay with her 24-7. If Kit succeeds, she'll be paid handsomely. If she fails, she will die.

While investigating, Kit discovers a whole slew of other missing teens. Humans, other shifters, witches. Witnesses remember a van, so it's quite clear that someone is kidnapping them. For what purpose?

J.C. Daniels is a pseudonym for the romance/paranormal author Shiloh Walker. She writes so prolifically that she has to publish books under multiple names. I saw Blade Song highly recommended on a number of review pages I follow, and figured it would be a good late summer read, especially when I was a bit burned out after all my Cannonballing. It turned out to be mostly annoying. While readers on my blog know that I read a LOT of paranormals, this one just didn't grab me. I didn't really care much about Kit as a character, despite her unusual (at least in paranormal fantasy) background and lousy family relations. Her relatives certainly made sure her life was hell growing up, but I need to actually emotionally engage with a character to be affected by these things.

Then there was Damon, the love interest. SPOILER! He starts out by choking her so hard she has visible bruises, even with her advanced healing abilities, and her voice is affected because he squeezed her windpipe so hard. He's full of remorse later, blah blah blah, needed to make his alpha believe he didn't like Kit, she's his chosen mate, all that crap. I don't care if he's the hottest thing since lava and very conflicted because his alpha is a grade A beyotch, I can't really believe in any sort of romantic development between characters with this brand of twisted "meet cute". Just doesn't do it for me. Certainly not when it progresses as quickly as it did in this book. Maybe if it had been months or even a year down the line, and Damon did a whole bunch of things to atone for the fact that he nearly KILLED Kit - but that's not the case.

There's banter, romantic tension, investigations, witches, vampires, shapeshifters, advanced skills with various weapons. I finished the book mainly to see when it got so exciting that these other internet bloggers squeed excitedly about it and recommended it to all and sundry. I do appreciate that Daniels/Walker has some touches you don't usually see in paranormals, it's always nice with variation in a genre that can get a bit samey. Even with my theory that you nowadays have to read at least two or three paranormals in a series to really get an idea if it's something worth spending your time on, I can't invest in this series. The Colbana Files will not be added to my future reading list, one book was enough.

Friday 23 August 2013

#CBR5 Book 106. "The Chocolate Touch" by Laura Florand

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Dominique Richard worked in an abattoir in his early teens, but is now one of the chief chocolatiers in Paris. His chocolate, like his reputation, is darker and his flavour combinations are much more unorthodox and edgier than those of his rivals. Yet for all that Dominique is known for his volatile temper, his employees all adore him, and treat him more like an older brother than a boss. They all want him to find lasting happiness, not just indulge in meaningless one night stands.

Jaime Corey is recovering from a terrible ordeal. She used to travel the world, trying to develop sustainable farming and fair trade practices among the suppliers to her family's chocolate empire. Now she's a mere shadow of herself, slowly recuperating in Paris, resenting the cloying concern of family. Every day, she spends some time at Dominique Richard's shop, watching him from afar, never dreaming that he's taking just as much notice of her. Why would the darkly charming and brilliant creative genius have a scarred little nobody like her, when sophisticated Paris ladies keep throwing themselves at him?

Laura Florand really has found a formula that works for her. The naturally romantic setting of Paris, gourmet chocolate, and large, temperamental, arrogant men who are also deeply emotionally vulnerable, and just need the right woman to bring them happiness. The woman in this book is Jaime Corey, younger sister of Cade, the heroine of The Chocolate Thief (I still miss the brightly coloured and cartoony covers of the first two books). The Corey sisters are heirs to the massive Corey Chocolate fortune (read Hershey) and the arrogant chocolatiers of Paris, with their gourmet creations, scorn their mass produced candy bars.

Dominique has no idea that the waif he's fallen so deeply for is a Corey, however, because Jaime doesn't reveal her surname. In her experience, guys are a lot more interested in the family fortune than they are in her. For all that Jaime has travelled the world, doing good deeds, she has massive self esteem issues, especially after being physically and emotionally scarred while on the job. She's always compared herself unfavourably to her older sister, and doesn't really believe that she can measure up toe the same standards.

Dominique, for all that he is tall, dark and brilliant, has huge emotional issues. His mother was an alcoholic, who left him and his violent father when Dominique was a young teen. Dominique worked in an abattoir until he was 19, and then managed to apprentice to a top chef and turn himself into the man he is now. He has terrible anger issues, and worries that he will turn abusive, like his Dad. He has massive abandonment issues, and because he dropped out of school when his home life became too complicated, believes himself to be a coarse, uneducated brute, not really fit for anything but short term, meaningless sexual encounters.

Jaime and Dominque are both so very messed up, and in previous Florand book, it's tended to be one or the other who needs "saving". Jaime believes she's not worth loving, and Dominique is convinced anyone he gets really close to, will leave him. The two have to save each other. For anyone who's read Florand's other books (and you should, they're delightful), there are appearances from most of the major characters in both The Chocolate Thief and The Chocolate Kiss. This book works perfectly well as a stand alone, though, as do all of her romances.

#CBR5 Book 105. "Magic Rises" by Ilona Andrews

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 4 stars

This is book 6 in a series. It's therefore not the best place to start reading, and I can guarantee that the review will contain spoilers for at least some of the other books that have come before. If you haven't read these books, run, don't walk to a bookstore or a library, and get started.

When several of the Pack's children threaten to turn Loup, and may have to be killed, mercenary bad-ass Kate Daniels and her mate Curran, the Beast Lord of the Pack realize that they need to get their hands on more panacea, a herbal concoction that ensures the survival of most of the young shapeshifters. It's obvious to both of them that the invitation they have received from a couple of European packs is a big ol' trap, but they're offered so much of the precious panacea (which they have absolutely no way of making themselves), that they simply cannot afford to refuse. So Kate and Curran ally with someone they normally wouldn't trust, gather up a band of their best fighters, and set off to Eastern Europe on an adventure.

Once they get there, they quickly discover that it was indeed a trap, but one of a completely different nature than expected (I may have cheered at this revelation). The Pack are far away from home, and the task they've been set, to guard a pregnant shapeshifter princess until she gives birth, is not an easy one. The biggest danger may be to Kate and Curran's relationship, however.

This is the road trip book, the one where the authors take the characters out of their established comfort zone (even if that is a zone frequently fraught with incredible danger, and near death experiences) and move them somewhere, with new and exciting challenges and threats to their lives and safety. During the journey, the Pack encounter pirates, and I may have been rather vocal in my appreciation of the type of shapeshifter they turn out to be. I love how creative this author team is with their world building.

Then they arrive in Eastern Europe, with rivalling shapeshifter clans, to do a job that seems nearly impossible to complete without sparking some sort of turf war. Kate, who's still getting used to not isolating herself and trusting no one, experiences jealousy for the first time, and starts questioning Curran's devotion to her, especially as she's dismissed by all the European shifters as the Beast Lord's human plaything. Why wouldn't he want a powerful shifter girl instead? I must admit, invested as I was in Kate and Curran's relationship and happiness, I was extremely unhappy with this part of the book, and I wanted to punch Curran in his pretty face for what he was doing to Kate. Of course it turns out to be a lot more complex than Kate knows, and Curran has very good reasons for what he's doing, but even after I found out what was going on, I was not happy with him. There is a great explanation for why both Kate and Curran acted the way they do on Ilona Andrews' blog, where the authors answer FAQ about the recent book - don't read it until AFTER you've finished the book, there are spoilers!

Because of the jealousy drama, this doesn't quite get included among my favourite Kate Daniels books, but it's a wonderful read. I laughed, I cheered, I cursed and bit my knuckles in suspenseful scenes. Reading an Ilona Andrews book tends to be quite an emotional rollercoaster, and while they always end on a happy note, there are very real dangers in each book, and casualties along the way. Don't be sure everyone's going to make it out unscarred, or even alive. I'm so glad this book got Ilona and Gordon to the top of the NYT Bestseller list, they deserve it.