I had to leave off my current book, Last Of The Amazons, which needs a bit more concentration, in favor of a lighter read for a whole night’s vigilance in the I.C.U.    As I have volunteered for night duty in attendance to my ailing father, I figured an easy but interesting YA book would be just the thing to keep me wholly alert ’til the morn. 

Among my choices for the Once Upon A Time IV and Spring Reading Thing 2010 challenge lists, Hush, Hush just fit the bill.

Author :  Becca Fitzpatrick

Publication Date :  October 13, 2009  (Hardcover)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing

ISBN-10: 1416989412

ISBN-13: 978-1416989417

No. of Pages :  400

The Story :

When God made man and Earth, some angels have looked on these creations with a consummate desire for dominion. A league of angels conspired to tempt Eve to eat of the Tree of Life, so God stripped them of their wings and cast them to Earth.  These fallen ones were denied  human perception of  the world  with all  its sensual clarity.   To experience the world through vivid sensations the way humans do — this what a fallen angel covets.

After the fall, a race emerged known as the Nephilim, immortals born of a union of angel and mortal. Only through the possession of the Nephilim can a fallen one experience the world as humans can.

For a Biology project, Nora is partnered with cocky, mysterious, and uncooperative Patch. She must get to know him enough to complete her project or risk failing the subject. While she knows almost next to nothing about him, he, disconcertingly, knows so much about her.

Forced to get to know him, she discovers dark and dangerous layers. For Patch is no ordinary boy. In fact, he isn’t even human. However, Nora can’t seem to shake off her dangerous attraction. Suddenly, her normal life doesn’t seem so normal after all. Someone is dangerously after her.  Who and why, Nora must find out to save herself.

The Review:

I can understand the allure this book has. The stunning cover hints of an irresistibly dark but sexy fantasy, which may not disappoint for some. This is primarily a romance with the supernatural as a very attractive component. As a deviation from the ubiquitous dark creatures like vampires, this time it is fallen angels, character concepts not often used and therefore a novelty for many young readers.

The protagonists are in their teens so this must contribute to the book’s categorization as young adult literature. But in my book,  the qualification for YA stops here.   As I have reiterated before, books in the YA category may have very adult concepts and jargon inappropriate for the preteeners and possibly, for those in their early teens. This book exemplifies this. Although there are no explicit sexual scenes, a lot of sexual innuendo exists. Moreover, there are hints of what some people may even consider as sexual harassment in the dialogues. The relationship between Nora and Patch may also be viewed as abusive at most or disrespectful at the least.

Although there is always something irresistible about the “bad boy” which ups those delicious romantic shivers in any romance, this particular characterization simply isn’t what one would want kids to admire in a romantic lead. To make it even more objectionable as YA,  the disrespectful ways of Patch toward Nora and Nora’s increasing attraction in spite of (or because of ?) it, feelings which I suspect may border more on lust than love, aren’t what I would rate as good fodder for teen and pre-teen minds.

However, despite my adult reservations, I feel this book is one of those  which young girls would gravitate to (the cover is simply irresistible).  The premise of fallen angels  and the dark romance are certain come-ons.   Writing is mundane, the characters not imbued with much depth; but these aren’t objectionable in a book designed to be  a 400-page breezy read.  They just makes reading effortless and fast.

Regardless of my misgivings on its classification, I  enjoyed Hush, Hush. I’m not saying it is a real page-turner but true to its bestseller status, it did keep me up and awake.  It was interesting enough in spite of its flaws.  Perhaps to like it, just suspend disbelief and go with the flow.

If you are a teen, chances are big that you will love it as it is.  As an adult in your thirties or beyond,  you probably will tend to be more judgmental of this book.

I won’t be surprised if this book morphs into a movie.  It just has that mass appeal to it.

As An Aside :

Becca Fitzpatrick is coming out with the sequel, Crescendo, this year.   For Hush Hush fans,  something to keep you on tenterhooks.  smiley

My Mark :  Good  —  Entertaining!

As an additional book for the Fall Into Reading Challenge 2009, Second Nature was a good choice for its brevity and its unusual romance.

Author :  Alice Hoffman

First Publication Date :  February 1994

Publisher of First Edition :  G.P.  Putnam’s Sons

This Edition’s Publication Date :  April 1995  (mass paperback)

This Edition’s Publisher :  Berkley

ISBN 0-425-14681-2

No. of pages : 290

The Story :

An injured wildman is discovered by a pair of trappers and sent to a hospital for treatment and rehabilitation.  Having lived most of his life with wolves, Stephen, the “Wolfman”,  is considered unmanageable and his failure to assimilate himself in  human society signs his lifelong commitment to a mental hospital.  Before his transfer, Stephen risks asking help from Robin.  She helps him escape and teaches him to adapt socially.  Stephen learns to do so, little by little and in the process,  falls in love with her.   Meanwhile, animals around the neighborhood are being mysteriously murdered, their throats slit.   Soon, it is a little girl.  The neighborhood is terrified and they want their monster…

The Review :

If you pick up an Alice Hoffman novel, expect to always have a contemporary story steeped in a bit of fantasy or magic told in her lovely prose.  Second Nature tackles the human foible of judgement borne from fear and grief  and the  wonderful  inherent human propensity to love.

Hoffman’s writing style is graceful where her thoughts  segues seamlessly from one point to another.  She can move from pleasant to sinister without missing a beat.  The change is so subtle,  smooth and flawless; this is what I really appreciate in Hoffman’s style.

The Wolfman character is dealt with quite well, with Hoffman sketching a believable portrait of his emotions and his thoughts while the character tries to fit in a world he does not understand.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Some readers stay away from fantasy because one is required to “live in another world” while at it.  Hoffman, though, combines a sprinkling of fantasy in a vat of reality to come up with a sub-genre called “magic realism”.  Stories are contemporary with realistic characters and settings but the reader is still required to accept the magic or fantasy as a reality to be able to enjoy the genre well.

Hoffman revels in this genre.  With this book,  she seems to show a wonderful understanding of human nature,  its strengths and failures.

Unfortunately, there are some flaws in this novel, some absurdly unbelievable.  To cite an instance, Robin was able to take the Wolfman from the hospital without a furor being raised later over his whereabouts.  While gaffes like these would surely irritate some readers,  others, like me, may choose to ignore them and just go with the flow.   In doing so, you will  discover a novel with a lot of heart.

My Mark :  Quite Good!

Yes! I’ve done it!  Finished my first challenge and just in a few days before the deadline, October 31st.

I read a total of five books.  See my list here.   Perhaps, I shall add to the list next time around.  Because of this challenge, I’ve discovered two authors I’ve added to my roster of favorites.   I’ve rated my best reads for this challenge to be The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dalhquist and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.   These novels are so original they are just in a league of their own.

It was a great experience and a lot of fun immersing myself  in the gothic / horror genre.  Next year will certainly see me in the R.I.P. challenge again, if only to get my hands on their next beautiful logo. Tee hee! 😀

My thanks to Stainless Steel Droppings for developing and hosting this annual event.

And to all of you:

HAPPY ALL HALLOW’S EVE!

From the spiritual, “The Shack“, to the shallow….

Author :  Christina Dodd

Date of Publication :  February 2007 (mass paperback)

Publisher :  Signet

ISBN-10: 0451220560

ISBN-13: 978-0451220561 No. of pages :  400

The Story:

Meadow  Szarvas breaks into hunky, sexy, billionaire Devlin Fitzwilliam’s home to steal a priceless painting (created by her famous grandmother)  to pay for her mother’s cancer treatments.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), she falls, hits her head and gets caught.  Meadow tries to weasel her way out of jail by pretending to have amnesia.  Astute Devlin knows this for a lie but plays along to the tune of his own schemes.  He insists that she is his wife.   They were married in Majorca.  Does she not remember their romantic meeting?

Now Meadow is helplessly embroiled in both their lies but she must stay to find that masterpiece, for her mother’s sake.

But she is not the only one interested in such a valuable painting.   Someone else is willing to  kill to find it.  Now Meadow is danger, not only of losing her heart but also her life…

The Review :

I suspected this was a quick read and I was right.  “Tongue In Chic” is  the type of book you’d grab if you just wanted a typical romance—you know, the one where a dashing, ultra wealthy (always a romantic criterion) , handsome man falls head over heels with a ravishing, unpredictable (she can never be boring)  kind-hearted girl.  It’s the classic love-team where opposites attract.

As in all romantic novels, there must be conflict to heighten the drama; so, in this case, the amnesia and marriage lies.  In the beginning, these are interesting enough to develop the romance but later,  grow too lame and stretched out to still be believable fodder for romantic conflict.  You’d eventually think, “Why can’t they just admit the truth to each other already?”  The story starts to get silly from thereon.

As for the mystery/suspense part of the book, it does help prod the otherwise boring romantic plot along but it’s not much of a plot saver.

To Read Or Not To Read :

If you can get past the femme fatale’s eye-rolling cheesy name, Meadow (ugh!), her childish and inane impetuousness (like suddenly dropping her clothes in the middle of a garden just because it was a full moon…and that after playing so hard to get…huh?),  then by all means, read!  You may get all shivery with Dodd’s hunky delight,  a strong, capable, muscle-bound knight in shining armor worth lusting for.

While you’re at it, try figuring out why this book is titled as it is — “Tongue In Chic“.  Why?   Still beats me…

In A Nutshell :

This book is a commercial romance;  that’s why I shouldn’t expect too much.  It wasn’t all that bad— but I may be saying this just because I fell for the hero. 🙂

Grudgingly, then, I give this book:

My Mark  :   Ok (but you can chuck it after and not miss it)

Merrick” wasn’t too heavy on the gothic atmosphere so it was not difficult to decide to pick up another gothic-themed novel for the R.I.P. IV Challenge. “The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters”, was initially quite far down my TBR list before this challenge; but, being one mentioned in the pool of books the challenge host, Stainless Steel Droppings, had lined for himself, I decided to plunge into this heavy, page-laden book for my next read.

Author : Gordon Dahlquist

Date of Publication : 2006  (Hardcover edition)

Publisher : Bantam Books

ISBN-10: 0385340354

ISBN-13: 978-0385340359

No. of pages :  768

The Story :

In Victorian England, a rich plantation heiress receives an abrupt “dear john” letter from her beau.  In her pride, the stricken Miss Temple decides to follow her fiance to find out the reason for his rejection.  She tails him on a long train ride and arrives at Lord Vandaariff’s huge labyrinthine Harschmort Manor where a  masked ball is in full swing presumably for the engagement of Vandaariff’s daughter to the German Prince of Macklenberg.  She is mistaken as a woman sent to undergo a mysterious “Process” but is soon discovered to be a gate-crasher, deemed to have seen too much.  Suddenly Miss Temple finds her little adventure taking a dangerous turn when she is forced to save her own life.

At that same time, a half blind assassin, Cardinal Chang, is at the ball with a mission to terminate a Colonel Trapping.  He creeps about for his quarry only to find him already murdered.  But who, why, and how are questions that leave him baffled.  A few days later, he is approached by a wealthy sophisticate  who asks him to find a woman, Isobel Hastings (Miss Temple who gave an assumed name) who is believed to be the killer of the Colonel.

Meanwhile,  Doctor Abelard Svenson of the Macklenburg Prince’s entourage loses his charge in Harschmort Manor.  His search leads him to conclude that  something sinister is brewing in the Vandaariff home.  His independent investigation suddenly imperils his life but his duty-bound nature forces him to continue to try to protect his Prince.

In pursuit of their own agenda, these three people stumble on a secret cabal whose sinister plans involve strange alchemical scientific processes and malign blue glass books which serve as a dire yet addicting repository of memories while relinquishing a person of the same.  Anyone who stares into its thin, crystal pages is stripped of their personal memories and turned into pleasure-addicted, compliant zombies, easily controlled and subverted to the group’s aims.

Miss Temple, Cardinal Chang, and Doctor Svenson propitiously meet and form an unlikely triumvirate bent on stopping this unholy cabal.

What follows is a merry chase with mystery, suspense, science fiction, and even a little romance.  Lest this be construed as simply a long, quaint narrative, Dahlquist has thrown in a good deal of  sex and a bit of gore in the mix which contrast quite nicely with its Victorian prudery and formality.

The Review :

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters” is a brilliantly creative debut from author, Gordon Dahlquist.  It is a unique albeit outlandish novel that will, as you read, play out old-fashioned comic book scenes in your head.  Indeed, the narrative would lend itself very well to comic strip illustrations of its events, complete with “Boom!”, “Pow!”, “Whack!” sounds written on it.   And like an old-fashioned comic book, the heroes often extricate themselves from sticky situations after long dialogues with the villains, instead of each realistically  going straight into action to resolve the conflict.  Although an annoyance to some, it does have its charms, especially when executed with Dahlquist’s wonderful prose.  Besides, such an outdated style is quite at home with the book’s outré antiquated atmosphere as well.

Although the book has this unreal yet special flavor, its characters are surprisingly well developed, each discovering himself/herself as the adventure unfolds.

Division of the book’s chapters deal with the narrative accordingly from one character’s perspective.  So for instance, one chapter deals with adventures of Miss Temple, the next, those of Cardinal Chang, etc.  Being long chapters, the reader may find himself going back through a previous few pages to refresh his memory of the others’ experiences.  Still, it wasn’t much of an annoyance as, on the whole, the book had cast its charms on me enough to discount little bothers like this.

What is most captivating about the book is not its unusual plot nor its dark  steampunk  theme but its author’s ornate prose that gives so much allure to the novel.  His style is romantic yet explicitly descriptive, laced with intelligent humor and irony:

“His hair was pale but streaked with grey, long and greasy, combed back behind his ears.  His coat was fine enough but unkempt— in fact the man’s whole appearance gave the impression of a once-cherished article — a sofa, for example — that had been left in the rain and partially ruined.” — p. 155

“Moral perspective is what we carry around with us — it exists nowhere else, I can promise you.   Do you see?  There is liberation and responsibility — for what is natural depends on where you are, Bascombe.  Moreover, vices are like genitals — most are ugly to behold, and yet we find our own dear to us.” — p. 164

To Read Or Not To Read :

To enjoy this book,  be prepared to suspend disbelief and just go with the flow.  After all, it is fantasy.

Mind you, this is a lengthy novel, of which its chief fault (according to some reviews), is its wordiness and long-windedness.  For me, however, this is exactly the novel’s charm as it rests on Dahlquist’s excellent descriptive prose, without which a  book like this can become rather tedious and boring when rendered with a flat, indelicate hand.   Slash the verbiage and this may end up an unremarkable read — not bad, but not great either.

You must have the time to indulge in this book;  otherwise,  you’ll be better off with something else.

As An Aside :

For all my praises for this novel and despite its glowing reception by critics, Bantam Books, its publisher,  has written this off as a massive failure. The book failed to pull in the sales and lost Bantam over U$850,000, after having advanced two million U. S. dollars to the author for a two-book deal.

Most of those, however, who have put in the time to read the book, review this novel with praises.  Perhaps, in time, more readers will get to know this atypical literary work and appreciate it for its originality.

The sequel, “The Dark Volume“, must have already been released this year.   This definitely goes into my list of “must-haves” for 2009. 🙂

In A Nutshell :

This is one of the best books I’ve enjoyed this year.  Its strangeness and inventiveness coupled with Dahlquist’s superb writing skills really had me riveted.  A definite keeper!

My Mark  :  Excellent

Author :  John Dunning

Publication Date :  January 25, 2005

Publisher :  Pocket Star Books

ISBN-10: 0743476298

ISBN-13: 978-0743476294

No. of pages : 496 (Mass Market  Paperback)

The Story:

Homicide cop turned book collector and seller, Cliff  Janeway acquires a valuable book written by a famous Victorian era explorer, Richard Burton.  The book is in pristine condition and worth thousands of dollars; but,  Janeway’s pleasure is short-lived.  A ninety-year old woman shows up at his door, claiming ownership of the treasured book through her grandfather, Charles Warren, whom she  insisted to have been Burton’s companion during one of his travels.

Furthermore, she  tells  a surprised Janeway that the book  is only part of an incredible library of Burton material, all of  which had been sold unscrupulously to shady book dealers.    A few days after,  the old woman is on her deathbed and extracts a promise from  Janeway :   find the rare collection, in particular,  a priceless journal which purportedly Burton gave to her grandfather for safekeeping.

What starts out as a skeptical investigation soon becomes a serious and deadly tag with other treasure hunters.  When a friend is murdered, Janeway realizes there is something more than just treasure hunting.  A past secret is being covered up and Janeway  is now in the way.

The Review :

With “The Bookman’s Promise“, John Dunning presents us with some refreshing elements for a crime/mystery thriller. Now a book collector is a macho hero and the hullabaloo is about books — old, invaluable books written by a real live explorer, Richard Francis Burton.  Plus, the author incorporates the world of a book trader which makes for an interesting facet in this novel.

As much as Burton becomes, through Dunning’s engaging portrayal of the man,  an intriguing personality for a number of his readers, this novel still very much targets a small niche in the reading  audience.  Not many, this reviewer included, have heard of this famously irreverent explorer and so may have some difficulty in appreciating the novel in the way it deserves.  One simply cannot appreciate Burton’s idiosyncrasies or whatever the author wishes to please us with if one does not know him. Familiarity of Burton is indeed essential for the full enjoyment of this book as the core plot is rather mundane, despite the aforementioned new elements.

However, if you are familiar with Burton, you may take a different tack.  You would perhaps revel in the fictitious or factual (I wouldn’t know which) details generously written in the book and pronounce Dunning’s novel a capital one.  This is simply this reviewer’s conjecture on something she is not very sure about.

Like its hero, the prose is quite masculine.  One could immediately discern that the story was written by a man, which is nice as long as the testosterone is not overly used to include most of its characters.  However, it does, as the majority of the characters, whether male or female, exhibit a strong will and drive.

Dunning’s characters show too many strong traits as to render them sometimes irksome and distant.    For instance, Erin is a sassy lawyer who constantly takes offense at anything she deems chauvinistic.  This is okay in some situations but downright pesky in some, where, in reality,  she clearly will be in the way.  She is not a character one can empathize much with, unless one believes that someone can be constantly strong and fearless.   There seems a lot of sass in the dialogues, too, between characters which tend to be tiresome halfway through.

In A Nutshell :

The Bookman’s Promise” is neither a great novel nor a very bad one.   One major weakness is that a reader’s  unfamiliarity with Burton  may be a significant block for him seeking to enjoy this novel.  This, and possible character non-empathy could be two very detrimental factors in capturing reader interest.  Otherwise,  it could be an enjoyable read.

Having said these, I recognize that there are probably two stark opposing camps to this novel :  those who loved it (readers who understood the nuances of Burton and the book trade) and those who just couldn’t get into it (readers who don’t know a fig about them).   Sadly, I belong to the latter for the reasons stated above:  I don’t know Burton and I just couldn’t like the characters so much.

My Mark :  Mediocre

But you must read the book to know for sure.

After two biblically oriented novels,  reading a novel set in our millennium with all the techno stuff and modern mores was a welcome change.

Author :  Lincoln Child

Publication Date :  October 31, 2006

Publisher :  Anchor

ISBN-10: 0307275566

ISBN-13: 978-0307275561

No. of  Pages :  416


The Story :

Consider this :  a matchmaker that can faultlessly predict your soul mate.   No more senseless dates, no uncomfortable and embarrassing encounters, no more guessing games.  Meet the spouse of your dreams!  For a service worth every penny,  Eden Inc., provides its daily hopefuls with matches made in heaven.  The secret behind this behemoth company’s success is a sentient computer program that can, aside from finding perfect couples,  creatively develop its own problem-solving skills and learn from its mistakes.

But Eden Inc.’s smug confidence cracks  when a very happily matched couple  (with a rare compatibility rating of  a hundred percent) is found dead with what looks like a double suicide.  The company hires a forensic psychologist, Christopher Lash, to investigate the tragedy of such a perfect union.

No motives or inclinations for self destruction nor murder appear to explain the deaths and Lash is stymied. The company seems puzzled as well.  And then, the next super couple is found dead, too, from suicide.  Lash intensifies his hunt; but the perpetrator launches a detrimental campaign against him.  As Lash works obsessively to piece the impossible enigma together,  someone with the clout and technology, changes his personal data so that Lash finds himself in a dangerous mess.  He must solve the riddle of the deaths to save himself as well.

The Review :

The first chapter opens with the neighbour resolving to investigate why the Thorpe baby, who hardly ever cries,  is unendingly squalling next door.  She enters the house and sees that:

“…the infant was strapped tightly into her high chair, facing the living room.  The little face was mottled from crying, and the cheeks were stained with mucus and tears.  Maureen rushed forward.  “Oh you poor thing.”…. she fished for a tissue, cleaned the child’s face.

But the crying did not ease.  The baby was pounding her little fists, staring fixedly ahead, inconsolable.

It took quite some time to wipe the red face clean, and by the time she was done Maureen’s ears were ringing with the noise.  It wasn’t until she was pushing the tissue back into the pocket of her jeans that she thought to follow the child’s line of sight into the living room.

And when she did, the cry of the child, the crash of china as she dropped the cookies, were instantly drowned by the sound of her screams.”

This ends the first chapter after which the reader is hooked and reeled in to read some more and find out : “What did the neighbour see?”.  It isn’t until chapter five that the author reveals what could possibly have frightened the neighbour.  By this time, one is already riveted enough to keep the pages turning.

Here we have death, mystery, impossibilities, and an enigma that seems to defy logical explanations.  The reader is compelled to turn page after page to see how the author resolves the quandary at which he keeps the reader wondering as well.

Unfortunately , the whodunit aspect of the story unravels to a disappointing revelation.  Perhaps this reviewer is simply jaded by the same plot ending as those of numerous science fiction movies on artificial intelligence, which have been popping up for several years now.  The conclusion seems to be a hackneyed modification of many a techno thriller with sentient computers as their focus.

Perhaps, if the A.I. theme were new and less explored, this book would be a blockbuster with a great, surprise ending.  But since this isn’t the case anymore, it’s a “roll-your-eyes”, “aww…not again” story that may make some want to throw the book after having had their anticipation built up most of the way.

This doesn’t take away, though , Child’s superb skill for suspense-thriller writing.  Being half of the great Preston-Child writing partnership of many outstanding suspense-mystery-thrillers, Child is no average author of this genre.  He does know how to grip one’s attention, build incredulity and suspense, and elicit steady page-turning well into the night.  For this novel, he cranks out at full speed all the way through the finish line; although around one-eighth of the way before the end, the effects are diminished considerably by the corny predictability of it all.

Please bear in mind, however, that this review is from a perspective of one who is simply tired of the same themes on artificial intelligence in science fiction stories.  If you have not yet been overly fed with a such a diet, this novel would be a terrific one to lose yourself in.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Since I can’t discuss what I mean by the same A.I. theme without the revealing the spoiler, the reader will just have to find out by himself.  (I’m sure those who’ve had a good share of sci-fi movies, know by now what I’m talking about.)  Again,  if you haven’t watched much on computers and robots, then you’ll thoroughly enjoy this novel to its very end.  Otherwise, be prepared for a mediocre landing.

In A Nutshell :

It’s all about The End.  Here’s wishing that the author, having come up with a very strong beginning and having been able to sustain its pounding plot with irresistibly interesting events, chose his villain more creatively  in order to bring this book to a table-slapping, satisfying conclusion.

Once more, despite its mostly exhilarating eventualities and puzzling “whos”, “hows”, and “whys”, I must rate “Death Match” with the feeling it left me after I’ve turned the last page.

My Mark :  Good (Could have been better…)