Review: Venom by Fiona Paul

 

 

 

Title:  Venom

Author:  Fiona Paul

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Love, lust, murder, mayhem and high society converge in one thrilling debut

Cassandra Caravello has everything a girl could desire: elegant gowns, sparkling jewels, invitations to the best parties, and a handsome, wealthy fiancé—yet she longs for something more. Ever since her parents’ death, Cassandra has felt trapped, alone in a city of water, where the dark and labyrinthine canals whisper of escape.

When Cass stumbles upon the body of a murdered woman—with a bloody X carved across her heart—she’s drawn into a dangerous world of secret societies, courtesans, and killers. Soon, she finds herself falling for Falco, a poor artist with a mischievous grin . . . and a habit of getting into trouble. Will Cassandra find the murderer before he finds her? And will she stay true to her fiancé or succumb to her uncontrollable feelings for Falco?

Beauty, romance, and mystery weave together in a novel that’s as seductive and stunning as the city of Venice itself.


Review:

When I read that Venom is set in Renaissance Venice, I couldn’t wait to read it.  I love Venice, and think that it’s a great backdrop for any story.  Fiona Paul’s descriptions of the city and culture give Venom a splash of color and excitement; with her vivid descriptions, I could almost hear the water splashing from the oars of the gondoliers and the hustle and bustle of the city.  With its network of twisting , turning canals, Venice is the perfect setting for murder, mystery, and the constant threat of danger.  It’s also home to glamorous parties, wealthy nobles, and exquisite architecture.    I loved all of the details packed into this novel, from the graveyards to Cass’s smoldering old home. 

Cass is an orphan. She is being raised by her elderly Aunt Agnese, a strict matron who expects Cass to behave as her station demands.  Cass, however, wants nothing to do with all of the gentle pursuits expected of her.  Embroidery bores her to tears, she has no patience for timidity, and she wants to question everything around her.  She longs to live.  This gets her into quite a bit of trouble, and Agnese is worried that Cass will cause a scandal and get them both kicked out of her cousin’s house, where they both live until he achieves his majority. While Cass does try to rein in her wilder side, when she stumbles upon the corpse of a murdered woman she just can’t help herself.  She needs to know who she was, and why she was in her friend’s family crypt, instead of her friend, Livi, who died after losing a fight against an illness.

Cass immediately sets the expectation that she is an impulsive, bold girl, and she lives up to that.  She wants to live life instead of just sitting still and watching it spin by her.  She is curious and wants to know what makes the world tick.  Her recklessness gets her into so much trouble, and her aunt’s sternness  just makes her long to do everything that is reckless and exciting.  When she meets Falco, an artist, she is instantly attracted to him.  He is mischievous and spirited, and completely different from her boring, studious finance, Luca.  Even though there is no hope that they could ever be together because of their class differences, Cass is still drawn to Falco again and again.  When the murderer sends Cass a note that she will be the next victim, she feels an even greater compulsion to be with Falco and to savor all of the forbidden attraction that she feels for him.  While I completely bought into the intensity of her emotions and the undeniable charisma between the two characters, I had a hard time liking Falco.  Sweet and fun-loving one moment, he could also be sarcastic and evasive the next. 

There were two plot points that kept me from enjoying Venom as much as I would have liked.  Both are commonly used plot devices in YA fiction that I just can’t connect with.  The first was Cass’s recklessness.  She is impulsive to the point that I began to wonder how she survived into her late teens.   She frequently waited until dark, when all of the aging residents of the household were sound asleep, to creep out of the house and sneak into the graveyard behind the palazzo.  She repeatedly engaged in this dangerous activity, so she could think or write in her journal.  I don’t know about you, but hanging out in a graveyard in the wee hours of the night, alone, with a lantern to announce my presence and my location, just doesn’t seem an intelligent activity to pursue.  Add in one brutal murderer, who has sent a note to you proclaiming the intention to make you the next victim and, I’m sorry, but you obviously have serious issues making a rational decision or you have a death wish.

The second plot point that made me want to rip my hair out – both Luca and Falco, Cass’s love interests, expected her to accept  them at face value, to believe in them and trust them, while not trusting her enough to share potential life saving secrets with her.  This drove me crazy.  Cass catches Falco in a blatant lie, one that causes her to question his character and everything that he has told her, and still he won’t tell her the truth.  All the while proclaiming his intense love for her.  Luca does the same thing later in the book.  Both young men claim to love her, and both are well acquainted with her stubbornness.  She isn’t going to meekly do what they say and stop putting herself in danger.  They both know this about her personality, yet they both remain silent, putting her life at risk.  Whenever I run into this plot device, it just comes across as condescending to me.  These guys claim to care for her, but they are keeping secrets that are going to get her killed.  Trust is a two way street.  I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life with a guy would can’t be upfront with me.  This isn’t romantic; it’s manipulative. Rant off.

While Venom left me disappointed, fans of Hush, Hush and Fallen should enjoy this suspenseful and atmospheric mystery. 

Grade:  C+

Review copy provided by publicist

Interview with Susan Vaught, Author of Freaks Like Us

 

Susan Vaught’s latest release, Freaks Like Us, recently hit store shelves.  Susan stopped by the virtual offices for a chat.  Check out what she has to say!

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Susan Vaught] Long hair, pacifist, likes chocolate, reads a lot, has parrot, too many dogs, three cats, loves writing, likes football, works in an asylum.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  Can you tell us a little about Freaks Like Us?

[Susan Vaught] Freaks Like Us is a fast-paced mystery, with most of the story taking place in the 24 hours after Jason Milwaukee’s best friend and sort-of girlfriend disappears. To find her, Jason has to battle his mental illness, his self-doubt, and prejudice from other people involved in the search.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Susan Vaught] I have been wanting to write through the eyes and voice of a character with schizophrenia for many years, but it took me a long time to develop just the right personality so readers could relate to Jason. The other characters came more naturally, and they all contend with issues I have either faced in my own life/family, or treated in my years of practice as a psychologist. The mystery element of the story unfolded as the story moved along, surprising me at the end of the first chapter!

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  What three words best describe Jason?

[Susan Vaught] Brave, Loving, Determined

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  What three things will Jason leave the house without?

[Susan Vaught] Three things he wouldn’t leave the house without would be Sunshine’s locket, his house key, and Agent Mercer’s private telephone number. If it’s really supposed to be what he WOULD leave the house without, then the answer would be . . . just about everything else. Jason can get pretty distracted and forgetful. Lunch money, his phone, his homework—all of that might get accidentally abandoned on any given day.

[ED – oops, yes it was a typo.  Thank you for the wonderful answer Smile]

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  If Jason had a theme song, what would it be?

[Susan Vaught] Possibility, by Lykke Li. I think the haunting sound and the words/emotions have real meaning for him.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  What is Jason’s most prized possession?

[Susan Vaught] Sunshine’s gold locket. It means more to him than anything other than Sunshine herself.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  What are your greatest creative influences?

[Susan Vaught] Life, music, and other people’s brilliant art. Whenever I read a great book, hear a wonderful song, look at an amazing painting or sculpture, watch a good film, or encounter good art in any other format, it inspires me to make more of my own—not copy what I experienced or encountered, but try to come up with something brilliant, beautiful, and lasting, to pass on that gift of inspiration.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  What three things do you need in order to write?

[Susan Vaught] A clean house or writing cabin, no distractions, and the exact right song. I absolutely cannot write without good music.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Susan Vaught] Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor. I reviewed it on my website. I love the originality of the writing, and the flesh-and-blood feel of the characters…even those that don’t exactly have flesh and blood.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Susan Vaught] John Christopher’s Tripod series. The first book in the series was The White Mountains. I remember falling deeply into that world, into the struggles of those characters. I believe it was the first set of books I read where kids were in real jeopardy, and made a difference.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Susan Vaught] When I’m not writing, I’m usually working. My day job is at an inpatient psychiatric hospital. I also help tend the many birds and animals on our farm. What I’d like to do—ha. Be at the beach!

[Manga Maniac Cafe]   How can readers connect with you?

[Susan Vaught] Through my website, at www.susanvaught.com . I enjoy hearing from my readers!

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  Thank you!

You can purchase Freaks Like Us from your favorite bookseller or by clicking the widget below.

Review: The Seduction of Phaeton Black by Jillian Stone

 

 

Title: The Seduction of Phaeton Black

Author: Jillian Stone

Publisher:  Brava

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

In the gaslit streets of Victorian London, phantoms rule the night, demons dance till dawn, and one supernatural detective dares to be seduced by the greatest power of all. . .

He’s The Man With The Magic Touch

A master of deduction, seduction and other midnight maneuvers, Phaeton Black is Scotland Yard’s secret weapon against things that go bump in the night. His prodigious gifts as a paranormal investigator are as legendary as his skills as a lover, his weakness for wicked women as notorious as his affection for absinthe. But when he’s asked to hunt down a fanged femme fatale who drains her victims of blood, he walks right into the arms of the most dangerous woman he’s ever known. . .

She’s The Devilish Miss Jones

Pressing a knife to his throat–and demanding he make love to her–Miss America Jones uses Phaeton as a willing shield against the gang of pirates chasing her. As deadly as she is, with a derringer tucked in her garter, Miss Jones is not the vampiric killer he’s been staking out–but she may be just what Phaeton needs to crack the case. As the daughter of a Cajun witch, she possesses uncanny powers. As a fearless fighter, she can handle anything from Egyptian mummies to Jack the Ripper. But when an ancient evil is unleashed on the world, she could be his only salvation. . .or ultimate sacrifice.

 

Review:

The Seduction of Phaeton Black is like An Affair with Mr Kennedy on steroids.  I have to admit that I was a little leery before I started reading Jillian Stone’s latest release.  How could it live up to my high expectations?  I loved Mr Kennedy, a sexy romp with a Scotland Yard detective who could easily give Remington Steel or James Bond a run for their money.  He is gifted in everything that he does; he’s a magnificent rider, a crack shot, and can hold his own in a fist fight.  Best of all, he’s a wonderful lover and partner.  Guys like Mr Kennedy don’t exist in  real life because the pressure of being that perfect would quickly cause a seizure.  Cassie had me pulling my hair out a few times, because for such an intelligent lady, she could be so dumb, but Zak needed  to be a hero, and a woman with more common sense wouldn’t have needed rescuing.

In steps Phaeton Black.  I admit that it took me a while to warm up to this guy.  He is rather juvenile and thinks with his crotch instead of his brain.  Probably because most people thinks he nuts due to all of the paranormal sightings he has, but still.  He showed an appalling lack of discretion and caution, but I did finally start to appreciate his character.  He’s a flirt and a player, with no plans of ever getting shackled to one woman.  He doesn’t want kids, either, because he’s afraid that they will be as messed up as he is.  After the death of his mother when he was a young lad, his father had no patience for Phaeton or his supernatural abilities, and quickly packed him off to boarding school.  Poor guy.  I guess an emotional blow like that will warp anyone, especially a guy who sees all of the scary things that go bump in the night.  Best to just pretend to not see them at all.

When America Jones takes him hostage in a dark alley, Phaeton is quick to turn the tables on the desperate lass.  Even though he’s the one held at knife-point, he is quick to take advantage of the situation.  This is the only part of the story that I didn’t like.  I wanted Phaeton to be noble.  He wasn’t.  He was a cad at best, and a sex offender at worst.  Yuck.  Not sexy, not worthy of high regard, and it took almost the entire book for him to redeem himself in my eyes. 

I enjoyed the world building here, and found the addition of paranormal beasts to Victorian England fun and interesting.  Well, not fun for Phaeton, but certainly entertaining for me.  This guy is oozing with supernatural abilities, but because he has repressed them and never learned how to use them, he finds sightings of supernatural creatures disturbing.  America embraces her gifts, and she longs for Phaeton to do the same.  It’s not healthy to suppress  all of that power, and it puts him at a distinct disadvantage when the beasties are on the prowl for a new victim to snack on.  Phaeton’s association with Dr Exeter, a mysterious meddler with powers that give Phaeton pause, slowly convinces him look at his own abilities in a new light.  I am extremely hopeful that between America and Exeter, Phaeton will learn how to develop his gifts without worrying about how others perceive him.   After getting into trouble with his superiors at Scotland Yard, and his father’s rejection, though, I understand his reluctance to do that.

The pacing faltered near the end, but otherwise I had a hard time putting the book down.  I loved America and Exeter, and once Phaeton’s questionable charms finally wore me down, I liked him, too.  It just took a lot longer because he has so many flaws and weaknesses.  Once he started thinking with the head on his shoulders, and not the head in his pants, I did find him much more likeable, and now I can hardly wait for his next adventure.

Grade:  B, leaning to a B+

Review copy provided by Bewitching Book Tours

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Interview with Melissa Bourbon Ramirez, Author of Bare-Naked Lola and Giveaway

 

I’m excited to have Melissa Ramirez visiting the Café today!  The third book in Melissa’s Lola Cruz Mystery series is out now, and she dropped by to chat about it.  After the interview you can enter for a chance to win a digital copy of Bare-Naked Lola!

[Manga Maniac Café] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Melissa Ramirez] Busy, driven, creative woman wearing many hats.

[Manga Maniac Café] Can you tell us a little about Bare-Naked Lola?

[Melissa Ramirez]  I live in North Texas now, but we used to live in Northern California and not too far from our house, there was a nudist resort (although the word resort might be a bit of a euphemism). A lot of the mystery elements in the books I write stem from some real life nugget. In the case of Bare-Naked Lola, it started with this nudist resort. I could imagine Lola, a fledgling PI, having to go undercover there. But she’s a good Catholic girl with a close-knit family, so the bigger question was WILL SHE or WON’T SHE get naked for a case?

It was just a fun idea! From there, the mystery developed.

[Manga Maniac Café] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Melissa Ramirez] After my 5th child was born, I needed to get out of the house, have some ‘me’ time, and be creative. I started meeting with a friend at the coffee shop and we’d respond to writing prompts. From there, Lola Cruz was born, and before too long, she had parents, brothers, a sister, a boss, and a whole world. When I decided to write a book, mystery was the obvious genre for me since I grew up loving Nancy Drew, then Agatha Christie, et al.

[Manga Maniac Café] What three words best describe Lola?

[Melissa Ramirez] Smart. Blackbelt. Determined.

[Manga Maniac Café] What are three things Lola would never have in her purse?

[Melissa Ramirez] Fun questions! A gun (unexpected, right?!). A wad of money. A condom.

[Manga Maniac Café] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Melissa Ramirez] Probably my mom. She’s a watercolor artist and oozes creativity. I absorbed (and inherited) my creativity from her.

[Manga Maniac Café] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Melissa Ramirez] A computer! My imagination. Water. Smile

[Manga Maniac Café] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Melissa Ramirez] Night Road. LOVED it. Gut-wrenching and moving. Or it might be Revolution, by Jennifer Donnely. Really loved that one, too. I think it’s a toss up.

[Manga Maniac Café] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Melissa Ramirez] I’d say it was an author more than a book: Agatha Christie.

[Manga Maniac Café] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Melissa Ramirez] Watch movies. Read. Walk. Yoga (sometimes!). Hang out with the kids. Recite Harry Potter because my kids love the series and watch the movies so much.

[Melissa Ramirez] Thank you for having me here today!

[Manga Maniac Café] Thank you!

You can connect with Melissa by visiting the following:

Website l Facebook l Twitter l Goodreads

GIVEAWAY TIME!

To enter for your chance to win a digital copy of Bare-Naked Lola, just fill in the widget below:

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Didn’t win?  You can purchase Bare-Naked Lola from your favorite bookseller or from the links below:

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/bare-naked-lola-melissa-bourbon-ramirez/1108785655?ean=9781620610046&r=1&cm_mmc=AFFILIATES-_-Linkshare-_-GwEz7vxblVU-_-10%3a1&

Interview with Jacqueline Gardner, Author of Thoughtless

Jacqueline Gardner is the author of Thoughtless, a suspenseful YA novel with a heroine who can read minds.  Jacqueline stopped by the virtual offices to introduce herself and chat about her book.

[Manga Maniac Café] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Jacqueline Gardner] I’m a mellow, easy-going, sarcastic (at times), fitness nut with a cupcake obsession.

[Manga Maniac Café] Can you tell us a little about Thoughtless?

[Jacqueline Gardner] During a high school football game, Bridget accidentally stumbles upon a dead cheerleader in the janitor’s closet.  There’s a killer out there.  And worse, somehow the killer knows Bridget’s secret.  The one time she actually tries to embrace her talent, it’s useless.  Bridget can’t figure out who’s blackmailing her, who killed Stacey, and why she can’t hear her boyfriend’s thoughts!

[Manga Maniac Café] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Jacqueline Gardner] Thoughtless started with a random thought that popped into my head one day.  What if I could have read my friend’s thoughts in high school?  From there I wrote a chapter with the characters in my head to see if they had chemistry, and they did!

[Manga Maniac Café] What was the most challenging aspect of writing Thoughtless?

[Jacqueline Gardner] Deciding how far to go when it came to hearing other people’s inner self talk.  I wanted it to play a comical part in the book but I also wanted to bring in a lot of honesty.  I did my best to find a happy medium of the two.

[Manga Maniac Café] What three words best describe Bridget?

[Jacqueline Gardner] Quiet, skeptical & sarcastic!

[Manga Maniac Café] What is Bridget’s single most prized possession?

[Jacqueline Gardner] Her BF Emma (although Emma is a person)!  Bridget realizes throughout the course of the book just how lucky she is to have an honest and loyal friend.  For a while, she takes Emma for granted.

[Manga Maniac Café] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Jacqueline Gardner] I’d say things I dream about and music.  I keep an idea journal next to my bed and I can’t write without my music.

[Manga Maniac Café] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Jacqueline Gardner] Music (anything but absolute silence), a notebook to doodle in, and gum.

[Manga Maniac Café] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Jacqueline Gardner] I just started the Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  It’s fantastic!

[Manga Maniac Café] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Jacqueline Gardner] The Witches by Roald Dahl

[Manga Maniac Café] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Jacqueline Gardner] I live in the Rockies so I love the outdoors – hiking, camping, biking.  I’m also an amateur cake decorator.

[Manga Maniac Café] How can readers connect with you?

[Jacqueline Gardner] website/blog: www.jacquelinegardner.com
twitter: @Writer_Jacque
facebook: www.facebook.com/authorjacquelinegardner
And I’m on Goodreads!

[Manga Maniac Café] Thank you!

You can order Thoughtless from your favorite bookseller, or by clicking the widget below.

Review: Tokyo Heist by Diana Renn

 

   Title: Tokyo Heist

   Author: Diana Renn

   Publisher:  Viking

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Sixteen-year-old Violet loves reading manga and wearing scarves made from kimono fabric, so she’s thrilled that her father’s new painting commission means a summer trip to Japan. But what starts as an exotic vacation quickly turns into a dangerous treasure hunt.

Her father’s newest clients, the Yamada family, are the victims of a high-profile art robbery: van Gogh sketches have been stolen from their home, and, until they can produce the corresponding painting, everyone’s lives are in danger — including Violet’s and her father’s.

Violet’s search for the missing van Gogh takes her from the Seattle Art Museum, to the yakuza-infested streets of Tokyo, to a secluded inn in Kyoto. As the mystery thickens, Violet’s not sure whom she can trust. But she knows one thing: she has to solve the mystery — before it’s too late.

Review:

Mysteries aren’t my favorite genre, but Tokyo Heist had me curious because of the setting.  Violet is a huge manga geek, which I could definitely relate to, and she gets to go globe-trotting – to Japan.  How could I not want to read that? 

Violet is resigned that she isn’t going to have the best summer.  Her mother is in Italy for work, and she’s going to be staying with her father.  To say that her father is distant is an understatement.  To say that he is distracted also falls far short of the mark.  Her father, a man she barely knows, is an artist, and a rather eccentric one at that.  When he’s in a creative frame of mind, there is no room for anything, or anyone, else. Not even his teenaged daughter.  While Violet understands that theirs is not the closest of relationships, she is shocked to discover that her father has never told his co-workers, or even his girlfriend, about her existence.  Ouch!

When Violet’s father takes a commission from a wealthy Japanese couple, Violet finds herself embroiled in a mystery.  Somebody has stolen some van Gogh drawings from the Yamada’s, and all fingers are pointing to Skye, her father’s girlfriend.  Determined to find the drawings, and collect the huge reward, Violet discovers that there is so much more at stake than the drawings.  Her father’s life is on the line.  A yakuza boss is demanding the return of a van Gogh painting based on the drawings, claiming that Tomonori Yamada had stolen it from him.  Tomonori committed suicide years before, but Violet is starting to suspect that it wasn’t a suicide after all.

Most of the appeal of this read for me is the location.  What I wouldn’t give for an all-expenses paid trip to Tokyo (and a ryokan in Kyoto).  Even with all of the related danger!  Traveling to the Land of the Rising Sun is a dream of mine, one that I have had for a long, long time.  I want to slurp noodles at a ramen shop, stuff myself with fresh sushi, and snack on Melty Kiss and limited edition Kit Kat bars.  Through Violet, I was able to see some of the highlights of Tokyo, all without the expensive plane ticket and hotel room.

I liked Violet.  I felt for her when her best friend and secret crush, Edge, started dating her former BFF.  Everything she did to try to make things better and repair her friendship with Edge only made matters worse.  Without the mystery to occupy her thoughts, Violet would have moped around all summer long.  Instead, she spent her vacation trying to outsmart gangsters, locate a missing masterpiece, and get her father to finally pay attention to her.  I felt bad for Violet.  She was desperate to have her father’s approval, but he was always far too busy with his art to give her even the time of day.  I didn’t think her mother was much better, though, because she hopped on a plane to Italy and left her with her father, hardly a candidate for Father of the Year, without a second glance.  Just.  Wow.

Violet has perfected the technique of being invisible to avoid being bullied at school.  That doesn’t really work, but she is willing to stay on the fringes instead of getting caught up in the middle of  all of the action.  With the life of her father in danger, though, she must face her fears and start taking risks.  Sometimes observing life isn’t good enough; you have to roll up your shirt sleeves and dive into life.  It was fun watching as Violet gathered the courage to do just that.

Despite some pacing issues, i enjoyed this YA mystery.  I think it will work best for the younger range of YA readers, or anyone with an interest in Japan or Japanese art should find it hard to put down.  Violet is a likeable protagonist, and I had fun following along as she discovered her inner strengths and started to come into her own as she struggled with her relationship with her self-absorbed father.  Her lack of stealth as she raced to crack the mystery of the missing van Gogh painting had me worried about her continued health on more than one occasion.  I breathed a sigh of relief when she emerged, mostly unscathed, to the end of the book. 

Grade:  B

Available in Print and Digital

Review copy provided by publisher

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Interview with Dianna Renn, Author of Tokyo Heist

Diana Renn is the author of Tokyo Heist, a YA mystery set in Seattle and Japan.  Tokyo Heist will be in stores June 14, and Diana dropped by the virtual offices to introduce herself and chat about her book.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Diana Renn] I write mysteries for teens. I love travel. I’m an amateur taiko drummer. I grew up in Seattle and now live in Boston. I struggle mightily with word counts – I think I ran over 140!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Tokyo Heist?

[Diana Renn] Tokyo Heist is a mystery set in Seattle and Japan. Violet Rossi, a 16-year-old manga fan and aspiring artist, is supposed to spend the summer with her distant artist father and work in a comic book shop. But her dad’s painting commission in Japan changes this plan, as does an art heist: Van Gogh drawings have been stolen from the Yamadas, her dad’s new clients. Someone demands a painting that corresponds to the drawings, and unless the Yamadas can come up with it fast, all of their lives are in danger. Violet’s visual skills and knowledge of manga help with her sleuthing, as does her friend Reika, who’s spending the summer in Tokyo.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Diana Renn] A few years ago, while attending a summer festival in Japan, I noticed an American girl wearing a brightly colored summer kimono and combat boots. I wondered what her story was. My image of this girl straddling cultures grew into Violet months later. I also came up with the character of Violet’s moody and estranged father, an artist, pretty early on, as well as the Japanese couple from whom the van Goghs are stolen. I liked the idea of a girl from a chaotic family being drawn to what she perceives as a more orderly family. Other characters evolved gradually, over the course of numerous drafts.

In terms of the concept, I resisted labeling the book a “mystery” for quite some time, even though it had many elements of mystery. (Stolen art, anyone? Family secrets? Hello?) It eventually became clear that it had to be a mystery, with real suspects, clues, reveals, the whole deal. Once I made that decision, the writing came easier and became more fun, and I still got to explore the character and culture dynamics that had interested me in the first place.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What was the most challenging aspect of writing the story?

[Diana Renn] Working out the mystery plot. It took years! I started without an outline. (Note to self: don’t do that again). I created a tangle of seemingly unsolvable problems. Then I tried to fix everything, throwing myself into brainstorming lists and graphic organizers to keep ideas straight. (Note to self: do that again!) I now think of my book not so much as a “whodunit” but a “whodini” (or Houdini) – I felt like an escape artist, trying to get out of the chains I’d created. I wasn’t even sure who the bad guy was when I began, let alone the logistics of the various crimes. Nightmare. But once I started figuring things out, other parts fell into place. So the most challenging aspect, plotting, ended up being the most fulfilling. I solved this weird, intricate puzzle, and now I hope readers can too!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Violet?

[Diana Renn] Creative. Determined. Introspective.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is Violet’s most prized possession?

[Diana Renn] Her sketchbook. She’s an artist who would love to share her work with a wider audience, but she is intensely private and living in the shadow of her artist father. That book is the one place where she feels free to express herself and explore ideas. It’s where she makes sense of her world, drawing the people and experiences in her life. It’s also where she works out much of the mystery she’s trying to solve, usually in comic book form.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Diana Renn] Reading other writers always inspires me. I read widely and often. I went to graduate school for English and American literature, and I used to teach, so I’m sure that has influenced my writing. At the very least, I know how to do effective research!

I’m really most inspired and influenced by visual art, even though I am not a visual artist myself. I love going to galleries and museums, or just looking through books of art. Van Gogh is one of my favorites. I love how there’s this perception of him as a brilliant artist who dashed off masterpieces, when in fact he was a serious student of art. He would do countless sketches and studies of his subjects before putting a brush to canvas, really working through his ideas. When I see a van Gogh painting that seems utterly perfect, but then think about the work that went into it, I’m in awe.

I’m also influenced by music and dance. Those art forms make me alert to patterns and rhythms. Listening to a song over and over, while visualizing my story, helps me to work through tough plot points. In writing Tokyo Heist, I listened to a nine-minute recording of a Japanese koto song played by Masayo Ishigure. For years. Mostly in the car – I’d drive for miles and play this song. I can’t play the koto but I now know every note of this particular song! It really helped me to visualize and refine my story, and to evoke Japan for me.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Diana Renn] It used to be steaming hot coffee, total silence, a stretch of time. With a small child, all of those things have become luxurious commodities. I’m happy with snatches of time, and childcare. I still have the coffee, but it’s often lukewarm.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Diana Renn] Comet in Moominland, by Tove Jansson. It was one of the first novels I read on my own, and it was the most exciting thing I’d ever read. Something fascinating happened on every single page. I went on to devour the whole Moomintroll series, and these battered copies still occupy a place of honor on my shelves. To this day I love the simple but expressive line art illustrations of the whimsical creatures, as well as the exciting adventures and quests balanced with moments of introspection and quietude. The Moomintroll books are adventure stories for introverts. Brilliant.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book you read that knocked your socks off?

[Diana Renn] I’m a huge John Green fan, and The Fault in Our Stars blew me away. I can’t remember when I’ve cared about two characters as much as I’ve cared about Hazel and Augustus, and their connection is so well-rendered. I love the big questions the book takes on and doesn’t always answer. I love how the story could lapse into cliché and melodrama but repeatedly resists.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Diana Renn] I’ve been studying taiko drumming for two years, and I play and occasionally perform with a group here in New England. I hang out with my family – I have a husband, a young child, and a needy cat, plus family in Seattle whom I visit often. I read in almost every spare moment I have. I rarely watch TV.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Diana Renn] I’m easy to find! I have a website, http://www.dianarennbooks.com, and can be reached by email via that site. I lurk in the usual places online: Facebook, Twitter (@dianarenn). I’m also on a group blog called Sleuths Spies & Alibis with six other authors. We all write mysteries for young adult and middle grade readers, and we’re all debuting in 2012 or 2013. If you’re a mystery fan, please stop by and check out our site!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!


You can purchase Tokyo Heist from your favorite bookseller, or by clicking the widget below. Available in both print and digital

Review: Cat Girl’s Day Off by Kimberly Pauley


 

Title: Cat Girl’s Day Off

Author: Kimberly Pauley

Publisher:  Tu Books

ISBN: 978-1600608834

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Natalie Ng’s little sister is a super-genius with a chameleon-like ability to disappear. Her older sister has three Class A Talents, including being a human lie detector. Her mom has laser vision and has one of the highest IQs ever. Her dad’s Talent is so complex even the Bureau of Extra-Sensory Regulation and Management (BERM) hardly knows what to classify him as.

And Nat? She can talk to cats.

The whole talking-to-cats thing is something she tries very hard to hide, except with her best friends Oscar (a celebrity-addicted gossip hound) and Melly (a wannabe actress). When Oscar shows her a viral Internet video featuring a famous blogger being attacked by her own cat, Nat realizes what’s really going on…and it’s not funny.
(okay, yeah, a frou-frou blogger being taken down by a really angry cat named Tiddlywinks, who also happens to be dyed pink? Pretty hilarious.)

Nat and her friends are catapulted right into the middle of a celebrity kidnapping mystery that takes them through Ferris Bueller’s Chicago and on and off movie sets. Can she keep her reputation intact? Can she keep Oscar and Melly focused long enough to save the day? And, most importantly, can she keep from embarrassing herself in front of Ian?
Find out what happens when the kitty litter hits the fan

Review:

I have read all of Kimberly Pauley’s books to date, and I have enjoyed each one of them.  Her Sucks to be Me series is a tongue in cheek take on vampires (they are also Bargain Priced on Amazon as of the writing of this review here and here), and when I saw that her next project was about a girl who could talk to cats, I was all over that.  I love animals, and the thought of being able to talk to cats sounded like a fun plot device, considering how humorous I hoped that the book would be.  Turns out, I wasn’t disappointed in the least.  I hope I get to spend more time with Nat in the future.

Natalie Ng feels like she’s the under-achiever of her family.  While her sisters have cool Talents, like being a human lie-detector and being able to levitate things, hers is just plain dumb.  Nat can talk to cats.  She’s afraid her classmates will find out and start making fun of her, so she keeps her Talent under wraps.  It’s also grating that her younger sister is a super-genius and already in a higher grade than she is, and that her older sister and her dad both work for BERM, the organization that monitors Talents, so they stick together like glue.  Nat is adrift in her own family, and she feels like she doesn’t fit in.

When she and her friends discover that a celebrity blogger has been kidnapped, they spring into action.  They cat-nap (rescue?) Tiddlewinks, aka Rufus Brutus the Third, and using her special Talent, Nat gets the scoop on the truth.  Easton West has been kidnapped, and Nat’s celebrity obsessed BFFs are determined to save her!  Whether Nat wants anything to do with their rescue mission or not!  Hijinks ensue, which include an epic food fight in the high school cafeteria, skipping classes, breaking into a creepy house, and random discourse with strange cats, only one of which is pink.

I loved Nat and her relationships with the animals she meets during her adventure.  Her own cat, Meep, is genetically engineered so that her mother’s allergies don’t get out of control.  Meep is snarky, but she can’t hold a candle to Rufus.  Rufus is a prima donna in pink cat fur, aloof, demanding, and temperamental.  He also loves his person and wants to save her from the clutches of the evil woman who has kidnapped her and taken over her identity.  The cats are a lot of fun, and their diverse personalities added some laughs when tensions ran high.  I am a sucker for animals, and I loved the idea of being able to communicate with them.  They don’t pull any punches, either!  These cats can be brutally honest.  Nat can only talk to cats, though there are those occasional times when she can understand a dog, usually one that lives with a cat (so maybe the dog is really speaking cat?).

While I did find Nat’s friends too stereo-typed and uber annoying, overall, I thought Cat Girl’s Day Off was a fun, fast read.  I was engaged in the story from beginning to end, and even had a few stressful moments when it looked like Rufus might meet an untimely end. Gah!  Thankfully, Nat cleverly, albeit reluctantly, races in to save the day, as well as the cranky cat.  This is the perfect book to pack in your beach bag; it’s a quick read, it’s light, and it’s a great escape from reality.  I hope Nat has more adventures, because this really is a fun read.

Note: Nat’s footsteps follow those of Ferris Bueller, but since I haven’t seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in forever, most of the nods to the movie went right over my head.  That didn’t stop me from enjoying the book anyway.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by {teen} Book Scene

 

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