Teaser Tuesday–Princess of the Wild Swans and Deadly

 

Diane Zahler’s reimagined fairy tales are quickly becoming a favorite of mine.  Princess of the Wild Swans is another fun book that kept me entertained over the weekend.  I am looking forward to more of her books!

 

I rose abruptly, rocking the table.  As I stood, my goblet crashed to the floor, shattering into a hundred tiny pieces. At the sound, the door to the hall flew open.  Mistress Tuileach stood there, and I ran to her.

Help me! I thought in desperation.

 

I just picked up Deadly by Julie Chibbaro.  I love the premise; it takes place in New York in 1906 during the devastating outbreak of typhoid fever. 

 

Every September, the shivers come over me, thoughts of my brother’s terrifying death, and the questions – why did his short life end? Why do people have to die?

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

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Guest Post–John Barlow, Author of Hope Road

 

John Barlow is the author of Hope Road, the debut book in his new LS9 Crime series.  John dropped by the virtual offices to discuss the challenges of writing convincing women characters.  Check out what he has to say.  If you are interested in learning more about Hope Road, send John an email.  He has some copies to give away!   Read his thought-provoking post for details.

Writing Compelling Women Characters by John Barlow, author of HOPE ROAD

I’m not a woman. In fact, I’m the complete opposite of that. And we all know what the the problem with men is… We’re not empathizers. Having never been to Venus, we’re just no good at standing outside ourselves and feeling what it’s like to be someone else. For an author, this leads to certain issues with characterisation. They say ‘write what you know’, but for any writer roughly 50% of his or her characters are going to be of the sex he or she doesn’t ‘know’ from the inside. And it’s worse for men, because we just don’t have that empathy thing going on.

Writing about women has never caused me any problems before. Having said that, perhaps the most ‘feminine’ scene in my first book, EATING MAMMALS, was the incompetent fumblings of two young lovers having their first sexual encounter, circa 1870. The problem for me as a writer was not getting into the young girl’s mind, but getting into her clothes. Quite simply, the Victorians wore a lot more layers down there, and they had buttons not zippers. By the end of the scene I felt sorry for both of them. I think we were all glad when it was over, somewhat prematurely.

Bad or unconvincing female characters: a recurring criticism of fiction written by men. And it’s a serious problem, because women buy and read well over half of all fiction sold. When I came to write HOPE ROAD, my new mystery, these issues were compounded by the genre itself: unless your detective or sleuth is a woman, crime mysteries often involve a man solving the murder of a woman. The power relationship is clear, and although many writers tamper with the formula, it’s amazing how often contemporary crime fiction opens with a murdered woman.

And my novel? Yep, it opens with a murdered woman. For a variety of reasons, this was the only way the plot would work. Meanwhile, my sleuth is a man. And that had to be the case because, well, because I’m a man. ‘Write about what you know.’ I know about being a man, so my lead character was going to be masculine. However, HOPE ROAD is a psychological mystery. It tries to explore the human consequences of criminality. Hence, I really wanted to see a woman experiencing these consequences as well as a man. What I came up with was a dynamic that would let me set a romantic relationship against the backdrop of a crime. So, my sleuth is the son of a career criminal who gets mixed up in a murder investigation, and his girlfriend is a young police detective.

Sound promising? I thought so. As I began to write, my main male character came along well, and I started to enjoy writing about him. But his girlfriend? Because the situation in which she found herself was one of emotional and professional conflict, I needed to work out how she might respond to all this shit. To begin with I just didn’t know. I ended up re-writing most of her scenes several times, re-jigging the plot to incorporate the consequences of her decisions, and generally making her emotions more and more pivotal to the story. I ended up pacing up and down, acting out her lines, trying to think like a woman, trying to strike that balance between strength and vulnerability, between someone who is tough but not hardened.

Did it work? This is where you come in. I’d really like to know what you think. I’ve got ten ebooks to give away (any format), and the only condition is that you let me know what you think of the female lead character in the book. Email me for your free copy (see website for contact details). Ladies only, please.


John Barlow was born in Leeds, England in 1967. He studied English Literature at Cambridge University and worked as a university teacher before becoming a full-time writer in 2004. His work has been published by HarperCollins, Farrar, Straus & Giroux and 4th Estate, and has been translated into six languages.
Contact John:
John’s website
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Review: My Own Worst Frenemy by Kimberly Reid

 

Title:  My Own Worst Frenemy

Author: Kimberly Reid

Publisher: Dafina

ISBN: 978-0758267405

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Straight outta the Mile High City, Chanti Evans is an undercover cop’s daughter and an exclusive private school’s newest student. But Chanti is learning fast that when it comes to con games, the streets have nothing on Langdon Prep.

With barely a foot in the door, fifteen-year-old Chanti gets on the bad side of school queen bee Lissa and snobbish Headmistress Smythe. They’ve made it their mission to take Chanti down and she needs to find out why, especially when stuff begins disappearing around campus, making her the most wanted girl in school, and not in a good way. But the last straw comes when she and her Langdon crush, the seriously hot Marco Ruiz, are set up to take the heat for a series of home burglaries–and worse. . . . 

Review:

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I first picked up My Own Worst Frenemy.  While I occasionally found protagonist Chanti grating, I also found her likeable, capable, and intelligent.  Maybe too smart for her own good, because she couldn’t keep herself, or her mouth, from getting her in trouble.  While watching each new disaster play out, I kept wondering how on earth she was going to clear herself of each new mess she tumbled in.  Usually face first, with plenty of embarrassment and the eminent threat of expulsion from her new prep school, and worse, a trip to jail!  Chanti keeps herself very busy getting herself out of these situations, and each new hurdle kept the pages turning.

After being in the wrong place at the wrong time during summer break, Chanti’s mom, a no-nonsense undercover cop, decides her daughter needs to be in new surroundings.  Separated from her friends, Chanti finds herself enrolled at Langdon Prep, a school across town for rich kids.  Kids jarringly different from herself, and kids who don’t hesitate to mock her scholarship and her humble background.  As Chanti tries to fit in with kids she has absolutely nothing in common with, she finds other trials to overcome.  A series of thefts has suspicions aimed firmly in her direction, as well as the two other scholarship kids at Langdon.  Determined to clear her name, and maybe hook-up with cutie Marco, Chanti finds herself in a lot more trouble than she bargained for.

I have to admit, when I first met Chanti, I didn’t like her.  She is a smart aleck, and she thinks she is a lot more street savvy than she actually is.  Then I learned that her bravado is all a front, and that she would really rather run from a confrontation than engage in one.  To keep herself from looking like a coward, she meets adversity head on.  I started to admire that trait, because I think I would have rolled over and given up a few times if I had been presented with the same challenges as Chanti.  I also started to appreciate her flaws, and her acceptance of them, as the story unfolded.

What Chanti is good at is noticing things.  She also never backs down from a challenge.  Having observed her mom in action, Chanti can’t help but mimic some of her mom’s detective skills.  It’s almost genetic.  She can’t help noticing things, and many times, it’s noticing things that get her into trouble.  She is curious about everything, and is always trying to understand other people’s motivations.  This trait annoys pretty much everyone she meets, because she can’t help but grill them about – well – everything. 

As the charges against Chanti increase, so does her desperation to discover the real thief.  As her life hurtles out of control, Chanti tries desperately to reconcile her old life and her old friends with her new life at Langdon Prep, where it looks as though she will never fit in.  The pages starting turning with increased velocity as Chanti’s troubles magnified.  Once I got involved in the plot, I gobbled this book up in an afternoon.  This is a fun read for fans of contemporary dramas, with a mystery thrown in for good measure.  I felt that the romance elements needed to be stronger, and I’m hoping that Chanti and Marco’s relationship will be further developed in the next book.  I also hope that Chanti’s mom, Lana, will be a little more active in her life; no wonder Chanti keeps getting herself into mischief!  It’s not like her mom is home to keep her on the straight and narrow.  

Grade: B

Review copy provided by {Teen} Book Scene


My Own Worst Frenemy is available in both print and digital formats:

Review: Between by Jessica Warman

 

Title: Between

Author: Jessica Warman

Publisher: Walker Books

ISBN: 978-0802721822

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Elizabeth Valchar-pretty, popular, and perfect-wakes up the morning after her eighteenth birthday party on her family’s yacht, where she’d been celebrating with her six closest friends. A persistent thumping noise has roused her. When she goes to investigate, what she finds will change everything she thought she knew about her life, her friends, and everything in between. As Liz begins to unravel the circumstances surrounding her birthday night, she will find that no one around her, least of all Liz herself, was perfect-or innocent. Critically acclaimed author Jessica Warman brings readers along on a roller-coaster ride of a mystery, one that is also a heartbreaking character study, a touching romance, and ultimately a hopeful tale of redemption, love, and letting go.

Review:

I am a bit confused about my feelings for this book.  There were many elements that I loved and that is what kept me reading.  There were also bits and pieces that I wasn’t so fond of, that detracted from my enjoyment of Between.  I love the concept, too, but felt that the execution was just a little weak in spots.

My biggest dissatisfaction stems from the pacing.  This is a leisurely look at the life and death of one very spoiled young woman.  Starting with Liz’s death, the book jumps between the present and flashbacks to the past to unravel the mystery of her death.  How did she end up in a cold, watery grave on her birthday? Why didn’t anyone hear her fall off of her parents’ boat, or her struggles to save herself from drowning?  Liz has very few memories left, so with the help of another ghost, she begins to fill in the pieces of her life that she has forgotten.  As she slowly adds one fragment of her past after another, she starts to see that she wasn’t a very nice person, and that despite all appearances to the contrary, she wasn’t a very happy one, either.

This is a character driven book, which brings me to the other reason why I didn’t totally love this read.  I wasn’t head over heels with any of the characters, except maybe Alex.  Alex has been dead for a year, killed by a hit and run driver.  He has been stuck somewhere between life and death, restlessly seeking a way to move beyond where he’s stuck now.  He was never a popular kid at school, and unlike Liz, he had to work for everything that he had.  His parents weren’t wealthy, and he had to work at the local market, riding his bike back and forth to his job.  It’s obvious from the start that he can’t stand Liz, he can’t stand her friends, and he isn’t happy that he’s with her in death.  She is about the last person he would want to spend time with, and now it looks like he’s going to be spending eternity with her.   Life, and death, just aren’t fair!

Since Liz can’t remember much about herself, she has a hard time believing that she was as big a witch as Alex claims.  Through flashbacks, she begins to see what a mess she was.  Having witnessed her mother’s untimely death, Liz has had many issues to deal with, and they have left her with a skewed outlook on life.  Her father denies her nothing, and her step-mother and step-sister are also accustomed to getting every material thing that they want.  This leaves Liz a shallow, materialistic girl, and I never connected with her.  Even in her death, she’s hard to like.  She’s catty and judgmental, and she’s always critical of the people around her and how they look or what they have.  It’s like she still can’t see beyond outward appearances, even when she is seeking redemption for herself.  This frustrated me about her.  She is petty and shallow, from the beginning of the book to the end.   This is a passage near the end of the novel:

Nicole saunters out the back door of our house. She’s wearing a flowing white skirt that grazes her ankles, a yellow halter top that exposes her belly – which is just a tad pudgy – and a light jacket.

If I had ever met her in real life, we would have hated each other.

Having said that, Liz does possess one character trait that I admired, and kept me from totally disliking her.  She is so intensely loyal and in love with Richie, her boyfriend.  Though he is a flawed character as well, their relationship was convincing.  They have known each other since they were both babies, and they have developed an intense and unwavering love between them.  They have always been together, and they believe, firmly and unflinchingly, that they will always be together.

While Between didn’t always work for me, I never wanted to put it down and stop reading it.  I did want Liz and Alex to find some kind of meaning in their deaths, and I wanted Liz to find the happiness in death that she never found in her troubled life.  I just wish I had liked her better during her journey to find inner peace.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher