Saturday, June 30, 2012

What Comes After: Between

I am a great fiction lover. "Fiction is My Reality" is one of my mottos (I have a few!) and the t-shirt can be bought here! There are genres I am inexplicably drawn to and one of them is interesting versions of the afterlife. One of the best ones I've read recently is Between. It also has a lovely cover which never hurts! I'll discuss "when bad covers hurt good books" at a later time.
Elizabeth Valchar wakes up. It is 2 a.m. It's the night after her birthday. She had a party on her father's yacht. Liz is a birthdays on a yacht type of girl. Everyone's still asleep... but there is this annoying noise and it's getting to her. Failing to rouse her sleeping friends and step-sister she goes to investigate. What's making that thumping sound? It's coming from the water.. she gets closer. Could it be a fish? she peers into the dark water below. Cripes! It's a body! Some poor girl... but, wait! The body is wearing cowboy boots just like Liz's. Special white rhinestone covered boots. No one else could possibly have a pair like it... the girl in the water is (insert SCREAMING here!) Liz!!!
What happened and how she got there is the mystery behind Jessica Warman's great premise and she doesn't let you down. Liz sits on the dock waiting for her body to be discovered. She is overwrought and who wouldn't be? She tells herself, aloud, that everything is going to be OK... then a voice replies that, "No, actually it's not going to be OK." There's a boy, a boy who can see and hear her! This seems like good news...until she realizes he, too, is dead. And she recognizes him. It's Alex, a boy she went to school with since kindergarten. A boy who was killed by a hit and run driver. Like the ghosts who visit Scrooge in A Christmas Carol... Alex helps Liz on a journey through past events that will ultimately reveal what happened to her that night on the yacht. It's an absorbing, touching look at a life and all the twists and turns one can take and the road fate sometimes puts you on.
This is the first one of Ms. Warman's books I read and I was lucky enough to read a preview of her latest book Beautiful Lies which was also excellent and which I will be reviewing here soon.  I'll also be reading her previous titles Breathless and Where the Truth Lies when I get a chance because I can tell she's going to be an author I want to keep reading!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Return of the Phantom: Variations on a Theme of Leroux

As the Recommender reads her way through the Phantom oeuvre it is always fascinating how different authors tackle the canon of  Gaston Leroux's characters... in particular the triangle of Erik, Christine and Raoul. I just finished H.D. Kingsbury's Variations on a Theme of Leroux which was great fun and an intriguing take on the story.
It begins with Erik wakening to find himself imprisoned in a dungeon and beaten and starved. How did this happen to our anti-hero? His thoughts are of Christine. Would he ever see her again? Would she ever know what became of him?
The story shifts to a time a year earlier. Christine has been receiving voice lessons from Erik. She has visited him in his secret home in the cellars beneath the Paris Opera House and knows the way there, unescorted. They are very companionable... until a childhood friend of hers shows up to get in the way. Yes, it is Raoul! He is charmed by her and invites her to lunch and they spend a pleasant afternoon together. When she returns, Erik is annoyed. But why should he be? Christine is his student. Does he feel more for her than he is willing to admit? Does she? And then there is Anatole Garron, an Opera tenor who is Christine's friend. And Meg Giry... jealous of Raoul's interest in Christine. The plot thickens. Christine invites Erik to a picnic atop the roof of the Opera House. Someone follows. Seething with unrequited passion... it is Raoul! What he sees makes him seethe further. Christine pledging her love for some masked man and embracing him! How could she choose some nobody with half a face when she could have him? A Vicomte! What to do? Can he win her back?
This is a great story of love and passion (and even sex!).  There are dastardly deeds, unexpected friendships and alliances and... well, you'll just have to read it yourself to find out if Erik escapes his prison and finds true love with Christine or if Raoul will win out. That is, as always, the question!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Fifty Shades of...Oh My!

Anastasia  Steele is an English lit major with a passion for Thomas Hardy and a nervous habit of biting her lip. She's a knock-out according to her best friend and room-mate, Kathryn, who is worldly and generally pretty sensible, but Ana doesn't see herself that way. Then, she's called upon to interview 28 year old big time business magnate Christian Grey for the college paper as a favor to  Kathryn, who's down with the flu. Entering his huge stylish office with flair, Ana trips and falls headfirst at the feet of Mr. Grey, possibly the most beautiful man alive.
So begins this story that everyone is talking about. Fifty Shades by E. L. James is the love story of a young, inexperienced woman "falling" for a wealthy, sexy, charismatic and really, Ana, he is SO wrong for you guy.
But what girl could help herself from being swayed by first editions of "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" and designer undies purchased for you by the chauffeur? Then there's that non-disclosure agreement. And some cryptic remarks of the "If you were wouldn't sit down for a week" nature. "If I were HIS?" Ana thinks, romantically. The second part of that statement doesn't deter her for the moment.
Possible spoilers here for the uninitiated: Christian wants Ana... to be subservient, and available and sign a contract and...wait, you say, what about LOVE? There is sex. LOTS of steamy, bondage-y, spanky sex. Which is all well and good, but Ana wants MORE. Can Christian do more? And what about his past? The past where he was the sub of a much older woman for 7 YEARS from when he was 15! A friend of his adopted mother's! That can't be good. Especially since he still has dinner with her and calls her a "good friend". Hmmmm. Can Ana and Christian make a go of it and do more? You'll have to read this... and the two sequels "Fifty Shades Darker" and "Fifty Shades Freed" (I'll be reading the two follow ups and will report on them as I read them) to find out!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Erik, Erik, Erik: 3 Reviews of Phantom Fiction

I know, I know, the Recommender has certain obsessions. We will deal with those other obsessive genres as we get to them. For now, let us return to the world of that mad genius Erik, or the Phantom, in three books I recently read and which I found intriguing and well written.The first title is Phantom : Edge of the Flame by Kristine Goodfellow.
 In this original take, Erik is en route to a destination in the French countryside when he chances upon a carriage stuck by the side of the road. This carriage contains an attractive American woman, Olivia Weston, who has arrived in France for an extended visit to her cousins the de Chagnys. Struck by the sight of her stranded by the roadside, Erik commands his driver to stop and offer her a ride. She accepts... and as they share the ride (until this carriage, too, becomes incapacitated) Erik becomes more and more taken with the charming young widow. As they get to know each other and eventually continue their journey, Erik begins to understand certain complexities regarding Olivia's reason for visiting. Yet, they are drawn to each other, so much so, that Erik risks everything to sneak inside her bedroom at her cousins estate, time after time. Could she be the woman he has always dreamed of, someone to accept him and perhaps even come to love him? You'll have to buy, borrow  or download it to see.

The second title gives us the classic triangle of Christine, Raoul and Erik: My Phantom: the Memoir of Christine Daae by Anstance Tamplin. The story begins with Christine reading Leroux's new sensation "The Phantom of the Opera". Leroux had the story wrong, Christine tells us. Even her late husband, Raoul, never knew "how close the Phantom came to winning my hand. He will always have my heart". Great opening!
We then go back to the beginning of their story. After her father's  death, the lonely young Christine comes to the Opera House as a student of its singing school. Weeping by herself in a corner one day she is startled by a voice asking her why she is crying. Mistaking it for the Angel of Music sent by her father she brightens at the voice... the voice being the Phantom's who, silent for a moment responds "And here I am".
Years later, the mirror to her dressing room opens... and a man enters. "Don't be frightened, Christine. You're not in danger" he tells her... and, at the sound of his voice, she recognizes it as her one true friend and soon to be her teacher, her Angel... her Phantom. They fall into a routine of Christine visiting the Phantom in his home beneath the Opera where he trains her voice and occasionally takes her out at night to see and hear the popular singers of the day from whom she can learn. They have become close though she longs for more intimacy... the intimacy that, back in the outside world, the dashing young naval officer Raoul waits to offer her. The tension between the Phantom and Christine will keep you longing for more with this beguiling love story you won't want to miss! 
  And, now for something completely different, Jamie Martell's Thoughts of Summertime. Christine, after losing her mother, runs to the woods in despair after the funeral.  Lost, and desperate, a voice reaches out to her from the woods, asking why she cries, comforting her, then instructing her how to find her way back. Grateful , she begins to head off, then turns and asks if she might "see" him again. He replies she should return the next evening.  She does.
What interests does she have to take her mind off her troubles the voice inquires. "I love to sing" she replies. He asks if she would sing for him and she does, a Swedish lullaby. He is impressed with her talent and offers to instruct her. She mentions the Angel of Music and that she had wished for his visit. As they part company Christine asks what should she call him? "Call me Angel" he says. It is, of course, Erik.

Scene 2: The estate of the evil Vicomte Raoul de Chagny (yes, it is he, though evil, as mentioned!) and Erik is his business manager! In fact, Raoul says to Erik "You know I can't do a thing without your counsel!" This is a very radical approach to our beloved characters and ... it works. Erik  continues to meet with Christine (or at least his voice does),and before you know it six months have passed. All seems well and both are happy. Too happy, you might ask, for a young woman who is falling for a disembodied voice, and Erik who is falling for Christine in return. Alas, yes. Christine pleads with her Angel to show himself, to tell her he returns her feelings. He agrees at 9:00 that night, to meet in their wooded refuge.  Meanwhile, Christine's father is deep in debt to Raoul. So in debt he is about to lose everything. But, there is one thing Raoul will take in exchange for forgiving that nasty debt. His daughter's hand in marriage. He agrees and that night she will be taken away and held captive at the de Chagny estate as Raoul's unwilling fiancee. That night, Erik will feel rejected and betrayed by the woman he has come to love. Is there hope for our star-crossed lovers? Will wrong things be righted? This is a particularly entertaining story. I loved the depiction of Erik as a man with secrets, intense, charismatic and seductive and Christine as a strong woman doing what she has to do to get by. You will, too!