Sunday, September 29, 2013

Stranger in Paradise: "The Sultan's Favorite" by Anne Burnside

Romance, intrigue, murder... when you start with a hero like Erik you are bringing a lot of baggage to the table. There are a lot of loyal Phantom Phans out there who want authors to stay true to Erik's character and I want to say The Sultan's Favorite, by Anne Burnside, delivers! Erik is back working for an Eastern ruler, (remember the shah of Persia and those rosy hours of Mazenderan?),  this time a sultan , the ruler of the Ottoman empire. Erik has distanced himself from Paris and his loss of Christine to Raoul, though he still feels angry and hurt, and throws himself into his passion for architecture by designing the sultan a magnificent palace.
This sultan appreciates Erik, and accepts his quirks, and the mask he always wears and even his bad tempers, because he sees the genius behind it. Though their cultures clash, the sultan often tries to show his appreciation by offering Erik select girls from his harem. Which Erik disdainfully declines, often to the relief of the girls who cringe from his mask.
Things seem to be going smoothly, Erik getting along particularly well with the sultan's first wife, not so well with wife # 2. Then, surprise! The sultan is taking on a new wife, # 3! This is Alexandria, the widow of a friend whose kingdom he will now be ruling, and taking on this young woman will secure his place with the subjects of that kingdom.
Alexandria was the ruler's only wife and he adored her and educated her and never resorted to a harem or concubine, as he wanted only her by his side. The sultan develops a fondness for Alexandria, who then becomes the Sultan's Favorite!
Erik is tasked with working with Alexandria to design her suite at the new palace, something Erik does not relish. Or...does he? She is smart and lovely and... well read. She is also lonely and in need of a friend, someone who will appreciate her for her mind and not just her gorgeous body.
Ms. Burnside has created a world you can lose yourself in . I adored her Erik and the many sides of him she portrays in this lavish and sensual  novel. And Alexandria is every bit as captivating as Christine. There are alliances you never expected and surprises along the way. The Sultan's Favorite is a great addition for any Phan to add to their library, and one that might become one of your own favorites!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Skulduggery Pleasant, the Author, the Artist and the Very, Very Good Narrator

Working at the library I've checked probably thousands of things in and out and standing out amidst all those books and movies and magazines and what not... there were a series of books that grabbed me. The covers said "read me". The covers were delightfully animated looking and nicely designed and featured a rather dapper skeleton. This was Skulduggery Pleasant. But taking on a new series seemed daunting! My co-worker, Emily, suggested John and I listen to the audio-books. She said the narrator was amazing. We were going on a road trip and listening to a book seemed like a good idea to pass the time, something John normally doesn't agree to as he says it makes him drive off the road.
On our way to our destination we started listening and let me say, the narrator IS amazing!!!  His Skulduggery was exactly perfect! As was his Stephanie / Valkyrie and all the numerous other characters that make up the world created by fabulous Irish author Derek Landy. John and I were so addicted that we have been inter-library loaning (Thanks, Donna!) any of the series on audio we can get. I had to buy # 4, Dark no other library around seemed to have it. And WHO was this brilliant narrator? His name is Rupert Degas and he and his voice have been all over the place from acting, to voice overs, to  winning awards for his audiobook narrations! Here, listen to this snippet from Youtube (credit below) and see/hear for yourself!

(Rupert Degas reading from book 2 from Youtube: uploaded by DontGivinGaDanm )      
For some reason, there is a change in the narration of Skulduggery with some of the later books, but we aren't there yet, so, we'll see how that goes.
Back to the covers, they are the brilliant creations of illustrator Tom Percival. 
I am completely in love with his interpretation of Skulduggery (and with Rupert Degas's Skulduggery voice!). I have only one question... no t-shirts? No prints? I would love a Skulduggery shirt or even a watch! There's a market out here, guys!
Mr. Percival is SO good... it was a bit intimidating to add an illustration to this review, but since that is what I do with books I LOVE, below is my interpretation of Skulduggery, Tanith, Stephanie (perfect name for a super heroine!) and China Sorrows.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

"Streaks of Blue" by Jack Chaucer

"Streaks of Blue" by Jack Chaucer is an intriguing take on one of the darker aspects of our society. School shootings. It's sub-title is  How the Angels of Newtown Inspired One Girl to Save Her School. Nicole Janicek is 17. Her long, dark hair is highlighted with streaks of blue dye that is one of her distinguishing features. She loves hiking in the New Hampshire White Mountains with her best friend, Candace. They revere Cheryl Strayed , author of the memoir "Wild". On their last hike before the start of their senior year at High School, Nikki longs to camp out at the Lakes of the Clouds above the tree line even though it's not allowed. When a hut crew member shows up to warn them about what they're doing, Candace makes a deal with him to let Nikki stay if she spends the night in the hikers hut. He agrees, as it's hard to say no to the 6 foot tall, gorgeous girl.
Nikki spends the night looking up at the stars. That night...she has an odd dream. A little girl appears in her tent... the girl tells her that her name is Star. She asks Nikki to accompany her to her classroom which is outdoors under the stars. She notices an older boy, the girl tells him his name is Adam. Adam Upton. Nikki remembers him from elementary school where they used to be friends. Then the teacher turns to Nikki and asks her for her help. They tell her Adam is planning something bad. The teacher writes a figure on the chalkboard. 12:14. They tell her to bring Adam back before it's too late. Nikki asks for the address and is told Star will give her a note, so she'll remember. It's a blue sticky note with stars on it. It says 14th & Stardust.
She wakes up in her tent. What could the dream mean? She searches in her pack to find her notebook...and finds a baggie she doesn't remember. Cookies from her mom, with a note. Contained in her mother's note are the date 14th, and the word stardust.
 Was it just a dream? Or a premonition? Adam is a boy often referred to by other students as trailer-trash. His best friend is Thomas "Lee" Harvey an angry, sneering loser who identifies with the original Lee Harvey (Oswald). Are they planning something? Will she reach out to Adam? Despite  Candace's objections?
I won't give away too much of the story. While the subject matter might have been trite or exploitive in other hands, Mr. Chaucer treats it with sensitivity and his characters sympathetically. It's tense, moving and thought-provoking. Nikki is an amazingly strong, smart and brave young woman. She's a great, realistic role model for girls (or anyone!). Give this one a try!  Plus, this is just up on the author's website: "And remember, no matter how or where you buy “Streaks of Blue,” I’ll be donating half of the proceeds to the Newtown Memorial Fund. So here’s a chance to read my best novel yet AND help a worthy cause all at the same time!"

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Both Sides Now: "Hyde" by Laura DeLuca

This is the third (but we hope NOT last) of the theatre themed Dark Musicals books featuring everyone's favorite Goth hero, Justyn , make that LORD Justyn, Patko. This story begins with Justyn and Rebecca once again portraying the roles that brought them together...the Phantom and Christine. This time they are college students. After the final performance... Justyn, still in costume, surprises Becca with a proposal, which she, of course, accepts. Who wouldn't?
In order to save money for their off-campus apartment for their senior year at college, Becca and Justyn accept summer jobs starring in the musical "Hyde" at a dinner theatre in Cape May, New Jersey. Also along for the fun, and part of the cast, are their high school friends Carmen and Tom. Besides acting, they will also be earning extra income as wait-staff at local restaurants. With so much on their plate will the friends survive the summer?
As the leads in the play, and new to the cast, Justyn and Becca feel resentment from the more experienced, adult cast regulars. A couple of them are downright nasty. And, if that wasn't enough to deal with, there's also a theatre ghost, Grace Hamilton, the murdered bride of a doctor who originally owned the theatre. Plus, as they throw themselves into their roles and get ready for opening night, Justyn seems to be slowly identifying with the role he's taken on. There are also secrets and surprises, mysteries to solve, crimes committed and family issues to deal with. Will all this stress get to them? Grab a copy, or download one and follow our favorite couple as the curtain comes down on this addicting series!