Sunday, June 17, 2012

Book review: Goddess of Spring

Disclaimer: This review first appeared on is a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online book section.

A modern, sexy and swoon-worthy retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth.

Goddess of Spring by P.C. Cast (Piatkus)
Lina’s Italian bakery is in financial trouble.

With no real solution within reach, she resorts to different measures and - inadvertently after stumbling across an Italian Goddess cook book - invokes the help of a goddess to get her out of her sticky situation.

Demeter, the goddess whom she has summoned, seems to have a plan of her own and proposes that she (Lina) exchanges souls with Persephone and restore order in the Underworld, the realm where the brooding Hades resides and rules over.

In return, Persephone will head out into the mortal world and restore Lina’s business.

Having reluctantly accepted her part in the exchange made, Lina - in the role of the enchantingly gorgeous Persephone, soon finds herself more than a little intrigued with the god of the Underworld.

Dark, sexy and brooding, Lina quickly finds out that he’s not as dour and as asexual as everyone else seems to think; and before long, wonders just how - knowing that he just might be the best thing that’s ever happened to her - she’s going to cope once she has to return to the mortal realm.

My thoughts:

I have to confess that I’m seriously becoming addicted to P.C. Cast’s Goddess summoning book series. The spunky heroines, the fantastical settings and the sizzling romance in each of the novels I’ve read so far have been nothing short of blistering and blush-inducing.

Cast, known as one half of the duo responsible for the House of Night series, really writes some of the sexiest fiction for adults and I highly recommend that all whose read any of the books in her Young Adult series, give the Goddess summoning series a try.

Having previously read Goddess of Legend and Goddess of the Rose, I think that Goddess of Spring has got to be my favourite by far.

I have always loved the Hades and Persephone myth, so you can imagine my excitement when I discovered that aside from a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, P.C. has also written a modern adaptation of the classic Greek legend.

If you’re a student or a connoisseur of Classic Greek mythology, you’d probably want to steer clear of this book. This book is no dissertation or intellectual discussion about tragic subtext and metaphorical nuances within the myth.

If that’s what you’re looking for, then you will be disappointed.

However, if, like me, you’re looking for a more romantic version of a story that is shrouded in suggested ambiguity, then Goddess of Spring is the book you’ll want to read.

One of the things I love most about this series, is that for each and every book I’ve read so far, P.C. has always managed to create likeable, strongly independent women in the prime of their lives.

She usually adds a feminist twist and makes sure that her heroines are gutsy, brave and successful, while still remaining grounded. All the while, these women, strong and assertive as they may be, long for the one elusive thing that most women crave: someone to love, and to be loved in return.

Lina, the protagonist in Goddess of the Spring, is by far, one of my favourite characters. She’s sweet, kind, but no pushover. With a remarkable gift for “communicating” with animals, she’s a soul with a strong sense of empathy.

When she meets Hades, she’s the first person to look beyond what everyone assumes and sees that there’s much, much more to the man who’s been buried underneath layers of stereotypes and misguided assumptions.

Hades, as a character, will definitely have all you ladies out there swooning. After all, what girl can really resist a man shrouded in darkness, secrets and shadows? I don’t know about you, but that kind of guy gets to me every time.

Which is why, the chemistry factor between these two characters came across as being downright sizzling to me.

The intimacy, the shared looks, the explosively intimate scenes - all very electrifying. In fact, you might want to wear a pair of gloves reading this. Your fingers will burn; and your face will heat up in the midst of reading some of those sexy scenes.

Aside from that, what makes this such a highly entertaining and sexy read is that Cast, perfectly blends ancient Greek elements with modern day life.

She’s done her research and put a tremendous amount of effort into creating a dazzling and beautifully descriptive world, bringing life to an underworld that one might easily assume is carved in shades of black and white.

Sexy, modern and above all, playful and very romantic, Goddess of the Spring is a book that will appeal to romantics at heart. I really hope Cast will bring out more books in this series - it just keeps getting better and better.

... Heads on off to daydream about Hades again...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Book review: Along for the Ride

Along for the Ride
Because being a girl isn't just about exam results and university applications.

Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen (RazorBill)
I can't even begin to tell you how much love I have for Sarah Dessen.

*By the sentence above, you may deduce that lots of gushing and fan-girling is about to follow*

She really has this remarkable ability to create characters that are not only relatable, but whose stories make you want to live their lives in each and every one of her books; regardless of how flawed and broken they are, and no matter how difficult their home life is.

It's like she spent all of her time going from country to country, and home to home, to come up with an amalgamation of all the things that define the make-up of teens and young adults everywhere.

Her novels aren't the in-your-face, beautiful and lyrical prose that say, Maggie Stiefvater is known for, but a subtle dance across your skin, and a butterfly's whisper in your heart.

It's writing that says:

I know you....

I know where you are and where you come from; I know what it's like to be you and I know where you've been. It says, I know how you got where you are and I know where to go to from here.

And that for me, is the heart in which her storytelling skills lie.

If I thought that What Happened to Goodbye was a wonderful novel, then Along for the Ride is a book that has surpassed it in so many ways. I never thought this was possible because I already have so much love for What Happened to Goodbye.

Along for the Ride is the story of Auden, a young girl who hasn't slept ever since her parents' divorce.

Focusing purely on her studies and maintaining her stellar grades, Auden avoids the social scene like the plague; spending most of her time studying and driving around late nights, and sitting at 24/7 caf├ęs, drinking pots of coffee, with nothing but her study notes and insomnia to keep her company.

Yet, underneath her studious demeanour, there's a girl underneath who can't help but feel like she's missing out on something.

So, when she gets the opportunity to visit her Dad and his new family, she decides on the spur of the moment, to head on off to the beach-y town in search of some answers and to get a break from being the daughter of a demanding and academic mother.

 What follows is a journey of self-discovery for her; one in which she discovers fun and friendship, late-night parties and bike rides.

It's a world where she'll discover that learning to be a girl is not about mathematical formulas, but about sexy jeans, flip-flops and a brooding, secretive boy who really, really gets her.

I fell in love the moment I started reading this book. There was just something about Auden that I knew I was going to relate to.

I've met and come across many book characters who I could identify with, but none of them impacted on me the way she did. 

Auden is, for all intents and purposes, incredibly self-contained, self-sufficient and highly intelligent. She's quick with numbers and works well with facts and figures.

You'd think that being so studious a girl would make her boring, but it's quite the opposite here. For all of her intellectual capabilities, she's a lot more complex than you'd think.

Having to deal with a domineering and academic mother who just so happens to be a renowned professor of literature, all Auden has known is how to be the way that she is. Older than her years, being an academic scholar is and has always been the one thing that has defined her.

With almost no friends and only books to keep her company, the world she lives in is a rather lonely place.  When she decides to take up her Dad's offer to stay with him, his new wife and their new baby for the summer, she doesn't realise that she's in for the ride and the transformation of her life.

Upon arriving, Auden is quickly thrown into a world filled boys, baby-pacifying and learning to get to know her new stepmom, who is the complete antithesis to Auden's mom.

Besides getting to work at her new step-mom's boutique shop, she has to navigate her way through the unfamiliar and foreign territory of opening herself to new experiences, friendships, love and learning to stand up to both her parents, who prove to be the kind of parents who really could do better. 

And here's where it becomes interesting.

Because not only does she learn how to open herself up emotionally, but she learns that life is not about living in and enclosing herself an insular bubble where she doesn't have to answer to anyone, or give anyone any more of her time than is required.

Watching how her relationships progress with the various people she gets to know is an absolute treat.

From the awkward, stoic and stiff girl, to becoming a girl who realises that screwing up is ok and that life is all about taking chances, Auden's transformation is one of the most beautiful things to behold. 

The best part for me? Is all the time she's spend with Eli. Mysterious, brooding and wrestling with his own demons, he and Auden gravitate towards one another with a sense that they're just meant to be.

Together the two of them embark on a quest to help Auden experience all the fun things she's been missing out on; making late night stops for coffee and pie at a hidden spot; stopping at the quick mart every evening to pick up groceries, wandering around aimlessly and sharing secrets in the early and clandestine hours of the morning.

It's a journey you'll wish to undertake yourself.

In Along for the Ride, Auden mentions the fact that her brother has the ability to take a simple thought and transform it into something that resonates deeply within.

To me, that sums up my experience of reading a Sarah Dessen novel. There's so much subtext in a simple thought, so much meaning and lessons to be learned from her writing.

Along for the Ride is one of my new favourite reads. I cannot recommend this book enough. If you haven't read any of her books, I suggest you give them a try.

You won't regret it.

 I promise.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Book review: When the Sea is Rising Red

When the Sea is Rising Red
A lyrical, boundlessly imaginative young adult fantasy novel that will have you falling in complete and utter hedonistic book love.

When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

There are so many misconceptions about Cat Hellisen's When the Sea is Rising Red.

It's been labelled as being everything from historical fiction and romance, to paranormal and even, get this, dystopian fiction (I think it's time that I wrote that article on Understanding Genre fiction).

All of which it is not.

What the book is, is a masterfully told and beautifully written fantasy novel that even fights against the strains of the very genre it is defined by.

It's a novel of magic and mayhem. It's a book world that is filled with a wondrous kind of wind-swept beauty, starkly juxtaposed by the divisive lines between the rich and the poor.

In short?

It's a book that every fantasy lover should read and it's also a novel that surprised me on so many different levels, in so many different ways.

The story kicks off when we're introduced to 17-year old Felicita. Born into a wealthy and strict family in the village of Pelimburg, her life takes a rather drastic turn when her best friend Ilven, commits suicide in order to escape the entrapments of a pending and arranged marriage.

Prompted into action,  Felicita decides to rather fake her death and risk running away rather than having to endure the same fate - and chooses freedom over the suffocating life that she's always known.

But heading out on her own doesn't come without its own set of problems, and with the magic that she's left behind, she soon finds that living in the slums and washing dishes for a living is but a taste of the new and unfamiliar territory that she's set to tread.

It's here where she meets the charismatic and influential Dash, while at the same time, becomes embroiled in the life of a much maligned vampire named Jannik.

Navigating her way through the village slums, Felicita finds herself learning to adapt to living in the part of town where the people are more than a little hostile towards the Pelimburg system.

When Ilven's dead body washes up on the shore, rumours of a wild and dangerous magic about to be unleashed run rife, and along with that, the knowledge that she may or may not have to destroy the ones she love when she discovers that there are some out there who would use any means necessary to destroy the wealthy caste system.

Cat Hellisen's When the Sea is Rising Red is a breathtaking and mesmerising read. I went into this novel, not entirely sure of what to expect, but came out, knowing that I got a whole lot more than I bargained for, in the best way possible.

First thing you should know:

Cat Hellisen is a phenomenal writer. The book contains some of the most achingly exquisite and lyrical prose that I've ever come across in a YA novel.

Her descriptions of life in the fictional town of Pelimburg are so magic-filled and vivid that it forces you to turn back pages in the book time and time again, just so that you can reread what she has written.

There's a wild kind of beauty that exists in the world that she's conjured up and created. It's something primal, unleashed and untamed, its magic and danger bubbling and frothing under the surface - all waiting to be discovered. 
The wealth of description will leave you breathless and may, in many parts, remind you of Cape Town (It certainly did for me - but then again, that is because I live in Cape Town and Pelimburg's roots are steeped in the Capetonian landscape).

You'll meet selkies and boggarts, encounter a strange type of magic system only used by an allocated caste (no surprises for guessing which side of the divide you'd need to be on) and become more than a little invested in the fantastic, intriguing and complex characters that Cat has created.

Felicita is a character that is definitely worth getting to know.

Coming from a stifling, but wealthy background, I had to applaud her for being bold enough to make a decision that would not only leave her at risk to a hostile community, but one that would also mean that she'd never be able to turn back  to where she came from, ever again.

Her internal struggles as she tries to pave a way for herself in the company of people who barely trust her, are incredibly real. What I especially loved about her, is that some traces of her snobbishness still slipped through the cracks.

So many authors make the mistake of immediately allowing their characters to instantly become comfortable surroundings, but I really loved that Felicita's transformation was a gradual  process as this added an element of realism that was both welcoming and refreshing. 

It's also interesting to see how resourceful she's forced to become without having (legal) access to the magic that she's always been used to.  

Then of course, there are the characters she encounters.

There's Dash, the enigmatic, charismatic boy who has more influence over the people of the village than she realises. Dash is the kind of boy your mother wouldn't want you to bring home, and probably why Felicita (alright, alright - you can include me too), would want to do just that.

He's cocky, mysterious and knows more than he lets on.  And oh bugger, did I mention that he'll charm the socks off you?

For me, that's usually a sign that a boy spells trouble. One thing's for certain though, Felicita's world just got a little more interesting with his presence in her life.

He's not the only interesting character though. There's Jannik the vampire (he was such a closed-book to me, but I loved him nonetheless), Esta (the never-smiling half-selkie girl) and Lils and Nala (characters who, without a doubt, end up surprising towards the end of the novel).

I wish I could describe the magic in and of this novel in more detail, but some books are not meant to just be read and reviewed. They're meant to be experienced.

Cat Hellisen's When the Sea is Rising Red? Needs to be experienced. Over and Over again. It's just that phenomenal.

Yay for South African Young Adult authors making their mark on such an international level.