May 29, 2012

Favourite Things: Donna Bites her Lost Boys (er, sort of)...

Yeah, yeah, I know... you all thought I'd forgotton about this feature, yes? Well, no.  At least, only for a little time while I was snowed down with study and books and, y'know, life.  However, it's back and I'm back having extracted myself from academia for the summer and settled down to read, review and ramble right here.  You lucky ducks, you!  Just now, though, I'm handing over to Donna from Bites (not to mention my fellow Lady YAcker (more on that another time).  Donna is here to share with you here favourite things... Enjoy - and thank you, Donna.

When I was 11, back in 1994, I was up late one night.  It was summer vacation and there wasn't much else for someone my age to do.  Being an only child, I had some added luxuries in my room that many of my friends didn't.  This included a TV, complete with cable.  So it's probably about 1 or 2 in the morning and I'm flipping stations.  In the mix I catch the beginning previews of a vampire movie that the channel, TNT, was about to show.  The whole ordeal was hosted by two of the stars, whom I came to know as Corey Haim and Corey Feldman.  It looked interesting and this was at the beginning of my VAMPIRE CHRONICLES/general vampire obsession so yeah.  They got my attention.

As soon as the vampires made their appearance, we're talking in the opening scene and they're not even in fang, I'm hooked.  And not just like little hooked.  I'm hooked in a major way.  There's just something about this flick that's pulling me in in ways that not even Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise could do in INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE.  And that's saying something.  I was OBSESSED with that movie.  But this new one?  This LOST BOYS?  What the hell was this?  Where the hell is it?  And how the hell can I get more of it?

I didn't care if it was an outdated 80s movie with somewhat cheesy effects (I say somewhat because they're subtle), mullets and horrible, horrible clothes.  This movie just rocked my world like nothing else.  I rented the shit out of the VHS at Blockbusters until I was finally able to buy my own copy maybe a year later.  When I was 13ish we got the internet hooked up to our computer, all dial-up and everything.  Since no one I knew liked THE LOST BOYS anywhere near as much as I did (my friend did watch it and they did like it but apparently I was a bit bat shitty for it), the internet opened up a whole new avenue.  I could look up the actors.  There were fan sites with photos.  And a mailing list.  A phenomenal mailing list.

For those of you that aren't this ancient, before forums really took hold, people with common interests joined mailing lists where everything was communicated via email.  If a number of people were online at a time, or wanted to set something up, a chat room was booked somewhere, Yahoo! let's say, and we would meet up.  But it was generally kept to email.  So I found this LOST BOYS mailing list and the people I met!  They were just as nuts about this movie as me!  How awesome!  I wasn't the only one with a wall in my room dedicated to this epic 80s movie!  Score!

Time carried on and eventually I gravitated away from the mailing list but my love of all things LOST BOYS never wavered.  Especially when I started collecting.  My first real piece of memorabilia was an original UK movie poster, already laminated.  It currently sits framed over my bed.  Enter me turning 18, getting a credit card and eBay, and I was in for a world of hurt.  Let the hoarding begin.

Years later, a couple months after I came home from study abroad in 2006, I found out that Corey Haim was going to be signing at a horror convention in New Jersey.  Want.  I goaded my cousin into coming with me and we made a long weekend of it.  Shitty thing was Corey ended up backing out of that event.  But who ended up being there?  Chance Corbitt (Laddie), Brooke McCarter (Paul), Billy Wirth (Dwayne) and Jameson Newlander (Alan Frog).  Thus began a friendship I never thought in a million years I'd ever get the chance to have.  I ended up meeting up with them again at the 20th anniversary of the movie's release in Santa Cruz, California, where the movie was filmed after initiating the steps to get them involved and signing for the event.  This was also my first trip to Santa Cruz, the LOST BOYS mecca.  To say it was an experience is an understatement.  We met up again in 2008 at the same convention I originally met them at and had a blast of a weekend.  This one included Gerard McMann aka G Tom Mac, the musical awesomeness behind the LOST BOYS theme song, Cry Little Sister.  Really, it was all a blast.  You can see pictures from the events and Santa Cruz itself here.  They're having another huge event in Virginia next month but unfortunately I'm unable to attend.  Planning a cross-country move can really sap one's funds.

In the middle of all of this I got into writing fanfiction, for some the bane of writing's existence.  I dabbled in it a little when I was active with the mailing list but thankfully that's been thoroughly sucked into the internet void.  I remember bits and pieces of what I'd written and it haunts me still.  My work's kind of known in the fandom (as a result of kind of a small fandom and writing kind of prolifically, I don't intend to sound full of myself) and I've been writing the current stuff since 2007.  You can find all of it on  I also got involved with the fandom again and that led me to meeting some wonderful new people that weren't around in our little LOST BOYS internet bubble back in the day and some that were.  That was pretty cool, getting to run into those people again after ten years.  And the new people I met, well, I'm still friends with most of them.  Such close friends, in fact, that in 2010 a bunch of us got together and rented a beach house in Santa Cruz for two weeks and just chilled.  Quite possibly the best vacation ever.  And my collection grew.  And grew.  And grew.

In 2007 I started compiling and scanning all of my stuff onto my own fan site.  I had one years ago, again when I was part of the mailing list, on a free site called Acme City now long defunct.  It was small but it was mine and when they purged their server, my site was lost with nothing more than an "oops, sorry" from them.  I was discouraged and I stepped away.  When I picked it back up again I wanted something different than the token red and black sites common with LOST BOYS fan sites.  I wanted something unique.  The movie mentions a hotel that used to stand on Hudson's Bluff, home to the band of vampires in movie time.  When the giant earthquake of 1906 hit, the ground opened up and the hotel sank, creating the lobby they now occupy.  That was my site.  That is what I wanted because there was nothing else like it out there.  So I started building and I had something pretty nifty on the little free site I was on.  But I wanted more and I had reached my file quota so I bought my own space, my own domain and started to build.  And collect.  And build.  And collect.  And I am so, SO proud of what I've built.  I can rightly say I have one of the largest LOST BOYS collections in the world, especially when it comes to images.  I may not have Marko's jacket (which was up on eBay a few years ago and sold for $3,000) but I have some pretty rare stuff that I hold close to my heart.  And it's all on my site, Santa Carla Twilight.  No, it has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with Twilight.  It's actually from a song by Tiger Army and is 100% about the LOST BOYS movie.

In 2010 I made the ultimate fan sacrifice: I got a LOST BOYS tattoo.  After 16 years of LOST BOYS love, fandom ups and downs, epic friends, epic events and epic vacations, I felt it was finally time.  It's not an obvious tattoo but it's obvious to the fans and that's what I was going for.  I had it inked on my left thigh and it's an image of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk at sunset.  The Boardwalk is a mainstay in the movie and nearly the central force of the city of Santa Cruz.  I felt it was the perfect homage to all that has been LOST BOYS in my life.  It's infested my brain for more than half of my life on this planet.  It's introduced me to some amazing people and given me experiences that I wouldn't have had otherwise.  For just a movie, I'm so glad to have it in my life and it's something that will stay here forever.  Hell, Jameson Newlander even dubbed me the Official Lost Girl at our first convention.  I'll take it.  I think I've earned that title and I wear it proudly.

May 28, 2012

If Only We Could Stop The Moon, and June (Review: Saving June by Hannah Harrington)

Saving June
Hannah Harrington
Mira Ink 2012

After June commits suicide, her sister Harper finds herself angry, confused, sad and conflicted.  Unsure of how to manage her own sadness, never mind her mother’s debilitating grief or her father’s absence she pours her energy into fulfilling June’s one great wish – to go to California.  After recruiting best friend Laney to the cause, Harper finds herself confronted with Jake, a mysteriously unmentioned presence in her late sister’s life.  Together the three set off, an urn of ashes packed carefully in the back of Jake’s van, on a journey that leads to places none of them could have imagined.

Harper is extremely angry and extremely lost.  As readers are introduced to her she is experiencing a curious numbness that clearly hides a maelstrom raging.  She’s pretty blunt with her word choice and for a large part of Saving June comes across as abrasive and even unlikable.  Except that there is something about her that is inherently great.  Her grief can’t quite eclipse her wry sense of humour, loyalty to the somewhat erratic Laney and curiosity about Jake.  As she struggles to understand her sister’s motivations she also starts to see herself differently.  The inner journey she takes is as believable and interesting as the literal one she finds herself on and she’s a character that will stay with readers long after they finish Saving June.

As far as sidekicks go, Laney’s a bit of a winner.  On surface value she appears truly individual, brash, funny, loyal and kind yet as the story progresses it becomes clear that Laney is desperate to feel part of something – to belong – and this has led her to make some less than wise choices.  As a friend she’s pretty awesome, supportive of Harper yet sure to call her on it when she’s needlessly mean.  In fact, the friendship between Harper and Laney is one of the great pleasures of an already pleasurable read.   Laney’s interactions with Jake are also extremely funny and their odd relationship is as pleasing to read as the one between her and Harper.

Jake himself is another well written character.  Far from a cardboard cut out love interest he has issues with Harper from the start.  As they slowly (and with some difficulty) become friends, his personality starts to shine through and while like Harper he can be a little abrasive he also has Laney’s kindness – often seemingly despite his best intentions.  His encyclopaedic knowledge of music, not to mention his desire to lecture Harper about it, is a nice touch and the mystery of his relationship with June remains unresolved until close to the end of the book which only makes him more compelling to read.

Saving June, to a certain extent, treads a well worn path in YA fiction.  However, when that path is comprised of music, bickering and a road-trip then there are few who are going to complain.  The trip that Harper, Laney and Jake take is full of delicious attractions and from Fridgehenge to dances in random jazz bars it is a delight from start to finish – not to mention a story that will have readers desperate to hop in their cars, playlists at the ready, and just take off.  Hannah Harrington’s writing is both witty and moving and the dialogue is a particular strength with each character having a truly original voice.  While the book is at times exceptionally funny, Harrington never loses sight of the suicide that is at the heart of the story and June’s own story emerges (to an extent) as Harper’s does – yet the story is not about June and nor should it be.  Lovers of stories such as The Sky is Everywhere (Jandy Nelson) and Just Listen (Sarah Dessen) are sure to enjoy Saving June and it is certainly a story that could easily be returned to and enjoyed again and again. 

Saving June is available from 1st June, 2012.  Thank you to the publishers for providing me with a copy to review.

May 15, 2012

Brothers in Arms (Review: City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare)

City of Lost Souls
Cassandra Clare
Walker 2012

City of Lost Souls is the fifth book in The Mortal Instruments series and this review contains spoilers for all five previous books. If you’ve not read them, don’t read this.

Life has been suddenly and irrevocably changed for Clary. Reeling from the disappearance of Jace and weeks of interrogation, she has become almost numb from loss and impotent anger and her friends aren’t faring much better. Isabelle and Alec, already grieving the death of one brother, have thrown themselves into the search for another; Simon has lost his family, life as he knew it and possibly his soul and has no idea where he fits in anymore; Magnus watches sadly as his little Shadowhunters crumble under the strain of multiple burdens and Maia and Jordan fight to overcome a shared history that is as violent as their inevitable future. All the while, the Institute searches for forces seen and unseen, Raphael and Camille continue their endless plotting and the Seelie Queen revels in her Machiavellian manipulations of, well, everyone. In the background lurks a lost brother, the shadow of a lost father and all the potential for destruction that both boy and memory represent.

Unusually, for The Mortal Instruments, the main characters (minus Jace, for reasons that quickly become apparent) have almost equal “voice” time in City of Lost Souls. Having such variety in narrative could have resulted in some rather convoluted storytelling but in actuality develops each character so beautifully that City of Lost Souls is one of the most successful MI titles so far. Clary herself seems entirely irrational and yet completely rational, all at once. Always willing to go to extremes for those she loves, Clary doesn’t disappoint when it comes to pursuing the lost Jace – except this time she jumps alone into a terrifying unknown where nothing and no-one are exactly as they seem.

Meanwhile, Simon, Isabelle, Alec and Magnus make up the core of what is jokingly referred to as Team Good. And they are good – just more than a little bit screwed up. Simon continues to emerge as a figure of increasing moral fortitude and strength, Magnus as one of kindness and Isabelle as a paradox of kick-ass attitude and beautiful fragility. Alec, for almost the first time, receives a storyline of his own and spends much of the book struggling with jealousy, wracked with worry and almost suffocated insecurity. This is the Alec of City of Bones writ large once more and he’s a little bit heartbreaking. There are also interesting sections of the story involving both Maryse Lightwood and Jocelyn Fray. Both are hard women, with somewhat murky pasts but both love their children with a depth that is often moving.

Then there are Jace and Sebastian. What Cassandra Clare did with Jace in City of Fallen Angels was hard to read and in a way what she does in City of Lost Souls is even worse. He is at once both Jace and also somewhat Other and the loss of one is made keener for all involved by the presence of one that is so… almost. Sebastian, on the other hand, is sharpened in this instalment – standing in bas-relief next to Jace’s shades of grey. Clare introduces aspects to Sebastian/Jonathan that will have readers as confused as to his motivations as the characters he interacts with are, suffice to realise that he is the lynch pin around which the fate of the series revolves.
As the penultimate instalment of The Mortal Instruments, City of Lost Souls is a huge success – better, in fact, than the previous book in the series. Utterly compelling, the story twists and turns its way to a finale that leaves many questions unanswered yet sets up the last book beautifully. Cassandra Clare’s writing is, as always, utterly compelling with the stunningly visual imagery of the Great Hunt and the Prague club scene as successful as quiet moments of story telling and sleepy confidences. For readers of Clare’s Clockwork Angel series, City of Lost Souls starts to hint at how the characters of each series may be linked, with angel pendants, book inscriptions, silent brothers and old memories creeping into the darker corners of the modern day tale. As far as writers of urban fantasy go, Clare is at the top of her game – and long may she continue. Highly recommended.

City of Lost Souls is available now. Thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy of this title to review.

May 10, 2012

Still She Haunts Me, Phantomwise (review: Ghost Flower by Michelle Jaffe)

Ghost Flower
Michelle Jaffe
Atom 2012

Eve has had a hard life, moving from foster home to foster home to city street before finally finding herself serving coffee in Arizona. Desperate for a change in her fortune she finds herself drawn into the world of wealthy teens Bain and Bridgette Silverton, when they approach her with a strange yet lucrative proposal.  Eve, apparently, is a dead ringer for their missing cousin, Aurora and the siblings need Aurora to return from the unknown in order to claim her inheritance – a hefty chunk of which will go Eve’s way should she agree to be Aurora for the next few months. Eve readily agrees only to find that the circumstances surrounding Aurora’s disappearance are shrouded in secrets and lies.  As she finds herself literally haunted by a past of strange suicides, family discord and a dead girl who seems unwilling to rest in peace, Eve starts to wonder just how Bain and Bridgette are planning Aurora’s departure this time around.

As a protagonist, Eve is not an entirely reliable narrator.  Primarily this is due to the fact that she is intent on keeping her past a secret from the wealthy Silvertons.  However, over the course of the novel the line where Eve ends and Aurora begins becomes increasingly blurred with their memories overlapping in strange and often confusing ways.  This works mainly because Eve is confused.  Yet she’s also tough and the more she learns about Aurora the more she wants to learn about her disappearance.  Despite some pretty freaky goings on she remains focussed on unearthing the truth and slowly learns who she can and cannot trust.  She’s a pretty prickly character but never unlikable and her journey is, for the most part, believable.  Her interactions with all the characters have the ring of truth about them despite her friendship with N.Martinez sometimes seeming a little forced.

Other characters in Ghost Flower are a lot of fun to read.  Bain and Bridgette positively reek of screwed-up privilege yet neither is entirely what they appear to be.  Possible love interest Grant is instantly likable, despite the fact that he (like all the rest) is pretty vague when it comes to the past.  Coralee is without doubt one of the most lovable mean girls in recent memory and her dialogue is both knowingly written and laugh-out-loud funny.  Representing the ever present boys in blue is the surprisingly young N.Martinez – who despite his quirky name is no Johnafter.  He’s an interesting presence in the book and he and Eve grow increasingly close so it’s a shame that his character wasn’t developed further as readers never really get a chance to know him.

The plot of Ghost Flower is quietly compelling.  At first it appears to by a modern day Pygmalion with Eve as the poor girl given the opportunity to make good.  However, it quickly takes a more sinister turn and at points is truly chilling.  As Eve learns more about the past of the Silvertons and their friends she feels increasingly trapped in a world that she doesn’t entirely understand.  Her grasp on her own identity becomes tenuous and she is no longer sure what is real and what is not - the effect is unsettling.  Michelle Jaffe’s writing has a straightforward style that suits the story and Eve’s own voice yet also adds a starkness to darker scenes that works very well.  Ghost Flower’s almost fatal flaw is that the ending doesn’t quite work – it’s not particularly predictable yet becomes hopelessly convoluted (not to mention more than a little rushed).  However, the road to the climax is so enjoyable that it almost makes up for twists and turns that seem more than a little nonsensical.

Ghost Flower is a book that misleads with its girly cover and silly title.  What actually looks at first glance to be a story of wealth and romance is actually a dark tale which owes much (in homage) to the old Point Horror books of the 1990s.  Overflowing with shades of I Know What You Did Last Summer and even of the more recent Basic Eight by Daniel Handler (not to mention most of Christopher Pike’s work), Ghost Flower, will appeal to lovers of mystery and is a great way to pass an evening – even if it means sleeping with the lights on once you’ve finished.

Ghost Flower is available now. Thank you to the publisher for sending me this title to review.

May 01, 2012

Entwined In Red Rings (Review: Insurgent by Veronica Roth)

Veronica Roth
Harper Collins 2012

Insurgent is the follow up to Veronica Roth’s debut smash, Divergent.  If you haven’t read the first book then stop reading this now as it does contains spoilers for the initial story.  You can find my review of Divergent here.

Hurtling away from Dauntless, Abnegation, Erudite and Candor towards the promised haven of Amity, Tris finds herself reeling from the events she has been entangled in.  Mourning the loss of her family and struggling with the consequences of her own actions she is barely able to keep her head above the waters of her grief and guilt.  Unable to succumb to her emotions she finds herself at the centre of the warring factions, Divergent  As she and Tobias try to reach the truth at the heart of the hatred between factions, they find themselves drawn further into a world seemingly built on secrets and lies and must find limitless reserves of strength in order to face the revelations ahead. conflicted and confronted by violence, deceit and betrayal at every turn.

The Tris of Insurgent, quite frankly, is a bit of a mess.  The events at the end of Divergent have left her entirely undone and her Abnegation upbringing does not seem to allow her to unburden herself on anyone – nor does her all consuming guilt with regards to the death of Will.  Unable to confide even in Tobias, she retreats into a stubborn shock, every act tinged by her inner battle.  She is, without realising it, losing the will to live and this effects her decision making process – leading her into positions that are dangerous and a life that is heading towards isolation and loneliness.  However, the old Tris is still there – her focus and attitude almost unchanged, if a lot more reckless.  As in Divergent, she’s not always likable; in fact she spends much of Insurgent being downright unlikable but she is so clearly suffering that her odd decisions and secretive attitude are always understandable and one cannot help but to root for her and those she cares about.  

Tris’s PTSD (or whatever) effects everyone around her, with Tobias being right in the firing line.  Except that rather than taking everything out on him she withdraws into herself.  Tobias is an exceptionally well written character, strong, dangerous, broken, soft – a well-crafted kaleidoscope of paradox.  In Insurgent he’s dealing with a lot of his own issues from the re-emergence of his brutal father to his conflicted feelings regarding Dauntless and the Factions in genera, never mind his somewhat mentally compromised girlfriend.  His relationship with Tris is particularly well drawn encompassing both tenderness and frustration.  They are both extremely stubborn and this leads to realistic conflict at several points yet their relationship is, at heart, solid.  It is refreshing to read about a relationship in YA that requires hard work and compromise and Roth has written Tris, Tobias and their interaction extremely well.  In fact, as a core group of main players start to emerge in Insurgent the complex and shifting relationships portrayed are beautifully expressed with each and every character handled with as much care as the main protagonists.  Peter is particularly interesting with Caleb, Lynn and Tori not far behind in terms of both plot and characterisation.

In terms of story, Insurgent picks up less than an hour from the end of Divergent.  Instantly readers are plunged into Amity and over the course of the book Roth expands the world she so carefully created in the first title, with each Faction (not to mention the Factionless) coming into full focus.  The story is often confusing, as the characters move from Faction to Faction, picking up conflicting information and trying to piece together the truth.  This could easily have been the downfall of Insurgent – it’s not always easy to follow – but in actual fact emerges as its strength.  With each Faction, each and every character driven by their own motivations and with different endgames in sight it is often impossible to know who to believe.  While there is a lot of misinformation floating about, at its heart there is a blinding truth and Insurgent ends with revelations that are both shocking and vaguely nonsensical – yet utterly compelling.

Roth’s writing takes no prisoners.  Divergent was an exceptional debut and Insurgent is a worthy successor but readers should not expect an easy read.  The book is relentlessly bleak and what glimmers of light do manage to shine through the overwhelming murk are few and far between.  Yet this is exactly as it should be.  Tris, Tobias and their society as a whole are waging war with each other and with themselves and the characters and storyline of Insurgent reflect this with brutal accuracy and force.  In short, it’s all a bit depressing – yet as a story it has real integrity and Veronica Roth should be congratulated for writing conflict in the stark manner that it necessitates.  Certainly, readers will not be disappointed in Insurgent – it’s one of the best titles out there at the moment and next year’s finale cannot come quickly enough.  Highly recommended.

Insurgent is available to buy today.  Thank you to the publisher for sending me this title to review.