Alpha - Rachel Vincent

Title: Alpha
(Book 6 - and last - of the Shifters series)

Author: Rachel Vincent

Publisher: Mira

Release Date: 2010

Category: Urban Fantasy

Source: From the publisher

Paperback: 472 pages

Summary from Amazon:
Power, revenge, and justice - prepare yourself for the final battle! In the final chapter of "The Shifters Series", Faythe and her Pride must fight a tyrannical werecat intent on taking over the territorial council, and the south-central Pride in particular. It's down to Faythe to take on the role of Alpha before she feels completely ready for the job. Forced to rise to the occasion, Faythe must balance experience, advice, and the urge for vengeance. She must also finally choose between Marc and Jace...No decisions will be is easy, and not everyone will survive this epic fight to the death.


I can't review this book without writing spoilers for the 5 previous books of the series. If you haven't read any of the Shifters books (yet), head over to my general post on how awesome these books are (here)!

I have read the five previous Shifters books in a couple of weeks and I have been so impatient to read the next, and last, book of the series for so much time that there was a lot of squeeing when I received it. I read it in two sittings (mostly because I had to go to work) and loved every single page of it. It is a brilliant conclusion to a fascinating series.

This is Faythe's last battle to be accepted for who she is and what she stands for. Faythe fights for women (and tabbies in particular) to have a say in their future, and not be used as political means. She had been fighting for this from the very first book and each time she has been confronted to walls of indifference and narrow-mindedness. This time around, the outcome of her fight will have consequences on all tabbies and other species. 

Faythe has definitely grown up during each book. She has been able to be respected for who she was by her Pride and most importantly by her father who, without acknowledging it, wouldn't have her any other way. I know that there is a lot of sexual tension in the book and that a part of the story revolves on the romance, but I really feel that this book brilliantly explores the differences and inequality between genders as well as political maneuvers to get to one's goal.

The fight Faythe and her Pride bring to the Council isn't a mere territory dispute or the will not to be treated unfairly. They are fighting to bring one vision of the world where everyone can live together, including all species, as well as where tabbies have a say in their future. This fight is so fascinatingly told that I can't wait for Rachel to write a spin off of the series. The world she has created seems so genuine that it has become one of my all time favourite shape-shifting stories.

I have always said that Rachel's style is amazing. The reader is gripped from the first pages into the fast-paced action and falls for the fascinating characters and species present in the book. The characters have all amazing personalities and I love the way they interact with each other. There is also some romance, between Faythe and Marc and between... Faythe and Jace.   This part of the story is really well described and you can feel for Faythe when she says that she truly loves both of them. 

Faythe has come a long way from the first book of the series where she didn't want to be part of the Pride, despite her Pride's love for her. Now she will do absolutely everything for this group of people she has come to love and let them love her in return. After reading this book, you will want to be a Shifter and be part of a Pride. (Or maybe that's just me.)

I am so thrilled to have read this book and I am going to reread the entire series because I frankly can't get my head around the idea of it being over. Rachel has written a guest post on the shape-shifting tradition in literature and how she came to create her werecats on this blog. She is one of my favourite contemporary writers and I can't wait to read her next book; she is one of the few writers from which I will read every single one of her books on principle, knowing I will read something thoroughly original and brilliantly written.

If you haven't read anything by Rachel, you are missing out on something. Anyone with a liking for Urban Fantasy will love this series, the others should get started on the genre just for this series. Did I mention I really loved this series? :)

Thank you so much to Rachel, Mira and Tory for (in the order) writing this amazing story, publishing it and sending me a copy to review!

Guest Post by Rachel Vincent

Hello everyone!

Today I am welcoming the incredibly talented Rachel Vincent, author of the Shifters and Soul Screamers series. 
I am a huge fan of both and can't tell you how fascinating her Shifters series is. If you haven't read it yet, get started!

Without further ado, I shall give the floor to Rachel who will be writing about the shape-shifting tradition in literature and how she came to create her werecats.

If you’ve read…well…anything I’ve ever written, you probably already know that I try to cut my own path through the urban fantasy landscape. I don’t want to write what’s already been written, and I couldn’t live with myself if I started writing to trends, just because they’re selling.

Does this mean I turn my nose up at traditional folklore and mythology? Far from it. I have a great respect for and interest in the original source material, and I believe that if you’re going to write about creatures from established lore, the best way (the only good way) to start is by reading the original sources. You have to know where the stories come from, in order to add to the cannon.

However, that said, I don’t see the point in writing about creatures from established folklore if you don’t have something new to add to the tradition. I believe that the best urban fantasy (and paranormal romance, horror, etc…) borrows enough from the original sources to meet genre expectation and reader familiarity, but adds enough of a new twist to keep it interesting and original.

That’s what I try to do, and it’s not easy.

With the Shifters series specifically, I knew I wanted to write about shapeshifters from the beginning, but I didn’t want to write about werewolves. The world has enough werewolves (in my opinion) and would easily survive me not writing about them. Beyond that, I’m not much of a dog person, but I love cats! And though I’d seen a couple of cat shapeshifters as secondary characters in a couple of other books, I’d never seen them as main characters. So I decided to give it a go.

[Point of fact: there are no werewolves in my Shifters books, no matter what you read in reviews. It never ceases to surprise me how many reviewers refer to Faythe as a werewolf and to her Pride as a Pack. Even though they’re able to discuss the plot points in intimate detail.]

After establishing a shifter species, my next step was to determine which of the established shapeshifter tenets I would use, and which I would not. Here’s a list of what I used and didn’t use, and why:

Shapeshifting attached to the moonrise/lunar cycle. Um…no. I didn’t use this for a couple of reasons. First, it takes free will away from the characters and introduces what feels to me like an artificial conflict. Second…it felt really cheesy, and brought to mind countless clichéd movie scenes where a wolf rips—already howling—from a man’s body the moment the full moon appears in the background.

Death by silver. I rejected this because I wanted to write about werecats as creatures of nature, not creatures of magic. And if they’re part of nature, they should die by any normal means. No fancy spells, alloys, or weapons required.

Transmission of the Shifter “virus” via bite. I kept it—kind of. In my Shifters world, that virus is no virus. It’s a specific bit of DNA code, which is present but “dormant” in any human who has a werecat ancestor, whether they know it or not. Humans with this dormant bit of biology can be “infected” by the bite or scratch of a werecat, which “activates” that previously inactive aspect of their own bodies. Normal humans, without this hidden DNA, cannot be “infected.”

Note: I also rejected the Hollywood B movie version of the werewolf (or, in my case, werecat) who walks upright. I know you’ve seen them—they look like hairy people with dog muzzles and claws. Which is just weird, even compared to people who turn into animals. My cats turn into actual large cats. Not leopards, or lions, or tigers, but their own species, not found anywhere else in nature.

And what a fascinating species! Thank you so much to Rachel for sharing her thoughts with us and to Tory and Mira for giving me the opportunity to interview the amazing Rachel!

Tune in tomorrow for a review of Alpha, the last book of the Shifters series!

Rachel Vincent is the author of Alpha part of her Shifter’s series about a pride of werecats which is out now from MIRA books £6.99. For more information on Rachel’s books visit

In A Strange Room - Damon Galgut

Title: In A Strange Room

Author: Damon Galgut

Publisher: Atlantic Books London

Release Date: 2010

Category: Contemporary Fiction

Source: From the book club at work

Hardcover: 180 pages

Summary from Amazon:
A young man takes three journeys, through Greece, India and Africa. He travels lightly, simply. To those who travel with him and those whom he meets on the way - including a handsome, enigmatic stranger, a group of careless backpackers and a woman on the edge - he is the Follower, the Lover and the Guardian. Yet, despite the man's best intentions, each journey ends in disaster. Together, these three journeys will change his whole life. A novel of longing and thwarted desire, rage and compassion, "In a Strange Room" is the hauntingly beautiful evocation of one man's search for love, and a place to call home.


It would be easier for me to list all the things this book isn't rather than find a couple words to describe it. It is one of a kind. I can't even tell you if I liked it or hated it. One thing for sure is that it didn't leave me indifferent at all.

In A Strange Room is composed of three short stories which were each written at a different time and place. Yet, since these stories are autobiographical and tell the meanderings of Damon Galgut, there is a link between them. Though not one you would expect.

The book uses both a first person and a third person narrative, in the sense that Damon Galgut writes about some episodes of his life using most of the time a third person point of view and sometimes talking about himself in first person. The reader is left wondering why. Is it a way of talking about events so far in time that it doesn't even feel like him anymore? Is it a way to dissociate himself from who he was? Is it a pure exercise of style?
The book also only uses commas and full stops, never any question mark or exclamation point. The story-telling appears as tumultuous as the emotions of the narrator - as in entirely flat. Things are just going without any ups and downs.

Other than the mysterious style of writing, there seems to be no evolution or sense of resolve in these stories, they seem to have been written just for the purpose of the exercise, more as a diary than to tell a proper story. There are rules to tell a story which the book evidently doesn't want to respect. Damon Galgut travels through Africa and then India, he meets several characters with whom he interacts and he tells the forgotten story of some characters who died since then or whom Damon never saw again. In a way, you get a glimpse of a story which should have never been told. How very voyeuristic to be fascinated by those stories!

There is a restlessness in this book that the author doesn't seem to overcome. He needs to be constantly on the move trying to find an answer to a question he himself doesn't even know. He is trying to find a home but all the places he sets foot in seem strange. You come to empathise with him at times, over his own inability to connect with people and to express what we know he feels inside, and at other times you simply resent him for being so selfish, childish and without any goal in life. I find the book to be halfway through spleen* and absurdist fiction.

They say that what is important isn't the destination but the journey. But the character in the story seems so intent on his ever elusive destination that he doesn't even appreciate the journey. He walks in what could be gorgeous landscape, but the reader is never granted a description. The reader could be travelling through his eyes to unknown lands but is never given the chance to.

I am at loss to think or feel something precise about this book. In a way, I am glad that I read it because my head is still full of interrogations as to what it all means. Most likely, it isn't meant to mean anything and it is interesting in this respect.

The book has also a latent homo-eroticism between the narrator and two other characters, one in the first, one in the second short story. There is much internal emotional upheaval which struggles to come out. You are left wondering if the narrator ever came to terms with his feelings for men or not.

The book is an interesting read, part focused on human nature, part wanting to take the reader as testimony of a life. I chose to over-think the whole thing, trying to find a meaning out of the book, but you could as well enjoy the book and take it for what it is. It is an easy read which you will probably read in one sitting as it is a book which keep you wanting more.
I honestly wouldn't know who to recommend it to besides anyone with a curious disposition and a willingness to read unconventional books.

* Spleen comes from the English word, a synonym of melancholy, which was made popular in French literature with poet Charles Baudelaire. It became a symbol of many writers of the late 1800.

Interview: Joss Stirling - author of Finding Sky

Hello everyone!

Today I am hosting one stop of the Finding Sky UK blog tour and will be interviewing the wonderful Joss Stirling.
If you haven't read Finding Sky, you can check out my review or go directly to your nearest bookshop!

Portrait of a Woman: Hello Joss! Could you present yourself in a few words for those who don't already know you and tell us how you came to writing?

Joss Stirling: I’m a born storyteller.  Even as a child at primary school, you would have found me scribbling my stories (and illustrating them copiously). I am now married with three children and wrote Finding Sky for my teenage daughter who was going through her Twilight phase. I wanted to offer her something that wasn’t vampires/werewolves/angels.  It also celebrated a trip we took as family across the States, visiting Colorado and Las Vegas.

PoaW: Finding Sky is a Paranormal Romance, how did you approach this genre which is the most popular one in Young Adult literature today?

JS: Funnily enough, I wrote Finding Sky before  I read the Twilight Saga – these books I only got to this February because I didn’t want to be influenced in my own plot (I eventually borrowed my daughter’s much thumbed set and read them in a weekend).  I had, however, read lots of adult gothic novels (that is really what the paranormal is in terms of literary roots) Frankenstein, The Last Man, Dracula, the novels of Ann Radcliffe and Wilkie Collins, as well as modern examples.  With all these swirling around in the background, I decided to go for a fun wish fulfilment plot that I knew my home audience would enjoy – how would it have been to end up doing your sixth form in an American High School?  And how would it have been to have a hot guy after you – with savant powers thrown in to make the bond even stronger? 

PoaW: I found that Finding Sky was a very character-driven story and that the teenage characters were very realistic, how did you get in their heads and why did you chose to portray them the way you did?

JS: You may not believe it but, though I’m well past my teens, in my head I don’t feel much older!  We are all people, after all, suffering embarrassment, anxiety, doubt and enjoying the good times – that much doesn’t change.  I also had my daughter and her excellent set of friends in and out of the house as daily inspiration.  She read the manuscript and gave me pointers if she didn’t think I’d got it quite right.

PoaW: Who are your influences (writer and fictional characters alike)?

JS: I’ve mentioned some of the older writers above who have influenced me – there will be lots more.  It is really hard to dissect what goes in to your own imagination – anything I’ve read, seen or heard recently, I guess.  The high school background must come from a mixture of films and books as I’ve never attended an American school: there will be bits from movies ranging from Grease, to Clueless to High School Musical.  Zed is the boy I would have liked to have met at school (he wasn’t in my sixth form sadly) so he is reached by negative influence.  Sky is herself – perhaps a shade of a modern Alice in Wonderland in looks.  She uses that as an image for herself so it must have been in my thoughts at the time.

PoaW: While reading Finding Sky, I found that the location of the story seemed very important if not essential to the story, how important is it for you to situate the action of a book in a specific location?

JS: It was important because I was going for the contrast between the high-altitude wildness of the Rockies and the artificial fake paradise of Las Vegas – these locations sum up the experiences Sky has in both.  The Benedicts are tied to their land in a natural way;  the Kellys feed off theirs like parasites. 

PoaW: Now a little question for the hypothetical future writer in some of us, what advice would you give to aspiring writers?

JS: If you are serious about trying to get published, write up your whole book first before approaching anyone.  Try it out on an audience.  Set it aside for a few weeks before doing a second edit – it will improve no end if you have some distance from it.
Make sure you have a notebook to hand for those random ideas.

PoaW: And last but not least, a fun question! Could you tell us your top 5 heroines in literature?

JS: Only five?  I’ll go for a wide range then: Elizabeth Bennet (Pride & Prejudice); Alanna from Tamora Pierce’s fantasy quartet (great YA book about a girl passing herself off as a knight); Eve Dallas from J D Robb’s futuristic detective books (kick-ass policewoman with a difficult past); Viola from Twelfth Night (Shakespeare is full of great female characters but I’m restricting myself to one); and finally Dorothea from Middlemarch (she tries so hard to make the right choices but gets it wrong).

Some great female characters indeed! I think I will be hunting down the Tamora Pierce quartet in my Waterstones this weekend!

Thank you so much to Oxford University Press and Liz Scott for giving me the opportunity to interview Joss and many thanks to Joss for answering them and giving us a little insight of her ideas and her writing process!

Next stop in the blog tour will be the 25th October at Books 4 Teens!

Snakes and Earrings - Hitomi Kanehara | Lost in Translation

I am now experimenting with other nationalities than French and Italian for my Lost in Translation meme (which should be a feature, but I like to share!).

To be perfectly honest I have never read a book by a Japanese author before (I can feel my cultural curiosity cringe at the very thought) and I was introduced to Hitomi Kanehara at an author event with Melvin Burgess. He talked about several YA books by Japanese authors who didn't try to write about adults in teenage disguise but about real teenagers. I was very intrigued and bought the tiny book that is Snakes and Earrings. My friend Sabrina and I read it and we just couldn't stop thinking and talking about this book.

The book has extremely explicit content and I will mention that content in my review, so if you are faint-hearted, please, do not read any further. (I'm talking about tattoos, piercings, sex, alcohol, drugs, self mutilation)
I am not saying that to annoy you at all, but I wouldn't want anyone to read something he/she won't like by accident, so please bear my warning in mind. And please don't read this review only because I put this warning... Like that's not exactly what I would do :)

Summary from Amazon:
A shocking and explicit story about obsessive love and Japanese youth counter-culture that sold over a million copies in Japan. This tale of sex and darkness is narrated by Lui, an alienated young Japanese woman who becomes disastrously involved with two dangerous men. Lui first meets her boyfriend Ama in a bar after finding herself mesmerised by his forked tongue. She immediately moves in with him and begins following him down the path to body modification by having her tongue pierced and planning a beautiful tattoo for her back. Ama’s friend Shiba creates this exquisite tattoo and as he works on it Lui begins an illicit and brutal sexual relationship with him. Then, after a violent encounter on the back streets of Tokyo, Ama goes missing and Lui must face up to her choices...

Lui, self destruction and depression
As my friend pointed out, Lui is possibly suffering from depression. half of the time she feels numb and the other she abuses her body in all possible way, in an attempt to feel something. But the book is extremely surprising and what you feel will happen to Lui doesn't really happen.
You never know if you have to blame Lui for what happens or pity her, and I felt that the book wasn't exactly about this. It is a glimpse into this girl's self destructive circle. She stays with Ama and you can see he has so many feelings for her that she is incapable to share or reciprocate. 
Lui is also a masochist, she enjoys being hurt in sexual relations. I would link this to the fact that she has no respect for her body, but anyone could have these tastes. It is undeniably creepy to read some of the scenes, but it is interesting to see how Lui conceives it in her head. 

Counter-culture in Japan
The depiction of counter-culture in Japan is simply mesmerizing. This is why I love reading translated books from foreign countries, you learn so much! I had no idea that groups like "Barbie girls" and "punks" were so distinctive in Japan. 
It is also always very interesting to read about people living on the fringe. Our lives are so organised and ruled by social conventions that sometimes we might forget who we are. People living on the fringe don't have this need to abide by the rules and are, in a way, much more natural than we are.
The book also shows a new generation. If earlier generations were rebellious or ambitious, we are, if anything, a bored generation. Nothing surprises us or moves us. We have even stopped dreaming. We live in a state of suspension from which nothing can shake us except fake emotions and convictions. When I read about Lui's story, I saw that in her. 

Tattoos and piercing
To which extent are they a form of art? This is an endless question and there isn't one answer. As a fan of the form of art, I would agree with Shiba's vision of them. They are a way to magnify the body, not change it. Whereas Lui doesn't have any respect or consideration for her body. The book is an interesting way to explore this theme and see the two visions. By experience, not two tattoo artist or tattooed person have the same conception of what a tattoo or a piercing is. As widespread as the practice might be, it is a very personal experience.
Lui is first attracted to Ama because she is fascinated by his forked tongue. She decides to do this to herself (the process includes to get your tongue pierced and then to stretch the hole progressively). She also wants a unique tattoo and asks Shiba to design it. The descriptions are completely realistic and people not familiar with them might be a little put off. 

The style of the book
I feel that this book wants to depict reality as it is and not create a false image of teenagers with a conscience or with any sense of responsability. I find the style haunting. This story creeps on you and you find yourself vehemently disliking Lui for what she does to herself and others. But she grows on you at some point.

This is a masterpiece of a book. It is short but will give you a sense of whole which only a 700+ pages book can do. It is simply marvelous and an incredible way to make you discover another culture, another way of life, and yourself - maybe - in the process.

It may be a Young Adult book but obviously not for our standards since it was published as an adult book in the UK and has so much explicit content I cannot even begin to enumerate it. So consider yourself informed!

Perfect Chemistry - Simone Elkeles

Title: Perfect Chemistry

Author: Simone Elkeles

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Release Date: 2009

Category: Young Adult

Source: Bought in Waterstones

Paperback: 357 pages

Summary from Amazon:
When Brittany Ellis walks into chemistry class on the first day of senior year, she has no clue that her carefully created "perfect" life is about to unravel before her eyes. Forced to be lab partners with Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the other side of town, Brittany finds herself having to protect everything she's worked so hard for - her flawless reputation, her relationship with her boyfriend and, most importantly, the secret that her home life is anything but perfect. Alex is a bad boy and he knows it. So when he makes a bet with his friends to lure Brittany into his life, he thinks nothing of it. But the closer Alex and Brittany get to each other the more they realise that sometimes appearances can be deceptive and that you have to look beneath the surface to discover the truth.


I have put up reading this book for a while. I knew it was a hit and that everyone was raving about it, but I just thought that it wasn't for me: I'm not the kind of girl who likes this kind of story. Well, yet again, I am more than happy to say that I was wrong, that I have been most entirely swept away by this story and that I can't stop thinking how beautiful the world is with Brittany and Alex in it. This book has it all and I can't encourage you enough to go to your nearest bookshop and buy it.

Brittany and Alex are complete opposites living in the same city. She lives on the North side and has money, good grades, a popular boyfriend and the "right kind" of friends whereas Alex grew up on the South side, he has latino origins and is part of a gang. They meet by chance on the first day back to school for their senior year. And they can't seem to be able to let go of each other after that. It would be completely crazy, for both of them, to continue seeing each other and thinking about each other. But can they even stop?

The characters are all very deep and so believable that I wouldn't be surprised if the story was real and they really existed. I love the fact that on the outside, both are complete clichés: the blond "perfect" cheerleader and the badass gang member, and we realise with the alternate narrative (story told by both Brittany and Alex) that it is just a front. For both of them, being this perfect cliché is their only way to survive.
Brittany's struggle to be happy in her family is heart-breaking to read. Books with disabled characters are so scarce that you feel they actually don't exist in fiction. Brittany's sister Shelley is beautifully and sensitively portrayed. Brittany's interaction with Shelley and her fight not to let her parents put her in an institution is fascinating to read.
After his father's death, Alex had to enter a gang for his family to be protected. He sacrificed himself for his family. Looking at him from the outside and reading his thoughts inside his head is a journey you won't regret taking. 

The simplicity of the story and the depth of the characters aren't the only things you will fall for in this book. There are so many crucial issues described in it that it is also a book which will make you think. Appearance versus reality is one of them. When you compare the image of perfection Brittany's family has and how completely dysfunctional it is behind the scenes you can't help but be shocked. How many people have you considered "perfect" in your real life? How many, do you think, really are? I keep thinking about my favourite line in Jane Eyre "perfection is in the eye of the gazer". It had such an impact on me when I first read it that I haven't considered "perfection" as a reality ever since. Everyone is perfect and no one is. 
The socio-economical themes are really well described, as well as the cultural differences between Brittany and Alex. They weren't brought up the same way and it is interesting to see them learn about each other but also about another way of life. There are some parts in Spanish, and it felt real. As for the gang issue, it is a real problem in America today and it was fascinating to read about it.

The book is beautifully written, in a non-assuming kind of way, and you will most definitely be engrossed by the story. You will want to continue reading until the end and then you won't be able to stop thinking about it. Perfect Chemistry is a story that will grow on you and stay with you. It will break your heart and give you all you need to build it back up. The best contemporary love story I have read in years and a beautiful look at today's America.

Do not even think about missing it!

Thanks to the wonderful Becky @ The Bookette for falling in love with this book and making me fall in love with it too!