I think I've been quietly missing the Garretts for the last three years. I remember picking up My Life Next DoorOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I think I've been quietly missing the Garretts for the last three years. I remember picking up My Life Next Door based on its comparisons to Anna and the French Kiss and being pleasantly surprised at how thoughtful an exploration it was of families and first loves. And while I swooned over Jase and Sam right along with every other reader with a pulse, it was those forbidden Garrets that kept me thoroughly enthralled. Which is why my anticipation grew daily from the moment I heard about The Boy Most Likely To right up until release day. And then, perversely, when it finally came I worried. What if the balance is off? What if Tim isn't redeemable? What if (as was a touch true in the first book) Alice-and-Tim weren't the equals I wanted them to be? The thousand niggling questions of an anxious, but resolute reader such as myself . . . But, happily, the pull of returning to the cozy kitchen of the Garretts didn't allow me to hold out for long. And it was a warm welcome back indeed.
Tim Mason doesn't expect anyone to believe him. He knows that ship sailed years ago when he started drinking, got his very own dealer, and required oblivion in order to get by. Now he's clean, sober, and being kicked out of his father's house at last. Already kicked out of high school, he takes his best friend Jase up on his offer of a place to stay, packs a single box, and moves into the dilapidated apartment over the Garrett's garage. But when Jase's older sister Alice discovers her little brother has up and allowed his deadbeat friend to move into the apartment she wanted, that trouble Tim can never seem to escape begins brewing once more. It doesn't help that he's had a crush on Alice forever and that her dolt of a jock boyfriend keeps giving him the evil eye anytime he comes within a five mile radius of Alice. Of course, Alice can take care of herself. She's been keeping herself as well as her entire motley family afloat since the car accident that put her dad in the hospital, thank you very much. And she has no time for a boy who's proven time and again that he wants nothing more from life than a good time.
I love Alice, and you know why? Because she gives approximately zero damns about Tim from the word go. She has her priorities set, she knows what she wants, and she works so freaking hard to take care of the people in her care. Never mind that she never asked for seven siblings with another on the way and that she may have to defer nursing school again if those hospital bills keep coming. I love Tim, too, and you know why? Because he's serious about changing his life in his way. He may have no earthly idea how, but his eyes are clear despite being clouded for years. He sees Alice, recognizes what she is, and he never messes around with her. Despite their tacitly acknowledged attraction. Living in such close proximity to one another does lead to something of a softening of enemy lines, especially as Tim is incapable of turning the flirting off when it comes to Alice, even as he knows she's too good for him on pretty much every level. But just when things are maybe sort of starting to look up, his past comes back to haunt him in the most serious of ways.
What I love is that the whole debacle never grows too overwrought, that Alice accepts the latest of Tim's mess-ups just like she does every other blow she's taken standing up in her life. Which is not to say that she doesn't give him the grief he deserves over it. Which is also not to say that Tim doesn't accept said grief as his due. She just doesn't let it derail her, which is one of the best of many things about Alice. And he doesn't let it destroy him. Which is, yeah, one of a host of things I just really loved about Tim. The pain is there, and it is real. Along with the daily, crushing uncertainty of youth. The creeping sense that you may not be able to escape your past (in Tim's case) or your present bonds (in Alice's). The lovely bit is the way Huntley Fitzpatrick works it all out, the way Tim and Alice's story unfolds against the backdrop of all of the messy, wonderful Garretts, Tim's twin sister Nan's struggles, as well as the quietly supportive and aching additions of his fellow AA members. The way that with increased clarity comes the realization that escape doesn't necessarily have to be the goal. A pivotal scene told from Alice's point of view when she comes to understand Tim's situation a little more clearly:
I carry both mugs from the kitchen, set his down in front of him.
“Look. Stay. I mean . . . I can wait. It’s only fair. Jase didn’t know I wanted it anyway. Four months is nothing. You can be here for four months and then . . . “ I trail off.
Troubled gray eyes search my face for a long time. Finally, he sighs, shakes his head. “Nah. I’ll find somewhere else. You deserve it. You’ve earned it.”
Like a home’s something you have to earn when you’re seventeen.
He’s a kid. Not a man, not on some deadline. But with his jaw set and raised—I know that face. The I’m going to push on through, no problem, I’ll deal. Moving right along. Nothing to see here face. Know it as well as my own. It is my own. And I picture the rest of the lines on that paper.
Tim Mason: The Boy Most Likely To . . . Forget his own name even before we do Turn down the hottest girl in the world for the coldest beer Be six feet under by our fifth reunion
Don’t go that way, Tim. Such a stupid, stupid waste. “I mean it,” I say aloud. “Stay.”
“I want you here,” I add, my cheeks flaring. He shifts on the couch and I’m hyper-aware of him next to me, the smell of soap and shampoo, the heat of him, the alive of him.
My words fall into the silence, and something changes. Tim’s shoulders straighten. He stills, but not frozen, more like . . . more like . . . alert.
“Yeah? Then . . . I’ll be here,” he says quietly.
The narrative alternates back and forth between Tim and Alice's perspectives, a touch that I appreciated and one that definitely aids in the reader having enough time with them to not only love, but get, these two individuals. No one has an easy time of it, and I wasn't sure at times things were going to work out in a way that felt both realistic and well (not a requirement, but frequently a hope). But it was such an enjoyable journey, and it has a last line that sticks with you the way I always want them to. Even now—a couple of days later—I'm murmuring it to myself as my lips curve in a satisfied smile....more
This is really such an insulated series, and I mean that in the best sense. It wraps itself around you, and the world outside the winding streets of EThis is really such an insulated series, and I mean that in the best sense. It wraps itself around you, and the world outside the winding streets of Edinburgh just sort of slips away. I was really quite sad to see the series end. Some installments worked for me much better than others, but I felt that Grace & Logan's story was a fitting way to bring it to a close....more
Sigh. These two are not working for me. It's shades of Luc & Summer in The Chocolate Heart. Too much pain and vitriol without enough meaningful reSigh. These two are not working for me. It's shades of Luc & Summer in The Chocolate Heart. Too much pain and vitriol without enough meaningful reasons for me. I finished that book, but I can see the writing on the wall with Damien and Jess and I'm calling it before it makes me too unhappy....more
There's nothing else to say but that this book was a huge disappointment to me. After falling head over heels in love with the first book in the serieThere's nothing else to say but that this book was a huge disappointment to me. After falling head over heels in love with the first book in the series, I could hardly wait to get my hands on the second. Unfortunately, none of the wonderful atmosphere and compelling characterization from Pairing Off made an appearance in this sophomore volume. Instead, we got a mindlessly inane reality show (I realize it was intended to be), and a wet blanket protagonist who was equally as mindlessly inane.
Hannah fell into every plot and character cliche I could think of, and it is difficult to root for a girl who persists in being so dense until literally the final pages of the novel. She lacked any semblance of gumption. Vlad, on the other hand, was quite lovely, but we are given precious little time in his company and no time at all in which the two of them grow organically together. Until the end, which was simply far too little far too late for this reader.
That said, I do hope a third novel in the series is forthcoming as Harmon made it evident in the first book how talented she is, and I have hopes we'll see a return to form in future installments....more
This one was trundling along fine until the scene in his freaking study when he THROWS THE KEY ON THE FLOOR. At which point, I was like, Dude, I will see you in hell, and washed my hands of him. There was just no coming back from that for me. And, yeah, it probably was more benign than I took it to be. And, yeah, I've likely forgiven far bigger literary rakes far worse crimes. But something about Quinn heroes tends to rub me wrong, and it in that moment my hatred coalesced something fierce.
She can be (and is in this book, too) quite charming. It just doesn't seem to last long enough to win the day for me somehow. I'm beginning to suspect Julia Quinn is the Sarah Dessen of historical romance. Everyone I respect loves her and she does next to nothing for me.
Am I being crotchety enough?
I may have sabotaged myself by rereading my favorite three MacLeans in a row before starting this one. Sigh....more
Now, my reaction is in part due to the near universal love I know this book has from readers. And part due toWARNING: Ranty potential spoilers ahead.
Now, my reaction is in part due to the near universal love I know this book has from readers. And part due to my own high hopes after taking a self-imposed Marchetta break after falling MADLY in love with Jellicoe and then being thoroughly let down by Finnickin. But I told myself this year would be the year I read more Marchetta and that the time off was just what I'd needed. So I went in with . . . well, pretty high hopes.
Dude. Are we seriously supposed to like Will?! I mean. We're supposed to feel sad he's going away to Europe for a year and hope when he gets back they'll be together? Because the boy is laaaaaaaame. He kept wringing his bloody hands and moaning how complicated it was as a reason for NOT BREAKING UP WITH HIS GIRLFRIEND AFTER KISSING FRANKIE. And I kept breathing heavily through my nose and telling myself surely he had good reasons and they would be super complicated (and hopefully a smidgen sympathetic) and then I would not be forced to dislike him so intensely and maybe come around to wanting them to be together. And what do we get? NADA. No explanation, no nothing. He just realized it would be easier than he thought and so he did it. And Frankie's supposed to be thrilled. And worse? SHE IS. I mean, the two of them had maybe one good exchange where I smiled and thought ah, maybe. And she talked a good talk about being strong and not needing him and even in the end wanting to save herself. But I wasn't buying it. I couldn't. Nothing in this book felt deep enough to me to dig into my emotional center and elicit anything.
And I feel terrible about that. Not enough to wipe away my anger and disappointment, but I finished last night feeling pretty terrible at not loving it the way I wanted to and the way I know so many of you do. It's like Frankie-Landau Banks. OMG, DO I HAVE SOME KIND OF BLOCK WITH FRANKIE BOOKS???
Anyway, I saw what Marchetta was doing and it had good shape and potential and whatnot, but I never fell in love. I never really felt her relationship with her mother. I wanted more of their history, more bonding with her "new" friends at St. Sebastian's than a couple of nights watching Austen, more Thomas Mackee and Jimmy Hailler, and more for the love of all that is holy from William Freaking Trombal.
I eagerly delved into Naomi Novik's standalone fantasy, having heard rave reports of her Temeraire series for yeOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I eagerly delved into Naomi Novik's standalone fantasy, having heard rave reports of her Temeraire series for years, but for some reason having not read them. It's often easier for me to dive into a standalone with a new author than it is a series it seems. The blurbs from luminaries such as Tamora Pierce and Maggie Stiefvater (and the comparisons to my beloved Robin McKinley) did not hurt things one bit. And the opening chapter is absolute perfection. I knew I was in for something special right off the bat. And, having finished Uprooted, I stand by my feelings that it is something special and absolutely worth your time and money investment, even if my overall impression came off not quite as glowing and awed as I might have hoped. It's worth taking a moment to admire that beautiful cover. My, how I love it. And the UK edition is glorious in a very different way. Lucky book, to be so beautifully packaged on both sides of the pond.
Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.
And so opens Agnieszka's story. Hers is a Slavic-feeling fairy tale worthy of any Grimm wordsmith. The land and history are utterly developed and weighty with the years of folk tales, villagers, royalty, and political machinations that have shaped it into the place Agnieszka calls home. When she is chosen to apprentice to the legendary Dragon in place of her beautiful and fierce friend Kasia, she immediately fills with every fear every village girl has felt since the selection began. Her time in the ageless wizard's castle is a brutal education and the two get off to the rockiest of starts. His disdain for her plainness and disinterest in his lofty spells fairly drips from the page, mucking up Agnieszka's every waking moment. But when her uncanny ability with more organic magic comes into its own, their partnership begins to take on a more even and compelling nature. Of course, the aforementioned political and monarchical machinations come into play before they can really get off the ground, and the truly terrifying forest surrounding them begins to threaten the lives of every member of the kingdom.
There is almost nothing not to love about Uprooted. From its implacable protagonist to the hearty elements of horror embodied by the terrifying denizens of the Wood, the elements of Novik's fairy tale are woven together with love, care, and a meticulous attention to what makes up a riveting tale. To say nothing of the utterly brilliant homage to Robin McKinley's work itself in the form of the legendary Luthe's Summoning spell, which no one has successfully cast in fifty years. Be still my heart, people. That alone is worth the price of admission. My only quibble is that I felt a small but persistent lack of attachment to the main characters. Make no mistake, I was incredibly fond of them from the start. The Dragon himself reminded me in no small way of Diana Wynne Jones' Howl, which I know will endear him to countless readers. And the comparisons to McKinley and Marillier are there without a doubt. My heart ached with loss on a number of occasions, as Novik clearly understands the price that must be paid when playing with magic and hubris on such a grand scale. However. Unlike McKinley's and Marillier's characters, I struggled a bit to hang on to Agnieszka and the Dragon. I admired them, smiled at them, and worried about them. But I can't say I loved them. They didn't become a part of me the way so many of my favorite characters do. I'm not sure if the fault is with me (since mine may well be the only dissenting voice on this aspect of the book), but while I loved the experience of reading it and have gained a wonderful appreciation for Ms. Novik's skill as a storyteller, I can tell it will not make my regular rotation of rereads, which is possibly more a reflection of my particular taste these days (perhaps more pages with Agnieszka and the Dragon actually within at least five miles of each other would have ameliorated this feeling of emotional distance) and not in any way an indictment of the book itself, which is a thing of beautiful craftsmanship....more
Thought I'd give my first Putney a try. Some very nice moments in the first half (despite it totally being a road trip novel), but then it just fadedThought I'd give my first Putney a try. Some very nice moments in the first half (despite it totally being a road trip novel), but then it just faded so far so fast that I elected to tuck and roll off that carriage while I still could....more
Not the best NA I've read, not the worst. Definitely the first Cormack I've enjoyed. And I did enjoy it. Somewhere around the last third it lost someNot the best NA I've read, not the worst. Definitely the first Cormack I've enjoyed. And I did enjoy it. Somewhere around the last third it lost some of its steam, but I finished and didn't regret it. It's worth mentioning that the whole before-I-graduate-from-college, socially-awkward-but-highly-intelligent-girl making a bucket list trope did periodically make me wish I was just reading Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake, but hey. I knew what it was when I picked it up....more
I was pretty excited when I first heard about Re Jane. A contemporary Korean American retelling of Jane Eyre? YeOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I was pretty excited when I first heard about Re Jane. A contemporary Korean American retelling of Jane Eyre? Yes, please. It's one of my favorite classics, and one I've had success (and some failures) with the retelling thereof. Authors do love to tinker with this tale. I've read every kind of version, from scifi and fantasy to steampunk and contemporary, and I am nothing if not up for another go. So I went into Patricia Park's debut novel with somewhat high hopes, even having heard that the Rochester character's wife was in fact alive and kicking and not at all locked up in their Brooklyn brownstone's attic. I decided to give Ms. Park the benefit of the doubt. I also love this cover. So modern, so bright, so full of promise.
Jane Re has thus far lived a lackluster life by most standards. She's spent her whole life under the thumb of her unloving and unmoving aunt and uncle, slaving away in the family grocery store at all hours and never quite managing to live up to expectations or fit into her Korean American Queens neighborhood. Finally, she graduates and, against everyone's better judgement (including possibly her own), takes a job as an au pair for a somewhat unorthodox couple in Brooklyn. The Mazer-Farley household is something of an enigma. Beth Mazer flits around bound and determined to be the most nonjudgmental of free spirits and insists her adopted Chinese daughter Devon and her fellow academic husband Ed follow suit. As Jane settles into her new home, she finds the workings of this unusual family fascinating, but the deeper entrenched she becomes, the harder it is to define just what role she is to play in their lives.
So. My favorite parts of this novel were unquestionably the early sections in which Jane describes her time in Queens, her interactions with her family, and her observations on how isolated she feels from everyone around her. I followed her willingly into the Mazer-Farley's house in her pursuit of something more, of a different kind of life. Her burgeoning relationship with the little girl Devon was, I thought, well-drawn and lovely. Unfortunately, when her relationship extended to falling in something with Ed Farley, my enjoyment came to a sound close. There was some attempt to portray how ill suited Ed and Beth were for each other, to pay lip service to the slow deterioration of their marriage, and to reserve any actual acting on their feelings for after the reader could "reasonably" be expected to have made their peace with the fact (if necessary). And the truth is that my main objections were not solely related to the fact that Jane and Ed were embarking on a relationship while all three adults (all three in possession of their right minds) were living in the same house together with an already conflicted (but brilliant) child there as well. I was actually most put off by the fact that Ed Farley was utterly lifeless and Jane seemed to lose vigor and presence in her own story (and in my mind) with every moment she spent with him.
I realize this is an updated retelling of the original, that it deviates in intentional and important ways, that it is much more about Jane's arc toward independence and self-fulfillment. But. She never resurfaces from her time with Farley. She escapes, feels remorse, and embarks on a journey to her homeland and yet her entire experience in Korea seems to whittle her down even further, until there is so little of the Jane I knew and loved in the beginning that she hardly warrants the name. She makes connections with her family and her past, yes, but it remains stubbornly unclear how these connections will inform her future life. Upon her return to America, I hoped for some revivification. I hoped for some of the wisdom and independence and control the narrative had led me all along to expect at some point. But it never came, or rather it came in name only, spelled out in so many words upon the page but containing in those words none of the actual emotion or heart one might expect to accompany a young woman coming full circle and taking up the reins of her life at last. I closed the book feeling . . . empty mainly....more
Madeline Ash has been such a golden find this year. I first discovered her through her latest novel Love and Other Lies, which I utterly enjoyed. Ash Madeline Ash has been such a golden find this year. I first discovered her through her latest novel Love and Other Lies, which I utterly enjoyed. Ash writes emotional, heartfelt romances with such a light hand that they are a pleasure to read in every sense of the word. So when I saw her novella The Secret Prince pop up, it took me no time at all to dive in.
My only complaint is that it is far too short. I fell immediately in love with Dee and Jed and would have followed them much farther than across an ocean from LA to a tiny European principality and back again. And since my emotions were so definitively engaged, I did wish the reader had a chance to spend more time with them exploring their unfortunate history after their reunion in Los Angeles (this was my favorite section) and then again in Leguarday as they negotiated the unusual terms of what a life together might look like. To say nothing of the miles and miles of potential regarding Jed's father. Everything ties up so neatly and quickly, I presume in order to fit it all into novella form.
But Ash's writing is fully up to the task of delving deeper into the psyches of these two banged up kids and, given the slim page count, I felt that we got a healthy amount of bang for our buck. She doesn't shy away from the painful, complex moments when two hurt individuals are trying and failing and trying again not to make things worse. And she absolutely knows her way around the tentative exploration that follows, with one hand protecting your heart and the other shakily reaching out.
Her Secret Prince is a sweet (if too short) contemporary fairy tale, and I look forward to Ash's next full-length novel with much anticipation. ...more
Say Yes to the Marquess began so very promisingly. Clio's untenable situation and her tenuous connection with Rafe immediately secured my emotions. BuSay Yes to the Marquess began so very promisingly. Clio's untenable situation and her tenuous connection with Rafe immediately secured my emotions. But as the events of the story progressed, things began to run downhill alarmingly quickly. The entire plotline with the dog was ridiculous from start to finish. I found the characters' actions highly implausible in the second half of the book given the genuine feelings they had expressed for one another. It felt as though the heartfelt beginning descended into a bit of a farce, and the change was too jarring for me. I still remain so enchanted by the first book, however, that I plan on picking up the next one and hoping for the best despite this disappointment....more
I've been sitting on a review of The Song of Achilles for some time now. And it's simply another case of me worrying I won't do justice not just to thI've been sitting on a review of The Song of Achilles for some time now. And it's simply another case of me worrying I won't do justice not just to the book, but to (perhaps even more importantly) my feelings for the book. I was attempting to do just that a number of nights ago with a friend, and wound up choked up and slipping the tears from my eyes as I touched on a scene of inevitable sorrow. My emotions continue to ride ever so close to the surface with this book, with Patroclus and Achilles. I stayed away from Madeline Miller's debut novel for awhile for several reasons, among them my fear of said sorrow as well as the usual concern when one comes to a retelling of characters and stories one loves. But eventually that cover—the gold foil, you guys, the glorious gold foil—and the parade of ecstatic reviews got to me enough that I grabbed a copy the next time I was at the library and settled down that night to see.
Patroclus has always led the uneasiest of lives. Disparaged for his slight build and his relative weakness in comparison to his father, he has been a somewhat second-class citizen in his own father's court. Then one day an accident occurs and a young nobleman dies as a result. Patroclus is deemed at fault and so is exiled to be fostered in the realm of the legendary King Peleus. It is there that he meets Peleus' song Achilles. Achilles is everything Patroclus wishes he could be, bright and brave and the most talented of warriors where Patroclus is dull and shy and physically inferior. Which is why no one is more shocked than Patroclus when Achilles takes him as his personal companion. And so the two young boys form the fastest of friendships as they live together, train together, and run wild through the olive groves together. But through it all they can never seem to escape the shadow of the coming war or the prophecy that Achilles would go on to become the greatest hero the Greeks had ever known.
If I had had words to speak such a thing, I would have. But there were none that seemed big enough for it, to hold that swelling truth.
As if he had heard me, he reached for my hand. I did not need to look; his fingers were etched into my memory, slender and petal-veined, strong and quick and never wrong,
"Patroclus," he said. He was always better with words than I.
This is the part where I confess I was vastly unprepared for the depth of feeling this novel would incite. I have been enamored of Greek mythology basically as far back as I can remember, and I recall with perfect clarity the chills that ran down my spine the first time I read the opening lines of The Iliad. I've read a number of retellings since, but I realized few of them worked hard to make Achilles sympathetic. Or at least more sympathetic than Hector. And while each incarnation left me impressed with Achilles' grandeur, I remained always firmly in Hector's camp. The Song of Achilles is told entirely from Patroclus' perspective, and his mind is as sharp and perceptive as his friend's body is honed and agile. The result is an extremely nuanced portrait of both young men. I savored the opportunity to watch them grow up together, to see Achilles handle the heavy layers of expectation and destiny, to watch how he dealt with his human father and his immortal mother. Thetis is a force to be reckoned with and I, like Patroclus, worried about the depth of her influence over Achilles. As ever with this epic tale, the question of which force will hold sway in the end is a desperate one. It's impossible to shake the feeling of dread while reading, but Miller does such a fine job of allowing you to soak up those golden moments leading up to the war, to come to know and love both Achilles and Patroclus enough that you understand why they make the choices they do in the end. And I can honestly say that my knowing what was coming in no way impeded my experience, the words were that expertly chosen and woven together with a level of skill that left my cup full to the brim.
The sorrow was so large it threatened to tear through my skin. When he died, all things swift and beautiful and bright would be buried with him. I opened my mouth, but it was too late.
"I will go," he said. "I will go to Troy."
The rosy gleam of his lip, the fevered green of his eyes. There was not a line anywhere on his face, nothing creased or graying; all crisp. He was spring, golden and bright. Envious Death would drink his blood, and grow young again.
He was watching me, his eyes as deep as earth.
"Will you come with me?" he asked.
The never-ending ache of love and sorrow. Perhaps in some other life I could have refused, could have torn my hair and screamed, and made him face his choice alone. But not in this one.
What an exquisite agony reading The Song of Achilles was. I wept more than once. But the sorrow was handled well, in such a way as to allow it its full and brutal impact before winding to a close so beautiful I felt the breath leave my lungs. How I loved them. Patroclus and his brilliant Achilles....more
Glowing recommendations from my trusty Chachic and the lovely Laura Florand put this book (and series) on my radaOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Glowing recommendations from my trusty Chachic and the lovely Laura Florand put this book (and series) on my radar awhile back and I proceeded to add it to my ever-growing TBR. And then I just sort of continued to put it off since a copy wasn't readily available at any of the usual sources and the ebook was (and is) a whopping $7.99. Then I hit a sick weekend and nothing, but nothing was hitting the spot. So I bit the bullet and dove in. It's worth pointing out that I'm not a huge connoisseur of small town contemporaries, and I was not a little concerned that it would prove to be (as has happened a number of times in the past) a little too cozy for my taste. But of course the range within that subgenre is as wide as it is with any other, and I think I just hadn't come across the right recipe. Happily, Virginia Kantra's Dare Island series hit just the right spot for this quasi-cozy-phobic reader.
Allison Carter came to Dare Island in the hopes of shedding the scales of her parents' expectations and finding fulfillment teaching high school English in the somewhat isolated fishing village. Matt Fletcher spent his early life at the whim of his father's career in the Marines, but has called the island his home long enough now for it to mean something. As a single father who captains a charter fishing boat for a living and lives with and helps support his aging parents at their inn, he is not in any way looking for a long-term relationship. Longing for just the sort of permanence Matt is working hard to avoid, Allison is nevertheless reluctant to get into any sort of relationship with him, especially given the fact that his son Josh is one of her students. But the two somewhat isolated individuals continue to be thrown together by circumstance (and Josh's performance, or lack thereof, at school) and soon it becomes a not inconsiderable struggle to find reasons give at least some semblance of togetherness a try.
Growing up, I spent many summers at my aunt and uncle's house in North Carolina. I have countless fond memories of sweltering summer days, chasing fireflies at night, and trips to the coast full of hours of splashing in the turf and falling asleep tangled in a bed of cousins listening to the crash of the waves. All of this to say that it took Dare Island and I no time at all to appreciate each other's charms. The setting is such a strength in this novel, and that is saying something, because it is a novel full to the brim of swoony romance and heady glances, weighty family drama and genuine humor. Given how many elements Kantra was balancing, I kept expecting at least one to veer into the cheesy, the melodramatic, or the overwrought. And yet not one did. Somehow she made me care for not only Allison and Matt, but every single one of Matt's family members, from his sweetheart parents and his scalawag son, to his somewhat heedless younger brother and his unexpected niece. This attentive character development made it a pleasure to follow whomever the narrative revolved to with each chapter. The focus definitely hinges on Allison and Matt's relationship, but so much of what goes down plays against the very important background of the Fletcher family and the charming inn they all inhabit. I loved how good Allison is with children, from the teenage students in her classes to Matt's troubled niece Taylor who gets dumped in their laps after her mother's sudden death.
The Fletchers themselves are a very loving family, but they need Allison, no matter how much Matt might like to think he's a lone reed. And Allison herself is so careful and conscientious when it comes to carrying on a relationship with a single father and being there to help as much as she can without stepping on any toes. I always loved Allison. It's no small challenge she and Matt face in daring to test the waters of their attraction. But what was between them fit itself unobtrusively into the spaces inside them that were empty. It felt real and sweet, and it so clearly made their hours and days better. I love it when a romance manages to demonstrate that. And while there were a couple of expected misunderstandings here and there, I appreciated how they were handled and how my emotions never felt toyed with or forcibly disengaged by unnecessary drama or inconsistencies. The whole thing builds to a particularly lovely resolution scene in the inn and I put Carolina Home down completely satisfied. Of course, I immediately binged on the rest of the series. And a good time was had by all....more
All right. I can accept that I am coming monumentally late to the party with this one. And I have no excuses forOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
All right. I can accept that I am coming monumentally late to the party with this one. And I have no excuses for myself. Plenty of you sang its praises, and that many award stickers plastered all over a cover generally indicate there is something of value inside. To say nothing of that ridiculously gorgeous cover declaring to all and sundry that herein lie beautiful things. Basically, everything pointed to win and I just failed to pick up on the signals. To the degree that I didn't even really know what Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was about. At all. Fast forward a couple of years to the present day when I run across Forever Young Adult's review and finally have my ah-ha moment. I ran to my local library, snagged their lovely copy, and took it home with me to see how these fancifully-monikered boys and I would get on. Spoilers: SPLENDIDLY.
I had all kinds of tragic reasons for feeling sorry for myself. Being fifteen didn't help. Sometimes I thought that being fifteen was the worst tragedy of all.
Aristotle narrates his life about as bluntly and intimately as an aggressively lackadaisical fifteen-year-old boy can. At least until that patently private boy meets one Dante Quintana and sees just how open and welcoming a boy (and his family) can be. It's the summer of 1985 and Ari spends most of each day struggling to find reasons to leave the house, ways to occupy himself aside from brooding about his father who seems to have dealt with his experiences in Vietnam by adopting a policy of silence. When he meanders over to the pool one day, Ari meets a boy with a squeaky voice and the kindred name of Dante who offers to teach him how to swim. Ari begrudgingly accepts. From that point on, a friendship develops that takes both boys by surprise and bids good to change their lives permanently. Accompanying them on this journey are their parents who love them unreservedly but who have their own struggles as they deal with their individual histories and the ways in which they reach into the present to shape their sons' lives as well as their own.
I have always felt terrible inside. The reasons for this keep changing.
Benjamin Alire Sáenz had me at Richie Valens. He had me somewhere amid the opening lines, at Ari going to bed wishing the world would be different when he woke up and then waking up to wonder what went through Richie Valens' head before the plane crashed. He had me at, "Hey, Buddy! The music's over." This book crushed me, it's that beautiful. I began it one night after tucking my kids into bed and—a few dozen pages later—blithely accepted the fact that I would be staying up however long it took to read it through to completion. The novel is told entirely from Ari's perspective, and it's difficult for me to tell you how much I grew to care for that boy. In simple and occasionally halting terms, he ruminates on his unease around other boys, his admiration for his mother, his longing to broach the subject of his imprisoned brother. The folding of lively, loquacious Dante into his life happens almost without Ari or the reader noticing, it is that seamless and that natural. Having some experience with friends coming into my life unexpectedly and yet at precisely the moment I so needed them to, my heart lodged itself firmly between these two boys and informed me it would be going nowhere. Since we mostly get our impressions of Dante through Ari's eyes, I occasionally worried a bit (perhaps taking my cues from Ari's deep seated anxiety) that he would flit away too soon. Before Ari or I had parsed out how to make room in our lives for such a bright star. Loving Dante is a foregone conclusion, with his inability to wear shoes, his love of reading, and his complicated relationship with his Mexican heritage.
I love how time passes in this novel, how the summers felt exactly as unlimited and free as they do in high school, how being separated from your dearest friend for a year can hurt in ways you've never experienced, and how you try to fill the hole with the distraction of work and smaller friendships. Perhaps the most beautiful experience of reading this book, though, was the privilege of watching Ari awaken (on so many levels), of watching his dual relationships—with Dante and with his father—grow and increase his understanding of himself and humanity in general. The nature of Ari's observations are always arresting, but by the end they become so very rich and simple in their beauty. Here, a lovely example taken from a moment when Ari struggles to convey his feelings when faced with a show of gratitude and love from Dante's parents:
"What am I supposed to do?" I knew my voice was cracking. But I refused to cry. What was there to cry about? "I don't know what to do." I looked at Mrs. Quintana and I looked at Sam. "Dante's my friend." I wanted to tell them that I'd never had a friend, not ever, not a real one. Until Dante. I wanted to tell them that I never knew that people like Dante existed in the world, people who looked at the stars, and knew the mysteries of water, and knew enough to know that birds belonged to the heavens and weren't meant to be shot down from their graceful flights by mean and stupid boys. I wanted to tell them that he had changed my life and that I would never be the same, not ever. And that somehow it felt like it was Dante who had saved my life and not the other way around. I wanted to tell them that he was the first human being aside from my mother who had ever made me want to talk about the things that scared me. I wanted to tell them so many things and yet I didn't have the words. So I just stupidly repeated myself. "Dante's my friend."
All four of the parents are such nuanced and present characters in this story and I adored that and them. Throughout the narrative, Sáenz explores the ways in which we need our parents, in which love between a parent and child is endlessly complex and often so difficult to encompass and express in any adequate way. This complexity resonated with me so profoundly, as did basically everything about this beautiful, beautiful love story. Finest kind....more
I have my pal Li to thank for steering me in the direction of Elizabeth Harmon's debut novel Pairing Off. She cluOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I have my pal Li to thank for steering me in the direction of Elizabeth Harmon's debut novel Pairing Off. She clued me in to its existence, pointed out that it featured Olympic figure skaters, and well . . . that was all she wrote, folks. I am a huge figure skating fan. And while I actually haven't read many books that focus on the sport, there was simply no way I was going to not read a book billed as "The Cutting Edge with a Russian twist." I adored that movie as a kid. As you can probably tell, I haven't been so much with the review writing of late. Happily, that is in no way an indication of how my reading has fared, because I have been reading up a storm. But lately I never seem to get around to sitting down and hashing it out. But with the figure skating World Championships coming up in a couple of weeks, I thought it was the perfect time to highlight this little gem.
Carrie Parker is fairly certain life as she knew it is over when her career as a pairs figure skater comes to a grinding and spectacular halt courtesy of a scandal involving her partner and a judge. Which is why she literally jumps at an unexpected and unusual invitation to travel to Russia and audition for a suddenly open position. What she does not expect is that the male partner will turn out to be a familiar (and wholly unwelcome) face. Anton Belikov is in need of a partner STAT. His longtime skating partner (and girlfriend) Olga has up and left him for greener pastures and a partner more likely to see her to the gold medal podium at the Olympics. Determined to achieve his dream and make a go of it without her, Anton warily follows his coach's advice and auditions the disgraced but unquestionably talented American. However, with the barriers of language, culture, politics (and a distant night only Carrie remembers) looming between them, success on or off the ice is no guarantee for this unlikely team.
I was just so taken with Pairing Off, you guys. From the very start, I could tell the story was going to wrap itself around me. Carrie is immediately sympathetic, and though the narrative touches ever so briefly on the long ago night she and Anton met, it is nonetheless clear to the reader how it affected both of them and how it will play an uneven but key role in their development as an actual pair. What I was not expecting was how deeply I would fall in love with Moscow and Carrie's experiences there. Harmon writes with great affection and joie de vivre when it comes to the streets and alleys, gardens and soaring architecture of the Russian capital. It is nothing short of a delight accompanying Carrie on her explorations, and I was so pleased that aspect of her new life was allocated adequate page time. Carrie's willingness to fight her attendant isolation and uncertainty in a foreign clime with an open and inquisitive mind and with consistent forays out into her new home endeared her to me even as it filled me with wanderlust. And as she learns the ropes of her adopted country, so does she learn the ways of her adopted partner. A favorite passage in which Carrie gets into a spot of trouble and calls Anton to help her out:
"I've never been happier to see someone in my life."
"What the hell were you doing?" he shouted. "Trying to get killed? I told you to stay near city center!"
She stared, looking for Anton, not this furious, wild-eyed stranger. "And you also told me about the park where I could go hiking! Look, I'm not your employee and I'll go where I please. I got a little lost. It could happen to anyone."
"But it didn't happen to anyone. It happened to you!"
Carrie felt her eyes grow wide. Was he suggesting she wasn't expendable? Or was his real concern the hassle of finding another Olga replacement? Much more likely. Her chest tightened and it was hard to breathe. "Yeah, well I'm sorry to be an inconvenience. If I'd known you were going to yell at me, I never would have called." She fumbled for her map and shook it open. "The subway's two blocks that way. Drop me off. I'll get home just fine."
"Don't be ridiculous. I'm not dropping you at subway," he muttered. "I was close by anyway. It's good you called."
"Otherwise you'd be auditioning new pair girls tomorrow."
He jerked his head around, and shot an angry look across the car. "Is that what you think I care about?"
The tense silence was filled by the muffled sounds of traffic outside. Jaw tight, Anton turned his gaze back to the road. "You and I are in this together. Partners, like I said before." His voice softened. "Not just two skaters making tricks."
There is very little not to love about Anton. Yet I appreciated how slowly their relationship developed. He was still handling a long distance relationship with a girlfriend who abandoned him professionally. She was struggling to reconcile the man she sees before her with the one she spent only a handful of hours with years ago and who does not seem to remember her at all. Their respective families are complicated and play strong roles in shaping the way they see the world and the fears and hopes they harbor for their futures. There are layers upon layers between these two, and I relished the gradual dismantling and rebuilding they had to go through on their way to forming a firm and equal partnership. This quiet, romantic book is such a lovely read and one of my favorites of the year thus far....more
Fine. Just fine. Not the best in the series and not the worst. My main problem with Imaginary Lines was that, in previous books, Abe was the most charFine. Just fine. Not the best in the series and not the worst. My main problem with Imaginary Lines was that, in previous books, Abe was the most charming of characters, just begging for his own story. But when his turn finally came, this Abe felt like an entirely different beast, not nearly as charming or compelling as he was in previous installments. I struggled to want Tamar to achieve her lifelong crush. I simply felt she was worth more, deserved more than she got in Abe. Very competently written, as always, but lacking the spark and tenacity of the first book in the series....more
What a disappointment. I realize my expectations may have been a touch high for this conclusion to the His Fair Assassin trilogy, but I did not see thWhat a disappointment. I realize my expectations may have been a touch high for this conclusion to the His Fair Assassin trilogy, but I did not see this level of jumping of the shark coming. Everything about Annith's tale was set up to be fantastic. And then . . . Nothing. Of. Note. Happens. And poor Balthazaar's identity just pushed the whole thing over into ridiculous land. It's sad on several levels, but mostly because this highly entertaining and well-written trilogy didn't deserve to go out with a whimper....more
In the end, I was unable to finish this one. The writing is simply gorgeous, as is always the case with Mary Ann Rivers at the helm. And I loved Sam jIn the end, I was unable to finish this one. The writing is simply gorgeous, as is always the case with Mary Ann Rivers at the helm. And I loved Sam just as much as I knew I would from his introduction in the first book in the Burnside series. The problem I had was connecting with Nina. She simply felt too slick to me (for lack of a better word). My attempts to get to know her kept slipping off her surface. And I had wanted so much more for the woman Sam needed. This imbalance got in the way of my overall enjoyment, and I was forced to put it down. This is the first misstep I've had from Ms. Rivers, so I will be picking up the next installment for sure....more
I may have fallen victim to the hypemonster with Wildlife. The comparisons to Rainbow Rowell and Melina Marchetta, combined with how often I fall forI may have fallen victim to the hypemonster with Wildlife. The comparisons to Rainbow Rowell and Melina Marchetta, combined with how often I fall for contemporary Aussie YA and NA, made me snatch this title up at the first opportunity. Unfortunately, I felt as though there was a persistent and impenetrable barrier between me and Sibylla and Lou. Nothing seemed to break through that layer so that I could actually experience in some meaningful way what they were going through. I expected more of the writing, perhaps, as this was my first outing with Wood and I had heard great things. Either way, it was simply not a good fit....more
Jane Fairfield is a triumph. I am a huge Courtney Milan fangirl, and so meeting the stone cold awesome that was Jane was no surprise. I adored her froJane Fairfield is a triumph. I am a huge Courtney Milan fangirl, and so meeting the stone cold awesome that was Jane was no surprise. I adored her from the very first flounce of her awful gown. For the first half of the book, I was utterly spellbound. However, the whole thing began to stumble for me a bit as Oliver seemed to not be able to grow even a little bit. I understood the untenable situation he found himself in, and I definitely bought that he loved her and was fumbling to find a way out of said situation. But. I expected more. Jane deserved more than she got from Oliver. And that left me feeling a bit wan by the end. Not my favorite entry in the series, but so worth it for Jane alone....more
Ms. Jacobs' writing is strong and sure and I enjoyed being inside the world she created with it. She knows how to make her characters both sympatheticMs. Jacobs' writing is strong and sure and I enjoyed being inside the world she created with it. She knows how to make her characters both sympathetic and complex, and I was glued to the page to see how they were going to navigate their many troubles. And their troubles are legion indeed. I appreciated the gargantuan task Ms. Jacobs took on with her depiction of Lexie's grief. And I fell head over heels immediately for Lexie and Sam and their simple game in the bar each Monday. How could I not? That said. The grief and her inability to manage it (and her past) became so prolonged that it bled out to mar my enjoyment of the novel as a whole. The overdone sentimentality of the second half felt manipulative. And in the end I simply wanted it to be over and was loath to return. The balance had shifted so far it was impossible for me to get back to that place of thought and hope and meaning I so enjoyed in the first half of the book....more
Teenage Sherlock Holmes, Watson is a girl, and the story is told from her perspective. This is essentially all thOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Teenage Sherlock Holmes, Watson is a girl, and the story is told from her perspective. This is essentially all the information I needed in order to make the decision to dive into Every Breath at the earliest opportunity. But in case you're wavering, it's also fun to know that this is Australian author Ellie Marney's debut novel, that it is a YA contemporary mystery, and the first in a series to boot. Next up, I think we should just take a moment to talk covers. I have yet to purchase my own copy (that's earmarked for the next paycheck), but both the US and Aussie covers have a lot going for them. The Aussie one gets tons of points for having Watts actually on the cover, for one thing. But in a very rare move, I'm leaning US if only because it's not a photo of actual people (never works out well for me) and because, well, his throat. Also his hair and his entire posture. But his throat. That's Mycroft. I love him this cover.
Rachel Watts' friendship with her neighbor James Mycroft is something of a full time job. Newly (and unwillingly) arrived from the countryside, Rachel struggles to find a place for herself in Melbourne. Unused to navigating city life after the loss of the family farm, she and her older brother and parents find themselves acting almost like strangers as they adjust to their new home and environment. But then Mycroft enters her life, with his jittery brilliance, his obsession with forensics, and his ongoing allergy to school. And soon her days are not quite as numb, filled as they are with contributing her powers of observation (and cooking skills) to the latest in a long line of Mycroft's investigations. But this most recent involves a murder. And not just any stranger, but that of Homeless Dave—a man they both knew. Unable to accept the official police verdict, Mycroft and Watts set themselves to the task of tracking down the truth behind Dave's violent death and bringing the mysterious killer to justice.
I'll admit, I was a little nervous at first. I was nervous the high school setting, and possibly the nature of the relationship between Watts and Mycroft, would pall too quickly or somehow not resonate with me in just the right way. As nerves go, basically your run of the mill stuff. But I've read one fantastic Sherlock Holmes adaptation and I was so keen to find another. Happily, Rachel herself was the first to set me at ease. Her transition to the city has been a particularly difficult one, and the dry but upfront way in which she expressed that difficulty struck a chord of sympathy within me:
I like it in his room—the starry lights, the feeling of sanctuary. I'm still not used to dealing with a lot of other people. I've known Mycroft, and Mai and her boyfriend, Gus, since last November, and they still feel like "a lot of other people." Actually, Mycroft alone could probably qualify as seeming like "a lot of other people." He does so much crazy stuff you could imagine more than a single offender.
That passage could just as easily been an entry from one of my high school journals. Other people, man. Not for the faint of heart. I love that the story is told from Watts' perspective. She has very honed powers of observation, though she herself might decry that claim. But it means that not only is she vital to Mycroft's ongoing efforts, she also does an incredibly effective job of introducing the reader to her singular friend. And if her focus is more frequently drawn to to Mycroft than it is anyone else in the room, it isn't any wonder as his magnetism and zaniness and pain fairly claw their way off the page. Gratefully, his presence never overshadows Watts. Not even a little bit, as we are firmly grounded inside her viewpoint and know just how hard she works to keep everyone in her life afloat and not lose track of her own needs, even if she is reticent about voicing them aloud. The mystery itself makes for a fun, often dark ride, and I enjoyed sitting back and accompanying them in their rounds. But the heart of Every Breath is, without question, the chemistry between Watts and Mycroft. Ms. Marney quite simply nails their need on the head. The pacing and development of Watts-and-Mycroft is one long and delicious thread running alongside the unfolding of the murder investigation. As the precarious hold they each have on their lives begins to unravel against the backdrop of Watts' uncertainty and Mycroft's desperation, the solace they take in being together, the rightness of their fit, is so soothing it is tangible. I currently have the sequel on order from Australia and am sitting here feeling antsy just thinking about what these two might be getting up to without me....more