If you'd asked me last year if I was a fan of novel serializations, I would have issued a flat no. But then there...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
If you'd asked me last year if I was a fan of novel serializations, I would have issued a flat no. But then there was Truly. And it took me exactly no time at all to become a very big fan of this particular serial. It helped that I basically spent last year blowing through Ruthie Knox's backlist. Truly represented a somewhat different venture, as a handful of new chapters were posted each Monday morning over a period of several weeks. I began to look forward to Mondays (a first) with a kind of gleeful hunger. And those chapters just always came through the way I needed them to. And then I was able to hop on Twitter and gab about them with all the other poor saps following along. In other words, it was the height of fun. The first in Knox's New York series, Truly was available to read for free for a couple of months on Wattpad. It was then taken down in anticipation of the ebook release in August. This is the point at which I apologize for not getting a review up while it was still available. But I figure it's worth it anyway, because this book definitely deserves to be on your radar. The second novel in the series, Madly, is due out in ebook this October.
May Fredericks is having a bad day. A colossally bad one, as a matter of fact. The thing is, it was meant to be a good day. Her longtime boyfriend and star NFL quarterback proposed. Onstage. In front of a live fund-raising lunch audience. It should have been the happiest day of her life. But it wasn't. Not even remotely close. Thor (aka, the boyfriend) botches the proposal something fierce. And mild, good girl May snaps and stabs him in the hand with her shrimp fork. The day spirals downhill from there as she flees the scene of humiliation, is mugged in an alley, and washes up on a bar stool in Pulvermacher's—a Green Bay Packers haunt in the middle of the city that has always made her feel like an outsider. While there she makes the acquaintance of one Ben Hausman—the grouchiest ex-chef turned itinerant beekeeper you ever saw. Ben is recovering from a number of blows, including but not limited to an acrimonious divorce, the loss of his career as a chef, and a serious inability to throttle his anger. He is at full capacity and not at all interested in playing the white knight to a damsel in distress. And yet. Against his better judgement, Ben finds himself offering the down-on-her-luck girl from back home his help. And so begins a single day that stretches into two days, then three, and then more as Ben gives her a place to stay, a string of unforgettable meals, and maybe even a fresh view of this city he loves.
Ben took her to Park Slope to see about some bees.
Reader, I was instantly and irrevocably charmed. This was not my first time in the ring with Knox. I went in happily familiar with the easy way she has with her characters, as though they've been her friends lo these many years and don't even worry, they'll be yours, too, in a matter of minutes. It's my favorite thing about her books, as a matter of fact. That and the quick wit and seriously swoony romance. But Ben and May were something else again for me. It could have been the slow-building tension inherent in the weekly installments, but I'm inclined to believe it's to do with how well-matched they are, how real their issues are, and how naturally they come up against their own flaws and the flaws in each other, and work to deal with them and not take anyone else down in the process. As characters, they had integrity (which I admire) and a whole boatload of chemistry and charm (which I delight in). From watching Ben's scarred hands fix and serve up another mouth-watering plate for May to devour, to looking into the mirror with May on a shopping trip that changes the way she sees herself, I was at home within the pages of this book. And while I enjoyed the few chapters from May's sister Allie's point of view as she tries to monitor the progression of May's relationship with Ben from afar as well as prepare for the wedding she's no longer sure she wants, all I really wanted was to be with May and Ben. Walking the streets of New York and even driving the backwoods of Wisconsin as they traverse a number of states before they're able to settle on the nature of this thing between them. I loved every moment of them. Truly is easily my favorite of Knox's full-length novels. I can't wait to own my own copy.(less)
After falling in love with the beautiful novellas, The Story Guy and Snowfall (Heating Up the Holidays 3-Story Bundle), I basically resolved to read whatever Mary Ann Rivers. This is not going to be a hardship, what with the achingly lovely way with words and the sort of compulsively disarming meet cutes these books deliver. I honestly have no defenses at my disposal at that moment when these characters first come into contact with one another. From highly suspect online singles ads to increasingly confusing chatting with anonymous macro photographers, I am all in from the first page. And Live, of course, is no exception. Des and Hefin meet in a library, for heaven’s sake. And they just watch each other. For months. I can’t . . . well. I mean . . . and it was good, right? This is the first in a series featuring Des and her three siblings–the remaining members of the Burnside family. I look forward to each one.
Privately, she called him The Woodcarver.
Which, very strictly, he was. Or at least, she had actually seen him carving wood, and talking to other people about carved wood, specifically the carved-wood panels and decorations that were under restoration in the atrium of the library.
Even more painful—if pain was a sweet ache that felt good when you worried and pressed at it—she walked by his work site every single day.
As close as she dared without his noticing.
Destiny Burnside has been faithfully chasing her way out of unemployment for months now. Every day she puts in her time at the local library, job hunting, getting her paltry resume out there. Every day she gets her form signed, keeping her chin up despite the attendant humiliation and fear. And every day she passes by the all-but-silent man in charge of the library restoration and looks. Hefin Thomas is, among other things, a woodcarver and a Welshman (I know). He came to America as part of a whirlwind marriage and found himself rather summarily unhappy, quickly divorced, and working contract jobs until he could figure out what to do next. Every day he’s watched the ginger-haired young woman pass through the library, and every day he’s found his eyes drawn to her despite himself. Then one day he hears her crying. And it’s more than he can do to ignore her. His unexpected words of comfort initiate the kind of problematic relationship neither of them wants to deal with, as Destiny’s suburban Ohio roots are deep and Hefin has been resisting the call home to Wales for far too long.
I kind of feel like I’ve said enough, but there’s so much more to Live than an out-of-work daughter of a limo driver and a homesick Welsh woodcarver. Not that I’m saying there needs to be, because, well, out-of-work daughter of a limo driver and homesick Welsh woodcarver. Ahem. But there is. Des’ love for her family is behind everything she does, both to her credit and to an unhealthy degree. Her mother died when the kids were younger, and her father’s death (followed by her headstrong sister Sarah’s terrible accident) sent the four of them into a tailspin from which they have yet to recover. Forced to sell almost everything she owns, living on the generosity of a longtime family friend and neighbor, and driving her father’s failing limo to get where she needs to go, Des’ life is circling the drain when Hefin finally walks up to her and asks why she’s crying. But then Hefin’s history is equally as grim, or rather his recent history is. The painful dissolution of a marriage that was both impulsive and lovely has left him well and truly broken. The blame he places on himself makes living in any full sense of the word impossible. Neither of them have enough available appendages to hold onto the other, and I sat mesmerized as I watched them try and fail and be devastatingly honest with each other throughout.
That honesty characterizes each of their interactions, making for an impressive verisimilitude. It’s something I admire about Rivers’ writing. Her characters, they fall in love the way we do. They learn frank and not always lovely details about each other as they fall, and they are often actually drawn to some of those less-than-perfect details. Like knobby knees and hair in natural places. It’s not only refreshing, it increases the intimacy between reader and character. Along with that, when someone who used to be outside makes the transition to inner circle and points out troubling aspects of the way we lead our lives, it makes us feel hunted, uncertain, guarded. The same is true for Des and Hefin as she learns more about how he coped (or failed to) with the end of his marriage and career and as he becomes privy to the way the Burnside siblings often combine lashing out and love into the same repetitive gesture. These rich interactions and gradual enfolding of each other’s lives worked so well as I got to know Des and Hefin more. I like that I didn’t always know which way the wind would blow, or in fact which way I wanted it to in the end. I could see so clearly what they needed and wanted them each to have it individually, if collectively was not possible.
She took out an apple wedge and toyed with it. “But you grew up in Wales, right? In Aberaeron?”
Her pronunciation was perfect and he tried not to imagine her practicing it. “That’s right. And Aberaeron is tiny. My mum could call me home to tea from across town. I didn’t need a prospect from which to see my whole life, I could see my whole life from any point I stood in the village.”
“But you left.”
“I elected into a university training program in engineering after taking some time with prerequisites at a local college. I went to London for a year, then to Beijing for almost three.”
“Oh. Wow. I went to Toronto for a class trip in high school, and sometimes my parents took us kids to Pittsburgh to see my grandparents and the Mister Rogers exhibit at the Children’s Museum.”
“Any place can be exotic when you’re away from home.” He looked down and realized he had used the handle end of his fork to press in a design of ropes and knots into the top of his Styrofoam pancake box, his hands distracted while he talked. Des reached over and traced over it with her fingers, softly.
“That’s so pretty. I could hang it up in my house and people wouldn’t even know it was a pancake box.”
“I’ll draw you something better than a doodle on a pancake box.” He closed his eyes, willed the blush away.
“You don’t have to, but I’d like that. Your carvings are so good I can’t believe they’re even real.”
“Let’s eat.” He resisted pushing the heel of his hand over his heart to make it slow down. “Is that all you have, then?”
She shook her head, like she was saying no, but then met his eyes, and hers cleared. “I mean, yeah. PB&J, favorite of six-year-olds and the long-term unemployed everywhere.”
He started popping open his boxes. Glanced up at the whitecaps on the lake. Let himself look at her again, tried not to count the numbers of freckles in the hollow of her throat. “I guess you’d better share with me, then.”
She touched her throat, like she knew where he was looking. “Pancake me,” she said. And he laughed. Helpless.
This is the first full-length novel I’ve read from Ms. Rivers, and I wondered, as I often do when I read an author’s novellas first, how she would make the transition to the longer format. By and large, I felt it was a very smooth transition. One of the primary themes in Live is how sometimes the entire arc of a relationship can be a form of saying good-bye. And while I resonated with that on many levels, it did pall a bit as the two principals are both so profoundly inward-facing and the story wound on and resolution seemed farther and farther away. But as that is my only complaint in such an elegantly layered story, I definitely feel as though I came out on top. As always with Rivers books, I feel grateful to have read these words. (less)
I've had an ongoing relationship with Elizabeth Scott's books for some time now. Ever since I picked up Bloom and...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I've had an ongoing relationship with Elizabeth Scott's books for some time now. Ever since I picked up Bloom and settled in with a nerdy girl like me who played the clarinet. And then there was that one out of this world kiss in the kitchen . . . I'm sorry, where were we? Right. Since then, I've dipped in and out as Scott has continued to write. But it had been awhile since my last outing, and so when Heartbeat began showing up on the early radar, I felt like it was time. I didn't even really delve too much into what it was about before starting. And so I was, well, maybe a little ambushed by the guns this book was packing. Not that I wasn't expecting reality in all its graininess. But. Scott really steps up her emotional stranglehold with this latest contemporary. Let's just say a lot of time has passed since I finished it. It took me that long to decide what I wanted to say and figure out where my feelings were situated.
Emma remembers a time when things were normal. When she could breathe in and out and complain to her mom about the boy she thought she loved and the way her day went. When her stepfather Dan was a welcome, bright addition to their lives. She can remember it all so clearly, it's difficult to accept how vastly things have changed. How now if she wants to talk to her mom she has to go to the hospital room where she's being kept alive on life support while the baby inside her stomach grows to viability. How Dan has become the agent of her misery, as it was his idea to have a baby in the first place. His insistence that they keep her mom alive just long enough for the baby to be born. How if she wants to breathe in and out she has to lock her door and concentrate as hard as she can. Her best friend Olivia is an outlet of sorts, but the chasm between how things were and how they are presents itself on a daily basis. When Emma makes the acquaintance of renowned Bad News Caleb Harrison, no one is more surprised than she to find he's not precisely what everyone in town thinks he is. What's more, what he actually is might be someone who can understand her loss.
The thing about Mom dying is that the world didn't stop. It didn't even slow down. It's flowers and cards and everyone understands but no one does because Mom wasn't Mom to them.
I may have identified more than most with Emma's solitude by virtue of being an only child myself. The similarities may end there (thank heavens), but that passage? I am conversant with the somewhat shattering adult realization that when it comes to your parents, there's no one but you. Mom isn't Mom to anyone else. And so in times of joy and loss, you can look for someone to experience the same moment you are inhabiting, only to find yourself alone. The towering sweeps of emotion in Heartbeat kind of flattened me. I was forced to pause periodically and look up and remember it wasn't happening, to give my rage on Emma's behalf a period in which to cool. I could see Dan's perspective. I could. I just . . . it was never okay. Not for me. And, yes, I did find myself evaluating whether or not the whole agonizing setup and execution was proving too manipulative for this reader. It was a close call at second. But the development with Caleb spared the whole thing from imploding. It was honestly a palpable relief when he arrived on the scene. I appreciated that Caleb and Emma were equals. Neither one cornered the market on pain. It was pretty much sixes from beginning to end. But they discovered each other, slowly and with great reserve. And they held on. And because Emma (and by extension the reader) is able to look away from her own train wreck and see Caleb's version of it, because she's able to worry and care about him, it saves . . . everything. Processing his pain allows her to approach and deal with her own. And vice versa. There are parts of this book I don't ever want to read again. But there are parts I've reread numerous times since. So when you find yourself in need of a balanced and competent delivery of equal parts anger, sadness, and hope, this just might be the one to grab.(less)
I picked How to Love up off my stack last night after finding my mind wandering listlessly away from the book I w...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I picked How to Love up off my stack last night after finding my mind wandering listlessly away from the book I was trying to read. The writing kept losing me, the characters insisting on overstating everything and questioning themselves ridiculously. I was lost. So I grabbed Katie Cotugno's debut novel and flipped to the opening page. Now this is writing, I thought almost immediately. I'd read almost universally positive reviews of this one, and I had high hopes for a contemporary with meat on its bones and characters I could see and hear and care for. From the first page, Reena's gasping, tight narrative sucked me in. And I settled in happily for a late night.
Reena Montero always planned on seeing the world. She planned to be a travel writer and share her experiences with other worldwide vagabonds. She even got accepted early into Northwestern's writing program and was all set to kick the dust of her hometown behind. Except she didn't. Instead, she got pregnant. The baby's father, her sometime boyfriend and all-time crush, left town before she could tell him. And she's spent the last couple of years becoming a mother, raising her baby girl Hannah, working at her father's restaurant, and taking community college night classes. She doesn't even recognize her life anymore. And then Sawyer comes back to town. They cross paths in the local 7-Eleven, and he acts like everything's fine. Like he didn't disappear without a trace, leaving her heart in smithereens and her baby without a father. But there's so much water under the bridge between Reena and Sawyer at this point, she can hardly summon the will to fight anymore. And so Sawyer works his way back into her life once more, just like he's always done. But whether or not they can see past all the old pain to find a kind of life together is another question entirely.
"My mom told me," he says now--trailing off, trying again. "About . . . "
I imagine letting him dangle there indefinitely, a hanged man, but in the end I'm the one who breaks first. "Hannah," I supply, wondering what else his mother told him. I can't stop staring at his face. "Her name is Hannah."
"Yeah. I mean." Sawyer looks uncomfortable, like he's waiting for something else to happen. For me to just come out and say it, maybe--Welcome back, how was your trip, we made a baby--but I keep my jaw clamped firmly shut. Let him wonder for once, I think meanly. Let him sweat it out for a change. The Slurpee's bright green, like a space alien. My braid's left a wet spot on my shirt. Sawyer shifts his weight awkwardly. "She said."
We stand there. We breathe. I can hear the hum and clatter of the market all around us, everything chilly and refrigerator-bright. There's a huge, garish poster of pretzel dogs over his left shoulder. I have pictured this going differently.
The opening scene in How to Love is one of the best I've read. Reena's observation, "I have pictured this going differently," is absolutely breathless with stunned pain and weighted history. I felt punched in the gut along with her for those first few pages, that first encounter in years. Katie Cotugno captures a heady swirl of being young and infatuated and older and wiser and still desperately in love with her beautiful words. I felt sure I was taking part in something special. And it is. Or it was. The rest of the book is something of a gradual decline from the dizzying heights of that rainy day at 7-Eleven. And none of it quite lives up to the punch of the beginning. I mean, the wordsmithing remains top notch throughout:
I told my father I was pregnant and he didn't speak to me for eleven weeks. I only blame him a little: His own parents died when he was seven, and he was, quite literally, raised by the nuns in Saint Tammany Parrish in Louisiana. He fully intended to become a priest until he met my mother; he confesses every Friday and keeps a Saint Christopher medal tucked inside his shirt. In his heart he's a musician but his soul is that of the most serious of altar boys, and the fact that he didn't send me away to some convent until I had the baby is probably a testament to the mercy of the God that we've always prayed to in my house.
I really love the way she writes. But as I read through the alternating chapters between the present day and the past, I found myself less and less enamored of the way it was all going down. And absolutely disenchanted with Sawyer LeGrande. The more time I spent with him, the less there was left of him. Until I was sitting there holding a pile of dust in my hands where once there was a young man who'd run away and returned home years later to find he was a father. The farther back we went in time, the more distressed I became at the realization that Reena's lifelong love was . . . empty. And, what's worse, there seemed to be so little explanation offered for Sawyer's blankness, for his wild youth and his inexcusable treatment of Reena. Honestly, it was an excruciating place to find myself as a reader, wanting so badly for them to work things out because of Cotugno's mighty skills with atmosphere and Reena's very real feelings for Sawyer, and at the same time filling up with a growing sense of betrayal as page after page revealed Sawyer to be . . . just no one to hold on to. And there was little evidence of him having changed in the present day chapters. No more bad boy, but nothing really good either. I missed the Sawyer of those first pages. The Sawyer and Reena of those first pages. The ones who had so much to say and no words to say it in. Who were facing a mountain to climb. I wanted to see them climb it. I wanted them to fight for something precious and worth having. Instead, the past revealed too many cracks and the present proved hopelessly inadequate at sealing them up. Add to this the couple of occasions of ham-fisted coincidental drama for nothing but drama's sake, and I wanted to go wash my hands of the whole debacle. Such a shame. Because that opening scene? That was something special.(less)
This is my first time reading one of Anne Bishop's books. The first book in the rather prolific Black Jewels ser...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Dear Author
This is my first time reading one of Anne Bishop's books. The first book in the rather prolific Black Jewels series has resided on my shelf for a few years now, but for whatever reason I just haven't found my way to picking it up, likely due to a nagging suspicion that that particular dark fantasy might, in fact, be a bit too dark for me. But then this year I began hearing murmurings of a new urban fantasy series, and the possibilities started to take shape in my mind. These murmurings ran along the lines of complicated social order, shapeshifters, exceedingly gradual relationship development, vampires, detailed world building, etc. Before long, Written in Red was giving me that vibe, and it was only a matter of time before I picked up a copy and settled in to see for myself.
Meg Corbyn needs somewhere to hide. After fleeing the only home she's ever known, she finds herself answering a want ad for a human liaison within the notorious Lakeside Courtyard. A collection of businesses run by the Others, Lakeside is headed up by one Simon Wolfgard. Together with the heads of the various shifter and vampire factions, Simon has little use for humans except as prey. But the courtyard requires a go-between, someone who will sort through the mail and day-to-day communications between the Others and their uneasy human counterparts. And so Meg is given the job, despite Simon's misgivings, including her nonexistent past and indeterminate scent. Profoundly grateful, Meg sets out to learn how to live a life and do her job so well no one will ever think to ask her why she showed up desperate and alone on their doorstep in the first place. But the Others are far too canny for that, and when local human law enforcement begins sniffing around the courtyard, Simon knows it's something to do with their recently acquired human. But by this time, the wild and wary inhabitants of the compound have grown surprisingly protective of Meg. Even the vampires have allowed her onto their grounds. And so Simon finds himself racing to discover her secret before it sets off the kind of conflict between the Others and the humans from which they may never recover.
There is something absolutely compulsive about this novel. It's not fast-paced. It's not action-packed (although there are a couple of rather spectacularly explosive scenes near the end). It has quite a large cast of characters. And it rather annoyingly switches scenes just when you want more from the people you're with. But. I didn't want to be anywhere else but there. With timid Meg and prickly Simon and the cringeworthy, blood-soaked nightmares that haunt her and threaten his people. I'll be honest. I have a fairly weak stomach when it comes to cutting in general, and so the revelation of Meg's role as a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, tested my bounds to a certain degree as she was raised, in a sense, to cut or be cut and receive valuable prophecies on the ensuing wave of mixed pain and euphoria. It never gets too grisly, and the Others' protective instincts help to keep Meg fairly intact, but I remain uneasy as to what lies in store for her on that front as questions of both destiny and consent will play what I can only assume will be a fairly significant role.
What I fell in love with was those quiet, day-to-day interactions between Simon and his host of furry, fanged followers and the solitary human girl in their midst. The Other hierarchy is fascinating and rich. And it is very much other. These shifters and vamps are not interested in making friends and playing nice. They are so completely not interested in that. And so Simon's frustrating reaction to Meg throws everything off kilter, as his instincts insist she's not prey, while everything about her screams weakness and fair game. I can see how Meg could easily read too passive for some readers. But I found her both sympathetic and compelling. The very fact that she escapes from somewhere no one escapes from and manages to secure a job and the trappings of a new life for herself solidified my place at her side. I only grew to love her more as she is somewhat reluctantly roped into helping the Wolfgard's adorable young nephew Sam deal with past trauma and find a balance between his wolf and human selves.
Meg's gradually developing thing with Simon is so very gradual, and it got under my skin in a real way. She grew to assert her independence as he learned to respect her freedom. They continue to frustrate the hell out of each other throughout the book. And I loved it all. I didn't even miss the lack of heated romance (though the signs are so all there and I am looking forward to developments in that arena most eagerly). Here is a fairly representative encounter between Meg and Simon early on:
The office's back door wasn't locked, so he slipped inside, removed his boots, and padded across the back room in his socks. He could hear low music even through the closed door that connected to the sorting room. As he entered the room, he saw Meg take a CD out of the player and say, "I don't like that music."
"Then why listen to it?" he asked.
She whirled around, wobbling to keep her balance. She put the CD back in its case and made a notation on a notebook sitting next to the player before answering him. "I'm listening to a variety of music to discover what I like."
Why don't you know what you like?
"Is there something I can do for you, Mr. Wolfgard? Today's mailbag hasn't arrived yet, but there are a few pieces of old mail. I put them in HGR's spot." She indicated the cubbyholes in the sorting room's back wall. "Also, I'm still not clear if the ponies deliver mail to the Market Square businesses or if someone from the businesses is supposed to stop in for that mail."
Right now he didn't care about the mail or packages or any other damn monkey thing. He took the poster out of his pocket, opened it, and set it on the table. "No more lies," he said, his voice a growl of restrained menace. "What happens next will depend on whether you answer two questions honestly."
She stared at the poster. Her face paled. She swayed, and he told himself to let the bitch fall if she fainted.
"He found me," she whispered. "I wondered after the other night, but I thought . . . hoped . . . " She swallowed, then looked at him. "What do you want to know?"
The bleakness in her eyes made him just as angry as her lies.
"What was your name, and what did you steal?"
The slow but steady incline in this complicated story worked for me. In fact, the whole thing reads quite a bit like a police procedural/urban fantasy mash-up, as the focus revolves between Others, humans, villains, and Meg. Or "The Meg," as many of the shifters so charmingly refer to her. Yes, I could have done without one ridiculously overdone wannabe villain. And, yes, the pacing does plod from time to time as threads are flung far and wide in not-always discernible directions. But the incredibly subtle development of the key relationships, combined with a truly fresh take on supernatural politics, set Written in Red apart from the pack. I can't wait to return.(less)
This will be the second year in a row I've started off with a review of a historical romance. What can I say? The...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
This will be the second year in a row I've started off with a review of a historical romance. What can I say? They are working for me lately, and especially at this time of new beginnings and transitions. I find comfort, laughter, and encouragement within the pages of the best ones. And most recently, that best one was Sherry Thomas' The Luckiest Lady in London. I read and loved Ms. Thomas' YA debut, The Burning Sky, this past year and I'm eagerly awaiting the sequel to that. But I actually read a couple of her historicals prior to that. One worked for me and one not so much, so it was with some anxiety that I picked up her latest historical. One thing I never doubt, though, is the strength of the writing. My, but she has a lovely way with words, to say nothing of a rather comprehensive grasp of the gamut of human emotions. This one was no exception. I fell into Louisa and Felix's story with nary a blink of an eye.
Louisa Cantwell does not trust the Marquess of Wrenworth as far as she can throw him. Known among the ton as The Ideal Gentleman, he is widely considered a paragon of virtue and decorum. But Louisa, despite her desperate need of a wealthy husband, wants nothing to do with this man who acts one way in front of his peers and quite another when the two of them are alone. In fact, they are thrown together on enough occasions that she finds herself actually torn when the inappropriate proposition they've both been afraid he might make actually crosses his lips. It's not that she would ever accept his offer. It's just that a small part of her would like to pretend it was possible, without ruining either of their reputations. But of course it is not possible. He is leading something of a double life and she must secure herself a wealthy husband if she is to support the sisters and mother who rely on her for their continued day-to-day existence. And so the subtle bargaining and not-too-serious flirting goes on until Felix surprises them both by actually proposing, and a marriage neither of them are ready for begins.
"You don't look as righteously vindicated as you ought to," he pointed out, his voice insidiously soft, insidiously close.
"Rest assured my immortal soul is pleased. It's only my vanity that is crushed."
And her pathetic heart.
"My poor, darling Louisa," he murmured, the evil, evil man.
"It is still very ill done of you to come here and single me out, just to tell me you've thought better of your nefarious plans. What am I supposed to tell Lady Balfour in"--she glanced at the clock--"precisely forty-five seconds?"
And once those forty-five seconds flew by, once he walked out Lady Balfour's door, she might not ever see him again. Who else would like her for her scheming ways? Who else would applaud her for thinking of herself? And who else would ask her about the telescope she had loved and lost?
This is one of those heart caught firmly in your throat sorts, in case you were wondering. That seems to be a Sherry Thomas forte, as a matter of fact. I find I feel an alarming amount for her characters very early on. Not so much that it frightens me (this is a known phenomenon), but enough that I am with them for the duration of their troubles. And Louisa and Felix have so very many troubles. Her circumstances and his family history leave much to be desired and, when we first meet them, are in the process of sending out a host of poisonous tentacles to suck the life out of what they've managed to construct for themselves. Their mutual attraction is unexpected and inconvenient on all fronts. And I love how it pains them both. I mean, Felix gets a few proper kicks out of it in the beginning (always at Louisa's expense, of course). But they are both caught by it and well and truly suffering before long. Marriage, which didn't seem to be in the cards, arrives earlier than anyone, including me, expected. But then I got to experience a thrill when I realized this was going to be the story of a marriage. The story of a marriage in which the real courtship and the wounding and the healing would take place after the wedding, not necessarily in that order and not (for better or worse) just once. There were so many complicated and painful factors responsible for the marriage to begin with, that there was fodder galore for an extensive and intimate exploration of all it entailed. And what it entails is quite a lot of fear and longing, knee-jerk coping mechanisms and beautiful-but-brittle facades. It gets worse before it gets better, but the journey is definitely worth it.
"How did you know I was here?"
"We learned while we were at Mrs. Cornish's ball--guests were leaving to come here and they said you would be in attendance. So Lady Balfour decided to do the same. We didn't even have invitations, but Lady Balfour told me to hold my head high and simply march in."
"And you succeeded admirably, of course."
"I wanted to see you," she said simply. "And when I came out of the powder room, whom should I spy but you, slipping in here."
"Have you missed me?"
He didn't ask such questions. Or at least, he didn't ask such questions when the answers mattered.
Her left hand closed into a fist. "Of course I have missed you."
The floor stopped wobbling. He breathed again.
And so it goes, in different seasons, and with different degrees of trust and closeness. I was engrossed and very much invested. It is also worth pointing out that the ending works. In many historicals, I find the endings the weakest part. Too fluffy, too abrupt, or in some painful cases, far, far too epilogued. The Luckiest Lady in London succeeds with both its immediate ending and its blessedly brief but just right epilogue. And for that I commend it.(less)
If I stop and hold still for a minute, I can still feel the tingles I felt after finishing Scarlet last year. It...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
If I stop and hold still for a minute, I can still feel the tingles I felt after finishing Scarlet last year. It was that good to read a new and, more importantly, impressive Robin Hood retelling. And it was impressive. From the gender-swapping and Scarlet's dialect to the individual members of the young band, each of them keeping their own secrets. I really had no idea where Ms. Gaughen would take them after everything spiraled so maddeningly out of control at the end. And now, having read it, I love how many times, and with what unflinching force, she surprised me in LADY THIEF. I never saw things coming. I mean, I saw a couple of things coming. But by and large I gasped more than I nodded knowingly. And even now I can hear my husband laughing. He is used to my gasps. He is also used to me looking up with glassy eyes and whispering something along the lines of, "Everything is not okay." But more on that later.
Some spoilers for the end of the first book I found impossible to avoid. Proceed with caution.
Scarlet's been living on borrowed time ever since her unwelcome marriage. Inexplicably willing to bide his time, Gisbourne has been gone. And Scarlet has been somewhat free to periodically slip away from the keep and check on the boys. What she's seen has not been encouraging. Robin's past haunts his nights. He rarely sleeps and when he does it always ends violently. Occasionally, Scarlet or John get a little too close and it comes to blows, which improves exactly none of their moods and does not bode well for the little band's sense of unity. But now her husband has returned, and Scarlet must play the role she bought when she agreed to wed a monster in exchange for Robin's life. Just what Gisbourne wants remains a mystery as there is zero love lost between the two of them. When Prince John and his entourage arrive, Scarlet's life only gets more difficult as the machinations at work take on a much grander scale than she imagined. And with the people of Nottingham starving and no relief in sight, Scarlet must force herself to fully inhabit her role as a noble if she is to spare her people (and her small family) from the prince's wrath.
I believe my favorite thing about this book (and series) is the perspective we get through Scarlet's eyes. It is her view of Robin Hood we see. She marks his flaws. She knows them as well as she does her own. And so the whole tale feels unusually honest and decidedly spare. It works incredibly well. Especially because, while she sees a hero in Rob, it is her bravery and endurance (and grief) we are closest to. Scarlet's a hero. And she's going to save her people. I have no doubt of it. That said, I will admit I was not expecting the level of sadness in this book. You guys. It is so sad. It is also riveting, exciting, unquestionably romantic, and I absolutely loved it. But, you guys. A.C. Gaughen is not kidding around. Her characters are stalked at every turn. By their own demons as well as the ones foisted on them by their impossible circumstances. The whole twisted web only becomes more knotted as events progress and the villains keep shifting chairs. And can I just say Prince John is simply splendid if you're in the mood for despicable tyrants. And let's be honest. You're here reading this review. When are you not in that mood? My hatred for him was and is unswerving. And while we're talking bad guys, Gisbourne came through in spades. My feelings for him were nowhere near as single minded as my feelings for the prince. Gisbourne and I, we were all across the map. But without spoiling anything, I can tell you his story is one of the most compelling. All that potential he carried in the first book is present and accounted for and deliciously explored here in the second.
I wanted to quote any number of passages between Scarlet and Robin, because their relationship travels in such lovely and aching ways in this installment. But they were all a little too special to take out of context. So instead I'm sharing a scene between Scarlet and Much. Because I love them and the way they love their friend.
"You look a little lost."
I turned to see Much steps from me. He smiled under a big farmer's hat in his crooked, half-sure way, and I hugged him. He hugged me tight with a laugh. "John and Rob are awfully boring without you around."
I mussed his hair with a laugh. "I'm certain they are. So what do you reckon, will someone make me a widow today?" We went and leaned on the fencing that were meant to keep the common folk from the grounds. We were low, back, and to the side, and from there the whole thing looked vicious and fierce, less like a game and more like gods stomping about for notice.
"I doubt it," he said, honest as ever. "Gisbourne is a very good fighter."
I rubbed my still swollen lip. "I know."
"He slept, you know," Much told me. "Last night, whole way through."
This thrilled my heart like a holy fire. "It's fair strange, talking about Rob like he were an infant or such."
"It's good news."
I shivered. "It's perfect news."
I shivered throughout this worthy sequel, both in response to the ever-unwinding intrigue as well as the prevailing chill it exudes. If ever there was a winter book, it's this one. I read it huddled under my blankets, fear and delight close at hand, as I watched Scarlet, Robin, John, and Much, the ice clutching at the hems of their cloaks, threatening to freeze any vestige of warmth inside. It's going to be an immeasurably long wait for book three. But, like Scarlet, I aim to survive.(less)
So I read another Beauty and the Beast retelling. As one does. Cruel Beauty has been on my radar for several mont...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
So I read another Beauty and the Beast retelling. As one does. Cruel Beauty has been on my radar for several months now. The truth is I was a goner when I heard it blended my favorite fairy tale with Greek mythology. Having read it now, another truth is that, in my humble opinion, it would be better billed as a Cupid & Psyche retelling. Not that all the lovely elements of Beauty and the Beast aren't there and thriving. As a matter of fact, threads of several different fairy tales run through the veins of this crazy, lovely book. And I appreciated all of them. But the Greek mythology aspect of it is real and very important to the story as a whole. As such, I think it bears the strongest resemblance to the tale of beleaguered Psyche and the god she weds. I've read a myriad different reactions to Rosamund Hodge's debut novel, and I can credit all of them because Cruel Beauty is a twisty, mercurial cracker of a tale and most readers are not going to feel mildly about it one way or the other. I do hope you'll give it a shot and see which way your feelings lean.
Nyx is a sharply honed blade. Raised from a child knowing precisely what was expected of her, she has never known the simple happiness of her sister Astraia, the noble firmness her father, or the proper domesticity of her aunt Telomache. All she has known is dread and hate and unscaleable walls. So when the day finally comes when she is to fulfill her duty and marry the Gentle Lord as befit the terms of her father's bargain with the demon, there is very little she will miss about her home or the family members who claim to love her yet are willing to send her off to a fate worse than death if it means it will save their own skins. In fact, despite the primitive terror she feels when the heavy castle door shuts behind her, she is ready. She is done with waiting and ready to avenge her mother's death and defeat the evil lord who brought an ancient curse on the land of Arcadia. Either that or she will die trying. It's doesn't make much difference to Nyx. Until she makes her new husband's acquaintance, that is. Until she looks into his blood red cat's eyes and listens to his mocking voice as it tells of past wives, all of them useless, all of them dead. How very glad he is she's arrived to provide the next course of entertainment. Then? Why then she wants to kill him very, very much indeed.
I love immeasurably flawed protagonists. I love them, love them, love them. So I experienced something akin to glee when I realized Nyx and Ignifex were the real thing. She wants to kill him. When she says she hates everyone in her life, she is not kidding. And that hate flows off the page. In a good way. He finds her endlessly amusing and he fully expects her to join his eight past wives in the family tomb, as it were. When he says the people who come to him to bargain get what they deserve, he really believes it. Their verbal (and physical) sparring gets underway the very first night Nyx arrives at his home, and it just doesn't let up. Basically, I wore a deranged grin every time they exchange parries. And every night as Nyx set off to explore the castle and find the path to destroying her husband, I relished the beautiful and terrifying descriptions of the ballroom that is also a midnight lake, the library full of books she cannot read, the mirror that bears a keyhole, and the shadows that lick at her heels. It is worth pointing out that while I enjoyed myself throughout the book, it wasn't until roundabout the halfway mark that things reached unputdownable status. But reach it they did, and I read the last half through in one headlong rush.
There is one other denizen of the Gentle Lord's home. One who remains there against his will and who sets out to help Nyx on her bloody quest. His name is Shade. He is quite literally Ignifex's shadow, and he believes that this time, this wife might actually be his hope of escape. I never knew quite what to think of Shade. My feelings for Ignifex were immediate and sure, but Shade left me alternately hot and cold. His role in the tale is a murky one, and I will admit to resenting his presence at times, even up through the end. But much of that can be chalked up to the sheer sparkle and force imbued in every scene in which Nyx and Ignifex share the page. I quite simply couldn't look away from the girl intent on murder and the quicksilver demon who has been the agent of murder for centuries. Because something remarkable and elusive was happening to them both, even as they threatened each other with all manner of bodily harm and eternal torment. And the fact that Ms. Hodge managed to quietly craft this fragile something inside a fortress of fury, without compromising her characters, well, it impressed me. I love them so very much for all their vengeful hearts and angry, clenching hands. But perhaps most of all for the ultimate mercy they show (not to themselves, but to one another) in spite of the suffering they've undergone.
In closing, my favorite passage:
"You don't think our plan will work."
"I'd give it rather low odds."
I leaned forward, hoping that for once his gloating temperament would be useful. "Why not? Explain to me how I'm stupid, husband."
He poked my nose. "You're not stupid and neither is your plan. But the Heart of Air is utterly beyond your reach. And your people have not even begun to grasp the nature of this house."
"Then tell me." I tilted my head. "Or are you scared?"
"No," he said placidly, and abruptly dropped to the ground, resting his head in my lap. "Tired."
I swallowed. The easy comfort of the gesture touched me in a way his kisses had not. I couldn't understand why he kept acting like he trusted me.
"I had a long night," he added, looking up at me from under his lashes.
"I told you I'm not sorry," I growled.
"Of course not." He smiled with his eyes shut.
"You deserve all that and more. It made me happy to see you suffer. I would do it all over again if I could." I realized I was shaking as the words tumbled out of me. "I would do it again and again. Every night I would torment you and laugh. Do you understand? You are never safe with me." I drew a shuddering breath, trying to will away the sting of tears.
He opened his eyes and stared up at me as if I were the door out of Arcadia and back to the true sky. "That's what makes you my favorite." He reached up and wiped a tear off my cheek with his thumb. "Every wicked bit of you."
How long has it been since I read a really good horror novel? And how did I not realize going in that that's exac...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
How long has it been since I read a really good horror novel? And how did I not realize going in that that's exactly what SORROW'S KNOT was? I read Erin Bow's debut novel Plain Kate when it came out and was suitably impressed with her writing, even though the book as a whole didn't work for me perfectly. But as soon as I heard that her sophomore novel was to be an indigenous tale of ghosts and the generations of women who bind them, I felt certain I would be reading it as soon as I got the chance. It just sounded too intriguing to miss. I wasn't entirely sold on the cover, and now after having read it I kind of wish they'd gone with something darker (less mystic blue) to more accurately match the chilling content hidden within its pages. Because make no mistake—SORROW'S KNOT is an unapologetically terrifying gem of a tale. In fact, it rather resists classification. It's fantasy, but oh, it's horror. It's young adult, but it's really very middle grade, too. It's sad. But its moments of happiness are blinding. Which is why you really must read it so you can find out what it is for you.
Otter is the daughter of a long and distinguished tradition of binders, the women of her pinch who protect their people from the rising dead. Her mother Willow is widely expected to be the greatest binder who ever lived. And that is taking into account the legendary Mad Spider who set the standard for binding and setting wards and holding off the deadliest of all undead: the White Hands. And so Otter's life has been open and sure, certain in the knowledge that her path would take her in the footsteps of her ancestors, that one day she, too, would take up the calling as binder for her people. And life has been good. Together with her two best friends the ranger Kestrel and the storyteller Cricket, she's been free to run and laugh and play tricks on the more grave elders of her band. Until the old binder Tamarack dies and her mother Willow reluctantly steps into her shoes. From that day on, nothing is right. Sure that something is wrong with the knots she ties to bind the dead, Willow drifts farther and father away from them. As her mother's words and actions become more erratic, Otter's fear grows. And then one day Willow reveals she will never take Otter as her apprentice. And Otter's life unties itself before her very eyes, her footsteps haunted by the terrible secret behind her mother's decline.
Bow's writing folds you into its clutches so gently you have no defense left when the terror beneath the words reveals itself. I think it's best to just start with one of my favorite scenes, so you know what we're dealing with here:
Otter tried to breathe deep, but each breath made her shudder and shudder. Kestrel put her hand between Otter's shoulders: steady. The summer stones were rough and warm to the touch. They were not alive, but if they were dead, it was a simple kind of dead: They were only themselves. They needed nothing.
Otter was thinking this and not watching the world, and so when someone moved just behind her, her heart leapt like a startled grasshopper. She spun and had her bracelets thrust up before she saw who it was.
"What happened?" said Cricket.
"Once our dogs were wolves," said Cricket, when no one answered him, "and though we loved them, we watched them carefully."
Kestrel half laughed. "They're watching Willow."
"No, they're sure she's rabid." He turned to Otter. "They're watching you."
Otter trailed along the edge of the sunflower row, away from the lodges and the open space of the palm. She could feel the eyes of the pinch on her back. "I didn't do anything," she said. "It's only that I'm—I'm—" This girl is a binder born. "—her daughter."
Slowly they walked away from the lodges of Westmost, as if they were deer browsing. As if they were not afraid. Kestrel put out her hand and skimmed it along the top of the grass as the meadow became wilder.
"What happened?" said Cricket again. "Have mercy on a storyteller: Tell me a story."
"It's not just a story," said Otter. Something broke out of her that sounded like anger.
"They never are," said Cricket softly.
Those three. They form the magnetic center of this wild book and I loved them so very much. What a beautiful rendering of a trifold friendship. The playful storyteller, the stalwart ranger, and the tier of powerful knots who walks with the dead. I would have followed the three of them anywhere. And, in fact, I followed them much farther than I expected or (in some cases) wanted. Their story is deceptively small, geographically as well as emotionally. And while the marvelously imaginative and complicated rules and history of Otter's world exist on a grand scale, the whole thing rests very much on what it means to three children who have grown into their adult roles and found the world a larger, infinitely more disturbing place than they believed it to be.
Which leads me to the White Hands. I'm still repressing shivers, days later, my friends. The alarmingly apt descriptions of the quiet ways these beings kill you had me glancing up for reassurance on a continual basis. I couldn't bear their encroaching presence around the characters I'd come to care for. To be honest, the bleak, growing dread of it all got to me at one point and I had to put the book down and come back to it the following evening when I had a little more perspective (and summoned a little more hope). This may or may not have coincided with a supremely sorrowful moment. Suffice it to say I spent some time grieving. It's oppressive at times, but in an undeniably well-crafted way. When I did return, I read it through to the end, closing the book wholly satisfied, if a little winded. The unexpected, understated, and sweet romance in the last third of the book may have had a little to do with my sigh of contentedness at the end. It's a story I will remember for quite some time, and one that really should not be missed. Recommended for fans of Tiger Lily. I know.(less)
I remember first running across Eileen Wilks' name in the On the Prowl compilation I purchased solely because it contained Patricia Briggs' first Alpha & Omega novella (fabulous, by the way). I never really sat down and read the other novellas, though. Now I'm wishing I had so that I could have discovered Wilks' writing much sooner. Instead, it took my buddy in all things urban fantasy Chachic throwing herself headlong into a glom of Wilks' World of the Lupi series to convince me to give the it a shot. And what a time to come in to a new series. The World of the Lupi is currently 10 full books in and going strong! Plenty of adventure to keep me busy in between waiting for the next book in my other favorite series. I will say that this cover does little for me. After the fact, I like that it depicts an actual scene from the book. But even so, it leaves me feeling pretty meh. It does look as though partway into the series, the covers shift to somewhat more traditional UF covers, depicting Lily in action. And since I like Lily very much, this thing maketh me happy.
Lily Yu has worked her way up to Homicide and has every intention of proving she's earned her place there. Being a petite Chinese female cop has been no walk in the park. To say nothing of her less explicit ability as a sensitive. Able to sense magic through touch gives her a leg up on investigations, but would destroy her credibility as a detective were anyone but her captain to find out. And she needs every advantage she can get on her latest case. A man was murdered by what appears to be a lupus in wolf form. Lily is lead on the case, but things get thorny when the top suspect turns out to be the prince, heir, and general golden boy of the local lupi clan—Rule Turner. Famous for his charm and flexible morals, Rule has a less than stellar alibi and a whole lotta motive. Lily and Rule's first meeting is both illuminating and frustrating, as Lily comes to the realization that not only does she sense zero magic coming off of Rule (and she really should) but that she is inexorably drawn to him at the same time. For his part, Rule is determined to both clear his name and figure out why he can't get the irascible detective out of his mind. Together they set out to solve the murder and see if they can come to some sort of truce along the way.
There is just nothing not to like about this debut. It immediately put me in mind of the cancelled-too-early crime drama Life—a show I mourn to this day. This put us on excellent terms, as I love police procedurals, and a mash-up with urban fantasy pretty much steamrolled any defenses I might have erected. Lily is a sympathetic protagonist from the start. I love how hard she works every day. And I love Wilks' exploration of her strained relationships with family and colleagues as a result of her heritage, her abilities, and her aspirations. Rule is initially an unknown quantity, unknown enough that it set my nerves to jangling. However, he quickly works his way into not just Lily's inner circle, but the reader's as well. An early interaction that sold me on these two:
Her eyes flew to his. She saw flecks of gold in the dark irises, and the way his pupils had swollen. The pink triangles at the inner corners of his eyes. The dark, thick eyelashes. And the way his lids had pulled back in shock.
He dropped her hand. For a moment they stared at each other. Her heart pounded. His nostrils were flared, his breathing fast.
Dear God. What did she say? How did she put that moment away, unmake it?
He broke the silence. "I won't be behaving myself," he told her grimly. And turned and left.
What I love about Rule is how unexpectedly grim he is. I know, I know, but hear me out. The thing is he's this serious playboy with oodles of charm, and he could have come off utterly vapid, as nothing more than a warm, willing body. But Rule is much more than that. He's the heir to massive responsibility, his family dynamics are twisty and fraught, and when the connection with Lily is made manifest, it changes every detail of the life he leads. What can I say? The gravity with which he approached his new life impressed me. The bond is unwelcome to both parties. But Rule deals with it with more composure than Lily, if only because he knows what it is that's happening and she has no idea. It's his compassion that kills me. His compassion for Lily as the avalanche buries them both. And his fledgling affection and sense of wonder at the thought that it might change their lives in beautiful ways as well as terrible ones.
"Without Nokolai, the other clans are unlikely to support the bill."
"The clans don't have that much political clout."
"Mmm. Not all lupi are as open about their nature as I am."
Her eyebrows lifted. "Are you saying you've got people in high places? People with a furry secret?"
"The mystery bit is getting old," she observed. "So you think that taking out you and your father could affect the way things go in Washington?"
"The idea wasn't just to remove me, was it? They wanted me arrested, imprisoned. If the, ah, poster boy from lupi is proved to be a murderer, will the public support a bill making us full citizens?"
"Citizens kill each other all the time, unfortunately. But I get your meaning."
She fell silent then, which was just as well. He needed to give his driving most of his attention. But driving, even in this traffic, didn't require his entire mind.
She'd called him Rule.
Such a small thing, a name. But she'd never said his.
Yeah. Rule has layers. I was rooting for them both and I loved them, from their crackling tension on the page to the way their names sound one after the other. Their romance is key to the story, to be sure, but it never takes center stage and it is very much a work in progress. I look forward to watching them negotiate each other throughout each of the following books in the series. Wholeheartedly recommended for mystery lovers, crime lovers, urban fantasy lovers, romance lovers. You name it, Wilks has got it in her bag.(less)
I am a huge fan. There’s just no use starting out with any other introduction than that. A clever friend gifted...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Dear Author
I am a huge fan. There’s just no use starting out with any other introduction than that. A clever friend gifted me a copy of Garden Spells several years ago, and it was love at first sight. I quickly devoured each of your successive books, and while I can never quite decide if The Peach Keeper is my favorite or if The Sugar Queen owns that spot, what I do know is I have loved each one of your beautiful stories. So it was with great pleasure I sat down with this latest blend of magical realism and southern comfort. As a child, I spent several formative years in Virginia. My mother’s sister and her family lived a few hours away in North Carolina, and every spring and summer we eagerly climbed in the car and drove south to spend a few weeks with them. These trips were magical to me, and these novels, with their humid nights, slow-roasting barbecue, and softly lilting drawl send me right back to night games with my cousins and catching fireflies in cupped hands.
Eby Pim never expected to marry the man she did. Coming as she does from a long line of women determined to marry money, Eby was always the sad exception to the rule. Less lovely, less ambitious than her mother, sister, grandmother, she was perhaps the most surprised of all when she and George fell in love. He was rich. But the money was new and meant very little to either of them except as an escape from their interfering families. And so Eby and George embarked on an indefinite honeymoon, spending months and months in Europe. Paris, mostly, where they acquired a troubled young woman by the name of Lisette. Lisette never speaks, preferring to write her thoughts and questions down on a notebook she keeps around her neck. When word of a death in the family cuts their time in Europe short, Eby and George return home to Georgia with Lisette in tow. And when the lure of their money proves too much for Eby’s family, they decide to wash their hands of it, getting rid of it all and buying a stretch of land known as Lost Lake, where they set up a small summer resort amid the swamps and cypress knees. Years later, Eby’s widowed niece Kate finds her way back to Lost Lake. She brings with her her free spirited 8-year-old daughter Devin and a fledgling determination to take up and make some sense of the scattered threads of her life.
Lost Lake is very pleasant. It is a very pleasant novel. And there’s the rub. Pleasantness abounds, along with a very nice level of quirk and charm. But it never crosses over into deeper waters, at least not for me. Most of Ms. Allen’s novels trade point of view chapters back and forth between a couple or three “main” protagonists. Sometimes I gravitate more toward one than the others, and sometimes I fall for them equally. Either way the overall balance generally works for me. But in Lost Lake, quite a few different characters share the limelight (what there is of it), and I was never allowed to spend enough time with any one of them to develop genuine feelings for them and their fate. I wanted to. The chapters from Eby’s past are heady and lovely. I followed her through the streets and over the bridges of Paris and would have happily spent the rest of the novel unraveling the threads of Lisette’s mysterious past. Likewise, I was just as willing to accompany Kate on her journey to revive herself and her faltering relationship with her young daughter.
Kate had been thirteen when her father died. No more weekend road trips. No more hours spent after school in her father’s video store, watching movie after movie. Her mother had gone a little crazy after that, like she’d pulled the in the event of an emergency switch that the women in her family told her to pull if her husband ever died, and this was what happened.
She wouldn’t come out of her room for months. Kate had lived on bagels, sandwich meat, and microwaved popcorn for most of eighth grade. She had hidden when well-meaning neighbors knocked on the door, after the first time she’d let them in and they’d worried why her mother wouldn’t see them.
There was still a place inside Kate that resented her mother’s grief when her father died. She still remembered what her mother had said to her on the day Kate and Matt went to the court house to get married. I hope you never lose him. It had felt like a portent. Kate hadn’t been as obvious about it as her mother, but, sure enough, she had still pulled that same switch. And she should have known that Devin had caught on. Children always know when their mothers are crazy—they just never admit it, not out loud, to anyone.
Goodness, it is lovely writing. Strong enough to see you through to the end even when you’re not as invested as you would have liked. In theory, I liked the idea of Kate and Eby (two women living under the same family curse) coming together in this place apart from the rest of the world and . . . figuring things out. In practice, its meaningfulness felt muffled. Neither story was given enough page time to really land. I didn’t dislike any of the wispy and enticing peripheral characters. In fact, I liked them all: brazen Bulahdeen, shameless Selma, diffident Jack, imperious Cricket, and the heartbreaking trio Wes, Luc, and Billy. I just didn’t love any of them. The painful part is that I could literally feel that potential love of mine ghosting out there on the horizon for the entire length of the book. I knew it was possible. It just never materialized. Instead I felt distracted and removed, not disgruntled per se, but just gently fond when I wanted to be infatuated, like I was reading an abridged version of the full story.(less)
Last year I read my very first ever Christmas novellas and shocked myself at how much I enjoyed them. I mean I re...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Last year I read my very first ever Christmas novellas and shocked myself at how much I enjoyed them. I mean I read a few duds, sure, but I read some real gems as well. And so a couple of weeks ago I found myself eagerly looking forward to rereading a couple of my favorites this holiday season as well as hopefully discovering a few new ones. Happily, the very first new one I read proved to be a home run. I kind of knew it would be, given how much I loved Mary Ann Rivers' debut novella The Story Guy earlier this year. When I heard her next book was a Christmas novella in the HEATING UP THE HOLIDAYS anthology, I snatched it up the day it released and snuggled up with my Nook for a little pre-holiday reading. I hadn't read any works by the other two authors in the collection (I actually still haven't read their contributions, though I plan on it at some point), but I can tell you the ebook bundle is utterly worth it for Rivers' story alone.
Jenny Wright was diagnosed right at the most inopportune of times--right after she uprooted her life entirely, moved halfway across the country, and started a new job in a new place. And even after being diagnosed with a rare degenerative eye disease, she chose to stay in her new life. Even though her mother begged her to come back home where she could look after her. Even though her colleagues walked a little more cautiously around her. And even as the days grew shorter and the darkness crept in. The one bright point in those days is the time after she gets home from work and settles in on the couch with her computer. That's when she gets to chat with C. Though they've never actually met, he used to live in the house she currently rents. And when she forwarded a piece of mail on to him, they struck up an online relationship. C is a macro photographer. Most days the two of them talk about his pictures, her thoughts, anything they like. Though their interactions grow more intimate, Jenny knows she can't handle more. She has enough on her plate navigating her work, her occupational therapy, and just getting through each day intact. When her worlds collide, she is wholly unprepared for the fallout.
I think my best bet is to keep still and let the snow fall, let the days get long again, the light return its hours to me, a few more chances a day to figure out what it is I can comfortably keep in front of me and see.
For me, there isn't some miracle cure, this is my life, or my disease will progress and my life will change focus again, and I'll have another new life.
I need C to stay right where he is now because for now, I don't know enough to move from where I am.
My hypothesis is that the light will come back, both outside and inside me.
I'm afraid and angry, but the light is a theory I want to prove.
Until then, I just have to keep the experiment going with as many controls as possible.
One bus, back and forth.
One man, his words under glass.
Yes. I just knew Ms. Rivers would bring her words. And how beautifully they were voiced through Jenny. I really loved her, you guys. My throat constricted on her behalf from moment to moment. And though I cannot fathom the terror she lived with each day, I know enough of fear to swallow hard at every one of her ruminations on the encroaching darkness. What I love most about Mary Ann Rivers' stories is how with one hand she keeps a ruthless stranglehold on false hope, and with the other she offers the most delicate of joys. I feel both rational and enchanted when I read them. Her writing does not require that I sacrifice either. And so I love it. Which is good, because she brings the sadness and no mistake. Because Jenny's condition is not sugar coated, I worried about getting my hopes up for her future, in general terms as well as with the man in her life. I worried a lot for a single novella. But I loved every page. And there were (as there should be) lovely startling flares of humor as well.
I wonder if he practices making awkward and nerdy look sort of cool. Like he fills his house with furniture that is the wrong scale for his tall body and buys plaid shirts in bulk and tells his barber to leave crazy, too-long pieces of hair mixed in with the regularly cut hair so everything always looks messy.
Then he runs his hands through his hair and puts on his plaid shirts and uses mirrors to watch himself sit in uncomfortable furniture until comfortable furniture looks like it's the one with the problem.
I loved him in the same way Jenny did. Uncertainly. Desperately. In awkward pieces and with a number of reservations. Neither of them faced easy choices and the untenable nature of their situation gave me pause more than once. But as the snow fell, how my love grew. When I think about reading SNOWFALL, I picture it in soft black and white with the occasional flash of color in the threads of his plaid shirt, in the string of Christmas lights hung with the fierceness of hope for light in the coming year.(less)
I don’t remember the last time I sped so quickly from one book in a series to the next. Much of that is to do wi...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Dear Author
I don’t remember the last time I sped so quickly from one book in a series to the next. Much of that is to do with the fact that I usually have to wait at least a year in between installments of my favorite urban fantasy series. But, in this case, I came to the Colbana Files with two books already out, and I’m not too proud to say I read the last word of Blade Song, immediately downloaded a copy of NIGHT BLADE to my Nook, and began reading without blinking an eye. Much of that is to do with the fact that by the end of the first book, Kit, Damon, and the various and sundry denizens of East Orlando had me thoroughly absorbed in their world. I did wonder, idly, how my feelings would fare in the second book. From the opening lines, it becomes clear that a matter of months have passed since the tumultuous events of Blade Song. I liked the fact that things happen in the intervening time, that Kit has been working jobs as usual, that Damon has been dealing with the fractious clan of cats, that they haven’t been waiting around for me to get things done. As for me, I fell back into their days without a ripple and, from that point on, the pace didn’t let up once.
Kit never expected to find happiness. It’s not an emotion she’s had cause to become acquainted with. And while she’s suitably loath to label what she’s experiencing now as such, she’d be a fool to deny the fact that life as she knows it changed for the better after Damon Lee walked into her life. Far from joined at the hip, the solitary PI and the reluctant alpha spend the majority of their days separate, mired in the demands of their jobs. Between her clients and his clan, they’re hard pressed to find time alone to talk, let alone attempt to navigate the tightrope that is their tenuous bond. And when a former significant other and current agent for the non-human law enforcement agency known as BANNER darkens Kit’s door with an offer she literally can’t refuse, it lays the first brick in a wall she’s afraid will permanently separate her from that glimpse of happiness. Apparently, select members of the Council have been dropping like flies, and her ex Justin informs her that Damon is the lead suspect in the case. Justin’s on a timeline to provide some shred of proof Damon isn’t behind the deaths before he’s scheduled for execution, and he wants Kit to join forces with him. Wants it bad enough he’s willing to spell her with a magical gag, making it impossible for her to talk about their clandestine mission. Backed into a corner, Kit hits the ground running, determined to clear Damon’s name even if it means alienating him along the way.
I’ll go ahead and say I was worried the enforced secret-keeping would grow irksome, driving an unnecessary wedge between two characters I admired. I didn’t want to lose my respect for them so soon, and I really didn’t want to be forced to sit back and watch them tear each other apart at the hands of a careworn plot device. I should have known better. There is nothing tired or flimsy about this story, and for every ounce of sweat I shed watching Kit suffer in silence, an equal measure of sensitivity and respect grew as I watched her in action. Which is not to say that crippling amounts of pain and anguish do not lie beyond this point. But the dramatically high stakes served to illuminate the nature of Kit and Damon’s bond, for the reader but for Kit as well. If I was surprised at how protective I felt of these two in the first book, it was nothing compared to my level of attachment in the second. Chief among my concerns going in was how well the “established” relationship would fare so early on in a series. Used to couples that take books and books to come to some sort of agreement, I had no idea what to expect from this more accelerated structure. The liberal dose of wit and palpable charisma with which Kit and Damon are painted puts me in mind of Ilona Andrews’ Kate and Curran.
I stroked my hand down the grip of my blade and turned away from the window. “I don’t have time for this. They’re out in the parking lot and my shadow-cum-babysitter is smirking like this is all very amusing to her.”
Making a face at the phone, I said, “Yes. Her.”
“He’s sending Megan.”
“Yes.” Some of the tension had faded from his voice. I knew him well enough to figure out just what had caused at least some of the tension. My inner child lurks very close to the surface at times and she escaped my grasp before I could stop her. “I tried to get him to send that big piece of meat in a suit, but I don’t think he likes me.”
“Piece of meat?”
“Yeah.” Rocking back on my heels, I stared at the wolf in question and smiled. “I think he’d like to be you, but he’s not doing a good job of it. Still, I thought he’d make interesting conversation—“
“Kit. Are you trying to make me kill somebody?”
I laughed. “No. If I wanted to do that, I’d discuss something other than his conversation skills.”
When they’re not snarling at each other or bending over backwards to save the other’s life, they’re really disarmingly charming. Which is why when things go to hell in a hand basket, it’s so difficult to maintain any sort of readerly composure. I failed just miserably. As I said, the whole thing builds steadily, and the ominous crisis I thought I knew was coming still managed to take me by surprise. Fully immersed in Kit’s head, I never saw it coming.
The few friends and allies Kit has amassed in the course of her work offset her solitude to a degree, and I loved the additional insight we get into all of their backgrounds, especially Doyle (Damon’s ward and the young werecat she saved in the first book) and Colleen (the rogue witch who heals her on an alarmingly frequent basis).
This was Damon’s closest friend.
He trusted nobody the way he trusted Chang. Raking my nails down my forearm, I turned and stared at the man waiting patiently behind the table. “Have you ever had to do a job that you hated with every fiber of your being?”
He inclined his head. “At times. I usually try to find a way to avoid such jobs.”
“Sometimes you can’t. Because it’s the only way to take care of things that matter most.” I was able to force those words out, but just barely. The binding weighed in closer and closer, making it hard to breathe. “Sometimes, the only way to care for those things is to do something that leaves you feeling sick, twisted, broken inside.”
“Whatever you’re protecting, if it’s worth that much . . . it will work out,” Chang said gently.
I stared at him for a long, aching moment. “I hope so.”
Oh, Kit. I finished NIGHT BLADE in a state of mind similar to the one I found myself in while reading the final pages of Catching Fire. The ending is not a cliffhanger, per se, but the Big Bad gets alarmingly free reign in the last section. And once all the bad things have happened and the calm after the storm unfurls, I came to myself throbbing with pain and incandescently angry at every last person but Kit. Rage aside, I love it when an author isn’t afraid to change the name of the game. If I wasn’t exactly prepared for the level of hell this story was headed for, I was more than willing to wade through it for Kit. Provided I don’t have to wait an entire year to find out what happens next. (less)
I have grown more and more cautious in my approach to new (to me) urban fantasy series. I love the genre with a...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Dear Author
I have grown more and more cautious in my approach to new (to me) urban fantasy series. I love the genre with a fierceness that sometimes surprises me, but recently I’ve noticed it’s becoming harder and harder for new heroines and worlds to live up to my favorites. Kate Daniels and Mercy Thompson are at the top of the list, for what it’s worth. It is a silly, to say nothing of unjust, way to look at it, I know. But there it is. I read a couple of your romantic suspense novels (written as Shiloh Walker) awhile back and enjoyed them just fine, so when I realized the same author also wrote urban fantasy under a different name, I decided it sounded like just the thing for fall. It didn’t hurt that the protagonist was an assassin half-breed. I have something of a weak spot for reluctant rogues. Also gleeful rogues. Really just rogues in general. And I have to say, Kit clawed her way to the top of my list within moments of meeting her.
Most days Kit Colbana can be found holding down the fort of her somewhat dilapidated private investigations agency on the rougher side of East Orlando. Half human, half aneira, Kit is descended from a mystical race of female warriors. Trained as an assassin, she was exiled from her home as a teenager for being too slow, too stupid, too human. Happy to be free of the chains that bound her, Kit blew from place to place until a ragtag group of rebel shifters took her in and gave her a reason to stay. Now she flies solo, running her own PI operation in the neutral zone between the human and non-human sectors of Orlando. Kit takes most jobs that come her way, but she works best alone. Which is why she finds herself in such a difficult position when the notoriously insane alpha of the local cat clan sends her top enforcer to present Kit with an offer she can’t refuse. Damon Lee prowls into her office on a cloud of arrogance and ill-concealed contempt. His alpha requests Kit’s assistance tracking down her missing nephew. The job pays well and promises to boost her rep. Unfortunately, the alpha insists she take Damon with her as a bodyguard. Just in case things go south. It takes all of Kit’s paltry restraint to swallow her objections and agree to the terms. Not only does she need that money, but she has a sinister vampire with serious anger management issues breathing down her neck. And so she takes the job. Because for all Damon Lee’s imposing presence and insufferable attitude, Kit consoles herself with the knowledge that she has a few tricks up her sleeve should push come to shove.
Kit had my allegiance from the word go. She’s scrappy as they come. And her aneira “family” were not kidding around with her training. The few flashbacks she allows through the cracks were more than enough to convince me she had earned the right to be as cagey as she liked. As a result, Damon barging into her life, manhandling her like one of his subordinate cats rubbed me just as wrong as it did Kit. And so as it became clearer that he was indeed cast in the role of love interest, I worried I wouldn’t be able to get past the violence and the ego. It was such a relief to have these fears prove unfounded. Because if I’m sure of anything in this cold, hard world, it’s that Kit and Damon are one hell of a match. What initially set my teeth on edge evolved into the most entertaining (and surprisingly touching) relationship I’ve had the pleasure of reading in quite some time. These two personalities are forces to be reckoned with. This is not to say that they’re indestructible. By definition of her partial heritage, Kit is more fragile than Damon (than most of the supernatural big bads she has to deal with on a daily basis, to tell the truth). But the skills she does have are honed to an unparalleled degree. I gleefully enjoyed watching her throw her pursuers off her tail with her mad sword fighting and hidden talents. There is little of peace or joy in Kit’s life. For as long as she can remember it’s been kill or be killed. She has a solitary witch friend here, a shifter who owes her a favor there. But by and large, no one looks out for Kit but Kit. Here and there, though, the darkness is leavened by a punch of light:
The intensity in the air faded and instead of two angry shifters hovering nearby, there was only one.
He looked at me and then jerked his head as he headed outside.
There was a car waiting.
Es had said it was on loan.
It was long, lean and black, a throwback from the days of those old muscle cars and it looked like it might have been made just for him. As he leaned back against it, he stared at me with fury dancing in his eyes. “You had to do it, didn’t you?”
“Yeah.” I thought it all through one more time. Then I nodded. There wasn’t anything I would have taken back or changed. “Yeah, pretty much.”
These moments of understated humor save the reader from succumbing to the horror of Kit’s past and grim reality of her present. As does the sizzling attraction between Kit and Damon. There is little to no smooth sailing between them, and they give each other a few new scars to add to the old ones. But they’re both so compelling that I, for one, couldn’t look away. The writing itself is clear and fast-paced, though the copy-editing in my copy left something to be desired. Peopled with clever witches, nightmarish vampires, wild shifters, and one half-human girl who can handle herself, this ruthless world is one I cannot wait to return to. (less)
Similar to when Elias sees Josie for the first time, I fell in love with this cover the moment I clapped eyes on...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Similar to when Elias sees Josie for the first time, I fell in love with this cover the moment I clapped eyes on it. And, like Elias, I was nervous, given that I knew next to nothing about it and the level of affection I was feeling extended way beyond our limited introduction. But something in its lines, in the lovely design had me thinking it just might be something I could love long term. I immediately ran down the usual sites, routine investigation, you understand. Happily, it wasn't long before a copy landed in my lap for review. I have to say, I'm kind of crushing on the elegance of this cover. As someone who doesn't gravitate toward super-romancey covers in general, I'll admit this one was something of a breath of fresh air. A MAN ABOVE REPROACH is Evelyn Pryce's debut novel. It recently won Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award in the romance category and it is due out in paperback from Montlake Romance later this month. I don't think I've ever read any of Amazon's award-winners before (I'm not entirely sure I even knew they existed), so I figured it was high time I checked one out.
Elias Addison, newly minted Duke of Lennox, has no use for houses of ill repute. He had no use for anything that smacks of too little to do and not enough will power to follow through on one's responsibilities. Rather, he has spent the past year setting his estate to rights after the unexpected passing of his somewhat dissolute father. Which is to say he's been paying off the old man's debts, making sure his younger sister has a proper debut when the time is right, and ensuring his tenants are paid and looked after. So when his best friend and hopeless lothario drags him to the notorious Sleeping Dove one night, he is far less than pleased. But it is at this famed bordello that he makes the acquaintance of the woman known in certain circles as the Bawdy Bluestocking. Ensconced behind the piano, Blue performs in the background while the more vivacious ladies of the Dove ply their trade. Blue's standoffish nature and firm privacy barriers are legendary. And Elias has next to no interest in female companionship. Nevertheless, he finds himself drawn to the piano bench, to the invigorating conversation he finds with the mysterious woman in the blue stockings. And so begins a most problematic, mostly unwelcome friendship between the studious but socially inept duke and the independent woman who wears a thousand masks.
A MAN ABOVE REPROACH was precisely what I hoped it would be. The writing, the characters, the story all delivered on the promises of that lovely cover. I particularly enjoyed the prose itself, which felt structured without being fussy, thoughtful and humorous at just the right moments. For example:
So the Bawdy Bluestocking was the proprietress of her own shop, selling lurid novels to ladies in the front and more esoteric fare in the back, from the looks of the shelves around him. He spied Pope and Crabbe, Shakespeare, of course, and names he did not recognize at all. He wondered how she chose her stock and where it came from. She must spend her days in endless research. The thought was unaccountably lovely to him.
Far be it from me to be able to resist a bluestocking bookshop-owning, piano-playing woman who publishes her own books. Eli's fascination was a foregone conclusion. But it was the writing that allowed me to believe in Lennox and Josie and their gradual transformation. They were such an awkward, magnetic pair. I was sure they belonged together even as I was certain beyond a shadow of a doubt it could not work out in a way that would not cost one or the other of them their principles or place in society. Not that either of them seemed to care, but they cared about it for the other's sake. And it was that innate anxious concern that fed my fondness for them and their plight throughout the book. I believe I was happiest when they were sitting side by side on Josie's piano bench, arguing in hushed tones about the state of the instrument or the number of rules Elias was breaking every time he threw his lot in with hers.
He kept playing, wincing at the wrongness of the sound. Even warming up, she could tell he had true talent. She had never known a man of nobility who wished to put in the practice that playing well took, but this man was an oddity in so many ways. Every time he leaned for a farther key, he gained more ground, making sure that he had his share of the bench. Josephine moved another inch to her left so that they were not touching.
"Then you must understand that I cannot continue hosting you in this way." She lowered her voice. "And you may never come to my store again."
"They," he glanced up, looking around the room, causing dozens of eyes to skitter away. "They think me a lovesick fool, coming over here after you cut me, in full view of a quarter of the beau monde. Grant me an explanation, Miss Grant."
"Explanations are too expensive, Lennox. Even for a duke."
She is so straightforward and earnest for a girl with so much to hide. I loved how she always said and wrote exactly what she thought and pressed forward unashamed (and almost always alone) because of her beliefs and opinions. The first two-thirds of the book are perfectly delightful. I did, however, feel that the characterization faltered somewhat as time wore on. Eli started out an intellectual, somewhat haughty and awkward young man with too many burdens on his shoulders. But by the end he was coming off at times petulant, at times growly alpha male. The shift left me feeling a bit discombobulated, and I wasn't at all sure I liked it. The same goes for a few of the unnecessary antics in the final third of the book. They struck me as silly, and I missed the restrained gravity and building tension of the earlier portions. That said, I truly enjoyed my time with this book and will be keeping my eye out for Ms. Pryce's next projects. Recommended for fans of Rose Lerner and Julia Quinn.(less)
I feel like I've been waffling on whether or not to read this book for years now even though it's only been a few...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I feel like I've been waffling on whether or not to read this book for years now even though it's only been a few months. The thing is, I really enjoyed the first half of Rainbow Rowell's Attachments. I really, really did. And then I was summarily disappointed with the second half. I don't know if it was me or the fact that I read it immediately after giving birth and that just rarely ever works out for me or what. But the direct result was that I stayed away from Eleanor Park, despite it's adorable cover and quirky premise. And I was apparently still shell-shocked enough that I was going to just go ahead and pass on FANGIRL if it wasn't for Janice's enthusiastic review some weeks back. I thought I was just sort of waltzing around lacking the Rowell gene, when in fact I simply hadn't found my gateway book. So, Janice. Can I send you a book bouquet or a fruit basket or some such gift of gratitude? Because I'm kind of having a hard time imagining my reading year without this book. This hilarious, complicated book that induced all the feelings in the general vicinity of my heart.
Cath doesn't do social situations. Outside of her twin sister Wren and her dad, few people have been able to penetrate the force field of solitude with which she surrounds herself. Even her high school boyfriend Abel was really just a placeholder, a nice idea of a boyfriend. But there has always been Simon. And Baz. Ever since they were kids, Cath and Wren have teamed up to write Simon Snow fan fiction. And when the more vivacious Wren's social life took flight, Cath soldiered on alone. Dedicated to the fictional world of Simon Snow, her followers grew to number in the tens of thousands and sating their voracious appetites became a full-time job. Which is why college seems to be getting in the way so much. Having to make small talk with her roommate Reagan and Reagan's kinda sorta ex Levi sends Cath into paroxysms of exhaustion. Not to mention her demanding class schedule and not knowing where the cafeteria is and worrying about leaving her dad all alone at home to fend off loneliness. Cath is a basket case. Fortunately, her roommate can read the writing on the wall and stages an intervention. And thus begins Cath's tentative exploration of life off the page. But when Wren's life threatens to run off the rails and their long-estranged mother re-enters their lives, Cath's only refuge remains with Simon and his sometime nemesis, sometime partner Baz.
I fell on page one. It was laughable how fast I fell. And I'm not even a little bit hesitant to admit it, because I laughed and giggled and gasped my way through this absolutely delightful book. And not just your run-of-the-mill out loud laughing either, but the silent smiles that slowly grow until they take over your whole face and you have to stop and just let the moment happen and savor it before continuing on. Those moments occurred basically any time Cath was thinking, speaking, writing, or sitting in the same room with Levi. Honestly, the boy deserves a moment of silence all his own. I don't remember the last time I grew so fond of a nice guy so fast. In fact, here are a couple of my favorite Levi moments:
She didn't look over at Levi again until they were standing together in front of the elevator. (Condition: smiling, stable). When it opened, he put his hand on her back and she practically jumped in.
"What's the plan?" she asked.
He grinned. "My plan is to do things that make you want to hang out with me again tomorrow. What's your plan?"
"I'm going to try not to make an ass of myself."
He grinned. "So we're all set."
And now a somewhat spoilery exchange (because I literally cannot help myself with these two and trust me, there were way more spoilery bits I somehow managed to resist):
"I just want to know—are you rooting for me? Are you hoping I pull this off?"
Cath's eyes settled on his, tentatively, like they'd fly away if he moved.
She nodded her head.
The right side of his mouth pulled up.
"I'm rooting for you," she whispered. She wasn't even sure he could hear her from the bed.
Levi's smile broke free and devoured his whole face.
I will never tire of Levi's smiles. But as smitten as I was, the focal center of the book remained Cath for me. And I'm so glad Ms. Rowell kept the whole thing so tightly focused on Cath's struggles, both with the world inside her head as well as with the world around her. Initially, I was wary of the actual Simon Snow excerpts (to say nothing of Cath's fan fiction sections). But Rowell surprised me with her deft interweaving of Cath's own life and the life she breathed into Simon and Baz and the whole Watford School gang. To be perfectly frank, she surprised (and wowed) me with the level of nuance on the grand scale. And before long, Cath's dorm room felt like home to me, felt disturbingly like my own dorm freshman year, papered with clippings and memorabilia declaring who I had been, threaded through with anxiety and hope for who I would become. I knew who Cath was. I could see her with perfect clarity. Last of all, one of the most visceral moments in the book, in which Cath confronts the woman who gave birth to her and abandoned her ten years later.
"You don't just leave somebody alone in a hospital," Cath said. It came out aflame.
"Wren's not alone," Laura said sternly. "She has you."
Cath jerked to her feet and swayed there. Not Wren, she thought. I didn't mean Wren.
Laura wrenched her handbag straps higher. "Cather—"
"You can't leave like this—"
"It's the right thing to do," Laura said, lowering her voice.
"In what alternate universe?" Cath felt the rage burst up her throat like a cork popping. "What sort of a mother leaves the hospital without seeing her kid? What sort of a mother leaves? Wren is unconscious—and if you think that has nothing to do with you, you are skimming the surface of reality—and I'm right here, and you haven't even seen me for ten years, and now you're leaving? Now?"
"Don't make this about me," Laura hissed. "You obviously don't want me here."
"I'm making it about me," Cath said. "It's not my job to want you or not want you. It's not my job to earn you."
"Cather"—Laura's mouth and fists were tight—"I've reached out to you. I've tried."
"You're my mother," Cath said. Her fists were even tighter. "Try harder."
And that is how it's done. That is how you secure my everlasting loyalty for a character. She's so strong in that scene. Her fists are tighter. And I love her so much for saying what she needed to, for getting it out. I loved every word of FANGIRL. As my friend Laura says, some books move in. I had a bed all made up for this one faster than Levi can crack a smile.(less)
So I realized that while I spend rather a lot of time lauding the genuine charms of Courtney Milan's writing, I h...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
So I realized that while I spend rather a lot of time lauding the genuine charms of Courtney Milan's writing, I have only reviewed one of her books. And that one a novella. Personally, I think she's elevated the novella into an art form, but her novels are incredibly entertaining as well. It's high time I went back in the stacks and reviewed possibly my favorite of her full-length novels. Rose Lerner recommended this book to me early last year and, as it is the third in Milan's Turner Brothers series, I immediately checked out the first from my local library. I made short work of all three books and, while I do love Ash (the eldest brother and hero of the first book, Unveiled) with a warm, fuzzy sort of love, I do believe this third and final book (and brother) is my favorite. It helps when the author keeps a secret for an entire series, waiting patiently to reveal it all in good time. Smite Turner was that secret. And it was a decided pleasure accompanying Miranda and getting to know him on his own terms.
The streets of Bristol are a swirling den of card sharks and pickpockets, petty criminals, and masterminds. They fear no man. No man but the infamous Lord Justice. Known throughout the teeming city for his unsympathetic, single minded thirst for justice, Smite Turner's reputation has taken on a life of its own. And while he is unsympathetic and single minded, he is also wedded to his privacy. And Lord Justice's fabled courtroom showdowns do tend to get in the way of his carefully crafted life of solitude. Which is why when Miranda Darling winds up in his courtroom, he is loath to follow his instincts, all of which are clamoring that he has seen her somewhere before. For her part, Miranda is dismayed to realize she's caught the exacting magistrate's eye. Especially as she was in disguise at the time. Part of the network of the Patron—the leader of the local underworld—Miranda is required to appear in court from time to time to testify on behalf of people the Patron wants kept out of jail. Working her fingers to the bone as a seamstress and wig-maker, Miranda can barely keeping herself and her young charge afloat. She wants no part of anything that will put her in Lord Justice's path. Her luck has run out, though. When Smite sets his mind on finding the truth behind the lies, he sees it through to the bitter end.
Miranda shook her head slowly. "Good heavens. That's quite an act you put on."
He drew himself up haughtily. "I beg your pardon."
"An act," Miranda repeated. "Stand as tall as you like, and frown at me all you wish. I saw you just now. You were feeding cats."
"So I was. And do you make something of that?"
"You," Miranda said daringly, "have a kind heart."
He turned away from her, the tails of his greatcoat swirling about him. "Don't enlarge too much upon the matter. The cats were hungry. I had food. This seemed to be a problem with a ready solution. It's not kindness to solve problems; it's efficiency."
"I stand corrected. You have an efficient heart."
I don't know, guys. There is very little not to love about Unraveled. I went in with what I thought was a fairly accurate approximation of just how shut off Smite was. But the reality does rather take isolated to a whole new level. And given how thoroughly Ms. Milan portrays Smite's remoteness, I was amazed at how easily I accepted the introduction of an outsider into his life. And not just any outsider, but a confirmed accessory to several criminal activities. Now that might cast Miranda in a dim light, while nothing could be farther from the truth. Miranda is excellent. From her independence and earnestness to her checkered past and closeted loneliness, she shines throughout the novel. Together, they are a jumble of contradictions and uneven lengths. Smite is intimidating and impatient. Miranda is thoughtful and uncertain. But they are both of them weary of being ever alone. It is this key facet of their makeup that allows a measure of affection and need to ease its way into their interactions. And that small change in Smite's daily regimen is all that is necessary to set his life on a course he had not planned, one he abjectly disapproves of.
"I'm not broken," he repeated. "Although at the moment . . . " This was what came of violating the sentimentality quota. Everything he kept bottled inside him came out. He shut his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "At the moment," he muttered numbly, "I may be coming a bit unraveled."
Poor Smite. It is painful watching him resist change and grasp Miranda's hand at the same time. As the agent of this change, it is an uncomfortable role she assumes. Uncomfortable in the extreme. But that need we spoke of. It is so dashedly real, living and breathing and pressing out against their fragile skins. I felt so much on behalf of these two lost ones and the ruthless choices they are forced to make. The specter of Smite's past is large enough and dark enough it casts a shadow upon every smile, every small happiness. That shadow is so palpable that I wondered right up until the end whether or not the coping mechanisms he put in place would allow enough give to accommodate joy. It was what I wanted for him, for both of them, and it was what they deserved. But, as is the case in my favorite novels, I would have accepted whatever ending Ms. Milan saw fit to give them, the writing is that clear and pleasurable. Unraveled was the book that forced my hand. I confess, I will read whatever she writes.(less)
In a somewhat amusing turn of events, I actually picked up a copy of Sherry Thomas' debut young adult fantasy THE...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
In a somewhat amusing turn of events, I actually picked up a copy of Sherry Thomas' debut young adult fantasy THE BURNING SKY because I read one of her adult historical romances several months back and really loved it. How's that for a commentary on the state of affairs in my neck of the woods these days? And while I really do love the cover after having read it (and for blessedly not featuring any actual human beings or, worse, a young boy reaching out to a young girl in space), I really don't know if I would have picked it up on its own. In my experience, when an author transitions from adult to YA, it is often (sadly) an absolute train wreck. As though the writing has been . . . sanitized or lobotomized . . . and all I want to do is wipe my mind clean of the lost chance. This is not always the case, of course, and there are instances of the exact opposite. And when that happens, everything is beautiful and nothing hurts. But. I do tend to hold my breath. Especially when it is a beloved author. But knowing how much I loved Ms. Thomas' writing before, I just had to see what she would do with a whole new world and a whole new readership at her disposal.
Iolanthe Seabourne has spent her life in relative isolation, living in quiet scholarship, moving from village to village with her increasingly unreliable guardian. And then one unsuspecting morning, as she is busy preparing for a local wedding, her life splinters into tiny, unrecognizable pieces. As an elemental mage, she is able to control three of the four elements, and her powers with fire (her best element) are often sought for weddings and other local celebrations. But when she succeeds in summoning an actual bolt of lightning, all manner of hell breaks loose and Iolanthe finds herself unceremoniously magicked away to a far corner of England where a strange young man insists she disguise herself as a boy. At Eton College, no less. Prince Titus of Elberon has been nothing more than a figurehead his entire life. With his country all but occupied by the fearful Empire of Atlantis, and the dreaded Inquisitor breathing down his neck day and night, Titus has retreated deeper and deeper within himself in an effort to keep the secrets he so carefully guards. And as long as Titus can remember, he's waited for his mother's prophecy to come to fruition. For the most powerful mage in the world to show himself and make it possible to join forces with the prince in his mission to save the world as they know it. When that most powerful mage turns out to be a 16-year-old girl, Titus is forced to regroup and convince her his cause really is worth risking her life as they train together to face the nightmare that is Atlantis.
The whole thing begins with the following irresistible opening lines:
Just before the start of Summer Half, in April 1883, a very minor event took place at Eton College, that venerable and illustrious English public school for boys. A sixteen-year-old pupil named Archer Fairfax returned from a three-month absence, caused by a fractured femur, to resume his education.
Almost every word in the preceding sentence is false. Archer Fairfax had not suffered a broken limb. He had never before set foot in Eton. His name was not Archer Fairfax. And he was not, in fact, even a he.
This is the story of a girl who fooled a thousand boys, a boy who fooled an entire country, a partnership that would change the fate of realms, and a power to challenge the greatest tyrant the world had ever known.
As you can tell, I really stood no chance at all. In fact, the almost immediate affection I felt for this book caught me unawares. The writing is there in all its subtle glory, which was the first relief. The worldbuilding is both cheeky and charming, which was the second. But the characters. How I love these characters. What impressed me the most was how Ms. Thomas was able to make me both hate and weep over Titus, this prince who has given everything, including his heart, to destroying the evil force that haunts his homeland. There is little but lies left to Titus when he first crosses Iolanthe's path, and none of them nice ones. Similarly, I devoted every reading moment to wishing Iolanthe would vault herself as far away as she possibly could from Titus and his impossible desires, while at the same time hoping somewhat feebly that she would see why he had molded himself into this callous instrument of vengeance and perhaps find a shred of something there worth saving. There is little but unexplored potential to Iolanthe when she first dons a boy's trappings and insinuates herself into life at Eton. But my, do they grow. And down such twisty paths, too. It was so much fun following these two along their dreadful road to confrontation. The stakes managed to be at once epic and intensely personal. And that is all I ever ask of a book. Well, that and a real villain. Interestingly, the villain in THE BURNING SKY is something of a double one. I feared the one I could see and the one I couldn't in equal measure. Of the Inquisitor, Titus makes the following chilling observation:
Gazing into her eyes was like looking at blood running down the street.
Talk about a Madame Defarge moment. That is exactly how I felt whenever she inhabited a room. Her malevolent emptiness made me want to turn tail and head for the hills, which means that I understood Titus' old terror as well as Iolanthe's fresh one. It was an altogether unsettling and addictive sensation. To say nothing of the Crucible, which was spectacular in every way and which I think I'll let you discover for yourselves. As you can tell, THE BURNING SKY comprehensively exceeded every one of my expectations. I closed it incredibly satisfied and perfectly delighted that there will be two more in this excellent new trilogy from such a talented writer.(less)
I figured I might as well go ahead and write this review while my stomach is still all twisted and jumpy from fin...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I figured I might as well go ahead and write this review while my stomach is still all twisted and jumpy from finishing it last night and being unable to settle down for hours afterward. Truthfully? I was so caught up I had to go pull my copy of The Raven Boys down off the shelf and reread my favorite bits to help me come down off the high of the second book. Honestly. I'm as bad as Ronan coming out of one of his dreams. Only I don't have a Gansey or a Noah to help harness me back to reality. So. You all will be my Gansey and my Noah, yes? Because I need you after the whirling dervish that was this book had its way with my emotions. It's not that I don't know what I'm getting into when I immerse myself in Maggie's latest book. It's that I'm utterly unable (and entirely uninterested) in distancing myself from these boys and this girl I love. And so when the gloves inevitably come off and the humor eases deceptively into anguish, I am left huddled in a fog of anxiety and murderous affection that lingers for days. Cue all you Ganseys and Noahs out there. Clearly, I could use that grounding right about now.
Mild spoilers for The Raven Boys follow.
Ronan has suspected a number of awful things for some time now. And whether he's aware of it or not, he's about to put several of those suspicions to the test. Up close and personal style. After Adam's unexpected and controversial activation of the ley line, things have been thorny between the boys and Blue. Yet the indefatigable Gansey soldiers on. And where Gansey goes, so goes Ronan. Or at least it's always been that way. Ever since Ronan moved into Monmouth Manufacturing and found a cause and a brother worth fighting for. But with the search for Glendower faltering up against the inexplicable whims of the ancient forest of Cabeswater, the onus of the quest shifts to Ronan's tattooed shoulders as he explores his strange new ability to form and snatch things from his dreams, bringing them back whole and perfect to the thick heat of Henrietta and Gansey's discerning eye. And while Ronan is tearing his way through the mists of a dream world he does not understand, Adam Parrish is stumbling along his own dark path. Unclear as to the status of his friendship with Blue and absolutely firm on his refusal to accept any help from Gansey, Adam's isolation increases even as his friends work to keep a hold on him. And underneath it all is Gansey's tireless thirst for the sleeping king and Blue's unchangeable fortune of true love and certain death.
Ronan Lynch lived with every sort of secret.
There is such a beautiful symmetry to this novel. And I don't mean just the lovely prologue and epilogue (though they are lovely and I do mean them). I also mean Ronan's and Adam's parallel journeys that nearly sent me into a state of collapse. I mean the space between Blue and Gansey growing thicker and more choked. And, most of all, I mean the unparalleled words. Maggie's writing always leaves me eyeing the other books on my nightstand askance. I'm afraid they'll peek inside the pages and see what they have to live up to. This time around, these particular words were used to sometimes devastating but always beautiful effect as they drove Ronan, Adam, Gansey, Blue, even Noah to the edge of their capacities. There were many painful and beautiful side effects, not the least of which was one truly spectacular kissing scene (not the one you're thinking of) and (perhaps more importantly) the development of my feelings for Gansey. Heretofore the boy has remained stubbornly distant in my mind, despite his open demeanor and infectious grin. To say nothing of his downright pivotal role in the whole cycle. As Ronan rather astutely notes:
There were many versions of Gansey, but this one had been rare since the introduction of Adam's taming presence. It was also Ronan's favorite. It was the opposite of Gansey's most public face, which was pure control enclosed in a paper-thin wrapper of academia. But this version of Gansey was Gansey the boy. This was the Gansey who bought the Camaro, the Gansey who asked Ronan to teach him to fight, the Gansey who contained every wild spark so that it wouldn't show up in other versions. Was it the shield beneath the lake that had unleashed it? Orla's orange bikini? The bashed-up remains of his rebuilt Henrietta and the fake IDs they'd returned to? Ronan didn't really care. All that mattered was that something had struck the match, and Gansey was burning.
I love this. I love that Gansey is finally burning. But more than that I love that it was Ronan's keen eye that allowed me to finally see Gansey. Because Ronan loves Gansey, I do, too. It was so deliciously dangerous being inside Ronan's head for the duration of this dark, dark book. Of course, this also made his pain mine. I gathered a few of my own suspicions regarding this most jagged of young men and the secrets he lives with. And I really don't know how I'm going to soldier on with these raven boys through all the nebulous, sharp-toothed things I fear are coming. But what I do know is that I will be there with them all at the end. As I remarked to my husband last night and to a friend of mine this morning, The Dream Thieves holds an eye-opening quantity of pain and gut-wrenching tension for just the second book in a quartet. Make no mistake, I am not complaining. But it does give a girl pause. At this rate, I will need the time in between installments to gear up for the second half. But as always in the intervening time, these precious few will never be far from my thoughts. Especially Adam. But then you probably knew that. If you're looking for a story worth living and breathing, The Dream Thieves will take you there.(less)
This was my first foray with a Candis Terry novel, and I picked it up because from time to time I enjoy a well-written, gently unfolding small-town ro...moreThis was my first foray with a Candis Terry novel, and I picked it up because from time to time I enjoy a well-written, gently unfolding small-town romance. Jill Shalvis' Lucky Harbor and Ruthie Knox's Camelot series both come to mind. Also, I liked the cover. The couple looked . . . comfortable and fun-loving . . . and I was in the mood for something light. For the most part, I enjoyed my time in Sweet, Texas. The writing was adequate, with occasional moments of insight that both pleased and frustrated me because they highlighted the fact that Ms. Terry is capable of something more in the way of words on the page. I grew to like Charli and Reno and root for them. But the two-dimensional secondary cast and uber-predictable plotline did little for me so that in the end it was a sweet but forgettable read.(less)
Nothing draws me to a book like a passel of reviews that are all over the board. I literally cannot help myself....moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Nothing draws me to a book like a passel of reviews that are all over the board. I literally cannot help myself. Where will I fall on the spectrum? Will my feelings be ferocious or will they dwindle away after leaving the pages and characters behind? The questions, the questions. So it was that I came to download a copy of THE COINCIDENCE OF CALLIE & KAYDEN by Jessica Sorensen awhile back. Pretty kissing in the rain cover aside (I might be a bit of a sucker for those), I had previously stayed away because of the said all over the board-ness. Originally self-published new adult contemporaries are turning into quite the beast of late. Some readers are immediately turned off. Others have enjoyed enough of them to keep their engines running, so to speak. I tend to go on a case by case basis. I've been burned before, but I've also been taken by delightful surprise. This was happily a case of the latter. For those interested, Grand Central picked this one up and will be publishing it in paperback next month (it is already available in ebook), at which time the ebook of the sequel will be released with a paperback edition to follow early next year.
Callie quite simply cannot wait to escape to college. For the last six years, she's avoided contact with pretty much everyone outside of her immediate family. Her older brother is already off at college, coming home occasionally to relive the glory days. And now Callie is just days away from her own sort of freedom in the form of her freshman year at the University of Wyoming, hours away from her unhappy home. Then, just a few months before she's scheduled to leave, she finds herself witness to a scene of violence at her neighbor Kayden Owens' home. Without thinking, Callie rushes in to stop it and, in doing so, forms an unwitting bond between herself and Kayden--a boy she hasn't spoken to since they were in elementary school. Four months later, their paths cross again at school in Laramie. Kayden is there on a football scholarship, while Callie is blissfully flying under-the-radar and crossing one item a week off her list of things to do that scare her. When Kayden literally runs into her, it jogs his memory and he becomes determined to thank the lonely girl who saved him from further beating that night. But, of course, there's a reason Callie fell off the face of the earth all those years ago. And it will take more than gratitude and a growing attraction to overcome the demons lurking in both of their closets.
A word of warning: Trigger issues abound and the whole thing ratchets up to one massive cliffhanger. But I loved it nonetheless. To each her own, of course.
It's a moment I'll remember forever, because it belongs to me.
To be perfectly honest, THE COINCIDENCE OF CALLIE & KAYDEN was everything I was hoping The Sea of Tranquility would be and wasn't. There is plenty of pain and bleak pasts and uncertain futures within its pages, but the pain and bleakness and uncertainty are justified by a fundamental belief in hope and healing that underscores the characters' struggles to survive. There is also a very sweet affection that crops up between them, and not just between the two principals but among their tiny cohort of real friends as well. It's that affection that buoyed me through the story when I found myself confused and afraid along with Callie and Kayden. The writing is simple and unpretentious, the subject matter a sort of dark fluff, if you will. The chapters alternate point of view between the two, each chapter beginning with a numbered item from Callie's list. I appreciated the believably slow way in which she scaled her mountain. And while the romance is most definitely simmering along the entire time, it is never so overwhelming as to force the underlying issues aside. Equal time is spent on both of them, and I appreciated that equality. This is not a story where anyone rides in on a white horse. Instead it is more realistically a story of two individuals meeting and being stretched outside of their own troubles for the sake of the other. I think my overall response was so positive because I never felt like the writing was trying too hard. In other similar books, I have felt so buffeted about by the overwhelmingly present effort that went into it that I was left unable to connect with the characters or lose myself in the story. But Jessica Sorensen isn't trying to sell you something in the guise of something else. She's merely recounting a simple, sad story about two people moving somewhere in the direction of hope, a story I found myself perfectly content to fall for. But I really do need that sequel. Soon. (less)
I can thank the ever-reliable Carolyn Crane for inspiring me to track down an advanced copy of this one. I read h...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I can thank the ever-reliable Carolyn Crane for inspiring me to track down an advanced copy of this one. I read her mini-review and was seriously sold. She said it was romantic, smart, and full of "character mysteries," a term I had never even really thought of before but that I instantly got and loved. So it was Carolyn's review and the following little teaser line from the novella that piqued my interest:
I will meet you on Wednesdays at noon in Celebration Park. Kissing only.
Um, yes. Yes, please. Shades of Ruthie Knox's Big Boy began to drift over me (Knox actually blurbed this one). And we all know how I felt about that little bit of perfection. So basically at that point nothing--but nothing--was keeping me from giving Mary Ann Rivers' debut novella a shot.
Carrie had a minor existential meltdown at work. Just a minor one. It involved her supervisor (and friend) at the library offhandedly remarking that an Alaskan cruise with Carrie's parents was a totally valid vacation for a thirty-something single woman to take. The conversation devolved from there, and Carrie wound up surfing the web at three in the morning picking out used furniture she doesn't need and questioning the series of life choices that brought her to that point. Then, in need of the kind of comfort only browsing the singles ads on Metrolink can provide, she ran across one that stood out from all the others. Kissing only, it said. He would be there every Wednesday without fail. Either party is free to back out at any time. Simply don't show up, and the other will understand it's over and they will part as indifferent strangers. And so just for a lark, just because she's alone and not actually interested in going on that Alaskan cruise with her folks anymore, Carrie answers the post. And so she meets Brian. And so she is soon on the receiving end of the kiss to end all kisses. And so begins a non-relationship that she might never want to let go. If she can only figure out how to be more than just Wednesdays.
THE STORY GUY is singularly addicting. The protagonist is a teen services librarian, for crying out loud. So obviously, she and I were like this from page one. Then she had to go and be all philosophical and perceptive about singles ads online and it was like my eyes had fastened on her plight and nothing could tear them away. It helps that I resonated with the way she narrates her life and, most of all, with the way she calmly assesses the rabbit hole she's gone down and goes about doing what she needs to in order to hold onto the wonder she finds there. For example:
I should take his kisses with me and go. But with a seeping, resolute calm, I decide to keep him. I am not losing these Wednesdays, even if I can't have anything else. "Stop. It's okay. Don't explain--I swear it's fine."
"It doesn't have to be." His flush is draining, his eyes clearing. The tendrils of heat between us lose their moorings in the breeze. I shiver.
"But it is." I straighten up. Fix my own glasses. He is looking at me with doubt. "It is." And as soon as I say it, it's true. I go back to feeling tender, but the feeling is overlaid with a new trust, which when I examine that trust later may feel misplaced, but I am fine to act on that trust now.
I have never been gladder for my own uncomplicated life, the simple love I've had from my family and friends, for my interesting daily work and the unencumbered lifestyle I created for myself. I have room for this.
It was that resolute calm that really got to me. Well, that and the kissing. Naturally. And, yes, in case you were wondering, this is a book where she saves him. She so saves him, you guys. And does he ever need it. The thing is, they're both just right down in the trenches of life. Right down in them. The loneliness and the doggedness and the relentlessness of every one of their days stole my breath they were so close to the surface. The similarities to Knox's Big Boy did hover around the edges of my mind as I read, although THE STORY GUY has a sweeter overall tone, flirting near the edges of precious particularly near the end. Gratefully, Rivers' sure way with words saves it from irrevocably crossing that line. So if you like quietly beating stories about girls who save their guys and guys who are actually so very nice but have convinced themselves they're not nice at all, then this book is undoubtedly for you. Lastly, just for you guys, my favorite passage:
My path is the nice one. The one filled with friends who will smile when I buy their children books for their birthdays. Who will take me out, sometimes, when I call on a random night because I can't settle down. The path with peaceful holidays with my parents, and reasonable work promotions at reasonable times.
The path with nice men, who take me on nice dates where I learn their last names the minute we shake hands at the bar.
A path clear of a man with eyes that drift into some private sorrow. A path that will never lead to a man whose hands shake when he holds my face for a kiss that feels like falling.
Sometimes you come full circle with a certain author. My very first Lisa Kleypas novel was actually Sugar Daddy, the first book in the Travis Family trilogy. And I enjoyed it for the most part. But I started to grow fatigued near the end with all of the Texas good ole boy charm, enough that I figured I'd part ways with Kleypas at that point and call it good. Then, awhile later, I won a copy of the introductory novella to her magical realism Friday Harbor series and decided why not give something more recent a try? I devoured it in a single evening and continued on with that series, with varying results. The saga continued when I caved to massive praise and gave one of her historicals a shot (the woman can apparently write pretty much any genre she likes). And, you know, I rather enjoyed my romp with Evie and Sebastian. So I guess you could say when Racquel over at The Book Barbies got her hooks into me, I was fairly well primed for my second stint with the Travis clan. As far as I can tell, Racquel is this book's Number One Fan. I do know that without her, I never would have picked BLUE-EYED DEVIL up. And what a shame that would have been. So props to Racquel for preparing me for the swoon. What I wasn't prepared for was the kind of single-minded absorption Haven Travis' story would incite in me.
Haven Travis has had to live with enough overbearing men for two lifetimes, thank you very much. The men in her family do not mince words, they do not suffer fools gladly, and they do not allocate much leeway to the one girl in the Travis clan. Which is why when she finds good-natured, easy to get along with Nick Tanner, she decides she's going to keep him. And so begins a kind of hell Haven could never have imagined. Alone and uncertain, Haven lives in this hell far too long. Long enough that when she finally extricates herself (with the help of her big brother Gage), she's in no way ready to resume normal life. Being a Travis, though, she gives it the old college try. And along the way she runs into Hardy Cates. An old enemy of the Travises, Hardy has worked hard to get where he is today. He's not interested in mucking things up because he can't take his eyes off Haven Travis. But they did have that one encounter years ago. Before she married Nick. Before Hardy washed his hands of her family completely. And now they're living in the same town again and Hardy can see it's going to be difficult to ignore the youngest Travis the way he'd like to. And so a tentative friendship is struck, despite their respective lack of knowledge of the extreme baggage the other carries as well as the gargantuan disapproval of her family.
This book had no interest in letting me slip out of its clutches. I was surprised how quickly I fell into Haven's story. From her first uncomfortable encounter with Hardy at her brother's wedding to years down the road meeting him again when she had nothing left to give, I was drawn to Kleypas' painfully honest portrayal of one girl's life. It was so much more than I was expecting. In every way. Haven was more. Her life with Nick was way, way more. Hardy was more. And, together, Hardy and Haven were more in that way that squeezes your vocal cords, brings a certain tightness to your temples, and heralds those moments when a fictional character becomes devastatingly real. There are honestly so many thoughtful and charged passages I would have liked to quote, but in the end I'm going with a favorite lighter-but-packs-a-punch-at-the-end snippet to illustrate the what I'm talking about here:
Taking one look at my wretched face, Todd reached for the green chenille throw on my sofa and wrapped it around me. I snuggled in the corner of the sofa, drawing my feet back to make room for him.
"Must have been some dance," Todd said, untying his bow tie. He left it hanging loose on either side of his neck, and relaxed on the sofa beside me, as graceful as a cat. "What happened?"
"We didn't dance," I said numbly.
"He took me to a dark corner somewhere. A stairwell."
"Purely for my vicarious enjoyment, tell me . . . is he good?"
I could feel my face go crimson.
"That good?" Todd asked.
A shaky laugh escaped me. I wasn't sure I could put it into words. "You know how when someone kisses you, you can tell they're only doing it as a step to something else? Like they're just trying to get it over with? Well, Hardy kisses like it's the only thing in the world he wants to do."
Mm-hm. That good. I'm beginning to think I may grow somewhat fatigued near the end of the best Kleypas novels because she makes you want so much. Because you are never, ever detached. And because her characters do not conform the way we readers might occasionally prefer. They're messy and hurt and hopeful and recalcitrant. While that combination does not always work for me in her books, it very much did here. BLUE-EYED DEVIL is definitely my favorite of her books yet. I didn't want to take it back to the library when I was done. In fact, I still haven't. Fines be damned. I'm waiting till I'm good and ready.(less)
I fell in love with the title of Lian Dolan's sophomore novel the moment I read it in the email pitch. Then I rea...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I fell in love with the title of Lian Dolan's sophomore novel the moment I read it in the email pitch. Then I read on to find out there was Shakespeare. It was a done deal at that point. Honestly, all you have to do is dangle a little Shakespeare in front of me and I am on board. This was my first encounter with Ms. Dolan's work. I had never heard of either of her novels before, and I have to say that ratcheted up my anticipation a bit. It's summer. And I am in the mood to be entertained. By all means, bring on the new-to-me contemporary fiction with a side of Shakespeare and a touch of romance on the side! As far as covers go, I really like these sort of retro chick lit covers both ELIZABETH THE FIRST WIFE and Helen of Pasadena have going on. The're attractive and light, perfect to slip in your bag and pull out as needed on a sunny summer afternoon.
Elizabeth Lancaster has made her peace with her past. What's done is done. She divorced her movie star husband when he cheated on her approximately two seconds in to their ill-fated marriage, and she is now (years down the road) happily installed teaching literature at Pasadena City College. So her ex-husband was her first, possibly final love. So her father is a Nobel Prize-winning scientist she hasn't really talked to in ages. So her mother is the most exhausting of perfectionists. So what? Life is simple. And uncomplicated. And . . . nice. But then her ex walks into her classroom, with that same charming smile and those same alluring shared memories, and tries to talk her into accompanying him to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to spend her summer making sure he doesn't fall on his face doing live theater for the first time in a decade. And she's really not going to go. She isn't. But it would be live theater, A Midsummer Night's Dream no less. It would mean being a part of a serious production. Elizabeth's life has become just small enough that, in the end, she can't quite resist FX's offer. And so against the better judgement of pretty much every sane adult in her life, she heads off to Ashland and that adventure she's been looking for.
What a smart, thoroughly enjoyable read! In the same vein as Liza Palmer's Seeing Me Naked and Liane Moriarty's What Alice Forgot, Lian Dolan weaves together a lovely mosaic of a woman in need of inspiration and revival, of complex and family dynamics that reach into the daily moments of her life, of new possibilities and old mistakes. Elizabeth herself is extremely likable. The history and the current status of her relationship with FX are both presented in a way that reveals two very young, very human people who fell apart but who remain lodestones, of a sort, in each other's lives. I like that no one in the story is demonized, that Elizabeth is allowed to work out her feelings for her ex at the same time as she hesitantly embarks on a somewhat unexpected long-distance relationship with the man running her brother-in-law's political campaign. I enjoyed watching both arcs unfold simultaneously, the one bittersweet, the other exciting in its newness. Elizabeth's nighttime Skypes with the man squatting in her home for the length of the campaign were both humorous and charming. You can't help but root for them. Add to that Elizabeth's hilarious modernized Shakespearean dating advice, and you have the elements of a very good time indeed. Having attended regional Shakespeare festivals in the past, I thoroughly enjoyed Dolan's portrayal of Ashland and the antics of the colorful cast and crew of this racy adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Elizabeth's family, from her overbearing mother to her seemingly perfect and driven sisters, provided an excellent backdrop for her professional and personal quandaries. I finished ELIZABETH THE FIRST WIFE in two satisfying sessions and will be checking out Helen of Pasadena soon.(less)
This one gets three stars because I laughed so hard I cried multiple times while reading it. That is the genius of Sophie Kinsella's writing. And it i...moreThis one gets three stars because I laughed so hard I cried multiple times while reading it. That is the genius of Sophie Kinsella's writing. And it is certainly here in all its screwball comedy abundance. But. I won't be re-reading it like I will I've Got Your Number. I didn't fall in love with the characters as much as I wanted to, because they always zigged embarrassingly silly when they should have zagged genuinely empathetic. It was a close call at second, too. Part of the problem was what emotional resonance there was was invested in the "secondary" storyline. Lottie's sister Fliss and the irascible but real Lorcan repeatedly came close to stealing the show completely. And I, personally, would have been pleased as punch if they had. But Kinsella frustratingly avoided the depth that would have pushed this reader over from liking to loving. Overall, WEDDING NIGHT is worth a single read for the laughs alone, but a fairly forgettable one in the end.(less)