I know this is an almost unpardonably early review. But honestly, I waited on it as long as I possibly could before the effoOriginally reviewed here.
I know this is an almost unpardonably early review. But honestly, I waited on it as long as I possibly could before the effort of holding it in caused me some sort of bodily harm. I've been anxiously looking forward to FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS for going on two years now, and the day an ARC showed up on my doorstep was just a very good day indeed. When a book you've been dying to read finally falls into your lap, do you ever just hold onto it and savor the possibilities? I do. I did with this one for a little while. Don't get me wrong, sometimes I just tear into it immediately. But sometimes I don't. Because sometimes dreaming about it while you're actually holding it in your hands is special, too. So I savored and I dreamt and I started reading and . . . I was gone. My first reaction to finishing it was a sense of complete satisfaction mingled with sadness that it was over. My second was thinking that I cannot wait to see FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS work its magic on readers far and wide. As post-apocalyptic retellings of classics go, it pretty much killed it on all levels for this devoted Austen girl.
Elliot North knows how to work hard. As a member of the elite Luddite nobility, she has a keen sense of what is expected of her, of which actions are acceptable and which ones could get you disowned and out on the streets. It is that very sense of duty that kept her from following her childhood friend Kai four years ago, when he fled servitude on her father's estate for a life of uncertainty and, just possibly, freedom. Their friendship was forbidden from the beginning, as Kai belongs to the Post-Reductionist class, and ever since the catastrophic Reduction, matters or birth and class ruthlessly define every aspect of a person's life. But now, four long years have passed, and at eighteen years old, Elliot is the only thing keeping the family lands going. As her father and sister grow further distanced from reality, the world as they know it is changing. Determined not to be left behind, Elliot convinces her family to lease the land to a group of unusual shipwrights known as Cloud Fleet. Hoping the extra income will save her home, Elliot is, well, gobsmacked when one of the renowned shipwrights turns out to be none other than her old friend--no longer playful, open Kai, but smart, remote Captain Malakai Wentforth. Elliot knows how to work hard, but even she may not be up to the task of withstanding the flood of guilt and longing that threatens to overtake her with his return. Especially given the suspicions that being to swirl in her head regarding just what he and his fleet are up to.
Everything about this book soars, from its supernal setting to the dreams its characters hold in their hearts. Having read (and adored) Persuasion for years now, it was extremely gratifying to see the massive amounts of care and thought that went into the crafting of this story inspired by Jane Austen's final novel. In fact, I felt a healthy dose of admiration for the storytelling the entire time I was reading it. But the wonderful bit is that it won me over on its own strengths entirely. The world and its sinister history, the characters and their eerily perfect names, the writing and its effortless flow--they're all so interlocked and balanced, coming together so as to make hours go by like seconds. I may have been predisposed to like Elliot, but the way my heart launched itself into my throat when hers did, the way my temper rose on her behalf, and the way I held my breath at her restraint and cheered her adamant refusal to be downtrodden . . . I more-than-liked Elliot. I more-than-liked Kai (even when I wanted to hurt him). And most of all, I more-than-liked the brilliant ending. Here is one of my favorite non-spoilery passages (taken from my uncorrected ARC), in which you get a feel for the way the writing lauds the original while extending it to support the strengths of these new characters and their spectacular world:
Elliot had had enough. "If you can't be civil to me, Miss Phoenix, I wish you'd leave me in peace. I have never done anything to you, and if you seek to punish me for past misdeeds, there is nothing you can devise that I haven't already suffered." Four years of worrying about Kai, followed by all these weeks of having him back here, but hating her. Was that not punishment enough?
"You baffle me, Miss Elliot," Andromeda replied in the same high-wrought tone. "I can't reconcile the young woman I see before me with the reports I have had."
What lies had Kai been spreading abroad? "I'm sorry to hear that, but it's none of my concern. I am the same person I've always been." She turned her face away from Andromeda, away from the crowd and from Kai. "Maybe you should ask yourself why, if I am the person you've been led to believe, someone would put their faith in me at all?"
"People are foolish when it comes to love."
Elliot hadn't been. She'd been rational, logical, reasonable, prudent. She'd been cold and cruel and disloyal and distant.
She hadn't been foolish.
She'd been the most foolish girl on the island.
Great, no? The killer thing about Elliot (have I mentioned how much I love her?) is that she has all the layers. She's the perfect blend of unmitigated strength and harbored regret. Every moment of every day she embodies dedication and resolve, all the while trying to mask the hope and the pain she lives with every moment of every single day. Here is Elliot:
No one came. Not her sister or her father, not Benedict or the Fleet Posts or even Admiral Innovation. No one appeared in the hall all afternoon but the mute, shuffling figures of the Reduced housemaids as they went about their chores. Time passed, and Elliot sat in the chair, waiting for the verdict from Felicia.
How much of her life had she spent waiting? Waiting for a plant to sprout? Waiting for her father's judgment? Waiting for another letter to appear in the knothole from Kai? Waiting for years after Kai left to feel at peace with her decision? She fed the Reduced, she did her chores, she avoided her father and her sister, and she waited. She did every duty she'd been taught as a Luddite, and she lied with every breath.
I'd say I don't know what to say, but I do. And it's this. Snatch it up the day it comes out--this beautiful book--this meticulous, breathtaking retelling of one of the greatest love stories ever penned.
I remember seeing Poison Study on the shelves when it first came out, but passed it up several times because of, yes, I admit it, the cover. It was thI remember seeing Poison Study on the shelves when it first came out, but passed it up several times because of, yes, I admit it, the cover. It was this older mass market paperback cover and not the lovely new trade paperback one. The girl on the old cover looked just a little too haughtily seductive for me. And I knew that Luna was the fantasy division of Harlequin and so I was suspicious it was a romance thinly disguised as fantasy. So when the new trade paperback came out, I went and read a few dozen more reviews just to "make sure" and decided to go ahead and give it a shot. I'm so glad I did. You'd think I'd have learned by now not to judge a book by its cover. Archangel, anyone?
Poison Study opens with a young woman named Yelena imprisoned for murder. A murder she freely admits to committing. When a pair of guards yank her from the dank dungeon she's languished in for almost a year, Yelena is certain she faces imminent death. She even welcomes it in light of the hell her life has become in the past few years. More to come on that bit of nastiness later, we learn. But instead of the gallows, she finds herself in the office of Valek, the chief of national security (i.e. the Commander's Personal Assassin) being offered a choice. To be hung by the neck until dead or to become the Commander's Personal Food Taster. The last one having recently died on the job. Yelena chooses life and immediately begins a crash course in the art of poison detection. To complicate matters, Valek slips Yelena a deadly poison known as Butterfly's Dust to ensure she won't attempt to escape the first chance she gets. In order to survive, Yelena must show up at Valek's door each morning for the antidote. Skip one morning and she'll be dead within 48 hours. And all of this happens within the first few pages of the book. I was completely sucked in by page ten.
The pace never slows throughout the rest of the book as we come to care more and more for this young woman who is forced to court death on an hourly basis. Piece by piece we learn more about why she was in the dungeon in the first place, her complicated background, and the demons that haunt her. Fortunately, her unquenchable will to survive and her quick mind earn her a few choice friends within the compound and these supporting characters are delightful and funny. Then there is Valek, the ruthless assassin who employs his vast array of frightening skills to protect Yelena even as he poisons her, convinced she is the missing piece of the puzzle in his quest to discover who is attempting to overthrow the government and why. I loved this book and I can't wait to read the sequel, Magic Study....more
What a beautiful cover. I remember when I first saw it my initial thought was, Oh, please don't let it suck. I know that souOriginally published here.
What a beautiful cover. I remember when I first saw it my initial thought was, Oh, please don't let it suck. I know that sounds harsh, but sometimes a cover just calls out to you and you know when you finally hold a physical copy of the book itself you'll just want to stroke it and love it and tell it it's found its home on your shelves. Unfortunately, the innards (as my boy is fond of saying) don't always match the outtards. And then I am forced to cry. Because . . . so pretty. So when a review copy of Stacey Jay's JULIET IMMORTAL came my way, I held my breath. Just a bit. Okay, maybe for the first five pages or so. Thankfully, that's all it took. Because this innovative retelling (of sorts) of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet has teeth. And they sank into me with delicious ferocity. This was my first foray with Stacey Jay, though I know she has a handful of books already out. After this encounter, I look forward to checking out her other work.
Juliet Capulet's nightmare is never going to end. No one knows what really happened to her. Murdered by her true love, Juliet is saved at the last minute by powerful but nebulous forces of good (known as the Ambassadors), who recruit her immortal soul in their timeless battle against the powers of evil (known as the Mercenaries). Filled with grief and hate at Romeo's unforgivable action, Juliet accepts the offer and finds herself pitted against Romeo, who essentially sold his soul to the Mercs for promised immortality. And the two of them face one another over and over and over again. For seven hundred years, they've been racing against the clock and each other to save (in Juliet's case) or damn (in Romeo's) pairs of soul mates, literally slipping into human bodies (in Juliet's case) and dead ones (in Romeo's) in order to sway their charges for good or ill. Each and every time Romeo tries to kill Juliet and Juliet fights back and escapes, though she is forbidden from taking his life as part of her mission for the Ambassadors. But this time--this mission--something is different. And they can both tell. This time more seems to be riding on the outcome than just a point scored for one side or the other. This time it's difficult to tell just who exactly are the soul mates, just who loves who. This time Juliet may not escape with her immortal soul intact.
JULIET IMMORTAL wins because it is both a competent retelling and re-envisioning of the most famous star-crossed lovers of all time, while managing not to forget the ruthlessness, violence, and eerie inevitability of the original. In fact, I thought Stacey Jay's clever explanations went a long way toward fleshing out the characters and events of the play. I certainly loved the life and depth she breathed into both leads. How brave Juliet is. And evil Romeo? Where have you been all my life? There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. This Romeo is evil, he's out for Juliet's blood, and the enmity between them is real. The story starts off with a bang, literally, as Juliet is flung into the body of a girl who has just decided to end it all and drive the car she's in off a cliff, taking her shoddy date with her. It's one of my favorite scenes in the book and the first one to give me real chills. Right after the crash (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
Dylan's eyes flutter open.
Even in the moonlight shining through the ceiling they look dark, peculiar. There's something strange about this boy, something warped inside him. I'm not surprised that he played a cruel trick on Ariel, but I'm curious to see what he'll do next. How will he deal with the fact that she nearly killed them both?
"Ariel?" he asks, his voice slurred. "Are you okay?"
"Ye-yes, I think so." Maybe he doesn't remember how the car crashed? If so, I won't be helping him with his recall. I keep my expression carefully blank. "Are you okay?"
"I think I'm fine. I . . . think I might be . . ." His words fade as he leans closer. He's staring at me. I can feel it, though his chin is tipped down, creating hollows the light through the roof can't touch.
The roof! I look up, and a sigh of relief escapes my lips. Glass. It's made of glass! Thank goodness. Getting out of this car seems like a better idea with every passing second. If Dylan is this disturbing at eighteen, he'll be a serial killer by the time he's twenty.
"We'll be fine. We just need to get out." I lift blood-slicked fingers to pry at the latch, ignoring Dylan when he leans even closer.
The sunroof is manually operated. I see that the glass panel can pop out, but the mechanism gives me a bit of trouble. Still, I'll get it open and there will be plenty of room for us to fit through the hole. Me first, of course.
"I'm sorry, could I--" He exhales, his breath hot on my neck. I fight the urge to shudder. "Could I ask you something?"
He wants to talk. Lovely.
I sigh. "Sure." I pull on the hinges, then realize I should have been pushing and sigh again.
"Has anyone told you your hair looks silver in the moonlight?"
I glance in the rearview mirror. My new hair does look silver, like something from a fairy tale. And the rest of what I can see of myself is equally haunting--shocking, really.
Why does Ariel think herself so repulsive? Huge blue eyes dominate my new face, dwarfing my small nose and thin lips. The scars on my cheek and jaw are visible, but they aren't as terrible as Ariel thinks. The face looking back at me is attractive, compelling. There's something about it that makes you want to look twice.
So I do, staring a little too long, giving myself away.
Dylan laughs, his lips suddenly far too close to mine. "But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?"
No. It can't be. We've never-- He's never--
"Did you miss me, love?" He kisses me on the cheek, a rough, playful kiss that leaves a bit of wet behind.
Dylan has died after all. And Romeo has found a corpse. It's my last thought before his hands are around my throat.
Yep. Chills. There's also a pretty sweet love story going on within the pages. I was delighted with who Stacey Jay chose for Juliet and how she updated him for a contemporary take. Their initial encounter is another of my very favorite scenes in the book, and my affection for them lasted for the duration the story. So much so that I actually could have done with a little more connection between the modern boy and the one from the play as it would have enriched the bond for me. That part, along with one section in which Juliet sort of uncharacteristically fails to make a few connections, are the only instances that bothered me a bit. Otherwise, the novel's strengths stood out, particularly older-and-wise Juliet herself. She's such a strong character, able to contain a plethora of rich and complex emotions. She is clawing her way toward revenge or peace, whichever comes first. I loved her fire, and I loved how the writing reflected her rage and pain, without marring that original, first love between the two kids from Verona. Rather, it supports its authenticity in all its breathless perfection. Which then only highlights the atrocious betrayal and the loss she feels. It's all very affecting and enjoyable. As is Juliet's foray in young Ariel's body. Her interactions with Ariel's well-nigh estranged mother and her problematic best friend Gemma are nuanced and gripping. Lastly, I do have to say that my favorite thing about this book is that it scared me. There are a couple of scenes in particular that gave me the cold shivers, and I just love it when that happens. All in all, JULIET IMMORTAL is an unexpectedly visceral read. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to handing it around....more
And today we have the first in yet another series I had heard much good about but avoided picking up for a variety of no good reasons. I think my reluAnd today we have the first in yet another series I had heard much good about but avoided picking up for a variety of no good reasons. I think my reluctance stemmed somewhat from an uncertainty as to just what kind of series Michelle Sagara's Cast series was. I think at first I had the impression it was a paranormal romance, possibly an urban fantasy (the covers influenced me this way). A few chapters in I was surprised to find CAST IN SHADOW much more a mix of dark and high fantasy, peopled with a smattering of solid gold, humorous, and truly sinister characters living in a fully developed, layered, and fascinating world.
Kaylin Neya is a Hawk. The youngest of that number, in fact. In the city of Elantra, the Hawks are charged with policing the streets and guarding the citizens. They share that responsibility with their sibling organizations the Wolves and the Swords. Together the three forces are headquartered in the Halls of Law. Elantra's citizens are made up of a mix of humans like Kaylin, winged Aerians, furred Leontines, and the immortal Barrani. Seven years ago Kaylin left a life of squalor on the streets of the fief of Nightshade, gave herself a new name, and made her way to Elantra in search of a fresh start. Now her past has caught up with her as a series of murders takes place in Nightshade. Disturbing in their own right, they also bear an eerie resemblance to events in Kaylin's past she thought for sure she'd left behind.
CAST IN SHADOW starts at a good clip and doesn't slow down once. The writing is uncluttered and engaging and Kaylin is an extremely likeable heroine. She runs from a past so dark she has avoided revealing it to her closest friends. She has a gift for healing and will drop everything at a moment's notice to deliver a baby or rescue an orphan in trouble. It was actually kind of refreshing to read about a kick-a** heroine with a soft spot for children. So often they have an allergy to kids or have issues with some of the "softer" emotions and I loved Kaylin because she was both fierce and compassionate. I cheered her on when she was fighting and I wanted to help guard her secrets. Of which she has many. She has friends, enemies, comrades, and those who would use her for her unusual abilities, yet Kaylin remains a little aloof from them all, determined to make her own way. She's my kind of girl. Only a handful of pages into the book and I was completely invested from that point on. I loved this story and can't wait to move on to the next installment--Cast in Courtlight....more
The great thing about reading is that books always surprise you no matter how long you've been reading them. You think you knOriginally reviewed here.
The great thing about reading is that books always surprise you no matter how long you've been reading them. You think you know an author or a genre or a style, and then they go and rip the rug right out from under your feet. Sometimes I'm going along, doing my thing, reading my books, and then I pick one up and realize it's what I've been starving for. I love a good urban fantasy. Ever since Sunshine. Ever since I made the acquaintance of Mercy Thompson. I've loved the real deal. And when I fall, I fall loyally. I look forward to the new Mercy and the new Kate religiously each year. But it's been kind of awhile since I sank into a brand, spankin' new one that really did it for me, you know? In fact, I'm pretty sure it's been a couple of years. Gah. There's so much paranormal stuff out there (some of it excellent, some of it not so much) that I often find myself longing for some true urban fantasy. So I was kind of surprised and kind of excited when I found myself gravitating toward Cassie Alexander's upcoming NIGHTSHIFTED before I even knew very much about it. Something about the girl on the cover and the silhouetted dragon through the hospital doors behind her said good things lie inside. And wouldn't you know? It was the one I was starving for.
Edie Spence is the new nurse on Y4--the paranormal ward at County Hospital. The one no one knows about. Edie wouldn't have a clue either except the mysterious Powers That Be stepped in to save her druggie brother from ODing. But their continued intervention on her brother's behalf comes at a price . . . namely Edie's unquestioning (and indefinite) service on Y4. Edie's worked in some holes, but this one takes the cake. From her indeterminate gendered supervisor Meaty to the lengths they go to to disguise the true nature of their patients in nightly reports, nothing about nursing school prepared Edie for catering to a steady stream of vampires, weres, shifters, zombies, and the like. But despite the fact that she's all but washed her hands of him and that he's done everything he can to mess up her life and his own, Edie still loves her brother. Besides. She's always flown solo. It's not like her life was all that social to begin with, so what's a few more hours spent with the dead than the living anyway? But then a random vampire dies on her watch, and newbie Edie finds herself unable to forget him or the words he whispered before crumbling into dust in her hands. Before she knows it, she's tracking down the vampire he mentioned in an attempt to set things right. But what she finds is so wrong it quickly bleeds over into Edie's life and turns it upside down.
NIGHTSHIFTED is exactly what I was looking for--a true urban fantasy. It's gritty and dark, its heroine jaded and tough, and both of them are studded with moments of humor and human frailty. Edie is no superwoman, and her very normal skills are not always up to the paranormal requirements placed upon her in order to survive. But she is scrappy. And fiercely independent. And very much not inclined toward self-pity. Which is to say I liked her right away. But I wasn't always sure she would survive her story, as pretty much all the creatures that go bump in the night make appearances at one point or another. And while a few really nasty versions of vampires play a large role in the book, I liked that they weren't the sole focus. In fact, my favorite character besides Edie turned out to be a zombie that I developed a bit of a crush on. I'm pretty sure that qualifies as a first for me, but I'm thinking I'm not gonna be the only one who feels that way. Because as zombies go, this one is pretty charming. Witness an interaction early on (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
The next night, I was finally assigned the gentleman in room five. I got the report and then looked at the chart myself. He was a zombie . . . firefighter? That was a bit odd. We'd only had two zombies on the floor while I'd been here--Mr. Smith was the second of them, and I'd never been assigned the first.
But I had a mission tonight, above and beyond mere nursing. I needed to get more blood. I walked into the darkened room, tubes in hand. If I got his blood now, I could toss it in my purse on break. The monitor was still in standby, casting a faint glow over him where he lay on the bed. I knew what smelled different about this room now, it was the scent of warm earth.
"Hello, Mr. Smith."
He smiled in the dim light. "Hello again, ghost nurse."
I snorted. "Well, neurologically, you're intact. Mind if I turn on the light?"
My hand found the switch and I got my first look at a real live--dead?--zombie.
Mr. Smith was tall, stretching almost the entire length of the bed, with wide shoulders. The parts I could see of him outside of the sheets and his hospital gown--his arms, his neck, and his face--were all covered by almost-healed smooth rippling scars. Between the dark color of his skin as it was and the slightly lighter color of his skin as it healed, he looked like a dark pond on a windy day.
"I remember you," he said. His eyes were a light golden brown, and the skin around them crinkled when he smiled.
"I remember you, too." I smiled back. "Thanks again--and sorry for waking you up."
"I don't really sleep." He sat up straighter in his bed. As I walked into the room I formed my plan. I would do the blood draw last, so I could hurry away and hide. I hadn't heard about any IV sites, but I had a butterfly needle for the draw. I didn't really like poking someone unnecessarily, but it wasn't like he could get an infection and die from a needle stick now, was it? I reached for the blood pressure cuff, to start my set of vitals, and held it aloft. "Which arm?" I asked. A lot of patients with heavy scarring had a side they preferred, one which the cuff's squeezing hurt less.
Faint eyebrows rose. "I believe the previous nurse was having you on."
"How so?" I un-Velcroed the cuff.
"I don't have blood pressure." The corners of his lips quirked into a smile. "I have blood, but to the best of my knowledge, it doesn't really go anywhere."
"Oh." The lab tubes in my pocket felt heavy, and I felt my face flush. "Damn."
"You were . . . looking for some?" he asked, tilting his head forward.
"Actually, yes. Sorry." I frowned at myself. How was I going to get Anna to come closer tomorrow night, when I was off-shift again
"I could . . . give you a finger?" He held up his right pinkie. "I don't need all of them. One won't hurt much." I blanched, and he laughed out loud. "I'm teasing. It would grow back--but I'm teasing.
And the romantic subplot manages to be quite nice without overwhelming the story or impeding the world building. But what I ended up loving best about NIGHTSHIFTED is how real it felt. My favorite urban fantasies are unvarnished. They highlight their humanity by scoring it against a background of the supernatural. They plunge me into a world already seething with life and magic and danger. They take over the city they're set in, so much so that I begin to feel as though I live there, too. NIGHTSHIFTED hit all of these buttons and more, capping it off with a final line that made me want to fist bump Edie in solidarity. The promise of a sequel to look forward to is music to my ears....more
This cover. This cover remains one of my favorite covers ever! I had never heard of Paula Volsky before or read much historiOriginally published here.
This cover. This cover remains one of my favorite covers ever! I had never heard of Paula Volsky before or read much historical fantasy at all when a copy of ILLUSION arrived at my house. I was fifteen and my Aunt Claudia sent it to me for my birthday. She's a great reader, my aunt, and she has flawless taste. When they were kids, she and my dad would ride their bikes to the library and each check out a stack of Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys, go home, read them, switch, read, return, and repeat. She loves Dickens and Georgette Heyer and all manner of good ones. So I knew this one would be good. And I loved how reassuringly thick the mass market copy was. Slick gray pages and 674 of them in all--absolute bliss. I ended up reading the majority of it during a couple of late night babysitting stints. After the kids brushed their teeth and went to bed, I curled up in an oversize chair in the living room and lost myself in the crazy elaborate world Ms. Volsky created. I had honestly never read anything like it, and sadly, I have yet to actually talk to anyone else (besides my aunt) who has read it.
Eliste vo Derrivale (wow, did I love her name when I was 15 . . . oh, who are we kidding? I still do) is a member of the ultra-privileged Exalted class in the land of Vonahr. Having grown up on a rather idyllic estate in the countryside, she can hardly focus on anything else when the summons comes to move to the capital city of Sherreen and become a lady-in-waiting to Queen Lallazay herself. And so she packs her bags and trips off to make her debut at court without a backward glance. Unfortunately for Eliste, her timing is catastrophic. While she is primped, prodded, and ruthlessly trained in the intricate ways of court life, the nation's serfs are rising up. Sick of centuries of subservience to the Exalted class, whose rule is based on their much-lauded but rarely-seen magical abilities, the peasants have united. Before she has fully adapted to her new life, violence breaks out in the city and the life she longed to lead is ripped from her grasp. Forced out onto the streets, Eliste comes to grim terms with a very different way of life. And a past uncharacteristic and seemingly insignificant action comes back to haunt her, as one of the key members of the rebellion is none other than Dref Zeenosen--a serf she once freed from her father's tyranny in a fit of momentary pity a long time ago. If she is to survive, Eliste must develop a whole new set of skills and avoid the dreaded Kokette--the death machine that awaits any Exalted the rebels can get their hands on.
Just thinking about this gorgeous epic sends pleasant little sparks to the tips of my fingers. And I do mean epic in the long and drawn out sense of the word. Densely written, ILLUSION is expansive and filled with exquisite, minute descriptions of everything from the lace in Eliste's hair to the bloody spikes on the horrific, possibly sentient Kokette. Based on the events of the French Revolution, Eliste's world is richly evocative of that period in history and, while some of the events in the story may not surprise you as a result, the elaborate and sympathetic characterization and the delicious magical overtones will reel you in. I love that Eliste is such a spoiled brat at the beginning. She's the epitome of snobby upper crust debutante with a disdain for anything she deems beneath her--which is pretty much everything. She's young and thoughtless and incredibly annoying. But. She is often a keen judge of character. She is always a survivor. And she's unwittingly in for a real nightmare. The joy is in the transformation that is wrought and the growth she achieves as a result of having front row seats for the devastation of her world. I very much like who she becomes. Everything about this book takes its time, from the main character's evolution, to the extremely subtle and slow-building romance, to the final quiet and bittersweet conclusion. It could get tiresome, but to me it felt earned. If historical fiction is not your thing, you might find it difficult to sink into the slightly affected vocabulary and speech mannerisms of the principle characters. For me, the unusual blend of historical tapestry, magic, and early steampunk (in the form of crazily creepy machinery used as part of the revolution) worked like a charm. I would love to hear what fans of any or all of those genres think of it as it has long been a favorite....more
Robin McKinley knows first lines. You read just the first sentence and immediately feel like you've entered a world entirely complete and utterly its Robin McKinley knows first lines. You read just the first sentence and immediately feel like you've entered a world entirely complete and utterly its own. And you want to sit down and stay awhile. Chalice is no exception to the rule. The world reminded me a bit of the kingdom in Spindle's End, both of them deeply entrenched in a sticky sort of magic with a heritage and weight to it. The characters reminded me a bit of those in Rose Daughter, purposefully a bit vague and left up to your imagination to carve out clearly. All of them living their lives as best they can with a sure but undefinable sense of doom hanging over their heads.
Mirasol occupies a position known simply as Chalice. She is the second-highest ranking individual in the Willowlands and it is her job to bind relationships and ties within her domain, between the people and the land they both live on and belong to. At the opening of the story, a new Master (the highest-ranking individual in the land) is coming home to take control of the Willowlands and try to restore some order and peace after the debaucheries and mistakes of his older brother, the previous Master. Mirasol and the new Master have their work cut out for them as she is brand new to the position with no idea how to do what she must, and he is a third-level priest of Fire who is no longer quite human and must tread with extreme care so as not to burn everything (and everyone) he touches to ash.
Sigh. Chalice is a bit of the loveliness, to be sure. It is short and as sweet as the honey that pervades the story's every pore. In fact, just as Sunshine left me with a killer craving for cinnamon rolls, Chalice made me wish I was five years old again and sitting in the kitchen with my Grandpa sucking fresh honey straight off the comb. There are only a few characters in this story and so it seemed that much more important that the ones I had make it through their challenges well and whole. I liked how they seemed to gain additional form and substance as they grew closer and closer to the final test. Until, at the end, they seemed like friends. Full of familiar light and color. ...more
When one of your very good friends wholeheartedly recommends a book or series as one of her favorite contemporaryOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
When one of your very good friends wholeheartedly recommends a book or series as one of her favorite contemporary romance series, you pay attention, yes? Which is why I didn't last long before picking up Laura Florand's THE CHOCOLATE THIEF after Chachic brought it to my attention a couple of weeks ago. I don't know if I would have discovered Florand otherwise, and I am just really happy that I did because this book is delicious. That cute cover doesn't hurt it either. In fact, I am currently wallowing in reading purgatory waiting for a paperback copy of the second Amour et Chocolat novel to show up in my mailbox, because even though I could download the ebook in the blink of an eye, I just really need the cute matching covers on my shelf. This surprises none of you, I am sure. Make no mistake, though. The minute it does arrive, I am diving right in. Because this delightful little treat reads like a chocolate-drenched Anna and the French Kiss for adults. Are you telling me you want to miss that little slice of heaven? No. I didn't think so.
Cade Corey has finally made it to Paris. Growing up the daughter of an American chocolate baron, she's dreamt her whole life of traveling to the city of lights and immersing herself in the world of chocolate masters. Now that she's here, she has a full-blown agenda. Track down Sylvain Marquis, make him an offer he can't refuse, and nail down a line of luxury chocolates to elevate Corey Chocolate's mainstream image. And Cade is absolutely sure she can do it. She's a savvy businesswoman who's spent her entire life surrounded by chocolate. She can have this deal in the bag by the end of the day and spend the rest of her unprecedented "time off" exploring Paris and soaking it all up. What she doesn't factor in is Sylvain Marquis' raging disdain for all things mundane. And Corey Chocolates are at the top of the list. The thought of putting his name on a Corey product fills him with actual physical pain. And so the battle of wills begins. Cade can't fathom giving up at this point. Not when she's come this far and invested so much of herself in this one dream. But Sylvain has traveled a long, difficult road himself. And he's not about to reduce all that hard work and mastery to a mere four-ounce bar of mediocre chocolate sold in Walmarts around the world. The divide between these two seems insurmountable. Until Cade has an idea, a dangerously game-changing idea.
THE CHOCOLATE THIEF surprised me on several levels. I went in expecting cute chick lit and wound up getting something entirely different. Which is not to say it isn't cute. It is! It's just quite a bit more than that, too. In the same way that the cover is a bit deceptively light, concealing rather deeper and darker waters within. Much of it has to do with Florand's writing, which continued to catch me unawares with its expressive nuances. Each time I thought I had its number and dared to let my mind wander, the writing would reel me in again with its quiet and perceptive weight. Cade's observations on Paris, the color, the sound, and the taste of it, charmed me and reminded me why I fell in love with it as well on my first visit. The characterization, particularly of Sylvain, carefully built upon this foundation. I loved that he was such an unexpected blend of uncertainty and bravado. I thought he might be too much to begin with, too rich for my blood in a way. But Florand wisely filled him out with a history, full of longing and failed attempts with the women in his life. Placed next to Cade's innate confidence their relationship made for pleasurable reading indeed. Here is one of my very favorite interactions early on:
She looked at him as if he had hit her. Or, worse, stripped her naked in a pretense of seduction and then smirked and turned her around to see a thousand ridiculing eyes.
She stared at him, something rising in her with a powerful force. His pulse quickened as he prepared for anything, anything--
She turned abruptly and strode toward the entryway. Without a word. Without letting him find out what that powerful force rising in her was.
He found himself following, hoping she would say a word. He was kicking himself already. He hadn't really wanted her to leave.
He just . . . thought it would be in his own best interest to make sure she did.
"I believe you still have our coat, mademoiselle," he mentioned as she reached for the doorknob, trying to pry that word he wanted out of her.
Her flush deepened furhter, her jaw as tense as it was possible for her to hold it. Her hands trembled so much on the buttons, she couldn't get them undone.
"Tenez," he said, troubled, his own hands lifting. He was an idiot. There was more than one way to be an idiot, and he had just proven it. He had just cut off his own nose to spite his face. "May I help?"
"Don't. You. Touch. Me." So much anger vibrated through her voice that he dropped his hands, that fourteen-year-old teenager waking in him, the kind girls didn't want to be touched by.
So he stood there as she struggled with button after button, making her slow, miserable way down the coat, everyone watching them, her cheeks deeply red now. He wondered why she didn't just destroy it--rip it off, pop the buttons, drop it on the floor, and maybe drop a few bills on it to cover the damage as she stalked out. It seemed like something an American billionaire would do.
At last she got it off, to reveal the most ridiculous enormous sweatshirt. He started to smile despite himself. "What are you wearing? Did you come to my workshop in your pajamas?" Americans. All the money in the world and not a gram of taste.
She gave him a look like a slap, thrust the coat at him, and strode out.
Passages like this are exactly why I loved THE CHOCOLATE THIEF, for the effortless blend of light and dark with which Laura Florand crafted it. The protagonists are passionate about everything they do and love. And what they do and love is chocolate. This appreciation shines through in every heady, lingering description. This is a romance, to be sure. If you like yours dipped in the finest chocolate money can buy, then I suggest you seek it out immediately....more
I've seen Susanna Kearsley's name pop up hither and yon around the blogosphere for going on a year now. I added her name to my list of authors to checI've seen Susanna Kearsley's name pop up hither and yon around the blogosphere for going on a year now. I added her name to my list of authors to check out awhile back and I've spent the intervening time idly wondered whether the enticing comparisons to the likes of Mary Stewart had some merit. Not long ago I decided THE WINTER SEA would be the perfect maiden voyage with Kearsley. Published a couple of years ago in the UK, the U.S. edition was slated to come out December 1st and I added it to my Christmas list in the hopes it might find its way inside my stocking this year. Happily, I was not disappointed and I have my mother to thank for that--another die-hard Mary Stewart fan herself. So I picked it up the night after Christmas and settled in to see what all the fuss was about. Well, it quickly became crystal clear to me why people love her work. THE WINTER SEA is the perfectly captivating kind of historical fiction that casts its spell over you from page one and doesn't let go until all is eloquently said and done.
Carrie McClelland is a famous writer of historical fiction. She works best in isolation and frequently travels to the destinations featured in her novels to absorb the local flavor and engage in primary research for the events, history, and people that make up her stories. After an extended period in France, frustrated with the lack of progress she's making on her current manuscript, Carrie agrees to take a break to attend the blessing of her agent's newborn baby in Scotland. On her way up the coast, she stumbles across the ruins of a beautiful castle as she stops to ask for directions. Something about the place seems to call to her. She longs to stay but convinces herself to continue on to her friend's house. Little does she know she'll be returning to Cruden Bay very soon indeed as Castle Slains plays a pivotal role in her chosen tale set during the oft-overlooked Jacobite rebellion of 1708. On the advice of her agent, and the ethereal tugs she continues to feel herself, Carrie rents a tiny cottage on the coast and settles in to let the muse have her way with her. But the closer she delves into the history of Slains, the deeper she is drawn into the lives of its long-dead inhabitants. The characters of her story begin to take on a life of their own and Carrie is no longer sure what is fact and what is fiction as she rushes to get down all the images and conversations bombarding her on a daily basis.
What a beautiful and engrossing story! I'm awfully fond of historical fiction set during any of the Jacobite rebellions. Ever since reading Jennifer Roberson's excellent Lady of the Glen several years ago, I've found the time period and subject matter fascinating, if incredibly bittersweet. This story is no exception. The narrative alternates between the present day and the events leading up to and following the failed rebellion in 1708. Though the story and characters in the past start out as Carrie's own creation, she uses one of her own ancestors as her heroine, and in doing so unwittingly forges a bridge of shared memory between them. The results are unexpected and truly riveting. I never knew for sure which way the chips would fall and whether or not the novel as a whole would cross over into a supernatural/time travel extravaganza a la Outlander or if there would be a less outlandish explanation for the unfathomable link between these two women. I won't spill the beans here, but will say that I was very pleased (and relieved) at the outcome and heartily approve of the deft manner in which Ms. Kearsley handled both the slightly fantastical element to her story as well as the two primary relationships flourishing therein. I initially thought I would get bored with the ancestor Sophia's story, as I was immediately so caught up in Carrie's present-day tale. But that worry quickly fled as I eagerly looked forward to each switch of narration to find out how my other people were faring. Carrie's growing relationship with a very endearing local history lecturer had me at hello and Sophia's perilous and earnest attachment to a young Scottish soldier had me on the edge of my seat. In retrospect, I do wish we'd gotten a more extended resolution for Carrie and her suitor, but overall I closed the book extremely satisfied with the way the relationships concluded. THE WINTER SEA will appeal in spades to fans of Mary Stewart and Diana Gabaldon. And, not to annoy any Outlander fans out there but I, for one, infinitely prefer Kearsley's reserved and resonant touch to the the rampant floridity of Gabaldon's epic. Highly recommended....more
Once again I surface from a haze of mandatory rereading of each and every one of my favorite parts in the previouOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Once again I surface from a haze of mandatory rereading of each and every one of my favorite parts in the previous two novels in the Raven Cycle to write this review of the third and latest installment. I finished Blue Lily, Lily Blue and lay awake in bed, staring at the ceiling, seeing nothing but the quicksilver leaves of Cabeswater, hearing nothing but Adam's soft drawl over the tune of Ronan's inappropriate Irish jigs, and tasting nothing but mint on my tongue. It's a heady experience giving yourself over to one of Maggie's novels and not a decision to be taken lightly. Knowing that she persists in ending each book on a cliffhanger teaser (of sorts), I prepared myself for the worst (though I know she's really saving that for the fourth and final book). And, as ever, as the whole thing crashes to its temporary conclusion, some threads are flung far and wide even as others (the core ones) tighten their hold, both on each other and on me.
This is the third book in a quartet, guys. I shall attempt to minimize the spoilers. But not at the expense of THE FEELINGS. As Ronan might say, Vos admonitos.
Given her druthers, Blue Sargent would eat yogurt for every meal. She would grow a handful of inches taller. And she would spend each and every day with the boys. And while her mother disapproves of at least two of those three choices, her mother is not around anymore. To put too fine a point on it, Maura has up and disappeared. And the women of 300 Fox Way are at a loss as to know exactly what to do to fetch her back. And so Blue eats her yogurt. And she bemoans her diminutive height. And she spends as many and as much of her days as possible hunting with Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah. And all the while she quietly tries to will her mother back before the nameless evil that threatens to awaken does just that. Meanwhile, Adam is holding tightly to every shred of sanity and temper he possesses in order to mend his fences with Gansey, continue to heal Cabeswater as needed, and come to terms with his role in the group and in the grander scheme of the search for Glendower. And in many respects his work is rewarded with greater clarity on several fronts. Ronan Lynch continues to live with every one of his secrets (and to be keeper of a not insignificant portion of my heart). And Noah . . . vacillates . . . as only Noah can. To say nothing of the Gray Man's adopted quest, Calla's fiercely protective eye, Persephone's training of Adam, and Gansey's sometime mentor calling for tea. More threads are added to the weft with every step of this penultimate tale.
"You can be just friends with people, you know," Orla said. "I think it's crazy how you're in love with all those raven boys."
Orla wasn't wrong, of course. But what she didn't realize about Blue and her boys was that they were all in love with one another. She was no less obsessed with them than they were with her, or one another, analyzing every conversation and gesture, drawing out every joke into a longer and longer running gag, spending each moment either with one another or thinking about when next they would be with one another. Blue was perfectly aware that it was possible to have a friendship that wasn't all-encompassing, that wasn't blinding, deafening, maddening, quickening. It was just that now that she'd had this kind, she didn't want the other.
In the words of Whitman, "We were together. I forget the rest." This is precisely how I feel whenever I sit back down with Blue and her Raven Boys. Okay. We're together now. Everything else can fall away. I love how, despite Maura's absence, everyone felt less alone to me in this one than they did in the last. In Blue Lily, Lily Blue, three books in, they genuinely have each other. Even more importantly, they acknowledge that they have each other and just how much that means. Sometimes, in the case of Ronan, they acknowledge it in remorseless and epithetical Latin. Sometimes, in the case of Adam, in the minutest acceptance of an unexpected kindness. And sometimes, in the case of Gansey and Blue, only in the most glancing and breath-holding of looks or moments, drifting along the tenuous line of a telephone. But acknowledge it and rely upon it they do. And that seemingly simple step goes miles and miles to shoring up a few of this reader's myriad anxieties. The trust and surety that previously extended unilaterally here and there within the group expand in this volume to each relationship, in every combination. They find themselves reaching out, across status and gender and ley lines. And, as a result, Gansey (who has arguably been the most alone of all these kids who have been so very alone) is no longer quite so internally isolated. And the same goes for each of the magnificent individuals he has gathered around him. With all dark things looming ahead of them, this one change felt vastly important to me. And dark things do loom ahead. So dark at times it is difficult not to flinch. But there is always the glorious light to match the darkness—the lightning humor in Gansey's eyes, in Ronan's laugh, and on Blue's tongue.
Sometimes, Gansey forgot how much he liked school and how good he was at it. But he couldn't forget it on mornings like this one—fall fog rising out of the fields and lifting in front of the mountains, the Pig running cool and loud, Ronan climbing out of the passenger seat and knocking knuckles on the roof with teeth flashing, dewy grass misting the black toes of his shoes, bag slung over his blazer, narrow-eyed Adam bumping fists as they met on the sidewalk, boys around them laughing and calling to one another, making space for the three of them because this had been a thing for so long: Gansey-Lynch-Parrish.
This thing. Oh, this thing. The three of them. The five of them. The quest for the sleeping king. It's just that I love them, you know? I love that we get the sure sense they were going on before us and that they will continue on without us after the fourth book comes to a close. As for that close, we shall not speak of it. For I am full to the brim of fears and awful premonitions. As such, I plan on tucking myself away at 300 Fox Way until next October. Just to be safe. Safe as life....more
From Dead to Worse is the eighth Sookie Stackhouse book and, after reading it, definitely a comfort Sookie for me. Meaning, of the eight books so far,From Dead to Worse is the eighth Sookie Stackhouse book and, after reading it, definitely a comfort Sookie for me. Meaning, of the eight books so far, this is one I'll go back and reread when I want to feel good about things again. Right up there with numbers four and five-- Dead to the World and Dead as a Doornail. And, yes, I realize that my favorite Sookie books are also the ones with a high Eric factor. That's just the way it is. Fortunately, Ms. Harris seems to be channeling the good Eric vibes as well, because I continue to like where his and Sookie's relationship is going. And I like that it's not speeding but taking its time. Although, I will put in a request for "that conversation" to happen in the next book, please thank you.
This installment sees Sookie and company recovering from the repercussions of the disastrous vampire summit in the last book. Post-Hurricane Katrina Louisiana is also still recovering and several new people come into Sookie's life as a result of this necessary shifting around of their state and their lives. This story seemed very real to me. The trademark humor is still there and as charming as ever. But Sookie makes several weighty decisions throughout the course of this book. Forces herself to, in some cases. And where a few new characters come in, a few older ones make what I would term exits. Wisely chosen ones, I thought.
Sam maintains a quiet but firm presence in Sookie's life. Bill determinedly lingers around the edges. And, even though I will always despise him, he did remind me (and Sookie) of a few of the reasons they got together in the first book. And Eric and Sookie continue to navigate the deep waters between them (their increasingly powerful blood bond, that pesky long-term amnesia thing Eric's got going on, etc). I enjoyed this installment because it was low key, but carried simmering consequences and intriguing possible developments under its calm-ish surface. Sookie was superb. Extremely mature, unafraid, and determined. In all the best ways. Another hit for Charlaine Harris. Can't wait for book nine. ...more
I can tell you exactly what it was made me pick up this book for review (and what it was not). It was the comparisons (yes,Originally reviewed here.
I can tell you exactly what it was made me pick up this book for review (and what it was not). It was the comparisons (yes, multiple) to one Anna and the French Kiss. It was not the cover. Yeah, the colors are pretty and the font is nice. But otherwise it's just awkward. And cheesy. And this book is neither. I think I would have left it at the fence and skipped the junior high dance pose couple. Because while this book does have a romance in possession of the kind of heat you do not want to miss, that couple does not do them justice. There. I've said it. We shall move on. I wasn't planning on reading MY LIFE NEXT DOOR at all, until I read the aforementioned comparisons and early happy reviews. Together they pushed me over the edge, and I went ahead and took the plunge. I mean, who in their right mind doesn't want to read a debut in the same vein as a Stephanie Perkins novel? I am pretty much incapable of resisting that lure. So.
Samantha Reed has a secret. One she keeps from her high-powered, ambitious, and judgmental mother. She watches the Garretts next door. Sort of like a hobby. Her mother despises their next door neighbors, with their constant noise, eight active children, and inability to keep their lawn in order. But Samantha? She is fascinated by them. They're everything her little family of three is not. Gregarious, messy . . . happy. With her mother always campaigning for office and her older sister absorbed in her boyfriend and summer job, Sam is content to watch the Garretts. Until she unexpectedly makes the acquaintance of the third-oldest Garrett--Jase. And everything changes. Samantha tries desperately to keep it on the down-low, knowing full well how badly her mother will react. Knowing that one wrong step could mean she won't be able to keep them. And that is exactly what she wants. Because it doesn't take much time spent in their actual company for Sam to fall head over heels in love with not just Jase, but the whole lot of them--this twirly spectacle of a family who, unlike the Reeds, seem to have a firm grip on what it means to love each other and know who you are.
The Garretts were my bedtime story, long before I ever thought I'd be a part of the story myself.
Love that line. It's the one that reeled me in within the first few pages. So, while I can see what reviewers were thinking when they linked MY LIFE NEXT DOOR with Anna and the French Kiss, I don't in the end find the comparison that apt. You certainly might enjoy one if you enjoyed the other. They are both contemporary YA novels. They do both involve just incredibly swoon-worthy boys (though Jase would simply tower over St. Clair). But there the similarities end. After the fact, I am of the opinion that the Sarah Dessen comparisons are much more accurate. Which, you'll understand, unfortunately means this novel didn't work out for me quite as well as I was hoping. But it also means that it is compulsively readable. And it very likely means that a lot of you out there are going to simply love it. Let's start with the positive. The Garretts. They are mesmerizing. Like Samantha, I just could not look away from them. And I love the image of her growing up, watching them--in all their chaotic effervescence--from her solitary bedroom window across the way. There are so many of them, yet I felt Huntley Fitzpatrick did such a fine job of giving each sibling a distinct personality and role in the family and in the book. I loved each of them, and only wanted for more time in their company. These were by far my favorite moments in the book--when Sam is over at the Garrett's house babysitting, feeding the animals in Jase's room, or just basking in their company. Which leads me to Jase, who's company is most baskworthy. You are going to love Jase. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. He's kind of ideal in every way, which did occasionally lead me to wonder if Sam was really, well, up to speed if you will. I liked her a lot, but there was a bit of a disconnect between how utterly charming he was and how blatantly normal she was. I like the boy next door as much as the next girl, but this one did kind of steal the show from our girl. Which is not to say that I did not eat up every one of their scenes together with a spoon. Because let me tell you I did. It was these mundane details that made the book for me. Ms. Fitzpatrick has a gift for making the commonplace beautiful. But I did wish for a little more shine from Samantha to keep up with Jase. Here's a favorite interaction (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
When I get home from work the next day, sticky from walking back in the summer heat, my eyes immediately turn to the Garretts'. The house seems unusually quiet. I stand there looking, then see Jase in the driveway, lying on his back, doing some kind of work on a huge black-and-silver motorcycle.
I want to say right here that I am by no means the kind of girl who finds motorcycles and leather jackets appealing. In the last. Michael Kristoff, with his dark turtlenecks and moody poetry, was as close as I've gotten to liking a "bad boy," and he was enough to put me off them for life. We dated almost all spring, till I realized he was less a tortured artist than just a torture. That said, without planning, I walk right to the end of our yard, around my mother's tall "good neighbor" fence--the six-foot stockade she installed a few months after the Garretts moved in--and up the driveway.
"Hi there," I say. Brilliant opener, Samantha.
Jase props himself up on an elbow, looking at me for a minute without saying anything. His face gets an unreadable expression, and I wish I could take back walking over.
Then he observes, "I'm guessing that's a uniform."
Crap. I'd forgotten I was still wearing it. I look down at myself, in my short blue skirt, puffy white sailor blouse, and jaunty red neck scarf.
"Bingo." I'm completely embarrassed.
He nods, then smiles broadly at me. "It didn't quite say Samantha Reed to me somehow. Where on earth do you work?" He clears his throat. "And why there?"
"Breakfast Ahoy. Near the dock. I'm saving up for a car."
"My boss designed it."
Jase scrutinizes me in silence for a minute or two, then says, "He must have a rich fantasy life."
Great, isn't it? Which leads me to where things lost their fizz a bit for me. There is a conflict involved in the story (naturally) to do with the problem of Sam's mother seriously disliking the Garrett family in general. This conflict did not work for me. Instead of folding neatly into the story, it felt forced. Everything else was humming along so well (see the passage above), and this crisis felt fabricated simply for the sake of having some kind of conflict and resolution. I understand the reasoning, I just felt that in this case the story didn't need it. I would be happy to read about Sam and the Garrett family for ages of pages. When characters are that well drawn, I don't require a flimsy conflict to satisfy my need for drama. Pointless drama aside, MY LIFE NEXT DOOR is a fun and knowing portrait of family, first love, and growing up. With it, it felt needlessly taxing and predictable. I pressed through the last section missing the quiet warmth of the first two-thirds. This will be a quibble (or even a complete non-issue) for many of you, and I still grin widely when I think of a few of the more memorable moments. So if any of this leaves you at all curious, be sure to check it out for yourself when the time comes....more
I first read about this series on Ann Aguirre's blog. She recommended it so highly and, given how much I enjoyed Grimspace, I immediately picked upI first read about this series on Ann Aguirre's blog. She recommended it so highly and, given how much I enjoyed Grimspace, I immediately picked up a copy of the first book. By the time I cracked it open, I'd been sufficiently warned not to be deterred by the ridiculous cover and anemic title. It's difficult to get past the outside, they said, but persevere you must. The cover is truly cringe-worthy. But the contents are not. The story has its laughable parts. But they're meant to be funny. So that's all right.
Lee (short for Dunleavy) Mallorough has trained her entire life to be a Shield. Shields work together with their Source counterparts. Sources have an uncanny ability to detect natural disasters and avert them. Unfortunately, channeling that much power is guaranteed to kill a Source, unless he or she is bonded to a Shield, whose job it is to protect the Source's mind for the duration of the channeling. A few times a year, unbound Sources and Shields are brought together for The Choosing. Tradition has it that the first time a proper pair sets eyes on each other, the bonding occurs and they both just know. And to make The Choosing even more nerve wracking, the pairing is a lifelong bond. When one dies, so does the other. So, yeah. No pressure.
Suffice it to say Lee is less than thrilled when she looks up into the eyes of Taro (short for Shintaro) Karish, the infamous golden boy of the Source-and-Shield world, and just knows. The unlikely and, on Lee's part, completely unwilling pair are immediately assigned duty in High Scape--the most hazardous city in their world. Shortly after they arrive, a series of inexplicably powerful disasters strike the city, cutting down all but the newest Pair. Lee and Taro are left alone to protect the city and discover the force at the root of the disasters. Moira J. Moore has set up a rather unique fantasy world and two interesting, complex characters whose strengths and insecurities drive the story. I liked Lee and Taro and the fact that things didn't feel rushed. This is the first in a series and there is plenty of room for development and exploration, inside and out....more
So I stayed up too late two nights in a row finishing this one. I found myself alternately morbidly fascinated by and completely frustrated with a worSo I stayed up too late two nights in a row finishing this one. I found myself alternately morbidly fascinated by and completely frustrated with a world that (though "real") so utterly alien to the one I experienced at college. More to come on that further down.
Amy Haskel is your average overachieving junior at Eli University. Editor of the school's lit magazine, she's up to her elbows in a reading of War and Peace, sorting writing submissions, and negotiating a very tenuous friends-with-benefits relationship with her assistant editor. Amid all this, Amy is shocked when Rose and Grave, the most prestigious secret society on campus, taps her for their annual initiation. Btw, it's clear from the get-go that Eli is not-so-loosely based on Yale, while Rose and Grave is patterned on the infamous Skull and Bones secret society.
The notion of a secret society is so outside my realm of experience, that that alone made the book interesting. It's hard for me to wrap my brain around the fact that these groups actually exist and have persisted into the present day, albeit in altered and, one would hope, slightly more enlightened forms. In fact, the admission of women forms the backbone of this story as Amy's initiation class is the first to include a female contingent. Rather unsurprisingly, I spent a good portion of reading time railing away in my head at the archaic, misogynist, preposterous ways the men of Rose and Grave viewed the world. Don't even get me started on the so-called "patriarchs" who threaten (and come through on said threats) to make Amy's and the other girls' lives a living hell if they insist on remaining members, aka Diggers. Suffice it to say, I was ready to lose it long before Amy did. And I'm not at all sure I would have made the choice she did in the end.
That said, I sank into Peterfreund's clean, light prose. Just when the whole thing seemed too much to take, she'd include a quiet scene where Amy reminded me why I liked her so much.I finished the book still conflicted over Amy's choice and that of her fellow Diggirls. Still unsure which (if any) of her male friends can be trusted, particularly the intriguing GHP. Still supremely relieved I'm not living her life. And still satisfied in a I'll have another dish of pie, please, kind of way. I've got the sequel on my nightstand and I'm thinking I'll "dig" right in....more
RAW BLUE has been skirting the edges of my consciousness for awhile now. I knew it was a debut novel. I knew it was written by an Australian author. ARAW BLUE has been skirting the edges of my consciousness for awhile now. I knew it was a debut novel. I knew it was written by an Australian author. And I vaguely knew that it wasn't really available here in the states. But I wasn't really interested until a few days ago, when for some odd reason I started investigating it seriously. I'm not sure what made me do it. All I can say is, I saw a reference to it somewhere and I got a feeling. You know what I mean. So I went on the hunt. As far as the cover goes, well, I'm not wild about it. I like the title font and color just fine. But nothing about the rest of it reels me in and, having read it, this neither looks like how I picture Carly, nor does it really capture the many complexities of what is going on in this novel. But. As I looked into tracking down a copy, I remembered I'd read very positive reviews on several of my favorite sites, and after checking out Kirsty Eagar's site, it quickly became clear that my best (and fastest and cheapest) shot would be downloading the eBook and going from there. So I did. And, wowzers, am I glad!
Carly is 19. She's on her own. She dropped out of university awhile ago for reasons both complicated and painful. She lives in a messy apartment, which she shares with a Dutch woman named Hannah. She works nights as a cook at a somewhat dicey cafe. She avoids answering calls from her disapproving mother. But most of all--Carly surfs. She lives to surf. Eats, sleeps, and breathes the sport. And she has very carefully arranged everything in her life to accommodate that one pursuit in the hopes that she'll be so absorbed in it, she'll never have to think about what happened to her two years ago. And life is . . . well, if not precisely stimulating, it's her life. And as unbelievably private as she is, Carly is comfortable with the way things are. Until she meets Ryan--another avid surfer who starts showing up at Carly's favorite spot. Ryan is older and seems to have a slightly checkered past. But he seems genuinely interested in Carly. He's quiet and not intimidating. He loves the sport she lives for. And gradually she begins to wonder if it might be worth responding to one of his many offers of friendship. If she might be ready, finally, to not be alone anymore. At the same time, Carly runs into a quirky kid named Danny. Danny is fifteen and has synesthesia, which means he sees people as colors. For reasons passing Carly's understanding, this young kid latches onto her, and suddenly Carly has two people trying to be her friend, to claim pieces of her heart.
I loved this book from start to finish. It dropped me into another world, full of surfing lingo and weather reports, charmingly different speech patterns, and the ubiquitous word "mate." I have absolutely no familiarity with surfing whatsoever, but I love reading about characters who are so passionate about what they do. No matter what it is. The surfers in this book are bonded together by their common passion and, as a result, the detailed descriptions of waves and tides and impending storms fascinated me to no end. But even more than surfing, this book is a love story. And it is an exploration of what happens after. How survivors survive. And just how much it takes to move on and reach out to another human being in the aftermath of violence. A favorite passage from early on (I know it's long, but it's worth it):
We're still sitting there when my mobile starts ringing an hour later. I decide to leave it, thinking it must be Emilio.
'But Cookie, your phone is ringing.'
So I get up and run inside--leaving a phone ringing is the sort of thing that messes with Hannah's mind.
The phone dies as I pick it up and I check the menu for missed calls. It wasn't Emilio who called, it was Ryan.
I wait to see if the message icon comes up, but it doesn't.
What to do? Maybe my board's ready. Maybe he wants Hard Cut back. Maybe curiosity is killing me.
He answers on the first ring, which sort of jolts me.
'Carly, how're you going, mate? Mark's rung to say the boards are done.'
'Oh, okay. Thanks.'
There's a pause long enough to be filled in with static.
'Been getting out much?' he asks.
I clear my throat. 'Yeah, a bit.'
'Haven't seen you down there for awhile.'
'Um, I've been going different times. Because of work. Different shifts and stuff.'
'Yeah? What do you do?'
'I'm a chef. Sort of.'
'Like a cook?'
Another long pause. The air feels heavy.
I make myself say it. 'I'm sorry for being rude to you the other day.'
'No biggie, mate.'
'And thanks for getting me a board to use.'
'How is it, all right?'
'Yeah. Bit harder to duck dive through, and turn.'
'Don't tell Mark that. He fancies himself a gun shaper.'
I laugh. 'So anyway, when you're ready to pick it up they're down in Harbord Road,' he says, sounding like he wants to wind this up. 'You know it? I've forgotten what number, but just drive along slow and you can't miss it.'
'I can find it.'
'Big Hard Cut sign out the front. I've told Mark if you try and give him money not to take it. He did it as a favour.'
'Are you sure?'
'Yeah, no worries. All right then, catch you later.'
I put the mobile down and rub my face. I feel like my stomach's dropping away. And that's that, then, I think, walking towards the deck. Before I get there my mobile rings again.
'So, it's me again--Ryan.' His voice is different this time, not as brisk.
'So, ah, there's supposed to be a big swell building for the weekend, from the south. They reckon it's going to hit Sydney on Sunday. Biggest swell in twenty years or something. Hear about it?'
'Um, yeah.' Coastalwatch has been going on about nothing else all week, sounding like the voice of doom: If you want to live, do not venture out on Sunday.
'So I'll be down at the break, 'bout eight or so. They'll be towing in for sure. And probably off the Long Reef Bombie, too. Be worth a look if you're interested.'
He stops talking as though he's waiting for something. I'm quiet because I'm not sure if he means I should go with him. I'm not sure what he means at all.
'That's if you wanted to--ah shit, this is hard.' He blows out some air. 'I've been thinking about you, Carly. If you want to come down, come down. And if you don't want to come down, don't come down. It's up to you.'
'Okay.' I would like to ask for some clarification, but I don't have the guts.
'So--yeah. I'll leave it there. All right?'
'Might see you Sunday.'
He hangs up before I can say okay again.
Hannah doesn't look up when I come back outside, and she doesn't ask me who called either. But when I'm sitting down, flexing my feet and pointing them, eyes shut and face raised up to the sun, she says, 'But you're happy, eh?'
I blink at her, surprised. She's right.
My happiness is crunchy. Snapping, crackling and popping in the sun.
I think that passage gives you a feel for Carly and Ryan and the halting way their relationship begins and progresses throughout the novel. I fell for them both immediately. Kirsty Eagar does such a fine job of pacing the story and allowing the reader to really take the time to get to know Carly, her past, and what makes her tick, before introducing new characters and new elements. The result was that I was thoroughly on her side for the long haul. And it should be pointed out that this is not an easy story to read. It is definitely for the more mature reader of YA, as the language, tone, and subject matter are all quite gritty and not for the faint of heart. I, for one, loved it because the characters were a bit older, definitely more in the New Adult region. Carly's out of high school, done a stint at college, and is living on her own and holding down a job. Ryan is a few years older at 26, and he has seen his share of life as well. It's refreshing to read about characters in this particular stage of life. RAW BLUE is painful, dangerous, beautiful, and wonderfully romantic all at the same time. For the space of time I was reading it, I, too ate, slept, and breathed surfing. I was with Carly every step of the way, and I was incredibly satisfied with the ending she carved out for herself by the skin of her teeth. Definitely one of the best reads of my year so far....more
Sometimes you come full circle with a certain author. My very first Lisa Kleypas novel was actually Sugar Daddy,Originally reviewed here @ Angieville
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....more
It's fascinating to me how, given two quite similar books or styles of book, one will leave you cold and the other has you at hello. I think about thiIt's fascinating to me how, given two quite similar books or styles of book, one will leave you cold and the other has you at hello. I think about this phenomenon all the time and wonder what quality it is that pushes one over into a reading match. Most recently I found myself pondering this as I read Alexandra Bracken's debut novel BRIGHTLY WOVEN. The cover caught my eye back in October and, really, it is at once so attractive and nicely representative of both the book and the character. I then read several pretty exciting reviews and was delighted to win an ARC in a giveaway hosted by the generous Anastasia Hopcus. I eagerly awaited its arrival in the mail and cracked it open the day it came.
Sydelle Mirabel has always lived in a small, dusty town in a small, dusty corner of her country. An accomplished weaver, Sydelle lives a quiet life completing her chores, helping her hardworking parents, and sneaking what moments she can to roam on the hills with her childhood friend and his little brothers. Then one day an unusual person walks into town, bringing storms in his wake. In exchange for this miracle, Wayland North is given his choice of rewards. He chooses Sydelle. And before she can manage to question why or say goodbye, North whisks her away under the tattered folds of his many cloaks. Sydelle soon discovers the world is not the way she imagined it to be. And neither is North. With his capricious nature and tendency to overindulge, this unlikely wizard may hold the fate of the war and weather-torn nation in his rough hands and Sydelle is not at all sure he is up to the task. At least not on his own.
BRIGHTLY WOVEN is a lovely surprise of a story. In many ways it's reminiscent of a few ubiquitous YA fantasy authors, particularly Diana Wynne Jones and Sherwood Smith. North is quite an offbeat (and profligate) hero and I wasn't sure at first if he would win me over. He starts off mysterious and interesting with his swirling cloaks, his dark gloves, and his refusal to explain anything. As we, along with Sydelle, get to know him better he reminded me more and more of the infamous Howl from Howl's Moving Castle. As I don't number myself among Howl's fans (I know, I know), I was worried this would detract from my enjoyment of the story. Such was happily not the case. Alexandra Bracken manages to strike the perfect note between the humorous and the dire, the ridiculous and the heart wrenching. Sydelle is a strong character from the start. Forthright and sensible, she puts up with only as much of North's nonsense as she absolutely must to survive and, despite his vagueness and his secrecy, her focus never wavers from saving her country and her home from those who would see it destroyed. The relationship between the two of them slowly strengthens and takes on an appreciable gravity and closeness across the course of their many wild dashes hither and yon across the land. The world building matches the characters in both quirk and charm so that it was a pleasure to track their chaotic progress. I liked how North is in turn hapless and fierce, how he can never find his way but stalks off to fight a dragon or a duel at the drop of a hat. I believed in him and in Sydelle. And, in the end, what more can you ask of a read? BRIGHTLY WOVEN is due out March 23rd....more
I have had the entire Hollow Kingdom trilogy sitting in my TBR stack for awhile now and finally settled in with the first one and read it through. TheI have had the entire Hollow Kingdom trilogy sitting in my TBR stack for awhile now and finally settled in with the first one and read it through. The first thing to catch my eye was the dedication. This is often the case with me. I was wandering the bookstore with my cousin just other night, talking about what a sucker I am for a good dedication. I should probably be keeping some sort of top ten list or something. I've fallen in love with many a Lloyd Alexander dedication and that's why this one in The Hollow Kingdom stood out to me. Because it was dedicated to him.
Kate and her younger sister Emily arrive at Hallow Hill in search of a new home. Recently orphaned, the two sisters have inherited the estate and come to live with their two muzzle-headed great aunts and their one creeperiffic guardian. The girls take to the new surroundings immediately, but soon after moving in Kate starts to feel like she's being watched. One night while out walking she is actually followed home by a mysterious hooded stranger on horseback. The stranger turns out to be the goblin king Marak. Every goblin king must steal a human bride and bring her home to the kingdom under the hill to live forever, never to see the sun or stars again. Once he sets his sights on Kate, Marak assures her it is only a matter of time til she is his. Kate manages to keep an admirably stiff upper lip, under the circumstances, and resolves to outwit the goblin king and remain above ground. Unfortunately, she is forced to reconsider when her sister is kidnapped and she is sure the Marak is behind it. In a wonderful reversal of expectations, Kate (of her own free will and choice) gains entrance to the goblin court and agrees to marry the king if he will release her sister.
The Hollow Kingdom is completely enchanting. It was the characters that won me over. Kate is a strong, thoughtful heroine and her sister Emily provides a good bit of comic relief as she is interested in absolutely everything. The prospect of spending the rest of her life among goblins strikes terror in Kate's heart, but sends Emily into raptures. What an adventure! But then it's not Emily who has to marry one of the ugly creatures. Which brings us to Marak. And Marak is an enigma. Crafty and cunning, he delights in attempting to capture his chosen bride and force her to do his will. Yet he is not without sympathy. He rushes to his wife's defense at any slight and, even as he laughs at her discomfort, he tries to make her more at home in his underground world. It's a surprising and lovely story and I recommend it for an evening autumn read. ...more
MISTWOOD has been on my radar for close to a year now, if you can believe it. I've been monitoring its status updates on Amazon and GoodReads and checMISTWOOD has been on my radar for close to a year now, if you can believe it. I've been monitoring its status updates on Amazon and GoodReads and checking Leah Cypess' site regularly for any news. There have been tantalizingly few details about this book floating around the verse. I knew it was YA fantasy. I knew it was about a girl who was a shifter. And I knew it took place in a kingdom in trouble. The back cover copy proclaims it:
For fans of Kristin Cashore's Graceling and Fire, Tamora Pierce, and Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia books
Ahem. That combination right there is only like the holy triumvirate of YA fantasy awesome. And so it was with unmitigated glee that I pulled my ARC out of its box a few days ago. I started reading it that night.
She has no memory. No concept of an existence before the moment they came riding into the Mistwood to drag her back to a castle full of high walls, dark secrets, and the suffocating need of the prince. They call her Isabel. The Shifter. The mythical being who can take any form at a moment's notice, who is faster and stronger than any human, whose entire reason for existing is to protect the rulers of Samorna. From harm. From death. With her own life if necessary. And though she answers the insistent pull to protect Prince Rokan, Isabel cannot reconcile who she might be and what she might have been with who they expect her to be. Set apart by her uncertain status and the legend of her origins, she struggles to harness her abilities and come to grips with human emotions and motivations. Amid a swirl of court politics, scheming factions, and doubtful loyalties, the Shifter must race against time to save the man who would be king. A man she is bound to. A man she distrusts. A man she has come to call her friend.
First things first. The cover copy does not lie. Fans of Kristin Cashore, Tamora Pierce, and Megan Whalen Turner will definitely find much to delight among MISTWOOD's pages. Leah Cypess' debut novel is tense, intricately woven, and filled with an almost palpable sense of mystery and foreboding. The entire time I was reading it, I kept thinking to myself--anything could happen. I had no idea how things were going to play out. And I loved that about it. You literally have no idea who to trust. There are those you want to trust so badly, but are afraid to for fear of how much it will hurt if they betray you. And there are those you wouldn't put anything past, so devious do they appear. But all of them surprise you at one point or another. And at the heart of it all is a girl who is neither one thing nor another. Ms. Cypess does an excellent job of endearing Isabel to her readers, no mean feat when she is a supernatural being, a creature purportedly without feeling or even the basic understanding of human emotions. Despite this, I felt Isabel's emotions. With her I felt trapped. I felt confusion, longing, and a desperate drive to understand and to fulfill the measure of my existence.
A favorite passage early on (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
Rokan took a deep breath. The directness of his gaze strengthened his resemblance to the man in the painting, though there was nothing cold or judgmental in his eyes. He was trying to appear as regal as he could, but uncertainty was written all over him, and his face was flushed from his argument with Clarisse.
"I wasn't able to wake you earlier, or I would have warned you. Nobody knows I went to the Mistwood. We think it would be best to keep your true identity a secret for now. I hope you're not offended." "Of course not," said Isabel, who had no idea what her true identity was. "That seems wise."
"Rokan ran his hand over his hair and clutched the back of his neck. "Oh. Good." He hesitated again, then blurted, "I don't actually know that much about the Shifter."
Then you know more than I do, Isabel thought, and saw an opportunity. She gave him her most enigmatic smile and said, "Tell me what you do know."
"Most of it is legend. An immortal creature who protects the kings of Samorna with her wisdom and magic." He massaged the back of his neck. "When the realm is peaceful, the Shifter sometimes leaves the castle and goes to the Mistwood. Then there may be no Shifter for twenty, fifty, once even a hundred years. But when she is needed, she always comes."
"There's even a song about you," Clarisse put in. "It's very pretty, if you like the high notes."
Isabel ignored her. Based on her brief experience, that already seemed like the best way to deal with Clarisse. She stepped closer to the door and turned sideways, so that she could be closer to Rokan without allowing Clarisse or Will out of her line of sight.
Rokan dropped his hand to his side and continued. "You left ten years ago, and at the time you were called Isabel. I was a child then, but . . ." He faltered and glanced at his sister. "We weren't sure you would come back. When you left . . . there were circumstances."
Running through the snow, blood trailing behind her. Tears falling, not leaving a mark like the blood, and that seemed wrong. Pain. Terrible, terrible pain . . .
"Yes," Isabel said without thinking, "there were."
Rokan straightened, pulling away from the wall. He, Will, and Clarisse looked at one another. They were afraid. Rokan and Clarisse both hid it almost well enough, but Will's face was near white.
Rokan recovered first, leaning back gingerly against the wall, trying to act casual. "So why did you leave?"
Isabel lifted her eyebrows. "I am not going to tell you that, Your Highness."
Rokan's hand tightened against his leg, but all he said was, "I understand."
Isabel highly doubted it.
I was glued to the page with this one, guys. Cypess' writing is quiet, yet gripping. The world itself felt truly unique and, as is the case with my very favorite fantasies, as though it possessed a long and winding history that precedes and encompasses this time and these people. By the time I reached the point of no return, I had abandoned all hope of guessing the outcome and simply devoured the final emotionally charged pages. With a cast of conflicted, compelling characters and a mystery so serpentine your mind is left spinning with explanations and implications, MISTWOOD is a bewitching and beguiling debut. I loved it and cannot wait to watch the reviews roll in.
I discovered Sharon Shinn through the fabulous Archangel--the first book in her Samaria series. I was instantly smitten and pOriginally reviewed here.
I discovered Sharon Shinn through the fabulous Archangel--the first book in her Samaria series. I was instantly smitten and plowed my way through that series quick like a bunny. I'm pretty sure I picked up SUMMERS AT CASTLE AUBURN while waiting for the fifth Samaria book to come out. I knew it was YA and much more traditional fantasy (also no sci fi), but honestly I was just sort of making time, if you will. I wasn't expecting that much. You know how you find a new author via a series that just steals your heart, and after devouring it in its entirety you're simultaneously dying for more but so afraid the author's other books won't hold the same shine that those first ones do? Sometimes your fears bear out. But sometimes you end up eating humble pie, quite happily and deservedly so. That was the case here. That is to say nothing, of course, of the prejudice I am occasionally guilty of when it comes to one of my favorite adult authors crossing over and writing YA. So often I feel like they come off as just lite versions of themselves, and I'm left longing for the depth and emotional intensity of their adult titles. Thankfully, SUMMERS AT CASTLE AUBURN is a gem of an exception--a beautifully told coming of age tale set in a deceptively idyllic fantasy realm.
Corie inhabits a fairly unorthodox space in her world. The illegitimate daughter of a deceased lord, she spends the majority of the year learning how to be a village healer with her grandmother. But she spends summers at Castle Auburn. Her father's brother, Lord Jaxon, convinced her grandmother to let him foster Corie at Auburn just for the summers, so that she can get to know her half sister Elisandra and learn to be a lady in the hopes that she might make a good marriage one day and rise from the obscurity her father's dying left her in. Jaxon is hearty and hale and full of life and fourteen-year-old Corie loves her summers at his home. She also loves her beautiful half sister Elisandra who is betrothed to the debonair Prince Bryan. Corie harbors something of a crush on Prince Bryan, secretly hoping he will notice her one of these summers, even though she knows he will eventually wed Elisandra. As Corie grows up, however, she begins to understand the darker machinations at work behind these lovely facades. Bryan is more than he appears to be. Elisandra is not as calm and quiescent as she seems. And the fabled Aliora, the fey creatures who are hunted and forced into slavery to the nobility, are far more complex than Corie has been led to believe. She must decide who she will be and what she will do with her new-found knowledge.
Corie is very much an impressionable young girl at the novel's start. Her goals and crushes and ambitions are small ones, shaped by her limited experience and perception of the world and the people that surround her. Initially, I wondered how far Ms. Shinn would take her as such. But this is one of those wonderful stories where the characters evolve and reveal their depth--all of them--and the reader is privileged to witness their various and sundry transformations. The fascinating bit is that the world undergoes the same unveiling process. At first glance, it's prettily medieval, full of charming hunts, dashing young men, and mystical faery beings. But the gloves come off, so to speak, as the scales fall from Corie's eyes. Even Uncle Jaxon has things he'd rather keep hidden. Themes of despair, doubt, and disillusionment run like ribbons throughout the story. But they are balanced by a cautiously and skillfully written love story, which even I didn't see coming and which isn't fully revealed until Corie has accepted herself and made her decisions about her world and her place in it. I love how her voice changes as she matures. I love how several characters managed to surprise me. And I love where things end. Always retaining that fairy tale feel, SUMMERS AT CASTLE AUBURN reminds me of the novels of the wonderful Patricia McKillip, especially The Book of Atrix Wolfe. When you find yourself in need of something new, I suggest tracking down a copy of SUMMERS AT CASTLE AUBURN. It's sweet and comfortable, with a surprisingly dark and gooey center. In other words, one of the ones I can (and do) hand anyone....more
I must confess. I feel a little bad about my relationship with Lady Emily Ashton. I came across her adventures in the wake of Lady Julia Grey's escapaI must confess. I feel a little bad about my relationship with Lady Emily Ashton. I came across her adventures in the wake of Lady Julia Grey's escapades and I fear I won't be able to do Emily justice, that she will always be overshadowed by Julia. And, um, Brisbane. Do not mistake me. I like Colin Hargreaves very much. He is a delight and I hope Emily never throws him over. But he's not....well. He's not Brisbane. There. I've said it. We can move on. If you haven't guessed by now, AND ONLY TO DECEIVE is the first in Tasha Alexander's series of Victorian mysteries featuring Lady Emily Ashton. A series that has a fair bit in common with Deanna Raybourn's Julia Grey novels.
Emily, like Julia, is made a young and rather sudden widow at the start of the story. The thing is, she never much cared for poor, dead Philip. He was simply a way of escaping her overbearing mother. To the cynical Emily, he represented the lesser of all the evils courting her. After his death, however, Emily is shocked to discover her husband was wildly, irrevocably in love with her and she had no idea. Through his journals, letters, and stories told by his closest friends, she comes to know and love her late husband. As she embarks on a study of ancient Greek language and sculpture (in memory of Philip who was something of an afficionado), Emily becomes involved in a ring of forgeries leading back to Philip and his friends. It seems she has a few more things left to learn about the man she married.
The best thing about AND ONLY TO DECEIVE is the wonderful immersion in all things Greek. I was instantly taken back to my history of civ classes and what a wonderful experience I had reading The Iliad for the first time. Emily, too, had the good sense to prefer Hector to Achilles. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Emily fall in love with her husband and struggle with the fact of coming to know him secondhand and all too late. I loved the way she embraced the life of the scholar as a tribute to him and how she tried to move on despite the ever-constricting mourning requirements imposed on all sides. Unfortunately, her loyal love for her husband soon becomes a bit ridiculous as it is clear he is dead and was not, perhaps, the capital fellow his friends made him out to be. Emily also suffers a few TSTL moments with regards to the merits of her two suitors as well as her endeavors to unmask the villain. As a result, I grew a bit impatient on the whole. Not enough to deter me from the next installment, as I did enjoy many things about this light and charming mystery. Here's hoping things pick up a bit in the next one. ...more
As soon as I finished this book I couldn't wait to share how fun it is. I knew Ilona Andrews had two full-lengthOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
As soon as I finished this book I couldn't wait to share how fun it is. I knew Ilona Andrews had two full-length releases out this year and I was super excited about this brand new series, but somehow the latest Kate always overshadows other titles in my mind. I also had it set in my head somehow that this one resided more on the paranormal end of the spectrum, which is fine, even though I tend not to respond quite as well to that genre. I trust this author implicitly. But I was really pleasantly surprised as I was reading to find out that (shirtless cover aside), though the romantic subplot plays a much more central role and proceeds more quickly than it does in the Kate Daniels novels, it is never overwrought and in no way overshadows the rich world-building, fast pace, and fantastic characters I've come to expect from Ilona Andrews.
Nevada Baylor prefers not to attract attention. Of any sort. In a world ruled by rigidly stratified magical practitioners known as Primes, Nevada operates as far below the radar as possible. After the death of her father, she took up the reins of the family PI business. Making sparing and judicious use of her ability to determine whether or not people are telling the truth, and utilizing every scrap of talent from each of her siblings, her cousins, her ex-military mother, and even her mechanic grandmother, she is determined to provide for them all and stay afloat. But when their parent company calls her in and blackmails her into taking a case no one with half a brain cell would touch, Neva knows her days are numbered. And when she inadvertently (and completely against her will) partners up with Mad Rogan—the most notorious and insane Prime of all—she figures she might as well take advantage of Rogan's legendary abilities before the whole thing goes up in flames. Rogan has his own reasons for trying to track down the rogue Prime that's taking the city by storm. And so together the two set out to save the city. Whether or not they can manage it without killing each other along the way is another question entirely.
Burn for Me is just a cracking good read. The action, mystery, romance, and humor are all entwined in just such a way as to make the reading of it a nonstop pleasure. My interest never flagged, and I liked Neva and Rogan every bit as much as I hoped I would. My favorite thing about Andrews heroines is how hard they try. How doggedly they love and protect the ones that are theirs. How desperately they cloak their secrets. And how ferociously they fight to save the world. I loved Nevada for the way she held her family together, ran her business, and managed to handle crazy, magnetic Rogan. The glimpses we get of Rogan's past are painful and fascinating; his history as a telekinetic Prime and as a forged weapon is both twisted and suffocating. Working together, these two amount to a lit flame. And it was no hardship at all tracking them on their wild course through the city, arguing, plotting, and working their way closer together. Neva is rightfully guarded around Rogan, while Rogan doesn't know the meaning of the word "boundary." The combination of the two is something of a compulsive delight. My favorite moments, of course, are when Neva's deceptively simple ability allows her insight into Rogan. For example:
I was suddenly so tired. My eyes were burning. My throat still hurt.
Mad Rogan raised his hand. A bottle of water landed into it. He handed it to me. "Rinse your mouth and eyes. Don't swallow."
I opened the bottle, gulped, swished the water inside my mouth, and spat. The scratching subsided.
The younger of the men reappeared in the warehouse door and nodded to us. We started toward him.
"Thank you for saving my grandmother," I said.
"You're no good to me if you're burying a relative instead of looking for Pierce. I did it for completely selfish reasons," he said.
I hated that it had to end. And I am already awaiting the sequel with the usual ill concealed impatience....more
I'm trying to remember now where I first ran across a reference to this book. It may have been on Meg Cabot's blog a few years ago, come to think of iI'm trying to remember now where I first ran across a reference to this book. It may have been on Meg Cabot's blog a few years ago, come to think of it. She's always dropping good recommendations here and there and I often pick up on them. This one I ran down at my local library, where they fortunately had this gorgeous cover. And not the hideously awkward hardback cover. I adore this cover. It's really perfect for the book itself, evoking all the adjectives that spring to my mind when I think of it: shadowy, romantic, autumnal, and somewhat foreboding. And still it holds some secrets in reserve. In fact I always think of it as a fall read. One for someone in the mood for not having the storyline and the history of the characters totally spelled out for you. For those who like figuring things out along the way and enjoy something slightly different from the standard paranormal fare that is on display so much these days. This was my first experience reading a Liz Berry book. She is an artist and author from London and, from what I can tell, her books are not widely available on this side of the pond. Always a shame.
Clare Meredith is in a bit of a holding pattern as she prepares to go off to university. Finished with her classes, awaiting exam results, she finds herself a little disconcerted to be suddenly uprooted by her mother and unceremoniously moved from London to the remote estate of Ravensmere. Her mother has taken a position as private nurse to the owner of Ravensmere--a Mr. Aylward. Making the best of her new surroundings, Clare strikes out and familiarizes herself with the people and places of nearby Stoke Raven village. It is there she meets Mark, a somewhat rakish young biker boy fetchingly clad in leather, and the two of them strike up a friendship of sorts. At the same time, her new life begins to take on an eerie tone as it appears everyone in Stoke Raven feels like they know her already. One too many people comment on being happy to have her "back" and from there the situation only gets odder as Clare's mother reveals a few pertinent details about her past and her connection with Ravensmere itself. Then Clare discovers the China Garden and she, her mother, Mark, and Mr. Ayward find themselves thrust into a headlong rush to discover the link that binds them across time to this place.
THE CHINA GARDEN is part mystery, part fantasy, part historical fiction and it kept reminding me on a regular basis of a short Mary Stewart novel. Particularly Touch Not the Cat. The rambly old English estate, the family inextricably tied to the land, the ESP. Add some exploration of ancient pagan rites meets early Christianity and you have THE CHINA GARDEN. I liked that Clare was a little bit older at seventeen and thinking about college and somewhat more mature issues. I liked her offbeat and leisurely developing relationship with dark Mark. I enjoyed her complicated relationship with her mother. I felt like the story never pandered to me and that I never quite knew for sure how it was going to unravel. In fact, it ended up quite more intricate and grand than I was expecting. But Clare and her intent nature grounded it all for me nicely. This one does not move along at a fast clip, but unfolds slowly and on its own time table. But the descriptions of the crumbling old manor and the small village surrounding it are lovely and I, for one, didn't at all mind sliding in alongside the characters and taking it as it came. For fans of Margaret Mahy, Libba Bray, and Mary Stewart. ...more
I can thank the ever-reliable Carolyn Crane for inspiring me to track down an advanced copy of this one. I read hOriginally 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.
I received a pitch for this book a few months back and dithered around on it a bit before deciding to give it a sOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I received a pitch for this book a few months back and dithered around on it a bit before deciding to give it a shot. But I had to wait, of course, for the right moment. And that moment came the other night after putting everyone to bed and coming off a rather unsatisfying read the night before. It helped that I haven't really read any true chick lit for awhile. What didn't help was the cover and the title. Nope. Not representative of the book at all, as far as I'm concerned. So if you're put off by either, don't leave yet. Because I settled in with GRACE GROWS and did not surface again until I had finished it. The thing is it made me laugh right off the bat. In fact, I'd read a passage aloud to my husband before I was three chapters in--a sure sign I'm enjoying a book immensely. If he has to hear a bit of it aloud as I am reading it, then he knows I'm in it for the long haul. Turns out GRACE GROWS is so readable and engrossing that the "long haul" felt very short indeed. That's not to say that it's without its problems. On the contrary, it has it's fair share. But I haven't been able to get it out of my head since finishing. So let's discuss the highs and lows and see where we wind up, shall we?
Grace Barnum (yes, like the circus) is comfortable. She has a live-in boyfriend she's been with for awhile now. She has a job that keeps her busy and a pleasantly distant relationship with both of her parents (who have been estranged ever since she was a little girl). She has friends to go out with on the weekends and time to herself to sit in the Cloisters and recharge her batteries, so to speak. Everything's fine. Really. But then one morning on her way to work, she meets a dog walker outside her building who changes everything. Or wrecks everything. It all depends on your point of view. But one thing is for sure, this sometime dog walker, full time up-and-coming musical sensation has no intention of exiting Grace's life. Which presents problems on several levels for peace-and-quiet-loving Grace, because she can't seem to let go of their . . . friendship . . . either. And it's messing with her mojo, seeing as Ty is as chaotic and charismatic and fun-loving as Grace is steady and quiet and set in her ways. But Tyler Wilkie is dead set on two things in his life: getting famous and getting Grace. Which presents a problem for her nice, normal boyfriend who suddenly seems to be heading toward fiance territory. And so time passes and the two of them circle and reach out to each other and drift away and come together again in a kind of excruciating cycle neither of them know how to break. Until the strength of their connection forces them to act, that is. And then things get even more complicated.
Like I said, I started laughing immediately and didn't stop. Shelle Sumners has a wonderfully dry and lively wit and it sparkled in Grace's interactions with Tyler, with her friends and co-workers, and with her inexplicable parents. I cared for her right away. In fact, I cared about every single character in this book. They are each of them delineated carefully and thoughtfully, and while the bulk of my emotions were tied up in Grace and Ty's relationship, I was attached to each of the secondary characters as well. Which is why the whole messy, beautiful thing meant so much to me, I think. And why it was so clenchingly painful when the course of true love did not run smooth. And let me tell you, it really, really doesn't. I can understand why some reviewers want to kick Grace to the curb about two-thirds of the way through. She brings the pain, this girl does. She's been the recipient of her fair share of it as well, and for that (and her parents' dysfunction) I cut her some slack. But that doesn't mean it isn't difficult to watch her sabotage Tyler's happiness (and her own, of course) in such desperate ways. And since Tyler is about as adorable as a basket of puppies, it's . . . well, it's hard to watch. But the dream of them is so compelling, I did. I watched it right through to the very end.
I reached up and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned.
"Hi," I said.
"Hey!" he said. "It's you!"
He gave me that radiant smile and the gawk factor inexplicably transferred from him to me. Suddenly he was grace, and I wasn't.
"You're shorter than this morning," he said.
"Oh, yes." My face was getting warm. Annoying! "I had on those tall shoes."
"Yeah, they were pointy."
"Yes, I was trying to--well, I don't usually dress like that."
He nodded. "It looked hot, but painful."
This, their second meeting, is an incredibly simple passage, I know. But it really does give you a feel for Ty's easy charm and Grace's awkward honesty when she's around him. There's no denying their chemistry. This is one of those protracted relationships. It develops over years. And nothing, but nothing, resolves when you want it to. Honestly, I did come to tire of the never ending passing like ships in the night. Similarly, I wish the plot point that finally forces them to act was not what it was. It took away from the payoff for me. I wish Grace had found the courage to take control of what lay between them without it, and I wish we'd been allowed to spend a little more time with Grace-and-Tyler before their fragile little entity was overwhelmed by life and the consequences of the long string of decisions (both bad and good) that brought them where they are. That said--I really cared, you guys. I really cared. It hurt reading this book. It hurt and tickled and irritated and delighted. Recommended for fans of Liza Palmer and Kate Saunders....more
I'd been hearing lots and lots about Meredith Ann Pierce long before I ever picked up one of her books. For the longest time I associated her in my heI'd been hearing lots and lots about Meredith Ann Pierce long before I ever picked up one of her books. For the longest time I associated her in my head with a book called The Woman Who Loved Reindeer. And neither the title nor the cover did anything for me. But, as is so often the case, I had several friends who highly recommended her Darkangel trilogy. And they were persistent enough and vociferous enough that I finally picked up the THE DARKANGEL (much more interesting title and premise) to give a new author and a new series a go. This was probably somewhere around ten years ago. And I'm still so glad I gave in and picked up the trilogy. That way I didn't even have to wait before diving into the second book. And this really is a series that builds upon each previous book until the final showdown is indeed something to behold. This was Ms. Pierce's first book, written when she was just 23 years old, but you would never be able to tell. It's a treasure trove of creepy ambiance, layered characterization, and suspense. First published in 1982, the entire trilogy was fairly recently rejacketed nicely and released to (hopefully) a new crop of readers.
Ariel is a slave. Accompanying her mistress on a flower-gathering expedition, Ariel is dismayed when her mistress is abducted by the terrifying Darkangel--a vampyre who is destined to only come into his full power when he acquires his fourteenth and final bride. Yes, you read that right. He's got twelve of 'em locked away in his fortress and Ariel's mistress gets to be unlucky thirteen. But not if Ariel has anything to do with it. Somewhat taciturn by nature (and life status), she sets off in pursuit of her mistress, determined to fetch her back before the Darkangel drains her all but dry of life like his other wives, finds a fourteenth, and ascends to the dizzying heights of power of a seventh son and a full vampyre. Then he will be immortal and have truly left the last of his humanity behind. Unfortunately, Ariel herself is captured on her journey, and the Darkangel forces her into servitude to his bevy of wraith-wives. Soon Ariel begins to form a plan to kill the Darkangel and set the wives free.
His hair was long and silver, and about his throat he wore a chain: on fourteen of the links hung little vials of lead.
I remember reading that line and feeling chilled, wondering just exactly what he carried inside those little vials. This is a vampyre novel of a different kind from the sort you may be used to. The mythology is woven very densely here, as the title character himself is more of a icarus-vampire hybrid than your typical broody night dweller. Everything about this dark fantasy/scifi is slightly left of what you expect it to be, and I love it for that very reason. Ariel is at times shy, furious, fearful, and bold. Her captor is coldly indifferent, with his black wings and his all-but-dead heart, but with a multitude of reasons lurking behind his violent search. And once Ariel discovers the truth of his history, his family, and his existence, she becomes determined to go on her own quest to recover the one object that might release him from his terrible fate. She makes this decision on her own, in the face of his certain disapproval and the possibility of her own annihilation. She is strong and sympathetic and her motivations never struck me as weak or dubious. The world these characters inhabit is as frigid as the Darkangel himself. Craggy and desolate, it provides an excellent backdrop for each character's isolation. Plus, it has friendly gargoyles, crafty dwarves, and one incredibly terrifying Lorelei. And this is only the beginning. It gets endlessly complicated through the course of the next two books as the reader grows fonder of both Ariel and the Icarus. I adore the entire trilogy and highly recommend it to anyone tired of the same old paranormal rigmarole. This one is different. A keeper....more
If you'd asked me last year if I was a fan of novel serializations, I would have issued a flat no. But then thereOriginally 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....more
I've had A LILY AMONG THORNS on my list ever since I read Rose Lerner's debut novel--In for a Penny--more tOriginal review posted on Angieville: HERE.
I've had A LILY AMONG THORNS on my list ever since I read Rose Lerner's debut novel--In for a Penny--more than a year ago. In fact, I actually reread it a couple of weeks ago to see if the character and writing were as lovely as I remembered. They were and it was. So I practically bounced in my seat when I saw the tweet pop up stating that A LILY AMONG THORNS was available on NetGalley. Click, click, click. And I sat down with it that night. Personally, I think this cover is nowhere near as nice as the cover of In for a Penny, which I thought both represented the tone of that novel as well as the "lighter" romance found within. These two look nothing like how I picture Serena and Solomon, particularly as he seems about to eat her nose and, honestly, Solomon would never do that. And even if he did give it a go, Serena would most certainly never let him get that close. Ah, the woes of cover art. On to the tale!
Serena Ravenshaw and Solomon Hathaway have A History. And they don't even know it. Ever since that one fateful night, years ago, when Solomon inadvertently provides Serena with the means to change her life, she's thought of him and wondered. Who was he? Why did he give her that money? Where is he now? And most importantly--does he have any idea what that inexplicable act meant to her? And while Serena has been carving out a new life for herself, Solomon has been quietly watching his fall apart. After the death of his twin brother in the Napoleonic Wars, Solomon can hardly summon the will to go on. A gifted chemist and tailor, he spends his days and nights working in his uncle's shop and fending off the aching loneliness and despair. Then his sister announces her marriage and the family jewels go missing. And when his sister announces she cannot be wed without the precious heirloom, Solomon seeks out the famed Black Thorn--the one woman in town who is rumored to be able to find anything that is lost. When Serena sees the one man she thought she'd never see again walk through her door, she is at once panicked, thrilled, and suspicious. Whether or not Solomon will survive the encounter is another matter entirely.
What a talent Rose Lerner has for making her characters essential to your happiness in such a short period of time. And not in a superficial way either. I genuinely care about them, believe in their fears, and grin affectionately at their quips and quarrels. By the end of the shattering prologue, I simply had to find out what in the wide world was going to happen to these characters after the intervening years had their way with them. A favorite scene early on (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
"After Elijah died, I moved my laboratory into the back of the shop for awhile."
"How kind of him, to allow you to use his space in your work for his business. I'll wager he doesn't pay you enough either."
"Did you tell him that?"
The corner of his mouth quirked up. "Anyway, that's not what I meant. I moved it there because I--well, I caught myself eyeing the bottle of arsenic. And I didn't think I would, but I knew I wouldn't if my cousin Clara might find the body."
The oyster Serena has just eaten transformed itself into a brick in her stomach.
"I couldn't sleep and I'd show up there at all hours to work. Uncle Hathaway took to waking at three or four in the morning and coming downstairs. He'd bring in tea, and then he'd go into the other room and work. He didn't try to talk to me, but I could hear him through the door and it--it helped."
Serena leaned back against a tree. "I--"
"I said I didn't want to discuss it."
"I know. I just wish I could have been there."
Solomon looked at his hands. "So do I."
It was incredibly fun watching mild-mannered Solomon court death and heartbreak (not necessarily in that order) by renewing his association with Lady Serena Ravenshaw. Hard-hearted, calculating, and about as remote as formerly renowned courtesans turned underworld mavens come, Serena has vowed no one will ever have control over her again. But since she is determined to repay Solomon, she agrees to find the Hathaway rubies and call it good. Unfortunately for both of them, there are larger forces brewing outside the Ravenshaw Arms. Within the space of 24 hours, Serena's former partner returns with unexpected demands, her imperious father threatens her life, and this thing between she and Solomon threatens to break the choke hold she has on control. This book lived up to its promise from the first page to the last. Charming and intriguing, I never tired of it. The secondary characters were excellent as well, and all the threads tied up satisfactorily in the end. My favorite things about Ms. Lerner's books are the sly humor that weaves its way through the stories and the wonderful, endearing protagonists she creates. Like Penny and Nev, Serena and Solomon are . . . well, they're good. And by good I don't mean they're above reproach or without their fair share of flaws. But they are people I would want to know and keep in my life. Witness my favorite passage in the book:
"You're right," he said again. "I haven't been fair. I was afraid, too. Afraid of being alone, I suppose. Afraid of being without you. But--you know, I--" His voice cracked. Damn.
"Solomon--" she said, and he loved the way she said his name so much that he had to keep talking or he might do something selfish like tell her that.
"I never believed, before I met you, that I could go my own way," he said. "That I could deserve more than someone was willing to give me. That love might not be worth the sacrifices we have to make for it. You've taught me that. What I mean is--I do understand, if you decide you don't want--" He waved a hand between them, as if in a moment the word that would describe all that lay between them would pop into his head. As if such a word existed. He shook his head. "This."
She stared up at him, the shadows making her eyes look huge.
"You're giving up?"
He stood up. "That's exactly the problem. This has turned into some kind of tug-of-war. I'm not giving up. I'm just saying that I won't push you anymore. I won't ask for anything. I've been torturing you, and it's not fair. If nothing's changed when we go back to London on Sunday, I'll leave. Just please--make a decision that will make you happy. Take good care of yourself." She looked as lost as he felt. He went to the bed and stood looking down at her: at her perfect face and her perfect body that suddenly, for the first time, looked ordinary.
She wasn't a goddess, or an angel, or a harpy. She was a woman, a frightened, unhappy, determined, beautiful woman, and he loved her so badly that just leaning down and brushing his lips across her left temple, where her birthmark was, brought tears to his eyes. "Thank you for everything," he said, and left.
You see? All that and an ending that will make you smile, too....more
Sometimes you run across a certain author at just the right time. In my case, it often happens post-some trauma oOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Sometimes you run across a certain author at just the right time. In my case, it often happens post-some trauma or other, when I am . . . depleted, if you will, and sorely in need of something that will wrap me up in its charm or beauty and give me back a little bit of what I lost. Kristan Higgins is one of those authors. I discovered her not long after having my third baby (never in a million years did I think I'd have cause to use that phrase), and the laughter and hesitant, honest emotion her stories provided served as a balm. She has a nice backlist, and I blew through it with gusto. A few became dear favorites, others merely pleasant ways to pass the time. I tend to think there's probably a Higgins book for everyone, and I'm ever curious as to which one works for which reader. My top three are All I Ever Wanted, Catch of the Day, and Until There Was You. I foresee rereading them indefinitely. All of which is to say that I always look forward to her new releases. With the publication of THE BEST MAN, Higgins embarks upon a series set in the Blue Heron region of the northeast.
Faith Holland has stayed away as long as she can. Nothing has gone right since she left her home, and a string of unfortunate relationships has left her doubting the existence of happily ever after. But the last disaster takes the cake, and Faith returns home to her family's winery to see if she can't find her way to seeing things clearly again. Of course, coming home means seeing her ex-fiancé Jeremy again and attempting not to murder him for leaving her at the alter all those years ago. No mean feat, that. It also means attempting to retain her sanity amid her inane, but lovable family's quirks and foibles. So when she crosses paths with Jeremy's best friend (and former best man) Levi Cooper, Faith is spoiling for a fight. Levi just stood by and watched as Jeremy called it quits. Faith is sure he could have done something to avoid the catastrophe and didn't. As a result, she isn't about to let him meddle in her life again, chief of police or no. For his part, Levi is decidedly less than thrilled to see his best friend's ex-fiancée back in town. Faith always did get in the way of things, with her endless cheerfulness and attached-at-the hipness to Jeremy. Add to that the fact that he's not best pleased with women in general these days, Levi is determined to have nothing to do with her. Circumstances fail to cooperate with Faith and Levi's wishes, however, and it isn't long before they find themselves forced to reevaluate their original opinions of each other.
There is a lot going on in this novel. Even for Higgins. From crazy family members en masse and numerous painfully failed marriages to the unwilling reliving of high school drama and surprisingly traumatic pasts, it's a certifiable festival of emotions. And for a little while I was uncertain as to how well I would sink into this dramedy served up on a platter. Though they are admittedly attracted to each other upon her return, Faith and Levi's enmity runs deep on both sides. While I liked that they didn't just fall into each other's arms, I did struggle a bit with the way they handled each other. I didn't quite have the context to support it. But then Faith got a glimpse of what Levi's life was like, both before and after she left home. And with that glimpse, I sank in. For while there was a bit much going on on some fronts of this novel, there were other areas in which the layers utterly suited me. One of my very favorite things about Higgins' novels in general is the consistent way in which she acknowledges that families are imperfect. That growing up reveals these imperfections. That they hurt. And that sooner or later we are all forced to address them and see if we can't somehow embrace them and move on. I truly enjoyed reading about Levi's history, growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, his unexpected friendship with Jeremy, his mother, his sister, joining the army and shipping off to Afghanistan. I was similarly involved in Faith's background, in her struggle with epilepsy, her combative relationships with her sisters, and her desire to create something lasting and beautiful. It was these layers, along with (as always) the gradual reconciliation and development of their relationship, that earned THE BEST MAN a spot on my keeper shelf. While not perfect (a few annoying moments and some potential threads left unexplored), it has that undeniable heart that I've come to expect and rely on in a Kristan Higgins book....more
At the edge of the woods in Mercy Falls, Grace lives alone. Oh, her parents are there but nigh unto incapable. Wrapped up in themselves and their careAt the edge of the woods in Mercy Falls, Grace lives alone. Oh, her parents are there but nigh unto incapable. Wrapped up in themselves and their careers, they are aggravatingly oblivious, managing to check in with their seventeen-year-old daughter in the unlikely event it occurs to them. And since she's never known any different, and they are her parents, the eminently practical Grace made her peace with it a long time ago. She doesn't weep over lost chances. She just makes dinner, does her homework, and quietly obsesses about the wolves in the woods. Yeah, Grace has one thing that consumes her. One messy, inexplicable fact in her otherwise staid existence. When she was a child she was mauled by wolves and left for dead. Somehow she survived and, ever since, a solitary wolf watches her from the shadows. Every winter, like clockwork, he skirts the edges of her home like a silent guardian, only to disappear again when summer arrives and temperatures rise. His presence is the one constant in her life. Until someone else is mauled by wolves. Until a boy named Sam turns up on her back porch. A boy with strangely familiar yellow eyes. And the world begins to change.
I picked the right book to take with me on my trip. As soon as I found out Maggie Stiefvater was writing a new series to do with werewolves, I began counting down the days. Lament was on my Best of 2008 list, and I was relying on the mysteriously titled SHIVER to tide me over until the release of the sequel Ballad. And honestly the first thought I had after finishing was that it was perfectly titled because Grace and Sam's story sends shivers down your spine repeatedly. The second thought was how the characters surprised me--in a good way. I don't know exactly what I was expecting. Probably something along the lines of Dee and Luke in Lament, all urgent and angsty dangerous as hell. But Grace and Sam are an entirely different breed. She is cool and methodical and even and I warmed up to her as I got to know her better. He is warm and thoughtful and artistic and I liked him right from the start. On the paranormal scale, this one falls much heavier on the realistic end of the spectrum. There's even a scientific (sort of) explanation for the werewolves' condition, with the result that the emphasis remains on the characters themselves. They and their storyline are so tied to the seasons, to the minutest fall in temperature, that I discovered I was responding to them in the same way. I loved how contained they both were. Maggie Stiefvater has managed to craft an intensely involving, desperate love story without the cliche teen stupidity a la Romeo and Juliet. Quite the feat. The descriptions are lovely, the young protagonists sympathetic, and there's a scene in a candy shop that will leave you absolutely salivating. I dare you to read that one just once....more