It seems as though THE DEMON'S LEXICON has been on my radar for ages now. I can't remember where I originally heard about it, but I've had a good feelIt seems as though THE DEMON'S LEXICON has been on my radar for ages now. I can't remember where I originally heard about it, but I've had a good feeling from early on, ever since I heard it was about two brothers who fought dark forces. What can I say? I'm a sucker for brothers. It's a relationship you don't often see done really well. Or not as often as you'd like. I really hoped this one was done well. As the reviews came rolling in, they all certainly seemed to indicate Sarah Rees Brennan's debut novel was spectacular. I'm only sorry it's taken me so long to get around to it. I was happy to find it nominated for a Cybils award and looked forward to it coming up in my towering nightstand stack.
A note on covers: I've posted the UK cover here because I am just so in love with it. That is what Nick looks like. Dark and confused and angry, with the silhouette of ravens and the city behind him. Not like the model dude on the U.S. cover. Sunlit and glowing and coy, with lips so pursed he must kiss you or they will fall off.
Nick and his big brother Alan are on their own. It's been that way for years now and they've learned how to cope. Real well. With their crazy madwoman-in-the-attic mother in tow, they live a life on the run, moving from town to town, dumpy apartment to dumpy apartment, avoiding the darkness that haunts their footsteps. Together, Nick with his sword and Alan with his gun, they can handle anything the bloody magicians send their way. That is until kind-hearted Alan takes in a couple of strays in need of their particular brand of expertise and all hell breaks loose in their living room. Rather the opposite of kind-hearted himself, Nick is determined not to let any harm come to him or his brother just because quirky Mae's little brother Jamie got himself a demon mark. Or three. But Alan won't abandon them and Nick won't abandon Alan. So the four of them set off together, first stop--the Goblin Market--where magical folk gather periodically and where the Ryves boys hope to acquire the information they need to remove the demon marks and fend off the Circle of magicians hunting them and the demons they ride. The novel's opening lines:
The pipe under the sink was leaking again. It wouldn't have been so bad, except that Nick kept his favorite sword under the sink. He rescued it, wiped the steel, and absently tested the edge with his thumb while water flowed out onto the kitchen floor. Once he'd laid it aside, he realized the knees of his jeans were already soaked through. Alan brought Nick his toolbox. "Care to lend a hand?" Nick inquired without much hope. "No, I'm too busy cooking," Alan said. "You do the heavy lifting around here. I'm more the sensitive intellectual type." Nick raised his eyebrows. "Oh, get in the kitchen and bake me a pie, woman." He peered into the cupboard again. The pipes made an ominous gurgling sound, and the bottom of the cupboard became the site of the world's tiniest waterfall. "I can be a sensitive intellectual type as well," he said at length. "If the other option is drowning under our sink." "Save us all from a watery grave or cook your own dinner. It's entirely up to you." It was a compelling point. Nick could cook his own dinner, but Alan actually worked at being a good cook. He made everything from scratch, and the sizzling sound of food hitting the pan and the sudden rich smell of frying vegetables made his argument for him. Nick glared, which was effective when dealing with everyone but his brother. Then he took the knife out of his wrist sheath, laying it carefully alongside his sword, rolled up his sleeves, and got to work.
As you can see, right from the word go you get a tangible feel for who these boys are and the intense kind of relationship they have. This was key for me because, with every page that passed, it became clear that Sarah Rees Brennan had knocked it out of the park as far as Nick and Alan go. These boys are the real deal. They were so awesome I kept picturing them as comic book heroes, busting into a den of magicians, back to back, sword and gun ablaze. And while the characterization is stellar, the writing is a cut above as well. I was repeatedly caught delightfully unawares by a suddenly perfect turn of phrase. This tale is a particularly dark one and just when I felt I might be sucked down by a nasty undertow, an especially effective passage or an exquisitely potent scene between Nick and Alan would surface and carry me through. The world itself is as dark and twisty as an underground grotto and I happily immersed myself in its frightening intricacies. I could not put this book down. I was so scared for and so enamored by these characters that it was literally a race to the finish to find out if they would survive and still resemble themselves by the time all was said and done. Reading THE DEMON'S LEXICON was an unbelievably satisfying experience. It exceeded all my expectations and I cannot wait for the sequel, The Demon's Covenant, to come out in May. Standing ovation, Ms. Brennan!...more
I had been warned in advance that, given my reactions to the first three books, this one might not be my favorite. At the same time others encouragedI had been warned in advance that, given my reactions to the first three books, this one might not be my favorite. At the same time others encouraged me with the promise of a measurably higher Adrian quotient in this installment, which might well factor into shoving the Siberian chunkmeister that is this book to the forefront of the series. Either way I was very interested to find out just how Rose handled the fallout from the painfully messy end of Shadow Kiss.
A WARNING: beyond this point lie unavoidable spoilers for the series. Proceed at your peril.
Rose is leaving St. Vlad's once again, this time on her own and possibly for good. Against everyone's wishes, she leaves her best friend and charge Lissa behind and heads for Siberia, where she is certain Dimitri would have gone after becoming Strigoi. Once there Rose manages to infiltrate the local dhampir culture and relentlessly hunts for someone to direct her to the home and family Dimitri described to her in such loving detail. Eventually she succeeds and is forced to meet his family and explain to mother and sisters just what happened to their beloved son and Guardian. Meanwhile, back home, Lissa and crew are failing rather spectacularly to cope with life without Rose and post-attack. Lissa and Christian are on the outs, there are a couple of interesting new characters in town, and Adrian is the only one who seems to grasp what is happening. He appears in dreams to Rose, urging her to tell him where she is and to impress upon her the importance that she not throw away her life and that she return as soon as possible. Everything, of course, changes when Rose finally encounters Dimitri once more...
So there were some ups and downs with this one. I missed St. Vlad's. I really did. I like the school, I like the world Richelle Mead has created there, and yet the majority of this book took place on the frozen planes of the Middle of Nowhere, Russia. Since I am no longer a Rose/Dimitri fan, it was not a fun process watching Rose relive all their precious moments together in the presence of his family and mourn for what seemed like endless pages the loss of the love of her life. Honestly, Dimitri sort of fell out of my head with surprising rapidity what with being absent for so much of the book and then present in his evil Angel Strigoi form. I looked forward to every scene in which Rose psychically eavesdropped on her comrades back home and her dreammeets with Adrian most of all. Call me crazy, but the dude gets more interesting with each passing page and, for the life of me, I can't understand the undying Dimitri lovetorch everyone seems to be carrying. Along those same lines, why must they all persist in being so oblivious? These are smart kids. Sure, they're blinded by love and daily scrapes with death and dismemberment, but I would think by now they'd have learned to trust each other a little bit more than they do. Most of all I was bothered by a particular turn Rose's character takes in the latter half of the book. I mean it rubbed me so wrong I was livid. And, though I feel things ended on a strong note (minus one annoyingly predictable twist at the very end), I hated seeing Rose that way. Perhaps I'm merely too impatient and things will progress more apace in the next installment. My anger on her behalf does seem to indicate I'm on her side. We shall see....more
I've had my eye on Zoë Marriott's second novel, DAUGHTER OF THE FLAMES, since I read Chelle's review lo these many months ago. So I was happy to see iI've had my eye on Zoë Marriott's second novel, DAUGHTER OF THE FLAMES, since I read Chelle's review lo these many months ago. So I was happy to see it pop up on my Cybils reading list. I've read several books lately that have had an Asian/Middle Eastern flavor to them and was surprised and very much pleased to find DAUGHTER OF THE FLAMES did as well. This was my first novel by Ms. Marriott and I was both looking forward to giving a new author a shot and in the mood for some more traditional fantasy. It's also worth it to point out the rather lovely cover this novel sports. The flames and curlicues are swirlingly lovely, enough so that the fact that Zira doesn't look quite as I pictured her isn't any kind of stumbling block at all.
Zira is a trained warrior. A novice with a face full of scars and a forgotten past, she perches right on the cusp of her sixteenth birthday. At the same time she anxiously awaits her superior's decision on whether she will join the ranks of the namoa or be sent to tend the temple livestock for the rest of her days. Born a Rua, Zira belongs to a conquered people. The Sedorne rulers overran the peaceful country of Ruan and the current king, Abheron, rules with an iron fist, encouraging his lords to crush the Rua under their feet. But behind the deceptively peaceful temple walls, rebellion is in the wind. When a surprising series of events lead Zira to save a young Sedorne lord's life, she is set on the path that will lead her to places she never expected, where, frankly, she would rather die than set foot. But it is Zira's fate to be more than she is, to combine the hopes and fears of two races in one body, and to be savior to a nation.
I was drawn in very quickly. There are all kinds of familiar fantasy elements at play here that Marriott handled quite well, wrapping them up in a nice bit of world building, full of heady descriptions of cuisine, vegetation, and light and shadow that had me salivating and oohing and ahhing at will. Zira's past is appropriately murky and, when it comes to light, it is in no way surprising. And yet Ms. Marriott weaves in some interesting implications that keep you reading. The same is true of the villain. He is dastardly and despicable and, after one particularly grisly scene, I was convinced he was truly evil. But he wasn't surprising or very complex, really, until about 250 pages in when his character development takes a truly masterful turn. Literally between the space of one page and the next I was fully invested, desperate to see how these heretofore unknown layers worked their way into the plot to wreak havoc. Unfortunately, this was a bit too late as there were only about 80 pages left in the book. If only he'd become more interesting 100 pages earlier. Because this book has a truly excellent climax, full of fighting and mayhem and excitement. The romance followed the same lines. I loved how unconventional it was, how it was all arranged as a matter of strategy and convenience and whether or not they might actually be capable of falling in love with each other was considered of only minimal importance. This slow pace was delicious and I bought their hesitance and awkwardness and loved every minute. But things began to fall apart at a certain point and I felt like this central relationship never quite got back its former fervor by the time the story wound to a close. Despite these inconsistencies, there is some real talent here and I will definitely be picking up Ms. Marriott's next book....more
As soon as I heard about Sarah Beth Durst's retelling of the East of the Sun, West of the Moon fairy tale, I felt that old familiar tug. I've read EdiAs soon as I heard about Sarah Beth Durst's retelling of the East of the Sun, West of the Moon fairy tale, I felt that old familiar tug. I've read Edith Pattou's East and Jessica Day George's Sun and Moon Ice and Snow and enjoyed parts of both of them very much, though neither captured my imagination the way I really wanted them to. You see, as it is basically a Norse version of Beauty and the Beast, I've always felt I ought to love this fairy tale more than I do. But I've been vaguely but persistently dissatisfied with every retelling I've read. I'm beginning to think this is a problem with the source material, a mismatch between us if you will, and not necessarily with the retellings themselves. As I've talked about before, it's a problematic storyline in many ways and particularly difficult to pull off in novel form, I think. Yet somehow I eagerly anticipate each new attempt, hoping this one will be the one.
Cassie loves ice. She was raised on it and has very little inkling of or interest in the world outside the Arctic research station that has been her home for the past eighteen years. As a little girl raised by her dedicated researcher father, she lived for those nights when her grandmother would tell her the story of her mother. Even though she knew it was only a fairy tale, Cassie never tired of the story of the rebellious daughter of the North Wind who defied her father and escaped an arranged marriage to the Polar Bear King to run away with her father, only to be blown away to the land of the trolls for her transgressions. To a little girl desperate for her mother, this story serves as a precious dream about what life would have been like if it had all gone well. But when she turns eighteen, Cassie's life changes. An ancient and enormous polar bear shows up and talks to her. He tells her her time is up and he is there to collect on his end of the bargain her mother made with the North Wind. He will have Cassie for his bride and carry her off to his ice palace. Being the smart cookie that she is, Cassie makes her own deal. If the bear rescues her mother from the trolls in that land east of the sun and west of the moon, she will marry him. The bear achieves the impossible and off they go.
The first half of this book is extremely strong and utterly enjoyable. I loved that Cassie had such a forceful personality, and I loved even more that Bear was allowed to be a vibrant character. In my past experience with this tale, so much of my problem with it seemed to stem from a lack of development of the bear's character and, therefore, a distinct lack of depth to the relationship between the girl and her intended. This was not a problem at all in the first half of ICE. Cassie is rugged and determined and smart with it. Bear is equally intent on achieving his goal and on his responsibilities as a munaqsri, or guardian of souls. This aspect of the world building was especially strong. I loved how unique it felt and the way Durst drew on Inuit legends and folklore felt very organic and fresh. As a result of these strengths, combined with the fact that she actually gave her leads time to get to know each other, I was immediately drawn to their developing relationship. It is sweet and slow and readable and just an all-around treat. One moment when Bear is in his human form standing behind Cassie as the two of them gaze out at the beauty of sunset over the frozen tundra actually had me catching my breath it was so lovely. At about the halfway mark, the bear is captured and it's up to Cassie to rescue him. This is normally the point where things get awesome in a story and I am 100 percent behind the heroine going in, guns a-blazin', and getting the job done. Unfortunately, everything slowed down just when it should have sped up. Bear is out of the equation and, unfortunately and rather surprisingly, Cassie doesn't hold the whole thing up on her own. She's traveling, traveling, traveling in the ice and snow and some things happen but never to their full potential. By the time she finally reaches the trolls I've lost interest in whether she'll win or not. The momentum and narrative thread are scattered in ten different directions and the final page in which things wrap up can't make up for the loss. Once again I'm filled with a sense of so much potential somehow unfulfilled. I truly loved the first half, but it drifted slowly downhill from there. And yet. I remain hopeful. Maybe the next one will be the one....more
It's one roller coaster ride reading all these Vampire Academy books back to back like this. I'm actually starting to have trouble keeping the eventsIt's one roller coaster ride reading all these Vampire Academy books back to back like this. I'm actually starting to have trouble keeping the events separate and compartmentalized in my head. It all feels like one headlong rush to me. I maintain that the world itself is the real draw. I like how cold it feels, how dangerous and yet limned with the hint of hope and possibilities. The characters are full of potential and somehow keep their hooks in me despite the fact that I still feel parched in the depth department. SHADOW KISS is the third installment in Richelle Mead's very popular Vampire Academy series and, though it's taken me awhile to get around to reading them, I have blown through them without a backward glance.
Rose isn't the same girl anymore. Having bagged her first Strigoi and watched her friend die at their hands, she endures the ceremonial tattooing process with an almost detached stoicism. The moment was in no way, shape, or form the way she imagined it would be. Dogged as ever, she presses forward with her studies, her training, and her dedication to her friend and charge Lissa. Despite the fact that she's now regularly encountering the shade of her dead friend around every corner. And having trouble controlling unusual mood swings. And not assigned to Lissa for her Guardian practical training. Instead she gets Christian and her friend Eddie gets Lissa. Having bonded with Eddie (and Christian to a degree) through the events at the end of Frostbite, Rose manages to keep her lashing out to a barely contained level and directs her rapidly disintegrating attention to keeping Christian safe. As her anger rises, her last shreds of composure are shot to hell by regular contact with both doomed flame Dimitri and new St. Vlad's resident Adrian Ivashkov.
This is the thickest Vampire Academy book yet, and I was pleased with that fact initially. I've been wanting "more" and hoped this third volume with come through for me. In some respects it does. I like how Rose finally turns her attention inward and, when pressed, pays some attention to what's going on inside. I'm also glad she's making a few friends other than limpid Lissa and dour Dimitri. Though I never really bought the whole Mason thing, I thoroughly enjoyed watching her interact with Christian, Mia, Adrian, and particularly Eddie. The mutual respect and willingness to work together to protect their assigned Moroi lent a nice maturity to their actions and the calling and burden of the Guardians. I've enjoyed the history of St. Vladimir and his shadow kissed partner Anna from the very beginning and I liked how that played out in this more modern story as well. However, I have to say it was mostly a slog getting through SHADOW KISS. Those interesting bits were overshadowed by so much telling, so little showing, and a healthy dose of predictability. These drawbacks kept me from fully engaging. I kept wishing book two had been the longer one and that there were more scenes with Adrian in them. I saw the end coming a mile away and, as it mirrors a certain event in a certain TV series I followed religiously, I threw back my head and groaned when the fateful moment finally came. I was so not okay with it. So. I know this was everyone's favorite, but for me that spot is still held by book two. Will I be picking up the fourth book? Yes. Why? Because I am an Adrian junkie. And, yeah, I want to find out what happens to Rose. You'll be hearing from me soon....more
I'm really not sure about these two on the cover. The only conclusion I can come to is that it's Christian and Lissa, though I'm sure it's supposed toI'm really not sure about these two on the cover. The only conclusion I can come to is that it's Christian and Lissa, though I'm sure it's supposed to be Rose and Dimitri. And while I can buy that that girl could be Lissa, the dude is definitely not Christian. Or Dimitri. Ah, well. So I picked up the second Vampire Academy book hoping for more standout world building and perhaps a little more in-depth character development. I finished Vampire Academy enthused about the series' possibilities, but a little disenchanted with the characters as well as the info-dump climax. The villain starts monologuing and I'm rolling my eyes. I do enjoy Richelle Mead's smooth writing and the upfront approach she takes to running her characters through the mill and seeing what comes out on the other side. So I went into FROSTBITE with an open mind.
Life at St. Vlad's has entered a sort of holding pattern. Rose and Dimitri have agreed to stay away from each other "socially." You know, in the interest of putting their duty as dhampir above the desires of their hearts. Dimitri is thinking of moving on, both professionally and emotionally, while Rose's friend Mason would give his right arm for a few quality minutes alone with Dimitri's girl. Christian and Lissa, on the other hand, have decided to make a go of it and their open affection is grating like fingernails on a chalkboard on Rose's nerves. Her little psychic connection with Lissa makes romantic encounters more than a little uncomfortable. So when a proposed Christmas vacation trip to a resort and ski lodge comes up, Rose jumps at the chance, eager to escape even for a little while. Add in a Strigoi attack on some veteran guardians, an unexpected visit from Rose's mother, and the beginnings of a potentially enormous power shift, and you've got quite the little powder keg. While hobnobbing among the Moiroi elite, Rose encounters well-known bad boy Adrian Ivashkov. Adrian has his own demons and they may have connections with Lissa, and hence with Rose.
This installment was a decided improvement on the first book. I enjoyed taking everyone out of their usual haunts and setting them down in a new environment to see how nicely they play. Trust Rose to make it not very nicely at all. Her face-offs with her mother were especially enjoyable, one workout scene in particular had me grinning. This scene in particular served to place me firmly on Rose's side. I understood her anger and outrage and considered it perfectly justified. When it comes to Dimitri I fear I'm a little bit through. Rose's love and longing and general forlorn-ness I totally get. Hell, I remember feeling precisely that way at her age. But Dimitri's 24. I'm somehow a little less sympathetic with his plight and wish he would just man up and decide. My opinion here is no doubt influenced by Adrian. True to form, I'm a fan of the bad boy. Clove cigarettes and constant self-medicating aside, the boy is mysterious and funny and interesting and I am a fan of whatever will bring he and Rose a little closer together. There. I've said it. You can sign me up for Team Adrian from here on out. FROSTBITE has the deeper development of Rose's character that I was hoping for and it builds up to a genuine nail-biter of a climax. I throughly enjoyed it. Point to you, Ms. Mead. On to book three....more
You know how if you don't start a series it can never let you down? I'd been avoiding Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy books for that very reason. I keYou know how if you don't start a series it can never let you down? I'd been avoiding Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy books for that very reason. I kept reading encouraging reviews from reliable sources and just not following through on picking up the first book. Then the Cybils rolled around and Blood Promise, the fourth Vampire Academy book, was nominated. And since it's almost physically impossible for me to read a series out of order, I decided it was time to jump in. I'd managed to avoid knowing much of anything about the series, so it was quite fun to be immersed in a completely new world. This was also my first Richelle Mead book and I was interested to get a feel for her style.
Rose and her best friend Lissa are on the run. For two years they've been traveling from city to city, posing as college freshman. Rose is determined to fulfill her duty and protect Lissa at all cost from the danger pursuing them. Lissa is a vampire princess and Rose is a half-human, half-vampire guardian known as a dhampir. In their world, there are two kinds of vampires--the Moroi and the Strigoi. The Moroi are mortal vampires. They're the "good" kind. They only feed on willing donors and they have magical capabilities they develop and train at academies such as St. Vladimir's. The Strigoi, on the other hand, are immortal. They're the "bad" kind. They feed on who and what they will and they are impossibly fast and terrifyingly violent. With the Strigoi on their tail, half-trained Rose is forced to relent when a force of fully-trained dhampir show up to drag them back to St. Vlad's. Having burned her last bridge, Rose agrees to submit to one-on-one training with dhampir legend Dimitri Belikov in lieu of being kicked out for good.
I was immediately involved in this world Richelle Mead has created. Honestly, I've had a string of lame reads lately and have been seriously craving some solid world building, some characters to sink my teeth into. And on the world building front, VAMPIRE ACADEMY comes through. It starts right in the middle of the action and doesn't let up. The notion of good and bad vampires is not a new one, but Mead makes it her own by crafting the long history of opposition and war between the gifted Moroi and the damned Strigoi. And then there are the dhampir--the guardians of the Moroi. Neither human nor vampire, the dhampir straddle both worlds and were easily my favorite aspect of the story. I enjoyed Rose's resistance against conforming to expectations. I enjoyed her sparring lessons with tall, dark, and massive Dimitri. And I enjoyed the politics that come into play between the three different classes of creature. The character development didn't feel as strong, unfortunately. I could have done with a little more depth to Rose, a little walk to match her talk if you will. She's appreciatively smart-mouth and full of vituperative angst but it began to wear on me after awhile as I wished she would think a bit before acting on her assumptions or whims. I liked Dimitri all right and I particularly liked Christian--the outcast Moroi royalty who makes it his mission to give Lissa a hard time. I wanted more from them. Still, I liked it enough to pick up the next installment in the series....more
Several years ago, while wandering through the science fiction and fantasy section of the local Media Play, I crouched down to see what was on the botSeveral years ago, while wandering through the science fiction and fantasy section of the local Media Play, I crouched down to see what was on the bottom shelf in the M section. My eyes caught on a book that was faced out and that featured two warriors, one red-headed and one blonde, both of them sporting copious amounts of cloudy hair and swooping kilts, clutching swords in their hands. I'd never heard of KINGMAKER'S SWORD or author Ann Marston before, but I decided to pick it up based on the fact that it was a mass market paperback (and thus inexpensive) and that I liked the colors and the soft, matte finish to the cover. I noted that it was the first in a trilogy--the Rune Blade trilogy--and that the other two books were on the shelf so I could easily come back for them if the first book entertained.
Mouse is a slave. Dubbed Foxmouse because of his flaming red hair, he is now known as just Mouse and he is about to make his escape. Two nights ago his sole friend in the world was savagely assaulted and murdered while he watched and that horrific act simultaneously crushed Mouse and did away with any reason he had to stay in the filthy hole he has lived in for as long as he could remember. While on his headlong flight to freedom, Mouse runs into his past in the form of a hulking Tyran clansman on a journey to find his long-lost nephew. Suspecting Mouse may just be that boy, Cullin dav Medroch dubs the boy Kian and takes him under his wing. On their way back to Tyra, Cullin and Kian encounter a determined swordswoman by the name of Kerridwen who is on a quest of her own. When Kerridwen and Kian accidentally cross blades a bond is forged that takes them both unpleasantly by surprise and shapes the direction their paths will take from that point on.
I was pleasantly surprised by KINGMAKER'S SWORD. Judging by the kilts on the cover, I should have known to expect a rollicking Celtic-inspired sword-and-sorcery adventure, and that's exactly what it was. Tyra is essentially a slightly altered Scotland, along with the island of Celi and the province of Skai, where Kerri hails from. The book opens with a breakdown of the different seasons in this world, a pronunciation guide, and a map--sort of the holy triumverate of opening pages when it comes to pulpy sword-and-sorcery novels. There is nothing earth-shatteringly new in these books, but they are undeniably fun, smoothly written, and peopled with enjoyably heroic characters pitted against dastardly evil sorcerers against a suitably epic backdrop. I ate them up with a spoon and they have worn rather well over the years. This trilogy follows three generations of Kian's family, including his children and grandchildren. And while I'm usually dismayed when a series jumps generations like that, I have to say that is not the case here as the second novel, The Western King, is definitely the finest installment. Marston follows this trilogy up with another, the Sword in Exile trilogy, which continues the story of the rune blades and the line of the princes of Skai. It, too, is worth a read. Both series are now out of print, but if you can find a copy I do recommend them, particularly for fans of Jennifer Roberson, Susan Dexter, and Moira J. Moore. Reading Order: Kingmaker's Sword, The Western King, and Broken Blade...more
A few years ago I was twiddling my thumbs, waiting for the new Sookie Stackhouse book to come out, when I decided to see what else Charlaine Harris haA few years ago I was twiddling my thumbs, waiting for the new Sookie Stackhouse book to come out, when I decided to see what else Charlaine Harris had written. Turned out she'd written a lot of other books, including three other mystery series featuring similarly intrepid heroines. My eye immediately settled on the Lily Bard series of mysteries also known as the "Shakespeare" mysteries because main character Lily lives in the small town of Shakespeare, Arkansas, and because each book has the word Shakespeare in the title. Up until recently all five of the Lily Bard mysteries were out of print, but then Berkeley Prime Crime re-released the entire series in very attractive mass market editions. My mom gave me the first one, SHAKESPEARE'S LANDLORD, as a Christmas present and I started tracking down the other four before I was even twenty pages in. A big fan of the Sookie books, I was instantly drawn to this darker, less humorous but no less compelling series.
Lily Bard isn't precisely in hiding, but she's flying as far below the radar as is humanly possible. After chopping her hair off, toning her body into lean, mean fighting machine, and then hiding it all under the baggiest and blandest of clothes, Lily decides to settle in the sleepy, little town of Shakespeare, Arkansas in an attempt to disappear. She chose Shakespeare at random off the map because she thought it was rather poetic given her last name. During the day Lily works as a cleaning lady, while at night she trains hard at bodybuilding and karate at the local gym. Every night she hopes it'll be hard enough to allow her to sleep. In her line of work, Lily is in and out of homes, apartments, and office buildings all across town. She sees and hears a lot more than she'd like. Most of it is just your usual small town gossip. But one night, while out on one of her frequent restless midnight walks, Lily sees something unusual. Someone pushing a cart filled with a large, lumpy something wrapped up in black plastic garbage bags. When Lily finds out just what is inside those garbage bags, she becomes inextricably immersed in exactly the kind of gruesome crime she's worked so hard to avoid.
And that is how the series kicks off. Lily, herself, is an extremely tough, conflicted character. I took to her at once. She lives an incredibly regimented, perfectly calculated life and it's almost painful to watch this thread of dark chaos worm its way into her peace and order. And while she is about as alone as a person can get, Harris peoples Shakespeare with a whole town's worth of kooky, creepy, and funny characters. All of whom Lily attempts to sidestep with varying degrees of success. With each book in this series, we learn more about Lily and her nightmarish past as she learns more about herself and those around her. In the second book she is joined by a character who is a particular favorite of mine and the two of them together form one of the most well-suited pairs I've ever come across. A glimpse of Lily:
Once upon a time, years ago, I thought I was pretty. My sister, Varena, and I had the usual rivalry going, and I remember deciding my eyes were bigger and a lighter blue than hers, my nose was straighter and thinner, and my lips were fuller. Her chin was better--neat and determined. Mine is round. I haven't seen Varena in three years now. Probably she is the pretty one. Though my face hasn't changed, my mind has. The workings of the mind look out through the face and alter it.
Sometimes, some mornings--the ones after the really bad nights--I look in the mirror and do not recognize the woman I see there.
This was going to be one of those really bad nights (though I had no idea how bad it was going to get). But I could tell there was no point in going to bed. My feet itched to be moving.
I dressed again, throwing my sweaty workout clothes into the hamper and pulling on blue jeans and a T-shirt, tucking in the T-shirt and pulling a belt through the belt loops. My hair was only a little damp; the blow-dryer finished the job. I pulled on a dark windbreaker.
Front door, back door, kitchen door? Some nights it takes me awhile to decide.
I worked my way through this series with palpable pleasure and it was a sad day indeed when I closed the fifth one knowing there would be no more. These are straight up mysteries with a Southern flavor, a fair bit of violence, intense encounters of all varieties, and a lot of grit. There isn't even a hint of the paranormal and all the energy goes into the character development and an honest depiction of a strong woman working hard to stay true to herself and keep the ghosts at bay. Like Harris' more recent Harper Connelly series, I think the Lily Bard mysteries deserve a good deal more attention and I hope those looking to branch out on the Sookie series will find a good home in Shakespeare. I certainly did.
So I'm working my way through all the Cybils YA Fantasy/Science Fiction nominees, when GIRL IN THE ARENA shows up on my doorstep (thank you, BloomsburSo I'm working my way through all the Cybils YA Fantasy/Science Fiction nominees, when GIRL IN THE ARENA shows up on my doorstep (thank you, Bloomsbury!). Truthfully, I'm a little supernatural creatured out just about now and so this dystopian, neo-gladiator, fight to the death novel seemed made to order. I remember seeing it at BEA and somehow not snagging a copy. I'd read a few reviews here and there, some favorable, some middling, and I knew I loved the cover. I mean, look at that. It's awesome. Admittedly, I could do without the cheesy tagline and the "Fight to the Death!" sign in the background. And, having read the book, a certain aspect of the cover is sort of glaringly inaccurate. But somehow I was able to overlook these minor quibbles, because that's simply one sweet cover. In retrospect, I think it's a good choice as that particular inaccuracy should be part of the reading experience and not ruined by the cover art.
Lyn is known as the Daughter of Seven Gladiators. Her mother, Allison, has made a career of marrying gladiators and perfecting the persona of the perfect Glad wife. The seventh (and current) husband, Tommy G., is Lyn's favorite by far. He actually spends time with her and her little brother Thad. He's stuck by her manic mother, when no one else can stand her. He even supports Lyn's growing interest in nonviolence and listens to her read from the book she is writing--A History of the Gladiator Sports Association. But their time together is growing short as Tommy stares down the bullet of what he fears will be his last match. His next opponent, Uber, is said to be the real deal. And Thad's eerie, erratic predictions don't bode well for Tommy surviving his next episode in the arena. But when Uber stands over Tommy's body and scoops up the bracelet her stepfather wore for good luck, Lyn's world unexpectedly fragments into more pieces than she can piece together again. For it's her bracelet Uber scoops up. And Lyn knows the GSA bylaws better than anyone. The only gladiator allowed to wear that bracelet is her father . . . or her husband.
I could not put this book down. I mean it was physically difficult to tear my eyes away from the page. Yes, it's a dystopian novel about gladiators fighting to the death while thousands, millions of desensitized viewers watch live and on TV. And, yes, it features a young woman who is determined to protect her family at all cost. But there the similarities to The Hunger Games end. Where Suzanne Collins' book takes place in a futuristic post-apocalyptic chunk of North America, Lise Haines' novel is set in an all-too-familiar present-day America. I spent the entire time feeling like this kind of ultra-violent, death-as-entertainment society could be just around the corner, that today's reality shows are one step away from the bizarre rituals Lyn is privy to. Interestingly, growing up in the military, I felt a surprising kinship with Lyn, Mark, and Uber's experiences growing up in the Glad culture. I've had countless conversations over the years with other military brats who echoed my thoughts. It's simply a culture of its own, separate and unique from others and only those who are "born in," as Lyn would say, can fully understand what it's like and what it means. The writing was abrupt and choppy in just the right way, dashes in place of quotes, etc. It reminded me at times of Robin McKinley's Sunshine. A favorite passage:
--Lyn, how did you get injured? This from a tall male reporter with chopped blond hair. --People were cheering wildly for Tommy at the stadium, I say. --I think a bottle flew out of someone's hands in the excitement. --Do you think it's possible that someone aimed it at your head intentionally? I look up at the house again. Thad is pacing back and forth in front of his bedroom window now. He waves. I wave back. He motions frantically for me to come into the house. --Glad fans everywhere have shown enormous respect for my family and thought Tommy G. fought heroically. Their loyalty is helping my family through this loss. It is, however, a rough sport. People do get killed. Though I should add that Caesar's Inc. works very hard to ensure maximum safety to those who attend the competitions. Mark whispers in my ear, --You're good. --Have you met with Uber? another reporter asks. --No. Not yet. --So you plan to? --There are no plans at this time, I say. --Do you dream of becoming a Glad wife? Up in the house, Thad pleads with me to come inside. Cameramen and photographers push their equipment as close as possible now, closer. The soggy summer air presses in. And I realize that I'm right there, at the end of a perfect media moment. All I have to do is come up with something that rings with warmth, something that conveys hope to a million girls about the life of the GSA wife. Then I'll be out of here, released into our home, into Allison's mind, my brother's predictions. But there's something about this particular question. I think of the number of times Allison has been asked about any plans to become a Glad wife again. And suddenly my mind is thrown into reverse and I just toss off an answer, the first thing that comes to mind. --Sometimes I dream of becoming a gladiator.
And that's Lyn. Completely and firmly incapable of spouting crap to the media, to her family, or to herself. It's so much of why I loved her. She doesn't prevaricate, she doesn't hedge, she tells the truth. She takes her responsibilities and her heritage beyond seriously, yet she is true to herself and her growing understanding of the horrors of the society she has grown up in. She refuses to perpetuate the system that has entrapped her mother and held their lives hostage for so many years. I had waffled back and forth on whether or not to read this one, going from eager excitement to fearing it was merely a cheap Hunger Games knockoff and not wanting to risk the disappointment. I'm so glad I did because, like its protagonist, GIRL IN THE ARENA stands completely on its own feet. It's dystopian storytelling at its most honest, urgent, and very best. It's bleakness tempered by true friendships and honest interactions between human beings shoved into conditions they were never meant to withstand. The few quiet scenes between Lyn and her brother Thad, her best friend Mark, and particularly her opponent/intended Uber rang with authenticity. I freaking loved this book and it has instantly earned a spot on my Best Books of 2009 list....more
So ever since my decadent little re-read of Fire I've been in a reading slump. One foul doozy of a slump. I restlessly picked up and put down a handfuSo ever since my decadent little re-read of Fire I've been in a reading slump. One foul doozy of a slump. I restlessly picked up and put down a handful of books, all of them full of potential, none of them able to hold my attention. Fortunately I'm still thinking clearly enough at this point to know it's me with the problem, not them. And I carefully set them aside on the nightstand to be picked up in a later, more amenable mood. But desperation was setting in and my family was starting to feel the effects. And then a friend saved the day by reminding me the new Harper Connelly book was out! The fourth installment in Charlaine Harris' "other" series, I'd been looking forward to the release of GRAVE SECRET ever since finishing the excellent An Ice Cold Grave two years ago. Entirely different from her Sookie Stackhouse series, the Harper books are gritty mysteries with just a hint of the paranormal. I absolutely love them.
Harper and her stepbrother (and manager) Tolliver are on the road again. Having left the horrors of North Carolina behind them once and for all, they're headed to Texas to check in with their little sisters. With the disappearance of her sister Cameron eight years ago, their family dissolved. Harper went into foster care, Tolliver to live with his older brother Mark, and the little girls went to their Aunt Iona and Uncle Hank's in Texas. Over the years Harper and Tolliver made it a point to stay in touch with their siblings, despite their aunt and uncle's deep disapproval of their lifestyle and Harper's way of earning a living. This particular visit is unexpectedly prolonged when Tolliver's jailbird father is released from prison and shows up full of remorse and wanting to reconnect with his children. At the same time, Harper finds a few more dead people than she bargained for on her latest case, sending shock waves through the family of the deceased. As old memories threaten to overtake the careful peace these two have constructed, Harper and Tolliver find themselves caught between family, clients, and the law.
I sank back into this world as if no time at all had passed since my last visit. There's something about these two characters and the mature way they've gone about reclaiming their lives after the horror of their childhoods that just fills my empty spaces. Harper and Tolliver accept that they are all each other has in such a matter-of-fact way, with such stoic integrity, it pulls at my heartstrings. I read each book hoping nothing happens to them they won't be able to recover from, looking forward to each interaction, enjoying that tense, dark reality with which Harris surrounds her characters. GRAVE SECRET lived up to expectations on more than one level. Harper and Tolliver's relationship never falters even as they find the truth about their past is even more heinous than they believed it to be. I found myself chanting, "Don't trust him, don't trust him" over and over throughout the book, on the edge of my seat worrying about them. I liked how Harper was forced to deal with some things alone in this one. I liked that Harris didn't ease up at all when it came to what actually went down in that trailer in Texarkana. This series has remained refreshingly consistent over the course of four books. And, despite the fact that several overarching plot threads are wrapped up in this volume, I would happily read as many books as she'd like to write about Harper and Tolliver. Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series is by far the more famous of the two, and I love it, but I find myself gravitating toward these more serious, quietly compelling mysteries. Highly recommended.
Time to start in on my favorite Arthurian novels. Somehow Robin Hood and King Arthur--the best of the best when it came to British mythology and lore-Time to start in on my favorite Arthurian novels. Somehow Robin Hood and King Arthur--the best of the best when it came to British mythology and lore--have always gone together in my mind. Truth be told, I've been mildly obsessed with both ever since I was a girl and I have a soft spot in my heart for the first encounter I had with each in novelized form. As far as Robin Hood goes, that was Robin McKinley's The Outlaws of Sherwood. With Arthurian lore, it was Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising Sequence. The sequence is actually a five-book series following two groups of people embroiled in the centuries-old conflict between the Light and the Dark. The first group are the three Drew children--Simon, Jane, and Barney--who become involved through their connections with their mysterious Great-Uncle Merry. The second is a long line of warriors for the Light known as the Old Ones. They culminate in the last (and youngest) of the Old Ones--a deceptively ordinary boy by the name of Will Stanton. The books weave back and forth between these two groups, sometimes crossing paths, sometimes flying solo, until they all join forces in the final volume. The fourth (and my favorite) book is THE GREY KING.
THE GREY KING opens with Will Stanton delirious with fever. He is certain he has forgotten something vitally important, but cannot for the life of him remember what it was. Having contracted hepatitis, he is sent to stay with his aunt and uncle in Wales for his convalescence. Slowly, as he begins to regain his strength, his memory returns and it becomes clear why he has been sent to an all-but-forgotten valley in Wales at this particular moment in time. The key is in these lines from prophecy:
On the day of the dead, when the year too dies, Must the youngest open the oldest hills Through the door of the birds, where the breeze breaks. There fire shall fly from the raven boy, And the silver eyes that see the wind, And the Light shall have the harp of gold.
By the pleasant lake the Sleepers lie, On Cadfan's Way where the kestrels call; Though grim from the Grey King shadows fall, Yet singing the golden harp shall guide To break their sleep and bid them ride.
When light from the lost land shall return, Six Sleepers shall ride, six Signs shall burn, And where the midsummer tree grows tall By Pendragon's sword the Dark shall fall.
Y maent yr mynyddoedd yn canu, ac y mae'r arglwyddes yn dod.
Will soon encounters an unhappy young boy named Bran who lives with his father on a neighboring farm. With his white dog Cafall at his side, Bran introduces Will to the mist-shrouded land he calls home and, bit by bit, the lines of the prophecy begin to take shape. Together these two lost boys must join forces to defeat the Dark that is on the rise.
This book is hauntingly beautiful and redolent with the lyrical Welsh language and an atmosphere as thick and rich as the fog surrounding the peak of Cader Idris. I love this entire series, but THE GREY KING is where it all comes together for me. And the character of Bran Davies is one of the main reasons why. What a compulsively sympathetic character Cooper created in Bran! Somehow she crafted a young boy with a heart full of pain and confusion, slammed on his head a powerful legacy, and managed to keep him so real it's breathtaking. My heart went out to him when I met him at 11 years old and it does the same today so many years later. The friendship between the two boys is tenuous and riveting to watch unfold as they both embody that incongruous and contradictory blend of youthful anguish and wisdom beyond their years. The supporting cast of characters is just as wonderful and varied, none of them fully good or evil, but inhabiting the many margins in between those absolutes. This is the most moving and heart wrenching of the books in the series and it is where the Arthurian legend comes into play most strongly as the identities of the raven boy, the eyes that see the wind, and the Sleepers themselves are revealed. The results are stunning and spur the reader on to read the next and final volume in the sequence. This, my friends, is a book of the finest kind. Winner of the 1976 Newbery Medal, and fully deserving of that honor, I recommend it (and the whole series) for fans of Lloyd Alexander, Madeleine L'Engle, and anyone with a penchant for Arthurian tales.
Awhile back I won an ARC of Lisa Matchev's EYES LIKE STARS. I was even more excited to read it when the book arrived and I saw the tagline: Theatre IlAwhile back I won an ARC of Lisa Matchev's EYES LIKE STARS. I was even more excited to read it when the book arrived and I saw the tagline: Theatre Illuminata, Act I. Loved it. Love the whole title, the lush, edgy cover, and the main character's incredibly apt name--Beatrice Shakespeare Smith--known to the inhabitants of the Theatre Illuminata as Bertie. So I was happy to see EYES LIKE STARS nominated for a Cybils award in the YA Scifi/Fantasy category so that I could kick my panelist reading off with a book I'd already been looking forward to reading. That it was about the stage and included numerous references to Shakespeare was icing on the cake.
Bertie lives in the Theatre Illuminata. Eighteen years ago she was left on the doorstep as a baby and taken in by the Wardrobe Mistress and adopted by nearly every denizen of this most unusual theater. You see, every character in every play ever written lives in the Theatre Illuminata. And in the Theater Manager's office there is "The Book." Spoken of in hushed tones and never really approached, "The Book" contains the script of every play ever written. Something of a charming rebel, Bertie loves her adopted home. She love sleeping in her bedroom on stage. She loves getting into mischief with her four fairy friends: Moth, Peaseblossom, Cobweb, and Mustardseed. And she loves just hanging around with dreamy pirate Nate and, just occasionally, watching him climb the rigging or swing his cutlass about. Then one day the Stage Manager, who's always been out to get Bertie, announces before the entire company that she's out on her ear come end of day. Bertie is shocked, refusing to believe it. Turns out, it's true. She's caused one too many catastrophes and the Theater Manager is sending her packing--back into the real world where she came from. Terrified of leaving and determined to stay in her home, Bertie mounts an unheard of production of Hamlet in order to prove her worth. What she doesn't count on is Ariel, the airy spirit of The Tempest fame, who longs to claim his freedom and sees Bertie as his ticket out.
Lisa Mantchev's debut novel jumps right into the fray with an endearingly devil-may-care attitude. This attitude is reflected note perfectly in its protagonist. Bertie of the blue dye job, slouching striped socks, and penchant for sticking her fingers in every pie. It took me several pages to figure what in the world was going on and, as I've mentioned before, I like that. It makes me feel like I'm immersing myself in a fully-formed world that's exists independent of myself. The entire premise of EYES LIKE STARS is full of potential and very fun indeed. An orphan girl who grows up literally on the stage. An impossibly sexy air spirit hell bent on freedom. A host of familiar characters flouncing around being dramatic. A couple of chapters in and I was all set to pull up the chair and break out the popcorn. But I ran into problems after that. It turns out that in a story peopled with famous (and infamous) characters, it's pretty dang hard to flesh those familiar faces out. I loved Ophelia, constantly wandering the theater looking for puddles to drown in. I liked Ariel and his smooth-talking, butterfly-ridden ways. But they never leaped off the page at me. They remained two-dimensional and vaguely uninteresting. Now if Bertie herself had been dynamic and compelling, I might have been okay with this. But she, too, wore thin for me over time. I couldn't understand her insistence in demonizing Ariel. His motivations and actions, though underhanded at times, felt true to me. Though I enjoyed Bertie's antics with the sprites, they felt forced and couldn't maintain my attention for the near 400 page count. Her opinions changed at the drop of a hat and for inexplicable and underdeveloped reasons, which bothered me repeatedly. Overall the pace remained frenetic and uneven, the characterization flat and uninteresting, and I finished feeling apathetic at best. With the way it ended, I am interested to see where she takes the sequel, but sadly not enough to pick it up when it comes out....more
I remember buying my copy of THE RUBY IN THE SMOKE at a B. Dalton bookstore in San Antonio, Texas. I liked the cover with the young girl in the cape hI remember buying my copy of THE RUBY IN THE SMOKE at a B. Dalton bookstore in San Antonio, Texas. I liked the cover with the young girl in the cape holding something mysterious in a white handkerchief for a slightly creepy old woman to inspect. But, in the end, this was yet another example of a book I bought for the opening lines alone.
On a cold, fretful afternoon in early October, 1872, a hansom cab drew up outside the offices of Lockhart and Selby, Shipping Agents, in the financial heart of London, and a young girl got out and paid the driver. She was a person of sixteen or so--alone, and uncommonly pretty. She was slender and pale, and dressed in mourning, with a black bonnet under which she tucked back a straying twist of blond hair that the wind had teased loose. She had unusually dark brown eyes for one so fair. Her name was Sally Lockhart; and within fifteen minutes, she was going to kill a man.
Yeah, there was sort of no way my 12-year-old self wasn't going to make a beeline to the cash register with that one. All I knew was that it was set in Victorian London, it was a mystery, and it clearly featured a girl I wanted to get to know better. I had no idea it was the first in a trilogy, or how involved I would become in the incredibly intricate plot that stretches out over all three books. It should be noted that Pullman published a fourth volume almost ten years after THE RUBY IN THE SMOKE, but it is less of a direct sequel and more a companion novel to the original trilogy.
Sally Lockhart is so very far from your average 16-year-old. Even your average 16-year-old in 19th century London. Her father has recently been murdered and she is intent on uncovering the identity of his killer and bringing the villain to justice. As such, she comes to his offices in London to meet with his partner and find out if he knows anything about Mr. Lockhart's demise or the phrase, "Beware the seven blessings," which she came across in a fragment of a letter sent to her from Singapore. Shortly after her arrival she becomes embroiled in another murder, the vagaries of the opium trade, and the mystery of the disappearance of the fabled Ruby of Agrapur. Along the way she encounters a few associates who become true friends, including a young scarecrow of an errand boy named Jim Taylor and an amiable photographer by the name of Frederick Garland. She will have need of her friends before the game is played out and she races against the clock to make sense of her convoluted past and discover just who is behind the strange web of betrayal and deceit that has taken over her life.
Everyone is familiar with Philip Pullman's much more famous His Dark Materials trilogy. I snatched up the first book when it came out because I was already a huge Pullman fan because of the Sally Lockhart books. And I enjoyed The Golden Compass just fine. But I got halfway through The Subtle Knife and the whole thing just...petered out for me. I'm still not exactly sure what happened except that I kept wishing the entire time I was reading about Sally instead. But in my experience few people have read this set of excellent mysteries. They are dark, dire, and grim, to be sure. But they are also absolutely delightful. And bite-your-nails-to-the-quick intense. Sally herself is such a strong character--a perfect blend of independence, diffidence, integrity, and intelligence. Following her growth and development over the course of the trilogy is an absolutely moving experience. Each book matures in both subject matter and length. THE RUBY IN THE SMOKE reads like Dickens meets Arthur Conan Doyle meets Lloyd Alexander and that combination proved too charming for me to resist. I could not put it down until I finished it and I immediately went out and bought the next two books. They did not disappoint, but rather ratcheted up the stakes with each passing page. Pullman somehow manages to create the atmosphere of a vintage penny dreadful, while peopling it with fully fleshed out characters who work their way seamlessly into the reader's heart and affections. In fact, I vividly remember breaking down sobbing while reading a certain scene in the second book--The Shadow in the North. It is one of my very first memories of connecting with a set of characters so much it was physically painful to me to watch them suffer. An engrossing series highly recommended, particularly for fans of Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy and Laurie R. King's Mary Russell series. Reading order: THE RUBY IN THE SMOKE, The Shadow in the North, and The Tiger in the Well. Companion novel: The Tin Princess....more
I think I was eleven or twelve when I read THE ROAD TO DAMIETTA for the first time. I was in the middle of a serious Scott O'Dell binge and had just mI think I was eleven or twelve when I read THE ROAD TO DAMIETTA for the first time. I was in the middle of a serious Scott O'Dell binge and had just moved back to the States after living in Italy for a few years. So it had the added attraction of taking place in that country I loved at a time when I was having a fair bit of trouble transitioning back to the American culture and pace of living. I'd already burned through Sarah Bishop, Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Serpent Never Sleeps, The Spanish Smile, and Streams to the River River to the Sea by the time I came across a copy of THE ROAD TO DAMIETTA in a narrow, dusty bookstore in West Yellowstone. My copy had thethe old blue cover. I have always liked it. Though the French cover is also quite nice. I have to be honest and say that the current coverkind of scares the crap out of me. Don't think I would ever have picked it up based on that cover alone, which would be a shame as it's really a beautiful book and one of the first young adult historical fiction novels I ever read. O'Dell was great for introducing me to so many time periods I was unfamiliar with as a young teen.
Ricca di Montanaro is thirteen years old and irrevocably in love. The object of her affections is Francis Bernardone--the son of a wealthy merchant and general bad boy about town in Assisi. Though most of the men look down on Francis, most of the women in town follow him with their eyes and stay up at night whispering word of his exploits to one another. Ricca and her best friend Clare di Scifi are no exception. But when Francis publicly renounces his father's fortune in favor of a life of poverty and spirituality, Ricca's hopes are shattered. Over the next several years, Ricca determinedly follows Francis, alarming her parents and family with her single minded pursuit of a man who has left behind all things worldly. When the fifth Crusade marches to Damietta, Ricca joins the march because Francis is there. It is at the fateful walls of Damietta that she sees firsthand the horrifying depths that violence and passion can reach when employed in the name of God. Disillusioned, his health ruined, Francis returns to Assisi and Ricca, as ever, follows him home one last time.
I have always found the history of St. Francis a fascinating topic. This is a fictionalized account told through the eyes of a young woman who decides she will love this young man for the rest of her life. It is an interesting specimen as Ricca herself is not very likable. She has many qualities I admire, including her doggedness and determination to remain true to herself. And she clearly recognizes something in Francis very early on that others do not. At the same time, she can be petty and unbelievably blind to realities, and these flaws persist to the end of the story. Normally, I might dismiss her out of hand. But for some reason her story (and particularly Francis') still resonate with me. I'm not sure if Ricca ever truly understands the man who became a saint. She and he are different kinds of creatures entirely. But in the end she does come to understand herself. And thus she achieves a kind of peace, I think. This is a novel about transformation and unrequited love, of human suffering and divine faith. It is haunting and real, never dipping into a cloying, romanticized take on the historical events it fleshes out. It is probably my favorite of O'Dell's many novels and, when I had the opportunity to travel to Assisi a few years ago, it came back to me with a vengeance as I walked the rose and white cobblestones of that hilltop town and remembered Francis and Ricca....more
Sarah Addison Allen's debut novel, GARDEN SPELLS, is the perfect example of one of those books I would never have picked up were it not for the recommSarah Addison Allen's debut novel, GARDEN SPELLS, is the perfect example of one of those books I would never have picked up were it not for the recommendation of another excellent blogger. In this case it came from my good friend Michelle over at See Michelle Read. One of her favorite reads, she suggested I would like it and was she ever right. I'd seen it around several times and all I knew was that it was a New York Times bestseller. I couldn't really work out what genre it was and I sort of mentally sorted it into the The Secret Life of Bees category and left it there. Not that I didn't enjoy The Secret Life of Bees. But I've never had the urge to reread it, you know? But GARDEN SPELLS shares only a rather charming Carolina setting (North as opposed to South) with Sue Monk Kidd's novel. Beyond that, it is entirely its own work.
Claire Waverly is a creature of habit. She gets up. She goes about her work, making deliveries, catering events. She gardens. She visits with her friend and distant relation Evanelle. She goes to bed. She gets up and does it all again. Living alone doesn't bother Claire because it's safe and uncomplicated. She can control every aspect of her carefully regimented life and she can avoid getting more involved in anyone else's life than she'd like. When every last person in her life left, Claire determined she would never let herself count on anyone too much. Content with her eccentric reputation as a solitary soul and a mysterious Waverly, she looks ahead to a future free of complication. That is until her new neighbor, an art professor at the local college, moves in and insists on getting to know her, even bringing back a boxful of apples from her tree, which had fallen on his side of the fence. It's all Claire can do to avoid his overtures and ensure that whatever he does, he doesn't eat one of those apples. The apple tree in the Waverly yard is local legend and, though she herself has no use for the recalcitrant tree, she takes her job as its caretaker rather seriously. Then her estranged sister Sydney shows up with her five-year-old daughter Bay in tow and Claire is once more forced to realign the shape of her days to accommodate two more people who clearly need her. Little does she know what kind of darkness is hounding her sister's trail.
I loved this book. I loved the heady descriptions of baking and gardening and the many unexpected intersections between the two art forms. I loved Claire and how hard it was for her to change, to reach out to anyone at all. I loved Sydney and her heartbreaking determination to take care of her daughter despite the ragged mess she'd made of her life. And I loved Tyler and Henry and Evanelle and Fred and every other beautiful, crazy inhabitant of Bascom, North Carolina. This is a very simple, very sweet story that simultaneously falls under the categories of magical realism, fairy tales, and contemporary fiction. I've not read much like it before and I finished it utterly enchanted and looking for more. I think one of the reasons I was so delighted with the story was it reminded me of my father's side of the family. The way they spoke, the way they interacted, the way family trumped everything else. So I spent the majority of the read in a happy, nostalgic daze. If you're looking for a perfectly charming read filled with sympathetic characters, sprinkled with a couple of endearing romances, and wrapped in a hint of magic and longing, then this is the book for you....more
This book has made the rounds and no mistake. I started seeing early reviews awhile back and read a few delightful interviews with Leanna Renee HieberThis book has made the rounds and no mistake. I started seeing early reviews awhile back and read a few delightful interviews with Leanna Renee Hieber and found myself intrigued to read her first novel--THE STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL TALE OF MISS PERCY PARKER. I was, therefore, tickled to receive a copy for review from Ms. Hieber and quickly set about settling in. I knew it was a Gothic paranormal mystery of sorts, featuring (among other things) a group of loyal comrades, a private London academy, a bit of magic, an albino, and a swoon-worthy broody professor a la Richard Armitage in North and South. *moment of silence for the awesomeness of The Armitage* And that was the extent of my pre-reading knowledge. That and the fact that I loved the cover with its simple yet moody, midnight blue and its slightly off-kilter, scripty title.
Miss Percy Parker is about to embark on an adventure, albeit a much larger one than she imagines. Leaving the convent--the only home she's ever known--and dipping her toes in the deep waters that are the Athens Academy in London, Percy is as timid as a church mouse. But with good reason. All her life she's hidden her face and skin from the outside world. Wrapped in layers of linen, eyes shielded behind smoky spectacles, this sixteen-year-old albino woman can speak language upon language and quote Shakespeare all the day long, yet she shudders at the thought of exposing her face to the world so certain is she it will be judged repulsive and unworthy. Still. She dares to hope her career at Athens Academy will be a new start. When she meets her intimidating mathematics Professor Alexi Rychman, it certainly feels like the start of something new. She's just not at all sure what that something might be. In the meantime, Professor Rychman has little time for noticing strange young women watching him with haunted eyes. He is supremely busy combing the dirty streets of London for the legendary Ripper--a nightmarish monster who has long been terrorizing the city's lost and lonely. Along with his five companions--the members of The Guard--Alexi is determined to eradicate the Ripper and at last unlock the key to their mysterious past and ancient past.
I loved describing this charming little book to everyone who asked me what I was reading that week. I'd start with the title and when I got that little mouthful out and still met with blank stares, I'd launch into the, "Well, it's a Victorian mystery and a Gothic romance and it's definitely a paranormal, with a little mythology thrown in for good measure." Hard to categorize, but easy to love is THE STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL TALE OF MISS PERCY PARKER. It took me about 100 pages to really get a feel for the characters. But, once I hit that 100 page mark, things suddenly got intensely fun. I loved the prologue with its swirling spirits and the back story of how the six members of The Guard originally filled their callings. But I'll admit I spent the early part of the book worried about Percy. She was so very timid. So very prone to swooning and thinking herself unworthy or any notice or care. I am not often drawn to such passive heroines and I wanted to like her as much as I liked the complicated world Ms. Hieber created and the strong personalities surrounding Percy in the guise of Alexi and his powerful companions. But every time I thought I might lose my interest in Percy, she asserted herself in some small, but important way so that my interest was piqued once more and I kept on reading. An example:
"Have I rattled you so very much?" he pressed, his voice like faraway thunder. She paused. Then, in a moment of fleeting bravery she removed her glasses and stared into his eyes. "Always." The professor almost smiled. "Finally, you are honest with me." She was quick to reply. "I've never been dishonest." "Be of good cheer, faint heart, you are too easily hurt," he chided. "My heart is fortified with passions, Professor; it is my confidence that is too easily undone."
Then, as I said, all the various elements of the story coalesced in a key scene where Alexi is tutoring Percy and we were off to the races. From there on out I was behind her and I knew, just as Alexi was to find out, just how important this young woman was and how he shouldn't let her go. In this tale there is much of murder and mayhem, love and longing, overwrought emotion and ultimate evil. As well as one exquisitely beautiful scene of dancing in an empty corridor that will charm the pants right off of you. I had a lovely time reading it and recommend it for anyone who loves all things Victorian, Gothic, mythological, and sweet, for THE STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL TALE OF MISS PERCY PARKER is all of these things....more
LADY OF THE FOREST is my second favorite Robin Hood retelling, after The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley. I've talked about Roberson's Sword-DanLADY OF THE FOREST is my second favorite Robin Hood retelling, after The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley. I've talked about Roberson's Sword-Dancer saga here before, but her historicals are written in such a markedly different style from her SF/F that they deserve their own discussion. I also discovered her through this book and will always be glad I picked it up that day, despite how thick it was, and despite the cover featuring Marian's neverending braids. Actually, I think it's quite a pretty cover. I love the font, the banner-style heading, and the general composition. But those braids...
Marian of Ravenskeep has lost her father. Cut down while on Crusade, all she got was a letter informing her of his death. No explanation. No words of condolence. Merely the fact that he is gone. And then Robert of Locksley returns home from Crusade. Marian attends the lavish homecoming the earl his father throws for him in the hopes that Sir Robert knew of her father and might have some bit of information to give her about how he died. The moment they lock eyes, though, she knows it is hopeless. The young man she remembers as a solitary, withdrawn youth from her childhood, has grown into a forbidding man with no time for pleasantries. No longer the innocent young man she remembers, his eyes are black with shadows. Haunted by the atrocities of war, by his years of captivity within Saladin's walls, Robin of Locksley has not one ounce of available energy left to shoulder the burden of a young woman's grief. Until her face breaks through the fog of indifference he surrounds himself with and he remembers the promise he made and the message he failed to deliver.
Roberson wrote this Robin Hood retelling, for all intents and purposes, as a prequel to the standard tale. The subtitle reads, "A Novel of Sherwood," and it is apt as the meat of this story follows all the traditional central players as they first meet, find their way to Sherwood, and become the people they need to be to need Robin. To want to join him in Sherwood and take their lives in their hands by defying the Sheriff of Nottingham. Throughout the story the viewpoint shifts between each and every one of the major players (and a few minor ones to boot). But Marian's story remains the focus and I will always be fond of it for that fact alone. This Marian displays quite a bit of growth from beginning to end. She is determined to "grow a spine," as she puts it, and I love how she accomplishes her goal. And how she and Robin fit so well. The Robin of Locksley we meet here is a more brittle Robin than you often find. He has suffered and fought and killed on behalf of the king he loves and when he is returned to England he has little idea how to act, how to take up the reins of his life again. Where he is weak, Marian is strong and vice versa. Every character is tweaked a little from their more familiar forms in this version and you may be surprised at the treatment of some of the old favorites, including Will Scarlett and Much the miller's son. There is honor and betrayal, greed and hope and certainly no shortage of characters to hate. But there are more to love. This is an earthier, much blunter take than many I've read and the harsh realities of rank, position, gender, and power don't get the glossy treatment. But by the end Marian is chock full of spine and Robin is a hero. This is a favorite re-read of mine. I never fail to find it refreshing and perfectly enjoyable. Recommended for fans of historical fiction, historical romance, and (naturally) Robin Hood....more
I was pretty excited to get a hold of HUSH, HUSH after I saw the cover, which is completely awesome, and began hearing murmurs of dark goodness floatiI was pretty excited to get a hold of HUSH, HUSH after I saw the cover, which is completely awesome, and began hearing murmurs of dark goodness floating around the verse. Then I was fortunate enough to win an ARC over at Steph Su Reads. Thanks, Steph and Becca! I'm going to preface my comments by saying that if you really want to know what I thought of this book you should go read Chelle's review over at Tempting Persephone because I agree with every single thing she said. No joke. Chelle and I are often one on our reactions to a book, but this time I felt exactly the same way. In every particular. Unfortunately, in this case, it was a book neither of us loved. We wanted to. But we didn't. Several things got in the way.
Nora Grey is your average high school sophomore. Intent on getting through the year with her grade point average intact and her best friend Vee at her side, she is dismayed to find herself partnered with the broody, mysterious Patch in biology class. Patch seems to delight in intimidating the hell out of Nora. He goads her, teases her, persists in getting to know all her hidden quirks and fears and exploiting them. No one seems to know where he came from or who he really is and, as he continues to pursue Nora, she becomes obsessed with finding some answers to the mystery of Patch and his mercurial smile. Against her friend's, her counselor's, even her mother's advice, Nora spends more time in Patch's questionable company. Bit by bit, as she puts two and two together, Nora develops an impossible theory as to stalkerboy's origins...along with a pretty healthy attraction to her dark shadow.
Let's start with the good. Becca Fitzpatrick displays some solid writing skills in her debut novel. I enjoyed her way with words, the honest and wry observations Nora made about her world, and the deft descriptions of bad boy Patch. And you've got to hand it to Simon & Schuster's packaging job. That's one gorgeous cover, coupled with a killer title given the subject matter of this YA paranormal. Lastly, the whole idea behind this book is top notch. The Paradise Lost fangirl in me loves the notion of fallen angels, struggling to reclaim their former glory and still maintain their fierce independence, tangling their destinies up with mere mortals. It's a recipe for a cracking good story. The problem I ran into was in the characters themselves. Everyone knows I'm a sucker for the bad boys. I'll take Spike over Angel, Logan over Piz, Eric over Bill, and George over Jonathan any day of the week. On the surface of things Patch seemed made to order. Except he never won me over. He was just bad. No boyishness at all, really. Don't get me wrong, there was plenty of chemistry between these two. But when he wasn't smoldering, Patch was pretty creepy. And not in a good way. He felt cold, alien, and like your worst stalker nightmare. I was unable to find romance in his meanness and I didn't want Nora to be with him. Unfortunately, I didn't really want him to be with her either. Nora didn't wear any better for me. She felt like a stand-in for a cool character and I couldn't seem to summon the energy to care whether or not she died, fell in love, or passed biology. Not necessarily in that order. The rest of the characters felt annoyingly one dimensional and forgettable and this proved to be the ultimate stumbling block for me. There were also several unfortunate and distracting similarities to Twilight (I'm sorry, but it's just no longer possible to have your smart-but-uncoordinated heroine meet and become lab partners with the dangerously-handsome-and-supernatural-to-boot bad boy in biology class), some strangely pointless plot threads, and an unconvincing denouement. But my lack of enjoyment remained rooted in the unsympathetic characterization. Now, this reaction is mine alone and will certainly not be true for all (or even very many) readers. I see HUSH, HUSH finding a very fond, dedicated readership (just check out some of the glowing reviews below). As Chelle said, it just wasn't for me....more
I read THE OUTSIDERS for the first time when I was a teen myself, just a little bit younger than Ponyboy and Johnny. This book had a huge impact on meI read THE OUTSIDERS for the first time when I was a teen myself, just a little bit younger than Ponyboy and Johnny. This book had a huge impact on me at that age. I fell so deeply in love with Hinton's simple, vivid writing style. Never had teenagers like me felt so real and present on the page. I couldn't stop telling my mom about it and how good it was and why. I'm sure she still remembers those nights. It is an oft-challenged book, unfortunately, and thinking about it now, I would have been devastated if someone had told me I couldn't read it or had come and taken it out of my library. I can't imagine not having read it then and I have read it so many times since. It's truly a classic and deserves the praise it's gotten over the years.
Ponyboy Curtis is a Greaser. He lives on the wrong side of town. He acts tough, dresses tough, and lets his hair grow long to look tough. He lives with his two older brothers, Darry and Sodapop, and they barely make ends meet. Darry and Soda work hard to support themselves and let Ponyboy stay in school so that at least one person in the family can graduate high school. Pony's best friend is a sad boy named Johnny Cade who's been beaten around one too many times and spends a lot of time looking over his shoulder, anticipating the next blow. The only family these boys have are each other. Pony, his brothers, and their motley group of Greaser friends watch each other's backs and defend each other when necessary. Particularly when the Socs (rich kids from the other side of town) come looking for trouble. Dangerous Dally, funny Two-bit, somber Steve. Through Ponyboy's eyes we catch a brief, eloquent glimpse into the life of a group of teenagers the world seems to have forgotten, who take life's knocks on the chin and somehow keep going.
I picked a small, worn copy of THE OUTSIDERS up off the shelf of a tiny used bookstore in Texas and took it home with me because I felt like the kids on the cover might be worth knowing. How right I was. This story of small-town prejudice and class warfare set in the 1960s has never really aged. The first time I cracked it open I was immediately enchanted by the magical language these kids seemed to speak, a language full of "greasers" and "Socs," "savvys" and "tuffs." I couldn't tear my eyes away. It is a coming of age story and a commentary on the dangers of going through life with blinders on, of judging people who are different from you before you know them. Of not wanting or caring to know them. Every character in this story is backed up against the wall, struggling to survive, and I cried more than once at the injustice of it all. And yet, when you come to the end, you feel the indomitableness of hope, the possibility of change, and the beauty of the human spirit. THE OUTSIDERS has been challenged several times on the grounds that it includes rough language, violence, references to cigarettes, alcohol, and for depicting broken families. And we would never want young adults to know that such things exist or, heaven forbid, that they may encounter them in their own lives. *eye roll* I get so angry when I hear hogwash like that. Never mind that it's beautiful, and real, and good. That it will teach its readers about how to treat their fellow human beings, how hatred and fear do nothing but destroy, and how the sunset looks the same no matter which side of the tracks you're from. That's the kind of book I want to read. That's the kind of book I want my children to read. And no one is allowed to tell me no....more
I let out a very undignified squeal when this unassuming package showed up on my doorstep completely out of the blue. I'm not ashamed to admit it. HerI let out a very undignified squeal when this unassuming package showed up on my doorstep completely out of the blue. I'm not ashamed to admit it. Here I am fairly wasting away for the fourth Kate Daniels book and then, swooping in like a risen phoenix, a brand, shiny new copy of Ilona Andrews' ON THE EDGE saves the day. The first in a new series, do we even dare hope to two Andrews releases per year a la Patricia Briggs? The two of them together easily top my favorite urban fantasy writers and this new book (and series) does nothing to shake those stats, I'm happy to say. As with Briggs' Alpha and Omega series, I think it's important to go in with a clean slate, so to speak, not expecting Kate and Curran but ready to embrace a wholly new world, and I think you will enjoy this book on its own merits.
Rose Drayton lives on the Edge--the narrow strip of land between the Broken and the Weird. Yes, you read that right. She and the two little brothers she's raising live a dangerous half-life in between a world where magic is myth (the Broken) and another where it is king (the Weird). Edgers, as they are known, have their feet in both worlds but don't seem to belong to either. They, unlike, the denizens of the Broken are aware of the Weird in all its incomprehensibility. And, unlike the inhabitants of the Weird, they are awkwardly connected t0 (even long for at times) the banality of the Broken. When she was eighteen, Rose was effectively ostracized by the whole of the local town for letting loose a stream of magic and then refusing to marry one of the hometown boys. With her parents out of the picture, two half-magical little boys to take care of and train, and determined to control her own life, Rose takes an illegal job in the Broken and attempts to fly under the radar. And it works. Sort of. Until Lord Declan Camarine appears on her porch step, sword strapped to his back absolutely reeking blue blood Weird, announcing she will be his come hell or high water. Rose responds...less than favorably. And we have ourselves a story!
Once again Ilona Andrews plunges me into a fully realized world without a by your leave. And I love it. Like Kate's Atlanta it is full of complexity and contradiction and a wonderfully messy history. But it is also wilder, in a sense. Rose carries a rifle and she has to use it more than she'd like. The people in the Edge are almost clan-like in their politics. Feuds happen and they last for decades. Payment is harsh and exacted when and where the wronged party decides it will be. This series has a different focus than the more traditionally urban fantasy Kate Daniels series and, though in the end I didn't love it quite as much, I loved the world building and the children who actually seemed real to me. ON THE EDGE is definitely heavier on the romance side of the urban fantasy spectrum and, as a result, Rose and Declan's relationship is more central than Kate and Curran's in the Magic series. Occasionally the descriptions and general admiring of each other's forms got a bit cloying for me, but the nice thing is that they are both well-rounded, compelling characters. At first I wasn't sure about Declan. He does start out a bit looming, take no prisoners, you will be mine for my taste. But there is more there than brawn and arrogance. And it is a very intriguing more. As far as Rose goes, she's had it rough and is still full of fire--just the way I like my UF heroines--but (and this is key) she has the creds and the depth to back it up. She's tough and at the same time she longs for education and training to harness and develop her powers. But instead she spends her days flogging her guts out to support her little brothers. She loves them unconditionally and is determined their lives will be better than hers. I love how full she feels as a character. I believed in her and I liked her. As for the boys, Jack and Georgie, you won't stand a chance against their charms and that is all. There is that trademark humor throughout the story as well and it really held the whole thing together, especially when the particularly creepy elements started rearing their ugly heads. ON THE EDGE comes out today....more
I owe the discovery of this wonderful book to DH, before he was DH, in fact. He gave the movie to me for my birthday--the first birthday I had after wI owe the discovery of this wonderful book to DH, before he was DH, in fact. He gave the movie to me for my birthday--the first birthday I had after we started dating. Along with the Old Friends Simon & Garfunkel box set and a kiss. At the time we were living in different cities and meeting up somewhere in the middle for our "dates." So I drove home that night and watched the movie all by myself. I cried. Twice. I laughed and laughed and laughed. And I went out and bought the book immediately. I was on my way to London for a study abroad program and so it was a going away gift of sorts. He's particularly good with gifts, as you can tell. It is without a doubt my very favorite memoir and the movie adaptation starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins is pretty much my favorite movie of all time. Just another of those little things that my man brought to my life that I might never have found without him.
84, CHARING CROSS ROAD tells the true story of Helene Hanff and Frank Doell. Helene is a loudmouth, eccentric, struggling writer from New York. Frank is a quiet, reserved, always proper bookseller from London. In a fit of rage at being unable to find the vintage editions of classic books she loves in New York, Helene drafts a letter to Marks & Co.--an antiquarian bookshop located at 84, Charing Cross Rd. The first letter reads as follows:
Gentlemen: Your ad in the Saturday Review of Literature says that you specialize in out-of-print books. The phrase "antiquarian booksellers" scares me somewhat, as I equate "antique" with expensive. I am a poor writer with an antiquarian taste in books and all the things I want are impossible to get over here except in very expensive rare editions, or in Barnes and Noble's grimy, marked-up schoolboy copies. I enclose a list of my most pressing problems. If you have clean secondhand copies of any of the books on the list, for no more than $5.00 each, will you consider this a purchase order and send them to me? Very truly yours, Helene Hanff (Miss) Helene Hanff
And that is how this exquisite little gem of bibliophilia begins. Frank Doell answers Miss Hanff's letter on behalf of Marks & Co., signing his letter FPD. Over the course of twenty years, these two book lovers exchange letters and, in the process, become fast friends. Though they never actually meet, their friendship spans years, nationalities, personalities, and an ocean.
It's hard for me to express how much I love this collection of letters. I'm always wanting to talk about it with other readers but know few outside my immediate family who've heard of it let alone read it. Which is sad as, when I think about books about books and book lovers, I have a difficult time coming up with a better, more moving and intensely personal story. It doesn't hurt that I'm extremely tactile when it comes to my love of books. I adore owning multiple editions, particularly old, used, loved copies picked up in used bookshops around the world. The day I walked into Hay-on-Wye I promptly broke out into a cold sweat at the sheer number of "antiquarian booksellers" within a one-mile radius. And in this book, Helene Hanff's love for the physical books themselves, the words within, and British literature especially just suffuses this reader with joy and a beautiful sense of camaraderie. I'll close with one of my favorite passages and the hope that, if you haven't picked 84, CHARING CROSS ROAD up yet, you will. And come back and tell me how it was.
Please write and tell me about London, I live for the day when I step off the boat-train and feel its dirty sidewalks under my feet. I want to walk up Berkeley Square and down Wimpole Street and stand in St. Paul's where John Donne preached and sit on the step Elizabeth sat on when she refused to enter the Tower, and like that. A newspaper man I know, who was stationed in London during the war, says tourists go to England with preconceived notions, so they always find exactly what they go looking for. I told him I'd go looking for the England of English literature, and he said: "Then it's there."
Honestly, I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy of CRAZY BEAUTIFUL once I heard it was a modern-day Beauty & the Beast retelling. Then I saw tHonestly, I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy of CRAZY BEAUTIFUL once I heard it was a modern-day Beauty & the Beast retelling. Then I saw the cover. *clears throat* That's one good cover. Reminds me of another cover I'm rather fond of. In fact, reading and finishing this book prompted an immediate re-read of Perfect Chemistry. The two actually have a fair bit in common, though they are very different in style and length. There was a lot of hype around the blogosphere surrounding CRAZY BEAUTIFUL and I found myself anxious to see if it lived up to my expectations. This was also my first novel by Lauren Baratz-Logsted and I was very much looking forward to both a new author and a fresh take on one of my very favorite old tales.
My arm rises toward my face and the pincer touch of cold steel rubs against my jaw. I chose hooks because they were cheaper. I chose hooks because I wouldn't outgrow them so quickly. I chose hooks so that everyone would know I was different, so I would scare even myself.
Lucius is starting at a new school. He is unenthused, to put it mildly. Recently he, his parents, and his little sister relocated to a new home and a new town in an attempt to rid themselves of the taint of what happened to Lucius last year. Where he used to be plain Lucius Wolfe, now he's that crazy boy with hooks for hands. And he likes to live up to the reputation. It's clear from the word go that he's working pretty hard at not examining his life too clearly. It's just not exactly clear why. Aurora is also starting at a new school. The same school, as fate would have it. She and her father are trying to get back into the groove of their lives now that her mother is gone and the two of them are all each other's got. Where she used to be beautiful, popular Aurora Belle, now she's that new girl whose dad is the school librarian. Lucius and Aurora inadvertently make eye contact on the school bus one morning and a connection is forged, whether they know it yet or not.
My first reflection upon finishing this book is how much I loved the title. I love how it captures the way these two characters are perceived by the outside world, which is in direct contrast to the insight the reader gets about who they really are under the surface. Told in alternating point of view chapters, we get to experience firsthand Lucius' awkward blend of defiance and resignation when faced with all the rumors and insinuations about his mental status and the state of his missing hands. We get to be in the room with Aurora as she puts on a good face for her grieving, desperately hopeful dad, while achingly unsure whether or not she can get through another day pretending to be fine. Most of all, as is true with all good Beauty & the Beast retellings, we get to watch as two people in need find each other and see beyond the superficial to find that they are able to fill the cracks left by their past. CRAZY BEAUTIFUL is such a brief story. Weighing in at a featherweight 208 pages, I was worried I would emerge at the other end wishing for more, feeling like I only just got a taste of these two. I'm happy to say I didn't feel that way at all. On the contrary it felt like a perfectly natural glimpse into an ongoing story. There was a lot of crap that came before Lucius and Aurora encountered one another on the bus and, in the same vein, their story continues on beyond the final pages of the book. The lovely writing lent this modern high school story just the right hint of fairy tale splendor. I may be a sucker for this particular tale, but I thought Ms. Baratz-Logsted pulled it off beautifully. I read it in one sitting and it was exactly the sweet, funny, and moving read I hoped it would be....more
The narrative alternates between Tessa and Guy's stories as they work their way toward meeting one day in the bowels of the theater when Guy walks in on a weeping Tessa, who (an absolute martyr when it comes to opera) has just chopped off all her beautiful hair to provide a wig for the diva to wear in that night's performance. From there their lives intersect at more or less regular intervals and these two individuals with such wildly different backgrounds unexpectedly become friends. The one thing they share is a love of music. And music permeates the pages of this book, wrapping itself around you as you read. Tessa has turned her back on her past and made the opera the focus of her entire life, while Guy has all but nullified his humble origins by molding his life around the pursuit of wealth and power. When the woman he's loved since he was a young student at Oxford is suddenly widowed and back on the market, he lays out an alarmingly elaborate plan to woo and win her back and gift her with the life he believes she deserves. Unsurprisingly, no one is who they seem to be and that presents several sticky problems for our protagonists to tackle.
Opening up an Eva Ibbotson book is like biting into a hot biscuit smothered with butter and jam--at once perfectly satisfying and extremely comforting. Similar to A Countess Below Stairs there are few, if any, unpredictable events in this story. But that's not really what it's about. It's about those arresting passages you come across at just the right moment and think--perfect. Absolutely perfect. Similar to A Song for Summer and A Company of Swans the characters' love of art and nature fairly leap off the pages and it's hard to resist their charms and not wish you lived in a time and place where ancient royalty glided about crumbling castles and Mozart was god. In fact, my favorite bits in this book are the ones where the characters talk about Mozart and Beethoven and the way music makes life worth living. I liked Tessa and Guy quite a bit. I wish they had a few more scenes together. There is one point near the end of the story where they find themselves alone in the same place for the first time in months and months and their quiet conversation is exquisite. The story needed just a few more of those intimate moments to really cement the arc of their relationship and move it from like-minded acquaintances to soulmates. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed my read, laughed several times, had tears in my eyes twice, and fell in love with each and every member of the opera company. For Ibbotson fans, this volume is not to be missed....more
I went through a pretty good Joan Lowery Nixon phase when I was about twelve or thereabouts. Along with Lois Duncan, Ms. Nixon kept me well supplied wI went through a pretty good Joan Lowery Nixon phase when I was about twelve or thereabouts. Along with Lois Duncan, Ms. Nixon kept me well supplied with tense, easily digested mysteries about young girls who encountered the horrifying and the deadly on a regular basis. As I was in the process of expanding a bit on my Nancy Drew addiction, I basically ate them up with a spoon. I collected used copies of most of Nixon's books and, at one point, had quite a group of them on my shelf; now they've been whittled down to the most memorable, sentimental few. Of her mysteries I held on to Secret Silent Screams, The Kidnapping of Christina Lattimore, and THE DARK AND DEADLY POOL. And while the first two are probably better crafted, more complicated tales, THE DARK AND DEADLY POOL is my favorite because of its offbeat and lovable main characters--Mary Elizabeth Rafferty and her friend Fran or, as I like to call him--ManFran.
Mary Elizabeth takes a summer job at the super ritzy Ridley Hotel health club. Initially she thinks it will be the perfect place to spend those hot summer days. She's tall for her age, something of a klutz, and known to trip over or destroy the various objects in her path. Life has just gone that way for her over the past sixteen years. Secretly she dreams of becoming an orchestra conductor and when she's particularly zoned out she'll practice conducting in her head. Never mind the fact that she can't play an instrument to save her life and, at this point in time, she has all the confidence of an agoraphobic in a shopping mall. To make matters worse, the jittery Mary Elizabeth is closing up one night and sees a body rise up out of the pool, gape at her, and disappear once more under the surface of the water. No one will believe her, of course. Not Lamar the chief of security, not Art Mart the health club director, and not Tina her tough but friendly co-worker. Fortunately, she runs into (literally) another member of the staff who does believe her. A boy named Fran (short for Francis Liverpool III) who is shorter than her but makes up for it with an abundance of charm and determination. Together Liz and Fran attempt to solve the mystery of the dark and deadly pool...
Somehow this cozy little mystery has worn fairly well over the years. I loved it when I was twelve for its quirky main duo and for its slightly campy-creepy feel. And I still love it for those same reasons. There's something about the taller, stronger girl being courted by the smaller, Puckish boy that appeals to me. Throw in the fact that they run around rather ineptly fighting crime together and you've got yourself a winning combination, my friend. Nothing in the way of surprising or truly deep (except the, uh, pool), but everything in the way of endearing and charming. Every now and then I still pull out my old copy and settle in for a couple hours with Mary Elizabeth and ManFran. And you know what? They're still good company....more
I can't imagine how time-consuming it must be to write two different series simultaneously, but I am seriously so glad I'm able to go to the bookstoreI can't imagine how time-consuming it must be to write two different series simultaneously, but I am seriously so glad I'm able to go to the bookstore and get my Patricia Briggs fix twice a year. When I first heard she was starting a series featuring Sam's half-brother Charles, I could hardly wait to start. I love the world she's created with her Mercy Thompson books and I can't get enough of anything to do with the Marrok himself--the leader of the North American werewolves. As he is Charles' father I knew we'd be getting more Bran, which could only be a good thing. My fingers are still crossed she'll embark on a third series centered on the Marrok. His ancient awesomeness deserves his own series. I enjoyed Cry Wolf, the first in the Alpha and Omega series, and was looking forward to more development in this second installment.
Things are slowly progressing between mated Charles and Anna Cornick. For a man whose life revolves around being his father's assassin enforcer, Charles is exercising remarkable control when it comes to his timid, but subtly powerful mate. It goes against pretty much every more he's lived by for his few centuries of life to tamp down his dominant instincts, as well as his more violent tendencies engendered as part of his job, but that is exactly what Charles does to make Anna feel comfortable with him and with her new pack. When he elects to go to Seattle in his father's place to host a werewolf summit addressing how and when they will come out to the public, it seems all his hard work may be for naught. Anna accompanies him and, faced with a roomful of the most alpha of alpha wolves from around the world, it's all she can do not to run screaming from the room. As an Omega, her ability to influence all the wolves around her is a tool she must harness if Charles is to succeed in his mission. And, with a homicidal wolf on the prowl and a host of wolves out for his blood, it's Anna's turn to take charge, protect her mate, and embrace the abilities she's only just beginning to understand.
HUNTING GROUND is stronger and more cohesive than its predecessor. Some of that comes from having all the groundwork finally laid, but a lot of it is just that it's tighter in general and that Patricia Briggs is one hell of a storyteller. The relationship between Anna and Charles continues to be extremely tender and I appreciate the realistic pace Briggs has set between them. They are married and are unswervingly loyal to one another, but they are so very brand new at this. They each have heinously complicated histories and are still only scraping the surface of the other's baggage. The nice thing is their violent, unhappy pasts are leavened by moments of quiet, true humor. Anna has learned to tease Charles and speak up when she should, while Charles has learned to listen and loosen up the death grip he's had on Anna since they met. As in the Mercy series, the fae and the vampires play a large role in this book and I am reminded how dangerously lethal both groups are as I view them through Anna's eyes. Though nothing and no one seems quite so lethal as Charles. The dude is awesome, as Anna says, "a force of nature." Ms. Briggs also includes a large nod to Arthurian lore in this installment and, being rather a fan of such things, I found myself amused and delighted to watch the way the myth unfolded in this context, which is to say just as painfully, beautifully, and hauntingly as always. I very much enjoyed HUNTING GROUND and have high hopes for the future of this series....more
I was positively quivering with excitement to get my hands on HEROES AT RISK, the fourth book in Moira J. Moore's excellent and incredibly fun heroesI was positively quivering with excitement to get my hands on HEROES AT RISK, the fourth book in Moira J. Moore's excellent and incredibly fun heroes series. With each installment I've grown fonder of Taro and Lee. Bonded together as Source and Shield, respectively, they've been forced to deal with each other for awhile now and it's always a treat to watch them circle each other once more, to attempt to navigate the treacherous waters that lay between their opposing natures and meet somewhere in the middle. For the most part this has meant Taro putting up with Lee's obstinately pragmatic way of leading her life. For a brief period, in book three, things changed and a few important things came to the forefront in their relationship. I, for one, was very anxious to see what happened when they returned to their habitual home and roles.
Back from "that damned island," as Taro would say, our Pair barely have time to settle back into the Triple S Residence at High Scape before danger and intrigue come knocking on their door. The city seems to have changed in their absence. The inhabitants of High Scape are uneasy. After the events of the first two books, they have lost faith, so to speak, in the powers that be. Namely, the Triple S. There are rumors of magic, of people casting spells using the ashes of the dead. And not just any dead, but those considered most lucky in life. It is hoped that the luck of the dead will rub off on the living and change the course of their lives for the better. Never mind that no one really believes in magic and that such activities are highly illegal. Meanwhile a mysterious illness is cutting down scores of people in the city and no one seems to be able to put their finger on the source of the plague. Faced with these challenges, Lee has very little available energy left to address the state of her personal life, which has become a bit more complicated than she'd like.
Taro and Lee are their old selves (particularly Lee) and I had a smile on my face for the majority of this book because I know them. I know all about them. And here we are adventuring together once more. I had high expectations for developments in this fourth installment in the series. There were so many wonderful scenes and I delighted in the familiar tug and pull of their interactions. It did take me a minute to remember that Lee, as ever, has to move at her own pace. That back in her normal environment, she would revert to form to a certain degree. And I find myself, like Taro, stabbing my hands in my hair in frustration. At the same time, I love how fiercely loyal she is to Taro. When he is threatened she is there. She refuses to let anyone run over her volatile, at times vulnerable, partner and that made me smile. Several times. Because in other respects Lee struggles in this book. She's made decisions that make the running of her life, at least the way she'd like it to be run, difficult. She keeps running into walls trying to reconcile her choices with her expectations and it was hard to watch her sometimes as she takes two steps backward for every one step forward. Fortunately, she has Taro to remind her of what's important. Or at least he tries to. Lee's inability to see beyond her carefully constructed world view does not make things easy. And whenever he tries to get through to her, his emotions are so raw they lend an edge to every scene he's in, a couple of which are exquisitely sweet.
I have to highlight one particular scene that I'm still thinking about days later. It came at a point in the story where I wasn't expecting to be touched. But it was incredibly effective in demonstrating why I love Lee, even when she's at her most thickheaded:
Taro came into the room, strands of hair flying free of the tie at the back of his skull, sweat plastering his cream-colored shirt against his chest and back. I wished I had an artist's skill, that I could make renderings of him in all his states of beauty. He would never want to look at them, or even know about them. I would just like them for myself. Maybe he would want to see them when he was much older, and beautiful in a different way.
That last line. Sigh. I was reading in bed with DH asleep beside me and thus no one to turn to and say, "I just read something breathtaking." Because it's Lee, at her most vulnerable. And Lee is never vulnerable. But even when she is unable to see herself or anything else for what it is, she sees Taro. She knows what he's worth. And that's why I love Lee. So even though I rolled my eyes at her a few times and wanted to shake her several more times than that, I enjoyed this story very much and am looking forward to the next. I have a hunch we're going to learn a lot more about how Sources and Shields came to be and how they're inherently different from the "regulars," as Lee calls them. Lastly, HEROES AT RISK has a killer last line. It's irreverent and funny and guaranteed to make you close the book with a smile on your face....more
I have a thing for Robin Hood. Specifically Robin Hood retellings. I love Robin, Marian, Little John, Will Scarlet, Much the Miller, Alan-a-Dale, andI have a thing for Robin Hood. Specifically Robin Hood retellings. I love Robin, Marian, Little John, Will Scarlet, Much the Miller, Alan-a-Dale, and the whole merry crew. I read Ivanhoe cover to cover just for Robin Hood's periodic appearances. And when I went on study abroad to England, I dragged my best friend all the way to Nottingham and Sherwood Forest as well so I could walk around in the woods and soak it all up. It's still one of the happiest, most golden days I can recall, that one. My first encounter with the tale itself was no doubt the Disney animated version (which I still love watching with my son), but I'm pretty sure the first actual novelization I read was Robin McKinley's THE OUTLAWS OF SHERWOOD. And it remains my very favorite to this day. Admittedly, I seem to possess the McKinley gene. I love her writing. I love the unexpected, twisty paths she takes, the obstinate characters, and the wry humor. True to form, her Robin is not the typical Robin of legend. If you cherish the strapping, dashing, swashbuckling hero a la Errol Flynn, then this version is probably not for you. But if you like an unusual, but beautifully wrought, take on a classic then you really ought to give this one a shot.
The story opens with the following lines:
A small vagrant breeze came from nowhere and barely flicked the feather tips as the arrow sped on its way. It shivered in its flight, and fell, a little off course--just enough that the arrow missed the slender tree it was aimed at, and struck tiredly and low into the bole of another tree, twenty paces beyond the mark. Robin sighed and dropped his bow.
Robin is on his way to Nottingham Fair to meet his childhood friends Marian and Much and have a bit of well-earned frivolity. As an apprentice forester in the King's Forest, Robin barely scrapes by and his days off are few and far between. Unfortunately, while on his way he is ambushed by a few of the Chief Forester's men who have had it in for Robin for years. No one is more surprised than Robin when he wins the resulting archery contest and the skirmish ends in an attempt on his life and Robin's arrow buried in his attacker's chest. From this point on Robin is a wanted man. His friends convince him to go into hiding while they work up a plan to keep their friend alive and prevent the Norman overlords from raining down punishments on all the Saxons' heads as a result of Robin's "crime." Against his better judgement, Robin goes along with Much and Marian's plan and, in the process, he becomes a hero--albeit a reluctant one.
There is so much good in this book and it all centers around the characters. Either you will fall in love with Robin or you will not. And if you love Robin, then you will love all of the characters for they gather around him despite his adamant refusal that he is no hero because they need him. Marian and Much, his old friends, see this. They understand it and they try to help Robin understand it. Their love for him, their need to believe in him, and their willingness to walk away from their homes and their lives to follow him into hiding in Sherwood Forest reflect the desperate nature of the times and the ways in which this good man is able to inspire and take care of other good men and women like him who have been caught in the ever-tightening vise of Norman justice. I love watching this transformation, this coming together of such a motley band of comrades. Every time I read it I savor each one. And, as with any McKinley book, if you're a fan of strong female characters who do not do what they are expected to do, then this book is for you. Marian is awesome. It's Marian who is the excellent shot. It's Marian who has the vision and who knows Robin's potential before he does. It's Marian who risks more than anyone else to create the legend and keep it alive. There is one other standout female character, but I can't tell you any more than that as she is so excellent she must be discovered entirely on her own. Along with Deerskin, I think this is the most emotional of McKinley's works because it is as grounded in reality as any retelling I've read. THE OUTLAWS OF SHERWOOD is an emotional, subtly humorous, visceral take on the legend and I cannot recommend it highly enough....more
Well, it's only a few days away now. You can practically taste it, can't you? You know, I really hadn't planned on waiting this long to review CATCHINWell, it's only a few days away now. You can practically taste it, can't you? You know, I really hadn't planned on waiting this long to review CATCHING FIRE. Honestly, I don't know what was wrong with me. I started it over a month ago and was totally into it. I got to the halfway point and started to feel more and more anxious. Like twitchy anxious. And since gone are the days of sitting around all day doing nothing but reading a single book, I found myself moving through my regular day thinking about it constantly, worrying about the characters I care about so much that at night when I went to pick it up I COULDN'T BRING MYSELF TO DO IT. The steady building up of tension and pain that Suzanne Collins does so fiendishly well was too much and my mind skittered away from it in favor of less treacherous waters. I'm not proud of it. But there it is. On to the spoiler-free review.
Katniss and Peeta are home once more. Heralded as heroes they reluctantly take up residence in the mansions reserved for Hunger Games victors in their beleaguered District 12. Given the Capitol's idea of "enough time" to recover and lick their wounds, they must soon set off on the obligatory Victory Tour of the districts of Panem. As always, they are accompanied by their mentor--the irascible Haymitch--as well as Katniss' faithful entourage, including the savvy stylist Cinna. As always, they are under the watchful eye of President Snow. For in the interim time between Katniss' unprecedented ending of the Hunger Games and the launch of the Victory Tour, the Powers That Be have learned a thing or two about just how much of a survivor Katniss is and what and most particularly who she cares about. Knowing what they know, and without any doubt at all of what horror will rain down on her head should she set one toe out of line or let fall one word off script, Katniss herself must do what she does best and figure out a way to stay alive.
Remember how you felt the whole time you were reading The Hunger Games? Like you might never find the bottom of your stomach again? Like the tips of your fingers were permanently flattened from pressing too hard on the book? Well, multiply those feelings by ten and add to it the interminable guessing game of what will happen next and you will have the approximate effect of CATCHING FIRE. That is why I put it down halfway through. It was just too stressful! I could feel all the pain laid out neatly in a row just waiting to befall Katniss and Peeta and Gale. And honestly it made me a bit angry because it felt like I was trapped in there with them and there was nothing was going to stop the inevitable heinousness. This is not to say it's not a fabulous book. Because it is. Seriously enjoyable. I just had to stop and let my fingernails grow back a bit before I could continue on. Because when I did pick it up again I sat down and read it through to the end. Suzanne Collins brings the intensity like you can't believe. Even having read The Hunger Games, I wasn't prepared for it. And it's so much worse when you're already hurting for the characters when you open the book. But that's also the lovely thing about it and it is why I loved this one more than the first. There's more Gale (Team Gale!), more Peeta (the boy really is rather alarmingly sweet), more Haymitch (grrr), more Cinna (yay!), more Effie and Co. (hehe). You get to know them better, you care about them more, but what I loved most about this sequel is Katniss. Strong, dogged, always herself Katniss. She has moments of weakness, moments of sweetness, moments of humor, and a couple of hardcore moments when she is made of awesome. I may have punched the air once in solidarity. And then, just when you don't think you can take another shock to the system, it ends. Just like you knew it would....more
When I'm opening up a new Meg Rosoff novel I literally never know what to expect. In a good way. She never tells the same story twice. She does generaWhen I'm opening up a new Meg Rosoff novel I literally never know what to expect. In a good way. She never tells the same story twice. She does generally center her stories around a character who feels ambivalent, anxious, or sometimes downright disenchanted with his or her world. She explores themes both serious and disturbing and her resolutions are bittersweet at best. And yet I love her writing. She's an auto-buy for me and has been ever since I first read How I Live Now and thought I would come apart at the beauty of that book. Readers who love one of her books and long for more of the same with her other books will most likely be disappointed as they are all wildly different tales, the lovely writing being one of the only things they share. But how rare and fine a thing it is to have an author you can always count on but can never quite pin down.
Early on the morning of her wedding day, Pell Ridley sneaks out of the home she's lived in all her life, swipes her dowry money from the teapot, saddles her old horse Jack, and heads for Salisbury Fair. Determined not to become her mother--broken and beaten by a dissolute husband, a host of hungry children, and a hard life in general. Pell won't, she can't, stay and marry her childhood friend Birdie. No matter how much he says he loves her, no matter how many family members and friends are depending upon the match taking place. And so she rides away from it all with only the vaguest notion of finding work at the horse trading at Salisbury Fair. What Pell doesn't count on is her little brother Bean coming along for the journey. Bean doesn't talk, never has, but he seems to know Pell and understand her motives. More than that, he seems to have an essential role to play in what happens to her. She also does not count on the remote Dogman, a poacher she encounters first in Salisbury and once more far away from that place. Of course, nothing goes as it should. In fact, everything that can go wrong does and things get progressively worse as Pell desperately tries to maintain a modicum of control over her own life and, at the same time, not lose the one or two things she considers precious.
The thing about each of Meg Rosoff's novels is that they are short but they never feel short. Quite the opposite. They somehow manage to feel quite epic and THE BRIDE'S FAREWELL is no exception. I closed it feeling as though I'd spent years with Pell instead of the few months the story actually covers. The cover of this book reflects the story quite well. Dark, cold, and spare. The image of a lone white horse fleeing away across an open plain. Rosoff does not shy away from the darkness and despair caused by extreme poverty and an utter lack of options a young woman like Pell would have been familiar with in rural England in the mid-1800s. Her single action on the morning of her wedding day inadvertently sets in motion a chain of reactions she remains initially unaware of but the tale eventually comes full circle and Pell is forced to face the consequences of her choice. Some of them are fair. Most of them are not. I loved Bean. I loved Dogman. I loved Dicken the dog. Pell herself is often a mystery and I spent a good portion of the read attempting to see her clearly. It felt as though she was doing the same. She is a girl torn between her responsibilities and the desires of her spirit.
THE BRIDE'S FAREWELL is a smooth, at times extremely painful, read. It's hard to watch one bad thing after another happen to good characters. It's hard when they're forced to pay for their mistakes over and over again. But I've learned that with Rosoff it always pays to follow her through to the end. The dark and the dreary are balanced by the truly beautiful writing, the sharp glints of irony, and by the brief but shining moments of perfect understanding and compassion you feel when you're reading....more