It's been too long since I let myself slip into Linnea Sinclair's Dock Five universe. Way too long. I love science fiction. I love space opera. And thIt's been too long since I let myself slip into Linnea Sinclair's Dock Five universe. Way too long. I love science fiction. I love space opera. And this series is just one of the best out there. I read the first book--Gabriel's Ghost--a couple of years ago now and I've read several of Sinclair's other non-Dock Five books in between then and now and thoroughly enjoyed each of them. Games of Command is still my favorite. That Kel-Paten. Gets to me every time. But when I finally picked up HOPE'S FOLLY the other night in desperate need of some good action and romance, I wasn't prepared for how quickly the world would suck me in again. This installment follows a side character from the earlier books--Chaz's ex-husband and confirmed lifer Admiral Philip Guthrie. I love getting the real story on what's going on with a character we've previously only seen through other characters' eyes. And I wasn't disappointed with Philip's story.
Having lost pretty much everything that kept his highly structured life together, Admiral Philip Guthrie isn't exactly comfortable on the other side of the fence. Once an esteemed fleet official and member of one of the most revered (and loaded) families around, Philip now finds himself pulling together an unlikely and undisciplined band of rebels in a last ditch effort to hold off the ever-expanding Imperial fleet. With a wounded leg as a souvenir to remember them by, Philip is older and slower and more thoughtful than he used to be. None of which particularly please him, but all of which endear him to his new crew. And sub-lieutenant Rya Bennton is no exception, though she'd like to be. Rya actually knew Philip as a kid, when she was a wild tomboy and he a handsome soldier with a knack for weapons and strategy. She's idolized him ever since, never thinking she'd actually see him again after her father was killed and Philip disappeared off the map. But suddenly they're on the same beat up cruiser ship together--Hope's Folly--, he's her commanding officer, and he certainly doesn't remember one young girl he once taught how to shoot. Determined to put aside her reservations, Rya ignores her personal feelings in favor of helping keep Admiral Guthrie safe and uncovering what really happened the day her father died.
Delectable. That's what this book is. I read it in two large gulps and felt happily sated afterward. Philip and Rya are the kind of protagonists Ms. Sinclair excel at--essentially noble (if slightly reckless) individuals who put duty before personal desires and are drawn against their formidable wills to the other person for their strength, courage, and taste in weapons. I wondered just how I would like Philip after being slightly prejudiced against him from reading Chaz's version of events. Turns out I like him just fine. Better than fine. He's a gem and he totally deserved his own story and at least a chance at a happy ending after everything he went through. Rya was a different kind of heroine from Sinclair's others. Full-bodied and fully capable of keeping herself safe and dismantling a weapon or a man as needed, I liked the way she took on Philip and his forceful personality. There was less focus in this one on the greater conflict between the Alliance and the Imperial Fleet, though it certainly hangs over every step they take. But I guess I felt as though the relationships between the various people on the Folly took precedence. And wouldn't you know that's exactly what I was in the mood for. The age difference between these two didn't bother me either. They complemented each other so well that other things faded away in the wake of my enjoyment of their antics and halting steps toward understanding. Definitely recommended for fans of space opera and the Dock 5 universe.
I've had my eye on this one ever since I heard it was a modern retelling of Sleeping Beauty. I haven't read a Christopher Golden book in quite a longI've had my eye on this one ever since I heard it was a modern retelling of Sleeping Beauty. I haven't read a Christopher Golden book in quite a long time and I was anxious to see what he was up to lately and how his take on the fairy tale stood up. My favorite retelling of Sleepy Beauty is Robin McKinley's Spindle's End (surprise, surprise) and that one definitely reshapes the tale in new and beautiful ways to allow Rosie to take a much more active role in her own life and with regards to the curse she lives under for so many years. Frankly, I was interested to see how a male writer would envision a modern version of the story and I really was not disappointed in the least.
Rose wakes up in a hospital bed in an unfamiliar place, with the people around her speaking a language she cannot understand. Confused and disoriented, it isn't until her two aunts come into the room that she feels the first quaking reassurances that she is not crazy. For she recognizes her aunts and they speak in her native French to her. When she responds without trouble, and even begins to remember the English she once knew, the doctors relax a little. Having been in a coma for several years, it comes as a huge surprise to Rose that her aunts brought her to America to receive the best treatment they could find. They live in a small brownstone in downtown Boston and, as soon as she's ready and recuperated, they're going to take her there and help her pick up the threads of her life. And recover she does. But the dreams don't go away. Every night Rose dreams she is a princess in a faraway land, watching her father prepare the country for war, knowing it is a losing battle. Dark forces are assembling to destroy her kingdom and it seems Rose herself may be the only hope for averting total destruction. But her aunts brush these dreams off as vestiges of her coma and Rose tries to shrug them away as she starts school and tries to jump start her life again.
Christopher Golden has come up with a great angle from which to tell this familiar tale. Waking up from the coma and only catching bits and snatches of her former life in disturbing dreams, it's easy for Rose to believe this is the only life she's ever led and that her Aunt Fay and her Aunt Suzette have nothing but her best interests at heart and are only trying to help her begin anew. I loved the strength Rose possessed, even with how fragmented her memory was and I loved how much she longed for normalcy and friends and earnestly went after the things she wanted. With her flowing skirts and straightforward attitude, she won me over even as she won over Kaylie, Dom, and Jared. Shunned by the popular crowd, and dubbed "Coma Girl" by pretty much everyone, she pushes through the horrors of high school with a determination and a thick skin I fully admired. Hampered by her seemingly insanely overprotective aunts, Rose struggles to engage in any kind of social life. Even with exuberant Kaylie and quietly interested Jared around encouraging her to step out a little and have some fun, Rose finds it hard to disobey her aunts in even the most minor of ways. I liked her for it. As aching as those restraints were, it was clear that her aunts were hiding something. Something huge. And I waited with baited breath for Rose to discover what it was and see how she chose to handle that new and fantastic knowledge. It really was her integrity of character and the very sweetly developing relationship with Jared that glued me to the page. The final conflict does happen rather suddenly (though pretty spectacularly) and I could have done with a slightly more protracted resolution--but when could I ever not? Overall, WHEN ROSE WAKES is a thoroughly engaging, light read and one I enjoyed from cover to cover. Recommended for fans of fairy tale retellings, gentle love stories, and strong heroines....more
You guys, I think I might be slipping. First it was Justin in Harmonic Feedback, then Nico in Chasing Brooklyn, and now it is just so very much ÉtiennYou guys, I think I might be slipping. First it was Justin in Harmonic Feedback, then Nico in Chasing Brooklyn, and now it is just so very much Étienne St. Clair in ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS. I am falling under the spell of the nice guys and I really have very little to say for myself except this: I am charmed. Utterly charmed. You know my feelings on the fictional boys and the many flavors they come in. When a love triangle is involved, I can generally be found over in the bad boy camp. But these books I've read recently are just beautifully free of triangles and feature the genuine article as far as the boys go, allowing me to freely admire their charms. Which I have been doing. And believe you me, this latest one will waltz away with your heart. I've been looking forward to reading ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS for quite some time now, ever since the spectacular reviews started churning out and I got that little knowing feeling in my gut. You know the one. It whispers of good things ahead and lures you with the promise of a reader/book match made in heaven. Or at the very least, in Paris. This release marks Stephanie Perkins' debut and it is a delightful one. I'm anxious and excited to see where she goes from here.
Anna Oliphant is being packed off to France without so much as a by-your-leave. Her famous and fatuous father has decided she should attend the prestigious School of America boarding school in Paris for her senior year of high school. Since her parents are divorced and her dad holds the purse strings, there is very little to be done about the whole thing but pack her bags, hug her friends goodbye, and leave Atlanta for the big unknown. Without a word of French under her belt, Anna arrives at her new school frightened and unsure of herself. Fortunately, her next door neighbor Meredith takes her under her wing and introduces her to her small circle of friends, including smart Rashmi, her goofy-but-talented boyfriend Josh, and one Étienne St. Clair--known to one and all simply as St. Clair. Anna has it pretty bad right from the start. You see St. Clair is kind of killing it in the attractive and interesting department. He's got the messy hair. He's got the English accent. He's funny and smart and up for anything. And the two of them hit if off immediately. But there is a fly in the ointment. Naturally. He also has a longtime girlfriend at a nearby college. And their mutual friend Meredith is in love with him. Which rather clearly spells steer clear for poor Anna. She resolves to be his friend when he needs her and focus on the amazing city she's come to live in, her growing film review site, and that boy back home she always wondered about. After all, it is the right and sensible thing to do. Isn't it?
This book has everything going for it. A smart and relatable heroine, who has been thrust into an equal parts extremely enviable and most distressing situation. A handsome, short (!), boy with an accent, who is genuinely kind and thoughtful and attracted to our girl something fierce. A simply gorgeous setting, complete with lush descriptions of its food, sights, sounds, and smells. And a conflict that builds up to Eiffel Tower proportions before either of them can figure out what in the world to do about it. In other words, reading ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS is like plopping down on the couch with a mug of hot chocolate, a plate of buttered toast, and nowhere else you need to be for hours. It's an perfectly pleasant read, the kind of contemporary young adult novel you're always looking for. The romance is divine, the characters so very real, and the atmosphere second to none. I did find myself wishing at times for a little more insight on Anna's part with regards to the obviously lackluster Toph and her need to be with him. But, you know, I admired the mature way she handled her friendship with a boy she was in love with and couldn't have. How many of us handle that with anything resembling poise in high school? And the nice thing is, I found myself frustrated with St. Clair at certain parts as well. I like that Stephanie Perkins carefully crafted such a swoon-worthy character and simultaneously had the guts to leave the flaws in as well. Because when one of the two characters is perfect, what need has s/he for the other? These two need each other. They make mistakes and they vacillate. It's messy and drawn out and hanging by a thread. And I wasn't always sure leading up to the end whether they deserved each other or not. But I wanted them to. And, in the end, it was just right. I loved it. Treat yourself to a sweet little confection for the holiday season and pick up a copy soon....more
I love this cover. And I love the title. And I just really love this book. I'm so glad some thoughtful reader nominated it for a Cybils award this yeaI love this cover. And I love the title. And I just really love this book. I'm so glad some thoughtful reader nominated it for a Cybils award this year, because I honestly don't think I would have picked it up otherwise. And I have no good reason for that except I think I somehow got the mistaken impression it was just another problem novel and I wasn't in the mood. Shame on me for making my ignorant assumptions and not giving this lovely novel a try before now. CHASING BROOKLYN is Lisa Schroeder's third novel for young adults but the first that I've read. I'm happy to say it will definitely not be the last! Interestingly, it's billed as a companion novel to Schroeder's earlier I Heart You You Haunt Me. I believe it features a couple of side characters from that book, but I found no trouble at all falling into this story without having read the first. It stands very strongly on its own two feet. I haven't read a really good novel in verse in quite awhile and I just adore them when they're well done. CHASING BROOKLYN is a perfect example of a novel in verse that is lyrically light on its feet, but pulsing with that breathtakingly uncertain blend of loss, longing, and love.
It's been a year since Brooklyn's boyfriend Lucca died in a car crash. One year since it became difficult to draw breath in and out every day, to get up every single day and make food for herself and her dad and then eat it, to go to school and pretend she's fine and not coming apart at the seams. To the outside world--her worried friends, her lonely father, her faraway mother and little brothers--she puts on a bright face. In her journal each day and in frequent letters to Lucca, she pours out the grief that consumes her. A talented artist, Brooklyn has all but forgotten her work. That creative spark seems to have dwindled in the past year until now it barely exists at all. And she wonders whether or not it is possible to recover from such loss. Maybe she never will. Nico has spent the last year mourning the death of his beloved brother. Lucca was always the golden boy--Mom and Dad's favorite, bright and shining and full of life. And the two brothers were best friends. Now it's just Nico. And their house is filled with silences he doesn't want to face. So Nico runs. And runs. He runs so fast and so far, like he's training for the race of his life. And then one day a message. Just a whisper. Barely discernible but there. "Make sure Brooklyn is okay." Nico is confused and afraid he's beginning to hallucinate. Surely Brooklyn is just fine by now. She looks fine every day at school. She doesn't look like she needs her dead boyfriend's older brother checking up on her at all. But Nico can't ignore the messages as they keep coming, more and more insistently. And so he finds himself reluctantly chasing Brooklyn.
What a simply lovely story is here. CHASING BROOKLYN is a surprisingly gentle, swallow-in-a-single-gulp read that left me smiling and feeling as though the sun had just come out after a particularly dreary day. One of my favorite things about it is there are no bad guys, no snide caricatures, no backstabbing or flashy, disingenuous "best friends." There is just honesty and unhappiness, kindness and real affection. Having lost loved ones myself, Brooklyn and Nico's experiences washed over me with the unmistakable rush of authenticity. The hint of the paranormal sets up several heart-pounding moments, but the focus remains steadily on how real people in the here and now reach out to each other and are able to build hope from the shared experience of loss. Here are a couple of my favorite entries:
Sat., Jan. 7th--Brooklyn:
In a funeral home
there's no cross to give you hope. There's no bible to give you peace. There's no minister to assure you all is well.
In a funeral home . . .
There are still flowers which I love. There are still people who I know. There is still death which I hate.
In a funeral home . . .
There is a family without a son. There is a band without a guitarist. There is a school without a classmate.
In a funeral home . . .
There is a coffin with a boy.
Sun., Jan. 15th--Nico
is my favorite day of the month. The third Sunday of every month, Ma makes a big batch of spaghetti with meatballs, and relatives fill our house like fish fill a net on a good fishing day. The guys eat and watch football or basketball or baseball, depending on the season, while the girl eat and talk births or weddings or funerals depending on the month. Ma's spaghetti slid into Lucca's heart as a toddler and never left. I know when she makes it, she thinks of him, how he'd come in and ask for a sample of sauce as it simmered on the stove. She'd fill a wooden spoon just for him. He'd slurp the sauce. She'd reach up and wipe his chin. He'd say, "Perfection, Ma." She'd smile, looking at him, and say, "Yes. It is." I always wondered, did he know she wasn't talking about the sauce?
Hard not to like them after reading those, isn't it? Both of these kids were so clear in my head from the very beginning. I could smell the spaghetti sauce bubbling in Nico's kitchen. I could hear the click of the door closing as Brooklyn said an empty goodnight to her father once again. I loved Brooklyn's and Nico's journal entries and how they articulated the ways in which grief shaped their lives in the year after losing Lucca. It's easy to want the best for both of them. And it's impossible to resist Nico's halting efforts to find Brooklyn and help her in whatever way he can. The boy is a keeper if ever there was one. CHASING BROOKLYN is a sweet and haunting story and absolutely one that should not be missed....more
I'd seen NEVERMORE around and been drawn to it for its wonderful title and simultaneously sort of stayed away from it because of its not quite as wondI'd seen NEVERMORE around and been drawn to it for its wonderful title and simultaneously sort of stayed away from it because of its not quite as wonderful cover. Not that it's bad, per se. But it does sort of scream vampire tale meets Gossip Girl and (with the glut of similarly veined paranormals out there) who needs that mess, really? But on the flip side, who can resist a book with lines from "The Raven" embossed all over it? (So pretty!) Or one that begins with a prologue featuring Edgar Allan Poe on the way to his mysterious death? (So awesome!) Yeah. Not me, that's who. Then a copy arrived to be read for The Cybils and I happily snatched it up and settled in for a long and satisfying night. Man, I wish I'd read this book around Halloween. It would have been perfect. NEVERMORE is Kelly Creagh's debut novel and the first in a planned trilogy--a fact I was unaware of until I approached the ending and it hit me that no way were we going to get the kind of resolution I was hoping for. But don't let that worry you. If you're anything like me, you will only want to read more from Ms. Creagh and these characters after finishing this book.
Isobel Lanley is as All American as they come. Star cheerleader, member of the popular crew at school, older sister to a nerdy, video game playing pest of a little brother, Isobel's life is one continuous round of happily normal. Then one day she walks into English and is paired up with disturbingly not-normal Varen Nethers for the upcoming author project. With his drooping dark hair, goth fashions, and tendency not to speak when spoken to, he's pretty much the opposite of Isobel in every way. Hoping he'll want to switch partners just as much as she does, Isobel approaches Varen in class. But instead of switching, she ends up with Varen's number on her hand and a growing sense of fear in the pit of her stomach. Varen decides they will be doing their research project on Poe. He will do all the research, while Isobel will do all the talking. Uncertain but amenable, Isobel agrees to the deal and tries to go on with her usual activities and ignore this one small aberration in the usual round. Then things get a little more complicated as Isobel's boyfriend take a violent disliking to Varen and makes it his mission to terrorize him. Caught between the two, Isobel finds herself automatically defending Varen, particularly as they get to know each other better and she realizes there's much more going on under his forbidding exterior than meets the eye. But even as she digs below the surface, she is drawn into a conflict much darker and more dangerous than the ravings of a jealous boyfriend. And somehow it all centers on the melancholy subject of their English report and his own mysterious death.
I'm a sucker for a nice healthy dose of the macabre in my young adult fiction and NEVERMORE came through for me in spades. I wasn't sure at first. After all, the basic facts of Isobel's existence aren't precisely endearing. Perfect cheerleader with a macho bruiser of a boyfriend and few thoughts in her head outside of the next game and what she'll wear today. But it quickly becomes apparent that there's something more substantial to her. I have to hand it to Kelly Creagh for creating a cheerleader I really liked. Isobel loves cheer for the athleticism of it, for the feeling of flying through the air, and for the strength and satisfaction she derives from training her body so meticulously. I can admire that. The events of this story are an awakening for her in so many ways and the awesome thing is she makes the right choices when important things are riding on them. That's what really won me over to her side. That and her steady recognition of Varen as something special. What made me like Varen so was how genuinely disinterested he was in Isobel from the get-go and how that disinterest was real and not thinly veiled lust. These two are not attracted to each other right off the bat. On the contrary, they despise and distrust each other for quite awhile. I loved that Isobel did the lion's share of the defending, the standing up to people and/or otherworldly creatures, the refusing to give up on anyone. Behind these two characters lies a wonderfully creepy background made up of the most chilling characters, images, and puzzle pieces from the works of Edgar Allan Poe. The spirit of Poe is most definitely captured here and I shivered numerous times, even as I smiled every time I recognized another allusion or reference to one of his stories or poems, especially the excellent anagram that is Varen's name. So many of them play key roles in the unraveling of the mystery, including my favorite--the enigmatic Reynolds. I will say that as the climax drew closer, things got a little discombobulating for me. Creagh's strength lies in stitching the two worlds together and when we plunged full bore into the Other, it lacked the cohesion of the rest of the story. That is not to say that my interest in the characters diminished one bit. Just that I could have done with a slightly more controlled unraveling, if that makes sense. As the end drew near, I knew it wasn't going to be enough, that I'd close it positively pining for more from Isobel and Varen. And so I did. Can't wait for the sequel!...more
You'll forgive me for indulging in what is essentially pure nostalgia and reviewing a book I hadn't thought of in years, but which had a profound impaYou'll forgive me for indulging in what is essentially pure nostalgia and reviewing a book I hadn't thought of in years, but which had a profound impact on me as a young girl. I was remembering the school I attended in fifth grade the other night and mentally wandering the halls and rooms. I remembered the wonderful library it had and the kind librarian there who listened to me talk about how much I loved Lloyd Alexander and Susan Cooper and, smiling, led me over to wonderful, new authors such as Madeleine L'Engle. It was in this library that I was perusing one day when I came across GOOD-BYE PINK PIG by C.S. Adler. I know. Can you believe that title? And the picture to go with it. I mean, look at the sadness in that little girl's eyes. They almost look without hope completely. I hadn't even entered my hopeless junior high years yet, but for some reason it called out to me. I'd read a fair amount of children's and young adult fantasy by this point, but I'd never really read a contemporary fantasy, let alone one that might actually have just been the sad dreamings in a little girl's head and not real at all. That ambiguity intrigued me and I fell utterly under this relatively unknown, wistful little novel's spell.
Ten-year-old Amanda walks around feeling like the world's biggest disappointment. Her beautiful, cultured mother doesn't know what to do with her shy and unremarkable daughter. Her big brother Dale is kind to her and watches out for her, but their relationship is all but eclipsed by their mother's expectations for Dale regarding going to an Ivy League school and putting that special shine to the family name. Her best friend Libby has always been a source of comfort, but things begin to shift when Amanda discovers a tiny, glass pink pig to add to her collection of miniatures. Pink Pig is different from her other toys. He's real. When she plays with pink pig, she's transported from her dull daily life to a world where all her miniatures live and are real. It's during these times, and only during these times, that Amanda feels alive and loved. But no one will believe her when she tells them about Pink Pig. No one but her grandmother Pearly, who works as a janitor at the school Amanda attends, and who her mother tries to keep her from seeing as a rule. Embarrassed by her ex-husband's working class mother, Amanda's mother does everything in her power to keep the two separate. But when Pink Pig is lost, Pearly is the only one Amanda can turn to to fend off the bone crushing loneliness that threatens to engulf her.
Even now, years later, I get a little thrill of happiness thinking about this sweet, sad story and how much I understood (despite not sharing Amanda's bleak circumstances) the loneliness she felt and the longing for beauty and magic to balance the grim. It's a beautiful book and it made me both long for an older brother like Dale and feel profoundly grateful to have two loving parents in the place of one high strung and completely clueless mother. It reminded me very much of watching The Neverending Story. As I said, this book resides somewhere between fantasy and contemporary fiction and I remember thoughtfully trying to decide which I really wanted it to be. I was 10 myself when I read it and, like Amanda, I felt caught between the two worlds, wondering if it would be so bad if the magic were all in her head, reluctant to let it slip out of my fingers, and curious at how well she would handle moving on with her life. I was very proud of her in the end. And thoroughly pleased with the result. Curiously, I believe C.S. Adler actually wrote a sequel to this book, but I never felt the urge to read it as this one just didn't need a coda of any kind as far as I was concerned. I'd love to talk to someone else who's read it more recently and hear how it holds up over time. In my memory, it's preserved perfect and clear, like the glass of each little figurine on Amanda's shelf....more
THE JUMBEE somehow flew under my radar for quite awhile and I only became aware of it when I saw reviews popping up on a couple of trusted friends' siTHE JUMBEE somehow flew under my radar for quite awhile and I only became aware of it when I saw reviews popping up on a couple of trusted friends' sites. What's that you say? A Phantom of the Opera retelling? Indeed? A YA Phantom of the Opera retelling, set in the Caribbean, in the present day? How on earth have I not read this book already? Fortunately, the benevolent Holly offered to let me borrow her copy and I jumped into it with uncharacteristic abandon at a time when only a string of old standbys were doing anything for me. And that was the first mark in its favor. I had no trouble whatsoever falling into THE JUMBEE's world. In fact, I gave myself over to its whimsical and deathly charms without batting an eye. Pamela Keyes' inventive retelling was just what the doctor ordered and I'm so glad I decided to give it a shot. It should be noted that, while I am not what you might call a rabid Phantom of the Opera (the musical) fan, it did sort of rock my world when I went to see it for the first time at the age of 16, and I have a fondness for the story and music that persists to this day.
Esti Legard has made a rash decision, but one she feels certain is the right one. In the wake of her famous father's death, she and her mother packed their bags and moved from their longtime home in Oregon to the small house her father owned on the island of Cariba in the West Indies. One of the most lauded Shakespearean actors of his time, Esti's father's spirit is still very much with her as she gathers her courage to try out for the part of Juliet in the local high school's production of Romeo & Juliet. Everyone there knows her name. Everyone knows her father's name and watches her for signs of having inherited a portion of his greatness. Meanwhile, her mother struggles to move on and worries about Esti as she becomes more and more involved in the disturbing events taking place at the school theater. The locals have their eye on Esti and murmur words of an evil spirit known as the Jumbee returning to the theater. The sudden death of a student rocks the little town. And the return of a former childhood friend turned local bad boy has Esti's emotions in a complete tailspin, especially as she's already more than halfway in love with the elusive Alan--the man she's never once seen, but whose voice haunts her dreams. The talented Shakespeare aficionado who coaches her, who gives her confidence, and who clearly loves the stage every bit as much as she does.
I read (and fell in love with) Gaston Leroux's original Phantom of the Opera long before I ever saw the musical. I loved how genuinely creepy it was and how he made the whole thing feel so real. I wondered how Pamela Keyes would take on these themes after transplanting the characters to high school and to such an unexpected setting. But, you know, it flowed beautifully. I loved the setting, with its rich history, colorful culture, and natural beauty. It was the ideal backdrop for this story of passion and drama, pain and longing. I loved Alan. I crept down the path of his dark history along with Esti, afraid what I would find, certain it would be worse than I thought. I liked Rafe and his easy friendship with Esti. He seemed a very logical Raoul and his temper and assumptions made more sense at this age and in this context. But he came through in ways I didn't expect and I have to say, somewhat dreading the ending as I was, I felt distinctly relieved at the way it unfolded. It was, in some ways, a more hopeful conclusion than this story has seen in the past. That's not to say that Ms. Keyes alters it in unacceptable ways, but merely that all three of the lead characters handled things strongly and surely and I felt that and loved them for it. As love triangles go, this is a good one. This one is not a waste of your time. The storyline is well-paced and thoughtfully laid out so that I was never bored, despite the familiar subject matter, and I enjoyed every aspect of it, especially the added bonus of all the wonderful Shakespeare. THE JUMBEE is a worthy retelling and I highly recommended for fans of the original or anyone in the mood for a spooky love story with all the trimmings....more
I picked up HARMONIC FEEDBACK based on the strength of Trisha's review over at The YA YA YAs. This is not an unusual thing for me to do, as you probabI picked up HARMONIC FEEDBACK based on the strength of Trisha's review over at The YA YA YAs. This is not an unusual thing for me to do, as you probably know. Trisha has impeccable taste and a knack for tempting me with her reviews in such a way that what was non-committal longing suddenly turns into I must have it now! Trisha asked why more people aren't talking about this book and called it "a noteworthy debut." After reading it, I frankly have to agree with her. It was hard to track down in the first place, which was frustrating, and I haven't talked to all that many people who've read it. Yet it's a lovely story of growth and grief and what it means to exist outside the box. I think it possesses wide appeal for young adult readers who appreciate sensitive and thoughtful characters engaged in the search for connection and meaning in their lives.
Drea and her mom are on their own and they have been for as long as Drea can remember. Her first sixteen years have been one long string of moves and men. Her mother can never seem to keep a job long enough for Drea to finish that year of school. And she goes through men like they're a dime a dozen. Eternally nonplussed, Drea really does have enough on her plate without having to deal with her mother's fickle behavior. Diagnosed with ADHD and a mild form of Asperger's syndrome, it's hard for Drea to relate to her peers. They continually act irrationally, in ways that make no sense to practical, methodical Drea. Her mother is forever explaining "normal" people's behavior to her in the hopes that she will catch on and not stick out like a sore thumb. But Drea's not interested in changing herself to fit an inexplicable mold and, when they're forced to move in with her rigid and disapproving grandmother, it becomes even more difficult to get through each day. Then next door neighbor Naomi barges in, with her purple hair and her lust for life, and a nice boy named Justin starts talking to her at school, and Drea begins to wonder if some of that "normal" life she's observed for so long might just be a little more interesting than she thought.
HARMONIC FEEDBACK was a pleasure from start to finish. I've been in a somewhat odd reading place lately, bouncing back and forth between new books I've been wanting to read and old favorites I seem to need to reread. But this one had me from page one. And most of that was Drea herself and her unvarnished way of looking at the world and at herself. She was so uncompromisingly herself and I just felt for her as she wound her way through the twisty maze that is high school and teenage friendships and relationships to someone whose brain works a little differently. She certainly made mistakes along the way, but none of them were due to a lack of intelligence or conscience. I always admired her. And like Naomi and Justin, I was drawn to her because she spoke her mind, she lived for music, and she was just plain good people. Her relationship with her mother is also sympathetic and compelling as they seem to butt heads so often, yet they clearly love each other very much. Drea tries for her mother, when she doesn't for anyone else. And her mother just wants her to be happy, even when she sometimes overprotects her in the wrong ways. I will also just go ahead and say that I loved everything that went down between Drea and Justin. Justin has got to be one of my favorite nice guys in YA fiction--and how often do I say that? I was caught up in the depth and texture of the two of them, in that wonderful tug and pull between two smart individuals who are very different, who have issues, but who are nevertheless drawn to each other. I did feel as if the end of the book trod a bit too far into the melodramatic, as though it was working a little too hard to make me as the reader really feel what happened, when I was doing just fine on my own. But that quibble aside, I thoroughly enjoyed HARMONIC FEEDBACK and look forward to Tara Kelly's next offering with much anticipation....more
I'm trying to remember now where I first ran across a reference to this book. It may have been on Meg Cabot's blog a few years ago, come to think of iI'm trying to remember now where I first ran across a reference to this book. It may have been on Meg Cabot's blog a few years ago, come to think of it. She's always dropping good recommendations here and there and I often pick up on them. This one I ran down at my local library, where they fortunately had this gorgeous cover. And not the hideously awkward hardback cover. I adore this cover. It's really perfect for the book itself, evoking all the adjectives that spring to my mind when I think of it: shadowy, romantic, autumnal, and somewhat foreboding. And still it holds some secrets in reserve. In fact I always think of it as a fall read. One for someone in the mood for not having the storyline and the history of the characters totally spelled out for you. For those who like figuring things out along the way and enjoy something slightly different from the standard paranormal fare that is on display so much these days. This was my first experience reading a Liz Berry book. She is an artist and author from London and, from what I can tell, her books are not widely available on this side of the pond. Always a shame.
Clare Meredith is in a bit of a holding pattern as she prepares to go off to university. Finished with her classes, awaiting exam results, she finds herself a little disconcerted to be suddenly uprooted by her mother and unceremoniously moved from London to the remote estate of Ravensmere. Her mother has taken a position as private nurse to the owner of Ravensmere--a Mr. Aylward. Making the best of her new surroundings, Clare strikes out and familiarizes herself with the people and places of nearby Stoke Raven village. It is there she meets Mark, a somewhat rakish young biker boy fetchingly clad in leather, and the two of them strike up a friendship of sorts. At the same time, her new life begins to take on an eerie tone as it appears everyone in Stoke Raven feels like they know her already. One too many people comment on being happy to have her "back" and from there the situation only gets odder as Clare's mother reveals a few pertinent details about her past and her connection with Ravensmere itself. Then Clare discovers the China Garden and she, her mother, Mark, and Mr. Ayward find themselves thrust into a headlong rush to discover the link that binds them across time to this place.
THE CHINA GARDEN is part mystery, part fantasy, part historical fiction and it kept reminding me on a regular basis of a short Mary Stewart novel. Particularly Touch Not the Cat. The rambly old English estate, the family inextricably tied to the land, the ESP. Add some exploration of ancient pagan rites meets early Christianity and you have THE CHINA GARDEN. I liked that Clare was a little bit older at seventeen and thinking about college and somewhat more mature issues. I liked her offbeat and leisurely developing relationship with dark Mark. I enjoyed her complicated relationship with her mother. I felt like the story never pandered to me and that I never quite knew for sure how it was going to unravel. In fact, it ended up quite more intricate and grand than I was expecting. But Clare and her intent nature grounded it all for me nicely. This one does not move along at a fast clip, but unfolds slowly and on its own time table. But the descriptions of the crumbling old manor and the small village surrounding it are lovely and I, for one, didn't at all mind sliding in alongside the characters and taking it as it came. For fans of Margaret Mahy, Libba Bray, and Mary Stewart. ...more
I first read WHAT MY MOTHER DOESN'T KNOW a few years ago and it was my first Sonya Sones book. It was thanks to Meg Cabot's glowing recommendation thaI first read WHAT MY MOTHER DOESN'T KNOW a few years ago and it was my first Sonya Sones book. It was thanks to Meg Cabot's glowing recommendation that I picked this one up in the first place. I had never heard of Ms. Sones before and I did not, at the time, realize it was a novel in verse. But I had actually recently read (and loved) Lisa Ann Sandell's Song of the Sparrow and so it only seemed a natural thing to continue on to another novel in verse, this time a very contemporary book as opposed to Sandell's lovely historical Arthurian tale. WHAT MY MOTHER DOESN'T KNOW is a sweet, funny story told about fifteen-year-old Sophie and her hilarious friend Robin Murphy. It is told in a series of poems with titles that ease the reader through Sophie's days and her struggle to accommodate who she is with what she longs for. There is even a sequel--What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know--which follows Sophie and Robin and gives the reader an entirely different perspective on what is going on between these two. When I saw WHAT MY MOTHER DOESN'T KNOW was listed on ALA's list of challenged books, I was apalled. Because it is nothing but sweet and the opposite of a book that should be kept from readers who will find something within its pages that speaks to them.
Sophie is part of the popular crowd, while Robin is....not. He's so not popular that ever since grade school his last name has been synonymous with loser or an act of extreme loserness. As in "Don't be such a Murphy." High school sure was fun, wasn't it? But the two of them share an art class and Sophie finds herself interested in sketching Murphy and he shows a similar interest in her. Nothing comes of it, due mostly to the fact that Sophie is dating the guy she believes is perfect for her. And because she has two best friends who would die at the thought of her interested in someone like Murphy. And because Sophie herself can't wrap her head around that big of a leap social standing-wise. But life at home isn't that swell, with her mother rarely surfacing from her soap operas long enough to hold a single conversation, and with her father who stiffens and bears it whenever his daughter gives him a hug. And before she knows it, life begins to change and Sophie must make her own decisions about the shape she wants her life to take and the importance of things like popularity and people.
This is a quick read. It's a read in a single afternoon read. Each page is a brief poem told from Sophie's perspective and through her lyrical and brief words, the reader gets a sense for the home life, the school life, the social life she leads. She is a gentle person, if completely caught up in her boyfriend and that consuming rush that comes when you think you're in love for the first time in your life. At the same time, she notices things outside of herself and she spends time ruminating over those things. Like her parents' seemingly deteriorating marriage, the differences between her Christian friends and her Jewish self, the boy who sits across from her in art, who nobody likes, but who exerts an almost imperceptible but strong pull on her. A couple of favorite passages:
WATCHING MURPHY DURING ART CLASS
He is so homely, so downright ugly that none of the girls even think about him.
He's too lowly, too pitiful to even bother making fun of.
So something must be very wrong with me, because I want to kiss him. I want to kiss him real bad,
even though his nose is crooked and his ears are huge, even though his hair's a mess and his lips are tight and scared.
I want to kiss away those circles under his eyes that make him look like he's never slept a second in his life.
There's this real corny thing that Channel 5 does every night after the late movie, just before the news comes on.
They flash this sign on the screen that says: "It's eleven p.m. Do you know where your children are?"
And just now, when it came on, I heard this little tap tap tap on the wall coming from my mother's bedroom and I tapped right back.
I don't know. Something about this short story got under my skin. I didn't exactly inhabit the circles any of these teens live in when I was making my way through high school. But I understood them. I knew who they were. I liked Sones' spare writing style and I really liked Sophie and Robin--two teenagers who aren't immune to all the heinous social pain/baggage that comes with high school but who learn how to watch each other's backs and make it out alive. We should all be so scrappy....more
I've been hearing about this book for what seems like awhile now. I'd never run across it until Ari from Emily and Her Little Pink Notes started talkiI've been hearing about this book for what seems like awhile now. I'd never run across it until Ari from Emily and Her Little Pink Notes started talking it up as a diamond in the rough. She has such similar taste to my own that I rather suspected at that point I would someday be seeking this one out. Then Lit Snit featured it on their BBAW Unexpected Treasure post and those suspicions turned into beliefs. Finally I broke down and searched my library's catalog. They had it in! So I grabbed it on my way to work that day and settled into bed with it that night. I went in expecting chick lit with a splash of art history thrown in for good measure and I read it in one sitting that night.
Jane Laine works for the most notorious art gallery owner in Manhattan. Possibly in the whole of the art world. She remembers a time when she loved and understood art and why it pushed her into pursuing a degree and a career in the field. But almost every ounce of joy in what she does has been systematically sucked out of her by her rapacious and reptilian boss. Coming off the heels of a particularly devastating break-up, she flubs up a particularly delicate situation at work and is sure she'll be fired without a by your leave. Instead, she is sent on a unique sort of venture with Dick Reese's primo client--the current darling of the art world--Ian Rhys-Fitzsimmons. Jane is to accompany Ian on a five-month-long international art tour and see to his every need. Mystified but counting her blessings, she sets out wondering how she'll manage to spend five months with a man she does not like and whose art she does not understand. Fortunately, fate has a few surprises in store for her and the trip does not go the way she thought it would. On so many levels.
Ari was right. This is smart and fun and not exactly what you'd expect from the title or the cover. I think what I enjoyed most was Jane's observations on her travels and the effect being in those countries had on her. The way Rome changed her perspective was particularly moving to me as I have lived in Italy several times and love it with a deep and unfathomable sort of love. I was so jealous she was there and I was not! And like Ian tells Jane in that perfect quote from Wuthering Heights:
I could fancy a love for life here almost possible.
That's it. That's tears-in-my-eyes it! How Italy makes me feel. How wonderful to encounter just the right sentiment in this light and lovely book about an art gallery manager in search of something or some place or someone to remind her why life is worth living. We all need those reminders every so often and Jane had gone for quite long enough without some spark in her life. It was fun watching her fumble around and find it again. IF ANDY WARHOL HAD A GIRLFRIEND is the kind of book I could hand anyone, without worrying at all. It's a sweet, fast read and it leaves you feeling good about life and love and the human capacity to both create and appreciate beauty. I laughed several times and smiled more. If you're looking for a warm and thoughtful way to spend an evening, Alison Pace's debut novel is an excellent way to go....more
I was absolutely delighted when I heard that Ilona Andrews had signed a contract for more Edge books. I was even more delighted when a review copy lanI was absolutely delighted when I heard that Ilona Andrews had signed a contract for more Edge books. I was even more delighted when a review copy landed in my lap. I read On the Edge last year and was completely swallowed up by the world of the Weird, the Broken, and the Edge. I loved Rose and her rifle and her precocious and wild little brothers. Declan the blueblood grew on me and I finished it crossing my fingers for more from that world. When I learned that BAYOU MOON would follow William--Declan's sometime brother-in-arms, and sometime enemy, I did my little dance of joy. I'd always like William. He was lethal and unrefined, where Declan was dripping with stiffness and honor. Just more my kind of guy, you know? I wondered who he would find and how they would get on. I'd liked Rose so much and I wanted William happy. There. I said it. I also like this cover better than the first one. William's not so "here I am in all my glory" as the dude on the cover of On the Edge. Also. He has arrows, which as you know equals awesome. And Cerise looks wary and capable in a very Kate-like way. These things boded well.
William is still hanging out in the Edge. He's working his nothing job, living in his dump of a trailer, and kind of wishing it would all just end soon and he'd be suddenly and effectively put out of his misery. But he's got one last mission to perform. And it is one he intends to pull off flawlessly and with the ruthless precision he became known for during his time in the Red Legion. The elite mercenary known as Spider is creating an army of mutants and serving as spymaster for Adrianglia's rival nation in the Weird. So William is called up to spy on the master, discover his plans, and bring him down at all cost. Having crossed swords with the vicious Spider several times before, William is more than happy to oblige. He'd like nothing more than to rid the world of that psychopath once and for all. While on his way into the portion of the Edge known as the Mire, William encounters Cerise Mar. Nominal head of her clan, Cerise is on her own quest to find her missing parents and save her ancestral home from their neighboring clan whose been at their throats for ages upon ages. Since William is fairly certain Spider is behind the abduction of Cerise's parents, and since Cerise knows the ins and outs of the Mire like the back of her hand and can guide him through them, he attaches himself to her--against her will, I might add--and the two of them set off through the swampy wasteland to track down a killer.
BAYOU MOON is even wilder than its predecessor, if you can believe it. And since, in many ways, William and Cerise are wilder than Declan and Rose, I relished how the landscape, the villain, and the entire storyline reflected that. The Mire is the grim and grimy underbelly of the Edge and I literally had no idea what unholy creature would turn up next to block their path. I couldn't help but enjoy watching Cerise guide big, bad William through her homeland and take a little pleasure in watching him squirm at the most outrageous and intricate ways the clans have developed to eke out an existence in such a place. I liked Cerise from the very beginning. But then I was predisposed to as she is tough and determined and recognizes William's value. The narrative alternates between William, Cerise, and Spider's experiences and I will say I almost cringed every time it switched to Spider. The dude is the real thing--absolutely heinous and it was hard to watch him twist and pervert those around him in pursuit of his cause. I dreaded their final meeting and looked forward to the few moments of happiness allowed these characters here and there. Fortunately the bond between William and Cerise is the real thing as well and I worried over them (and loved them) as much as I hated the villain. The Mars as a group are an extremely varied and strong supporting cast of characters and I eagerly got to know each of them as William did. Introducing your family to new people is always an interesting and sometimes thorny endeavor and I thought this was a particularly strong aspect of the novel, especially as it so effectively humanized Cerise and showed us why she was the way she was. I enjoyed catching glimpses of old characters, while keeping the focus on William and Cerise and making room in my affections for a few new ones who I hope to see again soon in future books. BAYOU MOON struck me as a stronger, darker, meatier installment in the series and I had no trouble whatsoever giving myself over to its sinister charms. BAYOU MOON is due out September 28th. ...more
All right. We're stretching back a ways this time around and featuring a book written by a very well-known author but oft overlooked in favor of its fAll right. We're stretching back a ways this time around and featuring a book written by a very well-known author but oft overlooked in favor of its famous big sib. I know there are plenty of you The Witch of Blackbird Pond fans out there. I am one of you. How could you not love wonderful, brash Kit Tyler? And Hannah and Nat and Mercy? I loved it back when I was a little girl and my mom read it to me and I love it now when I re-read it for myself. In fact, after I finished it the first time, I immediately ran out to find what else Elizabeth George Speare had written and the first one I came across was CALICO CAPTIVE. I immediately liked the cover and the bright yellow spine. I read the back (back when I used to engage in that dangerous activity) and hoped that this Miriam would be as endearing and interesting as Kit. Her adventures seemed to be even more wild and that gave me an additional dose of hope. I'm always in favor of a good swashbuckle or two. I own the above middle copy and I actually think it represents the story quite well, early nineties styling and all. In many ways, CALICO CAPTIVE echoes the richness and beauty of The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and at the same time it is quite a different story. First published back in 1957, CALICO CAPTIVE is based on a true story and was actually Speare's first novel. At times it is even more fraught with danger and the two heroines are very different girls, in search of awfully different things in life. Once again, however, Speare just hits it out of the park when it comes to the atmosphere of the times and her portrayal of women and the lives they led.
Sixteen-year-old Miriam Willard lives with her family in the New Hampshire colony. And on the night in 1754 in which our story begins, she is experiencing her first real party. The soldiers from the nearby fort have come out for the occasion and everywhere there are candles and music and dancing. It proves to be everything she hoped it would be down to the lingering conversation at the end with quiet and handsome Phineas Whitney. Phineas is off to Harvard within a couple of weeks to study medicine and, with the French and Indian war still raging, he is not sure when he will see Miriam again. They would both very much like to continue their acquaintance and Miriam sends him off that night with high hopes they will get to know each other better over the next few weeks. Then, disaster strikes. In the middle of the night their homestead is attacked by Indians bent on capturing the family and marching them all the way to Montreal to be sold into slavery. The journey is harsh and dangerous and Miriam is terrified for herself and for her sister and her young children who are forced to make the march together. Separated in Montreal, Miriam fear she will never see her family again. Sold to an opulent and well-to-do French Canadien family, Miriam's life takes a bizarre and jarring twist as she serves as a ladies maid to the Du Quesne family. There she encounters a level of refinement and lust for life that she has never before fathomed. She also meets the coureur du bois Pierre Laroche and with such an acquaintance, it seems that many more cords slip around her, tying her to solitude and this strange land.
Miriam is a survivor and that is what I like best about her. She never gives up on her family--her sister, brother-in-law, nieces and nephews. She is many times overwhelmed, threatened, angry, and frightened. Yet she never gives in to despair or hatred. I loved her time in Montreal because she was able to embrace the new culture, despite her appalling situation. She made friends with her captors and employers and she saw a different view of the world. I had no idea which way the wind would blow for Miriam in the end and, though I appreciated the fine attributes of both faraway Phineas and very-much-in-the-flesh Pierre, I was pleased with the denouement and the decisions borne of hope that Miriam made in the end. Ms. Speare excels at presenting both sides of every story, at showing every group from the Indians to the French nobility, to the stiff Puritan stock of New Hampshire, in both light and shadow so that the reader gets a feel for just why these wildly diverse groups were fighting. Through Miriam's eyes we are allowed to experience the world at that wild and significant point in time and I have never forgotten what I saw the first time I read it. The harsh reality of her place in the world and the grim and often unbearable truth of those around her haunt Miriam throughout the novel. She does not forget easily, yet she is also one of the only characters to push back against the dizzying tide. By the end, I believed she could do what she said she would because I had watched her adapt time and time again. A truly fascinating read and definitely recommended for Speare fans, as well as those interested in captivity narratives or the early days of North American settlement. ...more
I heard about COLD COMFORT FARM for the first time while I was on study abroad in London my sophomore year of college. Some of the girls in my group wI heard about COLD COMFORT FARM for the first time while I was on study abroad in London my sophomore year of college. Some of the girls in my group were chatting about the film adaptation of it one night and I listened in as they laughed and laughed and quoted perfectly hilarious lines that had me itching to watch it myself, particularly given the wonderful cast, which includes Kate Beckinsale, Ian McKellen, Rufus Sewell, and Stephen Fry. One of the girls had actually read the book itself and told me I should make sure to start there before viewing the movie. So, when I ran across a lovely used copy on sale for a pound in an Oxford bookshop, I pounced on it and stashed it in my suitcase to read when I got home. You see, I had some inkling of how homesick I would be for England after I left it and knew I would need some good reading to get me through the transition back to the States. Originally published in 1932, COLD COMFORT FARM was Stella Gibbons' first novel and a cracking good one at that. With a wonderful and quite shameless panache, it parodies the dark and angsty rural novels popular at the time, particularly the works of Thomas Hardy, Emily Bronte, and D.H. Lawrence. Several of their novels are actually referenced in the book itself and anyone familiar with them (fans or not) will appreciate the light touch Gibbons takes while poking fun at them. I am curious as to how many of you have read, or at least heard of, this novel. It is an absolute gem and one that never fails to bring a smile to my lips.
Flora Poste is in some difficulty. Having been meticulously educated to within an inch of her life, she finds herself unable to support herself when her parents die rather suddenly, leaving her penniless and homeless. After temporarily moving in with an old friend, she sets about writing a sheaf of letters to a host of distant relatives, inquiring after the possibility of moving in with them until she can come up with a way of taking care of herself. Though she receives numerous and downright alarming responses from various and sundry relatives, it is the last one that catches her eye. And for good reason.
The last letter was written upon cheap lined paper, in a bold but illiterate hand:
"So you are after your rights at last. Well, I have expected to hear from Robert Poste's child these last twenty years.
"Child, my man once did your father a great wrong. If you will come to us I will do my best to atone, but you must never ask me what for. My lips are sealed.
"Child, child, if you come to this doomed house, what is to save you? Perhaps you may be able to help us when our hour comes.
"Yr. affec. Aunt,
Against her friend's probably wise wishes, Flora immediately decides to go and live with the Starkadders at Cold Comfort and see what exactly Aunt Judith means by "her rights" and if they might include something practical like oh, say, money. Or a house. But when she arrives in Sussex, it is clear that it is she who has something to give to her bizarre and backwoods relatives. And so, in true Flora style, she rolls up her sleeves and goes about setting things to rights. What follows is one the most hilarious romps I've had the pleasure of encountering.
There's no resisting COLD COMFORT FARM's charms and that's all there is to it. It's really too funny for words. I can't imagine anyone being able to stay away from such a place and such people after reading that letter. From Flora's tribe of mad family members (all held under the imperious thumb of Aunt Ada Doom), to their hysterical habit of always referring to Flora ominously as "Robert Poste's child," to the poor cows Adam is forever milking who go by the names of Graceless, Pointless, Feckless, Aimless, and Fury, it seems everywhere Flora (and the reader) turns there is another hopeless case just begging for her refining touch. And so she romps about the countryside, meddling in other people's affairs, fending off suitors, and all the while tamping down her dismay and befuddlement at everything from their nearly incomprehensible accents to their insistence that there is a curse on the farm itself. Something to do with old Aunt Ada having seen "something nasty in the woodshed" when she was just a girl. That's right. The whole thing is a perfect riot. Here is one of my favorite scenes, in which Flora encounters her cousin Reuben for the first time:
"Will you have some bread and butter?" asked Flora, handing him a cup of tea. "Oh, never mind your boots, Adam can sweep the mud up afterwards. Do come in."
Defeated, Reuben came in.
He stood at the table facing Flora and blowing heavily on his tea and staring at her. Flora did not mind. It was quite interesting: like having tea with a rhinoceros. Besides, she was rather sorry for him. Amongst all the Starkadders, he looked as though he got the least kick out of life. After all, most of the family got a kick out of something. Amos got one from religion, Judith got one out of Seth, Adam got his from cowdling the dumb beasts, and Elfine got hers from dancing about on the Downs in the fog in a peculiar green dress, while Seth got his from mollocking. But Reuben just didn't seem to get a kick out of anything.
"Is it too hot?" she asked, and handed him the milk, with a smile.
The opaque curve purred softly down into the teak depths of the cup. He went on blowing it, and staring at her. Flora wanted to set him at his ease (if he had an ease?) so she composedly went on with her tea, wishing there were some cucumber sandwiches.
After a silence which lasted seven minutes by a cover glance at Flora's watch, a series of visible tremors passed across the expanse of Reuben's face, and a series of low, preparatory noises which proceeded from his throat, persuaded her that he was about to speak to her. Cautious as a camera-man engaged in shooting a family of fourteen lions, Flora made no sign.
Her control was rewarded. After another minute Reuben brought forth the following sentence:
"I ha' scranleted two hundred furrows come five o'clock down i' the brute."
It was a difficult remark, Flora felt, to which to reply. Was it a complaint? If so, one might say, "My dear, how too sickening for you!" But then, it might be a boast, in which case the correct reply would be, "Attaboy!" or more simply, "Come, that's capital!" Weakly she fell back on the comparatively safe remark:
"Did you?" in a bright, interested voice.
She saw at once that she had said the wrong thing. Reuben's eyebrows came down and his jaw out. Horrors! He thought she was doubting his word!
"Ay, I did, tu. Two hundred. Two hundred from Ticklepenny's Corner down to Nettle Flitch. Ay, wi'out hand to aid me. Could you ha' done that?"
"No, indeed," replied Flora, heartily, and her guardian angel (who must, she afterwards decided, have been doing a spot of overtime) impelled her to add: "But then, you see, I shouldn't want to."
And that is just a small sampling of what you find inside this slim, delightful novel. The parody is masterful and the whole, twisted plot just gets zanier and zanier right up to its dramatic, fitting, and perfectly folded hospital corners conclusion. Highly recommended for Jane Austen fans in need of a good laugh....more
I first heard about STAR GAZING through Valerie's lovely review over at Life is a Patchwork Quilt. And I have to thank her for that review because I dI first heard about STAR GAZING through Valerie's lovely review over at Life is a Patchwork Quilt. And I have to thank her for that review because I don't think I would otherwise have come across Linda Gillard's work. Gillard is a Scottish author who lived for several years on the Isle of Skye, where much of this book takes place. From what I can tell, her books tend to focus on women above the age of 35, who are dealing with the everyday, yet perilous issues of adulthood, aging, love, mental health, family, etc. As such, they sounded sort of awesome to me, and I immediately placed her most recent book on my wishlist. It seemed unique and appealed to me for several reasons, including the fact that the main character is a blind widow. The setting was also a draw. I have only been to Scotland once, but it made a lasting impression on me and I love reading books set there. So that's why I was so excited to receive a copy of STAR GAZING for my birthday. I cracked it open that night, fell in love immediately, and pretty much flew through it.
Marianne Fraser has several valid reasons to be as angry as she is. Blind since birth, she's navigated her way through life without the ability to see what's coming at her. Widowed just a few years into her marriage, her grief was compounded by the fact that she was pregnant at the time and lost the baby shortly after the horrible accident that took her husband Harvey. Living with her sister Louisa in a flat neither of them much like, she goes about her daily routine with almost furious precision. Counting and memorizing the number of steps from here to there, she has a place for everything. Her few outlets include walking through the park, touching the trees, listening to the rain, and going to the occasional opera. One snowy eve she drops her key outside her door and a man comes along and offers to help her find it. Not thinking much of it at the time, she finds herself remembering his voice at odd times. So that when she randomly comes across him again on her next opera outing, Marianne is surprised at how pleased she is to have a chance to talk with him again. Keir Harvey shares more than just his last name with her departed husband, though. He, too, works on an oil rig, predicting where the best places to drill are, how complications will arise, and when storms might interfere with the work. Originally from the Isle of Sky, he returns home as often as he can to the only place he feels truly comfortable. When he offers to take Marianne there and show her the beauty of that wild place, she throws her habitual caution to the winds and jumps at the chance.
I ended this book so conflicted! The first half is literally moving. Simply and carefully written, it is so beautiful and readable. I was almost instantly enamored of Marianne and the dogged way she went about living what was left of her life. Even though I could not perfectly understand the monumental challenges she faced on a constant basis, I felt as though I was there right there with her. Her frustration and longing were palpable to me and I allowed myself to hope just a little bit along with her that Keir would be the unlooked for sweet resolution to her years of struggle and pain. Keir is a wonderful character. Strong and extremely blunt in his speech and mannerisms, he pushes Marianne to move past her carefully constructed inhibitions, even as he carves out a space of peace and gentleness for her in his life. Their interactions are taut and quietly affecting. Marianne's sister Louisa and her hilarious assistant Garth the Goth brought a nice level of humor and warmth to the story and I found myself laughing more than once at this homey woman who writes vampire romance novels by the score, takes care of her sister, and finds herself in the most unexpected of romantic scenarios. Suffice it to say, I was hooked. And then somewhere along the way things got murky. Marianne's anger and fears overwhelmed her and things got out of step between all of them. That in and of itself did not bother me at all. Rather it moved the tale forward in interesting and complex ways. But it never seemed to find its rhythm again after that. The conflict grew and grew and their interactions became stilted to the point that I was crying out for some sort of harkening back to that original connection they formed to relieve the awkwardness that had taken over. Somewhere along the way my involvement was severed and by the time the ending arrived I had become lost and could not find my way back to that breathless place of discovery that so enchanted me for the half of the novel. I guess I wanted a little more time to explore the resolution they came to. That said, I enjoyed it enough that I am definitely going to seek out Ms. Gillard's earlier work. Emotional Geology in particular looks good and I foresee myself ordering it in the very near future as I loved the first part of STAR GAZING....more
Just over six years ago I walked into this little bookstore called Books of Wonder for the first time in my life. And on the front end cap, directly fJust over six years ago I walked into this little bookstore called Books of Wonder for the first time in my life. And on the front end cap, directly facing the revolving door, on the middle shelf, was a thick book with a purple cover and a gold spine entitled THE CLAIDI JOURNALS. I had heard of Tanith Lee before, but never read any of her books, and I had her sorted in my mind as a dark fantasy/horror writer. As I picked up the hefty volume and examined it, it appeared it was actually an omnibus collection of three novels: Wolf Tower, Wolf Star, and Wolf Queen. A fourth and final installment--Wolf Wing--was subsequently published. I usually prefer to start with the original volumes themselves and then invest in an omnibus edition if I like them and if it's a particularly attractive edition. In this case, however, something about the collection grabbed me. DH and I were stopping off in New York to visit my sister-in-law and her family on our way to Italy to visit my parents, and I was in need of some good trip reading to take with me. Then I made the mistake of opening the book and reading the first few lines.
I stole this. This book.
I don't know why. It looked . . . nice, I suppose, and nothing has been nice for years.
That right there sealed the deal. I loved how she sounded both defiant and utterly lost at the same time and I simply had to know who she was, what was in that book she stole, and why things had gone so badly for her for so long. So, like Claidi, I made up my mind to take the book with me. Only I decided to go ahead and pay for it first.
Claidi is a servant and has been her entire life. In the House of Lady Jade Leaf, she spends her days and nights forced to wait on the ridiculous princess hand and foot. Tempers are short and punishments abundant in the House and Claidi chafes against the ties that bind her, physically and emotionally. One day she comes across an empty book and decides--despite the no doubt painful consequences--that she will take it. It turns into a journal of sorts for the lonely young woman, in which she records her thoughts, and later her adventures. For soon after she discovers the book, a stranger walks inside the walls of the House. A stranger from beyond the desert, with golden hair, and an escape route in his hands. And before she knows it, Claidi is off with the enigmatic Argul on the adventure of a lifetime. Trouble is, she's never quite sure where they are headed or who might be after them. It's a rough and tumble journey, full of misdirection, aborted weddings, and not a little abduction. There are palaces whose rooms refuse to stay put, monstrous creatures, and princes who look too much like people they are not. And all of it leads to the mysterious Wolf Tower, which seems to hold in it the secret of who she is and who she might become. Claidi spends much of the time confused and near panic, but she is a resourceful young woman, and her frequent journal entries chronicle the unfolding story in engaging detail.
These books are a wild ride. Claidi has something of the Tamora Pierce heroine about her. Adventure seems to be in her blood, though she's not quite as devil-may-care in her approach to it as some of Pierce's girls. She is thrust forcefully into the outside world after living an extremely sheltered, though awful, life and having the story told in her own words in journal format brings her quickly into the reader's affections. Her growing relationship with Argul is quite sweet and a bright spot among all the subterfuge. This is another case of people not always being exactly who you think they are and, over the course of the four books, there were several times I came perilously close to washing my hands of most of them. All but Claidi, really. But at the same time it served to cement my loyalty to the main character and remember to question each new character that arrived, which is really not so bad a thing after all. Each book expands on the world they live in and these revelations come as just as much a shock to Claidi as they do to the reader. At times, it can be a bit frustrating to be so in the dark. But the world Lee paints is so foreign, so innately other that I found myself awfully intrigued to find out what particularly rabbit she would pull out of the hat next. There is definitely a strong thread of science fiction running through the fantasy and I found the blend unusual and refreshing. All in all, a highly entertaining series featuring a heroine I never tired of and who becomes much more than she would otherwise have been because she stole a book and took a chance on a stranger. Recommended for fans of Garth Nix and Sherwood Smith.
Garth Nix is a familiar name in the fantasy world and I first encountered him through the wonderful SABRIEL. Nix is a member of that amazing and fast-Garth Nix is a familiar name in the fantasy world and I first encountered him through the wonderful SABRIEL. Nix is a member of that amazing and fast-growing collection of Australian young adult authors and one I would love to meet as his worlds are so expansive and well-thought-out. It would be fun to pick his brain about the creation process. This was another of those golden selections for my old Young Adult Reading Group and we had so many wonderful conversations surrounding the intricate and grim world Nix created and the memorable characters he populated it with. This is the first book in the Abhorsen trilogy, also known as the Old Kingdom series, and when I first read it only the first two books were out. This gave me time, however, to convince my husband he needed to read it as well and so we read it aloud together--another of those wonderful reading memories I cherish. He liked it just as much as I did. I don't hear it talked about as much these days, though. I ran across a couple of reviews of it recently that brought the story back to the forefront of my mind and reminded me why I loved it so the first time I read it several years ago. I'm also curious as to how many of you others out there have read it and what you thought.
It all starts with the death of a small white rabbit. On the verge of finishing school at Wyverly College, 18-year-old Sabriel is a solid student and a respected prefect. She can also raise the dead. And after raising the rabbit to please a fellow student, she receives an unnerving message from her father. Certain he is in mortal danger, Sabriel arms herself with the sword he sent her and his bandolier of bells--the tools of the trade of a true necromancer. For that is what her father the Abhorsen is. Though rather than bring the dead back to life, he puts them back to rest once more or binds them if rest is impossible. Trained by her father, Sabriel knows he must be stuck in the land of the dead itself. So she chooses to leave school entirely, travel several miles to the wall that separates unmagical Ancelstierre from the wild Old Kingdom, and crosses over to search out her father and free him from whatever evil holds him captive. Used to being on her own, Sabriel is surprised to encounter companions along the way. The mysterious Mogget, who inhabits the form of a cat, but who is something much older and powerful than that. The unusual young man, frozen in time as the figurehead of a ship, who can no longer remember his name and goes by the name the mercurial Mogget gives him--Touchstone. Together the three of them forge ahead through the rivers and hallways and fountains of Death.
You have never ready anything quite like SABRIEL before. I certainly hadn't, the first time I picked it up. Due to the nature of Sabriel's heritage and her father's morbid occupation, a chilly sense of doom pervades the entire tale. And yet. Sabriel herself is a wonderfully self-possessed young woman and, while she is versed in the darker arts, she is also refreshingly clear-eyed and kind. I was immediately charmed by her and amused at the acerbic and, at times, funny relationship between her and Mogget. The world itself is amazingly complex, featuring several forms of magic as well as an interlocking system of rules that governs its use, by both the living and the dead. Nix's writing is fast-moving and assured and you can almost hear the deep ringing of the bells as Sabriel rings them, reining in gruesome shades, forcing them to sleep, to weep, to abide by her will. Here's an example of what I'm talking about:
Finally, they came to a large chamber, with a set of double doors to one side. Light leaked in from a large number of small, circular holes in the roof, or as Sabriel soon saw, through an overgrown lattice that had once been open air and sky.
"That's the outside door," Touchstone said, unnecessarily. He snuffed out his candle, took Sabriel's, now little more than a stub of wax, and put both in a pocket stitched to the front of his kilt. Sabriel thought of joking about the hot wax and the potential for damage, but thought better of it. Touchstone was not the lighthearted type.
"How does it open?" asked Sabriel, indicating the door. She couldn't see any handle, lock or key. Or any hinges, for that matter.
Touchstone was silent, eyes unfocused and staring, then he laughed, a bitter little chuckle.
"I don't remember! All the way up the stair, all the words and signals . . . and now useless. Useless!"
"At least you got us up the steps," Sabriel pointed out, alarmed by the violence of his self-loathing. "I'd still be sitting by the spring, watching it bubble, if you hadn't come along."
"You would have found the way out," Touchstone muttered. "Or Mogget would. Wood! Yes, that's what I deserve to be--"
"Touchstone," Mogget interrupted, hissing. "Shut up. You're to be useful, remember?"
"Yes," replied Touchstone, visibly calming his breathing, composing his face. "I'm sorry, Mogget. Milady."
"Please, please, just Sabriel," she said tiredly. "I've only just left school--I"m only eighteen! Calling me milady seems ridiculous."
"Sabriel," Touchstone said tentatively. "I will try to remember. 'Milady' is a habit . . . it reminds me of my place in the world. It's easier for me--"
"I don't care what's easier for you!" Sabriel snapped. "Don't call me milady and stop acting like a halfwit! Just be yourself. Behave normally. I don't need a valet, I need a useful . . . friend!"
"Very well, Sabriel," Touchstone said, with careful emphasis. He was angry now, but at least that was an improvement over servile, Sabriel thought.
"Now," she said to the smirking Mogget. "Have you got any ideas about this door?"
"Just one," replied Mogget, sliding between her legs and over to the thin line that marked the division between the two leaves of the door. "Push. One on each side."
"Why not?" said Touchstone, shrugging. He took up a position, braced against the left side of the door, palms flat on the metal-studded wood. Sabriel hesitated, then did the same against the right.
"One, two, three, push!" announced Mogget.
Sabriel pushed on "three" and Touchstone on "push," so their combined effort took several seconds to synchronize. Then the doors creaked slowly open, sunshine spilling through in a bright bar, climbing from floor to ceiling, dust motes dancing in its progress.
"It feels strange," said Touchstone, the wood humming beneath his hands like plucked lute strings.
"I can hear voices," exclaimed Sabriel at the same time, her ears full of half-caught words, laughter, distant singing.
"I can see time," whispered Mogget, so softly that his words were lost.
That last line gives me shivers every time I read it. As does the entire book, really. Sabriel is the kind of heroine you dream of, amid so many lackluster and weak-willed leading ladies, she stands out like the clear, pure pealing of one of her father's bells. Highly recommended.
Last month Old school librarian suggested I read HAPPY ALL THE TIME by Laurie Colwin. I had not heard of the book or the author before and was very inLast month Old school librarian suggested I read HAPPY ALL THE TIME by Laurie Colwin. I had not heard of the book or the author before and was very interested to discover what was in store. Fortunately, my local library had a copy readily available. Originally published back in 1978, HAPPY ALL THE TIME was the third of Colwin's five novels. Along with a few short story and cooking collections, those novels made up the bulk of her writing. It seems strange now that I'd never heard of her before as her novels have none of them ever gone out of print and it appears she still has quite a large and devoted following. A fact I completely understand and that makes me quite happy now, having read this perfectly delightful novel. Thank goodness for others' book recommendations, for I am quite sure I would never have stumbled across this treat of a book on my own.
Guido Morris. Holly Sturgis. Vincent Cardworthy. Misty Berkowitz. These are the rather enchanting names of the four principal players in our little drama. Guido and Vincent have been cousins and best friends since as far back as either of them can remember. Gifted with both privilege and personality, talent and wit, the two men have somehow managed to make it past graduate school and into bona fide adulthood without ever forming permanent or lasting attachments with members of the opposite sex. But all of that is about to change when they walk past a young woman with black hair and a composed face, sitting on a bench, and Guido falls instantly and madly in love. But Holly is not looking for love and Guido finds himself in the unfamiliar agony of being in love with someone who appears all but indifferent to him. Meanwhile, Vincent is coming to terms with his scattered and perplexing love life the hard way. Unsure of how to change things, he walks into the office one day and meets Misty Berkowitz, a cantankerous young woman of Jewish extraction who loathes and distrusts everything Vincent represents. And--just like Guido--Vincent is gone in one fell swoop. But like the lovely Holly (even though the two women are night and day incarnate), Misty has no interest in being wooed. What are these two earnest young men to do in order to convince the loves of their lives that they are, in fact, meant for each other?
Readers, I was utterly charmed by this book. It is a slim, unassuming volume to be sure. But within its pages is true loveliness. HAPPY ALL THE TIME reads like Annie Hall and one of those old Cary Grant/Katherine Hepburn confections had a lovechild. There was just no way I was escaping its spell. The emotions are high and fraught with meaning, the witty banter is sophisticated in the extreme, and the costumes are elegant and timeless. Here's one of my favorite interactions between the likable Vincent and the irascible Misty:
Misty woke abruptly and felt awful. She groped around for her glasses, couldn't find them, and sat very still, looking unfocused and bereft, as if she had awakened from a kind dream to find merciless and cruel reality waiting for her. Vincent thought he understood unhappiness, but he was not sure if this was it. He sat beside her and took her hand.
"Are you going to tell me what's going on?" he said. "I can't bear to see you this way."
She shrugged her shoulders.
Vincent asked, "Does it help if I tell you I love you, or does it make it worse?"
She began to cry. It was the second time in two days, but its effect on Vincent was not dimmed by repetition.
"Okay," she said. "Here goes."
His heart seemed to stop. This was it, but what was it?
"It's not what you're thinking," said Misty, looking at his stricken face. "It's worse. You're stuck with me. This is your last chance to bail out, Vincent. I don't think we were made for each other. Maybe you were made for me, but I was made for Attila the Hun."
"Are you telling me that life with you will be a living hell?"
"I am giving you one last chance to go off and find some nicer girl," said Misty. "Someone who knows her way around a sailboat."
"That's a disgusting thing to say. Last week you gave me a very compelling analysis on the workings of my stunning intellect. Now I'm supposed to take my intellect off and go sailing?"
And besides that, there's the Jewish question," said Misty.
"Oh, that," said Vincent. "I don't notice either of us being religious. Besides, my Aunt Marcia is Jewish. She married Uncle Walter. She's everybody's favorite relative. What's the big deal?"
"Our backgrounds are different," said Misty.
"This is not worth discussing," said Vincent. "We've done very well up till now, and we'll continue to do well."
"I'm not like your other flames," said Misty. "I don't know anything about dog breeding."
"Yes, you do," said Vincent. "The night we were comparing eccentric relatives, you told me that your Aunt Harriet wanted to cross Welsh corgis and Doberman pinschers and get a vicious but barkless guard dog for sneak attacks. That will be quite sufficient. Throw in my Aunt Marcia and you can see that we are ideally suited."
Tears slid out of the corners of Misty's eyes. She put her arms around his neck.
"I'm just scared," she said. "That's all."
"That isn't all," said Vincent. "What are you scared of?"
"I don't know."
"What else don't you know?"
That's all," said Misty.
"I assume that means that you have given a good deal of analytical thought to your feelings about me."
"My feelings about you appear to transcend analysis."
"Wonderful," said Vincent. "What are they?"
"I just love you," she mumbled.
"Speak up, please," said Vincent.
"I said, I just love you. Isn't that banal?"
"What a relief," said Vincent, smiling.
Well? Don't you want to go and find this book right now? I love Vincent and Misty so much. All four of them are memorable and layered and funny and offbeat, but I ended up responding most of all to Misty. Must be that inherent awkwardness and the tendency to analyze the people around me in my head, rather than going up and talking to them that we share. Either way, Misty is a kindred spirit and I sat there rapt as she worked through her feelings and came to grips with the fact that she loved someone who appeared to be so wrong for her, someone who--deep down--she felt rather sure would up and walk away someday when he woke up and realized just who he'd married. In this book, it's not about what happens in the end, it's about how they each get there. And it's worth it, I tell you. It's light and lighthearted, told in elegant, if occasionally fussy prose, and it will lift your heart and leave you perfectly sated....more
I literally bounced in my seat when I saw HEROES RETURN pop up as being in stock and ready to ship a couple weeks ago. I quickly ordered my copy lestI literally bounced in my seat when I saw HEROES RETURN pop up as being in stock and ready to ship a couple weeks ago. I quickly ordered my copy lest that lovely little "In Stock" button disappear, and I sat back to wait--impatiently--for it to show up on my doorstep. I adore Moira J. Moore's Heroes series because of the two main characters. Lee and Taro are incorrigible, endearing, at times pull-your-hair-out maddening, but they are two of my favorites and I look forward to each adventure with gleeful anticipation. I think about these two a lot when I'm not with them. I think about my favorite scenes--the ones where the let their defenses down for perhaps two seconds at a time and actually communicate. Sometimes I have to go re-read one or two of those scenes to remind me how subtle and real they are. We've hashed out these covers before in detail and I won't go into this latest disaster. Much. Except to say that never does blue lightning crackle between Taro's meaty paws. If that image worries you at all, let me set your mind at ease. Also, he is rather devastatingly handsome. Despite the way he is portrayed on the cover. This is the fifth installment in the series.
Not in their wildest dreams did Source and Shield Pair Shintaro Karish and Dunleavy Mallorough imagine they would ever be taken away from High Scape and reassigned to Taro's homeland of Westsea. But that is exactly what's just happened. Without so much as a by your leave, the newly minted Emperor orders them to swear fealty to him and pack their bags for the remote coastal city where Taro was born, and where he lived the first bleak eleven years of his life. Lee dreads the whole notion, what with the politics that are involved and the fact that Taro's mother the Dowager Duchess--otherwise known as the Wicked Witch of the West's less nice sister--lives right next door to where they'll be staying. But, as it turns out, the Duchess should be the least of Lee's worries. For there is something wrong afoot in Westsea. The new Duchess is scrambling to command the respect of her people, the Emperor's guards have been assigned a permanent post there amid rumors the people are engaging in spell casting, and the level and frequency of natural disasters in the area are increasing with every day that passes. Add to this the fact that Taro's abilities to channel are becoming erratic, Lee's passing interest in casting begins to ratchet up a few levels, and the Triple S seems awfully suspicious of them and their recent activities, and these two are in for quite the couple of years at this their new post.
Nothing is ever easy in the world of Taro and Lee. I don't know why I keep thinking things will settle down for a spell and they will be able to sort a few rather important things out. Like their monumentally tragic communication problem. Because HEROES RETURN is all but a formal treatise on the failure to communicate and the disasters that result from said failure. I'm starting to feel like my favorite Source and Shield have fallen into a dangerous and dysfunctional habit of making assumptions rather than talking to one another. And I'm honestly afraid of where they'll end up if they don't address the situation in a patently overt manner. Because everything was subtle in this installment. Nothing was straightforward, upfront, or frank. Much of that wasn't Lee's or Taro's fault and, as such, I felt very defensive on their behalf. They were kept apart so much and they weren't fighting to be together. They need to do that a bit, I think, with how important they really are to each other. More so than in the previous books, even larger forces than they are used to seemed to be buffeting them about and I have the feeling there will be more dire reveals to come. This felt very much like a transitional piece and, as such, it was harder to say goodbye at the end, feeling so worried and discombobulated as I did. I feel as though the world itself may turn on them and I sat fretting for quite awhile after finishing. I know there is a sixth book on the way and that is very reassuring. What I don't know is what lies beyond that. Will things wrap up? Will there be more adventures beyond? Because nothing about HEROES RETURN is neat and tidy and I am going to need some kind of meeting of the minds and souls to calm my poor heart. As always, I fell into Moira J. Moore's world, and into company with these loved characters, the moment I started reading and I did not surface again until the final page. I very much enjoyed the change of setting and the peeks into the Taro's origins and how different it is from other places in their world. Taro made me particularly proud in a couple of key scenes--one of them just especially well done. And I like that Lee is branching out in her interests, even if those interests give Taro fits. After all, Lee is right. He really is adorable when he's mid-fit. Another great installment in one of my very favorite series.
I have been going through another bout of Kate & Curran withdrawals lately. Really, they're simply Ilona Andrews withdrawals because I just am tenI have been going through another bout of Kate & Curran withdrawals lately. Really, they're simply Ilona Andrews withdrawals because I just am ten different ways in love with the way they write a world. I know going in to expect to be amazed, delighted, and--above all and thank the high heavens--entertained. Whether its shapeshifters and magic waves, overlapping dimensions and backwoods feuds, or futuristic assassins and genetically enhanced mafiosi--it is guaranteed to get my bibliophilic heart pumping and I can't tell you how much I look forward to each encounter. This is a good year because we get two full-length novels in two excellent worlds and, having already downed Magic Bleeds, I found myself looking ahead longingly to September and the release of Bayou Moon. And then it occurred to me that I'd never gotten around to reading SILENT BLADE, the novella published last year from Samhain. I'm not sure how it slipped past me, but I immediately purchased it, downloaded it to my nook, and dropped offline for the evening.
Meli Galdes is ready for retirement. Having served her family for more than a decade as a lone assassin, she's planning on hanging up her spurs and falling off the grid completely. Then her father calls in one more favor and it involves a man Meli thought she'd never see again. Celino Carvanna is responsible for the life of danger and isolation Meli leads. Years ago their lives were intertwined and then, in the space of a heartbeat, the connection was severed and Celino went on to monumental success and power, while Meli walked away from everything and everyone she ever knew, shaping herself into an elite (and secret) weapon. Now, on the cusp of retirement, she's asked to take on this one last job. For her family. One last hit to round out her career on a high and oh-so-satisfying note. Then she'll be able to put it all behind her and see about creating another kind of life for herself. But it's been a long time since she knew what made this ruthless businessman tick, an even longer time since she cared. Neither of them are who they once were. And so she sets about remembering every detail, pulling up every familiar quirk and distant memory, so that when she finally comes face to face with Celino once more, she will be ready. She won't hesitate. She'll know just what to do. And, as is the case with all her targets, he won't even know what hit him.
I don't think I realized going in that this novella was science fiction. What a pleasant surprise that was! Set in a futuristic society, in which a cadre of powerful families--known as the Kinsmen--rule a world built upon the basis of their particular biological enhancements, SILENT BLADE pelts out of the starting gate with gusto. Meli is established right of the bat as a woman who has honed her skills and is the best at what she does. She flies solo and completely under the radar and I loved her from page one. As her history becomes clearer, I found myself utterly on her side and very much in favor of her meting out whatever punishment necessary on the heartless Celino. What can I say? I'm always up for a vengeance quest, especially when the person on the hunt is so justified and awesome and, well, adept when it comes to the actual punishing. Then the point of view switched, and I was forced to walk a few paces in Celino's shoes. And while I was still on Meli's side, I admit it--I was curious. Curious to see how he'd react when all was revealed. Curious to see if Meli's resolve went the distance. I loved the wild swirl of color and scent and taste running through this world. Meli loves each of these things and, while she's voluntarily put them aside in the service of her family, there are hints of them here and there, even in the ascetic existence she embodies. This is romantic science fiction a la Linnea Sinclair and Ann Aguirre and, though it is a shorter work and wraps up nicely, I would happily read much larger and longer doses were they available. Meli is very much her own woman and I really think there's plenty of fodder here for many more stories. Perhaps one day we'll get them. In the meantime, if you're an Andrews fan, I highly recommend SILENT BLADE. You won't be disappointed....more
I had never read anything by Lynn Kurland prior to picking up STAR OF THE MORNING. I had never even heard of her before, due to the fact that she writI had never read anything by Lynn Kurland prior to picking up STAR OF THE MORNING. I had never even heard of her before, due to the fact that she writes primarily historical romance and I just rarely find myself reading in that genre. But my eye caught on the cover as I walked through the romance aisle at Borders to get to the fantasy/scifi section. And something made me pause. It's always that dangerous pause that gets you, isn't it? If the book can just get a toehold on my attention, I'm so often a goner. I reach out, picked it up, and read the back and wondered. It's a fairly dreamy, idealized cover and not exactly my favorite. But I liked that it was just the girl and her sword. And when I saw the word "mercenary" on the back I just sort of knew I would like her. And perhaps she doesn't always wear flowing garments of blue. So I took it home with me and am so glad I did. Because this is an absolutely delightful series and one that deserves a wider readership. STAR OF THE MORNING is the first in the Nine Kingdoms trilogy. It was published just four years ago and both of the other two books are also out in paperback so now is really the perfect time to jump in and give it a shot. It's straight-up high fantasy, with a nice romance tucked in there and very deft, wonderful writing.
Morgan of Melksham is not pleased. After putting in her time, serving years as an elite mercenary, she is reduced to messenger status. As a favor to her old friend and mentor Sir Nicholas, she agrees to deliver a sword of some note to the King of Neroche. Mystified as to why it should have anything to do with her, Morgan is somewhat mollified to be joined by a few of her longtime compatriots. To balance this out, however, she is also joined by an annoyingly pompous lad by the name of Adhemar and--shortly thereafter--by his somewhat less pompous younger brother Miach. Together, the assorted companions set out to see the blade safely to its rightful owner. And Morgan is forced to bite her tongue and see the job through, despite her lifelong hatred of all things magical and her legendary inability to suffer fools (such as Adhemar) gladly. Miach, on the other hand, becomes a friend. With his easy manner and utterly unrefined approach to life, he manages to make stoic Morgan smile, even laugh once or twice. And the journey seems somehow less taxing with him along. But their task becomes more urgent as they encounter various ominous portents along the way. Something--something dark--is seeping across the border into Neroche. And the only hope the king has is getting that sword into the hands of its destined wielder. If Morgan and her friends don't make it in time, all hell might literally break loose.
The writing is what first made a favorable impression on me. It's honestly so light and sinuous that you don't even notice it. In the best way, it propels the story forward, never standing out garishly or halting along blandly. It allows the characters to stand out and shine. And they really do. Morgan is often frustrated and cranky at her present lot in life. Beautiful and ruthless, she has trouble dealing with those more frivolous and less dedicated than she is. But there is a history there as well. So many interesting questions as to how she ended up with the life that she did. Why she was raised by Sir Nicholas and why he sent her on this quest. It all amounts to the reader not really believing her gruff exterior and happily so. Then there is Miach. And Miach is perfectly delightful from top to bottom. If you don't like Miach, there might be something wrong with you. It is a pleasure watching him exasperatedly deal with his windbag brother at the same time as he plies sword-for-hire Morgan with jokes and compliments and attempts to get her to relax for one minute. This is a proper quest tale and, as I am a fan of such when they are well done, I loved going along for the ride. The characters are witty and up for anything and the world itself is twisty and turny and full of a long history of alternately dastardly and noble rulers. No one is exactly who they say they are, of course. And it all builds up to a very startling climax. Just when you think what you were hoping would happen will, in fact, happen--the threads of the tale are flung far and wide across the whole of the Nine Kingdoms and you are left gasping at the implications. I had to wait a year for the sequel. There was grumbling involved. But I will tell you that it was completely and utterly worth it, as The Mage's Daughter is a worthy successor in every way and sits contentedly on my Beloved Bookshelf. If you haven't run across this series before, I do hope you give it a try. It is a comfort read, uncomplicated but lovely, full of characters who will work their way into your affections. Highly recommended, particularly for fans of Sharon Shinn and Robin McKinley.
How about that cover! That cover had me at hello. With the crusaders coming on and the golden keyhole doorway? The title and tagline--"Two boys. One gHow about that cover! That cover had me at hello. With the crusaders coming on and the golden keyhole doorway? The title and tagline--"Two boys. One girl. The adventure of a lifetime"--didn't hurt either. I passed it on an endcap in a bookstore almost exactly four years ago. I actually completed an about face when I saw it, coming to a screeching halt to admire the general loveliness. The book came out in 2004, but it took me a couple of years to cotton onto it. I'll tell you one thing though--I didn't leave the bookstore that day without purchasing a copy. BLOOD RED HORSE is the first in the De Granville Trilogy written by Scottish author K.M. Grant. I love a good yarn set during the time of Richard the Lionheart and have run across few really excellent YA versions. This is one of them. Yet I don't think I've ever talked to anyone else who's read this book or the trilogy. It's a shame because it's well written, well researched, and equally appealing to boys and girls as it features such a strong trio of main characters and not a little fighting on the grand scale. When I first read it, the sequel Green Jasper had just come out and so I was able to scarf that one down immediately following this one. It was just as good as, and even more complex than the first.
Gavin and Will de Granville have been battling each other since they came into this world. As the elder brother, Gavin is heir to their father's lands and title and destined to be betrothed to Ellie. An orphan daughter of their father's friend (and an heiress in her own right), Ellie was raised alongside the brothers. She is best friends with easygoing Will and yet has known her whole life she would one day marry prickly Gavin. Taken together, the relationships between these three young people are complicated in the extreme. Then there is Will's horse Hosanna. Deep red in color, with an unusual white star on his forehead, this smallish warhorse captures Will's heart instantly and will be the instrument of bringing so many disparate lives together. When the Crusade enters the picture, another level of fear and uncertainty come into their lives. At seventeen, Will is knighted, Gavin and Ellie are officially betrothed, and the two boys set off with their father Sir Thomas on the adventure of a lifetime, leaving Ellie behind to manage their home at Hartslove and ensure it will still be around for them to return to. If they return at all. In their absence, Ellie learns quite a lot of things the hard way. Among them, the ability to write. And so she begins writing letters to Will, hoping they reach him and bring him some small measure of comfort in a foreign land so very far away.
Grant tells a ripping good story. A story of the two brothers who went away to war, of the girl they left behind, and of the wonderful warhorse Hosanna. Will and Ellie are only twelve when it begins, and Gavin just a couple of years older. But by the end the three have grown into adulthood and faced the kind of challenges and grief many people twice their age haven't handled. The chapters alternate between Gavin and Will's experiences in the Holy Land, Ellie's struggles at home in England, and the story of a young man named Kamil who is servant to the Saracen leader Saladin and who is destined to have his own encounter with the blood red horse. Because of this structure, the pace never gets tired, and I found myself always eager to find out what was happening on each front. For those of you who are not keen on talking animals or magical beings, never fear. Hosanna neither talks nor shifts nor casts any kind of spell on those around him but that of loyalty and steadfastness. He is certainly the glue that binds them together and he links the young men's different stories quite nicely. The love triangle exists as an undercurrent here, gaining much more momentum and richness in the next volume, which is my favorite. But I love that they are brothers and that the girl they have the good sense to love so much is worth it. Ellie is strong and good and she does what it takes to look after those in her care. She makes the hard decisions and she makes them after taking everything into account. And the brothers are somehow adversarial, unsure, outrageous, and true all at the same time. You think you know who they really are and then they surprise you. This is just a wonderful start to a beguiling trilogy set against a a fascinating and harrowing period of history. It deserves far more attention than it's gotten.
WHISKEY ROAD is a perfect example of a book I might never have run across were it not for an unexpectedly fortuitous meeting of two like-minded biblioWHISKEY ROAD is a perfect example of a book I might never have run across were it not for an unexpectedly fortuitous meeting of two like-minded bibliophiles. Herein also lies a lesson on the beaten path. How many times do we walk into the bookstore and head straight for the YA section or the mystery section or the scifi aisle? And we don't venture into other aisles full of different spines and stories. I ran into Karen Siplin on my first trip to BEA and we discovered we have nearly identical taste in reading material. With the possible exception of Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series. The jury's still out for me on that one. (Team Adrian!) But we became fast friends and I was eager to read her books after heading home again. I picked up WHISKEY ROAD one evening several months ago not knowing what to expect and in the mood for something different and involving and good. Happily, it turned out to be everything I hoped it would be.
All Jimi Anne Hamilton wants is to set out on her BMW motorcycle--just herself and her gear--and ride across the country. From California back to her native New York, she's taking a much-needed break from all the chasing and the scandal and the constant hounding of her life as a paparazza and she's going to watch the scenery fly by and see if she can calm down a little. Then she crashes her bike and a thief steals both her bike and her camera equipment shortly after. Beaten and bruised, Jimi manages to escape with her life and a bag of stolen money intact. Now officially a shambles, she winds up in a small town in upstate New York in dire need of a place to stay and recuperate before meeting up with her brother and his wife and the messy questions that will no doubt follow. Caleb Atwood lives in this small town and, when no one else seems interested in helping the outsider out, he surprises himself by offering her a ride to the nearest bed and breakfast. Against her better judgement, Jimi reluctantly accepts and thus begins their story. As he is the only person she knows in this unsettlingly small town, Jimi just keeps running into Caleb. And, once she takes the time to look beyond his rather pedestrian contractor exterior, she can see that she's not the only one who's taken a few knocks in her life. And maybe it wouldn't kill her to stay a little longer than she had planned.
I read this book over the course of three nights and every night I set it down reluctantly and looked forward all day the next day to being able to pick it up again. Karen Siplin creates a wonderfully quiet and real tone throughout this story in which opposites attract. And I think that's what drew me in the most. There was a decided lack of fake tension or manufactured scenarios and, most importantly, there was time. Time for me as the reader to fall into company with these characters and feel like I understood them and cared what happened to them. And I did. I really did. I think it takes guts to make your protagonist a member of the paparazzi. And an unrepentant one at that. It's a hard, gritty, at times questionable life and everyone around Jimi looks down on her for choosing it as her profession. But it's not what matters to Caleb. When she limps into that diner that first day, everyone else sees the color of her skin and the state of her leathers, but he sees her strength and her individuality. To him she seems somehow above or apart from the usual humdrum of his lackluster life. He wants to know her rather than judge her. For Jimi's part, she struggles not to judge Caleb and all of the backwater rural New York denizens of his fusty town. Used to a fast pace and city life, but hampered by her injuries and basically being at the end of her rope, Jimi is forced to stop racing and take some time. What happens when they both look beyond their usual blinders is extremely sweet and endearing, without ever feeling forced or overly implausible. And the ending is even better. Not tied up with a bow, not unrealistic in its perfection, but touched with just the right amount of maturity, rightness, and possibility. It by no means needs one, but I would read a sequel in a heartbeat. Recommended for fans of Jennifer Cruisie and Julie James....more
I picked up the new Sookie Stackhouse book the day it came out, but it took me awhile to get around to it. I've been looking forward to a new Sookie bI picked up the new Sookie Stackhouse book the day it came out, but it took me awhile to get around to it. I've been looking forward to a new Sookie book every May ever since I first discovered Charlaine Harris something like seven years ago now. I picked up Dead Until Dark--the first book--shortly after my son was born and I was going through quite a bit of postpartum depression and starting to wonder if my life would ever take on a shape somewhat resembling the one it once held. Things were blue in every sense of the word, despite how much I adored my little boy and how happy I was he'd come into our lives. And then, during those quiet times sitting with him in the rocking chair, I started reading a little story about a barmaid from Louisiana who can hear other people's thoughts and who latches onto a vampire by the name of Bill when she realizes she can't hear him. Sookie was funny and happy and good and I liked her immediately. The series carried me through until things were feeling right again and it will always hold a special place in my heart because of that.
In this tenth installment, Sookie isn't at her best. She's just emerged from the most violent and threatening experience of her life (and that is saying something) and she just isn't her usual bright-eyed, bushy-tailed self. Everyone around her seems to be dealing with their own personal set of consequences at the same time as Sookie and so she decides to tread water a bit and see what happens. This means maintaining her developing relationship with Eric in front of all her friends and family. This means accepting her brother Jason (and his girlfriend) despite his slew of past mistakes. This means letting her cousin and fairy Claude move in with her when he asks, even though she'd really rather not and she has a good reason to want to stay as far away from fairies as possible just now. But when Eric's maker arrives in town with a truly disturbing young charge in tow, Sookie begins to wonder if this might be the straw that breaks the camel's back where she is concerned. Because of her blood bond with Eric, she's involved in a very real way in his interactions with his powerful maker. At the same time, her friend Alcide is struggling to solidify his hold on the werewolf pack as the government debates forcing supes to register themselves, and something entirely unwelcome is stalking the woods just beyond Sookie's doorstep.
I thoroughly enjoyed this tenth novel in the Southern Vampire world. By now each of the many characters in the series are totally familiar to me and I care about them, wonder about them, have many, many suspicions about them, and always enjoy being with them again. This is especially true for Sookie and Eric, but also for the wonderful Sam, Pam, and Claude, who each make great appearances in DEAD IN THE FAMILY. Any scene that features Sookie and Pam together has the Angie stamp of approval. As others have mentioned, this one may be the most aptly titled of them all. And I have to say the strong theme of family, in all its incarnations, running through this book was one of the things I liked about it the most. Because it's hard watching Sookie be laid so low. She was always the golden girl, the smart, tough, grins like mad when she's scared out of her gourd girl who I've loved for ten books and who I want to see bounce back in the worst way after the dire events of the last couple books. And, as her relationship with Eric has been one of the highlights of the entire series for me from the beginning, I want to see them be able to actually enjoy being together, without this constant hulking shadow overhead. There were moments of happiness here, but they were few and far between and I found myself sort of holding my breath in between, afraid the next one wouldn't come along soon enough for me or them. But they always did, and the ending was bloody but great. I hope Sookie's able to hold on to her family. I hope things start to ease up for her a bit in future installments, of which I'll be reading every one....more
It's no secret that Patricia McKillip is a most beloved author for so many fantasy readers. I discovered her late in the game, when I ran across a beaIt's no secret that Patricia McKillip is a most beloved author for so many fantasy readers. I discovered her late in the game, when I ran across a beautiful reissued omnibus edition of The Riddle-master Trilogy in a Barnes & Noble several years ago. After finishing that excellent trilogy, I went looking for any other McKillip books I could get my hands on. The result was a binge, of sorts, in which I blew through six or seven titles without a by-your-leave. And it was an immensely good time. But it did result in a little bit of fatigue, as her writing style is very specific and lyrical and I wound up needing to cleanse my palate a little after. Since then I've re-read a few of my favorites here and there, particularly the Riddle-Master and The Book of Atrix Wolfe, but not since The Tower at Stony Wood's release have I picked up one of her new ones. While I was perusing the McKillip section on my shelves the other night, the slender little volume THE CHANGELING SEA caught my eye and I got to thinking it might be time to get back on the McKillip wagon. Originally published in 1988, this young adult fantasy has stood the test of time. Firebird put out the pretty little edition pictured on the right in 2003 and, having worked hard to find my own used copy, I was happy to see new life breathed into it. I also think it's the most accurate artistic representation of Peri herself and the spiraling, mesmerizing tone of the novel.
Nobody ever really noticed Periwinkle. She and her small family have always been a bit on their own, quietly living out their lives in their sleepy fishing village. And then the year she turns fifteen, Peri is suddenly really and truly alone for the first time in her young life. It seems the sea has taken everything that she loves. First her father who drowned and now her mother who failed to get over her father's death to the point where she no longer talks to Peri at all. And so Peri spends her days working as a chamber maid, scrubbing floors at the local inn, and her nights trying desperately to curse the sea that's been the source of all her sorrow. Magic has always been a part of Peri's world, though it's never made itself known with quite such a presence as it does the day the King arrives in town with his son Prince Kir. The unhappy prince has a problem that plagues him, a problem he hopes Peri may be able to help him with. If she will just include something of his in her latest curse, perhaps the longing that rides him will abate. Neither of them expect the sea monster who rises as a result. A sea monster bound by a golden chain and from that point on, nothing is the same in Peri's life, and it is with gratitude she accepts the help of the wizard Lyo--a sort of local wise man. Between the four of them--the girl, the prince, the wizard, and the dragon--they piece together the mystery of what happened in that same place so many years ago and why it's rearing its ugly head now.
I loved Peri instantly and without reserve. From the very first page, she is not your classic fairy tale heroine. The opening lines:
No one really knew where Peri lived the year after the sea took her father and cast his boat, shrouded in a tangle of fishing net, like an empty shell back onto the beach. She came home when she chose to, sat at her mother's hearth without talking, brooding sullenly at the small, quiet house with the glass floats her father had found, colored bubbles of light, still lying on the dusty windowsill, and the same crazy quilt he had slept under still on the bed, and the door open on quiet evenings to the same view of the village and the harbor with the fishing boats homing in on the incoming tide. Sometimes her mother would rouse herself and cook; sometimes Peri would eat, sometimes she wouldn't. She hated the vague, lost expression on her mother's face, her weary movements. Her hair had begun to gray; she never smiled, she never sang. The sea, it seemed to Peri, had taken her mother as well as her father, and left some stranger wandering despairingly among her cooking pots.
She is not beautiful or poised or charming or sweet. But she is kind and determined and involved in unraveling the mystery from beginning to end. She earns the trust of the men around her before (if) she earns their love and we (and they) are frequently reminded of her flaws, from scraped knees to a nose on the large side. Urchin from top to bottom, it is most definitely what's inside that matters with this girl. And it matters quite a lot as so many come to depend on her, including the unusual and wondrous creature from the sea who is himself not exactly what he seems. As is always the case with a McKillip tale, the poetic language and gracefully interwoven magic lend a golden glow to the whole. At the same time, this is one of her more "real" stories. Peri is so real. Cloaked in the unreal and unbelievable elements around her, she remains focused and bright. Clocking in at a scant 144 pages, it is also a prime (and all-too- rare) example of a book I don't wish longer. It's perfect just as it is, especially the ending. The briefness only accentuates the sweetness and strangeness and I never fail to finish it at ease with my world and hers. ...more
THE DREAM-MAKER'S MAGIC is the third book in Sharon Shinn's Safe-Keepers trilogy. This trilogy is YA fantasy set in an unnamed kingdom in which, alongTHE DREAM-MAKER'S MAGIC is the third book in Sharon Shinn's Safe-Keepers trilogy. This trilogy is YA fantasy set in an unnamed kingdom in which, along with your average, run-of-the-mill people, there are also three sorts of quite special folk. The safe-keepers, the truth-tellers, and the dream-makers. While it is possible to find several safe-keepers and truth-tellers across the land, there is only ever one living dream-maker at any given time. It is a demanding calling and the individual usually resides in the capital, traveling throughout the kingdom making people's dreams come true. Or not. It all depends on the person and the nature of the desires of their heart. I'm featuring the third book in the trilogy, not only because it is my favorite, but because they really don't have to be read in order. Each volume features different characters, different towns, and different problems. And they each focus on one of the three groups of gifted people. I think each book is worth reading, but I also think they get progressively richer and more enjoyable. I'm not sure why these books didn't received as much attention as they deserve. It could be because they were not graced with particularly good covers (though the interior design is lovely). I am an unabashed Shinn fan, though (similar to Juliet Marillier) I do end up preferring her "adult" titles to her YA. She's better in larger and longer doses, I think. And I haven't loved her other standalone YA titles. But these three are so very good. Particularly the third one.
Kellen's life has been . . . unconventional. Though she appears in all ways to be a girl, she has been raised her entire life as a boy. Ever since the day she was born her mother has insisted she was born a boy, despite all evidence to the contrary. Her father went along with it as long as he could and then finally left when the stubborn insanity on her mother's part became too much for him to handle. And so it has been just Kellen and her mother ever since. When she goes to school she is met with understandable confusion and suspicion. But for once in her life she is not the worst off. At school she meets a boy by the name of Gryffin who receives worse treatment at the hands of the other kids because of his deformed legs. Perhaps inevitably, these two outsiders become fast friends. United in their struggle against the rest of the world, Kellen helps Gryffin maneuver around the village and serves as a sort of buffer between her friend and his abusive, n'er do well uncle. In turn, Gryffin helps Kellen with her studies and her trials with her increasingly out of touch mother. And together they erect a barrier of kindness and hope between themselves and those who deride or look down upon them. Of course their situations are much more complicated than they at first seem and they only grow more so as they grow up and strike out on their own. They both take jobs at a nearby inn where the owners treat them kindly and take them for who and what they are. Then one day a stranger rides into town and changes their lives within the space of a single afternoon and, just as she felt she was getting a hold on things, Kellen is suddenly very sure things will never be the same again.
I find myself coming back to this one more frequently than its predecessors. The last book in the trilogy, THE DREAM-MAKER'S MAGIC strikes just the right chord with me, I guess. A main character whose mother is convinced she's a boy. A best friend whose legs are crippled but whose mind is razor sharp. A Dream-Maker who is weary of making people's dreams come true. And a first-person narrative that maintains a dogged authenticity amid elements both magical and fantastical. I found myself empathizing with Kellen, trying to carve out a space for herself, her real self, while everyone around her insists on offering their versions. Kellen and Gryffin's friendship is the highlight of the novel. Low on angst and high on the thoughtful exploration of what makes us who we are and what goes into the way we perceive ourselves and those around us, this book is quietly beautiful. My favorite passage:
At first I thought I had guessed wrong about my mother.
"A dress," she said, when I told her the requirement for me to work at the new Parmer Arms. "But you can't wear a dress. That would look silly. That would be indecent. Boys wear trousers."
I sat up straight enough so that my growing breasts made a definite shape against my tattered white shirt. "Girls wear skirts."
She looked at me as if she hadn't noticed my changing figure before, and her eyes slowly filled with tears. "You're not," she whispered. "You're not supposed to be."
"I don't know what I'm supposed to be," I said tiredly. "But this is what I am."
As it turned out, she neither granted permission for me to take the job nor told me outright that I could not. She merely ignored my request, ignored anything that had to do with my new identity. She did not help me cut and sew the three simple gowns I made for myself, following an extremely simple pattern. She did not ask about the work or comment on the money that I handed over at the end of every week. She pretended, as she had pretended my entire life, that I was someone else.
But I rather liked the new Kellen, who was, in many subtle ways, different from the old one. This Kellen was not quite so fierce, so independent, so wary. She smiled much more often--though that might have been to hide her shyness. She was not used to being stripped of disguises, unfamiliar with the casual appraisal a man might turn on a woman of any age on display, vulnerable, pulled out of hiding, a breath or two away from being starkly naked.
But she rather liked it.
I worked at the Parmer Arms four days a week--three evenings after school and one full day when school was not in session. At first, I walked through town, from my house to Sarah's, wearing my old boy's clothes and carrying my dress over my arm; I changed once I arrived. Sarah quickly decided it would make more sense for her to store all of my "restaurant clothes" at the Arms and made herself responsible for keeping them cleaned and mended. She also added two somewhat fancier garments to my small wardrobe, obviously having a seamstress tailor them after the template of the ones I had made myself. These dresses--one a dark navy and one a charcoal gray--were my favorite two things I owned.
Sarah also spent some time teaching me how to style my hair, though both of us tended to wear braids and buns to keep our hair out of the way while we were working. Still, she showed me how to soften my face with a few loose curls, and she trimmed my long, completely neglected locks so they fell with more grace around my cheeks. At times I didn't recognize myself when I looked in the mirror. And I was glad to see a stranger peering back at me from the glass that hung over the front desk at the Parmer Arms.
Most of the people who passed through the restaurant did not recognize me, either. True, the majority were strangers merely stopping briefly for food or a change of horses, but the restaurant had become a popular place for townspeople who wanted to treat themselves to a special night out. The first two months I worked there, I waited on at least a dozen people whom I had known all my life, and not one of them knew who I was.
But there was one person who was not fooled by my new looks or my modulated personality, and that was Gryffin. Or perhaps I put that wrong. He did not seem to notice what I was wearing or how I had arranged my hair, if I was dressed like the most disreputable street urchin or a quietly stylish young lady. Whether I saw him at school, whether I dropped by his uncle's house, or whether I unexpectedly encountered him on the street, he always greeted my with a smile and my name. I did not bewilder or surprise him. He did not think I was trying to be something I was not, as my mother did; he did not think I was trying to break a chrysalis and become something I was meant to be, as Besty and Sarah surely believed. He just thought I was Kellen.
I found this the most comforting thing that had ever happened to me. At times, when I lay awake at night, confused myself about what role I should take and what direction I should try to follow, all that kept me from slipping into tears was knowing that I was not completely lost if Gryffin knew how to find me.
See? Magic. Give it a chance and I have the feeling you'll fall as much in love with Kellen and Gryffin as I did. Pull it out on a night when you want to be especially cozy. ...more
I'll admit it up front--I've been cowardly avoiding reading LEAVING PARADISE. As you know, I devoured Simone Elkeles' Perfect Chemistry late last yearI'll admit it up front--I've been cowardly avoiding reading LEAVING PARADISE. As you know, I devoured Simone Elkeles' Perfect Chemistry late last year and happily enjoyed the sequel Rules of Attraction a few months ago. But I deliberately stayed away from Elkeles' earlier novel because I had heard somewhere it left the reader feeling pretty raw and worked over and I guess I haven't been in the mood for such of late. But before I could decide one way or the other, I heard she was writing a sequel and, very uncharacteristically, I chose to wait until the sequel was out to read both books. No idea where I dug up that little dose of will power as it's generally in short supply around here. In any event, I managed to snag signed copies of both books at BEA and finally settled down to read LEAVING PARADISE on the plane ride home. A word on the cover. Originally published in 2007, this book has already had two covers and I actually really like both of them, thought the newer one certainly looks nicest next to my copies of both Perfect Chemistry novels.
Caleb Becker is on pins and needles awaiting the final verdict on whether or not, after a year in juvie, he'll be allowed his freedom once more. After being convicted for a hit and run accident while driving under the influence, seventeen-year-old Caleb has spent the last year locked up with other underage convicts. Never truly alone, his life has consisted of a never ending succession of humiliations, from strip searches to being watched while he performs even the most rudimentary acts of personal hygiene. Meanwhile, back home in Paradise, Illinois, another life was shattered by the events of that night. Maggie Armstrong never thought she'd be a cripple, that her days on the tennis court were numbered. But when Caleb crashed into her and then fled the scene of the crime, her small set of plans and expectations were permanently altered. In place of school and tennis practice, there was now physical therapy and a wheelchair. In place of laughter and fun with her best friend (Caleb's sister) Leah, there was now quiet fear and solitary dinners at the diner where her mother works to make ends meet. Despite everything that's gone down, she does harbor one last hope--to finish her physical therapy and go on study abroad to Spain for the duration of her senior year. And then Caleb gets his freedom and heads back home to Paradise. And, even with all the time that's passed, Maggie is still nowhere near ready to face everything his unwelcome reappearance in her life means.
I was caught unawares by this book. I'm not sure what exactly I was expecting, but LEAVING PARADISE was both quieter and more affecting a read than I planned on. The writing is characteristic of Ms. Elkeles' other books, with the narrative alternating points of view between Caleb and Maggie, full of the same straightforward, somewhat blunt dialogue tempered by a pair of quite sympathetic protagonists forcibly thrust into operating without their safety nets. Interestingly, as much as I adore Perfect Chemistry, I found this setup less inherently "cheesy." Maggie and Caleb are gentler, in many ways, than Alex and Brittany. Despite the crushing hand life's dealt them, they remain just above complete self-absorption. Their most brutal and biting judgments are reserved, in fact, for themselves--and each other, of course. And I'm a sucker for that sort of vibe. But perhaps most impressive to me was the breathless and delicate sense of pain and fear and barely there hope that pervades the whole. I was frankly engrossed in this very simple story of two hurt teenagers limping toward freedom. Here's one of my favorite scenes early on--a conversation between Caleb and his pen-clicking bruiser of a transition counselor Damon:
"It's my job to stay on you, Caleb. But I can't help if you won't share with me."
I look up at the sky and shake my head. "I don't need your help. My parents and sister . . . they need help more than me. Why don't you treat them like the guinea pig?"
"You've been away for almost a year. Give 'em a break. You act as though they should be apologizing to you instead of the other way around. What did they do wrong, huh? Maybe you should blame yourself once in a while, Caleb. The experience might be eye opening."
"The truth would be eye opening," I say back.
Click. Click. "What?"
I shake my head. "Nothing. Just forget it."
Damon opens his folder again. That folder probably tells Damon everything about my life before, during, and after my arrest. I wonder if the time I tee-peed Joe Sanders' house is in there. Or the time I beat up a guy from Fremont High for teasing my sister about her perm gone wrong. I used to be looked up to, the cool rebel. Now I'm a convict. Not cool.
He hands me a few sheets of paper. "You live in a small town, Caleb. Not much in choices for community service jobs, but on your questionnaire you said you had experience in construction and small home improvements."
"I worked construction during summers for my uncle," I tell him.
"Okay, then. You'll be required to check in at The Trusty Nail hardware store on Monday after school at three forty-five sharp. Don't be late. They'll assign you a job site and drop off all supply materials needed. When you're done with a job, get a completion sheet signed. Easy enough?"
"I just have a few more questions. Then you don't have to see my ugly mug for another week." What Damon looks up at me he asks, "Any physical contact?"
"As in sex?"
Damon shrugs. "I don't know, you tell me.Was the old girlfriend waiting on your front stoop when you got home yesterday?"
The urge to laugh gets caught in my throat. "Hardly. My sister hugged me, my dad shook my hand, and I got a few pats on the back from my mom's random friends last night."
"Did you initiate it?"
"No. You're creeping me out, man."
"Caleb, some guys have attachment problems when they get home. They have a hard time understanding what physical contact is appropriate and what--"
"I touched a girl," I say, interrupting.
Click. "Tell me about it."
I think back to last night, when Maggie tried to stand. The fierce pain she felt was emphasized by her clenched teeth, balled fists, and furrowed eyebrows. Since I've been home, Maggie has been the only person I've actually reached out to touch. It hadn't gone well.
"A girl needed help getting up, so I tried to steady her. End of story." Well, sort of.
"Did she thank you?"
I hesitate, then pick up a rock and chuck it all the way to the baseball field on the other side of the park. "She yanked herself out of my grasp. Isn't that what you want to hear?"
"If it's the truth."
I turn and give him a look. He knows I'm not fuckin' with him.
"Maybe you were too rough."
"I was not too rough," I say harshly.
"Who was she?"
I reach around and massage the persistent knot on the back of my neck. If I don't answer, Damon'll probably show up tomorrow and every day until I spill the beans. What's the big deal anyway? I glance at the old oak, half expecting to spot Maggie sitting there, her expression wary and angry.
I look over to Damon who's still waiting for an answer.
Then I finally say it. "I touched the girl who I went to jail for maiming."
LEAVING PARADISE is another winner from Simone Elkeles. I loved it. Would be honestly happy if it were all to end there. Even if the ending does leave things in a rather agonizing place. I can say that, of course, because I have an ARC of the sequel--Return to Paradise--in hand....more
It seems a long time ago now that I first read Shiver--the first book in the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy. But looking back I started it on the planeIt seems a long time ago now that I first read Shiver--the first book in the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy. But looking back I started it on the plane ride to BEA and finished it there in the conference center, fingers gripping the cover tightly, while sitting on the floor in one of the many autograph lines. And now it's May again and BEA is right around the corner and I emerge from my recent and nasty reading slump stupor to find a copy of LINGER sitting in my mailbox like a glove thrown down in the dirt. "I will be the one to pull you out," it whispers to me slyly. "Just open me up and take a sip. I promise--one sip is all it will take." And I look at it with fear and longing written all over my face. "You promise?" I ask intently. "Because it's been a long walk in the cold and I'm not sure I can take another disappointment." "Just open me up," it says, confidence written all over its cover. And so I do. And everything else falls away.
Sam and Grace are trying to take up the reins of their lives again after the cataclysmic events of the previous winter. Sam is human. Despite the lingering cold as spring grows ever closer, he will not be changing into a wolf. Whatever it was that caused it has been seemingly eradicated and suddenly he has an entire lifetime stretching out ahead of him. And Grace is all set to share that life with him, to make plans, to pick colleges, to get away from her disapproving parents as soon as possible. But their cautious attempts to move forward are curtailed when a new wolf arrives in town--the fruits of Beck's final act as pack protector. It's immediately clear that something is very off about Cole, but Sam can't quite put his finger on what. And he doesn't have much time to dedicate to figuring out his new charge (of sorts) as Grace is fighting her own battle with a nameless threat and it feels like she's drifting farther and farther away with every day. Meanwhile, Isabel is thrashing around the way only Isabel can. Unable to come to terms with her brother's death and certain as certain that Sam and Grace are unwittingly headed for disaster, Isabel finds herself playing the voice of reason. And as she seems to literally run across Cole at every turn, these interactions push her closer and closer to finding out his secret and the real explanation behind Grace's strained smiles and uneasy silences.
I was somewhat concerned about reading LINGER. It was definitely not the writing that concerned me, because I adore Maggie Stiefvater's elegant prose. And it was not the characters, because any time spent with Sam and Grace (and Isabel) is time well spent. But I loved how Shiver ended. It was perfect. And I wondered where exactly things could go from there, you know? What direction their story could take that wouldn't feel forced. With so many series lately, it feels like they're being kept alive on life support. And I was worried about the fragile beauty of where things ended and having that peace ruined. But I should have known better. I should have had more faith. From here on out there will be no doubt. There will be no fear. Because LINGER is that most rare and wonderful of books--an absolutely gorgeous, riveting sequel. It made good on all its promises. I was sucked out of the slump I was in within the handful of seconds it took me to read the first page. There are so many things to love about this book. But I have to mention, first and foremost, the writing. It washes over you in waves of lyrical longing and puts other, lesser storytelling to shame. A favorite passage early on (from my uncorrected ARC):
Later, I thought of the things I could have added to the list of resolutions, things I'd wanted back before I realized what being a wolf meant for my future. Things like Write a novel and Find a band and Get a degree in obscure poetry in translation and Travel the world. It felt indulgent and fanciful to be considering those things now after reminding myself for so long that they were impossible.
I tried to imagine myself filling out a college application. Writing a synopsis. Tacking a sign saying DRUMMERS WANTED on the corkboard opposite Beck's post office box. The words danced in my head, dazzling in their sudden nearness. I wanted to add them to my index card of resolutions, but I just . . . couldn't.
That night, while Grace showered, I got out the card and looked at it again. And I wrote:
Believe in my cure.
I actually felt lighter the further I read, despite the gravity and sense of impending doom that pervades the text. But it is so unbelievably refreshing to be buoyed up by the astonishing turns of phrase rather than bogged down by lackluster wordsmithing. I would read Maggie Stiefvater's cereal box copy. But happily, I shall never be forced to do so as her characters and plot lines are both sympathetic and nuanced. The woman positively excels at young male protagonists. Like James in Ballad: The Gathering of Faerie, Sam is so very endearing, if in a much less angsty and overt way. His breathtaking blend of maturity and vulnerability tugs at my heartstrings and the strength of his relationship with Grace is true and unswerving. I'm also delighted to report that the supporting characters Isabel and Cole are no less outstanding. In fact, I may have been most captivated by Cole's sections, as the narrative is split between the four of them. His depth of damage mixed with the faintest glimmer of hope enriched the whole for me and I loved watching the four so distinct threads weave together by the inevitable climax. I was consumed by LINGER, loved it even more than its predecessor, and am positively thrumming with excitement for Forever--the final installment in the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy. LINGER is due out July 20th.
Prior to being contacted by Farrar, Straus and Giroux about whether I might be interested in reviewing THIS GORGEOUS GAME, I had never heard of DonnaPrior to being contacted by Farrar, Straus and Giroux about whether I might be interested in reviewing THIS GORGEOUS GAME, I had never heard of Donna Freitas or the novel itself. This is actually Ms. Freitas' second book for young adults after her debut The Possibilities of Sainthood. And I have to say I wasn't sure whether or not the book was for me after reading the basic synopsis available over at Macmillan's site. But then I scrolled down and read the lovely blurbs by Sara Zarr and Francisco Stork, as well as the always awesome Little Willow's review and I was sold. Thanks to those excellent encouragements, as well as one impressive and refreshingly heartfelt recommendation from my contact at Macmillan, I accepted a copy for review. And I am so very glad I did. Because this is a singularly impressive book and one that deserves to be passed around and read and shared and talked about.
Seventeen-year-old Olivia Peters cannot believe her good luck. The results of the writing contest she entered months ago (and has been hoping and wishing and praying she'll win ever since) have come through and first place is hers. Father Mark D. Brendan--the famous novelist and professor and priest--has chosen her story. And not only will she receive a sizable scholarship, but Olivia herself will be able to attend Father Mark's summer writing seminar at her local university and benefit from her idol's one-on-one tutelage. Her mother, her sister, and her two best friends are so excited for her and it is with barely contained joy that she ventures onto campus to register for the course. Once there, she even contemplates attending HMU in the fall as the campus is so lovely and the crop of attractive young college boys so charming, particularly one Jamie Grant--a young philosophy major who's trying to get into Father Mark's seminar and seems interested in getting to know Olivia just as much as she'd like to get to know him. And then Olivia actually runs into Father Mark outside the registrar's office. And he congratulates her once more on winning, wants to meet her for a drink to discuss her story before the seminar begins. And, flattered, she accepts. And, quietly, it begins.
The opening passage (from my uncorrected galley):
I know I know I know I should be grateful, I should be grateful to have his attention. To have him take such an interest in me.
I should. I know I should.
I will. No, you are grateful, Olivia, I tell myself as if I am my self's imaginary friend, sitting across the table, giving advice. Start acting grateful then, she begs.
I have a gift. I have a gift from God, he says. So rare he hasn't seen it in all his many years. I'm the real thing, he says. I'm a once in a liftetime, he says. I'm special and it's his responsibility to take me under his wing, to make sure I don't waste my talent. It would be a sin not to help me, he says. It would be a sin for me not to take his offer of help.
But I swear to God . . . no . . . scratch that . . . I'll not be swearing to God . . . I swear to Who Knows What that his latest demand, this pile of typewritten pages he hands me with a face that says, Please, Olivia, oh please don't be difficult and just do this for me, is staring, no, it's glaring at me from the coffee table like a monster that might eat me. I feel like if I touch it I will go up in flames or the pages might bite.
Am I making too much of this? Isn't it just a matter of grabbing hold of the stack and moving it in front of my eyes so my eyes will begin to scan those black marks on the page which will magically arrange themselves into words that my brain will recognize and understand and voila, I'm finished before I know it.
Then, when he asks, because he will ask, I'll be able to answer truthfully, "Yes, I read it. I did," and he will smile and I'll be Good Olivia again.
I wish I'd never won that stupid prize which is what got me noticed by him . . . no . . . what got my writing noticed by him which is what led to the initial introduction which somehow turned into communications and invitations and coffees and attending office hours and going to High Profile Events together--his words--even before the summer started.
He means well. He does. After all, what else could he mean?
That's right. That's how it starts. Well, if you're anything like me, there's no turning back after that little throwing down of the gauntlet. You turn the page and the narrative immediately jumps back to the beginning of the summer, to the moment when Olivia discovers she's won the contest, which is where it really all starts. And from that moment on the reader serves as a silent witness to the slow, but relentless unraveling of a young woman's life, to what happens when the person she thought she could trust turns out to be the kind of person she's afraid to put a name to. I really admire the incredibly restrained and subtle way Donna Freitas approaches this potentially horrific subject matter. Instead of taking it quickly and provocatively to the bad place, she keeps Olivia's tale tightly reined in and, as a result, we are able to absorb and reflect on her experiences as they happen. Which is not to say that it's a slow read. Nothing could be further from the truth. I read it through from cover to cover in one sitting, unable to take my eyes away from the page, partly because I had to see how it all played out and partly because I didn't want to leave Olivia alone for even a moment. The whole thing stays almost exclusively in her head and I was very much with her, aching for her, hoping she would be able to find both clarity and a solution and somehow emerge from this hunching shadow that has overtaken her life. I loved THIS GORGEOUS GAME. I loved the quotes before each new section and the short, poignant chapter titles (particularly the exquisite "On Dark Nights of the Soul"). It is a haunted, urgent, dreamlike, yet very real story and one that will not be leaving my thoughts for the foreseeable future. THIS GORGEOUS GAME is due out May 25th.
A note on the cover: I love the title. Once you've read the book it takes on a whole other level of meaning. The cover image itself is decidedly chilling and, though I think it is perfect, it's still hard to look at....more
It's been a couple of years since I picked up a Carolyn Mackler novel. I started with the wonderful Vegan Virgin Valentine and enjoyed it so much I foIt's been a couple of years since I picked up a Carolyn Mackler novel. I started with the wonderful Vegan Virgin Valentine and enjoyed it so much I followed it up with her Printz Honor-winning The Earth My Butt and Other Big Round Things, which I also thought was an entertaining and thought-provoking read. And while Mara from Vegan Virgin Valentine is my favorite of her protagonists, I particularly enjoyed Virginia's journey to self-possession in The Earth My Butt and Other Big Round Things, with her "Fat Girl Code of Conduct" and her refusal to starve herself to change who she is. When I heard about TANGLED, I was interested in the story of four very different teenagers whose lives become entwined and how they are changed as a result. So when I encountered the opportunity to review the book here I jumped at the chance to return once more to an author I'd enjoyed so much in the past.
Jena is on the vacation from hell. Which is ironic as she's come to an island getaway literally called Paradise. But it's not the place that's the problem. It's the people. Her normally terminally average mother is suddenly going to daily spa appointments with her rich best friend and drinking exotic drinks out of pineapples. Meanwhile, Jena is forced to "hang out" with her mom's best friend's daughter Skye and try (and fail) not to compare herself to her to a fatal degree. Skye is Jena's opposite in every way. Where Jena is short and curvy, Skye is tall and lithe. Where Jena is talkative and nerdy, Skye is remote and a budding actress. The two have less than nothing to talk about and so Jena finds herself wandering around Paradise alone wishing she were at home. Then she meets Dakota. Charming and handsome and seemingly interested in shy Jena from Topeka, Dakota is everything she longs for and is sure she can never have. Their time spent together is akin to a dream come true for Jena, though she's never quite sure if he's for real or not and how far she'll have to go to keep him. Especially with Skye swanning around looking desolate and lonely and in need of a willing body to sweep her off her feet. And then there's Owen. Owen who runs a blog called Loser with a Laptop and who prefers to interact with people online rather than in person. That way he can be snarky and cool and never have to be embarrassed by his scrawny, nonathletic build and tendency to pull out his breathalyser when things get tense. These four teens are each more precariously balanced than they realize and whether or not they will recover from the events of the summer is the million dollar question.
I'm happy to say Carolyn Mackler does not disappoint with her fifth novel. I went in not sure I was really in the mood for an alternating viewpoint story about four teens who meet on an island in the middle of the Caribbean and drama ensues. But I should have remembered how strong and true to life Carolyn Mackler's characterizations are. Each of the four stories covers the space of one month and is told from one of the youth's perspectives, going from Jena to Dakota to Skye to Owen. It was a little jarring moving from Jena to Dakota, given the way I felt about him at the end of Jena's section. But the way the reader is just dropped smack dab into the unhappy mess that is his life effectively erases any disgruntlement at the switch within a few pages. And by the end of Dakota's section I just wanted it to go on, but I was all right making the move to Skye having had the surprising experience of getting to know Dakota. But Owen's--the final story--may be my favorite. His is painful in its way (as are the others) but it also skillfully pulls them all together and hints at what the future might hold for each without detouring from the very endearing, socially challenged blogger. I read this book in a single gulp the night before last and I closed it, smiled, and went to bed happy. But I've found myself thinking about it ever since and feeling rather proud of each of the protagonists for taking control of their lives and wondering how they're doing and hoping they're happy and healthy and well....more