So I've been fairly itching to know where this series would go after the third book--Fragile Eternity--came out last year and utterly realigned my loy...moreSo I've been fairly itching to know where this series would go after the third book--Fragile Eternity--came out last year and utterly realigned my loyalties as far as the faery courts go. Well, that's perhaps not entirely accurate. They were already leaning heavily in that direction after Ink Exchange. But the developments in Fragile Eternity cemented the shift so firmly, I wondered if I would ever recover my early fondness for some characters or if, alternately, anything on God's green earth would be able to uproot my newly acquired devotion to others. Where Fragile Eternity was a more direct sequel to Wicked Lovely, RADIANT SHADOWS is a sequel to Ink Exchange. Given the way I loved Ink Exchange, I, for one, was definitely looking forward to a couple of fresh, new characters, a possible mention of how Leslie was doing, and being back in the Dark Court with less tiresome Keenan and Ash and more magnetic Irial and Niall.
Ani is a halfling. Daughter of the Dark King's chief enforcer and a mortal woman, she sits astride the precarious line between several worlds. Raised among the Hounds, along with her two halfling siblings Rabbit and Tish, Ani comes into her own when she makes a rather unsettling discovery. Like the Dark Court she feeds off emotions, but she is also able to feed from actual contact with both humans and faeries. And it's not just a desire, it's a compulsion. Restricting her impulses, following her father's innumerable rules, Ani is on the brink of wasting away. Only the form Dark King Irial truly understands what she is. He helps her when he can, occasionally allowing her to feed off his own emotions, as he searches for a way to use her powers to benefit their people and keep her alive in the process. Devlin is the High Queen Sorcha's brother and assassin. Known as the Queen's Bloody Hands, it has been his eternal task to negotiate a path betwixt his two sisters--Order and Chaos--and maintain the balance between their opposing powers and purposes. And Devlin has never shirked his duty or fallen short in any way. Except one. When he inexplicably spared a life he was ordered to take. Since then he's stayed away, shoved any treacherous instincts he's had aside, and worked tirelessly on behalf of the High Court. Until one day he encounters the mortal who's life he spared. And all hell breaks loose as a result.
This series is wreaking havoc with my emotions and that is all there is to it. The thing is, I thought Wicked Lovely was wicked fun. I thought Ink Exchange was impossibly dark and achingly good, despite leaving me feeling a little bruised. I found Fragile Eternity problematic in many ways, but was glued to the page for the last third of the book and emerged in deep smit with a couple of Dark Kings who shall so not remain nameless. And I do mean deep smit. My love for Irial and Niall is deep and wide and full of shadows. And, as far as I'm concerned, this book (and any other she writes in this world) is worth the hardcover purchase price just for the few scenes they are in together. I am dead serious, people. I don't know how she did it but Melissa Marr has me wrapped around her little finger when it comes to the former and the current King of Nightmares. Just tell me one or (preferably) both are going to make an appearance and I am there. Their tortuous, touching relationship slays me. And such was the case here. I never really connected with Ani or Devlin, despite the fact that I thought he had some crazy good potential after his role in Fragile Eternity. I mean I love the Gabriel Hounds and their awesome steeds and pack culture. And Bananach--the War faery--is deliciously heinous and I simply love it when she tromps through a scene, bloody feathers and all. But, for some reason, I didn't care that much what happened to Ani. Not like I cared what happened to Ash or Leslie or Seth in the previous three books. And the dream subplot just did not hold my attention at all. Now, I will freely admit the possibility exists that I am actually so far gone on my two Dark Court boys that I have become insensible to the charms of lesser fae. But I'm pretty sure I'm fine with that. As long as I get more Irial and Niall in the next book. Which, as it is also the final book in the series, is going to have to be enough to last for me a very long time indeed.
After reading and loving both of Sarah Addison Allen's first two books I just went ahead and popped her on over to my auto-buy list and sat back to wa...moreAfter reading and loving both of Sarah Addison Allen's first two books I just went ahead and popped her on over to my auto-buy list and sat back to wait for THE GIRL WHO CHASED THE MOON. I was lucky enough to discover Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen only a few months ago and so it hasn't been that long a wait. But Garden Spells was perfectly delightful and The Sugar Queen was quite literally an example of the perfect book at the perfect time. I can't wait to re-read it again. So I found myself just about as anxious to find out what delights Ms. Allen had in store for us next as I would have been had I been forced to wait a year or more as is so often the case when I discover a debut author. I suppose that's just the way of things with the good ones. And, given how much I enjoy these reads, I wouldn't have it any other way.
Emily Benedict is seventeen and motherless the day she moves in with her Grandpa Vance in the out of the way town of Mullaby, North Carolina. Having never been to the town where her mother grew up, Emily hopes to get to know her unusually tall grandfather and find out more about her extremely private mom. Her first night there, Emily meets her next door neighbor Julia Winterson, when she knocks on her door bearing a welcome cake and a warm smile to go with it. Julia is a native of Mullaby who hasn't been home in a long time and is now living a determinedly temporary existence there just long enough to sell her dead father's diner for a tidy profit and get the hell out of Dodge. She never loved it there and the memories are bad enough to have her faithfully marking off the days on her calendar. Chief among those memories is Sawyer Alexander. The golden boy of Mullaby. The soccer playing, scholarship getting, beautiful boy who seemed to understand and even like her for the briefest of moments in high school and then forgot all about her. Unfortunately, try as she might (and for various reasons), Julia was never able to quite forget about him. Now he haunts her bakery and upstairs apartment trying to reforge that old connection just as she evades his attempts in a desperate bid to leave the past where it belongs. But as Julia befriends Emily, they both discover truths that make their lives difficult in so many messy ways.
As with her two previous novels, THE GIRL WHO CHASED THE MOON features a sleepy Southern town, a couple of young women in need of healing and a whole lapful of magic, loss, and longing. The narrative shifts back and forth between Emily and Julia's experiences and I have to say I wish it had spent more time with Julia. I've realized that with Allen's novels I tend to identify more with one of the two protagonists and in the past they have both been the characters with the most page time as well. But in this case I just didn't connect very well with Emily and her adventures with the infamous Coffey family, so her sections were a bit harder to get through. Not that the lovely writing is ever anything like a chore, but I kept speeding my way through those portions to get back to Julia and Sawyer and their wonderfully aching history. Because it was simply a delight to read and I found myself fingers crossed, full of hope for them. A favorite passage:
As Julia took two towels out of her bag and spread them out on the sand, Emily shaded her eyes from the glare of sun and looked around. "Were you meeting Sawyer here?"
"No. Why?" Julia asked as she shimmied out of her white shorts, revealing the bottom half of her red bikini. She left her gauzy long-sleeved shirt on over her red bikini top, though.
"Because he's coming this way."
Julia immediately turned to see him walking down the beach toward them. Sawyer stood out too much to blend in anywhere, but the closest he came was here, with the sun and the sand. He was golden. A sun king.
"He's nice," Emily said wistfully. "The moment I saw him, I knew he'd have an accent like that. I don't know why."
"Some men you know are Southern before they ever say a word," Julia said as she and Emily watched Sawyer's progress, helpless, almost as if they couldn't look away. "They remind you of something good--picnics or carrying sparklers around at night. Southern men will hold doors open for you, they'll hold you after you yell at them, and they'll hold on to their pride no matter what. Be careful what they tell you, though. They have a way of making you believe anything, because they say it that way."
"What way?" Emily asked as she turned to her, intrigued.
"I hope you never find out," she said.
"You've been spoken to that way?"
"Yes, she said softly, just as Sawyer stopped at their towels.
And that's why I love Sarah Addison Allen books. Because, like Sawyer's smile and Julia's cakes, they make me feel wistful and warm, sated and full of good things. This book was just as well written as her books always are, but I think it suffered a bit from uneven pacing and the unfortunate placement of the more compelling storyline in the background. That said, I was captivated with Julia's story. She was an incredibly sympathetic character and I wanted to sit on the banks of Piney Woods Lake with her, eating apple stack cake, talking about Southern men, and worrying about nothing at all.(less)
I've been eagerly awaiting Carolyn Crane's debut novel MIND GAMES for what seems like ages now. If you're not familiar with the name, I suggest you he...moreI've been eagerly awaiting Carolyn Crane's debut novel MIND GAMES for what seems like ages now. If you're not familiar with the name, I suggest you head on over to Carolyn's hilarious blog The Thrillionth Page and acquaint yourself with CJ and her hilariously eclectic style and wit. One night a few weeks ago I was lying awake in bed scheming on how I could get a hold of an early copy of MIND GAMES and then--POW--Carolyn contacted me wondering if I'd be interested in a review copy. I love it when the fates align like that. This is the first in the Disillusionists trilogy--and I really do love this cover. I love the tangle of highway behind her and her cool stance and watchful expression. The knife doesn't hurt. Or the blurb by Ann Aguirre at the top.
Justine Jones is on death's door. At any moment she could drop dead. Of this she is absolutely certain. But she's also aware that she is a hypochondriac in the worst way and her life has been one long, tense struggle not to give in to her disorder. And while she knows she's prone to over analyze her health (understatement much?), she also knows that her mother died from the rare vein star syndrome and, as her symptoms continue to mirror her mother's, Justine fears she's not long for this world. Then one night she goes to dinner with her numbingly normal boyfriend Cubby and meets Sterling Packard--the proprietor of the Mongolian Delites restaurant in which they are dining. Packard, it turns out, is a "highcap"--a human with mutant/super abilities. In Packard's case, he has enhanced psychic powers that allow him to channel emotions, which is how he zeroed in on Justine as she sort of blares pain and neuroses on the psychic plane. He makes her a deal she can't refuse when he offers to siphon off her constant, crushing fear and paranoia in exchange for her services on his elite psychological hit squad. As Justine delves further into Packard's history and the underground forces at work in her city, she grows increasingly uncertain as to what is right and wrong and who is worth fighting for. Or against.
I have to give props to Carolyn Crane for her insanely unique and clever idea for an urban fantasy series and protagonist. Your run-of-the-mill hypochondriacal dress shop manager turned psychological assassin fighting for justice on a vigilante special forces team headed up by a spatially challenged, rakishly handsome, possibly amoral mastermind? Genius. I lapped it up like cream. And I liked Justine from the start. I liked how torn, yet accessible she was. How she longed for normality or at least the illusion of it, almost to the exclusion of all else. How certain she felt that she was broken beyond fixing and how certain Packard felt that she wasn't and how fascinating he found her. It's alternately funny, sad, and charming to watch her find a group of friends and comrades in the other desperate misfits that made up Packard's squad. And, as much as it pained me at times, I appreciated how no single character was entirely black or white and how their abilities made them both strong and dangerous, highlighting those grays in between admirable and unbearably flawed. I will say that there is a love triangle of sorts and that, though I see pros and cons to both sides, I feel strongly inclined in one direction. It comes on a bit late in the game for me and a few more romantic scenes felt a bit awkward and/or rushed. I, of course, don't trust either of her love interests as far as I can throw them. Unless I was one of the awesome mutant throwing highcaps tearing about Midcity. In which case I would hurl both of them about at will for some of the pain they inflict on our girl! But what I enjoyed most about this story was the unquenchable comic book hero theme running through it. From the heroine's classic alliterative first and last names to the Gotham City-like atmosphere and truly disgusting villains to the normal person thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Made of awesome, my friends.(less)
I can't believe it's been over a year since I first read Perfect Chemistry. I think it feels more recent because I've been singing its praises (to the...moreI can't believe it's been over a year since I first read Perfect Chemistry. I think it feels more recent because I've been singing its praises (to the tune of "Somewhere" from West Side Story) ever since. I've only re-read it once, but I found that it held up very well the second time around. And, along with the rest of you who fell madly in love with Alex and Brittany, I was giddy with anticipation when I heard Simone Elkeles was writing a sequel featuring Alex's cocky little brother Carlos. And then the other day a lovely little package arrived in the mail out of the blue and made my day (thanks Bloomsbury)! Just look at that cover. What kind of sacrifice do you think Ms. Elkeles made to secure such freaking awesome covers? I mean, seriously. I love the Perfect Chemistry cover because that is exactly how I picture them (and how often can you say that?) and because, as my friend Trisha said, "Boy, does it do it's job well." And now I could just sit around and stare at the RULES OF ATTRACTION cover because, well, I think it speaks for itself. But, having read it, I love it even more because it is an actual scene from the book.
Carlos is fighting mad. Being carted off to Mexico without so much as a by your leave after his brother Alex got himself jumped out of the Latino Blood and took off for parts west, Carlos is less than pleased to find himself sent back to the states just when he was getting comfortable. But losing his job at the sugar mill and getting in good with the Guerreros--the local Mexican gang--earns him a one-way ticket to his brother's dumpy subsidized student apartment and a life of boredom attending Flatiron High in Boulder, Colorado. Kiara Westford is a model student at Flatiron. An avid hiker and amateur grease monkey, oversize t-shirts and hiking boots are pretty much the extent of her wardrobe. When her friend and mechanic Alex asks her to look out for his little brother Carlos, Kiara is certain she's up to the challenge. It's her senior year after all and she'd like to go out with a little more flair than is her norm. Suffice it to say, the two of them do not hit it off. True to his nature, Carlos attracts trouble almost the minute he arrives at school. When the police find his locker full of drugs, he's escorted from the premises and forced to attend a strict youth outreach program. To top things off, Kiara's father (who is also Alex's college professor and on a crusade to save the world one troubled teen at a time) offers to let Carlos move in with them until he can get back on his feet, so to speak. And the rest is history.
It was so fun to be back in this world again. Amazingly, that's what it's become for me. An entire world where impoverished Latino gang members and privileged white girls make good. Where sparks fly, attraction builds, and people stretch out of car windows to kiss in the pouring rain. But, just like its predecessor, what makes it all work even when it shouldn't are the connections between the two protagonists. Simone Elkeles somehow manages to make those points of connection feel almost unbearably real, thrummingly vibrant, and sweet as hell. I'll be honest and say I had a harder time warming up to Carlos than I did Alex. He's arrogant as all get out and I felt like Kiara's heart was on the line sooner than his and that fact made me nervous. I shouldn't have worried, though. Because when it does hit him it hits like a ton of bricks (which he deserves) and is gratifying to watch. I really liked Kiara and her kind and loving family. Similar to the gulf between Alex and Carlos, Kiara is nothing at all like Brittany (not popular or gorgeous, etc) and I liked her very much with her unselfconscious approach to life and her honest and forthright attitude. Though Carlos' overabundance of charisma and attitude throws her off her game, she refuses to let on and it seemed perfectly natural to me that he would find her both unsettling and intriguing. There is inherently less drama in this story than in Perfect Chemistry and I didn't find myself quite as involved with the characters. Carlos and Kiara are both slightly less volatile and their relationship assumes a somewhat quieter and certainly less dire arc. But I was delighted to follow its progress and perfectly happy with its resolution. Almost as delighted as I was with the brief glimpses I got of my favorite Fuentes brother and his girl. I may have giggled once or twice. Definitely recommended for fans of the first one.(less)
The other day Trisha over at The YA YA YAs posted a review of Courtney Summers' SOME GIRLS ARE that had me convinced I needed to get a hold of a copy...moreThe other day Trisha over at The YA YA YAs posted a review of Courtney Summers' SOME GIRLS ARE that had me convinced I needed to get a hold of a copy as soon as possible. Trisha's reviews often have that effect on me. Especially when she starts off with lines like these:
Courtney Summers' debut novel Cracked Up to Be won a Cybils Award last month, and I think Some Girls Are is an even better book.
First of all, for me there's nothing like the almost mystical lure of hearing that an author's second book is even better than her first. Especially when it's an author I've never read before. Second, having been involved with the awesome Cybils Awards, I am always interested in reading books by Cybils winners. I'd never read anything by Summers, though I'd certainly heard of both her books, and so later that day I went out and bought a copy of Some Girls Are and started it--like I have so many others--in the parking lot outside the bookstore.
Regina Afton was recently frozen out of her ultra-exclusive school clique. Known as the Fearsome Fivesome, this cadre of girls rules the school with their iron manicured fists. And Regina has played first attendant to her "best friend" Anna'a queen bee for years now. All she ever wanted was to belong. To have people, a certain consequence, and--perhaps most importantly of all--some control over her life. But being frozen out is akin to being jumped out of a gang it turns out. It is exquisitely painful. It is over surprisingly quickly. And it is effective immediately. And just like that Regina walks into school the next morning amid jeers and scowls to find her life is a living nightmare of sabotage, dirty tricks, and vengeance. And just as the other girls (and their cronies/lackeys) deal it out, Regina both suffers and soaks it up as she desperately scrambles for a way to fight back, to prove she's not responsible for the crime that landed her on the outside, to turn the tables on her tormentors and . . . rejoin them? But as she becomes a fixture at the outcast table at lunch, along with a boy named Michael who she helped ruin when he first moved into town, Regina gets a taste of what it's like on the other side. And as she gets to know Michael and some of her other former victims better, the question is how far is she willing to go anymore to recapture what she lost?
Trisha warned me that this was not a happy, ducks-and-daisies sort of book. That it was not a fun read, but an important one. So I knew approximately what I might be getting myself into going in. But was she ever right. This is one painful book to read. Because as petty and harmless as the above description of bratty divas and vindictive bullies may sound, these girls are not messing around. They are out for blood. Literally. And I lost count of the number of times I cringed in horror at the "tricks" they "played" in order to put each other in their place. A third of the way in I was begging for it to stop, for Regina to be free of it all, for the whole vicious Greek tragedy to come to a screeching halt as the deus ex machina swept in and carried Regina and Michael off to some sort of ducks-and-daisies post-high school Valhalla. None of which happened, of course, and it's a good thing too. Because that would have ruined this complex, arresting, and fully awesome novel. Also because it already has a perfect ending as it is and I wouldn't change a thing. I loved Courtney Summers' eerily quiet writing style that served as such a fine counterpoint to the atrocious events splashed across the novel's pages like so much blood. At the same point I was begging for it all to end I knew that SOME GIRLS ARE was automatically going on my Best of 2010 list. I could not put it down until I turned the final page and drew a shaky breath. Highly recommended.(less)
I'm pretty sure I originally became aware of Jandy Nelson's debut novel THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE when my trusty fellow Team Gale-er Adele of Persnickety...moreI'm pretty sure I originally became aware of Jandy Nelson's debut novel THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE when my trusty fellow Team Gale-er Adele of Persnickety Snark reviewed it last month. As she frequently does, Adele made me want to read the book right away by stating,
The Sky is Everywhere is an all encompassing study of grief, the strength of a sisterly bond, the power of attraction and love and ultimately the importance of being true to one's self.
I got a good vibe and immediately noted down the release date and put it on my TBR list. Then I was fortunate enough to win an ARC from the publisher in one of those awesome blink-and-you'll-miss-it Twitter giveaways. Thanks so much, Penguin tweeps! I blew through it in two short sessions and have been thinking about it on and off ever since.
Lennie Walker's life is a little unorthodox. Raised, along with her big sister Bailey, by her highly eccentric grandmother and uncle after her mother hit the road and didn't look back, Lennie's life has been pretty good all things considered. If a bit outside the box. Her grandmother tends a garden like unto the one in Eden, paints willowy green ladies on every available surface of their house, and believes one of her house plants is mystically linked to Lennie. When it sickens, Lennie sickens. When it thrives, she thrives. Her Uncle Big is the town lothario. Five failed marriages down and counting, he has a voice like God's, a marijuana habit, and a strange obsession with raising the dead. The insect dead, to be exact. But when Baily suddenly dies, Lennie's life is thrown off the tracks and she finds herself unable to cope without her larger-than-life sister's lead to follow. Bailey's boyfriend Toby is in a similar situation and the two of them find themselves drawn to each other for that new and unhappy bond they share. Even though they didn't really have much use for each other before. Bailey was the one thing they had in common and now they cling to each other as a means of not losing her completely. When she returns to school and band practice and her best friend Sarah, Lennie still fails to deal with life as it is now. And then Joe Fontaine comes into her life. Gorgeous, dorky, perpetually smiling Joe with his questions and his wanting to know. Why she climbs trees at lunchtime, why she plays the clarinet like a virtuoso yet determinedly sits second chair, and most of all why she's so sad.
Starting out I wasn't so sure. It's hard to get a grip on Lennie and her past right off the bat. And when things start escalating between her and Toby you do begin to wonder about this girl and whether or not she's going to fall all over herself throughout the novel and whether or not you'll be able to watch the train wreck. But then Jandy Nelson's lovely writing steps in and gracefully does away with your fears. And how could I not sympathize with a fellow clarinet player? I was the cliché band geek myself. And even though I got out before hitting high school (and marching band), I have always had a soft spot for my band geek clarinet girl counterparts in literature. That's part of why I enjoyed Lauren in Bloom so much. But Lennie's up against a whole mess of challenges I never faced. Like suddenly having the hots for my dead sister's boyfriend. And having him reciprocate in a seriously unhealthy way. But Nelson's almost rhythmic writing carries the reader through on a swirl of high notes and low and I sympathized with Lennie on so many levels by the time the song wound to a close. The zany characters and surprising humor sprinkled throughout the story played just the right counterpoint to the dirge of grief and regret that threaten to drown Lennie. With every fragment of memory she scrawled down on scraps of paper and the sides of coffee cups, my heart hurt for her. And with every encounter with the book's great lifesaver--Joe Fontaine--and her extremely likable grandmother and uncle, I wanted her to make it more. A favorite passage (one of many):
I find Gram, who is twirling around the living room with her sage wand like an overgrown fairy. I tell her that I'm sorry, but I don't feel well and need to go upstairs. She stops mid-whirl. I know she senses trouble, but she says, "Okay, sweet pea." I apologize to everyone and say good night as nonchalantly as possible. Joe follows me out of the room, and I decide it might be time to join a convent, just cloister up with the Sisters for awhile. He touches my shoulder and I turn around to face him. "I hope what I said in the woods didn't freak you out or something . . . hope that's not why you're crashing . . ." "No, no." His eyes are wide with worry. I add, "It made me pretty happy, actually." Which of course is true except for the slight problem that immediately after hearing his declaration, I made a date with my dead sister's boyfriend to do God knows what! "Good." He brushes his thumb on my cheek, and again his tenderness startles me. "Because I'm going crazy, Lennie." Bat. Bat. Bat. And just like that, I'm going crazy too because I'm thinking Joe Fontaine is about to kiss me. Finally. Forget the convent. Let's get this out of the way: My previously nonexistent floozy-factor is blowing right off the charts. "I didn't know you knew my name," I say. "So much you don't know about me, Lennie." He smiles and takes his index finger and presses it to my lips, leaves it there until my heart lands on Jupiter: three seconds, then removes it, turns around, and heads back into the living room. Whoa--well, that was either the dorkiest or sexiest moment of my life, and I'm voting for sexy on account of my standing here dumbstruck and giddy, wondering if he did kiss me after all. I am totally out of control. I do not think this is how normal people mourn.
Geez, I love that last line. It's so pregnant with everything that's going on in that girl. A moving and delightful read and recommended for fans of Julia Hoban, Sonya Sones, and Lisa Ann Sandell. THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE is due out today!
A Note: THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE is being compared to Sarah Dessen's novels, but I've noticed several early reviews seem to indicate Dessen fans are not that enthused with the comparison. Whereas those of us who don't seem to connect with Dessen's work find Nelson's book both fresh and compelling. There are, of course, exceptions but I'm interested to see if this trend continues or if it's merely conjecture on my part.(less)
You'll remember back in January I found myself surprised and delighted with Julie James' first two novels. I dubbed them "bibliocrack" because as far...moreYou'll remember back in January I found myself surprised and delighted with Julie James' first two novels. I dubbed them "bibliocrack" because as far as cold Januaries and book slumps go, they were good for what ailed me and I eagerly anticipated Ms. James' third novel--SOMETHING ABOUT YOU. Fortunately, I didn't have long to wait. In fact, the longest part about it was sitting in my chair at work knowing the book had arrived that afternoon and was waiting at home for me. Now those are the things that really make the afternoon drag, you know? But I can't complain too much as I did get to curl up at the end of the night knowing that both laughter and love awaited me within the pages of this charming novel.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron Lynde has closed the deal on her latest case and is taking a much-needed one-night break at a local luxury hotel. But it turns out she picked the wrong hotel as she is kept up all night by her loudly carousing neighbors. After calling the front desk to complain and peeking out her door when security arrives, Cameron is surprised to see a figure retreating from the room next door. Not long after FBI agents take over the crime scene and Cameron is restricted to her room as the only potential eye-witness. But it isn't until Agent Jack Pallas walks into the room that she's sure things are going to hell in a hand basket. Three years ago she and Agent Pallas worked together on a case to bring down one of the biggest crime rings in Chicago. The case went down in flames and words were exchanged that could not be taken back. Jack's career was almost destroyed and he was transferred out to the boonies to defuse the situation. Now he's back in town and his primary eyewitness is the one woman he hates more than any other.
You can count on a good time with a Julie James book and that's what I love about them. The characters are incredibly likable. Even when they're hating on each other, you can tell that undercurrent of honest connection is going to win out. And, perhaps most likable of all, they don't make the too stupid to forgive move. Don't get me wrong, J.D. comes mighty close in Practice Makes Perfect. Dude, seriously? On no kind of level was that ever going to be a good idea. And yet I still love him at the end. And, honestly, I think we have to chalk this up to them all being essentially good guys. Sure they walk around acting cocky and slightly dangerous (in Jack's case certifiably lethal, actually) but they're at heart good guys with their priorities in the right place and their hearts firmly tethered to our girls'--an immensely endearing quality to this reader. Particularly when the girls are smart, educated, and deserving of a good guy's attentions and affection. It all combines to make me incredibly happy. And in SOMETHING ABOUT YOU we encounter perhaps the most likable of all. Both Cameron and Jack are so dang noble. It's impossible not to like them both from the very beginning. And as their violent dislike isn't actually that at all, but based on a monumental misunderstanding (and no real despicable acts on their parts), I found myself intensely fond of them both right away and it was fun for a change to just watch them remember everything they liked about each other as they worked together to solve the case. As always, James' secondary characters shine and these were possibly my favorites of hers. Cameron's friend Colin and Jack's partner Wilkins are solid and very intent on protecting their friends. Like I said, there's simply nothing not to like. SOMETHING ABOUT YOU is an utterly enjoyable read from cover to cover.(less)
For the last couple of weeks I've been obsessively checking my local bookstore's stock online to see if Deanna Raybourn's THE DEAD TRAVEL FAST just ha...moreFor the last couple of weeks I've been obsessively checking my local bookstore's stock online to see if Deanna Raybourn's THE DEAD TRAVEL FAST just happened to get in early. Yes, I actually am that nerdy and it's much too late to do anything about it. But, in this case, the effort paid off as a nice, healthy stack of them awaited me on the "New Fiction" table when I dashed in from the rain on my way home from work. As you know, I am a devoted Lady Julia Grey fan. I adore that series and am anxiously awaiting the upcoming fourth installment--Dark Road to Darjeeling--due out this October. But when I heard she was working on a standalone historical set in Transylvania and featuring a would-be lady novelist and a mysterious count...well...I was equal parts intrigued and excited. Who knew what delights and promises it would hold?
Miss Theodora LeStrange has come to the end of her rope. When her grandfather and guardian passes away, her well-meaning if rather insipid brother-in-law takes it upon himself to determine what exactly is to be done with her. Terrified of what he will come up with, Theodora grasps at the nearest straw in the form of a letter from her old school friend Cosmina who now resides at Castle Dragulescu in Transylvania. She invites Theodora to come and stay in celebration of her approaching nuptials. A budding novelist, Theodora convinces her friend and publisher Charles Beecroft the experience will serve to inspire her imagination and fuel the novel she knows is lurking inside just waiting to be brought forth. Against their better judgement, her family and friends let her go and the adventure of a lifetime begins. Upon arrival Theodora is reunited with Cosmina and introduced to the aging Countess and her mysterious son--the newly appointed Count. In a land where the sinister is a daily occurrence and the horrifying merely commonplace, Theodora's imagination is more than stimulated. It is driven into overdrive as her Scottish pragmatism wars with the inexplicable and increasingly nightmarish events unfolding in this small Roumanian village at the edge of the world.
This was such an interesting read. It was at times exactly and not at all what I expected and my response to it evolved as the pages turned. I liked Theodora from the beginning. She is much more pragmatic, yet somehow less sure of herself than Julia Grey and I wondered how she would handle the--what seemed to me--clearly supernatural events at Castle Dragulescu. But just when you (and she) think you have the story and Count Andrei figured out, the narrative takes a meditative turn and you find yourself not at all sure. Perhaps it is merely smoke and mirrors and can all be explained away by an ancient grudge, a marital infidelity, or a genetic predisposition. And so the tale winds on, weaving back and forth between the mundane and the spectacular, never revealing its secrets. At first I was impatient to discover the truth, but it was when I gave myself up to the story that I enjoyed Deanna Raybourn's wonderfully gifted way with words. I was amazed at how seamless the writing and the dialogue were. Initially I wanted to like Andrei as much as I do Brisbane, but he is an entirely different breed of alpha male and not nearly as instantly likable. But he isn't meant to be, I don't think. Much more Rochester than Thornton from the word go. And once again, it was when I sat back and let it wash over me that I really was able to appreciate this novel for what it is--a pitch-perfect Victorian Gothic romance. And the ending was perfect. What a talent for endings Ms. Raybourn has and how much I look forward to each of her books--whatever style or genre they may be.
A Note: For Lady Julia Grey aficionados, there is a delightful little reference to that series hidden in THE DEAD TRAVEL FAST. It left a happily satisfied smile on my face. See if you can spot it.(less)
I know what you're gonna say. "Um, Angie? DOUBLEBLIND came out like five months ago. What are you doing reviewing it in February? And you call yoursel...moreI know what you're gonna say. "Um, Angie? DOUBLEBLIND came out like five months ago. What are you doing reviewing it in February? And you call yourself a fan..." Before you judge me too harshly, I thought I'd lost it. I've been ransacking my house for months trying to find it and hadn't replaced it because I knew it just had to be there somewhere. But it was starting to get a bit ridiculous and just when I was about to go buy another copy, I found it! I won't tell you where because it's embarrassing. But it and I were supremely happy to see each other again and I immediately dove into the Adventures of Jax 3.0 and it was like I was right at home again, as though we hadn't been apart for months on end.
Jax is growing up. Despite herself. As the ambassador to Vel's home planet of Ithiss-Tor, she finds herself forced to play a part. A part she feels supremely unsuited for. It doesn't help that she's accompanied by her particularly ragtag group of rebels, each of whom seems to have a reason to distrust her at this point. And none of them more than her former lover March. Destroyed by another war, the tough-as-nails pilot has completely withdrawn so as not to pose a quite literal threat to Jax and her mission. Now that he's just a ticking time bomb, Jax is unsure what (if anything) she can or should do bring him back. And knowing March the way she does, he wouldn't want her to. More and more it seems Vel is the only one she can count on and, now that they're both in enemy territory, so to speak, they will have to combine their not inconsiderable personal arsenals in order to forge the alliance the Conglomerate needs to mount a defense against the encroaching threat of the Morgut.
DOUBLEBLIND is a much quieter book than the previous two in the series. But it wouldn't do to underestimate it because it doesn't flash and bang quite as spectacularly as its comrades. If you're a Vel fan, this book is for you. My favorite thing about it was the scenes Jax and Vel shared as he teaches her about the world he abandoned years ago and she teaches him about friendship between outsiders. There's so much political maneuvering going on that the few quiet interpersonal scenes are quite relieving to read. As always, the charged interactions between Jax and March pack such a punch. At this point, three books in, their history is one gorgeous, messy roller coaster and all I could do was hope they made it through without killing each other. I love how tightly coiled March was and how Vel seemed to always be there when Jax was in more danger than she realized. Which is often with Jax. Usually I'm the one holding my breath while reading. In this case it seemed as though each of the characters were holding their breaths, consciously restraining themselves for fear of what horror they might unleash with one wrong move. DOUBLEBLIND did have the feel of a transition book to me and I found myself turning the pages quickly, wanting to get to the end already, my mind looking ahead to what Ann Aguirre has in store for us next with Killbox, which is due out in September.(less)
It's fascinating to me how, given two quite similar books or styles of book, one will leave you cold and the other has you at hello. I think about thi...moreIt's fascinating to me how, given two quite similar books or styles of book, one will leave you cold and the other has you at hello. I think about this phenomenon all the time and wonder what quality it is that pushes one over into a reading match. Most recently I found myself pondering this as I read Alexandra Bracken's debut novel BRIGHTLY WOVEN. The cover caught my eye back in October and, really, it is at once so attractive and nicely representative of both the book and the character. I then read several pretty exciting reviews and was delighted to win an ARC in a giveaway hosted by the generous Anastasia Hopcus. I eagerly awaited its arrival in the mail and cracked it open the day it came.
Sydelle Mirabel has always lived in a small, dusty town in a small, dusty corner of her country. An accomplished weaver, Sydelle lives a quiet life completing her chores, helping her hardworking parents, and sneaking what moments she can to roam on the hills with her childhood friend and his little brothers. Then one day an unusual person walks into town, bringing storms in his wake. In exchange for this miracle, Wayland North is given his choice of rewards. He chooses Sydelle. And before she can manage to question why or say goodbye, North whisks her away under the tattered folds of his many cloaks. Sydelle soon discovers the world is not the way she imagined it to be. And neither is North. With his capricious nature and tendency to overindulge, this unlikely wizard may hold the fate of the war and weather-torn nation in his rough hands and Sydelle is not at all sure he is up to the task. At least not on his own.
BRIGHTLY WOVEN is a lovely surprise of a story. In many ways it's reminiscent of a few ubiquitous YA fantasy authors, particularly Diana Wynne Jones and Sherwood Smith. North is quite an offbeat (and profligate) hero and I wasn't sure at first if he would win me over. He starts off mysterious and interesting with his swirling cloaks, his dark gloves, and his refusal to explain anything. As we, along with Sydelle, get to know him better he reminded me more and more of the infamous Howl from Howl's Moving Castle. As I don't number myself among Howl's fans (I know, I know), I was worried this would detract from my enjoyment of the story. Such was happily not the case. Alexandra Bracken manages to strike the perfect note between the humorous and the dire, the ridiculous and the heart wrenching. Sydelle is a strong character from the start. Forthright and sensible, she puts up with only as much of North's nonsense as she absolutely must to survive and, despite his vagueness and his secrecy, her focus never wavers from saving her country and her home from those who would see it destroyed. The relationship between the two of them slowly strengthens and takes on an appreciable gravity and closeness across the course of their many wild dashes hither and yon across the land. The world building matches the characters in both quirk and charm so that it was a pleasure to track their chaotic progress. I liked how North is in turn hapless and fierce, how he can never find his way but stalks off to fight a dragon or a duel at the drop of a hat. I believed in him and in Sydelle. And, in the end, what more can you ask of a read? BRIGHTLY WOVEN is due out March 23rd.(less)
You've got to hand it to Rachel Vincent. She can churn out a page-turner like nobody's business. And, really, with the way she tends to end each novel...moreYou've got to hand it to Rachel Vincent. She can churn out a page-turner like nobody's business. And, really, with the way she tends to end each novel on a spectacular cliffhanger, I appreciate how close together Mira has released the last two. Installment number five, Shift Shifters 5, is due out in just one month and so I'm particularly glad I waited awhile to read PREY as the end of this one left me even more bereft than the last. A feat I didn't think was actually possible considering the consequences surrounding that ending. I had heard rumors of darkness swirling their way through the internets in regards to this volume and that probably contributed a little bit to my rather unusual willingness to wait as I was afraid of who would be hurt this time and by whom.
Faythe is counting down the hours. Since one of the conditions of her acquittal was Marc's banishment to the neutral territory, she's been on pins and needles worrying about his safety, relying on infrequent telephone calls to reassure her of his continued wellbeing. And when she's not fretting over Marc, she's busy playing nursemaid to the Sanders' newest refugee. Kaci refuses to shift and allow her body to heal and become one with its werecat self. But she worships Faythe and so it's our girl's job to convince the young girl that all won't go to hell in a hand basket if she lets her guard down long enough to shift. There is also the matter of Manx's trial and the political machinations to do with the sudden presence of another rogue female and the role of female werecats in general within the strictly patriarchal werecat community. So when Marc goes missing and packs of strays are seen prowling the neutral territory, Faythe, her brothers, and all her father's enforcers are on a mission to get to the root of these mysteriously linked events.
I'm happy to confirm that the hints of maturation and resolve we saw in Faythe throughout Pride Shifters 3 are all present and accounted for in PREY. She's very intent on the important things in this book. She hasn't lost sight of them and she is aware, in a way I don't think she ever has been in the past, of how her actions and her past affect her present and, more importantly, her future. I have always liked Faythe. But I liked her most of all this time around. Better than any of the other characters, in fact, which is saying something as I am kind of a fan of Marc. And Jace, too. But I loved how dogged she was about finding Marc and fulfilling her obligations to her father and Kaci, even to Manx's little son. That said, I would be remiss if I did not note the elephant in the room in PREY. A sense of inescapable doom hangs over this story and I had the distinct feeling that that horrible thing you're afraid will happen the entire time would not actually take place, and then, just when you think it's safe to let out that breath you've been holding, the equally but different horrible thing you're not thinking of would bash you over the head. And I was spot on. When it comes it deals a direct blow and from that moment on things are messy and painful and very, very conflicting. I finished completely unsure of how I felt, torn over what went down in the end. And nothing is going to help me figure it out but reading Shift Shifters 5 and seeing how Ms. Vincent chooses to let the chips fall. I'll just be over here crossing my fingers they don't fall the way I'm afraid they will. (less)
So I've talked about my Joan Lowery Nixon phase before. I actually think I discovered Lois Duncan right before Nixon, but the two will always go hand...moreSo I've talked about my Joan Lowery Nixon phase before. I actually think I discovered Lois Duncan right before Nixon, but the two will always go hand and hand in my mind. Together they perfectly satisfied my twelve-year-old thirst for a light blending of suspense and the macabre. And no Duncan book did that better than the deliciously creepy LOCKED IN TIME. I enjoyed all of her books and they all succeeded in giving me the chills at one point or another. My old copy of I Know What You Did Last Summer is definitely showing its age and my love, as I loved revisiting those characters the most. But LOCKED IN TIME is the one that truly scared me. Not just chills, not just anxious anticipation, but the real deal, had me setting the book down long enough to calm my racing heart kind of scared.
Seventeen-year-old Nore has been away at boarding school since her mother died a year ago. Now she's on her way to Louisiana to visit her father and his new wife and her two children. When she arrives at Shadow Grove, several things are clear. Her father is happy with his new life. Her stepmother Lisette, stepbrother Gabe, and stepsister Josie are perfectly well-mannered and perfectly beautiful. And something is very, very wrong with them. Through conversations she has with elderly neighbors and residents of the town, Nore's seemingly crazy suspicions about Lisette, Gabe, and the entire Berge family start to grow. These vaguely horrific suspicions grow stronger as she overhears them discuss events from decades ago as though they were there when they happened. Nore finds herself torn between her distrust of Lisette and her growing friendship with Gabe. Determined to make her father come to his senses and see the truth, Nore rushes to solve the mystery of her new family before her time at Shadow Grove runs out.
When I think about this story now, years since I last re-read it, I am still instantly filled with the same overwhelming emotions--an appreciation for the heady beauties of the Deep South mixed with a sense of impending doom. Ms. Duncan struck the perfect chord with the impossibly lovely Berges and the simultaneous fear and longing Nore feels when in the presence of a "real" family again. The truth to the mystery unfolds smoothly and slowly, like warm molasses, creeping up behind you to tap you on the shoulder. In some ways it reminded me of a younger, simpler Mary Stewart novel, with its lovely heroine and its beautiful atmosphere. I remember thinking Nore was brave and being desperate for someone to believe her, for Gabe not to really be trying to kill her, for her father, in his grief, not to have ruined them both so thoroughly. It's the same emotional connection I seek out today when I'm in the mood for something slightly dangerous, slightly haunting, slightly bittersweet. It was these early young adult mysteries that led me to the Mary Stewarts, the Laurie Kings, the Deanna Raybourns I discovered later on. I will always love them for being the beginning. (less)
MISTWOOD has been on my radar for close to a year now, if you can believe it. I've been monitoring its status updates on Amazon and GoodReads and chec...moreMISTWOOD has been on my radar for close to a year now, if you can believe it. I've been monitoring its status updates on Amazon and GoodReads and checking Leah Cypess' site regularly for any news. There have been tantalizingly few details about this book floating around the verse. I knew it was YA fantasy. I knew it was about a girl who was a shifter. And I knew it took place in a kingdom in trouble. The back cover copy proclaims it:
For fans of Kristin Cashore's Graceling and Fire, Tamora Pierce, and Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia books
Ahem. That combination right there is only like the holy triumvirate of YA fantasy awesome. And so it was with unmitigated glee that I pulled my ARC out of its box a few days ago. I started reading it that night.
She has no memory. No concept of an existence before the moment they came riding into the Mistwood to drag her back to a castle full of high walls, dark secrets, and the suffocating need of the prince. They call her Isabel. The Shifter. The mythical being who can take any form at a moment's notice, who is faster and stronger than any human, whose entire reason for existing is to protect the rulers of Samorna. From harm. From death. With her own life if necessary. And though she answers the insistent pull to protect Prince Rokan, Isabel cannot reconcile who she might be and what she might have been with who they expect her to be. Set apart by her uncertain status and the legend of her origins, she struggles to harness her abilities and come to grips with human emotions and motivations. Amid a swirl of court politics, scheming factions, and doubtful loyalties, the Shifter must race against time to save the man who would be king. A man she is bound to. A man she distrusts. A man she has come to call her friend.
First things first. The cover copy does not lie. Fans of Kristin Cashore, Tamora Pierce, and Megan Whalen Turner will definitely find much to delight among MISTWOOD's pages. Leah Cypess' debut novel is tense, intricately woven, and filled with an almost palpable sense of mystery and foreboding. The entire time I was reading it, I kept thinking to myself--anything could happen. I had no idea how things were going to play out. And I loved that about it. You literally have no idea who to trust. There are those you want to trust so badly, but are afraid to for fear of how much it will hurt if they betray you. And there are those you wouldn't put anything past, so devious do they appear. But all of them surprise you at one point or another. And at the heart of it all is a girl who is neither one thing nor another. Ms. Cypess does an excellent job of endearing Isabel to her readers, no mean feat when she is a supernatural being, a creature purportedly without feeling or even the basic understanding of human emotions. Despite this, I felt Isabel's emotions. With her I felt trapped. I felt confusion, longing, and a desperate drive to understand and to fulfill the measure of my existence.
A favorite passage early on (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
Rokan took a deep breath. The directness of his gaze strengthened his resemblance to the man in the painting, though there was nothing cold or judgmental in his eyes. He was trying to appear as regal as he could, but uncertainty was written all over him, and his face was flushed from his argument with Clarisse.
"I wasn't able to wake you earlier, or I would have warned you. Nobody knows I went to the Mistwood. We think it would be best to keep your true identity a secret for now. I hope you're not offended." "Of course not," said Isabel, who had no idea what her true identity was. "That seems wise."
"Rokan ran his hand over his hair and clutched the back of his neck. "Oh. Good." He hesitated again, then blurted, "I don't actually know that much about the Shifter."
Then you know more than I do, Isabel thought, and saw an opportunity. She gave him her most enigmatic smile and said, "Tell me what you do know."
"Most of it is legend. An immortal creature who protects the kings of Samorna with her wisdom and magic." He massaged the back of his neck. "When the realm is peaceful, the Shifter sometimes leaves the castle and goes to the Mistwood. Then there may be no Shifter for twenty, fifty, once even a hundred years. But when she is needed, she always comes."
"There's even a song about you," Clarisse put in. "It's very pretty, if you like the high notes."
Isabel ignored her. Based on her brief experience, that already seemed like the best way to deal with Clarisse. She stepped closer to the door and turned sideways, so that she could be closer to Rokan without allowing Clarisse or Will out of her line of sight.
Rokan dropped his hand to his side and continued. "You left ten years ago, and at the time you were called Isabel. I was a child then, but . . ." He faltered and glanced at his sister. "We weren't sure you would come back. When you left . . . there were circumstances."
Running through the snow, blood trailing behind her. Tears falling, not leaving a mark like the blood, and that seemed wrong. Pain. Terrible, terrible pain . . .
"Yes," Isabel said without thinking, "there were."
Rokan straightened, pulling away from the wall. He, Will, and Clarisse looked at one another. They were afraid. Rokan and Clarisse both hid it almost well enough, but Will's face was near white.
Rokan recovered first, leaning back gingerly against the wall, trying to act casual. "So why did you leave?"
Isabel lifted her eyebrows. "I am not going to tell you that, Your Highness."
Rokan's hand tightened against his leg, but all he said was, "I understand."
Isabel highly doubted it.
I was glued to the page with this one, guys. Cypess' writing is quiet, yet gripping. The world itself felt truly unique and, as is the case with my very favorite fantasies, as though it possessed a long and winding history that precedes and encompasses this time and these people. By the time I reached the point of no return, I had abandoned all hope of guessing the outcome and simply devoured the final emotionally charged pages. With a cast of conflicted, compelling characters and a mystery so serpentine your mind is left spinning with explanations and implications, MISTWOOD is a bewitching and beguiling debut. I loved it and cannot wait to watch the reviews roll in.
I read Practice Makes Perfect in one night and enjoyed it so much I immediately went out and hunted down Julie James' first book--JUST THE SEXIEST MAN...moreI read Practice Makes Perfect in one night and enjoyed it so much I immediately went out and hunted down Julie James' first book--JUST THE SEXIEST MAN ALIVE. As the title might indicate, this one features a ridiculously famous actor who has recently been named People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive. Jason Andrews is on top of the world and believes nothing is out of his reach. Then, while preparing for his next legal thriller, he agrees to spend a day with an actual attorney to help get into the role. Taylor Donavan is only in L.A. for a few months. On loan from her law firm in Chicago, she's helping out with a high stakes sexual harassment case. Then she's asked to do a "favor" for one of the partners and babysit Jason Andrews for a day or two to show him what it's like to be a real lawyer. Furious at this monumental waste of her time, and still smarting from breaking off her engagement, Taylor is determined to hate the big, dumb movie star. For his part, Jason is intrigued by the existence of a woman who appears to actually dislike him. And from that point, things pretty much go the way of the inevitable.
Once again. Julie James scores with pure bibliocrack. And I find myself hard pressed to say which of her books I prefer. They're both funny and endearing and endlessly entertaining. As was the case with Practice Makes Perfect, the writing is smart, the dialogue funny, the protagonists hot, the intimate scenes minimal and fade to black, and the ending straight out of a movie. It's worth mentioning how well Ms. James does best friends, particularly the male ones. I was struck by how kind and honest they were and how the main characters were never petty with them, but rather valued them highly in their lives. Good stuff. At the same time, she seems to have a knack for making me like the hard-to-like guy in both cases. They, of course, turn out to be not so hard to like at all. But they start out firmly in the No, thanks camp for me and by the end I'm kind of a fan. Well played, Ms. James. I myself can't wait for her third book, Something About You, which is due out March 2nd.(less)
Okay, as you all know I am not very well-versed in the romance genre. I took my first dip in last summer when The Book Smugglers dared me to read Lore...moreOkay, as you all know I am not very well-versed in the romance genre. I took my first dip in last summer when The Book Smugglers dared me to read Loretta Chase's Mr. Impossible. While I had a great time completing the dare and reporting on it, the book was not my cup of tea and I wasn't so taken with the experience that I wanted to repeat it again just yet. I have, however, casually been keeping my eye out for my next attempt. Based on my reactions to Mr. Impossible, Ana recommended giving Julia Quinn's What Happens in London a shot, but every time I go to the library it's been checked out. This is probably a good sign. And so I figured I'd just wait for that one to come back in and give it a go. Then, as part of the Smugglivus Feats of Strength, Thea read and reviewed Julie James' PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT--one of Ana's favorites of '09. And it was like the this is the next one light went on in my head. I think it was Thea's comment:
I was a little nervous going into Practice Makes Perfect - but from the first page of this delightful book, I found myself immersed and entertained. Ms. James' novel is romantic comedy at its finest.
How could I resist that? Especially when she followed it up by noting that there is a decided lack of "mush" and play-by-play sex scenes in the book. In short, it sounded made to order.
Payton and J.D. have worked at the same Chicago law firm for eight years. And for eight years they have been at each other's throats. Opposites in almost every way, Payton is a liberal vegetarian, attended a public university, and worked her way up the corporate ladder on pure talent and grit. J.D. Jameson, on the other hand, is as old money/conservative as they come, grew up privileged, attended an Ivy League school, and considers himself a shoo-in for partner. Since they specialized in different kinds of law, they are fortunate not to have to work with each other too often. The fragile balance is thrown off kilter, however, when they're assigned to the same case and forced to see if they can put aside their animosity in favor of securing those partnerships they've both been counting on.
I was still hesitant as I cracked open PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT. And for the first few pages I still wasn't sure. The somewhat blatant clichés (liberal feminist vs. conservative money) worried me and I was concerned the predictability would end up bothering me and that the characterization would be slapdash at best. But then Payton and J.D. start interacting. And the dialogue...well, it's incredibly witty. They excel at insulting each other and concocting hilarious pranks to play. Having known and hated each other so long they know all the right buttons to push. But my favorite part is how the wit doesn't end when they stop talking. Ms. James stays in their heads just long enough that we get that sort of running self-editorializing of thoughts that we all do and that is simply hilarious to be in on. The other aspect of the book I enjoyed was all the legal shoptalk. Ms. James herself was a lawyer for many years and it shows in the writing. I appreciated how interesting it was and it definitely lent the story a welcome authenticity.
What can I say? This book is bibliocrack. In the most basic sense of the term. Absolutely addictive, hilariously entertaining, irresistible romantic comedy. I ate it up with a spoon and consider my time reading very well spent, especially as Thea was exactly right. It features smart, independent protagonists who are good at their jobs and have interests and goals in life outside of the romantic. And these protagonists are drawn to each other because of these qualities. And, okay, yes, they're pretty much aces as far as the hotness factor goes, but their connections are real and you want them to understand each other and realize what's there under the hot lawyer surface. The writing is clean and even, the dialogue shoulder-shaking-giggles-inducing (though expect a fair amount of language), the best friends good and true, the tension sizzling, the intimate scenes minimal and fade to black, and the endings just the way you want them--decidedly happy. If you're in the mood for any or all of the above, you might as well grab yourself a bowl of popcorn and settle in, because you're in for a rocking good time.(less)
I remember the day I first discovered science fiction grand dame Andre Norton. I walked into our favorite used bookstore in San Antonio, Texas. The sa...moreI remember the day I first discovered science fiction grand dame Andre Norton. I walked into our favorite used bookstore in San Antonio, Texas. The same used bookstore where I first ran across so many other gems. This particular trip I was looking for something unusual and different and my eye caught on the cover on the left above. I liked how angular the art was and the look of the two companions traveling through what appeared to be an extremely bleak, almost sinister landscape. So I picked up THE CRYSTAL GRYPHON and took it home with me. I was intrigued by the title as I had absolutely no idea what a gryphon was or if a crystal one was exceptional in any way. Shortly after returning home I blew back into the shop, hoping against hope they would have the two sequels it listed inside the cover. Lucky for me, they did. And they had learned by then not to be surprised by the neighborhood kid's urgent comings and goings. I'm pretty sure one of them was a Norton fan anyway.
Kerovan has been cursed since birth. On her way home, his mother was forced to take shelter in one of the ancient ruins of the Old Ones and, as a result, Kerovan was born with hooves instead of feet and eyes the color of molten amber. The heir to the Ulmsdale estate in High Hallack, Kerovan's life has never been his own and he spent much of it being tutored in private and shunned in public by his father's people who do not trust the eldritch young lord. At the same time, far away in the Dales, the young lady Joisan has been married by proxy since she was eight years old to a mysterious Lord Kerovan whom she has never met. Expected to grow up and take over the reins of running his household, Joisan's path takes a drastically different turn when an unidentified force invades High Hallack from the sea. With nothing but a small gryphon set in a crystal globe sent from her lord to wear around her neck, Joisan takes up the armor and weapons to defend her homeland. Kerovan is forced to travel to find Joisan and the two strangers must join together to defeat the dark magic that is invading their land.
In this case, I can tell you that the cover art on that first book is right on. I can't imagine a cover that would more effectively convey the marvelous blend of cold magic and unknown danger that fills this novel. I fell instantly under its spell and could not get enough of Kerovan and Joisan and the awkward way they had to get to know one another against a backdrop of war. They are both so tentative and independent and used to silence and walking hallways alone. The idea of the marriage by proxy fascinated me in a sort of morbid way. I felt so bad for Joisan, but bad for Kerovan as well as he was not used to people becoming accustomed to him and/or welcoming them to their homes. He cannot imagine Joisan would want him and, when she mistakes him for one of the Old Ones upon first meeting, he is sure of it. The story alternates between their points of view and by the time they actually meet for the first time the reader is filled with that delicious mouthful of more knowledge than the characters themselves have and a fierce urging to root for them. It was a pleasure watching them get to know one another and it was especially interesting as the world itself is such a well-developed major player in the novel. Things are by no means "resolved" by its end and I plowed through the next two with relish. A highly recommended trilogy, certainly for Norton fans, but also for those who enjoy their fantasy mixed with a hint of the weird and featuring a pair of strong main characters. Reading Order: THE CRYSTAL GRYPHON, Gryphon in Glory, and Gryphon's Eyrie (co-written with A.C. Crispin)(less)
I had, of course, seen WILLOW all over the blogosphere when it came out last April. It got tons of good press and I suspected it was a pretty solid re...moreI had, of course, seen WILLOW all over the blogosphere when it came out last April. It got tons of good press and I suspected it was a pretty solid read. But I admit I stayed away. In part, because of the subject matter. I'm a bit of a lightweight when it comes to self-harm or abuse in all their forms and cutting (Willow's specialty) is a particularly visible and grisly form of self-harm. At the same time, I can and have read several books featuring one or both of these topics and absolutely loved them. It's all in the approach, I suppose. That and how deft a touch the author has and how well the characters are drawn. And then Harmony featured it in her Top Books of 2009 post under the category of My Second Favorite Book of 2009 and something just clicked. I reserved it at my library that day and, when it came in just a few days later, I went and picked it up.
Willow is not okay. Seven months ago her parents died in a car crash with Willow behind the wheel. And it's been seven months of anguish since that awful night. Since then she's left her incredibly normal life behind, moved in with her older brother and his wife and baby girl, and started at a new school where she is sure everyone is talking about her behind her back. The girl who killed her parents. Since then she's also discovered cutting. In lieu of melting down completely, Willow finds release and a brief respite from the overwhelming emotional pain and a brother who won't talk to her and most likely blames her for their parents' death by inflicting physical pain on herself. She's not particular. Arms, legs, even her stomach will do, as long as she can successfully hide it from her brother, her teachers, and her fellow classmates. Willow is scrupulous about taking care of the cuts after and never working in one place for too long. But things are drifting precariously closer to the edge. And then a young man walks into the library on Willow's shift looking for a few anthropology books and Willow is assigned to help him. Willow and Guy fall into rather comfortable conversation and, even though she runs the other way before long, a seed has been planted that will change the fabric of Willow's life from this point on.
WILLOW is incredibly earnest in its approach to one girl's unhealthy attempts to survive a life that has been ripped apart. I was struck by Julia Hoban's sort of stripped down depiction of Willow's thoughts and actions as she struggled to get through each day. Her relationship with her brother, in particular, rang true for me. You can tell they're both trying so freaking hard not to burden the other with their grief and, in the meantime, failing spectacularly to deal with the grief alone or interact with each other on anything other than a purely superficial basis. I liked how there were no sinister motives on anyone's part in this book. Real life is rough enough without evil lurking around every corner. And it added to the reader's sense of being firmly grounded in the here and now. There were no big reveals. There was no mystery to unravel. There was just Willow. And there was Guy. Who is really too sweet for words and I loved him and felt sorry for him and kept wondering what in the world I would do in his place. I had a slightly harder time connecting with Willow, but that stems mainly from the lack of bone crushing guilt in my life and my subsequent inability to contemplate cutting myself. The point is, I bought them both. And I bought them together. And I cared about what happened to them. Though some scenes were hard to read, I never felt the urge to put WILLOW down or take a breather and I very much enjoyed it.(less)
Several years ago, while wandering through the science fiction and fantasy section of the local Media Play, I crouched down to see what was on the bot...moreSeveral years ago, while wandering through the science fiction and fantasy section of the local Media Play, I crouched down to see what was on the bottom shelf in the M section. My eyes caught on a book that was faced out and that featured two warriors, one red-headed and one blonde, both of them sporting copious amounts of cloudy hair and swooping kilts, clutching swords in their hands. I'd never heard of KINGMAKER'S SWORD or author Ann Marston before, but I decided to pick it up based on the fact that it was a mass market paperback (and thus inexpensive) and that I liked the colors and the soft, matte finish to the cover. I noted that it was the first in a trilogy--the Rune Blade trilogy--and that the other two books were on the shelf so I could easily come back for them if the first book entertained.
Mouse is a slave. Dubbed Foxmouse because of his flaming red hair, he is now known as just Mouse and he is about to make his escape. Two nights ago his sole friend in the world was savagely assaulted and murdered while he watched and that horrific act simultaneously crushed Mouse and did away with any reason he had to stay in the filthy hole he has lived in for as long as he could remember. While on his headlong flight to freedom, Mouse runs into his past in the form of a hulking Tyran clansman on a journey to find his long-lost nephew. Suspecting Mouse may just be that boy, Cullin dav Medroch dubs the boy Kian and takes him under his wing. On their way back to Tyra, Cullin and Kian encounter a determined swordswoman by the name of Kerridwen who is on a quest of her own. When Kerridwen and Kian accidentally cross blades a bond is forged that takes them both unpleasantly by surprise and shapes the direction their paths will take from that point on.
I was pleasantly surprised by KINGMAKER'S SWORD. Judging by the kilts on the cover, I should have known to expect a rollicking Celtic-inspired sword-and-sorcery adventure, and that's exactly what it was. Tyra is essentially a slightly altered Scotland, along with the island of Celi and the province of Skai, where Kerri hails from. The book opens with a breakdown of the different seasons in this world, a pronunciation guide, and a map--sort of the holy triumverate of opening pages when it comes to pulpy sword-and-sorcery novels. There is nothing earth-shatteringly new in these books, but they are undeniably fun, smoothly written, and peopled with enjoyably heroic characters pitted against dastardly evil sorcerers against a suitably epic backdrop. I ate them up with a spoon and they have worn rather well over the years. This trilogy follows three generations of Kian's family, including his children and grandchildren. And while I'm usually dismayed when a series jumps generations like that, I have to say that is not the case here as the second novel, The Western King, is definitely the finest installment. Marston follows this trilogy up with another, the Sword in Exile trilogy, which continues the story of the rune blades and the line of the princes of Skai. It, too, is worth a read. Both series are now out of print, but if you can find a copy I do recommend them, particularly for fans of Jennifer Roberson, Susan Dexter, and Moira J. Moore. Reading Order: Kingmaker's Sword, The Western King, and Broken Blade(less)
A few years ago I was twiddling my thumbs, waiting for the new Sookie Stackhouse book to come out, when I decided to see what else Charlaine Harris ha...moreA few years ago I was twiddling my thumbs, waiting for the new Sookie Stackhouse book to come out, when I decided to see what else Charlaine Harris had written. Turned out she'd written a lot of other books, including three other mystery series featuring similarly intrepid heroines. My eye immediately settled on the Lily Bard series of mysteries also known as the "Shakespeare" mysteries because main character Lily lives in the small town of Shakespeare, Arkansas, and because each book has the word Shakespeare in the title. Up until recently all five of the Lily Bard mysteries were out of print, but then Berkeley Prime Crime re-released the entire series in very attractive mass market editions. My mom gave me the first one, SHAKESPEARE'S LANDLORD, as a Christmas present and I started tracking down the other four before I was even twenty pages in. A big fan of the Sookie books, I was instantly drawn to this darker, less humorous but no less compelling series.
Lily Bard isn't precisely in hiding, but she's flying as far below the radar as is humanly possible. After chopping her hair off, toning her body into lean, mean fighting machine, and then hiding it all under the baggiest and blandest of clothes, Lily decides to settle in the sleepy, little town of Shakespeare, Arkansas in an attempt to disappear. She chose Shakespeare at random off the map because she thought it was rather poetic given her last name. During the day Lily works as a cleaning lady, while at night she trains hard at bodybuilding and karate at the local gym. Every night she hopes it'll be hard enough to allow her to sleep. In her line of work, Lily is in and out of homes, apartments, and office buildings all across town. She sees and hears a lot more than she'd like. Most of it is just your usual small town gossip. But one night, while out on one of her frequent restless midnight walks, Lily sees something unusual. Someone pushing a cart filled with a large, lumpy something wrapped up in black plastic garbage bags. When Lily finds out just what is inside those garbage bags, she becomes inextricably immersed in exactly the kind of gruesome crime she's worked so hard to avoid.
And that is how the series kicks off. Lily, herself, is an extremely tough, conflicted character. I took to her at once. She lives an incredibly regimented, perfectly calculated life and it's almost painful to watch this thread of dark chaos worm its way into her peace and order. And while she is about as alone as a person can get, Harris peoples Shakespeare with a whole town's worth of kooky, creepy, and funny characters. All of whom Lily attempts to sidestep with varying degrees of success. With each book in this series, we learn more about Lily and her nightmarish past as she learns more about herself and those around her. In the second book she is joined by a character who is a particular favorite of mine and the two of them together form one of the most well-suited pairs I've ever come across. A glimpse of Lily:
Once upon a time, years ago, I thought I was pretty. My sister, Varena, and I had the usual rivalry going, and I remember deciding my eyes were bigger and a lighter blue than hers, my nose was straighter and thinner, and my lips were fuller. Her chin was better--neat and determined. Mine is round. I haven't seen Varena in three years now. Probably she is the pretty one. Though my face hasn't changed, my mind has. The workings of the mind look out through the face and alter it.
Sometimes, some mornings--the ones after the really bad nights--I look in the mirror and do not recognize the woman I see there.
This was going to be one of those really bad nights (though I had no idea how bad it was going to get). But I could tell there was no point in going to bed. My feet itched to be moving.
I dressed again, throwing my sweaty workout clothes into the hamper and pulling on blue jeans and a T-shirt, tucking in the T-shirt and pulling a belt through the belt loops. My hair was only a little damp; the blow-dryer finished the job. I pulled on a dark windbreaker.
Front door, back door, kitchen door? Some nights it takes me awhile to decide.
I worked my way through this series with palpable pleasure and it was a sad day indeed when I closed the fifth one knowing there would be no more. These are straight up mysteries with a Southern flavor, a fair bit of violence, intense encounters of all varieties, and a lot of grit. There isn't even a hint of the paranormal and all the energy goes into the character development and an honest depiction of a strong woman working hard to stay true to herself and keep the ghosts at bay. Like Harris' more recent Harper Connelly series, I think the Lily Bard mysteries deserve a good deal more attention and I hope those looking to branch out on the Sookie series will find a good home in Shakespeare. I certainly did.
So ever since my decadent little re-read of Fire I've been in a reading slump. One foul doozy of a slump. I restlessly picked up and put down a handfu...moreSo ever since my decadent little re-read of Fire I've been in a reading slump. One foul doozy of a slump. I restlessly picked up and put down a handful of books, all of them full of potential, none of them able to hold my attention. Fortunately I'm still thinking clearly enough at this point to know it's me with the problem, not them. And I carefully set them aside on the nightstand to be picked up in a later, more amenable mood. But desperation was setting in and my family was starting to feel the effects. And then a friend saved the day by reminding me the new Harper Connelly book was out! The fourth installment in Charlaine Harris' "other" series, I'd been looking forward to the release of GRAVE SECRET ever since finishing the excellent An Ice Cold Grave two years ago. Entirely different from her Sookie Stackhouse series, the Harper books are gritty mysteries with just a hint of the paranormal. I absolutely love them.
Harper and her stepbrother (and manager) Tolliver are on the road again. Having left the horrors of North Carolina behind them once and for all, they're headed to Texas to check in with their little sisters. With the disappearance of her sister Cameron eight years ago, their family dissolved. Harper went into foster care, Tolliver to live with his older brother Mark, and the little girls went to their Aunt Iona and Uncle Hank's in Texas. Over the years Harper and Tolliver made it a point to stay in touch with their siblings, despite their aunt and uncle's deep disapproval of their lifestyle and Harper's way of earning a living. This particular visit is unexpectedly prolonged when Tolliver's jailbird father is released from prison and shows up full of remorse and wanting to reconnect with his children. At the same time, Harper finds a few more dead people than she bargained for on her latest case, sending shock waves through the family of the deceased. As old memories threaten to overtake the careful peace these two have constructed, Harper and Tolliver find themselves caught between family, clients, and the law.
I sank back into this world as if no time at all had passed since my last visit. There's something about these two characters and the mature way they've gone about reclaiming their lives after the horror of their childhoods that just fills my empty spaces. Harper and Tolliver accept that they are all each other has in such a matter-of-fact way, with such stoic integrity, it pulls at my heartstrings. I read each book hoping nothing happens to them they won't be able to recover from, looking forward to each interaction, enjoying that tense, dark reality with which Harris surrounds her characters. GRAVE SECRET lived up to expectations on more than one level. Harper and Tolliver's relationship never falters even as they find the truth about their past is even more heinous than they believed it to be. I found myself chanting, "Don't trust him, don't trust him" over and over throughout the book, on the edge of my seat worrying about them. I liked how Harper was forced to deal with some things alone in this one. I liked that Harris didn't ease up at all when it came to what actually went down in that trailer in Texarkana. This series has remained refreshingly consistent over the course of four books. And, despite the fact that several overarching plot threads are wrapped up in this volume, I would happily read as many books as she'd like to write about Harper and Tolliver. Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series is by far the more famous of the two, and I love it, but I find myself gravitating toward these more serious, quietly compelling mysteries. Highly recommended.
I remember buying my copy of THE RUBY IN THE SMOKE at a B. Dalton bookstore in San Antonio, Texas. I liked the cover with the young girl in the cape h...moreI remember buying my copy of THE RUBY IN THE SMOKE at a B. Dalton bookstore in San Antonio, Texas. I liked the cover with the young girl in the cape holding something mysterious in a white handkerchief for a slightly creepy old woman to inspect. But, in the end, this was yet another example of a book I bought for the opening lines alone.
On a cold, fretful afternoon in early October, 1872, a hansom cab drew up outside the offices of Lockhart and Selby, Shipping Agents, in the financial heart of London, and a young girl got out and paid the driver. She was a person of sixteen or so--alone, and uncommonly pretty. She was slender and pale, and dressed in mourning, with a black bonnet under which she tucked back a straying twist of blond hair that the wind had teased loose. She had unusually dark brown eyes for one so fair. Her name was Sally Lockhart; and within fifteen minutes, she was going to kill a man.
Yeah, there was sort of no way my 12-year-old self wasn't going to make a beeline to the cash register with that one. All I knew was that it was set in Victorian London, it was a mystery, and it clearly featured a girl I wanted to get to know better. I had no idea it was the first in a trilogy, or how involved I would become in the incredibly intricate plot that stretches out over all three books. It should be noted that Pullman published a fourth volume almost ten years after THE RUBY IN THE SMOKE, but it is less of a direct sequel and more a companion novel to the original trilogy.
Sally Lockhart is so very far from your average 16-year-old. Even your average 16-year-old in 19th century London. Her father has recently been murdered and she is intent on uncovering the identity of his killer and bringing the villain to justice. As such, she comes to his offices in London to meet with his partner and find out if he knows anything about Mr. Lockhart's demise or the phrase, "Beware the seven blessings," which she came across in a fragment of a letter sent to her from Singapore. Shortly after her arrival she becomes embroiled in another murder, the vagaries of the opium trade, and the mystery of the disappearance of the fabled Ruby of Agrapur. Along the way she encounters a few associates who become true friends, including a young scarecrow of an errand boy named Jim Taylor and an amiable photographer by the name of Frederick Garland. She will have need of her friends before the game is played out and she races against the clock to make sense of her convoluted past and discover just who is behind the strange web of betrayal and deceit that has taken over her life.
Everyone is familiar with Philip Pullman's much more famous His Dark Materials trilogy. I snatched up the first book when it came out because I was already a huge Pullman fan because of the Sally Lockhart books. And I enjoyed The Golden Compass just fine. But I got halfway through The Subtle Knife and the whole thing just...petered out for me. I'm still not exactly sure what happened except that I kept wishing the entire time I was reading about Sally instead. But in my experience few people have read this set of excellent mysteries. They are dark, dire, and grim, to be sure. But they are also absolutely delightful. And bite-your-nails-to-the-quick intense. Sally herself is such a strong character--a perfect blend of independence, diffidence, integrity, and intelligence. Following her growth and development over the course of the trilogy is an absolutely moving experience. Each book matures in both subject matter and length. THE RUBY IN THE SMOKE reads like Dickens meets Arthur Conan Doyle meets Lloyd Alexander and that combination proved too charming for me to resist. I could not put it down until I finished it and I immediately went out and bought the next two books. They did not disappoint, but rather ratcheted up the stakes with each passing page. Pullman somehow manages to create the atmosphere of a vintage penny dreadful, while peopling it with fully fleshed out characters who work their way seamlessly into the reader's heart and affections. In fact, I vividly remember breaking down sobbing while reading a certain scene in the second book--The Shadow in the North. It is one of my very first memories of connecting with a set of characters so much it was physically painful to me to watch them suffer. An engrossing series highly recommended, particularly for fans of Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy and Laurie R. King's Mary Russell series. Reading order: THE RUBY IN THE SMOKE, The Shadow in the North, and The Tiger in the Well. Companion novel: The Tin Princess.(less)
I think I was eleven or twelve when I read THE ROAD TO DAMIETTA for the first time. I was in the middle of a serious Scott O'Dell binge and had just m...moreI think I was eleven or twelve when I read THE ROAD TO DAMIETTA for the first time. I was in the middle of a serious Scott O'Dell binge and had just moved back to the States after living in Italy for a few years. So it had the added attraction of taking place in that country I loved at a time when I was having a fair bit of trouble transitioning back to the American culture and pace of living. I'd already burned through Sarah Bishop, Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Serpent Never Sleeps, The Spanish Smile, and Streams to the River River to the Sea by the time I came across a copy of THE ROAD TO DAMIETTA in a narrow, dusty bookstore in West Yellowstone. My copy had thethe old blue cover. I have always liked it. Though the French cover is also quite nice. I have to be honest and say that the current coverkind of scares the crap out of me. Don't think I would ever have picked it up based on that cover alone, which would be a shame as it's really a beautiful book and one of the first young adult historical fiction novels I ever read. O'Dell was great for introducing me to so many time periods I was unfamiliar with as a young teen.
Ricca di Montanaro is thirteen years old and irrevocably in love. The object of her affections is Francis Bernardone--the son of a wealthy merchant and general bad boy about town in Assisi. Though most of the men look down on Francis, most of the women in town follow him with their eyes and stay up at night whispering word of his exploits to one another. Ricca and her best friend Clare di Scifi are no exception. But when Francis publicly renounces his father's fortune in favor of a life of poverty and spirituality, Ricca's hopes are shattered. Over the next several years, Ricca determinedly follows Francis, alarming her parents and family with her single minded pursuit of a man who has left behind all things worldly. When the fifth Crusade marches to Damietta, Ricca joins the march because Francis is there. It is at the fateful walls of Damietta that she sees firsthand the horrifying depths that violence and passion can reach when employed in the name of God. Disillusioned, his health ruined, Francis returns to Assisi and Ricca, as ever, follows him home one last time.
I have always found the history of St. Francis a fascinating topic. This is a fictionalized account told through the eyes of a young woman who decides she will love this young man for the rest of her life. It is an interesting specimen as Ricca herself is not very likable. She has many qualities I admire, including her doggedness and determination to remain true to herself. And she clearly recognizes something in Francis very early on that others do not. At the same time, she can be petty and unbelievably blind to realities, and these flaws persist to the end of the story. Normally, I might dismiss her out of hand. But for some reason her story (and particularly Francis') still resonate with me. I'm not sure if Ricca ever truly understands the man who became a saint. She and he are different kinds of creatures entirely. But in the end she does come to understand herself. And thus she achieves a kind of peace, I think. This is a novel about transformation and unrequited love, of human suffering and divine faith. It is haunting and real, never dipping into a cloying, romanticized take on the historical events it fleshes out. It is probably my favorite of O'Dell's many novels and, when I had the opportunity to travel to Assisi a few years ago, it came back to me with a vengeance as I walked the rose and white cobblestones of that hilltop town and remembered Francis and Ricca.(less)
Sarah Addison Allen's debut novel, GARDEN SPELLS, is the perfect example of one of those books I would never have picked up were it not for the recomm...moreSarah Addison Allen's debut novel, GARDEN SPELLS, is the perfect example of one of those books I would never have picked up were it not for the recommendation of another excellent blogger. In this case it came from my good friend Michelle over at See Michelle Read. One of her favorite reads, she suggested I would like it and was she ever right. I'd seen it around several times and all I knew was that it was a New York Times bestseller. I couldn't really work out what genre it was and I sort of mentally sorted it into the The Secret Life of Bees category and left it there. Not that I didn't enjoy The Secret Life of Bees. But I've never had the urge to reread it, you know? But GARDEN SPELLS shares only a rather charming Carolina setting (North as opposed to South) with Sue Monk Kidd's novel. Beyond that, it is entirely its own work.
Claire Waverly is a creature of habit. She gets up. She goes about her work, making deliveries, catering events. She gardens. She visits with her friend and distant relation Evanelle. She goes to bed. She gets up and does it all again. Living alone doesn't bother Claire because it's safe and uncomplicated. She can control every aspect of her carefully regimented life and she can avoid getting more involved in anyone else's life than she'd like. When every last person in her life left, Claire determined she would never let herself count on anyone too much. Content with her eccentric reputation as a solitary soul and a mysterious Waverly, she looks ahead to a future free of complication. That is until her new neighbor, an art professor at the local college, moves in and insists on getting to know her, even bringing back a boxful of apples from her tree, which had fallen on his side of the fence. It's all Claire can do to avoid his overtures and ensure that whatever he does, he doesn't eat one of those apples. The apple tree in the Waverly yard is local legend and, though she herself has no use for the recalcitrant tree, she takes her job as its caretaker rather seriously. Then her estranged sister Sydney shows up with her five-year-old daughter Bay in tow and Claire is once more forced to realign the shape of her days to accommodate two more people who clearly need her. Little does she know what kind of darkness is hounding her sister's trail.
I loved this book. I loved the heady descriptions of baking and gardening and the many unexpected intersections between the two art forms. I loved Claire and how hard it was for her to change, to reach out to anyone at all. I loved Sydney and her heartbreaking determination to take care of her daughter despite the ragged mess she'd made of her life. And I loved Tyler and Henry and Evanelle and Fred and every other beautiful, crazy inhabitant of Bascom, North Carolina. This is a very simple, very sweet story that simultaneously falls under the categories of magical realism, fairy tales, and contemporary fiction. I've not read much like it before and I finished it utterly enchanted and looking for more. I think one of the reasons I was so delighted with the story was it reminded me of my father's side of the family. The way they spoke, the way they interacted, the way family trumped everything else. So I spent the majority of the read in a happy, nostalgic daze. If you're looking for a perfectly charming read filled with sympathetic characters, sprinkled with a couple of endearing romances, and wrapped in a hint of magic and longing, then this is the book for you.(less)
This book has made the rounds and no mistake. I started seeing early reviews awhile back and read a few delightful interviews with Leanna Renee Hieber...moreThis book has made the rounds and no mistake. I started seeing early reviews awhile back and read a few delightful interviews with Leanna Renee Hieber and found myself intrigued to read her first novel--THE STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL TALE OF MISS PERCY PARKER. I was, therefore, tickled to receive a copy for review from Ms. Hieber and quickly set about settling in. I knew it was a Gothic paranormal mystery of sorts, featuring (among other things) a group of loyal comrades, a private London academy, a bit of magic, an albino, and a swoon-worthy broody professor a la Richard Armitage in North and South. *moment of silence for the awesomeness of The Armitage* And that was the extent of my pre-reading knowledge. That and the fact that I loved the cover with its simple yet moody, midnight blue and its slightly off-kilter, scripty title.
Miss Percy Parker is about to embark on an adventure, albeit a much larger one than she imagines. Leaving the convent--the only home she's ever known--and dipping her toes in the deep waters that are the Athens Academy in London, Percy is as timid as a church mouse. But with good reason. All her life she's hidden her face and skin from the outside world. Wrapped in layers of linen, eyes shielded behind smoky spectacles, this sixteen-year-old albino woman can speak language upon language and quote Shakespeare all the day long, yet she shudders at the thought of exposing her face to the world so certain is she it will be judged repulsive and unworthy. Still. She dares to hope her career at Athens Academy will be a new start. When she meets her intimidating mathematics Professor Alexi Rychman, it certainly feels like the start of something new. She's just not at all sure what that something might be. In the meantime, Professor Rychman has little time for noticing strange young women watching him with haunted eyes. He is supremely busy combing the dirty streets of London for the legendary Ripper--a nightmarish monster who has long been terrorizing the city's lost and lonely. Along with his five companions--the members of The Guard--Alexi is determined to eradicate the Ripper and at last unlock the key to their mysterious past and ancient past.
I loved describing this charming little book to everyone who asked me what I was reading that week. I'd start with the title and when I got that little mouthful out and still met with blank stares, I'd launch into the, "Well, it's a Victorian mystery and a Gothic romance and it's definitely a paranormal, with a little mythology thrown in for good measure." Hard to categorize, but easy to love is THE STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL TALE OF MISS PERCY PARKER. It took me about 100 pages to really get a feel for the characters. But, once I hit that 100 page mark, things suddenly got intensely fun. I loved the prologue with its swirling spirits and the back story of how the six members of The Guard originally filled their callings. But I'll admit I spent the early part of the book worried about Percy. She was so very timid. So very prone to swooning and thinking herself unworthy or any notice or care. I am not often drawn to such passive heroines and I wanted to like her as much as I liked the complicated world Ms. Hieber created and the strong personalities surrounding Percy in the guise of Alexi and his powerful companions. But every time I thought I might lose my interest in Percy, she asserted herself in some small, but important way so that my interest was piqued once more and I kept on reading. An example:
"Have I rattled you so very much?" he pressed, his voice like faraway thunder. She paused. Then, in a moment of fleeting bravery she removed her glasses and stared into his eyes. "Always." The professor almost smiled. "Finally, you are honest with me." She was quick to reply. "I've never been dishonest." "Be of good cheer, faint heart, you are too easily hurt," he chided. "My heart is fortified with passions, Professor; it is my confidence that is too easily undone."
Then, as I said, all the various elements of the story coalesced in a key scene where Alexi is tutoring Percy and we were off to the races. From there on out I was behind her and I knew, just as Alexi was to find out, just how important this young woman was and how he shouldn't let her go. In this tale there is much of murder and mayhem, love and longing, overwrought emotion and ultimate evil. As well as one exquisitely beautiful scene of dancing in an empty corridor that will charm the pants right off of you. I had a lovely time reading it and recommend it for anyone who loves all things Victorian, Gothic, mythological, and sweet, for THE STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL TALE OF MISS PERCY PARKER is all of these things.(less)
I let out a very undignified squeal when this unassuming package showed up on my doorstep completely out of the blue. I'm not ashamed to admit it. Her...moreI let out a very undignified squeal when this unassuming package showed up on my doorstep completely out of the blue. I'm not ashamed to admit it. Here I am fairly wasting away for the fourth Kate Daniels book and then, swooping in like a risen phoenix, a brand, shiny new copy of Ilona Andrews' ON THE EDGE saves the day. The first in a new series, do we even dare hope to two Andrews releases per year a la Patricia Briggs? The two of them together easily top my favorite urban fantasy writers and this new book (and series) does nothing to shake those stats, I'm happy to say. As with Briggs' Alpha and Omega series, I think it's important to go in with a clean slate, so to speak, not expecting Kate and Curran but ready to embrace a wholly new world, and I think you will enjoy this book on its own merits.
Rose Drayton lives on the Edge--the narrow strip of land between the Broken and the Weird. Yes, you read that right. She and the two little brothers she's raising live a dangerous half-life in between a world where magic is myth (the Broken) and another where it is king (the Weird). Edgers, as they are known, have their feet in both worlds but don't seem to belong to either. They, unlike, the denizens of the Broken are aware of the Weird in all its incomprehensibility. And, unlike the inhabitants of the Weird, they are awkwardly connected t0 (even long for at times) the banality of the Broken. When she was eighteen, Rose was effectively ostracized by the whole of the local town for letting loose a stream of magic and then refusing to marry one of the hometown boys. With her parents out of the picture, two half-magical little boys to take care of and train, and determined to control her own life, Rose takes an illegal job in the Broken and attempts to fly under the radar. And it works. Sort of. Until Lord Declan Camarine appears on her porch step, sword strapped to his back absolutely reeking blue blood Weird, announcing she will be his come hell or high water. Rose responds...less than favorably. And we have ourselves a story!
Once again Ilona Andrews plunges me into a fully realized world without a by your leave. And I love it. Like Kate's Atlanta it is full of complexity and contradiction and a wonderfully messy history. But it is also wilder, in a sense. Rose carries a rifle and she has to use it more than she'd like. The people in the Edge are almost clan-like in their politics. Feuds happen and they last for decades. Payment is harsh and exacted when and where the wronged party decides it will be. This series has a different focus than the more traditionally urban fantasy Kate Daniels series and, though in the end I didn't love it quite as much, I loved the world building and the children who actually seemed real to me. ON THE EDGE is definitely heavier on the romance side of the urban fantasy spectrum and, as a result, Rose and Declan's relationship is more central than Kate and Curran's in the Magic series. Occasionally the descriptions and general admiring of each other's forms got a bit cloying for me, but the nice thing is that they are both well-rounded, compelling characters. At first I wasn't sure about Declan. He does start out a bit looming, take no prisoners, you will be mine for my taste. But there is more there than brawn and arrogance. And it is a very intriguing more. As far as Rose goes, she's had it rough and is still full of fire--just the way I like my UF heroines--but (and this is key) she has the creds and the depth to back it up. She's tough and at the same time she longs for education and training to harness and develop her powers. But instead she spends her days flogging her guts out to support her little brothers. She loves them unconditionally and is determined their lives will be better than hers. I love how full she feels as a character. I believed in her and I liked her. As for the boys, Jack and Georgie, you won't stand a chance against their charms and that is all. There is that trademark humor throughout the story as well and it really held the whole thing together, especially when the particularly creepy elements started rearing their ugly heads. ON THE EDGE comes out today.(less)
Honestly, I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy of CRAZY BEAUTIFUL once I heard it was a modern-day Beauty & the Beast retelling. Then I saw t...moreHonestly, I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy of CRAZY BEAUTIFUL once I heard it was a modern-day Beauty & the Beast retelling. Then I saw the cover. *clears throat* That's one good cover. Reminds me of another cover I'm rather fond of. In fact, reading and finishing this book prompted an immediate re-read of Perfect Chemistry. The two actually have a fair bit in common, though they are very different in style and length. There was a lot of hype around the blogosphere surrounding CRAZY BEAUTIFUL and I found myself anxious to see if it lived up to my expectations. This was also my first novel by Lauren Baratz-Logsted and I was very much looking forward to both a new author and a fresh take on one of my very favorite old tales.
My arm rises toward my face and the pincer touch of cold steel rubs against my jaw. I chose hooks because they were cheaper. I chose hooks because I wouldn't outgrow them so quickly. I chose hooks so that everyone would know I was different, so I would scare even myself.
Lucius is starting at a new school. He is unenthused, to put it mildly. Recently he, his parents, and his little sister relocated to a new home and a new town in an attempt to rid themselves of the taint of what happened to Lucius last year. Where he used to be plain Lucius Wolfe, now he's that crazy boy with hooks for hands. And he likes to live up to the reputation. It's clear from the word go that he's working pretty hard at not examining his life too clearly. It's just not exactly clear why. Aurora is also starting at a new school. The same school, as fate would have it. She and her father are trying to get back into the groove of their lives now that her mother is gone and the two of them are all each other's got. Where she used to be beautiful, popular Aurora Belle, now she's that new girl whose dad is the school librarian. Lucius and Aurora inadvertently make eye contact on the school bus one morning and a connection is forged, whether they know it yet or not.
My first reflection upon finishing this book is how much I loved the title. I love how it captures the way these two characters are perceived by the outside world, which is in direct contrast to the insight the reader gets about who they really are under the surface. Told in alternating point of view chapters, we get to experience firsthand Lucius' awkward blend of defiance and resignation when faced with all the rumors and insinuations about his mental status and the state of his missing hands. We get to be in the room with Aurora as she puts on a good face for her grieving, desperately hopeful dad, while achingly unsure whether or not she can get through another day pretending to be fine. Most of all, as is true with all good Beauty & the Beast retellings, we get to watch as two people in need find each other and see beyond the superficial to find that they are able to fill the cracks left by their past. CRAZY BEAUTIFUL is such a brief story. Weighing in at a featherweight 208 pages, I was worried I would emerge at the other end wishing for more, feeling like I only just got a taste of these two. I'm happy to say I didn't feel that way at all. On the contrary it felt like a perfectly natural glimpse into an ongoing story. There was a lot of crap that came before Lucius and Aurora encountered one another on the bus and, in the same vein, their story continues on beyond the final pages of the book. The lovely writing lent this modern high school story just the right hint of fairy tale splendor. I may be a sucker for this particular tale, but I thought Ms. Baratz-Logsted pulled it off beautifully. I read it in one sitting and it was exactly the sweet, funny, and moving read I hoped it would be.(less)
The narrative alternates between Tessa and Guy's stories as they work their way toward meeting one day in the bowels of the theater when Guy walks in on a weeping Tessa, who (an absolute martyr when it comes to opera) has just chopped off all her beautiful hair to provide a wig for the diva to wear in that night's performance. From there their lives intersect at more or less regular intervals and these two individuals with such wildly different backgrounds unexpectedly become friends. The one thing they share is a love of music. And music permeates the pages of this book, wrapping itself around you as you read. Tessa has turned her back on her past and made the opera the focus of her entire life, while Guy has all but nullified his humble origins by molding his life around the pursuit of wealth and power. When the woman he's loved since he was a young student at Oxford is suddenly widowed and back on the market, he lays out an alarmingly elaborate plan to woo and win her back and gift her with the life he believes she deserves. Unsurprisingly, no one is who they seem to be and that presents several sticky problems for our protagonists to tackle.
Opening up an Eva Ibbotson book is like biting into a hot biscuit smothered with butter and jam--at once perfectly satisfying and extremely comforting. Similar to A Countess Below Stairs there are few, if any, unpredictable events in this story. But that's not really what it's about. It's about those arresting passages you come across at just the right moment and think--perfect. Absolutely perfect. Similar to A Song for Summer and A Company of Swans the characters' love of art and nature fairly leap off the pages and it's hard to resist their charms and not wish you lived in a time and place where ancient royalty glided about crumbling castles and Mozart was god. In fact, my favorite bits in this book are the ones where the characters talk about Mozart and Beethoven and the way music makes life worth living. I liked Tessa and Guy quite a bit. I wish they had a few more scenes together. There is one point near the end of the story where they find themselves alone in the same place for the first time in months and months and their quiet conversation is exquisite. The story needed just a few more of those intimate moments to really cement the arc of their relationship and move it from like-minded acquaintances to soulmates. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed my read, laughed several times, had tears in my eyes twice, and fell in love with each and every member of the opera company. For Ibbotson fans, this volume is not to be missed.(less)
I went through a pretty good Joan Lowery Nixon phase when I was about twelve or thereabouts. Along with Lois Duncan, Ms. Nixon kept me well supplied w...moreI went through a pretty good Joan Lowery Nixon phase when I was about twelve or thereabouts. Along with Lois Duncan, Ms. Nixon kept me well supplied with tense, easily digested mysteries about young girls who encountered the horrifying and the deadly on a regular basis. As I was in the process of expanding a bit on my Nancy Drew addiction, I basically ate them up with a spoon. I collected used copies of most of Nixon's books and, at one point, had quite a group of them on my shelf; now they've been whittled down to the most memorable, sentimental few. Of her mysteries I held on to Secret Silent Screams, The Kidnapping of Christina Lattimore, and THE DARK AND DEADLY POOL. And while the first two are probably better crafted, more complicated tales, THE DARK AND DEADLY POOL is my favorite because of its offbeat and lovable main characters--Mary Elizabeth Rafferty and her friend Fran or, as I like to call him--ManFran.
Mary Elizabeth takes a summer job at the super ritzy Ridley Hotel health club. Initially she thinks it will be the perfect place to spend those hot summer days. She's tall for her age, something of a klutz, and known to trip over or destroy the various objects in her path. Life has just gone that way for her over the past sixteen years. Secretly she dreams of becoming an orchestra conductor and when she's particularly zoned out she'll practice conducting in her head. Never mind the fact that she can't play an instrument to save her life and, at this point in time, she has all the confidence of an agoraphobic in a shopping mall. To make matters worse, the jittery Mary Elizabeth is closing up one night and sees a body rise up out of the pool, gape at her, and disappear once more under the surface of the water. No one will believe her, of course. Not Lamar the chief of security, not Art Mart the health club director, and not Tina her tough but friendly co-worker. Fortunately, she runs into (literally) another member of the staff who does believe her. A boy named Fran (short for Francis Liverpool III) who is shorter than her but makes up for it with an abundance of charm and determination. Together Liz and Fran attempt to solve the mystery of the dark and deadly pool...
Somehow this cozy little mystery has worn fairly well over the years. I loved it when I was twelve for its quirky main duo and for its slightly campy-creepy feel. And I still love it for those same reasons. There's something about the taller, stronger girl being courted by the smaller, Puckish boy that appeals to me. Throw in the fact that they run around rather ineptly fighting crime together and you've got yourself a winning combination, my friend. Nothing in the way of surprising or truly deep (except the, uh, pool), but everything in the way of endearing and charming. Every now and then I still pull out my old copy and settle in for a couple hours with Mary Elizabeth and ManFran. And you know what? They're still good company.(less)
I can't imagine how time-consuming it must be to write two different series simultaneously, but I am seriously so glad I'm able to go to the bookstore...moreI can't imagine how time-consuming it must be to write two different series simultaneously, but I am seriously so glad I'm able to go to the bookstore and get my Patricia Briggs fix twice a year. When I first heard she was starting a series featuring Sam's half-brother Charles, I could hardly wait to start. I love the world she's created with her Mercy Thompson books and I can't get enough of anything to do with the Marrok himself--the leader of the North American werewolves. As he is Charles' father I knew we'd be getting more Bran, which could only be a good thing. My fingers are still crossed she'll embark on a third series centered on the Marrok. His ancient awesomeness deserves his own series. I enjoyed Cry Wolf, the first in the Alpha and Omega series, and was looking forward to more development in this second installment.
Things are slowly progressing between mated Charles and Anna Cornick. For a man whose life revolves around being his father's assassin enforcer, Charles is exercising remarkable control when it comes to his timid, but subtly powerful mate. It goes against pretty much every more he's lived by for his few centuries of life to tamp down his dominant instincts, as well as his more violent tendencies engendered as part of his job, but that is exactly what Charles does to make Anna feel comfortable with him and with her new pack. When he elects to go to Seattle in his father's place to host a werewolf summit addressing how and when they will come out to the public, it seems all his hard work may be for naught. Anna accompanies him and, faced with a roomful of the most alpha of alpha wolves from around the world, it's all she can do not to run screaming from the room. As an Omega, her ability to influence all the wolves around her is a tool she must harness if Charles is to succeed in his mission. And, with a homicidal wolf on the prowl and a host of wolves out for his blood, it's Anna's turn to take charge, protect her mate, and embrace the abilities she's only just beginning to understand.
HUNTING GROUND is stronger and more cohesive than its predecessor. Some of that comes from having all the groundwork finally laid, but a lot of it is just that it's tighter in general and that Patricia Briggs is one hell of a storyteller. The relationship between Anna and Charles continues to be extremely tender and I appreciate the realistic pace Briggs has set between them. They are married and are unswervingly loyal to one another, but they are so very brand new at this. They each have heinously complicated histories and are still only scraping the surface of the other's baggage. The nice thing is their violent, unhappy pasts are leavened by moments of quiet, true humor. Anna has learned to tease Charles and speak up when she should, while Charles has learned to listen and loosen up the death grip he's had on Anna since they met. As in the Mercy series, the fae and the vampires play a large role in this book and I am reminded how dangerously lethal both groups are as I view them through Anna's eyes. Though nothing and no one seems quite so lethal as Charles. The dude is awesome, as Anna says, "a force of nature." Ms. Briggs also includes a large nod to Arthurian lore in this installment and, being rather a fan of such things, I found myself amused and delighted to watch the way the myth unfolded in this context, which is to say just as painfully, beautifully, and hauntingly as always. I very much enjoyed HUNTING GROUND and have high hopes for the future of this series.(less)
I was positively quivering with excitement to get my hands on HEROES AT RISK, the fourth book in Moira J. Moore's excellent and incredibly fun heroes...moreI was positively quivering with excitement to get my hands on HEROES AT RISK, the fourth book in Moira J. Moore's excellent and incredibly fun heroes series. With each installment I've grown fonder of Taro and Lee. Bonded together as Source and Shield, respectively, they've been forced to deal with each other for awhile now and it's always a treat to watch them circle each other once more, to attempt to navigate the treacherous waters that lay between their opposing natures and meet somewhere in the middle. For the most part this has meant Taro putting up with Lee's obstinately pragmatic way of leading her life. For a brief period, in book three, things changed and a few important things came to the forefront in their relationship. I, for one, was very anxious to see what happened when they returned to their habitual home and roles.
Back from "that damned island," as Taro would say, our Pair barely have time to settle back into the Triple S Residence at High Scape before danger and intrigue come knocking on their door. The city seems to have changed in their absence. The inhabitants of High Scape are uneasy. After the events of the first two books, they have lost faith, so to speak, in the powers that be. Namely, the Triple S. There are rumors of magic, of people casting spells using the ashes of the dead. And not just any dead, but those considered most lucky in life. It is hoped that the luck of the dead will rub off on the living and change the course of their lives for the better. Never mind that no one really believes in magic and that such activities are highly illegal. Meanwhile a mysterious illness is cutting down scores of people in the city and no one seems to be able to put their finger on the source of the plague. Faced with these challenges, Lee has very little available energy left to address the state of her personal life, which has become a bit more complicated than she'd like.
Taro and Lee are their old selves (particularly Lee) and I had a smile on my face for the majority of this book because I know them. I know all about them. And here we are adventuring together once more. I had high expectations for developments in this fourth installment in the series. There were so many wonderful scenes and I delighted in the familiar tug and pull of their interactions. It did take me a minute to remember that Lee, as ever, has to move at her own pace. That back in her normal environment, she would revert to form to a certain degree. And I find myself, like Taro, stabbing my hands in my hair in frustration. At the same time, I love how fiercely loyal she is to Taro. When he is threatened she is there. She refuses to let anyone run over her volatile, at times vulnerable, partner and that made me smile. Several times. Because in other respects Lee struggles in this book. She's made decisions that make the running of her life, at least the way she'd like it to be run, difficult. She keeps running into walls trying to reconcile her choices with her expectations and it was hard to watch her sometimes as she takes two steps backward for every one step forward. Fortunately, she has Taro to remind her of what's important. Or at least he tries to. Lee's inability to see beyond her carefully constructed world view does not make things easy. And whenever he tries to get through to her, his emotions are so raw they lend an edge to every scene he's in, a couple of which are exquisitely sweet.
I have to highlight one particular scene that I'm still thinking about days later. It came at a point in the story where I wasn't expecting to be touched. But it was incredibly effective in demonstrating why I love Lee, even when she's at her most thickheaded:
Taro came into the room, strands of hair flying free of the tie at the back of his skull, sweat plastering his cream-colored shirt against his chest and back. I wished I had an artist's skill, that I could make renderings of him in all his states of beauty. He would never want to look at them, or even know about them. I would just like them for myself. Maybe he would want to see them when he was much older, and beautiful in a different way.
That last line. Sigh. I was reading in bed with DH asleep beside me and thus no one to turn to and say, "I just read something breathtaking." Because it's Lee, at her most vulnerable. And Lee is never vulnerable. But even when she is unable to see herself or anything else for what it is, she sees Taro. She knows what he's worth. And that's why I love Lee. So even though I rolled my eyes at her a few times and wanted to shake her several more times than that, I enjoyed this story very much and am looking forward to the next. I have a hunch we're going to learn a lot more about how Sources and Shields came to be and how they're inherently different from the "regulars," as Lee calls them. Lastly, HEROES AT RISK has a killer last line. It's irreverent and funny and guaranteed to make you close the book with a smile on your face.(less)