I eagerly delved into Naomi Novik's standalone fantasy, having heard rave reports of her Temeraire series for yeOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I eagerly delved into Naomi Novik's standalone fantasy, having heard rave reports of her Temeraire series for years, but for some reason having not read them. It's often easier for me to dive into a standalone with a new author than it is a series it seems. The blurbs from luminaries such as Tamora Pierce and Maggie Stiefvater (and the comparisons to my beloved Robin McKinley) did not hurt things one bit. And the opening chapter is absolute perfection. I knew I was in for something special right off the bat. And, having finished Uprooted, I stand by my feelings that it is something special and absolutely worth your time and money investment, even if my overall impression came off not quite as glowing and awed as I might have hoped. It's worth taking a moment to admire that beautiful cover. My, how I love it. And the UK edition is glorious in a very different way. Lucky book, to be so beautifully packaged on both sides of the pond.
Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.
And so opens Agnieszka's story. Hers is a Slavic-feeling fairy tale worthy of any Grimm wordsmith. The land and history are utterly developed and weighty with the years of folk tales, villagers, royalty, and political machinations that have shaped it into the place Agnieszka calls home. When she is chosen to apprentice to the legendary Dragon in place of her beautiful and fierce friend Kasia, she immediately fills with every fear every village girl has felt since the selection began. Her time in the ageless wizard's castle is a brutal education and the two get off to the rockiest of starts. His disdain for her plainness and disinterest in his lofty spells fairly drips from the page, mucking up Agnieszka's every waking moment. But when her uncanny ability with more organic magic comes into its own, their partnership begins to take on a more even and compelling nature. Of course, the aforementioned political and monarchical machinations come into play before they can really get off the ground, and the truly terrifying forest surrounding them begins to threaten the lives of every member of the kingdom.
There is almost nothing not to love about Uprooted. From its implacable protagonist to the hearty elements of horror embodied by the terrifying denizens of the Wood, the elements of Novik's fairy tale are woven together with love, care, and a meticulous attention to what makes up a riveting tale. To say nothing of the utterly brilliant homage to Robin McKinley's work itself in the form of the legendary Luthe's Summoning spell, which no one has successfully cast in fifty years. Be still my heart, people. That alone is worth the price of admission. My only quibble is that I felt a small but persistent lack of attachment to the main characters. Make no mistake, I was incredibly fond of them from the start. The Dragon himself reminded me in no small way of Diana Wynne Jones' Howl, which I know will endear him to countless readers. And the comparisons to McKinley and Marillier are there without a doubt. My heart ached with loss on a number of occasions, as Novik clearly understands the price that must be paid when playing with magic and hubris on such a grand scale. However. Unlike McKinley's and Marillier's characters, I struggled a bit to hang on to Agnieszka and the Dragon. I admired them, smiled at them, and worried about them. But I can't say I loved them. They didn't become a part of me the way so many of my favorite characters do. I'm not sure if the fault is with me (since mine may well be the only dissenting voice on this aspect of the book), but while I loved the experience of reading it and have gained a wonderful appreciation for Ms. Novik's skill as a storyteller, I can tell it will not make my regular rotation of rereads, which is possibly more a reflection of my particular taste these days (perhaps more pages with Agnieszka and the Dragon actually within at least five miles of each other would have ameliorated this feeling of emotional distance) and not in any way an indictment of the book itself, which is a thing of beautiful craftsmanship....more
Madeline Ash has been such a golden find this year. I first discovered her through her latest novel Love and Other Lies, which I utterly enjoyed. Ash Madeline Ash has been such a golden find this year. I first discovered her through her latest novel Love and Other Lies, which I utterly enjoyed. Ash writes emotional, heartfelt romances with such a light hand that they are a pleasure to read in every sense of the word. So when I saw her novella The Secret Prince pop up, it took me no time at all to dive in.
My only complaint is that it is far too short. I fell immediately in love with Dee and Jed and would have followed them much farther than across an ocean from LA to a tiny European principality and back again. And since my emotions were so definitively engaged, I did wish the reader had a chance to spend more time with them exploring their unfortunate history after their reunion in Los Angeles (this was my favorite section) and then again in Leguarday as they negotiated the unusual terms of what a life together might look like. To say nothing of the miles and miles of potential regarding Jed's father. Everything ties up so neatly and quickly, I presume in order to fit it all into novella form.
But Ash's writing is fully up to the task of delving deeper into the psyches of these two banged up kids and, given the slim page count, I felt that we got a healthy amount of bang for our buck. She doesn't shy away from the painful, complex moments when two hurt individuals are trying and failing and trying again not to make things worse. And she absolutely knows her way around the tentative exploration that follows, with one hand protecting your heart and the other shakily reaching out.
Her Secret Prince is a sweet (if too short) contemporary fairy tale, and I look forward to Ash's next full-length novel with much anticipation. ...more
Glowing recommendations from my trusty Chachic and the lovely Laura Florand put this book (and series) on my radaOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Glowing recommendations from my trusty Chachic and the lovely Laura Florand put this book (and series) on my radar awhile back and I proceeded to add it to my ever-growing TBR. And then I just sort of continued to put it off since a copy wasn't readily available at any of the usual sources and the ebook was (and is) a whopping $7.99. Then I hit a sick weekend and nothing, but nothing was hitting the spot. So I bit the bullet and dove in. It's worth pointing out that I'm not a huge connoisseur of small town contemporaries, and I was not a little concerned that it would prove to be (as has happened a number of times in the past) a little too cozy for my taste. But of course the range within that subgenre is as wide as it is with any other, and I think I just hadn't come across the right recipe. Happily, Virginia Kantra's Dare Island series hit just the right spot for this quasi-cozy-phobic reader.
Allison Carter came to Dare Island in the hopes of shedding the scales of her parents' expectations and finding fulfillment teaching high school English in the somewhat isolated fishing village. Matt Fletcher spent his early life at the whim of his father's career in the Marines, but has called the island his home long enough now for it to mean something. As a single father who captains a charter fishing boat for a living and lives with and helps support his aging parents at their inn, he is not in any way looking for a long-term relationship. Longing for just the sort of permanence Matt is working hard to avoid, Allison is nevertheless reluctant to get into any sort of relationship with him, especially given the fact that his son Josh is one of her students. But the two somewhat isolated individuals continue to be thrown together by circumstance (and Josh's performance, or lack thereof, at school) and soon it becomes a not inconsiderable struggle to find reasons give at least some semblance of togetherness a try.
Growing up, I spent many summers at my aunt and uncle's house in North Carolina. I have countless fond memories of sweltering summer days, chasing fireflies at night, and trips to the coast full of hours of splashing in the turf and falling asleep tangled in a bed of cousins listening to the crash of the waves. All of this to say that it took Dare Island and I no time at all to appreciate each other's charms. The setting is such a strength in this novel, and that is saying something, because it is a novel full to the brim of swoony romance and heady glances, weighty family drama and genuine humor. Given how many elements Kantra was balancing, I kept expecting at least one to veer into the cheesy, the melodramatic, or the overwrought. And yet not one did. Somehow she made me care for not only Allison and Matt, but every single one of Matt's family members, from his sweetheart parents and his scalawag son, to his somewhat heedless younger brother and his unexpected niece. This attentive character development made it a pleasure to follow whomever the narrative revolved to with each chapter. The focus definitely hinges on Allison and Matt's relationship, but so much of what goes down plays against the very important background of the Fletcher family and the charming inn they all inhabit. I loved how good Allison is with children, from the teenage students in her classes to Matt's troubled niece Taylor who gets dumped in their laps after her mother's sudden death.
The Fletchers themselves are a very loving family, but they need Allison, no matter how much Matt might like to think he's a lone reed. And Allison herself is so careful and conscientious when it comes to carrying on a relationship with a single father and being there to help as much as she can without stepping on any toes. I always loved Allison. It's no small challenge she and Matt face in daring to test the waters of their attraction. But what was between them fit itself unobtrusively into the spaces inside them that were empty. It felt real and sweet, and it so clearly made their hours and days better. I love it when a romance manages to demonstrate that. And while there were a couple of expected misunderstandings here and there, I appreciated how they were handled and how my emotions never felt toyed with or forcibly disengaged by unnecessary drama or inconsistencies. The whole thing builds to a particularly lovely resolution scene in the inn and I put Carolina Home down completely satisfied. Of course, I immediately binged on the rest of the series. And a good time was had by all....more
I have my pal Li to thank for steering me in the direction of Elizabeth Harmon's debut novel Pairing Off. She cluOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I have my pal Li to thank for steering me in the direction of Elizabeth Harmon's debut novel Pairing Off. She clued me in to its existence, pointed out that it featured Olympic figure skaters, and well . . . that was all she wrote, folks. I am a huge figure skating fan. And while I actually haven't read many books that focus on the sport, there was simply no way I was going to not read a book billed as "The Cutting Edge with a Russian twist." I adored that movie as a kid. As you can probably tell, I haven't been so much with the review writing of late. Happily, that is in no way an indication of how my reading has fared, because I have been reading up a storm. But lately I never seem to get around to sitting down and hashing it out. But with the figure skating World Championships coming up in a couple of weeks, I thought it was the perfect time to highlight this little gem.
Carrie Parker is fairly certain life as she knew it is over when her career as a pairs figure skater comes to a grinding and spectacular halt courtesy of a scandal involving her partner and a judge. Which is why she literally jumps at an unexpected and unusual invitation to travel to Russia and audition for a suddenly open position. What she does not expect is that the male partner will turn out to be a familiar (and wholly unwelcome) face. Anton Belikov is in need of a partner STAT. His longtime skating partner (and girlfriend) Olga has up and left him for greener pastures and a partner more likely to see her to the gold medal podium at the Olympics. Determined to achieve his dream and make a go of it without her, Anton warily follows his coach's advice and auditions the disgraced but unquestionably talented American. However, with the barriers of language, culture, politics (and a distant night only Carrie remembers) looming between them, success on or off the ice is no guarantee for this unlikely team.
I was just so taken with Pairing Off, you guys. From the very start, I could tell the story was going to wrap itself around me. Carrie is immediately sympathetic, and though the narrative touches ever so briefly on the long ago night she and Anton met, it is nonetheless clear to the reader how it affected both of them and how it will play an uneven but key role in their development as an actual pair. What I was not expecting was how deeply I would fall in love with Moscow and Carrie's experiences there. Harmon writes with great affection and joie de vivre when it comes to the streets and alleys, gardens and soaring architecture of the Russian capital. It is nothing short of a delight accompanying Carrie on her explorations, and I was so pleased that aspect of her new life was allocated adequate page time. Carrie's willingness to fight her attendant isolation and uncertainty in a foreign clime with an open and inquisitive mind and with consistent forays out into her new home endeared her to me even as it filled me with wanderlust. And as she learns the ropes of her adopted country, so does she learn the ways of her adopted partner. A favorite passage in which Carrie gets into a spot of trouble and calls Anton to help her out:
"I've never been happier to see someone in my life."
"What the hell were you doing?" he shouted. "Trying to get killed? I told you to stay near city center!"
She stared, looking for Anton, not this furious, wild-eyed stranger. "And you also told me about the park where I could go hiking! Look, I'm not your employee and I'll go where I please. I got a little lost. It could happen to anyone."
"But it didn't happen to anyone. It happened to you!"
Carrie felt her eyes grow wide. Was he suggesting she wasn't expendable? Or was his real concern the hassle of finding another Olga replacement? Much more likely. Her chest tightened and it was hard to breathe. "Yeah, well I'm sorry to be an inconvenience. If I'd known you were going to yell at me, I never would have called." She fumbled for her map and shook it open. "The subway's two blocks that way. Drop me off. I'll get home just fine."
"Don't be ridiculous. I'm not dropping you at subway," he muttered. "I was close by anyway. It's good you called."
"Otherwise you'd be auditioning new pair girls tomorrow."
He jerked his head around, and shot an angry look across the car. "Is that what you think I care about?"
The tense silence was filled by the muffled sounds of traffic outside. Jaw tight, Anton turned his gaze back to the road. "You and I are in this together. Partners, like I said before." His voice softened. "Not just two skaters making tricks."
There is very little not to love about Anton. Yet I appreciated how slowly their relationship developed. He was still handling a long distance relationship with a girlfriend who abandoned him professionally. She was struggling to reconcile the man she sees before her with the one she spent only a handful of hours with years ago and who does not seem to remember her at all. Their respective families are complicated and play strong roles in shaping the way they see the world and the fears and hopes they harbor for their futures. There are layers upon layers between these two, and I relished the gradual dismantling and rebuilding they had to go through on their way to forming a firm and equal partnership. This quiet, romantic book is such a lovely read and one of my favorites of the year thus far....more
Teenage Sherlock Holmes, Watson is a girl, and the story is told from her perspective. This is essentially all thOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Teenage Sherlock Holmes, Watson is a girl, and the story is told from her perspective. This is essentially all the information I needed in order to make the decision to dive into Every Breath at the earliest opportunity. But in case you're wavering, it's also fun to know that this is Australian author Ellie Marney's debut novel, that it is a YA contemporary mystery, and the first in a series to boot. Next up, I think we should just take a moment to talk covers. I have yet to purchase my own copy (that's earmarked for the next paycheck), but both the US and Aussie covers have a lot going for them. The Aussie one gets tons of points for having Watts actually on the cover, for one thing. But in a very rare move, I'm leaning US if only because it's not a photo of actual people (never works out well for me) and because, well, his throat. Also his hair and his entire posture. But his throat. That's Mycroft. I love him this cover.
Rachel Watts' friendship with her neighbor James Mycroft is something of a full time job. Newly (and unwillingly) arrived from the countryside, Rachel struggles to find a place for herself in Melbourne. Unused to navigating city life after the loss of the family farm, she and her older brother and parents find themselves acting almost like strangers as they adjust to their new home and environment. But then Mycroft enters her life, with his jittery brilliance, his obsession with forensics, and his ongoing allergy to school. And soon her days are not quite as numb, filled as they are with contributing her powers of observation (and cooking skills) to the latest in a long line of Mycroft's investigations. But this most recent involves a murder. And not just any stranger, but that of Homeless Dave—a man they both knew. Unable to accept the official police verdict, Mycroft and Watts set themselves to the task of tracking down the truth behind Dave's violent death and bringing the mysterious killer to justice.
I'll admit, I was a little nervous at first. I was nervous the high school setting, and possibly the nature of the relationship between Watts and Mycroft, would pall too quickly or somehow not resonate with me in just the right way. As nerves go, basically your run of the mill stuff. But I've read one fantastic Sherlock Holmes adaptation and I was so keen to find another. Happily, Rachel herself was the first to set me at ease. Her transition to the city has been a particularly difficult one, and the dry but upfront way in which she expressed that difficulty struck a chord of sympathy within me:
I like it in his room—the starry lights, the feeling of sanctuary. I'm still not used to dealing with a lot of other people. I've known Mycroft, and Mai and her boyfriend, Gus, since last November, and they still feel like "a lot of other people." Actually, Mycroft alone could probably qualify as seeming like "a lot of other people." He does so much crazy stuff you could imagine more than a single offender.
That passage could just as easily been an entry from one of my high school journals. Other people, man. Not for the faint of heart. I love that the story is told from Watts' perspective. She has very honed powers of observation, though she herself might decry that claim. But it means that not only is she vital to Mycroft's ongoing efforts, she also does an incredibly effective job of introducing the reader to her singular friend. And if her focus is more frequently drawn to to Mycroft than it is anyone else in the room, it isn't any wonder as his magnetism and zaniness and pain fairly claw their way off the page. Gratefully, his presence never overshadows Watts. Not even a little bit, as we are firmly grounded inside her viewpoint and know just how hard she works to keep everyone in her life afloat and not lose track of her own needs, even if she is reticent about voicing them aloud. The mystery itself makes for a fun, often dark ride, and I enjoyed sitting back and accompanying them in their rounds. But the heart of Every Breath is, without question, the chemistry between Watts and Mycroft. Ms. Marney quite simply nails their need on the head. The pacing and development of Watts-and-Mycroft is one long and delicious thread running alongside the unfolding of the murder investigation. As the precarious hold they each have on their lives begins to unravel against the backdrop of Watts' uncertainty and Mycroft's desperation, the solace they take in being together, the rightness of their fit, is so soothing it is tangible. I currently have the sequel on order from Australia and am sitting here feeling antsy just thinking about what these two might be getting up to without me....more
I started a Meredith Duran book some time ago and stalled out early on for reasons I can no longer quite rememberOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I started a Meredith Duran book some time ago and stalled out early on for reasons I can no longer quite remember. I know it wasn't the writing, which definitely struck me as adept. I think it was more to do with the setting and I not clicking. Also the sense I was getting that the characters were going to hurt each other—possibly at some length—before they found any middle ground. Either way, I wasn't up for it at the time. And then I'm fairly certain I went on to mix Ms. Duran up with Tessa Dare and forgot to return after trying and sort of spectacularly failing to engage with Dare's Spindle's Cove series. Which is why I'm very glad Fool Me Twice was brought to my attention a few days ago. It jogged my memory and I remembered I'd always meant to go back and investigate Duran's work further to see if there might be a better fit among her backlist. As it turns out, her most recent novel and I were destined to get on in spades.
Olivia Mather has set her scruples aside in favor of staying alive. With her mother's husband's dangerous henchman lurking around every dark corner, she decides to use the only weapon she has and infiltrate the home of the Duke of Marwick. As a maid in the duke's home, she feels certain it won't take her above a week to root out his correspondence containing the evidence she needs to ensure the villainous Bertram will leave her alone for good. When she accidentally stumbles into the role of housekeeper, Olivia figures so much the better. But it quickly becomes clear that the home she has walked into is not so easily navigable as she presumed. For the duke is rumored to have run mad at the revelation of his dead wife's betrayal. He has not left his room in above a year. His terrified servants tiptoe about the house and shirk their duties. With time running short and her only hope residing in the duke's rooms, Olivia must take charge of the crumbling household and find a way to lure the crumbling man inside out into the light.
As you know, I can never resist a Beauty and the Beast tale and Fool Me Twice situates itself nicely in the genre with a wonderfully game, feisty heroine and a decidedly bitter, wounded beast. The novel itself is a study in contrasts. Duran's writing is light, often taking an elegant turn. The characters enjoy sparring with one another—verbally, physically, emotionally—you name it. There is much wit and teasing. But. These high and light emotions often run unchecked into much darker fare. Olivia and Marwick excel at demolishing one another, raging beautifully when the thread of their connection dances too close to the gaping lesions they so ferociously protect. While Alistair's injuries are clearly the fresher, Olivia makes a rather shattering command decision not to sidestep her goal in order to save him additional pain. The results are . . . well, devastating for both of them. And I'm really not sure who I was more angry with. Or who I ached for more. I just wanted them to wash their hands of the pain of their pasts and agree to stop pouring salt into old wounds. An example of the light:
"Have you a death wish?" he snarled. "Or have you, perhaps, lost the ability to understand English?"
She backed away from him, angling toward the door. He matched her step for step, prowling like a lion on the scent of a lamb—not a comfortable analogy. But these innocent books. She was stumbling over them, gilt-edged, calfskin-bound, priceless. She must save them from him.
She had one foot out the door when she caught sight again of the illustrated manuscript. She could not abandon it here. The poor darling! She lunged forward and snatched it up.
"Put that down!" he roared.
"You may keep them all," she cried. "Move the entire library up here, but you will not keep them on the floor!"
She hopped backward and pulled the door shut in his face.
It was no longer clear to him who was in control of this conversation. How absurd. He was not bound by her terms; in return for her answer, she could demand the moon, and it would make no difference to him. "Very well, then, answer me: why were you crying?"
"Because I am not the person I hoped to be. And I dislike myself for it."
That told him nothing. "What do you mean? Who had you hoped to be?"
"Someone better. Someone who abided by her ideals."
Christ. Blackly amused, he turned away from her toward the bookshelves. "Then we both were drawn here by the same mood. But I assure you, Mrs. Johnson, you will overcome your disappointment."
"As you have?"
He ignored that. "Good night to you."
"You haven't yet answered my question."
"Welshing," he said coldly, "is the duke's special privilege."
"Very well, don't answer. But I will ask it anyway: why do you read Austen if you lack all hope for yourself? Why torment yourself with happy endings if you don't believe one is possible?"
He stared at the books. This had gone too far. Why did she think she had the right to speak to him in this manner?
Why did he constantly invite it?
"You have every advantage." Her voice was fervent. "There is no reason you can't go back into the world, have everything you feel you've been denied. I tell you—if I had your advantages, I would remake myself!"
And the elegant:
Olivia took a long breath. It now sounded as if Marwick was banging things against the walls. Not his head, she hoped? Or perhaps she did. No, she couldn't wish harm to his brain. It might yet heal, and it had once been very fine.
One of my favorite aspects of the narrative is how it continually refers to what has been lost for both of these individuals, engaging with the agonizing question of whether or not those things can (or should) be regained. To say nothing of how far they will go to stave off danger (in Olivia's case) and exact revenge (in Marwick's). Duran's style, setup, and execution requires the reader be rooting for both Olivia and Marwick in order to make it through the utter hell they hand each other on an hourly basis. In order to reach the point where their eyes finally open enough to see beyond the surface implications of their actions, which are admittedly questionable in a number of cases. I wondered a moment or two whether I might lose my grip on my affection for one of them. But then I do like my protagonists flawed. And I am not at all certain I would have responded to Olivia if she had been a little less ruthless or Marwick had he been a little more malleable. And because their innate admiration for each other is unwavering, I remained with them lo, unto the end. Fool Me Twice is a decided highlight among historicals and of my reading year thus far....more
Holding true to form, I always get on well with the first in each of Shalvis' Lucky Harbor trilogies. This one was no exception. Sam and Becca hit allHolding true to form, I always get on well with the first in each of Shalvis' Lucky Harbor trilogies. This one was no exception. Sam and Becca hit all the right notes....more
This anthology is worth it for the Ruthie Knox story alone. I read several (if not all) of the other novellas, and was mildly pleased with each. But RThis anthology is worth it for the Ruthie Knox story alone. I read several (if not all) of the other novellas, and was mildly pleased with each. But Redemption is head and shoulders above the rest and that's all there is to it. Knox is pretty much always a safe bet, but she plain kills it with this sad, wintry tale of two lonely individuals who are dead certain they're using each other to stave off utter despair. It's sober and aching and simply lovely. I loved Jessie and Mike, their anger, their desperation, and the difficult choice they make in the end. So, so good....more
I have Allison over at The Allure of Books to thank for this recommendation. I believe I had heard the title of tOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I have Allison over at The Allure of Books to thank for this recommendation. I believe I had heard the title of this Victorian mystery bandied about some and never did chase it down on account of the title itself. Something to do with a proliferation of the so-and-so's wife titles at the time, I would imagine. But. I'm so very glad I listened to Allie and gave it a shot. Anna Lee Huber's series (which stands at three novels at the present time with a fourth due out this summer) is excellent. As you might have guessed, this series is a straight shot for you Deanna Raybourn and Tasha Alexander fans out there. While the Lady Julia Grey series is a touch more dramatic and the Lady Emily Ashton one quite a bit lighter, Kiera Darby is compelling entirely on her own merits and I can't wait to further my exploits with her in future installments.
Lady Kiera Darby wants only to hide away and lick her wounds. Gone to her sister's estate in Scotland to recuperate from the tumultuous events of her husband's death and her own criminal trial, Kiera takes refuge in her painting and in the satisfactory distance she's finally put between herself and the prying eyes of London society. Unfortunately, her well-meaning sister and brother-in-law have planned a house party and invited some of the very elite members of society she so longs to escape. Knowing what they think of her and her role (albeit unwilling) in her husband's distasteful profession, each day becomes an endless struggle. But when a murder takes place on the premises, Kiera's skill is called upon by private inquiry agent Sebastian Gage. At first put off by Gage's somewhat pedestrian talent and clear suspicion of her, Lady Darby is reluctant to pursue the increasingly disturbing events at the estate. But determined to prove her own innocence, she concedes to work with Gage and the two fall into a competent and intriguing partnership.
How I love Kiera. I love that the story opens after the horrible spectacle has taken place. The whole opening has an exhausted, almost gun shy feel to it as we come to know Kiera and gradually find out just what led to her ostracizing from society and the slow death she suffered at the hands of the most indifferent and cruel of husbands. The entirety of The Anatomist's Wife is quiet. In the best sense. Quietly affecting. Quietly horrific. Quietly strong and hopeful. I was immediately fond of it and its occupants. Which brings us to Gage. I found him engaging (forgive me) from the beginning, though he does initially come off a bit of the fop to both Kiera and the reader. While unerringly confident, he doesn't ooze brooding arrogance in quite the same way that others of his ilk do. I wasn't sure which way the wind would blow with Gage. But I appreciated the healthy dose of skepticism that flourished between he and Kiera. And I unquestionably relished the accompanying slow, slow burn as their eyes were opened to how effective they could be as an investigative team, as well as how close they were growing as friends. Such partners they were. Such kindred spirits. I am with them. To the end....more
I picked this book up for one reason and one reason only—because Sarah MacLean recommended it as one of her top hOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I picked this book up for one reason and one reason only—because Sarah MacLean recommended it as one of her top historicals ever, like ever. Apparently, that's all it takes for me when it comes from the lady who gave us Callie and Ralston. And I have my suspicions that might be all it took for a few of you, too. We are in good company together then, yes? This was my first of Lisa Kleypas' historicals. Having read and been mildly okay with one of her contemporaries and read and absolutely loved one of her others, I figured the wind could reasonably be expected to blow any number of ways with The Devil in Winter. Some authors transition beautifully from one genre/time period to another. Others, I feel, face more of an uphill battle. Spoiler alert: Ms. Kleypas appears to know her way around whichever she feels like tackling at the time. I will say that I initially read a library copy and held off on purchasing my own because I was not fond of the U.S. cover. So much lavender. I can't . . . with just so much lavender. But then. The UK cover waltzed onto the scene. With Evie standing in the snow. Just . . . looking. It is everything the book deserves and it, of course, had to be mine.
Evangeline Jenner has summoned what remains of her flagging courage and made a command decision. Said decision involves sneaking into the home of vaunted rake Sebastian St. Vincent and demanding he run off to Gretna Green with her to be married before her hideous relatives can stash her in a closet and force her to marry her cousin, thereby gaining control of her dying father's gambling money. (Did that last sentence put a silly grin on anyone else's face? Just me?) Having been beaten down and pushed aside her entire life, Evie just wants to be free. If a loveless marriage to a known dissolute is what it takes, she will gladly pay the price. St. Vincent will get the money he so desperately needs to pay his father's debts and the two can happily live the rest of their lives separately. After his initial amusement and disbelief at the shy wallflower's proposal, the wayward viscount finds himself accepting and the two of them go haring off for parts north as fast as possible before anyone can say them nay. Before either of them know it, the marriage has been solemnized and it's back to London and the grim reality of bidding farewell to Evie's father along with the unexpectedly complicated feelings they experience in the face of the prospect of going their separate ways.
The Devil in Winter has one hell of a beginning and that's all there is to it. Talk about hook, line, and sinker. I fell in love with Evie almost with her first exhalation. What a sad and dim life she led leading up to the moment she felt forced to go to St. Vincent with an offer she wouldn't let him refuse. And how I liked her for the way she faced him down and stutteringly told him the way things were going down. As for Sebastian, I grew to like him quickly for how quickly he grew to like Evie. For his wicked wit and hilariously cavalier attitude toward life and the ton. And for the appalled look on his face when he realizes he might . . . he just might be falling in love with his wife. It was a pleasure watching Evie's shoulders slowly relax while in Sebastian's company, just as it was a treat watching that very attitude of his grow less and less cavalier when it came to his wife and the altered way he saw the world as a husband. So very much against his will. But there it is. The story did bobble just a bit for me back in London as the two take up residence in Jenner's gambling hell and I felt things veering a touch close to the shallow. But the ship rights itself soon enough as they stumble up against each other's expectations and the scars (in Evie's case) and indiscretions (in Sebastian's) of their respective pasts. This was helped along by Kleypas' uncanny knack for suddenly and unceremoniously shoving the two of them in a hallway or billiard hall or sick room at just the right moment so they could sort themselves out. I'm ever so fond of them, Evie and Sebastian. I will always be glad they came to stay....more
First of all, that cover. I love everything about that cover. And, as such, deciding whether or not to read JackaOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
First of all, that cover. I love everything about that cover. And, as such, deciding whether or not to read Jackaby involved me sitting on my hands, dithering about whether or not the insides would match the outsides. As I am wont to do. But the truth is the mash-up of historical fantasy and the Doctor Who-meets-Sherlock Holmes teaser made it no kind of question at all as to whether or not I'd be picking it up. This is William Ritter's debut novel and the first in a series (happy day) as the ending clearly indicates. I picked it up a few weeks back on vacation and read it through in one big swallow. And while my body may have been sitting on the beach, my mind was far away tramping down a cold, winter street in New Fiddleham. The whole experience was deliciously dark and dreary. Of course, it was also ineluctably charming and smart. Which is to say I didn't stand a chance and cannot wait for the next one to come out.
The year is 1892. The place: New England. Abigail Rook has fled her staid life. Leaving her disbelieving parents behind in England, she has sailed to the new world, specifically to the dockside town of New Fiddleham in search of . . . she knows not what. Gifted with the ability to parse the importance of ordinary details, she is sure that with a little fortitude (and a lot of luck), she will be able to make a place for herself in this unfamiliar clime. And it turns out, she's right. Her first night in town, she runs across an extraordinary personage who appears to carry an unholy amount of bits and bobs on his person and who goes by the unlikely moniker of R.F. Jackaby. Jackaby, it turns out, is a private investigator of the unusual variety. He takes cases that involve the inexplicable, the paranormal, the ones that regularly stymie the local constabulary. Stumbling into Jackaby's latest case, Abigail is intrigued and finds herself following the odd man home and inserting herself into his daily routine as an investigative assistant. She is, of course, not the first to fill that role (the fate of the last one remains a bit murky) and she fears she will not be the last. But for the present, she can think of nothing else she would rather be doing. And so the two are off as they trace the footsteps of an increasingly erratic serial killer.
Abigail and Jackaby are immediate magic. I say that acknowledging that there is not a romantic note between them, though there are a couple of jokes along that vein and their reactions are priceless. There is a lovely hint of romantic potential for Abigail and a certain young detective who is not as disbelieving in Jackaby's ability as his supervisors are. But the hint dances around, remaining in the realm of potential for this volume at least. And that is all to the good, because this entertaining and absorbing debut is a charming and twisty mystery at heart. Chock full of Celtic mythology and regularly terrifying glimpses of the macabre, Jackaby is a recipe for a ripping good romp. I loved how excellently Abigail and Jackaby complemented each other and how quietly but firmly they came to respect and care for one another as colleagues and as accomplices (only when the occasion required, of course). Every scene that features them rambling around Jackaby's home is a delight, as the house itself constitutes one of my favorite characters. The hysterical fate of Jackaby's former assistant, along with the mysterious and heretofore lonely fates of a few of his other lodgers captured my affections. I know why Jackaby chose Abigail, but I was so pleased Abigail chose him. They needed each other. Their enjoyable banter and madcap dashes through the seedy underbelly of New Fiddleham kept me on my toes all the way to the exciting conclusion. As I believe a good book never reveals all its secrets, I know there is much more just waiting to unfurl in the sequel. I am all anticipation....more
You all remember my love for Diana Peterfreund's Secret Society Girl novels, yes? A certain patriarch of a certaiOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
You all remember my love for Diana Peterfreund's Secret Society Girl novels, yes? A certain patriarch of a certain . . . well. You remember. The thing is, those are my kind of New Adult novels. And I think I've been sort of quietly looking for more in that vein ever since. And then a couple of months ago I ran across Diana enthusiastically recommending a new series for fans of the SSG books. It's called the Ivy Years series and it is written by Sarina Bowen. Needless to say, I investigated further. When I found out the books were also sports-related, I said to the internet, Say no more, internet. You have my attention. And that night I jumped in and started the first book—The Year We Fell Down (which, by the way, such a great title)—and I thoroughly enjoyed Bowen's easy style, down to Earth characters (well, most of time, I'm looking at you Hartley), and the fabulous college setting. So when the second book came out, I was all set to dive right back into life at Harkness, particularly when I heard it featured Bridger—a character from the first book who I really liked but who I had more than few concerns about.
Bridger McCaulley's life does not resemble what it used to be. Not that it's ever been easy, but there was a period there where he worried . . . less . . . and partied more. And he played hockey like nobody's business. Those days are gone now that he's wholly responsible for his little sister. And it doesn't help matters that it's all on the down low since child protective services would have a heyday if they knew a college hockey star was hiding a little girl away in his dorm room. Scarlet Crowley's life also altered suddenly and irrevocably and for the worse. She's come to Harkness to escape as many of her problems as possible, starting by enrolling under a different name in order to stave off as much of the media as possible. When the truth about her father's charity was made public, the life she led became impossible and she hopes distance from her parents and her father's crimes will allow her to build her own life. When the two meet, sparks fly, but they agree not to take things any further than study dates in the cafeteria. Bridger has no time to speak of and a pack of responsibilities weighing him down to the ground. Scarlet fears discovery and the look on Bridger's face were he ever to find out the kind of family she comes from. But it proves to be difficult for each of them to give up that regular human contact again. With someone who might just understand.
As I said, I enjoyed (my impatience with Hartley aside) most everything about the first book in the series. But I loved everything about The Year We Hid Away. How lovely a thing it is when you get to know a previously secondary character better only to find out they were exactly who you were hoping they would be all along. Getting to know Bridger was just such an experience. There was so much more to him than his escapades the year before led you to believe, and every one of those added layers made him an infinitely sympathetic character. He is crazy strong, is Bridger. And determined to go it alone, if just to adequately protect his little sister Lucy from additional disappointment and pain. He rightly judges she has suffered enough. But then so has he. And it takes Scarlet entering his tightly closed off life to see that and know how to help. It was so interesting watching these two hockey players interact while on enforced hiatuses from the sport they love. In fact, one of my favorite aspects of this story is the equal treatment the two protagonists get. Their stories, their histories, they are equally valued and play appropriately weighty roles in their present. They are not just back stories, but fleshed out narratives explaining the way they are, the challenges they live with. And they fold so seamlessly into the force bringing and holding them together. An early encounter snippet:
"You never say very much about Miami Beach," Bridger said as we lingered over our coffee. "Or your family."
I didn't bother to hide my flinch. "Miami Beach is the best. My family . . . not so much. I don't really talk about them. It isn't a nice story." The truth was, I didn't want to lie any more than necessary to those deep green eyes.
Bridger's face flashed with sympathy. "Okay. It's exactly the same for me, but I didn't expect that. Because you look like someone from a family with a nice story."
"And you don't?" I countered.
He put one hand on his own cheek and covered mine with his other. "You make a good point. Maybe there's no look. I should probably stop thinking that everyone else in this room has it easier than me."
I turned my head, and together we both scanned the laughing, eating, bustle that was the student center at noon. It sure looked happy out there. For just a moment, I was a goalie again, analyzing the play, scouting for trouble.
"Nah," I said finally, turning back to Bridger. "I still think most of them have it pretty good."
Bridger grinned. "This is the cynical table," he said, tapping his fingertip on the wood grain.
"Party of two," I agreed.
Their Tuesday and Thursday lunch/study dates never failed to bring a smile to my face. And the natural and seemingly inevitable way they grew into a relationship with a healthy amount of depth kept the smile upon my face. They are able to take a breather of sorts and step away from being self-conscious when they're together. It feels like a reprieve, doled out in careful doses. No wonder they look to increase those doses. I also appreciated the way Bowen handles the "finding out" of the respective pasts. It was a recipe for maturity while still paying tribute to their actual ages and the extent of their life experiences. As is the case with the best romances, I am so very glad they found each other. As for myself, I am so very happy to have found a fresh voice in the new adult genre. Recommended for fans of Down London Road and, of course, Secret Society Girl....more
I originally heard about Graffiti Moon around about the time I read Raw Blue and thought to myself, is every AustOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I originally heard about Graffiti Moon around about the time I read Raw Blue and thought to myself, is every Australian YA author crazy talented or what? (The answer, by the way, appears to be an unequivocal YES). Then some of the Usual Suspects read and reviewed and loved it, and so Cath Crowley got noted down on my mental TBR, despite the fact that it, too, was not published in the U.S. yet. Then a little while after, it showed up on NetGalley and there were no more excuses to be had.
Lucy's time is running out. Year 12 is about to end and she still hasn't tracked down the graffiti artist known as Shadow. Though his work is all over the streets and walls and broken down buildings of the city, he only comes out at night. And despite her best efforts, Lucy hasn't been able to be in the right place at the right time to see him at work. He works in tandem with a street artist named Poet. Together they put words to pictures and grace the worn out sections of the city with their unique blend of poetry and urban art. Lucy would be happy to find the mysterious Poet as well, but when it comes down to it, it's Shadow she cares about. Something about the pictures he creates strikes a chord deep inside her and she feels as though a chance will have been missed if she never meets him. Never gets the opportunity to tell him, even for a moment, what his work means to her. Then one night she and her two best friends Jazz and Daisy are out and run into Daisy's on again, off again boyfriend Dylan, and his two friends Leo and Ed. Dylan knows Shadow and Poet, and the group decide to visit the two's known haunts and see if they can find them. Lucy is reluctant to go as she and Ed have had encounters in the past that did not end well. Ed is just as loathe to renew the acquaintance. But Jazz and Leo talk them into it. And they're off.
Graffiti Moon is a gem--a breath of fresh air. The narrative alternates between Lucy's, Ed's, and Leo's points of view and I enjoyed them all equally. Okay. I may have been just a teensy bit more partial to Leo's sections when it comes down to it. But that's because they're poems. Just freakishly good poems. I wanted to share my favorite of Leo's poems because they were such a highlight of the book for me. Here it is, fairly early on in the book:
Where I lived before
I used to live with my parents
In a house that smelled like cigarettes And tasted like beer if you touched anything The kitchen table was a bitter ocean That came off on my fingers
There were three doors between the fighting and me And at night I closed them all I'd lie in bed and block the sounds
By imagining I was floating Light years of quiet Interrupted by breathing And nothing else
I'd drift through space And fall through dreams Into dark skies Some nights
My brother Jake and I would crawl out the window And cut across the park Swing on the monkey bars for a while One the way to Gran's house
She'd be waiting Dressing gown and slippers on Searching for our shadows She'd read us
Poetry and fairy tales Where swords took care of dragons And Jake never said it was a load of shit Like I thought he would
And then one night Gran stopped reading before the happy ending She asked, "Leopold, Jake. You want to live In my spare room?"
Her voice Sounded like space and dark skies But that night all my dreams Had floors
That last line has been haunting me ever since. In such a good way. "But that night all my dreams had floors." A line so good it had me swallowing hard, brushing back sudden tears in my eyes, and turning to my husband to read it aloud, because I just had to share it with someone instantly. I love Leo. Comparisons between this book and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist abound, and I certainly understand why. Graffiti Moon is to be preferred, in my opinion, as the characters are more fully fleshed out and the writing is just a cut above. Here the focus is on art instead of music, and the combination of Shadow's evocative paintings and Lucy's burgeoning glassblowing skills is a lovely feast for the imagination. I could picture, without any trouble at all, the heart growing grass. That perfect shade of blue he's been searching for. The birds--their wings bound--struggling to break free. I could see it all. Truthfully, this book reminded me more of Lisa Schroeder's Chasing Brooklyn or Donna Freitas' This Gorgeous Game. It shares with those stories a certain elegance in the telling. I loved each of the main characters, with the real draw being the ethereal connection between Lucy and Shadow, and the complicated friendship between Ed and Leo. There's much of humor and heartbreak within these pages, and I read them through in one sitting, so happy was I to be with these kids, inside these words, as they expressed themselves the only way they knew how....more
Once again I surface from a haze of mandatory rereading of each and every one of my favorite parts in the previouOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Once again I surface from a haze of mandatory rereading of each and every one of my favorite parts in the previous two novels in the Raven Cycle to write this review of the third and latest installment. I finished Blue Lily, Lily Blue and lay awake in bed, staring at the ceiling, seeing nothing but the quicksilver leaves of Cabeswater, hearing nothing but Adam's soft drawl over the tune of Ronan's inappropriate Irish jigs, and tasting nothing but mint on my tongue. It's a heady experience giving yourself over to one of Maggie's novels and not a decision to be taken lightly. Knowing that she persists in ending each book on a cliffhanger teaser (of sorts), I prepared myself for the worst (though I know she's really saving that for the fourth and final book). And, as ever, as the whole thing crashes to its temporary conclusion, some threads are flung far and wide even as others (the core ones) tighten their hold, both on each other and on me.
This is the third book in a quartet, guys. I shall attempt to minimize the spoilers. But not at the expense of THE FEELINGS. As Ronan might say, Vos admonitos.
Given her druthers, Blue Sargent would eat yogurt for every meal. She would grow a handful of inches taller. And she would spend each and every day with the boys. And while her mother disapproves of at least two of those three choices, her mother is not around anymore. To put too fine a point on it, Maura has up and disappeared. And the women of 300 Fox Way are at a loss as to know exactly what to do to fetch her back. And so Blue eats her yogurt. And she bemoans her diminutive height. And she spends as many and as much of her days as possible hunting with Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah. And all the while she quietly tries to will her mother back before the nameless evil that threatens to awaken does just that. Meanwhile, Adam is holding tightly to every shred of sanity and temper he possesses in order to mend his fences with Gansey, continue to heal Cabeswater as needed, and come to terms with his role in the group and in the grander scheme of the search for Glendower. And in many respects his work is rewarded with greater clarity on several fronts. Ronan Lynch continues to live with every one of his secrets (and to be keeper of a not insignificant portion of my heart). And Noah . . . vacillates . . . as only Noah can. To say nothing of the Gray Man's adopted quest, Calla's fiercely protective eye, Persephone's training of Adam, and Gansey's sometime mentor calling for tea. More threads are added to the weft with every step of this penultimate tale.
"You can be just friends with people, you know," Orla said. "I think it's crazy how you're in love with all those raven boys."
Orla wasn't wrong, of course. But what she didn't realize about Blue and her boys was that they were all in love with one another. She was no less obsessed with them than they were with her, or one another, analyzing every conversation and gesture, drawing out every joke into a longer and longer running gag, spending each moment either with one another or thinking about when next they would be with one another. Blue was perfectly aware that it was possible to have a friendship that wasn't all-encompassing, that wasn't blinding, deafening, maddening, quickening. It was just that now that she'd had this kind, she didn't want the other.
In the words of Whitman, "We were together. I forget the rest." This is precisely how I feel whenever I sit back down with Blue and her Raven Boys. Okay. We're together now. Everything else can fall away. I love how, despite Maura's absence, everyone felt less alone to me in this one than they did in the last. In Blue Lily, Lily Blue, three books in, they genuinely have each other. Even more importantly, they acknowledge that they have each other and just how much that means. Sometimes, in the case of Ronan, they acknowledge it in remorseless and epithetical Latin. Sometimes, in the case of Adam, in the minutest acceptance of an unexpected kindness. And sometimes, in the case of Gansey and Blue, only in the most glancing and breath-holding of looks or moments, drifting along the tenuous line of a telephone. But acknowledge it and rely upon it they do. And that seemingly simple step goes miles and miles to shoring up a few of this reader's myriad anxieties. The trust and surety that previously extended unilaterally here and there within the group expand in this volume to each relationship, in every combination. They find themselves reaching out, across status and gender and ley lines. And, as a result, Gansey (who has arguably been the most alone of all these kids who have been so very alone) is no longer quite so internally isolated. And the same goes for each of the magnificent individuals he has gathered around him. With all dark things looming ahead of them, this one change felt vastly important to me. And dark things do loom ahead. So dark at times it is difficult not to flinch. But there is always the glorious light to match the darkness—the lightning humor in Gansey's eyes, in Ronan's laugh, and on Blue's tongue.
Sometimes, Gansey forgot how much he liked school and how good he was at it. But he couldn't forget it on mornings like this one—fall fog rising out of the fields and lifting in front of the mountains, the Pig running cool and loud, Ronan climbing out of the passenger seat and knocking knuckles on the roof with teeth flashing, dewy grass misting the black toes of his shoes, bag slung over his blazer, narrow-eyed Adam bumping fists as they met on the sidewalk, boys around them laughing and calling to one another, making space for the three of them because this had been a thing for so long: Gansey-Lynch-Parrish.
This thing. Oh, this thing. The three of them. The five of them. The quest for the sleeping king. It's just that I love them, you know? I love that we get the sure sense they were going on before us and that they will continue on without us after the fourth book comes to a close. As for that close, we shall not speak of it. For I am full to the brim of fears and awful premonitions. As such, I plan on tucking myself away at 300 Fox Way until next October. Just to be safe. Safe as life....more
As soon as I finished this book I couldn't wait to share how fun it is. I knew Ilona Andrews had two full-lengthOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
As soon as I finished this book I couldn't wait to share how fun it is. I knew Ilona Andrews had two full-length releases out this year and I was super excited about this brand new series, but somehow the latest Kate always overshadows other titles in my mind. I also had it set in my head somehow that this one resided more on the paranormal end of the spectrum, which is fine, even though I tend not to respond quite as well to that genre. I trust this author implicitly. But I was really pleasantly surprised as I was reading to find out that (shirtless cover aside), though the romantic subplot plays a much more central role and proceeds more quickly than it does in the Kate Daniels novels, it is never overwrought and in no way overshadows the rich world-building, fast pace, and fantastic characters I've come to expect from Ilona Andrews.
Nevada Baylor prefers not to attract attention. Of any sort. In a world ruled by rigidly stratified magical practitioners known as Primes, Nevada operates as far below the radar as possible. After the death of her father, she took up the reins of the family PI business. Making sparing and judicious use of her ability to determine whether or not people are telling the truth, and utilizing every scrap of talent from each of her siblings, her cousins, her ex-military mother, and even her mechanic grandmother, she is determined to provide for them all and stay afloat. But when their parent company calls her in and blackmails her into taking a case no one with half a brain cell would touch, Neva knows her days are numbered. And when she inadvertently (and completely against her will) partners up with Mad Rogan—the most notorious and insane Prime of all—she figures she might as well take advantage of Rogan's legendary abilities before the whole thing goes up in flames. Rogan has his own reasons for trying to track down the rogue Prime that's taking the city by storm. And so together the two set out to save the city. Whether or not they can manage it without killing each other along the way is another question entirely.
Burn for Me is just a cracking good read. The action, mystery, romance, and humor are all entwined in just such a way as to make the reading of it a nonstop pleasure. My interest never flagged, and I liked Neva and Rogan every bit as much as I hoped I would. My favorite thing about Andrews heroines is how hard they try. How doggedly they love and protect the ones that are theirs. How desperately they cloak their secrets. And how ferociously they fight to save the world. I loved Nevada for the way she held her family together, ran her business, and managed to handle crazy, magnetic Rogan. The glimpses we get of Rogan's past are painful and fascinating; his history as a telekinetic Prime and as a forged weapon is both twisted and suffocating. Working together, these two amount to a lit flame. And it was no hardship at all tracking them on their wild course through the city, arguing, plotting, and working their way closer together. Neva is rightfully guarded around Rogan, while Rogan doesn't know the meaning of the word "boundary." The combination of the two is something of a compulsive delight. My favorite moments, of course, are when Neva's deceptively simple ability allows her insight into Rogan. For example:
I was suddenly so tired. My eyes were burning. My throat still hurt.
Mad Rogan raised his hand. A bottle of water landed into it. He handed it to me. "Rinse your mouth and eyes. Don't swallow."
I opened the bottle, gulped, swished the water inside my mouth, and spat. The scratching subsided.
The younger of the men reappeared in the warehouse door and nodded to us. We started toward him.
"Thank you for saving my grandmother," I said.
"You're no good to me if you're burying a relative instead of looking for Pierce. I did it for completely selfish reasons," he said.
I hated that it had to end. And I am already awaiting the sequel with the usual ill concealed impatience....more
I remember thinking nothing could top Shiver and then being introduced to Cole St. Clair in Linger and realizingOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I remember thinking nothing could top Shiver and then being introduced to Cole St. Clair in Linger and realizing Maggie Stiefvater had several more tricks left in her bag. Then Cole and Isabel proceeded to go for each other's throats and I forgot to worry at all. I loved them so much, though, that the continuation of their storyline was perhaps my biggest problem with Forever—the "conclusion" to the "trilogy." The two of them were just left hanging. And because at that point I really felt like Sam and Grace's story was winding down just as Cole and Isabel's was ramping up, I had a hard time with the wide open, barn door left swinging in the wind ending they were given. The funny thing is that I desperately wanted more but really didn't give any thought to the possibility of her writing more. That ship had sailed, we'd all moved on to killer water horses and dead Welsh kings. Which is why when the news hit that there would in fact be a companion novel to the Shiver trilogy and that it would clue us in on what was going down with our favorite emotional assassins, well, that my friends was a good day.
Cole St. Clair is back from the dead and better than ever. He's landed in L.A. and is slated to record his new record as part of a reality webseries with the notorious Baby North—a Hollywood producer known for destroying her subjects as a matter of course. But that's not why he's really in L.A. Not really. Cole is there because that's where Isabel Culpeper is. And in Cole's book, Isabel is pretty much the only thing worth pursuing. If he can revive his music career and make a killer album along the way, so much the better. But Isabel is supremely less than thrilled to see the former NARKOTIKA rocker darken her doorstep. That is to say, it is achingly good to see him. But everything about Cole has spelled nothing but trouble for Isabel, especially his addictive tendencies, be they for drugs, women, or turning into a big, bad wolf whenever the notion (or temperature) takes him. And so begins this epic dance between the two unhappiest people in L.A. Isabel refuses to be drawn into the glitzy hell that is Cole's life, and Cole refuses to be put off his dogged pursuit of the one girl he can be himself with. And as they dance, they're forced to step around Cole's former bandmates (both alive and dead), the new ones Baby North foists upon him, and the last dying gasps of Isabel's parents' marriage. The question is whether the whole cast and crew of the Cole & Isabel show will drag them under or whether they'll find a way to be. Together.
What I had earned was a trophy for generalized disinterest. It felt as if it had taken all of my energy to be so limply disengaged.
As I pulled aside the linen curtain to the back room, I heard the front door open again. If it was Christina returning to make a second effort at my leggings, I was going to be forced to get loud, and I didn't like getting loud.
But it wasn't Christina I heard at the front of the store.
Instead, a very familiar voice said, "No, no, I'm looking for something very particular. Oh, wait, I just saw it."
I turned around.
Cole St. Clair smiled lazily at me.
I gave so many damns at once that it actually hurt.
This is the passage that started me smiling, and I really did not stop until several hours after closing the book. If ever a pair of ruthless protagonists launched a full-scale assault on my emotions, Cole & Isabel are the ones. And just as I was hoping it would be, it was so crazy good to be back in their presence and to just listen to them snipe at each other and put an icily blank (Isabel) or dazzlingly jaded (Cole) face on things. The bright and shameless L.A. setting proved to be such a solid change-up for Stiefvater and the rest of the Wolves of Mercy Falls series. Gone are the freezing temperatures, wooded forests, and quiet ennui of Minnesota. Bring on the baking sun and the sand and the concrete jungle that barely masks too many emotions, too much energy and life being shoved and sculpted into ill-fitting, empty boxes. They are both so strong in this book, Cole & Isabel. The signature alternating POV chapters sing with the distilled and chilled 100-proof vodka that runs in their veins in the place of warm blood. What's more, every side character worked for me, from Isabel's psychotically domestic cousin Sofia to Cole's clear-eyed ex-bass player Jeremy and his hilariously deadpan driver Leon. It was good to be somewhere new with new faces and new threats. The entire paranormal side of this series was notably dialed down in favor of the more human element. Sometimes Cole is a wolf. Sometimes he chooses to become one in lieu of shooting some other form of oblivion up his arm. Sometimes these two facts make Isabel want to murder someone. Preferably him. And that's it. These things are real. But more real, more tantalizing, is the possibility that if they could each just stop killing themselves trying to prove they don't give a damn—just for a minute—they might find a space in which the pain is held at bay. And the hope of that minute, that swoony, devastating minute of peace that could turn into two minutes and then an hour and then a kind of life worth something? That's worth reading....more
So we'll just agree to go into this review knowing that I really enjoyed Rosamund Hodge's debut novel Cruel BeautOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
So we'll just agree to go into this review knowing that I really enjoyed Rosamund Hodge's debut novel Cruel Beauty, shall we? In general, fairy tale/Greek mythology mash-ups complete with lovely words are welcome in these parts. And so I confess I was excited but just a little bit sad when I found out the next entry in the world would be a novella. Give me all the pages, please. But. It was to be a Cinderella retelling set in the same world and, as that was clearly awesome, I resolved to take what I could get and be grateful for it. I like this cover, although it's a bit bland for my taste and doesn't inspire quite the same swirling dread as the cover of Cruel Beauty. I do like what they're doing with the stairs. I think I might have liked a hint of Maia somewhere in there to humanize things. And, as it happens, there is a whole heaping helping of dread in this little book, so something more sinister would have worked splendidly. But, as I said, take what I can get, etc. etc.
Maia lies all the day long. From the moment she gets up at the crack of dawn to prepare the morning meal for her stepmother and stepsisters to the moment she curls up at night and gives in to oblivion. She lies and lies and lies some more just to be on the safe side. Because if she doesn't, if she lets on for one moment how impossibly dreadful every moment of every day is, her mother will exact revenge on the people around her. And no matter what they've done or what they call her, they don't deserve that. Maia's mother passed away when she was a little girl. But on her deathbed she made a bargain with the Gentle Lord that she be able to watch over her only daughter from the other side of the grave and that any who hurt her would be cursed. And so Maia is never truly alone. She must marshal every thought, every wayward impulse, so that the only quasi-family members she has left are not torn asunder. And it is a grief-filled existence to be sure. Her stepmother went mad upon her father's death. Her stepsisters expend all their energy scrabbling for their mad mother's approval. And it is Maia barely holding the whole decrepit thing together. Until one day her beautiful and desperate stepsister Koré sends her with a letter for the prince. A letter she is certain will spark his interest and potentially lead to a union between them. Against her will, Maia makes her way to the palace to deliver the missive. And it is there she meets Anax—a man she can talk to, who could all too easily become another person she must protect from her mother's dark curse.
My mother loved me more than life itself. That's how everything went wrong.
The brilliant twist on the fairy godmother absolutely made this book for me. That it is her own mother who unwittingly made Maia's life a living hell. That Maia is simultaneously forced to serve and trying to save the people who despise her. That everyone seemingly had such good intentions and that those intentions are now literally tearing their loved ones apart from the inside. Well. It's a feast for the imagination. And it is just such a wicked fun Cinderella retelling. What this tale needed was a little more in the way of savage, black-hearted deceit and Rosamund Hodge brings it. I loved Maia immediately. It was suffocating, her life—her exhausted, interminable insistence that she was happy, that everything was okay. I loved Anax, too. He's so far from the sort of blank and charming male that often fills the prince role in this story. He, too, has an impossibly painful past and looks to his future with little to no joy. Each time Maia is sent to deliver a letter, they talk. They just . . . talk. And it's a moment to breathe for each of them. Of course it grows to mean more to both of them, despite the sizable gap in their understanding of what the other's life is like. It is as though each character in this rich novella is operating under the thinnest veneer of sanity. The deeper in the reader goes, the more apparent this tenuous hold on reality becomes. But those scenes in Anax's study. Their lovely conversations. They provide such a quietly affecting and sweet counterpoint to Maia's internal chaos.
When the footman eases the door open, Lord Anax is sitting at the piano with his back to us, pounding out a rollicking dance tune as if his life depends on it. The footman opens his mouth to announce me, but I shake my head and slip inside silently.
The sofa is soft as newly risen bread dough. I sink into it. Lord Anax is slamming out the notes of the song as loud and as fast as he can, but I'm asleep in moments.
When I wake up, he's playing a different song—slower, more intricate, with a multitude of trills. He stumbles over every one, and though he manages to keep his playing gentle enough to suit the piece, the whole thing feels shapeless.
He hits the final chord a little too fast and loud. Then he looks over his shoulder at me. "Should I be flattered or insulted that I sent you straight into the arms of Morpheus?"
I stand and walk to his side, digging into my pocket. "I have a letter for you."
"Of course. Did you think it was any good?"
"My playing." He's staring at the piano keys, and his voice is light, but I can hear the tension underneath. "Did you think it was any good?"
I consider the question. He's never punished me for telling the truth yet.
"It wasn't terrible," I say. "But it wasn't good. It wasn't anything, really."
He laughs softly. "Did you like it?"
"Don't be tactful now. You were thinking something."
"I was thinking," I say, "what does it matter if I liked it or not? You won't stop or start playing for love of me. You don't care what I think, and I don't care what you play."
"I would have been a piano player," he says abruptly. "If I weren't the duke's son. I know it's not genteel, but if I weren't my father's son, I wouldn't be a gentleman."
"You'd get tired of it," I say.
"No." He stares at the keys. "I'd never get tired of music. But I'd never be much good at it either." Gently, as if he's closing the doors of a shrine, he lowers the lid back over the keys. "Just as well I'm the duke's son and everyone has to flatter me."
I remember this morning, how I yawned and immediately whispered, I'm so happy to be awake, Mother, as I stirred the porridge. I remember Koré looking at the dress I sewed for Thea and saying, I'm glad you've found something that stupid girl is good for, Mother.
"You're not alone," I say. "Everyone has to flatter somebody to survive. Besides, I didn't mean you'd get tired of music. Being a commoner isn't easy, you know. You'd get tired of the work."
"Every day. But unlike you, I don't have a choice. Here's your letter. I suppose I'll see you tomorrow."
He catches my wrist. "Maia," he says, "thank you. Thank you for telling me the truth about my music."
"Just for that?" I ask.
"You're the first one, can you believe it?"
I feel the opulent room weighing down on me, as heavy as the smiles I craft for Mother.
"Yes," I say. "I can believe it."
His music really is terrible.
But it echoes in my head, all the rest of the day.
I read it in one sitting (not a difficult feat as it clocks in at a scant 111 pages) and my only complaint was the eternal one when it comes to novellas—I wish it were longer. It didn't need to be. But my greedy heart will always ask for more....more
I am a confirmed fan of the Edie Spence series. I got in on the ground floor and have thoroughly enjoyed watchinOriginally reviewed here @ Dear Author
I am a confirmed fan of the Edie Spence series. I got in on the ground floor and have thoroughly enjoyed watching Edie negotiate the near constant threats of her world, sometimes with exasperation, sometimes with blind terror, but always with a sort of scrappy determination I find uniquely hers. She’s a survivor, which means she’s not above crossing the gray line between what is strictly ethical and what is . . . not. It’s what I like best about her. In a sea of heroically noble (and powerful) urban fantasy heroines, Edie is painfully human. She has no hidden powers. She’s not the long-lost heir of anyone. She’s a night nurse with a messed up family and a serious case of sleep deprivation. Her up close and personal knowledge of the supernatural doesn’t make her special. Rather, it seems to isolate her even further. But she refuses to throw in the towel. And after the fairly catastrophic events of the last book, Shapeshifted, I wondered what in the world could come next.
A cruise isn’t exactly Edie’s idea of a relaxing vacation. But she’s trying to be a good sport and share in her boyfriend Asher’s excitement at this chance to get away from the inner city clinic where they both work, to say nothing of the lingering trauma from the events of six months ago. It seems they’ve been granted a rare period of peace, and she means to enjoy not being alone anymore. So all aboard it is. And things actually seem to go rather swimmingly until Asher spots a face he hoped to never see again. A face from his altogether dodgy past. Edie knows he wasn’t always the fairly straight and competent doctor he pretends to be nowadays. But the fact that he retains the memories of all the people he touched as a shapeshifter does tend to get in the way sometimes. Especially when she has something important she needs to tell him and has no idea at all how he’ll respond. But when the face he spots turns out to belong to a particularly ruthless villain, Asher is determined to find out what he’s doing there. But before they know it, an epidemic breaks out aboard the ship. Passengers are being felled left and right, in inexplicably gruesome ways. Edie finds herself using every nursing skill she has to outrun the disease and keep Asher from being sucked back by the demons of his past.
I was surprised to find this one set several months after the end of the last book. I guess I expected to ease into things along with Edie and Asher. Instead, they have a very comfortable feel to them from page one. And initially I felt as though I was playing a little bit of catch-up as to the status of their relationship. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been on board with Asher from way back. I couldn’t wait to see how they were as a couple. And on that front, I felt incredibly rewarded with this installment. It felt right. They felt right. The fact that they were for all intents and purposes stowed away on an ocean liner allowed them a level of intimacy and a reprieve from prying eyes that they never would have been afforded at home. I appreciated the trust and space they gave each other. Neither of them are shy violets. And yet they share a history of isolation, of loneliness. In each other, they seem to have found acceptance, if not absolute security. Their interactions are full of care and, if Asher is a bit reckless by nature, I felt safe in his feelings toward Edie. Of course, all too soon the training wheels are ripped away and the thrill ride begins in earnest.
This series has never shied away from the gruesome, and Deadshifted makes a bid to be the grisliest of the lot. The vacation becomes a living nightmare as the epidemic victims behave in increasingly bizarre ways before succumbing in an alarmingly short period of time. Everything about this book felt chilled. In fact, it felt a bit like I was on the sinking Titanic, with doom hanging directly overhead and an unnamed horror just below the surface of every pool of water. The collective ambiance was effective in the extreme, at once gripping and claustrophobic. As always, Edie is an absolute force. True to her nature, she’s in no way content to stay put while Asher tracks down his man. Determined to do anything she can to save lives, her own and Asher’s included, she tracks down the makeshift infirmary and plunges in. Asher is not the only one being followed. As things creep closer and closer to complete anarchy, fascinating alliances and relationships develop between the few desperate passengers who are still standing. This forthright attention to the way mere humans react against a backdrop of mythic disaster remains one of the most compelling strengths of this series. As is the fact that consequences always play an extensive role. In this case, the consequences are sure to be myriad, as the shuddering, game-changer of an ending opens a whole new can of blood-sucking worms. ...more
Nearly a Lady has been quietly languishing on my TBR pile for months now. I'm afraid that cover had something toOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Nearly a Lady has been quietly languishing on my TBR pile for months now. I'm afraid that cover had something to do with it (she says sheepishly after making and breaking her 110th resolution not to judge a book by its . . . well). Uninspiring cover aside (but seriously, I just don't like the look of them and really that's far too much lavender for my taste and . . . well), it lingered in the back of my mind all this time for no discernible reason except that I read the ebook sample and liked that the heroine threatens to shoot the hero with her rifle in the opening lines. Sadly, the determinedly full price ebook combined with a lack of an available hard copy locally kept me from giving Alissa Johnson's writing a try. Until I needed something the other night, that is. And that girl with the rifle started calling my name. I am so very glad I listened, because this engaging historical is as lovely as they come.
Winnifred (Freddie) Blythe has not a single delusion of grandeur. She knows exactly who she is and where she belongs. And that is a girl no one has ever much wanted (with the exception of her longtime friend and governess Lilly) and on a forgotten farm in the backwoods of Scotland. And Freddie is happy with this life. Though they have next to nothing, she and Lily have learned to cope, even taking in mending jobs for the inmates at the local prison. Their calm, if somewhat desperate, lot is thrown into chaos when Lord Gideon Haverston arrives on their doorstep to right the wrongs his horrible stepmother did Freddie these past twelve years by cheating her out of the annuity his father promised her upon her father's death. One of the walking wounded, Gideon is a former Royal Navy ship captain home from the war and determined to hide the post traumatic stress he deals with on a daily basis. When Lilly insists Freddie be given a proper London season, Gideon feels honor-bound to make it happen. The more time he spends in Freddie's company, however, the more convinced he becomes he must get the women to London and get out immediately after. He can tell Freddie is developing a fondness for him, and the feeling is more than returned. But the nature of what happened on his ship, the Perseverance, make it imperative that Gideon never be responsible for anyone. Ever again.
You know how you go into some books knowing exactly what you're going to get and being perfectly okay with that? I thought I knew what I was getting with Nearly a Lady. I thought I would be getting a perfectly respectable amount of light Regency fluff, competently written and hopefully engaging enough to see me through to the end. And if we could avoid any over-the-top silliness or grand misunderstandings, so much the better. What I wound up getting was quite a bit more than those admittedly mundane expectations. Color me absolutely delighted and ordering my own paperback copy before I even neared the halfway mark. Throughout the book, both Freddie and Gideon resist being shoehorned into any of the usual genre tropes. She is wonderfully strong and uncouth, monumentally uninterested in a London season but willing to do that and more for the sake of her best friend. He is titled and genuinely charming, absolutely set on doing the right thing but suffering from no illusions that the hero role he finds himself playing is anything other than a role (and a very temporary one at that). Together they induce a surprisingly wide and strong range of feelings on the part of the reader. The loveliest of all the lovely things about Freddie is that she is ultimately unashamed of herself and she speaks her mind. She respects Gideon's privacy and sensibilities, but she draws the line at letting him get away with dissembling when it comes to the emotions he broadcasts and the ones he actually claims. And I just wanted to throw her a high five every single time. The loveliest thing among yes, a very many lovely things about Gideon is that he is honest with himself and he calls Freddie out as well (in his disarming, occasionally maddening Gideon way) when it comes to her flyaway temper and what exactly she sees in that mirror she is forced to hold up when faced with societal expectations. The bottom line is I never tired of them, I always respected them, and I swallowed tears more than once at the obstacles between them and happiness.
Here, a representative conversation between the two, in which their individual strengths, their humor, and the nature of their wonderful, burgeoning friendship is evident:
She considered him quietly. He hadn't shouted, or cursed, or even snapped at her. His voice had remained perfectly even. But the authority—in the tone, in the words—was all but palpable.
She took the seat across from him, suddenly fascinated. "I've been wondering how you managed to captain a ship for all those years. I was beginning to suspect you injured your leg during a bout of mutiny."
"Delighted to have satisfied your curiosity," he answered in the same unforgiving voice. "Your reasons, Winnefred. I'll have them now."
She sat up straighter in her chair. "I am not a sailor aboard your ship to be ordered about. And my reasons are none of your business."
"On the contrary, and to my considerable frustration at the moment, you, and everything you do, are my concern until I deliver you into the care of my aunt."
The mention of frustration at having to care for her until he could hand her over to someone else made her heart stutter and the edges of her vision turn red. It was an irrational and disproportionate reaction to an offhand comment, she knew, but she was helpless to stem the anger. She'd had her fill of being delivered from one person to the next as a child.
Her eyes narrowed to slits. "I have no interest in being anyone's burden, Gideon. And I will not be passed between members of the Haverston family like an inconvenient head cold."
She rose from her seat and turned to leave, but Gideon stood and caught her hand before she could escape.
"Sit down," he said softly.
"No." She tugged her arm. "Let go."
She stopped pulling at his plea but didn't resume her seat.
Gideon gave her arm a gentle squeeze. "My frustration is with this particular conversation, not with you. I apologize for my poor choice of words."
"The conversation is with me."
"It is not our first disagreement." He gave her a disarming smile. "Can we not settle this one as we have others?"
"I haven't a rifle to hit you with."
"We'll make do."
Throughout this book, whenever things reached a point in a conversation where less nuanced, less dynamic characters would have fallen back on tiresome histrionics or predictable obtuseness, these two consistently remained both true to themselves and anxiously concerned for the other. They somehow managed to be sensible and fall wildly in love at the same time. It was a terribly satisfying experience accompanying them on their journey.
One last favorite passage:
How had things gone so terribly wrong? She wasn't supposed to be returning to Murdoch House in defeat, and she most certainly was not supposed to be returning alone.
Lilly should be there. And Gideon. High-handed, muleheaded, wonderful Gideon. She'd never admitted it, not even to herself, but a part of her had expected him to come back to Murdoch House with her. Or perhaps it was more accurate to say that no part of her had been able to imagine going back without him.
A very sweet, very short story. I liked everything about it and just wish it had been (much) longer so I could spend more time with the characters andA very sweet, very short story. I liked everything about it and just wish it had been (much) longer so I could spend more time with the characters and see where their story went....more
I am monumentally relieved that the cover gods came up with a second (better) cover for this contemporary romancOriginally reviewed here @ Dear Author
I am monumentally relieved that the cover gods came up with a second (better) cover for this contemporary romance, if not a second (better) title. It’s not that the original cover was bad . . . it’s that it was so mind-numbingly bad that nothing could have induced me to read it were it not for the fact that the ebook is free from most vendors and I read a handful of thoughtful, positive reviews. I feel compelled to point this out right off the bat because going off the cover (and title) alone, I was second guessing my decision before I even began. Then after I began, I felt certain I would get a few pages in and call the whole thing off. But then I kept reading. And . . . I didn’t want to put it down. Not at all. And so I didn’t. I read it through in one lovely gulp. And then I found myself in the awkward position of standing around, wringing my hands, mumbling about the packaging. So I’m glad the cover at least got a revision, because I do think this story deserves whatever will help it find its way into the hands of other readers who will love it, too.
Ellie Jenson still isn’t sure how she got into Harvard in the first place. She worked her butt off in high school, set her sights sky high, and made it to the big time. But deep down she still wonders if it wasn’t all a mistake. Because of the two kinds of students who go to Harvard, she falls fair and square in the Smart and Poor category. And Luke Thayer is Rich and Dumb through and through. Actually, Luke isn’t dumb at all. But he’s filthy rich, entitled as all get out, and bound and determined to disagree with every assertion Ellie makes in their freshman expository writing class. Which is the only thing they have in common. And Ellie would like to keep it that way. Which is why, when a tipsy Luke makes a pass at her one night, she tamps down every ounce of attraction she feels for him and . . . passes. And with that Luke Thayer walks out of her life. Fast forward fifteen years. Ellie took her Harvard degree in computer programming and is now supervising her own little department of programmers. She hasn’t thought of Luke in years. Which is why she’s fairly gutted to find out her old nemesis is the new CEO. Determined to show her new boss just how far she’s come, she strides into his office to find out that Luke is in a wheelchair. And has been for several years now. Caught completely off guard, Ellie struggles to reconcile the insufferable Luke she knew with the man before her whose life is clearly anything but charmed.
I wasn’t prepared to like them so much. I wasn’t. The whole thing started off like every other New Adult cookie cutter I’ve read over the last year. But then . . . they grew up. And their lives just hadn’t gone the way they’d imagined. Luke’s more so than Ellie’s obviously, but they were both so endearingly adrift. And I when I say endearing, I mean I they were going on anyway, knowing their lives lacked something and every day experiencing the pain of not knowing what it was or how to find it. Watching them carefully negotiate the new and unwieldy boundaries of their relationship was . . . adorable, to be honest. It was sweet and giddy and it filled me with anxiety for both of them. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book with a physically disabled protagonist, and I have to say the way Luke’s disability was handled felt incredibly real and unvarnished. Nothing about his condition is glossed over or simply melts away in the face of their growing attraction. And the book is infinitely better for this steady hand. There are cringeworthy moments, ones where Luke, Ellie, and the reader wishes like anything they could just sink into the floor and disappear. Ellie doesn’t always say the right thing and Luke is alternately unutterably charming and absolutely mortified. But they stay.
Luke and Ellie both have some of the same hang-ups they had in college. Luke has even more money than he did back then and Ellie’s simpler, more frayed lifestyle befuddles him. For her part, Ellie is uncomfortable and a bit stunned by Luke’s wealth. To say nothing of the glitzy company he keeps. I wasn’t sure from chapter to chapter if it could last or whether or not it should, particularly as the numerous limitations presented by Luke’s condition and the consequences of his ruthless business acumen begin to press on the back of Ellie’s consciousness. But, my, I wanted it to. Here’s one of my favorite scenes which highlights the particular blend of humor and honesty that is Ellie and Luke’s story. A policeman has just spotted them getting a little up close and personal in Luke’s car:
“All right, get out of the car,” the cop says.
Luke obligingly opens the door to the car. He grabs his wheelchair out of the back seat and the officer watches in shock as he pops the wheels into place. When he transfers into the seat, the cop is white as a sheet. I would have laughed if I wasn’t still shaking. Luke pushes his palms into his thighs to straighten out his posture and he looks at the officer questioningly.
“Oh, um . . . ” the cop says. His jaw is hanging open. He peeks into the car at me, probably wondering if I need a wheelchair, too. “Well, um, I guess . . . I can let you off with a warning.”
“I really appreciate that,” Luke says politely.
The officer still looks a little stunned as he goes back to his own car. Luke looks at me in the car and winks, “I never get tickets.”
“Jesus,” I say. I wipe my sweaty palms on my dress. “I think I better go.”
His face falls. “Oh.”
“It’s getting late,” I say, “and . . . well, like I said, I’ve got stairs.”
Luke nods. “All right,” he says. “Will you come to my office for lunch tomorrow?”
“Lunch, huh?” I smile.
“Totally innocent,” he assures me with a grin.
That would actually be a pretty big disappointment.
I loved the way Luke’s challenges were leavened a bit by the glib, at times downright roguish way in which he maneuvers his life. From tearing down the streets of Boston in his sleek car to ordering massive amounts of Chinese takeout to lure Ellie into his office, his antics nearly always brought a grin to my lips. It’s a simple story in the end, very simply told. There isn’t much in the way of grand flourishes or conflict here. In fact, history with Luke’s father aside, few of the secondary characters really come into focus outside of the two principals. And maybe it was a case of the right book at the right time, but Ellie and Luke felt like people I might pass in the hallway at work, leading ordinary lives, in search of warmth to come home to at the end of the day just like me. A sweet, disarming read. ...more
If you'd asked me last year if I was a fan of novel serializations, I would have issued a flat no. But then thereOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
If you'd asked me last year if I was a fan of novel serializations, I would have issued a flat no. But then there was Truly. And it took me exactly no time at all to become a very big fan of this particular serial. It helped that I basically spent last year blowing through Ruthie Knox's backlist. Truly represented a somewhat different venture, as a handful of new chapters were posted each Monday morning over a period of several weeks. I began to look forward to Mondays (a first) with a kind of gleeful hunger. And those chapters just always came through the way I needed them to. And then I was able to hop on Twitter and gab about them with all the other poor saps following along. In other words, it was the height of fun. The first in Knox's New York series, Truly was available to read for free for a couple of months on Wattpad. It was then taken down in anticipation of the ebook release in August. This is the point at which I apologize for not getting a review up while it was still available. But I figure it's worth it anyway, because this book definitely deserves to be on your radar. The second novel in the series, Madly, is due out in ebook this October.
May Fredericks is having a bad day. A colossally bad one, as a matter of fact. The thing is, it was meant to be a good day. Her longtime boyfriend and star NFL quarterback proposed. Onstage. In front of a live fund-raising lunch audience. It should have been the happiest day of her life. But it wasn't. Not even remotely close. Thor (aka, the boyfriend) botches the proposal something fierce. And mild, good girl May snaps and stabs him in the hand with her shrimp fork. The day spirals downhill from there as she flees the scene of humiliation, is mugged in an alley, and washes up on a bar stool in Pulvermacher's—a Green Bay Packers haunt in the middle of the city that has always made her feel like an outsider. While there she makes the acquaintance of one Ben Hausman—the grouchiest ex-chef turned itinerant beekeeper you ever saw. Ben is recovering from a number of blows, including but not limited to an acrimonious divorce, the loss of his career as a chef, and a serious inability to throttle his anger. He is at full capacity and not at all interested in playing the white knight to a damsel in distress. And yet. Against his better judgement, Ben finds himself offering the down-on-her-luck girl from back home his help. And so begins a single day that stretches into two days, then three, and then more as Ben gives her a place to stay, a string of unforgettable meals, and maybe even a fresh view of this city he loves.
Ben took her to Park Slope to see about some bees.
Reader, I was instantly and irrevocably charmed. This was not my first time in the ring with Knox. I went in happily familiar with the easy way she has with her characters, as though they've been her friends lo these many years and don't even worry, they'll be yours, too, in a matter of minutes. It's my favorite thing about her books, as a matter of fact. That and the quick wit and seriously swoony romance. But Ben and May were something else again for me. It could have been the slow-building tension inherent in the weekly installments, but I'm inclined to believe it's to do with how well-matched they are, how real their issues are, and how naturally they come up against their own flaws and the flaws in each other, and work to deal with them and not take anyone else down in the process. As characters, they had integrity (which I admire) and a whole boatload of chemistry and charm (which I delight in). From watching Ben's scarred hands fix and serve up another mouth-watering plate for May to devour, to looking into the mirror with May on a shopping trip that changes the way she sees herself, I was at home within the pages of this book. And while I enjoyed the few chapters from May's sister Allie's point of view as she tries to monitor the progression of May's relationship with Ben from afar as well as prepare for the wedding she's no longer sure she wants, all I really wanted was to be with May and Ben. Walking the streets of New York and even driving the backwoods of Wisconsin as they traverse a number of states before they're able to settle on the nature of this thing between them. I loved every moment of them. Truly is easily my favorite of Knox's full-length novels. I can't wait to own my own copy....more
After falling in love with the beautiful novellas, The Story Guy and Snowfall (Heating Up the Holidays 3-Story Bundle), I basically resolved to read whatever Mary Ann Rivers. This is not going to be a hardship, what with the achingly lovely way with words and the sort of compulsively disarming meet cutes these books deliver. I honestly have no defenses at my disposal at that moment when these characters first come into contact with one another. From highly suspect online singles ads to increasingly confusing chatting with anonymous macro photographers, I am all in from the first page. And Live, of course, is no exception. Des and Hefin meet in a library, for heaven’s sake. And they just watch each other. For months. I can’t . . . well. I mean . . . and it was good, right? This is the first in a series featuring Des and her three siblings–the remaining members of the Burnside family. I look forward to each one.
Privately, she called him The Woodcarver.
Which, very strictly, he was. Or at least, she had actually seen him carving wood, and talking to other people about carved wood, specifically the carved-wood panels and decorations that were under restoration in the atrium of the library.
Even more painful—if pain was a sweet ache that felt good when you worried and pressed at it—she walked by his work site every single day.
As close as she dared without his noticing.
Destiny Burnside has been faithfully chasing her way out of unemployment for months now. Every day she puts in her time at the local library, job hunting, getting her paltry resume out there. Every day she gets her form signed, keeping her chin up despite the attendant humiliation and fear. And every day she passes by the all-but-silent man in charge of the library restoration and looks. Hefin Thomas is, among other things, a woodcarver and a Welshman (I know). He came to America as part of a whirlwind marriage and found himself rather summarily unhappy, quickly divorced, and working contract jobs until he could figure out what to do next. Every day he’s watched the ginger-haired young woman pass through the library, and every day he’s found his eyes drawn to her despite himself. Then one day he hears her crying. And it’s more than he can do to ignore her. His unexpected words of comfort initiate the kind of problematic relationship neither of them wants to deal with, as Destiny’s suburban Ohio roots are deep and Hefin has been resisting the call home to Wales for far too long.
I kind of feel like I’ve said enough, but there’s so much more to Live than an out-of-work daughter of a limo driver and a homesick Welsh woodcarver. Not that I’m saying there needs to be, because, well, out-of-work daughter of a limo driver and homesick Welsh woodcarver. Ahem. But there is. Des’ love for her family is behind everything she does, both to her credit and to an unhealthy degree. Her mother died when the kids were younger, and her father’s death (followed by her headstrong sister Sarah’s terrible accident) sent the four of them into a tailspin from which they have yet to recover. Forced to sell almost everything she owns, living on the generosity of a longtime family friend and neighbor, and driving her father’s failing limo to get where she needs to go, Des’ life is circling the drain when Hefin finally walks up to her and asks why she’s crying. But then Hefin’s history is equally as grim, or rather his recent history is. The painful dissolution of a marriage that was both impulsive and lovely has left him well and truly broken. The blame he places on himself makes living in any full sense of the word impossible. Neither of them have enough available appendages to hold onto the other, and I sat mesmerized as I watched them try and fail and be devastatingly honest with each other throughout.
That honesty characterizes each of their interactions, making for an impressive verisimilitude. It’s something I admire about Rivers’ writing. Her characters, they fall in love the way we do. They learn frank and not always lovely details about each other as they fall, and they are often actually drawn to some of those less-than-perfect details. Like knobby knees and hair in natural places. It’s not only refreshing, it increases the intimacy between reader and character. Along with that, when someone who used to be outside makes the transition to inner circle and points out troubling aspects of the way we lead our lives, it makes us feel hunted, uncertain, guarded. The same is true for Des and Hefin as she learns more about how he coped (or failed to) with the end of his marriage and career and as he becomes privy to the way the Burnside siblings often combine lashing out and love into the same repetitive gesture. These rich interactions and gradual enfolding of each other’s lives worked so well as I got to know Des and Hefin more. I like that I didn’t always know which way the wind would blow, or in fact which way I wanted it to in the end. I could see so clearly what they needed and wanted them each to have it individually, if collectively was not possible.
She took out an apple wedge and toyed with it. “But you grew up in Wales, right? In Aberaeron?”
Her pronunciation was perfect and he tried not to imagine her practicing it. “That’s right. And Aberaeron is tiny. My mum could call me home to tea from across town. I didn’t need a prospect from which to see my whole life, I could see my whole life from any point I stood in the village.”
“But you left.”
“I elected into a university training program in engineering after taking some time with prerequisites at a local college. I went to London for a year, then to Beijing for almost three.”
“Oh. Wow. I went to Toronto for a class trip in high school, and sometimes my parents took us kids to Pittsburgh to see my grandparents and the Mister Rogers exhibit at the Children’s Museum.”
“Any place can be exotic when you’re away from home.” He looked down and realized he had used the handle end of his fork to press in a design of ropes and knots into the top of his Styrofoam pancake box, his hands distracted while he talked. Des reached over and traced over it with her fingers, softly.
“That’s so pretty. I could hang it up in my house and people wouldn’t even know it was a pancake box.”
“I’ll draw you something better than a doodle on a pancake box.” He closed his eyes, willed the blush away.
“You don’t have to, but I’d like that. Your carvings are so good I can’t believe they’re even real.”
“Let’s eat.” He resisted pushing the heel of his hand over his heart to make it slow down. “Is that all you have, then?”
She shook her head, like she was saying no, but then met his eyes, and hers cleared. “I mean, yeah. PB&J, favorite of six-year-olds and the long-term unemployed everywhere.”
He started popping open his boxes. Glanced up at the whitecaps on the lake. Let himself look at her again, tried not to count the numbers of freckles in the hollow of her throat. “I guess you’d better share with me, then.”
She touched her throat, like she knew where he was looking. “Pancake me,” she said. And he laughed. Helpless.
This is the first full-length novel I’ve read from Ms. Rivers, and I wondered, as I often do when I read an author’s novellas first, how she would make the transition to the longer format. By and large, I felt it was a very smooth transition. One of the primary themes in Live is how sometimes the entire arc of a relationship can be a form of saying good-bye. And while I resonated with that on many levels, it did pall a bit as the two principals are both so profoundly inward-facing and the story wound on and resolution seemed farther and farther away. But as that is my only complaint in such an elegantly layered story, I definitely feel as though I came out on top. As always with Rivers books, I feel grateful to have read these words. ...more
I've had an ongoing relationship with Elizabeth Scott's books for some time now. Ever since I picked up Bloom andOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I've had an ongoing relationship with Elizabeth Scott's books for some time now. Ever since I picked up Bloom and settled in with a nerdy girl like me who played the clarinet. And then there was that one out of this world kiss in the kitchen . . . I'm sorry, where were we? Right. Since then, I've dipped in and out as Scott has continued to write. But it had been awhile since my last outing, and so when Heartbeat began showing up on the early radar, I felt like it was time. I didn't even really delve too much into what it was about before starting. And so I was, well, maybe a little ambushed by the guns this book was packing. Not that I wasn't expecting reality in all its graininess. But. Scott really steps up her emotional stranglehold with this latest contemporary. Let's just say a lot of time has passed since I finished it. It took me that long to decide what I wanted to say and figure out where my feelings were situated.
Emma remembers a time when things were normal. When she could breathe in and out and complain to her mom about the boy she thought she loved and the way her day went. When her stepfather Dan was a welcome, bright addition to their lives. She can remember it all so clearly, it's difficult to accept how vastly things have changed. How now if she wants to talk to her mom she has to go to the hospital room where she's being kept alive on life support while the baby inside her stomach grows to viability. How Dan has become the agent of her misery, as it was his idea to have a baby in the first place. His insistence that they keep her mom alive just long enough for the baby to be born. How if she wants to breathe in and out she has to lock her door and concentrate as hard as she can. Her best friend Olivia is an outlet of sorts, but the chasm between how things were and how they are presents itself on a daily basis. When Emma makes the acquaintance of renowned Bad News Caleb Harrison, no one is more surprised than she to find he's not precisely what everyone in town thinks he is. What's more, what he actually is might be someone who can understand her loss.
The thing about Mom dying is that the world didn't stop. It didn't even slow down. It's flowers and cards and everyone understands but no one does because Mom wasn't Mom to them.
I may have identified more than most with Emma's solitude by virtue of being an only child myself. The similarities may end there (thank heavens), but that passage? I am conversant with the somewhat shattering adult realization that when it comes to your parents, there's no one but you. Mom isn't Mom to anyone else. And so in times of joy and loss, you can look for someone to experience the same moment you are inhabiting, only to find yourself alone. The towering sweeps of emotion in Heartbeat kind of flattened me. I was forced to pause periodically and look up and remember it wasn't happening, to give my rage on Emma's behalf a period in which to cool. I could see Dan's perspective. I could. I just . . . it was never okay. Not for me. And, yes, I did find myself evaluating whether or not the whole agonizing setup and execution was proving too manipulative for this reader. It was a close call at second. But the development with Caleb spared the whole thing from imploding. It was honestly a palpable relief when he arrived on the scene. I appreciated that Caleb and Emma were equals. Neither one cornered the market on pain. It was pretty much sixes from beginning to end. But they discovered each other, slowly and with great reserve. And they held on. And because Emma (and by extension the reader) is able to look away from her own train wreck and see Caleb's version of it, because she's able to worry and care about him, it saves . . . everything. Processing his pain allows her to approach and deal with her own. And vice versa. There are parts of this book I don't ever want to read again. But there are parts I've reread numerous times since. So when you find yourself in need of a balanced and competent delivery of equal parts anger, sadness, and hope, this just might be the one to grab....more
This is my first time reading one of Anne Bishop's books. The first book in the rather prolific Black Jewels serOriginally reviewed here @ Dear Author
This is my first time reading one of Anne Bishop's books. The first book in the rather prolific Black Jewels series has resided on my shelf for a few years now, but for whatever reason I just haven't found my way to picking it up, likely due to a nagging suspicion that that particular dark fantasy might, in fact, be a bit too dark for me. But then this year I began hearing murmurings of a new urban fantasy series, and the possibilities started to take shape in my mind. These murmurings ran along the lines of complicated social order, shapeshifters, exceedingly gradual relationship development, vampires, detailed world building, etc. Before long, Written in Red was giving me that vibe, and it was only a matter of time before I picked up a copy and settled in to see for myself.
Meg Corbyn needs somewhere to hide. After fleeing the only home she's ever known, she finds herself answering a want ad for a human liaison within the notorious Lakeside Courtyard. A collection of businesses run by the Others, Lakeside is headed up by one Simon Wolfgard. Together with the heads of the various shifter and vampire factions, Simon has little use for humans except as prey. But the courtyard requires a go-between, someone who will sort through the mail and day-to-day communications between the Others and their uneasy human counterparts. And so Meg is given the job, despite Simon's misgivings, including her nonexistent past and indeterminate scent. Profoundly grateful, Meg sets out to learn how to live a life and do her job so well no one will ever think to ask her why she showed up desperate and alone on their doorstep in the first place. But the Others are far too canny for that, and when local human law enforcement begins sniffing around the courtyard, Simon knows it's something to do with their recently acquired human. But by this time, the wild and wary inhabitants of the compound have grown surprisingly protective of Meg. Even the vampires have allowed her onto their grounds. And so Simon finds himself racing to discover her secret before it sets off the kind of conflict between the Others and the humans from which they may never recover.
There is something absolutely compulsive about this novel. It's not fast-paced. It's not action-packed (although there are a couple of rather spectacularly explosive scenes near the end). It has quite a large cast of characters. And it rather annoyingly switches scenes just when you want more from the people you're with. But. I didn't want to be anywhere else but there. With timid Meg and prickly Simon and the cringeworthy, blood-soaked nightmares that haunt her and threaten his people. I'll be honest. I have a fairly weak stomach when it comes to cutting in general, and so the revelation of Meg's role as a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, tested my bounds to a certain degree as she was raised, in a sense, to cut or be cut and receive valuable prophecies on the ensuing wave of mixed pain and euphoria. It never gets too grisly, and the Others' protective instincts help to keep Meg fairly intact, but I remain uneasy as to what lies in store for her on that front as questions of both destiny and consent will play what I can only assume will be a fairly significant role.
What I fell in love with was those quiet, day-to-day interactions between Simon and his host of furry, fanged followers and the solitary human girl in their midst. The Other hierarchy is fascinating and rich. And it is very much other. These shifters and vamps are not interested in making friends and playing nice. They are so completely not interested in that. And so Simon's frustrating reaction to Meg throws everything off kilter, as his instincts insist she's not prey, while everything about her screams weakness and fair game. I can see how Meg could easily read too passive for some readers. But I found her both sympathetic and compelling. The very fact that she escapes from somewhere no one escapes from and manages to secure a job and the trappings of a new life for herself solidified my place at her side. I only grew to love her more as she is somewhat reluctantly roped into helping the Wolfgard's adorable young nephew Sam deal with past trauma and find a balance between his wolf and human selves.
Meg's gradually developing thing with Simon is so very gradual, and it got under my skin in a real way. She grew to assert her independence as he learned to respect her freedom. They continue to frustrate the hell out of each other throughout the book. And I loved it all. I didn't even miss the lack of heated romance (though the signs are so all there and I am looking forward to developments in that arena most eagerly). Here is a fairly representative encounter between Meg and Simon early on:
The office's back door wasn't locked, so he slipped inside, removed his boots, and padded across the back room in his socks. He could hear low music even through the closed door that connected to the sorting room. As he entered the room, he saw Meg take a CD out of the player and say, "I don't like that music."
"Then why listen to it?" he asked.
She whirled around, wobbling to keep her balance. She put the CD back in its case and made a notation on a notebook sitting next to the player before answering him. "I'm listening to a variety of music to discover what I like."
Why don't you know what you like?
"Is there something I can do for you, Mr. Wolfgard? Today's mailbag hasn't arrived yet, but there are a few pieces of old mail. I put them in HGR's spot." She indicated the cubbyholes in the sorting room's back wall. "Also, I'm still not clear if the ponies deliver mail to the Market Square businesses or if someone from the businesses is supposed to stop in for that mail."
Right now he didn't care about the mail or packages or any other damn monkey thing. He took the poster out of his pocket, opened it, and set it on the table. "No more lies," he said, his voice a growl of restrained menace. "What happens next will depend on whether you answer two questions honestly."
She stared at the poster. Her face paled. She swayed, and he told himself to let the bitch fall if she fainted.
"He found me," she whispered. "I wondered after the other night, but I thought . . . hoped . . . " She swallowed, then looked at him. "What do you want to know?"
The bleakness in her eyes made him just as angry as her lies.
"What was your name, and what did you steal?"
The slow but steady incline in this complicated story worked for me. In fact, the whole thing reads quite a bit like a police procedural/urban fantasy mash-up, as the focus revolves between Others, humans, villains, and Meg. Or "The Meg," as many of the shifters so charmingly refer to her. Yes, I could have done without one ridiculously overdone wannabe villain. And, yes, the pacing does plod from time to time as threads are flung far and wide in not-always discernible directions. But the incredibly subtle development of the key relationships, combined with a truly fresh take on supernatural politics, set Written in Red apart from the pack. I can't wait to return....more
This will be the second year in a row I've started off with a review of a historical romance. What can I say? TheOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
This will be the second year in a row I've started off with a review of a historical romance. What can I say? They are working for me lately, and especially at this time of new beginnings and transitions. I find comfort, laughter, and encouragement within the pages of the best ones. And most recently, that best one was Sherry Thomas' The Luckiest Lady in London. I read and loved Ms. Thomas' YA debut, The Burning Sky, this past year and I'm eagerly awaiting the sequel to that. But I actually read a couple of her historicals prior to that. One worked for me and one not so much, so it was with some anxiety that I picked up her latest historical. One thing I never doubt, though, is the strength of the writing. My, but she has a lovely way with words, to say nothing of a rather comprehensive grasp of the gamut of human emotions. This one was no exception. I fell into Louisa and Felix's story with nary a blink of an eye.
Louisa Cantwell does not trust the Marquess of Wrenworth as far as she can throw him. Known among the ton as The Ideal Gentleman, he is widely considered a paragon of virtue and decorum. But Louisa, despite her desperate need of a wealthy husband, wants nothing to do with this man who acts one way in front of his peers and quite another when the two of them are alone. In fact, they are thrown together on enough occasions that she finds herself actually torn when the inappropriate proposition they've both been afraid he might make actually crosses his lips. It's not that she would ever accept his offer. It's just that a small part of her would like to pretend it was possible, without ruining either of their reputations. But of course it is not possible. He is leading something of a double life and she must secure herself a wealthy husband if she is to support the sisters and mother who rely on her for their continued day-to-day existence. And so the subtle bargaining and not-too-serious flirting goes on until Felix surprises them both by actually proposing, and a marriage neither of them are ready for begins.
"You don't look as righteously vindicated as you ought to," he pointed out, his voice insidiously soft, insidiously close.
"Rest assured my immortal soul is pleased. It's only my vanity that is crushed."
And her pathetic heart.
"My poor, darling Louisa," he murmured, the evil, evil man.
"It is still very ill done of you to come here and single me out, just to tell me you've thought better of your nefarious plans. What am I supposed to tell Lady Balfour in"--she glanced at the clock--"precisely forty-five seconds?"
And once those forty-five seconds flew by, once he walked out Lady Balfour's door, she might not ever see him again. Who else would like her for her scheming ways? Who else would applaud her for thinking of herself? And who else would ask her about the telescope she had loved and lost?
This is one of those heart caught firmly in your throat sorts, in case you were wondering. That seems to be a Sherry Thomas forte, as a matter of fact. I find I feel an alarming amount for her characters very early on. Not so much that it frightens me (this is a known phenomenon), but enough that I am with them for the duration of their troubles. And Louisa and Felix have so very many troubles. Her circumstances and his family history leave much to be desired and, when we first meet them, are in the process of sending out a host of poisonous tentacles to suck the life out of what they've managed to construct for themselves. Their mutual attraction is unexpected and inconvenient on all fronts. And I love how it pains them both. I mean, Felix gets a few proper kicks out of it in the beginning (always at Louisa's expense, of course). But they are both caught by it and well and truly suffering before long. Marriage, which didn't seem to be in the cards, arrives earlier than anyone, including me, expected. But then I got to experience a thrill when I realized this was going to be the story of a marriage. The story of a marriage in which the real courtship and the wounding and the healing would take place after the wedding, not necessarily in that order and not (for better or worse) just once. There were so many complicated and painful factors responsible for the marriage to begin with, that there was fodder galore for an extensive and intimate exploration of all it entailed. And what it entails is quite a lot of fear and longing, knee-jerk coping mechanisms and beautiful-but-brittle facades. It gets worse before it gets better, but the journey is definitely worth it.
"How did you know I was here?"
"We learned while we were at Mrs. Cornish's ball--guests were leaving to come here and they said you would be in attendance. So Lady Balfour decided to do the same. We didn't even have invitations, but Lady Balfour told me to hold my head high and simply march in."
"And you succeeded admirably, of course."
"I wanted to see you," she said simply. "And when I came out of the powder room, whom should I spy but you, slipping in here."
"Have you missed me?"
He didn't ask such questions. Or at least, he didn't ask such questions when the answers mattered.
Her left hand closed into a fist. "Of course I have missed you."
The floor stopped wobbling. He breathed again.
And so it goes, in different seasons, and with different degrees of trust and closeness. I was engrossed and very much invested. It is also worth pointing out that the ending works. In many historicals, I find the endings the weakest part. Too fluffy, too abrupt, or in some painful cases, far, far too epilogued. The Luckiest Lady in London succeeds with both its immediate ending and its blessedly brief but just right epilogue. And for that I commend it....more
If I stop and hold still for a minute, I can still feel the tingles I felt after finishing Scarlet last year. ItOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
If I stop and hold still for a minute, I can still feel the tingles I felt after finishing Scarlet last year. It was that good to read a new and, more importantly, impressive Robin Hood retelling. And it was impressive. From the gender-swapping and Scarlet's dialect to the individual members of the young band, each of them keeping their own secrets. I really had no idea where Ms. Gaughen would take them after everything spiraled so maddeningly out of control at the end. And now, having read it, I love how many times, and with what unflinching force, she surprised me in LADY THIEF. I never saw things coming. I mean, I saw a couple of things coming. But by and large I gasped more than I nodded knowingly. And even now I can hear my husband laughing. He is used to my gasps. He is also used to me looking up with glassy eyes and whispering something along the lines of, "Everything is not okay." But more on that later.
Some spoilers for the end of the first book I found impossible to avoid. Proceed with caution.
Scarlet's been living on borrowed time ever since her unwelcome marriage. Inexplicably willing to bide his time, Gisbourne has been gone. And Scarlet has been somewhat free to periodically slip away from the keep and check on the boys. What she's seen has not been encouraging. Robin's past haunts his nights. He rarely sleeps and when he does it always ends violently. Occasionally, Scarlet or John get a little too close and it comes to blows, which improves exactly none of their moods and does not bode well for the little band's sense of unity. But now her husband has returned, and Scarlet must play the role she bought when she agreed to wed a monster in exchange for Robin's life. Just what Gisbourne wants remains a mystery as there is zero love lost between the two of them. When Prince John and his entourage arrive, Scarlet's life only gets more difficult as the machinations at work take on a much grander scale than she imagined. And with the people of Nottingham starving and no relief in sight, Scarlet must force herself to fully inhabit her role as a noble if she is to spare her people (and her small family) from the prince's wrath.
I believe my favorite thing about this book (and series) is the perspective we get through Scarlet's eyes. It is her view of Robin Hood we see. She marks his flaws. She knows them as well as she does her own. And so the whole tale feels unusually honest and decidedly spare. It works incredibly well. Especially because, while she sees a hero in Rob, it is her bravery and endurance (and grief) we are closest to. Scarlet's a hero. And she's going to save her people. I have no doubt of it. That said, I will admit I was not expecting the level of sadness in this book. You guys. It is so sad. It is also riveting, exciting, unquestionably romantic, and I absolutely loved it. But, you guys. A.C. Gaughen is not kidding around. Her characters are stalked at every turn. By their own demons as well as the ones foisted on them by their impossible circumstances. The whole twisted web only becomes more knotted as events progress and the villains keep shifting chairs. And can I just say Prince John is simply splendid if you're in the mood for despicable tyrants. And let's be honest. You're here reading this review. When are you not in that mood? My hatred for him was and is unswerving. And while we're talking bad guys, Gisbourne came through in spades. My feelings for him were nowhere near as single minded as my feelings for the prince. Gisbourne and I, we were all across the map. But without spoiling anything, I can tell you his story is one of the most compelling. All that potential he carried in the first book is present and accounted for and deliciously explored here in the second.
I wanted to quote any number of passages between Scarlet and Robin, because their relationship travels in such lovely and aching ways in this installment. But they were all a little too special to take out of context. So instead I'm sharing a scene between Scarlet and Much. Because I love them and the way they love their friend.
"You look a little lost."
I turned to see Much steps from me. He smiled under a big farmer's hat in his crooked, half-sure way, and I hugged him. He hugged me tight with a laugh. "John and Rob are awfully boring without you around."
I mussed his hair with a laugh. "I'm certain they are. So what do you reckon, will someone make me a widow today?" We went and leaned on the fencing that were meant to keep the common folk from the grounds. We were low, back, and to the side, and from there the whole thing looked vicious and fierce, less like a game and more like gods stomping about for notice.
"I doubt it," he said, honest as ever. "Gisbourne is a very good fighter."
I rubbed my still swollen lip. "I know."
"He slept, you know," Much told me. "Last night, whole way through."
This thrilled my heart like a holy fire. "It's fair strange, talking about Rob like he were an infant or such."
"It's good news."
I shivered. "It's perfect news."
I shivered throughout this worthy sequel, both in response to the ever-unwinding intrigue as well as the prevailing chill it exudes. If ever there was a winter book, it's this one. I read it huddled under my blankets, fear and delight close at hand, as I watched Scarlet, Robin, John, and Much, the ice clutching at the hems of their cloaks, threatening to freeze any vestige of warmth inside. It's going to be an immeasurably long wait for book three. But, like Scarlet, I aim to survive....more
So I read another Beauty and the Beast retelling. As one does. Cruel Beauty has been on my radar for several montOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
So I read another Beauty and the Beast retelling. As one does. Cruel Beauty has been on my radar for several months now. The truth is I was a goner when I heard it blended my favorite fairy tale with Greek mythology. Having read it now, another truth is that, in my humble opinion, it would be better billed as a Cupid & Psyche retelling. Not that all the lovely elements of Beauty and the Beast aren't there and thriving. As a matter of fact, threads of several different fairy tales run through the veins of this crazy, lovely book. And I appreciated all of them. But the Greek mythology aspect of it is real and very important to the story as a whole. As such, I think it bears the strongest resemblance to the tale of beleaguered Psyche and the god she weds. I've read a myriad different reactions to Rosamund Hodge's debut novel, and I can credit all of them because Cruel Beauty is a twisty, mercurial cracker of a tale and most readers are not going to feel mildly about it one way or the other. I do hope you'll give it a shot and see which way your feelings lean.
Nyx is a sharply honed blade. Raised from a child knowing precisely what was expected of her, she has never known the simple happiness of her sister Astraia, the noble firmness her father, or the proper domesticity of her aunt Telomache. All she has known is dread and hate and unscaleable walls. So when the day finally comes when she is to fulfill her duty and marry the Gentle Lord as befit the terms of her father's bargain with the demon, there is very little she will miss about her home or the family members who claim to love her yet are willing to send her off to a fate worse than death if it means it will save their own skins. In fact, despite the primitive terror she feels when the heavy castle door shuts behind her, she is ready. She is done with waiting and ready to avenge her mother's death and defeat the evil lord who brought an ancient curse on the land of Arcadia. Either that or she will die trying. It's doesn't make much difference to Nyx. Until she makes her new husband's acquaintance, that is. Until she looks into his blood red cat's eyes and listens to his mocking voice as it tells of past wives, all of them useless, all of them dead. How very glad he is she's arrived to provide the next course of entertainment. Then? Why then she wants to kill him very, very much indeed.
I love immeasurably flawed protagonists. I love them, love them, love them. So I experienced something akin to glee when I realized Nyx and Ignifex were the real thing. She wants to kill him. When she says she hates everyone in her life, she is not kidding. And that hate flows off the page. In a good way. He finds her endlessly amusing and he fully expects her to join his eight past wives in the family tomb, as it were. When he says the people who come to him to bargain get what they deserve, he really believes it. Their verbal (and physical) sparring gets underway the very first night Nyx arrives at his home, and it just doesn't let up. Basically, I wore a deranged grin every time they exchange parries. And every night as Nyx set off to explore the castle and find the path to destroying her husband, I relished the beautiful and terrifying descriptions of the ballroom that is also a midnight lake, the library full of books she cannot read, the mirror that bears a keyhole, and the shadows that lick at her heels. It is worth pointing out that while I enjoyed myself throughout the book, it wasn't until roundabout the halfway mark that things reached unputdownable status. But reach it they did, and I read the last half through in one headlong rush.
There is one other denizen of the Gentle Lord's home. One who remains there against his will and who sets out to help Nyx on her bloody quest. His name is Shade. He is quite literally Ignifex's shadow, and he believes that this time, this wife might actually be his hope of escape. I never knew quite what to think of Shade. My feelings for Ignifex were immediate and sure, but Shade left me alternately hot and cold. His role in the tale is a murky one, and I will admit to resenting his presence at times, even up through the end. But much of that can be chalked up to the sheer sparkle and force imbued in every scene in which Nyx and Ignifex share the page. I quite simply couldn't look away from the girl intent on murder and the quicksilver demon who has been the agent of murder for centuries. Because something remarkable and elusive was happening to them both, even as they threatened each other with all manner of bodily harm and eternal torment. And the fact that Ms. Hodge managed to quietly craft this fragile something inside a fortress of fury, without compromising her characters, well, it impressed me. I love them so very much for all their vengeful hearts and angry, clenching hands. But perhaps most of all for the ultimate mercy they show (not to themselves, but to one another) in spite of the suffering they've undergone.
In closing, my favorite passage:
"You don't think our plan will work."
"I'd give it rather low odds."
I leaned forward, hoping that for once his gloating temperament would be useful. "Why not? Explain to me how I'm stupid, husband."
He poked my nose. "You're not stupid and neither is your plan. But the Heart of Air is utterly beyond your reach. And your people have not even begun to grasp the nature of this house."
"Then tell me." I tilted my head. "Or are you scared?"
"No," he said placidly, and abruptly dropped to the ground, resting his head in my lap. "Tired."
I swallowed. The easy comfort of the gesture touched me in a way his kisses had not. I couldn't understand why he kept acting like he trusted me.
"I had a long night," he added, looking up at me from under his lashes.
"I told you I'm not sorry," I growled.
"Of course not." He smiled with his eyes shut.
"You deserve all that and more. It made me happy to see you suffer. I would do it all over again if I could." I realized I was shaking as the words tumbled out of me. "I would do it again and again. Every night I would torment you and laugh. Do you understand? You are never safe with me." I drew a shuddering breath, trying to will away the sting of tears.
He opened his eyes and stared up at me as if I were the door out of Arcadia and back to the true sky. "That's what makes you my favorite." He reached up and wiped a tear off my cheek with his thumb. "Every wicked bit of you."