I love it when I find myself reviewing another Laura Florand winner. I can't believe it's been exactly three yeaOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I love it when I find myself reviewing another Laura Florand winner. I can't believe it's been exactly three years since I initially fell in love with her Amour et Chocolat series, but I have no trouble at all recalling the pure pleasure I took in devouring each successive book about egomaniacal, yet devastatingly charming chocolatiers and patissiers and the strong-willed, wonderfully intelligent women whose misfortune/fortune it was to make and keep their acquaintance. Chase Me is the second book in Florand's Paris Nights series, though they don't necessarily have to be read in order. This series is set in Paris (my favorite of Florand's settings). And while it contains all the wit and charm and emotion of her other works, it also incorporates just the perfect touch of classic Hollywood screwball romantic comedy. It turns out to be the perfect recipe.
Violette Lenoir is violently less than thrilled to find an after-hours intruder in the pristine kitchen of her top restaurant Au-dessus. With the American president rumored to be eating at her restaurant within the next few days, the press breathing down her neck, and a lifetime of battling against the rampant machismo of the Paris chef scene under her belt, she does not hesitate to throw a knife or three at Chase Smith's head first and ask questions second. The fact that the unwanted "private security" specialist promptly proposes does nothing to mitigate Violette's rage, no matter how thick he lays on the Texas charm. The problem is that after their battle of wits and weapons, he refuses to listen to Vi and go away. Worse, he appears to genuinely believe himself in love with her. But what truly enrages her, he refuses to tell her what in the world it is he does, why he was in her kitchen in the first place, and why the health inspectors inexplicably shut down her restaurant on a trumped up charge immediately after his unexpected arrival. But somewhere amid his intermittent disappearances and reappearances in her life, Vi is bound and determined to extract and answer to each and every question.
So it's basically every interaction between Chase and Vi, you know? Chase's incorrigible optimism, Vi's glorious anger, and their mutual ineffable charm just carry the day. Individually and collectively, they never let up and I would never want them to. For example:
Violette Lenoir sighed heavily. "Are you some kind of manifestation of my worst nightmare?"
"Hey." That hurt. "You're straight out of my dreams."
"You know I crush a hundred men just like you on a daily basis?"
Okay, not that he wanted to destroy her self-confidence or anything, but . . . seriously? "I'm pretty sure you don't, honey. Just because they pretend to be me in video games doesn't mean they're actually like me."
Just for a second, a flicker of genuine caution showed in her eyes, and her left hand scooped up another throwing knife. Aww, and they'd been getting along so well. He backpedaled. "But don't worry, sweetheart. I may not be crushable, but you're safe with me."
"You're not. Safe with me."
He sighed with delight. "I know."
Ugh, I love these two. It's embarrassing to admit, but I just wasn't quite expecting to love them as much as I did. I was stoked that the culinary whiz this time around was going to be a woman, and I was cautiously skeptical of a cocky American hero (I like my French heroes, so sue me). But they were both just note perfect. For every ounce of arrogant swagger, Chase made up for it with irresistible devotion, to his dangerous job and to Vi from day one. For her part, Vi has earned every ounce of her own pride and confidence. Her outrage (throughout the book) at Chase's intrusions and advances is essentially one hundred percent justified. I love that, and I love that Chase recognizes that and makes space for it. These two adults are fully independent, fully committed, and fully bowled over by the role the other is suddenly playing in their lives. And if Chase adapts a little lot more quickly than Vi is able to, it only makes their road that much more intriguingly bumpy and amusing. One more favorite (early) encounter:
"So this Quentin . . . what's his last name? Where does he live?"
"I took care of him," she said dryly. That was the point, right? She took care of all problems cocky males presented her with. That was how she could stay chef.
Yeah, it would be nice if it was all about the food, the way she'd imagined as a kid, but she'd learned long before she finished her first apprenticeship that it was mostly about surviving in a world of sexist assholes.
"Stabbed him?" her burglar asked hopefully.
"I brought one of the pallets of milk down on his head when he pushed me back against the shelves. Mild concussion."
He weighed that a moment. "Much of a struggle before you managed to bring the milk down on his head?"
Maybe. She lifted her chin at him and braced her feet. Even if there was a struggle, I still won.
"Yeah, you know what? I think I'll still pay him a little visit. Don't worry, I can find his address on my own."
"I don't need a hero," she said dryly.
He raised his eyebrows. "How do you know? It sounds like you've never had one."
These characters are epically magnetic.
Lastly, I wanted to touch on the key placement of this novel in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. It plays a visceral role in the lives of all of the characters, both inherently in Chase's career as a counterterrorist operative, and much more profoundly in the fierce spirit of Vi, her friends, her family, and the people of Paris. It was lovingly and thoughtfully written and added a beautiful element of gravitas to this fizzy, heartfelt novel. Chase Me earned an instant spot on my best of the year list, no question....more
I've been truly impatient to read Evelyn Pryce's sophomore novel ever since I thoroughly enjoyed her debut A MaOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I've been truly impatient to read Evelyn Pryce's sophomore novel ever since I thoroughly enjoyed her debut A Man Above Reproach a couple of years ago. And so it was with utter delight that I opened my mail a few days ago to find a copy of The Thirteenth Earl, complete with wax-sealed note. It's the charming little things, guys, that just make my little world go round. Montlake has gifted this novel with another gorgeous cover in the same vein as the first one that initially caught my eye. They're just slightly refined in a way that appeals to me, and I love seeing their spines on my shelf. If you haven't tried any of Evelyn's work yet, I highly recommend snagging a copy of both of these. She writes lovely historical romance with characters I feel for that make me laugh. Just what the doctored ordered for the doldrums before spring arrives full stop.
Jonathan Vane's title is Viscount Thaxton, but he is better known to all and sundry as the Ghost. The product of a long line of earls with an unfortunate predilection for running mad, Thaxton is determined he will be the last. The curse will end with him. As such, he's ready to live out his days unattached, unmourned, and decidedly unmarried. This decision is put into mortal peril when he makes the acquaintance of one Miss Cassandra Seton at the house party of his one (possibly only) friend. Cassie (to her very best friends) is about to be reunited with her longtime fiancé Miles Markwick after a separation of nine years. It follows that Miles is Thaxton's cousin and that the two are on most unpleasant terms. It's more than Thaxton can do to not needle the lovely Cassie about her upcoming nuptials. She responds delightfully in kind, and it's not long before the two are traipsing about the manor at all hours of the night, egged on by the eerie wails of a potentially real ghost. But even as their relationship deepens, neither one can discount the troubling strain that runs through Jonathan's family, or the fact that Markwick is bound and determined to finally make good on his vows.
"My very best friends call me Cassie."
"Then I shall start with Miss Seton, and endeavor to Cassie."
From the opening mock duel in the middle of the library, The Thirteenth Earl is the most delightful of romps. Much like a game of Clue, the principal characters get up to all sorts of shenanigans, slinking about the atmospheric estate investigating the nefarious events at the party. I was altogether charmed and wanted very much for Cassie and Thaxton to find a way of overcoming the admittedly real barriers between them to find a vein of happiness. I love how Ms. Pryce manages to inject wonderful levity into her story at the same time as she infuses both her protagonists with achingly complicated backstories and throws them together to tackle their demons. Cassie is a lodestone of forthrightness and intelligence. She had my allegiance from page one. She sees every one of Thaxton's flaws, but she also sees the light peeking out behind his mountain of burden. Thaxton is beating a path to his grave until he meets Cassie. And to his credit, he sees her for what she is, too, and cannot abide the thought of all her light and intelligence being thrown away on a beetle like Markwick. Their midnight rambles, their middle-of-the-maze assignations, crept into my affections in no time. I believed how they felt about one another. I trusted them to find a way out of the labyrinth.
"It is a consistent worry of mine how little you value your life," she said.
He did not answer, and it made the portrait room too soundless, like an unused church. As if the air had gone stale. He had worn grey—why had he done that? His eyes matched the fabric, and it rendered his whole form drawn and sad. Ashen. Half in and half out of this world. Like an apparition.
She had fallen in love with a ghost.
The novel's ongoing themes of what it means to truly be alive and how certain ways of going about one's life can actually be a kind of slow death were thoughtfully explored, the forays into nineteenth century spiritualism fascinating and amusing. I find my only complaint with Evelyn Pryce novels is that I wish them longer, so that I can spend more time unraveling the threads of the tale along with the characters I've fallen in love with. But this one does work itself up to a properly smashing conclusion, complete with pistols at dawn and Cassie at her most brilliant. Neither Thaxton nor I could look away....more
And we have the second Pennyroyal Green novel I've loved in as many months. This one was just light and lovely from start to finish. And yet the mainAnd we have the second Pennyroyal Green novel I've loved in as many months. This one was just light and lovely from start to finish. And yet the main characters had a weight to them that worked for me. Lavay and Elise's story is small and on the quiet side, enclosed as it is within the walls of the home he cannot break out of and that she is determined to infuse with light. I continue to appreciate the ways in which Ms. Long pauses to allow light to fall on the quiet, yet vital observations her characters make as her story rolls along....more
I have thoroughly enjoyed Emma Barry's Easy Part series. But this one is, hands down, my favorite. Lydia and Michael are unrelentingly awesome throughI have thoroughly enjoyed Emma Barry's Easy Part series. But this one is, hands down, my favorite. Lydia and Michael are unrelentingly awesome throughout, and their charisma and hilarity, their fears and their weariness made me fall in love with them immediately. Their exchanges are incredibly intelligent, filled with genuine respect, care, and humor. I loved all of their encounters. But when it came to Michael's closing pitch—that one was my favorite....more
I don't often do Civil War novels these days. I think Cold Mountain was the last one I read (and loved). One can only take so much crushing of one'sI don't often do Civil War novels these days. I think Cold Mountain was the last one I read (and loved). One can only take so much crushing of one's soul in a decade. But. This Molly O'Keefe historical qualifies as Reconstruction Era. Also—it is completely lovely. Such a sweet and unexpected find this year....more
I love this series. Ms. Briggs demonstrates such a sure hand with it. I don't know that I've ever enjoyed a portrait of a marriage as much in an urbanI love this series. Ms. Briggs demonstrates such a sure hand with it. I don't know that I've ever enjoyed a portrait of a marriage as much in an urban fantasy/paranormal series. Charles & Anna are solid as they come. ...more
This was by far my favorite of Ms. Bowen's Gravity series. Callie and Hank were a hit. I enjoyed reading every bit of their reluctant relationship forThis was by far my favorite of Ms. Bowen's Gravity series. Callie and Hank were a hit. I enjoyed reading every bit of their reluctant relationship form. There's no deus ex machina here. Just a sweet, strong story of love and healing. ...more
Almost every night, between nine and ten past, Lainie Graham passionately kissed her ex-boyfriend. She was then gruesomely dead by ten o'clock, stabbe
Almost every night, between nine and ten past, Lainie Graham passionately kissed her ex-boyfriend. She was then gruesomely dead by ten o'clock, stabbed through the neck by a jealous rival. If she was scheduled to perform in the weekend matinee, that was a minimum of six uncomfortable kisses a week. More, if the director called an extra rehearsal or the alternate actor was ill.
This one took me by surprise with its sincerity and charm. And with the unexpectedly lovely match its leading lady and man make. Lainie and Richard are forced into a fake relationship for the sake of Richard's career, things run rather the direction you might expect from there. The thing is, they do so in such a well-paced manner. Despite the set up, nothing about this charming novel is too fast, too forced, or too fake. On the contrary, I cared more than I bargained for. And was so very happy when the curtain closed....more
I discovered Susanna Kearsley's books a few years ago through the utterly wonderful The Winter Sea. It was love from start to finish with that book, and I eagerly checked out a few more of her backlist. I never fell quite as hard with the others as I did with The Winter Sea though, and so when I heard about A Desperate Fortune it didn't automatically zip to the top of my TBR. But then my friend Beth read and loved it and did that thing where she smiles enigmatically and says, "You'll have to tell me when you've read it." Implying that I will. And that it will likely go well. I trust her implicitly. But I am a bit of an uncooperative reading soul these days, and so I knew I would come to it when I came to it. Attempting to force things lately tends to backfire spectacularly. Then the other night I crawled into bed and cast about. As one does. I figured I'd give it a shot. Just the first few pages. Just to see . . .
Sara Thomas has learned how to manage her life. She prefers to work alone when at all possible. She plays Sudoku when she gets anxious. She occasionally meets someone she's interested in seeing more. It lasts a few weeks, and then she ends it before she has to explain why it won't work long-term. She has her beloved cousin Jacqui to point her in the right direction in social situations, or provide her with the necessary reprieve as needed. So when Jacqui comes to her with an intriguing proposition related to one of her famous historians, Sara is interested. Having always loved code-breaking, she takes on the challenge of deciphering the fragment, only to find out the next step is a trip to France and the overwhelming task of deciphering the entirety of a young woman's journal. A young woman from the 18th century. Mary Dundas was born a Scot but raised in France. Her unusual tale takes her from the French countryside to the heart of Paris to the shadow Jacobite court in Rome. And Sara is along for the ride as she moves temporarily into the home of the woman who currently owns the journal and learns to navigate life in a small French village and the kind advances of an unusual family that lives there.
I'm such a sucker for a Jacobite Rebellion tale. This likely dates all the way back to Patricia Calvert's wonderful Hadder MacColl, which I read and loved as a kid. It was encouraged on by Jennifer Roberson's Lady of the Glen, which I read and loved as a teen. Ms. Kearsley excels at the time period as well, and her books have been such a delight to discover and love as an adult. As is often the case with a Kearsley book, I fell in love with the characters in the contemporary storyline first. I was fond of Sara instantly, as she matter-of-factly outlined her life with Asperger's, her reliance on her cousin Jacqui's social cues and advice, and her foray into amateur code-breaking as a form of independence in France. It took me a bit longer to warm up to Mary Dundas and her perilous journey. I am known to struggle with a road trip, but as soon as Mary made her way to Paris and took up the reins of her ruse, I fell into her story as well. The introduction of one mysterious Highlander by the name of MacPherson did not hurt in the slightest. As lasting imagery from this novel goes, it is those atmospheric scenes from Mary's life that linger in my mind. The unsettling glow of MacPherson's pipe lighting in a dark room. The tucking of a small dog into a rough cloak as tired feet press on. Two figures standing quietly just inches apart near the bridges of Rome.
But my favorite scene of all (which I can't resist quoting a bit of for you here) comes from Sara's story. Sara's and Luc's.
"Luc." I felt a sudden weight within my chest, a pressing sadness as I realized he was wanting something more than I could give him; something more than just a simple holiday romance. "I don't . . . I can't . . ." He mattered more than any of the others had, and so it hurt me more to disappoint him, but that only made it more important he should hear the truth. "I can't sustain a real relationship. I always mess things up." I'd meant to state that calmly as a fact, but my voice wobbled on the final words and Luc's own voice grew gentle in response.
"How do you mess things up?"
In every way conceivable, I could have told him. "I just do."
"It might not happen this time."
"Yes, it will. It always does. I'm just not capable—"
"Who told you that?" His words, still quiet, cut across my own with an insistence that I simply couldn't bring myself to answer, so I briefly closed my eyes and closed my mind against the memories.
Luc fell silent too, and when my eyes came open he was watching me. Not crowding me, but standing close enough that I was very much aware of him.
He asked me, "If you could . . . if you were capable of having a relationship, would you want one with me?"
"You like me."
"Good. So your plan was that we should spend time with each other, and then you would leave me?"
Luc gave a nod, and remarkably I saw the curve of his smile. "What?" I asked.
"It's a terrible plan." He came closer. "No, really, you need to revise it. I'll help you."
Two lovely, very subtle romances thread their way through the dual timelines. I found myself immeasurably charmed by both of them. The pacing on the whole is quite slow, languorously so. But my interest and attention never flagged. It merely meant my consumption of the novel was a more leisurely and relaxed affair—an experience I thoroughly treasure. Susanna Kearsley's books always feel like the warmth of a fire on a winter night to me. If you find yourself with a few hours to spend on a cozy evening in the near future, I can't think of a more enjoyable read to tuck in with than A Desperate Fortune. I'll be gifting it this holiday season for sure....more
Good heavens, this was delightful. I'd tried a couple of Ms. Long's Pennyroyal Green books before without much success and had essentially written offGood heavens, this was delightful. I'd tried a couple of Ms. Long's Pennyroyal Green books before without much success and had essentially written off the series. Happily, I listened to my friend Michelle's recommendation and snagged this one at the library. Lurid cover (and limp title) aside, I fell immediately in love with Genevieve and Alex. On the face of things, it was never going to work for me. It's a bit of a May-December romance. There's a revenge plot sure to devastate one of the primary parties. The heroine is hopelessly hung up on the childhood friend who's in love with the other childhood friend. Etc.
But. But somehow it works just brilliantly. It's hilarious and wrenching and just smooth as silk. With a genuinely heart-in-your-throat ending to boot. A keeper for sure....more
Pretty sure this is my favorite of Jessica Clare's Billionaire books. Something about Edie's incredibly unapologetic way of conducting her life mixedPretty sure this is my favorite of Jessica Clare's Billionaire books. Something about Edie's incredibly unapologetic way of conducting her life mixed with Magnus' drive and ability to adapt won the day for me. I loved it and got a kick out of the fun ways Ms. Clare adapted Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew with a modern day cat lady and billionaire game developer (the things you never expect to find yourself typing . . . )....more
So The Boy Most Likely To put me right back in the mood for some solid contemporary YA. I immediately turned toOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
So The Boy Most Likely To put me right back in the mood for some solid contemporary YA. I immediately turned to my ARC of Nicola Yoon's debut novel Everything, Everything. I'd been looking forward to this one for awhile but holding onto it until starting it felt right. I can't be the only one who does that, can I? Ours is not to question why and all that, I suppose, but seriously why sometimes can I not just dive right into a book I've been dying for the moment it finds its way into my grabby little hands? Frustrating doesn't even begin to cover it. In any event. I'd also been meaning to feature this cover on a pretties post for awhile and just never got around to it. But can we go ahead and just take a moment now? Because it's just perfect, even more so after having read the book. I can't wait to pick up my copy in person and just . . . stroke it.
Madeline Whittier has no memory of ever being outside of her house. Afflicted with a genetic disorder known as SCID, she risks death in short order should she venture out of the confines of her immaculately sanitized home. And so she floats through her days taking courses online, playing phonetic Scrabble with her mother, exchanging jokes and book recommendations with her longtime nurse Carla, and making notes, doodles, and lists upon lists about what life would be like. If. Then. Then Olly moves in next door, and everything changes. Suddenly Maddy's days fill up with all sorts of new things. From Olly's messages written in marker on his window and their daily IM and email sessions to her mounting curiosity over what he gets up to when he climbs up onto the roof of his house and her concern over how dangerous his father's abusive outbursts may actually be. The question is how long will this virtual relationship they've struck up (and the glimpse of the outside world Olly provides) last before they just won't be enough anymore?
Maddy is irresistible. I absolutely loved Olly as well, with his unrelieved black and his Spider-man tendencies. And the two of them together are charming beyond measure. But Maddy is the reason to pick up this book. The way she narrates her life—its limitations, the only color in it provided by the book spines lining her room—is simple, open, and mesmerizing. It is the opposite of difficult falling into her daily routine, into her complicated relationship with her mother, into irrevocable love with the boy next door. She intersperses her words with charming doodles and drawings illustrating the quintessentially Maddy way she sees her place in the world. I was behind her from the opening lines as I watched her carefully compose and write her "Reward If Found (check all that apply)" lists inside the flap of each new book she gets. As she read Flowers for Algernon over and over again, waiting for that day when it wouldn't make her cry. Throughout the book, even when I felt the inclination to question her decisions (and believe me—I did—particularly at two pivotal moments when life, the universe, and everything felt like they were going to spiral out to sea), I found myself giving Maddy the benefit of the doubt. And she always came through. Her reasoning felt consistent to me, her rationales never drifting so far from the vicinity of the reality she was given that I couldn't find it in me to follow. Much like Olly, I was never going to tell her no.
A favorite snippet between Maddy and her mom regarding Olly:
"Tell me about him," she says.
I've wanted to tell her about him for so long, but now I'm not sure where to begin. My heart is so full of him. So, I begin at the beginning. I tell her about seeing him for the first time, about the way he moves—light and fluid and certain. I tell her about his ocean eyes and callused fingers. I tell her how he's less cynical than he thinks he is. About his awful dad, about his dubious wardrobe choices.
I tell her that he thinks I'm funny and smart and beautiful in that order, and that the order matters.
It does matter. Pretty much everything about this lovely novel mattered to me....more
I think I've been quietly missing the Garretts for the last three years. I remember picking up My Life Next DoorOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I think I've been quietly missing the Garretts for the last three years. I remember picking up My Life Next Door based on its comparisons to Anna and the French Kiss and being pleasantly surprised at how thoughtful an exploration it was of families and first loves. And while I swooned over Jase and Sam right along with every other reader with a pulse, it was those forbidden Garrets that kept me thoroughly enthralled. Which is why my anticipation grew daily from the moment I heard about The Boy Most Likely To right up until release day. And then, perversely, when it finally came I worried. What if the balance is off? What if Tim isn't redeemable? What if (as was a touch true in the first book) Alice-and-Tim weren't the equals I wanted them to be? The thousand niggling questions of an anxious, but resolute reader such as myself . . . But, happily, the pull of returning to the cozy kitchen of the Garretts didn't allow me to hold out for long. And it was a warm welcome back indeed.
Tim Mason doesn't expect anyone to believe him. He knows that ship sailed years ago when he started drinking, got his very own dealer, and required oblivion in order to get by. Now he's clean, sober, and being kicked out of his father's house at last. Already kicked out of high school, he takes his best friend Jase up on his offer of a place to stay, packs a single box, and moves into the dilapidated apartment over the Garrett's garage. But when Jase's older sister Alice discovers her little brother has up and allowed his deadbeat friend to move into the apartment she wanted, that trouble Tim can never seem to escape begins brewing once more. It doesn't help that he's had a crush on Alice forever and that her dolt of a jock boyfriend keeps giving him the evil eye anytime he comes within a five mile radius of Alice. Of course, Alice can take care of herself. She's been keeping herself as well as her entire motley family afloat since the car accident that put her dad in the hospital, thank you very much. And she has no time for a boy who's proven time and again that he wants nothing more from life than a good time.
I love Alice, and you know why? Because she gives approximately zero damns about Tim from the word go. She has her priorities set, she knows what she wants, and she works so freaking hard to take care of the people in her care. Never mind that she never asked for seven siblings with another on the way and that she may have to defer nursing school again if those hospital bills keep coming. I love Tim, too, and you know why? Because he's serious about changing his life in his way. He may have no earthly idea how, but his eyes are clear despite being clouded for years. He sees Alice, recognizes what she is, and he never messes around with her. Despite their tacitly acknowledged attraction. Living in such close proximity to one another does lead to something of a softening of enemy lines, especially as Tim is incapable of turning the flirting off when it comes to Alice, even as he knows she's too good for him on pretty much every level. But just when things are maybe sort of starting to look up, his past comes back to haunt him in the most serious of ways.
What I love is that the whole debacle never grows too overwrought, that Alice accepts the latest of Tim's mess-ups just like she does every other blow she's taken standing up in her life. Which is not to say that she doesn't give him the grief he deserves over it. Which is also not to say that Tim doesn't accept said grief as his due. She just doesn't let it derail her, which is one of the best of many things about Alice. And he doesn't let it destroy him. Which is, yeah, one of a host of things I just really loved about Tim. The pain is there, and it is real. Along with the daily, crushing uncertainty of youth. The creeping sense that you may not be able to escape your past (in Tim's case) or your present bonds (in Alice's). The lovely bit is the way Huntley Fitzpatrick works it all out, the way Tim and Alice's story unfolds against the backdrop of all of the messy, wonderful Garretts, Tim's twin sister Nan's struggles, as well as the quietly supportive and aching additions of his fellow AA members. The way that with increased clarity comes the realization that escape doesn't necessarily have to be the goal. A pivotal scene told from Alice's point of view when she comes to understand Tim's situation a little more clearly:
I carry both mugs from the kitchen, set his down in front of him.
“Look. Stay. I mean . . . I can wait. It’s only fair. Jase didn’t know I wanted it anyway. Four months is nothing. You can be here for four months and then . . . “ I trail off.
Troubled gray eyes search my face for a long time. Finally, he sighs, shakes his head. “Nah. I’ll find somewhere else. You deserve it. You’ve earned it.”
Like a home’s something you have to earn when you’re seventeen.
He’s a kid. Not a man, not on some deadline. But with his jaw set and raised—I know that face. The I’m going to push on through, no problem, I’ll deal. Moving right along. Nothing to see here face. Know it as well as my own. It is my own. And I picture the rest of the lines on that paper.
Tim Mason: The Boy Most Likely To . . . Forget his own name even before we do Turn down the hottest girl in the world for the coldest beer Be six feet under by our fifth reunion
Don’t go that way, Tim. Such a stupid, stupid waste. “I mean it,” I say aloud. “Stay.”
“I want you here,” I add, my cheeks flaring. He shifts on the couch and I’m hyper-aware of him next to me, the smell of soap and shampoo, the heat of him, the alive of him.
My words fall into the silence, and something changes. Tim’s shoulders straighten. He stills, but not frozen, more like . . . more like . . . alert.
“Yeah? Then . . . I’ll be here,” he says quietly.
The narrative alternates back and forth between Tim and Alice's perspectives, a touch that I appreciated and one that definitely aids in the reader having enough time with them to not only love, but get, these two individuals. No one has an easy time of it, and I wasn't sure at times things were going to work out in a way that felt both realistic and well (not a requirement, but frequently a hope). But it was such an enjoyable journey, and it has a last line that sticks with you the way I always want them to. Even now—a couple of days later—I'm murmuring it to myself as my lips curve in a satisfied smile....more
This is really such an insulated series, and I mean that in the best sense. It wraps itself around you, and the world outside the winding streets of EThis is really such an insulated series, and I mean that in the best sense. It wraps itself around you, and the world outside the winding streets of Edinburgh just sort of slips away. I was really quite sad to see the series end. Some installments worked for me much better than others, but I felt that Grace & Logan's story was a fitting way to bring it to a close....more
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