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...moreOriginally 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.(less)
Sigh. I was expecting more. Kind of a lot more. There were definite attempts to flesh out the two leads (and points for clocking in low on the Pointle...moreSigh. I was expecting more. Kind of a lot more. There were definite attempts to flesh out the two leads (and points for clocking in low on the Pointless Angst Meter), but they wound up leading nowhere in the end. I finished it, but there was no reason to.(less)
A new Kristan Higgins is always a delight. I enjoyed the first Blue Heron book immensely. The second was somewhat less of a winner, and this third lie...moreA new Kristan Higgins is always a delight. I enjoyed the first Blue Heron book immensely. The second was somewhat less of a winner, and this third lies somewhere in between. I was invested throughout the story, but I did struggle with the hero. Lucas never really seemed to grasp the pain he caused Colleen, and I had trouble getting past that to be perfectly satisfied with their happily ever after. She deserved more from him. I still wanted them to be together. But their resolution required more give from Lucas than we got. (less)
I adore Laura Florand's Amour et Chocolate series, and that's all there is to it. But this installment, unfortunately, stalled out for me. It certainl...moreI adore Laura Florand's Amour et Chocolate series, and that's all there is to it. But this installment, unfortunately, stalled out for me. It certainly wasn't for a lack of intensity or emotion, as Ms. Florand always comes through in spades on both fronts. Rather, it was because the intensity of Luc and Summer's emotions grew so hateful and dark (and did so so quickly) that I struggled to catch up with them and then to care about them being together at all. They seemed utterly mismatched. They both desperately needed someone, but the almost cruel way they handled each other made me doubtful that what little they had was worth fighting for. In the end, their story arc just asked too much of me. While this installment disappointed, it doesn't diminish my love for the series.(less)
I remember thinking nothing could top Shiver and then being introduced to Cole St. Clair in Linger and realizing...moreOriginally 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.(less)
This might be my most anticipated novel of the year, people. It's hard to say for certain, what with Sinner havin...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
This might be my most anticipated novel of the year, people. It's hard to say for certain, what with Sinner having just come out (more on that soon) and Isla and the Happily Ever After hitting shelves in August (the day before my birthday, but who's counting). And then there's the annual Briggs and Andrews to look forward to. But Landline? Yeah, I think it was the one. I started it just as fast as was humanly possible after it arrived in the mail, and then I held it for long minutes after finishing, just . . . not wanting to be physically separated from it yet. I've even had difficulty letting it out of the house since. But then I'm the same way with my copies of Fangirl and Eleanor & Park. I want everyone in the world to read them, but I get just a bit twitchy while they're gone. Rainbow Rowell's books tend to hit me where I live, whether that's the me that rode the bus tense and lonely in high school, the one that fell in love unexpectedly and hard in college, or the one that has three kids, a job, and a husband that everything rests on. So it made sense that I went in eagerly and with not a little fear that I would be a bit destroyed by the whole thing.
It begins with an impasse years in the making:
Neal had both hands on the counter, clenching the muscles in his forearms. Like he was retroactively bracing himself for bad news. His head was hanging down, and his hair fell away from his forehead.
"This might be our shot," Georgie said. "Our own show."
Neal nodded without lifting his head. "Right," he said. His voice was soft and flat.
Sometimes she lost her place when she was arguing with Neal. The argument would shift into something else—into somewhere more dangerous—and Georgie wouldn't even realize it. Sometimes Neal would end the conversation or abandon it while she was still making her point, and she'd just go on arguing long after he'd checked out.
Georgie McCool (best name ever) has been waiting years for her big break. Along with her best friend and writing partner Seth, she's scraped her way into television with a sitcom they both pretty much hate but that has proven wildly popular. And every second she's not working on it, she's working on their real show. The one they love, the one that will make it just as soon as someone decides to invest the money. When she's not eating and breathing work, she's at home with her husband Neal. Neal. The one who has supported her through everything, who's raised their two little girls, who she fell in love with in college. Now, on the brink of Christmas, it seems as though they finally have someone interested in funding the show. Trouble is, they have to work through the holiday to do it, and she was meant to be going back to Omaha with Neal and the girls to spend Christmas with his mom. As straws that break the camel's back go, this one's fat and juice and possibly the one. Neal tells her to go. That of course it's important. That they'll see her after Christmas. But something inside Georgie knows, this separation might be the end. But when she goes to her mom's house the night after Neal and girls have flown to Omaha, after trying and failing to reach him on his cell, she picks up her old landline phone in her old bedroom and she calls Neal. But the Neal that answers isn't her Neal. Or at least, he isn't her Neal today. Somehow, inexplicably, he's the Neal of their college days. The Neal she fell in love with. The one who doesn't know yet where their life will take them. And so with Neal from the past on the line and Neal from the present out of reach, Georgie must decide what she wants. And if she would change it all if she could.
You don't know when you're twenty-three.
You don't know what it really means to crawl into someone else's life and stay there. You can't see all the ways you're going to get tangled, how you're going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in ten—in fifteen. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems.
She didn't know at twenty-three.
I don't know. Rainbow Rowell's novels fill my eyes with tears. Whether they're tears of mirth, sympathy, or pain (likely all three at once), my eyes are glassy from start to finish. But they were, perhaps, closest to spilling over with Landline. Rowell has the uncanny ability to capture the essence of a time period, of being a certain age in that time period, of being in love at that age in that time, and the exhausting and joyful task it is containing and parsing out the accompanying emotions. And in Landline she does that with multiple timelines at once. We first meet Georgie and Neal as they are standing at the edge of a precipice. Their emotions are taut and eerily quiet. It's agonizing for the characters and reader alike. And if the reader were only ever given the present day timeline, it might have been too much. But the landline to the past (and the attendant glimpses we get of Georgie and Neal as they were falling in love) saves the whole thing. In perfect increments, and without disrupting any of the flow, these conversations and memories allow the reader inside—into the full picture of a long term relationship. It's inexpressibly riveting. The trademark Rowell humor is present, but muted somewhat, echoing the ways in which Georgie and Neal's relationship has become overshadowed by time, experience, parenthood, life. It all cut so close to the bone, that at times I had to look up from the page and remind myself to breathe and not allow too many of my vital functions to hinge on the outcome of this story. Because I was breathlessly worried. As with her other books, I marvel at the way I find myself approaching the end with a fuller comprehension than is my wont of how fitting a number of different outcomes would be. Even the ones I fear. Perhaps those ones most of all. Yet I am always at peace with the one she chooses. Each timeline is given appropriate attention in the end, and there is one small moment leading up to the close that is perfect in every way, in which every narrative thread coalesced for me. My, how I read this book.
Neal licked his bottom lip and nodded. "I think . . ." The closer she was, the more he looked away. "I think I just want you," he said.
"Okay," Georgie agreed.
Neal looked surprised—he almost laughed. "Okay?"
She nodded, close enough to bump her nose up against his. "Okay. You can have me."
He pushed his forehead into hers, pulling his chin and mouth back. "Just like that."
"Really," he said.
"Really," she promised.
She reached her mouth toward his, and he twisted his head up and away, looking at her. He was breathing hard through his nose. He was still holding her cheek.
Georgie tried to make her face as plain as possible:
Really. You can have me. Because I'm good at wanting things and good at getting what I want, and I can't think of anything I want more than you. Really, really, really.
Neal nodded. Like he'd just been given an order. Then he let go of Georgie's hand and pushed her (pinned her) gently (firmly) back into the sand.
He leaned over her, his hands on either side of her shoulders, and shook his head. "Georgie," he said. Then he kissed her.
That was it, really.
That was when she added Neal to the list of things she wanted and needed and was bound to have someday. That's when she decided that Neal was the person who was going to drive on those overnight road trips. And Neal was the one who was going to sit next to her at the Emmys.
He kissed her like he was drawing a perfectly straight line.
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.(less)
I am a confirmed fan of the Edie Spence series. I got in on the ground floor and have thoroughly enjoyed watchin...moreOriginally 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. (less)
Nearly a Lady has been quietly languishing on my TBR pile for months now. I'm afraid that cover had something to...moreOriginally 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 and...moreA 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.(less)
I am monumentally relieved that the cover gods came up with a second (better) cover for this contemporary romanc...moreOriginally 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. (less)
I love science fiction and I love fairy tales. Both loves go back a long way. All the way, really. Put them toge...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Dear Author
I love science fiction and I love fairy tales. Both loves go back a long way. All the way, really. Put them together and, if it’s done well, I am the happiest of happy campers. The Lunar Chronicles have such a brilliant concept. Four (yay for quartets) books, each set in Meyer’s fictional and futuristic Earth, each focusing on a heroine from a well-known fairy tale. From Cinder and Scarlet to Cress and the upcoming Winter, I’ve loved the covers, I’ve loved the titles, and I’ve loved the smart and inventive ways in which these stories have had new life breathed into them. I did wish for a little more emotional payoff in the first book, but Cinder herself was such a highlight that there were no questions about whether or not I would be reading the second. Then Ms. Meyer went and wrote Scarlet and launched me into full-fledged fangirl status. I wouldn’t change a single thing about that book, people. Not one. So my anticipation for Cress was just a wee bit on the high side. We get the tiniest of snatches of Cress herself in the first two books, and given how much I loved the first two heroines, I felt pretty sure my love for this orbiting computer hacker would be something of a foregone conclusion.
Cress has spent the last seven years shut up tight in an orbiting satellite. Her solitude is broken only by the occasional terrifying visit from Miss Sybil, the Lunar Queen’s henchwoman sent to monitor Cress. With years and years of nothing but her netscreens to keep her company, Cress not only becomes a considerably talented computer hacker, but she develops a pretty substantial romanticized view of Earth, its inhabitants, and especially the noted rascal Captain Carswell Thorne. Most recently, Cress has been tasked with putting her hacking skills to use tracking down the most wanted Earthen criminal: the cyborg rebel Linh Cinder. Having had her own secret contact with Cinder and her band of motley rebels, Cress is instantly dismayed and sets about working as hard as she can to deflect Queen Levana’s sights from Cinder’s actual location. For their part, Cinder, Wolf, Scarlet, and Iko are careening about space trying to avoid capture and work out a plan to save the world from the encroaching Lunar threat. But Cress can only do so much, trapped as she is. And when Cinder’s ship, the Rampion, is spotted, the two groups are set on a literal collision course. In the aftermath, the dashing and derelict Thorne and Cress herself wind up crashing to Earth in the smoking remains of the only home Cress has ever known. And so it is up to them to trek through the wilderness and try to find their way back to Cinder and Co. in time to stop the unholy wedding of the century before Levana weds Emperor Kaito and closes her wicked fist over Earth for good.
It’s difficult to say I wasn’t enchanted with this one, but that is the bare truth of the matter. It was all set up to be a knockout installment in the series, but nothing. ever. happens. Until the end when the inevitable Rescue Poor Kai mission is finally set in motion and events begin trundling along nicely. But Cress is one thick book (a trait I usually love in novel), and it takes far too long to get to the meat. Most of that time is spent trudging with the hapless Cress and Thorne through the Sahara Desert, an expanse of time and space that could have been put to good use developing their relationship, which naturally had a lot of potential. Instead, it was a numbing eternity of the naïve and incapable Cress mooning over Thorne and wailing at each bump in the road. And Thorne. Wherefore art thou, dude? You were the perfect scoundrel in Scarlet, a delightful combination of Han Solo and Malcolm Reynolds. But the Thorne of Cress was a watered down buffoon at best. He was given a couple of truly winsome and hilarious lines, a far cry from the leading man I felt justified in looking forward to. Together they lacked all of the spark, paling in comparison to the serious sweetness of Cinder & Kai and the deep swoon of Scarlet & Wolf. It was honestly a relief to be pulled away from their uninspiring exploits to find out what was happening with Cinder and the gang, although I couldn’t help but sigh more than once at how little page time Scarlet and Wolf were given. In that instance, I understand the game is afoot and we must work our way through some plot twists in order to achieve the necessary series climax in the next book. But still. Their relative absence was harsh for this Scarlet-loving girl’s heart.
Romantic subplot(s) aside, I just never engaged with Cress, the book or the character. The creeptastic Levana was all but absent. The exciting and long-awaited knock-down brawl and (hopefully) makeup fest that has been brewing between Cinder and Kai since the end of Cinder was wedged too tightly into the literal last couple of pages. The timing and pacing felt decidedly off in general, uncharacteristically so. I don’t know if the onus of that rests on the fact that Cress herself wasn’t up to the challenge of carrying off a whole book on her own or if it was a dose of third-book syndrome or what. But it was a struggle to finish. I did finish, hoping all the way that meat would grow on the bones before my very eyes. I still like each of the main characters (Cinder’s irrepressible android sidekick Iko made me laugh on more than one occasion), and the glimpse of the certifiably crazy Winter near the end gives me hope for the final installment. But it’s going to have to be one hell of a strong finish to wash the disappointment out of my mouth after Cress.(less)
So last year, as you probably recall, I lost my crap over Fangirl. It was not my first Rainbow Rowell book, but it was the first time I fell good and hard. After uneven results with Attachments, I just sort of avoided Eleanor & Park when it came out, despite its ridiculously charming cover. Then Fangirl came along with it equally adorable cover and I gave Rowell a second chance. It went so unbelievably, fantabulously well that I purchased a copy of Eleanor & Park before I even finished Fangirl, just knowing that skipping it had been a huge mistake. Possibly a fatal one. But it has taken me this long to get around to it, so afraid was I that it wouldn't live up to Fangirl. This book is an entirely different beast, to be sure. But I read it through from cover to cover the other night completely unable to stop. It was one of those rare and beautiful situations in which the level of my feelings for a book is so high that I feel an obligation to see it through in one sitting. Like I owe the book that much. I will follow a book that good through the deep, dark hours of the night, wherever it leads. I regret nothing. I am bleary-eyed, but unregretfully so.
That girl—all of them—hated Eleanor before they'd even laid eyes on her. Like they'd been hired to kill her in a past life.
All right. I'm going to just go ahead and break with tradition here, because the thing is I don't even want to summarize this book. I don't want to take anything away from the experience for you. And going through all the ins and outs of the story of Eleanor and Park, even the highlights, feels like cheating each individual reader out of discovering it for themselves. So I'm going to leave it at a few teasers, if you will, the facts that fell out of my mouth the morning after as I incoherently tried to tell my co-workers why they had to pick it up right now. So here they are. All the facts you need to know:
- It's set in 1986. In Omaha. - It opens when Eleanor boards a school bus and no one will let her sit. - Until Park lets her sit next to him. - And they don't talk. - At all. - Until he realizes one day that she's reading his comic book over his shoulder. - And he stops reading it during the day so that when they get back on the bus to go home, they're still in the same spot and Eleanor hasn't missed a thing.
I'm pretty sure that's all you need to know.
As far as what my experience reading the book was like? Quite simply, I laugh-cried my way through every page of Eleanor & Park. When I wasn't laughing or tearing up, I was quietly fixated, the air leaving my body in a whoosh multiple times as this depiction of first love (of so many firsts) had its way with me. It's been awhile since I spent the entirety of a book in such a heightened state. And I don't say that lightly. Rowell's words were always the right ones, and they so carefully sketched out and filled in her two leads that I was truly at their mercy. I worried going in that I wouldn't connect with one of them as well as the other. In a story told from alternate points of view, that can sometimes be a problem. I worried that Eleanor would be too . . . something, that Park wouldn't be . . . enough. I have silly worries sometimes, guys. But I admit I was utterly unprepared for how much I would love them both. I would read a book about just one of them, no questions asked. Just Eleanor stoically stumping her way through each day, snarking in English class, and taking terrifyingly quick baths. Just Park quietly passing at school, excelling at tae kwan do, and pretending his relationship with his dad isn't slowly killing him. I would read those books. But together? Put those stories together and I struggled to remember (or care) where I was. I was with them. Nothing else mattered.
He wanted to ask her not to be mad right now. Like, anytime but now. She could be mad at him for no reason all day tomorrow, if she wanted to.
"You really know how to make a girl feel special," Eleanor said.
"I've never pretended to know anything about girls," he answered.
"That's not what I heard," she said. "I heard you were allowed to have girl-zzz in your room . . . "
"They were there," he said, "but I didn't learn anything."
They both stopped on his porch. He took her bag from her and tried not to look nervous. Eleanor was looking down the walk, like she might bolt.
"I meant that you don't look any different than you usually look," he said softly, just in case his mom was standing on the other side of the door. "And you always look nice."
"I never look nice," she said. Like he was an idiot.
"I like the way you look," he said. It came out more like an argument than a compliment.
"That doesn't mean it's nice." She was whispering, too.
"Fine, then, you look like a hobo."
"A hobo?" Her eyes lit.
"Yeah, a gypsy hobo," he said. "You look like you just joined the cast of Godspell."
"I don't even know what that is."
She stepped closer to him. "I look like a hobo?"
"Worse," he said. "Like a sad hobo clown."
"And you like it?"
"I love it."
As soon as he said it, she broke into a smile. And when Eleanor smiled, something broke inside him.
Something always did.
Golden, right? The way they have a care for each other, while still striking out when striking out is called for, and without lessening any of the very real troubles they deal with on a daily basis. The way they're so far apart and so believably afraid of the ramifications of their relationship. The way his thumb brushes her palm. The way she is strong and solitary and memorizes his face. The whole thing was an irresistibly struck note for me, ringing and throbbing and beautiful.
The first time he'd held her hand, it felt so good that it crowded out all the bad things. It felt better than anything had ever hurt.
And I'm just going to leave it at that quote. Because this book? This book feels better than anything ever hurt. (less)
I adored Rush Me, Parr's first novel in her New York Leopards series, and it was with great excitement I dove into Running Back. For awhile there, eve...moreI adored Rush Me, Parr's first novel in her New York Leopards series, and it was with great excitement I dove into Running Back. For awhile there, everything was going swimmingly. I thought the Irish setting and Natalie's dedication to archaeology would suit me just fine. Unfortunately, her persistence (and loud insistence) that love wasn't real and that what she was experiencing with Mike wasn't anything beyond surface-level lust began to ring hollow and pall very quickly. The whole reason they wound up in Ireland also started to feel thinly manufactured and it grew more and more difficult to buy the entire scenario, let alone to continue to want the fairly innocuously charming Mike to stay with Natalie. I missed the football. I missed the other teammates. And I missed a couple I could actually root for. By the end, I just wanted them to part ways for good. (less)
I've decided that Laura Wiess' books scare me. She is not afraid to incorporate the unfortunate and often hellish...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I've decided that Laura Wiess' books scare me. She is not afraid to incorporate the unfortunate and often hellish details of everyday life into her contemporary novels, and I have learned that I have to tread carefully if I am to imbibe, if you will. In fact, I didn't even pick up her last couple of books because I was leery of being hurt. But I was (and am) such a fan of her debut novel, Such a Pretty Girl (despite it's hellish subject matter), that I have been biding my time until I felt ready to pick up another of hers. And when I heard about Me Since You, I decided now was the time. It took me only a few pages in before I felt my mind repeatedly shying away, but I liked Rowan and her parents (and Eli) so much that I kept on reading. I read it all through in a single gulp and have been twitching my shoulders here and there all morning, trying to shake off the heavy feelings it left behind.
Rowan Areno used to worry about cutting class and being caught by her policeman father. She used to worry about what to wear and what to say to boys and whether or not she'd be allowed to spend the night at her best friend Nadia's. Now she mostly worries about her dad. Or rather the empty-faced man who has taken his place, who sits on the couch listlessly when he used to stride about confidently protecting Rowan and her mother, their town, and each of its inhabitants from all bad things. What she never realized was how bad those things were and just how many of them he'd seen in his twenty years on the force. Until the day he failed to save two of those inhabitants and the town (and his own mind) turned against him in the grief and aftermath. Now her mother does all the heavy lifting and Rowan struggles to reconcile the hatred that arises around her, directed toward her father who only ever did his best. At the same time, she strikes up a friendship with a boy named Eli who was there on the bridge with her dad the day tragedy struck, and who himself hasn't recovered from that day or the one before when tragedy uprooted him and left him scrambling to stay afloat. Together they find a bit of hope, a bit of peace. But it isn't long before it all starts to unravel again and Rowan is the one going under.
I don't know, guys. Beyond this point there be pain. I knew that going in. The way in which Wiess narrates Rowan's and her parents' struggle with tragedy, depression, and anger is thoughtful and mature and very real. In fact, it was the lovely family dynamics that held me suspended in their story, the story of this small family of three who love each other and who are utterly blindsided by the disaster that engulfs them. At first, it is Rowan's relationship with her dad that mesmerizes, and then as events progress it evolves somewhat into her reliance on her mother and the ways in which they fail each other but keep trying and promising to go on. I guess what I'm trying to say is I appreciated the dignity and integrity of their portrayal. The same goes for the quiet and sweet friendship that arises between Rowan and Eli. Wiess always handles the element of romance well, and this time is particularly restrained yet open. That said, most of the other characters felt one-note to me, especially Rowan's so-called best friend who acts in consistently insipid and appalling ways and who I struggled to even take seriously by the end. The level of grief and horror in this novel also proved to be nearly my undoing. It reminded me strongly of the feelings I experienced reading Elizabeth Scott's Heartbeat, though I feel like I came out of that one slightly less dissatisfied than I did here. I could always see Emma; she stayed clear in my head. Whereas Rowan's voice got lost for me in the sheer waves of awful that swept off the pages of her story. As such, I began to feel the puppet strings more forcefully than I'd like and the quickly manufactured acceptance and hope at the end failed to lift me out of the despair that held sway the rest of the novel.(less)
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...moreOriginally 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.(less)
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. (less)
I've had an ongoing relationship with Elizabeth Scott's books for some time now. Ever since I picked up Bloom and...moreOriginally 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.(less)
I picked How to Love up off my stack last night after finding my mind wandering listlessly away from the book I w...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I picked How to Love up off my stack last night after finding my mind wandering listlessly away from the book I was trying to read. The writing kept losing me, the characters insisting on overstating everything and questioning themselves ridiculously. I was lost. So I grabbed Katie Cotugno's debut novel and flipped to the opening page. Now this is writing, I thought almost immediately. I'd read almost universally positive reviews of this one, and I had high hopes for a contemporary with meat on its bones and characters I could see and hear and care for. From the first page, Reena's gasping, tight narrative sucked me in. And I settled in happily for a late night.
Reena Montero always planned on seeing the world. She planned to be a travel writer and share her experiences with other worldwide vagabonds. She even got accepted early into Northwestern's writing program and was all set to kick the dust of her hometown behind. Except she didn't. Instead, she got pregnant. The baby's father, her sometime boyfriend and all-time crush, left town before she could tell him. And she's spent the last couple of years becoming a mother, raising her baby girl Hannah, working at her father's restaurant, and taking community college night classes. She doesn't even recognize her life anymore. And then Sawyer comes back to town. They cross paths in the local 7-Eleven, and he acts like everything's fine. Like he didn't disappear without a trace, leaving her heart in smithereens and her baby without a father. But there's so much water under the bridge between Reena and Sawyer at this point, she can hardly summon the will to fight anymore. And so Sawyer works his way back into her life once more, just like he's always done. But whether or not they can see past all the old pain to find a kind of life together is another question entirely.
"My mom told me," he says now--trailing off, trying again. "About . . . "
I imagine letting him dangle there indefinitely, a hanged man, but in the end I'm the one who breaks first. "Hannah," I supply, wondering what else his mother told him. I can't stop staring at his face. "Her name is Hannah."
"Yeah. I mean." Sawyer looks uncomfortable, like he's waiting for something else to happen. For me to just come out and say it, maybe--Welcome back, how was your trip, we made a baby--but I keep my jaw clamped firmly shut. Let him wonder for once, I think meanly. Let him sweat it out for a change. The Slurpee's bright green, like a space alien. My braid's left a wet spot on my shirt. Sawyer shifts his weight awkwardly. "She said."
We stand there. We breathe. I can hear the hum and clatter of the market all around us, everything chilly and refrigerator-bright. There's a huge, garish poster of pretzel dogs over his left shoulder. I have pictured this going differently.
The opening scene in How to Love is one of the best I've read. Reena's observation, "I have pictured this going differently," is absolutely breathless with stunned pain and weighted history. I felt punched in the gut along with her for those first few pages, that first encounter in years. Katie Cotugno captures a heady swirl of being young and infatuated and older and wiser and still desperately in love with her beautiful words. I felt sure I was taking part in something special. And it is. Or it was. The rest of the book is something of a gradual decline from the dizzying heights of that rainy day at 7-Eleven. And none of it quite lives up to the punch of the beginning. I mean, the wordsmithing remains top notch throughout:
I told my father I was pregnant and he didn't speak to me for eleven weeks. I only blame him a little: His own parents died when he was seven, and he was, quite literally, raised by the nuns in Saint Tammany Parrish in Louisiana. He fully intended to become a priest until he met my mother; he confesses every Friday and keeps a Saint Christopher medal tucked inside his shirt. In his heart he's a musician but his soul is that of the most serious of altar boys, and the fact that he didn't send me away to some convent until I had the baby is probably a testament to the mercy of the God that we've always prayed to in my house.
I really love the way she writes. But as I read through the alternating chapters between the present day and the past, I found myself less and less enamored of the way it was all going down. And absolutely disenchanted with Sawyer LeGrande. The more time I spent with him, the less there was left of him. Until I was sitting there holding a pile of dust in my hands where once there was a young man who'd run away and returned home years later to find he was a father. The farther back we went in time, the more distressed I became at the realization that Reena's lifelong love was . . . empty. And, what's worse, there seemed to be so little explanation offered for Sawyer's blankness, for his wild youth and his inexcusable treatment of Reena. Honestly, it was an excruciating place to find myself as a reader, wanting so badly for them to work things out because of Cotugno's mighty skills with atmosphere and Reena's very real feelings for Sawyer, and at the same time filling up with a growing sense of betrayal as page after page revealed Sawyer to be . . . just no one to hold on to. And there was little evidence of him having changed in the present day chapters. No more bad boy, but nothing really good either. I missed the Sawyer of those first pages. The Sawyer and Reena of those first pages. The ones who had so much to say and no words to say it in. Who were facing a mountain to climb. I wanted to see them climb it. I wanted them to fight for something precious and worth having. Instead, the past revealed too many cracks and the present proved hopelessly inadequate at sealing them up. Add to this the couple of occasions of ham-fisted coincidental drama for nothing but drama's sake, and I wanted to go wash my hands of the whole debacle. Such a shame. Because that opening scene? That was something special.(less)
This is my first time reading one of Anne Bishop's books. The first book in the rather prolific Black Jewels ser...moreOriginally 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.(less)
This will be the second year in a row I've started off with a review of a historical romance. What can I say? The...moreOriginally 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.(less)
If I stop and hold still for a minute, I can still feel the tingles I felt after finishing Scarlet last year. It...moreOriginally 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.(less)
So I read another Beauty and the Beast retelling. As one does. Cruel Beauty has been on my radar for several mont...moreOriginally 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."
How long has it been since I read a really good horror novel? And how did I not realize going in that that's exac...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
How long has it been since I read a really good horror novel? And how did I not realize going in that that's exactly what SORROW'S KNOT was? I read Erin Bow's debut novel Plain Kate when it came out and was suitably impressed with her writing, even though the book as a whole didn't work for me perfectly. But as soon as I heard that her sophomore novel was to be an indigenous tale of ghosts and the generations of women who bind them, I felt certain I would be reading it as soon as I got the chance. It just sounded too intriguing to miss. I wasn't entirely sold on the cover, and now after having read it I kind of wish they'd gone with something darker (less mystic blue) to more accurately match the chilling content hidden within its pages. Because make no mistake—SORROW'S KNOT is an unapologetically terrifying gem of a tale. In fact, it rather resists classification. It's fantasy, but oh, it's horror. It's young adult, but it's really very middle grade, too. It's sad. But its moments of happiness are blinding. Which is why you really must read it so you can find out what it is for you.
Otter is the daughter of a long and distinguished tradition of binders, the women of her pinch who protect their people from the rising dead. Her mother Willow is widely expected to be the greatest binder who ever lived. And that is taking into account the legendary Mad Spider who set the standard for binding and setting wards and holding off the deadliest of all undead: the White Hands. And so Otter's life has been open and sure, certain in the knowledge that her path would take her in the footsteps of her ancestors, that one day she, too, would take up the calling as binder for her people. And life has been good. Together with her two best friends the ranger Kestrel and the storyteller Cricket, she's been free to run and laugh and play tricks on the more grave elders of her band. Until the old binder Tamarack dies and her mother Willow reluctantly steps into her shoes. From that day on, nothing is right. Sure that something is wrong with the knots she ties to bind the dead, Willow drifts farther and father away from them. As her mother's words and actions become more erratic, Otter's fear grows. And then one day Willow reveals she will never take Otter as her apprentice. And Otter's life unties itself before her very eyes, her footsteps haunted by the terrible secret behind her mother's decline.
Bow's writing folds you into its clutches so gently you have no defense left when the terror beneath the words reveals itself. I think it's best to just start with one of my favorite scenes, so you know what we're dealing with here:
Otter tried to breathe deep, but each breath made her shudder and shudder. Kestrel put her hand between Otter's shoulders: steady. The summer stones were rough and warm to the touch. They were not alive, but if they were dead, it was a simple kind of dead: They were only themselves. They needed nothing.
Otter was thinking this and not watching the world, and so when someone moved just behind her, her heart leapt like a startled grasshopper. She spun and had her bracelets thrust up before she saw who it was.
"What happened?" said Cricket.
"Once our dogs were wolves," said Cricket, when no one answered him, "and though we loved them, we watched them carefully."
Kestrel half laughed. "They're watching Willow."
"No, they're sure she's rabid." He turned to Otter. "They're watching you."
Otter trailed along the edge of the sunflower row, away from the lodges and the open space of the palm. She could feel the eyes of the pinch on her back. "I didn't do anything," she said. "It's only that I'm—I'm—" This girl is a binder born. "—her daughter."
Slowly they walked away from the lodges of Westmost, as if they were deer browsing. As if they were not afraid. Kestrel put out her hand and skimmed it along the top of the grass as the meadow became wilder.
"What happened?" said Cricket again. "Have mercy on a storyteller: Tell me a story."
"It's not just a story," said Otter. Something broke out of her that sounded like anger.
"They never are," said Cricket softly.
Those three. They form the magnetic center of this wild book and I loved them so very much. What a beautiful rendering of a trifold friendship. The playful storyteller, the stalwart ranger, and the tier of powerful knots who walks with the dead. I would have followed the three of them anywhere. And, in fact, I followed them much farther than I expected or (in some cases) wanted. Their story is deceptively small, geographically as well as emotionally. And while the marvelously imaginative and complicated rules and history of Otter's world exist on a grand scale, the whole thing rests very much on what it means to three children who have grown into their adult roles and found the world a larger, infinitely more disturbing place than they believed it to be.
Which leads me to the White Hands. I'm still repressing shivers, days later, my friends. The alarmingly apt descriptions of the quiet ways these beings kill you had me glancing up for reassurance on a continual basis. I couldn't bear their encroaching presence around the characters I'd come to care for. To be honest, the bleak, growing dread of it all got to me at one point and I had to put the book down and come back to it the following evening when I had a little more perspective (and summoned a little more hope). This may or may not have coincided with a supremely sorrowful moment. Suffice it to say I spent some time grieving. It's oppressive at times, but in an undeniably well-crafted way. When I did return, I read it through to the end, closing the book wholly satisfied, if a little winded. The unexpected, understated, and sweet romance in the last third of the book may have had a little to do with my sigh of contentedness at the end. It's a story I will remember for quite some time, and one that really should not be missed. Recommended for fans of Tiger Lily. I know.(less)
I remember first running across Eileen Wilks' name in the On the Prowl compilation I purchased solely because it contained Patricia Briggs' first Alpha & Omega novella (fabulous, by the way). I never really sat down and read the other novellas, though. Now I'm wishing I had so that I could have discovered Wilks' writing much sooner. Instead, it took my buddy in all things urban fantasy Chachic throwing herself headlong into a glom of Wilks' World of the Lupi series to convince me to give the it a shot. And what a time to come in to a new series. The World of the Lupi is currently 10 full books in and going strong! Plenty of adventure to keep me busy in between waiting for the next book in my other favorite series. I will say that this cover does little for me. After the fact, I like that it depicts an actual scene from the book. But even so, it leaves me feeling pretty meh. It does look as though partway into the series, the covers shift to somewhat more traditional UF covers, depicting Lily in action. And since I like Lily very much, this thing maketh me happy.
Lily Yu has worked her way up to Homicide and has every intention of proving she's earned her place there. Being a petite Chinese female cop has been no walk in the park. To say nothing of her less explicit ability as a sensitive. Able to sense magic through touch gives her a leg up on investigations, but would destroy her credibility as a detective were anyone but her captain to find out. And she needs every advantage she can get on her latest case. A man was murdered by what appears to be a lupus in wolf form. Lily is lead on the case, but things get thorny when the top suspect turns out to be the prince, heir, and general golden boy of the local lupi clan—Rule Turner. Famous for his charm and flexible morals, Rule has a less than stellar alibi and a whole lotta motive. Lily and Rule's first meeting is both illuminating and frustrating, as Lily comes to the realization that not only does she sense zero magic coming off of Rule (and she really should) but that she is inexorably drawn to him at the same time. For his part, Rule is determined to both clear his name and figure out why he can't get the irascible detective out of his mind. Together they set out to solve the murder and see if they can come to some sort of truce along the way.
There is just nothing not to like about this debut. It immediately put me in mind of the cancelled-too-early crime drama Life—a show I mourn to this day. This put us on excellent terms, as I love police procedurals, and a mash-up with urban fantasy pretty much steamrolled any defenses I might have erected. Lily is a sympathetic protagonist from the start. I love how hard she works every day. And I love Wilks' exploration of her strained relationships with family and colleagues as a result of her heritage, her abilities, and her aspirations. Rule is initially an unknown quantity, unknown enough that it set my nerves to jangling. However, he quickly works his way into not just Lily's inner circle, but the reader's as well. An early interaction that sold me on these two:
Her eyes flew to his. She saw flecks of gold in the dark irises, and the way his pupils had swollen. The pink triangles at the inner corners of his eyes. The dark, thick eyelashes. And the way his lids had pulled back in shock.
He dropped her hand. For a moment they stared at each other. Her heart pounded. His nostrils were flared, his breathing fast.
Dear God. What did she say? How did she put that moment away, unmake it?
He broke the silence. "I won't be behaving myself," he told her grimly. And turned and left.
What I love about Rule is how unexpectedly grim he is. I know, I know, but hear me out. The thing is he's this serious playboy with oodles of charm, and he could have come off utterly vapid, as nothing more than a warm, willing body. But Rule is much more than that. He's the heir to massive responsibility, his family dynamics are twisty and fraught, and when the connection with Lily is made manifest, it changes every detail of the life he leads. What can I say? The gravity with which he approached his new life impressed me. The bond is unwelcome to both parties. But Rule deals with it with more composure than Lily, if only because he knows what it is that's happening and she has no idea. It's his compassion that kills me. His compassion for Lily as the avalanche buries them both. And his fledgling affection and sense of wonder at the thought that it might change their lives in beautiful ways as well as terrible ones.
"Without Nokolai, the other clans are unlikely to support the bill."
"The clans don't have that much political clout."
"Mmm. Not all lupi are as open about their nature as I am."
Her eyebrows lifted. "Are you saying you've got people in high places? People with a furry secret?"
"The mystery bit is getting old," she observed. "So you think that taking out you and your father could affect the way things go in Washington?"
"The idea wasn't just to remove me, was it? They wanted me arrested, imprisoned. If the, ah, poster boy from lupi is proved to be a murderer, will the public support a bill making us full citizens?"
"Citizens kill each other all the time, unfortunately. But I get your meaning."
She fell silent then, which was just as well. He needed to give his driving most of his attention. But driving, even in this traffic, didn't require his entire mind.
She'd called him Rule.
Such a small thing, a name. But she'd never said his.
Yeah. Rule has layers. I was rooting for them both and I loved them, from their crackling tension on the page to the way their names sound one after the other. Their romance is key to the story, to be sure, but it never takes center stage and it is very much a work in progress. I look forward to watching them negotiate each other throughout each of the following books in the series. Wholeheartedly recommended for mystery lovers, crime lovers, urban fantasy lovers, romance lovers. You name it, Wilks has got it in her bag.(less)