Madeline Ash has been such a golden find this year. I first discovered her through her latest novel Love and Other Lies, which I utterly enjoyed. Ash Madeline Ash has been such a golden find this year. I first discovered her through her latest novel Love and Other Lies, which I utterly enjoyed. Ash writes emotional, heartfelt romances with such a light hand that they are a pleasure to read in every sense of the word. So when I saw her novella The Secret Prince pop up, it took me no time at all to dive in.
My only complaint is that it is far too short. I fell immediately in love with Dee and Jed and would have followed them much farther than across an ocean from LA to a tiny European principality and back again. And since my emotions were so definitively engaged, I did wish the reader had a chance to spend more time with them exploring their unfortunate history after their reunion in Los Angeles (this was my favorite section) and then again in Leguarday as they negotiated the unusual terms of what a life together might look like. To say nothing of the miles and miles of potential regarding Jed's father. Everything ties up so neatly and quickly, I presume in order to fit it all into novella form.
But Ash's writing is fully up to the task of delving deeper into the psyches of these two banged up kids and, given the slim page count, I felt that we got a healthy amount of bang for our buck. She doesn't shy away from the painful, complex moments when two hurt individuals are trying and failing and trying again not to make things worse. And she absolutely knows her way around the tentative exploration that follows, with one hand protecting your heart and the other shakily reaching out.
Her Secret Prince is a sweet (if too short) contemporary fairy tale, and I look forward to Ash's next full-length novel with much anticipation. ...more
Say Yes to the Marquess began so very promisingly. Clio's untenable situation and her tenuous connection with Rafe immediately secured my emotions. BuSay Yes to the Marquess began so very promisingly. Clio's untenable situation and her tenuous connection with Rafe immediately secured my emotions. But as the events of the story progressed, things began to run downhill alarmingly quickly. The entire plotline with the dog was ridiculous from start to finish. I found the characters' actions highly implausible in the second half of the book given the genuine feelings they had expressed for one another. It felt as though the heartfelt beginning descended into a bit of a farce, and the change was too jarring for me. I still remain so enchanted by the first book, however, that I plan on picking up the next one and hoping for the best despite this disappointment....more
I've been sitting on a review of The Song of Achilles for some time now. And it's simply another case of me worrying I won't do justice not just to thI've been sitting on a review of The Song of Achilles for some time now. And it's simply another case of me worrying I won't do justice not just to the book, but to (perhaps even more importantly) my feelings for the book. I was attempting to do just that a number of nights ago with a friend, and wound up choked up and slipping the tears from my eyes as I touched on a scene of inevitable sorrow. My emotions continue to ride ever so close to the surface with this book, with Patroclus and Achilles. I stayed away from Madeline Miller's debut novel for awhile for several reasons, among them my fear of said sorrow as well as the usual concern when one comes to a retelling of characters and stories one loves. But eventually that cover—the gold foil, you guys, the glorious gold foil—and the parade of ecstatic reviews got to me enough that I grabbed a copy the next time I was at the library and settled down that night to see.
Patroclus has always led the uneasiest of lives. Disparaged for his slight build and his relative weakness in comparison to his father, he has been a somewhat second-class citizen in his own father's court. Then one day an accident occurs and a young nobleman dies as a result. Patroclus is deemed at fault and so is exiled to be fostered in the realm of the legendary King Peleus. It is there that he meets Peleus' song Achilles. Achilles is everything Patroclus wishes he could be, bright and brave and the most talented of warriors where Patroclus is dull and shy and physically inferior. Which is why no one is more shocked than Patroclus when Achilles takes him as his personal companion. And so the two young boys form the fastest of friendships as they live together, train together, and run wild through the olive groves together. But through it all they can never seem to escape the shadow of the coming war or the prophecy that Achilles would go on to become the greatest hero the Greeks had ever known.
If I had had words to speak such a thing, I would have. But there were none that seemed big enough for it, to hold that swelling truth.
As if he had heard me, he reached for my hand. I did not need to look; his fingers were etched into my memory, slender and petal-veined, strong and quick and never wrong,
"Patroclus," he said. He was always better with words than I.
This is the part where I confess I was vastly unprepared for the depth of feeling this novel would incite. I have been enamored of Greek mythology basically as far back as I can remember, and I recall with perfect clarity the chills that ran down my spine the first time I read the opening lines of The Iliad. I've read a number of retellings since, but I realized few of them worked hard to make Achilles sympathetic. Or at least more sympathetic than Hector. And while each incarnation left me impressed with Achilles' grandeur, I remained always firmly in Hector's camp. The Song of Achilles is told entirely from Patroclus' perspective, and his mind is as sharp and perceptive as his friend's body is honed and agile. The result is an extremely nuanced portrait of both young men. I savored the opportunity to watch them grow up together, to see Achilles handle the heavy layers of expectation and destiny, to watch how he dealt with his human father and his immortal mother. Thetis is a force to be reckoned with and I, like Patroclus, worried about the depth of her influence over Achilles. As ever with this epic tale, the question of which force will hold sway in the end is a desperate one. It's impossible to shake the feeling of dread while reading, but Miller does such a fine job of allowing you to soak up those golden moments leading up to the war, to come to know and love both Achilles and Patroclus enough that you understand why they make the choices they do in the end. And I can honestly say that my knowing what was coming in no way impeded my experience, the words were that expertly chosen and woven together with a level of skill that left my cup full to the brim.
The sorrow was so large it threatened to tear through my skin. When he died, all things swift and beautiful and bright would be buried with him. I opened my mouth, but it was too late.
"I will go," he said. "I will go to Troy."
The rosy gleam of his lip, the fevered green of his eyes. There was not a line anywhere on his face, nothing creased or graying; all crisp. He was spring, golden and bright. Envious Death would drink his blood, and grow young again.
He was watching me, his eyes as deep as earth.
"Will you come with me?" he asked.
The never-ending ache of love and sorrow. Perhaps in some other life I could have refused, could have torn my hair and screamed, and made him face his choice alone. But not in this one.
What an exquisite agony reading The Song of Achilles was. I wept more than once. But the sorrow was handled well, in such a way as to allow it its full and brutal impact before winding to a close so beautiful I felt the breath leave my lungs. How I loved them. Patroclus and his brilliant Achilles....more
Glowing recommendations from my trusty Chachic and the lovely Laura Florand put this book (and series) on my radaOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Glowing recommendations from my trusty Chachic and the lovely Laura Florand put this book (and series) on my radar awhile back and I proceeded to add it to my ever-growing TBR. And then I just sort of continued to put it off since a copy wasn't readily available at any of the usual sources and the ebook was (and is) a whopping $7.99. Then I hit a sick weekend and nothing, but nothing was hitting the spot. So I bit the bullet and dove in. It's worth pointing out that I'm not a huge connoisseur of small town contemporaries, and I was not a little concerned that it would prove to be (as has happened a number of times in the past) a little too cozy for my taste. But of course the range within that subgenre is as wide as it is with any other, and I think I just hadn't come across the right recipe. Happily, Virginia Kantra's Dare Island series hit just the right spot for this quasi-cozy-phobic reader.
Allison Carter came to Dare Island in the hopes of shedding the scales of her parents' expectations and finding fulfillment teaching high school English in the somewhat isolated fishing village. Matt Fletcher spent his early life at the whim of his father's career in the Marines, but has called the island his home long enough now for it to mean something. As a single father who captains a charter fishing boat for a living and lives with and helps support his aging parents at their inn, he is not in any way looking for a long-term relationship. Longing for just the sort of permanence Matt is working hard to avoid, Allison is nevertheless reluctant to get into any sort of relationship with him, especially given the fact that his son Josh is one of her students. But the two somewhat isolated individuals continue to be thrown together by circumstance (and Josh's performance, or lack thereof, at school) and soon it becomes a not inconsiderable struggle to find reasons give at least some semblance of togetherness a try.
Growing up, I spent many summers at my aunt and uncle's house in North Carolina. I have countless fond memories of sweltering summer days, chasing fireflies at night, and trips to the coast full of hours of splashing in the turf and falling asleep tangled in a bed of cousins listening to the crash of the waves. All of this to say that it took Dare Island and I no time at all to appreciate each other's charms. The setting is such a strength in this novel, and that is saying something, because it is a novel full to the brim of swoony romance and heady glances, weighty family drama and genuine humor. Given how many elements Kantra was balancing, I kept expecting at least one to veer into the cheesy, the melodramatic, or the overwrought. And yet not one did. Somehow she made me care for not only Allison and Matt, but every single one of Matt's family members, from his sweetheart parents and his scalawag son, to his somewhat heedless younger brother and his unexpected niece. This attentive character development made it a pleasure to follow whomever the narrative revolved to with each chapter. The focus definitely hinges on Allison and Matt's relationship, but so much of what goes down plays against the very important background of the Fletcher family and the charming inn they all inhabit. I loved how good Allison is with children, from the teenage students in her classes to Matt's troubled niece Taylor who gets dumped in their laps after her mother's sudden death.
The Fletchers themselves are a very loving family, but they need Allison, no matter how much Matt might like to think he's a lone reed. And Allison herself is so careful and conscientious when it comes to carrying on a relationship with a single father and being there to help as much as she can without stepping on any toes. I always loved Allison. It's no small challenge she and Matt face in daring to test the waters of their attraction. But what was between them fit itself unobtrusively into the spaces inside them that were empty. It felt real and sweet, and it so clearly made their hours and days better. I love it when a romance manages to demonstrate that. And while there were a couple of expected misunderstandings here and there, I appreciated how they were handled and how my emotions never felt toyed with or forcibly disengaged by unnecessary drama or inconsistencies. The whole thing builds to a particularly lovely resolution scene in the inn and I put Carolina Home down completely satisfied. Of course, I immediately binged on the rest of the series. And a good time was had by all....more
All right. I can accept that I am coming monumentally late to the party with this one. And I have no excuses forOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
All right. I can accept that I am coming monumentally late to the party with this one. And I have no excuses for myself. Plenty of you sang its praises, and that many award stickers plastered all over a cover generally indicate there is something of value inside. To say nothing of that ridiculously gorgeous cover declaring to all and sundry that herein lie beautiful things. Basically, everything pointed to win and I just failed to pick up on the signals. To the degree that I didn't even really know what Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was about. At all. Fast forward a couple of years to the present day when I run across Forever Young Adult's review and finally have my ah-ha moment. I ran to my local library, snagged their lovely copy, and took it home with me to see how these fancifully-monikered boys and I would get on. Spoilers: SPLENDIDLY.
I had all kinds of tragic reasons for feeling sorry for myself. Being fifteen didn't help. Sometimes I thought that being fifteen was the worst tragedy of all.
Aristotle narrates his life about as bluntly and intimately as an aggressively lackadaisical fifteen-year-old boy can. At least until that patently private boy meets one Dante Quintana and sees just how open and welcoming a boy (and his family) can be. It's the summer of 1985 and Ari spends most of each day struggling to find reasons to leave the house, ways to occupy himself aside from brooding about his father who seems to have dealt with his experiences in Vietnam by adopting a policy of silence. When he meanders over to the pool one day, Ari meets a boy with a squeaky voice and the kindred name of Dante who offers to teach him how to swim. Ari begrudgingly accepts. From that point on, a friendship develops that takes both boys by surprise and bids good to change their lives permanently. Accompanying them on this journey are their parents who love them unreservedly but who have their own struggles as they deal with their individual histories and the ways in which they reach into the present to shape their sons' lives as well as their own.
I have always felt terrible inside. The reasons for this keep changing.
Benjamin Alire Sáenz had me at Richie Valens. He had me somewhere amid the opening lines, at Ari going to bed wishing the world would be different when he woke up and then waking up to wonder what went through Richie Valens' head before the plane crashed. He had me at, "Hey, Buddy! The music's over." This book crushed me, it's that beautiful. I began it one night after tucking my kids into bed and—a few dozen pages later—blithely accepted the fact that I would be staying up however long it took to read it through to completion. The novel is told entirely from Ari's perspective, and it's difficult for me to tell you how much I grew to care for that boy. In simple and occasionally halting terms, he ruminates on his unease around other boys, his admiration for his mother, his longing to broach the subject of his imprisoned brother. The folding of lively, loquacious Dante into his life happens almost without Ari or the reader noticing, it is that seamless and that natural. Having some experience with friends coming into my life unexpectedly and yet at precisely the moment I so needed them to, my heart lodged itself firmly between these two boys and informed me it would be going nowhere. Since we mostly get our impressions of Dante through Ari's eyes, I occasionally worried a bit (perhaps taking my cues from Ari's deep seated anxiety) that he would flit away too soon. Before Ari or I had parsed out how to make room in our lives for such a bright star. Loving Dante is a foregone conclusion, with his inability to wear shoes, his love of reading, and his complicated relationship with his Mexican heritage.
I love how time passes in this novel, how the summers felt exactly as unlimited and free as they do in high school, how being separated from your dearest friend for a year can hurt in ways you've never experienced, and how you try to fill the hole with the distraction of work and smaller friendships. Perhaps the most beautiful experience of reading this book, though, was the privilege of watching Ari awaken (on so many levels), of watching his dual relationships—with Dante and with his father—grow and increase his understanding of himself and humanity in general. The nature of Ari's observations are always arresting, but by the end they become so very rich and simple in their beauty. Here, a lovely example taken from a moment when Ari struggles to convey his feelings when faced with a show of gratitude and love from Dante's parents:
"What am I supposed to do?" I knew my voice was cracking. But I refused to cry. What was there to cry about? "I don't know what to do." I looked at Mrs. Quintana and I looked at Sam. "Dante's my friend." I wanted to tell them that I'd never had a friend, not ever, not a real one. Until Dante. I wanted to tell them that I never knew that people like Dante existed in the world, people who looked at the stars, and knew the mysteries of water, and knew enough to know that birds belonged to the heavens and weren't meant to be shot down from their graceful flights by mean and stupid boys. I wanted to tell them that he had changed my life and that I would never be the same, not ever. And that somehow it felt like it was Dante who had saved my life and not the other way around. I wanted to tell them that he was the first human being aside from my mother who had ever made me want to talk about the things that scared me. I wanted to tell them so many things and yet I didn't have the words. So I just stupidly repeated myself. "Dante's my friend."
All four of the parents are such nuanced and present characters in this story and I adored that and them. Throughout the narrative, Sáenz explores the ways in which we need our parents, in which love between a parent and child is endlessly complex and often so difficult to encompass and express in any adequate way. This complexity resonated with me so profoundly, as did basically everything about this beautiful, beautiful love story. Finest kind....more
I have my pal Li to thank for steering me in the direction of Elizabeth Harmon's debut novel Pairing Off. She cluOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I have my pal Li to thank for steering me in the direction of Elizabeth Harmon's debut novel Pairing Off. She clued me in to its existence, pointed out that it featured Olympic figure skaters, and well . . . that was all she wrote, folks. I am a huge figure skating fan. And while I actually haven't read many books that focus on the sport, there was simply no way I was going to not read a book billed as "The Cutting Edge with a Russian twist." I adored that movie as a kid. As you can probably tell, I haven't been so much with the review writing of late. Happily, that is in no way an indication of how my reading has fared, because I have been reading up a storm. But lately I never seem to get around to sitting down and hashing it out. But with the figure skating World Championships coming up in a couple of weeks, I thought it was the perfect time to highlight this little gem.
Carrie Parker is fairly certain life as she knew it is over when her career as a pairs figure skater comes to a grinding and spectacular halt courtesy of a scandal involving her partner and a judge. Which is why she literally jumps at an unexpected and unusual invitation to travel to Russia and audition for a suddenly open position. What she does not expect is that the male partner will turn out to be a familiar (and wholly unwelcome) face. Anton Belikov is in need of a partner STAT. His longtime skating partner (and girlfriend) Olga has up and left him for greener pastures and a partner more likely to see her to the gold medal podium at the Olympics. Determined to achieve his dream and make a go of it without her, Anton warily follows his coach's advice and auditions the disgraced but unquestionably talented American. However, with the barriers of language, culture, politics (and a distant night only Carrie remembers) looming between them, success on or off the ice is no guarantee for this unlikely team.
I was just so taken with Pairing Off, you guys. From the very start, I could tell the story was going to wrap itself around me. Carrie is immediately sympathetic, and though the narrative touches ever so briefly on the long ago night she and Anton met, it is nonetheless clear to the reader how it affected both of them and how it will play an uneven but key role in their development as an actual pair. What I was not expecting was how deeply I would fall in love with Moscow and Carrie's experiences there. Harmon writes with great affection and joie de vivre when it comes to the streets and alleys, gardens and soaring architecture of the Russian capital. It is nothing short of a delight accompanying Carrie on her explorations, and I was so pleased that aspect of her new life was allocated adequate page time. Carrie's willingness to fight her attendant isolation and uncertainty in a foreign clime with an open and inquisitive mind and with consistent forays out into her new home endeared her to me even as it filled me with wanderlust. And as she learns the ropes of her adopted country, so does she learn the ways of her adopted partner. A favorite passage in which Carrie gets into a spot of trouble and calls Anton to help her out:
"I've never been happier to see someone in my life."
"What the hell were you doing?" he shouted. "Trying to get killed? I told you to stay near city center!"
She stared, looking for Anton, not this furious, wild-eyed stranger. "And you also told me about the park where I could go hiking! Look, I'm not your employee and I'll go where I please. I got a little lost. It could happen to anyone."
"But it didn't happen to anyone. It happened to you!"
Carrie felt her eyes grow wide. Was he suggesting she wasn't expendable? Or was his real concern the hassle of finding another Olga replacement? Much more likely. Her chest tightened and it was hard to breathe. "Yeah, well I'm sorry to be an inconvenience. If I'd known you were going to yell at me, I never would have called." She fumbled for her map and shook it open. "The subway's two blocks that way. Drop me off. I'll get home just fine."
"Don't be ridiculous. I'm not dropping you at subway," he muttered. "I was close by anyway. It's good you called."
"Otherwise you'd be auditioning new pair girls tomorrow."
He jerked his head around, and shot an angry look across the car. "Is that what you think I care about?"
The tense silence was filled by the muffled sounds of traffic outside. Jaw tight, Anton turned his gaze back to the road. "You and I are in this together. Partners, like I said before." His voice softened. "Not just two skaters making tricks."
There is very little not to love about Anton. Yet I appreciated how slowly their relationship developed. He was still handling a long distance relationship with a girlfriend who abandoned him professionally. She was struggling to reconcile the man she sees before her with the one she spent only a handful of hours with years ago and who does not seem to remember her at all. Their respective families are complicated and play strong roles in shaping the way they see the world and the fears and hopes they harbor for their futures. There are layers upon layers between these two, and I relished the gradual dismantling and rebuilding they had to go through on their way to forming a firm and equal partnership. This quiet, romantic book is such a lovely read and one of my favorites of the year thus far....more
Fine. Just fine. Not the best in the series and not the worst. My main problem with Imaginary Lines was that, in previous books, Abe was the most charFine. Just fine. Not the best in the series and not the worst. My main problem with Imaginary Lines was that, in previous books, Abe was the most charming of characters, just begging for his own story. But when his turn finally came, this Abe felt like an entirely different beast, not nearly as charming or compelling as he was in previous installments. I struggled to want Tamar to achieve her lifelong crush. I simply felt she was worth more, deserved more than she got in Abe. Very competently written, as always, but lacking the spark and tenacity of the first book in the series....more
Jane Fairfield is a triumph. I am a huge Courtney Milan fangirl, and so meeting the stone cold awesome that was Jane was no surprise. I adored her froJane Fairfield is a triumph. I am a huge Courtney Milan fangirl, and so meeting the stone cold awesome that was Jane was no surprise. I adored her from the very first flounce of her awful gown. For the first half of the book, I was utterly spellbound. However, the whole thing began to stumble for me a bit as Oliver seemed to not be able to grow even a little bit. I understood the untenable situation he found himself in, and I definitely bought that he loved her and was fumbling to find a way out of said situation. But. I expected more. Jane deserved more than she got from Oliver. And that left me feeling a bit wan by the end. Not my favorite entry in the series, but so worth it for Jane alone....more
Ms. Jacobs' writing is strong and sure and I enjoyed being inside the world she created with it. She knows how to make her characters both sympatheticMs. Jacobs' writing is strong and sure and I enjoyed being inside the world she created with it. She knows how to make her characters both sympathetic and complex, and I was glued to the page to see how they were going to navigate their many troubles. And their troubles are legion indeed. I appreciated the gargantuan task Ms. Jacobs took on with her depiction of Lexie's grief. And I fell head over heels immediately for Lexie and Sam and their simple game in the bar each Monday. How could I not? That said. The grief and her inability to manage it (and her past) became so prolonged that it bled out to mar my enjoyment of the novel as a whole. The overdone sentimentality of the second half felt manipulative. And in the end I simply wanted it to be over and was loath to return. The balance had shifted so far it was impossible for me to get back to that place of thought and hope and meaning I so enjoyed in the first half of the book....more
Teenage Sherlock Holmes, Watson is a girl, and the story is told from her perspective. This is essentially all thOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Teenage Sherlock Holmes, Watson is a girl, and the story is told from her perspective. This is essentially all the information I needed in order to make the decision to dive into Every Breath at the earliest opportunity. But in case you're wavering, it's also fun to know that this is Australian author Ellie Marney's debut novel, that it is a YA contemporary mystery, and the first in a series to boot. Next up, I think we should just take a moment to talk covers. I have yet to purchase my own copy (that's earmarked for the next paycheck), but both the US and Aussie covers have a lot going for them. The Aussie one gets tons of points for having Watts actually on the cover, for one thing. But in a very rare move, I'm leaning US if only because it's not a photo of actual people (never works out well for me) and because, well, his throat. Also his hair and his entire posture. But his throat. That's Mycroft. I love him this cover.
Rachel Watts' friendship with her neighbor James Mycroft is something of a full time job. Newly (and unwillingly) arrived from the countryside, Rachel struggles to find a place for herself in Melbourne. Unused to navigating city life after the loss of the family farm, she and her older brother and parents find themselves acting almost like strangers as they adjust to their new home and environment. But then Mycroft enters her life, with his jittery brilliance, his obsession with forensics, and his ongoing allergy to school. And soon her days are not quite as numb, filled as they are with contributing her powers of observation (and cooking skills) to the latest in a long line of Mycroft's investigations. But this most recent involves a murder. And not just any stranger, but that of Homeless Dave—a man they both knew. Unable to accept the official police verdict, Mycroft and Watts set themselves to the task of tracking down the truth behind Dave's violent death and bringing the mysterious killer to justice.
I'll admit, I was a little nervous at first. I was nervous the high school setting, and possibly the nature of the relationship between Watts and Mycroft, would pall too quickly or somehow not resonate with me in just the right way. As nerves go, basically your run of the mill stuff. But I've read one fantastic Sherlock Holmes adaptation and I was so keen to find another. Happily, Rachel herself was the first to set me at ease. Her transition to the city has been a particularly difficult one, and the dry but upfront way in which she expressed that difficulty struck a chord of sympathy within me:
I like it in his room—the starry lights, the feeling of sanctuary. I'm still not used to dealing with a lot of other people. I've known Mycroft, and Mai and her boyfriend, Gus, since last November, and they still feel like "a lot of other people." Actually, Mycroft alone could probably qualify as seeming like "a lot of other people." He does so much crazy stuff you could imagine more than a single offender.
That passage could just as easily been an entry from one of my high school journals. Other people, man. Not for the faint of heart. I love that the story is told from Watts' perspective. She has very honed powers of observation, though she herself might decry that claim. But it means that not only is she vital to Mycroft's ongoing efforts, she also does an incredibly effective job of introducing the reader to her singular friend. And if her focus is more frequently drawn to to Mycroft than it is anyone else in the room, it isn't any wonder as his magnetism and zaniness and pain fairly claw their way off the page. Gratefully, his presence never overshadows Watts. Not even a little bit, as we are firmly grounded inside her viewpoint and know just how hard she works to keep everyone in her life afloat and not lose track of her own needs, even if she is reticent about voicing them aloud. The mystery itself makes for a fun, often dark ride, and I enjoyed sitting back and accompanying them in their rounds. But the heart of Every Breath is, without question, the chemistry between Watts and Mycroft. Ms. Marney quite simply nails their need on the head. The pacing and development of Watts-and-Mycroft is one long and delicious thread running alongside the unfolding of the murder investigation. As the precarious hold they each have on their lives begins to unravel against the backdrop of Watts' uncertainty and Mycroft's desperation, the solace they take in being together, the rightness of their fit, is so soothing it is tangible. I currently have the sequel on order from Australia and am sitting here feeling antsy just thinking about what these two might be getting up to without me....more
I started a Meredith Duran book some time ago and stalled out early on for reasons I can no longer quite rememberOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I started a Meredith Duran book some time ago and stalled out early on for reasons I can no longer quite remember. I know it wasn't the writing, which definitely struck me as adept. I think it was more to do with the setting and I not clicking. Also the sense I was getting that the characters were going to hurt each other—possibly at some length—before they found any middle ground. Either way, I wasn't up for it at the time. And then I'm fairly certain I went on to mix Ms. Duran up with Tessa Dare and forgot to return after trying and sort of spectacularly failing to engage with Dare's Spindle's Cove series. Which is why I'm very glad Fool Me Twice was brought to my attention a few days ago. It jogged my memory and I remembered I'd always meant to go back and investigate Duran's work further to see if there might be a better fit among her backlist. As it turns out, her most recent novel and I were destined to get on in spades.
Olivia Mather has set her scruples aside in favor of staying alive. With her mother's husband's dangerous henchman lurking around every dark corner, she decides to use the only weapon she has and infiltrate the home of the Duke of Marwick. As a maid in the duke's home, she feels certain it won't take her above a week to root out his correspondence containing the evidence she needs to ensure the villainous Bertram will leave her alone for good. When she accidentally stumbles into the role of housekeeper, Olivia figures so much the better. But it quickly becomes clear that the home she has walked into is not so easily navigable as she presumed. For the duke is rumored to have run mad at the revelation of his dead wife's betrayal. He has not left his room in above a year. His terrified servants tiptoe about the house and shirk their duties. With time running short and her only hope residing in the duke's rooms, Olivia must take charge of the crumbling household and find a way to lure the crumbling man inside out into the light.
As you know, I can never resist a Beauty and the Beast tale and Fool Me Twice situates itself nicely in the genre with a wonderfully game, feisty heroine and a decidedly bitter, wounded beast. The novel itself is a study in contrasts. Duran's writing is light, often taking an elegant turn. The characters enjoy sparring with one another—verbally, physically, emotionally—you name it. There is much wit and teasing. But. These high and light emotions often run unchecked into much darker fare. Olivia and Marwick excel at demolishing one another, raging beautifully when the thread of their connection dances too close to the gaping lesions they so ferociously protect. While Alistair's injuries are clearly the fresher, Olivia makes a rather shattering command decision not to sidestep her goal in order to save him additional pain. The results are . . . well, devastating for both of them. And I'm really not sure who I was more angry with. Or who I ached for more. I just wanted them to wash their hands of the pain of their pasts and agree to stop pouring salt into old wounds. An example of the light:
"Have you a death wish?" he snarled. "Or have you, perhaps, lost the ability to understand English?"
She backed away from him, angling toward the door. He matched her step for step, prowling like a lion on the scent of a lamb—not a comfortable analogy. But these innocent books. She was stumbling over them, gilt-edged, calfskin-bound, priceless. She must save them from him.
She had one foot out the door when she caught sight again of the illustrated manuscript. She could not abandon it here. The poor darling! She lunged forward and snatched it up.
"Put that down!" he roared.
"You may keep them all," she cried. "Move the entire library up here, but you will not keep them on the floor!"
She hopped backward and pulled the door shut in his face.
It was no longer clear to him who was in control of this conversation. How absurd. He was not bound by her terms; in return for her answer, she could demand the moon, and it would make no difference to him. "Very well, then, answer me: why were you crying?"
"Because I am not the person I hoped to be. And I dislike myself for it."
That told him nothing. "What do you mean? Who had you hoped to be?"
"Someone better. Someone who abided by her ideals."
Christ. Blackly amused, he turned away from her toward the bookshelves. "Then we both were drawn here by the same mood. But I assure you, Mrs. Johnson, you will overcome your disappointment."
"As you have?"
He ignored that. "Good night to you."
"You haven't yet answered my question."
"Welshing," he said coldly, "is the duke's special privilege."
"Very well, don't answer. But I will ask it anyway: why do you read Austen if you lack all hope for yourself? Why torment yourself with happy endings if you don't believe one is possible?"
He stared at the books. This had gone too far. Why did she think she had the right to speak to him in this manner?
Why did he constantly invite it?
"You have every advantage." Her voice was fervent. "There is no reason you can't go back into the world, have everything you feel you've been denied. I tell you—if I had your advantages, I would remake myself!"
And the elegant:
Olivia took a long breath. It now sounded as if Marwick was banging things against the walls. Not his head, she hoped? Or perhaps she did. No, she couldn't wish harm to his brain. It might yet heal, and it had once been very fine.
One of my favorite aspects of the narrative is how it continually refers to what has been lost for both of these individuals, engaging with the agonizing question of whether or not those things can (or should) be regained. To say nothing of how far they will go to stave off danger (in Olivia's case) and exact revenge (in Marwick's). Duran's style, setup, and execution requires the reader be rooting for both Olivia and Marwick in order to make it through the utter hell they hand each other on an hourly basis. In order to reach the point where their eyes finally open enough to see beyond the surface implications of their actions, which are admittedly questionable in a number of cases. I wondered a moment or two whether I might lose my grip on my affection for one of them. But then I do like my protagonists flawed. And I am not at all certain I would have responded to Olivia if she had been a little less ruthless or Marwick had he been a little more malleable. And because their innate admiration for each other is unwavering, I remained with them lo, unto the end. Fool Me Twice is a decided highlight among historicals and of my reading year thus far....more
It's not that I haven't made my feelings about Liza Palmer's books abundantly clear, because I know that I have.Originally reviewed here @ Angieville
It's not that I haven't made my feelings about Liza Palmer's books abundantly clear, because I know that I have. It's that her latest novel—Girl Before a Mirror—is so good it's giving her others a run for their money as my favorite (and I honestly didn't think my love for Nowhere But Home could be surpassed). So good I've already reread it once and am fending off a second reread even as I type this. There are other books out there, and they all deserve a chance. I know this, and I feel their call keenly. But. I had supreme difficulty letting go of this one, and I can see myself diving back in regularly and indefinitely just to spend time with these characters again and to experience Anna's hilarious and thoughtful journey along with her once more. It was just as good the second time around, and I know it will only wear better with time.
Anna Wyatt finds herself in the unenviable position of not having a clue what to wish for as she blows out the candle on her 40th birthday. Surrounded by her friends, their spouses, and her beloved (if beleaguered) younger brother Ferdie, Anna feels affectionate but a bit blank. A year into a self-imposed dating sabbatical, she's been taking stock of her life and cleaning house of anything (or anyone) extraneous. The result is she finds herself in an undeniably clean, but somewhat sterile place, in need of inspiration and not sure where to look. Hoping to advance at the ad agency where she works, she tracks down Lumineux Shower Gel—a dying product in need of revival. Saddled with hopeful newbie graphic designer/sidekick Sasha, Anna finds inspiration in the unlikely form of Sasha's well-read copy of bestselling romance novelist Helen Brubaker's new self-help book Be the Heroine, Find Your Hero. And before they know it, Anna and Sasha are on their way to Arizona and the annual RomanceCon. Pairing up with the con and Ms. Brubaker herself, Anna and Sasha wind up judging the Mr. RomanceCon competition, with the winner slated to be the new spokesman for Lumineux Shower Gel. Determined to seal the deal and make it out of Romance Land alive, Anna is in no way prepared for the exuberance of the convention, the viciousness of the Arizona heat, and the charming Britishness of one Mr. Lincoln Mallory with his blue oxford cloth shirts and his steady gaze.
The thing about Liza Palmer's protagonists is that they're all so very different, from each other and from me. They're in advertising, and they're pastry chefs, they work in prisons or in art restoration. And yet they are so very real, so full of the same questions and vague but earnest hopes and fears that I feel on a daily basis. And so we are comrades. And I care. I care so much from the very start. And Anna Wyatt, with her self-control and her clever mind and her Miss Marple Theory, was no exception. I had her back from page one, as she gazed around at the faces of her friends and tried not to let the gathering uncertainty show on her face. Her story is so compelling because it addresses, so humorously and with unadorned frankness, questions of control, empowerment, guilt, success, and love. Add in some seriously wonderful explorations of female friendship and sibling love and one truly epic romance convention, and you have got the kind of tale I couldn't look away from if my life depended on it. And then . . . there's Lincoln Mallory, who I love so much I start to drift when I think about him too closely. With those oxford cloth shirts and those tense hands in his pockets. At one point there are suspenders involved and . . . well. You'll meet him on your own, but here is one of my favorite of their hilarious and charming exchanges:
I stand in the lobby, flipping my phone around in my hands. I pull Lincoln's business card out of my purse. Again. I flip the card over and dial. My fingers are tingling and this terrified numbness pings throughout my body, settling in my toes. I swallow. And swallow. Blink my eyes. It's like I'm giving myself errands to run around my body so I won't—
"This is Lincoln Mallory." Vomit.
"Hey, hi. It's Anna. Anna Wyatt from the other night. From the . . . um . . . from the elevator? And the apple . . . breakfast time—"
"I'm going to stop you there, love. I know who you are even without the reminder of apple breakfast time," he says. His voice is even better than I remember it.
"I apologize for my late call," I say, still not having taken a breath now going on nine minutes.
"I assumed you were busy at your Booty Ball." Lincoln Mallory saying booty will go down in history as one of my favorite things in the world.
"You still hungry?" I ask.
"I've already eaten, but I did manage to get something for dessert."
"And what's that then?"
"It's a surprise," he says. My face flushes. "When your Booty Ball ran long—a sentence I never thought I'd say, quite frankly—I had to strike out on the field trip on my own."
"So you're holding this dessert hostage."
"You make it sound so devious."
I scan the lobby. The hotel bar. The kiss. I close my eyes.
"What's your room number?"
"I'll be right up."
"Cheers," he says.
"But just for dessert."
"I do like a woman with her priorities in order." Silence. "Anna?"
"I didn't know if you'd hung up," I say.
"But I will now."
"Sure. Okay," I say. Silence. "Hello?"
"It's never not funny, is it?"
"I mean . . . ," I say, unable to keep from laughing.
These two. I mean. And it's always like this with them. The entire time I was reading I alternated between helpless laughter and a sort of fierce longing for their fears to be allayed, for their paths to somehow continue intersecting despite . . . everything. Because, of course, Lincoln's history is as mesmerizing and complicated as Anna's, and I felt every ounce of their combined and individual uneasiness and wanting. It is endlessly relieving to read about characters you would genuinely want to know, would want to sit with in a hotel bar or on a Manhattan sidewalk and just talk to. And I will never not appreciate how these two said what they wanted to, even if it came out mangled and fumbling, how they pursued their truth with an intentness I admire. For example:
I shut the car off and take a second, the blistering heat sitting on the top of my head like I'm under a heat lamp. I am walking toward the meet and greet when the phone rings.
"Anna Wyatt," I say, knowing exactly who it is without even looking at the screen.
"This is my formal apology," Lincoln says.
"Go ahead then," I say.
"I'm sorry." I like that Lincoln doesn't elaborate or get lost in a maze of buts and excuses for why what he did was actually okay. A simple I'm sorry is the most beautiful thing in the world.
"Thank you," I say.
It's these simple, thoughtful moments that make me pause as I'm reading to mark their effect (and possibly read them aloud to the nearest warm body so that I'm not alone in my wonder). Girl Before a Mirror is filled with them. I've decided the only way to start a new year is with an instant and permanent resident on my beloved bookshelf. Done and done....more
Holding true to form, I always get on well with the first in each of Shalvis' Lucky Harbor trilogies. This one was no exception. Sam and Becca hit allHolding true to form, I always get on well with the first in each of Shalvis' Lucky Harbor trilogies. This one was no exception. Sam and Becca hit all the right notes....more
I'm not rating this one because I only read one of the novellas (the Andrews) and couldn't even finish that. But as it's still bothering me, I figuredI'm not rating this one because I only read one of the novellas (the Andrews) and couldn't even finish that. But as it's still bothering me, I figured I should go ahead just say that I feel super bad about the whole situation. I am a huge Jim & Dali fan, and I could not wait to get my hands on the continuation of their story no matter how brief. But something just failed to click. To the point that I ended up skimming it to the end. I'm still in shock. They were . . . well, it felt like the characters were phoning it in. Maybe I was harboring novel-depth expectations, but they've always come through in the past with their novellas. So I don't know what to say except that it felt like these two characters deserved better, that it still bothers me, and that I'm trying to move on....more
This anthology is worth it for the Ruthie Knox story alone. I read several (if not all) of the other novellas, and was mildly pleased with each. But RThis anthology is worth it for the Ruthie Knox story alone. I read several (if not all) of the other novellas, and was mildly pleased with each. But Redemption is head and shoulders above the rest and that's all there is to it. Knox is pretty much always a safe bet, but she plain kills it with this sad, wintry tale of two lonely individuals who are dead certain they're using each other to stave off utter despair. It's sober and aching and simply lovely. I loved Jessie and Mike, their anger, their desperation, and the difficult choice they make in the end. So, so good....more
I have Allison over at The Allure of Books to thank for this recommendation. I believe I had heard the title of tOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I have Allison over at The Allure of Books to thank for this recommendation. I believe I had heard the title of this Victorian mystery bandied about some and never did chase it down on account of the title itself. Something to do with a proliferation of the so-and-so's wife titles at the time, I would imagine. But. I'm so very glad I listened to Allie and gave it a shot. Anna Lee Huber's series (which stands at three novels at the present time with a fourth due out this summer) is excellent. As you might have guessed, this series is a straight shot for you Deanna Raybourn and Tasha Alexander fans out there. While the Lady Julia Grey series is a touch more dramatic and the Lady Emily Ashton one quite a bit lighter, Kiera Darby is compelling entirely on her own merits and I can't wait to further my exploits with her in future installments.
Lady Kiera Darby wants only to hide away and lick her wounds. Gone to her sister's estate in Scotland to recuperate from the tumultuous events of her husband's death and her own criminal trial, Kiera takes refuge in her painting and in the satisfactory distance she's finally put between herself and the prying eyes of London society. Unfortunately, her well-meaning sister and brother-in-law have planned a house party and invited some of the very elite members of society she so longs to escape. Knowing what they think of her and her role (albeit unwilling) in her husband's distasteful profession, each day becomes an endless struggle. But when a murder takes place on the premises, Kiera's skill is called upon by private inquiry agent Sebastian Gage. At first put off by Gage's somewhat pedestrian talent and clear suspicion of her, Lady Darby is reluctant to pursue the increasingly disturbing events at the estate. But determined to prove her own innocence, she concedes to work with Gage and the two fall into a competent and intriguing partnership.
How I love Kiera. I love that the story opens after the horrible spectacle has taken place. The whole opening has an exhausted, almost gun shy feel to it as we come to know Kiera and gradually find out just what led to her ostracizing from society and the slow death she suffered at the hands of the most indifferent and cruel of husbands. The entirety of The Anatomist's Wife is quiet. In the best sense. Quietly affecting. Quietly horrific. Quietly strong and hopeful. I was immediately fond of it and its occupants. Which brings us to Gage. I found him engaging (forgive me) from the beginning, though he does initially come off a bit of the fop to both Kiera and the reader. While unerringly confident, he doesn't ooze brooding arrogance in quite the same way that others of his ilk do. I wasn't sure which way the wind would blow with Gage. But I appreciated the healthy dose of skepticism that flourished between he and Kiera. And I unquestionably relished the accompanying slow, slow burn as their eyes were opened to how effective they could be as an investigative team, as well as how close they were growing as friends. Such partners they were. Such kindred spirits. I am with them. To the end....more
Last year I read my very first ever Christmas novellas and shocked myself at how much I enjoyed them. I mean I reOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Last year I read my very first ever Christmas novellas and shocked myself at how much I enjoyed them. I mean I read a few duds, sure, but I read some real gems as well. And so a couple of weeks ago I found myself eagerly looking forward to rereading a couple of my favorites this holiday season as well as hopefully discovering a few new ones. Happily, the very first new one I read proved to be a home run. I kind of knew it would be, given how much I loved Mary Ann Rivers' debut novella The Story Guy earlier this year. When I heard her next book was a Christmas novella in the HEATING UP THE HOLIDAYS anthology, I snatched it up the day it released and snuggled up with my Nook for a little pre-holiday reading. I hadn't read any works by the other two authors in the collection (I actually still haven't read their contributions, though I plan on it at some point), but I can tell you the ebook bundle is utterly worth it for Rivers' story alone.
Jenny Wright was diagnosed right at the most inopportune of times--right after she uprooted her life entirely, moved halfway across the country, and started a new job in a new place. And even after being diagnosed with a rare degenerative eye disease, she chose to stay in her new life. Even though her mother begged her to come back home where she could look after her. Even though her colleagues walked a little more cautiously around her. And even as the days grew shorter and the darkness crept in. The one bright point in those days is the time after she gets home from work and settles in on the couch with her computer. That's when she gets to chat with C. Though they've never actually met, he used to live in the house she currently rents. And when she forwarded a piece of mail on to him, they struck up an online relationship. C is a macro photographer. Most days the two of them talk about his pictures, her thoughts, anything they like. Though their interactions grow more intimate, Jenny knows she can't handle more. She has enough on her plate navigating her work, her occupational therapy, and just getting through each day intact. When her worlds collide, she is wholly unprepared for the fallout.
I think my best bet is to keep still and let the snow fall, let the days get long again, the light return its hours to me, a few more chances a day to figure out what it is I can comfortably keep in front of me and see.
For me, there isn't some miracle cure, this is my life, or my disease will progress and my life will change focus again, and I'll have another new life.
I need C to stay right where he is now because for now, I don't know enough to move from where I am.
My hypothesis is that the light will come back, both outside and inside me.
I'm afraid and angry, but the light is a theory I want to prove.
Until then, I just have to keep the experiment going with as many controls as possible.
One bus, back and forth.
One man, his words under glass.
Yes. I just knew Ms. Rivers would bring her words. And how beautifully they were voiced through Jenny. I really loved her, you guys. My throat constricted on her behalf from moment to moment. And though I cannot fathom the terror she lived with each day, I know enough of fear to swallow hard at every one of her ruminations on the encroaching darkness. What I love most about Mary Ann Rivers' stories is how with one hand she keeps a ruthless stranglehold on false hope, and with the other she offers the most delicate of joys. I feel both rational and enchanted when I read them. Her writing does not require that I sacrifice either. And so I love it. Which is good, because she brings the sadness and no mistake. Because Jenny's condition is not sugar coated, I worried about getting my hopes up for her future, in general terms as well as with the man in her life. I worried a lot for a single novella. But I loved every page. And there were (as there should be) lovely startling flares of humor as well.
I wonder if he practices making awkward and nerdy look sort of cool. Like he fills his house with furniture that is the wrong scale for his tall body and buys plaid shirts in bulk and tells his barber to leave crazy, too-long pieces of hair mixed in with the regularly cut hair so everything always looks messy.
Then he runs his hands through his hair and puts on his plaid shirts and uses mirrors to watch himself sit in uncomfortable furniture until comfortable furniture looks like it's the one with the problem.
I loved him in the same way Jenny did. Uncertainly. Desperately. In awkward pieces and with a number of reservations. Neither of them faced easy choices and the untenable nature of their situation gave me pause more than once. But as the snow fell, how my love grew. When I think about reading Snowfall, I picture it in soft black and white with the occasional flash of color in the threads of his plaid shirt, in the string of Christmas lights hung with the fierceness of hope for light in the coming year....more
I picked this book up for one reason and one reason only—because Sarah MacLean recommended it as one of her top hOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I picked this book up for one reason and one reason only—because Sarah MacLean recommended it as one of her top historicals ever, like ever. Apparently, that's all it takes for me when it comes from the lady who gave us Callie and Ralston. And I have my suspicions that might be all it took for a few of you, too. We are in good company together then, yes? This was my first of Lisa Kleypas' historicals. Having read and been mildly okay with one of her contemporaries and read and absolutely loved one of her others, I figured the wind could reasonably be expected to blow any number of ways with The Devil in Winter. Some authors transition beautifully from one genre/time period to another. Others, I feel, face more of an uphill battle. Spoiler alert: Ms. Kleypas appears to know her way around whichever she feels like tackling at the time. I will say that I initially read a library copy and held off on purchasing my own because I was not fond of the U.S. cover. So much lavender. I can't . . . with just so much lavender. But then. The UK cover waltzed onto the scene. With Evie standing in the snow. Just . . . looking. It is everything the book deserves and it, of course, had to be mine.
Evangeline Jenner has summoned what remains of her flagging courage and made a command decision. Said decision involves sneaking into the home of vaunted rake Sebastian St. Vincent and demanding he run off to Gretna Green with her to be married before her hideous relatives can stash her in a closet and force her to marry her cousin, thereby gaining control of her dying father's gambling money. (Did that last sentence put a silly grin on anyone else's face? Just me?) Having been beaten down and pushed aside her entire life, Evie just wants to be free. If a loveless marriage to a known dissolute is what it takes, she will gladly pay the price. St. Vincent will get the money he so desperately needs to pay his father's debts and the two can happily live the rest of their lives separately. After his initial amusement and disbelief at the shy wallflower's proposal, the wayward viscount finds himself accepting and the two of them go haring off for parts north as fast as possible before anyone can say them nay. Before either of them know it, the marriage has been solemnized and it's back to London and the grim reality of bidding farewell to Evie's father along with the unexpectedly complicated feelings they experience in the face of the prospect of going their separate ways.
The Devil in Winter has one hell of a beginning and that's all there is to it. Talk about hook, line, and sinker. I fell in love with Evie almost with her first exhalation. What a sad and dim life she led leading up to the moment she felt forced to go to St. Vincent with an offer she wouldn't let him refuse. And how I liked her for the way she faced him down and stutteringly told him the way things were going down. As for Sebastian, I grew to like him quickly for how quickly he grew to like Evie. For his wicked wit and hilariously cavalier attitude toward life and the ton. And for the appalled look on his face when he realizes he might . . . he just might be falling in love with his wife. It was a pleasure watching Evie's shoulders slowly relax while in Sebastian's company, just as it was a treat watching that very attitude of his grow less and less cavalier when it came to his wife and the altered way he saw the world as a husband. So very much against his will. But there it is. The story did bobble just a bit for me back in London as the two take up residence in Jenner's gambling hell and I felt things veering a touch close to the shallow. But the ship rights itself soon enough as they stumble up against each other's expectations and the scars (in Evie's case) and indiscretions (in Sebastian's) of their respective pasts. This was helped along by Kleypas' uncanny knack for suddenly and unceremoniously shoving the two of them in a hallway or billiard hall or sick room at just the right moment so they could sort themselves out. I'm ever so fond of them, Evie and Sebastian. I will always be glad they came to stay....more
First of all, that cover. I love everything about that cover. And, as such, deciding whether or not to read JackaOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
First of all, that cover. I love everything about that cover. And, as such, deciding whether or not to read Jackaby involved me sitting on my hands, dithering about whether or not the insides would match the outsides. As I am wont to do. But the truth is the mash-up of historical fantasy and the Doctor Who-meets-Sherlock Holmes teaser made it no kind of question at all as to whether or not I'd be picking it up. This is William Ritter's debut novel and the first in a series (happy day) as the ending clearly indicates. I picked it up a few weeks back on vacation and read it through in one big swallow. And while my body may have been sitting on the beach, my mind was far away tramping down a cold, winter street in New Fiddleham. The whole experience was deliciously dark and dreary. Of course, it was also ineluctably charming and smart. Which is to say I didn't stand a chance and cannot wait for the next one to come out.
The year is 1892. The place: New England. Abigail Rook has fled her staid life. Leaving her disbelieving parents behind in England, she has sailed to the new world, specifically to the dockside town of New Fiddleham in search of . . . she knows not what. Gifted with the ability to parse the importance of ordinary details, she is sure that with a little fortitude (and a lot of luck), she will be able to make a place for herself in this unfamiliar clime. And it turns out, she's right. Her first night in town, she runs across an extraordinary personage who appears to carry an unholy amount of bits and bobs on his person and who goes by the unlikely moniker of R.F. Jackaby. Jackaby, it turns out, is a private investigator of the unusual variety. He takes cases that involve the inexplicable, the paranormal, the ones that regularly stymie the local constabulary. Stumbling into Jackaby's latest case, Abigail is intrigued and finds herself following the odd man home and inserting herself into his daily routine as an investigative assistant. She is, of course, not the first to fill that role (the fate of the last one remains a bit murky) and she fears she will not be the last. But for the present, she can think of nothing else she would rather be doing. And so the two are off as they trace the footsteps of an increasingly erratic serial killer.
Abigail and Jackaby are immediate magic. I say that acknowledging that there is not a romantic note between them, though there are a couple of jokes along that vein and their reactions are priceless. There is a lovely hint of romantic potential for Abigail and a certain young detective who is not as disbelieving in Jackaby's ability as his supervisors are. But the hint dances around, remaining in the realm of potential for this volume at least. And that is all to the good, because this entertaining and absorbing debut is a charming and twisty mystery at heart. Chock full of Celtic mythology and regularly terrifying glimpses of the macabre, Jackaby is a recipe for a ripping good romp. I loved how excellently Abigail and Jackaby complemented each other and how quietly but firmly they came to respect and care for one another as colleagues and as accomplices (only when the occasion required, of course). Every scene that features them rambling around Jackaby's home is a delight, as the house itself constitutes one of my favorite characters. The hysterical fate of Jackaby's former assistant, along with the mysterious and heretofore lonely fates of a few of his other lodgers captured my affections. I know why Jackaby chose Abigail, but I was so pleased Abigail chose him. They needed each other. Their enjoyable banter and madcap dashes through the seedy underbelly of New Fiddleham kept me on my toes all the way to the exciting conclusion. As I believe a good book never reveals all its secrets, I know there is much more just waiting to unfurl in the sequel. I am all anticipation....more
These two were fairly forgettable for me. I tend to fall hard and fast for the first installment of each of Ms. Shalvis' Lucky Harbor trilogies, and sThese two were fairly forgettable for me. I tend to fall hard and fast for the first installment of each of Ms. Shalvis' Lucky Harbor trilogies, and so I wasn't all that surprised that this one didn't wow me. Somewhat disappointed, yes. But not too surprised. It felt cute, but more of the same at this point. ...more
This book was a hot mess and that's all there is to it. I am a fan of Kristan Higgins' backlist, and the first book in the Blue Heron series was a delThis book was a hot mess and that's all there is to it. I am a fan of Kristan Higgins' backlist, and the first book in the Blue Heron series was a delight. But this series has gone downhill with each installment and this was the worst yet. It had no focus, lacked any kind of reliable pacing, and continually treated its two protagonists as though they (and their readers) were extremely dense. What a disappointment....more
You all remember my love for Diana Peterfreund's Secret Society Girl novels, yes? A certain patriarch of a certaiOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
You all remember my love for Diana Peterfreund's Secret Society Girl novels, yes? A certain patriarch of a certain . . . well. You remember. The thing is, those are my kind of New Adult novels. And I think I've been sort of quietly looking for more in that vein ever since. And then a couple of months ago I ran across Diana enthusiastically recommending a new series for fans of the SSG books. It's called the Ivy Years series and it is written by Sarina Bowen. Needless to say, I investigated further. When I found out the books were also sports-related, I said to the internet, Say no more, internet. You have my attention. And that night I jumped in and started the first book—The Year We Fell Down (which, by the way, such a great title)—and I thoroughly enjoyed Bowen's easy style, down to Earth characters (well, most of time, I'm looking at you Hartley), and the fabulous college setting. So when the second book came out, I was all set to dive right back into life at Harkness, particularly when I heard it featured Bridger—a character from the first book who I really liked but who I had more than few concerns about.
Bridger McCaulley's life does not resemble what it used to be. Not that it's ever been easy, but there was a period there where he worried . . . less . . . and partied more. And he played hockey like nobody's business. Those days are gone now that he's wholly responsible for his little sister. And it doesn't help matters that it's all on the down low since child protective services would have a heyday if they knew a college hockey star was hiding a little girl away in his dorm room. Scarlet Crowley's life also altered suddenly and irrevocably and for the worse. She's come to Harkness to escape as many of her problems as possible, starting by enrolling under a different name in order to stave off as much of the media as possible. When the truth about her father's charity was made public, the life she led became impossible and she hopes distance from her parents and her father's crimes will allow her to build her own life. When the two meet, sparks fly, but they agree not to take things any further than study dates in the cafeteria. Bridger has no time to speak of and a pack of responsibilities weighing him down to the ground. Scarlet fears discovery and the look on Bridger's face were he ever to find out the kind of family she comes from. But it proves to be difficult for each of them to give up that regular human contact again. With someone who might just understand.
As I said, I enjoyed (my impatience with Hartley aside) most everything about the first book in the series. But I loved everything about The Year We Hid Away. How lovely a thing it is when you get to know a previously secondary character better only to find out they were exactly who you were hoping they would be all along. Getting to know Bridger was just such an experience. There was so much more to him than his escapades the year before led you to believe, and every one of those added layers made him an infinitely sympathetic character. He is crazy strong, is Bridger. And determined to go it alone, if just to adequately protect his little sister Lucy from additional disappointment and pain. He rightly judges she has suffered enough. But then so has he. And it takes Scarlet entering his tightly closed off life to see that and know how to help. It was so interesting watching these two hockey players interact while on enforced hiatuses from the sport they love. In fact, one of my favorite aspects of this story is the equal treatment the two protagonists get. Their stories, their histories, they are equally valued and play appropriately weighty roles in their present. They are not just back stories, but fleshed out narratives explaining the way they are, the challenges they live with. And they fold so seamlessly into the force bringing and holding them together. An early encounter snippet:
"You never say very much about Miami Beach," Bridger said as we lingered over our coffee. "Or your family."
I didn't bother to hide my flinch. "Miami Beach is the best. My family . . . not so much. I don't really talk about them. It isn't a nice story." The truth was, I didn't want to lie any more than necessary to those deep green eyes.
Bridger's face flashed with sympathy. "Okay. It's exactly the same for me, but I didn't expect that. Because you look like someone from a family with a nice story."
"And you don't?" I countered.
He put one hand on his own cheek and covered mine with his other. "You make a good point. Maybe there's no look. I should probably stop thinking that everyone else in this room has it easier than me."
I turned my head, and together we both scanned the laughing, eating, bustle that was the student center at noon. It sure looked happy out there. For just a moment, I was a goalie again, analyzing the play, scouting for trouble.
"Nah," I said finally, turning back to Bridger. "I still think most of them have it pretty good."
Bridger grinned. "This is the cynical table," he said, tapping his fingertip on the wood grain.
"Party of two," I agreed.
Their Tuesday and Thursday lunch/study dates never failed to bring a smile to my face. And the natural and seemingly inevitable way they grew into a relationship with a healthy amount of depth kept the smile upon my face. They are able to take a breather of sorts and step away from being self-conscious when they're together. It feels like a reprieve, doled out in careful doses. No wonder they look to increase those doses. I also appreciated the way Bowen handles the "finding out" of the respective pasts. It was a recipe for maturity while still paying tribute to their actual ages and the extent of their life experiences. As is the case with the best romances, I am so very glad they found each other. As for myself, I am so very happy to have found a fresh voice in the new adult genre. Recommended for fans of Down London Road and, of course, Secret Society Girl....more
The seemingly universal love for this debut contemporary YA led me to expect quite a bit more than I got. Coming from a military brat with a colonel fThe seemingly universal love for this debut contemporary YA led me to expect quite a bit more than I got. Coming from a military brat with a colonel father herself (in other words, I felt predisposed to like this tale), this book was a big fat snooze fest. Nothing about it stood out to me—not the writing, not the characters, not the plot. It all looked fabulous on paper and had such potential (first crop of girls at an all boys military academy), but when it came to execution I connected with no one and was surprised by nothing. Mac's story read like a particularly numbing laundry list. I kept trying to fall into it, but the very genuine traumas in her life never seemed to translate into any actual emotional impact for her let alone me. And so it goes....more
I originally heard about Graffiti Moon around about the time I read Raw Blue and thought to myself, is every AustOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I originally heard about Graffiti Moon around about the time I read Raw Blue and thought to myself, is every Australian YA author crazy talented or what? (The answer, by the way, appears to be an unequivocal YES). Then some of the Usual Suspects read and reviewed and loved it, and so Cath Crowley got noted down on my mental TBR, despite the fact that it, too, was not published in the U.S. yet. Then a little while after, it showed up on NetGalley and there were no more excuses to be had.
Lucy's time is running out. Year 12 is about to end and she still hasn't tracked down the graffiti artist known as Shadow. Though his work is all over the streets and walls and broken down buildings of the city, he only comes out at night. And despite her best efforts, Lucy hasn't been able to be in the right place at the right time to see him at work. He works in tandem with a street artist named Poet. Together they put words to pictures and grace the worn out sections of the city with their unique blend of poetry and urban art. Lucy would be happy to find the mysterious Poet as well, but when it comes down to it, it's Shadow she cares about. Something about the pictures he creates strikes a chord deep inside her and she feels as though a chance will have been missed if she never meets him. Never gets the opportunity to tell him, even for a moment, what his work means to her. Then one night she and her two best friends Jazz and Daisy are out and run into Daisy's on again, off again boyfriend Dylan, and his two friends Leo and Ed. Dylan knows Shadow and Poet, and the group decide to visit the two's known haunts and see if they can find them. Lucy is reluctant to go as she and Ed have had encounters in the past that did not end well. Ed is just as loathe to renew the acquaintance. But Jazz and Leo talk them into it. And they're off.
Graffiti Moon is a gem--a breath of fresh air. The narrative alternates between Lucy's, Ed's, and Leo's points of view and I enjoyed them all equally. Okay. I may have been just a teensy bit more partial to Leo's sections when it comes down to it. But that's because they're poems. Just freakishly good poems. I wanted to share my favorite of Leo's poems because they were such a highlight of the book for me. Here it is, fairly early on in the book:
Where I lived before
I used to live with my parents
In a house that smelled like cigarettes And tasted like beer if you touched anything The kitchen table was a bitter ocean That came off on my fingers
There were three doors between the fighting and me And at night I closed them all I'd lie in bed and block the sounds
By imagining I was floating Light years of quiet Interrupted by breathing And nothing else
I'd drift through space And fall through dreams Into dark skies Some nights
My brother Jake and I would crawl out the window And cut across the park Swing on the monkey bars for a while One the way to Gran's house
She'd be waiting Dressing gown and slippers on Searching for our shadows She'd read us
Poetry and fairy tales Where swords took care of dragons And Jake never said it was a load of shit Like I thought he would
And then one night Gran stopped reading before the happy ending She asked, "Leopold, Jake. You want to live In my spare room?"
Her voice Sounded like space and dark skies But that night all my dreams Had floors
That last line has been haunting me ever since. In such a good way. "But that night all my dreams had floors." A line so good it had me swallowing hard, brushing back sudden tears in my eyes, and turning to my husband to read it aloud, because I just had to share it with someone instantly. I love Leo. Comparisons between this book and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist abound, and I certainly understand why. Graffiti Moon is to be preferred, in my opinion, as the characters are more fully fleshed out and the writing is just a cut above. Here the focus is on art instead of music, and the combination of Shadow's evocative paintings and Lucy's burgeoning glassblowing skills is a lovely feast for the imagination. I could picture, without any trouble at all, the heart growing grass. That perfect shade of blue he's been searching for. The birds--their wings bound--struggling to break free. I could see it all. Truthfully, this book reminded me more of Lisa Schroeder's Chasing Brooklyn or Donna Freitas' This Gorgeous Game. It shares with those stories a certain elegance in the telling. I loved each of the main characters, with the real draw being the ethereal connection between Lucy and Shadow, and the complicated friendship between Ed and Leo. There's much of humor and heartbreak within these pages, and I read them through in one sitting, so happy was I to be with these kids, inside these words, as they expressed themselves the only way they knew how....more
Once again I surface from a haze of mandatory rereading of each and every one of my favorite parts in the previouOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Once again I surface from a haze of mandatory rereading of each and every one of my favorite parts in the previous two novels in the Raven Cycle to write this review of the third and latest installment. I finished Blue Lily, Lily Blue and lay awake in bed, staring at the ceiling, seeing nothing but the quicksilver leaves of Cabeswater, hearing nothing but Adam's soft drawl over the tune of Ronan's inappropriate Irish jigs, and tasting nothing but mint on my tongue. It's a heady experience giving yourself over to one of Maggie's novels and not a decision to be taken lightly. Knowing that she persists in ending each book on a cliffhanger teaser (of sorts), I prepared myself for the worst (though I know she's really saving that for the fourth and final book). And, as ever, as the whole thing crashes to its temporary conclusion, some threads are flung far and wide even as others (the core ones) tighten their hold, both on each other and on me.
This is the third book in a quartet, guys. I shall attempt to minimize the spoilers. But not at the expense of THE FEELINGS. As Ronan might say, Vos admonitos.
Given her druthers, Blue Sargent would eat yogurt for every meal. She would grow a handful of inches taller. And she would spend each and every day with the boys. And while her mother disapproves of at least two of those three choices, her mother is not around anymore. To put too fine a point on it, Maura has up and disappeared. And the women of 300 Fox Way are at a loss as to know exactly what to do to fetch her back. And so Blue eats her yogurt. And she bemoans her diminutive height. And she spends as many and as much of her days as possible hunting with Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah. And all the while she quietly tries to will her mother back before the nameless evil that threatens to awaken does just that. Meanwhile, Adam is holding tightly to every shred of sanity and temper he possesses in order to mend his fences with Gansey, continue to heal Cabeswater as needed, and come to terms with his role in the group and in the grander scheme of the search for Glendower. And in many respects his work is rewarded with greater clarity on several fronts. Ronan Lynch continues to live with every one of his secrets (and to be keeper of a not insignificant portion of my heart). And Noah . . . vacillates . . . as only Noah can. To say nothing of the Gray Man's adopted quest, Calla's fiercely protective eye, Persephone's training of Adam, and Gansey's sometime mentor calling for tea. More threads are added to the weft with every step of this penultimate tale.
"You can be just friends with people, you know," Orla said. "I think it's crazy how you're in love with all those raven boys."
Orla wasn't wrong, of course. But what she didn't realize about Blue and her boys was that they were all in love with one another. She was no less obsessed with them than they were with her, or one another, analyzing every conversation and gesture, drawing out every joke into a longer and longer running gag, spending each moment either with one another or thinking about when next they would be with one another. Blue was perfectly aware that it was possible to have a friendship that wasn't all-encompassing, that wasn't blinding, deafening, maddening, quickening. It was just that now that she'd had this kind, she didn't want the other.
In the words of Whitman, "We were together. I forget the rest." This is precisely how I feel whenever I sit back down with Blue and her Raven Boys. Okay. We're together now. Everything else can fall away. I love how, despite Maura's absence, everyone felt less alone to me in this one than they did in the last. In Blue Lily, Lily Blue, three books in, they genuinely have each other. Even more importantly, they acknowledge that they have each other and just how much that means. Sometimes, in the case of Ronan, they acknowledge it in remorseless and epithetical Latin. Sometimes, in the case of Adam, in the minutest acceptance of an unexpected kindness. And sometimes, in the case of Gansey and Blue, only in the most glancing and breath-holding of looks or moments, drifting along the tenuous line of a telephone. But acknowledge it and rely upon it they do. And that seemingly simple step goes miles and miles to shoring up a few of this reader's myriad anxieties. The trust and surety that previously extended unilaterally here and there within the group expand in this volume to each relationship, in every combination. They find themselves reaching out, across status and gender and ley lines. And, as a result, Gansey (who has arguably been the most alone of all these kids who have been so very alone) is no longer quite so internally isolated. And the same goes for each of the magnificent individuals he has gathered around him. With all dark things looming ahead of them, this one change felt vastly important to me. And dark things do loom ahead. So dark at times it is difficult not to flinch. But there is always the glorious light to match the darkness—the lightning humor in Gansey's eyes, in Ronan's laugh, and on Blue's tongue.
Sometimes, Gansey forgot how much he liked school and how good he was at it. But he couldn't forget it on mornings like this one—fall fog rising out of the fields and lifting in front of the mountains, the Pig running cool and loud, Ronan climbing out of the passenger seat and knocking knuckles on the roof with teeth flashing, dewy grass misting the black toes of his shoes, bag slung over his blazer, narrow-eyed Adam bumping fists as they met on the sidewalk, boys around them laughing and calling to one another, making space for the three of them because this had been a thing for so long: Gansey-Lynch-Parrish.
This thing. Oh, this thing. The three of them. The five of them. The quest for the sleeping king. It's just that I love them, you know? I love that we get the sure sense they were going on before us and that they will continue on without us after the fourth book comes to a close. As for that close, we shall not speak of it. For I am full to the brim of fears and awful premonitions. As such, I plan on tucking myself away at 300 Fox Way until next October. Just to be safe. Safe as life....more