I love it when I find myself reviewing another Laura Florand winner. I can't believe it's been exactly three yeaOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I love it when I find myself reviewing another Laura Florand winner. I can't believe it's been exactly three years since I initially fell in love with her Amour et Chocolat series, but I have no trouble at all recalling the pure pleasure I took in devouring each successive book about egomaniacal, yet devastatingly charming chocolatiers and patissiers and the strong-willed, wonderfully intelligent women whose misfortune/fortune it was to make and keep their acquaintance. Chase Me is the second book in Florand's Paris Nights series, though they don't necessarily have to be read in order. This series is set in Paris (my favorite of Florand's settings). And while it contains all the wit and charm and emotion of her other works, it also incorporates just the perfect touch of classic Hollywood screwball romantic comedy. It turns out to be the perfect recipe.
Violette Lenoir is violently less than thrilled to find an after-hours intruder in the pristine kitchen of her top restaurant Au-dessus. With the American president rumored to be eating at her restaurant within the next few days, the press breathing down her neck, and a lifetime of battling against the rampant machismo of the Paris chef scene under her belt, she does not hesitate to throw a knife or three at Chase Smith's head first and ask questions second. The fact that the unwanted "private security" specialist promptly proposes does nothing to mitigate Violette's rage, no matter how thick he lays on the Texas charm. The problem is that after their battle of wits and weapons, he refuses to listen to Vi and go away. Worse, he appears to genuinely believe himself in love with her. But what truly enrages her, he refuses to tell her what in the world it is he does, why he was in her kitchen in the first place, and why the health inspectors inexplicably shut down her restaurant on a trumped up charge immediately after his unexpected arrival. But somewhere amid his intermittent disappearances and reappearances in her life, Vi is bound and determined to extract and answer to each and every question.
So it's basically every interaction between Chase and Vi, you know? Chase's incorrigible optimism, Vi's glorious anger, and their mutual ineffable charm just carry the day. Individually and collectively, they never let up and I would never want them to. For example:
Violette Lenoir sighed heavily. "Are you some kind of manifestation of my worst nightmare?"
"Hey." That hurt. "You're straight out of my dreams."
"You know I crush a hundred men just like you on a daily basis?"
Okay, not that he wanted to destroy her self-confidence or anything, but . . . seriously? "I'm pretty sure you don't, honey. Just because they pretend to be me in video games doesn't mean they're actually like me."
Just for a second, a flicker of genuine caution showed in her eyes, and her left hand scooped up another throwing knife. Aww, and they'd been getting along so well. He backpedaled. "But don't worry, sweetheart. I may not be crushable, but you're safe with me."
"You're not. Safe with me."
He sighed with delight. "I know."
Ugh, I love these two. It's embarrassing to admit, but I just wasn't quite expecting to love them as much as I did. I was stoked that the culinary whiz this time around was going to be a woman, and I was cautiously skeptical of a cocky American hero (I like my French heroes, so sue me). But they were both just note perfect. For every ounce of arrogant swagger, Chase made up for it with irresistible devotion, to his dangerous job and to Vi from day one. For her part, Vi has earned every ounce of her own pride and confidence. Her outrage (throughout the book) at Chase's intrusions and advances is essentially one hundred percent justified. I love that, and I love that Chase recognizes that and makes space for it. These two adults are fully independent, fully committed, and fully bowled over by the role the other is suddenly playing in their lives. And if Chase adapts a little lot more quickly than Vi is able to, it only makes their road that much more intriguingly bumpy and amusing. One more favorite (early) encounter:
"So this Quentin . . . what's his last name? Where does he live?"
"I took care of him," she said dryly. That was the point, right? She took care of all problems cocky males presented her with. That was how she could stay chef.
Yeah, it would be nice if it was all about the food, the way she'd imagined as a kid, but she'd learned long before she finished her first apprenticeship that it was mostly about surviving in a world of sexist assholes.
"Stabbed him?" her burglar asked hopefully.
"I brought one of the pallets of milk down on his head when he pushed me back against the shelves. Mild concussion."
He weighed that a moment. "Much of a struggle before you managed to bring the milk down on his head?"
Maybe. She lifted her chin at him and braced her feet. Even if there was a struggle, I still won.
"Yeah, you know what? I think I'll still pay him a little visit. Don't worry, I can find his address on my own."
"I don't need a hero," she said dryly.
He raised his eyebrows. "How do you know? It sounds like you've never had one."
These characters are epically magnetic.
Lastly, I wanted to touch on the key placement of this novel in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. It plays a visceral role in the lives of all of the characters, both inherently in Chase's career as a counterterrorist operative, and much more profoundly in the fierce spirit of Vi, her friends, her family, and the people of Paris. It was lovingly and thoughtfully written and added a beautiful element of gravitas to this fizzy, heartfelt novel. Chase Me earned an instant spot on my best of the year list, no question....more
I've been truly impatient to read Evelyn Pryce's sophomore novel ever since I thoroughly enjoyed her debut A MaOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I've been truly impatient to read Evelyn Pryce's sophomore novel ever since I thoroughly enjoyed her debut A Man Above Reproach a couple of years ago. And so it was with utter delight that I opened my mail a few days ago to find a copy of The Thirteenth Earl, complete with wax-sealed note. It's the charming little things, guys, that just make my little world go round. Montlake has gifted this novel with another gorgeous cover in the same vein as the first one that initially caught my eye. They're just slightly refined in a way that appeals to me, and I love seeing their spines on my shelf. If you haven't tried any of Evelyn's work yet, I highly recommend snagging a copy of both of these. She writes lovely historical romance with characters I feel for that make me laugh. Just what the doctored ordered for the doldrums before spring arrives full stop.
Jonathan Vane's title is Viscount Thaxton, but he is better known to all and sundry as the Ghost. The product of a long line of earls with an unfortunate predilection for running mad, Thaxton is determined he will be the last. The curse will end with him. As such, he's ready to live out his days unattached, unmourned, and decidedly unmarried. This decision is put into mortal peril when he makes the acquaintance of one Miss Cassandra Seton at the house party of his one (possibly only) friend. Cassie (to her very best friends) is about to be reunited with her longtime fiancé Miles Markwick after a separation of nine years. It follows that Miles is Thaxton's cousin and that the two are on most unpleasant terms. It's more than Thaxton can do to not needle the lovely Cassie about her upcoming nuptials. She responds delightfully in kind, and it's not long before the two are traipsing about the manor at all hours of the night, egged on by the eerie wails of a potentially real ghost. But even as their relationship deepens, neither one can discount the troubling strain that runs through Jonathan's family, or the fact that Markwick is bound and determined to finally make good on his vows.
"My very best friends call me Cassie."
"Then I shall start with Miss Seton, and endeavor to Cassie."
From the opening mock duel in the middle of the library, The Thirteenth Earl is the most delightful of romps. Much like a game of Clue, the principal characters get up to all sorts of shenanigans, slinking about the atmospheric estate investigating the nefarious events at the party. I was altogether charmed and wanted very much for Cassie and Thaxton to find a way of overcoming the admittedly real barriers between them to find a vein of happiness. I love how Ms. Pryce manages to inject wonderful levity into her story at the same time as she infuses both her protagonists with achingly complicated backstories and throws them together to tackle their demons. Cassie is a lodestone of forthrightness and intelligence. She had my allegiance from page one. She sees every one of Thaxton's flaws, but she also sees the light peeking out behind his mountain of burden. Thaxton is beating a path to his grave until he meets Cassie. And to his credit, he sees her for what she is, too, and cannot abide the thought of all her light and intelligence being thrown away on a beetle like Markwick. Their midnight rambles, their middle-of-the-maze assignations, crept into my affections in no time. I believed how they felt about one another. I trusted them to find a way out of the labyrinth.
"It is a consistent worry of mine how little you value your life," she said.
He did not answer, and it made the portrait room too soundless, like an unused church. As if the air had gone stale. He had worn grey—why had he done that? His eyes matched the fabric, and it rendered his whole form drawn and sad. Ashen. Half in and half out of this world. Like an apparition.
She had fallen in love with a ghost.
The novel's ongoing themes of what it means to truly be alive and how certain ways of going about one's life can actually be a kind of slow death were thoughtfully explored, the forays into nineteenth century spiritualism fascinating and amusing. I find my only complaint with Evelyn Pryce novels is that I wish them longer, so that I can spend more time unraveling the threads of the tale along with the characters I've fallen in love with. But this one does work itself up to a properly smashing conclusion, complete with pistols at dawn and Cassie at her most brilliant. Neither Thaxton nor I could look away....more
You guys. I've been waiting to fall this year. I've been waiting for that first review (embarrassingly late, I knOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
You guys. I've been waiting to fall this year. I've been waiting for that first review (embarrassingly late, I know) to need to be written. I've been reading and reading. And I've really liked a number of things (reviews on those to come, promise). But the night before last I fell into a book that filled me up in just the way I needed to kick me into gear to talk about it. Which is good, because you'll want to pick this one up. His Road Home by Anna Richland is a contemporary novella that I wished was twice as long as it was because I didn't want to be separated from the characters and their compelling situation by its ending. Happily, according to Richland's acknowledgments at the end, we may have a sequel to look forward to in the near future. This is my first outing with Ms. Richlands writing, and I picked it up based on my trusty Chachic's rating over on GoodReads.
Grace Kim's fairly straightforward (very quiet) life is thrown into rather spectacular upheaval when media outlets across the country report her engagement to wounded war hero Reynaldo Cruz. To say that she is shocked is the wildest of understatements. His name rings the vaguest of bells, as the two did grow up in the same small town in Washington state. But their lives followed radically different paths after high school. Grace got her PhD in marine biology and spends most of her time with obscure fish species. Reynaldo trained in the military and shipped off to Afghanistan. But when Rey tries to get out of an arranged marriage by faking an engagement to that smart girl back home and then steps on a land mine and finds himself at Walter Reed without his legs, things get . . . complicated. The two finally "meet" for the first time at the hospital. Grace is determined to untangle the lie and escape, while Rey is monumentally embarrassed and all set to let her, particularly as he is suffering from a traumatic brain injury that's left him fighting aphasia. But somehow . . . she comes back the next day. Somehow, his explanation haltingly drifts out, in one word, then two, then three. And somehow a decision is made to work through this exquisitely knotty situation together.
I really couldn't look away from Grace & Rey. Their story is such a quiet one, and not just because of Rey's struggle to speak coherently. Grace leads a very solitary life. It isn't easy for her to step into the role of fake fiancée, even long enough to figure out why a man like Rey would link himself to a woman like her. But after the initial shock and bafflement . . . they see each other. In that hospital room, in his crazy car on a drive back across the country, as they text each night for months while Grace is away on a research trip. And it's beautiful how gradually their friendship and growing feelings for each other unfold. Rey is as tough as they come. His determination to pick up his life, to adapt to his new prosthetic legs, and to not let Grace go (if she comes to want to keep him, too) was a pleasure to witness. Everything about their progression felt natural to me. They said (or texted) the things you would. There were no nasty recriminations, but merely the ones you would by all means expect. Nothing about the restrained and eloquent storytelling is rushed in the interests of manufacturing a desired effect on the reader. In fact, the reader is given just enough time in each protagonist's head to garner respect, affection, and a truly breathtaking empathy for them both, even as they are doing the same for each other. It was such a sweet experience reading His Road Home. I needed it....more
And we have the second Pennyroyal Green novel I've loved in as many months. This one was just light and lovely from start to finish. And yet the mainAnd we have the second Pennyroyal Green novel I've loved in as many months. This one was just light and lovely from start to finish. And yet the main characters had a weight to them that worked for me. Lavay and Elise's story is small and on the quiet side, enclosed as it is within the walls of the home he cannot break out of and that she is determined to infuse with light. I continue to appreciate the ways in which Ms. Long pauses to allow light to fall on the quiet, yet vital observations her characters make as her story rolls along....more
I have thoroughly enjoyed Emma Barry's Easy Part series. But this one is, hands down, my favorite. Lydia and Michael are unrelentingly awesome throughI have thoroughly enjoyed Emma Barry's Easy Part series. But this one is, hands down, my favorite. Lydia and Michael are unrelentingly awesome throughout, and their charisma and hilarity, their fears and their weariness made me fall in love with them immediately. Their exchanges are incredibly intelligent, filled with genuine respect, care, and humor. I loved all of their encounters. But when it came to Michael's closing pitch—that one was my favorite....more
I don't often do Civil War novels these days. I think Cold Mountain was the last one I read (and loved). One can only take so much crushing of one'sI don't often do Civil War novels these days. I think Cold Mountain was the last one I read (and loved). One can only take so much crushing of one's soul in a decade. But. This Molly O'Keefe historical qualifies as Reconstruction Era. Also—it is completely lovely. Such a sweet and unexpected find this year....more
I love this series. Ms. Briggs demonstrates such a sure hand with it. I don't know that I've ever enjoyed a portrait of a marriage as much in an urbanI love this series. Ms. Briggs demonstrates such a sure hand with it. I don't know that I've ever enjoyed a portrait of a marriage as much in an urban fantasy/paranormal series. Charles & Anna are solid as they come. ...more
This was by far my favorite of Ms. Bowen's Gravity series. Callie and Hank were a hit. I enjoyed reading every bit of their reluctant relationship forThis was by far my favorite of Ms. Bowen's Gravity series. Callie and Hank were a hit. I enjoyed reading every bit of their reluctant relationship form. There's no deus ex machina here. Just a sweet, strong story of love and healing. ...more
Almost every night, between nine and ten past, Lainie Graham passionately kissed her ex-boyfriend. She was then gruesomely dead by ten o'clock, stabbe
Almost every night, between nine and ten past, Lainie Graham passionately kissed her ex-boyfriend. She was then gruesomely dead by ten o'clock, stabbed through the neck by a jealous rival. If she was scheduled to perform in the weekend matinee, that was a minimum of six uncomfortable kisses a week. More, if the director called an extra rehearsal or the alternate actor was ill.
This one took me by surprise with its sincerity and charm. And with the unexpectedly lovely match its leading lady and man make. Lainie and Richard are forced into a fake relationship for the sake of Richard's career, things run rather the direction you might expect from there. The thing is, they do so in such a well-paced manner. Despite the set up, nothing about this charming novel is too fast, too forced, or too fake. On the contrary, I cared more than I bargained for. And was so very happy when the curtain closed....more
I discovered Susanna Kearsley's books a few years ago through the utterly wonderful The Winter Sea. It was love from start to finish with that book, and I eagerly checked out a few more of her backlist. I never fell quite as hard with the others as I did with The Winter Sea though, and so when I heard about A Desperate Fortune it didn't automatically zip to the top of my TBR. But then my friend Beth read and loved it and did that thing where she smiles enigmatically and says, "You'll have to tell me when you've read it." Implying that I will. And that it will likely go well. I trust her implicitly. But I am a bit of an uncooperative reading soul these days, and so I knew I would come to it when I came to it. Attempting to force things lately tends to backfire spectacularly. Then the other night I crawled into bed and cast about. As one does. I figured I'd give it a shot. Just the first few pages. Just to see . . .
Sara Thomas has learned how to manage her life. She prefers to work alone when at all possible. She plays Sudoku when she gets anxious. She occasionally meets someone she's interested in seeing more. It lasts a few weeks, and then she ends it before she has to explain why it won't work long-term. She has her beloved cousin Jacqui to point her in the right direction in social situations, or provide her with the necessary reprieve as needed. So when Jacqui comes to her with an intriguing proposition related to one of her famous historians, Sara is interested. Having always loved code-breaking, she takes on the challenge of deciphering the fragment, only to find out the next step is a trip to France and the overwhelming task of deciphering the entirety of a young woman's journal. A young woman from the 18th century. Mary Dundas was born a Scot but raised in France. Her unusual tale takes her from the French countryside to the heart of Paris to the shadow Jacobite court in Rome. And Sara is along for the ride as she moves temporarily into the home of the woman who currently owns the journal and learns to navigate life in a small French village and the kind advances of an unusual family that lives there.
I'm such a sucker for a Jacobite Rebellion tale. This likely dates all the way back to Patricia Calvert's wonderful Hadder MacColl, which I read and loved as a kid. It was encouraged on by Jennifer Roberson's Lady of the Glen, which I read and loved as a teen. Ms. Kearsley excels at the time period as well, and her books have been such a delight to discover and love as an adult. As is often the case with a Kearsley book, I fell in love with the characters in the contemporary storyline first. I was fond of Sara instantly, as she matter-of-factly outlined her life with Asperger's, her reliance on her cousin Jacqui's social cues and advice, and her foray into amateur code-breaking as a form of independence in France. It took me a bit longer to warm up to Mary Dundas and her perilous journey. I am known to struggle with a road trip, but as soon as Mary made her way to Paris and took up the reins of her ruse, I fell into her story as well. The introduction of one mysterious Highlander by the name of MacPherson did not hurt in the slightest. As lasting imagery from this novel goes, it is those atmospheric scenes from Mary's life that linger in my mind. The unsettling glow of MacPherson's pipe lighting in a dark room. The tucking of a small dog into a rough cloak as tired feet press on. Two figures standing quietly just inches apart near the bridges of Rome.
But my favorite scene of all (which I can't resist quoting a bit of for you here) comes from Sara's story. Sara's and Luc's.
"Luc." I felt a sudden weight within my chest, a pressing sadness as I realized he was wanting something more than I could give him; something more than just a simple holiday romance. "I don't . . . I can't . . ." He mattered more than any of the others had, and so it hurt me more to disappoint him, but that only made it more important he should hear the truth. "I can't sustain a real relationship. I always mess things up." I'd meant to state that calmly as a fact, but my voice wobbled on the final words and Luc's own voice grew gentle in response.
"How do you mess things up?"
In every way conceivable, I could have told him. "I just do."
"It might not happen this time."
"Yes, it will. It always does. I'm just not capable—"
"Who told you that?" His words, still quiet, cut across my own with an insistence that I simply couldn't bring myself to answer, so I briefly closed my eyes and closed my mind against the memories.
Luc fell silent too, and when my eyes came open he was watching me. Not crowding me, but standing close enough that I was very much aware of him.
He asked me, "If you could . . . if you were capable of having a relationship, would you want one with me?"
"You like me."
"Good. So your plan was that we should spend time with each other, and then you would leave me?"
Luc gave a nod, and remarkably I saw the curve of his smile. "What?" I asked.
"It's a terrible plan." He came closer. "No, really, you need to revise it. I'll help you."
Two lovely, very subtle romances thread their way through the dual timelines. I found myself immeasurably charmed by both of them. The pacing on the whole is quite slow, languorously so. But my interest and attention never flagged. It merely meant my consumption of the novel was a more leisurely and relaxed affair—an experience I thoroughly treasure. Susanna Kearsley's books always feel like the warmth of a fire on a winter night to me. If you find yourself with a few hours to spend on a cozy evening in the near future, I can't think of a more enjoyable read to tuck in with than A Desperate Fortune. I'll be gifting it this holiday season for sure....more
Good heavens, this was delightful. I'd tried a couple of Ms. Long's Pennyroyal Green books before without much success and had essentially written offGood heavens, this was delightful. I'd tried a couple of Ms. Long's Pennyroyal Green books before without much success and had essentially written off the series. Happily, I listened to my friend Michelle's recommendation and snagged this one at the library. Lurid cover (and limp title) aside, I fell immediately in love with Genevieve and Alex. On the face of things, it was never going to work for me. It's a bit of a May-December romance. There's a revenge plot sure to devastate one of the primary parties. The heroine is hopelessly hung up on the childhood friend who's in love with the other childhood friend. Etc.
But. But somehow it works just brilliantly. It's hilarious and wrenching and just smooth as silk. With a genuinely heart-in-your-throat ending to boot. A keeper for sure....more
There's nothing wrong with this story, per se. It caught my attention right away and held it for the first half of the book. Meet cute designed to makThere's nothing wrong with this story, per se. It caught my attention right away and held it for the first half of the book. Meet cute designed to make book lovers grin. Believable, if simple, backstories for both leads. But then the whole thing went on to remain so clear-eyed and earnest that that simplicity began to pall. I finished it, but the bloom was well off the rose by the time I did....more
Pretty sure this is my favorite of Jessica Clare's Billionaire books. Something about Edie's incredibly unapologetic way of conducting her life mixedPretty sure this is my favorite of Jessica Clare's Billionaire books. Something about Edie's incredibly unapologetic way of conducting her life mixed with Magnus' drive and ability to adapt won the day for me. I loved it and got a kick out of the fun ways Ms. Clare adapted Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew with a modern day cat lady and billionaire game developer (the things you never expect to find yourself typing . . . )....more
Everything about this series closer felt anemic, including Joe Travis, who came off as simply too good to be true. In a flat way. I finished it, but tEverything about this series closer felt anemic, including Joe Travis, who came off as simply too good to be true. In a flat way. I finished it, but the whole time I was missing the depth and heart of Blue-Eyed Devil....more
So, cards on the table? This is my favorite cover of the year. Actually, my favorite book design of the year fullOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
So, cards on the table? This is my favorite cover of the year. Actually, my favorite book design of the year full stop. The pages are all edged black, which is just exquisitely pleasing on a level I would never have expected, particularly set as they are against the blood red endpapers. I cannot stop touching them, even now that I'm done. The feathers and towers motif repeats itself throughout on each of the chapter title pages, and it is just a visceral pleasure every time. If you haven't picked up a copy in person, do yourself a favor and drop in at your favorite bookstore whether you plan on buying a copy or not, just for the treat of paging through this gorgeous book. That said, I feel it's important to point out that I was not a fan of Ms. Bardugo's Grisha trilogy. I crapped out partway through the first book, as the characters were just persistently doing nothing for me. But when I heard Leigh Bardugo would be appearing at my local indie bookstore as part of the Six of Crows tour, something in me just clicked and I knew this book would be the one for me.
A thread of evil is wending its way through the admittedly quite evil already streets of Ketterdam. Someone is forcibly administering a deadly drug to Grisha and using the wildly enhanced powers it induces until they're nothing but dried up husks. When the thread finds its way to criminal mastermind Kaz Brekker's shady door, he decides it's time for a little fun/profit. Kaz rounds up the six choicest of his ragtag thieves and thugs from the Dregs in order to pull off the heist of the century. Accompanied by Inej the Wraith, Nina the Heartrender, Jesper the sharpshooter, Matthias the convict, and Wylan the demolition man/flautist, Kaz plans to break into the fabled Ice Court and steal a very wanted man in exchange for rather a hefty sum. To be split six ways. Most of the gang have a reason or six to need their cut of the take; all of them have a reason trust Kaz. And so they agree (or have their arms sufficiently twisted) to take part in the insane scheme, despite (or perhaps because of) the swirling dynamics of resentment, hope, and hatred that pervade every aspect the group. Whether they make it out alive almost seems beside the point.
Kaz Brekker didn't need a reason.
Ever since that introductory line, I have had a bit of a Kaz problem. It's like Leigh Bardugo was aware I'd been pining for a really good thief for awhile now and decided to take pity on me and deliver, oh, just one of the best to ever crawl out of a city slum and become de facto leader of an underworld empire. And make no mistake—Kaz is utterly ruthless. There is no soft underbelly to this close-lipped, leather-gloved, cane-wielding dark genius. The thing about Kaz, though, is that he is all in. And what he lacks in softness he more than makes up for in absolute magnetism and an ever-so-slowly unfolding history that I had no interest in looking away from. And that history only begins to unfold once the reader, too, has become a part of the inner circle. The other thing about Kaz is that he had the clever sense to find and retain Inej. And Inej is awesome. She works as the top spy for the Dregs and answers only (if and when she chooses to) to Kaz. Only she sees him without his gloves on. Only she is able to disappear into a thread of smoke, out of the clutches of the rival gangs who scrabble for power in the Barrel. An early encounter:
"Were you trained as a dancer?"
"An acrobat." She paused. "My family . . . we're all acrobats."
"And swings. Juggling. Tumbling."
"Did you work with a net?"
"Only when I was very little."
"Good. There aren't any nets in Ketterdam. Have you ever been in a fight?"
She shook her head.
Her eyes widened. "No."
"Ever think about it?"
She paused and then crossed her arms. "Every night."
I love them. And if I fell in love with these two the fastest, it was only because they clawed their way in first. But I found myself enamored of all six of these hoodlums in very little time at all. So much so that it's difficult to talk about them, where they are now, and what might become of them, particularly Nina and Matthias. It's worth mentioning that the overarching issues remain unresolved at the wild and breathtaking conclusion of this volume. The sequel (it is to be a duet, a duology, a lovely two-book entity, what have you) is due out next fall, so getting yourself into it will ensure a fair bit of agony. But what are we bibliophiles if not up for a little drawn-out angst? I cannot imagine my reading year without this gem. It was the absolute highlight—young adult fantasy at its most entertaining, full of killer charm and a killer instinct. Like Kaz, I'm afraid I am all in. Come what may (and no doubt will), this ride is worth its weight in cold, hard kruge. No mourners. No funerals. ...more
One of the most pleasurable reviews I've written this year was the one I wrote in January for Every Breath—the fOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
One of the most pleasurable reviews I've written this year was the one I wrote in January for Every Breath—the first book in Ellie Marney's spectacularly good teen Sherlock Holmes series. I enjoyed the book so much and was so blasted eager to spread the word. Now I'm even more over the moon to tell you I've read Every Word, and it is every bit as good as the first. In fact, it's better. Everything that was good in Every Breath is essentially ratcheted up in this sophomore entry, and there isn't one misstep along the way. I was on the edge of my seat for every page. I was that worried about my beloved Watts and Mycroft. And with excellent reason. Ms. Marney spends zero time beating about the bush and jumps right into pulse-pounding action and gut-wrenching emotion. Which, as you know, basically means I was in heaven from start to finish.
It's not that Rachel Watts would have preferred to have been able to say goodbye to her sometime partner/accomplice James Mycroft before he left for parts unknown. It's that she absolutely cannot believe he left without her, let alone without telling her. Knowing he's still on the trail of unraveling his parents' tragic deaths, she doesn't trust him at all on his own in London investigating an eerily similar car crash to the one that orphaned him. And so it's not a question of if, but when she will hare off after him. She's prepared for the supreme lack of welcome she'll receive when he finds out she's followed him. But she can't let him face that many demons alone and is determined to back him up in whatever capacity he needs. What she doesn't expect is how thorny a "simple" forensics investigation becomes once it expands to include additional murders and the disappearance of a copy of Shakespeare's First Folio. Together, the two dogged investigators must navigate the increasingly treacherous waters of a multifaceted mystery as well as their own knotty relationship.
But in that second, in his face, I see the whole world. I finally understand something crucial.
James Mycroft did die in that car crash seven years ago. Seeing what he saw, experiencing all that pain, that ten-year-old boy passed away. The person who returned was not the same. He was changed so completely, so physically and mentally transformed, it was as though a whole different individual was born. A different boy, living in a different place, with a guardian and no parents, a boy with no past and only one name . . .
All the blood rushes out of my cheeks as that name falls off my lips. "Mycroft . . . "
I'm such a worrier. I always worry when I know an installment in a series is going to switch up locations on me, even when that means spending the majority of the story in London. I should learn to just roll with the punches, but I never seem to. So I was apprehensive that Watts-and-Mycroft might not translate as well in a new locale, and I was even more concerned about the obstacles they would encounter and how Mycroft would handle Watts flagrantly disobeying his wishes and inserting herself (even farther) into his most private pain. Of course, none of it turned out to be a problem whatsoever. I mean, it's far from smooth sailing. There's pain and anger galore, and everyone gets hurts and alternately holds it in and has it out with the objects of their pain and anger. But it's all so gloriously done that it only endeared these characters and their story to me further. Watts is spectacularly direct when it comes to Mycroft and his massive issues. When he throws out another wild pitch, she doesn't even flinch but watches it sail by and then raises a metaphorical eyebrow at his display. It was hugely gratifying, watching them negotiate one another, to say nothing of the brilliance that is their combined deductive exploits. Truly, together they are a force to be reckoned with.
Which is not to say that they don't struggle mightily (and on every front) in this book. Because if ever a book was fraught, it's this one. I was prepared for a lot of things, but I wasn't prepared for how dire it got in the end, for just how far through the fire Marney was going to drag her two protagonists. It was incredibly effective in ensuring that I was with them. The peril felt almost unbearably real. But the wonderful bit is that through all the anxiety and grim darkness are woven the most beautiful threads of love and hope. Along with a downright explosive amount of chemistry. These two, you guys. Seriously. I want to quote each of my favorite exchanges here, but they are all far too spoilery. So I will content myself with assuring you of the excellence of the storytelling and imploring you to read it, too, so that Watts and Mycroft will have more of us on their side when they confront the fallout of what they've done in the next volume. I, for one, am terrified. Deliciously so....more
So The Boy Most Likely To put me right back in the mood for some solid contemporary YA. I immediately turned toOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
So The Boy Most Likely To put me right back in the mood for some solid contemporary YA. I immediately turned to my ARC of Nicola Yoon's debut novel Everything, Everything. I'd been looking forward to this one for awhile but holding onto it until starting it felt right. I can't be the only one who does that, can I? Ours is not to question why and all that, I suppose, but seriously why sometimes can I not just dive right into a book I've been dying for the moment it finds its way into my grabby little hands? Frustrating doesn't even begin to cover it. In any event. I'd also been meaning to feature this cover on a pretties post for awhile and just never got around to it. But can we go ahead and just take a moment now? Because it's just perfect, even more so after having read the book. I can't wait to pick up my copy in person and just . . . stroke it.
Madeline Whittier has no memory of ever being outside of her house. Afflicted with a genetic disorder known as SCID, she risks death in short order should she venture out of the confines of her immaculately sanitized home. And so she floats through her days taking courses online, playing phonetic Scrabble with her mother, exchanging jokes and book recommendations with her longtime nurse Carla, and making notes, doodles, and lists upon lists about what life would be like. If. Then. Then Olly moves in next door, and everything changes. Suddenly Maddy's days fill up with all sorts of new things. From Olly's messages written in marker on his window and their daily IM and email sessions to her mounting curiosity over what he gets up to when he climbs up onto the roof of his house and her concern over how dangerous his father's abusive outbursts may actually be. The question is how long will this virtual relationship they've struck up (and the glimpse of the outside world Olly provides) last before they just won't be enough anymore?
Maddy is irresistible. I absolutely loved Olly as well, with his unrelieved black and his Spider-man tendencies. And the two of them together are charming beyond measure. But Maddy is the reason to pick up this book. The way she narrates her life—its limitations, the only color in it provided by the book spines lining her room—is simple, open, and mesmerizing. It is the opposite of difficult falling into her daily routine, into her complicated relationship with her mother, into irrevocable love with the boy next door. She intersperses her words with charming doodles and drawings illustrating the quintessentially Maddy way she sees her place in the world. I was behind her from the opening lines as I watched her carefully compose and write her "Reward If Found (check all that apply)" lists inside the flap of each new book she gets. As she read Flowers for Algernon over and over again, waiting for that day when it wouldn't make her cry. Throughout the book, even when I felt the inclination to question her decisions (and believe me—I did—particularly at two pivotal moments when life, the universe, and everything felt like they were going to spiral out to sea), I found myself giving Maddy the benefit of the doubt. And she always came through. Her reasoning felt consistent to me, her rationales never drifting so far from the vicinity of the reality she was given that I couldn't find it in me to follow. Much like Olly, I was never going to tell her no.
A favorite snippet between Maddy and her mom regarding Olly:
"Tell me about him," she says.
I've wanted to tell her about him for so long, but now I'm not sure where to begin. My heart is so full of him. So, I begin at the beginning. I tell her about seeing him for the first time, about the way he moves—light and fluid and certain. I tell her about his ocean eyes and callused fingers. I tell her how he's less cynical than he thinks he is. About his awful dad, about his dubious wardrobe choices.
I tell her that he thinks I'm funny and smart and beautiful in that order, and that the order matters.
It does matter. Pretty much everything about this lovely novel mattered to me....more
I think I've been quietly missing the Garretts for the last three years. I remember picking up My Life Next DoorOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I think I've been quietly missing the Garretts for the last three years. I remember picking up My Life Next Door based on its comparisons to Anna and the French Kiss and being pleasantly surprised at how thoughtful an exploration it was of families and first loves. And while I swooned over Jase and Sam right along with every other reader with a pulse, it was those forbidden Garrets that kept me thoroughly enthralled. Which is why my anticipation grew daily from the moment I heard about The Boy Most Likely To right up until release day. And then, perversely, when it finally came I worried. What if the balance is off? What if Tim isn't redeemable? What if (as was a touch true in the first book) Alice-and-Tim weren't the equals I wanted them to be? The thousand niggling questions of an anxious, but resolute reader such as myself . . . But, happily, the pull of returning to the cozy kitchen of the Garretts didn't allow me to hold out for long. And it was a warm welcome back indeed.
Tim Mason doesn't expect anyone to believe him. He knows that ship sailed years ago when he started drinking, got his very own dealer, and required oblivion in order to get by. Now he's clean, sober, and being kicked out of his father's house at last. Already kicked out of high school, he takes his best friend Jase up on his offer of a place to stay, packs a single box, and moves into the dilapidated apartment over the Garrett's garage. But when Jase's older sister Alice discovers her little brother has up and allowed his deadbeat friend to move into the apartment she wanted, that trouble Tim can never seem to escape begins brewing once more. It doesn't help that he's had a crush on Alice forever and that her dolt of a jock boyfriend keeps giving him the evil eye anytime he comes within a five mile radius of Alice. Of course, Alice can take care of herself. She's been keeping herself as well as her entire motley family afloat since the car accident that put her dad in the hospital, thank you very much. And she has no time for a boy who's proven time and again that he wants nothing more from life than a good time.
I love Alice, and you know why? Because she gives approximately zero damns about Tim from the word go. She has her priorities set, she knows what she wants, and she works so freaking hard to take care of the people in her care. Never mind that she never asked for seven siblings with another on the way and that she may have to defer nursing school again if those hospital bills keep coming. I love Tim, too, and you know why? Because he's serious about changing his life in his way. He may have no earthly idea how, but his eyes are clear despite being clouded for years. He sees Alice, recognizes what she is, and he never messes around with her. Despite their tacitly acknowledged attraction. Living in such close proximity to one another does lead to something of a softening of enemy lines, especially as Tim is incapable of turning the flirting off when it comes to Alice, even as he knows she's too good for him on pretty much every level. But just when things are maybe sort of starting to look up, his past comes back to haunt him in the most serious of ways.
What I love is that the whole debacle never grows too overwrought, that Alice accepts the latest of Tim's mess-ups just like she does every other blow she's taken standing up in her life. Which is not to say that she doesn't give him the grief he deserves over it. Which is also not to say that Tim doesn't accept said grief as his due. She just doesn't let it derail her, which is one of the best of many things about Alice. And he doesn't let it destroy him. Which is, yeah, one of a host of things I just really loved about Tim. The pain is there, and it is real. Along with the daily, crushing uncertainty of youth. The creeping sense that you may not be able to escape your past (in Tim's case) or your present bonds (in Alice's). The lovely bit is the way Huntley Fitzpatrick works it all out, the way Tim and Alice's story unfolds against the backdrop of all of the messy, wonderful Garretts, Tim's twin sister Nan's struggles, as well as the quietly supportive and aching additions of his fellow AA members. The way that with increased clarity comes the realization that escape doesn't necessarily have to be the goal. A pivotal scene told from Alice's point of view when she comes to understand Tim's situation a little more clearly:
I carry both mugs from the kitchen, set his down in front of him.
“Look. Stay. I mean . . . I can wait. It’s only fair. Jase didn’t know I wanted it anyway. Four months is nothing. You can be here for four months and then . . . “ I trail off.
Troubled gray eyes search my face for a long time. Finally, he sighs, shakes his head. “Nah. I’ll find somewhere else. You deserve it. You’ve earned it.”
Like a home’s something you have to earn when you’re seventeen.
He’s a kid. Not a man, not on some deadline. But with his jaw set and raised—I know that face. The I’m going to push on through, no problem, I’ll deal. Moving right along. Nothing to see here face. Know it as well as my own. It is my own. And I picture the rest of the lines on that paper.
Tim Mason: The Boy Most Likely To . . . Forget his own name even before we do Turn down the hottest girl in the world for the coldest beer Be six feet under by our fifth reunion
Don’t go that way, Tim. Such a stupid, stupid waste. “I mean it,” I say aloud. “Stay.”
“I want you here,” I add, my cheeks flaring. He shifts on the couch and I’m hyper-aware of him next to me, the smell of soap and shampoo, the heat of him, the alive of him.
My words fall into the silence, and something changes. Tim’s shoulders straighten. He stills, but not frozen, more like . . . more like . . . alert.
“Yeah? Then . . . I’ll be here,” he says quietly.
The narrative alternates back and forth between Tim and Alice's perspectives, a touch that I appreciated and one that definitely aids in the reader having enough time with them to not only love, but get, these two individuals. No one has an easy time of it, and I wasn't sure at times things were going to work out in a way that felt both realistic and well (not a requirement, but frequently a hope). But it was such an enjoyable journey, and it has a last line that sticks with you the way I always want them to. Even now—a couple of days later—I'm murmuring it to myself as my lips curve in a satisfied smile....more
This is really such an insulated series, and I mean that in the best sense. It wraps itself around you, and the world outside the winding streets of EThis is really such an insulated series, and I mean that in the best sense. It wraps itself around you, and the world outside the winding streets of Edinburgh just sort of slips away. I was really quite sad to see the series end. Some installments worked for me much better than others, but I felt that Grace & Logan's story was a fitting way to bring it to a close....more
There's nothing else to say but that this book was a huge disappointment to me. After falling head over heels in love with the first book in the serieThere's nothing else to say but that this book was a huge disappointment to me. After falling head over heels in love with the first book in the series, I could hardly wait to get my hands on the second. Unfortunately, none of the wonderful atmosphere and compelling characterization from Pairing Off made an appearance in this sophomore volume. Instead, we got a mindlessly inane reality show (I realize it was intended to be), and a wet blanket protagonist who was equally as mindlessly inane.
Hannah fell into every plot and character cliche I could think of, and it is difficult to root for a girl who persists in being so dense until literally the final pages of the novel. She lacked any semblance of gumption. Vlad, on the other hand, was quite lovely, but we are given precious little time in his company and no time at all in which the two of them grow organically together. Until the end, which was simply far too little far too late for this reader.
That said, I do hope a third novel in the series is forthcoming as Harmon made it evident in the first book how talented she is, and I have hopes we'll see a return to form in future installments....more
This one was trundling along fine until the scene in his freaking study when he THROWS THE KEY ON THE FLOOR. At which point, I was like, Dude, I will see you in hell, and washed my hands of him. There was just no coming back from that for me. And, yeah, it probably was more benign than I took it to be. And, yeah, I've likely forgiven far bigger literary rakes far worse crimes. But something about Quinn heroes tends to rub me wrong, and it in that moment my hatred coalesced something fierce.
She can be (and is in this book, too) quite charming. It just doesn't seem to last long enough to win the day for me somehow. I'm beginning to suspect Julia Quinn is the Sarah Dessen of historical romance. Everyone I respect loves her and she does next to nothing for me.
Am I being crotchety enough?
I may have sabotaged myself by rereading my favorite three MacLeans in a row before starting this one. Sigh....more
Now, my reaction is in part due to the near universal love I know this book has from readers. And part due toWARNING: Ranty potential spoilers ahead.
Now, my reaction is in part due to the near universal love I know this book has from readers. And part due to my own high hopes after taking a self-imposed Marchetta break after falling MADLY in love with Jellicoe and then being thoroughly let down by Finnickin. But I told myself this year would be the year I read more Marchetta and that the time off was just what I'd needed. So I went in with . . . well, pretty high hopes.
Dude. Are we seriously supposed to like Will?! I mean. We're supposed to feel sad he's going away to Europe for a year and hope when he gets back they'll be together? Because the boy is laaaaaaaame. He kept wringing his bloody hands and moaning how complicated it was as a reason for NOT BREAKING UP WITH HIS GIRLFRIEND AFTER KISSING FRANKIE. And I kept breathing heavily through my nose and telling myself surely he had good reasons and they would be super complicated (and hopefully a smidgen sympathetic) and then I would not be forced to dislike him so intensely and maybe come around to wanting them to be together. And what do we get? NADA. No explanation, no nothing. He just realized it would be easier than he thought and so he did it. And Frankie's supposed to be thrilled. And worse? SHE IS. I mean, the two of them had maybe one good exchange where I smiled and thought ah, maybe. And she talked a good talk about being strong and not needing him and even in the end wanting to save herself. But I wasn't buying it. I couldn't. Nothing in this book felt deep enough to me to dig into my emotional center and elicit anything.
And I feel terrible about that. Not enough to wipe away my anger and disappointment, but I finished last night feeling pretty terrible at not loving it the way I wanted to and the way I know so many of you do. It's like Frankie-Landau Banks. OMG, DO I HAVE SOME KIND OF BLOCK WITH FRANKIE BOOKS???
Anyway, I saw what Marchetta was doing and it had good shape and potential and whatnot, but I never fell in love. I never really felt her relationship with her mother. I wanted more of their history, more bonding with her "new" friends at St. Sebastian's than a couple of nights watching Austen, more Thomas Mackee and Jimmy Hailler, and more for the love of all that is holy from William Freaking Trombal.
I eagerly delved into Naomi Novik's standalone fantasy, having heard rave reports of her Temeraire series for yeOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I eagerly delved into Naomi Novik's standalone fantasy, having heard rave reports of her Temeraire series for years, but for some reason having not read them. It's often easier for me to dive into a standalone with a new author than it is a series it seems. The blurbs from luminaries such as Tamora Pierce and Maggie Stiefvater (and the comparisons to my beloved Robin McKinley) did not hurt things one bit. And the opening chapter is absolute perfection. I knew I was in for something special right off the bat. And, having finished Uprooted, I stand by my feelings that it is something special and absolutely worth your time and money investment, even if my overall impression came off not quite as glowing and awed as I might have hoped. It's worth taking a moment to admire that beautiful cover. My, how I love it. And the UK edition is glorious in a very different way. Lucky book, to be so beautifully packaged on both sides of the pond.
Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.
And so opens Agnieszka's story. Hers is a Slavic-feeling fairy tale worthy of any Grimm wordsmith. The land and history are utterly developed and weighty with the years of folk tales, villagers, royalty, and political machinations that have shaped it into the place Agnieszka calls home. When she is chosen to apprentice to the legendary Dragon in place of her beautiful and fierce friend Kasia, she immediately fills with every fear every village girl has felt since the selection began. Her time in the ageless wizard's castle is a brutal education and the two get off to the rockiest of starts. His disdain for her plainness and disinterest in his lofty spells fairly drips from the page, mucking up Agnieszka's every waking moment. But when her uncanny ability with more organic magic comes into its own, their partnership begins to take on a more even and compelling nature. Of course, the aforementioned political and monarchical machinations come into play before they can really get off the ground, and the truly terrifying forest surrounding them begins to threaten the lives of every member of the kingdom.
There is almost nothing not to love about Uprooted. From its implacable protagonist to the hearty elements of horror embodied by the terrifying denizens of the Wood, the elements of Novik's fairy tale are woven together with love, care, and a meticulous attention to what makes up a riveting tale. To say nothing of the utterly brilliant homage to Robin McKinley's work itself in the form of the legendary Luthe's Summoning spell, which no one has successfully cast in fifty years. Be still my heart, people. That alone is worth the price of admission. My only quibble is that I felt a small but persistent lack of attachment to the main characters. Make no mistake, I was incredibly fond of them from the start. The Dragon himself reminded me in no small way of Diana Wynne Jones' Howl, which I know will endear him to countless readers. And the comparisons to McKinley and Marillier are there without a doubt. My heart ached with loss on a number of occasions, as Novik clearly understands the price that must be paid when playing with magic and hubris on such a grand scale. However. Unlike McKinley's and Marillier's characters, I struggled a bit to hang on to Agnieszka and the Dragon. I admired them, smiled at them, and worried about them. But I can't say I loved them. They didn't become a part of me the way so many of my favorite characters do. I'm not sure if the fault is with me (since mine may well be the only dissenting voice on this aspect of the book), but while I loved the experience of reading it and have gained a wonderful appreciation for Ms. Novik's skill as a storyteller, I can tell it will not make my regular rotation of rereads, which is possibly more a reflection of my particular taste these days (perhaps more pages with Agnieszka and the Dragon actually within at least five miles of each other would have ameliorated this feeling of emotional distance) and not in any way an indictment of the book itself, which is a thing of beautiful craftsmanship....more
Not the best NA I've read, not the worst. Definitely the first Cormack I've enjoyed. And I did enjoy it. Somewhere around the last third it lost someNot the best NA I've read, not the worst. Definitely the first Cormack I've enjoyed. And I did enjoy it. Somewhere around the last third it lost some of its steam, but I finished and didn't regret it. It's worth mentioning that the whole before-I-graduate-from-college, socially-awkward-but-highly-intelligent-girl making a bucket list trope did periodically make me wish I was just reading Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake, but hey. I knew what it was when I picked it up....more
I was pretty excited when I first heard about Re Jane. A contemporary Korean American retelling of Jane Eyre? YeOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I was pretty excited when I first heard about Re Jane. A contemporary Korean American retelling of Jane Eyre? Yes, please. It's one of my favorite classics, and one I've had success (and some failures) with the retelling thereof. Authors do love to tinker with this tale. I've read every kind of version, from scifi and fantasy to steampunk and contemporary, and I am nothing if not up for another go. So I went into Patricia Park's debut novel with somewhat high hopes, even having heard that the Rochester character's wife was in fact alive and kicking and not at all locked up in their Brooklyn brownstone's attic. I decided to give Ms. Park the benefit of the doubt. I also love this cover. So modern, so bright, so full of promise.
Jane Re has thus far lived a lackluster life by most standards. She's spent her whole life under the thumb of her unloving and unmoving aunt and uncle, slaving away in the family grocery store at all hours and never quite managing to live up to expectations or fit into her Korean American Queens neighborhood. Finally, she graduates and, against everyone's better judgement (including possibly her own), takes a job as an au pair for a somewhat unorthodox couple in Brooklyn. The Mazer-Farley household is something of an enigma. Beth Mazer flits around bound and determined to be the most nonjudgmental of free spirits and insists her adopted Chinese daughter Devon and her fellow academic husband Ed follow suit. As Jane settles into her new home, she finds the workings of this unusual family fascinating, but the deeper entrenched she becomes, the harder it is to define just what role she is to play in their lives.
So. My favorite parts of this novel were unquestionably the early sections in which Jane describes her time in Queens, her interactions with her family, and her observations on how isolated she feels from everyone around her. I followed her willingly into the Mazer-Farley's house in her pursuit of something more, of a different kind of life. Her burgeoning relationship with the little girl Devon was, I thought, well-drawn and lovely. Unfortunately, when her relationship extended to falling in something with Ed Farley, my enjoyment came to a sound close. There was some attempt to portray how ill suited Ed and Beth were for each other, to pay lip service to the slow deterioration of their marriage, and to reserve any actual acting on their feelings for after the reader could "reasonably" be expected to have made their peace with the fact (if necessary). And the truth is that my main objections were not solely related to the fact that Jane and Ed were embarking on a relationship while all three adults (all three in possession of their right minds) were living in the same house together with an already conflicted (but brilliant) child there as well. I was actually most put off by the fact that Ed Farley was utterly lifeless and Jane seemed to lose vigor and presence in her own story (and in my mind) with every moment she spent with him.
I realize this is an updated retelling of the original, that it deviates in intentional and important ways, that it is much more about Jane's arc toward independence and self-fulfillment. But. She never resurfaces from her time with Farley. She escapes, feels remorse, and embarks on a journey to her homeland and yet her entire experience in Korea seems to whittle her down even further, until there is so little of the Jane I knew and loved in the beginning that she hardly warrants the name. She makes connections with her family and her past, yes, but it remains stubbornly unclear how these connections will inform her future life. Upon her return to America, I hoped for some revivification. I hoped for some of the wisdom and independence and control the narrative had led me all along to expect at some point. But it never came, or rather it came in name only, spelled out in so many words upon the page but containing in those words none of the actual emotion or heart one might expect to accompany a young woman coming full circle and taking up the reins of her life at last. I closed the book feeling . . . empty mainly....more