This is the first installment in Sherry Thomas' Lady Sherlock series—a gender-swapped retelling of Sherlock HolmOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
This is the first installment in Sherry Thomas' Lady Sherlock series—a gender-swapped retelling of Sherlock Holmes. So basically, my catnip. We are living in an excellent age when it comes to Holmes retellings. From Laurie King's Mary Russell books to Ellie Marney's Every series to the BBC's Sherlock, it's a feast of delights. And since I have been a Sherry Thomas fan for awhile now, I could hardly contain my excitement when I heard she was working on a female Holmes. The glowing cover blurb from Deanna Raybourn certainly didn't hurt.
Charlotte Holmes has taken the mother of all calculated risks and successfully gotten herself thrown out. It all started . . . well, ages ago, really. The youngest of four daughters, with parents who seem to hold nothing but disdain for one another, Charlotte isn't precisely the oddest one in the family. But that's not saying much. She is, however, the most determined to leave her parents' (and society's) expectations behind and embark on the kind of life she has always wanted. The devil, of course, is in the details. And it isn't long before the grim reality of life as a woman alone on the streets of London and in search of respectable work begins to take its toll, particularly as Charlotte is determined to support not only herself but her two sisters as well. However, her sharp intellect and dispassionate approach to humans in general see her in good stead. And if an old friend (and longtime sparring partner) occasionally has her followed for his own reasons, Charlotte can handle it. But when a series of mysterious deaths begin to resemble a connection of sorts, and when her beloved sister Livia's name gets dragged into the mix, Charlotte immediately steps in to clear her sister's name and solve the mystery. Woven through the hunt for the killer are the enigmatic Mrs. Watson, the dogged Inspector Treadles, and the old friend who is never far from her thoughts.
I'll just go ahead and start by saying A Study in Scarlet Women was not at all what I expected! And that is by no means a bad thing. I enjoyed every bit of this twisty, dense, and unconventional tale. I think I just happened to go in with certain assumed parameters, and Sherry Thomas happily conformed to none of them. The story's timeline is quite fluid, and the reader is definitely expected to keep up on several levels. The narrative hops around at will from one point of view to the next, and it is up to Charlotte (when we are with her) and the reader to tease apart and piece back together the many tangled threads. Charlotte herself was a revelation, if an incredibly self-contained one:
Charlotte left her seat and walked to a window. It gave onto the same street where Miss Hartford's carriage had been parked, waiting for her return. The carriage was gone, but in its place, a man stood underneath a streetlamp, reading a newspaper.
At first, she thought he was the man from the carriage. Instead, she recognized him as the one who had waited out the rain across the street from her earlier in the afternoon.
The one she'd suspected of following her.
She was not alarmed. Whoever had commissioned the man's service had not done so with the intention of harming her, but to keep an eye on her.
This did not make her happy—she did not care to be closely monitored. She wasn't angry at the person responsible for this surveillance—in his place she might have done the same. Nevertheless, she wished her secret guardian hadn't felt compelled to be so positioned as to be able to effect a rescue at any moment.
It implied that such a rescue was not only necessary, but imminent.
That she couldn't in good conscience—or cold logic—disagree with the assessment made it feel as if the air was slowly leaking from her lungs.
And that's it right there—perhaps the most affecting aspect of this winding novel—the honest way that it portrays the realities of the lives of the many different women that walk its pages. Like air slowly leaking from their lungs. I was fascinated by (and sympathetic to) each one. Charlotte herself is so quiet. Brisk and concise when she is rattling off a litany of her deductions, yes. But quiet. And quietly perplexed by the injustices and inanities perpetrated by and inherent in the people around her. I loved her for that perplexity, for her fierce loyalty to her sisters, for her continual expectations of fairness and opportunity, and for her adamant refusal to leave a certain distant someone well enough alone. We are treated to a few precious, and yes, quiet, exchanges between Charlotte and her old friend. They are enigmatic in the extreme and endlessly complicated, even if we only have the merest sliver of the whole picture at this point in time.
She had very much looked forward to a word in private with him. But she forgot, as she usually did, the silence that always came between them in these latter years, whenever they found themselves alone.
The queer sensation in her chest, however, was all too familiar, that mix of pleasure and pain, never one without the other.
She could have done without those feelings. She would have happily gone her entire life never experiencing the pangs of longing and the futility of regret. He made her human—or as human as she was capable of being. And being human was possibly her least favorite aspect of life.
These two. I have to hold myself back from despairing of them. For how little page time they're actually together, I love them rather a lot. And I don't even really know him. But I hold out hope for more ever-so-gradual unraveling in the coming tales. In the end, this is the most unusual of beginnings—an introduction that requires every ounce of focus its readers have to give, even as it grudgingly reveals a paltry few of its own secrets. My kind of mystery....more
I'm feeling very possessive when it comes to this one, guys. I finished it a few days ago, and it has been a bitOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I'm feeling very possessive when it comes to this one, guys. I finished it a few days ago, and it has been a bit touch and go emotionally since then. You try to find other characters and other places to fill the void, but the truth is—it's not your first rodeo. And you know very well you're not going to simply be able to will the ability to move forward with your life. That you're just going to have to wait it out and mourn having been with Quincy and Arch, er, those characters, as steadily and for as long as you were and then learn to live on a day-to-day basis not being with them. And, yes, I do know they're sitting right there on the shelf whenever I need them. But you know what I mean. You have to somehow get past the end having happened to you, too. And not just to them. The Q is a lovely little (actually gratifyingly thick) standalone historical fiction (with a twist) novel and instant entry on my Best Books of 2016 list. Oh, and lest I forget, that cover. It is everything. With the newsprint? And the crease? And that very particular Q? Everything, I say.
It's worth mentioning that Beth Brower and I are friends. And that while I've talked about and spotlighted her work several times on the blog, I haven't reviewed her first three novels because of the close nature of our friendship. But this one, you guys. No power in the 'Verse could stop me from spreading the word. It's that good.
Quincy St. Claire makes time for nothing and no one not intimately involved in the day-to-day machinations of her beloved printing press—The Q. Since being taken in off the streets by her Great Uncle Ezekiel (along with her friend and fellow foundling Fisher), she has harnessed every ounce of her formidable energies and poured them into making Ezekiel's unusual press run like clockwork. And if it is true that Quincy's name is spoken far and wide throughout the lower streets and upper parlors of Rhysdon, it is also true that no one, with the possible exception of Fisher, truly knows the girl who sits on the high stool behind the counter. The girl who writes down the questions that pour in from the denizens of the city, each on an individual Q slip, and who then prints them to be sent out into the world to find their answers. Within the confines of The Q, it is Quincy's world. And it follows her rules. Until one night the heretofore laid back, if quite elderly, Ezekiel throws the hitch of all hitches into her plans. He is to die, he tells her. Imminently. And he has set her a task in the wake of his passing. Twelve of them, to be exact. Not only is she not to be informed what the tasks are, she is to be monitored in her efforts by none other than the bane of her existence—Mr. James Arch—The Q's solicitor and general disapproving stick-in-the-mud. If she fails, The Q will fall into other hands. Ezekiel proves immovable, as well as a man of his word, and so it is up to Quincy to go against every one of her grains and divert some of those well-harnessed energies to accomplishing the mysterious tasks. The alternative, after all, is unthinkable.
Quincy unwound her scarf and laid it over a matchstick chair. Removing her jacket, she opened her creaking armoire and hung it back in its place. Rolling up her shirt sleeves, Quincy walked to her window—a single window that looked down on Gainsford Street—and frowned at the snow.
The Q was to be given away.
If she could not fulfill her uncle's obscure requirements, The Q was to be given away.
On either side of Quincy's window stood two bureaus, tall, with five drawers each, large enough to fit clothing, papers, and what few possessions Quincy found worth keeping. She liked them not for the plebeian practicality they offered, but rather for the way that, when she pulled herself up on one and rested her feet on the edge of the other, Quincy found herself perched high in her window, watching whatever was passing on the street below. She did so now, feeling the gears of her mind catching, too disjointed by her uncle's words for their usually smooth, oiled rotation.
This early passage was the first moment I felt in perfect sympathy with our heroine. As she felt her mind strain to accommodate an unforeseen, wholly unwelcome shift in her well-ordered world. An old and solitary soul tucked economically inside the body of an eccentric young slip of a girl, Quincy is all that is analytical and stubborn, prone to excellence and disdain in equal quantities. In short, I loved her to pieces. From her dogged taunting of the self-righteous Mr. Arch to her single minded passion for the business that gave her life a reliable shape and purpose. To say nothing of her quiet, unwavering loyalty to her oldest (and only) friend Fisher and her uncharacteristic (some might say) fondness for a certain disreputable smuggler who drops into her domain from time to time. Oh, yes, I understood Quincy. And because I understood and loved her, I felt keenly her fierce determination and resolve to hold onto The Q at all costs. And so the pages flew by, full of eloquent and visceral descriptions of the workings of the press. I fell in love with not just Quincy, but with the intricate hierarchy of Rhysdon society, and especially with the people from all walks of life who found themselves drawn to this fanciful, yet precise location where they might quietly voice their questions, knowing that they will be heard, set in careful type, and perhaps someday answered. For a young woman with little use for demonstrative affections, she manages to provide rather a lot of hope for a city in need of just that.
Quincy and Fisher walked through all this in silence. Silence was the most common stock-in-trade between them, and the portfolio of their friendship was thick with it. So, without words, they stepped across the streets, their feet pressing the pavement with the same sounds, their toes turned just so; they knew what life was like at each other's side. Sometimes he would speak, or she would, small offerings on the altar of their joint survival.
This beautiful friendship was one of the most affecting aspects of the novel—for its solidity, its history, and its ardent portrayal. Bound together, are Quincy and Fisher, and we get to see them continue to chase survival on all its levels. And while we are speaking of ardency, I would be remiss if I didn't express my wholehearted devotion to the romantic vein that wends its way through the tale. I so appreciate that readers are given just as many pages as they might want to witness that particular relationship develop in the organic, stumbling, messy, and magnetic way that it does. Even more, I admire the way the two of them don't alter their essential chemistry to fit the other's expectations. They rage when they should rage, but they also see beyond the surface when the light glances off the other person in just the right way. Most importantly, they don't forget what they've seen and just how valuable it is. As I said, days later, I still can't get them out of my head. They're in there, striding down alleys and scarfing down buns, and generally making it impossible to get anything else done, so badly do I want to just sit back and watch them push and support each other and question wildly whether or not they will ever be able to make it come out right. I loved them so. The experience of reading The Q was an impossibly charming one. It repeatedly put me in mind of a few time-honored favorites, from a little Westmark here to a little Spindle's End there, to say nothing of a healthy dash of Dickens just for good measure. In the end, one thing is certain—The Q has room for you....more
I somehow neglected to write a review of Illuminae when I read it last year. It may have had something to do witOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I somehow neglected to write a review of Illuminae when I read it last year. It may have had something to do with my response to the novel, which was complex. I was completely riveted to the page throughout. In fact, I swallowed it in a single night. However, I wasn't sure if it would prove to be a re-read for me, primarily because I felt a distance between myself and the characters. The separation enforced by the epistolary format, on top of the protagonists' themselves' separation for the majority of the novel combined to make me feel a bit wistful. I suppose I just wished I felt a level of closeness to them that matched the level of commitment I felt to the unfolding story. Which was to say complete and utter. There was, interestingly, no question of whether or not I would be picking up the sequel. Also somewhat interesting was how I felt nothing but excitement that the sequel would follow a new couple. And so it was that Gemina fell into my lap and swallowed me whole.
Hanna Donnelly has essentially made Jump Station Heimdall her playground. No matter that her extravagant exploits have become more a way of surviving the tight confines of her life as the only daughter of the exacting station captain than anything else. No matter that they involve the occasional rendezvous with her own personal dealer—himself a member of the notorious House of Knives crime family. No matter that her model (if slightly milquetoast) boyfriend disapproves wholeheartedly of said dealer and has to sneak around to meet her so as not to raise the wrath of her father. Nik Malikov has a thing for the privileged princess who occasionally patronizes his "establishment," and he takes plenty of flak over that fact from the various and sundry cast of cutthroat characters that comprise his family. No matter that the tattoos on his skin tell a story that may or may not be more complex than they at first appear. No matter that their whisperNET repartee is fast becoming the best part of every single one of his days. No matter that each successive requirement from his family takes him farther and farther away from the kind of person who might actually stand a chance with a girl like Hanna. What neither of them knows is their "home" is about to be thrown into chaos and violence the likes of which even the notorious Malikov's have yet to see. And their connection, limited and superficial as it has heretofore been, may prove the only link to survival either of them have.
BRIEFING NOTE: First relevant point of contact between Hanna Donnelly and Jackson Merrick on Heimdall's whisperNET system. For full effect, read everything Merrick says in a loin-stirringly deep, uppercrust accent while listening to smooth jazz.
The sly, staccato wit in this series is just so on. Set as it is against a near constant threat of death, dismemberment, or worse, this wit is sometimes a lifeline, for both the characters and the readers, I suspect. As with its predecessor, the entirety of Gemina is told in the form of found footage, including an impressive and fabulously inventive assortment of documents, all of which are being presented as evidence in the tribunal addressing BeiTech Industries' involvement in the "alleged" attack on Jump Station Heimdall. A number of familiar (and terrifying) faces make appearances upfront before we are hurled into making the acquaintance of a whole host of new personages who each play a pivotal role in the horrific events that went down on Heimdall. One of the most enjoyable aspects of reading Gemina is getting to see exactly what was going on at the jump station while the events of Illuminae were taking place. The two timelines overlap, and I found it heightened my experience with Hanna and Nik knowing just what was happening with Kady and Ezra at the same time. And, yes, this overlap means we get to spend some much-coveted time with a certain AI that I'll confess I've been missing something fierce. It's passages are among my very favorite (and are some of the most unsettling, of course). And, yes, I'll go ahead and say that I found my emotions knit tightly with Hanna and Nik in a very short time, partly because they do spend more (though still not much) time in the actual vicinity of one another, and partly because I'm just a sucker for the particular quality of banter you get when you pair up a crime lord's son with a military captain's daughter.
Which leads me to the most excellent of all the elements of this novel—Hanna Donnelly. Quite simply, she is stone cold awesome. Raised by her father to master any number of forms of combat, her princess persona is a very thin facade indeed. The relentless pressure and pace of the novel reveal the core of steel underneath the facade and it was a viciously satisfying pleasure to watch her tear her way through the fabric of her nightmare and never, not ever give in or give up. And perhaps just as importantly, she does all of this without sacrificing a shred of her humanity, with all its attendant vulnerability and desires. She blew me, Nik, and the entire population of Heimdall away. And I can say that allowing that I am nursing a pretty healthy crush on Nik Malikov. They are right together. But Hanna. Hanna is whole in a way that resonated with me profoundly. She is the reason Gemina is the force that it is. She is the reason you simply have to read it....more
So the truth is I had a feeling about A Promise of Fire from the moment I clapped eyes on it. And the funny thingOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
So the truth is I had a feeling about A Promise of Fire from the moment I clapped eyes on it. And the funny thing is, I was drawn to the girl on the cover because she reminded me immediately of Kate Daniels—only one of my favorite urban fantasy heroines of all time. Little did I know, so much more than just the cover of this book would go on to remind me of the fabulous Ilona Andrews series. Though the Kingmaker Chronicles are epic fantasy romance with a Greek mythology bent, they share that certain brand of high octane banter and impossibly high stakes that make the Kate Daniels books so fabulous. This is the first volume (as well as Amanda Bouchet's debut novel), and I find myself so looking forward to getting my hands on the next one.
Catalia Fisa has hidden herself as well as she knows how. Having successfully attached herself to a troupe of traveling circus performers, she cautiously employs a mere fraction of her actual ability to tell fortunes (and keep an eye out for anyone who might be looking for her). Trouble strides up to her soothsaying table in the form of Beta Sinta—a warlord in search of the fabled Kingmaker, the one rumored to possess the power to solidify control for the Alpha (or warlord) determined (or ruthless) enough to catch her. And before she knows it, Cat is literally tied to Griffin's side and carted off to the southern wilds of Sinta entirely against her will. Fortunately, she's had a lifetime of "training" in resisting force, and she will not go quietly no matter how loudly he and his band of loyal henchmen growl. But the farther they travel together, the larger the secrets Cat's holding onto loom, and the more difficult it becomes to justify abandoning this warlord who doesn't seem to want to go to war and somehow holds her nightmares at bay, to say nothing of his astoundingly naïve (if disarmingly charming) family.
This epic adventure was entirely too fun to put down. I'm a huge fan of Greek mythology, and Ms. Bouchet infuses her tale with bits and bobs and huge heaping globs of all the familiar gods and goddesses (as well as various terrifying creatures). The whole thing plays fairly fast and loose with these deities, which is admittedly appropriate, even if a couple of times her versions made my hackles rise. But on the whole the world-building is expansive and inventive and I loved traversing it with Cat and Griffin. Because those two. They are wild forces to be reckoned with, and I loved watching them snipe and bat at each other every step of the way. Cat's power is revealed in as infinitesimal chunks as possible, reluctant as she is to involve any other being in the gargantuan nightmare that is her past and the impending doom that represents her future. And having spent a lifetime being used by those more powerful than she, she refuses to go back to a place of vulnerability. While the reader is privy to quite a few of these internal struggles, Griffin is not. And he, for all his insisting on assuming the Beta role in his kingdom, does not deal well with obfuscation or dismissal. The result is a host of sparks. An early exchange:
Beta Sinta stops, his mouth flattening in obvious irritation. "Help me, Cat. Or at least tell me the truth. I know when you're lying."
"Oh?" My heart trips over its next beat.
"Your eyes get twitchy."
"My eyes do not get twitchy!"
"This one gets narrower." He touches the tip of his finger to the corner of my right eye, and a little jolt zips through me. "It's as if you're expecting the lie to hurt, but it doesn't because it's your own."
As I said, the banter (or, in this case, my favorite kind of quiet tension) between these two just carries the day throughout the story. Cat's ability to tell when people are lying is a skill of such magnitude that Griffin finds himself unable to let her out of his sight. The pain that it simultaneously causes her, though, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to answering the questions of why Cat is the way she is. But Griffin didn't battle his way to placing his sister on the throne without amassing the persistence and indefatigable will it takes to reach whatever goal he sets himself. What I love about Griffin is how he learns to make space for Cat, how clearly he recognizes and admires her abilities, and how his plan to use her morphs into a desire and a need to support and aid her in her own troubled journey. Just what that journey will entail remains nebulous to everyone involved, clearly to be unraveled in future volumes, though it is pretty clear to the reader exactly who and what is gunning for her. Cat herself is a wriggling ball of sarcasm, frustration, repressed affection, and leashed power. She elicits the wide gamut of emotions in both the reader and her supporting characters. But it's clear she's got charisma to spare and energy and guts enough to carry us all through any number of wild romps....more
Let's just start by acknowledging that I am woefully behind on reviewing the Sarah MacLean books I have read andOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Let's just start by acknowledging that I am woefully behind on reviewing the Sarah MacLean books I have read and loved, which is to say all of them. The thing is, I am simply not overstating things when I say that reading Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake changed my life. And it is a truth universally acknowledged that both A Rogue by Any Other Name and One Girl Earl Deserves a Lover hold pivotal places of honor on my Beloved Bookshelf. As such, I'm beginning to think that her books are so important to me that when it comes to articulating precisely why, I can run into a bit of a struggle. But. I am going to attempt to begin to rectify the situation by reviewing her latest novel and the second installment in the wonderful Scandal & Scoundrel series. I reread the first book in the series in preparation for the sequel, and I am happy to report it was just as delightful the second time around.
Lillian Hargrove's world has just been shattered, and by the one person she trusted the most. On top of that, when the man she loves chooses to ruin her, he does it on the most public of stages and on the most epic of scales—as he is about to reveal his latest masterwork, of which she is the subject. While she was a willing model for the painting, she in no way gave consent to it being shared with the entire population of London. Fully cognizant of the enormity of her mistake, Lily retires to the town home where she lives alone and begins preparations to leave London (and her scandal) behind for good. What she does not count on is her latest guardian swooping down from Scotland, determined to marry her off yesterday and rid himself of the unwanted burden she embodies. Alec, Duke of Warnick, never wanted any of the nonsense he's inherited along with his dratted title, least of all a troublesome ward who seems bent on self-destruction. Once he sees her, he deems it only a matter of days before he is able to marry her off and be on his way back to Scotland. What he doesn't count on is Lily herself and just how magnificently she will change the course of his life.
I think everyone who read The Rogue Not Taken was hoping the larger than life Duke of Warnick would be the hero of the next book, and I was no exception. Lily Hargrove, however, was the surprise. And what a lovely one at that. I immediately felt a huge amount of sympathy for her awful plight, even as I (along with Alec) questioned just how blind she had to have been to have trusted the detestable Derek Hawkins or to think that the portrait would somehow never see the light of day. That said, the self-possession and ruthless honesty with which she handles her ruination were admirable to behold, and I was rooting hugely for both of them throughout their tale. An early encounter (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
"Shall we discuss the scandal?"
Her cheeks burned. She didn't like it. "Is there a scandal?"
He turned to look at her. "You tell me."
"Well, I imagine the news that you broke down the door in broad daylight will get around."
Something flashed in his eyes. Something like amusement. She didn't like that, either. "Is it true, lass?" And, in that moment, in the four, simple words, spoken in his rolling Scottish brogue, warm and rough and almost kinder than she could bear, she wished herself anywhere but there.
Because it was the first time anyone had asked the question.
And it was the millionth time that she'd wished the answer were different.
The way she handles herself alongside the imposing Scot, set against the truths we glean from her inner dialogue, is why I immediately found Lillian endearing. And we gain enough insight into her less-than-charmed upbringing to understand a little of why she makes the mistake she did and to fully admire (once more, along with Alec) the intelligent and organic way that she conducts and asserts herself throughout the ensuing ordeal. Fortunately, she is helped along the way by a few fellow scandalous (and gleefully familiar) faces. Each of the glorious Talbot sisters make their entrances, and they prove to be even more witty and outrageous than in the previous volume. I could do nothing but cheer silently as they surrounded Lily with their patent (and I suspect, hard-won) unconcern for the ton's censure. And I look forward meeting them again in forthcoming tales.
The humor in the book is not confined only to scenes involving the Talbot sisters. Lily and Alec, when they're not scheming desperately to rid themselves of the other, develop a disarming level of shared amusement. They've both endured painful moments in their past. They both see the follies of society and long to escape them. They both have long been solitary creatures, and in such they find a kinship. The long line of deceased dukes that so affect their lives, in particular, carries a delightful thread of levity throughout the novel. For example:
There was a long moment of silence before he changed the subject. "Which one owned this odious place?"
She didn't hesitate. "Number Thirteen."
"Ah. The one killed by a sheep, allegedly."
"What happened to him, really?"
She blinked. "That is what happened to him. He was killed by a sheep."
His brow furrowed. "You are joking."
"I am not. He fell off a cliff."
"The sheep. The duke was out for his daily constitutional. Below." She clapped her hands together. "Quite smashed."
His lips twitched. "No."
She raised one hand. "I swear it is true."
And on they roll. Alec and Lily's story is a quieter and more contained affair, in many ways, than Sophie and King's. Their movement and growth is more internal, as they wrestle with issues of shame, privacy, gender standards, and intrinsic self worth. My one complaint was a certain mounting impatience I felt near the end (with Alec, in particular) with what seemed to me to be an overly zealous (at times hurtful) pursuit of misconception. This dovetailed somewhat with the difficulty I had believing how quickly he changes gears. But then I reminded myself of the relatively short time period the story covers. And by the time myself accepted the reminder, I had moved on to the quite lovely conclusion, in which Alec (like myself) sees and remembers not to forget Lily exactly as she is. Which is to say—splendid....more
It's difficult to review Tell the Wind and Fire as I am both a huge Tale of Two Cities and Sarah Rees Brennan fan. When I heard she was doing a YA fanIt's difficult to review Tell the Wind and Fire as I am both a huge Tale of Two Cities and Sarah Rees Brennan fan. When I heard she was doing a YA fantasy retelling of the Dickens classic, I was one hundred percent on board. And the writing and world building is just as spectacular as I have come to expect from her. The problem, for me at least, lay primarily in the characterization. The main trio, Lucie, Ethan, and Carwyn, simply lacked the magnetism and complexity that I am used to when it comes to Brennan's protagonists. For the first two-thirds of the novel, they seem to be acted upon by their world rather than acting on it themselves--a trait I struggle with. Admittedly, the dual world of Light and Dark, magicians and doppelgangers, is riveting, beautiful, and timely. However, the limp characters held me back from fully enjoying their story. Things certainly pick up in the last third of the novel, but I wasn't able to manufacture enough care or concern by that time....more
So. As much as I adore retellings, I recently realized I'd never actually read an Alice in Wonderland retelling.Originally reviewed here @ Angieville
So. As much as I adore retellings, I recently realized I'd never actually read an Alice in Wonderland retelling. And what with the absolute rash of them inundating the publishing world these days, I figured it was high time. I've always loved the original classic and the Disney film, but I've never seen any of the more recent film adaptations. When Ace contacted me about reviewing Christina Henry's Alice in anticipation of the sequel's release, it felt like the perfect entry point. Funnily enough, I actually read the first book in Henry's Black Wings urban fantasy series ages ago. We didn't particularly hit it off, but I found myself massively intrigued to find out what she might do with a grown-up Alice. Also, the cover. It sends chills down my spine every time I glance over at the copy sitting on my nightstand. Having now read the words behind that cover, I can verify that the chills only increase after you make the acquaintance of Henry's White Rabbit.
Alice is mad. Or so they said when they found her stumbling back out of the Old City, having escaped an unnamed horror, with blood running everywhere and the Rabbit's name on her lips. And so they locked her up for ten years in a asylum for those who had taken leave of their senses, who the New City was too impatient to deal with. But two years in, someone whispers through the mouse hole in her cell. Someone by the name of Hatcher, who never takes the powders the orderlies bring, who fights tooth and nail to avoid the regular baths every inmate must take, who awoke years ago surrounded by bodies with a bloody ax in his hands. And so the two become friends and allies, working desperately to keep a shred of sanity in a world they no longer recognize. Hatcher is determined that one day the opportunity for escape will arise. And when it does in the form of a fire, he and Alice fight their way out of the prison that formed every fiber of their beings for so many years. But now they are on the run. Working their way deep into the twisted streets of Old City, they find themselves on a mad mission to escape the evil the fire released from the asylum and to recapture enough of Alice's memories to know who to hunt and who to flee.
If she moved her head all the way up against the wall and tilted it to the left she could just see the edge of the moon through the bars. Just a silver sliver, almost close enough to eat. A sliver of cheese, a sliver of cake, a cup of tea to be polite. Someone had given her a cup of tea once, someone with blue-green eyes and long ears. Funny how she couldn't remember his face, though. All that part was hazy, her memory of him wrapped in smoke but for the eyes and ears. And the ears were long and furry.
These opening lines sealed the deal, I'm afraid. There was no going back after I met Alice and she met Hatcher and the two of them agreed to hold hands throughout their ordeal. I was completely unable and completely uninterested in not being with them. Which is saying quite a lot, because their ordeal is not for the faint of heart. I repeat, beyond this point there be dragons of the deepest and darkest kind. I want to make this point early, because this book will not be for many readers. The violence factor is high. Hatcher is an actual ax murderer, after all, and he has set his sights on keeping Alice safe from any threat, which means the body count is astoundingly high in this dark fantasy that takes all the unhinged zaniness from Lewis Carroll's classic tale and neatly amplifies it by one hundred percent. Essentially, this book and I had no business falling as madly in love as we did. But there you have it. I loved it beyond reason. I kept waiting for the level of horror to send me packing, but the core—the light that Alice and Hatcher make by the mere fact of their survival—kept me following. Their fight to stop the mindless violence of the Jabberwock, their run ins with each of the unspeakably evil crime lords that run Old City, and the slow and terrifying awakening of Alice's memories are all excellently rendered.
My one issue with the novel is the absolute preponderance of violence directed toward women. It is omnipresent in Henry's world and it is massively disturbing. Alice is essentially its only survivor, and I think she is meant to be the seed that grows a revolution. Which I am clearly fine with, as I stuck with her through the entire bloody gauntlet. But I want to be sure to say that while I comprehend the reasons behind the dark world Ms. Henry has created, I feel that the story's integrity could have withstood a toning down of the violence against women (particularly during their sojourns with the Caterpillar and the Walrus) and still retained its spine-unhinging terror.
That said, this novel is utterly magnetic. Reading it feels like a madcap sprint to the finish. I swallowed it in 100-page chunks and came back each night just eager to slip back into this nightmare world. And the reason why is the two main characters. Alice and her mad Hatcher. Their heartbreaking connection and the furious way in which they cling to it is everything I look for when I come to a tale. I loved their story in all its brutal, broken beauty. I sense they will never be far from my thoughts from now on.
"You remember it all now," Hatcher said, and it wasn't a question.
"Yes," she said. She was beyond weeping for the child she once was. "It is, more or less, what you would expect. Except for the part where I escaped. Nobody expected that."
A new Victorian mystery series from Deanna Raybourn is no small treat. I was basically beside myself with joy whOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
A new Victorian mystery series from Deanna Raybourn is no small treat. I was basically beside myself with joy when I found out she would be returning to my favorite of her settings with an all new intrepid protagonist and (word had it) a broody hero to boot. Nobody broods like Brisbane broods (say that five times fast), and I was eager to make the acquaintance of this Veronica Speedwell and this natural historian by the name of Stoker. I did love the original hardcover for the heroine's dress and the misty fog drifting up the cobblestones. But I have to say, I'm more partial to this lovely new trade paperback edition. The butterflies! The silhouette of Veronica with her net! The typeface! I love it all. When a copy arrived in the mail for review, I could not have been more pleased.
Veronica Speedwell is used to being on her own. She is used to striking out for locales unknown and obscure butterfly species heretofore undiscovered. What she is not used to is abduction attempts on her person. Particularly not after she has just buried her last remaining relative and is about to wash her hands of the ties that bind in general and embark on her next adventure. But foil an abduction she does, and it's off to London with a mysterious (but kindly) German baron and into the highly unexpected laboratory of one Stoker. Covered in tattoos and dripping with disdain, Stoker is not interested in a lepidopterist no matter how well-informed on the natural sciences she may be. But it seems solitude is not in the cards for either of them, as murder continues to dog Veronica's heels and the two mutually suspicious partners are drawn into a mystery involving Veronica's parents, Stoker's past, and one memorable traveling circus.
I stared down into the open grave and wished I could summon a tear.
Deanna Raybourn always has me at hello. I've been quoting the first line of Silent in the Grave aloud regularly for going on eight years now, and the opening lines of A Curious Beginning continue the excellence. Veronica is a giant breath of fresh air from the word go, and I was more than content to follow her wherever her wandering soul led. Of course, once she and I fell into Stoker's looming warehouse of a laboratory, it was love at first sight. Stoker is every bit as wary and scarred and recalcitrant as I could hope for. Together, they are marvelously witty and biting and perfect. Veronica's parentage is one of the central mysteries of the novel, and the ever-present (if quiet) longing she feels to know where she comes from is palpable. Stoker's past is rife with pain and secrets as well, and the reader is privileged to accompany them as they traipse through their checkered histories in search of answers. The trip through Stoker's includes a very memorable stay with a traveling circus and its various and sundry denizens. I absolutely loved watching Veronica catch a glimpse of what makes him tick, and their banter throughout this section (and the entire novel) is off the charts enjoyable. I am a fan of the slow burn romance, and this one takes its time, developing in extremely endearing increments. Stoker, for all his ragged exterior, is honorable to the core. His rigid reluctance and decency is beautifully set off by Veronica's levity and refusal to be cowed or dictated to. They have a definite Holmes/Watson air about them as they unravel the threads of their tale. Veronica will always be (among other things) a bit of a gorgeous trial for Stoker. But I am convinced he will never let her fall. If you couldn't tell, I'm in love with them both and eagerly await their future adventures....more
So. Deep breaths all around, shall we? As D.H. Lawrence said (in my favorite line from the book that taught me abOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
So. Deep breaths all around, shall we? As D.H. Lawrence said (in my favorite line from the book that taught me about the birds and the bees), "We've got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen." And so this is my attempt at moving on, at living in the wake of a certain series that has been basically what I've lived and breathed for the last few weeks (barring the recently read and reviewed book we shall not speak of). Bear with me, if you will. I feel a bit fragile still. That said, are you tired yet of my old refrain of holding off on a series because I'm wary of the hugely positive press it's getting? I hope not. Because I present you with my latest bit of folly. A Darker Shade of Magic represents my first foray with V.E. Schwab, and I would categorize it as something along the lines of uncontrollable love at first sight.
Kell wore a very peculiar coat.
It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but several, which was, of course, impossible.
The first thing he did whenever he stepped out of one London and into another was take off the coat and turn it inside out once or twice (or even three times) until he found the side he needed. Not all of them were fashionable, but they each served a purpose. There were ones that blended in and ones that stood out, and one that served no purpose but of which he was just particularly fond.
Kell is one of the rarest of rare breeds. He is an Antari, a magician with one normal eye and one black eye, who can travel between the parallel worlds, from Grey London to Red London to White London. Though never to the forbidden Black London, where magic destroyed it all. Kell lives in Red London, where he serves at the pleasure of the King and Queen. He is even something of an adopted son to them, raised as he was alongside their son Prince Rhy. The two are close as brothers and get up to all manner of mischief together. Well, Rhy does. And Kell rabbits off after him trying to tame the prince's effulgent ways and teach him a little magic along the way. So that he will be a good king and ruler to the people of Red London. What no one but Rhy knows is that Kell breaks a few of his own rules now and then. Namely, he smuggles small items from one London to another as a form of self-entertainment and a way of fending off the loneliness. He does have one counterpart, the other Antari Holland. But Holland resides in the dreaded White London, where he is in painful servitude to the current ruthless rulers the Dane twins. But it's when Kell makes the unexpected acquaintance of one thief Delilah Bard that things really being to unravel. And when Lila finds her way from Grey London into magic-drenched Red London, she is bound and determined never to go back.
It is such a tale, you guys. Such a magnificent, charming, and desperate tale of one young magician's quest to balance who he is with what is expected of him and one young woman's drive to see (and do) everything before she dies. I fell in love with Kell on page one, with his magical red coat and his quiet intensity. And my soul was knit with Delilah Bard's the moment she came at Kell with a sword and demanded more from her life. A favorite early encounter:
She looked young, but sharp, bony in a starved-bird kind of way. The only roundness came from her eyes, both brown, but not quite the same shade. He opened his mouth, intending to start their conversation with a question, like, Will you untie me? or Where is the stone? but instead found himself saying, "One of your eyes is lighter than the other."
"And one of your eyes is black," she shot back. She sounded cautious, but not frightened. Or, if she was, she was very good at hiding it. "What are you?" she asked.
"A monster," said Kell hoarsely. "You'd better let me go."
The girl gave a small, mocking laugh. "Monsters don't faint in the presence of ladies."
"Ladies don't dress like men and pick pockets," retorted Kell.
Her smile only sharpened. "What are you really?"
"Tied to your bed," said Kell matter-of-factly.
His brow furrowed. "And in trouble."
He isn't wrong. Kell and Lila, individually and collectively, find themselves up to their eyeballs in trouble before this tale is through. And it is all so perfectly paced, allowing the reader time enough with each character to take their measure and form (and occasionally confirm) a number of important suspicions as to who might be an ally and who might be a shadow bent on evil. I relished each jaunt into the three so hazardously different Londons, hugging my arms to my sides each time we journeyed into eerie White London, hoping we would make it back alive. V.E. Schwab knows how to structure an adventure, and this one ramps up to the most creepy and urgent of climaxes. My heart raced at every turn, and my brain tumbled ahead to sift through the consequences of certain choices that will undoubtedly play out in the sequel. A Darker Shade of Magic is fantasy of the highest order. I'm so thrilled to have discovered it and wish Kell and Lila (and Rhy) all the luck in their coming adventures. Not that they need it....more
So basically all I can say is prepare yourselves, if you would. Because it's been days since I finished this oneOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
So basically all I can say is prepare yourselves, if you would. Because it's been days since I finished this one and I absolutely refuse to go quietly into the night about it. I completely adored Ms. Ahdieh's debut novel The Wrath & the Dawn. I thought it did a beautiful job of reworking an extremely problematic fairy tale to begin with, and it did so in believable and beautiful ways. I mean, I went into it frankly expecting a degree of justification for the story's subject matter. But I also was prepared to give the author the benefit of the doubt, seeing as how she went to all the trouble of retelling it for a modern audience. And my willingness was unquestionably rewarded. Which is why I was so eager to get my hands on the sequel and find out what those two people I'd thought about so much in the intervening year had been up to. I felt sure all would be well. Perilous, to be sure. Fraught, to be sure. But well.
The rubble has cleared and Khalid Ibn al-Rashid is on one side of the wreckage, while Shahrzad al-Khayzuran is on the other. Khalid is occupied night and day by helping his people rebuild their shattered city and by forcing himself not to think too much on exactly why Shahrzad left and when, if ever, she will be back. For her part, Shazi is determined not to bring any more hell raining down upon the husband she loves. And as such, that means she is forced to once again play a part. The part of dutiful lover of Tariq. The part of doting daughter and sister. The part of a woman who has come to her senses, who sees the monster king of Rey for what he is, and who is ready and willing to take part in the rebellion that is being crafted to bring about his overthrow. Reality is somewhat more difficult to discern, and it will take more than a magic carpet and a secret love to halt the war that everyone sees coming and possibly bring an end to the curse that has plagued the king and his people for so long.
So. I have a Goodreads shelf entitled "Absolute Train Wrecks." And while there is not what you might call a long list of titles on that shelf, the ones that are there are the ones that drove me to absolute distraction. They are the ones that were such a hot mess that I was forced to rant aloud to my husband and closest of friends in order to somehow process the magnitude of how wrong everything went. Unfortunately, that shelf has acquired its latest denizen. Because I literally cannot seem to overstate how disappointed/enraged/appalled I was by this book. At the 3/4 mark, I seriously considered not finishing it at all. It was bad, guys. So bad that Beth came over to help run damage control by talking it out. So bad that Aaron immediately saw the writing on the wall and took me out to see the new Captain America film to remind me that there are still good things in the world. But finish it, I did. And then I immediately cast about finding a different home for the copy I'd bought so that it wouldn't darken my door a moment longer than necessary. That's right, we're talking The Actor and the Housewife levels of anger and resentment here. I told you it was bad.
The thing is, I felt like the tight narrative grip that held throughout the first book completely unraveled in this one, with devastating consequences. With the exception of one scene, I didn't enjoy a single moment between Shazi and Khalid. Not that they spent anything resembling enough time together. The arbitrarily enforced separation felt so manufactured to me. All the stakes could have been kept just as high had they fought together. Separately, all the tension and beauty and squabbling that made up their relationship dissipated in so much smoke. Ms. Ahdieh excels at dialogue, and yet the only people actually talking were the abruptly introduced secondary couple. I quite liked Irsa and Rahim, but the fact that their scenes wildly outshone the protagonists' left me cold and troubled. And finishing it only confirmed my conviction that this sequel, its pacing and characterization, was a slapdash effort at best. Essentially every plot point and/or "twist" in the final third felt like a cop out to me. Characters behave thoroughly inconsistently and too little is made of the few moments that should have held a lot of meaning, robbing them of any shred they might have held onto. I'm sorry, but I cry foul. Cheap emotional manipulation and sub-par storytelling was not what I witnessed in the first novel, and it was not what I expected here. But it was what I got, and when I think of it, I still feel ill. Shut it down, book. We're through. ...more
I thought I was done with the crying when I finished The Raven King last night at an only slightly ungodly hour.Originally reviewed here @ Angieville
I thought I was done with the crying when I finished The Raven King last night at an only slightly ungodly hour. But then this morning I got up and I just didn't know what to do. And when I realized I had to sit down and write about how this book made me feel, the tears start welling up again. Honestly, Aaron will likely never let me read another series aloud to him again for all the tears he carefully wiped off my cheeks with this one. I am not a huge book crier as a rule, and I did not cry reading the other three. But it wasn't so much the sadness as it was the saying goodbye. I hate saying goodbye. Even though I am a serial rereader, there is no escaping that particular goodbye that comes at the end of a series that has meant . . . more than a lot. That contains characters I have loved the precise way I have loved these ones. These boys. That Blue. This incredible writing that makes me want to prowl the streets at night reciting passages aloud to the stars. I hated waking up this morning. Because it meant we all had to move on. And I really didn't know what to do.
I just can't see any way to avoid all the spoilers at this point, lovelies. But I do try. We have arrived at the final volume. Vos admonitos.
Richard Gansey III knows. He knows this is the closest he's ever been, or may ever be, to finding Glendower. He knows if he doesn't take matters into his own hands, Ronan Lynch will most definitely not graduate Aglionby Academy. He knows the precise texture and feel of Blue Sargent's laughter on his skin. He knows Adam Parrish's bargain with the mystical forest Cabeswater could play out in even more heretofore unexpected ways than it already has. And he knows the odds are better than even he may not survive to see any of these things happen. But, being Gansey, he presses forward nonetheless, determined to find his sleeping king, extract his favor, and see the friends he loves so well possessed of the things they need to survive with or without him. And, to his continual if grateful bemusement, so do said friends. Even as a preponderance of ruthless personages come to roost in Henrietta. Even as Gansey and Blue continue to bash up against the wall that is telling their friends about their feelings for one another. Even as Ronan spends more and more time at the Barns, Adam spends more and more time with Ronan, and both of them spend more and more time within the darkening vines of Cabeswater. Even as an unusual and overeager classmate makes indefatigable advances on the tight-knit group as a whole, And so, reinforced as they are by each other, they draw inexorably closer to the uncertain fate that has always awaited them.
Depending on where you begin the story, it's about my undying love for Ronan Lynch. Ever since the very first pages of The Raven Boys, I have loved Ronan. In English. In Latin. In every single one of the languages on his crazy puzzle box. And I can't help but be utterly unsurprised (and proud, in an odd way) at how this final volume seemed to say so much of it was Ronan's story at heart.
Of all the options in the world, Ronan Lynch was the most difficult version of any of them.
Depending on where you begin the story, it's about my gut-wrenching love for Adam Parrish. Adam, too, I fell in love with on contact. While others have questioned his choices, his motivations, his endless stubborn drive and solitude, I have soaked up every one. If I had the most fears and questions when it came to Adam's fate, it was because I unquestionably identify with him the most.
Need was Adam's baseline, his resting pulse. Love was a privilege. Adam was privileged; he did not want to give it up. He wanted to remember again and again how it felt.
But no matter where you begin the story, it's about Maggie Stiefvater's astounding skill with words, her characters that live and breathe so loudly and fiercely that they feel inviolably real, and the marvelous story in which they are entwined. The Raven King clocks in at a perfectly healthy 438 pages, and it feels funny to say that the entirety of those unfold at a breakneck pace. There are, of course, those trademark moments of indolent splendor, of quiet breaths held and exhaled. But I maintain, the experience of reading the novel remains one of rushing toward a conclusion no one, the reader least of all, is prepared for. But it comes. It comes. It comes. In the sweetest and gentlest of exchanges between Gansey and Blue. In the terrifying and violent passes through Cabeswater. In the exquisite light of fireflies dotting the air around the Barns as words rise up and burst inside Ronan. If The Dream Thieves made it possible for me to love and follow Gansey by showing me why each of the boys and Blue loved and followed him, The Raven King shows Gansey why. And it was such a beautiful artistic choice—here at the end—to show the king just what he had wrought. To hold the mirror (in all its forms) up, so that he could see the beautiful and strange constellation he and his quest had made of their lives.
I wanted so much. I wanted, I wanted. And even though the previous books in the series taught me to be afraid on all possible fronts, there were moments in this one that gave me new reasons. There were also moments that surpassed my expectation with their perfect rightness. And there were new gifts, given at a point when I thought I had passed the time when I could ask for more. But I should have known better. When it comes to Stiefvater's writing and this series, there is always more. The point was the longing, the packing into a single book, into a single series, the feeling of knowing and of being known. The feeling of finding, of waking, of wanting, of home....more
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