All right. I can accept that I am coming monumentally late to the party with this one. And I have no excuses forOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
All right. I can accept that I am coming monumentally late to the party with this one. And I have no excuses for myself. Plenty of you sang its praises, and that many award stickers plastered all over a cover generally indicate there is something of value inside. To say nothing of that ridiculously gorgeous cover declaring to all and sundry that herein lie beautiful things. Basically, everything pointed to win and I just failed to pick up on the signals. To the degree that I didn't even really know what Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was about. At all. Fast forward a couple of years to the present day when I run across Forever Young Adult's review and finally have my ah-ha moment. I ran to my local library, snagged their lovely copy, and took it home with me to see how these fancifully-monikered boys and I would get on. Spoilers: SPLENDIDLY.
I had all kinds of tragic reasons for feeling sorry for myself. Being fifteen didn't help. Sometimes I thought that being fifteen was the worst tragedy of all.
Aristotle narrates his life about as bluntly and intimately as an aggressively lackadaisical fifteen-year-old boy can. At least until that patently private boy meets one Dante Quintana and sees just how open and welcoming a boy (and his family) can be. It's the summer of 1985 and Ari spends most of each day struggling to find reasons to leave the house, ways to occupy himself aside from brooding about his father who seems to have dealt with his experiences in Vietnam by adopting a policy of silence. When he meanders over to the pool one day, Ari meets a boy with a squeaky voice and the kindred name of Dante who offers to teach him how to swim. Ari begrudgingly accepts. From that point on, a friendship develops that takes both boys by surprise and bids good to change their lives permanently. Accompanying them on this journey are their parents who love them unreservedly but who have their own struggles as they deal with their individual histories and the ways in which they reach into the present to shape their sons' lives as well as their own.
I have always felt terrible inside. The reasons for this keep changing.
Benjamin Alire Sáenz had me at Richie Valens. He had me somewhere amid the opening lines, at Ari going to bed wishing the world would be different when he woke up and then waking up to wonder what went through Richie Valens' head before the plane crashed. He had me at, "Hey, Buddy! The music's over." This book crushed me, it's that beautiful. I began it one night after tucking my kids into bed and—a few dozen pages later—blithely accepted the fact that I would be staying up however long it took to read it through to completion. The novel is told entirely from Ari's perspective, and it's difficult for me to tell you how much I grew to care for that boy. In simple and occasionally halting terms, he ruminates on his unease around other boys, his admiration for his mother, his longing to broach the subject of his imprisoned brother. The folding of lively, loquacious Dante into his life happens almost without Ari or the reader noticing, it is that seamless and that natural. Having some experience with friends coming into my life unexpectedly and yet at precisely the moment I so needed them to, my heart lodged itself firmly between these two boys and informed me it would be going nowhere. Since we mostly get our impressions of Dante through Ari's eyes, I occasionally worried a bit (perhaps taking my cues from Ari's deep seated anxiety) that he would flit away too soon. Before Ari or I had parsed out how to make room in our lives for such a bright star. Loving Dante is a foregone conclusion, with his inability to wear shoes, his love of reading, and his complicated relationship with his Mexican heritage.
I love how time passes in this novel, how the summers felt exactly as unlimited and free as they do in high school, how being separated from your dearest friend for a year can hurt in ways you've never experienced, and how you try to fill the hole with the distraction of work and smaller friendships. Perhaps the most beautiful experience of reading this book, though, was the privilege of watching Ari awaken (on so many levels), of watching his dual relationships—with Dante and with his father—grow and increase his understanding of himself and humanity in general. The nature of Ari's observations are always arresting, but by the end they become so very rich and simple in their beauty. Here, a lovely example taken from a moment when Ari struggles to convey his feelings when faced with a show of gratitude and love from Dante's parents:
"What am I supposed to do?" I knew my voice was cracking. But I refused to cry. What was there to cry about? "I don't know what to do." I looked at Mrs. Quintana and I looked at Sam. "Dante's my friend." I wanted to tell them that I'd never had a friend, not ever, not a real one. Until Dante. I wanted to tell them that I never knew that people like Dante existed in the world, people who looked at the stars, and knew the mysteries of water, and knew enough to know that birds belonged to the heavens and weren't meant to be shot down from their graceful flights by mean and stupid boys. I wanted to tell them that he had changed my life and that I would never be the same, not ever. And that somehow it felt like it was Dante who had saved my life and not the other way around. I wanted to tell them that he was the first human being aside from my mother who had ever made me want to talk about the things that scared me. I wanted to tell them so many things and yet I didn't have the words. So I just stupidly repeated myself. "Dante's my friend."
All four of the parents are such nuanced and present characters in this story and I adored that and them. Throughout the narrative, Sáenz explores the ways in which we need our parents, in which love between a parent and child is endlessly complex and often so difficult to encompass and express in any adequate way. This complexity resonated with me so profoundly, as did basically everything about this beautiful, beautiful love story. Finest kind....more
It's not that I haven't made my feelings about Liza Palmer's books abundantly clear, because I know that I have.Originally reviewed here @ Angieville
It's not that I haven't made my feelings about Liza Palmer's books abundantly clear, because I know that I have. It's that her latest novel—Girl Before a Mirror—is so good it's giving her others a run for their money as my favorite (and I honestly didn't think my love for Nowhere But Home could be surpassed). So good I've already reread it once and am fending off a second reread even as I type this. There are other books out there, and they all deserve a chance. I know this, and I feel their call keenly. But. I had supreme difficulty letting go of this one, and I can see myself diving back in regularly and indefinitely just to spend time with these characters again and to experience Anna's hilarious and thoughtful journey along with her once more. It was just as good the second time around, and I know it will only wear better with time.
Anna Wyatt finds herself in the unenviable position of not having a clue what to wish for as she blows out the candle on her 40th birthday. Surrounded by her friends, their spouses, and her beloved (if beleaguered) younger brother Ferdie, Anna feels affectionate but a bit blank. A year into a self-imposed dating sabbatical, she's been taking stock of her life and cleaning house of anything (or anyone) extraneous. The result is she finds herself in an undeniably clean, but somewhat sterile place, in need of inspiration and not sure where to look. Hoping to advance at the ad agency where she works, she tracks down Lumineux Shower Gel—a dying product in need of revival. Saddled with hopeful newbie graphic designer/sidekick Sasha, Anna finds inspiration in the unlikely form of Sasha's well-read copy of bestselling romance novelist Helen Brubaker's new self-help book Be the Heroine, Find Your Hero. And before they know it, Anna and Sasha are on their way to Arizona and the annual RomanceCon. Pairing up with the con and Ms. Brubaker herself, Anna and Sasha wind up judging the Mr. RomanceCon competition, with the winner slated to be the new spokesman for Lumineux Shower Gel. Determined to seal the deal and make it out of Romance Land alive, Anna is in no way prepared for the exuberance of the convention, the viciousness of the Arizona heat, and the charming Britishness of one Mr. Lincoln Mallory with his blue oxford cloth shirts and his steady gaze.
The thing about Liza Palmer's protagonists is that they're all so very different, from each other and from me. They're in advertising, and they're pastry chefs, they work in prisons or in art restoration. And yet they are so very real, so full of the same questions and vague but earnest hopes and fears that I feel on a daily basis. And so we are comrades. And I care. I care so much from the very start. And Anna Wyatt, with her self-control and her clever mind and her Miss Marple Theory, was no exception. I had her back from page one, as she gazed around at the faces of her friends and tried not to let the gathering uncertainty show on her face. Her story is so compelling because it addresses, so humorously and with unadorned frankness, questions of control, empowerment, guilt, success, and love. Add in some seriously wonderful explorations of female friendship and sibling love and one truly epic romance convention, and you have got the kind of tale I couldn't look away from if my life depended on it. And then . . . there's Lincoln Mallory, who I love so much I start to drift when I think about him too closely. With those oxford cloth shirts and those tense hands in his pockets. At one point there are suspenders involved and . . . well. You'll meet him on your own, but here is one of my favorite of their hilarious and charming exchanges:
I stand in the lobby, flipping my phone around in my hands. I pull Lincoln's business card out of my purse. Again. I flip the card over and dial. My fingers are tingling and this terrified numbness pings throughout my body, settling in my toes. I swallow. And swallow. Blink my eyes. It's like I'm giving myself errands to run around my body so I won't—
"This is Lincoln Mallory." Vomit.
"Hey, hi. It's Anna. Anna Wyatt from the other night. From the . . . um . . . from the elevator? And the apple . . . breakfast time—"
"I'm going to stop you there, love. I know who you are even without the reminder of apple breakfast time," he says. His voice is even better than I remember it.
"I apologize for my late call," I say, still not having taken a breath now going on nine minutes.
"I assumed you were busy at your Booty Ball." Lincoln Mallory saying booty will go down in history as one of my favorite things in the world.
"You still hungry?" I ask.
"I've already eaten, but I did manage to get something for dessert."
"And what's that then?"
"It's a surprise," he says. My face flushes. "When your Booty Ball ran long—a sentence I never thought I'd say, quite frankly—I had to strike out on the field trip on my own."
"So you're holding this dessert hostage."
"You make it sound so devious."
I scan the lobby. The hotel bar. The kiss. I close my eyes.
"What's your room number?"
"I'll be right up."
"Cheers," he says.
"But just for dessert."
"I do like a woman with her priorities in order." Silence. "Anna?"
"I didn't know if you'd hung up," I say.
"But I will now."
"Sure. Okay," I say. Silence. "Hello?"
"It's never not funny, is it?"
"I mean . . . ," I say, unable to keep from laughing.
These two. I mean. And it's always like this with them. The entire time I was reading I alternated between helpless laughter and a sort of fierce longing for their fears to be allayed, for their paths to somehow continue intersecting despite . . . everything. Because, of course, Lincoln's history is as mesmerizing and complicated as Anna's, and I felt every ounce of their combined and individual uneasiness and wanting. It is endlessly relieving to read about characters you would genuinely want to know, would want to sit with in a hotel bar or on a Manhattan sidewalk and just talk to. And I will never not appreciate how these two said what they wanted to, even if it came out mangled and fumbling, how they pursued their truth with an intentness I admire. For example:
I shut the car off and take a second, the blistering heat sitting on the top of my head like I'm under a heat lamp. I am walking toward the meet and greet when the phone rings.
"Anna Wyatt," I say, knowing exactly who it is without even looking at the screen.
"This is my formal apology," Lincoln says.
"Go ahead then," I say.
"I'm sorry." I like that Lincoln doesn't elaborate or get lost in a maze of buts and excuses for why what he did was actually okay. A simple I'm sorry is the most beautiful thing in the world.
"Thank you," I say.
It's these simple, thoughtful moments that make me pause as I'm reading to mark their effect (and possibly read them aloud to the nearest warm body so that I'm not alone in my wonder). Girl Before a Mirror is filled with them. I've decided the only way to start a new year is with an instant and permanent resident on my beloved bookshelf. Done and done....more
Last year I read my very first ever Christmas novellas and shocked myself at how much I enjoyed them. I mean I reOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Last year I read my very first ever Christmas novellas and shocked myself at how much I enjoyed them. I mean I read a few duds, sure, but I read some real gems as well. And so a couple of weeks ago I found myself eagerly looking forward to rereading a couple of my favorites this holiday season as well as hopefully discovering a few new ones. Happily, the very first new one I read proved to be a home run. I kind of knew it would be, given how much I loved Mary Ann Rivers' debut novella The Story Guy earlier this year. When I heard her next book was a Christmas novella in the HEATING UP THE HOLIDAYS anthology, I snatched it up the day it released and snuggled up with my Nook for a little pre-holiday reading. I hadn't read any works by the other two authors in the collection (I actually still haven't read their contributions, though I plan on it at some point), but I can tell you the ebook bundle is utterly worth it for Rivers' story alone.
Jenny Wright was diagnosed right at the most inopportune of times--right after she uprooted her life entirely, moved halfway across the country, and started a new job in a new place. And even after being diagnosed with a rare degenerative eye disease, she chose to stay in her new life. Even though her mother begged her to come back home where she could look after her. Even though her colleagues walked a little more cautiously around her. And even as the days grew shorter and the darkness crept in. The one bright point in those days is the time after she gets home from work and settles in on the couch with her computer. That's when she gets to chat with C. Though they've never actually met, he used to live in the house she currently rents. And when she forwarded a piece of mail on to him, they struck up an online relationship. C is a macro photographer. Most days the two of them talk about his pictures, her thoughts, anything they like. Though their interactions grow more intimate, Jenny knows she can't handle more. She has enough on her plate navigating her work, her occupational therapy, and just getting through each day intact. When her worlds collide, she is wholly unprepared for the fallout.
I think my best bet is to keep still and let the snow fall, let the days get long again, the light return its hours to me, a few more chances a day to figure out what it is I can comfortably keep in front of me and see.
For me, there isn't some miracle cure, this is my life, or my disease will progress and my life will change focus again, and I'll have another new life.
I need C to stay right where he is now because for now, I don't know enough to move from where I am.
My hypothesis is that the light will come back, both outside and inside me.
I'm afraid and angry, but the light is a theory I want to prove.
Until then, I just have to keep the experiment going with as many controls as possible.
One bus, back and forth.
One man, his words under glass.
Yes. I just knew Ms. Rivers would bring her words. And how beautifully they were voiced through Jenny. I really loved her, you guys. My throat constricted on her behalf from moment to moment. And though I cannot fathom the terror she lived with each day, I know enough of fear to swallow hard at every one of her ruminations on the encroaching darkness. What I love most about Mary Ann Rivers' stories is how with one hand she keeps a ruthless stranglehold on false hope, and with the other she offers the most delicate of joys. I feel both rational and enchanted when I read them. Her writing does not require that I sacrifice either. And so I love it. Which is good, because she brings the sadness and no mistake. Because Jenny's condition is not sugar coated, I worried about getting my hopes up for her future, in general terms as well as with the man in her life. I worried a lot for a single novella. But I loved every page. And there were (as there should be) lovely startling flares of humor as well.
I wonder if he practices making awkward and nerdy look sort of cool. Like he fills his house with furniture that is the wrong scale for his tall body and buys plaid shirts in bulk and tells his barber to leave crazy, too-long pieces of hair mixed in with the regularly cut hair so everything always looks messy.
Then he runs his hands through his hair and puts on his plaid shirts and uses mirrors to watch himself sit in uncomfortable furniture until comfortable furniture looks like it's the one with the problem.
I loved him in the same way Jenny did. Uncertainly. Desperately. In awkward pieces and with a number of reservations. Neither of them faced easy choices and the untenable nature of their situation gave me pause more than once. But as the snow fell, how my love grew. When I think about reading Snowfall, I picture it in soft black and white with the occasional flash of color in the threads of his plaid shirt, in the string of Christmas lights hung with the fierceness of hope for light in the coming year....more
I originally heard about Graffiti Moon around about the time I read Raw Blue and thought to myself, is every AustOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I originally heard about Graffiti Moon around about the time I read Raw Blue and thought to myself, is every Australian YA author crazy talented or what? (The answer, by the way, appears to be an unequivocal YES). Then some of the Usual Suspects read and reviewed and loved it, and so Cath Crowley got noted down on my mental TBR, despite the fact that it, too, was not published in the U.S. yet. Then a little while after, it showed up on NetGalley and there were no more excuses to be had.
Lucy's time is running out. Year 12 is about to end and she still hasn't tracked down the graffiti artist known as Shadow. Though his work is all over the streets and walls and broken down buildings of the city, he only comes out at night. And despite her best efforts, Lucy hasn't been able to be in the right place at the right time to see him at work. He works in tandem with a street artist named Poet. Together they put words to pictures and grace the worn out sections of the city with their unique blend of poetry and urban art. Lucy would be happy to find the mysterious Poet as well, but when it comes down to it, it's Shadow she cares about. Something about the pictures he creates strikes a chord deep inside her and she feels as though a chance will have been missed if she never meets him. Never gets the opportunity to tell him, even for a moment, what his work means to her. Then one night she and her two best friends Jazz and Daisy are out and run into Daisy's on again, off again boyfriend Dylan, and his two friends Leo and Ed. Dylan knows Shadow and Poet, and the group decide to visit the two's known haunts and see if they can find them. Lucy is reluctant to go as she and Ed have had encounters in the past that did not end well. Ed is just as loathe to renew the acquaintance. But Jazz and Leo talk them into it. And they're off.
Graffiti Moon is a gem--a breath of fresh air. The narrative alternates between Lucy's, Ed's, and Leo's points of view and I enjoyed them all equally. Okay. I may have been just a teensy bit more partial to Leo's sections when it comes down to it. But that's because they're poems. Just freakishly good poems. I wanted to share my favorite of Leo's poems because they were such a highlight of the book for me. Here it is, fairly early on in the book:
Where I lived before
I used to live with my parents
In a house that smelled like cigarettes And tasted like beer if you touched anything The kitchen table was a bitter ocean That came off on my fingers
There were three doors between the fighting and me And at night I closed them all I'd lie in bed and block the sounds
By imagining I was floating Light years of quiet Interrupted by breathing And nothing else
I'd drift through space And fall through dreams Into dark skies Some nights
My brother Jake and I would crawl out the window And cut across the park Swing on the monkey bars for a while One the way to Gran's house
She'd be waiting Dressing gown and slippers on Searching for our shadows She'd read us
Poetry and fairy tales Where swords took care of dragons And Jake never said it was a load of shit Like I thought he would
And then one night Gran stopped reading before the happy ending She asked, "Leopold, Jake. You want to live In my spare room?"
Her voice Sounded like space and dark skies But that night all my dreams Had floors
That last line has been haunting me ever since. In such a good way. "But that night all my dreams had floors." A line so good it had me swallowing hard, brushing back sudden tears in my eyes, and turning to my husband to read it aloud, because I just had to share it with someone instantly. I love Leo. Comparisons between this book and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist abound, and I certainly understand why. Graffiti Moon is to be preferred, in my opinion, as the characters are more fully fleshed out and the writing is just a cut above. Here the focus is on art instead of music, and the combination of Shadow's evocative paintings and Lucy's burgeoning glassblowing skills is a lovely feast for the imagination. I could picture, without any trouble at all, the heart growing grass. That perfect shade of blue he's been searching for. The birds--their wings bound--struggling to break free. I could see it all. Truthfully, this book reminded me more of Lisa Schroeder's Chasing Brooklyn or Donna Freitas' This Gorgeous Game. It shares with those stories a certain elegance in the telling. I loved each of the main characters, with the real draw being the ethereal connection between Lucy and Shadow, and the complicated friendship between Ed and Leo. There's much of humor and heartbreak within these pages, and I read them through in one sitting, so happy was I to be with these kids, inside these words, as they expressed themselves the only way they knew how....more
Once again I surface from a haze of mandatory rereading of each and every one of my favorite parts in the previouOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Once again I surface from a haze of mandatory rereading of each and every one of my favorite parts in the previous two novels in the Raven Cycle to write this review of the third and latest installment. I finished Blue Lily, Lily Blue and lay awake in bed, staring at the ceiling, seeing nothing but the quicksilver leaves of Cabeswater, hearing nothing but Adam's soft drawl over the tune of Ronan's inappropriate Irish jigs, and tasting nothing but mint on my tongue. It's a heady experience giving yourself over to one of Maggie's novels and not a decision to be taken lightly. Knowing that she persists in ending each book on a cliffhanger teaser (of sorts), I prepared myself for the worst (though I know she's really saving that for the fourth and final book). And, as ever, as the whole thing crashes to its temporary conclusion, some threads are flung far and wide even as others (the core ones) tighten their hold, both on each other and on me.
This is the third book in a quartet, guys. I shall attempt to minimize the spoilers. But not at the expense of THE FEELINGS. As Ronan might say, Vos admonitos.
Given her druthers, Blue Sargent would eat yogurt for every meal. She would grow a handful of inches taller. And she would spend each and every day with the boys. And while her mother disapproves of at least two of those three choices, her mother is not around anymore. To put too fine a point on it, Maura has up and disappeared. And the women of 300 Fox Way are at a loss as to know exactly what to do to fetch her back. And so Blue eats her yogurt. And she bemoans her diminutive height. And she spends as many and as much of her days as possible hunting with Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah. And all the while she quietly tries to will her mother back before the nameless evil that threatens to awaken does just that. Meanwhile, Adam is holding tightly to every shred of sanity and temper he possesses in order to mend his fences with Gansey, continue to heal Cabeswater as needed, and come to terms with his role in the group and in the grander scheme of the search for Glendower. And in many respects his work is rewarded with greater clarity on several fronts. Ronan Lynch continues to live with every one of his secrets (and to be keeper of a not insignificant portion of my heart). And Noah . . . vacillates . . . as only Noah can. To say nothing of the Gray Man's adopted quest, Calla's fiercely protective eye, Persephone's training of Adam, and Gansey's sometime mentor calling for tea. More threads are added to the weft with every step of this penultimate tale.
"You can be just friends with people, you know," Orla said. "I think it's crazy how you're in love with all those raven boys."
Orla wasn't wrong, of course. But what she didn't realize about Blue and her boys was that they were all in love with one another. She was no less obsessed with them than they were with her, or one another, analyzing every conversation and gesture, drawing out every joke into a longer and longer running gag, spending each moment either with one another or thinking about when next they would be with one another. Blue was perfectly aware that it was possible to have a friendship that wasn't all-encompassing, that wasn't blinding, deafening, maddening, quickening. It was just that now that she'd had this kind, she didn't want the other.
In the words of Whitman, "We were together. I forget the rest." This is precisely how I feel whenever I sit back down with Blue and her Raven Boys. Okay. We're together now. Everything else can fall away. I love how, despite Maura's absence, everyone felt less alone to me in this one than they did in the last. In Blue Lily, Lily Blue, three books in, they genuinely have each other. Even more importantly, they acknowledge that they have each other and just how much that means. Sometimes, in the case of Ronan, they acknowledge it in remorseless and epithetical Latin. Sometimes, in the case of Adam, in the minutest acceptance of an unexpected kindness. And sometimes, in the case of Gansey and Blue, only in the most glancing and breath-holding of looks or moments, drifting along the tenuous line of a telephone. But acknowledge it and rely upon it they do. And that seemingly simple step goes miles and miles to shoring up a few of this reader's myriad anxieties. The trust and surety that previously extended unilaterally here and there within the group expand in this volume to each relationship, in every combination. They find themselves reaching out, across status and gender and ley lines. And, as a result, Gansey (who has arguably been the most alone of all these kids who have been so very alone) is no longer quite so internally isolated. And the same goes for each of the magnificent individuals he has gathered around him. With all dark things looming ahead of them, this one change felt vastly important to me. And dark things do loom ahead. So dark at times it is difficult not to flinch. But there is always the glorious light to match the darkness—the lightning humor in Gansey's eyes, in Ronan's laugh, and on Blue's tongue.
Sometimes, Gansey forgot how much he liked school and how good he was at it. But he couldn't forget it on mornings like this one—fall fog rising out of the fields and lifting in front of the mountains, the Pig running cool and loud, Ronan climbing out of the passenger seat and knocking knuckles on the roof with teeth flashing, dewy grass misting the black toes of his shoes, bag slung over his blazer, narrow-eyed Adam bumping fists as they met on the sidewalk, boys around them laughing and calling to one another, making space for the three of them because this had been a thing for so long: Gansey-Lynch-Parrish.
This thing. Oh, this thing. The three of them. The five of them. The quest for the sleeping king. It's just that I love them, you know? I love that we get the sure sense they were going on before us and that they will continue on without us after the fourth book comes to a close. As for that close, we shall not speak of it. For I am full to the brim of fears and awful premonitions. As such, I plan on tucking myself away at 300 Fox Way until next October. Just to be safe. Safe as life....more
Nearly a Lady has been quietly languishing on my TBR pile for months now. I'm afraid that cover had something toOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Nearly a Lady has been quietly languishing on my TBR pile for months now. I'm afraid that cover had something to do with it (she says sheepishly after making and breaking her 110th resolution not to judge a book by its . . . well). Uninspiring cover aside (but seriously, I just don't like the look of them and really that's far too much lavender for my taste and . . . well), it lingered in the back of my mind all this time for no discernible reason except that I read the ebook sample and liked that the heroine threatens to shoot the hero with her rifle in the opening lines. Sadly, the determinedly full price ebook combined with a lack of an available hard copy locally kept me from giving Alissa Johnson's writing a try. Until I needed something the other night, that is. And that girl with the rifle started calling my name. I am so very glad I listened, because this engaging historical is as lovely as they come.
Winnifred (Freddie) Blythe has not a single delusion of grandeur. She knows exactly who she is and where she belongs. And that is a girl no one has ever much wanted (with the exception of her longtime friend and governess Lilly) and on a forgotten farm in the backwoods of Scotland. And Freddie is happy with this life. Though they have next to nothing, she and Lily have learned to cope, even taking in mending jobs for the inmates at the local prison. Their calm, if somewhat desperate, lot is thrown into chaos when Lord Gideon Haverston arrives on their doorstep to right the wrongs his horrible stepmother did Freddie these past twelve years by cheating her out of the annuity his father promised her upon her father's death. One of the walking wounded, Gideon is a former Royal Navy ship captain home from the war and determined to hide the post traumatic stress he deals with on a daily basis. When Lilly insists Freddie be given a proper London season, Gideon feels honor-bound to make it happen. The more time he spends in Freddie's company, however, the more convinced he becomes he must get the women to London and get out immediately after. He can tell Freddie is developing a fondness for him, and the feeling is more than returned. But the nature of what happened on his ship, the Perseverance, make it imperative that Gideon never be responsible for anyone. Ever again.
You know how you go into some books knowing exactly what you're going to get and being perfectly okay with that? I thought I knew what I was getting with Nearly a Lady. I thought I would be getting a perfectly respectable amount of light Regency fluff, competently written and hopefully engaging enough to see me through to the end. And if we could avoid any over-the-top silliness or grand misunderstandings, so much the better. What I wound up getting was quite a bit more than those admittedly mundane expectations. Color me absolutely delighted and ordering my own paperback copy before I even neared the halfway mark. Throughout the book, both Freddie and Gideon resist being shoehorned into any of the usual genre tropes. She is wonderfully strong and uncouth, monumentally uninterested in a London season but willing to do that and more for the sake of her best friend. He is titled and genuinely charming, absolutely set on doing the right thing but suffering from no illusions that the hero role he finds himself playing is anything other than a role (and a very temporary one at that). Together they induce a surprisingly wide and strong range of feelings on the part of the reader. The loveliest of all the lovely things about Freddie is that she is ultimately unashamed of herself and she speaks her mind. She respects Gideon's privacy and sensibilities, but she draws the line at letting him get away with dissembling when it comes to the emotions he broadcasts and the ones he actually claims. And I just wanted to throw her a high five every single time. The loveliest thing among yes, a very many lovely things about Gideon is that he is honest with himself and he calls Freddie out as well (in his disarming, occasionally maddening Gideon way) when it comes to her flyaway temper and what exactly she sees in that mirror she is forced to hold up when faced with societal expectations. The bottom line is I never tired of them, I always respected them, and I swallowed tears more than once at the obstacles between them and happiness.
Here, a representative conversation between the two, in which their individual strengths, their humor, and the nature of their wonderful, burgeoning friendship is evident:
She considered him quietly. He hadn't shouted, or cursed, or even snapped at her. His voice had remained perfectly even. But the authority—in the tone, in the words—was all but palpable.
She took the seat across from him, suddenly fascinated. "I've been wondering how you managed to captain a ship for all those years. I was beginning to suspect you injured your leg during a bout of mutiny."
"Delighted to have satisfied your curiosity," he answered in the same unforgiving voice. "Your reasons, Winnefred. I'll have them now."
She sat up straighter in her chair. "I am not a sailor aboard your ship to be ordered about. And my reasons are none of your business."
"On the contrary, and to my considerable frustration at the moment, you, and everything you do, are my concern until I deliver you into the care of my aunt."
The mention of frustration at having to care for her until he could hand her over to someone else made her heart stutter and the edges of her vision turn red. It was an irrational and disproportionate reaction to an offhand comment, she knew, but she was helpless to stem the anger. She'd had her fill of being delivered from one person to the next as a child.
Her eyes narrowed to slits. "I have no interest in being anyone's burden, Gideon. And I will not be passed between members of the Haverston family like an inconvenient head cold."
She rose from her seat and turned to leave, but Gideon stood and caught her hand before she could escape.
"Sit down," he said softly.
"No." She tugged her arm. "Let go."
She stopped pulling at his plea but didn't resume her seat.
Gideon gave her arm a gentle squeeze. "My frustration is with this particular conversation, not with you. I apologize for my poor choice of words."
"The conversation is with me."
"It is not our first disagreement." He gave her a disarming smile. "Can we not settle this one as we have others?"
"I haven't a rifle to hit you with."
"We'll make do."
Throughout this book, whenever things reached a point in a conversation where less nuanced, less dynamic characters would have fallen back on tiresome histrionics or predictable obtuseness, these two consistently remained both true to themselves and anxiously concerned for the other. They somehow managed to be sensible and fall wildly in love at the same time. It was a terribly satisfying experience accompanying them on their journey.
One last favorite passage:
How had things gone so terribly wrong? She wasn't supposed to be returning to Murdoch House in defeat, and she most certainly was not supposed to be returning alone.
Lilly should be there. And Gideon. High-handed, muleheaded, wonderful Gideon. She'd never admitted it, not even to herself, but a part of her had expected him to come back to Murdoch House with her. Or perhaps it was more accurate to say that no part of her had been able to imagine going back without him.
This is both my first Jodi Lynn Anderson book and my first Peter Pan retelling! I know there are quite a few out there, but for whatever reason I just haven't dipped into that pool yet. I've seen and enjoyed multiple screen adaptations, but this was my first outing with a retelling on the page. The thing about Peter Pan is that I read it a couple of years ago with my oldest boy and it was . . . rather devastating, actually. In the very best way, of course. But the emotions were real and they cut deep. So I probably should have expected to be a bit wrung out upon finishing TIGER LILY. Because even though it's all about Tiger Lily (and is told from Tinker Bell's perspective), it's about Peter, too. And Neverland. And the Lost Boys. And Hook. And every other excruciating bit of that original story that so embodies the sense of wonder and loss endemic to childhood and growing up. All of which is to say that beyond this point there be emotions. Proceed with caution.
Tinker Bell remembers the exact day on which she met the girl called Tiger Lily. She remembers it so clearly because she'd never seen anyone that outside, that tenacious, that determined to forge her own path. Ostracized for her differences, Tiger Lily's only friends are her adopted father (the village shaman) and a pair of mismatched outsiders her own age who are inexplicably drawn to the caustic girl. But ever since that fateful day, Tink has stuck by Tiger Lily's side. Entranced with her life and energy and isolation, the tiny faery unexpectedly finds a kindred spirit. Able to listen in to Tiger Lily's thoughts and feelings, Tink knows better than anyone just how hard she works every day just to stay inside her own skin. And then one day, she accompanies Tiger Lily on what seems a normal outing. But in the course of a single afternoon, she watches the determined girl spare a killer's life and take her own life in her hands as she stumbles across the infamous Peter Pan. And thus begins an intense and unlikely bond that will shape the lives of both the human girl, the faery, and the boy who would not grow up.
It starts with a Walt Whitman quote, which is so often guaranteed to garner my attention and admiration. From the opening of the prologue, Anderson's writing shored up any lingering questions I had in my mind about how this book and I would get on. As a matter of fact, this book and I were immediately inseparable. I may be particularly susceptible to this story's charms, but given the level of beauty Ms. Anderson's writing achieves, there was simply no way I was not going to be enthralled by a revisionist version focused on the girl(s) who came before Wendy. It was, of course, genius to have Tinker Bell tell it. And the friendship between the two girls is one of the highlights of the whole dark, exquisite story. At first blush, neither of them are incredibly endearing. Prickly and headstrong and inveterate loners, they resist advances from both their peers and their readers. But it didn't take long for me to appreciate Tiger Lily through Tink's eyes. And no time at all for me to sympathize with her impossible situation and fully support her attempts to escape the bonds restricting her. Peter was such a perfect avenue for that. His feral joy, his hidden vulnerability, his wordless understanding of and refusal to accept his world all worked their magic on the strong women who found their way to his burrow. Peter and Tiger Lily's version of first love mirrors the two of them. It is a wild, joyful, and vulnerable creature, at once wondrous and painful to witness. TIGER LILY is composed of layers upon layers of love stories, each one tiny and perfect and desperately flawed. Here, my favorite passage featuring Tiger Lily and her adopted father Tik Tok as they confront the issue of an unwelcome arranged marriage:
He sighed. "It's not your fault. It was my selfishness. I didn't have the courage to leave you in the woods. But I should have let someone else have you . . . one of the other tribes," he said. He leaned down onto one palm as, with the other, he yanked a root from the ground and brushed it off. "I could have told you. But I didn't want you to live under a shadow. I never held you back from anything."
Tiger Lily was silent for awhile, her long, dark hair falling across her face, obscuring her expression, and Tik Tok stared at the root in his hands. Finally she reached for his fingers. "I'm glad you took me. It's just a husband. Maybe it won't be terrible."
"It was my job to protect you," he said. "And I didn't."
Tiger Lily shook her head. "You have. I'm okay. Really, Tik Tok." Secretly, Tiger Lily knew it was her job to protect him too.
Tik Tok smiled, but his eyes became wet. His shoulders sank, and he steadied himself where he knelt over a patch of bitter gourd.
"I let you down, little one."
She reached for his arm. "I'm not so little. I can take care of myself."
"Yes, I know." He frowned. "But you shouldn't have to. You should have someone to love and take care of you. Not like him."
Tiger Lily didn't want someone to take care of her. But I heard the longing in Tik Tok's heart too, and the loneliness of being such a singular type of person, without another like himself to hold at night. He didn't want the same for his daughter.
"You love me," she said. "That's enough. We love each other."
"Yes. Yes, that's true." He smiled. "We are a love story."
You see? In fact, each love story in this book is so sensitively handled that I couldn't choose my favorite. I like their unexpectedness and how they wind up in places you didn't see. And they are each highlighted by the quiet ways in which they echo and play with their original counterparts. But as far as friendships go, my favorite is Tiger Lily and Tink's. Subtle as it is, what distinguishes it is how consistently they (individually and collectively) buck being tied down. To family, to life, to their own fears, even to Peter. Infatuation, passion, true love aside, their integrity doesn't waver. Even in the face of despair and all the years ahead. And if this Tinker Bell was a little more serious than I expected and this Tiger Lily a little more unbridled and fierce, well, that only made me love them more. I choked back tears more than once and, as in the original, the ending is fragile and aching and right....more
I bought the ebook version of FLAT-OUT LOVE when I saw what a good deal it was right now. I'd seen it read, reviewed, and lovOriginally reviewed here.
I bought the ebook version of FLAT-OUT LOVE when I saw what a good deal it was right now. I'd seen it read, reviewed, and loved here and there for several months now, but for some reason nothing pushed me over the edge into trying it out myself. I know. Then when I found myself in between books and casting about for the next great thing, I remembered I had it on my nook and pulled it out to see how we got on. The answer is: famously! This is one of those books you kick yourself for not picking up sooner and then attempt to make reparations by singing its praises in the hopes that others will be quicker and savvier than you. I also just ordered the paperback, because I can tell that a digital copy is not going to be enough. This is one I'll want to have on my shelves for lending and rereading and the like. Plus, it's pretty, that cover. I mean, it kind of fills me with a maelstrom of emotions after the fact. But pretty it is. This is my first book by Jessica Park and I'm eager to find out what she's working on next and what we have to look forward to.
Julie is a bit down on her luck already and it's only her first day in Boston. She's come all the way out east to go to college, leaving her mother and the Midwest behind. But it turns out using Craigslist to secure an apartment wasn't the brightest idea. Fortunately, after one harried phone call with her mother and one minor meltdown in front of the burrito shop that was supposed to be her apartment, Julie is saved when the son of her mother's old college roommate shows up. Her mother's old roommate Kate and her family live in town and offer to let Julie stay with them until she finds an actual apartment where she will not be mugged or killed. Putting aside the fact that she really didn't even know Kate existed, and that she's just about as different from her mother as it's possible to be, Julie settles in to life with the eccentric Watkins family. And eccentric doesn't even really touch the surface when it comes to these people. Kind and generous, they are also incredibly . . . different. What with professor parents Erin and Roger never being around at all, MIT student Matt's over-the-top nerd shirts and doubtful social skills, and 13-year-old Celeste carting around a life-size cardboard cutout of her big brother Finn, whom she has dubbed Flat Finn. Between searching for a place to live, trying not to make a nuisance of herself, and navigating the obviously treacherous waters going on in this family, Julie has her work cut out for her. Doesn't help that she appears to be developing a crush on one far-flung member of the family along the way . . .
What is it about me and books set in Boston? It may come from having devoured a large quantity of Ellen Emerson White books as a young adult, but hand me a book about a girl and Boston and I am one happy clam. The hilarious thing is, I've never even been there! I dream about parts of this city I feel like I know like the back of my hand, I've read about them so many times. But I have yet to see them with my own eyes. One of these days . . . So, rather unsurprisingly, I fell in love with Boston and the Watkins family right along with Julie. Quite frankly, it's impossible not to. They are wonderfully obtuse and endearing. The banter between Julie and Matt has a hilariously natural flow to it, as she ribs him for being hopelessly uninterested in Things Not Math, and he responds in kind teasing her for being too preoccupied with pop culture and caffeinated drinks and other lower aspects of life. Honestly, it is such a good time following the way Julie organically becomes a part of the family. She takes a special interest in Celeste, determined to get to the bottom of why she felt the need to create Flat Finn and what she's afraid will happen if she doesn't have him by her side (talking to him) every minute of every day. Finn himself is off traveling the world and his communications with Julie via Facebook had me grinning ferociously. As it happens, this book engaged every one of my emotions. The romance is of the heart-palpitating variety, somehow managing to be sweet, genuine, and seriously intense all at the same time. And even as I laughed out loud at one of Finn's many digital witticisms or one of Celeste's oddball contraction-free responses, fear crept up on me reading from behind. Fear of what Julie would find and that her finding it would shatter the fragile peace Matty, Celeste, Erin, Roger, and Finn had constructed. I wiped tears away more than once, and my love for every single one of the characters only grew and never diminished. FLAT-OUT LOVE is not only incredibly addicting but packs an emotional punch I felt in my gut for days after. Highly, highly recommended....more
I read THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT by Christmas tree light in one blissful chunk. I fell in love withOriginally published here.
I read THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT by Christmas tree light in one blissful chunk. I fell in love with the cover awhile back, because, well, love the font and the red on black and white, and the blessed not-a-single-word title. Honestly, they're few and far between these days, and they always snag my attention as a result. But I knew very little about it otherwise. Nevertheless, when it became available on NetGalley, I went ahead and downloaded it to my nook. I figured it looked to be a nice, sweet way to kick off the new year. A light romance about two kids who meet in an airport? I tend to get a bit anxious, a bit maudlin come the end of the holidays and the beginning of a new year. So it sounded like a perfect January read to me. Of course, I let it sit there for a bit, trying to finish up a few end-of-year reads. And then one late afternoon I found myself with a couple of hours to kill. I'm not sure what combination of stars aligned to create that little event, but I immediately plopped down on the couch in front of my Christmas tree and opened up this little baby. I didn't look up once until I was done.
Hadley is on her way to her father's wedding. Against her will. To a woman she's never met. Despite the fact that he left her and her mother for a position at Oxford, England in general, and a woman named Charlotte, both her parents think she ought to attend his wedding. And so after much mutiny, she finds herself on her way to the airport. But as happened so many times in her dreams, she's late and misses her plane. Unfortunately, that poses as many problems as it solves. Now she's stuck in the airport waiting for the next flight to London, and she has that much more time to hash the whole painful debacle out in her head. Terrified of flying, she has both the wedding and the mode of transportation to dread. And then a small kindness. The boy across the way offers to watch her suitcase for her while she makes a trip to the bathroom. In fact, he does her one better and comes with her. They get a bite to eat and start talking about why they're both headed across the pond. Turns out Oliver is actually British. Studying at Yale, he's on his way back for a similar command performance. And an unlikely friendship is struck up on the one night of the year Hadley was most afraid of confronting alone. Of course, the flight only lasts a finite number of hours. And all too soon they touch down at Heathrow and must say goodbye. Just when they were beginning to really get to know one another.
THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT stuck with me long after I finished reading. I mentioned how cute the cover and premise made it seem, but I actually find myself in the position of saying that it is so much more than the cover (which I really do like) makes it seem. I expected short and sweet. What I didn't expect was wonderfully mature characters and thought-provoking situations. Hadley may be putting up a fight over attending a wedding, but I can't fathom someone blaming her. Her dad left them. He left them, and nothing has been right since. Her mother went into a spiral of depression, and for awhile there it was Hadley keeping the two of them afloat. And when all the adults seem to have risen above things to put on a good show, it's pretty clear that no one gave Hadley enough time to marshal her own emotions and do the same. So she's forced to do it on the fly. Anyone would be a wreck. And then there's Oliver. Oliver reminded me of one Cricket Bell. Cute in a gangly, smart way. He's got his own demons breathing down his neck, but he doesn't prance about wearing them on his sleeve. In fact, he's able to reach out to someone else--a total stranger--in distress. The way he manages to distract Hadley literally in her hour of need was charming and understated and won me over so that I, too, was pained at the thought of parting just after meeting him. The lovely bit is that Jennifer E. Smith allows the story to continue beyond the parting, and we get to follow Hadley as she confronts her fears and all the water not-so-far under the bridge between herself and her father. I felt folded into the simple beauty of this story of a girl coming to terms with her father being so deeply fallible, and whether or not his very real failures negated the years of love and care he gave her growing up. Setting her struggle against the unexpected possibility of a fledgling relationship was the perfect touch on Ms. Smith's part. As was the wonderful incorporation of a love for Dickens and a certain copy of Our Mutual Friend. Here, my favorite passage, which shows you what I mean about the thoughtful writing and the emotion it wrung from me. It's long, but worth it:
When she was little, Hadley used to sneak into Dad's office at home, which was lined with bookshelves that stretched from the floor to the ceiling, all of them stacked with peeling paperbacks and hardcovers with cracked spines. She was only six the first time he found her sitting in his armchair with her stuffed elephant and a copy of A Christmas Carol, poring over it as intently as if she were considering it for her dissertation.
"What're you reading?" he'd asked, leaning against the doorframe and taking off his glasses.
"Yeah?" he asked, trying not to smile. "What story?"
"It's about a girl and her elephant," Hadley informed him matter-of-factly.
"Is that right?"
"Yes," she said. "And they go on a trip together, on a bike, but then the elephant runs away, and she cries so hard that someone brings her a flower."
Dad crossed the room and in a single practiced motion lifted her from the chair--Hadley clinging desperately to the slender book--until, suddenly, she was sitting on his lap.
"What happens next?" he asked.
"The elephant finds her again."
"He gets a cupcake. And they live happily ever after."
"That sounds like a great story."
Hadley squeezed the fraying elephant on her lap. "It was."
"Do you want me to read you another one?" he asked, gently taking the book from her and flipping to the first page. "It's about Christmas."
She settled back into the soft flannel of his shirt, and he began to read.
It wasn't even the story itself that she loved; she didn't understand half the words and often felt lost in the winding sentences. It was the gruff sound of her father's voice, the funny accents he did for each character, the way he let her turn the pages. Every night after dinner they would read together in the stillness of the study. Sometimes Mom would come stand at the door with a dish towel in her hand and a half-smile on her face as she listened, but mostly it was just the two of them.
Even when she was old enough to read herself, they still tackled the classics together, moving from Anna Karenina to Pride and Prejudice to The Grapes of Wrath as if traveling across the globe itself, leaving holes in the bookshelves like missing teeth.
And later, when it started to become clear that she cared more about soccer practice and phone privileges than Jane Austen or Walt Whitman, when the hour turned into a half hour and every night turned into every other, it no longer mattered. The stories had become a part of her by then; they stuck to her bones like a good meal, bloomed inside of her like a garden. They were as deep and meaningful as any other trait Dad had passed along to her: her blue eyes, her straw-colored hair, the sprinkling of freckles across her nose.
Often he would come home with books for her, for Christmas or her birthday, or for no particular occasion at all, some of them early editions with beautiful gold trim, others used paperbacks bought for a dollar or two on a street corner. Mom always looked exasperated, especially when it was a new copy of one that he already had in his study.
"This house is about two dictionaries away from caving in," she'd say, "and you're buying duplicates?"
But Hadley understood. It wasn't that she was meant to read them all. Maybe someday she would, but for now, it was more the gesture itself. He was giving her the most important thing he could, the only way he knew how. He was a professor, a lover of stories, and he was buildng her a library in the same way other men might build their daughters houses.
The most important people in our lives elicit the strongest emotions and the broadest array of them. Sometimes we love them. Sometimes we hate them. Sometimes the love and hate are so inextricably intertwined, it's easier to give up than stick it out and find your way to peace. THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT explores these themes of love and anguish in such unassuming and meaningful ways that I found myself pressing my hand to my chest the emotions were that true and close to the surface. What a beautiful way to start of a new year of reading. I do hope you seek it out....more
Okay. You are all familiar with my . . . what's the word . . . thing . . . for thieves. And Robin is perhaps the thief I've loved the longest. So it sOkay. You are all familiar with my . . . what's the word . . . thing . . . for thieves. And Robin is perhaps the thief I've loved the longest. So it should come as no surprise when I say that I was filled with glee when I first heard about A. C. Gaughen's upcoming retelling--SCARLET. I liked the cover and, without running down too many spoilery details, I looked forward to the focus on Will Scarlet and the fact that it hailed from a debut author. All of these things add up to that most wonderful of things--possibility. I've reviewed both my favorite Robin Hood retellings here already. And I've read quite a few more. They have all been interesting reads aimed at a variety of types and ages of readers. This particular one is being marketed YA, and I wondered idly, as I anticipated the book, what form my beloved characters would take in this incarnation.
Scarlet is a thief. And a liar. She's a thief and a liar and about twenty different kinds of deadly with her knives. And she's loyal to one person on this earth and one person only--Robin Hood. Also known as Robin of Locksley or (less commonly now) the Earl Huntingdon, Robin gave her a place and a hood to hide behind when Scarlet needed it the most, and now she forms an integral member of his band in Sherwood Forest. Standing up to the ruthless Sheriff of Nottingham, Robin, Scarlet, and the lads (Little John and Much) are determined to spare the good folk of Nottinghamshire from the sheriff's wrath for as long as it takes. Outside of her three comrades, few folk have any idea Scarlet is a girl. The boys refer to her as Will, and she has no intention of disobliging anyone of that particular notion. You see, Robin is not the only one with demons in his past. And when the sheriff goes and hires the dreaded Guy of Gisbourne to hunt down the Hood and his band, Scarlet knows her days may at last be numbered. It's only a matter of time before her past catches up with her, and then even Robin's protection may not be enough to keep her from the hangman's noose.
SCARLET is massively entertaining. I was caught up in this unusual thief's story from the first page. At the point in which we meet her, Scarlet herself is eighteen years old. The same age as John and just a couple or three years younger than Rob (I love that she calls him Rob). This age spread worked nicely as Robin is home from the crusades--an old man in a young man's body--and Scarlet herself is an old soul, having prowled the streets of London before Rob hauled her off to Sherwood to join his noble cause. These two broken youths find something akin to hope in each other despite the harshness of their previous lives, and I can't tell you how many times my heart contracted with sympathy for them. The characters in SCARLET like to keep their secrets. Every one of them is holding onto something they'd prefer not come out into the light of day. Nobody more than Scarlet herself, of course, but I appreciated the various histories and enjoyed the ways in which A. C. Gaughen incorporated the many traditional threads of the tale. I'm always a fan of girls in disguise, and this one has the bite to match her bark, if you will. She has few soft spots--possibly just the one--and that one is so rife with impossibility and unspoken hope that it hardly warrants the name. But I happily plunged into those impossible hopes with her and adopted them as my own. Which is to say, Scarlet had my affections from the get go. The boys I liked at first and grew to love (and sometimes hate) as the game unfolded. I like that Robin isn't portrayed perfectly. Don't get me wrong. He's a hero through and through. But he has his fair share of shortsightedness. And ghosts. And I wasn't always sure he deserved the ending I wanted for him. I also wished for a bit more complexity on the part of the villain. There was so much potential for Gisbourne in this retelling, and I felt as though he came off a bit, well, ridiculous at times, when he should have been terrifying. But despite these smallish quibbles, I stayed up hours past my bedtime devouring the final chapters in this delightful debut. If you're at all a fan of Robin Hood and women who know their way around a weapon, you won't want to miss it....more
Well, I knew this was going to be hard. I knew that going in. I mean, how do you go about revealing something like this? It'Originally published here.
Well, I knew this was going to be hard. I knew that going in. I mean, how do you go about revealing something like this? It's embarrassing is what it is. And I hate being embarrassed. But it's also the truth. So here you go--the truth in all its humiliating glory:
That's right. Before I picked up How to Save a Life, I had never read a Sara Zarr book.
Cue the echoing Silence of Judgement.
Okay, before you go off all half-cocked--I know. I know. It's just that everyone loves her. Like Sarah Dessen kind of love. And I was afraid I'd be disappointed (particularly as Sarah Dessen doesn't do much for me--I know, I know). So the hype got to me. I'm not proud of it, but there it is. And I'm not sure exactly what pushed me over this time around. All I can say is I saw this one pop up on NetGalley and just felt like it was time.
Jill doesn't recognize herself anymore. Ever since her father passed away eight months ago, it's been like this. She and her mother are existing in the same house, but that's about it. The crushing realization that he was the one thing connecting them weighs on Jill's soul, as day by day she grows more and more remote, driving away her friends, her boyfriend, and especially her mother. Then her mom hits her with the astounding news that she plans on adopting a baby. And not just that, but the teenage mom currently carrying said baby is on her way to stay with them for the duration of her pregnancy. And so Mandy enters their lives. Her past a big, vague gray, Mandy moves into the MacSweeney household and changes the frigid dynamic between Jill and her mother Robin in so many subtle ways. And while Robin fawns over Mandy, anxiously checking on her welfare, her comfort, her general happiness level, Jill suspects a snake in the grass. Determined to find out just exactly where Mandy comes from and why she doggedly insists on doing this open adoption her way, Jill sets out to protect her grief-blind mother from making the biggest mistake of their lives.
Jill is my kind of narrator. She's gruff on the outside, bit softer on the inside, and she would rather show anger than fear. And so she does. In spades. Those around her have to really care about her to stay. And when we meet Jill, there aren't so many of them left. Mandy is not normally my kind of narrator. She is ponderous in almost every way. Basically the polar opposite of Jill, Mandy wears long flowered dresses and "does" her hair every day. But she is also wonderful. Wonderfully awkward socially. As the narrative alternates between Jill and Mandy, I was able to get my fill of each girl. And I loved every minute of it. How well-rounded Sara Zarr's writing is, how smart the dialogue, how thoughtful the prose. Here's is one of my favorite examples, from Mandy's point of view (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
I don't want my daughter to ever hear a story or see a piece of paper or know that one exists on which I signed her away. I don't want her to ever think that I didn't want her. No matter what. I don't want to leave any evidence she could find later that she might think proves to her the worst things she thinks about herself on a bad day. Not when she's ten, not when she's fifteen, not when she's forty. Maybe I'll be there to explain it to her, but I can't know that sure enough right now to plan on it. I want it to feel like fate, the way she ended up with Robin. I want to be in her life like a good dream, like someone who might not always be there but who never really left. Her world should feel full of possibilities and open doors, not full of things that are closed and final.
I mean, come on. How beautiful is that? And more than that, it's right. The writing rings with authenticity and feeling. My throat actually began to close up reading that passage, it felt so true. The excellent thing is, Ms. Zarr excels on several fronts. She is able to weave together the perfect blend of the profound and the light--such an important quality in contemporary literature, I think. Jill's relationship with her sometime (some would say long-suffering) boyfriend Dylan comes to mind. As does her friendship with Ravi--a boy from her high school who she reconnects with in a rather hilarious way. Because I can't resist, here is just a great passage early on between Jill and Dylan:
"I almost thought you weren't going to come. But I know you and winter and Tuesdays and pho."
He shrugs. "What can I say? Pho is rock."
Dylan has this whole rating system for everything--food, bands, clothes, teachers, movies, cars, songs, life events--based on the game rock-paper-scissors. Whatever is the utmost in awesomeness, whatever is profoundly good, whatever is right and true, is rock. Because rock, though it can be beat (or "hidden," as Dylan prefers to say) by paper, can never be destroyed.
Brilliant. And just like that, it becomes impossible not to like both of them. Dylan for coming up with such an awesome system and Jill for understanding it. And him. I liked all the characters in this book. They were presented in 360, if you will. As a result I, as the reader, was afforded the opportunity to view them from all angles. And so I loved them. Because I knew them. You're so smart, Sara Zarr. Love is rock....more
Can you believe it's taken me this long to get around to this one? To be perfectly honest, I had little interest in it based solely on the title and tCan you believe it's taken me this long to get around to this one? To be perfectly honest, I had little interest in it based solely on the title and the vast amount of love it got from, well, everyone. I can be truculent that way. But a sufficient amount of time has passed since the hubbub, that I was quite happy to see a copy show up among my Christmas presents and I opened it up with alacrity over the break. What a perfectly lovely book and how right everyone was talking it up here, there, and everywhere. I was intrigued to find out it was written by two women--relatives, no less. My understanding is that Mary Ann Shaffer asked her niece (and fellow writer) Annie Barrows to help her finish the book once Ms. Shaffer's failing health began to seriously impede its progress toward publication. I'm so glad the book was finished and published and not lost in the shuffle. I wonder, sometimes, how many gems are.
The year is 1946 and Juliet Ashton is a columnist turned author struggling to write her second book, following her wildly successful compilation of wartime essays. Having just completed a rather grueling tour promoting the book, she is back in London and staring at the empty pages on her desk just waiting to be filled. Then she receives a letter from a man by the unlikely name of Dawsey Adams, wondering whether or not she might direct him to some further work by his beloved author Charles Lamb. You see, he purchased one of his own volumes of Lamb secondhand and it had Juliet's name inscribed inside. Juliet is charmed to find another Lamb admirer and immediately writes back to Mr. Adams. And thus begins an extensive and fruitful correspondence the likes of which neither of them have ever known. Dawsey belongs to an extremely unique literary society known as the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The name alone whets Juliet's appetite for more. And it turns out there is so much more to this little Channel Island society than meets the eye. Inaugurated during the German occupation of Guernsey, this small group of ragtag members meets faithfully to discuss books and huddle together against the encroaching horrors of war. Through their experiences, Juliet's imagination is fired up and the novel she keeps trying and failing to write suddenly takes off.
This is one of those books that drew my husband down the hall and into the room to find out what the laughter was about. And then, of course, the tears, when I foolishly attempted to read aloud an early passage that hit me in one of those wonderful zing moments. Try reading this portion aloud without choking up:
Best to say we weren't a true literary society at first. Aside from Elizabeth, Mrs. Maugery, and perhaps Booker, most of us hadn't had much to do with books since our school years. We took them from Mrs. Maugery's shelves fearful we'd spoil the fine papers. I had no zest for such matters in those days. It was only by fixing my mind on the Commandant and jail that I could make myself to lift up the cover of the book and begin.
It was called Selections from Shakespeare. Later, I came to see that Mr. Dickens and Mr. Wordsworth were thinking of men like me when they wrote their words. But most of all, I believe that William Shakespeare was. Mind you, I cannot always make sense of what he says, but it will come.
It seems to me the less he said, the more beauty he made. Do you know what sentence of his I admire the most? It is, "The bright day is done, and we are for the dark."
I wish I'd known those words on the day I watched those German troops land, plane-load after plane-load of them--and come off ships down in the harbor! All I could think of was damn them, damn them, over and over. If I could have thought the words "the bright day is done and we are for the dark," I'd have been consoled somehow and ready to go out and contend with circumstance--instead of my heart sinking to my shoes.
It was just one of those moments in which the words--the whole sentiment--was just so right that, despite the fact that I'm not fictional, not a man, did not live during or anywhere near just after World War II, and have not had to watch my home invaded, I knew. The words of William Shakespeare connected us and I knew. Such moments are rare and beautiful in the fictional works I read and I treasure them up. As I said, I laughed innumerable times while reading THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY and I saw the events of the time period and place in an entirely new way. The book was so far from the precious and fluffy volume I was expecting that I wasn't completely prepared for how delightful and moving it would be. The history, the love story, the band of friends . . . it was magic. I am, and always have been, a fan of epistolary novels and it was a treat to sit back and let Juliet and Dawsey, Sidney and Isola recount the events and moments of their lives for me through the series of letters and journal entries that make up this remarkable story. I know the format bothers some readers, but for me the slight removal only serves to heighten my awareness of the characters and to underline the subtlety inherent in their private lives. I was won over by each one of them and suffice it to say that a particular scene at the end where a certain someone is on a ladder and another someone is spying through the window still brings a smile to my face and laughter to my lips. I adored this book and think it would be just wonderful read aloud between family, friends, or any group of like minded individuals who share the kind of love for the written word that forms the beautiful core of THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY. A keeper....more
First off this book has actually been in my possession for an embarrassing almost two years and I don't know what kept me from it, given that I originFirst off this book has actually been in my possession for an embarrassing almost two years and I don't know what kept me from it, given that I originally purchased it based on Leila's review over at Bookshelves of Doom. And she never steers me wrong. But I did undergo a pregnancy in between buying NORTHLANDER and reading it and so maybe that had something to do with it. Those pregnancies. They can wreak havoc on your mental state. In any event, I was pleased to see it pop up as the selection for this last month, particularly as I had heard the sequel had been published in the intervening time and I was looking forward to being able to run right out and read the second book if I ended up loving Meg Burden's first Tale of the Borderlands. That's the only good thing about waiting to read the first in a series, isn't it? And I held the knowledge of a sequel out before me like a promise. But more on that later.
Ellin Fisher and her father have come to the Northlands in secret and under pain of death. Her father--a noted Southling healer--has been summoned illegally to work his arts on the Northlands King. The king is dying and none of the leeches they call healers in the North have been able to do anything to ease his pain or stop the rapid decline. And so a few of his highest councilors do the unthinkable and smuggle a hated Southling healer and his red-haired daughter into the royal city as a last resort. Despite the fact that the king has specifically outlawed evil Southling magic and despite the fact that their southern neighbors are looked down upon like the plague. And so Ellin finds herself forced to hide out in a country where she is reviled and watch her father attempt to save the life of a man who would have them both flayed alive if he knew they set foot in his kingdom or dared to lay even a finger on his royal person. Then one freezing night Ellin is out fetching the ingredients her father needs and returns to the city gates only to be turned away on the grounds that she has no papers. And it turns out that the young guard who so acrimoniously shuts her out in the cold is the king's youngest son Garreth. But when Prince Garreth realizes it is Ellin's father who stands the only chance of saving his father and that Ellin herself possesses an unusually gifted talent for healing as well, things become a little more complicated. As Ellin works to reconcile the unfriendly, raw land she's come to with the friendship of Garreth and his older brothers her perspective begins to change and it is only the first in a long line of shocks she will have to endure before she and her father will be allowed to return home. If they aren't killed first.
I fell into step with Meg Burden's writing style from the first page. The easy, fluid writing reminded me a bit of early Tamora Pierce and Patricia McKillip, with a little bit of The Blue Sword thrown in for good measure. Ellin's relationship with her father is a strong one, even though they occasionally keep things from each other because of their love and desire not to see the other hurt. Her mother's death was hard on them both and it's a difficult and dangerous process allowing yourself to care about more people who might betray you by dying at any time. Which is why the Northlands princes pose a particularly uncomfortable problem for Ellin as it becomes clear that it will be impossible to hate them, with their blond hair and boyish charm and the way they seem to have of including her in their escapades. Even grumpy, dumpy Coll who is only interested in horses and wants Ellin in his home about as much as he wants an incurable disease. And they all clearly love their father, tyrant though he may be, and that is an emotion Ellin can relate to. Here is a scene early on, in which Ellin begins to see the castle and its inhabitants in a slightly different light:
He leads me through the hall Garreth brought me in and then into the castle's great room, where I stop with a quiet gasp and look around. I had thought this place dark and forbidding, but now, with sunlight streaming through the high windows, I realize I was wrong.
The darkness made all the furniture look black and heavy, but now I see that the large tables are deep red, with carved legs and polished to gleaming. The banners and tapestries are richly dyed, scarlet and deep green and dark blue and gold. And they're beautiful, worked with ornate pictures of wolves and horses and snow cats and other Northlands creatures. A fire crackles orange in the huge hearth, keeping the room warm despite its size, and benches and chairs are gathered in front of it, waiting for a storyteller and listeners to pass the cold nights.
Ahead of me, Erik stops and turns. "What's the matter?"
"This place," I say slowly, still dazzled. "It's beautiful."
He looks around, too, and shrugs."This? It's not bad."
I shake my head, realizing that this room has to be larger than the main room at Alder's inn, back home in Harnon. "It's so big. How many people live here?"
"At the castle?" Erik's brows pull together in thought. "Well, there's Da, and us. That's six. Nan and her girls make ten, add the stable boys, Jana the cook, Lord Ivan, Lord Erfold the Wise and his wife, Master Thorvald the Physician, Master Fenrik the Smith and his family . . ." he shrugs. "Twenty-five? Thirty? Alaric would know exactly, and could tell you without blinking an eye," he adds with a grin. "I'm not really sure."
I nod, a little overwhelmed at the idea of living with so many people. "So, do they call you Erik the Uncertain?" I ask, teasing, as we leave the room.
He grins again. "Erik Archer. Actually."
"Because you're as quick to shoot with a bow as you are with your mouth?"
"Not as quick as you," he retorts, half-laughing. "Or as sharp, apparently."
"And the others?"
"Well, they call Alaric the Golden."
"I know that one."
He nods. "And then Coll Horse Master. Officially, at least," Erik adds with a wicked smile. "Everyone calls him Coll the Fat, though."
"And he doesn't mind?" I ask, trying not to giggle.
"Course not. He is, isn't he?" Erik waves one hand dismissively. "Then there's me; they call Finn--actually Finnlay, by the way--'the Deaf,' of course, and Garreth the Youngest."
"I see Northlander names aren't always flattering."
"No. But they're always true."
The characters in this book surprise each other. They live in a world of absolutes and yet somehow manage to reach across borders--quite literally--and form friendships where only enmity existed before. That is why I loved them and NORTHLANDER. They succeeded in surprising and endearing themselves to me and all I wanted to do was spend more time with them. Not to mention the enticingly dangled hints at the real history between these two countries and these two families and what it might mean down the road.
And so we come to the subject of the sequel. By all accounts, The King Commands--the second installment in the Tales of the Borderlands--was published on April 12th of this year. That's right. Just under two months ago. And yet an actual copy of this book is nowhere to be found. Or it's going for more than $50 used on Amazon, which amounts to the same thing for me. What gives? I know some of you out there have read it. So help a girl out. What happened to make this book disappear in so short a time? I'm mystified. I realize Brown Barn Books is a small publisher and so on, but did they only print like ten of them and then, once those were gone, that was it?! Because, if so, then I have a problem on my hands. I need this book. I'm going insane here. I have to find out what happens to Ellin Fisher Healer, to Alaric the Golden, to Finn the Deaf, to Erik Archer, and, of course, Garreth the Youngest. Who can help me? Anyone?...more
In this second installment, Kate reluctantly agrees to do a favor for the local Pack and investigate the disappearance of some valuable maps. While huIn this second installment, Kate reluctantly agrees to do a favor for the local Pack and investigate the disappearance of some valuable maps. While hunting down the culprit, Kate gets called in on another favor. This time she winds up shackled with a teenage street urchin whose mother recently joined an amateur witch coven and went missing shortly after. Kate promises to find the girl's mother and, in the process, is caught in the crossfire between two ancient deities vying for power. So pretty much an average day for Kate and the city of Atlanta.
The highlights of Magic Burns are definitely the increased personal interactions between Kate and the various people and creatures who've come into her life. The growing attachment between Kate and Julie (the young girl in her care) develops quickly and the protective stance Kate takes throughout the course of the book is quite touching . Equally compelling is the more slowly developing connection between Curran, the Pack alpha, and Kate. Despite their mutual attempts to avoid each other. The reader gains several insights into these two almost painfully private people and the ending promises more good things to come. In fact, these quiet character-driven scenes were so interesting that I wished there were just a few more. The plentiful action and fighting sequences seem to always take center stage and, though we do get a little more information on Kate's background, it is a very little and I am (of course) anxious for more. A solid second book, I'm looking forward to the third one, due out sometime next year. ...more
I tossed Magic Bites into the my last Amazon order, mostly because of the Patricia Briggs quotes on both front and back covers as well as several posI tossed Magic Bites into the my last Amazon order, mostly because of the Patricia Briggs quotes on both front and back covers as well as several positive blog reviews I'd read. The most fascinating thing about this book is that the author's name, Ilona Andrews, is actually a combination of Ilona and Andrew Gordon's first names. They are the husband and wife team who create the Kate Daniels books. That is to say, together they come up with the characters and plot, then Ilona writes the book, and finally the two of them wrangle over editing/general clean-up. Awesome, no?
I have to say what I liked best about this first book is the crazy, psychedelic Atlanta it takes place in. This alternate city is saturated in daily waves of magic that doggedly eat away at any signs of civilization and/or technology. The city's skyscrapers are no more than dwindling piles of granite and steel. Magic and technology are basically anathema in this world and the inhabitants of Atlanta live a sort of refugee-type half life. Having adapted to the dark surges when the electricity and cars stop working and people take to horse-drawn carriages and camp stoves. During these times the supernatural rules and mere humans get by. It reminded me vaguely of the gritty, post apocalyptic world Robin McKinley created in Sunshine. The vampires share a few common characteristics as well, their extremely gruesome appearance being at the top of the list. It's nice to see someone else bucking the current beautiful and seductive trend. Not that I have anything against your run-of-the-mill sparkly vampire. It's just fun to see the ubercreepy version as well.
The reader is dropped into Kate Daniels' life without a by-your-leave. Being the somewhat cantankerous reader that I am, I like it when a book challenges me to keep up, grabs me by the throat, shakes me once, and says, "Immerse yourself or be left in the dust!" In this world where humans exist side by side with creatures straight out of mythology and nightmare, it was a treat to attempt to navigate it without having everything spoon fed to me. I like Kate. She does share some characteristics with Briggs' Mercy Thompson. She has a sense of humor and she ruthlessly guards her independence. Kate's a bit rougher around the edges than Mercy. She's had a rough past, undoubtedly, but one of the strokes of genius in this series is that the reader doesn't know what Kate is. We know she's something. But we don't know what. And Kate is determined not to tell anyone. Not even the reader. Oh, we'll find out eventually. But I'm all tingly with the mystery of Kate and her powers....more