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.(less)
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 lov...moreOriginally 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.(less)
I read THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT by Christmas tree light in one blissful chunk. I fell in love with...moreOriginally 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.(less)
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 s...moreOkay. 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.(less)
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'...moreOriginally 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.(less)
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 t...moreCan 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.(less)
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 origin...moreFirst 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?(less)
In this second installment, Kate reluctantly agrees to do a favor for the local Pack and investigate the disappearance of some valuable maps. While hu...moreIn 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. (less)
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 pos...moreI 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.(less)