If you know me at all, you know that Crooked Kingdom was right behind The Raven King for my most anticipated booOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
If you know me at all, you know that Crooked Kingdom was right behind The Raven King for my most anticipated book of the year. And I had to wait all the way to the end of September to get it. I suffer, guys. I suffer. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely. Am I utterly desolate that it's over? Oh my word, yes. Has it taken me awhile to process my emotions and be able to write about them somewhat coherently? Why yes, yes it has. Thanks for asking. A duology is a rare and beautiful thing. It is also a perilous thing. For there's no coming back from that second book, no third book to potentially wrap things up just right. All your money on that one book to make it well. In this case, it ended so perfectly I could only sit there in amazement at how right it was. For everyone. Which is not to say that things were not sacrificed (they were) and that it did not hurt (it did). But it was right. And so very full.
Be warned. Beyond this point there be potential spoilers for Six of Crows.
There was simply no time. No time for Kaz and the gang to rest and lick their wounds. No time even to celebrate the heist of the century. The Wraith was taken, and there would be rest for no one (least of all Kaz) until she was rescued from Van Eck and revenge (on several levels) was exacted. Of course, everything in Ketterdam runs on Kaz Brekker's clock, which is not nearly fast enough for a few of the crows, who each have their own set of troubles that will not wait for revenge plots or rescue missions. To say nothing of the myriad interested parties intent on their stake of the jurda parem profits and the potential that people like Kuwei possess. No plan is foolproof, though. And this one is even less than most, given that along the way the Barrel and its denizens cease to follow established rules and Kaz is beset by a whole other set of obstacles. It's a fight for the underworld, for the city, for the world itself and even Kaz may not have a firm grasp on all the players. But he didn't rise to be leader of the Dregs without fully enough ruthlessness and intelligence to power an entire city. And, as always, his motley crew are with him to the end.
Though Kaz's tone was easy, Matthias heard the dark anticipation in his words. He had often wondered how people survived this city, but it was possible Ketterdam would not survive Kaz Brekker.
It was possible I would not survive this book. But, like the other crows, it was always Kaz that held us together. Even when he didn't want us there. And it's worth mentioning that for the first good third of this book, I was not at all sure what sort of beast I was dealing with. Everything felt ever so off kilter from the first book. Not in a wrong way, just in a we might possibly not be in Ketterdam anymore way. Even though we are clearly in Ketterdam for the entirety of the book. But the repercussions of the wildly exciting adventure of the first book ripple ruthlessly through this, its sequel, through each of the players. And no one is meant to feel precisely comfortable, I don't think. Incredibly relieved and happy to be in one another's company once more, utterly charmed by each of the impossibly charming pairings within the group, but not precisely comfortable with the spaces each are forced to occupy now. Nor are we to be allowed to forget or even gloss over just how dark Kaz Brekker's world is. However. Once the action does get going (once Kaz has sufficiently schemed his way to a proper lather), it does not let up. And from start to finish, the dialogue is something to behold. Every exchange either put a smile on my face (Nina & Matthias, Wylan & Jesper) or tightened my heartstrings to the breaking point (Kaz & Inej). An example of the latter:
When she turned to him, her eyes were bright with anger.
"He was going to break my legs," she said, her chin held high, the barest quiver in her voice. "Would you have come for me then, Kaz? When I couldn't scale a wall or walk a tightrope? When I wasn't the Wraith anymore?"
Dirtyhands would not. The boy who could get them through this, get their money, keep them alive, would do her the courtesy of putting her out of her misery, then cut his losses and move on.
"I would come for you," he said, and when he saw the wary look she shot him, he said it again, "I would come for you. And if I couldn't walk, I'd crawl to you, and no matter how broken we were, we'd fight our way out together—knives drawn, pistols blazing. Because that's what we do. We never stop fighting."
Kaz and Inej. They're sort of it for me. And that is saying something in a novel that gave me so many more reasons than I ever needed to love each of these crazy criminals without reserve. I may have wished for more time together, more scenes exchanging looks and working out possible futures, more with each pairing. But loving them was locked in long ago. Which, of course, makes reading it that much more dangerous, when those fragile beings live and fight and breathe and bleed in a world that has little love for them, in a world of no mourners and no funerals. Which brings me to how brave I thought this novel was, to how marvelous a conclusion Ms. Bardugo wrought. It fairly blew me away with its perfection. Even with all of my accumulated, dogged hope, I didn't envision an outcome as satisfying as this one. And I say that holding the pieces of my heart in my hands. To say it is perfect is not to say it is without the highest of stakes and the purest of sacrifices. Everything about it hurt. Even as I was laughing at Jesper's quips, Nina's bravado, and Wylan's blushes, I had to remember to hold the pieces of my heart together. That is precisely what made it worth it. It mattered. So much. They fought together. They each stayed entirely true to themselves and true to their unwavering love and loyalty to each other. And that ending—that fiercely beautiful ending. My, what storytelling....more
It's funny, the timing of books. It's so funny. I've been sitting on Winter for around about a year now. And it'sOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
It's funny, the timing of books. It's so funny. I've been sitting on Winter for around about a year now. And it's been well over two since I reviewed Cress. You'll remember, I was not what you might call a "fan" of that book, which partly explains why I waited so dashed long to start Winter. It's just that I was such a genuine fan of the first two books. Scarlet is perfect, in my opinion. And as I was most displeased with Wolf and Scarlet's treatment in Cress (to say nothing of the, shall we call it "phoning in" of Cress and Thorne's characters), well. I had issues, guys. I had issues. But something continued to niggle in the back of my mind that Winter would be different. A return to form, possibly. A casting out of new lines, so to speak. Whatever it was, the Winter kairos all came together for me a week ago, and I basically whipped my way through the fourth installment in the Lunar Chronicles.
Ahem. Spoilers for the first three books are threaded through this review. Proceed with caution.
In many ways, Princess Winter is the focal point of the Lunar palace. Crazy Winter. Poor Winter. Beautiful Winter, they call her. And she is all of those things. With her exquisite face, marred only by the self-inflicted scars forced upon her by her nightmare of a stepmother. With her increasingly frequent hallucinations, of her limbs slowly turning to ice and breaking off, of the palace walls running with blood. Of a nameless horror no one else seems to see. And so her days are filled with fear, the only bright spot being her longtime guard and best friend Jacin. But even Jacin will not be around forever. With the imperial wedding approaching, and every one of her thaumaturges on high alert, Queen Levana has an eye out for any hint of insubordination in the ranks. And insubordination is just what Jacin has in mind when he realizes the depths of the Queen's plans for her detested stepdaughter. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to any of them, a rebellion is being mounted from within, as the ragtag group of rebels under Linh Cinder's command set their plan in motion to free Scarlet, clear Thorne, marry Kai off to the Lunar nightmare, and then promptly free him from doom by declaring Cinder the missing princess and rightful heir to the Lunar throne. Really, nothing could go wrong.
"It's not proper for seventeen-year-old princesses to be alone with young men who have questionable intentions."
She laughed. "And what about young men who she's been friends with since she was barely old enough to walk?"
He shook his head. "Those are the worst."
I quite liked what Ms. Meyer did with Winter herself. She is certifiable in a really interesting and believable way, and I remained fascinated as I found myself swinging in and out of lucidity along with her. In fact, my favorite descriptions in the novel were the ones detailing Winter's hallucinations and the incredible sacrifice she was making behind them. It is probably worth pointing out now that the rest of the descriptions in the book should could have been cut down by half. I'm dead serious when I say this 832-page door stopper should have been half as long as it was, and it wouldn't have had to sacrifice a whit of emotional impact or plot/character development. I'm super surprised it made it out the door as long as it did (and you know I generally prefer the longer the better), but the endless descriptions of the Lunar court and its denizens in their Capitol-like getups were simply unnecessary bulk and should have been jettisoned. I kept noticing this as the the tale went on, but then I would arrive at another lovely scene involving two or more of our winsome crew, and my frustrations would dissolve under their witty banter and very genuine charms. Which brings me to Carswell Thorne. You guys, he was there in this book. While being MIA off in buffoonery land in Cress, he was so very present and himself in Winter. Which thing made me smile hugely. Because I just knew he was that brand of awesome when he burst unceremoniously onto the scene in Scarlet. Which also leads me to Cress and how she came into her own here as well. Their arc was possibly my favorite of all of them in this concluding tale. My favorite line coming from Thorne's lips near the end, when all looked to be falling apart around their ears:
"Cress . . . " He seemed torn, but also hopeful and unguarded. He took a deep breath. "She looked like you."
She looked like you. I'll say no more here, but you done good, Thorne. You done good.
Which brings me to my favorite couple of the entire series—Scarlet and Wolf. My heart may have clenched in pain just a few times at the way their arc played out. And if I felt like Wolf got a measure of short shrift when it came to his portrayal in this volume, I felt that Scarlet was just one hundred percent her blazing self, and I held her tightly to my heart the entire time. Because she was in no way compromised. She was acerbic and ruthless and loyal and fierce in the ways she always has been. Scarlet, as ever, makes the series for me. It was a worthy conclusion in most ways. Given my druthers, I would have exchanged reams of description for a bit more in the way of meaningful time with these crazy star-touched characters I have loved. But there was certainly no shortage of brilliant action, brushes with death, maniacal scheming, whip-sharp humor, and true love. And overlaying it all we were given Winter's sweet, always-generous outlook on her fellow human beings forced to eke out an existence against a backdrop of hatred, envy, joy, disease, and heartbreak (and, of course, interstellar warfare). It felt very much a timely message to me and one I cherish at the close of this year that has been what it was.
Winter reached over and pulled the pilot's harness over Scarlet's head.
"Safety first, Scarlet-friend. We are fragile things."
I'm feeling very possessive when it comes to this one, guys. I finished it a few days ago, and it has been a bitOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I'm feeling very possessive when it comes to this one, guys. I finished it a few days ago, and it has been a bit touch and go emotionally since then. You try to find other characters and other places to fill the void, but the truth is—it's not your first rodeo. And you know very well you're not going to simply be able to will the ability to move forward with your life. That you're just going to have to wait it out and mourn having been with Quincy and Arch, er, those characters, as steadily and for as long as you were and then learn to live on a day-to-day basis not being with them. And, yes, I do know they're sitting right there on the shelf whenever I need them. But you know what I mean. You have to somehow get past the end having happened to you, too. And not just to them. The Q is a lovely little (actually gratifyingly thick) standalone historical fiction (with a twist) novel and instant entry on my Best Books of 2016 list. Oh, and lest I forget, that cover. It is everything. With the newsprint? And the crease? And that very particular Q? Everything, I say.
It's worth mentioning that Beth Brower and I are friends. And that while I've talked about and spotlighted her work several times on the blog, I haven't reviewed her first three novels because of the close nature of our friendship. But this one, you guys. No power in the 'Verse could stop me from spreading the word. It's that good.
Quincy St. Claire makes time for nothing and no one not intimately involved in the day-to-day machinations of her beloved printing press—The Q. Since being taken in off the streets by her Great Uncle Ezekiel (along with her friend and fellow foundling Fisher), she has harnessed every ounce of her formidable energies and poured them into making Ezekiel's unusual press run like clockwork. And if it is true that Quincy's name is spoken far and wide throughout the lower streets and upper parlors of Rhysdon, it is also true that no one, with the possible exception of Fisher, truly knows the girl who sits on the high stool behind the counter. The girl who writes down the questions that pour in from the denizens of the city, each on an individual Q slip, and who then prints them to be sent out into the world to find their answers. Within the confines of The Q, it is Quincy's world. And it follows her rules. Until one night the heretofore laid back, if quite elderly, Ezekiel throws the hitch of all hitches into her plans. He is to die, he tells her. Imminently. And he has set her a task in the wake of his passing. Twelve of them, to be exact. Not only is she not to be informed what the tasks are, she is to be monitored in her efforts by none other than the bane of her existence—Mr. James Arch—The Q's solicitor and general disapproving stick-in-the-mud. If she fails, The Q will fall into other hands. Ezekiel proves immovable, as well as a man of his word, and so it is up to Quincy to go against every one of her grains and divert some of those well-harnessed energies to accomplishing the mysterious tasks. The alternative, after all, is unthinkable.
Quincy unwound her scarf and laid it over a matchstick chair. Removing her jacket, she opened her creaking armoire and hung it back in its place. Rolling up her shirt sleeves, Quincy walked to her window—a single window that looked down on Gainsford Street—and frowned at the snow.
The Q was to be given away.
If she could not fulfill her uncle's obscure requirements, The Q was to be given away.
On either side of Quincy's window stood two bureaus, tall, with five drawers each, large enough to fit clothing, papers, and what few possessions Quincy found worth keeping. She liked them not for the plebeian practicality they offered, but rather for the way that, when she pulled herself up on one and rested her feet on the edge of the other, Quincy found herself perched high in her window, watching whatever was passing on the street below. She did so now, feeling the gears of her mind catching, too disjointed by her uncle's words for their usually smooth, oiled rotation.
This early passage was the first moment I felt in perfect sympathy with our heroine. As she felt her mind strain to accommodate an unforeseen, wholly unwelcome shift in her well-ordered world. An old and solitary soul tucked economically inside the body of an eccentric young slip of a girl, Quincy is all that is analytical and stubborn, prone to excellence and disdain in equal quantities. In short, I loved her to pieces. From her dogged taunting of the self-righteous Mr. Arch to her single minded passion for the business that gave her life a reliable shape and purpose. To say nothing of her quiet, unwavering loyalty to her oldest (and only) friend Fisher and her uncharacteristic (some might say) fondness for a certain disreputable smuggler who drops into her domain from time to time. Oh, yes, I understood Quincy. And because I understood and loved her, I felt keenly her fierce determination and resolve to hold onto The Q at all costs. And so the pages flew by, full of eloquent and visceral descriptions of the workings of the press. I fell in love with not just Quincy, but with the intricate hierarchy of Rhysdon society, and especially with the people from all walks of life who found themselves drawn to this fanciful, yet precise location where they might quietly voice their questions, knowing that they will be heard, set in careful type, and perhaps someday answered. For a young woman with little use for demonstrative affections, she manages to provide rather a lot of hope for a city in need of just that.
Quincy and Fisher walked through all this in silence. Silence was the most common stock-in-trade between them, and the portfolio of their friendship was thick with it. So, without words, they stepped across the streets, their feet pressing the pavement with the same sounds, their toes turned just so; they knew what life was like at each other's side. Sometimes he would speak, or she would, small offerings on the altar of their joint survival.
This beautiful friendship was one of the most affecting aspects of the novel—for its solidity, its history, and its ardent portrayal. Bound together, are Quincy and Fisher, and we get to see them continue to chase survival on all its levels. And while we are speaking of ardency, I would be remiss if I didn't express my wholehearted devotion to the romantic vein that wends its way through the tale. I so appreciate that readers are given just as many pages as they might want to witness that particular relationship develop in the organic, stumbling, messy, and magnetic way that it does. Even more, I admire the way the two of them don't alter their essential chemistry to fit the other's expectations. They rage when they should rage, but they also see beyond the surface when the light glances off the other person in just the right way. Most importantly, they don't forget what they've seen and just how valuable it is. As I said, days later, I still can't get them out of my head. They're in there, striding down alleys and scarfing down buns, and generally making it impossible to get anything else done, so badly do I want to just sit back and watch them push and support each other and question wildly whether or not they will ever be able to make it come out right. I loved them so. The experience of reading The Q was an impossibly charming one. It repeatedly put me in mind of a few time-honored favorites, from a little Westmark here to a little Spindle's End there, to say nothing of a healthy dash of Dickens just for good measure. In the end, one thing is certain—The Q has room for you....more
I somehow neglected to write a review of Illuminae when I read it last year. It may have had something to do witOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I somehow neglected to write a review of Illuminae when I read it last year. It may have had something to do with my response to the novel, which was complex. I was completely riveted to the page throughout. In fact, I swallowed it in a single night. However, I wasn't sure if it would prove to be a re-read for me, primarily because I felt a distance between myself and the characters. The separation enforced by the epistolary format, on top of the protagonists' themselves' separation for the majority of the novel combined to make me feel a bit wistful. I suppose I just wished I felt a level of closeness to them that matched the level of commitment I felt to the unfolding story. Which was to say complete and utter. There was, interestingly, no question of whether or not I would be picking up the sequel. Also somewhat interesting was how I felt nothing but excitement that the sequel would follow a new couple. And so it was that Gemina fell into my lap and swallowed me whole.
Hanna Donnelly has essentially made Jump Station Heimdall her playground. No matter that her extravagant exploits have become more a way of surviving the tight confines of her life as the only daughter of the exacting station captain than anything else. No matter that they involve the occasional rendezvous with her own personal dealer—himself a member of the notorious House of Knives crime family. No matter that her model (if slightly milquetoast) boyfriend disapproves wholeheartedly of said dealer and has to sneak around to meet her so as not to raise the wrath of her father. Nik Malikov has a thing for the privileged princess who occasionally patronizes his "establishment," and he takes plenty of flak over that fact from the various and sundry cast of cutthroat characters that comprise his family. No matter that the tattoos on his skin tell a story that may or may not be more complex than they at first appear. No matter that their whisperNET repartee is fast becoming the best part of every single one of his days. No matter that each successive requirement from his family takes him farther and farther away from the kind of person who might actually stand a chance with a girl like Hanna. What neither of them knows is their "home" is about to be thrown into chaos and violence the likes of which even the notorious Malikov's have yet to see. And their connection, limited and superficial as it has heretofore been, may prove the only link to survival either of them have.
BRIEFING NOTE: First relevant point of contact between Hanna Donnelly and Jackson Merrick on Heimdall's whisperNET system. For full effect, read everything Merrick says in a loin-stirringly deep, uppercrust accent while listening to smooth jazz.
The sly, staccato wit in this series is just so on. Set as it is against a near constant threat of death, dismemberment, or worse, this wit is sometimes a lifeline, for both the characters and the readers, I suspect. As with its predecessor, the entirety of Gemina is told in the form of found footage, including an impressive and fabulously inventive assortment of documents, all of which are being presented as evidence in the tribunal addressing BeiTech Industries' involvement in the "alleged" attack on Jump Station Heimdall. A number of familiar (and terrifying) faces make appearances upfront before we are hurled into making the acquaintance of a whole host of new personages who each play a pivotal role in the horrific events that went down on Heimdall. One of the most enjoyable aspects of reading Gemina is getting to see exactly what was going on at the jump station while the events of Illuminae were taking place. The two timelines overlap, and I found it heightened my experience with Hanna and Nik knowing just what was happening with Kady and Ezra at the same time. And, yes, this overlap means we get to spend some much-coveted time with a certain AI that I'll confess I've been missing something fierce. It's passages are among my very favorite (and are some of the most unsettling, of course). And, yes, I'll go ahead and say that I found my emotions knit tightly with Hanna and Nik in a very short time, partly because they do spend more (though still not much) time in the actual vicinity of one another, and partly because I'm just a sucker for the particular quality of banter you get when you pair up a crime lord's son with a military captain's daughter.
Which leads me to the most excellent of all the elements of this novel—Hanna Donnelly. Quite simply, she is stone cold awesome. Raised by her father to master any number of forms of combat, her princess persona is a very thin facade indeed. The relentless pressure and pace of the novel reveal the core of steel underneath the facade and it was a viciously satisfying pleasure to watch her tear her way through the fabric of her nightmare and never, not ever give in or give up. And perhaps just as importantly, she does all of this without sacrificing a shred of her humanity, with all its attendant vulnerability and desires. She blew me, Nik, and the entire population of Heimdall away. And I can say that allowing that I am nursing a pretty healthy crush on Nik Malikov. They are right together. But Hanna. Hanna is whole in a way that resonated with me profoundly. She is the reason Gemina is the force that it is. She is the reason you simply have to read it....more
It's difficult to review Tell the Wind and Fire as I am both a huge Tale of Two Cities and Sarah Rees Brennan fan. When I heard she was doing a YA fanIt's difficult to review Tell the Wind and Fire as I am both a huge Tale of Two Cities and Sarah Rees Brennan fan. When I heard she was doing a YA fantasy retelling of the Dickens classic, I was one hundred percent on board. And the writing and world building is just as spectacular as I have come to expect from her. The problem, for me at least, lay primarily in the characterization. The main trio, Lucie, Ethan, and Carwyn, simply lacked the magnetism and complexity that I am used to when it comes to Brennan's protagonists. For the first two-thirds of the novel, they seem to be acted upon by their world rather than acting on it themselves--a trait I struggle with. Admittedly, the dual world of Light and Dark, magicians and doppelgangers, is riveting, beautiful, and timely. However, the limp characters held me back from fully enjoying their story. Things certainly pick up in the last third of the novel, but I wasn't able to manufacture enough care or concern by that time....more
So basically all I can say is prepare yourselves, if you would. Because it's been days since I finished this oneOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
So basically all I can say is prepare yourselves, if you would. Because it's been days since I finished this one and I absolutely refuse to go quietly into the night about it. I completely adored Ms. Ahdieh's debut novel The Wrath & the Dawn. I thought it did a beautiful job of reworking an extremely problematic fairy tale to begin with, and it did so in believable and beautiful ways. I mean, I went into it frankly expecting a degree of justification for the story's subject matter. But I also was prepared to give the author the benefit of the doubt, seeing as how she went to all the trouble of retelling it for a modern audience. And my willingness was unquestionably rewarded. Which is why I was so eager to get my hands on the sequel and find out what those two people I'd thought about so much in the intervening year had been up to. I felt sure all would be well. Perilous, to be sure. Fraught, to be sure. But well.
The rubble has cleared and Khalid Ibn al-Rashid is on one side of the wreckage, while Shahrzad al-Khayzuran is on the other. Khalid is occupied night and day by helping his people rebuild their shattered city and by forcing himself not to think too much on exactly why Shahrzad left and when, if ever, she will be back. For her part, Shazi is determined not to bring any more hell raining down upon the husband she loves. And as such, that means she is forced to once again play a part. The part of dutiful lover of Tariq. The part of doting daughter and sister. The part of a woman who has come to her senses, who sees the monster king of Rey for what he is, and who is ready and willing to take part in the rebellion that is being crafted to bring about his overthrow. Reality is somewhat more difficult to discern, and it will take more than a magic carpet and a secret love to halt the war that everyone sees coming and possibly bring an end to the curse that has plagued the king and his people for so long.
So. I have a Goodreads shelf entitled "Absolute Train Wrecks." And while there is not what you might call a long list of titles on that shelf, the ones that are there are the ones that drove me to absolute distraction. They are the ones that were such a hot mess that I was forced to rant aloud to my husband and closest of friends in order to somehow process the magnitude of how wrong everything went. Unfortunately, that shelf has acquired its latest denizen. Because I literally cannot seem to overstate how disappointed/enraged/appalled I was by this book. At the 3/4 mark, I seriously considered not finishing it at all. It was bad, guys. So bad that Beth came over to help run damage control by talking it out. So bad that Aaron immediately saw the writing on the wall and took me out to see the new Captain America film to remind me that there are still good things in the world. But finish it, I did. And then I immediately cast about finding a different home for the copy I'd bought so that it wouldn't darken my door a moment longer than necessary. That's right, we're talking The Actor and the Housewife levels of anger and resentment here. I told you it was bad.
The thing is, I felt like the tight narrative grip that held throughout the first book completely unraveled in this one, with devastating consequences. With the exception of one scene, I didn't enjoy a single moment between Shazi and Khalid. Not that they spent anything resembling enough time together. The arbitrarily enforced separation felt so manufactured to me. All the stakes could have been kept just as high had they fought together. Separately, all the tension and beauty and squabbling that made up their relationship dissipated in so much smoke. Ms. Ahdieh excels at dialogue, and yet the only people actually talking were the abruptly introduced secondary couple. I quite liked Irsa and Rahim, but the fact that their scenes wildly outshone the protagonists' left me cold and troubled. And finishing it only confirmed my conviction that this sequel, its pacing and characterization, was a slapdash effort at best. Essentially every plot point and/or "twist" in the final third felt like a cop out to me. Characters behave thoroughly inconsistently and too little is made of the few moments that should have held a lot of meaning, robbing them of any shred they might have held onto. I'm sorry, but I cry foul. Cheap emotional manipulation and sub-par storytelling was not what I witnessed in the first novel, and it was not what I expected here. But it was what I got, and when I think of it, I still feel ill. Shut it down, book. We're through. ...more
I thought I was done with the crying when I finished The Raven King last night at an only slightly ungodly hour.Originally reviewed here @ Angieville
I thought I was done with the crying when I finished The Raven King last night at an only slightly ungodly hour. But then this morning I got up and I just didn't know what to do. And when I realized I had to sit down and write about how this book made me feel, the tears start welling up again. Honestly, Aaron will likely never let me read another series aloud to him again for all the tears he carefully wiped off my cheeks with this one. I am not a huge book crier as a rule, and I did not cry reading the other three. But it wasn't so much the sadness as it was the saying goodbye. I hate saying goodbye. Even though I am a serial rereader, there is no escaping that particular goodbye that comes at the end of a series that has meant . . . more than a lot. That contains characters I have loved the precise way I have loved these ones. These boys. That Blue. This incredible writing that makes me want to prowl the streets at night reciting passages aloud to the stars. I hated waking up this morning. Because it meant we all had to move on. And I really didn't know what to do.
I just can't see any way to avoid all the spoilers at this point, lovelies. But I do try. We have arrived at the final volume. Vos admonitos.
Richard Gansey III knows. He knows this is the closest he's ever been, or may ever be, to finding Glendower. He knows if he doesn't take matters into his own hands, Ronan Lynch will most definitely not graduate Aglionby Academy. He knows the precise texture and feel of Blue Sargent's laughter on his skin. He knows Adam Parrish's bargain with the mystical forest Cabeswater could play out in even more heretofore unexpected ways than it already has. And he knows the odds are better than even he may not survive to see any of these things happen. But, being Gansey, he presses forward nonetheless, determined to find his sleeping king, extract his favor, and see the friends he loves so well possessed of the things they need to survive with or without him. And, to his continual if grateful bemusement, so do said friends. Even as a preponderance of ruthless personages come to roost in Henrietta. Even as Gansey and Blue continue to bash up against the wall that is telling their friends about their feelings for one another. Even as Ronan spends more and more time at the Barns, Adam spends more and more time with Ronan, and both of them spend more and more time within the darkening vines of Cabeswater. Even as an unusual and overeager classmate makes indefatigable advances on the tight-knit group as a whole, And so, reinforced as they are by each other, they draw inexorably closer to the uncertain fate that has always awaited them.
Depending on where you begin the story, it's about my undying love for Ronan Lynch. Ever since the very first pages of The Raven Boys, I have loved Ronan. In English. In Latin. In every single one of the languages on his crazy puzzle box. And I can't help but be utterly unsurprised (and proud, in an odd way) at how this final volume seemed to say so much of it was Ronan's story at heart.
Of all the options in the world, Ronan Lynch was the most difficult version of any of them.
Depending on where you begin the story, it's about my gut-wrenching love for Adam Parrish. Adam, too, I fell in love with on contact. While others have questioned his choices, his motivations, his endless stubborn drive and solitude, I have soaked up every one. If I had the most fears and questions when it came to Adam's fate, it was because I unquestionably identify with him the most.
Need was Adam's baseline, his resting pulse. Love was a privilege. Adam was privileged; he did not want to give it up. He wanted to remember again and again how it felt.
But no matter where you begin the story, it's about Maggie Stiefvater's astounding skill with words, her characters that live and breathe so loudly and fiercely that they feel inviolably real, and the marvelous story in which they are entwined. The Raven King clocks in at a perfectly healthy 438 pages, and it feels funny to say that the entirety of those unfold at a breakneck pace. There are, of course, those trademark moments of indolent splendor, of quiet breaths held and exhaled. But I maintain, the experience of reading the novel remains one of rushing toward a conclusion no one, the reader least of all, is prepared for. But it comes. It comes. It comes. In the sweetest and gentlest of exchanges between Gansey and Blue. In the terrifying and violent passes through Cabeswater. In the exquisite light of fireflies dotting the air around the Barns as words rise up and burst inside Ronan. If The Dream Thieves made it possible for me to love and follow Gansey by showing me why each of the boys and Blue loved and followed him, The Raven King shows Gansey why. And it was such a beautiful artistic choice—here at the end—to show the king just what he had wrought. To hold the mirror (in all its forms) up, so that he could see the beautiful and strange constellation he and his quest had made of their lives.
I wanted so much. I wanted, I wanted. And even though the previous books in the series taught me to be afraid on all possible fronts, there were moments in this one that gave me new reasons. There were also moments that surpassed my expectation with their perfect rightness. And there were new gifts, given at a point when I thought I had passed the time when I could ask for more. But I should have known better. When it comes to Stiefvater's writing and this series, there is always more. The point was the longing, the packing into a single book, into a single series, the feeling of knowing and of being known. The feeling of finding, of waking, of wanting, of home....more
So, cards on the table? This is my favorite cover of the year. Actually, my favorite book design of the year fullOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
So, cards on the table? This is my favorite cover of the year. Actually, my favorite book design of the year full stop. The pages are all edged black, which is just exquisitely pleasing on a level I would never have expected, particularly set as they are against the blood red endpapers. I cannot stop touching them, even now that I'm done. The feathers and towers motif repeats itself throughout on each of the chapter title pages, and it is just a visceral pleasure every time. If you haven't picked up a copy in person, do yourself a favor and drop in at your favorite bookstore whether you plan on buying a copy or not, just for the treat of paging through this gorgeous book. That said, I feel it's important to point out that I was not a fan of Ms. Bardugo's Grisha trilogy. I crapped out partway through the first book, as the characters were just persistently doing nothing for me. But when I heard Leigh Bardugo would be appearing at my local indie bookstore as part of the Six of Crows tour, something in me just clicked and I knew this book would be the one for me.
A thread of evil is wending its way through the admittedly quite evil already streets of Ketterdam. Someone is forcibly administering a deadly drug to Grisha and using the wildly enhanced powers it induces until they're nothing but dried up husks. When the thread finds its way to criminal mastermind Kaz Brekker's shady door, he decides it's time for a little fun/profit. Kaz rounds up the six choicest of his ragtag thieves and thugs from the Dregs in order to pull off the heist of the century. Accompanied by Inej the Wraith, Nina the Heartrender, Jesper the sharpshooter, Matthias the convict, and Wylan the demolition man/flautist, Kaz plans to break into the fabled Ice Court and steal a very wanted man in exchange for rather a hefty sum. To be split six ways. Most of the gang have a reason or six to need their cut of the take; all of them have a reason trust Kaz. And so they agree (or have their arms sufficiently twisted) to take part in the insane scheme, despite (or perhaps because of) the swirling dynamics of resentment, hope, and hatred that pervade every aspect the group. Whether they make it out alive almost seems beside the point.
Kaz Brekker didn't need a reason.
Ever since that introductory line, I have had a bit of a Kaz problem. It's like Leigh Bardugo was aware I'd been pining for a really good thief for awhile now and decided to take pity on me and deliver, oh, just one of the best to ever crawl out of a city slum and become de facto leader of an underworld empire. And make no mistake—Kaz is utterly ruthless. There is no soft underbelly to this close-lipped, leather-gloved, cane-wielding dark genius. The thing about Kaz, though, is that he is all in. And what he lacks in softness he more than makes up for in absolute magnetism and an ever-so-slowly unfolding history that I had no interest in looking away from. And that history only begins to unfold once the reader, too, has become a part of the inner circle. The other thing about Kaz is that he had the clever sense to find and retain Inej. And Inej is awesome. She works as the top spy for the Dregs and answers only (if and when she chooses to) to Kaz. Only she sees him without his gloves on. Only she is able to disappear into a thread of smoke, out of the clutches of the rival gangs who scrabble for power in the Barrel. An early encounter:
"Were you trained as a dancer?"
"An acrobat." She paused. "My family . . . we're all acrobats."
"And swings. Juggling. Tumbling."
"Did you work with a net?"
"Only when I was very little."
"Good. There aren't any nets in Ketterdam. Have you ever been in a fight?"
She shook her head.
Her eyes widened. "No."
"Ever think about it?"
She paused and then crossed her arms. "Every night."
I love them. And if I fell in love with these two the fastest, it was only because they clawed their way in first. But I found myself enamored of all six of these hoodlums in very little time at all. So much so that it's difficult to talk about them, where they are now, and what might become of them, particularly Nina and Matthias. It's worth mentioning that the overarching issues remain unresolved at the wild and breathtaking conclusion of this volume. The sequel (it is to be a duet, a duology, a lovely two-book entity, what have you) is due out next fall, so getting yourself into it will ensure a fair bit of agony. But what are we bibliophiles if not up for a little drawn-out angst? I cannot imagine my reading year without this gem. It was the absolute highlight—young adult fantasy at its most entertaining, full of killer charm and a killer instinct. Like Kaz, I'm afraid I am all in. Come what may (and no doubt will), this ride is worth its weight in cold, hard kruge. No mourners. No funerals. ...more
One of the most pleasurable reviews I've written this year was the one I wrote in January for Every Breath—the fOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
One of the most pleasurable reviews I've written this year was the one I wrote in January for Every Breath—the first book in Ellie Marney's spectacularly good teen Sherlock Holmes series. I enjoyed the book so much and was so blasted eager to spread the word. Now I'm even more over the moon to tell you I've read Every Word, and it is every bit as good as the first. In fact, it's better. Everything that was good in Every Breath is essentially ratcheted up in this sophomore entry, and there isn't one misstep along the way. I was on the edge of my seat for every page. I was that worried about my beloved Watts and Mycroft. And with excellent reason. Ms. Marney spends zero time beating about the bush and jumps right into pulse-pounding action and gut-wrenching emotion. Which, as you know, basically means I was in heaven from start to finish.
It's not that Rachel Watts would have preferred to have been able to say goodbye to her sometime partner/accomplice James Mycroft before he left for parts unknown. It's that she absolutely cannot believe he left without her, let alone without telling her. Knowing he's still on the trail of unraveling his parents' tragic deaths, she doesn't trust him at all on his own in London investigating an eerily similar car crash to the one that orphaned him. And so it's not a question of if, but when she will hare off after him. She's prepared for the supreme lack of welcome she'll receive when he finds out she's followed him. But she can't let him face that many demons alone and is determined to back him up in whatever capacity he needs. What she doesn't expect is how thorny a "simple" forensics investigation becomes once it expands to include additional murders and the disappearance of a copy of Shakespeare's First Folio. Together, the two dogged investigators must navigate the increasingly treacherous waters of a multifaceted mystery as well as their own knotty relationship.
But in that second, in his face, I see the whole world. I finally understand something crucial.
James Mycroft did die in that car crash seven years ago. Seeing what he saw, experiencing all that pain, that ten-year-old boy passed away. The person who returned was not the same. He was changed so completely, so physically and mentally transformed, it was as though a whole different individual was born. A different boy, living in a different place, with a guardian and no parents, a boy with no past and only one name . . .
All the blood rushes out of my cheeks as that name falls off my lips. "Mycroft . . . "
I'm such a worrier. I always worry when I know an installment in a series is going to switch up locations on me, even when that means spending the majority of the story in London. I should learn to just roll with the punches, but I never seem to. So I was apprehensive that Watts-and-Mycroft might not translate as well in a new locale, and I was even more concerned about the obstacles they would encounter and how Mycroft would handle Watts flagrantly disobeying his wishes and inserting herself (even farther) into his most private pain. Of course, none of it turned out to be a problem whatsoever. I mean, it's far from smooth sailing. There's pain and anger galore, and everyone gets hurts and alternately holds it in and has it out with the objects of their pain and anger. But it's all so gloriously done that it only endeared these characters and their story to me further. Watts is spectacularly direct when it comes to Mycroft and his massive issues. When he throws out another wild pitch, she doesn't even flinch but watches it sail by and then raises a metaphorical eyebrow at his display. It was hugely gratifying, watching them negotiate one another, to say nothing of the brilliance that is their combined deductive exploits. Truly, together they are a force to be reckoned with.
Which is not to say that they don't struggle mightily (and on every front) in this book. Because if ever a book was fraught, it's this one. I was prepared for a lot of things, but I wasn't prepared for how dire it got in the end, for just how far through the fire Marney was going to drag her two protagonists. It was incredibly effective in ensuring that I was with them. The peril felt almost unbearably real. But the wonderful bit is that through all the anxiety and grim darkness are woven the most beautiful threads of love and hope. Along with a downright explosive amount of chemistry. These two, you guys. Seriously. I want to quote each of my favorite exchanges here, but they are all far too spoilery. So I will content myself with assuring you of the excellence of the storytelling and imploring you to read it, too, so that Watts and Mycroft will have more of us on their side when they confront the fallout of what they've done in the next volume. I, for one, am terrified. Deliciously so....more
So The Boy Most Likely To put me right back in the mood for some solid contemporary YA. I immediately turned toOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
So The Boy Most Likely To put me right back in the mood for some solid contemporary YA. I immediately turned to my ARC of Nicola Yoon's debut novel Everything, Everything. I'd been looking forward to this one for awhile but holding onto it until starting it felt right. I can't be the only one who does that, can I? Ours is not to question why and all that, I suppose, but seriously why sometimes can I not just dive right into a book I've been dying for the moment it finds its way into my grabby little hands? Frustrating doesn't even begin to cover it. In any event. I'd also been meaning to feature this cover on a pretties post for awhile and just never got around to it. But can we go ahead and just take a moment now? Because it's just perfect, even more so after having read the book. I can't wait to pick up my copy in person and just . . . stroke it.
Madeline Whittier has no memory of ever being outside of her house. Afflicted with a genetic disorder known as SCID, she risks death in short order should she venture out of the confines of her immaculately sanitized home. And so she floats through her days taking courses online, playing phonetic Scrabble with her mother, exchanging jokes and book recommendations with her longtime nurse Carla, and making notes, doodles, and lists upon lists about what life would be like. If. Then. Then Olly moves in next door, and everything changes. Suddenly Maddy's days fill up with all sorts of new things. From Olly's messages written in marker on his window and their daily IM and email sessions to her mounting curiosity over what he gets up to when he climbs up onto the roof of his house and her concern over how dangerous his father's abusive outbursts may actually be. The question is how long will this virtual relationship they've struck up (and the glimpse of the outside world Olly provides) last before they just won't be enough anymore?
Maddy is irresistible. I absolutely loved Olly as well, with his unrelieved black and his Spider-man tendencies. And the two of them together are charming beyond measure. But Maddy is the reason to pick up this book. The way she narrates her life—its limitations, the only color in it provided by the book spines lining her room—is simple, open, and mesmerizing. It is the opposite of difficult falling into her daily routine, into her complicated relationship with her mother, into irrevocable love with the boy next door. She intersperses her words with charming doodles and drawings illustrating the quintessentially Maddy way she sees her place in the world. I was behind her from the opening lines as I watched her carefully compose and write her "Reward If Found (check all that apply)" lists inside the flap of each new book she gets. As she read Flowers for Algernon over and over again, waiting for that day when it wouldn't make her cry. Throughout the book, even when I felt the inclination to question her decisions (and believe me—I did—particularly at two pivotal moments when life, the universe, and everything felt like they were going to spiral out to sea), I found myself giving Maddy the benefit of the doubt. And she always came through. Her reasoning felt consistent to me, her rationales never drifting so far from the vicinity of the reality she was given that I couldn't find it in me to follow. Much like Olly, I was never going to tell her no.
A favorite snippet between Maddy and her mom regarding Olly:
"Tell me about him," she says.
I've wanted to tell her about him for so long, but now I'm not sure where to begin. My heart is so full of him. So, I begin at the beginning. I tell her about seeing him for the first time, about the way he moves—light and fluid and certain. I tell her about his ocean eyes and callused fingers. I tell her how he's less cynical than he thinks he is. About his awful dad, about his dubious wardrobe choices.
I tell her that he thinks I'm funny and smart and beautiful in that order, and that the order matters.
It does matter. Pretty much everything about this lovely novel mattered to me....more
I think I've been quietly missing the Garretts for the last three years. I remember picking up My Life Next DoorOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I think I've been quietly missing the Garretts for the last three years. I remember picking up My Life Next Door based on its comparisons to Anna and the French Kiss and being pleasantly surprised at how thoughtful an exploration it was of families and first loves. And while I swooned over Jase and Sam right along with every other reader with a pulse, it was those forbidden Garrets that kept me thoroughly enthralled. Which is why my anticipation grew daily from the moment I heard about The Boy Most Likely To right up until release day. And then, perversely, when it finally came I worried. What if the balance is off? What if Tim isn't redeemable? What if (as was a touch true in the first book) Alice-and-Tim weren't the equals I wanted them to be? The thousand niggling questions of an anxious, but resolute reader such as myself . . . But, happily, the pull of returning to the cozy kitchen of the Garretts didn't allow me to hold out for long. And it was a warm welcome back indeed.
Tim Mason doesn't expect anyone to believe him. He knows that ship sailed years ago when he started drinking, got his very own dealer, and required oblivion in order to get by. Now he's clean, sober, and being kicked out of his father's house at last. Already kicked out of high school, he takes his best friend Jase up on his offer of a place to stay, packs a single box, and moves into the dilapidated apartment over the Garrett's garage. But when Jase's older sister Alice discovers her little brother has up and allowed his deadbeat friend to move into the apartment she wanted, that trouble Tim can never seem to escape begins brewing once more. It doesn't help that he's had a crush on Alice forever and that her dolt of a jock boyfriend keeps giving him the evil eye anytime he comes within a five mile radius of Alice. Of course, Alice can take care of herself. She's been keeping herself as well as her entire motley family afloat since the car accident that put her dad in the hospital, thank you very much. And she has no time for a boy who's proven time and again that he wants nothing more from life than a good time.
I love Alice, and you know why? Because she gives approximately zero damns about Tim from the word go. She has her priorities set, she knows what she wants, and she works so freaking hard to take care of the people in her care. Never mind that she never asked for seven siblings with another on the way and that she may have to defer nursing school again if those hospital bills keep coming. I love Tim, too, and you know why? Because he's serious about changing his life in his way. He may have no earthly idea how, but his eyes are clear despite being clouded for years. He sees Alice, recognizes what she is, and he never messes around with her. Despite their tacitly acknowledged attraction. Living in such close proximity to one another does lead to something of a softening of enemy lines, especially as Tim is incapable of turning the flirting off when it comes to Alice, even as he knows she's too good for him on pretty much every level. But just when things are maybe sort of starting to look up, his past comes back to haunt him in the most serious of ways.
What I love is that the whole debacle never grows too overwrought, that Alice accepts the latest of Tim's mess-ups just like she does every other blow she's taken standing up in her life. Which is not to say that she doesn't give him the grief he deserves over it. Which is also not to say that Tim doesn't accept said grief as his due. She just doesn't let it derail her, which is one of the best of many things about Alice. And he doesn't let it destroy him. Which is, yeah, one of a host of things I just really loved about Tim. The pain is there, and it is real. Along with the daily, crushing uncertainty of youth. The creeping sense that you may not be able to escape your past (in Tim's case) or your present bonds (in Alice's). The lovely bit is the way Huntley Fitzpatrick works it all out, the way Tim and Alice's story unfolds against the backdrop of all of the messy, wonderful Garretts, Tim's twin sister Nan's struggles, as well as the quietly supportive and aching additions of his fellow AA members. The way that with increased clarity comes the realization that escape doesn't necessarily have to be the goal. A pivotal scene told from Alice's point of view when she comes to understand Tim's situation a little more clearly:
I carry both mugs from the kitchen, set his down in front of him.
“Look. Stay. I mean . . . I can wait. It’s only fair. Jase didn’t know I wanted it anyway. Four months is nothing. You can be here for four months and then . . . “ I trail off.
Troubled gray eyes search my face for a long time. Finally, he sighs, shakes his head. “Nah. I’ll find somewhere else. You deserve it. You’ve earned it.”
Like a home’s something you have to earn when you’re seventeen.
He’s a kid. Not a man, not on some deadline. But with his jaw set and raised—I know that face. The I’m going to push on through, no problem, I’ll deal. Moving right along. Nothing to see here face. Know it as well as my own. It is my own. And I picture the rest of the lines on that paper.
Tim Mason: The Boy Most Likely To . . . Forget his own name even before we do Turn down the hottest girl in the world for the coldest beer Be six feet under by our fifth reunion
Don’t go that way, Tim. Such a stupid, stupid waste. “I mean it,” I say aloud. “Stay.”
“I want you here,” I add, my cheeks flaring. He shifts on the couch and I’m hyper-aware of him next to me, the smell of soap and shampoo, the heat of him, the alive of him.
My words fall into the silence, and something changes. Tim’s shoulders straighten. He stills, but not frozen, more like . . . more like . . . alert.
“Yeah? Then . . . I’ll be here,” he says quietly.
The narrative alternates back and forth between Tim and Alice's perspectives, a touch that I appreciated and one that definitely aids in the reader having enough time with them to not only love, but get, these two individuals. No one has an easy time of it, and I wasn't sure at times things were going to work out in a way that felt both realistic and well (not a requirement, but frequently a hope). But it was such an enjoyable journey, and it has a last line that sticks with you the way I always want them to. Even now—a couple of days later—I'm murmuring it to myself as my lips curve in a satisfied smile....more
Now, my reaction is in part due to the near universal love I know this book has from readers. And part due toWARNING: Ranty potential spoilers ahead.
Now, my reaction is in part due to the near universal love I know this book has from readers. And part due to my own high hopes after taking a self-imposed Marchetta break after falling MADLY in love with Jellicoe and then being thoroughly let down by Finnickin. But I told myself this year would be the year I read more Marchetta and that the time off was just what I'd needed. So I went in with . . . well, pretty high hopes.
Dude. Are we seriously supposed to like Will?! I mean. We're supposed to feel sad he's going away to Europe for a year and hope when he gets back they'll be together? Because the boy is laaaaaaaame. He kept wringing his bloody hands and moaning how complicated it was as a reason for NOT BREAKING UP WITH HIS GIRLFRIEND AFTER KISSING FRANKIE. And I kept breathing heavily through my nose and telling myself surely he had good reasons and they would be super complicated (and hopefully a smidgen sympathetic) and then I would not be forced to dislike him so intensely and maybe come around to wanting them to be together. And what do we get? NADA. No explanation, no nothing. He just realized it would be easier than he thought and so he did it. And Frankie's supposed to be thrilled. And worse? SHE IS. I mean, the two of them had maybe one good exchange where I smiled and thought ah, maybe. And she talked a good talk about being strong and not needing him and even in the end wanting to save herself. But I wasn't buying it. I couldn't. Nothing in this book felt deep enough to me to dig into my emotional center and elicit anything.
And I feel terrible about that. Not enough to wipe away my anger and disappointment, but I finished last night feeling pretty terrible at not loving it the way I wanted to and the way I know so many of you do. It's like Frankie-Landau Banks. OMG, DO I HAVE SOME KIND OF BLOCK WITH FRANKIE BOOKS???
Anyway, I saw what Marchetta was doing and it had good shape and potential and whatnot, but I never fell in love. I never really felt her relationship with her mother. I wanted more of their history, more bonding with her "new" friends at St. Sebastian's than a couple of nights watching Austen, more Thomas Mackee and Jimmy Hailler, and more for the love of all that is holy from William Freaking Trombal.
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
What a disappointment. I realize my expectations may have been a touch high for this conclusion to the His Fair Assassin trilogy, but I did not see thWhat a disappointment. I realize my expectations may have been a touch high for this conclusion to the His Fair Assassin trilogy, but I did not see this level of jumping of the shark coming. Everything about Annith's tale was set up to be fantastic. And then . . . Nothing. Of. Note. Happens. And poor Balthazaar's identity just pushed the whole thing over into ridiculous land. It's sad on several levels, but mostly because this highly entertaining and well-written trilogy didn't deserve to go out with a whimper....more
I may have fallen victim to the hypemonster with Wildlife. The comparisons to Rainbow Rowell and Melina Marchetta, combined with how often I fall forI may have fallen victim to the hypemonster with Wildlife. The comparisons to Rainbow Rowell and Melina Marchetta, combined with how often I fall for contemporary Aussie YA and NA, made me snatch this title up at the first opportunity. Unfortunately, I felt as though there was a persistent and impenetrable barrier between me and Sibylla and Lou. Nothing seemed to break through that layer so that I could actually experience in some meaningful way what they were going through. I expected more of the writing, perhaps, as this was my first outing with Wood and I had heard great things. Either way, it was simply not a good fit....more
Teenage Sherlock Holmes, Watson is a girl, and the story is told from her perspective. This is essentially all thOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Teenage Sherlock Holmes, Watson is a girl, and the story is told from her perspective. This is essentially all the information I needed in order to make the decision to dive into Every Breath at the earliest opportunity. But in case you're wavering, it's also fun to know that this is Australian author Ellie Marney's debut novel, that it is a YA contemporary mystery, and the first in a series to boot. Next up, I think we should just take a moment to talk covers. I have yet to purchase my own copy (that's earmarked for the next paycheck), but both the US and Aussie covers have a lot going for them. The Aussie one gets tons of points for having Watts actually on the cover, for one thing. But in a very rare move, I'm leaning US if only because it's not a photo of actual people (never works out well for me) and because, well, his throat. Also his hair and his entire posture. But his throat. That's Mycroft. I love him this cover.
Rachel Watts' friendship with her neighbor James Mycroft is something of a full time job. Newly (and unwillingly) arrived from the countryside, Rachel struggles to find a place for herself in Melbourne. Unused to navigating city life after the loss of the family farm, she and her older brother and parents find themselves acting almost like strangers as they adjust to their new home and environment. But then Mycroft enters her life, with his jittery brilliance, his obsession with forensics, and his ongoing allergy to school. And soon her days are not quite as numb, filled as they are with contributing her powers of observation (and cooking skills) to the latest in a long line of Mycroft's investigations. But this most recent involves a murder. And not just any stranger, but that of Homeless Dave—a man they both knew. Unable to accept the official police verdict, Mycroft and Watts set themselves to the task of tracking down the truth behind Dave's violent death and bringing the mysterious killer to justice.
I'll admit, I was a little nervous at first. I was nervous the high school setting, and possibly the nature of the relationship between Watts and Mycroft, would pall too quickly or somehow not resonate with me in just the right way. As nerves go, basically your run of the mill stuff. But I've read one fantastic Sherlock Holmes adaptation and I was so keen to find another. Happily, Rachel herself was the first to set me at ease. Her transition to the city has been a particularly difficult one, and the dry but upfront way in which she expressed that difficulty struck a chord of sympathy within me:
I like it in his room—the starry lights, the feeling of sanctuary. I'm still not used to dealing with a lot of other people. I've known Mycroft, and Mai and her boyfriend, Gus, since last November, and they still feel like "a lot of other people." Actually, Mycroft alone could probably qualify as seeming like "a lot of other people." He does so much crazy stuff you could imagine more than a single offender.
That passage could just as easily been an entry from one of my high school journals. Other people, man. Not for the faint of heart. I love that the story is told from Watts' perspective. She has very honed powers of observation, though she herself might decry that claim. But it means that not only is she vital to Mycroft's ongoing efforts, she also does an incredibly effective job of introducing the reader to her singular friend. And if her focus is more frequently drawn to to Mycroft than it is anyone else in the room, it isn't any wonder as his magnetism and zaniness and pain fairly claw their way off the page. Gratefully, his presence never overshadows Watts. Not even a little bit, as we are firmly grounded inside her viewpoint and know just how hard she works to keep everyone in her life afloat and not lose track of her own needs, even if she is reticent about voicing them aloud. The mystery itself makes for a fun, often dark ride, and I enjoyed sitting back and accompanying them in their rounds. But the heart of Every Breath is, without question, the chemistry between Watts and Mycroft. Ms. Marney quite simply nails their need on the head. The pacing and development of Watts-and-Mycroft is one long and delicious thread running alongside the unfolding of the murder investigation. As the precarious hold they each have on their lives begins to unravel against the backdrop of Watts' uncertainty and Mycroft's desperation, the solace they take in being together, the rightness of their fit, is so soothing it is tangible. I currently have the sequel on order from Australia and am sitting here feeling antsy just thinking about what these two might be getting up to without me....more
First of all, that cover. I love everything about that cover. And, as such, deciding whether or not to read JackaOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
First of all, that cover. I love everything about that cover. And, as such, deciding whether or not to read Jackaby involved me sitting on my hands, dithering about whether or not the insides would match the outsides. As I am wont to do. But the truth is the mash-up of historical fantasy and the Doctor Who-meets-Sherlock Holmes teaser made it no kind of question at all as to whether or not I'd be picking it up. This is William Ritter's debut novel and the first in a series (happy day) as the ending clearly indicates. I picked it up a few weeks back on vacation and read it through in one big swallow. And while my body may have been sitting on the beach, my mind was far away tramping down a cold, winter street in New Fiddleham. The whole experience was deliciously dark and dreary. Of course, it was also ineluctably charming and smart. Which is to say I didn't stand a chance and cannot wait for the next one to come out.
The year is 1892. The place: New England. Abigail Rook has fled her staid life. Leaving her disbelieving parents behind in England, she has sailed to the new world, specifically to the dockside town of New Fiddleham in search of . . . she knows not what. Gifted with the ability to parse the importance of ordinary details, she is sure that with a little fortitude (and a lot of luck), she will be able to make a place for herself in this unfamiliar clime. And it turns out, she's right. Her first night in town, she runs across an extraordinary personage who appears to carry an unholy amount of bits and bobs on his person and who goes by the unlikely moniker of R.F. Jackaby. Jackaby, it turns out, is a private investigator of the unusual variety. He takes cases that involve the inexplicable, the paranormal, the ones that regularly stymie the local constabulary. Stumbling into Jackaby's latest case, Abigail is intrigued and finds herself following the odd man home and inserting herself into his daily routine as an investigative assistant. She is, of course, not the first to fill that role (the fate of the last one remains a bit murky) and she fears she will not be the last. But for the present, she can think of nothing else she would rather be doing. And so the two are off as they trace the footsteps of an increasingly erratic serial killer.
Abigail and Jackaby are immediate magic. I say that acknowledging that there is not a romantic note between them, though there are a couple of jokes along that vein and their reactions are priceless. There is a lovely hint of romantic potential for Abigail and a certain young detective who is not as disbelieving in Jackaby's ability as his supervisors are. But the hint dances around, remaining in the realm of potential for this volume at least. And that is all to the good, because this entertaining and absorbing debut is a charming and twisty mystery at heart. Chock full of Celtic mythology and regularly terrifying glimpses of the macabre, Jackaby is a recipe for a ripping good romp. I loved how excellently Abigail and Jackaby complemented each other and how quietly but firmly they came to respect and care for one another as colleagues and as accomplices (only when the occasion required, of course). Every scene that features them rambling around Jackaby's home is a delight, as the house itself constitutes one of my favorite characters. The hysterical fate of Jackaby's former assistant, along with the mysterious and heretofore lonely fates of a few of his other lodgers captured my affections. I know why Jackaby chose Abigail, but I was so pleased Abigail chose him. They needed each other. Their enjoyable banter and madcap dashes through the seedy underbelly of New Fiddleham kept me on my toes all the way to the exciting conclusion. As I believe a good book never reveals all its secrets, I know there is much more just waiting to unfurl in the sequel. I am all anticipation....more
The seemingly universal love for this debut contemporary YA led me to expect quite a bit more than I got. Coming from a military brat with a colonel fThe seemingly universal love for this debut contemporary YA led me to expect quite a bit more than I got. Coming from a military brat with a colonel father herself (in other words, I felt predisposed to like this tale), this book was a big fat snooze fest. Nothing about it stood out to me—not the writing, not the characters, not the plot. It all looked fabulous on paper and had such potential (first crop of girls at an all boys military academy), but when it came to execution I connected with no one and was surprised by nothing. Mac's story read like a particularly numbing laundry list. I kept trying to fall into it, but the very genuine traumas in her life never seemed to translate into any actual emotional impact for her let alone me. And so it goes....more
I originally heard about Graffiti Moon around about the time I read Raw Blue and thought to myself, is every AustOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I originally heard about Graffiti Moon around about the time I read Raw Blue and thought to myself, is every Australian YA author crazy talented or what? (The answer, by the way, appears to be an unequivocal YES). Then some of the Usual Suspects read and reviewed and loved it, and so Cath Crowley got noted down on my mental TBR, despite the fact that it, too, was not published in the U.S. yet. Then a little while after, it showed up on NetGalley and there were no more excuses to be had.
Lucy's time is running out. Year 12 is about to end and she still hasn't tracked down the graffiti artist known as Shadow. Though his work is all over the streets and walls and broken down buildings of the city, he only comes out at night. And despite her best efforts, Lucy hasn't been able to be in the right place at the right time to see him at work. He works in tandem with a street artist named Poet. Together they put words to pictures and grace the worn out sections of the city with their unique blend of poetry and urban art. Lucy would be happy to find the mysterious Poet as well, but when it comes down to it, it's Shadow she cares about. Something about the pictures he creates strikes a chord deep inside her and she feels as though a chance will have been missed if she never meets him. Never gets the opportunity to tell him, even for a moment, what his work means to her. Then one night she and her two best friends Jazz and Daisy are out and run into Daisy's on again, off again boyfriend Dylan, and his two friends Leo and Ed. Dylan knows Shadow and Poet, and the group decide to visit the two's known haunts and see if they can find them. Lucy is reluctant to go as she and Ed have had encounters in the past that did not end well. Ed is just as loathe to renew the acquaintance. But Jazz and Leo talk them into it. And they're off.
Graffiti Moon is a gem--a breath of fresh air. The narrative alternates between Lucy's, Ed's, and Leo's points of view and I enjoyed them all equally. Okay. I may have been just a teensy bit more partial to Leo's sections when it comes down to it. But that's because they're poems. Just freakishly good poems. I wanted to share my favorite of Leo's poems because they were such a highlight of the book for me. Here it is, fairly early on in the book:
Where I lived before
I used to live with my parents
In a house that smelled like cigarettes And tasted like beer if you touched anything The kitchen table was a bitter ocean That came off on my fingers
There were three doors between the fighting and me And at night I closed them all I'd lie in bed and block the sounds
By imagining I was floating Light years of quiet Interrupted by breathing And nothing else
I'd drift through space And fall through dreams Into dark skies Some nights
My brother Jake and I would crawl out the window And cut across the park Swing on the monkey bars for a while One the way to Gran's house
She'd be waiting Dressing gown and slippers on Searching for our shadows She'd read us
Poetry and fairy tales Where swords took care of dragons And Jake never said it was a load of shit Like I thought he would
And then one night Gran stopped reading before the happy ending She asked, "Leopold, Jake. You want to live In my spare room?"
Her voice Sounded like space and dark skies But that night all my dreams Had floors
That last line has been haunting me ever since. In such a good way. "But that night all my dreams had floors." A line so good it had me swallowing hard, brushing back sudden tears in my eyes, and turning to my husband to read it aloud, because I just had to share it with someone instantly. I love Leo. Comparisons between this book and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist abound, and I certainly understand why. Graffiti Moon is to be preferred, in my opinion, as the characters are more fully fleshed out and the writing is just a cut above. Here the focus is on art instead of music, and the combination of Shadow's evocative paintings and Lucy's burgeoning glassblowing skills is a lovely feast for the imagination. I could picture, without any trouble at all, the heart growing grass. That perfect shade of blue he's been searching for. The birds--their wings bound--struggling to break free. I could see it all. Truthfully, this book reminded me more of Lisa Schroeder's Chasing Brooklyn or Donna Freitas' This Gorgeous Game. It shares with those stories a certain elegance in the telling. I loved each of the main characters, with the real draw being the ethereal connection between Lucy and Shadow, and the complicated friendship between Ed and Leo. There's much of humor and heartbreak within these pages, and I read them through in one sitting, so happy was I to be with these kids, inside these words, as they expressed themselves the only way they knew how....more
Once again I surface from a haze of mandatory rereading of each and every one of my favorite parts in the previouOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Once again I surface from a haze of mandatory rereading of each and every one of my favorite parts in the previous two novels in the Raven Cycle to write this review of the third and latest installment. I finished Blue Lily, Lily Blue and lay awake in bed, staring at the ceiling, seeing nothing but the quicksilver leaves of Cabeswater, hearing nothing but Adam's soft drawl over the tune of Ronan's inappropriate Irish jigs, and tasting nothing but mint on my tongue. It's a heady experience giving yourself over to one of Maggie's novels and not a decision to be taken lightly. Knowing that she persists in ending each book on a cliffhanger teaser (of sorts), I prepared myself for the worst (though I know she's really saving that for the fourth and final book). And, as ever, as the whole thing crashes to its temporary conclusion, some threads are flung far and wide even as others (the core ones) tighten their hold, both on each other and on me.
This is the third book in a quartet, guys. I shall attempt to minimize the spoilers. But not at the expense of THE FEELINGS. As Ronan might say, Vos admonitos.
Given her druthers, Blue Sargent would eat yogurt for every meal. She would grow a handful of inches taller. And she would spend each and every day with the boys. And while her mother disapproves of at least two of those three choices, her mother is not around anymore. To put too fine a point on it, Maura has up and disappeared. And the women of 300 Fox Way are at a loss as to know exactly what to do to fetch her back. And so Blue eats her yogurt. And she bemoans her diminutive height. And she spends as many and as much of her days as possible hunting with Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah. And all the while she quietly tries to will her mother back before the nameless evil that threatens to awaken does just that. Meanwhile, Adam is holding tightly to every shred of sanity and temper he possesses in order to mend his fences with Gansey, continue to heal Cabeswater as needed, and come to terms with his role in the group and in the grander scheme of the search for Glendower. And in many respects his work is rewarded with greater clarity on several fronts. Ronan Lynch continues to live with every one of his secrets (and to be keeper of a not insignificant portion of my heart). And Noah . . . vacillates . . . as only Noah can. To say nothing of the Gray Man's adopted quest, Calla's fiercely protective eye, Persephone's training of Adam, and Gansey's sometime mentor calling for tea. More threads are added to the weft with every step of this penultimate tale.
"You can be just friends with people, you know," Orla said. "I think it's crazy how you're in love with all those raven boys."
Orla wasn't wrong, of course. But what she didn't realize about Blue and her boys was that they were all in love with one another. She was no less obsessed with them than they were with her, or one another, analyzing every conversation and gesture, drawing out every joke into a longer and longer running gag, spending each moment either with one another or thinking about when next they would be with one another. Blue was perfectly aware that it was possible to have a friendship that wasn't all-encompassing, that wasn't blinding, deafening, maddening, quickening. It was just that now that she'd had this kind, she didn't want the other.
In the words of Whitman, "We were together. I forget the rest." This is precisely how I feel whenever I sit back down with Blue and her Raven Boys. Okay. We're together now. Everything else can fall away. I love how, despite Maura's absence, everyone felt less alone to me in this one than they did in the last. In Blue Lily, Lily Blue, three books in, they genuinely have each other. Even more importantly, they acknowledge that they have each other and just how much that means. Sometimes, in the case of Ronan, they acknowledge it in remorseless and epithetical Latin. Sometimes, in the case of Adam, in the minutest acceptance of an unexpected kindness. And sometimes, in the case of Gansey and Blue, only in the most glancing and breath-holding of looks or moments, drifting along the tenuous line of a telephone. But acknowledge it and rely upon it they do. And that seemingly simple step goes miles and miles to shoring up a few of this reader's myriad anxieties. The trust and surety that previously extended unilaterally here and there within the group expand in this volume to each relationship, in every combination. They find themselves reaching out, across status and gender and ley lines. And, as a result, Gansey (who has arguably been the most alone of all these kids who have been so very alone) is no longer quite so internally isolated. And the same goes for each of the magnificent individuals he has gathered around him. With all dark things looming ahead of them, this one change felt vastly important to me. And dark things do loom ahead. So dark at times it is difficult not to flinch. But there is always the glorious light to match the darkness—the lightning humor in Gansey's eyes, in Ronan's laugh, and on Blue's tongue.
Sometimes, Gansey forgot how much he liked school and how good he was at it. But he couldn't forget it on mornings like this one—fall fog rising out of the fields and lifting in front of the mountains, the Pig running cool and loud, Ronan climbing out of the passenger seat and knocking knuckles on the roof with teeth flashing, dewy grass misting the black toes of his shoes, bag slung over his blazer, narrow-eyed Adam bumping fists as they met on the sidewalk, boys around them laughing and calling to one another, making space for the three of them because this had been a thing for so long: Gansey-Lynch-Parrish.
This thing. Oh, this thing. The three of them. The five of them. The quest for the sleeping king. It's just that I love them, you know? I love that we get the sure sense they were going on before us and that they will continue on without us after the fourth book comes to a close. As for that close, we shall not speak of it. For I am full to the brim of fears and awful premonitions. As such, I plan on tucking myself away at 300 Fox Way until next October. Just to be safe. Safe as life....more
I remember thinking nothing could top Shiver and then being introduced to Cole St. Clair in Linger and realizingOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I remember thinking nothing could top Shiver and then being introduced to Cole St. Clair in Linger and realizing Maggie Stiefvater had several more tricks left in her bag. Then Cole and Isabel proceeded to go for each other's throats and I forgot to worry at all. I loved them so much, though, that the continuation of their storyline was perhaps my biggest problem with Forever—the "conclusion" to the "trilogy." The two of them were just left hanging. And because at that point I really felt like Sam and Grace's story was winding down just as Cole and Isabel's was ramping up, I had a hard time with the wide open, barn door left swinging in the wind ending they were given. The funny thing is that I desperately wanted more but really didn't give any thought to the possibility of her writing more. That ship had sailed, we'd all moved on to killer water horses and dead Welsh kings. Which is why when the news hit that there would in fact be a companion novel to the Shiver trilogy and that it would clue us in on what was going down with our favorite emotional assassins, well, that my friends was a good day.
Cole St. Clair is back from the dead and better than ever. He's landed in L.A. and is slated to record his new record as part of a reality webseries with the notorious Baby North—a Hollywood producer known for destroying her subjects as a matter of course. But that's not why he's really in L.A. Not really. Cole is there because that's where Isabel Culpeper is. And in Cole's book, Isabel is pretty much the only thing worth pursuing. If he can revive his music career and make a killer album along the way, so much the better. But Isabel is supremely less than thrilled to see the former NARKOTIKA rocker darken her doorstep. That is to say, it is achingly good to see him. But everything about Cole has spelled nothing but trouble for Isabel, especially his addictive tendencies, be they for drugs, women, or turning into a big, bad wolf whenever the notion (or temperature) takes him. And so begins this epic dance between the two unhappiest people in L.A. Isabel refuses to be drawn into the glitzy hell that is Cole's life, and Cole refuses to be put off his dogged pursuit of the one girl he can be himself with. And as they dance, they're forced to step around Cole's former bandmates (both alive and dead), the new ones Baby North foists upon him, and the last dying gasps of Isabel's parents' marriage. The question is whether the whole cast and crew of the Cole & Isabel show will drag them under or whether they'll find a way to be. Together.
What I had earned was a trophy for generalized disinterest. It felt as if it had taken all of my energy to be so limply disengaged.
As I pulled aside the linen curtain to the back room, I heard the front door open again. If it was Christina returning to make a second effort at my leggings, I was going to be forced to get loud, and I didn't like getting loud.
But it wasn't Christina I heard at the front of the store.
Instead, a very familiar voice said, "No, no, I'm looking for something very particular. Oh, wait, I just saw it."
I turned around.
Cole St. Clair smiled lazily at me.
I gave so many damns at once that it actually hurt.
This is the passage that started me smiling, and I really did not stop until several hours after closing the book. If ever a pair of ruthless protagonists launched a full-scale assault on my emotions, Cole & Isabel are the ones. And just as I was hoping it would be, it was so crazy good to be back in their presence and to just listen to them snipe at each other and put an icily blank (Isabel) or dazzlingly jaded (Cole) face on things. The bright and shameless L.A. setting proved to be such a solid change-up for Stiefvater and the rest of the Wolves of Mercy Falls series. Gone are the freezing temperatures, wooded forests, and quiet ennui of Minnesota. Bring on the baking sun and the sand and the concrete jungle that barely masks too many emotions, too much energy and life being shoved and sculpted into ill-fitting, empty boxes. They are both so strong in this book, Cole & Isabel. The signature alternating POV chapters sing with the distilled and chilled 100-proof vodka that runs in their veins in the place of warm blood. What's more, every side character worked for me, from Isabel's psychotically domestic cousin Sofia to Cole's clear-eyed ex-bass player Jeremy and his hilariously deadpan driver Leon. It was good to be somewhere new with new faces and new threats. The entire paranormal side of this series was notably dialed down in favor of the more human element. Sometimes Cole is a wolf. Sometimes he chooses to become one in lieu of shooting some other form of oblivion up his arm. Sometimes these two facts make Isabel want to murder someone. Preferably him. And that's it. These things are real. But more real, more tantalizing, is the possibility that if they could each just stop killing themselves trying to prove they don't give a damn—just for a minute—they might find a space in which the pain is held at bay. And the hope of that minute, that swoony, devastating minute of peace that could turn into two minutes and then an hour and then a kind of life worth something? That's worth reading....more
So we'll just agree to go into this review knowing that I really enjoyed Rosamund Hodge's debut novel Cruel BeautOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
So we'll just agree to go into this review knowing that I really enjoyed Rosamund Hodge's debut novel Cruel Beauty, shall we? In general, fairy tale/Greek mythology mash-ups complete with lovely words are welcome in these parts. And so I confess I was excited but just a little bit sad when I found out the next entry in the world would be a novella. Give me all the pages, please. But. It was to be a Cinderella retelling set in the same world and, as that was clearly awesome, I resolved to take what I could get and be grateful for it. I like this cover, although it's a bit bland for my taste and doesn't inspire quite the same swirling dread as the cover of Cruel Beauty. I do like what they're doing with the stairs. I think I might have liked a hint of Maia somewhere in there to humanize things. And, as it happens, there is a whole heaping helping of dread in this little book, so something more sinister would have worked splendidly. But, as I said, take what I can get, etc. etc.
Maia lies all the day long. From the moment she gets up at the crack of dawn to prepare the morning meal for her stepmother and stepsisters to the moment she curls up at night and gives in to oblivion. She lies and lies and lies some more just to be on the safe side. Because if she doesn't, if she lets on for one moment how impossibly dreadful every moment of every day is, her mother will exact revenge on the people around her. And no matter what they've done or what they call her, they don't deserve that. Maia's mother passed away when she was a little girl. But on her deathbed she made a bargain with the Gentle Lord that she be able to watch over her only daughter from the other side of the grave and that any who hurt her would be cursed. And so Maia is never truly alone. She must marshal every thought, every wayward impulse, so that the only quasi-family members she has left are not torn asunder. And it is a grief-filled existence to be sure. Her stepmother went mad upon her father's death. Her stepsisters expend all their energy scrabbling for their mad mother's approval. And it is Maia barely holding the whole decrepit thing together. Until one day her beautiful and desperate stepsister Koré sends her with a letter for the prince. A letter she is certain will spark his interest and potentially lead to a union between them. Against her will, Maia makes her way to the palace to deliver the missive. And it is there she meets Anax—a man she can talk to, who could all too easily become another person she must protect from her mother's dark curse.
My mother loved me more than life itself. That's how everything went wrong.
The brilliant twist on the fairy godmother absolutely made this book for me. That it is her own mother who unwittingly made Maia's life a living hell. That Maia is simultaneously forced to serve and trying to save the people who despise her. That everyone seemingly had such good intentions and that those intentions are now literally tearing their loved ones apart from the inside. Well. It's a feast for the imagination. And it is just such a wicked fun Cinderella retelling. What this tale needed was a little more in the way of savage, black-hearted deceit and Rosamund Hodge brings it. I loved Maia immediately. It was suffocating, her life—her exhausted, interminable insistence that she was happy, that everything was okay. I loved Anax, too. He's so far from the sort of blank and charming male that often fills the prince role in this story. He, too, has an impossibly painful past and looks to his future with little to no joy. Each time Maia is sent to deliver a letter, they talk. They just . . . talk. And it's a moment to breathe for each of them. Of course it grows to mean more to both of them, despite the sizable gap in their understanding of what the other's life is like. It is as though each character in this rich novella is operating under the thinnest veneer of sanity. The deeper in the reader goes, the more apparent this tenuous hold on reality becomes. But those scenes in Anax's study. Their lovely conversations. They provide such a quietly affecting and sweet counterpoint to Maia's internal chaos.
When the footman eases the door open, Lord Anax is sitting at the piano with his back to us, pounding out a rollicking dance tune as if his life depends on it. The footman opens his mouth to announce me, but I shake my head and slip inside silently.
The sofa is soft as newly risen bread dough. I sink into it. Lord Anax is slamming out the notes of the song as loud and as fast as he can, but I'm asleep in moments.
When I wake up, he's playing a different song—slower, more intricate, with a multitude of trills. He stumbles over every one, and though he manages to keep his playing gentle enough to suit the piece, the whole thing feels shapeless.
He hits the final chord a little too fast and loud. Then he looks over his shoulder at me. "Should I be flattered or insulted that I sent you straight into the arms of Morpheus?"
I stand and walk to his side, digging into my pocket. "I have a letter for you."
"Of course. Did you think it was any good?"
"My playing." He's staring at the piano keys, and his voice is light, but I can hear the tension underneath. "Did you think it was any good?"
I consider the question. He's never punished me for telling the truth yet.
"It wasn't terrible," I say. "But it wasn't good. It wasn't anything, really."
He laughs softly. "Did you like it?"
"Don't be tactful now. You were thinking something."
"I was thinking," I say, "what does it matter if I liked it or not? You won't stop or start playing for love of me. You don't care what I think, and I don't care what you play."
"I would have been a piano player," he says abruptly. "If I weren't the duke's son. I know it's not genteel, but if I weren't my father's son, I wouldn't be a gentleman."
"You'd get tired of it," I say.
"No." He stares at the keys. "I'd never get tired of music. But I'd never be much good at it either." Gently, as if he's closing the doors of a shrine, he lowers the lid back over the keys. "Just as well I'm the duke's son and everyone has to flatter me."
I remember this morning, how I yawned and immediately whispered, I'm so happy to be awake, Mother, as I stirred the porridge. I remember Koré looking at the dress I sewed for Thea and saying, I'm glad you've found something that stupid girl is good for, Mother.
"You're not alone," I say. "Everyone has to flatter somebody to survive. Besides, I didn't mean you'd get tired of music. Being a commoner isn't easy, you know. You'd get tired of the work."
"Every day. But unlike you, I don't have a choice. Here's your letter. I suppose I'll see you tomorrow."
He catches my wrist. "Maia," he says, "thank you. Thank you for telling me the truth about my music."
"Just for that?" I ask.
"You're the first one, can you believe it?"
I feel the opulent room weighing down on me, as heavy as the smiles I craft for Mother.
"Yes," I say. "I can believe it."
His music really is terrible.
But it echoes in my head, all the rest of the day.
I read it in one sitting (not a difficult feat as it clocks in at a scant 111 pages) and my only complaint was the eternal one when it comes to novellas—I wish it were longer. It didn't need to be. But my greedy heart will always ask for more....more
I love science fiction and I love fairy tales. Both loves go back a long way. All the way, really. Put them togeOriginally reviewed here @ Dear Author
I love science fiction and I love fairy tales. Both loves go back a long way. All the way, really. Put them together and, if it’s done well, I am the happiest of happy campers. The Lunar Chronicles have such a brilliant concept. Four (yay for quartets) books, each set in Meyer’s fictional and futuristic Earth, each focusing on a heroine from a well-known fairy tale. From Cinder and Scarlet to Cress and the upcoming Winter, I’ve loved the covers, I’ve loved the titles, and I’ve loved the smart and inventive ways in which these stories have had new life breathed into them. I did wish for a little more emotional payoff in the first book, but Cinder herself was such a highlight that there were no questions about whether or not I would be reading the second. Then Ms. Meyer went and wrote Scarlet and launched me into full-fledged fangirl status. I wouldn’t change a single thing about that book, people. Not one. So my anticipation for Cress was just a wee bit on the high side. We get the tiniest of snatches of Cress herself in the first two books, and given how much I loved the first two heroines, I felt pretty sure my love for this orbiting computer hacker would be something of a foregone conclusion.
Cress has spent the last seven years shut up tight in an orbiting satellite. Her solitude is broken only by the occasional terrifying visit from Miss Sybil, the Lunar Queen’s henchwoman sent to monitor Cress. With years and years of nothing but her netscreens to keep her company, Cress not only becomes a considerably talented computer hacker, but she develops a pretty substantial romanticized view of Earth, its inhabitants, and especially the noted rascal Captain Carswell Thorne. Most recently, Cress has been tasked with putting her hacking skills to use tracking down the most wanted Earthen criminal: the cyborg rebel Linh Cinder. Having had her own secret contact with Cinder and her band of motley rebels, Cress is instantly dismayed and sets about working as hard as she can to deflect Queen Levana’s sights from Cinder’s actual location. For their part, Cinder, Wolf, Scarlet, and Iko are careening about space trying to avoid capture and work out a plan to save the world from the encroaching Lunar threat. But Cress can only do so much, trapped as she is. And when Cinder’s ship, the Rampion, is spotted, the two groups are set on a literal collision course. In the aftermath, the dashing and derelict Thorne and Cress herself wind up crashing to Earth in the smoking remains of the only home Cress has ever known. And so it is up to them to trek through the wilderness and try to find their way back to Cinder and Co. in time to stop the unholy wedding of the century before Levana weds Emperor Kaito and closes her wicked fist over Earth for good.
It’s difficult to say I wasn’t enchanted with this one, but that is the bare truth of the matter. It was all set up to be a knockout installment in the series, but nothing. ever. happens. Until the end when the inevitable Rescue Poor Kai mission is finally set in motion and events begin trundling along nicely. But Cress is one thick book (a trait I usually love in novel), and it takes far too long to get to the meat. Most of that time is spent trudging with the hapless Cress and Thorne through the Sahara Desert, an expanse of time and space that could have been put to good use developing their relationship, which naturally had a lot of potential. Instead, it was a numbing eternity of the naïve and incapable Cress mooning over Thorne and wailing at each bump in the road. And Thorne. Wherefore art thou, dude? You were the perfect scoundrel in Scarlet, a delightful combination of Han Solo and Malcolm Reynolds. But the Thorne of Cress was a watered down buffoon at best. He was given a couple of truly winsome and hilarious lines, a far cry from the leading man I felt justified in looking forward to. Together they lacked all of the spark, paling in comparison to the serious sweetness of Cinder & Kai and the deep swoon of Scarlet & Wolf. It was honestly a relief to be pulled away from their uninspiring exploits to find out what was happening with Cinder and the gang, although I couldn’t help but sigh more than once at how little page time Scarlet and Wolf were given. In that instance, I understand the game is afoot and we must work our way through some plot twists in order to achieve the necessary series climax in the next book. But still. Their relative absence was harsh for this Scarlet-loving girl’s heart.
Romantic subplot(s) aside, I just never engaged with Cress, the book or the character. The creeptastic Levana was all but absent. The exciting and long-awaited knock-down brawl and (hopefully) makeup fest that has been brewing between Cinder and Kai since the end of Cinder was wedged too tightly into the literal last couple of pages. The timing and pacing felt decidedly off in general, uncharacteristically so. I don’t know if the onus of that rests on the fact that Cress herself wasn’t up to the challenge of carrying off a whole book on her own or if it was a dose of third-book syndrome or what. But it was a struggle to finish. I did finish, hoping all the way that meat would grow on the bones before my very eyes. I still like each of the main characters (Cinder’s irrepressible android sidekick Iko made me laugh on more than one occasion), and the glimpse of the certifiably crazy Winter near the end gives me hope for the final installment. But it’s going to have to be one hell of a strong finish to wash the disappointment out of my mouth after Cress....more
So last year, as you probably recall, I lost my crap over Fangirl. It was not my first Rainbow Rowell book, but iOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
So last year, as you probably recall, I lost my crap over Fangirl. It was not my first Rainbow Rowell book, but it was the first time I fell good and hard. After uneven results with Attachments, I just sort of avoided Eleanor & Park when it came out, despite its ridiculously charming cover. Then Fangirl came along with it equally adorable cover and I gave Rowell a second chance. It went so unbelievably, fantabulously well that I purchased a copy of Eleanor & Park before I even finished Fangirl, just knowing that skipping it had been a huge mistake. Possibly a fatal one. But it has taken me this long to get around to it, so afraid was I that it wouldn't live up to Fangirl. This book is an entirely different beast, to be sure. But I read it through from cover to cover the other night completely unable to stop. It was one of those rare and beautiful situations in which the level of my feelings for a book is so high that I feel an obligation to see it through in one sitting. Like I owe the book that much. I will follow a book that good through the deep, dark hours of the night, wherever it leads. I regret nothing. I am bleary-eyed, but unregretfully so.
That girl—all of them—hated Eleanor before they'd even laid eyes on her. Like they'd been hired to kill her in a past life.
All right. I'm going to just go ahead and break with tradition here, because the thing is I don't even want to summarize this book. I don't want to take anything away from the experience for you. And going through all the ins and outs of the story of Eleanor and Park, even the highlights, feels like cheating each individual reader out of discovering it for themselves. So I'm going to leave it at a few teasers, if you will, the facts that fell out of my mouth the morning after as I incoherently tried to tell my co-workers why they had to pick it up right now. So here they are. All the facts you need to know:
- It's set in 1986. In Omaha. - It opens when Eleanor boards a school bus and no one will let her sit. - Until Park lets her sit next to him. - And they don't talk. - At all. - Until he realizes one day that she's reading his comic book over his shoulder. - And he stops reading it during the day so that when they get back on the bus to go home, they're still in the same spot and Eleanor hasn't missed a thing.
I'm pretty sure that's all you need to know.
As far as what my experience reading the book was like? Quite simply, I laugh-cried my way through every page of Eleanor & Park. When I wasn't laughing or tearing up, I was quietly fixated, the air leaving my body in a whoosh multiple times as this depiction of first love (of so many firsts) had its way with me. It's been awhile since I spent the entirety of a book in such a heightened state. And I don't say that lightly. Rowell's words were always the right ones, and they so carefully sketched out and filled in her two leads that I was truly at their mercy. I worried going in that I wouldn't connect with one of them as well as the other. In a story told from alternate points of view, that can sometimes be a problem. I worried that Eleanor would be too . . . something, that Park wouldn't be . . . enough. I have silly worries sometimes, guys. But I admit I was utterly unprepared for how much I would love them both. I would read a book about just one of them, no questions asked. Just Eleanor stoically stumping her way through each day, snarking in English class, and taking terrifyingly quick baths. Just Park quietly passing at school, excelling at tae kwan do, and pretending his relationship with his dad isn't slowly killing him. I would read those books. But together? Put those stories together and I struggled to remember (or care) where I was. I was with them. Nothing else mattered.
He wanted to ask her not to be mad right now. Like, anytime but now. She could be mad at him for no reason all day tomorrow, if she wanted to.
"You really know how to make a girl feel special," Eleanor said.
"I've never pretended to know anything about girls," he answered.
"That's not what I heard," she said. "I heard you were allowed to have girl-zzz in your room . . . "
"They were there," he said, "but I didn't learn anything."
They both stopped on his porch. He took her bag from her and tried not to look nervous. Eleanor was looking down the walk, like she might bolt.
"I meant that you don't look any different than you usually look," he said softly, just in case his mom was standing on the other side of the door. "And you always look nice."
"I never look nice," she said. Like he was an idiot.
"I like the way you look," he said. It came out more like an argument than a compliment.
"That doesn't mean it's nice." She was whispering, too.
"Fine, then, you look like a hobo."
"A hobo?" Her eyes lit.
"Yeah, a gypsy hobo," he said. "You look like you just joined the cast of Godspell."
"I don't even know what that is."
She stepped closer to him. "I look like a hobo?"
"Worse," he said. "Like a sad hobo clown."
"And you like it?"
"I love it."
As soon as he said it, she broke into a smile. And when Eleanor smiled, something broke inside him.
Something always did.
Golden, right? The way they have a care for each other, while still striking out when striking out is called for, and without lessening any of the very real troubles they deal with on a daily basis. The way they're so far apart and so believably afraid of the ramifications of their relationship. The way his thumb brushes her palm. The way she is strong and solitary and memorizes his face. The whole thing was an irresistibly struck note for me, ringing and throbbing and beautiful.
The first time he'd held her hand, it felt so good that it crowded out all the bad things. It felt better than anything had ever hurt.
And I'm just going to leave it at that quote. Because this book? This book feels better than anything ever hurt. ...more
I've decided that Laura Wiess' books scare me. She is not afraid to incorporate the unfortunate and often hellishOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I've decided that Laura Wiess' books scare me. She is not afraid to incorporate the unfortunate and often hellish details of everyday life into her contemporary novels, and I have learned that I have to tread carefully if I am to imbibe, if you will. In fact, I didn't even pick up her last couple of books because I was leery of being hurt. But I was (and am) such a fan of her debut novel, Such a Pretty Girl (despite it's hellish subject matter), that I have been biding my time until I felt ready to pick up another of hers. And when I heard about Me Since You, I decided now was the time. It took me only a few pages in before I felt my mind repeatedly shying away, but I liked Rowan and her parents (and Eli) so much that I kept on reading. I read it all through in a single gulp and have been twitching my shoulders here and there all morning, trying to shake off the heavy feelings it left behind.
Rowan Areno used to worry about cutting class and being caught by her policeman father. She used to worry about what to wear and what to say to boys and whether or not she'd be allowed to spend the night at her best friend Nadia's. Now she mostly worries about her dad. Or rather the empty-faced man who has taken his place, who sits on the couch listlessly when he used to stride about confidently protecting Rowan and her mother, their town, and each of its inhabitants from all bad things. What she never realized was how bad those things were and just how many of them he'd seen in his twenty years on the force. Until the day he failed to save two of those inhabitants and the town (and his own mind) turned against him in the grief and aftermath. Now her mother does all the heavy lifting and Rowan struggles to reconcile the hatred that arises around her, directed toward her father who only ever did his best. At the same time, she strikes up a friendship with a boy named Eli who was there on the bridge with her dad the day tragedy struck, and who himself hasn't recovered from that day or the one before when tragedy uprooted him and left him scrambling to stay afloat. Together they find a bit of hope, a bit of peace. But it isn't long before it all starts to unravel again and Rowan is the one going under.
I don't know, guys. Beyond this point there be pain. I knew that going in. The way in which Wiess narrates Rowan's and her parents' struggle with tragedy, depression, and anger is thoughtful and mature and very real. In fact, it was the lovely family dynamics that held me suspended in their story, the story of this small family of three who love each other and who are utterly blindsided by the disaster that engulfs them. At first, it is Rowan's relationship with her dad that mesmerizes, and then as events progress it evolves somewhat into her reliance on her mother and the ways in which they fail each other but keep trying and promising to go on. I guess what I'm trying to say is I appreciated the dignity and integrity of their portrayal. The same goes for the quiet and sweet friendship that arises between Rowan and Eli. Wiess always handles the element of romance well, and this time is particularly restrained yet open. That said, most of the other characters felt one-note to me, especially Rowan's so-called best friend who acts in consistently insipid and appalling ways and who I struggled to even take seriously by the end. The level of grief and horror in this novel also proved to be nearly my undoing. It reminded me strongly of the feelings I experienced reading Elizabeth Scott's Heartbeat, though I feel like I came out of that one slightly less dissatisfied than I did here. I could always see Emma; she stayed clear in my head. Whereas Rowan's voice got lost for me in the sheer waves of awful that swept off the pages of her story. As such, I began to feel the puppet strings more forcefully than I'd like and the quickly manufactured acceptance and hope at the end failed to lift me out of the despair that held sway the rest of the novel....more
I've had an ongoing relationship with Elizabeth Scott's books for some time now. Ever since I picked up Bloom andOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I've had an ongoing relationship with Elizabeth Scott's books for some time now. Ever since I picked up Bloom and settled in with a nerdy girl like me who played the clarinet. And then there was that one out of this world kiss in the kitchen . . . I'm sorry, where were we? Right. Since then, I've dipped in and out as Scott has continued to write. But it had been awhile since my last outing, and so when Heartbeat began showing up on the early radar, I felt like it was time. I didn't even really delve too much into what it was about before starting. And so I was, well, maybe a little ambushed by the guns this book was packing. Not that I wasn't expecting reality in all its graininess. But. Scott really steps up her emotional stranglehold with this latest contemporary. Let's just say a lot of time has passed since I finished it. It took me that long to decide what I wanted to say and figure out where my feelings were situated.
Emma remembers a time when things were normal. When she could breathe in and out and complain to her mom about the boy she thought she loved and the way her day went. When her stepfather Dan was a welcome, bright addition to their lives. She can remember it all so clearly, it's difficult to accept how vastly things have changed. How now if she wants to talk to her mom she has to go to the hospital room where she's being kept alive on life support while the baby inside her stomach grows to viability. How Dan has become the agent of her misery, as it was his idea to have a baby in the first place. His insistence that they keep her mom alive just long enough for the baby to be born. How if she wants to breathe in and out she has to lock her door and concentrate as hard as she can. Her best friend Olivia is an outlet of sorts, but the chasm between how things were and how they are presents itself on a daily basis. When Emma makes the acquaintance of renowned Bad News Caleb Harrison, no one is more surprised than she to find he's not precisely what everyone in town thinks he is. What's more, what he actually is might be someone who can understand her loss.
The thing about Mom dying is that the world didn't stop. It didn't even slow down. It's flowers and cards and everyone understands but no one does because Mom wasn't Mom to them.
I may have identified more than most with Emma's solitude by virtue of being an only child myself. The similarities may end there (thank heavens), but that passage? I am conversant with the somewhat shattering adult realization that when it comes to your parents, there's no one but you. Mom isn't Mom to anyone else. And so in times of joy and loss, you can look for someone to experience the same moment you are inhabiting, only to find yourself alone. The towering sweeps of emotion in Heartbeat kind of flattened me. I was forced to pause periodically and look up and remember it wasn't happening, to give my rage on Emma's behalf a period in which to cool. I could see Dan's perspective. I could. I just . . . it was never okay. Not for me. And, yes, I did find myself evaluating whether or not the whole agonizing setup and execution was proving too manipulative for this reader. It was a close call at second. But the development with Caleb spared the whole thing from imploding. It was honestly a palpable relief when he arrived on the scene. I appreciated that Caleb and Emma were equals. Neither one cornered the market on pain. It was pretty much sixes from beginning to end. But they discovered each other, slowly and with great reserve. And they held on. And because Emma (and by extension the reader) is able to look away from her own train wreck and see Caleb's version of it, because she's able to worry and care about him, it saves . . . everything. Processing his pain allows her to approach and deal with her own. And vice versa. There are parts of this book I don't ever want to read again. But there are parts I've reread numerous times since. So when you find yourself in need of a balanced and competent delivery of equal parts anger, sadness, and hope, this just might be the one to grab....more
I picked How to Love up off my stack last night after finding my mind wandering listlessly away from the book I wOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I picked How to Love up off my stack last night after finding my mind wandering listlessly away from the book I was trying to read. The writing kept losing me, the characters insisting on overstating everything and questioning themselves ridiculously. I was lost. So I grabbed Katie Cotugno's debut novel and flipped to the opening page. Now this is writing, I thought almost immediately. I'd read almost universally positive reviews of this one, and I had high hopes for a contemporary with meat on its bones and characters I could see and hear and care for. From the first page, Reena's gasping, tight narrative sucked me in. And I settled in happily for a late night.
Reena Montero always planned on seeing the world. She planned to be a travel writer and share her experiences with other worldwide vagabonds. She even got accepted early into Northwestern's writing program and was all set to kick the dust of her hometown behind. Except she didn't. Instead, she got pregnant. The baby's father, her sometime boyfriend and all-time crush, left town before she could tell him. And she's spent the last couple of years becoming a mother, raising her baby girl Hannah, working at her father's restaurant, and taking community college night classes. She doesn't even recognize her life anymore. And then Sawyer comes back to town. They cross paths in the local 7-Eleven, and he acts like everything's fine. Like he didn't disappear without a trace, leaving her heart in smithereens and her baby without a father. But there's so much water under the bridge between Reena and Sawyer at this point, she can hardly summon the will to fight anymore. And so Sawyer works his way back into her life once more, just like he's always done. But whether or not they can see past all the old pain to find a kind of life together is another question entirely.
"My mom told me," he says now--trailing off, trying again. "About . . . "
I imagine letting him dangle there indefinitely, a hanged man, but in the end I'm the one who breaks first. "Hannah," I supply, wondering what else his mother told him. I can't stop staring at his face. "Her name is Hannah."
"Yeah. I mean." Sawyer looks uncomfortable, like he's waiting for something else to happen. For me to just come out and say it, maybe--Welcome back, how was your trip, we made a baby--but I keep my jaw clamped firmly shut. Let him wonder for once, I think meanly. Let him sweat it out for a change. The Slurpee's bright green, like a space alien. My braid's left a wet spot on my shirt. Sawyer shifts his weight awkwardly. "She said."
We stand there. We breathe. I can hear the hum and clatter of the market all around us, everything chilly and refrigerator-bright. There's a huge, garish poster of pretzel dogs over his left shoulder. I have pictured this going differently.
The opening scene in How to Love is one of the best I've read. Reena's observation, "I have pictured this going differently," is absolutely breathless with stunned pain and weighted history. I felt punched in the gut along with her for those first few pages, that first encounter in years. Katie Cotugno captures a heady swirl of being young and infatuated and older and wiser and still desperately in love with her beautiful words. I felt sure I was taking part in something special. And it is. Or it was. The rest of the book is something of a gradual decline from the dizzying heights of that rainy day at 7-Eleven. And none of it quite lives up to the punch of the beginning. I mean, the wordsmithing remains top notch throughout:
I told my father I was pregnant and he didn't speak to me for eleven weeks. I only blame him a little: His own parents died when he was seven, and he was, quite literally, raised by the nuns in Saint Tammany Parrish in Louisiana. He fully intended to become a priest until he met my mother; he confesses every Friday and keeps a Saint Christopher medal tucked inside his shirt. In his heart he's a musician but his soul is that of the most serious of altar boys, and the fact that he didn't send me away to some convent until I had the baby is probably a testament to the mercy of the God that we've always prayed to in my house.
I really love the way she writes. But as I read through the alternating chapters between the present day and the past, I found myself less and less enamored of the way it was all going down. And absolutely disenchanted with Sawyer LeGrande. The more time I spent with him, the less there was left of him. Until I was sitting there holding a pile of dust in my hands where once there was a young man who'd run away and returned home years later to find he was a father. The farther back we went in time, the more distressed I became at the realization that Reena's lifelong love was . . . empty. And, what's worse, there seemed to be so little explanation offered for Sawyer's blankness, for his wild youth and his inexcusable treatment of Reena. Honestly, it was an excruciating place to find myself as a reader, wanting so badly for them to work things out because of Cotugno's mighty skills with atmosphere and Reena's very real feelings for Sawyer, and at the same time filling up with a growing sense of betrayal as page after page revealed Sawyer to be . . . just no one to hold on to. And there was little evidence of him having changed in the present day chapters. No more bad boy, but nothing really good either. I missed the Sawyer of those first pages. The Sawyer and Reena of those first pages. The ones who had so much to say and no words to say it in. Who were facing a mountain to climb. I wanted to see them climb it. I wanted them to fight for something precious and worth having. Instead, the past revealed too many cracks and the present proved hopelessly inadequate at sealing them up. Add to this the couple of occasions of ham-fisted coincidental drama for nothing but drama's sake, and I wanted to go wash my hands of the whole debacle. Such a shame. Because that opening scene? That was something special....more
If I stop and hold still for a minute, I can still feel the tingles I felt after finishing Scarlet last year. ItOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
If I stop and hold still for a minute, I can still feel the tingles I felt after finishing Scarlet last year. It was that good to read a new and, more importantly, impressive Robin Hood retelling. And it was impressive. From the gender-swapping and Scarlet's dialect to the individual members of the young band, each of them keeping their own secrets. I really had no idea where Ms. Gaughen would take them after everything spiraled so maddeningly out of control at the end. And now, having read it, I love how many times, and with what unflinching force, she surprised me in LADY THIEF. I never saw things coming. I mean, I saw a couple of things coming. But by and large I gasped more than I nodded knowingly. And even now I can hear my husband laughing. He is used to my gasps. He is also used to me looking up with glassy eyes and whispering something along the lines of, "Everything is not okay." But more on that later.
Some spoilers for the end of the first book I found impossible to avoid. Proceed with caution.
Scarlet's been living on borrowed time ever since her unwelcome marriage. Inexplicably willing to bide his time, Gisbourne has been gone. And Scarlet has been somewhat free to periodically slip away from the keep and check on the boys. What she's seen has not been encouraging. Robin's past haunts his nights. He rarely sleeps and when he does it always ends violently. Occasionally, Scarlet or John get a little too close and it comes to blows, which improves exactly none of their moods and does not bode well for the little band's sense of unity. But now her husband has returned, and Scarlet must play the role she bought when she agreed to wed a monster in exchange for Robin's life. Just what Gisbourne wants remains a mystery as there is zero love lost between the two of them. When Prince John and his entourage arrive, Scarlet's life only gets more difficult as the machinations at work take on a much grander scale than she imagined. And with the people of Nottingham starving and no relief in sight, Scarlet must force herself to fully inhabit her role as a noble if she is to spare her people (and her small family) from the prince's wrath.
I believe my favorite thing about this book (and series) is the perspective we get through Scarlet's eyes. It is her view of Robin Hood we see. She marks his flaws. She knows them as well as she does her own. And so the whole tale feels unusually honest and decidedly spare. It works incredibly well. Especially because, while she sees a hero in Rob, it is her bravery and endurance (and grief) we are closest to. Scarlet's a hero. And she's going to save her people. I have no doubt of it. That said, I will admit I was not expecting the level of sadness in this book. You guys. It is so sad. It is also riveting, exciting, unquestionably romantic, and I absolutely loved it. But, you guys. A.C. Gaughen is not kidding around. Her characters are stalked at every turn. By their own demons as well as the ones foisted on them by their impossible circumstances. The whole twisted web only becomes more knotted as events progress and the villains keep shifting chairs. And can I just say Prince John is simply splendid if you're in the mood for despicable tyrants. And let's be honest. You're here reading this review. When are you not in that mood? My hatred for him was and is unswerving. And while we're talking bad guys, Gisbourne came through in spades. My feelings for him were nowhere near as single minded as my feelings for the prince. Gisbourne and I, we were all across the map. But without spoiling anything, I can tell you his story is one of the most compelling. All that potential he carried in the first book is present and accounted for and deliciously explored here in the second.
I wanted to quote any number of passages between Scarlet and Robin, because their relationship travels in such lovely and aching ways in this installment. But they were all a little too special to take out of context. So instead I'm sharing a scene between Scarlet and Much. Because I love them and the way they love their friend.
"You look a little lost."
I turned to see Much steps from me. He smiled under a big farmer's hat in his crooked, half-sure way, and I hugged him. He hugged me tight with a laugh. "John and Rob are awfully boring without you around."
I mussed his hair with a laugh. "I'm certain they are. So what do you reckon, will someone make me a widow today?" We went and leaned on the fencing that were meant to keep the common folk from the grounds. We were low, back, and to the side, and from there the whole thing looked vicious and fierce, less like a game and more like gods stomping about for notice.
"I doubt it," he said, honest as ever. "Gisbourne is a very good fighter."
I rubbed my still swollen lip. "I know."
"He slept, you know," Much told me. "Last night, whole way through."
This thrilled my heart like a holy fire. "It's fair strange, talking about Rob like he were an infant or such."
"It's good news."
I shivered. "It's perfect news."
I shivered throughout this worthy sequel, both in response to the ever-unwinding intrigue as well as the prevailing chill it exudes. If ever there was a winter book, it's this one. I read it huddled under my blankets, fear and delight close at hand, as I watched Scarlet, Robin, John, and Much, the ice clutching at the hems of their cloaks, threatening to freeze any vestige of warmth inside. It's going to be an immeasurably long wait for book three. But, like Scarlet, I aim to survive....more