I'm still struggling to believe this moment is actually here. It was almost exactly three years ago that I read aOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I'm still struggling to believe this moment is actually here. It was almost exactly three years ago that I read and reviewed Madeline Miller's stunning The Song of Achilles and essentially dissolved into a puddle of shock and awe. It was difficult to summon the will to move on in the wake of such a book. The crafting of it felt almost too good for this world, as though it had been created slightly above mortal ground and continued to hover there, just above us, in its natural state. So when I got wind that Ms. Miller was working on a new novel—that not only was she shifting from The Iliad to The Odyssey, but that she was focusing the tale on Circe—it was difficult not to will Chronos to speed up time so that I could have that book in my hands. To say that it was one of—if not the—most anticipated novel of the year for me is not any kind of exaggeration.
When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist. They called me nymph, assuming I would be like my mother and aunts and cousins. Least of the lesser goddesses, our powers were so modest they could scarcely ensure our eternities. We spoke to fish and nurtured flowers, coaxed drops from the clouds or salt from the waves. That word, nymph, paced out the length and breadth of our futures. In our language, it means not just goddess, but bride.
Circe has always been uneasy about names. The name by which the gods call her. The names by which they call themselves. Titan. Olympian. Daughter of the Sun. Nymph. Witch. The words that are permitted and those that are not. The children who are welcome at her father Helios' feet and those who are not. For much of her early life, Circe coasts under the ever-raging storm of her mother's petty schemes and her siblings' wars for dominance. Born first, but deemed least of her father's children, Circe is the butt of every joke. Pitied for her weak and scratching voice, her uncouth eyes, and her relative limpness in every way that matters to feckless deities. And yet, she never stops trying to find love and meaning and peace where there is none. Even her beloved little brother Aeëtes leaves her without a second thought when he is offered a kingdom of his own. Until one night, a turning point. Prometheus, a god himself, sentenced to be punished for his merciful gift to mortals, is hauled within their halls and whipped as a form of entertainment before he is to be chained to the rock for his crimes. Circe alone offers him drink, and their brief exchange hails the entrance of mortals into Circe's life. One act of mercy begetting many more—a long chain of actions and reactions, spooling out over the centuries and serving to outline the shape of one lone goddess' existence.
The anger stood out plain and clean on his face. There was a sort of innocence to him, I thought. I do not mean this as the poets mean it: a virtue to be broken by the story's end, or else upheld at greatest cost. Nor do I mean that he was foolish or guileless. I mean that he was made only of himself, without the dregs that clog the rest of us. He thought and felt and acted, and all these things made a straight line. No wonder his father had been so baffled by him. He would have been always looking for the hidden meaning, the knife in the dark. But Telemachus carried his blade in the open.
Madeline Miller deals in exiles. In the paths of individuals who are sent away, forced to flee—to other realms, to underground labyrinths, to lonely isles for the rest of their days. It is a long tale Circe has to share, and one that is difficult even for her to tease out how it may have begun and how it will likely never end. In fact, so much of the tale is threaded through with the search for a reason, if any, for her existence, for a purpose that will fit the shape of her hand and feel comfortable in her grasp for as long as she cares to hold it. From the opening lines, I was lost in Circe's story. Like her, I became enamored of each fragile mortal that crossed her path. Of Glaucos as he once was, of Daedalus with his marvelous hands and his quiet presence, of Odysseus and all his clever guises. And like her, I grew more and more uncertain—at times, fearful—of how the game would play out, of whether or not she would ever find the peace, the shelter, the companionship for which she longed. Of where and when mortality and immortality may meet and whether it is possible for anything to survive. It was a long journey, filled with pain and grief and merciless beings bent on their own course and leaving swaths of lives crushed in their wake. It was also unquestionably beautiful and sensitive in its rendering. Circe is another side of the same coin that is flipped in The Song of Achilles and that we watched tumble end over end to the earth. Different, yes, and cunning in its shiftiness. But also shining and true in the same sympathetic light. I closed the book feeling a deep certainty that Madeline Miller is of the same ilk at Circe, as Penelope, as those ancient weavers of cloth, of light, of both words and worlds. And looking around me, after having walked a time in the company of these women, the fabric of this world, too, seems to hold the imprint of their sure and steady hands....more
That's it. Favorite Mary Balogh book, no question. It was just too much fun. I'm fairly picky when it comes to my Pride and Prejudice adaptations, sThat's it. Favorite Mary Balogh book, no question. It was just too much fun. I'm fairly picky when it comes to my Pride and Prejudice adaptations, so I worried going into this one. But it was so utterly delightful from page one that any apprehensions I had were immediately swept away under the force of Christine and Wulf's wonderful, at times hilarious, story. I laughed so many times. And I love that Ms. Balogh turned it into a second chance at romance tale for each of her protagonists. Not a second chance with each other, but with the possibility of seeing happiness and choosing to keep it. ...more
Wow. That, um, that was pretty much the polar opposite of disappointing. I could hardly read it fast enough to satisfy my love for and desire to be wiWow. That, um, that was pretty much the polar opposite of disappointing. I could hardly read it fast enough to satisfy my love for and desire to be with these characters. They're a bunch of savage rascals. But they're my savage rascals. And I am hugely concerned with their fates. Aelin is . . . strong (and capable and vulnerable) in a way I find immensely relieving and fulfilling at this precise moment in time. She is a girl who does things. I will read any and all of her adventures Ms. Maas chooses to share. As for the rest? Basically, any time Aelin and Manon faced off I was filled with an unholy glee. Those two are so fierce, sparks fly off the page. Cinderella and Red Riding Hood should tear the world apart more often. And while we're talking leaping off the page, the Lorcan & Elide chapters gave me life. The arc of their relationship is too sweet and aching for words. I'm afraid of what's to come as far as they're concerned. Who are we kidding? I'm flat-out terrified for all of them. All my scrappy, magnetic strays. ...more
I'm sorry, but that was massively entertaining. Perfectly paced from beginning to end. In fact, the pace is so breakneck (in the best way) that I keptI'm sorry, but that was massively entertaining. Perfectly paced from beginning to end. In fact, the pace is so breakneck (in the best way) that I kept thinking to myself, there are no lulls in this book! I just hit the Point of No Return and it is at the halfway mark! My, but things come crashing together in this book. My favorite in the series so far, no question. All of the characters grow; they change. The excellent thing, though, is that my allegiances weren't forced to change so much as they were forced to increase. And that's the wonderful bit about my heart. It is large. Big enough to hold them all.
Oh, and that reunion scene in the alley in Rifthold? Yeah, I won't ever be recovering from that....more
It's been a full year of delicious anticipation, this waiting for the second volume in Sherry Thomas' delightfulOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
It's been a full year of delicious anticipation, this waiting for the second volume in Sherry Thomas' delightful Lady Sherlock series. I thoroughly enjoyed A Study in Scarlet Women last year, and I had just a really good gut feeling about where the sequel would take my favorite characters—from the absolutely flawlessly rendered Charlotte Holmes and the impenetrable Lord Ingram, to Mrs. Watson, Livia and Bernadine Holmes, and poor, beleaguered Inspector Treadles. I was so pleased to be back in their company once more when I finally cracked open my copy of A Conspiracy in Belgravia and commenced reading.
It took her awhile, but now Charlotte is living in something more akin to the manner she would prefer. Together with her companion Mrs. Watson (and Mrs. Watson's irrepressible niece and aspiring physician Miss Redmayne), Charlotte is becoming extremely well-versed in the solving of all things mysterious around London. The only black marks on her new life are the distance she is forced to maintain from her sisters Livia and Bernadine and the mutual distance she and Lord Ingram force themselves to maintain from each other. The entire delicate balance is thoroughly upended, however, when none other than Lady Ingram herself requests a consultation with the increasingly infamous Sherlock Holmes. It is a matter of some delicacy, according to Lady Ingram, concerning a young man she once loved. A man she passes once every year at an agreed upon time and place to assure one another of the other's continued safety and devotion from afar. But the man missed their silent rendezvous this year, and Lady Ingram will know the reason why. And so Charlotte finds herself in the most untenable position of investigating on behalf of her oldest and dearest friend's estranged wife, and doing so behind his back. And just when she thinks this case cannot possibly get more personal, it does, and there is absolutely no hope of turning back.
Charlotte rarely resorted to imagination—observation yielded far better results. And while the world was made up of innumerable moving parts, in her own personal life she saw no reason why decisions shouldn't be simple, especially since most choices were binary: more butter on the muffin or not, run away from home or not, accept a man's offer of marriage or not.
I love Charlotte a little beyond reason. She is everything I could have wanted in a female incarnation of the inimitable Holmes. As a matter of face, every single character was in fine form in this their second adventure together, particularly Livia—who is an absolute treasure. Her relationship with Charlotte, the ways in which they are each hobbled by the most personal and daunting aspects of their lives, and the ways in which they quietly reach out to each other as sisters were extremely affecting. The longing and the loyalty between these two sisters who have dealt with their nightmarish parents in such drastically different ways played out in beautiful contrast. And, okay, while we're on the subject of longing, can I just say that I thought the quiet moments between Charlotte and Lord Ingram in the first book were exquisite. The scenes between them in this one sent me careening over the emotional edge. Just one of the impossibly poignant interactions between Charlotte and Lord Ingram:
Soundlessly his fingers tapped the crest rail on which they rested, each one by turn. "Years ago, you said something to me. I don't remember it word for word, but in essence, you told me that men, even otherwise sensible men, fall under the illusion that they will be able to find a perfect woman. That the problem lies not in the search so much as in the definition of perfection, which is a beautiful female who will integrate seamlessly into a man's life, bringing with her exactly the right amount of intelligence, wit, and interests to align with his, in order to brighten every aspect of his existence."
She remembered that conversation, one of the most disharmonious they had ever held, on the subject of the future Lady Ingram.
"You warned me against believing in the illusion—and I was highly displeased. I didn't say so at the time, but as we parted, I thought that you'd certainly never be mistaken for a perfect woman. It was beyond evident you'd never fit readily into any man's life, and no one could possibly think that the purpose of your life was to be anything other than who you were. At the time, those were not kind thoughts. They flew about my head with a great deal of scorn—venom, even. My opinion of you hasn't changed, by the way. But nowadays I think those same thoughts with much resignation but even more admiration." Their eyes met again. His were still the same mysterious green, but now there was a warmth to them, a deep affection tinged, as he said, with much resignation but even more admiration. "I'm sure I'll fly off the handle and accuse you of all kinds of perfidy once I learn what you've been up to, but let it not be said that I don't know who I'm dealing with. We disagree often, and that is a fact of our friendship.
I could have cried at them, you guys. Over and over again, I could have. But I chose to wait until this small moment to actually let the tears slip out:
"Thank you for listening to me, by the way," she said, "when you didn't wish to hear a single word."
He would always listen, when she had something to say. That he did not voice aloud, because she already knew.
I feel compelled to note just how emotionally astute this novel is. It is one of its most important qualities. The ring of quiet truth kept rolling over me in waves throughout my reading experience. And, yes, much of it Charlotte's undeniable acumen. But much of it is Ms. Thomas' ability to let a scene unfold in its own time. No moments are rushed. No dialogue is off in the slightest. As Charlotte notes at a certain point, "The old silence threatened to descend." An ever-present sense of the weight of one's personal history, of the quiet, but inexorable accumulation of a life's worth of decisions, their provenance, and their consequences, pervades this story in achingly beautiful ways. The different levels of haunting are delicately explored, in both the coils of the investigation and the ties that bind each character together. I so appreciated this book's subtlety and its increasingly nuanced ruminations on what it means to know someone and to be known by them, to see as we are seen. Sherry Thomas carries the whole thing off just splendidly. This is a sequel to behold. A sequel for the books, as it were. Never think of missing it....more
I thought today would be the perfect day to review this unicorn of a book. It is All Saints' Day—a fitting day toOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I thought today would be the perfect day to review this unicorn of a book. It is All Saints' Day—a fitting day to revisit all the crooked ones, no? It is also the first day of November and so, today, . . . well, you know the rest. What I'm saying is, today is kind of the perfect day to do all the Maggie Stiefvater-related things! Which is, of course, why I'll be attending her signing event later this evening at my local indie, key in hand. I know. I win today. I do. What I do not do is take it for granted. My good fortune or this book. This beautiful, beautiful book. But before we get into my reaction, I want to make a brief request. If you haven't yet had a chance to read Maggie's post on how this book came about and what it was originally going to be and what it actually became, I straight up implore you to do so. It is one of my favorite things I've read this year and it is something I needed to read this year. My favorite line? "I discovered that I wanted to instead write about light."
On the night this story begins, both a saint and a scientist were listening to miracles.
The time the 1962. The setting is the tiny hamlet of Bicho Raro, Colorado. The problem is Beatriz, David, and Joaquin Soria have a rather desperate secret. The three cousins run an illegal radio station out of the back of a 1958 Dodge moving truck. Joaquin is the voice. Beatriz is the heart (and brain). Daniel is the Saint. Among the tight-knit, if wildly unusual Soria clan, there is always a Saint—one of the family members given the magical task of granting miracles to wandering pilgrims. People from all over find their way to Bicho Raro in search of miracles. Some of them leave. But some of them stay, waiting desperately for that last most difficult step in the process—that acceptance of their miracle, of the darkness within them, of what they must do to accept their miracle, solve their darkness, and move on (both literally and figuratively) from the little town, its mysterious inhabitants, and the multitude of owls inexorably drawn to the miracles. But it is not just the pilgrims who are required to accept what they cannot. It is also the Sorias. For Daniel has done what no other Saint has. He has interfered with one of his own miracles by trying to help one of the pilgrims who has come to mean something more to him than she should. Now his own darkness is coming to swallow him whole, and possibly every inhabitant of Bicho Raro along with him.
I know that Maggie can turn her hand to anything she likes and have it come off beautifully, but the fact that she chose to turn to magical realism and light at this specific point in time is a bit of a godsend as far as I am concerned. Because we collectively needed this book, I think. It is gentle and sweet in the way that only true gentleness and sweetness at the heart of ever-encroaching darkness can be. This book felt like a prayer, in the most far-reaching sense of the word—its cadences soft and ongoing, its longing true and framed by real need, its love rooted in the beauty of this flawed world we live in and in the people whose hearts and breaths imbue it with meaning. The entire time I was reading, I felt I was living inside one of Ronan Lynch's dreams. This book is a fable and a love letter, a reminder and a jumping off point. I fell in love with each of the crooked saints and their pilgrims, with Marisita and her rain-soaked butterfly dress, with Francisco and his whistling language and way with misused fowl, with Tony and his unavoidable heights, and, yes, most of all with Beatriz and Pete. Pete who wasn't there about a miracle at all, but rather about a box truck he believes might help fill the hole in his heart. And Beatriz who simply wants to understand and know more, and who fears being asked to do anything else. Watching Beatriz and Pete was a privilege.
It was nothing extravagant, just Patsy Cline sung in his low and uneven voice, and they began to dance. It was very quiet. No one else would have seen if not for the desert. But when the desert heard Pete Wyatt singing a love song, it took notice. The desert loved him, after all, and wanted him happy. So when it heard Pete singing, it rose a wind around them until the breeze sang gently like strings, and when it heard Pete singing, it provoked the air to heat and cool around every stone and plant so that each of these things sounded in harmony with his voice, and when it heard Pete singing, it roused Colorado's grasshoppers to action and they rubbed their legs together like a soft horn section, and when it heard Pete singing, it shifted the very ground beneath Bicho Raro so that the sand and the dirt pounded a beat that matched the sound of the incomplete heart that lived in Pete Wyatt.
I was dead the moment Pete Wyatt fell in love with the desert and the desert itself raised its head and took note. But Beatriz and Pete dancing as Pete softly sings Patsy Cline? And every other marvelous and magical character pausing to mark the beauty of the moment? That put the nail in the coffin. I am truly dead. I am dead of all the crooked, light-filled things....more
I am having difficulty achieving some semblance of coherence when it comes to this beautiful book. My feelings foOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I am having difficulty achieving some semblance of coherence when it comes to this beautiful book. My feelings for it are threatening to overwhelm me on every level this morning. I didn't sleep last night. And I mean that literally. I didn't sleep a wink. Twice, I tried to force myself to do the right smart thing and wait to finish on the morrow. But my head and my heart would have none of it. They were both buzzing far too loudly to even think of sleep. I bought McKelle George's debut novel Speak Easy, Speak Love on the day it released based on three things: it has easily my favorite cover of the year (I swoon, I swoon over this cover), it was edited by my Martha (say no more), and it is a Roaring Twenties adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing (as Ms. George herself puts it—Shakespeare's most romantic comedy). I really feel like I could just leave it there, and that those of you in possession of a soul would immediately run to the bookstore (as one does) and set about doing yourselves the massive favor of devouring this story. In case any of you are forcibly housebound or bedridden (been there), I shall expand.
Benedick Scott is one hundred percent over it. He's leaving his posh prep school and his autocratic father once and for all and is bound for the only place (and people) that have ever really felt like home. Hey Nonny Nonny—the Long Island speakeasy run by the jovial (if rarely sober) Leo Stahr and his glittering daughter Hero—is home to a number of other rapscallions ever on the down and out. Chief among them are Benedick's best friend—the mercurial Prince—and Hey Nonny's star crooner—Maggie Hughes. What Benedick does not expect is to be followed into the night by his fellow trust fund kid Claude Blaine or to encounter one Miss Beatrice Clark—aspiring medical student and sometime boarding school reject. Beatrice, like Benedick, is in need of a home. Kicked out of boarding school just before graduation, she is determined nothing will stop her from getting into medical school and pursuing her dream of being a doctor. Beatrice has always been different from others, and she takes the unusual denizens of her Uncle Leo's home (and their various highly suspect and massively illegal activities) in absolute stride. And before any of the others realize it, Beatrice has made herself an indispensable member of the small group of outsiders desperately trying to keep the struggling speakeasy afloat.
Benedick Scott was on his way to freedom or profound failure or, if the usual order of things held up, both. Two chests, strapped closed and marked for delivery to an apartment in Manhattan, sat at the end of his bed. On his person he needed only his typewriter, slung over his shoulder in a battered case. He'd stuffed the case with socks to cushion any dinging, along with his shaving kit, a worn copy of Middlemarch, and thirty-four pages of typed future.
I read these opening lines aloud to Aaron as I began the book, and his eyes widened slightly, his head tipped knowingly, as he quietly bid me farewell and Godspeed. He knows. He knows because it's as though that first paragraph was tailor fit for me. After a handful more pages, I gave up trying to muffle my exclamations of delight. Speak Easy, Speak Love had clearly announced itself as an experience and I gave myself over to it entirely. McKelle George's writing is exquisite. Every line feels at once effortless and meticulously crafted, to the point that I, who never go slowly, was slowing down and savoring each rich turn of phrase. By the 100-page mark, I was beside myself in love with these characters. They were so dashing, I was afraid to let them out of my sight.
I am, admittedly, an enormous fan of Much Ado About Nothing. But as I read, I kept thinking to myself—she took the bones, yes. But this achingly gorgeous slip of magic and mirth is all hers. And I knew it from the moment I met Prince—there in the darkness, leaning against the tree, cigarette dangling, eyes flashing, waiting for Benedick. Prince is the early warning signal that beyond this point there be dragons. Dragons and heart-stopping jazz, inexplicable longing and the sharpest of tongues. The trio of romances in this tale are absolutely not for the faint of heart. What I mean by that is, they are so ineffably real and so elegantly delineated that I choked back thick and sudden tears on more than one occasion. The thing is—I had heard reviewers describe this book as "light" and "romantic" and "fun" and "witty." And it is all of those things. But make no mistake—just like its source material, it is so much more. So much more that I don't think those four descriptors would even make it into the top fifty terms I would use to describe it. What I'm saying is, I was nowhere near prepared for how consummate the storytelling would be. "For fans of Stephanie Perkins and Jenny Han," the blurb read. Yes. Okay. Sure. But I feel compelled to say that the caliber of writing and the emotional weight in this volume put me in mind of Megan Whalen Turner and Robin McKinley, which is to say wordsmiths in possession of the deftest of touches and the most expansive of souls.
Benedick opened his door and stood up, keeping one elbow on the doorframe, the other on the Ford's roof, shedding his exhaustion like a winter coat. His eyes brightened, and his pale, clammy skin managed to defy medicine and glow. "Have I got a story for you!"
And it was a story—in that it was not quite the truth.
But it wasn't a lie either.
Listening to him, Beatrice experienced the afternoon all over again, but this time there was no real danger. There was a boy who'd had a terrific idea that went a little off the rails and a girl who was a good sport and just the kind of sidekick you'd like to have along. Beatrice heard herself laugh when Benedick described her shooting off a man's hat, but it hadn't seemed that funny when it actually happened.
There was a sunniness in his words that somehow even disguised his appearance, erasing the boy shaking with exhaustion, flattening all his mercurial layers into one outfit of razzle-dazzle. But the razzle-dazzle was also real. That was the most baffling part of all. He was this, too.
She let him do it, not only because she came out looking all right in his story, not a clock-throwing ruin of a girl, but also because Benedick's talking about her as if she were already one of them made her one of them.
What a tricky, tangled science.
I am physically restraining myself from sharing more passages just like this one. Because honestly? This passage is just one of a thousand that left me gasping on the floor with their acuity. McKelle George has fleshed out my favorite relationships and forged new connections I couldn't have seen, but that felt right and real the moment they landed. Which brings me to John and to Maggie, who I find I can't even talk about just yet—so fresh and lasting are my emotions regarding them. Just know that I am not overstating things when I say that their respective arcs are arguably the most compelling and ethereal of all in this novel bursting at the seams with compelling and ethereal character arcs. Likewise, know that you ought to discover them for yourselves. Go find them. Find them all, and come back and tell me. And maybe by then I'll have summoned a bit more in the way of coherence. Until then, adieu....more
I loved this series so much I'm not sure I've moved past it or that I even will. I should preface this by sayingOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I loved this series so much I'm not sure I've moved past it or that I even will. I should preface this by saying that I picked up Sarah J. Maas' Throne of Glass what seems like ages ago and was singularly unimpressed. Like massively so. I didn't even finish it, though I feel like I did give it the old college try. I realize its original cover did it a disservice. But at the time, nothing about that first story felt unique. It felt tired, like I'd read it before, and the writing did not stand out to me in any way. Fast forward a few years, and I just kept hearing absolute knockdown raving about Ms. Maas' newer series—A Court of Thorns and Roses. The first book was out in paperback and something about all of your glowing comments (and the beautiful cover) pushed me over the edge. I read and thoroughly enjoyed the first book, which is a lovely mashup of the Beauty and the Beast and Tam Lin fairy tales (I know, it's like it was tailor fit for me). The book builds and builds to a wonderfully satisfying conclusion that left me very eager for more. Fortunately for me, A Court of Mist and Fury was already out and A Court of Wings and Ruin was soon to be released. I call that timing providence, because I am forever the one waiting years and years for the next book to come out.
Feyre Archeron survived. But almost in name only. She is returned to the Spring Court. Returned to Tamlin. To a place that used to feel safe. But the effects of her time Under the Mountain, in Amarantha's clutches, will never fade. To say nothing of the bargain she made with Rhysand—High Lord of the Night Court. And so her days are spent in a protective bubble of silence and seeming serenity. While Tamlin and his advisers plot revenge, Feyre is left to dwell on the blood on her hands, on the emptiness inside her, and on the fury she feels for the mercurial fae who is set to whisk her away each month. But when her increasingly intolerable existence reaches the breaking point, it is Rhys who winnows her away for good. Then Feyre is forced to learn a new court and a new people, as she finds herself woven into the even greater plans of the High Lord of the Night Court, who is not at all what he seemed. Through Rhys, she meets the Inner Circle—a group of comrades I defy anyone to resist. And it is Cassian and Mor, Azriel and Amren who fill in the cracks in Feyre's heart, who help her find a cause worth surviving for again.
Red exploded in my vision, and I couldn't breathe fast enough, couldn't think above the roar in my head. One heartbeat, I was staring after him—the next, I had my shoe in my hand
I hurled it at him with all my strength.
All my considerable, immortal strength.
I barely saw my silk slipper as it flew through the air, fast as a shooting star, so fast that even a High Lord couldn't detect it as it neared—
And slammed into his head.
Rhys whirled, a hand rising to the back of his head, his eyes wide.
I already had the other shoe in my hand.
Rhys's lip pulled back from his teeth. "I dare you." Temper—he had to be in some mood today to let his temper show this much.
Good. That made two of us.
I flung my other shoe right at his head, as swift and hard as the first one.
I had to start with that quote, because it was at that precise moment that the first breath of laughter bubbled up out of me. And my affection for these two only grew. In fact, it grew beyond even my wild expectations. I didn't know. I suspected, but I didn't know that Sarah J. Maas had it in her to capture my imagination and affections so thoroughly and swiftly. With the flinging of just one shoe. But she did. And I, like Feyre's shoe, hurtled through the air of this beautiful book. I utterly enjoyed the first book in this series, particularly the final third, which I thought was masterfully done. But I haven't fallen in love with a tightly knit band of characters like I did with Rhys' Inner Circle in some time. They remind me ever-so-fondly of my beloved comrades from Sharon Shinn's Mystic and Rider series. I think about them all the time. My heart was in my throat over their fates the entire length of the novel. Cassian and Azriel—the winged Illyrian pillars of my heart. Mor and Amren—the endlessly complex and powerful women who are never bowed. And Feyre's own sisters who play larger and much more vital roles in this book. But the arc between Rhys and Feyre is the soul of this novel (and this series). I will go down with their ship.
I will kill anyone who harms you," Rhys snarled. "I will kill them, and take a damn long time doing it." He panted. "Go ahead. Hate me—despise me for it."
"You are my friend," I said, and my voice broke on the word. I hated the tears that slipped down my face. I didn't even know why I was crying. Perhaps for the fact that it had felt real on that throne with him, even for a moment, and . . . and it likely hadn't been. Not for him. "You're my friend—and I understand that you're High Lord. I understand that you will defend your true court, and punish threats against it. But I can't . . . I don't want you to stop telling me things, inviting me to do things, because of the threats against me."
Darkness rippled, and wings tore from his back. "I am not him," Rhys breathed. "I will never be him, act like him. He locked you up and let you wither, and die."
"Stop comparing. Stop comparing me to him."
The words cut me short. I blinked.
"You think I don't know how stories get written—how this story will be written?" Rhys put his hands on his chest, his face more open, more anguished than I'd seen it. "I am the dark lord, who stole away the bride of spring. I am a demon, and a nightmare, and I will meet a bad end. He is the golden prince—the hero who will get to keep you as his reward for not dying of stupidity and arrogance."
The things I love have a tendency to be taken from me. He'd admitted that to me Under the Mountain.
But his words were kindling to my temper, to whatever pit of fear was yawning open inside of me. "And what about my story?" I hissed.
I love them because I didn't see them coming. Because they never give up on each other, because their understanding of each other is stronger and deeper than anyone can tell. It. Will. Survive. These two are equally magnetic, equally layered, and elegantly rendered. As beautiful as Rhys' home of Valeris, their friendship and unswerving loyalty are epic. And they are absolutely required to be in order to match the sweep of this world and the demands of their story—from the eerie lair of the Bone Keeper, to the heartless thirst of the King of Hybern, to the ponderous depths of the Cauldron itself. If you have been wavering on the edge of this series, you simply must dive in. This band of heroes is too worthy of your love to miss....more
I'm just going to start off by saying I cannot stop thinking about this book. I finished it weeks ago, but this lOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I'm just going to start off by saying I cannot stop thinking about this book. I finished it weeks ago, but this lovely Beauty and the Beast adaptation will not leave my mind. This is the first book I've really read by Meagan Spooner. I gave These Broken Stars a bit of a go awhile back, but we sort of drifted apart halfway through. Not the case here. The gorgeous cover caught my eye and the early glowing reviews reinforced my conviction. Having finished it, I immediately ran out and purchased copies for a number of the relevant readers in my life. And despite having pushed on and read several books since, Hunted is the one I find my mind and heart returning to over and over again.
Yeva holds a lot of things in. She loves her family—her father, her sisters—and so she sits obediently in the baronessa's chambers. She pretends to make small talk and embroider bits of cloth with the other ladies. She smiles politely at the young man who is said to be courting her (and doesn't think overly much about him when he is not there). She tries not to look too longingly out of the window and yearn for a time before her father made his money, before their lives changed and she was forced to come in out of the cold of the forest. And life is comfortable and quiet and perfectly fine. Until the loss of her father's fortune forces the family to return to the family's decrepit hunting lodge. When he subsequently disappears, Yeva knows he has gone after the legendary creature at the heart of the woods—the one no one has ever been able to find, let alone defeat. A talented hunter, trained at her father's feet, she sets out, determined to find find her father and save her family.
Yeva shivered. The thought of being left alone in the dark again was enough to make her eyes sting, but she had no reason to distrust her benefactor. He would not leave her a light only to take it from her again.
"Very well," she whispered, and turned the wick down, the light shrinking and quivering. Yeva almost didn't see it go out, afterimages dancing before her eyes and blinding her.
The door squealed open, the noise of rusty hinges shredding the quiet. Yeva clapped a hand over her ears, grimacing. Then came that tiny sound, a footfall. The person, whoever it was, was wearing the softest of shoes. Or else they were barefoot, like she was.
"Are you a captive too?" she asked the darkness.
The voice didn't answer right away. There came a quiet clatter as something was placed down on the tray of food. "Yes," said the voice then, the word emerging like a sigh.
Reader, I was a goner from the opening page. Hunted is told primarily from Yeva's point of view. But before each new chapter, we get a brief glimpse into the mind of the Beast. I started to simultaneously look forward to and dread each glimpse, knowing that the Beast's fractures could only grow more troubling with every passing day. The fragmented text and stark artwork on these handful of pages haunted me throughout the novel. But what a beautiful tale it is. Yeva is strong and determined and completely aware of the expectations regarding her future, as well as the ramifications her choices will have on the lives of her sisters and the people who have long worked for her family. She does not rush headlong into anything. But when the brunt of her family's protection falls on her shoulders, she does not hesitate to employ all of her hunting skills to strike out on her own in search of the author of her family's trauma and destroy it (or him). Vengeance is the watchword, and I absolutely believed she would follow through on her vow. But I also believed her grudging compassion, her innate desire for understanding, and the complicated choices she faces as an inhabitant of the Beast's castle. This story takes its time, and I savored every interaction, every conversation, between Yeva and the Beast. A favorite moment:
For an instant he was so like one of the crumbling gargoyles on the battlements of the castle that Yeva thought maybe just speaking of his secrets had turned him to stone.
But then he heaved a breath and dropped lower to the snow, crouching like a wounded animal, forelegs bent and breath stirring the top flakes with each puff. "You are clever," he mumbled.
"I know stories," Yeva corrected. "The bespelled can never speak of what afflicts them—that is always part of the curse."
The Beast's eyes flicked up. "You believe I am cursed?"
It was Yeva's turn to hesitate. Her mind still could not decide whether he was a man who had murdered her father or a beast who'd given in to animal instinct and torn him to pieces. And it still couldn't decide which would be worse. Either way he would have to answer for what he'd done.
"I know you aren't natural," she said finally. "And you can clearly hunt better than any human hunter could, so your need for me must mean you have a task you cannot complete on your own."
The Beast said nothing, didn't confirm her guesses. But neither did he deny them.
"And this existence is clearly . . . " Yeva paused, swallowing. "It is clearly miserable."
The Beast stayed silent.
"So, yes." Yeva took a deep breath. "Yes, I believe you are cursed."
Meagan Spooner's deft crafting of this fairy tale is exquisite. In fact, it is positively Robin McKinley-esque. And you know I do not use those words lightly. But truly, this Russian folklore-inspired adaptation of my beloved fairy tale is old school in the best sense of the term. It is the kind of deeply measured, quietly emotional, and palpably textured storytelling that I used to lose myself in as a girl. I want to fashion its very own nook on my nightstand so that I can reach it when the slightest need arises. To be clear, Hunted is unquestionably the highlight of my reading year thus far. You simply must read it....more
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
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
So. As much as I adore retellings, I recently realized I'd never actually read an Alice in Wonderland retelling.Originally reviewed here @ Angieville
So. As much as I adore retellings, I recently realized I'd never actually read an Alice in Wonderland retelling. And what with the absolute rash of them inundating the publishing world these days, I figured it was high time. I've always loved the original classic and the Disney film, but I've never seen any of the more recent film adaptations. When Ace contacted me about reviewing Christina Henry's Alice in anticipation of the sequel's release, it felt like the perfect entry point. Funnily enough, I actually read the first book in Henry's Black Wings urban fantasy series ages ago. We didn't particularly hit it off, but I found myself massively intrigued to find out what she might do with a grown-up Alice. Also, the cover. It sends chills down my spine every time I glance over at the copy sitting on my nightstand. Having now read the words behind that cover, I can verify that the chills only increase after you make the acquaintance of Henry's White Rabbit.
Alice is mad. Or so they said when they found her stumbling back out of the Old City, having escaped an unnamed horror, with blood running everywhere and the Rabbit's name on her lips. And so they locked her up for ten years in a asylum for those who had taken leave of their senses, who the New City was too impatient to deal with. But two years in, someone whispers through the mouse hole in her cell. Someone by the name of Hatcher, who never takes the powders the orderlies bring, who fights tooth and nail to avoid the regular baths every inmate must take, who awoke years ago surrounded by bodies with a bloody ax in his hands. And so the two become friends and allies, working desperately to keep a shred of sanity in a world they no longer recognize. Hatcher is determined that one day the opportunity for escape will arise. And when it does in the form of a fire, he and Alice fight their way out of the prison that formed every fiber of their beings for so many years. But now they are on the run. Working their way deep into the twisted streets of Old City, they find themselves on a mad mission to escape the evil the fire released from the asylum and to recapture enough of Alice's memories to know who to hunt and who to flee.
If she moved her head all the way up against the wall and tilted it to the left she could just see the edge of the moon through the bars. Just a silver sliver, almost close enough to eat. A sliver of cheese, a sliver of cake, a cup of tea to be polite. Someone had given her a cup of tea once, someone with blue-green eyes and long ears. Funny how she couldn't remember his face, though. All that part was hazy, her memory of him wrapped in smoke but for the eyes and ears. And the ears were long and furry.
These opening lines sealed the deal, I'm afraid. There was no going back after I met Alice and she met Hatcher and the two of them agreed to hold hands throughout their ordeal. I was completely unable and completely uninterested in not being with them. Which is saying quite a lot, because their ordeal is not for the faint of heart. I repeat, beyond this point there be dragons of the deepest and darkest kind. I want to make this point early, because this book will not be for many readers. The violence factor is high. Hatcher is an actual ax murderer, after all, and he has set his sights on keeping Alice safe from any threat, which means the body count is astoundingly high in this dark fantasy that takes all the unhinged zaniness from Lewis Carroll's classic tale and neatly amplifies it by one hundred percent. Essentially, this book and I had no business falling as madly in love as we did. But there you have it. I loved it beyond reason. I kept waiting for the level of horror to send me packing, but the core—the light that Alice and Hatcher make by the mere fact of their survival—kept me following. Their fight to stop the mindless violence of the Jabberwock, their run ins with each of the unspeakably evil crime lords that run Old City, and the slow and terrifying awakening of Alice's memories are all excellently rendered.
My one issue with the novel is the absolute preponderance of violence directed toward women. It is omnipresent in Henry's world and it is massively disturbing. Alice is essentially its only survivor, and I think she is meant to be the seed that grows a revolution. Which I am clearly fine with, as I stuck with her through the entire bloody gauntlet. But I want to be sure to say that while I comprehend the reasons behind the dark world Ms. Henry has created, I feel that the story's integrity could have withstood a toning down of the violence against women (particularly during their sojourns with the Caterpillar and the Walrus) and still retained its spine-unhinging terror.
That said, this novel is utterly magnetic. Reading it feels like a madcap sprint to the finish. I swallowed it in 100-page chunks and came back each night just eager to slip back into this nightmare world. And the reason why is the two main characters. Alice and her mad Hatcher. Their heartbreaking connection and the furious way in which they cling to it is everything I look for when I come to a tale. I loved their story in all its brutal, broken beauty. I sense they will never be far from my thoughts from now on.
"You remember it all now," Hatcher said, and it wasn't a question.
"Yes," she said. She was beyond weeping for the child she once was. "It is, more or less, what you would expect. Except for the part where I escaped. Nobody expected that."
So. Deep breaths all around, shall we? As D.H. Lawrence said (in my favorite line from the book that taught me abOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
So. Deep breaths all around, shall we? As D.H. Lawrence said (in my favorite line from the book that taught me about the birds and the bees), "We've got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen." And so this is my attempt at moving on, at living in the wake of a certain series that has been basically what I've lived and breathed for the last few weeks (barring the recently read and reviewed book we shall not speak of). Bear with me, if you will. I feel a bit fragile still. That said, are you tired yet of my old refrain of holding off on a series because I'm wary of the hugely positive press it's getting? I hope not. Because I present you with my latest bit of folly. A Darker Shade of Magic represents my first foray with V.E. Schwab, and I would categorize it as something along the lines of uncontrollable love at first sight.
Kell wore a very peculiar coat.
It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but several, which was, of course, impossible.
The first thing he did whenever he stepped out of one London and into another was take off the coat and turn it inside out once or twice (or even three times) until he found the side he needed. Not all of them were fashionable, but they each served a purpose. There were ones that blended in and ones that stood out, and one that served no purpose but of which he was just particularly fond.
Kell is one of the rarest of rare breeds. He is an Antari, a magician with one normal eye and one black eye, who can travel between the parallel worlds, from Grey London to Red London to White London. Though never to the forbidden Black London, where magic destroyed it all. Kell lives in Red London, where he serves at the pleasure of the King and Queen. He is even something of an adopted son to them, raised as he was alongside their son Prince Rhy. The two are close as brothers and get up to all manner of mischief together. Well, Rhy does. And Kell rabbits off after him trying to tame the prince's effulgent ways and teach him a little magic along the way. So that he will be a good king and ruler to the people of Red London. What no one but Rhy knows is that Kell breaks a few of his own rules now and then. Namely, he smuggles small items from one London to another as a form of self-entertainment and a way of fending off the loneliness. He does have one counterpart, the other Antari Holland. But Holland resides in the dreaded White London, where he is in painful servitude to the current ruthless rulers the Dane twins. But it's when Kell makes the unexpected acquaintance of one thief Delilah Bard that things really being to unravel. And when Lila finds her way from Grey London into magic-drenched Red London, she is bound and determined never to go back.
It is such a tale, you guys. Such a magnificent, charming, and desperate tale of one young magician's quest to balance who he is with what is expected of him and one young woman's drive to see (and do) everything before she dies. I fell in love with Kell on page one, with his magical red coat and his quiet intensity. And my soul was knit with Delilah Bard's the moment she came at Kell with a sword and demanded more from her life. A favorite early encounter:
She looked young, but sharp, bony in a starved-bird kind of way. The only roundness came from her eyes, both brown, but not quite the same shade. He opened his mouth, intending to start their conversation with a question, like, Will you untie me? or Where is the stone? but instead found himself saying, "One of your eyes is lighter than the other."
"And one of your eyes is black," she shot back. She sounded cautious, but not frightened. Or, if she was, she was very good at hiding it. "What are you?" she asked.
"A monster," said Kell hoarsely. "You'd better let me go."
The girl gave a small, mocking laugh. "Monsters don't faint in the presence of ladies."
"Ladies don't dress like men and pick pockets," retorted Kell.
Her smile only sharpened. "What are you really?"
"Tied to your bed," said Kell matter-of-factly.
His brow furrowed. "And in trouble."
He isn't wrong. Kell and Lila, individually and collectively, find themselves up to their eyeballs in trouble before this tale is through. And it is all so perfectly paced, allowing the reader time enough with each character to take their measure and form (and occasionally confirm) a number of important suspicions as to who might be an ally and who might be a shadow bent on evil. I relished each jaunt into the three so hazardously different Londons, hugging my arms to my sides each time we journeyed into eerie White London, hoping we would make it back alive. V.E. Schwab knows how to structure an adventure, and this one ramps up to the most creepy and urgent of climaxes. My heart raced at every turn, and my brain tumbled ahead to sift through the consequences of certain choices that will undoubtedly play out in the sequel. A Darker Shade of Magic is fantasy of the highest order. I'm so thrilled to have discovered it and wish Kell and Lila (and Rhy) all the luck in their coming adventures. Not that they need it....more
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
I've been sitting on a review of The Song of Achilles for some time now. And it's simply another case of me worrying I won't do justice not just to thI've been sitting on a review of The Song of Achilles for some time now. And it's simply another case of me worrying I won't do justice not just to the book, but to (perhaps even more importantly) my feelings for the book. I was attempting to do just that a number of nights ago with a friend, and wound up choked up and slipping the tears from my eyes as I touched on a scene of inevitable sorrow. My emotions continue to ride ever so close to the surface with this book, with Patroclus and Achilles. I stayed away from Madeline Miller's debut novel for awhile for several reasons, among them my fear of said sorrow as well as the usual concern when one comes to a retelling of characters and stories one loves. But eventually that cover—the gold foil, you guys, the glorious gold foil—and the parade of ecstatic reviews got to me enough that I grabbed a copy the next time I was at the library and settled down that night to see.
Patroclus has always led the uneasiest of lives. Disparaged for his slight build and his relative weakness in comparison to his father, he has been a somewhat second-class citizen in his own father's court. Then one day an accident occurs and a young nobleman dies as a result. Patroclus is deemed at fault and so is exiled to be fostered in the realm of the legendary King Peleus. It is there that he meets Peleus' song Achilles. Achilles is everything Patroclus wishes he could be, bright and brave and the most talented of warriors where Patroclus is dull and shy and physically inferior. Which is why no one is more shocked than Patroclus when Achilles takes him as his personal companion. And so the two young boys form the fastest of friendships as they live together, train together, and run wild through the olive groves together. But through it all they can never seem to escape the shadow of the coming war or the prophecy that Achilles would go on to become the greatest hero the Greeks had ever known.
If I had had words to speak such a thing, I would have. But there were none that seemed big enough for it, to hold that swelling truth.
As if he had heard me, he reached for my hand. I did not need to look; his fingers were etched into my memory, slender and petal-veined, strong and quick and never wrong,
"Patroclus," he said. He was always better with words than I.
This is the part where I confess I was vastly unprepared for the depth of feeling this novel would incite. I have been enamored of Greek mythology basically as far back as I can remember, and I recall with perfect clarity the chills that ran down my spine the first time I read the opening lines of The Iliad. I've read a number of retellings since, but I realized few of them worked hard to make Achilles sympathetic. Or at least more sympathetic than Hector. And while each incarnation left me impressed with Achilles' grandeur, I remained always firmly in Hector's camp. The Song of Achilles is told entirely from Patroclus' perspective, and his mind is as sharp and perceptive as his friend's body is honed and agile. The result is an extremely nuanced portrait of both young men. I savored the opportunity to watch them grow up together, to see Achilles handle the heavy layers of expectation and destiny, to watch how he dealt with his human father and his immortal mother. Thetis is a force to be reckoned with and I, like Patroclus, worried about the depth of her influence over Achilles. As ever with this epic tale, the question of which force will hold sway in the end is a desperate one. It's impossible to shake the feeling of dread while reading, but Miller does such a fine job of allowing you to soak up those golden moments leading up to the war, to come to know and love both Achilles and Patroclus enough that you understand why they make the choices they do in the end. And I can honestly say that my knowing what was coming in no way impeded my experience, the words were that expertly chosen and woven together with a level of skill that left my cup full to the brim.
The sorrow was so large it threatened to tear through my skin. When he died, all things swift and beautiful and bright would be buried with him. I opened my mouth, but it was too late.
"I will go," he said. "I will go to Troy."
The rosy gleam of his lip, the fevered green of his eyes. There was not a line anywhere on his face, nothing creased or graying; all crisp. He was spring, golden and bright. Envious Death would drink his blood, and grow young again.
He was watching me, his eyes as deep as earth.
"Will you come with me?" he asked.
The never-ending ache of love and sorrow. Perhaps in some other life I could have refused, could have torn my hair and screamed, and made him face his choice alone. But not in this one.
What an exquisite agony reading The Song of Achilles was. I wept more than once. But the sorrow was handled well, in such a way as to allow it its full and brutal impact before winding to a close so beautiful I felt the breath leave my lungs. How I loved them. Patroclus and his brilliant Achilles....more
All right. I can accept that I am coming monumentally late to the party with this one. And I have no excuses forOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
All right. I can accept that I am coming monumentally late to the party with this one. And I have no excuses for myself. Plenty of you sang its praises, and that many award stickers plastered all over a cover generally indicate there is something of value inside. To say nothing of that ridiculously gorgeous cover declaring to all and sundry that herein lie beautiful things. Basically, everything pointed to win and I just failed to pick up on the signals. To the degree that I didn't even really know what Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was about. At all. Fast forward a couple of years to the present day when I run across Forever Young Adult's review and finally have my ah-ha moment. I ran to my local library, snagged their lovely copy, and took it home with me to see how these fancifully-monikered boys and I would get on. Spoilers: SPLENDIDLY.
I had all kinds of tragic reasons for feeling sorry for myself. Being fifteen didn't help. Sometimes I thought that being fifteen was the worst tragedy of all.
Aristotle narrates his life about as bluntly and intimately as an aggressively lackadaisical fifteen-year-old boy can. At least until that patently private boy meets one Dante Quintana and sees just how open and welcoming a boy (and his family) can be. It's the summer of 1985 and Ari spends most of each day struggling to find reasons to leave the house, ways to occupy himself aside from brooding about his father who seems to have dealt with his experiences in Vietnam by adopting a policy of silence. When he meanders over to the pool one day, Ari meets a boy with a squeaky voice and the kindred name of Dante who offers to teach him how to swim. Ari begrudgingly accepts. From that point on, a friendship develops that takes both boys by surprise and bids good to change their lives permanently. Accompanying them on this journey are their parents who love them unreservedly but who have their own struggles as they deal with their individual histories and the ways in which they reach into the present to shape their sons' lives as well as their own.
I have always felt terrible inside. The reasons for this keep changing.
Benjamin Alire Sáenz had me at Richie Valens. He had me somewhere amid the opening lines, at Ari going to bed wishing the world would be different when he woke up and then waking up to wonder what went through Richie Valens' head before the plane crashed. He had me at, "Hey, Buddy! The music's over." This book crushed me, it's that beautiful. I began it one night after tucking my kids into bed and—a few dozen pages later—blithely accepted the fact that I would be staying up however long it took to read it through to completion. The novel is told entirely from Ari's perspective, and it's difficult for me to tell you how much I grew to care for that boy. In simple and occasionally halting terms, he ruminates on his unease around other boys, his admiration for his mother, his longing to broach the subject of his imprisoned brother. The folding of lively, loquacious Dante into his life happens almost without Ari or the reader noticing, it is that seamless and that natural. Having some experience with friends coming into my life unexpectedly and yet at precisely the moment I so needed them to, my heart lodged itself firmly between these two boys and informed me it would be going nowhere. Since we mostly get our impressions of Dante through Ari's eyes, I occasionally worried a bit (perhaps taking my cues from Ari's deep seated anxiety) that he would flit away too soon. Before Ari or I had parsed out how to make room in our lives for such a bright star. Loving Dante is a foregone conclusion, with his inability to wear shoes, his love of reading, and his complicated relationship with his Mexican heritage.
I love how time passes in this novel, how the summers felt exactly as unlimited and free as they do in high school, how being separated from your dearest friend for a year can hurt in ways you've never experienced, and how you try to fill the hole with the distraction of work and smaller friendships. Perhaps the most beautiful experience of reading this book, though, was the privilege of watching Ari awaken (on so many levels), of watching his dual relationships—with Dante and with his father—grow and increase his understanding of himself and humanity in general. The nature of Ari's observations are always arresting, but by the end they become so very rich and simple in their beauty. Here, a lovely example taken from a moment when Ari struggles to convey his feelings when faced with a show of gratitude and love from Dante's parents:
"What am I supposed to do?" I knew my voice was cracking. But I refused to cry. What was there to cry about? "I don't know what to do." I looked at Mrs. Quintana and I looked at Sam. "Dante's my friend." I wanted to tell them that I'd never had a friend, not ever, not a real one. Until Dante. I wanted to tell them that I never knew that people like Dante existed in the world, people who looked at the stars, and knew the mysteries of water, and knew enough to know that birds belonged to the heavens and weren't meant to be shot down from their graceful flights by mean and stupid boys. I wanted to tell them that he had changed my life and that I would never be the same, not ever. And that somehow it felt like it was Dante who had saved my life and not the other way around. I wanted to tell them that he was the first human being aside from my mother who had ever made me want to talk about the things that scared me. I wanted to tell them so many things and yet I didn't have the words. So I just stupidly repeated myself. "Dante's my friend."
All four of the parents are such nuanced and present characters in this story and I adored that and them. Throughout the narrative, Sáenz explores the ways in which we need our parents, in which love between a parent and child is endlessly complex and often so difficult to encompass and express in any adequate way. This complexity resonated with me so profoundly, as did basically everything about this beautiful, beautiful love story. Finest kind....more
It's not that I haven't made my feelings about Liza Palmer's books abundantly clear, because I know that I have.Originally reviewed here @ Angieville
It's not that I haven't made my feelings about Liza Palmer's books abundantly clear, because I know that I have. It's that her latest novel—Girl Before a Mirror—is so good it's giving her others a run for their money as my favorite (and I honestly didn't think my love for Nowhere But Home could be surpassed). So good I've already reread it once and am fending off a second reread even as I type this. There are other books out there, and they all deserve a chance. I know this, and I feel their call keenly. But. I had supreme difficulty letting go of this one, and I can see myself diving back in regularly and indefinitely just to spend time with these characters again and to experience Anna's hilarious and thoughtful journey along with her once more. It was just as good the second time around, and I know it will only wear better with time.
Anna Wyatt finds herself in the unenviable position of not having a clue what to wish for as she blows out the candle on her 40th birthday. Surrounded by her friends, their spouses, and her beloved (if beleaguered) younger brother Ferdie, Anna feels affectionate but a bit blank. A year into a self-imposed dating sabbatical, she's been taking stock of her life and cleaning house of anything (or anyone) extraneous. The result is she finds herself in an undeniably clean, but somewhat sterile place, in need of inspiration and not sure where to look. Hoping to advance at the ad agency where she works, she tracks down Lumineux Shower Gel—a dying product in need of revival. Saddled with hopeful newbie graphic designer/sidekick Sasha, Anna finds inspiration in the unlikely form of Sasha's well-read copy of bestselling romance novelist Helen Brubaker's new self-help book Be the Heroine, Find Your Hero. And before they know it, Anna and Sasha are on their way to Arizona and the annual RomanceCon. Pairing up with the con and Ms. Brubaker herself, Anna and Sasha wind up judging the Mr. RomanceCon competition, with the winner slated to be the new spokesman for Lumineux Shower Gel. Determined to seal the deal and make it out of Romance Land alive, Anna is in no way prepared for the exuberance of the convention, the viciousness of the Arizona heat, and the charming Britishness of one Mr. Lincoln Mallory with his blue oxford cloth shirts and his steady gaze.
The thing about Liza Palmer's protagonists is that they're all so very different, from each other and from me. They're in advertising, and they're pastry chefs, they work in prisons or in art restoration. And yet they are so very real, so full of the same questions and vague but earnest hopes and fears that I feel on a daily basis. And so we are comrades. And I care. I care so much from the very start. And Anna Wyatt, with her self-control and her clever mind and her Miss Marple Theory, was no exception. I had her back from page one, as she gazed around at the faces of her friends and tried not to let the gathering uncertainty show on her face. Her story is so compelling because it addresses, so humorously and with unadorned frankness, questions of control, empowerment, guilt, success, and love. Add in some seriously wonderful explorations of female friendship and sibling love and one truly epic romance convention, and you have got the kind of tale I couldn't look away from if my life depended on it. And then . . . there's Lincoln Mallory, who I love so much I start to drift when I think about him too closely. With those oxford cloth shirts and those tense hands in his pockets. At one point there are suspenders involved and . . . well. You'll meet him on your own, but here is one of my favorite of their hilarious and charming exchanges:
I stand in the lobby, flipping my phone around in my hands. I pull Lincoln's business card out of my purse. Again. I flip the card over and dial. My fingers are tingling and this terrified numbness pings throughout my body, settling in my toes. I swallow. And swallow. Blink my eyes. It's like I'm giving myself errands to run around my body so I won't—
"This is Lincoln Mallory." Vomit.
"Hey, hi. It's Anna. Anna Wyatt from the other night. From the . . . um . . . from the elevator? And the apple . . . breakfast time—"
"I'm going to stop you there, love. I know who you are even without the reminder of apple breakfast time," he says. His voice is even better than I remember it.
"I apologize for my late call," I say, still not having taken a breath now going on nine minutes.
"I assumed you were busy at your Booty Ball." Lincoln Mallory saying booty will go down in history as one of my favorite things in the world.
"You still hungry?" I ask.
"I've already eaten, but I did manage to get something for dessert."
"And what's that then?"
"It's a surprise," he says. My face flushes. "When your Booty Ball ran long—a sentence I never thought I'd say, quite frankly—I had to strike out on the field trip on my own."
"So you're holding this dessert hostage."
"You make it sound so devious."
I scan the lobby. The hotel bar. The kiss. I close my eyes.
"What's your room number?"
"I'll be right up."
"Cheers," he says.
"But just for dessert."
"I do like a woman with her priorities in order." Silence. "Anna?"
"I didn't know if you'd hung up," I say.
"But I will now."
"Sure. Okay," I say. Silence. "Hello?"
"It's never not funny, is it?"
"I mean . . . ," I say, unable to keep from laughing.
These two. I mean. And it's always like this with them. The entire time I was reading I alternated between helpless laughter and a sort of fierce longing for their fears to be allayed, for their paths to somehow continue intersecting despite . . . everything. Because, of course, Lincoln's history is as mesmerizing and complicated as Anna's, and I felt every ounce of their combined and individual uneasiness and wanting. It is endlessly relieving to read about characters you would genuinely want to know, would want to sit with in a hotel bar or on a Manhattan sidewalk and just talk to. And I will never not appreciate how these two said what they wanted to, even if it came out mangled and fumbling, how they pursued their truth with an intentness I admire. For example:
I shut the car off and take a second, the blistering heat sitting on the top of my head like I'm under a heat lamp. I am walking toward the meet and greet when the phone rings.
"Anna Wyatt," I say, knowing exactly who it is without even looking at the screen.
"This is my formal apology," Lincoln says.
"Go ahead then," I say.
"I'm sorry." I like that Lincoln doesn't elaborate or get lost in a maze of buts and excuses for why what he did was actually okay. A simple I'm sorry is the most beautiful thing in the world.
"Thank you," I say.
It's these simple, thoughtful moments that make me pause as I'm reading to mark their effect (and possibly read them aloud to the nearest warm body so that I'm not alone in my wonder). Girl Before a Mirror is filled with them. I've decided the only way to start a new year is with an instant and permanent resident on my beloved bookshelf. Done and done....more
Last year I read my very first ever Christmas novellas and shocked myself at how much I enjoyed them. I mean I reOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Last year I read my very first ever Christmas novellas and shocked myself at how much I enjoyed them. I mean I read a few duds, sure, but I read some real gems as well. And so a couple of weeks ago I found myself eagerly looking forward to rereading a couple of my favorites this holiday season as well as hopefully discovering a few new ones. Happily, the very first new one I read proved to be a home run. I kind of knew it would be, given how much I loved Mary Ann Rivers' debut novella The Story Guy earlier this year. When I heard her next book was a Christmas novella in the HEATING UP THE HOLIDAYS anthology, I snatched it up the day it released and snuggled up with my Nook for a little pre-holiday reading. I hadn't read any works by the other two authors in the collection (I actually still haven't read their contributions, though I plan on it at some point), but I can tell you the ebook bundle is utterly worth it for Rivers' story alone.
Jenny Wright was diagnosed right at the most inopportune of times--right after she uprooted her life entirely, moved halfway across the country, and started a new job in a new place. And even after being diagnosed with a rare degenerative eye disease, she chose to stay in her new life. Even though her mother begged her to come back home where she could look after her. Even though her colleagues walked a little more cautiously around her. And even as the days grew shorter and the darkness crept in. The one bright point in those days is the time after she gets home from work and settles in on the couch with her computer. That's when she gets to chat with C. Though they've never actually met, he used to live in the house she currently rents. And when she forwarded a piece of mail on to him, they struck up an online relationship. C is a macro photographer. Most days the two of them talk about his pictures, her thoughts, anything they like. Though their interactions grow more intimate, Jenny knows she can't handle more. She has enough on her plate navigating her work, her occupational therapy, and just getting through each day intact. When her worlds collide, she is wholly unprepared for the fallout.
I think my best bet is to keep still and let the snow fall, let the days get long again, the light return its hours to me, a few more chances a day to figure out what it is I can comfortably keep in front of me and see.
For me, there isn't some miracle cure, this is my life, or my disease will progress and my life will change focus again, and I'll have another new life.
I need C to stay right where he is now because for now, I don't know enough to move from where I am.
My hypothesis is that the light will come back, both outside and inside me.
I'm afraid and angry, but the light is a theory I want to prove.
Until then, I just have to keep the experiment going with as many controls as possible.
One bus, back and forth.
One man, his words under glass.
Yes. I just knew Ms. Rivers would bring her words. And how beautifully they were voiced through Jenny. I really loved her, you guys. My throat constricted on her behalf from moment to moment. And though I cannot fathom the terror she lived with each day, I know enough of fear to swallow hard at every one of her ruminations on the encroaching darkness. What I love most about Mary Ann Rivers' stories is how with one hand she keeps a ruthless stranglehold on false hope, and with the other she offers the most delicate of joys. I feel both rational and enchanted when I read them. Her writing does not require that I sacrifice either. And so I love it. Which is good, because she brings the sadness and no mistake. Because Jenny's condition is not sugar coated, I worried about getting my hopes up for her future, in general terms as well as with the man in her life. I worried a lot for a single novella. But I loved every page. And there were (as there should be) lovely startling flares of humor as well.
I wonder if he practices making awkward and nerdy look sort of cool. Like he fills his house with furniture that is the wrong scale for his tall body and buys plaid shirts in bulk and tells his barber to leave crazy, too-long pieces of hair mixed in with the regularly cut hair so everything always looks messy.
Then he runs his hands through his hair and puts on his plaid shirts and uses mirrors to watch himself sit in uncomfortable furniture until comfortable furniture looks like it's the one with the problem.
I loved him in the same way Jenny did. Uncertainly. Desperately. In awkward pieces and with a number of reservations. Neither of them faced easy choices and the untenable nature of their situation gave me pause more than once. But as the snow fell, how my love grew. When I think about reading Snowfall, I picture it in soft black and white with the occasional flash of color in the threads of his plaid shirt, in the string of Christmas lights hung with the fierceness of hope for light in the coming year....more
This might be my most anticipated novel of the year, people. It's hard to say for certain, what with Sinner havinOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
This might be my most anticipated novel of the year, people. It's hard to say for certain, what with Sinner having just come out (more on that soon) and Isla and the Happily Ever After hitting shelves in August (the day before my birthday, but who's counting). And then there's the annual Briggs and Andrews to look forward to. But Landline? Yeah, I think it was the one. I started it just as fast as was humanly possible after it arrived in the mail, and then I held it for long minutes after finishing, just . . . not wanting to be physically separated from it yet. I've even had difficulty letting it out of the house since. But then I'm the same way with my copies of Fangirl and Eleanor & Park. I want everyone in the world to read them, but I get just a bit twitchy while they're gone. Rainbow Rowell's books tend to hit me where I live, whether that's the me that rode the bus tense and lonely in high school, the one that fell in love unexpectedly and hard in college, or the one that has three kids, a job, and a husband that everything rests on. So it made sense that I went in eagerly and with not a little fear that I would be a bit destroyed by the whole thing.
It begins with an impasse years in the making:
Neal had both hands on the counter, clenching the muscles in his forearms. Like he was retroactively bracing himself for bad news. His head was hanging down, and his hair fell away from his forehead.
"This might be our shot," Georgie said. "Our own show."
Neal nodded without lifting his head. "Right," he said. His voice was soft and flat.
Sometimes she lost her place when she was arguing with Neal. The argument would shift into something else—into somewhere more dangerous—and Georgie wouldn't even realize it. Sometimes Neal would end the conversation or abandon it while she was still making her point, and she'd just go on arguing long after he'd checked out.
Georgie McCool (best name ever) has been waiting years for her big break. Along with her best friend and writing partner Seth, she's scraped her way into television with a sitcom they both pretty much hate but that has proven wildly popular. And every second she's not working on it, she's working on their real show. The one they love, the one that will make it just as soon as someone decides to invest the money. When she's not eating and breathing work, she's at home with her husband Neal. Neal. The one who has supported her through everything, who's raised their two little girls, who she fell in love with in college. Now, on the brink of Christmas, it seems as though they finally have someone interested in funding the show. Trouble is, they have to work through the holiday to do it, and she was meant to be going back to Omaha with Neal and the girls to spend Christmas with his mom. As straws that break the camel's back go, this one's fat and juice and possibly the one. Neal tells her to go. That of course it's important. That they'll see her after Christmas. But something inside Georgie knows, this separation might be the end. But when she goes to her mom's house the night after Neal and girls have flown to Omaha, after trying and failing to reach him on his cell, she picks up her old landline phone in her old bedroom and she calls Neal. But the Neal that answers isn't her Neal. Or at least, he isn't her Neal today. Somehow, inexplicably, he's the Neal of their college days. The Neal she fell in love with. The one who doesn't know yet where their life will take them. And so with Neal from the past on the line and Neal from the present out of reach, Georgie must decide what she wants. And if she would change it all if she could.
You don't know when you're twenty-three.
You don't know what it really means to crawl into someone else's life and stay there. You can't see all the ways you're going to get tangled, how you're going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in ten—in fifteen. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems.
She didn't know at twenty-three.
I don't know. Rainbow Rowell's novels fill my eyes with tears. Whether they're tears of mirth, sympathy, or pain (likely all three at once), my eyes are glassy from start to finish. But they were, perhaps, closest to spilling over with Landline. Rowell has the uncanny ability to capture the essence of a time period, of being a certain age in that time period, of being in love at that age in that time, and the exhausting and joyful task it is containing and parsing out the accompanying emotions. And in Landline she does that with multiple timelines at once. We first meet Georgie and Neal as they are standing at the edge of a precipice. Their emotions are taut and eerily quiet. It's agonizing for the characters and reader alike. And if the reader were only ever given the present day timeline, it might have been too much. But the landline to the past (and the attendant glimpses we get of Georgie and Neal as they were falling in love) saves the whole thing. In perfect increments, and without disrupting any of the flow, these conversations and memories allow the reader inside—into the full picture of a long term relationship. It's inexpressibly riveting. The trademark Rowell humor is present, but muted somewhat, echoing the ways in which Georgie and Neal's relationship has become overshadowed by time, experience, parenthood, life. It all cut so close to the bone, that at times I had to look up from the page and remind myself to breathe and not allow too many of my vital functions to hinge on the outcome of this story. Because I was breathlessly worried. As with her other books, I marvel at the way I find myself approaching the end with a fuller comprehension than is my wont of how fitting a number of different outcomes would be. Even the ones I fear. Perhaps those ones most of all. Yet I am always at peace with the one she chooses. Each timeline is given appropriate attention in the end, and there is one small moment leading up to the close that is perfect in every way, in which every narrative thread coalesced for me. My, how I read this book.
Neal licked his bottom lip and nodded. "I think . . ." The closer she was, the more he looked away. "I think I just want you," he said.
"Okay," Georgie agreed.
Neal looked surprised—he almost laughed. "Okay?"
She nodded, close enough to bump her nose up against his. "Okay. You can have me."
He pushed his forehead into hers, pulling his chin and mouth back. "Just like that."
"Really," he said.
"Really," she promised.
She reached her mouth toward his, and he twisted his head up and away, looking at her. He was breathing hard through his nose. He was still holding her cheek.
Georgie tried to make her face as plain as possible:
Really. You can have me. Because I'm good at wanting things and good at getting what I want, and I can't think of anything I want more than you. Really, really, really.
Neal nodded. Like he'd just been given an order. Then he let go of Georgie's hand and pushed her (pinned her) gently (firmly) back into the sand.
He leaned over her, his hands on either side of her shoulders, and shook his head. "Georgie," he said. Then he kissed her.
That was it, really.
That was when she added Neal to the list of things she wanted and needed and was bound to have someday. That's when she decided that Neal was the person who was going to drive on those overnight road trips. And Neal was the one who was going to sit next to her at the Emmys.
He kissed her like he was drawing a perfectly straight line.
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 feel like I've been waffling on whether or not to read this book for years now even though it's only been a fewOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I feel like I've been waffling on whether or not to read this book for years now even though it's only been a few months. The thing is, I really enjoyed the first half of Rainbow Rowell's Attachments. I really, really did. And then I was summarily disappointed with the second half. I don't know if it was me or the fact that I read it immediately after giving birth and that just rarely ever works out for me or what. But the direct result was that I stayed away from Eleanor Park, despite it's adorable cover and quirky premise. And I was apparently still shell-shocked enough that I was going to just go ahead and pass on FANGIRL if it wasn't for Janice's enthusiastic review some weeks back. I thought I was just sort of waltzing around lacking the Rowell gene, when in fact I simply hadn't found my gateway book. So, Janice. Can I send you a book bouquet or a fruit basket or some such gift of gratitude? Because I'm kind of having a hard time imagining my reading year without this book. This hilarious, complicated book that induced all the feelings in the general vicinity of my heart.
Cath doesn't do social situations. Outside of her twin sister Wren and her dad, few people have been able to penetrate the force field of solitude with which she surrounds herself. Even her high school boyfriend Abel was really just a placeholder, a nice idea of a boyfriend. But there has always been Simon. And Baz. Ever since they were kids, Cath and Wren have teamed up to write Simon Snow fan fiction. And when the more vivacious Wren's social life took flight, Cath soldiered on alone. Dedicated to the fictional world of Simon Snow, her followers grew to number in the tens of thousands and sating their voracious appetites became a full-time job. Which is why college seems to be getting in the way so much. Having to make small talk with her roommate Reagan and Reagan's kinda sorta ex Levi sends Cath into paroxysms of exhaustion. Not to mention her demanding class schedule and not knowing where the cafeteria is and worrying about leaving her dad all alone at home to fend off loneliness. Cath is a basket case. Fortunately, her roommate can read the writing on the wall and stages an intervention. And thus begins Cath's tentative exploration of life off the page. But when Wren's life threatens to run off the rails and their long-estranged mother re-enters their lives, Cath's only refuge remains with Simon and his sometime nemesis, sometime partner Baz.
I fell on page one. It was laughable how fast I fell. And I'm not even a little bit hesitant to admit it, because I laughed and giggled and gasped my way through this absolutely delightful book. And not just your run-of-the-mill out loud laughing either, but the silent smiles that slowly grow until they take over your whole face and you have to stop and just let the moment happen and savor it before continuing on. Those moments occurred basically any time Cath was thinking, speaking, writing, or sitting in the same room with Levi. Honestly, the boy deserves a moment of silence all his own. I don't remember the last time I grew so fond of a nice guy so fast. In fact, here are a couple of my favorite Levi moments:
She didn't look over at Levi again until they were standing together in front of the elevator. (Condition: smiling, stable). When it opened, he put his hand on her back and she practically jumped in.
"What's the plan?" she asked.
He grinned. "My plan is to do things that make you want to hang out with me again tomorrow. What's your plan?"
"I'm going to try not to make an ass of myself."
He grinned. "So we're all set."
And now a somewhat spoilery exchange (because I literally cannot help myself with these two and trust me, there were way more spoilery bits I somehow managed to resist):
"I just want to know—are you rooting for me? Are you hoping I pull this off?"
Cath's eyes settled on his, tentatively, like they'd fly away if he moved.
She nodded her head.
The right side of his mouth pulled up.
"I'm rooting for you," she whispered. She wasn't even sure he could hear her from the bed.
Levi's smile broke free and devoured his whole face.
I will never tire of Levi's smiles. But as smitten as I was, the focal center of the book remained Cath for me. And I'm so glad Ms. Rowell kept the whole thing so tightly focused on Cath's struggles, both with the world inside her head as well as with the world around her. Initially, I was wary of the actual Simon Snow excerpts (to say nothing of Cath's fan fiction sections). But Rowell surprised me with her deft interweaving of Cath's own life and the life she breathed into Simon and Baz and the whole Watford School gang. To be perfectly frank, she surprised (and wowed) me with the level of nuance on the grand scale. And before long, Cath's dorm room felt like home to me, felt disturbingly like my own dorm freshman year, papered with clippings and memorabilia declaring who I had been, threaded through with anxiety and hope for who I would become. I knew who Cath was. I could see her with perfect clarity. Last of all, one of the most visceral moments in the book, in which Cath confronts the woman who gave birth to her and abandoned her ten years later.
"You don't just leave somebody alone in a hospital," Cath said. It came out aflame.
"Wren's not alone," Laura said sternly. "She has you."
Cath jerked to her feet and swayed there. Not Wren, she thought. I didn't mean Wren.
Laura wrenched her handbag straps higher. "Cather—"
"You can't leave like this—"
"It's the right thing to do," Laura said, lowering her voice.
"In what alternate universe?" Cath felt the rage burst up her throat like a cork popping. "What sort of a mother leaves the hospital without seeing her kid? What sort of a mother leaves? Wren is unconscious—and if you think that has nothing to do with you, you are skimming the surface of reality—and I'm right here, and you haven't even seen me for ten years, and now you're leaving? Now?"
"Don't make this about me," Laura hissed. "You obviously don't want me here."
"I'm making it about me," Cath said. "It's not my job to want you or not want you. It's not my job to earn you."
"Cather"—Laura's mouth and fists were tight—"I've reached out to you. I've tried."
"You're my mother," Cath said. Her fists were even tighter. "Try harder."
And that is how it's done. That is how you secure my everlasting loyalty for a character. She's so strong in that scene. Her fists are tighter. And I love her so much for saying what she needed to, for getting it out. I loved every word of FANGIRL. As my friend Laura says, some books move in. I had a bed all made up for this one faster than Levi can crack a smile....more
So I realized that while I spend rather a lot of time lauding the genuine charms of Courtney Milan's writing, I hOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
So I realized that while I spend rather a lot of time lauding the genuine charms of Courtney Milan's writing, I have only reviewed one of her books. And that one a novella. Personally, I think she's elevated the novella into an art form, but her novels are incredibly entertaining as well. It's high time I went back in the stacks and reviewed possibly my favorite of her full-length novels. Rose Lerner recommended this book to me early last year and, as it is the third in Milan's Turner Brothers series, I immediately checked out the first from my local library. I made short work of all three books and, while I do love Ash (the eldest brother and hero of the first book, Unveiled) with a warm, fuzzy sort of love, I do believe this third and final book (and brother) is my favorite. It helps when the author keeps a secret for an entire series, waiting patiently to reveal it all in good time. Smite Turner was that secret. And it was a decided pleasure accompanying Miranda and getting to know him on his own terms.
The streets of Bristol are a swirling den of card sharks and pickpockets, petty criminals, and masterminds. They fear no man. No man but the infamous Lord Justice. Known throughout the teeming city for his unsympathetic, single minded thirst for justice, Smite Turner's reputation has taken on a life of its own. And while he is unsympathetic and single minded, he is also wedded to his privacy. And Lord Justice's fabled courtroom showdowns do tend to get in the way of his carefully crafted life of solitude. Which is why when Miranda Darling winds up in his courtroom, he is loath to follow his instincts, all of which are clamoring that he has seen her somewhere before. For her part, Miranda is dismayed to realize she's caught the exacting magistrate's eye. Especially as she was in disguise at the time. Part of the network of the Patron—the leader of the local underworld—Miranda is required to appear in court from time to time to testify on behalf of people the Patron wants kept out of jail. Working her fingers to the bone as a seamstress and wig-maker, Miranda can barely keeping herself and her young charge afloat. She wants no part of anything that will put her in Lord Justice's path. Her luck has run out, though. When Smite sets his mind on finding the truth behind the lies, he sees it through to the bitter end.
Miranda shook her head slowly. "Good heavens. That's quite an act you put on."
He drew himself up haughtily. "I beg your pardon."
"An act," Miranda repeated. "Stand as tall as you like, and frown at me all you wish. I saw you just now. You were feeding cats."
"So I was. And do you make something of that?"
"You," Miranda said daringly, "have a kind heart."
He turned away from her, the tails of his greatcoat swirling about him. "Don't enlarge too much upon the matter. The cats were hungry. I had food. This seemed to be a problem with a ready solution. It's not kindness to solve problems; it's efficiency."
"I stand corrected. You have an efficient heart."
I don't know, guys. There is very little not to love about Unraveled. I went in with what I thought was a fairly accurate approximation of just how shut off Smite was. But the reality does rather take isolated to a whole new level. And given how thoroughly Ms. Milan portrays Smite's remoteness, I was amazed at how easily I accepted the introduction of an outsider into his life. And not just any outsider, but a confirmed accessory to several criminal activities. Now that might cast Miranda in a dim light, while nothing could be farther from the truth. Miranda is excellent. From her independence and earnestness to her checkered past and closeted loneliness, she shines throughout the novel. Together, they are a jumble of contradictions and uneven lengths. Smite is intimidating and impatient. Miranda is thoughtful and uncertain. But they are both of them weary of being ever alone. It is this key facet of their makeup that allows a measure of affection and need to ease its way into their interactions. And that small change in Smite's daily regimen is all that is necessary to set his life on a course he had not planned, one he abjectly disapproves of.
"I'm not broken," he repeated. "Although at the moment . . . " This was what came of violating the sentimentality quota. Everything he kept bottled inside him came out. He shut his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "At the moment," he muttered numbly, "I may be coming a bit unraveled."
Poor Smite. It is painful watching him resist change and grasp Miranda's hand at the same time. As the agent of this change, it is an uncomfortable role she assumes. Uncomfortable in the extreme. But that need we spoke of. It is so dashedly real, living and breathing and pressing out against their fragile skins. I felt so much on behalf of these two lost ones and the ruthless choices they are forced to make. The specter of Smite's past is large enough and dark enough it casts a shadow upon every smile, every small happiness. That shadow is so palpable that I wondered right up until the end whether or not the coping mechanisms he put in place would allow enough give to accommodate joy. It was what I wanted for him, for both of them, and it was what they deserved. But, as is the case in my favorite novels, I would have accepted whatever ending Ms. Milan saw fit to give them, the writing is that clear and pleasurable. Unraveled was the book that forced my hand. I confess, I will read whatever she writes....more
In a somewhat amusing turn of events, I actually picked up a copy of Sherry Thomas' debut young adult fantasy THEOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
In a somewhat amusing turn of events, I actually picked up a copy of Sherry Thomas' debut young adult fantasy THE BURNING SKY because I read one of her adult historical romances several months back and really loved it. How's that for a commentary on the state of affairs in my neck of the woods these days? And while I really do love the cover after having read it (and for blessedly not featuring any actual human beings or, worse, a young boy reaching out to a young girl in space), I really don't know if I would have picked it up on its own. In my experience, when an author transitions from adult to YA, it is often (sadly) an absolute train wreck. As though the writing has been . . . sanitized or lobotomized . . . and all I want to do is wipe my mind clean of the lost chance. This is not always the case, of course, and there are instances of the exact opposite. And when that happens, everything is beautiful and nothing hurts. But. I do tend to hold my breath. Especially when it is a beloved author. But knowing how much I loved Ms. Thomas' writing before, I just had to see what she would do with a whole new world and a whole new readership at her disposal.
Iolanthe Seabourne has spent her life in relative isolation, living in quiet scholarship, moving from village to village with her increasingly unreliable guardian. And then one unsuspecting morning, as she is busy preparing for a local wedding, her life splinters into tiny, unrecognizable pieces. As an elemental mage, she is able to control three of the four elements, and her powers with fire (her best element) are often sought for weddings and other local celebrations. But when she succeeds in summoning an actual bolt of lightning, all manner of hell breaks loose and Iolanthe finds herself unceremoniously magicked away to a far corner of England where a strange young man insists she disguise herself as a boy. At Eton College, no less. Prince Titus of Elberon has been nothing more than a figurehead his entire life. With his country all but occupied by the fearful Empire of Atlantis, and the dreaded Inquisitor breathing down his neck day and night, Titus has retreated deeper and deeper within himself in an effort to keep the secrets he so carefully guards. And as long as Titus can remember, he's waited for his mother's prophecy to come to fruition. For the most powerful mage in the world to show himself and make it possible to join forces with the prince in his mission to save the world as they know it. When that most powerful mage turns out to be a 16-year-old girl, Titus is forced to regroup and convince her his cause really is worth risking her life as they train together to face the nightmare that is Atlantis.
The whole thing begins with the following irresistible opening lines:
Just before the start of Summer Half, in April 1883, a very minor event took place at Eton College, that venerable and illustrious English public school for boys. A sixteen-year-old pupil named Archer Fairfax returned from a three-month absence, caused by a fractured femur, to resume his education.
Almost every word in the preceding sentence is false. Archer Fairfax had not suffered a broken limb. He had never before set foot in Eton. His name was not Archer Fairfax. And he was not, in fact, even a he.
This is the story of a girl who fooled a thousand boys, a boy who fooled an entire country, a partnership that would change the fate of realms, and a power to challenge the greatest tyrant the world had ever known.
As you can tell, I really stood no chance at all. In fact, the almost immediate affection I felt for this book caught me unawares. The writing is there in all its subtle glory, which was the first relief. The worldbuilding is both cheeky and charming, which was the second. But the characters. How I love these characters. What impressed me the most was how Ms. Thomas was able to make me both hate and weep over Titus, this prince who has given everything, including his heart, to destroying the evil force that haunts his homeland. There is little but lies left to Titus when he first crosses Iolanthe's path, and none of them nice ones. Similarly, I devoted every reading moment to wishing Iolanthe would vault herself as far away as she possibly could from Titus and his impossible desires, while at the same time hoping somewhat feebly that she would see why he had molded himself into this callous instrument of vengeance and perhaps find a shred of something there worth saving. There is little but unexplored potential to Iolanthe when she first dons a boy's trappings and insinuates herself into life at Eton. But my, do they grow. And down such twisty paths, too. It was so much fun following these two along their dreadful road to confrontation. The stakes managed to be at once epic and intensely personal. And that is all I ever ask of a book. Well, that and a real villain. Interestingly, the villain in THE BURNING SKY is something of a double one. I feared the one I could see and the one I couldn't in equal measure. Of the Inquisitor, Titus makes the following chilling observation:
Gazing into her eyes was like looking at blood running down the street.
Talk about a Madame Defarge moment. That is exactly how I felt whenever she inhabited a room. Her malevolent emptiness made me want to turn tail and head for the hills, which means that I understood Titus' old terror as well as Iolanthe's fresh one. It was an altogether unsettling and addictive sensation. To say nothing of the Crucible, which was spectacular in every way and which I think I'll let you discover for yourselves. As you can tell, THE BURNING SKY comprehensively exceeded every one of my expectations. I closed it incredibly satisfied and perfectly delighted that there will be two more in this excellent new trilogy from such a talented writer....more
I figured I might as well go ahead and write this review while my stomach is still all twisted and jumpy from finOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I figured I might as well go ahead and write this review while my stomach is still all twisted and jumpy from finishing it last night and being unable to settle down for hours afterward. Truthfully? I was so caught up I had to go pull my copy of The Raven Boys down off the shelf and reread my favorite bits to help me come down off the high of the second book. Honestly. I'm as bad as Ronan coming out of one of his dreams. Only I don't have a Gansey or a Noah to help harness me back to reality. So. You all will be my Gansey and my Noah, yes? Because I need you after the whirling dervish that was this book had its way with my emotions. It's not that I don't know what I'm getting into when I immerse myself in Maggie's latest book. It's that I'm utterly unable (and entirely uninterested) in distancing myself from these boys and this girl I love. And so when the gloves inevitably come off and the humor eases deceptively into anguish, I am left huddled in a fog of anxiety and murderous affection that lingers for days. Cue all you Ganseys and Noahs out there. Clearly, I could use that grounding right about now.
Mild spoilers for The Raven Boys follow.
Ronan has suspected a number of awful things for some time now. And whether he's aware of it or not, he's about to put several of those suspicions to the test. Up close and personal style. After Adam's unexpected and controversial activation of the ley line, things have been thorny between the boys and Blue. Yet the indefatigable Gansey soldiers on. And where Gansey goes, so goes Ronan. Or at least it's always been that way. Ever since Ronan moved into Monmouth Manufacturing and found a cause and a brother worth fighting for. But with the search for Glendower faltering up against the inexplicable whims of the ancient forest of Cabeswater, the onus of the quest shifts to Ronan's tattooed shoulders as he explores his strange new ability to form and snatch things from his dreams, bringing them back whole and perfect to the thick heat of Henrietta and Gansey's discerning eye. And while Ronan is tearing his way through the mists of a dream world he does not understand, Adam Parrish is stumbling along his own dark path. Unclear as to the status of his friendship with Blue and absolutely firm on his refusal to accept any help from Gansey, Adam's isolation increases even as his friends work to keep a hold on him. And underneath it all is Gansey's tireless thirst for the sleeping king and Blue's unchangeable fortune of true love and certain death.
Ronan Lynch lived with every sort of secret.
There is such a beautiful symmetry to this novel. And I don't mean just the lovely prologue and epilogue (though they are lovely and I do mean them). I also mean Ronan's and Adam's parallel journeys that nearly sent me into a state of collapse. I mean the space between Blue and Gansey growing thicker and more choked. And, most of all, I mean the unparalleled words. Maggie's writing always leaves me eyeing the other books on my nightstand askance. I'm afraid they'll peek inside the pages and see what they have to live up to. This time around, these particular words were used to sometimes devastating but always beautiful effect as they drove Ronan, Adam, Gansey, Blue, even Noah to the edge of their capacities. There were many painful and beautiful side effects, not the least of which was one truly spectacular kissing scene (not the one you're thinking of) and (perhaps more importantly) the development of my feelings for Gansey. Heretofore the boy has remained stubbornly distant in my mind, despite his open demeanor and infectious grin. To say nothing of his downright pivotal role in the whole cycle. As Ronan rather astutely notes:
There were many versions of Gansey, but this one had been rare since the introduction of Adam's taming presence. It was also Ronan's favorite. It was the opposite of Gansey's most public face, which was pure control enclosed in a paper-thin wrapper of academia. But this version of Gansey was Gansey the boy. This was the Gansey who bought the Camaro, the Gansey who asked Ronan to teach him to fight, the Gansey who contained every wild spark so that it wouldn't show up in other versions. Was it the shield beneath the lake that had unleashed it? Orla's orange bikini? The bashed-up remains of his rebuilt Henrietta and the fake IDs they'd returned to? Ronan didn't really care. All that mattered was that something had struck the match, and Gansey was burning.
I love this. I love that Gansey is finally burning. But more than that I love that it was Ronan's keen eye that allowed me to finally see Gansey. Because Ronan loves Gansey, I do, too. It was so deliciously dangerous being inside Ronan's head for the duration of this dark, dark book. Of course, this also made his pain mine. I gathered a few of my own suspicions regarding this most jagged of young men and the secrets he lives with. And I really don't know how I'm going to soldier on with these raven boys through all the nebulous, sharp-toothed things I fear are coming. But what I do know is that I will be there with them all at the end. As I remarked to my husband last night and to a friend of mine this morning, The Dream Thieves holds an eye-opening quantity of pain and gut-wrenching tension for just the second book in a quartet. Make no mistake, I am not complaining. But it does give a girl pause. At this rate, I will need the time in between installments to gear up for the second half. But as always in the intervening time, these precious few will never be far from my thoughts. Especially Adam. But then you probably knew that. If you're looking for a story worth living and breathing, The Dream Thieves will take you there....more
"The time has come," the Walrus said. I am now three (or four, depending on how you slice it) books in and can caOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
"The time has come," the Walrus said. I am now three (or four, depending on how you slice it) books in and can categorically classify this series as bibliocrack of the highest order. A classification I hope will excuse my reviewing this third installment a touch early. My intentions are pure, I assure you. I just want to make absolutely sure you all know going in that the quality--it remains high. Yes, it does. And so while THE CHOCOLATE TOUCH sadly does not have an adorable silhouette cover in the vein of the first two books in the series, it makes up for it by featuring quite possibly the most overbearing of all overbearing French chocolatiers in Laura Florand's arsenal. Those of you who've read the first two books know what a statement that is. After essentially melting down over the gooey goodness that was The Chocolate Kiss, I narrowly resisted the urge to ransack the state for a good macaron and settled for raising my fangirl flag high and awaiting the next book. I was incredibly fortunate not to have to wait too long.
Dominique Richard has had to claw his way to the top of Paris' exclusive cabal of chocolatiers and patissiers. He's earned his stripes and is wholly unconcerned with the petty complaints of both his detractors and his peers. Quite frankly, he accepts the accolades and attention that come his way as no more than his due. Which is why he's taken somewhat aback at the effect it has on him when a single, unassuming American woman begins stopping by his chocolaterie every day like clockwork. She sits alone and silent at a small table in the corner, sipping his chocolat chaud and sampling the various bon bons and tartes he so carefully crafts. She never says a word. She never misses a day. And Dom is dismayed to realize he's begun looking forward to her daily arrivals, to what she'll order next. Somehow, it is as though she is nourishing herself on his creations. As though, if she could only absorb enough of his decadent chocolate, it will ease the bruised look from her face and clear the ever-present tension from her shoulders. From his view in the kitchen above the salon, Dom just as quietly holds his breath and hopes that it does. And before he realizes it he's sitting down in front of her, offering . . . anything he can. If only she'll stay. Of course, he has no real idea who Jaime is. And she's pretty certain that if when he finds out, the last thing he'll want is to see her face.
Paris was a good place to fight your demons.
I love this quiet observation of Jaime's. She and Dom are certainly well-acquainted with this truth. So often Paris is portrayed in fiction as a place to dream, to eat, and to drown in romance. And it is all of these things here, to be sure. But it is also a place to fight. And I love that about these characters and their story. When we meet them within the first few pages of the book, it becomes clear they're both fighting a whole host of demons. They are also in a place where they are licking their wounds to a degree. Dom's are older and somewhat more insidious in their reach, while Jaime's are so recent as to be breathing down her neck with every step she takes. It's not only the two of them who feel as though meeting the other is a godsend. It feels exactly that way to the reader as well. I could feel Jaime's hands shake as she faced her new life in the wake of disaster. I could taste Dom's frustration each time he was forced to conform to a shape far too confining for the size of his dreams. They were such a lovely match, perhaps even more so because for most of the book no one but the two of them could see it. A favorite passage:
She had to lift both hands to illustrate what she meant, but he just let her carry his hand with her, not about to let go. She pushed the free hand toward the one he held, apparently trying to gesture closeness. "Warm," she said again. And then she did something that undid him to the last faint whisper of his soul: she gave his hand a squeeze with fingertips that could just barely reach around his, apparently using him to indicate what she wanted to say. He meant warmth. He meant this word she couldn't find.
Laura Florand crafts these moments so delicately that they drift down on the reader like so much fairy dust, making your heart throb in time to the beat of her words. In each book in this series, I can pick out that scene, that moment where everything comes together and it's golden. This was that moment in THE CHOCOLATE TOUCH. "He meant that word she couldn't find." Honestly. It's a wonder I got anything at all done in the time I spent with Jaime and Dom and their Paris. Reading THE CHOCOLATE TOUCH was like sampling one of Dom's wild creations, at once intimate and unexpected, leaving you only wanting more....more
So I actually read Samantha Young's debut contemporary romance On Dublin Street quite awhile ago. And then I just never reviewed it. It may have simply gotten lost in the shuffle or I got distracted by some shiny object or what have you. The thing is, I enjoyed it fine. It lingered around the edges of my consciousness enough that I was looking forward to the sequel and immediately purchased a copy upon its release earlier this month. DOWN LONDON ROAD takes place not long after the events of On Dublin Street and focuses on Joss' friend and co-worker Johanna. I wasn't sure what to expect going in, given that Johanna was not the most sympathetic of characters in the first book. But I'm coming to learn that those somewhat acerbic, occasionally deceptively simple side characters often come into their own with a vengeance when it's their turn in the spotlight. And I so love it when that happens. I was also awfully eager to return to the setting itself. I didn't get to spend as long as I'd have liked when I was in Edinburgh and I've longed to go back ever since. Happily, reading these books sent me straight back to wandering those same streets, ducking in and out of cafés, and generally soaking it all up.
Jo Walker has perfected the art of keeping all her balls in the air. From a young age, she's been the responsible one in her family (and I use the term "family" very loosely). Having bid good riddance to her deadbeat dad, Jo supports her alcoholic mum, her teenage brother Cole, and herself secretarying by day, bartending by night, and professionally girlfriending both day and night. Ever since the day she realized she could attract rich older men, she's taken that role seriously. And she's never been without a sugar daddy for long. The lives of three people depend upon it, in fact. And so while she never stays in a dead end relationship and she always chooses her partners with the utmost care, she's also never really been in love. Money always trumps emotions when it comes to keeping food on the table, taking care of Cole, and ensuring that the blackness that touched her own life growing up never stretches out to mar his. And she's learned to be all right with it. Really, she has. But when she attends an art exhibition on the arm of her current boyfriend Malcolm and makes the acquaintance of one Cameron MacCabe, the sparks (both good and bad) that fly threaten to throw off her delicate juggling act. And when she winds up helping Cam out by putting in a good word for him at the bar where she works, Jo unwittingly sets in motion a series of events sure to get in the way of the safe, structured course she has all mapped out.
I fell in love with Jo before I knew what had happened to me. Ms. Young proved to be exceedingly clever when it comes to her characterization of this steely young woman. Because I really did not care for her in the first book. But it turns out that I, like every other character present, was seeing her but not really seeing her. We all of us were only grasping the barest slice of what made up Johanna. Then all of a sudden, in this installment, I became privy to what was really going on behind the curtain. As Cameron later observes, this is one complex lady. And I loved her so very much. My heart broke over Jo (and Cole) over and over again as I watched them shoot for normal and miss by a mile. The demons in their past are dark and the ones in their present are little better. But, page after page, it was as though I could feel the strength in her spine, immutable and unwavering. I didn't wonder at Cameron falling in love with her. I only wondered that out of her long string of sophisticated, urbane boyfriends not one realized just exactly what he had. Though Jo does have self-preservation down pat, and that includes a rather alarmingly efficient smoothing away of anything that could be perceived as a flaw to potential providers. Which is why Cameron presents such a problem. Essentially the polar opposite of a potential provider, he is out of work and entirely unsophisticated and urbane. At least that's how he appears, with his laid back manner and his unusual tattoos. Yeah, I didn't wonder at Jo's feelings for Cam either. I just wondered if she would ever let loose her choke hold on security long enough to figure out what they meant. The thing is--and this is important--I wouldn't have blamed her if she hadn't. That's how much I loved Jo. I wanted them to be together so badly, and yet I would have understood if she'd passed in favor of saving Cole (and herself) more pain and fear and want. And I just want to give Samantha Young all the rounds of applause for so brilliantly keeping the focus on her heroine. Everything else was secondary, beautiful--but secondary. A short, sweet favorite moment:
When you first tore me a new one, I wanted to know you. And when I got to know you, when I stood across a kitchen and you told me not to kill a spider because it didn't say much for us as a species if we killed something because we feared it, I knew.
I'm not saying who says it and I'm not saying who they say it to. All I am saying is--it's a good scene. This entire book is made up of good scenes, complex and nuanced characters, and one supremely encompassing romance. DOWN LONDON ROAD is the kind of contemporary romance you can sink your teeth into. I had an alarmingly good time reading it, and I will unquestioningly be back for more....more
These darling covers continue to delight me. I am such a sucker for a good silhouette, and the multicolored macarOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
These darling covers continue to delight me. I am such a sucker for a good silhouette, and the multicolored macarons on this one really do lend it just the right whimsical air. I could hardly wait for my copy of THE CHOCOLATE KISS to arrive once I'd finished The Chocolate Thief. It was just such a delightful surprise of a read, made that much sweeter by the knowledge that there were two more books in the series already out there just waiting for me. As feelings I get to experience in my life go, that is one of the ones I savor the most. This series does not follow the same characters, but branches out into side characters. We get glimpses of the previous ones, though, and of course the irresistible Paris setting remains. I had heard somewhat mixed opinions on this second volume. Some were not that enamored of the slight elements of magical realism, others found themselves absolutely charmed. I find when it comes to magical realism, readers really can go either way. For the most part, I tend to really enjoy it. As long as the author has an even, light hand and is careful to shore the fantastical elements up with a solid sense of place and realistic motivations and histories for her characters.
Magalie Chaudron has never belonged anywhere. Wrenched back and forth by her terminally transient parents, she grew up here and there, traveling back and forth from the lavender fields of Provence to the hills up upstate New York at the whim of a mother and father who both could not leave their homes and could not be long without the other. They prided themselves on their supremely adaptable, eminently self-reliant young daughter who could not only put up with the impermanence of their family but also brought joy to their lives. But when she came of age, Magalie took matters into her own hands. Moving to Paris, she made it through university and gratefully accepted the offer of her two maiden aunts to come and live above their salon de thé on the Île Saint-Louis in the middle of the Seine and work in their shop making her delicious chocolat chaud. And suddenly, in her little one-room apartment above La Maison des Sorcieres, Magalie finds home. And if she sends a few wishes for the people who drink her chocolate as she stirs and stirs the pot in her blue-tiled kitchen, well, who is she to say if they actually come true? And everything is stable. And there is no reason to believe she will be wrenched once more from this self-made home that fits her like a glove. Until Lyonnais arrives. Philippe Lyonnais, to be precise. With his world-famous pastries and his elegant shop, he invades her private island without a second thought for the struggling salon de thé down the street. Unwilling to give up her safety or her livelihood, Magalie confronts the lion in his own den, only to be rebuffed and brushed aside like the tiny speck of dust he clearly believes her to be. And so the battle begins.
Can I just start by saying I love how Philippe says Magalie's name? I don't usually "hear" the characters' voices when I'm reading a book. I may have some small sense of the tenor or cadence with which they speak, but that's generally as far as it goes. This book was different. Philippe was always saying her name. At just the right moments. And in just the right ways. And I could hear him. And I loved him for the way he named her and valued everything that fell under that name. In contrast, Magalie never calls him by name. Not out loud. Her inner thoughts are another thing, but her tightly controlled diction made his open admissions stand out. It was a small thing, perhaps. But it was quite simply a highlight of the book for me. And that is saying something, because I loved THE CHOCOLATE KISS. I wasn't sure I would initially, but I came to care for Magalie and Philippe in a very measured, natural way as I got to know them. One of my favorite things about Laura Florand's male protagonists is the way they own their emotions. They are not ashamed of them and they are not interested in squelching them. They may have a myriad of doubts about the emotions and affections of the people around them. But they allow those people their qualms and hangups, even as they are not afraid to embrace their own. It's admirable characterization and I applaud it. Here, one of my very favorite scenes between our two leads:
" . . . if you send another spoiled blonde my way, I'm going to feed her something that makes her fall in love with you, and see how you like it."
Magalie's arrogant expression flickered. Abruptly she seemed to notice the winter-evening dimness of the apartment and crossed to turn on the light by her bed. Her heels sounded wrong on the apartment floor, too aggressive for this space. He wondered if she usually took them off by the door. Had his presence required her to keep on her armor?
"I don't feed them anything to make them fall in love with you." She frowned deeply, seeming unsure where to put herself. Maybe usually she sat on the edge of her bed now, kicking off her shoes, curling up to examine her purchases . . . His blood surged long and slow and hot through his body at the image. "A poor, innocent princess? Why would I do something like that to her?"
"They don't look that innocent to me, but thank you for reminding me of moral considerations," he said politely. Really? She hadn't been sending those would-be seductresses his way? Something bitter was released in him, dissipating so fast, he had to struggle to keep his fighting form. "It's true, it would be quite reprehensible to make anyone fall in love with you."
Her eyes flashed. He almost laughed. This was fun. He felt aroused and infuriated and so alive, he held himself still only by his years of self-discipline. He knew how to pay precise, attentive care to the smallest of movements, how to wait as long as it took for something to be perfect.
She dropped her packages onto the bed, started to take off her jacket, and stopped herself. Oh, so she would usually shrug out of her jacket about now. And drop it carelessly across her bed or hang it up? No, hang it up. The room was so peacefully uncluttered. "If I wish anything on anyone, it's usually strength and courage and clear-seeing, which they never seem to have enough of. I have no idea why that would lead them to you." She looked as if she had bitten into something rotten in polite company and didn't know where to spit it out.
Strength and courage and clear-seeing. He felt himself draw a long, deep breath, like at the gym when he had just finished a punishing set of exercises well. Or at the Meilleur Ouvrier de France trials when the last, extravagant, impossible spin of sugar held. "Thank you," he said, "for the compliment." The extraordinary, beautiful compliment.
It was such a lovely moment, I'm honestly just as affected now, rereading it. It's hard to sum up the many reasons why I connect with these books, but I feel sure saying that in this case it was because I felt the arc of a relationship was so evenly and lovingly drawn. Because I liked them both so much. And because Magalie's journey particularly resonated. I grew up here and there, too. I know what it is like to not know how it is going to go each day in a new place. And I know how quickly the just-now familiar faces and spaces can be replaced with new ones, unfamiliar and uncertain in their newness. At the same time, folding is not an option. And as hard as she holds out, Magalie knows when something is important.
It was hard to trust in happiness, coming from another person, but . . . there was so much of it, around him.
There really was. I'm so glad I got to witness it....more
I have come to look forward to the latest Liza Palmer book with a vigorous sort of yearning. I discovered her thrOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I have come to look forward to the latest Liza Palmer book with a vigorous sort of yearning. I discovered her through the hilarious and thoughtful Seeing Me Naked, and I did not look back. I've loved each of Palmer's previous four novels, but this one . . . I think this one is my favorite. It's certainly the one I had the most trouble letting go of, both when I had to stop reading to deal with some real life matter and when I finished the final satisfying page and realized it was over. And this time, as I was sitting there mourning the loss of the characters and my time with them, I started thinking about the adult contemporary authors writing today that I have these feelings for. I've read each book they've written. I've loved them all. And I am at the point where if they have a new book coming out, I buy it. End of story. And you know what? Liza Palmer and Sarah Addison Allen were the two names that stuck in my mind. For their charm, their depth, and their wonderful, wonderful consistency, I am a permanent fan. So there.
Her mother named her Queen Elizabeth Wake. And that first magnificent unkindness sort of exemplifies the whole ghastly course of Queenie's life to date. Always the outcast, along with her big sister Merry Carole, Queenie got the hell out of North Star, Texas just as soon as she possibly could. With a list of regrets a mile long, she struck out for something better. And since that fateful day, it's been a long string of cities and restaurants with no real place to call home. She inherited a knack for cooking from her dissolute mother, but she always winds up on the wrong end of a customer's fool request or a hotel manager's disfavor. After her last spectacular crash and burn, Queenie is forced to pack up her things and return to North Star. Merry Carole stayed and chose to raise her son alone, despite the town's vicious gossip. And though Queenie can't fault her for it, she's determined not to get sucked back in. She'll stay just long enough to find her feet again. And she'll do it as far under the radar as she possibly can. Of course, returning home means returning to every old scandal that town and its uber-traditional inhabitants never forgave her for. It also means running into Everett Coburn again. And that may be the one thing Queenie won't survive. That is until she is offered a job cooking last meals on death row at the local prison . . .
Good night nurse, I loved this book. And it started (as it often does with Palmer's novels) with the following epigraph from The Age of Innocence:
Each time you happen to me all over again.
Right there. Right there I knew this book was going to have its way with me. I was reminded of that line from The Jane Austen Book Club where Prudie cries, "High school is never over." I knew it would be the same for Queenie. She's so strong-willed and weary that I immediately had her back. And I was enormously gratified to see that her sister Merry Carole (and her sweet nephew Cal) did, too. In fact, possibly the most luminous thing about NOWHERE BUT HOME is the exquisitely rendered relationship between these two sisters. Scarred by their growing up years or not, they are survivors in the most visceral sense of the word. I just loved them. And every small scene in which they spoke quietly in the kitchen or awkwardly pressed through their grief at a summer social was a work of art. By the time I was 50 pages in, I'd marked so many pages I was losing track. And then there's Everett. And the last meals. As if two adult sisters struggling to stay above their grief and years of bitterness wasn't enough. Palmer also serves up an old flame worth sighing over and the wide open wound that is working on death row. As for Everett, here's one of my favorite scenes in which he makes an appearance:
"Queenie, come on. He's ridiculous," Everett says, motioning out to where Hudson is standing with the other men.
"I like him. He's nice," I say.
"You like him and he's nice," Everett repeats, slamming his beer down a bit too hard on Reed's tiled counter.
"Yeah. I like him and he's nice. Is that so revolutionary?" I ask.
"Is his shirt tucked in or isn't it? Did he go to the bathroom and not quite tidy himself up after? I mean, I don't get what that look is about," Everett says, gesticulating wildly at Hudson and the offending plaid shirt.
"What's happening over there?" I ask.
"Nothing," Everett says. His voice subdued. Caught.
"How was that nice lady your parents were setting you up with on Sunday? Talk about ridiculous," I say, walking past him and out toward the backyard. Everett reaches out and stops me. He leans down and speaks softly, intimately, into my ear.
"Go ahead and have your fun with Mr. I Like Him and He's Nice. I know how this ends and so does he." Everett's eyes are locked on mine. Green, brown, and yellow pinwheels intense and focused.
"So does he what?" Hudson asks, standing in the open French doors, partygoers hustling past him. Everett straightens and approaches Hudson. In that moment, I honestly don't know what Everett is going to do.
"Everett Coburn," Everett says, extending his hand to Hudson.
"Hudson Bishop," Hudson says, shaking his hand. Everett looms over Hudson, I'm sure reveling in the few inches of height he's got on him.
Oh. My. God.
"I was just saying that I knew how this thing between you two ends," Everett says, his voice low and threatening. He folds his arms and juts his chin high. I'm speechless. I'm struck dumb.
"It seems the only thing between us two is you," Hudson says, walking over to where I am. He slides his arm around my waist and tilts his head just so.
"Damn right," Everett says.
Everett flicks his gaze from Hudson to me and turns and walks outside.
"He seems cool," Hudson says, walking into the kitchen and pulling a couple of beers from the cooler.
"Yeah, he's super sweet."
So, you see. Humor and tension. In equally tangible amounts. Which leads me to the last meals. Each chapter title was a meal. Sometimes it was what Queenie herself ate that day. And sometimes it was the last meal request from a prisoner about to die. At the beginning of those chapters, I had to take a deep breath before continuing on. Palmer handles the whole thing very well, and Queenie's evolving reactions to her job and its ramifications felt entirely organic to me, suffocating in their realness. Her time at the prison forces her to learn a whole new language for letting go. And, somehow, it all ties in to her unfinished issues with her mother, with Everett, and with every grudge she ever held. This book disrupted my focus in the best way. I simply had to curl up with it and accompany Queenie on her unenviable journey. As always with a Liza Palmer story, the painful and the beautiful walk hand in hand. Everything from the relationship between the sisters to the breathless love story to the mouth-watering food is carefully orchestrated and perfectly delivered. NOWHERE BUT HOME waltzed onto my Best of 2013 list before the dust had settled. Recommended for fans of Friday Night Lights, comfort food, and top-notch storytelling....more
So. I am a longtime Madeleine L'Engle devotee. It started back when I was 10 with A Wrinkle in Time and it has stretched out over the years into a lifelong love affair. One of the more treasured and personal ones in my life. And while I love all her worlds, this little series, this family, holds a couple of my most beloved. This is actually the third full-length novel in the series, and it's something of a dark sheep, if you will. It's the departure novel, for lack of a better term, the one in which dark things happen and you question whether or not these young characters whom you love will be able to rebound after the fallout. It surprised me when I first read it, coming as it did after the gentler and more staid introductory installments. But the setting, the language, the new characters all wove their spell around me and I always return to it when I am in the mood for whistling in the dark.
The Austins have up and moved to New York City. Dr. Austin is working on a research project which requires his residence in the city, and so the family has uprooted itself and settled in Manhattan, not far from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It is there that Vicky, Suzy, and Rob meet a young girl named Emily Gregory. Emily is a piano prodigy studying with the brilliant and temperamental Mr. Theotocopulous (Mr. Theo for short). Emily is generally accompanied by an outsider boy named Dave whose job it seems to be to look out for her and be suspicious of things in general. Vicky is sure there's something in Dave's past he's hiding. But the rag-taggle group quickly become fast friends, and the Austins are willing to let Dave tell them his story when he is good and ready. It isn't until Rob, on one of his many rambles through the neighborhood, makes the acquaintance of a genie that danger strikes. This encounter with the genie (complete with magic lamp) leads the children on a journey through the darker underworld of their new home. A gang called the Alphabats dog their heels, with a particular emphasis on Dave. A strange man by the name of Canon Tallis has taken up residence at the Cathedral and appears intent on following the children as well. Everyone's motives are unclear, and soon events are spiraling out of control as the Austins and Co. race to uncover the thread connecting them all.
Just to whet your appetite, here's a favorite scene from the first couple of pages of the book:
The man in the fur hat left the shadows of the doorway and followed the oddly assorted trio: the dark, shabby boy; the definitely younger and rather elegant girl; and the fair little boy who couldn't have been more than seven or eight years old.
They reached the corner and turned down Broadway. The bitter wind whipped a few brown leaves and bits of soiled newspaper across the sidewalk. Strands of Emily's fine, dark hair blew across her face and she pushed it back impatiently. As they passed a shabby little antique shop with a gloomy bit of oddments on the sidewalk in front of the dusty windows, Dave paused.
"It was here," Rob said. "Right here."
Emily pulled impatiently at Dave's arm, but the older boy stood, looking at the shop window, at the door with the sign PHOOKA'S ANTIQUES, then moved on, more slowly.
Shortly before they reached 110th Street the man with the fur hat pulled ahead of them and merged with a group of people clustered about a newsstand. He held a paper so that he could look past it at the children as they came by.
The little boy, who had made friends with the crippled man who owned the newsstand, looked up to wave hello. His mouth opened in startled recognition as his eyes met those of their follower. He didn't hear the news vendor call out, "Hi, Robby, what's up?"
The man in the fur hat smiled at the small boy, nodded briefly, rolled up his newspaper, and turned back in the direction of the Cathedral.
Dave and Emily had gone on ahead. Rob ran after them, calling, "Dave! He's the one!" He tugged at the older boy's sleeve.
"Who's what one?" Dave pulled impatiently away from the scarlet mitten.
"The man we saw yesterday, the one who talked to Emily!"
Dave stopped. "Where?"
Rob pointed towards the Cathedral.
"Wait!" Dave ran back around the corner.
"Emily, he was the one," Rob said. "I'm sorry, but I know he was."
"I don't want to talk about it." Emily's face looked pale and old beyond her years. She was just moving into adolescence, but her expression had nothing childlike about it. "It couldn't have been the same one," she whispered.
"But it was real," Rob persisted. "It did happen."
Dave returned. "I didn't see anybody. Anyway, how do you know he was the one?"
"Because he had no eyebrows."
Emily gave a shudder that had nothing to do with the cold.
What an opener. This book reminds me in many ways of Philip Pullman's Sally Lockhart series. Mysterious. Dark. A sense of impending doom drooping over the whole thing. I eat this stuff up with a spoon. I love THE YOUNG UNICORNS because it branches out so ambitiously. Dave, Emily, and Mr. Theo burst onto the scene and into the reader's heart without even a by your leave, and the Austins almost take a back seat to their new friends, their new neighborhood, their new life. I love L'Engle's New York City. I love the way she just plops her quiet family down in the middle of a boiling and boisterous city and allows them to explore and be worked upon and changed by its life and color and variety. The cathedral itself is essentially a character in its own right, serving as the perfect backdrop for the secret plots and underhanded machinations that take place within the pages of this story. Ms. L'Engle was writer-in-residence at this very cathedral for many years, and her knowledge of (and love for) its halls and corners and denizens is evident here. To say nothing of the crossover characters with which she graces the tale. Canon Tallis is a particular favorite and one I am always relieved to see show up, both for his keen intelligence and his checkered background. I knew the children would be safer with him at their backs. But things do get decidedly bleak (and a fair bit deranged) before they get better. But if a love of mystery lurks anywhere in your heart, you do not want to pass this one up. L'Engle's lovely words wrap around these precocious children and see them through to the very end. I think I've been in love with Dave ever since I first read this book, and it is his journey that is the most compelling to me. A true standout in the middle of an excellent series....more