I found my way to Julie Anne Long's writing in a bit of a piecemeal fashion. Her long-running Pennyroyal Green sOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I found my way to Julie Anne Long's writing in a bit of a piecemeal fashion. Her long-running Pennyroyal Green series is widely beloved and records the various and sundry escapades of the always-scheming, never repentant Eversea and Redmond families. Really, the series is worth the price of admission for the hilarious (and ever-evolving) "Ballad of Colin Eversea" alone (though Colin's is not actually my favorite book). But I've come to believe that this sweeping eleven-book series has something for every reader. You just have to dip your toes in enough times to find your favorites. And once you do, they will become instant and confirmed comfort reads. Spoiler alert: mine are It Happened One Midnight and What I Did for a Duke. I'm sorry, Colin, but the Duke of Falconbridge, you are not. You'll be just fine, though. Madeleine has enough moxie to take care of you both.
Delilah, Countess of Derring, is having a bad day. The absolute worst sort of day, really. The kind of day in which one finds oneself sitting in the office of one's late, unlamented husband's solicitor being told that one is destitute and then forced to make the acquaintance of said unlamented husband's mistress. But it turns out that, though no one ever thought to ask how Delilah would handle utter ruin and humiliation, they are all about to find out that she handles it very well indeed. Or she will, just as soon as she has one more unorthodox chat with her husband's former mistress (one Angelique Breedlove) and the two of them properly investigate the sole item the despicable Derring owned outright―a derelict building on the banks of the Thames. And thus a plan of salvation (and permanent independence) is born out of the all-but-dead hopes and driving desperation of two women who should never have met, let alone become business partners. If only the building, its dubious history, and Derring's ownership of it weren't being investigated by naval hero turned agent of the crown Captain Tristan Hardy. But Delilah and Angelique aren't about to give up on their dreams, no matter how sneaky and determined Captain Hardy finagles to be.
It takes zero pages, my friends, just no pages at all to fall in love with this beautifully written novel. With Delilah, with Angelique, with Tristan, with each and every last ridiculous and hysterical denizen of the Grand Palace on the Thames. In fact, though I knew how charming the tale was likely to be (and it so was), I don't think I was quite prepared for how sensitive and artful the storytelling would be (it so was). And the very first tell is the friendship between these two women. These two women who have been so badly hurt by the same man. So much of their lives were forged of solitude, they could so easily have fallen back on that very real shame and pain and focused their individual hatred on one another. But Delilah and Angelique are more than the sum of their hurts and the foibles of that man. Watching them first warily and then certainly hold on to each other as they build the foundation of something fine and good and safe is one of the great joys of this novel. A favorite moment taken from early on, just after the plan is hatched:
Angelique gave a little snort. But her posture suggested that some sort of internal knot had finally loosened.
"Can you picture it?" Delilah demanded on nearly a whisper.
"I can picture it," Angelique conceded. "And it's not only not mad, we might never have to be at the mercy of another man again."
"Precisely my thought."
Delilah took a breath. "Shall we shake hands on it?" Her voice was shaking.
Angelique drew in a long, long breath.
And then with a certain ironic flair, extended the hand Delilah had lately stopped from taking that last sip of sherry.
They shook briskly.
"To The Grand Palace on the Thames!"
"To The Grand Palace on the Thames!" Dot and Angelique echoed.
And they all raised their lanterns and toasted each other with light.
This image is fixed in my mind―these women choosing not to give in, not to die, but rather toasting their hope and their newfound strength and their future with light. In fact, I don't think the way that scene made me feel will ever leave. Light and its attendant imagery and symbolism pervades the tale. Enter one sea captain who, among other things, is tall enough to reach the sconces. For the record, Tristan Hardy is many excellent things, but that may be my favorite of his qualities. And it is referenced just perfectly throughout the book. Tall enough to reach the sconces. But, of course, he is also in disguise and ruthlessly determined to break up the smuggling ring with which he has been tasked, never mind Lady Derring's fine eyes and the way she has of making him want to stay in the drawing room, threats of nightly musicales notwithstanding. Their evening conversations are light-footed things of beauty, and laughter bubbled up out of me on more than one occasion. For example:
"Would you mind telling me a bit more about the rules?"
She looked relieved. "They're very simple, really. We expect our male guests to behave like gentlemen in the presence of ladies. Rough language, drinking, spitting, or smoking will not be tolerated in the drawing room when ladies are present, and will be fined one pence per word. We've a jar, you see."
"A jar." He said this with every evidence of fascination.
"But we also have a withdrawing room for gentlemen, in which they can unleash their baser impulses in case the effort of restraint becomes too much to bear."
Lady Derring was very dry.
"What a relief to hear. Tethering instincts wears a devil out."
He was rewarded with a smile, one of delightful, slow, crooked affairs, as if she just couldn't help herself, and he, for a moment, could not have formed words for admiring it.
Ah, Tristan. Your instincts are so very good. There is nothing not to admire about Delilah. But the truly wonderful thing is that both Delilah and Tristan are equally admirable. It is so often the case that one or the other partner in a relationship has been decidedly less than admirable. And part of the narrative inherently involves a coming to see the error of their ways, if you will. It's not that I don't thoroughly enjoy that trope, but I was just so gratified to find that these two were worthy of my admiration and regard (and each other's) from the word go. It was such a pleasure watching them quietly learn each other. I enjoyed the balance of intrigue surrounding the Palace of Rogues Grand Palace on the Thames with the wonderful humor infused in Delilah's tireless efforts to fashion a home for the weary and the lost. She was the light, and every other character in the novel is understandably drawn to what she represents. It was so beautiful―almost as beautiful as the ending that Tristan starts and Delilah finishes, carefully placing all the right words in all the right places. Finest kind.
They regarded each other somberly, making internal adjustments to accommodate the mere glorious fact of each other.
The first review of the year! Writing this one always feels fresh and hopeful to me and like it may set the toneOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
The first review of the year! Writing this one always feels fresh and hopeful to me and like it may set the tone of my reading year in a way. This was a very good one to start with. And the moral of this story appears to be: I will never tire of Beauty and the Beast retellings. A fact I was not unaware of, but that I am happy to have confirmed once more, this time after reading Brigid Kemmerer's A Curse So Dark and Lonely. My favorites tend to run the Robin McKinley way, with the most recent favorite retelling being Meagan Spooner's wonderful Hunted. But this is the first retelling of my favorite fairy tale that I've read that includes both traditional fantasy and modern contemporary settings. I didn't think it could work. Or, at least, I was skeptical that the one would interfere with the other or that the different dialogues might clash. How happy I was to find that the whole thing played out seamlessly. How happy I am to have discovered Brigid Kemmerer's writing full stop. I have one of her contemporaries sitting on my nightstand now, and I'm looking forward to diving in.
I can remember my own arrogance.
I want to walk out of the castle and fling myself off a cliff. That doesn't work. I've tried. More than once.
I always wake up here, in this room, waiting in the sunlight. The fire always burns low, just as it is now, the flames crackling in a familiar pattern. The stone floor appears freshly swept, wine and goblets sitting ready on a side table. Grey's weapons hang on the opposite chair, waiting for his return.
Everything is always the same.
Except for the dead. They never come back.
Prince Rhen longs for death. He has lived the same tragedy over and over again, too many times to count, too many lives lost at his own hands. But the curse prevents him from staying dead, no matter how many times he tries. He always comes back. His loyal guard Grey at his side awaiting orders. The castle as beautiful and enchanted as ever, the season ready to start anew. And another poor woman's life is at risk as she is abducted and brought to his dark home to be a pawn in the endless game to break the curse. But this time, Grey returns with someone unexpected. A young woman who spotted him attempting to abduct another woman and who stepped in to stop him. Rather violently so. And Grey was forced to bring the wrong girl back. Both he and Rhen are uncertain what to do with her. For her part, Harper is spitting mad and on extremely uneven ground. Not only does she find herself magically transported to a foreign land, but she is expected to play a part in the mysterious attempt to save a strange man's life as well as his kingdom. Meanwhile, she is desperate to return home where her mother is dying and her brother is forced into a life of crime to pay back their wastrel father's debts. Somehow, she will get to the bottom of the ominous curse and make a deal with her captors to return home before it's too late.
I loved Harper from the first swing of her tire iron at Grey's head. Because with that instinctive, intentional swing she changes the story. She becomes an active agent in a would-be abduction. And with that protective action, she hurls herself into her new story. Harper is scrappy and determined and has fought her entire life to be independent, despite her struggle with cerebral palsy and her father abandoning them to pay for all of his mistakes. And so, if she doesn't exactly hit the ground running as a stranger in a strange land, she manages to find her footing remarkably well. She will be no one's pawn. And she consistently defies the prince's orders to stay in her room and not stray from the castle grounds. She demands Grey teach her to throw knives, and she rides out beyond the grounds to take food to Rhen's starving people and find safe havens for stranded children. It is no wonder Grey forgoes his normally stoic manner to teach her to fight. It is no wonder Rhen finds himself entertaining, one last time, the possibility of an end other than his own. I became so enamored of this unlikely trio—the prince, the guard, and the girl who could save them all.
Brigid Kemmerer takes all the time she needs to let them unfold the story at their own pace. There is no instalove here. There is no inexplicable, immediate falling together. Harper and Rhen aren't drawn to each other at first or even twelfth glance. They are two unwieldy and unwilling partners in an impossible bind. And ever so slowly they find a way to move forward side by side rather than entwined. Harper discovers the extent of Rhen's curse bit by bit, hidden chamber by hidden chamber. Rhen is loath to reveal the truth behind his transformations into a beast, and his repeated failures loom heavy in the specters of all the women whose lives he ruined. And linking them together is Grey, the only one who stayed when the curse was cast over his prince and his land.
Grey's expression has no give to it now. This isn't the man who charmed smiles out of children in the snow. This isn't even the man who spoke passionately of honor and duty in the hallway. This is the lethal swordsman who kidnapped me. This is the scariest Grey of all.
These three distinct individuals, they aren't the bendable kind. I loved their burgeoning friendships. I loved the long loyalty that ties Rhen to Grey and how I couldn't tell where it would go or how it would end. It wasn't until the final pages that I realized how tangled those ties actually were, and it's going to take at least one more book to follow the three of them down the dark path that opens up at the end of this one. But no matter how long it takes, I am for them.
"I really just brought you here to protect you."
My pride flinches. "It is I who should be protecting you."
"You've been doing that for a while. Maybe it's my turn."
This title. This title is my favorite book title in ages. No question. It made me feel things for the titular chOriginally published here @ Angieville
This title. This title is my favorite book title in ages. No question. It made me feel things for the titular character, made me long to meet her and join her on her completely fine journey, long before I ever picked up the book itself. My mom gave me a copy for my birthday back in the summer, and I kept it on my nightstand for ages just admiring the colors and the font and the general splendor of what might lie within. Basically just another example of present day me wanting to kick past myself for not starting a book sooner. Because this book is so much better than fine. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is Gail Honeyman's debut novel. I am waiting in delicious anticipation for her sophomore novel.
Eleanor learned long ago that the only socially acceptable answer to the question "How are you?" is "Fine." She learned long ago, reinforced by her mother's constant and stringent dictums, that she wasn't like other people. And, what's more, she shouldn't be. Other people were quite dreadful, and should never serve as suitable outlines for proper behavior. And so she has gone through life, constantly perplexed by the behavior of others, by their informality, their audacity, their continual, inexplicable bleeding outside the lines. And life is fine. Eleanor is fine. Content with her solitary existence. Competent at her office job. Willing to suffer through her weekly calls with Mummy. Until one night she finds herself at a local pub listening to a band. And without warning, she knows. She knows she is meant to be with the lead singer of the band. And so she sets about rearranging herself and her life so that when the inevitable meeting comes, all will fall seamlessly into place. Around about the same time, she is thrown together with Raymond, a man who works in her company's IT department and who seems to enjoy her company, though she is nothing but befuddled by his. And so, bit by bit, things in her meticulously ordered life begin to change, whether Eleanor is ready or not.
Raymond sent me an electronic mail message at work the next week―it was very odd, seeing his name in my in-box. As I'd expected, he was semiliterate.
Hi E, hope all good with u. Got a wee favor to ask. Sammy's son Keith has invited me to his 40th this Saturday (ended up staying late at that party BTW, it was a rite laugh). Fancy being my plus one? It’s at a golf club, there's a buffet? No worries if not―let me no. R
A buffet. In a golf club. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.
Eleanor's dry-as-a-vodka-martini sense of humor is one of the sheer highlights of this book. Her inner dialogue surrounding her efforts to parse the emotions and actions of those around her are as delightful as they insightful. And always lurking beneath them are the inescapable, if fleeting, references to the mother that shaped every aspect of her life and whose presence is felt, even now, in every one of her thoughts and actions. I felt the entire length of the novel as though I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the last remaining length of the thread to unravel. Which is why Eleanor's sense of humor, and Raymond's wonderfully offbeat and accepting interactions with her are so vital to the story's success, saving it as they do from the shadows that loom so eerily from the corners of the room.
I watched him amble toward me. His peculiar loping walk was almost endearing now―I wouldn't recognize him if he started to walk as normal men did. He had his hands in the pockets of his low-slung denim trousers, and was wearing a strange, oversized woolen hat that I hadn't seen before. It looked like the kind of hat that a German goblin might wear in an illustration from a nineteenth-century fairy tale, possibly one about a baker who was unkind to children and got his comeuppance via an elfin horde. I rather liked it.
I laughed out loud on multiple occasions while reading Eleanor's story. And I think that Raymond rather likes Eleanor for the same reasons she gets on with him, though her loping walk and elfin horde hat is worn mostly on the inside (her visible facial scars notwithstanding). The way Gail Honeyman manages to insert the reader as one of Eleanor's "insiders" (though in practice, she actually has none) is such a crucial tool, so that while we see the way most people are offput by our heroine, we never are. Because we walk home with her at night, and sit up eating frozen pizza, and stick to the plan each day. We know what her shoes feel like, and they are comfortable even though we can see how strange they may look to those outside the know. And it is this sense of being on the inside that makes the final reveal that much more effective. Because though we may have suspected, it creeps up just the same as it does on Eleanor. It creeps up on such soft feet. And how happy I was that by that time she had Raymond. And his mum. And Sammy the old man they helped on the street. And a boss who values her for the good work she does. How glad I was. I was so incredibly moved by this woman's story. And by the way she saves herself. I'll leave you with my favorite passage in the entire book, out of context as it is, because that final sentence instantly entered my personal canon. And I recite it to myself in comfort.
I took a breath. Back in that house, on a good day. Stripes of sunshine on the carpet, a board game set out on the floor, a pair of dice, two brightly colored counters. A day with more ladders than snakes.
This series. My feelings for it are fierce and tangled, much like the ties that bind its protagonists. Charlotte,Originally reviewed here @ Angieville
This series. My feelings for it are fierce and tangled, much like the ties that bind its protagonists. Charlotte, Lord Ingram, Livia, Inspector Treadles, Bancroft, Lady Ingram . . . characterize them each how you will, but there is nothing equivocal about them. While there is infinite room for every sort of gray area in their circumstances, their histories, and their difficult presents, the feelings that they engender (at least in me) are nothing if not strong one way or the other. And really, I wouldn't have it any other way. Who wants to feel the least bit milk-soppy about the people who inhabit their wonderfully complicated Victorian mysteries? Not me. That is who. Which is to say that I was prepared for a tumult of emotions as I embarked on this the third volume in Sherry Thomas's Lady Sherlock series. Just, as it turns out, nowhere near prepared enough.
Be warned: unavoidable spoilers for the first two books abound.
Death has finally found its way to Lord Ingram's door. Though it may have seemed to him and to those who know him best that he was already bearing one man's fair share of suffering in his life, the term takes on new meaning when the body of his estranged wife is found on the grounds of his country estate. He is already playing impromptu host to a number of his neighbors who were forced to flee their house party nearby, and the group just happens to include Charlotte Holmes's sister, Miss Livia Holmes. All hell breaks loose in a matter of a few short hours, and both the London gossips and Scotland Yard are calling for his blood in short order. And Charlotte, the only person who can really help him, the only person he actually wants at his side throughout this ghoulish ordeal, is forced to do so in disguise. Unable to disclose her identity for fear of betraying her oldest friend, Charlotte enters a race against time and the mysteriously related Moriarty to clear Lord Ingram's name and uncover the true culprit.
"Charlotte Holmes. I thought I might see you here."
The voice belonged to Lord Ingram, but slightly raspy, as if he were under the weather―or recovering from a night of hard drinking.
She turned around slowly. "Hullo, Ash."
A complicated pleasure, this man.
A complicated pleasure, this book. I knew it would be far more personal than either of the previous adventures. But I had no real comprehension of just how grave this tale would be, when the danger comes calling at the very door of the one character who deserves it the least. Because it's Ash. It's Ash. And from the moment Charlotte turns in his orchard and says, "Hullo," I was full of fear. I mean, I was flooded with anxiety for all three hundred and twenty-nine pages. Every last one of them. And so while I might have reasonably expected to enjoy the larger quantities of page time in which these two dear characters are actually together, the whole thing was neatly sideswiped by the terror of the unknown and of what they both actually stood to lose. Being somewhat conversant with Ms. Thomas's willingness to put her characters through their paces, as it were, I felt no sense of assurance that the pain would not be too much to bear. In point of fact, every single thing about The Hollow of Fear felt very nearly too much to bear. And while that may sound dire, and it is, this book is also threaded through with small and perfect moments, with Thomas's trademark empathy and insight. As always with this series, many of my favorite moments involve the realities of the lives of women and the truths that are so difficult to speak.
Lady Ingram hadn't been angry because she'd wished to marry a different man, as Mrs. Watson had thought at the time, but because her life hadn't been her own.
Charlotte did not pity Lady Ingram―the woman played no small role in her own fate. But she sometimes thought of the former Miss Alexandra Greville, brought to London and told to smile, told to be happy that an eligible man loved her, told that upon marriage she would have everything a woman could desire.
When it should have been obvious to all who knew her that such a life would unravel her. Yet they'd pushed it on her with all their might―and made it plain that for her to do anything else would be a gross betrayal of her family.
Perhaps she had always been a monster, but even the lady monsters of the world couldn't escape the expectations that came of being women.
My, what empathy. Even the lady monsters. My Circe-loving heart all but exploded at that particular moment. And then this between Lord Ingram and Charlotte:
"Is it true, what I once heard your sister say, that you don't like to be embraced?"
She took some time to think. "Sometimes Livia needs to hold someone, and I'm the only suitable person nearby. When I was little, I used to wriggle out of her arms and escape to a corner of our room. But it wasn't so much that I couldn't stand being held as that I didn't want to be held indefinitely. Later I taught myself to count to three hundred to mark five minutes―which helped me to realize that she needed only about half that time. I can take two to three minutes of being held. But Livia remains hesitant to this day―she's still scarred by my bolting away from her embrace."
He would be, too.
In fact, sometimes he felt scarred by her, even though she had never done anything except be an excellent friend.
Ah, Ash. It's untenable, the whole situation. But I shall continue to hope. And while I was pleased with how things played out on nearly every level, there was a part of me that felt a twinge of disappointment at how one aspect of their relationship developed. As I reflect on it, my reaction may be simply that it felt somewhat abrupt, that I would have appreciated a more measured progression, given how restrained and private these two individuals are. I value those two qualities in them so very much, not the least because I know I recognize them in myself. That was my one qualm. But honestly, the writing. It continues to slay me. The complexity of emotion redolent in every word is a joy to read. Sherry Thomas absolutely nails it, and I am nothing if not dying for the next book. A final favorite passage:
She wasn't sure that she wanted to understand the full spectrum of human emotions―everything that remained seemed dire to one degree or another. But this warm, silly mutual delight, this she wouldn't mind experiencing until she comprehended its place in the world.
I looked forward to this book with barely restrained delight from the moment I heard the first faint whisperingsOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I looked forward to this book with barely restrained delight from the moment I heard the first faint whisperings of its existence. I read it as soon as I could get my hands on it, and then life got in the way (as it is wont to do), and I never quite got around to reviewing it. But I flatly refuse to let the year end without talking about this first book in Sarah MacLean's new series. Just in case you haven't, you know, read it yet. That way you'll have time to fit it in before the second book comes out next July. As I have mentioned before, it was a Sarah MacLean novel that first got me into reading historical romances just a few years ago. And then earlier this year, I had the opportunity to meet her and tell her that, to tell her how much I love her books and just how much finding them meant to me. I hope you all have that chance someday. I've been fortunate enough to meet many of my very favorite authors. And while my facility with language generally flees when I do, they are experiences I treasure just the same.
Lady Felicity Faircloth has been dealt a very unfair blow. Or rather a series of unfair blows in rapid and brutal succession. As a result, she makes a singularly grave error. An error so great and audacious and impulsive, recovering from it may be an impossibility. But. If anyone can help her, it's the man she meets in the dark on the balcony of the Duke of Marwick's home on the heels of yet another humiliating episode. Known only as Devil, he is a king of the London underworld and he is there to remind the lofty duke of his promise. In fact, Devil is prepared to do whatever it takes to keep Marwick from breaking it. And so when he finds out that Felicity has announced to one and all that she is betrothed to the very same duke (even though she is not and has never even met the man), he spies an opportunity. He will teach the so-called wallflower how to actually win her duke and show all of the ton she is worthy of their notice once more, while at the same time ensuring the duke makes good on their years-old pact. What Devil doesn't count on, what he never could have seen coming, is the power of the woman who takes him up on his offer. Before long, she's running him absolutely ragged in pursuit of their mutual goal. From the ballrooms of the upper crust to the dark and twisty streets of his underworld empire, Devil follows Felicity as it becomes more and more difficult to remember why he would want to be anywhere else.
"Who are you?"
He ignored the question. "Why are you a spinster?" Not that it mattered.
He resisted the urge to smile. "I deserved that."
"My father would tell you to be more specific with your questions."
"Who is your father?"
"Who is yours?"
She was not the least obstinate woman he'd ever met. "I don't have a father."
"Everyone has a father," she said.
"Not one they care to acknowledge," he said with a calm he did not feel. "So we return to the beginning. Why are you a spinster?"
"No one wishes to marry me."
The honest answer came instantly. "I don't―" She stopped, spreading her hands wide, and he would have given his whole fortune to hear the rest, especially once she began anew, ticking reasons off her long, gloved fingers. "On the shelf."
She didn't seem old.
Plain had occurred to him, but she wasn't plain. Not really. In fact, she might be the opposite of plain.
That was absolutely not true.
"I was tossed over by a duke."
Still not the whole truth. "And there's the rub?"
"Quite," she said. "Though it seems unfair, as the duke in question never intended to marry me in the first place."
"He was wildly in love with his wife."
She turned away from him, returning her gaze to the sky. "Not for her."
I love this opening scene so much. That final sighing sentence perfectly illustrates the strength and the compassion that make up Felicity–the dual longing and understanding she feels at the rightness of the husband and wife who found each other again, even though it came at the rather high cost of her own reputation and future. I knew in that moment that I would love both this book and this woman. Because she contains multitudes, does Felicity. That conversation is taken from the very first scene in which Felicity and Devil meet, grounding the reader and the characters so nicely. And the entire book follows delightfully suit, full to bursting with riveting and joyful dialogue, honed to a high and exacting degree. As are the two characters who believe themselves to be in league but who find their goals and desires shifting beneath their feet as they inch closer to what they thought they wanted.
It was a pleasure listening to their internal and external dialogue and following them on their less-than-aboveboard way. Particularly engaging are the scenes set in Devil's world. I felt chills run down my spine with each double tap of his cane on the cobblestones. And it was only a matter of time before Felicity fell in love with his home, even if Devil can't begin to countenance it. Nobody pulls off a match in the truest sense of the term the way MacLean does. And perhaps that is what I love the most of all the things I love so very much about her novels. The women and men she gives life on the page? They are each other's match. And what you can absolutely count on, what you get to look forward to the entire length of their story (or at least the glimpse given within these pages) is that they will see it, too. That they will at some point―likely after a good deal of remonstrating on both sides―know the other for what they are. And make room for them in their lives. Or see that they fit the room that was there waiting.
He watched her for a long time. An eternity. Seconds stretched between them like miles. And then, just when she thought it was all over, he said, quiet and certain, "Here is something true, Felicity Faircloth, wallflower, lockpick, and wonder: there isn't a single thing about you that is flawed.
I closed this book and felt like echoing Felicity:
No joke, I'm a little shaky right now. I just finished a headlong binge―scratch that, I just paused three books iOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
No joke, I'm a little shaky right now. I just finished a headlong binge―scratch that, I just paused three books into a headlong binge of Robert Galbraith's (aka J.K. Rowling's) Cormoran Strike crime series. I say paused because I downed the first three books back to back to back, and the fourth book is due out September 18th. How is that for lucky?? I never get that lucky with my reading timing! And even so. I'm still severely uncertain of my ability to actually survive until Lethal White comes out. Because this series grabbed me by the throat and has not let go. From the opening prologue to The Cuckoo's Calling, I was wide-eyed and ravenous. I felt positively giddy to be reading a series by Rowling again. After all this time. I couldn't stop myself long to enough to write up true reviews of the first two books, but given the imposed wait for book four, I felt I had to talk about Career of Evil, the third book in the series. And yes, many of you have kept current on this series and sang its praises loudly. And yes, I have no excuse for waiting as long as I did.
"You know four men who'd send you a severed leg? Four?"
Strike could see Robin's expression reflected in the round mirror standing beside the sink, where he was shaving. The police had taken away the leg at last, Strike had declared work suspended for the day and Robin remained at the little Formica table in his kitchen-cum-sitting room, cradling a second mug of tea.
"To tell you the truth," he said, strafing stubble from his chin, "I think it's only three."
Cormoran Strike's business has picked up nicely since the addition of one Robin Ellacott, assistant extraordinaire, to say nothing of the massive press coverage that unavoidably surrounded his previous two high profile cases. And if Robin's impending wedding is approaching faster than either of them might be strictly comfortable with, well, neither of them have anything they'd like to say on that matter. And if Strike's latest "girlfriend" is more interested in educating him in classical music than she is actually knowing anything real about him, well, neither of them have anything they're willing to say on that score either. But just when the two unlikely partners feel like they're settling into a more secure routine, the body parts start arriving with Robin's name on the tags. And suddenly all that press attention turns on their small business, as no one in London is interested in hiring a private detective who receives pieces of dead bodies on a regular basis. And so not only are they back to scraping by financially, but they're tracking a serial killer who has clearly placed Robin on his list. And all of this is set against the background of new revelations on their individual complicated backgrounds, as well as the looming inevitability of painful changes in their working and personal relationships once Robin marries.
Robin was a decade younger than Strike. She had arrived in his office as a temporary secretary, unsought and unwelcome, at the lowest point of his professional life. He had only meant to keep her on for a week, and that because he had almost knocked her to her death down the metal stairs when she arrived, and he felt he owed her. Somehow she had persuaded him to let her stay, firstly for an extra week, then for a month and, finally, forever.
This third installment in the series is complete and utter bibliocrack. I mean, the entire series qualifies as such for me. But at this point, I'm so invested that the thought of being without Robin and Strike is physically painful to me. Hence the current three-week-long agony. I can't even bear to think about the years-long wait for the fifth book (I'm just telling myself there will be a fifth book; I'm quite deaf to any other outcome). It's just that they're so well-matched, are Robin and Strike. So complementary. As professionals, as partners, as investigators, and yes, of course, I am hoping as a couple. But the burn in this series, my friends? It is sloooooooooooow. It is the slowest of slow, slow burns. And there are other people. But even that is perfect. Because they're so dashed real. Their lives are messy, especially Strike's. And they can be maddening. They've made mistakes and been hurt and developed appalling habits and learned to cope, not always in extremely (or even remotely) healthy ways. Which means nothing happens easily or moves along quickly. And so very much is unsaid. But their wonderful regard for one another just kills me. They frequently put me in mind of Patrick and Angie from Dennis Lehane's Kenzie & Gennaro noir series, which is the highest of praise in my book.
Almost angrily, he added together those things he knew and had observed that marked her as profoundly different from him, as embodying a safer, more cloistered, more conventional world. She had had the same pompous boyfriend since sixth form (although he understood that a little better now), a nice middle-class family back in Yorkshire, parents married for decades and apparently happy, a Labrador and a Land Rover and a pony, Strike reminded himself. A bloody pony!
Then other memories intruded and a different Robin peeled away from this picture of a safe and ordered past: and there in front of him stood a woman who would not have been out of place in the SIB. This was the Robin who had taken advanced driving courses, who had concussed herself in the pursuit of a killer, who had calmly wrapped her coat like a tourniquet around his bleeding arm after he was stabbed and taken him to hospital. The Robin who had improvised so successfully in interrogating suspects that she had winkled out information that the police had not managed to get, who had invented and successfully embodied Venetia Hall, who had persuaded a terrified young man who wanted his leg amputated to confide in her, who had given Strike a hundred other examples of initiative, resourcefulness and courage that might have turned her into a plainclothes police officer by now, had she not once walked into a dark stairwell where a bastard in a mask stood waiting.
Ah, Strike. The struggle is real. Which brings me to the mystery/crime aspect of these novels. Though I will always spend time talking (and thinking) about the relationship, it takes a decided backseat in this series. These books are first and foremost murder mysteries and they are dark ones. I cannot emphasize enough how grisly these crimes are and how unsavory so many of the characters. Though, in true Rowling style, the entire motley casts in each volume are so downright Dickensian in their depiction that it's difficult not to feel the magnetic pull despite the grim trappings. I'll admit, I had to let my eyes gloss over a few murder scene descriptions (most notably in The Silkworm). And in Career of Evil we get a number of short chapters from the killer's POV. I was forced to tread lightly there as well. Because serial killer. And body parts. And extreme misogyny. But. That said. And noted. Robin's wonderfully strong arc is a balm and a balance for the darkness that surrounds them. And, in the end, these two humans? I just want to watch them solve crimes and not talk about their feelings for the foreseeable future. And that is my plan.
"At least you didn't punch her," said Robin. "In her wheelchair. In front of all the art lovers."
I think this is (shamefully) the first Tessa Dare book I've really reviewed. I believe I initially read a coupleOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I think this is (shamefully) the first Tessa Dare book I've really reviewed. I believe I initially read a couple of her Spindle Cove books awhile back and didn't really land upon the "right" one for me. Then I gave Romancing the Duke a try and found it to be ridiculously charming. The rest of the books in that series weren't quite my cuppa, but that first one was so fun that I went back and found the right Spindle Cove novel for me ( Any Duchess Will Do, in case you're interested; ugh, I love that book). Which brings me to The Governess Game, which is a delight from start to finish. That's the wonderful thing about books by talented and prolific authors. They're not all necessarily going to work for you, but it is so lovely reading your way through as time and whims allow and finding the ones that are yours.
Alexandra Mountbatten tells time. That is to say, she sets clocks. For a living. Carting her instruments from aristocratic house to aristocratic house, she pays the bills during the day and watches the stars by night, hoping one day to spot a comet she can call her own. And that is exactly what she thinks she's there for when she arrives on Chase Reynaud's doorstep―to set the time. The dissolute heir to a dukedom, however, is in desperate need of a governess to manage his two young wards. Taking her for the latest in a long line of applicants for the governess position, Chase quickly realizes what gold he's found in Alex and won't take no for an answer. Happily, Alex is the opposite of a pushover. She rightly sizes up the situation, hands Reynaud his hat, and heads for the hills. Matters are made worse by the fact that the two have met before, though Chase does not appear to remember their previous encounter. Alas, circumstances conspire to throw the rake, the budding astronomer, and the two varmint children together again. And before long, they're hopelessly (and entertainingly) entangled in each other's lives.
Witness the delicious disaster of their first (or technically second) meeting:
Alex couldn't hold it in any longer. She buried her face in her hands and moaned into them.
He leaned toward her at once. "Are you ill? I do hope it's not typhus."
"It's disappointment. I expected something different. I should have known better."
He lifted an eyebrow. "What precisely were you expecting?"
"You don't want to know." And I don't want to tell you.
"Oh, but I do."
"No, you don't. You really, truly don't."
"Come now. That kind of protestation only makes a man more intrigued. Just have out with it."
"A gentleman," she blurted out. "I expected you'd be a gentleman."
"You weren't wrong. I am a gentleman. Eventually, I'm going to be a peer."
"I didn't mean it that way. I thought you'd be the respectable, considerate, honorable kind of gentleman."
"Ah," he said. "Yes, that was a mistaken assumption on your part."
"Obviously. Just look at you."
I dare you not to grin your way blithely through the entirety of this charming novel. From their first encounter in Chase's glorified man cave to the first (of many) wakes they are forced to preside over on behalf of Daisy's dolls, I knew these characters were going to worm their way into my affections with the greatest of ease. And so they did. Alex is the core. Alex is the reason any of it works at all. She will not be defeated, no matter how many skies have fallen. And in the lives of one man who never should have been the heir and two young girls who never should have been left on their own, let alone dependent on a rapscallion bachelor who has no idea of how to look after them, many skies have fallen indeed. It takes all Alex has to keep them together (as they should be) and force them to see just why they need each other (as they do). And, of course, Chase is more than he appears. And smarter than anyone but Alex gives him credit for. And if Alex is the one who can see Chase and the girls clearly, Chase is the one who can see Alex. They take care of each other so beautifully. They take care of each other.
"You don't need to pity me. I'm here. And I'm alive. So there's your answer, Chase. When am I giving up? I'm not. I did not give up on myself then. I am not giving up on you now." She smoothed her apron. "Now I'm going to tidy myself up, take the girls for ices, eat two of them myself, and not bring you any. When we return, I'll send Rosamund and Daisy in to visit you, and you will behave. Treat me as you like. But you will not belittle those girls for loving you. I won't allow it. And do not ever waste your breath again with more of that 'lost cause' nonsense. Consider yourself found."
All my spinning emotions came together in that last firm, wonderful line. "Consider yourself found." I adore an uncompromising heroine (as you know). Alex is one of the best. Her own history is as unconventional as one might expect from a scientifically-minded independent lady timekeeper in Victorian England. And then there's Chase's dogged desire to go to his grave unattached and unmourned, which does rather put a damper on anything that might resemble a relationship. And, of course, neither of them is ignorant of the multitude of reasons why she cannot be anything but his governess. And yet. They fight against those constraints anyway. Not always in concert and not even always for the same reasons, but they fight. Against each other's demons when they cannot fight against their own. Which is perhaps one of the truest definitions of love in the end, isn't it?
"I think the world is spinning."
"The world is always spinning."
He exhaled in a soft groan.
"Well, that's the truth. It's spinning all the time."
"How about this? What if I say that you're my world. You're not spinning."
"But I am. We all are. We're on the earth, and it's spinning, so we're spinning, too."
"You are ruining all my sweet nothings."
"That's just it." She put her hand atop his chest, covering his fiercely beating heart. "To me, the truth doesn't ruin anything. Why should understanding the universe diminish our sense of wonder at it? We are spinning around and around, at hundreds of miles an hour, on a rock in the midst of a fathomless universe. Isn't that awe-inspiring enough?"
"If we're spinning at hundreds of miles an hour, it seems a miracle that we stay on this rock at all."
"That's not a miracle. That's gravity."
He kissed the top of her head. "I love you. There. Have you some astronomical way to ruin that?"
"No." She was grateful he couldn't see her face contorting with elation. "That's a miracle."
I love them so. Don't do yourself the disservice of missing them....more
I've had a good feeling about Spinning Silver ever since I first heard it would be a thing. That might sound a toOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I've had a good feeling about Spinning Silver ever since I first heard it would be a thing. That might sound a touch ubiquitous, because basically everyone I know has been on absolute tenterhooks waiting for its release from the moment they finished Uprooted. The thing is, I read Uprooted back when it came out and the hype was huge. And the writing was truly beautiful, beautiful in a timeless way. Naomi Novik is a consummate world builder and a frightfully skilled storyteller. That combined with her homage to Robin McKinley's Luthe (and Damar in general) guaranteed I would be picking up her next volume. But it's worth stating that I was comparatively underwhelmed by the characterization in Uprooted. A persistent, somewhat chilly chasm separated me from them emotionally. And so a measure of apprehension did color my anticipation for her next standalone fairy tale retelling. However. That good feeling I mentioned earlier? It lingered invitingly. Somehow, I just knew this one would be the one. I was not wrong.
I had never felt sorry for the miller's daughter before, in the story the villagers told; I'd been sorry for my father, and myself, and angry. But who would really like it, after all, to be married to a king who'd as cheerfully have cut off your head if you didn't spin his straw into gold? I didn't want to be the Staryk's queen any more than I wanted to be his slave, or frozen into ice.
Miryem is forced into action by her tenderhearted father and increasingly ill mother. Growing up, she watched her moneylending father try and fail and try and fail to collect what he was owed. And so her small family went without in the bitter cold winters while she was forced to watch the people of her village, those who continued to borrow from her father and refuse to pay him back, live in contentment and ease. No more. Stiffening her spine and forcing her heart to harden, Miryem takes up the reins of the family business and begins to collect on every debt. To her parents' surprise (and, at times, dismay), she is unequivocally successful. Due to her swift economizing and unsentimental actions, the fabric of their small world changes. Their cottage is warm, her mother is nursed back to health, they have stacks of silver coins, enough to trade for gold ones, enough to place in her grandfather's vault and save against a bitter day. A bitter day they are all certain will come, as the mystical Staryk who live parallel to humans (and who crave nothing more than gold) are encroaching farther and farther upon their lands, leaving their icy chill and their disdain for human life dripping in their wake. It is not long before word of a girl who can turn silver to gold spreads throughout the land, reaching not only the ear of the tsar himself, but that of the feared Staryk lord. And soon Miryem's life is unwittingly bound up with the lives of two other young women who have been similarly caged and forced to strike out in the name of survival.
"You were challenged beyond the bounds of what could be done, and found a path to make it true."
This is a perfect book. I just wanted to get that out there from the start. This book? It is a finely wrought marvel, and I want to hold it tight at all times. Spinning Silver is a retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale that focuses on the nuances of truth and honor, strength and autonomy. As in Uprooted, Ms. Novik displays just how well she understands the price we humans (and her wonderfully imagined fey and demonic corollaries) pay when we sacrifice portions of our humanity on unworthy altars, when we willfully (or even unintentionally) trespass on others' agency, twisting it to fit our conceptions of what should be. Equally beautiful (if heartbreaking) is her treatment of the sacrifices we make to maintain our dignity, to stay alive, to turn away others' ill treatment and not absorb it, to keep going when the way is dark and no alternatives are good ones. It is breathtaking, her capturing of humanity in all its indecencies and simple, longing truths. At first, Miryem may seem as cold as she makes herself be. But, as always, the truth is more than what we see with our eyes. Her interactions with the woman Wanda, who Miryem extracts from a hellish environment, and employs at her own home (along with Wanda's two brothers Sergey and Stepon), as well as her escalating sparring with the Staryk lord who comes demanding gold, perfectly highlight the straight and unbending line she has made of her life. As has the third woman, Irina, who is forced into a marriage that is literally designed to kill her. She chooses life, for just as long as she can. She chooses not bending or giving in. From all the terrible choices available to her, she continues to move forward and choose and employ her agency when and how she can.
"You can't want to marry me. What will anyone think?"
His mouth grew even more displeased and his eyes knived. "What I have promised, I will do," he hissed at me, "though all the world will end for it. Have you my silver changed for gold?"
He didn't even sound malicious this time, as though he'd give up hope of my failing. I bent down and seized the lid of the casket and threw it open where it stood amid the coats and woolen wraps; I could not even have pushed it to his feet by myself. "There!" I said. "Take it, and leave me alone; it's only nonsense, to marry me when you don't want to, and I don't want to. Why didn't you just promise me a trifle?"
"Only a mortal could speak so of offering false coin, and returning little for much," he said, contempt dripping, and I glared at him, glad to be angry instead of afraid.
"My account books are clean," I said, "and I don't call it a reward to be dragged from my home and my family."
"Reward?" the Staryk said. "Who are you to me, that I should reward you? You are the one who demanded fair return for a proven gift of high magic; did you think I would degrade myself by pretending to be one of the low, unable to match it? I am the lord of the glass mountain, not some nameless wight, and I leave no debts unpaid. You are thrice proven, thrice true―no matter by what unnatural chance," he added, sounding unreasonably bitter about it, "―and I shall not prove false myself, whatever the cost.
Marriage plays an integral role throughout the interlocking stories of these three women. True to the roots of this tale, the marriages presented are not states to be desired. I found it fascinating how the characters worked within the confines of their time period, the magic systems surrounding them, their family dynamics, and the lives of the many souls involved to press toward freedom and balance, equality and consent. That might all sound a bit heavy-handed, but, oh, it is not. It is artfully and organically rendered. There are even pockets of levity, such as this one―one of my favorites―between Miryem and Irina:
"Did the tsar refuse to marry you?" I asked. I thought the duke might have been angry with her if he had: he hadn't seemed like a man to be satisfied if his plans went awry.
"No," she said. "I am tsarina. For as long as I live." She said it dryly, as if she didn't expect that to last long. "The tsar is a black sorcerer. He is possessed by a demon of flame that wants to devour me."
I laughed; I couldn't help it. It wasn't mirth, it was bitterness. "So the fairy silver brought you a monster of fire for a husband, and me a monster of ice. We should put them in a room together and let them make us both widows."
Though their actual paths cross but rarely, this exchange occurs at such an ideal moment. A brief, protected moment of catharsis before these two women take up their swords again and press on.
I can't tell you how it turns out. I can't tell you how and when and if each of these dear characters make it out alive or intact or resembling themselves in any ways that count. All I can tell you is that Naomi Novik made everything count. There were no wasted words, no faults in the line of her tale, no mote of disappointment to be found anywhere in me when I came to the final perfect line and said to myself and the universe, "Yes."
And so I'll leave you with Wanda and her brothers, in a moment that holds in it everything that this book made me feel:
I reached out my hands to them, suddenly: I put out my hand to Sergey on one side, and to Stepon on the other, and they put out their hands to me, and to each other, and we held tight, tight; we made a circle together, my brothers and me, around the food that we had been given, and there was no wolf in the room.
I was not expecting this. I was simply not expecting just what was to come when I picked up this deceptively pleaOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I was not expecting this. I was simply not expecting just what was to come when I picked up this deceptively pleasant-looking novel. My mom gifted me a copy of Jenny Colgan's The Café by the Sea awhile ago, but it took until the other night while I was browsing my shelves after starting and stopping no fewer than four different books for me to snatch it up off my TBR shelf and give it a go. And I'm not remotely ashamed to say that I didn't even make it past the epigraph before falling hopelessly and irretrievably in love. The epigraph read:
hiraeth (n): a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home that maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for lost places in your past
Tears filled my eyes. I cannot tell you how frequently I experience that emotion as an adult, how complicated and full (and yes, very often painful) it has been trying to accommodate it, and just how very much it meant to me, knowing that there is a word out there that means exactly what I feel, that holds in it the precise shape and weight of my longing.
Flora MacKenzie fled to London as soon as she possibly could. Leaving the northern Scottish isles and her home island of Mure, her brothers, her parents, and their farm, she went in search of the life she (and her mother) felt certain should be hers. And life as a paralegal at the top law firm in London does have its perks. A couple of truly good work friends, not bad pay, access to everything that kind of bustling, never-sleeping city can provide. And, of course, it has Joel Binder. Never mind that he is her boss, technically American, and can never remember her name unless his secretary provides it. Joel has just kind of been it for Flora ever since she walked into the office on her first day at the job. And yes, she realizes it's hopeless and ill-advised and simply never going to amount to anything. But, try as she may, she just can't seem to shake the crush. And then one day she is summoned to Joel's office. It seems an extremely high profile American client requires Flora's expertise as a native of Mure. He plans to set up a luxury resort on the island and wants her to ease the way, so to speak, with the locals. Which is how she finds herself sent back home against her will and her better judgement. And everything is exactly as it was (and as she feared). Her mother is still dead. Her father and brothers are still failing to deal with it. The townsfolk are still judging her for up and leaving in the first place. And the whole thing seems utterly impossible, to say nothing of the fact that Joel will be flying up shortly to check on her work and she has absolutely nothing to show for it.
As they stood together gazing out to sea, Lorna leaned over toward her. "It's going to be okay," she said quietly, because she was the very best type of friend to have.
The friendships between the people on this island are very quiet and very real. Flora and her childhood best friend Lorna are quite different from each other, and Lorna (who stayed on the island and teaches at the local primary school) spends much of the novel trying to open Flora's eyes to how she really feels about their home. But they are always there for the other and very much in each other's pockets when it comes to Flora's hapless brothers' antics and Lorna's hopelessly unrequited love for the local doctor. As for the setting, there's very little to say beyond the fact that the moment I landed on Mure with Flora, I was a goner. There is magic embedded in the shores of Mure. The way Ms. Colgan describes this fey land is filled with a love that is bone-deep and a spirit that is wild and endless. My question wasn't whether Flora would stay. It was how in the world everyone that should stay would ever be able to. Fortunately, the pop-up café that Flora finds herself setting up (with the help of her mother's old recipe book) goes a long way toward bringing the island inhabitants (and transplants) together and healing many of the old wounds that have plagued them.
It is not a hardship loving these characters. Particularly Flora. And particularly Joel.
Joel was taken aback, suddenly, by the startling nature of seeing them there. It was the oddest thing. He'd never known anything quite like this; he had never thought about families, not in this way. But if he had . . . It was so strange. The laughing girl with the pale hair; the tiny child who looked like a miniature witch, who even now was running up to him, that strange white hair cascading out behind her, shouting, "YOEL!" with a huge grin on her face; the music; the turning, laughing women; the soft scent in the air; the warmth of the lights.
It was like walking into something he was already nostalgic for, without it ever being his, without it even having passed him by. It was a very strange feeling. From when he was very young, Joel had learned that if ever he wanted something, he should just take it, because so few people seemed to care what he did or how he did it. But this; this didn't belong to him. He couldn't even see how it ever could. You couldn't buy what they had.
Joel. My chest feels rather tight whenever I think about Joel and his solitary soulness, his crushing drive, and the helpless and inevitable way he falls under the thrall of both Flora and her home. This land where the sun rarely sets in the summer, where the people lean always into the wind, where some women are just acknowledged to be selkies and that's the way of it. It isn't a wonder this pair of Americans wanted to stay. I did, too. The Café by the Sea is summer reading of the finest kind....more
The moral of this story is that it has been far too long since I read a Gail Carriger book. I discovered her bacOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
The moral of this story is that it has been far too long since I read a Gail Carriger book. I discovered her back when her debut novel Soulless first came out and thought it was perfectly delightful. I read the next couple of Parasol Protectorate novels and then sort of lost my way a bit. I've always rather wanted to return and, my word, has she been prolific in the intervening years. When I began hearing happy rumblings about this first installment in a new series of novellas set in the same familiar world, it felt like the perfect time to jump back in and test the waters.
Faith Wigglesworth (I know) has been exiled to London and ordered to find herself a werewolf husband posthaste. Her family appears to view such a fate as merely her just desserts for the scandal she caused them back home in Boston. Faith remembers the story a trifle differently. But she is nothing if not relieved to be an ocean away from her less-than-loving family and not at all opposed to a werewolf spouse should the right prospect come along. Enter Major Channing Channing (I know). Head of the Bureau of Unnatural Registry and gamma of the local pack, Channing's years weigh heavy on him and he has little to no use for young debutantes of any sort, let alone the ruined American variety. But Faith is different, with her suitcase full of rocks, her mysterious familiarity with wolves, and her complete and utter lack of fear. Fate (and his very own alpha, Channing suspects) keeps throwing them together and, before long, it's all he can do to remember to be his usual grumpy, off-putting self whenever Faith is in sight.
Faith was enjoying her evening, the looming presence of Major Channing notwithstanding. He seemed to swoop in at odd times, presenting her with a glass of punch or distracting her from her conversation by glowering fiercely. She noticed that if she paid any one gentleman too much attention for too long a time, the major would make himself known. Then he would disappear and ignore her once more.
It was sublimely aggravating. Like being desired by a very large mosquito.
The entirety of this vastly entertaining novella is packed with similarly delightful observations and exchanges. Faith is an immediately sympathetic character. As her history is slowly revealed, my sympathy for her grew. The same is true of Major Channing. Both of these seemingly disparate individuals have suffered greatly, and I so admired their determination to keep going. Every day. Faith is indomitable, and watching Channing struggle to stay away from her lively spark is incredibly amusing and gratifying. I was so grateful the London portion of her family was demonstrably kinder and more protective than her seriously lacking American relations. Her cousin Teddy, in particular, is an absolute gem. As are the scruffy members of Channing's pack, especially Biffy and Lyall, the alpha and beta.
"Stop terrorizing the servants, Channing. I don't care how you get yourself out of this twitchy, angry mood you are in, but do it now. I believe I preferred you as a cold, elusive pollock."
Channing grinned. "Now you see why I work so hard for that state. Anything else is worse."
Biffy rolled his eyes. "You could try being happy. Or would that strain something?"
"He doesn't know how." Lyall's voice was sad.
Biffy glared at them both. "Oh, for goodness' sake, he's a werewolf, and he likes to fight. Is it so wrong to suggest he might, oh I don't know, fight for her?"
It is such a sweet tale. There is dancing and tea and fancy frocks and quiet longing. And, in the end, they learn to fight for each other. I couldn't ask for more and am so looking forward to the next novella in the Claw & Courtship series....more
The Kiss Quotient crossed my radar around about the same time I got wind of The Wedding Date. Both debut books lOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
The Kiss Quotient crossed my radar around about the same time I got wind of The Wedding Date. Both debut books looked like exactly the sort of charming romcoms I wanted in my life at this specific point in time (always, really), and both sported perfectly adorable covers. I was intrigued not only by the obvious mathematical aspect of this novel, but with the fact that the protagonist is on the spectrum and that the story itself was inspired by Helen Hoang's own diagnosis with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. I found myself very eager to dive in and find out just what this gender-swapped Pretty Woman revision had to offer.
Stella Lane's mother will not leave her alone. She would like a suitable suitor for her daughter and the requisite grandchildren, and she would like them now. And Stella just can't with the pressure anymore. Relationships―interactions with people in general―have never been her strong suit. She far prefers math and her job as an econometrician to attempting to unravel the muddy subtleties that make up dating, to say nothing of the absolute minefield that is physical intimacy. Which is where the idea of hiring an expert comes into it. Stella figures if she can study and train, as it were, under the tutelage of a male escort, maybe, just maybe she'll be able to learn the skills to find someone she can and would want to be with. Enter Michael Phan, who Stella selects from the agency because he looks like Daniel Henney―one of her favorite K-drama stars. Michael has his own reasons for working as an escort, when it was never what he wanted to do with his life. But the demands of family and finances led him here, and he does take pride in being excellent at what he does. If only he didn't have to do it anymore. But when Stella outlines her unorthodox plan for him, even unflappable Michael is taken aback. He should leave. He really should leave. It's just that something about this efficient, self-conscious, highly intelligent, if unusual, woman will not leave him alone. And before he knows it, he is all in. Even knowing that there's no chance it can end in anything but disaster.
The Kiss Quotient is wildly entertaining, the kind of book that lures a smile to your face the moment you open it, the kind of smile that lingers undimmed until the moment you close the book and sigh in pure happiness. I closed it and wanted nothing more in this world than to read it straight through again the next day. Helen Hoang exceeded any and all my expectations, as did Stella and Michael, who were so likable and right that I hardly felt the passage of time as my eyes tracked across the page. How is it even possible to resist this setup? It is not. I am convinced it is not possible. As impossible as it is for Michael to walk way from Stella's stacks of ordered lists, her pristine, but empty house, and her unwilling but real need for someone she can learn (at her own pace and in her own time), who wants to learn her in return. And that is what they proceed to do, though thankfully nothing is glossed over in this story.
The progression of their relationship is halting and filled with missteps and moments of incomprehension and pushing back desires to run or just be done with this insane plan so that one or the other (or both) of them don't have to face the realities of how much they want to be together and how difficult that would necessarily be. To say nothing of the attendant (sometimes ugly) baggage of his occupation, the needs of the family he doesn't talk about, Stella's intense dislike of being touched, and the huge differences in their cultures and temperaments. But it is also filled with all of the undeniable reasons they should be together, with all of the minute ways they care for each other and unconsciously reshape their lives around that person that is somehow their person. I loved the slow-building realization that while this crazy notion of Stella's was undoubtedly flawed, it also managed to start two solitary souls on the path to something not only valuable, but vital. As Stella says,
"I don't want just a night or a week or a month with you. I want you all the time. I like you better than calculus, and math is the only thing that unites the universe."
This line is my very favorite line of all the lines because it is so very Stella. Because Ms. Hoang so deftly captures the day-to-day realities of Stella's life, this line came along and flooded me with its import, packed as it is with all of her need for order and space and reason together with her longing for this beautiful, unexpected man who somehow seems to have eased his way seamlessly into her life, taking care to take up just enough but not too much of her order and space and reason. Who makes everything brighter and who needs her, too.
Michael was mint chocolate chip for her. She could try other flavors, but he'd always be her favorite.
They're so kind to each other, Michael and Stella. They are so kind and dear. Swoony, funny, heart-stopping, and massively fun, The Kiss Quotient is an absolute keeper....more
I'll confess this beautiful cover is what initially drew my eye. It's just a book I wanted to have on my shelf aeOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I'll confess this beautiful cover is what initially drew my eye. It's just a book I wanted to have on my shelf aesthetically. But even before I saw the cover, I'd heard of this title. It's as though it's been floating around in the ether for awhile now, what with a major motion picture already being in development. Truthfully, that level of advance hype gave me pause, as did the implied titular time constraint. Something about it fairly screamed, "Unplumbed depths of pain lurk beneath this charming cover." I was wary. But some gut instinct kicked in, encouraging me to give this one a chance. I am so very glad I did. The novel is an adaptation of an original screenplay (a fact I found out after turning the final page), and I sat with that for awhile sussing out how I felt about it. In the end, I don't think it really alters my experience with this text. I've formed my own primary relationship with it here. I'm also looking forward to seeing the film and giving that experience its due.
Ella Durran is literally standing in the London customs line about to embark on her dream year at Oxford when her phone rings. On the other end of the line is a job offer she can't refuse, working on the presidential campaign for a candidate she genuinely believes in. But Oxford has been the goal for as long as she can remember, so Ella (being the savvy contender that she is) strikes a deal. She'll be available day or night, working remotely from Oxford until the duration of her Rhodes scholarship ends, whereupon she will return to Washington, D.C., her future literally laid out before her. And it seems like the perfect plan. Until the idyll suffers a seismic shift in the form of a seemingly innocuous (if incredibly unpleasant) encounter with an obnoxious man in a chip shop. The momentary blip turns into a long-term nightmare on the first day of classes, when the man from the shop turns out to be none other than Jamie Davenport, Ella's literature lecturer. Not only do they not see eye to eye on the subject of condiments, they seem to differ on everything under the sun, beginning and ending with the literature they both love and just why and how it forms the fabric of life. Before long, they can't seem to leave each other alone in or out of the lecture hall. And it's becoming more and more difficult to remember a time before they sparred in quiet pub corners, to say nothing of that seemingly distant point when it will be time to leave.
Some of the larger buildings have huge wooden gates that look as if they were carved in place, a fusion of timeless wood and stone that steals my breath. Maybe those doors lead to some of the thirty-eight individual Oxford colleges? Imagining it, dreaming of it all these years, doesn't do it justice.
I look skyward. Punctuating the horizon are the tips of other ancient buildings, high points of stone bordering the city like beacons.
"The City of Dreaming Spires," I murmur to myself.
"Indeed it is," Gavin says in my ear. I'd forgotten he was still on the line.
That's what they call Oxford. A title well deserved. Because that means, before it was my dream or Seventeen magazine girl's dream, it was someone else's dream as well.
It was that last line, right there at the end of the first chapter that sank me. It captured perfectly my feelings the moment I stepped off the coach and started my own wander in Oxford. The layers upon layers of dreams and knowledge and wanting fairly suffused my soul that October day. It came as no surprise, then, that I felt fully involved from that moment on in Ella's time among those hallowed halls and lanes. The lovely bit is that Whelan's writing strikes an appreciable balance between the inherent lightness and untroubled nature of a 24-year-old young woman on her first real adventure in a foreign country and the nuanced depth of that woman's dedication to forging a better world using every carefully honed skill she possesses. The love for literature (most particularly Ella's love for Middlemarch) that forms the foundation of Ella and Jamie's bond also serves to anchor the story. And you likely knew the second I mentioned Middlemarch that this book and I would get on. But predilections aside, I cannot fail to mention a moment in which Ella makes an observation on Dorothea Brooke that rang so true for me, it took my breath away. It is echoed once more at a pivotal moment in the novel to exquisite effect, and it has lingered with me ever since.
Fifteen minutes after leaving Sophie in the filthy bathroom, I'm standing at Jamie's door, sopping wet and no longer calm. That vanished when I turned off Banbury Road onto Norham Gardens, my wet clothes chafing with every step, the wind wrapping my hair around my face and throat like clingy fingers. In its place, single-minded, near-homicidal rage.
We were better than this, Jamie and I. We weren't much, maybe, but we weren't this. This cliché. This statistic. This sadly predictable inevitability. As Jamie had said in our first tute, "We're the clever ones. We're Oxonians."
This is not the way the clever ones end.
"I'm sorry. About everything, okay? I should have realized you weren't―"
"No, please. Stop right there. You feel bad, I feel bad, but we will not plague each other with guilt. It's an absurd emotion, reserved for those who we fear might feel less than they ought." He looks in my eyes. "You and I, we carry on. If we stop, it is to only catch our breath. Well, breath caught."
It's that way with them. And it's that way with me. I love how direct these two are. I worried so much, as I could feel the weight of the untenable situation they found themselves in starting to close in ever tighter. While reading novels of a somewhat similar bent, I often find myself feeling hounded by the heavy hand of the author as the whole thing crosses over into the kind of emotional manipulation I detest. And while the nature of the conflict flirted with the edges of my tolerance, it never crossed over for me. It's the genuine and subtle exploration of the written word that held me with Ella and Jamie, that held them with each other, when the inevitable darkness comes to call. And call it does. Far earlier than I expected, even going in as prepared as I thought I was. But it is okay. I repeat, it is okay. Because words are the bridge. The accumulated words of the centuries that fold in around us to let us know we're not alone. Bridges of all sorts are important in this lovely novel. Bridges formed by our family, the past, our combined failures, and our dreams. But always by words....more
So I read the first Pennyroyal Green book last. Because of course I did. And this book is kind of an odd duck. It's a funny case of me loving, absolutSo I read the first Pennyroyal Green book last. Because of course I did. And this book is kind of an odd duck. It's a funny case of me loving, absolutely loving, the two main characters and not really loving the story they were dropped in. If that makes sense. Colin and Madeline? They're a perfect delight. And since I read the first book last, I was pretty much dying to finally get the infamous Colin Eversea's actual story. But they just kept running around London and its environs in circles. And while the buildup of their relationship was good, the resolution felt very anticlimactic. He was such a golden retriever of a hero. I wanted just a bit more in the way of gravity when it came to his realization that she was it for him. I know he believed him. I think she believed him. I'm not so sure I believed him. But Madeline is correct (as always). No one is Colin Eversea handsome. Not even Colin Eversea....more
So, for the past few weeks, I have basically been on one massive historical bender. It has been rather wonderful,Originally reviewed here @ Angieville
So, for the past few weeks, I have basically been on one massive historical bender. It has been rather wonderful, really. And it's probably worth warning you that the highlights are going to be making their way here over the next few weeks. The whole thing began with a Laura Lee Guhrke reread, which led to a binge of her recent books, which led to one headlong Julie Anne Long tear. Somehow, I'd only read three of her Pennyroyal Green books and inexplicably decided that was as far as I was going? Utter nonsense, that. I happily downed at least five more charming entries in the series and, somewhere along the way, I discovered Charis Michaels. For which thing I am absolutely delighted. Because Ms. Michaels has just a lovely touch. I started with her first series and moved on to her most recent release Any Groom Will Do―the first in her new Brides of Belgravia series. While I've enjoyed each of her books, this one is my favorite. Allow me to tell you why.
Willow has a plan. She is getting herself (and her two best friends) out for good. And if she has to advertise for husbands for all three of them, then so be it. She has lived the life her dead father and indifferent mother laid out for her long enough, and she will have no more of this lifeless inactivity. She is putting her considerable dowry up for grabs in the hopes of securing an inoffensive husband in need of ready cash who will allow her to live her own life―separate from his―in London, where she will be able to pursue her vocation as a designer. One who will, perhaps, not mind that children will never be a part of the deal. Time is, of course, of the essence. And so when one Lord Brent Caulder, Earl of Cassin, arrives on her doorstep in answer to her advertisement, Willow is determined he will be their ticket out. Caulder, unfortunately, is not nearly so sure. Desperate to save his failing estates and prevent his mother and sisters from destitution, Caulder hopes the advertisement's mysterious investor will finance his long shot business venture to the Caribbean. Marriage was not in any of Caulder's cards. And yet. Despite the patent insanity of Willow's plan, he finds it difficult to walk away from this isolated young woman intent on living her life, with or without him.
The risk of discovery by Lady Lytton was a welcome new source of panic, but Willow was too preoccupied to really care about her mother. Against all odds, the Earl of Cassin held great potential. His reserve. His caution. His willingness to flee the house. Very great potential, indeed.
And flee they did, down the corridor, through the ballroom, and out onto the terrace that led to the garden. They did not run, precisely, but they were hardly strolling.
The new location meant there would be less time for everything, of course, no more beating around the bush. He would have to declare himself, yea or nay. But perhaps this, too, was preferred. In Willow's view, she'd already said enough. All the while, he'd said―well, what had he said? He'd done little more than challenge her.
But he did not go, she thought.
Even now, he did not go.
That is one of my favorite (of many) things about Cassin. He does not go. If you enjoy a good marriage of convenience tale, then you do not want to miss this one. I fell instantly in love with Willow and Cassin and their avid (on her part), if unwilling (on his) alliance. The two of them (both individually and collectively) are so ridiculously endearing, it was pure pleasure following them along on their unexpected journey. Neither of their lives resemble the ones they ever saw themselves leading. And these unfulfilling, at times impossible, existences wind up converging in something of a grey area―one which Willow is convinced will lead to mutual (albeit separate) satisfaction and which Brent is certain will lead to naught but ruin. But it turns out that, when pressed, they neither of them are willing to give up on those lost lives. And, to his chagrin, Brent realizes he is willing to do rather more than he thought previously possible to support his family and give Willow a chance at independence. Solid sterling, is Cassin.
"I'm leaving," he announced, resuming his prowl, "and I won't be back. I believe we've said all available words on the matter." When he came to the glass-paned terrace door, he stopped and tested the knob. The door yawned open to the cool morning. He remained where he stood and slammed it shut.
She watched his struggle. He'd said no in so many ways she'd lost count.
He went on, "Marrying a stranger for dowry money is utterly out of the question." He embarked on another lap of the room. He was a tiger in a cage.
Willow said, "Perhaps you should reconvene with your partners to gauge their current feeling on the matter."
"You've selective hearing," he said. "Or perhaps you think I'm coming 'round."
"What I think," she said, gathering her nerve," is that you do not not like me."
He stopped walking. He was behind her now.
"Is that what you think?" he whispered.
It's just every scene with these two. And the fact that they are straight with each other. From the start. Theirs is a genuine arc, its sweetness most essential to its success. And succeed it does. Michaels's dialogue is first rate, imbued with every complex layer of emotions her characters carry. Each restrained gesture, each quiet glance is delineated with grace. Her writing is at once light and certain, possessed of the emotional weight I always seek when I come to any story. I'm so pleased to have discovered her work this year, so looking forward to more to come....more
I am barely keeping it together as I type this, you guys. I read my review copy of The Prince some time ago and have literally been counting down theI am barely keeping it together as I type this, you guys. I read my review copy of The Prince some time ago and have literally been counting down the days until I could reasonably share my thoughts with you. Because I want to shout my love for this book from the rooftops, I love it that much. I do, occasionally wish that Choose Your Own Covers were an option, because I've been feeling positively agitated at the thought that there might be someone out there who doesn't pick up this book because something about its trappings throws them off. Hence, today's review. I discovered Katharine Ashe a couple of years ago via her very enjoyable Falcon Club series. Those books segued nicely into her Devil's Duke books, of which this is the fourth volume.
Libby Shaw will have none of it. She is through trying to stuff herself and her ambitions into the tiny box society has set out for her and, come hell or high water, she is going to medical school to become a surgeon. She isn't about to let anything so trivial as gender stop her. And so it's pasted on beards and trousers and taking herself off to Ediburgh to fool them all. Which is where the reclusive portrait artist known as The Turk comes in. He once strove to delineate Libby and was frustrated at never being able to quite get her lips right. When the two meet once again in Edinburgh, he recognizes her for who she really is. In an effort to stop him from exposing her, Libby proposes a deal of sorts. He will allow her to board in one of the empty rooms in his town home and, in exchange, she will sit for him once a week for one hour only. Against his better judgement, the deal is struck. And thus begins the most beautiful of partnerships, though neither party is fully aware of the gravity of their relationship. Because Libby is far from the only one keeping secrets. And it is perhaps his secret that will prove the most impossible to overcome in the end.
I know that Muslims believe in the same god as Christians, although they call that god by a different name. When the American Thomas Jefferson insisted on that, many people made a fuss about it, but I think it makes perfect sense. And I know that idols are prohibited you. Admittedly I don't know anything about harems . . . and such. But I don't understand how anybody schooled in Scripture could think a child would be a useful religious sacrifice, for of course Abraham, who was the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, made that mistake with his own son so that the rest of us needn't ever after. In general I am not taken to fanciful notions, for I read a lot—a lot more, that is, than the caricatures of Byron or Morier. And I don't depend on the ridiculous portraits of foreigners one sees at the opera to inform me. I regret that is not the case with every Englishman or Scot you have encountered. If I could slap them all, I would."
For a long moment he did not speak.
"You would slap them," he finally said.
"Yes. For I don't have a collection of daggers. Although I do have surgical instruments, it's true. So I suppose I could inflict some fairly grievous wounds if necessary. I haven't yet taken an oath as medical men do, so it would not be strictly unethical, although certainly immoral. But I would do it for your sake. Please let me know if you ever wish me to."
His beautiful eyes changed—as though he not only believed her words but understood her.
This is an incomparable romance. It is incomparable historical fiction. And it is wordsmithing of the finest kind. There. How's that for setting the bar just a little high? But I am convinced there is simply no amount of praise I could lavish upon The Prince that could be even remotely considered overdoing it. It is not only a highlight of my reading year thus far, but of my entire history of reading in the genre. It should be taught in historical writing classes, as far as I'm concerned. One of the primary reasons is it is such a fine example of purposely crafted, elegant storytelling. Libby and Ziyaeddin are so whole. And by that, I mean not only are they fiercely vibrant characters, they are presented from every possible facet. Not one whit of emotional depth or intellectual complexity is overlooked. And while I always wished for them to be together no matter what page I was on, I never felt lonely or off balance when they were not, no matter which of them I was with at any given time. Which brings me to their verbal interactions. The dialogue in this novel, the sheer, joyful, unadulterated, endlessly witty banter. It is off the charts stellar. In fact, "banter" seems too small a word for the effortlessness of what passes between them. I tell you, my actual person felt physically incapable of holding the delight it brought. To say nothing of their ongoing internal dialogue and the way they quietly admire each other. Libby rarely, if ever, stops talking. And Ziyaeddin would happily stay silent for days on end. Libby lives with what would now likely be termed Asperger's. And Ziyaeddin uses a cane to walk in the absence of the limb he lost in an incident he will speak of to no one. Both of them use assumed names and are used to feeling (and often being) unknown, even to those who might be expected to know them best. All of which combines to make the most beautiful backdrop for the development of an unrivaled companionship.
Heart tight, she turned to the stairs and went up as swiftly as her bandy legs would carry her. When she paused on the landing and looked down, he stood there still, watching her.
"My father and I have always lived wherever his patients wished. I have rarely stayed in one house for long. I have never had a home that could be mine forever."
"Now you have."
"Until my father's return."
He nodded, and it was so regal that she wondered she had ever thought him anything but a prince.
"I won't bother you," she said.
"I have very little confidence in the predictive value of that statement."
Air shot out from between her lips.
"Was that noise an agreement?" he said, a beautiful smile shaping his mouth.
She laughed again, and pain shot through her lungs.
"I missed that sound," he said. "Your laughter."
She clutched the linen over her chest. "It hurts."
"Yes," he said. She didn't mean the laughter hurt, but she thought perhaps he understood that.
"I will try not to disturb you," she said.
"Don't," he said. "Disturb me. Every day. Every hour. Every minute if you wish."
You know that feeling, when you're just so massively grateful that a certain book was written? That it came into existence at a time when you happened to be living? That is how I feel right now. I look forward to pressing it into many hands, knowing that disappointment won't ever even be on the table. Because beauty and humanity are what this novel does. They are what makes up the fabric of its soul. Reading it is a joyous experience. One I shall always treasure....more
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
Ahhh. I see. I see now. This is the book I was hoping would be in there somewhere when I determined to give this series another shot. Everything is juAhhh. I see. I see now. This is the book I was hoping would be in there somewhere when I determined to give this series another shot. Everything is just taken up a notch in Heir of Fire. I was absolutely dreading Celaena going away. But this story is exactly what we all needed. This story and the introduction of one Rowan Whitethorn. Because yeah. I am kind of a fan of that grouchy Fae. It could all have been rushed and gone horribly wrong. But instead it was just perfectly right....more
Okay, I enjoyed that. It is good to be back in one of her worlds. And, for the record, I am in love with Chaol Westfall. I will always be in love withOkay, I enjoyed that. It is good to be back in one of her worlds. And, for the record, I am in love with Chaol Westfall. I will always be in love with Chaol Westfall. And I am prepared to have my heart summarily broken. It's all doom to come, I'm sure. But Chaol. Sigh....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
Teenage Sherlock Holmes, Watson is a girl, and the story is told from her perspective. This is essentially all thOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Teenage Sherlock Holmes, Watson is a girl, and the story is told from her perspective. This is essentially all the information I needed in order to make the decision to dive into Every Breath at the earliest opportunity. But in case you're wavering, it's also fun to know that this is Australian author Ellie Marney's debut novel, that it is a YA contemporary mystery, and the first in a series to boot. Next up, I think we should just take a moment to talk covers. I have yet to purchase my own copy (that's earmarked for the next paycheck), but both the US and Aussie covers have a lot going for them. The Aussie one gets tons of points for having Watts actually on the cover, for one thing. But in a very rare move, I'm leaning US if only because it's not a photo of actual people (never works out well for me) and because, well, his throat. Also his hair and his entire posture. But his throat. That's Mycroft. I love him this cover.
Rachel Watts' friendship with her neighbor James Mycroft is something of a full time job. Newly (and unwillingly) arrived from the countryside, Rachel struggles to find a place for herself in Melbourne. Unused to navigating city life after the loss of the family farm, she and her older brother and parents find themselves acting almost like strangers as they adjust to their new home and environment. But then Mycroft enters her life, with his jittery brilliance, his obsession with forensics, and his ongoing allergy to school. And soon her days are not quite as numb, filled as they are with contributing her powers of observation (and cooking skills) to the latest in a long line of Mycroft's investigations. But this most recent involves a murder. And not just any stranger, but that of Homeless Dave—a man they both knew. Unable to accept the official police verdict, Mycroft and Watts set themselves to the task of tracking down the truth behind Dave's violent death and bringing the mysterious killer to justice.
I'll admit, I was a little nervous at first. I was nervous the high school setting, and possibly the nature of the relationship between Watts and Mycroft, would pall too quickly or somehow not resonate with me in just the right way. As nerves go, basically your run of the mill stuff. But I've read one fantastic Sherlock Holmes adaptation and I was so keen to find another. Happily, Rachel herself was the first to set me at ease. Her transition to the city has been a particularly difficult one, and the dry but upfront way in which she expressed that difficulty struck a chord of sympathy within me:
I like it in his room—the starry lights, the feeling of sanctuary. I'm still not used to dealing with a lot of other people. I've known Mycroft, and Mai and her boyfriend, Gus, since last November, and they still feel like "a lot of other people." Actually, Mycroft alone could probably qualify as seeming like "a lot of other people." He does so much crazy stuff you could imagine more than a single offender.
That passage could just as easily been an entry from one of my high school journals. Other people, man. Not for the faint of heart. I love that the story is told from Watts' perspective. She has very honed powers of observation, though she herself might decry that claim. But it means that not only is she vital to Mycroft's ongoing efforts, she also does an incredibly effective job of introducing the reader to her singular friend. And if her focus is more frequently drawn to to Mycroft than it is anyone else in the room, it isn't any wonder as his magnetism and zaniness and pain fairly claw their way off the page. Gratefully, his presence never overshadows Watts. Not even a little bit, as we are firmly grounded inside her viewpoint and know just how hard she works to keep everyone in her life afloat and not lose track of her own needs, even if she is reticent about voicing them aloud. The mystery itself makes for a fun, often dark ride, and I enjoyed sitting back and accompanying them in their rounds. But the heart of Every Breath is, without question, the chemistry between Watts and Mycroft. Ms. Marney quite simply nails their need on the head. The pacing and development of Watts-and-Mycroft is one long and delicious thread running alongside the unfolding of the murder investigation. As the precarious hold they each have on their lives begins to unravel against the backdrop of Watts' uncertainty and Mycroft's desperation, the solace they take in being together, the rightness of their fit, is so soothing it is tangible. I currently have the sequel on order from Australia and am sitting here feeling antsy just thinking about what these two might be getting up to without me....more
One of the most pleasurable reviews I've written this year was the one I wrote in January for Every Breath—the fOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
One of the most pleasurable reviews I've written this year was the one I wrote in January for Every Breath—the first book in Ellie Marney's spectacularly good teen Sherlock Holmes series. I enjoyed the book so much and was so blasted eager to spread the word. Now I'm even more over the moon to tell you I've read Every Word, and it is every bit as good as the first. In fact, it's better. Everything that was good in Every Breath is essentially ratcheted up in this sophomore entry, and there isn't one misstep along the way. I was on the edge of my seat for every page. I was that worried about my beloved Watts and Mycroft. And with excellent reason. Ms. Marney spends zero time beating about the bush and jumps right into pulse-pounding action and gut-wrenching emotion. Which, as you know, basically means I was in heaven from start to finish.
It's not that Rachel Watts would have preferred to have been able to say goodbye to her sometime partner/accomplice James Mycroft before he left for parts unknown. It's that she absolutely cannot believe he left without her, let alone without telling her. Knowing he's still on the trail of unraveling his parents' tragic deaths, she doesn't trust him at all on his own in London investigating an eerily similar car crash to the one that orphaned him. And so it's not a question of if, but when she will hare off after him. She's prepared for the supreme lack of welcome she'll receive when he finds out she's followed him. But she can't let him face that many demons alone and is determined to back him up in whatever capacity he needs. What she doesn't expect is how thorny a "simple" forensics investigation becomes once it expands to include additional murders and the disappearance of a copy of Shakespeare's First Folio. Together, the two dogged investigators must navigate the increasingly treacherous waters of a multifaceted mystery as well as their own knotty relationship.
But in that second, in his face, I see the whole world. I finally understand something crucial.
James Mycroft did die in that car crash seven years ago. Seeing what he saw, experiencing all that pain, that ten-year-old boy passed away. The person who returned was not the same. He was changed so completely, so physically and mentally transformed, it was as though a whole different individual was born. A different boy, living in a different place, with a guardian and no parents, a boy with no past and only one name . . .
All the blood rushes out of my cheeks as that name falls off my lips. "Mycroft . . . "
I'm such a worrier. I always worry when I know an installment in a series is going to switch up locations on me, even when that means spending the majority of the story in London. I should learn to just roll with the punches, but I never seem to. So I was apprehensive that Watts-and-Mycroft might not translate as well in a new locale, and I was even more concerned about the obstacles they would encounter and how Mycroft would handle Watts flagrantly disobeying his wishes and inserting herself (even farther) into his most private pain. Of course, none of it turned out to be a problem whatsoever. I mean, it's far from smooth sailing. There's pain and anger galore, and everyone gets hurts and alternately holds it in and has it out with the objects of their pain and anger. But it's all so gloriously done that it only endeared these characters and their story to me further. Watts is spectacularly direct when it comes to Mycroft and his massive issues. When he throws out another wild pitch, she doesn't even flinch but watches it sail by and then raises a metaphorical eyebrow at his display. It was hugely gratifying, watching them negotiate one another, to say nothing of the brilliance that is their combined deductive exploits. Truly, together they are a force to be reckoned with.
Which is not to say that they don't struggle mightily (and on every front) in this book. Because if ever a book was fraught, it's this one. I was prepared for a lot of things, but I wasn't prepared for how dire it got in the end, for just how far through the fire Marney was going to drag her two protagonists. It was incredibly effective in ensuring that I was with them. The peril felt almost unbearably real. But the wonderful bit is that through all the anxiety and grim darkness are woven the most beautiful threads of love and hope. Along with a downright explosive amount of chemistry. These two, you guys. Seriously. I want to quote each of my favorite exchanges here, but they are all far too spoilery. So I will content myself with assuring you of the excellence of the storytelling and imploring you to read it, too, so that Watts and Mycroft will have more of us on their side when they confront the fallout of what they've done in the next volume. I, for one, am terrified. Deliciously so....more
I think by now you're all familiar with my love for Ellen Emerson White's books. So you'll have no trouble underOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I think by now you're all familiar with my love for Ellen Emerson White's books. So you'll have no trouble understanding the level of excitement I've been living with ever since I heard she was writing a contemporary YA about the first girl to be drafted by a Major League Baseball team. Wild horses were having trouble keeping my anticipation within any sort of manageable proportions. It's difficult to believe that the release day has finally arrived, but it has, and I'm here to tell you you need to rush and grab your copy. Featuring White's trademark wit and understated class, this book is in—you'll forgive the pun—a league of its own.
Jill Cafferty is pretty sure she'll go. Yes, she's accepted a scholarship to play baseball for Stanford. And, yes, she's assured her mother that if she doesn't go early in the draft she'll head off to college and accept her fate. But. She's pretty sure she'll go. What she isn't sure is which team it will be and what in the world she'll do when it actually comes time to say goodbye to her mother and older brother and go live and work with a bunch of guys. Guys who will more than likely be none too pleased to have her around. But baseball is sort of it for Jill. Her entire life has led to this point, even if the realities of being the first girl to go pro induce a level of blind panic she's wholly unfond of. But if she doesn't try now, how will she ever know if she could really go all the way?
A Season of Daring Greatly is just everything I wanted it to be. I mean, every ounce of it. It resides in that unique space where young adult meets new adult, as Jill is eighteen years old and on her way to college (or the minor leagues) when our tale begins. If you've read even one of Ms. White's other books, you'll have an inkling of the kind of main character you're in for, which is to say the kind of girl who is simply more in all the ways that matter. Jill is smart, driven, determined, and self-exacting. She's private, though quite open with her two closest friends. She has a healthy, if quirky sense of humor. And while she has a truly gratifying confidence and pride in her abilities, she is not without a corollary set of very real fears, doubts, and concerns. In fact, where her confidence and skills meet the pressures and fears of actually playing professional ball is where this novel shines. Like Jill herself, the book feels almost shockingly natural—as comfortable as your favorite pair of jeans, despite its unprecedented setup. Jill may be the first of her kind (and she is 100 percent/24-hours-a-day aware of that and the expectations, both fair and unfair, that come with it), but she has made a commitment. And, come hell or high water, she will see it through to its finish,whether it be in ignominious defeat or in the breaking of barriers. She's really not certain from day to day which it will be.
This reading experience is very much focused on the day-to-day journey with Jill and her internal struggle with the internal and external ramifications of the life she's chosen. Watching her learn (and be forced) to balance her lifelong love of the game with the new and painful trappings of fame, league politics, team machinations, and the realities of sexism and gender stereotypes on every level is fascinating and timely. These deeper questions are balanced with that excellent humor and with Jill's determined, but shy forays into friendship on her team. I was particularly enamored of her relationship with her veteran catcher. A favorite scene (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
She managed to throw a strike—a good one, sneaky fast, right on the inside corner—so, the batter swung at the next pitch, and sent a sharp grounder up the middle, which she didn't manage to get anywhere near.
Terrific. That meant two runs, and—except the shy second baseman streaked over, flicked it backhanded from his glove to Raffy without missing a beat, and that was the third out.
What a great play! And he'd made it look easy.
She was so relieved that she intercepted him on his way off the field and couldn't stop herself from giving him a truly heartfelt hug.
He looked horrified, and extricated himself, speaking so rapidly in Spanish that she only managed to catch a few phrases, most of which were along the lines of "Holy Mother of God!"
So, she backed away from him raising her hands apologetically—but, still, that had been a big league play. She was practically in love with him, for making that play. Deeply in love.
It felt as though a huge weight had lifted from her shoulders, and she suddenly felt so cheerful, that she almost wanted to bounce into the dugout.
She paused in front of Adler, waiting for his reaction.
He looked at her for a few seconds, with about eight expressions moving across his face, before settling on a small frown.
"Don't hug the infielders," he said. "They hate that."
Seemed that way, yeah.
I'm still grinning over that exchange. Because I am just am so fond of Jill and the team she sets on its ear. The team that also finds itself stretching enough to take her in and give her a new fabric and viewpoint from which to feel out and examine her life. While you won't be at all displeased where this novel lands, it's virtually impossible not to feel an immediate thirst for more. Please....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