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
I'm so grateful for reader friends you know and trust. Mine always bring me the best finds, ones I would likely completely miss otherwise. Such was thI'm so grateful for reader friends you know and trust. Mine always bring me the best finds, ones I would likely completely miss otherwise. Such was the case with Kate Clayborn's Luck of the Draw. I'd seen it floating about the 'verse for a little while now. But something about the cover inexplicably gave me country music vibes. And I just was not in the mood for that story right now, you know? But then the excellent Brie took to talking it up on Twitter, and thank heavens for that. Because I bought it on her word alone and am so very glad I did. Nothing about it has anything to do with country music. In fact, it is quite a serious tale about two wounded people who have no reason whatsoever to like the other person, but who are trying hard to improve themselves and the lives of those around them. If that sounds like something you're in the mood for, then by all means, read on.
Zoe Ferris and her two best friends won the jackpot. Literally. Jointly, they bought a lottery ticket and won. And nothing has been the same since. But while Kit and Greer are learning to navigate the ropes of their new lives, Zoe is floundering. A successful lawyer, she finds herself in deep waters as she tries to make amends to a family involved in a settlement she worked on. Which is how she finds herself of Aiden O'Leary's doorstep, hat in hand. For his part, Aiden would like to see Zoe suffer for every dollar of the settlement money Zoe brought his parents' way. In the wake of his twin brother's death, Aiden is alone and desperately trying to make something out of his suffering. If using Zoe is what it takes to do so, then so be it. And so Aiden convinces Zoe to pose as his fiance as part of his proposal to buy a wildness camp and turn it into a center for those struggling with addictions similar to the way his brother did. Zoe sees it as the least she can do, though pretending to love the wildly closed off Aiden stretches even her ability to sell something.
I expected something . . . lighter, perhaps? I'm not sure what I thought this might be. But I can tell you, I was in no way dissatisfied with what I got. Zoe and Aiden are rather magnetic. We enter the story at their collective and individual low points. Aiden is an EMT who isolates himself from his fellow colleagues and sees his dead brother's face in every body on the gurney. Zoe used to have everything effortlessly together, but one family's loss and a seemingly incongruent windfall of her own have thrown everything off kilter, and she can't find her way back. The two of them are in a bad way. And it's truly painful watching them try to put on a show for the owners of Aiden's precious campground. The contempt he holds for everything she represents, and the awkward way she forces herself to inhabit whatever role she thinks he wants her to is positively wretched. Meanwhile, Zoe's friends are increasingly concerned about her, Aiden's co-workers can see how tattered he's becoming, and the whole thing seems bent on breaking. But then. Then Zoe's innate verve dislodges something inside Aiden, and he is able to see clearly just long enough to lose grip on his frozen demeanor and realize Zoe may not be something he wants (or can afford) to let go. And that is when the humor and infectious happiness kick in. That is when things get real, in the best sense. And the whole thing leads up to one of the loveliest declarations I have had the pleasure of reading. I just . . . well done, Aiden. Truly. I had such a good time with this cast of characters, I immediately went and read the first book in the series after finishing this one. It, too, was a pleasure, and I am avidly looking forward to Greer's story in the third book, which is due out in November. Kate Clayborn writes stories full of emotional intensity and vulnerability that manage to keep both her characters and her readers afloat. I recommend them. ...more
I don't know why I sat on this one for so long after receiving a copy for review. I was so excited about the earlOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I don't know why I sat on this one for so long after receiving a copy for review. I was so excited about the early buzz and then, when I actually had it in my hands, I think I fell prey to the hypemonster and let my worry that it wouldn't live up to expectations get the better of me. Wasn't the first time, won't be the last. More's the pity. Fortunately, that lingering suspicion that it might, in fact, be just lovely stuck around. And the other night I paused my regularly scheduled programming of historicals for this debut contemporary from Jasmine Guillory. As you can probably guess, I have exactly zero regrets.
Alexa Monroe is excellent at what she does. As the mayor of Berkeley's chief of staff, her latest project is getting her boss on board for a youth arts rehabilitation program. And while she doesn't so much have a life outside of her job, she does have a handful of close friends and an older sister she admires, even if she never sees her. Then one evening, Alexa gets stuck in an elevator with Drew Nichols, a pediatrician who is in town reluctantly attending the wedding of his former girlfriend to one of his best friends. Drew is in dire need of a date and, over a handful of cheese and crackers, somehow talks Alexa into filling the role. When he accidentally refers to her as his girlfriend in a conversation with the groom, the two virtual strangers are forced to up the ante on their ruse. The results are surprisingly successful. So successful, in fact, that Drew delays his flight back to L.A. to spend the next day with Alexa. What follows is a series of flights between Oakland and L.A. as Alexa and Drew can't seem to let go of this thing between them. Their respective friends have their qualms, namely Drew's inability to maintain anything resembling an actual relationship and Alexa's inability to come out and say how she's feeling. There's also the fact that Alexa is black and Drew is whiter than white. But when they're together, none of that seems to matter. Until, of course, it does.
"Hey," was all he said.
She looked up and smiled at him, just the way he'd wanted her to. He smiled back, so happy to see her that he had to take a step back.
The meet cute in this irresistible novel is pretty freaking cute. But it's what comes after that really steals your heart. The helpless happiness that both Alexa and Drew experience whenever they're together is absolutely tangible. And the way that Ms. Guillory manages to capture and bottle that happiness carries the reader along with these two quite disparate individuals on a wave of stomach-fluttering hope and longing. My favorite part of Alexa and Drew's story is how they felt like people I know and work with and pass on the street. What I'm trying to say is, their days and their nights, their lives and their love―it felt plausible to me. Every once of it. I felt grounded in their arc and just how extremely satisfying it was to stick with them. Both of them have their flaws and hangups, particularly Drew (there, I said it). All of these felt organic to me, too, and not as though they were being amplified out of proportion for dramatic effect. I liked how the narrative refused to shy away from the flaws, how directly Alexa faced and voiced their inherent differences in race and culture, and how Drew wasn't perfect in his responses at first (or second), but how he accepted her read on them and adjusted his perspective and words and actions accordingly. And expected those around him to do the same. The result was that I felt empathy and respect and patience both for and with them.
There are no epic misunderstandings in this novel (praise be), though there are (happily) a few incredibly romantic gestures. But what really makes up the bulk of The Wedding Date are real conversations, real emotions and feelings being risked and hurt, genuine fears being silently held, a raft of swoonworthy quiet moments, and copious amounts of delicious food being eaten cozily on each other's couches. Truly, this book will make you want tacos something fierce. And crackers and cheese. And pizza. And doughnuts with sprinkles (and I don't even really like doughnuts). But they represented happiness here. And so I wanted them, and I wanted them for Alexa and Drew. Two smart people who found each other and didn't want to let go. I just loved The Wedding Date, and I can't wait to read more from Jasmine Guillory. Lucky for us, Drew's best friend Carlos's story is due out in September....more
It has been a very lovely year thus far when it comes to new-to-me authors. Some years are like that, while otherOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
It has been a very lovely year thus far when it comes to new-to-me authors. Some years are like that, while others (I'm thinking of last year in particular) are often quieter and filled with familiar voices. Both are wonderful. But I confess to being rather thrilled that this year has held so many new authors. As part of my previously mentioned (and apparently ongoing) historical binge, I recently ran across the work of Jillian Eaton by way of her Bow Street Brides series. Side note: I find myself reading about many brides this year. Brides are positively in abundance, especially around Bow Street and Belgravia. A Dangerous Proposal is the second book in the series and my clear favorite so far. The third book just released in March and is sitting on my Kindle waiting to be started as I type this. This series involves a number of mysteries featuring interlocking characters, and I very much enjoyed that aspect of it all.
Felicity Atwood does not recognize her life. The whole of it went so suddenly and so irrevocably south that she and her two young children are still struggling to pick up the pieces. Though she remains Lady Ashworth, she is no longer married to Lord Ashworth. The divorce took care of that. Now he lives with his new wife (and former mistress), while Felicity and the children he no longer wants anything to do with are forced to get by on their own in the decidedly dodgier part of town. Enter one Mr. Felix Spencer, former jewel thief turned Bow Street Runner. Felix and Felicity first met months ago as part of a theft in the home of Scarlett―Felicity's sole remaining friend. Felix was naturally doing the thieving and managed to nick one quick kiss off a very startled Felicity on his way out the window. Neither would be able to forget the incident. Now he is reformed (somewhat) and determined to keep the young single mother safe now that her circumstances have been so drastically reduced. And if Felix has his way, he'll also be able to convince her to give love (and him) another chance as well.
What an unexpectedly sweet story. It's quiet and thoughtful and ever so genuine. Felicity is so easy to feel for. She has had nothing but bad experiences with the men in her life, from a terrifying and damaging encounter years ago with Scarlett's dissolute husband to her own husband's omnipresent coldness and eventual blank betrayal. I didn't once question her reticence in the face of even Felix's determined charm. And he is nothing if not charming. Felix is a delight from cover to cover. Full of roguish, persistent kindness, he is the perfect person to quietly enter their lives when Felicity is at the end of a long and wearying road. And so a gentle courtship commences against the backdrop of the Runners' investigation into a series of murders around Felicity's new home, one that stretches its tentacles back into both of their pasts. The balance between mystery and relationship development was just right, and I hoped and feared equally for these eminently likable characters.
"What are ye afraid of?" he murmured, the bristle on his jaw scraping against her cheek as he rested his chin on the sloping curve of her shoulder.
"I am not afraid," she said, but they both heard the lie in her voice. She began to stiffen, to draw back, but on a soft, whispering sigh she let herself relax against him. After so many months―so many years―of nothing but coldness she needed warmth. Like an untended flower that had grown too long in the shade she desperately yearned for the sun. For the heat it gave, and the comfort it brought. For no matter how deep the dark, the sun would always find a way to rise again. And when it did its light would be brighter and reach further than ever before.
"I am not afraid," she repeated as tears gathered. "I am not afraid."
"Ah, love." Felix's embrace tightened. He began to sway from side to side and she swayed with him, a dance where the only music came from the rhythmic beating of their hearts. "I know ye have no reason to trust me. No reason to believe a bloody word I say. But I want ye to know I'm not him. I won't hurt ye. I would never hurt ye."
"I know," she whispered as a single tear spilled down her cheek. "I know."
This level of gentle sweetness runs throughout the novel, and I found it (and them) utterly disarming. Felicity's children, Henry and Anne, their interactions with her mother, the intriguing crew of Bow Street Runners, and Felix's way with the whole lot of them are engaging and lively. I heartily recommend A Dangerous Proposal for your next cozy night in....more
So I didn't have to spend any time waiting for this long-awaited final volume, as I have basically been on one headlong tear through the series over tSo I didn't have to spend any time waiting for this long-awaited final volume, as I have basically been on one headlong tear through the series over the past few weeks. Yet even I came to find out the truth of Olivia and Lyon's story with a hefty does of trepidation and bated breath. I just love that she went ahead and held out on us, you know? That she saved them for last, that the entire star-crossed, angst-ridden journey of it was so well done. And when you've done something impressive and restrained like that over the course of an entire series, I think it's that much harder to deliver on the promise of all of that legend in the last book.
For the most part, I think Ms. long did as well as could be expected. I did get a bit bogged down and impatient in the sections from the past, from before Lyon fled and Olivia froze. They were almost too clear and wide-eyed for me to take, knowing what we know. I really just wanted the bare bones of what went down, and then I think that I would have elected to spend more time watching these two in real time. I feel like we missed out on the full potential of watching them face the realities of the present. Though I did love that Lyon couldn't really hold out on Olivia once they stood face to face. Not really. Even though the grand conclusion wasn't quite what I hoped it would be, I will always have a soft spot for these two and their pivotal role in the series as a whole....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
This cover seduced me from the moment I clapped eyes on it. It is so perfect that when I saw it in person I had tOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
This cover seduced me from the moment I clapped eyes on it. It is so perfect that when I saw it in person I had to actually take a moment before I could touch it. With the gold foil? And that precise shade of blush? I mean, I mounted a token resistance. But nobody was fooled. And then yesterday it was so beautiful out, right? It was sunshine and blossoms on trees and my feet told me they were just going to take me for a short walk around the city center, when what they actually did was march me right down to the nearest bookstore and over to the C section of the stacks. I didn't stand a chance at that point. We were going home together, and neither of us had any questions on that score.
Penny Lee can see the end in sight. She has her acceptance letter to UT Austin in hand, and if she can just withstand her clingy mother and her well-meaning but doltish boyfriend a couple more days, she'll be free. And so it is with equal amounts relief and trepidation that she moves into her new dorm with her alarmingly gregarious roommate Jude. Jude comes along with an even more alarmingly vapid best friend Mallory and one 21-year-old ex-uncle by the name of Sam. Sam seems to primarily consist of caffeine and insomnia. He's a surprisingly good chef at a local coffee house. And he is nursing one hell of a broken heart. Penny has no business being captivated by Sam. But then one night she encounters him having a full-blown panic attack in public, and she steps outside her own rigid personal boundaries to try to help. Which is how she ends up listed in his phone under "Emergency Penny." And thus begins a difficult to define, but utterly heart racing relationship made up of texts and longing. But, of course, Sam was having a panic attack for a reason. And Penny has none of the tools she believes she needs to engage in an IRL relationship. And before long, everything looks to come crashing down. As if they weren't balanced precariously enough when they met.
I really had no idea going in what this book would be like. The Rainbow Rowell blurb obviously brought Eleanor and Park (and Fangirl, too) to mind, but I was understandably wary of allowing those comparisons too much room in my head. I resolved to just allow it to surround me and see who we both were together and how we got on.
Penny was looking at her phone when the screen lit up in her hand.
It was a call.
Penny glanced at a still-sleeping Jude, quietly got out of bed, and went into the bathroom.
His voice was deep, as if he'd just woken up.
Penny cleared her throat. "You called me."
She heard him laugh.
Penny ran the shower, as if the room were bugged.
"I'm aware of that."
"Why the escalation?" she asked him.
He laughed again. Penny had no idea why she worded it like that.
"I mean, why'd you call?"
"You didn't answer me."
Penny's heart was hammering. She sat on the floor.
"I asked if you were okay. You didn't respond. I became momentarily worried."
"Oh, sorry. Yeah, I'm fine. I was thinking about momstuff."
"Well, it's the responsibility of the emergency contact to inquire."
"I'm going to be honest with you: The rules of emergency contacts continue to evade me."
He laughed again. Penny smiled so hard it broke her face.
I was smiling and disarmed within a handful of words. Emergency Contact is relentlessly its own thing. It has a distinct groove and offbeat rhythm that I found incredibly appealing, even as it dug its way under my skin. Penny and Sam are both already wrecked and waving in the wind when the story opens. There was no way it was going to be a comfortable ride. And it really isn't. It is not a comfortable tale in any way. But you can't get it out of your head. And the truth is I never even wanted to. It's messy and a bit grimy, coltish and self-conscious at every turn. I loved it. And those texts. Those blunt and awkward and endlessly charming texts. Once they really get going, it's impossible to resist crushing quantities of hope. That they will meet, for once, with everything laid out on the table. That real life interaction will be a distant possibility and that it won't simultaneously ruin the delicate ecosystem that is their virtual relationship. That the heaviness of their pasts won't overshadow the truth of where and who they are now. The presence of Jude and Mallory, Sam's . . . Lorraine, along with Penny's mother and the specter of Sam's take up just the right amount of space in the story. Everyone is flawed and possible, and the whole thing is just so real I could feel every one of Penny's unwelcome blushes and the ragged edge of Sam's defeated mattress on the floor. I held my breath. In the end, I suppose that's the best way to characterize my enjoyment of this debut novel. I held my breath....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 forgot to review this one when I read it! I enjoyed it very much. Of course I did. It's Chaol Westfall's story. And, as you know, I will follow ChaoI forgot to review this one when I read it! I enjoyed it very much. Of course I did. It's Chaol Westfall's story. And, as you know, I will follow Chaol wherever he chooses to go. It was quite a languid entry in the series (in the best sense). I had to force my heart to slow down after the one long continuous heart attack that was Empire of Storms. But I appreciated how easily Ms. Maas turned her hand to the Southern Continent and that the pace of the story reflected that corner of the world.
Basically, all I want in the world now is a Chaol and Dorian reunion scene.
Well. I also want an Aelin & Rowan one. Um. And a Lorcan & Elide one. And . . .
It has been too long since I've had a new Alpha and Omega novel in my hands. Dead Heat was a solid entry on my BeOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
It has been too long since I've had a new Alpha and Omega novel in my hands. Dead Heat was a solid entry on my Best of 2015 list, and I have missed Anna and Charles (and Bran) ever since. Burn Bright is, if you can believe it, the fifth installment in the series. So it's no wonder I began reading and instantly felt how good it was to be back in Aspen Creek again with all of Bran's crazy foundlings. By now, Patricia Briggs' books are firmly comfort reads for me, whether they're brand new or not. They feel like home. Which is probably why the dedication in this one made me tear up. I'm so glad we go on. I'm so glad words go on. And that we are connected to one another through them.
Anna and Charles are somewhat housebound in Aspen Creek since the Marrok up and took off for Africa to see a man about a horse how Sam is doing. And, in his absence, it is Charles the pack looks to for leadership, enforcement, and otherwise keeping things in line until Bran returns. Which is fine. Except it means little time alone and their days spent making sure the various shifting relationships and dominance issues don't get out of hand. But when a distress signal from the mate of one of the outlying wildlings comes in, Anna and Charles are forced to go on the hunt for the mysterious attacker. To say nothing of the fact that Charles is increasingly concerned about the real reason his father left and why he's not responding to any of Charles's calls for help.
Burn Bright is an extremely satisfying installment in the series. I love that it takes place entirely at Aspen Creek, because I am so fascinated by the machinations among that group and thoroughly enjoy being allowed to watch Charles on his home turf and Anna integrating further into her life there. When I realized Bran was going to be MIA for the majority of the novel, I was all set to be properly irritated. Until. Until I realized just how much in the way of insight his absence would bring us, most especially with regards to Leah. The Marrok's mercurial mate has been one of my favorite aspects of both the Mercy Thompson and Alpha and Omega series ever since we initially met her way back in Moon Called. And, even as she was being awful, I just never could buy that there wasn't a darn good reason why she was his mate and that we would eventually become privy to it. Well, we're not all the way there yet, but we do take several steps forward on that front in this volume. Personally, I can hardly stand the wait for more. In the meantime, Anna and Charles make such a good team. They genuinely bring out the best in each other, and their respective individual inner dialogues with regard to caring for and supporting (and affectionately teasing) the other are such a pleasure to read. Real humor, real love. They form the backbone of their arc together. A snippet from one of my favorite conversations:
Charles was kneeling beside the couch. One hand on her face. The other hand was holding . . .
"That," Anna said, "is a really big axe that you didn't have this morning when you left." And it had blood on it. Not his blood, she didn't think. It didn't smell like his blood.
Not ours, agreed Brother Wolf happily.
Charles grunted, then when she raised her eyebrows, he answered her implied question.
"When you contacted me the first time, I'd just stolen the axe from the Viking who attacked me and broke his leg with it."
"I see," she said.
"It took me awhile to take out his twin brothers, or I'd have gotten back to you sooner."
She considered that statement and decided he wasn't trying to be funny. He looked apologetic.
"I would rather you not get hurt by Viking twins . . . " she had to say it again, "because Viking twins are apparently a thing here."
I always laugh at these classic Briggs exchanges. Like Mercy calmly explaining about the werewolf throwing her against a packing crate while she's trying to rescue the girl from the evil witch and the drug lord, Charles earnestly describing the Viking twins he had to dispatch before he could get to Anna is so endearing it fills me with fondness. For him. For this world. And for the integrity with which Ms. Briggs's sees to it all. As ever, the pacing is note perfect, the stakes high, and the consequences far-reaching. I'm in it for the long haul....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
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
And so the time has come for the second installment in our Georgette Heyer series this year. I moved almost immedOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
And so the time has come for the second installment in our Georgette Heyer series this year. I moved almost immediately from The Convenient Marriage to The Nonesuch, which I borrowed from my trusty Beth's extensive Heyer shelf. I knew next to nothing about it, but loved the title and hoped (rather shallowly) that the titular character proved somewhat more lively than the man on the cover. Spoiler: he does, albeit in a somewhat restrained manner. As befits a paragon of his stature. Truly, the way the entire countryside rhapsodizes over this man. It's endlessly amusing. It's also a good thing he takes it all with a humongous grain of salt. And that Ancilla gives as good as she gets.
The banter between the Nonesuch and Miss Trent (I categorically refuse to call him Waldo) is the unrivaled highlight of the novel. I was gratified we got a good deal more than we did in The Convenient Marriage. Although, Heyer's dialogue is so perfect, I will always wish for more. And while we're enumerating wishes, I will offer up my fervent wish that the entire production had not been so thoroughly railroaded by one Miss Tiffany Wield. She's appalling, everyone knows she is appalling (with the thankfully brief exception of Lindeth), and she gets entirely too much page time for my blood pressure. This was not meant to be her show, and I resented all the perfectly good courting time between the shelf-bound governess and the Nonesuch being swallowed up by her weaselly machinations. Fortunately, the Nonesuch, Ancilla, Lindeth, and lovely, lovely Patience are there to carry the day and ensure the Huge Misunderstanding didn't gather too much steam for my suspension of disbelief.
"I don't dislike you. If—if you thought me stiff when we first met it was because I dislike the set you represent!"
"I don't think you know anything about the set I represent," he responded coolly. "Let me assure you that it is very far removed from Mountsorrel's, ma'am!"
"Of course—but you are—oh, the Nonesuch!" she said with a quick smile. "Mountsorrel and his friends copy you—as far as they are able—"
"I beg your pardon," he interrupted. "They don't—being unable! Dear me, I sound just like the Beautiful Miss Wield, don't I? Some of them copy the Corinthian rig—in the exaggerated form I don't affect; but my set, Miss Trent, is composed of men who were born with a natural aptitude for athletic sports. We do the thing."
Ahem. Another favorite exchange:
"A look of such piteous entreaty was cast at me—"
"No!" protested Miss Trent. "Not piteous! I didn't!"
"Piteous!" said the Nonesuch remorselessly. "Your eyes, ma'am—as well you know!!—cried Help me! What could I do but respond to the appeal?"
"Next you will say that it went much against the pluck with you!" said Miss Trent, justly incensed.
"No service I could render you, ma'am, would go against the pluck!"
Her colour mounted, but she said: "I should have guessed you would have a glib answer ready!"
"You might also have guessed that I meant it."
I do love a solid rejoinder. And any time Ancilla is "justly incensed." And in this second outing with Heyer, I definitely enjoyed our hero and heroine spending more actual "in-room" time together. Though I still bemoaned the lack of closeness beyond conversation. By the time he finally puts his arm around her. I SWEAR.
That said, another proposal scene utterly nailed. This one of the devastating variety, sure, but still. Guys. Woman knows her way around a proposal scene. It was the saddest scene in the book and it remains my favorite—tightly written, taut with emotion, and so much left to be said. Sigh.
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
This is not a drill. I repeat, THIS IS NOT A DRILL. I believe I am, in fact, upon the brink of accomplishing something that I have been meaning to doThis is not a drill. I repeat, THIS IS NOT A DRILL. I believe I am, in fact, upon the brink of accomplishing something that I have been meaning to do for years. I want you all to be the first to know that I just read my first very Georgette Heyer. That's right. I actually did it. After years of promising myself and countless others (many of you) that I would do it, I finally managed it! And I can tell that I'm about to dive headlong into a full-fledged binge.
After consulting all of your past comments on which Heyers are your favorites and why (and after some serious counsel from Beth Brower and a well-timed trip to our local Barnes & Noble), I chose to start with The Convenient Marriage. I had no idea it would turn out to contain, without question, one of my favorite proposal scenes ever. The kind of proposal scene that makes you feel like nothing could ever go wrong after it. It takes place very early on, and it made me laugh and sigh repeatedly with delight. I know I will be yanking out my copy to reread that scene for years to come.
"It's v-vulgar to care about Settlements, but you are very rich, are you not?"
"Very," said his lordship, preserving his calm.
"Yes," nodded Horatia. "W-well—you see!"
"I see," agreed Rule. "You are going to be the Sacrifice."
She looked up at him rather shyly. "It c-can't signify to you, can it? Except that I know I'm not a Beauty, like L-Lizzie. But I have got the Nose, sir."
Rule surveyed the Nose. "Undoubtedly, you have the Nose," he said.
Horatia seemed determined to make a clean breast of her blemishes. "And p-perhaps you could become used to my eyebrows?"
The smile lurked at the back of Rule's eyes. "I think, quite easily."
She said sadly: "They won't arch, you know. And I ought to t-tell you that we have quite given up hope of my g-growing any taller."
"It would certainly be a pity if you did," said his lordship.
"D-do you think so?" Horatia was surprised. "It is a great trial to me, I can assure you." She took a breath, and added, with difficulty: "You m-may have n-noticed that I have a—a stammer."
"Yes, I had noticed," the Earl said gently.
"If you f-feel you c-can't bear it, sir, I shall quite understand," Horatia said in a small, anxious voice.
"I like it," said the Earl.
"It is very odd of you," marvelled Horatia. "But p-perhaps you said that to p-put me at my ease?"
"No," said the Earl. "I said it because it was true."
Which is not to say that the entire experience was perfectly smooth sailing. Horatia is a bit hysterical for my taste. Or rather, she starts off very promising indeed and then proceeds to be rather hysterical for the next couple hundred pages. And, yes, I grew impatient. And yes, I really would have loved it if she'd managed to see one single thing for what it was without Rule having to patiently explain it to her. But Rule. You guys. Rule. I loved him from beginning to end. He gives the impression that he is always withholding a smile when he is at his most decorous and that when he is smiling placidly at you is when you are actually in the most danger. Rule will always be dear to me. As will drunk Pel & Pom, roving the streets of London at the crack of dawn, trying to discern whether or not Horatia actually murdered someone with a poker. I'm still filled with helpless laughter when I think of those two, to say nothing of Pom's great aunt.
Glamour might still have clung to a rakehell who abducted noble damsels, but no glamour remained about a man who had been pushed into a pond in full ball-dress.
The Convenient Marriage also includes two excellent duels, one hilarious and quite brief, the other magnetic and drawn-out. And, yes, I could definitely have done with a handful more scenes in which Rule and Horatia were, say, in the same room together (particularly at the end). But, on the whole, my time spent with these characters was utterly entertaining, and I will be cracking open my second Heyer tonight....more
It's funny, the timing of books. It's so funny. I've been sitting on Winter for around about a year now. And it'sOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
It's funny, the timing of books. It's so funny. I've been sitting on Winter for around about a year now. And it's been well over two since I reviewed Cress. You'll remember, I was not what you might call a "fan" of that book, which partly explains why I waited so dashed long to start Winter. It's just that I was such a genuine fan of the first two books. Scarlet is perfect, in my opinion. And as I was most displeased with Wolf and Scarlet's treatment in Cress (to say nothing of the, shall we call it "phoning in" of Cress and Thorne's characters), well. I had issues, guys. I had issues. But something continued to niggle in the back of my mind that Winter would be different. A return to form, possibly. A casting out of new lines, so to speak. Whatever it was, the Winter kairos all came together for me a week ago, and I basically whipped my way through the fourth installment in the Lunar Chronicles.
Ahem. Spoilers for the first three books are threaded through this review. Proceed with caution.
In many ways, Princess Winter is the focal point of the Lunar palace. Crazy Winter. Poor Winter. Beautiful Winter, they call her. And she is all of those things. With her exquisite face, marred only by the self-inflicted scars forced upon her by her nightmare of a stepmother. With her increasingly frequent hallucinations, of her limbs slowly turning to ice and breaking off, of the palace walls running with blood. Of a nameless horror no one else seems to see. And so her days are filled with fear, the only bright spot being her longtime guard and best friend Jacin. But even Jacin will not be around forever. With the imperial wedding approaching, and every one of her thaumaturges on high alert, Queen Levana has an eye out for any hint of insubordination in the ranks. And insubordination is just what Jacin has in mind when he realizes the depths of the Queen's plans for her detested stepdaughter. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to any of them, a rebellion is being mounted from within, as the ragtag group of rebels under Linh Cinder's command set their plan in motion to free Scarlet, clear Thorne, marry Kai off to the Lunar nightmare, and then promptly free him from doom by declaring Cinder the missing princess and rightful heir to the Lunar throne. Really, nothing could go wrong.
"It's not proper for seventeen-year-old princesses to be alone with young men who have questionable intentions."
She laughed. "And what about young men who she's been friends with since she was barely old enough to walk?"
He shook his head. "Those are the worst."
I quite liked what Ms. Meyer did with Winter herself. She is certifiable in a really interesting and believable way, and I remained fascinated as I found myself swinging in and out of lucidity along with her. In fact, my favorite descriptions in the novel were the ones detailing Winter's hallucinations and the incredible sacrifice she was making behind them. It is probably worth pointing out now that the rest of the descriptions in the book should could have been cut down by half. I'm dead serious when I say this 832-page door stopper should have been half as long as it was, and it wouldn't have had to sacrifice a whit of emotional impact or plot/character development. I'm super surprised it made it out the door as long as it did (and you know I generally prefer the longer the better), but the endless descriptions of the Lunar court and its denizens in their Capitol-like getups were simply unnecessary bulk and should have been jettisoned. I kept noticing this as the the tale went on, but then I would arrive at another lovely scene involving two or more of our winsome crew, and my frustrations would dissolve under their witty banter and very genuine charms. Which brings me to Carswell Thorne. You guys, he was there in this book. While being MIA off in buffoonery land in Cress, he was so very present and himself in Winter. Which thing made me smile hugely. Because I just knew he was that brand of awesome when he burst unceremoniously onto the scene in Scarlet. Which also leads me to Cress and how she came into her own here as well. Their arc was possibly my favorite of all of them in this concluding tale. My favorite line coming from Thorne's lips near the end, when all looked to be falling apart around their ears:
"Cress . . . " He seemed torn, but also hopeful and unguarded. He took a deep breath. "She looked like you."
She looked like you. I'll say no more here, but you done good, Thorne. You done good.
Which brings me to my favorite couple of the entire series—Scarlet and Wolf. My heart may have clenched in pain just a few times at the way their arc played out. And if I felt like Wolf got a measure of short shrift when it came to his portrayal in this volume, I felt that Scarlet was just one hundred percent her blazing self, and I held her tightly to my heart the entire time. Because she was in no way compromised. She was acerbic and ruthless and loyal and fierce in the ways she always has been. Scarlet, as ever, makes the series for me. It was a worthy conclusion in most ways. Given my druthers, I would have exchanged reams of description for a bit more in the way of meaningful time with these crazy star-touched characters I have loved. But there was certainly no shortage of brilliant action, brushes with death, maniacal scheming, whip-sharp humor, and true love. And overlaying it all we were given Winter's sweet, always-generous outlook on her fellow human beings forced to eke out an existence against a backdrop of hatred, envy, joy, disease, and heartbreak (and, of course, interstellar warfare). It felt very much a timely message to me and one I cherish at the close of this year that has been what it was.
Winter reached over and pulled the pilot's harness over Scarlet's head.
"Safety first, Scarlet-friend. We are fragile things."
This is the first installment in Sherry Thomas' Lady Sherlock series—a gender-swapped retelling of Sherlock HolmOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
This is the first installment in Sherry Thomas' Lady Sherlock series—a gender-swapped retelling of Sherlock Holmes. So basically, my catnip. We are living in an excellent age when it comes to Holmes retellings. From Laurie King's Mary Russell books to Ellie Marney's Every series to the BBC's Sherlock, it's a feast of delights. And since I have been a Sherry Thomas fan for awhile now, I could hardly contain my excitement when I heard she was working on a female Holmes. The glowing cover blurb from Deanna Raybourn certainly didn't hurt.
Charlotte Holmes has taken the mother of all calculated risks and successfully gotten herself thrown out. It all started . . . well, ages ago, really. The youngest of four daughters, with parents who seem to hold nothing but disdain for one another, Charlotte isn't precisely the oddest one in the family. But that's not saying much. She is, however, the most determined to leave her parents' (and society's) expectations behind and embark on the kind of life she has always wanted. The devil, of course, is in the details. And it isn't long before the grim reality of life as a woman alone on the streets of London and in search of respectable work begins to take its toll, particularly as Charlotte is determined to support not only herself but her two sisters as well. However, her sharp intellect and dispassionate approach to humans in general see her in good stead. And if an old friend (and longtime sparring partner) occasionally has her followed for his own reasons, Charlotte can handle it. But when a series of mysterious deaths begin to resemble a connection of sorts, and when her beloved sister Livia's name gets dragged into the mix, Charlotte immediately steps in to clear her sister's name and solve the mystery. Woven through the hunt for the killer are the enigmatic Mrs. Watson, the dogged Inspector Treadles, and the old friend who is never far from her thoughts.
I'll just go ahead and start by saying A Study in Scarlet Women was not at all what I expected! And that is by no means a bad thing. I enjoyed every bit of this twisty, dense, and unconventional tale. I think I just happened to go in with certain assumed parameters, and Sherry Thomas happily conformed to none of them. The story's timeline is quite fluid, and the reader is definitely expected to keep up on several levels. The narrative hops around at will from one point of view to the next, and it is up to Charlotte (when we are with her) and the reader to tease apart and piece back together the many tangled threads. Charlotte herself was a revelation, if an incredibly self-contained one:
Charlotte left her seat and walked to a window. It gave onto the same street where Miss Hartford's carriage had been parked, waiting for her return. The carriage was gone, but in its place, a man stood underneath a streetlamp, reading a newspaper.
At first, she thought he was the man from the carriage. Instead, she recognized him as the one who had waited out the rain across the street from her earlier in the afternoon.
The one she'd suspected of following her.
She was not alarmed. Whoever had commissioned the man's service had not done so with the intention of harming her, but to keep an eye on her.
This did not make her happy—she did not care to be closely monitored. She wasn't angry at the person responsible for this surveillance—in his place she might have done the same. Nevertheless, she wished her secret guardian hadn't felt compelled to be so positioned as to be able to effect a rescue at any moment.
It implied that such a rescue was not only necessary, but imminent.
That she couldn't in good conscience—or cold logic—disagree with the assessment made it feel as if the air was slowly leaking from her lungs.
And that's it right there—perhaps the most affecting aspect of this winding novel—the honest way that it portrays the realities of the lives of the many different women that walk its pages. Like air slowly leaking from their lungs. I was fascinated by (and sympathetic to) each one. Charlotte herself is so quiet. Brisk and concise when she is rattling off a litany of her deductions, yes. But quiet. And quietly perplexed by the injustices and inanities perpetrated by and inherent in the people around her. I loved her for that perplexity, for her fierce loyalty to her sisters, for her continual expectations of fairness and opportunity, and for her adamant refusal to leave a certain distant someone well enough alone. We are treated to a few precious, and yes, quiet, exchanges between Charlotte and her old friend. They are enigmatic in the extreme and endlessly complicated, even if we only have the merest sliver of the whole picture at this point in time.
She had very much looked forward to a word in private with him. But she forgot, as she usually did, the silence that always came between them in these latter years, whenever they found themselves alone.
The queer sensation in her chest, however, was all too familiar, that mix of pleasure and pain, never one without the other.
She could have done without those feelings. She would have happily gone her entire life never experiencing the pangs of longing and the futility of regret. He made her human—or as human as she was capable of being. And being human was possibly her least favorite aspect of life.
These two. I have to hold myself back from despairing of them. For how little page time they're actually together, I love them rather a lot. And I don't even really know him. But I hold out hope for more ever-so-gradual unraveling in the coming tales. In the end, this is the most unusual of beginnings—an introduction that requires every ounce of focus its readers have to give, even as it grudgingly reveals a paltry few of its own secrets. My kind of mystery....more
I somehow neglected to write a review of Illuminae when I read it last year. It may have had something to do witOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I somehow neglected to write a review of Illuminae when I read it last year. It may have had something to do with my response to the novel, which was complex. I was completely riveted to the page throughout. In fact, I swallowed it in a single night. However, I wasn't sure if it would prove to be a re-read for me, primarily because I felt a distance between myself and the characters. The separation enforced by the epistolary format, on top of the protagonists' themselves' separation for the majority of the novel combined to make me feel a bit wistful. I suppose I just wished I felt a level of closeness to them that matched the level of commitment I felt to the unfolding story. Which was to say complete and utter. There was, interestingly, no question of whether or not I would be picking up the sequel. Also somewhat interesting was how I felt nothing but excitement that the sequel would follow a new couple. And so it was that Gemina fell into my lap and swallowed me whole.
Hanna Donnelly has essentially made Jump Station Heimdall her playground. No matter that her extravagant exploits have become more a way of surviving the tight confines of her life as the only daughter of the exacting station captain than anything else. No matter that they involve the occasional rendezvous with her own personal dealer—himself a member of the notorious House of Knives crime family. No matter that her model (if slightly milquetoast) boyfriend disapproves wholeheartedly of said dealer and has to sneak around to meet her so as not to raise the wrath of her father. Nik Malikov has a thing for the privileged princess who occasionally patronizes his "establishment," and he takes plenty of flak over that fact from the various and sundry cast of cutthroat characters that comprise his family. No matter that the tattoos on his skin tell a story that may or may not be more complex than they at first appear. No matter that their whisperNET repartee is fast becoming the best part of every single one of his days. No matter that each successive requirement from his family takes him farther and farther away from the kind of person who might actually stand a chance with a girl like Hanna. What neither of them knows is their "home" is about to be thrown into chaos and violence the likes of which even the notorious Malikov's have yet to see. And their connection, limited and superficial as it has heretofore been, may prove the only link to survival either of them have.
BRIEFING NOTE: First relevant point of contact between Hanna Donnelly and Jackson Merrick on Heimdall's whisperNET system. For full effect, read everything Merrick says in a loin-stirringly deep, uppercrust accent while listening to smooth jazz.
The sly, staccato wit in this series is just so on. Set as it is against a near constant threat of death, dismemberment, or worse, this wit is sometimes a lifeline, for both the characters and the readers, I suspect. As with its predecessor, the entirety of Gemina is told in the form of found footage, including an impressive and fabulously inventive assortment of documents, all of which are being presented as evidence in the tribunal addressing BeiTech Industries' involvement in the "alleged" attack on Jump Station Heimdall. A number of familiar (and terrifying) faces make appearances upfront before we are hurled into making the acquaintance of a whole host of new personages who each play a pivotal role in the horrific events that went down on Heimdall. One of the most enjoyable aspects of reading Gemina is getting to see exactly what was going on at the jump station while the events of Illuminae were taking place. The two timelines overlap, and I found it heightened my experience with Hanna and Nik knowing just what was happening with Kady and Ezra at the same time. And, yes, this overlap means we get to spend some much-coveted time with a certain AI that I'll confess I've been missing something fierce. It's passages are among my very favorite (and are some of the most unsettling, of course). And, yes, I'll go ahead and say that I found my emotions knit tightly with Hanna and Nik in a very short time, partly because they do spend more (though still not much) time in the actual vicinity of one another, and partly because I'm just a sucker for the particular quality of banter you get when you pair up a crime lord's son with a military captain's daughter.
Which leads me to the most excellent of all the elements of this novel—Hanna Donnelly. Quite simply, she is stone cold awesome. Raised by her father to master any number of forms of combat, her princess persona is a very thin facade indeed. The relentless pressure and pace of the novel reveal the core of steel underneath the facade and it was a viciously satisfying pleasure to watch her tear her way through the fabric of her nightmare and never, not ever give in or give up. And perhaps just as importantly, she does all of this without sacrificing a shred of her humanity, with all its attendant vulnerability and desires. She blew me, Nik, and the entire population of Heimdall away. And I can say that allowing that I am nursing a pretty healthy crush on Nik Malikov. They are right together. But Hanna. Hanna is whole in a way that resonated with me profoundly. She is the reason Gemina is the force that it is. She is the reason you simply have to read it....more
So the truth is I had a feeling about A Promise of Fire from the moment I clapped eyes on it. And the funny thingOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
So the truth is I had a feeling about A Promise of Fire from the moment I clapped eyes on it. And the funny thing is, I was drawn to the girl on the cover because she reminded me immediately of Kate Daniels—only one of my favorite urban fantasy heroines of all time. Little did I know, so much more than just the cover of this book would go on to remind me of the fabulous Ilona Andrews series. Though the Kingmaker Chronicles are epic fantasy romance with a Greek mythology bent, they share that certain brand of high octane banter and impossibly high stakes that make the Kate Daniels books so fabulous. This is the first volume (as well as Amanda Bouchet's debut novel), and I find myself so looking forward to getting my hands on the next one.
Catalia Fisa has hidden herself as well as she knows how. Having successfully attached herself to a troupe of traveling circus performers, she cautiously employs a mere fraction of her actual ability to tell fortunes (and keep an eye out for anyone who might be looking for her). Trouble strides up to her soothsaying table in the form of Beta Sinta—a warlord in search of the fabled Kingmaker, the one rumored to possess the power to solidify control for the Alpha (or warlord) determined (or ruthless) enough to catch her. And before she knows it, Cat is literally tied to Griffin's side and carted off to the southern wilds of Sinta entirely against her will. Fortunately, she's had a lifetime of "training" in resisting force, and she will not go quietly no matter how loudly he and his band of loyal henchmen growl. But the farther they travel together, the larger the secrets Cat's holding onto loom, and the more difficult it becomes to justify abandoning this warlord who doesn't seem to want to go to war and somehow holds her nightmares at bay, to say nothing of his astoundingly naïve (if disarmingly charming) family.
This epic adventure was entirely too fun to put down. I'm a huge fan of Greek mythology, and Ms. Bouchet infuses her tale with bits and bobs and huge heaping globs of all the familiar gods and goddesses (as well as various terrifying creatures). The whole thing plays fairly fast and loose with these deities, which is admittedly appropriate, even if a couple of times her versions made my hackles rise. But on the whole the world-building is expansive and inventive and I loved traversing it with Cat and Griffin. Because those two. They are wild forces to be reckoned with, and I loved watching them snipe and bat at each other every step of the way. Cat's power is revealed in as infinitesimal chunks as possible, reluctant as she is to involve any other being in the gargantuan nightmare that is her past and the impending doom that represents her future. And having spent a lifetime being used by those more powerful than she, she refuses to go back to a place of vulnerability. While the reader is privy to quite a few of these internal struggles, Griffin is not. And he, for all his insisting on assuming the Beta role in his kingdom, does not deal well with obfuscation or dismissal. The result is a host of sparks. An early exchange:
Beta Sinta stops, his mouth flattening in obvious irritation. "Help me, Cat. Or at least tell me the truth. I know when you're lying."
"Oh?" My heart trips over its next beat.
"Your eyes get twitchy."
"My eyes do not get twitchy!"
"This one gets narrower." He touches the tip of his finger to the corner of my right eye, and a little jolt zips through me. "It's as if you're expecting the lie to hurt, but it doesn't because it's your own."
As I said, the banter (or, in this case, my favorite kind of quiet tension) between these two just carries the day throughout the story. Cat's ability to tell when people are lying is a skill of such magnitude that Griffin finds himself unable to let her out of his sight. The pain that it simultaneously causes her, though, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to answering the questions of why Cat is the way she is. But Griffin didn't battle his way to placing his sister on the throne without amassing the persistence and indefatigable will it takes to reach whatever goal he sets himself. What I love about Griffin is how he learns to make space for Cat, how clearly he recognizes and admires her abilities, and how his plan to use her morphs into a desire and a need to support and aid her in her own troubled journey. Just what that journey will entail remains nebulous to everyone involved, clearly to be unraveled in future volumes, though it is pretty clear to the reader exactly who and what is gunning for her. Cat herself is a wriggling ball of sarcasm, frustration, repressed affection, and leashed power. She elicits the wide gamut of emotions in both the reader and her supporting characters. But it's clear she's got charisma to spare and energy and guts enough to carry us all through any number of wild romps....more
Let's just start by acknowledging that I am woefully behind on reviewing the Sarah MacLean books I have read andOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Let's just start by acknowledging that I am woefully behind on reviewing the Sarah MacLean books I have read and loved, which is to say all of them. The thing is, I am simply not overstating things when I say that reading Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake changed my life. And it is a truth universally acknowledged that both A Rogue by Any Other Name and One Girl Earl Deserves a Lover hold pivotal places of honor on my Beloved Bookshelf. As such, I'm beginning to think that her books are so important to me that when it comes to articulating precisely why, I can run into a bit of a struggle. But. I am going to attempt to begin to rectify the situation by reviewing her latest novel and the second installment in the wonderful Scandal & Scoundrel series. I reread the first book in the series in preparation for the sequel, and I am happy to report it was just as delightful the second time around.
Lillian Hargrove's world has just been shattered, and by the one person she trusted the most. On top of that, when the man she loves chooses to ruin her, he does it on the most public of stages and on the most epic of scales—as he is about to reveal his latest masterwork, of which she is the subject. While she was a willing model for the painting, she in no way gave consent to it being shared with the entire population of London. Fully cognizant of the enormity of her mistake, Lily retires to the town home where she lives alone and begins preparations to leave London (and her scandal) behind for good. What she does not count on is her latest guardian swooping down from Scotland, determined to marry her off yesterday and rid himself of the unwanted burden she embodies. Alec, Duke of Warnick, never wanted any of the nonsense he's inherited along with his dratted title, least of all a troublesome ward who seems bent on self-destruction. Once he sees her, he deems it only a matter of days before he is able to marry her off and be on his way back to Scotland. What he doesn't count on is Lily herself and just how magnificently she will change the course of his life.
I think everyone who read The Rogue Not Taken was hoping the larger than life Duke of Warnick would be the hero of the next book, and I was no exception. Lily Hargrove, however, was the surprise. And what a lovely one at that. I immediately felt a huge amount of sympathy for her awful plight, even as I (along with Alec) questioned just how blind she had to have been to have trusted the detestable Derek Hawkins or to think that the portrait would somehow never see the light of day. That said, the self-possession and ruthless honesty with which she handles her ruination were admirable to behold, and I was rooting hugely for both of them throughout their tale. An early encounter (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
"Shall we discuss the scandal?"
Her cheeks burned. She didn't like it. "Is there a scandal?"
He turned to look at her. "You tell me."
"Well, I imagine the news that you broke down the door in broad daylight will get around."
Something flashed in his eyes. Something like amusement. She didn't like that, either. "Is it true, lass?" And, in that moment, in the four, simple words, spoken in his rolling Scottish brogue, warm and rough and almost kinder than she could bear, she wished herself anywhere but there.
Because it was the first time anyone had asked the question.
And it was the millionth time that she'd wished the answer were different.
The way she handles herself alongside the imposing Scot, set against the truths we glean from her inner dialogue, is why I immediately found Lillian endearing. And we gain enough insight into her less-than-charmed upbringing to understand a little of why she makes the mistake she did and to fully admire (once more, along with Alec) the intelligent and organic way that she conducts and asserts herself throughout the ensuing ordeal. Fortunately, she is helped along the way by a few fellow scandalous (and gleefully familiar) faces. Each of the glorious Talbot sisters make their entrances, and they prove to be even more witty and outrageous than in the previous volume. I could do nothing but cheer silently as they surrounded Lily with their patent (and I suspect, hard-won) unconcern for the ton's censure. And I look forward meeting them again in forthcoming tales.
The humor in the book is not confined only to scenes involving the Talbot sisters. Lily and Alec, when they're not scheming desperately to rid themselves of the other, develop a disarming level of shared amusement. They've both endured painful moments in their past. They both see the follies of society and long to escape them. They both have long been solitary creatures, and in such they find a kinship. The long line of deceased dukes that so affect their lives, in particular, carries a delightful thread of levity throughout the novel. For example:
There was a long moment of silence before he changed the subject. "Which one owned this odious place?"
She didn't hesitate. "Number Thirteen."
"Ah. The one killed by a sheep, allegedly."
"What happened to him, really?"
She blinked. "That is what happened to him. He was killed by a sheep."
His brow furrowed. "You are joking."
"I am not. He fell off a cliff."
"The sheep. The duke was out for his daily constitutional. Below." She clapped her hands together. "Quite smashed."
His lips twitched. "No."
She raised one hand. "I swear it is true."
And on they roll. Alec and Lily's story is a quieter and more contained affair, in many ways, than Sophie and King's. Their movement and growth is more internal, as they wrestle with issues of shame, privacy, gender standards, and intrinsic self worth. My one complaint was a certain mounting impatience I felt near the end (with Alec, in particular) with what seemed to me to be an overly zealous (at times hurtful) pursuit of misconception. This dovetailed somewhat with the difficulty I had believing how quickly he changes gears. But then I reminded myself of the relatively short time period the story covers. And by the time myself accepted the reminder, I had moved on to the quite lovely conclusion, in which Alec (like myself) sees and remembers not to forget Lily exactly as she is. Which is to say—splendid....more
A new Victorian mystery series from Deanna Raybourn is no small treat. I was basically beside myself with joy whOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
A new Victorian mystery series from Deanna Raybourn is no small treat. I was basically beside myself with joy when I found out she would be returning to my favorite of her settings with an all new intrepid protagonist and (word had it) a broody hero to boot. Nobody broods like Brisbane broods (say that five times fast), and I was eager to make the acquaintance of this Veronica Speedwell and this natural historian by the name of Stoker. I did love the original hardcover for the heroine's dress and the misty fog drifting up the cobblestones. But I have to say, I'm more partial to this lovely new trade paperback edition. The butterflies! The silhouette of Veronica with her net! The typeface! I love it all. When a copy arrived in the mail for review, I could not have been more pleased.
Veronica Speedwell is used to being on her own. She is used to striking out for locales unknown and obscure butterfly species heretofore undiscovered. What she is not used to is abduction attempts on her person. Particularly not after she has just buried her last remaining relative and is about to wash her hands of the ties that bind in general and embark on her next adventure. But foil an abduction she does, and it's off to London with a mysterious (but kindly) German baron and into the highly unexpected laboratory of one Stoker. Covered in tattoos and dripping with disdain, Stoker is not interested in a lepidopterist no matter how well-informed on the natural sciences she may be. But it seems solitude is not in the cards for either of them, as murder continues to dog Veronica's heels and the two mutually suspicious partners are drawn into a mystery involving Veronica's parents, Stoker's past, and one memorable traveling circus.
I stared down into the open grave and wished I could summon a tear.
Deanna Raybourn always has me at hello. I've been quoting the first line of Silent in the Grave aloud regularly for going on eight years now, and the opening lines of A Curious Beginning continue the excellence. Veronica is a giant breath of fresh air from the word go, and I was more than content to follow her wherever her wandering soul led. Of course, once she and I fell into Stoker's looming warehouse of a laboratory, it was love at first sight. Stoker is every bit as wary and scarred and recalcitrant as I could hope for. Together, they are marvelously witty and biting and perfect. Veronica's parentage is one of the central mysteries of the novel, and the ever-present (if quiet) longing she feels to know where she comes from is palpable. Stoker's past is rife with pain and secrets as well, and the reader is privileged to accompany them as they traipse through their checkered histories in search of answers. The trip through Stoker's includes a very memorable stay with a traveling circus and its various and sundry denizens. I absolutely loved watching Veronica catch a glimpse of what makes him tick, and their banter throughout this section (and the entire novel) is off the charts enjoyable. I am a fan of the slow burn romance, and this one takes its time, developing in extremely endearing increments. Stoker, for all his ragged exterior, is honorable to the core. His rigid reluctance and decency is beautifully set off by Veronica's levity and refusal to be cowed or dictated to. They have a definite Holmes/Watson air about them as they unravel the threads of their tale. Veronica will always be (among other things) a bit of a gorgeous trial for Stoker. But I am convinced he will never let her fall. If you couldn't tell, I'm in love with them both and eagerly await their future adventures....more
I love it when I find myself reviewing another Laura Florand winner. I can't believe it's been exactly three yeaOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I love it when I find myself reviewing another Laura Florand winner. I can't believe it's been exactly three years since I initially fell in love with her Amour et Chocolat series, but I have no trouble at all recalling the pure pleasure I took in devouring each successive book about egomaniacal, yet devastatingly charming chocolatiers and patissiers and the strong-willed, wonderfully intelligent women whose misfortune/fortune it was to make and keep their acquaintance. Chase Me is the second book in Florand's Paris Nights series, though they don't necessarily have to be read in order. This series is set in Paris (my favorite of Florand's settings). And while it contains all the wit and charm and emotion of her other works, it also incorporates just the perfect touch of classic Hollywood screwball romantic comedy. It turns out to be the perfect recipe.
Violette Lenoir is violently less than thrilled to find an after-hours intruder in the pristine kitchen of her top restaurant Au-dessus. With the American president rumored to be eating at her restaurant within the next few days, the press breathing down her neck, and a lifetime of battling against the rampant machismo of the Paris chef scene under her belt, she does not hesitate to throw a knife or three at Chase Smith's head first and ask questions second. The fact that the unwanted "private security" specialist promptly proposes does nothing to mitigate Violette's rage, no matter how thick he lays on the Texas charm. The problem is that after their battle of wits and weapons, he refuses to listen to Vi and go away. Worse, he appears to genuinely believe himself in love with her. But what truly enrages her, he refuses to tell her what in the world it is he does, why he was in her kitchen in the first place, and why the health inspectors inexplicably shut down her restaurant on a trumped up charge immediately after his unexpected arrival. But somewhere amid his intermittent disappearances and reappearances in her life, Vi is bound and determined to extract and answer to each and every question.
So it's basically every interaction between Chase and Vi, you know? Chase's incorrigible optimism, Vi's glorious anger, and their mutual ineffable charm just carry the day. Individually and collectively, they never let up and I would never want them to. For example:
Violette Lenoir sighed heavily. "Are you some kind of manifestation of my worst nightmare?"
"Hey." That hurt. "You're straight out of my dreams."
"You know I crush a hundred men just like you on a daily basis?"
Okay, not that he wanted to destroy her self-confidence or anything, but . . . seriously? "I'm pretty sure you don't, honey. Just because they pretend to be me in video games doesn't mean they're actually like me."
Just for a second, a flicker of genuine caution showed in her eyes, and her left hand scooped up another throwing knife. Aww, and they'd been getting along so well. He backpedaled. "But don't worry, sweetheart. I may not be crushable, but you're safe with me."
"You're not. Safe with me."
He sighed with delight. "I know."
Ugh, I love these two. It's embarrassing to admit, but I just wasn't quite expecting to love them as much as I did. I was stoked that the culinary whiz this time around was going to be a woman, and I was cautiously skeptical of a cocky American hero (I like my French heroes, so sue me). But they were both just note perfect. For every ounce of arrogant swagger, Chase made up for it with irresistible devotion, to his dangerous job and to Vi from day one. For her part, Vi has earned every ounce of her own pride and confidence. Her outrage (throughout the book) at Chase's intrusions and advances is essentially one hundred percent justified. I love that, and I love that Chase recognizes that and makes space for it. These two adults are fully independent, fully committed, and fully bowled over by the role the other is suddenly playing in their lives. And if Chase adapts a little lot more quickly than Vi is able to, it only makes their road that much more intriguingly bumpy and amusing. One more favorite (early) encounter:
"So this Quentin . . . what's his last name? Where does he live?"
"I took care of him," she said dryly. That was the point, right? She took care of all problems cocky males presented her with. That was how she could stay chef.
Yeah, it would be nice if it was all about the food, the way she'd imagined as a kid, but she'd learned long before she finished her first apprenticeship that it was mostly about surviving in a world of sexist assholes.
"Stabbed him?" her burglar asked hopefully.
"I brought one of the pallets of milk down on his head when he pushed me back against the shelves. Mild concussion."
He weighed that a moment. "Much of a struggle before you managed to bring the milk down on his head?"
Maybe. She lifted her chin at him and braced her feet. Even if there was a struggle, I still won.
"Yeah, you know what? I think I'll still pay him a little visit. Don't worry, I can find his address on my own."
"I don't need a hero," she said dryly.
He raised his eyebrows. "How do you know? It sounds like you've never had one."
These characters are epically magnetic.
Lastly, I wanted to touch on the key placement of this novel in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. It plays a visceral role in the lives of all of the characters, both inherently in Chase's career as a counterterrorist operative, and much more profoundly in the fierce spirit of Vi, her friends, her family, and the people of Paris. It was lovingly and thoughtfully written and added a beautiful element of gravitas to this fizzy, heartfelt novel. Chase Me earned an instant spot on my best of the year list, no question....more
I've been truly impatient to read Evelyn Pryce's sophomore novel ever since I thoroughly enjoyed her debut A MaOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I've been truly impatient to read Evelyn Pryce's sophomore novel ever since I thoroughly enjoyed her debut A Man Above Reproach a couple of years ago. And so it was with utter delight that I opened my mail a few days ago to find a copy of The Thirteenth Earl, complete with wax-sealed note. It's the charming little things, guys, that just make my little world go round. Montlake has gifted this novel with another gorgeous cover in the same vein as the first one that initially caught my eye. They're just slightly refined in a way that appeals to me, and I love seeing their spines on my shelf. If you haven't tried any of Evelyn's work yet, I highly recommend snagging a copy of both of these. She writes lovely historical romance with characters I feel for that make me laugh. Just what the doctored ordered for the doldrums before spring arrives full stop.
Jonathan Vane's title is Viscount Thaxton, but he is better known to all and sundry as the Ghost. The product of a long line of earls with an unfortunate predilection for running mad, Thaxton is determined he will be the last. The curse will end with him. As such, he's ready to live out his days unattached, unmourned, and decidedly unmarried. This decision is put into mortal peril when he makes the acquaintance of one Miss Cassandra Seton at the house party of his one (possibly only) friend. Cassie (to her very best friends) is about to be reunited with her longtime fiancé Miles Markwick after a separation of nine years. It follows that Miles is Thaxton's cousin and that the two are on most unpleasant terms. It's more than Thaxton can do to not needle the lovely Cassie about her upcoming nuptials. She responds delightfully in kind, and it's not long before the two are traipsing about the manor at all hours of the night, egged on by the eerie wails of a potentially real ghost. But even as their relationship deepens, neither one can discount the troubling strain that runs through Jonathan's family, or the fact that Markwick is bound and determined to finally make good on his vows.
"My very best friends call me Cassie."
"Then I shall start with Miss Seton, and endeavor to Cassie."
From the opening mock duel in the middle of the library, The Thirteenth Earl is the most delightful of romps. Much like a game of Clue, the principal characters get up to all sorts of shenanigans, slinking about the atmospheric estate investigating the nefarious events at the party. I was altogether charmed and wanted very much for Cassie and Thaxton to find a way of overcoming the admittedly real barriers between them to find a vein of happiness. I love how Ms. Pryce manages to inject wonderful levity into her story at the same time as she infuses both her protagonists with achingly complicated backstories and throws them together to tackle their demons. Cassie is a lodestone of forthrightness and intelligence. She had my allegiance from page one. She sees every one of Thaxton's flaws, but she also sees the light peeking out behind his mountain of burden. Thaxton is beating a path to his grave until he meets Cassie. And to his credit, he sees her for what she is, too, and cannot abide the thought of all her light and intelligence being thrown away on a beetle like Markwick. Their midnight rambles, their middle-of-the-maze assignations, crept into my affections in no time. I believed how they felt about one another. I trusted them to find a way out of the labyrinth.
"It is a consistent worry of mine how little you value your life," she said.
He did not answer, and it made the portrait room too soundless, like an unused church. As if the air had gone stale. He had worn grey—why had he done that? His eyes matched the fabric, and it rendered his whole form drawn and sad. Ashen. Half in and half out of this world. Like an apparition.
She had fallen in love with a ghost.
The novel's ongoing themes of what it means to truly be alive and how certain ways of going about one's life can actually be a kind of slow death were thoughtfully explored, the forays into nineteenth century spiritualism fascinating and amusing. I find my only complaint with Evelyn Pryce novels is that I wish them longer, so that I can spend more time unraveling the threads of the tale along with the characters I've fallen in love with. But this one does work itself up to a properly smashing conclusion, complete with pistols at dawn and Cassie at her most brilliant. Neither Thaxton nor I could look away....more
And we have the second Pennyroyal Green novel I've loved in as many months. This one was just light and lovely from start to finish. And yet the mainAnd we have the second Pennyroyal Green novel I've loved in as many months. This one was just light and lovely from start to finish. And yet the main characters had a weight to them that worked for me. Lavay and Elise's story is small and on the quiet side, enclosed as it is within the walls of the home he cannot break out of and that she is determined to infuse with light. I continue to appreciate the ways in which Ms. Long pauses to allow light to fall on the quiet, yet vital observations her characters make as her story rolls along....more