I'm a sucker for reading other people's favorite books of all time. When someone tells me a certain book is one of the books of their life, I get thisI'm a sucker for reading other people's favorite books of all time. When someone tells me a certain book is one of the books of their life, I get this pressing urge to run out and secure a copy. It generally doesn't matter what genre or style of book it is. I think this is mostly because I know what it means to care so much about a book you have to have it nearby at all times. Maybe you own more than one copy so that if you lend one out you've still got a spare...just in case. Maybe you can't remember a time when you hadn't read and loved that book, those characters. I know what that feels like. And because I have such tender feelings for certain books, I want to have read the books others feel the same way about. It's almost always a rewarding experience. One of the most memorable of these times happened several years ago when a good friend of mine on Readerville was talking about what a superb novel Barbara Kingsolver's ANIMAL DREAMS was. I had read one Kingsolver book at that point--The Bean Trees--and, while I appreciated parts of it, my overall reaction was pretty lackluster. So it wasn't with a lot of excitement that I approached Kingsolver's second novel.
Codi Noline thought she'd left Grace, Arizona once and for all when she and her little sister Hallie escaped and went away to college. It's been ten years since then and Codi and Hallie have traveled farther than she ever expected. Even after medical school and several stints as a world traveler, she's never found a place she could call home And yet, when the call comes in that her father has Alzheimer's and can't live alone anymore and Codi returns home to look after him, she finds to her chagrin that she hasn't moved that far beyond her childhood after all. Back in Grace, she stays in her old friend Emelina's guest house and takes a job teaching biology at the local high school. With her platinum blonde hair and her checkered history with this town, she stands out like a sore thumb and she's all but sure it was a colossal mistake coming home this way. But as she exchanges letters with Hallie, deals with her deteriorating father, and strikes up a tentative friendship with Loyd Peregrina--an Apache railroad brakeman she once knew--Codi's perspective is challenged on so many levels and the lines between memory and truth and past and present are blurred so far it's all she can do to hang on to the here and now.
Here are the opening lines from Codi's perspective:
I am the sister who didn't go to war. I can only tell you my side of the story. Hallie is the one who went south, with her pickup truck and her crop-disease books and her heart dead set on a new world.
Who knows why people do what they do? I stood on a battleground once too, but it was forty years after the fighting was all over: northern France, in 1982, in a field where the farmers' plow blades kept turning up the skeletons of cows. They were the first casualties of the German occupation. In the sudden quiet after the evacuation the cows had died by the thousands in those pastures, slowly, lowing with pain from unmilked udders. But now the farmers who grew sugar beets in those fields were blessed, they said, by the bones. The soil was rich in calcium.
I knew right away I liked Codi. I felt sorry for her and I wanted to know her better. By the end, I liked her even more, as though I understood her because I had followed her home. Kingsolver's storytelling is breathlessly evocative. I constantly found myself gasping at the way she wields the written word to move her readers and wrap them up in a vision of the world the way it is and the way it could be. Halfway through my first read, I couldn't take it any longer. I quietly returned my library copy and fled to the bookstore to buy one of my own. I had to own this book and I wasn't even finished yet! Truthfully, ANIMAL DREAMS took me completely by surprise. It had me by the throat with its motherless sisters who want to save the world, its handmade peacock pinatas, its dying town, and its gorgeous, gorgeous longing. The story of a girl searching to belong, of a town struggling to survive, and the intricate myths and culture surrounding them all completely engulfed me. To say nothing of the quiet, intense love story winding its way through the beautiful prose. There were so many other passages I wanted to quote for you but in the end I couldn't take away that opportunity of discovering them for yourself. It's just too special to intrude on in that way. When I think of those few perfect books, this one always comes to mind. I'm so glad Zanna sang its praises so emphatically. I'm so glad I listened. Because it's one of the books of my life now, too. I like having it nearby at all times. I have a lending copy...just in case. And I have trouble remembering a time I didn't know and love Codi, Loyd, and all of Grace. ...more
Okay, as you all know I am not very well-versed in the romance genre. I took my first dip in last summer when The Book Smugglers dared me to read LoreOkay, as you all know I am not very well-versed in the romance genre. I took my first dip in last summer when The Book Smugglers dared me to read Loretta Chase's Mr. Impossible. While I had a great time completing the dare and reporting on it, the book was not my cup of tea and I wasn't so taken with the experience that I wanted to repeat it again just yet. I have, however, casually been keeping my eye out for my next attempt. Based on my reactions to Mr. Impossible, Ana recommended giving Julia Quinn's What Happens in London a shot, but every time I go to the library it's been checked out. This is probably a good sign. And so I figured I'd just wait for that one to come back in and give it a go. Then, as part of the Smugglivus Feats of Strength, Thea read and reviewed Julie James' PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT--one of Ana's favorites of '09. And it was like the this is the next one light went on in my head. I think it was Thea's comment:
I was a little nervous going into Practice Makes Perfect - but from the first page of this delightful book, I found myself immersed and entertained. Ms. James' novel is romantic comedy at its finest.
How could I resist that? Especially when she followed it up by noting that there is a decided lack of "mush" and play-by-play sex scenes in the book. In short, it sounded made to order.
Payton and J.D. have worked at the same Chicago law firm for eight years. And for eight years they have been at each other's throats. Opposites in almost every way, Payton is a liberal vegetarian, attended a public university, and worked her way up the corporate ladder on pure talent and grit. J.D. Jameson, on the other hand, is as old money/conservative as they come, grew up privileged, attended an Ivy League school, and considers himself a shoo-in for partner. Since they specialized in different kinds of law, they are fortunate not to have to work with each other too often. The fragile balance is thrown off kilter, however, when they're assigned to the same case and forced to see if they can put aside their animosity in favor of securing those partnerships they've both been counting on.
I was still hesitant as I cracked open PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT. And for the first few pages I still wasn't sure. The somewhat blatant clichés (liberal feminist vs. conservative money) worried me and I was concerned the predictability would end up bothering me and that the characterization would be slapdash at best. But then Payton and J.D. start interacting. And the dialogue...well, it's incredibly witty. They excel at insulting each other and concocting hilarious pranks to play. Having known and hated each other so long they know all the right buttons to push. But my favorite part is how the wit doesn't end when they stop talking. Ms. James stays in their heads just long enough that we get that sort of running self-editorializing of thoughts that we all do and that is simply hilarious to be in on. The other aspect of the book I enjoyed was all the legal shoptalk. Ms. James herself was a lawyer for many years and it shows in the writing. I appreciated how interesting it was and it definitely lent the story a welcome authenticity.
What can I say? This book is bibliocrack. In the most basic sense of the term. Absolutely addictive, hilariously entertaining, irresistible romantic comedy. I ate it up with a spoon and consider my time reading very well spent, especially as Thea was exactly right. It features smart, independent protagonists who are good at their jobs and have interests and goals in life outside of the romantic. And these protagonists are drawn to each other because of these qualities. And, okay, yes, they're pretty much aces as far as the hotness factor goes, but their connections are real and you want them to understand each other and realize what's there under the hot lawyer surface. The writing is clean and even, the dialogue shoulder-shaking-giggles-inducing (though expect a fair amount of language), the best friends good and true, the tension sizzling, the intimate scenes minimal and fade to black, and the endings just the way you want them--decidedly happy. If you're in the mood for any or all of the above, you might as well grab yourself a bowl of popcorn and settle in, because you're in for a rocking good time....more
I picked up IN FOR A PENNY based on the reviews of several of my favorite savvy bloggers as well as the strength of the lovely cover art. I could do wI picked up IN FOR A PENNY based on the reviews of several of my favorite savvy bloggers as well as the strength of the lovely cover art. I could do without the ornate gilt frame, but I think the pastoral scene at sunset is lovely. And, as I am a fairly weak-stomached romance reader, I appreciated the lack of skin. Having read it I can honestly say this cover very much fits what's inside--the uncommonly sweet story of a boy, a girl, and a marriage of convenience. I'm sadly pretty inexperienced when it comes to Regency novels as well. I keep meaning to get around to Georgette Heyer but a wrench always seems to get thrown in the wheels of that happening. So I decided to go ahead and dive into this new release with a handful of hopes and a strong sense of curiosity.
Miss Penelope Brown occupies a singular position within the hierarchy of the London social set. The daughter of a businessman, she is by and large looked down upon for her humble origins, despite her father's fabulous wealth. It doesn't help that he made it running a distillery and that her common-born mother lacks pretty much all the social graces required to thrive amid the stuffy, old blood circulating through the balls she attends. Which is why she is so startled to find young Lord Nevinstoke paying her court at the latest party. When they discover they share a taste for Malory and he appears to find her mother amusing rather than offensive, Penelope finds herself relaxing just the tiniest bit. Then his friends rush up bellowing something about his dreaded mother and he's off and rushing into the night. Sure she will never see him again, Penny is nothing short of flabbergasted to find him, hat in hand, on her doorstep with a proposal of marriage on his lips. It appears his father was recently killed in a duel and the family coffers are in disarray. Nev and his mother and sister are on the brink of losing everything if he is unable to secure a sizable amount of capital. Immediately. This is where Penny and her fortune come in. And, in a moment of generosity, kindness, and possibly temporary insanity, she accepts his offer. And thus, the rest of their lives begin.
It is physically impossible not to like Penny and Nev. I'll tell you that right off the bat. They are delightful and endearing and I was in love with the idea of them by the end of their first conversation. Penelope is earnest and shy, extremely clever and not afraid to say what she thinks or make her own decisions. Nev is the equivalent of an adorable golden retriever puppy. Happy and gentle and prone to rushing headlong into anything that strikes his fancy. Together they make a most striking couple, and not at all in the physical sense. They're neither of them stunningly attractive, and Nev has more than a few nasty habits borne of entitlement and indolence. He even keeps a mistress, which practice ends the day their marriage takes place. I worried (as much as Penny, I'm sure) that this aspect of the story would bother me. But I have to hand it to Rose Lerner for handling it as sensitively and appropriately as she did. It makes you like Nev more. And justifies Penny's early faith in him. I loved how kind and good they were and I wanted nothing more than to watch them grow closer together. And, of course, the road to happiness is awash in pitfalls and obstacles. They are constantly misunderstanding one another and they fight an uphill battle against both their parents' disapproval and the suspicions and distrust of Nev's steward and tenants on his country estate, where they go to live until they find a way to salvage things. I ate the first two-thirds of this charming romp up like candy, looking forward to the eventual realizations and happy resolution. But somewhere around that point, things started to get a bit wearing. The misunderstandings persisted beyond my credibility level. Enough with the assuming the worst already. The bad guy continued to act increasingly insane (not in a good way) and a couple of secondary characters made annoyingly late and infuriatingly predictable entrances just to complicate matters, when the story did not needed littering up with their presence. For me, this melodrama took away from the sweetness that was their growing trust and introduced doubt and deception simply for the sake of prolonging the climax. By the end I was just tired of it all, when I should have been content. And that's a shame. Now, the writing in IN FOR A PENNY is simply lovely and the characters are strong. I wanted to know them and hug them for how happy they made me. The problem for me was more one of pacing and failing to quit when you're ahead. So, though I ended this one disappointed, there was definitely enough good that I will be picking up Ms. Lerner's next novel--Lily Among Thorns--when it comes out next year....more
My problem was I read it because it was so favorably compared to Her Best Worst Mistake, which I loved. Unfortunately, in comparison, this one felt liMy problem was I read it because it was so favorably compared to Her Best Worst Mistake, which I loved. Unfortunately, in comparison, this one felt like it was trying too hard. Very fun setup, but the execution dragged on, it felt a bit too predictable, and I didn't stay as invested in the characters. ...more
Sometimes you come full circle with a certain author. My very first Lisa Kleypas novel was actually Sugar Daddy,Originally reviewed here @ Angieville
Sometimes you come full circle with a certain author. My very first Lisa Kleypas novel was actually Sugar Daddy, the first book in the Travis Family trilogy. And I enjoyed it for the most part. But I started to grow fatigued near the end with all of the Texas good ole boy charm, enough that I figured I'd part ways with Kleypas at that point and call it good. Then, awhile later, I won a copy of the introductory novella to her magical realism Friday Harbor series and decided why not give something more recent a try? I devoured it in a single evening and continued on with that series, with varying results. The saga continued when I caved to massive praise and gave one of her historicals a shot (the woman can apparently write pretty much any genre she likes). And, you know, I rather enjoyed my romp with Evie and Sebastian. So I guess you could say when Racquel over at The Book Barbies got her hooks into me, I was fairly well primed for my second stint with the Travis clan. As far as I can tell, Racquel is this book's Number One Fan. I do know that without her, I never would have picked BLUE-EYED DEVIL up. And what a shame that would have been. So props to Racquel for preparing me for the swoon. What I wasn't prepared for was the kind of single-minded absorption Haven Travis' story would incite in me.
Haven Travis has had to live with enough overbearing men for two lifetimes, thank you very much. The men in her family do not mince words, they do not suffer fools gladly, and they do not allocate much leeway to the one girl in the Travis clan. Which is why when she finds good-natured, easy to get along with Nick Tanner, she decides she's going to keep him. And so begins a kind of hell Haven could never have imagined. Alone and uncertain, Haven lives in this hell far too long. Long enough that when she finally extricates herself (with the help of her big brother Gage), she's in no way ready to resume normal life. Being a Travis, though, she gives it the old college try. And along the way she runs into Hardy Cates. An old enemy of the Travises, Hardy has worked hard to get where he is today. He's not interested in mucking things up because he can't take his eyes off Haven Travis. But they did have that one encounter years ago. Before she married Nick. Before Hardy washed his hands of her family completely. And now they're living in the same town again and Hardy can see it's going to be difficult to ignore the youngest Travis the way he'd like to. And so a tentative friendship is struck, despite their respective lack of knowledge of the extreme baggage the other carries as well as the gargantuan disapproval of her family.
This book had no interest in letting me slip out of its clutches. I was surprised how quickly I fell into Haven's story. From her first uncomfortable encounter with Hardy at her brother's wedding to years down the road meeting him again when she had nothing left to give, I was drawn to Kleypas' painfully honest portrayal of one girl's life. It was so much more than I was expecting. In every way. Haven was more. Her life with Nick was way, way more. Hardy was more. And, together, Hardy and Haven were more in that way that squeezes your vocal cords, brings a certain tightness to your temples, and heralds those moments when a fictional character becomes devastatingly real. There are honestly so many thoughtful and charged passages I would have liked to quote, but in the end I'm going with a favorite lighter-but-packs-a-punch-at-the-end snippet to illustrate the what I'm talking about here:
Taking one look at my wretched face, Todd reached for the green chenille throw on my sofa and wrapped it around me. I snuggled in the corner of the sofa, drawing my feet back to make room for him.
"Must have been some dance," Todd said, untying his bow tie. He left it hanging loose on either side of his neck, and relaxed on the sofa beside me, as graceful as a cat. "What happened?"
"We didn't dance," I said numbly.
"He took me to a dark corner somewhere. A stairwell."
"Purely for my vicarious enjoyment, tell me . . . is he good?"
I could feel my face go crimson.
"That good?" Todd asked.
A shaky laugh escaped me. I wasn't sure I could put it into words. "You know how when someone kisses you, you can tell they're only doing it as a step to something else? Like they're just trying to get it over with? Well, Hardy kisses like it's the only thing in the world he wants to do."
Mm-hm. That good. I'm beginning to think I may grow somewhat fatigued near the end of the best Kleypas novels because she makes you want so much. Because you are never, ever detached. And because her characters do not conform the way we readers might occasionally prefer. They're messy and hurt and hopeful and recalcitrant. While that combination does not always work for me in her books, it very much did here. BLUE-EYED DEVIL is definitely my favorite of her books yet. I didn't want to take it back to the library when I was done. In fact, I still haven't. Fines be damned. I'm waiting till I'm good and ready....more
It's coming on Valentine's Day and I felt like something old and sappy and sweet and a favorite. And it didn't take long at all before my mind alighteIt's coming on Valentine's Day and I felt like something old and sappy and sweet and a favorite. And it didn't take long at all before my mind alighted on a title I am almost sure you have never heard of--ROMANCE IS A WONDERFUL THING by Ellen Emerson White. Now, I regularly fly my White fangirl flag as you know, but I don't know if I've ever talked about this early, lesser known book. I'd been a devoted White reader for years before I ever heard of it and then it was only thanks to my friend Nan (a devoted EEW fangirl herself) who clued me in to its existence. So I ordered a copy off Half.com because, naturally, it was out of print. And when it arrived in the mail I devoured this trim little 188-page treat that night. First though, before we even get to the improbable title, how about that cover?! It's hard to really take it in, isn't it? Just that awesome. I mean, I dare you to look at it and not burst into the theme song from The Facts of Life. Or Family Ties. I still haven't been able to wipe the grin off my face. As for the title, I don't know what to say except you're simply going to have to overlook it.
Patricia (Trish) Masters is your basic good girl. The oldest of two, blond and pretty, she's an honors student, plays on the tennis team, and is everybody's friend. Colin (Mac) McNamara is your basic screw up. The only child of a cop and a nervous stay-at-home-mom, dark and lean, he's flunking out of school, has the worst reputation of any kid in school, and is nobody's friend. But Colin likes watching girl's tennis. And one day he runs into Trish after school and, even though he makes her nervous, she finds herself wanting to get to know him better. Over the next several weeks they find reasons to run into each other again and again and both of them are surprised to find they're neither of them exactly what their reputations would have you believe. Trish is a lot less confident than she appears and she longs for someone to talk to about the changes coming into her life. Colin has a past, and even though it's not the one people attribute to him, he's its prisoner just the same. The question is can these two very different young kids overlook their differences and stick together long enough to help each other deal with their fears?
Even now it's hard for me to believe Ellen Emerson White wrote such a sweet teen romance. She generally deals in much more painfully conflicted fare than this. But I'm ever so glad that she did. That's not to say that the characters in this one, particularly Colin, don't have their fair share of trauma. And the classic White dialogue is present and accounted for in the wonderfully dry exchanges between characters. Here's a typical exchange early on:
Trish meandered through the Boston Public Library. She didn't like using the little memory-bank computers the library had instead of a card catalog, so she usually just wandered around, picking up books that looked interesting. For a minute, she watched a man reading a book upside down; then, realizing it was probably getting late, she walked toward the main staircase. Hurrying, she almost bumped into someone. "Excuse me--" She stopped and stared, recognizing Colin. As he saw her, he stiffened. "What are you doing here?" he demanded. "Uh, well." Trish frowned at her books. "The same thing you are, I guess." He ran his free hand through his hair, unmistakably rattled. "Sports," he said. "I like to read about sports." "Which ones?" "I don't know. You know." He backed up toward the stone railing, dropping two of the books when he hit it sooner than he expected. "The Old Man and the Sea?" Trish asked, bending to pick one up. He got to it first. "Fishing." "How about Richard the Second?" She picked up the other one. "Uh, murder." She gave it to him. "What are you, a brain?" "I gotta go, I'm late." He turned, walking swiftly down the stairs. Trish watched him go, confused. "Hey!" He was suddenly back. "Hey, woman!" She looked at him uncertainly. "It's getting dark outside." His voice was accusing. "Oh?" She tilted her head, not sure what he meant. "You walk around in the dark every night?" "I only live a couple of blocks away." "So you walk around in the dark? You know how stupid that is?" "No," she said, grinning. "I'm not a brain." "Yeah, well, how long you gonna be in here?" "I don't know, I guess--" "Well, I'll wait," he grumbled. "Don't feel like reading about you in The Globe tomorrow." "You don't have to--" "I said I was waiting already." "Um, I guess I can go now." Trish started down the stairs. He nodded, indicating that he'd be by the door. "You really don't have to do this," Trish said once they were outside. "I can walk by myself; I do it all the time." "Terrific, you do it all the time." He shook his head.
And, in the end, it's a love story. And an incredibly genuine and endearing one at that. Colin and Trish are easy to like and they certainly stand out as being two of the least acerbic of White's protagonists. It's impossible not to fall for Colin, with his smart mouth and terminal self-deprecation. He hides his true self exceedingly well, only letting his guard down when he's at home talking to his cat Ophelia. Or, increasingly more often, when he's with Trish. I know this is another out of print book I'm recommending, but used copies are available very inexpensively. And if, like me, you're in the mood for a cozy, utterly disarming read during this dreary season, ROMANCE IS A WONDERFUL THING is just the thing....more
I guess mysteries have always been a part of my life. Ever since my mom handed me that first Nancy Drew--The Hidden Staircase--that thirst for the cluI guess mysteries have always been a part of my life. Ever since my mom handed me that first Nancy Drew--The Hidden Staircase--that thirst for the clues, the search, the not knowing has stuck with me. That, combined with the fact that they are very nostalgic for me, and you get to read about a lot of them. Mary Stewart is my very favorite when it comes to romantic suspense and her many mysteries are serial re-reads for me. In the best of times and the worst of times, she comes through with an unrivaled spirit of adventure, panache, and wanderlust. I will forever have my mom to thank for finding her first Mary Stewart in a small town library when she was in high school, painstakingly collecting lovely used copies over the years, and reading them over and over again so that one day I would grow up and want to do the same. If you ask my mom which one is her favorite she'll probably tell you Airs Above the Ground. It takes place in her beloved Austrian Alps and features a dangerous fire, a missing husband, and a legendary horse. It's definitely the one I saw her re-reading most often. If you ask me, I get "that look" on my face and dither around about the virtues of this one and that one. Which is exactly what I did trying to decide which one to post on today. I ended up with NINE COACHES WAITING because it may be the most potent combination of every element I love about Ms. Stewart's novels. It's certainly one of the ones I re-read most often.
Belinda Martin (Linda for short--or for pretty, as her mother used to say) lands in Paris on a cold, gray, and rainy day. She is on her way to her brand new post as a governess to the young Count Philippe de Valmy. Having lost both his parents in a tragic accident, the nine-year-old little boy lives with his aunt and uncle in the vast and ornate Château Valmy in the French countryside. Léon de Valmy, Philippe's uncle, runs the estate on behalf of his underage nephew until he comes of age and arranged for a proper English governess for his charge. When Linda arrives at the imposing manor, she is at once enchanted by its beauty and history, but is also immediately struck by the sense of menace and doom surrounding the land and its inhabitants. Léon is a charismatic force of nature and quite charming with it, and when Linda meets his reckless and rakishly handsome son Raoul, she understands a bit more about the Valmy heritage and what makes this family tick. As she becomes closer to Philippe and Raoul, Linda draws ever nearer to putting her finger on the source of the threat. But the layers of danger and darkness run deeper than any of them guessed and she may not be able to trust those she wants to, no matter how innocent or attractive they may seem. Soon it is up to the shy young governess to beat the clock in order to save Philippe's life as well as her own.
This is the kind of heady, romantic, foreboding tale that wraps you up in its elegant wings and carries you off for parts unknown. Linda is immediately sympathetic, with her loneliness wrapped around her like a threadbare cloak, her fierce protectiveness of Philippe, and the way she verbally spars with Léon de Valmy and manages to emerge unscathed. She is what this darkly glorious place needs and there are wonderful little touches here and there of the Jane Eyre and Rebecca about this novel. A favorite passage early on:
I heard nothing. I turned quickly. Even then it was a second or so before I saw the shadow detach itself from the other shadows and slide forward.
Though I had known what to expect, instinctively my eye went too high, and then fell--again by instinct, shrinkingly--to the squat shape that shot forward, uncannily without sound, to a smooth halt six feet away.
Pity, repulsion, curiosity, the determination to show none of these . . . whatever feelings struggled in me as I turned were swept aside like leaves before a blast of wind. The slightly dramatic quality of his entrance may have contributed to the effect; one moment a shadow, and the next moment silently there . . . But, once there, Léon de Valmy was an object for no one's pity; one saw simply a big, handsome, powerful man who from his wheel chair managed without speaking a word to obliterate everyone else in the hall--this literally, for almost before the wheel chair stopped, the servants had melted unobtrusively away. Only Mrs. Seddon was still audible, steaming steadily up the right-hand branch of the staircase toward the gallery.
It was a tribute to Léon de Valmy's rather overwhelming personality that my own first impression had nothing to do with his crippled state; it was merely that this was the handsomest man I had ever seen. My experience, admittedly, had not been large, but in any company he would have been conspicuous. The years had only added to his extraordinary good looks, giving him the slightly haggard distinction of lined cheeks and white hair that contrasted strikingly with dark eyes and black, strongly-marked brows. The beautifully shaped mouth had that thin, almost cruel set to it that is sometimes placed there by pain. His hands looked soft, as if they were not used enough, and he was too pale. But for all that, this was no invalid; this was the master of the house, and the half of his body that was still alive was just twice as much so as anybody else's . . . .
He was smiling now as he greeted his wife and turned to me and the smile lit his face attractively. There was no earthly reason why I should feel suddenly nervous, or why I should imagine that Héloise de Valmy's voice as she introduced us was too taut and high, like an overtight string.
I thought, watching her, she's afraid of him. . . . Then I told myself sharply not to be a fool. This was the result of Daddy's intriguing build-up and my own damned romantic imagination. Just because the man looked like Milton's ruined archangel and chose to appear in the hall like the Demon King through a trap door, it didn't necessarily mean that I had to smell sulphur.
And the entire story winds on in that delicious vein. The exquisite suspense lingers to the very last and the relationships between the characters are real, romantic, and wholly delightful. Every time I read it I fall in love all over again with lovely Linda, dangerous Raoul, adorable Philippe, and beautiful, haunting Valmy. And I get chills at the same parts every time single time. NINE COACHES WAITING showcases a master storyteller at her very best. Highly recommended....more
Good heavens, this was delightful. I'd tried a couple of Ms. Long's Pennyroyal Green books before without much success and had essentially written offGood heavens, this was delightful. I'd tried a couple of Ms. Long's Pennyroyal Green books before without much success and had essentially written off the series. Happily, I listened to my friend Michelle's recommendation and snagged this one at the library. Lurid cover (and limp title) aside, I fell immediately in love with Genevieve and Alex. On the face of things, it was never going to work for me. It's a bit of a May-December romance. There's a revenge plot sure to devastate one of the primary parties. The heroine is hopelessly hung up on the childhood friend who's in love with the other childhood friend. Etc.
But. But somehow it works just brilliantly. It's hilarious and wrenching and just smooth as silk. With a genuinely heart-in-your-throat ending to boot. A keeper for sure....more
Sarah Addison Allen's debut novel, GARDEN SPELLS, is the perfect example of one of those books I would never have picked up were it not for the recommSarah Addison Allen's debut novel, GARDEN SPELLS, is the perfect example of one of those books I would never have picked up were it not for the recommendation of another excellent blogger. In this case it came from my good friend Michelle over at See Michelle Read. One of her favorite reads, she suggested I would like it and was she ever right. I'd seen it around several times and all I knew was that it was a New York Times bestseller. I couldn't really work out what genre it was and I sort of mentally sorted it into the The Secret Life of Bees category and left it there. Not that I didn't enjoy The Secret Life of Bees. But I've never had the urge to reread it, you know? But GARDEN SPELLS shares only a rather charming Carolina setting (North as opposed to South) with Sue Monk Kidd's novel. Beyond that, it is entirely its own work.
Claire Waverly is a creature of habit. She gets up. She goes about her work, making deliveries, catering events. She gardens. She visits with her friend and distant relation Evanelle. She goes to bed. She gets up and does it all again. Living alone doesn't bother Claire because it's safe and uncomplicated. She can control every aspect of her carefully regimented life and she can avoid getting more involved in anyone else's life than she'd like. When every last person in her life left, Claire determined she would never let herself count on anyone too much. Content with her eccentric reputation as a solitary soul and a mysterious Waverly, she looks ahead to a future free of complication. That is until her new neighbor, an art professor at the local college, moves in and insists on getting to know her, even bringing back a boxful of apples from her tree, which had fallen on his side of the fence. It's all Claire can do to avoid his overtures and ensure that whatever he does, he doesn't eat one of those apples. The apple tree in the Waverly yard is local legend and, though she herself has no use for the recalcitrant tree, she takes her job as its caretaker rather seriously. Then her estranged sister Sydney shows up with her five-year-old daughter Bay in tow and Claire is once more forced to realign the shape of her days to accommodate two more people who clearly need her. Little does she know what kind of darkness is hounding her sister's trail.
I loved this book. I loved the heady descriptions of baking and gardening and the many unexpected intersections between the two art forms. I loved Claire and how hard it was for her to change, to reach out to anyone at all. I loved Sydney and her heartbreaking determination to take care of her daughter despite the ragged mess she'd made of her life. And I loved Tyler and Henry and Evanelle and Fred and every other beautiful, crazy inhabitant of Bascom, North Carolina. This is a very simple, very sweet story that simultaneously falls under the categories of magical realism, fairy tales, and contemporary fiction. I've not read much like it before and I finished it utterly enchanted and looking for more. I think one of the reasons I was so delighted with the story was it reminded me of my father's side of the family. The way they spoke, the way they interacted, the way family trumped everything else. So I spent the majority of the read in a happy, nostalgic daze. If you're looking for a perfectly charming read filled with sympathetic characters, sprinkled with a couple of endearing romances, and wrapped in a hint of magic and longing, then this is the book for you....more
MISTWOOD has been on my radar for close to a year now, if you can believe it. I've been monitoring its status updates on Amazon and GoodReads and checMISTWOOD has been on my radar for close to a year now, if you can believe it. I've been monitoring its status updates on Amazon and GoodReads and checking Leah Cypess' site regularly for any news. There have been tantalizingly few details about this book floating around the verse. I knew it was YA fantasy. I knew it was about a girl who was a shifter. And I knew it took place in a kingdom in trouble. The back cover copy proclaims it:
For fans of Kristin Cashore's Graceling and Fire, Tamora Pierce, and Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia books
Ahem. That combination right there is only like the holy triumvirate of YA fantasy awesome. And so it was with unmitigated glee that I pulled my ARC out of its box a few days ago. I started reading it that night.
She has no memory. No concept of an existence before the moment they came riding into the Mistwood to drag her back to a castle full of high walls, dark secrets, and the suffocating need of the prince. They call her Isabel. The Shifter. The mythical being who can take any form at a moment's notice, who is faster and stronger than any human, whose entire reason for existing is to protect the rulers of Samorna. From harm. From death. With her own life if necessary. And though she answers the insistent pull to protect Prince Rokan, Isabel cannot reconcile who she might be and what she might have been with who they expect her to be. Set apart by her uncertain status and the legend of her origins, she struggles to harness her abilities and come to grips with human emotions and motivations. Amid a swirl of court politics, scheming factions, and doubtful loyalties, the Shifter must race against time to save the man who would be king. A man she is bound to. A man she distrusts. A man she has come to call her friend.
First things first. The cover copy does not lie. Fans of Kristin Cashore, Tamora Pierce, and Megan Whalen Turner will definitely find much to delight among MISTWOOD's pages. Leah Cypess' debut novel is tense, intricately woven, and filled with an almost palpable sense of mystery and foreboding. The entire time I was reading it, I kept thinking to myself--anything could happen. I had no idea how things were going to play out. And I loved that about it. You literally have no idea who to trust. There are those you want to trust so badly, but are afraid to for fear of how much it will hurt if they betray you. And there are those you wouldn't put anything past, so devious do they appear. But all of them surprise you at one point or another. And at the heart of it all is a girl who is neither one thing nor another. Ms. Cypess does an excellent job of endearing Isabel to her readers, no mean feat when she is a supernatural being, a creature purportedly without feeling or even the basic understanding of human emotions. Despite this, I felt Isabel's emotions. With her I felt trapped. I felt confusion, longing, and a desperate drive to understand and to fulfill the measure of my existence.
A favorite passage early on (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
Rokan took a deep breath. The directness of his gaze strengthened his resemblance to the man in the painting, though there was nothing cold or judgmental in his eyes. He was trying to appear as regal as he could, but uncertainty was written all over him, and his face was flushed from his argument with Clarisse.
"I wasn't able to wake you earlier, or I would have warned you. Nobody knows I went to the Mistwood. We think it would be best to keep your true identity a secret for now. I hope you're not offended." "Of course not," said Isabel, who had no idea what her true identity was. "That seems wise."
"Rokan ran his hand over his hair and clutched the back of his neck. "Oh. Good." He hesitated again, then blurted, "I don't actually know that much about the Shifter."
Then you know more than I do, Isabel thought, and saw an opportunity. She gave him her most enigmatic smile and said, "Tell me what you do know."
"Most of it is legend. An immortal creature who protects the kings of Samorna with her wisdom and magic." He massaged the back of his neck. "When the realm is peaceful, the Shifter sometimes leaves the castle and goes to the Mistwood. Then there may be no Shifter for twenty, fifty, once even a hundred years. But when she is needed, she always comes."
"There's even a song about you," Clarisse put in. "It's very pretty, if you like the high notes."
Isabel ignored her. Based on her brief experience, that already seemed like the best way to deal with Clarisse. She stepped closer to the door and turned sideways, so that she could be closer to Rokan without allowing Clarisse or Will out of her line of sight.
Rokan dropped his hand to his side and continued. "You left ten years ago, and at the time you were called Isabel. I was a child then, but . . ." He faltered and glanced at his sister. "We weren't sure you would come back. When you left . . . there were circumstances."
Running through the snow, blood trailing behind her. Tears falling, not leaving a mark like the blood, and that seemed wrong. Pain. Terrible, terrible pain . . .
"Yes," Isabel said without thinking, "there were."
Rokan straightened, pulling away from the wall. He, Will, and Clarisse looked at one another. They were afraid. Rokan and Clarisse both hid it almost well enough, but Will's face was near white.
Rokan recovered first, leaning back gingerly against the wall, trying to act casual. "So why did you leave?"
Isabel lifted her eyebrows. "I am not going to tell you that, Your Highness."
Rokan's hand tightened against his leg, but all he said was, "I understand."
Isabel highly doubted it.
I was glued to the page with this one, guys. Cypess' writing is quiet, yet gripping. The world itself felt truly unique and, as is the case with my very favorite fantasies, as though it possessed a long and winding history that precedes and encompasses this time and these people. By the time I reached the point of no return, I had abandoned all hope of guessing the outcome and simply devoured the final emotionally charged pages. With a cast of conflicted, compelling characters and a mystery so serpentine your mind is left spinning with explanations and implications, MISTWOOD is a bewitching and beguiling debut. I loved it and cannot wait to watch the reviews roll in.
I will admit, I liked the cover of Allison Parr's debut novel RUSH ME right off the bat when I first saw it floatOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I will admit, I liked the cover of Allison Parr's debut novel RUSH ME right off the bat when I first saw it floating around the blogosphere. I could tell it was going to be marketed new adult as soon as I saw it, and that's probably a marketing win right there. But the reason I liked it was because everything I knew about the book seemed to come together in the cover. The bold stripes of color and the font work really well for this sports romance. I particularly liked the colors set across the black and white photo, and that the couple was sort of naturally or ordinarily presented (and attired). It was both a relief and an eye-catcher, if you will. I still waffled back and forth a bit on picking it up until I read Li's review over at Me and My Books. In it, she compared it to another new adult title she'd read and found this one to be decidedly preferred. Li has excellent taste, in case you were wondering. And so that (and the extremely attractive price) was all it took to push me over the edge from waffling to buying.
Rachael can't seem to gain any traction. She took the unpaid internship with a small-ish publishing house in the hopes that it would open doors to a career in the industry. But it seems she's just biding her time, blowing through her savings, not getting anywhere. The same could be said for her love live, or lack thereof. These days the only kind of social life she engages in is when her roommate Eva drags her out with her gaggle of fellow theater friends. Which is how Rachael finds herself one night in the wrong apartment at the wrong party. Surrounded by a host of men too brawny and women too clingy to be Eva's crowd, she realizes she's crashed some sort of sports-related party or other. Infinitely outside her comfort zone, she attempts to beat a path out of there. Unfortunately, said path is barred by a couple of bruisers who assume she's just another in a long line of groupies. The situation devolves from there. Utterly disgusted, she walks out without her scarf. And it's a nice enough scarf that she's forced to return to retrieve it. And wouldn't you know in the cold light of day, some of those big, bad football players don't look all that big and bad. They invite her in. They're interested in what she has to say. All but Ryan Carter. The star quarterback is convinced she's there for one reason and one reason only. He wants her gone in no uncertain terms. But by the time he makes his opinion known, the team has already sort of adopted her. And perhaps most surprising of all, Rachael finds herself . . . wanting to stay.
I love a good prickly protagonist. Or two. Together, Rachael and Ryan are definitely the kind of stiff, stubborn immovable forces I love. Plenty of push and pull (and swoon) for your buck. I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting going into RUSH ME, but what I got was more substantial and enjoyable from the word go. These characters possessed fully developed lives and, happily, all the different aspects of those lives made appearances on the page. The palpable presence of family, education, co-workers, teammates, and religion helped me construct a vision of people I could love, who could love each other, despite their very normal, very real fears and the miles of vastly different experiences separating them. I've never lived in Manhattan, but I've visited several times over the years, and I thoroughly enjoyed living inside Rachael's Manhattan for the duration of this book. Her observations and insights about the people and places around her held my attention. While she may have struggled discerning the motivations of some key players in her life, her point of view felt continually real to me. Here, a favorite passage that immediately landed me right at her side:
The room's centerpiece, a seven-tiered fountain, obscured the flock. Bubbly champagne frothed downward as waiters reached out to catch the golden ambrosia. They circulated through the room with their balanced platters, passing by women in long gowns and men in black jackets. Murmured voices were underlain by the slightest whisper of classical music. Precious stones winked in earrings and cuff links, and guests appraised each other from behind their champagne flutes. A young woman in a red dress tossed a flirtatious glance at a young man on an older lady's arm, while two men huddled together in the shadows, trading secrets over empty glasses. People touched and parted, a dance of consequence, as everyone tried to break into circles higher than their own.
It was a pleasure accompanying her through that dance of consequence, especially as she got to know Ryan and the team and was able to see her city and its people in an entirely new way. It was another pleasure absorbing the wry humor of this story. A quick exchange between Rachael and her roommate:
"Ryan Carter wants to have dinner with me on Friday. And like a dozen other people. But still." I collapsed onto the sofa and kicked off my shoes.
Eva frowned. "But aren't you in a fight?"
"Yes. I don't know. Is this a really bad idea? Apparently he suggested it."
Eva's grin broadened and her dark eyes twinkled. She peeled off the rubber dish gloves and dropped down next to me on the sagging cushions. "I think it's a great idea."
"But what if he's a Wickham?"
She shrugged. "Maybe you're a Lydia."
I shuddered. "Don't say such things." Lydia might have caught Wickham in the end, but she was still vain and flippant and unlikeable. "I want to be Elizabeth."
Eva gave me a look.
"Fine." My head dropped against the back of the couch. "I'm a Jane. I'm a Jane, okay?" The staid older sister.
"There's nothing wrong with being a Jane."
"That's what the Elizabeths always say," I muttered darkly.
What can I say? I appreciate a quietly tossed in Pride and Prejudice moment. In fact, I appreciated everything about this sweet, surprisingly grounded story of opposites attracting against a backdrop of professional football and the big city....more
I have my pal Li to thank for steering me in the direction of Elizabeth Harmon's debut novel Pairing Off. She cluOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I have my pal Li to thank for steering me in the direction of Elizabeth Harmon's debut novel Pairing Off. She clued me in to its existence, pointed out that it featured Olympic figure skaters, and well . . . that was all she wrote, folks. I am a huge figure skating fan. And while I actually haven't read many books that focus on the sport, there was simply no way I was going to not read a book billed as "The Cutting Edge with a Russian twist." I adored that movie as a kid. As you can probably tell, I haven't been so much with the review writing of late. Happily, that is in no way an indication of how my reading has fared, because I have been reading up a storm. But lately I never seem to get around to sitting down and hashing it out. But with the figure skating World Championships coming up in a couple of weeks, I thought it was the perfect time to highlight this little gem.
Carrie Parker is fairly certain life as she knew it is over when her career as a pairs figure skater comes to a grinding and spectacular halt courtesy of a scandal involving her partner and a judge. Which is why she literally jumps at an unexpected and unusual invitation to travel to Russia and audition for a suddenly open position. What she does not expect is that the male partner will turn out to be a familiar (and wholly unwelcome) face. Anton Belikov is in need of a partner STAT. His longtime skating partner (and girlfriend) Olga has up and left him for greener pastures and a partner more likely to see her to the gold medal podium at the Olympics. Determined to achieve his dream and make a go of it without her, Anton warily follows his coach's advice and auditions the disgraced but unquestionably talented American. However, with the barriers of language, culture, politics (and a distant night only Carrie remembers) looming between them, success on or off the ice is no guarantee for this unlikely team.
I was just so taken with Pairing Off, you guys. From the very start, I could tell the story was going to wrap itself around me. Carrie is immediately sympathetic, and though the narrative touches ever so briefly on the long ago night she and Anton met, it is nonetheless clear to the reader how it affected both of them and how it will play an uneven but key role in their development as an actual pair. What I was not expecting was how deeply I would fall in love with Moscow and Carrie's experiences there. Harmon writes with great affection and joie de vivre when it comes to the streets and alleys, gardens and soaring architecture of the Russian capital. It is nothing short of a delight accompanying Carrie on her explorations, and I was so pleased that aspect of her new life was allocated adequate page time. Carrie's willingness to fight her attendant isolation and uncertainty in a foreign clime with an open and inquisitive mind and with consistent forays out into her new home endeared her to me even as it filled me with wanderlust. And as she learns the ropes of her adopted country, so does she learn the ways of her adopted partner. A favorite passage in which Carrie gets into a spot of trouble and calls Anton to help her out:
"I've never been happier to see someone in my life."
"What the hell were you doing?" he shouted. "Trying to get killed? I told you to stay near city center!"
She stared, looking for Anton, not this furious, wild-eyed stranger. "And you also told me about the park where I could go hiking! Look, I'm not your employee and I'll go where I please. I got a little lost. It could happen to anyone."
"But it didn't happen to anyone. It happened to you!"
Carrie felt her eyes grow wide. Was he suggesting she wasn't expendable? Or was his real concern the hassle of finding another Olga replacement? Much more likely. Her chest tightened and it was hard to breathe. "Yeah, well I'm sorry to be an inconvenience. If I'd known you were going to yell at me, I never would have called." She fumbled for her map and shook it open. "The subway's two blocks that way. Drop me off. I'll get home just fine."
"Don't be ridiculous. I'm not dropping you at subway," he muttered. "I was close by anyway. It's good you called."
"Otherwise you'd be auditioning new pair girls tomorrow."
He jerked his head around, and shot an angry look across the car. "Is that what you think I care about?"
The tense silence was filled by the muffled sounds of traffic outside. Jaw tight, Anton turned his gaze back to the road. "You and I are in this together. Partners, like I said before." His voice softened. "Not just two skaters making tricks."
There is very little not to love about Anton. Yet I appreciated how slowly their relationship developed. He was still handling a long distance relationship with a girlfriend who abandoned him professionally. She was struggling to reconcile the man she sees before her with the one she spent only a handful of hours with years ago and who does not seem to remember her at all. Their respective families are complicated and play strong roles in shaping the way they see the world and the fears and hopes they harbor for their futures. There are layers upon layers between these two, and I relished the gradual dismantling and rebuilding they had to go through on their way to forming a firm and equal partnership. This quiet, romantic book is such a lovely read and one of my favorites of the year thus far....more
My thanks to Jess over at Gone With the Words for bringing ON THE ISLAND to my attention. I realize I'm likely thOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
My thanks to Jess over at Gone With the Words for bringing ON THE ISLAND to my attention. I realize I'm likely the last person to the table here, but I literally had not heard anything about it before I ran across it on her list of books she liked way more than she thought she would. What a happy list, right? Then I sifted through the almost overwhelmingly positive reactions from my Goodreads peeps and decided this book I would normally have been firmly on the fence about might actually be a book very much for me. I don't generally go in for survival stories. And May-December relationships work for me even less often than survival stories do. A novel that combines both seemed doomed to DNF status. But. I had a feeling. One of those good ones. Originally self-published by Tracey Garvis Graves, ON THE ISLAND was later picked up by Penguin. As far as the cover goes, I will simply say that I wish it reflected the harrowing nature of Anna's story a bit more.
It wasn't what she wanted to do this summer. But it has to be better than sitting around at home making no forward progress at all. Which is exactly what she'd be doing if she stayed. Anna and her longtime boyfriend John have been rather pointedly not circling the issue of taking their relationship to the next level for years now, and Anna can't take it anymore. So she accepts the offer to tutor T.J. Callahan at his family's summer rental home in the Maldives. Seventeen-year-old T.J. is recovering from Hodgkin's lymphoma and is way behind in school. His parents set up this summer vacation to celebrate the remission of his cancer and to help him ease back into his former life again. And so the somewhat mutually reluctant Anna and T.J. board a plane to the Maldives to meet up with his parents and sisters who are already there. But when their pilot has a heart attack in mid-air, their plane goes down somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Injured and completely alone, the two of them manage to make it to a nearby island where they attempt to survive and somehow signal the searchers that must be out there looking for them. But as the days and weeks stretch on, it seems clear that any rescuers who might have been looking have given up by now.
It shouldn't work. I mean, we all know what the inevitable is in such a situation, do we not? And it really shouldn't work. But somehow it just . . . does. Graves' writing is very straightforward and unadorned. Yet somehow that lack of pretension perfectly suits the starkness of Anna and T.J.'s situation. In fact, I thought the whole stranded on a desert island scenario was handled remarkably well. I had no trouble at all sinking into the monotony (and occasional terror) of their days. Both rather pragmatic, they develop into a strong team as they learn to do what they have to to survive, including everything from climbing trees to knock down unidentifiable fruit to dealing with injuries and building shelter. I confess, I drank it in. Nothing about their story feels rushed. And, as the years pass, it almost takes you by surprise how protective and fond of these characters you become. I appreciated the consistency with which Ms. Graves drew Anna and T.J. Perhaps most relieving of all is that they remain their ages. There is no romantic blurring of the lines between a thirty-year-old woman and a teenage boy on the cusp of manhood. The issue is always there throughout the entire book. And while the extremity and desperation of the circumstances do force their hands to a degree, that consistency and unrushed approach pays off in a big way when the inevitable eventually does happen. And that payoff sees you (and them) through the remainder of their story, which includes the unimaginable return to their lives that were and all the resistance and post-traumatic strain that entails. I didn't expect to harbor the feelings I do for this book. It has its flaws, to be sure. But I read it through in one sitting. The sweetness and openness that form its backbone are infectious, and I in no way regret the little piece of my heart it stole....more
This one has been on my list for a long time now. But for some reason I was under the impression it was YA urban fantasy, which is actually not the caThis one has been on my list for a long time now. But for some reason I was under the impression it was YA urban fantasy, which is actually not the case. The main character Allie is fast approaching 30 and, though the impetus for most of the action in the novel took place when she was a fair bit younger, her main concerns and musings are those of an adult--albeit an, at times, admittedly charmingly immature one. The author, Anna Katherine, is interestingly the pen name of Anna Genoese and Katherine Macdonald. Together these two publishing industry insiders created a snarky, lighthearted, fast-paced urban fantasy debut.
Allie used to live on Long Island and never wondered where her next dime was gonna come from. Her two best friends, Amanda and "Stan," were the height of shallow and together the three of them lazed around their posh estates indulging in pretty much whatever debauched activity took their fancy. But then Allie's mom runs off, her dad fades away, and Allie is left living above a Brooklyn diner, working her butt off for tips. One night, on a drunken whim, Allie and her two cronies try to cast a spell and end up opening a literal door to hell in the basement of the diner. Quicker than you can say Practical Magic, a dude in a leather duster and Stetson hat bursts into the room claiming he's an honest to goodness demon fighter. He proceeds to take up residence in the basement, sleeping on a cot, and guarding the door night and day from supernatural nasties. Just when she thinks she's gotten used to the new extreme version of her life, Allie's door mysteriously disappears, others start appearing all over creation, and Allie and Ryan team up to stop the underworld from taking over completely.
I had heard if you don't like Allie's voice you wouldn't like the book. This is probably true, as she has a very self-disclosing, up-front approach to narrating her life. Personally, I found her hilarious and winning, if not quite as dedicated to maintaining her own dignity as I maybe would have liked her to be. Her simultaneous pining for and territorial attitude around Ryan filled me with mirth and I was instantly rooting for them to overcome the barriers engendered by their different backgrounds (to put it mildly) and the fact that one of them is a wicked cool demon hunter and the other the manager of a diner who stumbles around opening doors to hell in her spare time. I laughed over and over again reading SALT AND SILVER and it was a rather welcome relief to read an urban fantasy with a healthy devil-may-care attitude and not so much angst and drama. Unfortunately the story and characters that sparkled while Allie and Ryan were aboveground and searching for clues, began to flag when they actually entered the hell dimensions and started their quest. Suddenly Allie's pining became grating and a little embarrassing. And Ryan never really broke out into a three dimensional character, staying hidden behind the brim of his Stetson and his tall, dark, and brooding role. I really liked them together, I just wish they had been more fleshed out, with a little more effort from Ryan and a little less desperation from Allie. Interestingly, once they were back aboveground things picked up once more for the wrapping up section. Though it didn't quite fulfill on all its promises, I enjoyed SALT AND SILVER overall for its sarcasm and light heart....more
I was warned about reading this book. And I did go back and forth for awhile before deciding it wasn't for me. Or I wasn't foOriginally reviewed here.
I was warned about reading this book. And I did go back and forth for awhile before deciding it wasn't for me. Or I wasn't for it. That I wasn't that intrigued. Or that I didn't want to hate myself in the morning. Take your pick. You're familiar with the hype/trainwreck induced cycle of warring self-doubt and insatiable curiosity, yes? Then you understand. And I honestly didn't give it a second thought after making that decision. Then I read and loved Easy. And I immediately started running across comparisons, mentions of similarities. Plus, several of these new-ish, self-published new adult authors have been all over the place lately, and, well, all that curiosity washed over me full force once more. So I decided I wanted to decide for myself. I think I went in expecting one big hot mess from start to finish, albeit a hot mess I couldn't look away from and would be compelled to see through to its inevitable overwrought ending. You see? I had been warned. But BEAUTIFUL DISASTER still managed to surprise me. In both good and bad ways.
Abby is cardigans and pearls. She's straitlaced and together and interested in finding a dependable, going places boyfriend. Except she's totally not. Abby is dedicated to getting good grades and keeping all her ducks in a row. She's not at all interested in attending one her university's underground fight clubs just to see what it's like. Except she totally is. And that's how she meets the infamous Travis Maddox. His name alone inspires men to sit up straighter and glance over their shoulders. His rakish reputation precedes him, and it seems women fall at his feet as a matter of course. But when these two seeming opposites meet at one of Travis' fights, sparks fly as it were. And a friendship is born in lieu of a romance, as Abby is determined not to become another one of the hapless females Travis leaves in his wake, and for his part, Travis seems unable to look away from a girl who seems to like him well enough but clearly doesn't want him. While their respective friends are somewhat skeptical, somewhat intrigued by their burgeoning friendship, it's what they're hiding from each other--the combustibility of it all--that might cause this fragile new thing to go up in flames before they can figure out just what it is they're dealing with.
I loved the first half. Loved it, I say. Right from this first encounter:
When I finally reached the front, Marek grabbed Travis with his thick arms and attempted to throw him to the ground. When Marek leaned down with the motion, Travis rammed his knee into Marek's face. Before Marek could shake off the blow, Travis lit into him; his fists making contact with Marek's bloodied face over and over.
Five fingers sank into my arm and I jerked back.
"What the hell are you doing, Abby?" Shepley said.
"I can't see from back there!" I called to him.
I turned just in time to see Marek land a solid punch. Travis turned, and for a moment I thought he had dodged another blow, but he made a complete circle, crashing his elbow straight into the center of Marek's nose. Blood sprayed my face, and splattered down the front of my cardigan. Marek fell to the concrete floor with a thud, and for a brief moment the room was completely silent.
Adam threw a scarlet square of fabric on Marek's limp body, and the mob detonated. Cash changed hands once again, and the expressions divided into the smug and the frustrated.
I was pushed around with the movement of those coming and going. America called my name from somewhere in the back, but I was mesmerized by the trail of red from my chest to my waist.
A pair of heavy black boots stepped in front of me, diverting my attention to the floor. My eyes traveled upward; jeans spattered with blood, a set of finely-chiseled abs, a bare, tattooed chest drenched in sweat, and finally a pair of warm, brown eyes. I was shoved from behind, and Travis caught me by the arm before I fell forward.
"Hey! Back up off her!" Travis frowned, shoving anyone who came near me. His stern expression melted into a smile at the sight of my shirt, and then he dabbed my face with a towel. "Sorry about that, Pigeon."
Adam patted the back of Travis' head. "C'mon, Mad Dog! You have some dough waitin' on ya!"
His eyes didn't stray from mine. "It's a damn shame about the sweater. It looks good on you." In the next moment he was engulfed by fans, disappearing the way he came.
They were just too much fun. In fact, my favorite thing about Abby and Travis was their friendship. The motorcycle rides, the dancing, the doing homework together, the laughing. I mean, it was always headed for a conflagration relationship-wise, but the friendship was honestly just so much fun while it lasted. So for the first half of the book, this book and I were BFFs. The problem came at right about the halfway mark, at which point things got monumentally sketchy. The romantic tension was pretty high throughout. The good kind of high. So I was strangely underwhelmed (when the romance actually started going places) at how uninvolved Abby seemed to be when it came right down to it. The character depiction led me to believe Travis was utterly invested, but Abby never seemed to be on the same page. She said she was. But I never felt it. Which resulted in the whole thing feeling very one-sided just at the moment when it should be expanding and growing. It through me right out of the narrative, this empty gap in the arc of their relationship. I bought that he loved her, in as unhealthy a fashion as he did. But Abby's lack of response confused and disappointed me. And it really did feel like a flaw in characterization. Then right on the heels of this blip, the whole book goes right out to lunch. And it never recovers. The plot, the characters, the writing spin away into the void. All that fun, careful development (much more restrained than I was expecting) of the beginning disappeared in what felt like the space of a page.
So I didn't hate myself in the morning. On the contrary, I actually mourned the characters in the morning. How's that for unexpected? The Travis and Abby of the first half were hard to let go. They were so full of life and danger and laughter and jagged edges that I loved them. I went through my day wanting to be around them. Unfortunately, they up and left on me. And the characters who took their place left me utterly cold. The what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, frothing at the mouth frantic, we suddenly haven't learned a thing from the past 200 pages shenanigans that littered the second half had me dropping my nook in my lap in bewildered exhaustion. To be led to care so much for half the book and then to wind up caring so little it didn't even register on the scale was quite the feat and an ignominious one at that. I don't regret my time with them. I just regret their premature loss. It was always a bit of freak show, but it could have pulled it out in the end instead of crashing and burning so spectacularly. Turns out violence and angst and absolute dysfunction for violence and angst and absolute dysfunction's sake just doesn't do it for me. And the thing is, the characters of the first half deserved better. I suppose I can't complain too much. After all, I was warned. So long Travis & Abby. You rocked. And then you really, really didn't....more
I feel like I've been waffling on whether or not to read this book for years now even though it's only been a fewOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I feel like I've been waffling on whether or not to read this book for years now even though it's only been a few months. The thing is, I really enjoyed the first half of Rainbow Rowell's Attachments. I really, really did. And then I was summarily disappointed with the second half. I don't know if it was me or the fact that I read it immediately after giving birth and that just rarely ever works out for me or what. But the direct result was that I stayed away from Eleanor Park, despite it's adorable cover and quirky premise. And I was apparently still shell-shocked enough that I was going to just go ahead and pass on FANGIRL if it wasn't for Janice's enthusiastic review some weeks back. I thought I was just sort of waltzing around lacking the Rowell gene, when in fact I simply hadn't found my gateway book. So, Janice. Can I send you a book bouquet or a fruit basket or some such gift of gratitude? Because I'm kind of having a hard time imagining my reading year without this book. This hilarious, complicated book that induced all the feelings in the general vicinity of my heart.
Cath doesn't do social situations. Outside of her twin sister Wren and her dad, few people have been able to penetrate the force field of solitude with which she surrounds herself. Even her high school boyfriend Abel was really just a placeholder, a nice idea of a boyfriend. But there has always been Simon. And Baz. Ever since they were kids, Cath and Wren have teamed up to write Simon Snow fan fiction. And when the more vivacious Wren's social life took flight, Cath soldiered on alone. Dedicated to the fictional world of Simon Snow, her followers grew to number in the tens of thousands and sating their voracious appetites became a full-time job. Which is why college seems to be getting in the way so much. Having to make small talk with her roommate Reagan and Reagan's kinda sorta ex Levi sends Cath into paroxysms of exhaustion. Not to mention her demanding class schedule and not knowing where the cafeteria is and worrying about leaving her dad all alone at home to fend off loneliness. Cath is a basket case. Fortunately, her roommate can read the writing on the wall and stages an intervention. And thus begins Cath's tentative exploration of life off the page. But when Wren's life threatens to run off the rails and their long-estranged mother re-enters their lives, Cath's only refuge remains with Simon and his sometime nemesis, sometime partner Baz.
I fell on page one. It was laughable how fast I fell. And I'm not even a little bit hesitant to admit it, because I laughed and giggled and gasped my way through this absolutely delightful book. And not just your run-of-the-mill out loud laughing either, but the silent smiles that slowly grow until they take over your whole face and you have to stop and just let the moment happen and savor it before continuing on. Those moments occurred basically any time Cath was thinking, speaking, writing, or sitting in the same room with Levi. Honestly, the boy deserves a moment of silence all his own. I don't remember the last time I grew so fond of a nice guy so fast. In fact, here are a couple of my favorite Levi moments:
She didn't look over at Levi again until they were standing together in front of the elevator. (Condition: smiling, stable). When it opened, he put his hand on her back and she practically jumped in.
"What's the plan?" she asked.
He grinned. "My plan is to do things that make you want to hang out with me again tomorrow. What's your plan?"
"I'm going to try not to make an ass of myself."
He grinned. "So we're all set."
And now a somewhat spoilery exchange (because I literally cannot help myself with these two and trust me, there were way more spoilery bits I somehow managed to resist):
"I just want to know—are you rooting for me? Are you hoping I pull this off?"
Cath's eyes settled on his, tentatively, like they'd fly away if he moved.
She nodded her head.
The right side of his mouth pulled up.
"I'm rooting for you," she whispered. She wasn't even sure he could hear her from the bed.
Levi's smile broke free and devoured his whole face.
I will never tire of Levi's smiles. But as smitten as I was, the focal center of the book remained Cath for me. And I'm so glad Ms. Rowell kept the whole thing so tightly focused on Cath's struggles, both with the world inside her head as well as with the world around her. Initially, I was wary of the actual Simon Snow excerpts (to say nothing of Cath's fan fiction sections). But Rowell surprised me with her deft interweaving of Cath's own life and the life she breathed into Simon and Baz and the whole Watford School gang. To be perfectly frank, she surprised (and wowed) me with the level of nuance on the grand scale. And before long, Cath's dorm room felt like home to me, felt disturbingly like my own dorm freshman year, papered with clippings and memorabilia declaring who I had been, threaded through with anxiety and hope for who I would become. I knew who Cath was. I could see her with perfect clarity. Last of all, one of the most visceral moments in the book, in which Cath confronts the woman who gave birth to her and abandoned her ten years later.
"You don't just leave somebody alone in a hospital," Cath said. It came out aflame.
"Wren's not alone," Laura said sternly. "She has you."
Cath jerked to her feet and swayed there. Not Wren, she thought. I didn't mean Wren.
Laura wrenched her handbag straps higher. "Cather—"
"You can't leave like this—"
"It's the right thing to do," Laura said, lowering her voice.
"In what alternate universe?" Cath felt the rage burst up her throat like a cork popping. "What sort of a mother leaves the hospital without seeing her kid? What sort of a mother leaves? Wren is unconscious—and if you think that has nothing to do with you, you are skimming the surface of reality—and I'm right here, and you haven't even seen me for ten years, and now you're leaving? Now?"
"Don't make this about me," Laura hissed. "You obviously don't want me here."
"I'm making it about me," Cath said. "It's not my job to want you or not want you. It's not my job to earn you."
"Cather"—Laura's mouth and fists were tight—"I've reached out to you. I've tried."
"You're my mother," Cath said. Her fists were even tighter. "Try harder."
And that is how it's done. That is how you secure my everlasting loyalty for a character. She's so strong in that scene. Her fists are tighter. And I love her so much for saying what she needed to, for getting it out. I loved every word of FANGIRL. As my friend Laura says, some books move in. I had a bed all made up for this one faster than Levi can crack a smile....more
Okay. You are all familiar with my . . . what's the word . . . thing . . . for thieves. And Robin is perhaps the thief I've loved the longest. So it sOkay. You are all familiar with my . . . what's the word . . . thing . . . for thieves. And Robin is perhaps the thief I've loved the longest. So it should come as no surprise when I say that I was filled with glee when I first heard about A. C. Gaughen's upcoming retelling--SCARLET. I liked the cover and, without running down too many spoilery details, I looked forward to the focus on Will Scarlet and the fact that it hailed from a debut author. All of these things add up to that most wonderful of things--possibility. I've reviewed both my favorite Robin Hood retellings here already. And I've read quite a few more. They have all been interesting reads aimed at a variety of types and ages of readers. This particular one is being marketed YA, and I wondered idly, as I anticipated the book, what form my beloved characters would take in this incarnation.
Scarlet is a thief. And a liar. She's a thief and a liar and about twenty different kinds of deadly with her knives. And she's loyal to one person on this earth and one person only--Robin Hood. Also known as Robin of Locksley or (less commonly now) the Earl Huntingdon, Robin gave her a place and a hood to hide behind when Scarlet needed it the most, and now she forms an integral member of his band in Sherwood Forest. Standing up to the ruthless Sheriff of Nottingham, Robin, Scarlet, and the lads (Little John and Much) are determined to spare the good folk of Nottinghamshire from the sheriff's wrath for as long as it takes. Outside of her three comrades, few folk have any idea Scarlet is a girl. The boys refer to her as Will, and she has no intention of disobliging anyone of that particular notion. You see, Robin is not the only one with demons in his past. And when the sheriff goes and hires the dreaded Guy of Gisbourne to hunt down the Hood and his band, Scarlet knows her days may at last be numbered. It's only a matter of time before her past catches up with her, and then even Robin's protection may not be enough to keep her from the hangman's noose.
SCARLET is massively entertaining. I was caught up in this unusual thief's story from the first page. At the point in which we meet her, Scarlet herself is eighteen years old. The same age as John and just a couple or three years younger than Rob (I love that she calls him Rob). This age spread worked nicely as Robin is home from the crusades--an old man in a young man's body--and Scarlet herself is an old soul, having prowled the streets of London before Rob hauled her off to Sherwood to join his noble cause. These two broken youths find something akin to hope in each other despite the harshness of their previous lives, and I can't tell you how many times my heart contracted with sympathy for them. The characters in SCARLET like to keep their secrets. Every one of them is holding onto something they'd prefer not come out into the light of day. Nobody more than Scarlet herself, of course, but I appreciated the various histories and enjoyed the ways in which A. C. Gaughen incorporated the many traditional threads of the tale. I'm always a fan of girls in disguise, and this one has the bite to match her bark, if you will. She has few soft spots--possibly just the one--and that one is so rife with impossibility and unspoken hope that it hardly warrants the name. But I happily plunged into those impossible hopes with her and adopted them as my own. Which is to say, Scarlet had my affections from the get go. The boys I liked at first and grew to love (and sometimes hate) as the game unfolded. I like that Robin isn't portrayed perfectly. Don't get me wrong. He's a hero through and through. But he has his fair share of shortsightedness. And ghosts. And I wasn't always sure he deserved the ending I wanted for him. I also wished for a bit more complexity on the part of the villain. There was so much potential for Gisbourne in this retelling, and I felt as though he came off a bit, well, ridiculous at times, when he should have been terrifying. But despite these smallish quibbles, I stayed up hours past my bedtime devouring the final chapters in this delightful debut. If you're at all a fan of Robin Hood and women who know their way around a weapon, you won't want to miss it....more
Glowing recommendations from my trusty Chachic and the lovely Laura Florand put this book (and series) on my radaOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Glowing recommendations from my trusty Chachic and the lovely Laura Florand put this book (and series) on my radar awhile back and I proceeded to add it to my ever-growing TBR. And then I just sort of continued to put it off since a copy wasn't readily available at any of the usual sources and the ebook was (and is) a whopping $7.99. Then I hit a sick weekend and nothing, but nothing was hitting the spot. So I bit the bullet and dove in. It's worth pointing out that I'm not a huge connoisseur of small town contemporaries, and I was not a little concerned that it would prove to be (as has happened a number of times in the past) a little too cozy for my taste. But of course the range within that subgenre is as wide as it is with any other, and I think I just hadn't come across the right recipe. Happily, Virginia Kantra's Dare Island series hit just the right spot for this quasi-cozy-phobic reader.
Allison Carter came to Dare Island in the hopes of shedding the scales of her parents' expectations and finding fulfillment teaching high school English in the somewhat isolated fishing village. Matt Fletcher spent his early life at the whim of his father's career in the Marines, but has called the island his home long enough now for it to mean something. As a single father who captains a charter fishing boat for a living and lives with and helps support his aging parents at their inn, he is not in any way looking for a long-term relationship. Longing for just the sort of permanence Matt is working hard to avoid, Allison is nevertheless reluctant to get into any sort of relationship with him, especially given the fact that his son Josh is one of her students. But the two somewhat isolated individuals continue to be thrown together by circumstance (and Josh's performance, or lack thereof, at school) and soon it becomes a not inconsiderable struggle to find reasons give at least some semblance of togetherness a try.
Growing up, I spent many summers at my aunt and uncle's house in North Carolina. I have countless fond memories of sweltering summer days, chasing fireflies at night, and trips to the coast full of hours of splashing in the turf and falling asleep tangled in a bed of cousins listening to the crash of the waves. All of this to say that it took Dare Island and I no time at all to appreciate each other's charms. The setting is such a strength in this novel, and that is saying something, because it is a novel full to the brim of swoony romance and heady glances, weighty family drama and genuine humor. Given how many elements Kantra was balancing, I kept expecting at least one to veer into the cheesy, the melodramatic, or the overwrought. And yet not one did. Somehow she made me care for not only Allison and Matt, but every single one of Matt's family members, from his sweetheart parents and his scalawag son, to his somewhat heedless younger brother and his unexpected niece. This attentive character development made it a pleasure to follow whomever the narrative revolved to with each chapter. The focus definitely hinges on Allison and Matt's relationship, but so much of what goes down plays against the very important background of the Fletcher family and the charming inn they all inhabit. I loved how good Allison is with children, from the teenage students in her classes to Matt's troubled niece Taylor who gets dumped in their laps after her mother's sudden death.
The Fletchers themselves are a very loving family, but they need Allison, no matter how much Matt might like to think he's a lone reed. And Allison herself is so careful and conscientious when it comes to carrying on a relationship with a single father and being there to help as much as she can without stepping on any toes. I always loved Allison. It's no small challenge she and Matt face in daring to test the waters of their attraction. But what was between them fit itself unobtrusively into the spaces inside them that were empty. It felt real and sweet, and it so clearly made their hours and days better. I love it when a romance manages to demonstrate that. And while there were a couple of expected misunderstandings here and there, I appreciated how they were handled and how my emotions never felt toyed with or forcibly disengaged by unnecessary drama or inconsistencies. The whole thing builds to a particularly lovely resolution scene in the inn and I put Carolina Home down completely satisfied. Of course, I immediately binged on the rest of the series. And a good time was had by all....more
When one of your very good friends wholeheartedly recommends a book or series as one of her favorite contemporaryOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
When one of your very good friends wholeheartedly recommends a book or series as one of her favorite contemporary romance series, you pay attention, yes? Which is why I didn't last long before picking up Laura Florand's THE CHOCOLATE THIEF after Chachic brought it to my attention a couple of weeks ago. I don't know if I would have discovered Florand otherwise, and I am just really happy that I did because this book is delicious. That cute cover doesn't hurt it either. In fact, I am currently wallowing in reading purgatory waiting for a paperback copy of the second Amour et Chocolat novel to show up in my mailbox, because even though I could download the ebook in the blink of an eye, I just really need the cute matching covers on my shelf. This surprises none of you, I am sure. Make no mistake, though. The minute it does arrive, I am diving right in. Because this delightful little treat reads like a chocolate-drenched Anna and the French Kiss for adults. Are you telling me you want to miss that little slice of heaven? No. I didn't think so.
Cade Corey has finally made it to Paris. Growing up the daughter of an American chocolate baron, she's dreamt her whole life of traveling to the city of lights and immersing herself in the world of chocolate masters. Now that she's here, she has a full-blown agenda. Track down Sylvain Marquis, make him an offer he can't refuse, and nail down a line of luxury chocolates to elevate Corey Chocolate's mainstream image. And Cade is absolutely sure she can do it. She's a savvy businesswoman who's spent her entire life surrounded by chocolate. She can have this deal in the bag by the end of the day and spend the rest of her unprecedented "time off" exploring Paris and soaking it all up. What she doesn't factor in is Sylvain Marquis' raging disdain for all things mundane. And Corey Chocolates are at the top of the list. The thought of putting his name on a Corey product fills him with actual physical pain. And so the battle of wills begins. Cade can't fathom giving up at this point. Not when she's come this far and invested so much of herself in this one dream. But Sylvain has traveled a long, difficult road himself. And he's not about to reduce all that hard work and mastery to a mere four-ounce bar of mediocre chocolate sold in Walmarts around the world. The divide between these two seems insurmountable. Until Cade has an idea, a dangerously game-changing idea.
THE CHOCOLATE THIEF surprised me on several levels. I went in expecting cute chick lit and wound up getting something entirely different. Which is not to say it isn't cute. It is! It's just quite a bit more than that, too. In the same way that the cover is a bit deceptively light, concealing rather deeper and darker waters within. Much of it has to do with Florand's writing, which continued to catch me unawares with its expressive nuances. Each time I thought I had its number and dared to let my mind wander, the writing would reel me in again with its quiet and perceptive weight. Cade's observations on Paris, the color, the sound, and the taste of it, charmed me and reminded me why I fell in love with it as well on my first visit. The characterization, particularly of Sylvain, carefully built upon this foundation. I loved that he was such an unexpected blend of uncertainty and bravado. I thought he might be too much to begin with, too rich for my blood in a way. But Florand wisely filled him out with a history, full of longing and failed attempts with the women in his life. Placed next to Cade's innate confidence their relationship made for pleasurable reading indeed. Here is one of my very favorite interactions early on:
She looked at him as if he had hit her. Or, worse, stripped her naked in a pretense of seduction and then smirked and turned her around to see a thousand ridiculing eyes.
She stared at him, something rising in her with a powerful force. His pulse quickened as he prepared for anything, anything--
She turned abruptly and strode toward the entryway. Without a word. Without letting him find out what that powerful force rising in her was.
He found himself following, hoping she would say a word. He was kicking himself already. He hadn't really wanted her to leave.
He just . . . thought it would be in his own best interest to make sure she did.
"I believe you still have our coat, mademoiselle," he mentioned as she reached for the doorknob, trying to pry that word he wanted out of her.
Her flush deepened furhter, her jaw as tense as it was possible for her to hold it. Her hands trembled so much on the buttons, she couldn't get them undone.
"Tenez," he said, troubled, his own hands lifting. He was an idiot. There was more than one way to be an idiot, and he had just proven it. He had just cut off his own nose to spite his face. "May I help?"
"Don't. You. Touch. Me." So much anger vibrated through her voice that he dropped his hands, that fourteen-year-old teenager waking in him, the kind girls didn't want to be touched by.
So he stood there as she struggled with button after button, making her slow, miserable way down the coat, everyone watching them, her cheeks deeply red now. He wondered why she didn't just destroy it--rip it off, pop the buttons, drop it on the floor, and maybe drop a few bills on it to cover the damage as she stalked out. It seemed like something an American billionaire would do.
At last she got it off, to reveal the most ridiculous enormous sweatshirt. He started to smile despite himself. "What are you wearing? Did you come to my workshop in your pajamas?" Americans. All the money in the world and not a gram of taste.
She gave him a look like a slap, thrust the coat at him, and strode out.
Passages like this are exactly why I loved THE CHOCOLATE THIEF, for the effortless blend of light and dark with which Laura Florand crafted it. The protagonists are passionate about everything they do and love. And what they do and love is chocolate. This appreciation shines through in every heady, lingering description. This is a romance, to be sure. If you like yours dipped in the finest chocolate money can buy, then I suggest you seek it out immediately....more
These darling covers continue to delight me. I am such a sucker for a good silhouette, and the multicolored macarOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
These darling covers continue to delight me. I am such a sucker for a good silhouette, and the multicolored macarons on this one really do lend it just the right whimsical air. I could hardly wait for my copy of THE CHOCOLATE KISS to arrive once I'd finished The Chocolate Thief. It was just such a delightful surprise of a read, made that much sweeter by the knowledge that there were two more books in the series already out there just waiting for me. As feelings I get to experience in my life go, that is one of the ones I savor the most. This series does not follow the same characters, but branches out into side characters. We get glimpses of the previous ones, though, and of course the irresistible Paris setting remains. I had heard somewhat mixed opinions on this second volume. Some were not that enamored of the slight elements of magical realism, others found themselves absolutely charmed. I find when it comes to magical realism, readers really can go either way. For the most part, I tend to really enjoy it. As long as the author has an even, light hand and is careful to shore the fantastical elements up with a solid sense of place and realistic motivations and histories for her characters.
Magalie Chaudron has never belonged anywhere. Wrenched back and forth by her terminally transient parents, she grew up here and there, traveling back and forth from the lavender fields of Provence to the hills up upstate New York at the whim of a mother and father who both could not leave their homes and could not be long without the other. They prided themselves on their supremely adaptable, eminently self-reliant young daughter who could not only put up with the impermanence of their family but also brought joy to their lives. But when she came of age, Magalie took matters into her own hands. Moving to Paris, she made it through university and gratefully accepted the offer of her two maiden aunts to come and live above their salon de thé on the Île Saint-Louis in the middle of the Seine and work in their shop making her delicious chocolat chaud. And suddenly, in her little one-room apartment above La Maison des Sorcieres, Magalie finds home. And if she sends a few wishes for the people who drink her chocolate as she stirs and stirs the pot in her blue-tiled kitchen, well, who is she to say if they actually come true? And everything is stable. And there is no reason to believe she will be wrenched once more from this self-made home that fits her like a glove. Until Lyonnais arrives. Philippe Lyonnais, to be precise. With his world-famous pastries and his elegant shop, he invades her private island without a second thought for the struggling salon de thé down the street. Unwilling to give up her safety or her livelihood, Magalie confronts the lion in his own den, only to be rebuffed and brushed aside like the tiny speck of dust he clearly believes her to be. And so the battle begins.
Can I just start by saying I love how Philippe says Magalie's name? I don't usually "hear" the characters' voices when I'm reading a book. I may have some small sense of the tenor or cadence with which they speak, but that's generally as far as it goes. This book was different. Philippe was always saying her name. At just the right moments. And in just the right ways. And I could hear him. And I loved him for the way he named her and valued everything that fell under that name. In contrast, Magalie never calls him by name. Not out loud. Her inner thoughts are another thing, but her tightly controlled diction made his open admissions stand out. It was a small thing, perhaps. But it was quite simply a highlight of the book for me. And that is saying something, because I loved THE CHOCOLATE KISS. I wasn't sure I would initially, but I came to care for Magalie and Philippe in a very measured, natural way as I got to know them. One of my favorite things about Laura Florand's male protagonists is the way they own their emotions. They are not ashamed of them and they are not interested in squelching them. They may have a myriad of doubts about the emotions and affections of the people around them. But they allow those people their qualms and hangups, even as they are not afraid to embrace their own. It's admirable characterization and I applaud it. Here, one of my very favorite scenes between our two leads:
" . . . if you send another spoiled blonde my way, I'm going to feed her something that makes her fall in love with you, and see how you like it."
Magalie's arrogant expression flickered. Abruptly she seemed to notice the winter-evening dimness of the apartment and crossed to turn on the light by her bed. Her heels sounded wrong on the apartment floor, too aggressive for this space. He wondered if she usually took them off by the door. Had his presence required her to keep on her armor?
"I don't feed them anything to make them fall in love with you." She frowned deeply, seeming unsure where to put herself. Maybe usually she sat on the edge of her bed now, kicking off her shoes, curling up to examine her purchases . . . His blood surged long and slow and hot through his body at the image. "A poor, innocent princess? Why would I do something like that to her?"
"They don't look that innocent to me, but thank you for reminding me of moral considerations," he said politely. Really? She hadn't been sending those would-be seductresses his way? Something bitter was released in him, dissipating so fast, he had to struggle to keep his fighting form. "It's true, it would be quite reprehensible to make anyone fall in love with you."
Her eyes flashed. He almost laughed. This was fun. He felt aroused and infuriated and so alive, he held himself still only by his years of self-discipline. He knew how to pay precise, attentive care to the smallest of movements, how to wait as long as it took for something to be perfect.
She dropped her packages onto the bed, started to take off her jacket, and stopped herself. Oh, so she would usually shrug out of her jacket about now. And drop it carelessly across her bed or hang it up? No, hang it up. The room was so peacefully uncluttered. "If I wish anything on anyone, it's usually strength and courage and clear-seeing, which they never seem to have enough of. I have no idea why that would lead them to you." She looked as if she had bitten into something rotten in polite company and didn't know where to spit it out.
Strength and courage and clear-seeing. He felt himself draw a long, deep breath, like at the gym when he had just finished a punishing set of exercises well. Or at the Meilleur Ouvrier de France trials when the last, extravagant, impossible spin of sugar held. "Thank you," he said, "for the compliment." The extraordinary, beautiful compliment.
It was such a lovely moment, I'm honestly just as affected now, rereading it. It's hard to sum up the many reasons why I connect with these books, but I feel sure saying that in this case it was because I felt the arc of a relationship was so evenly and lovingly drawn. Because I liked them both so much. And because Magalie's journey particularly resonated. I grew up here and there, too. I know what it is like to not know how it is going to go each day in a new place. And I know how quickly the just-now familiar faces and spaces can be replaced with new ones, unfamiliar and uncertain in their newness. At the same time, folding is not an option. And as hard as she holds out, Magalie knows when something is important.
It was hard to trust in happiness, coming from another person, but . . . there was so much of it, around him.
There really was. I'm so glad I got to witness it....more
You guys. I've been waiting to fall this year. I've been waiting for that first review (embarrassingly late, I knOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
You guys. I've been waiting to fall this year. I've been waiting for that first review (embarrassingly late, I know) to need to be written. I've been reading and reading. And I've really liked a number of things (reviews on those to come, promise). But the night before last I fell into a book that filled me up in just the way I needed to kick me into gear to talk about it. Which is good, because you'll want to pick this one up. His Road Home by Anna Richland is a contemporary novella that I wished was twice as long as it was because I didn't want to be separated from the characters and their compelling situation by its ending. Happily, according to Richland's acknowledgments at the end, we may have a sequel to look forward to in the near future. This is my first outing with Ms. Richlands writing, and I picked it up based on my trusty Chachic's rating over on GoodReads.
Grace Kim's fairly straightforward (very quiet) life is thrown into rather spectacular upheaval when media outlets across the country report her engagement to wounded war hero Reynaldo Cruz. To say that she is shocked is the wildest of understatements. His name rings the vaguest of bells, as the two did grow up in the same small town in Washington state. But their lives followed radically different paths after high school. Grace got her PhD in marine biology and spends most of her time with obscure fish species. Reynaldo trained in the military and shipped off to Afghanistan. But when Rey tries to get out of an arranged marriage by faking an engagement to that smart girl back home and then steps on a land mine and finds himself at Walter Reed without his legs, things get . . . complicated. The two finally "meet" for the first time at the hospital. Grace is determined to untangle the lie and escape, while Rey is monumentally embarrassed and all set to let her, particularly as he is suffering from a traumatic brain injury that's left him fighting aphasia. But somehow . . . she comes back the next day. Somehow, his explanation haltingly drifts out, in one word, then two, then three. And somehow a decision is made to work through this exquisitely knotty situation together.
I really couldn't look away from Grace & Rey. Their story is such a quiet one, and not just because of Rey's struggle to speak coherently. Grace leads a very solitary life. It isn't easy for her to step into the role of fake fiancée, even long enough to figure out why a man like Rey would link himself to a woman like her. But after the initial shock and bafflement . . . they see each other. In that hospital room, in his crazy car on a drive back across the country, as they text each night for months while Grace is away on a research trip. And it's beautiful how gradually their friendship and growing feelings for each other unfold. Rey is as tough as they come. His determination to pick up his life, to adapt to his new prosthetic legs, and to not let Grace go (if she comes to want to keep him, too) was a pleasure to witness. Everything about their progression felt natural to me. They said (or texted) the things you would. There were no nasty recriminations, but merely the ones you would by all means expect. Nothing about the restrained and eloquent storytelling is rushed in the interests of manufacturing a desired effect on the reader. In fact, the reader is given just enough time in each protagonist's head to garner respect, affection, and a truly breathtaking empathy for them both, even as they are doing the same for each other. It was such a sweet experience reading His Road Home. I needed it....more
With the arrival of a baby imminent on the horizon, most women begin thinking about packing a bag for the hospital, making sure the nursery is in ordeWith the arrival of a baby imminent on the horizon, most women begin thinking about packing a bag for the hospital, making sure the nursery is in order, washing those few last baby clothes in preparation. Me? I began making a list of books to read as soon as we got home from the hospital. And one of the top books on my list was WHAT ALICE FORGOT by Liane Moriarty. I've seen this title and author batted about recently, and Chachic's recommendation bumped it up to the top of the list of post-baby reads. With its June 2nd U.S. release date, it seemed the perfect one to start with. My excitement to read it even managed to penetrate the fog of sleep deprivation that exists around my mind these days. I've read Liane's sister Jaclyn Moriarty's work and enjoyed a few of them, and I love the idea of writerly sisters. So I was eager to see what Liane Moriarty's writing was like, especially when I found out this one was about a woman who lost her memory. I'm beginning to think I may have sort of a thing for amnesia stories. So much potential therein. For both humor and pain. Especially the pain. But more on that later.
Alice wakes up on the floor of a gym unable to figure out just exactly how she got there. It becomes apparent that she fell off her bike during spin class, bumped her head rather hard, and awoke to find herself being rushed off to the hospital by a couple of handsome paramedics, while people she does not know call out to her and wish her well. Poor Alice becomes more and more confused at the doctor's insistence that it is a different year from the one she knows it is, at the inexplicable workout clothing she's wearing, at the disturbing lack of an appearance on her husband's part. What she doesn't want to accept--but what seems to have actually happened--is she lost the last ten years of her life when she bumped her head. And unspeakable changes have taken place in Alice's life in those last ten years. She and her devoted sister Elizabeth have somehow grown apart. Very far apart indeed. Her best friend is consumed with work and sounds actually shocked when Alice calls her to say hi. Her mother has changed inside and out and has taken up with a man she would never have pictured her mother with, not in a thousand years. And, worst of all, she and her husband Nick have split up and are in the midst of a messy custody battle over their three kids. Three kids they didn't even have when Alice last remembers. She was just barely pregnant with their first back then, and she (understandably) finds it unfathomable that that tiny unborn baby is now a 10-year-old girl who is angry at the world because her parents are divorcing. Desperate to find her way back home, Alice sets about trying to pick up the reins of a life she finds utterly alien.
You know how you can become so involved in a book that you actually feel anxiety on behalf of the characters? Your shoulders tense up, your brow furrows, and you turn the pages with trepidation for fear what follows will be more than they can bear. That feeling is nothing new to me. And it's usually the mark of a story I'm enjoying immensely. But do you ever read a book that fills you with anxiety on your own behalf? And your concern and the tension in your shoulders and brow are for the characters, certainly, but even more for yourself. And you're up at night imagining the ways in which your life might fall apart were something similar to happen to you. Yeah. WHAT ALICE FORGOT filled me with anxiety. I was up at night (granted I was up anyway with baby Finn). But even when I stopped reading I couldn't turn off the anxiety of ten years lost. Of a husband you loved yesterday who absolutely hates your guts today. Of having been on the brink of motherhood for the very first time and then being thrust forward into a franticly speedy life full of taking care of little people you've never met before. And doing it all alone. My post-pregnancy hormones may have been completely out of whack, you guys, but wow. This book did not help. Not one little bit. That said, I couldn't put it down. I immediately felt an affinity for Alice and wanted so very much for her to be able to put the pieces of her fragmented memory together along with the shattered pieces of her fragmented family. Cue the pain I was talking about earlier. And the humor as well. Twenty-nine-year-old Alice is a delightful woman, with a great sense of humor and a love for laughter and life. Her observances on the ridiculous predicament she finds herself in are chuckle-worthy and spot-on. Thirty-nine-year-old Alice is a different creature entirely. She is extremely difficult to like. And Ms. Moriarty does a wonderful job of making each supporting character sympathetic, especially Alice's once-carefree and charming husband Nick and her now-careworn and bitter older sister Elizabeth. I loved them all and wanted to wrap my arms around them and just hug them into loving each other again. Of course, it's nowhere near that easy. Unfortunately, the story takes its incredibly sweet time getting around to anything happening, to Alice solving the mystery of her past and actively trying to form her future into one she can live with. She was such a strong character, I thought her perfectly capable of doing just that. And Nick was a fascinating and complicated character in his own right, but we rarely saw him in the present. There were quite a few reminiscences of him ten years ago, but the scenes in which Alice and Nick of today actually communicate are few and far between. As they were my favorites and were so well done, I really wished there were more. In fact, I needed a few more to make the ending truly satisfactory. As it was, it felt abrupt after the lengthy path it took to get there. So overall, a very absorbing read that fell somewhat short for me in its pacing and final execution. For similar and enjoyable reads, I recommend Bachelor Boys by Kate Saunders and Seeing Me Naked by Liza Palmer....more
I remember first running across Eileen Wilks' name in the On the Prowl compilation I purchased solely because itOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I remember first running across Eileen Wilks' name in the On the Prowl compilation I purchased solely because it contained Patricia Briggs' first Alpha & Omega novella (fabulous, by the way). I never really sat down and read the other novellas, though. Now I'm wishing I had so that I could have discovered Wilks' writing much sooner. Instead, it took my buddy in all things urban fantasy Chachic throwing herself headlong into a glom of Wilks' World of the Lupi series to convince me to give the it a shot. And what a time to come in to a new series. The World of the Lupi is currently 10 full books in and going strong! Plenty of adventure to keep me busy in between waiting for the next book in my other favorite series. I will say that this cover does little for me. After the fact, I like that it depicts an actual scene from the book. But even so, it leaves me feeling pretty meh. It does look as though partway into the series, the covers shift to somewhat more traditional UF covers, depicting Lily in action. And since I like Lily very much, this thing maketh me happy.
Lily Yu has worked her way up to Homicide and has every intention of proving she's earned her place there. Being a petite Chinese female cop has been no walk in the park. To say nothing of her less explicit ability as a sensitive. Able to sense magic through touch gives her a leg up on investigations, but would destroy her credibility as a detective were anyone but her captain to find out. And she needs every advantage she can get on her latest case. A man was murdered by what appears to be a lupus in wolf form. Lily is lead on the case, but things get thorny when the top suspect turns out to be the prince, heir, and general golden boy of the local lupi clan—Rule Turner. Famous for his charm and flexible morals, Rule has a less than stellar alibi and a whole lotta motive. Lily and Rule's first meeting is both illuminating and frustrating, as Lily comes to the realization that not only does she sense zero magic coming off of Rule (and she really should) but that she is inexorably drawn to him at the same time. For his part, Rule is determined to both clear his name and figure out why he can't get the irascible detective out of his mind. Together they set out to solve the murder and see if they can come to some sort of truce along the way.
There is just nothing not to like about this debut. It immediately put me in mind of the cancelled-too-early crime drama Life—a show I mourn to this day. This put us on excellent terms, as I love police procedurals, and a mash-up with urban fantasy pretty much steamrolled any defenses I might have erected. Lily is a sympathetic protagonist from the start. I love how hard she works every day. And I love Wilks' exploration of her strained relationships with family and colleagues as a result of her heritage, her abilities, and her aspirations. Rule is initially an unknown quantity, unknown enough that it set my nerves to jangling. However, he quickly works his way into not just Lily's inner circle, but the reader's as well. An early interaction that sold me on these two:
Her eyes flew to his. She saw flecks of gold in the dark irises, and the way his pupils had swollen. The pink triangles at the inner corners of his eyes. The dark, thick eyelashes. And the way his lids had pulled back in shock.
He dropped her hand. For a moment they stared at each other. Her heart pounded. His nostrils were flared, his breathing fast.
Dear God. What did she say? How did she put that moment away, unmake it?
He broke the silence. "I won't be behaving myself," he told her grimly. And turned and left.
What I love about Rule is how unexpectedly grim he is. I know, I know, but hear me out. The thing is he's this serious playboy with oodles of charm, and he could have come off utterly vapid, as nothing more than a warm, willing body. But Rule is much more than that. He's the heir to massive responsibility, his family dynamics are twisty and fraught, and when the connection with Lily is made manifest, it changes every detail of the life he leads. What can I say? The gravity with which he approached his new life impressed me. The bond is unwelcome to both parties. But Rule deals with it with more composure than Lily, if only because he knows what it is that's happening and she has no idea. It's his compassion that kills me. His compassion for Lily as the avalanche buries them both. And his fledgling affection and sense of wonder at the thought that it might change their lives in beautiful ways as well as terrible ones.
"Without Nokolai, the other clans are unlikely to support the bill."
"The clans don't have that much political clout."
"Mmm. Not all lupi are as open about their nature as I am."
Her eyebrows lifted. "Are you saying you've got people in high places? People with a furry secret?"
"The mystery bit is getting old," she observed. "So you think that taking out you and your father could affect the way things go in Washington?"
"The idea wasn't just to remove me, was it? They wanted me arrested, imprisoned. If the, ah, poster boy from lupi is proved to be a murderer, will the public support a bill making us full citizens?"
"Citizens kill each other all the time, unfortunately. But I get your meaning."
She fell silent then, which was just as well. He needed to give his driving most of his attention. But driving, even in this traffic, didn't require his entire mind.
She'd called him Rule.
Such a small thing, a name. But she'd never said his.
Yeah. Rule has layers. I was rooting for them both and I loved them, from their crackling tension on the page to the way their names sound one after the other. Their romance is key to the story, to be sure, but it never takes center stage and it is very much a work in progress. I look forward to watching them negotiate each other throughout each of the following books in the series. Wholeheartedly recommended for mystery lovers, crime lovers, urban fantasy lovers, romance lovers. You name it, Wilks has got it in her bag....more
I can thank the ever-reliable Carolyn Crane for inspiring me to track down an advanced copy of this one. I read hOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I can thank the ever-reliable Carolyn Crane for inspiring me to track down an advanced copy of this one. I read her mini-review and was seriously sold. She said it was romantic, smart, and full of "character mysteries," a term I had never even really thought of before but that I instantly got and loved. So it was Carolyn's review and the following little teaser line from the novella that piqued my interest:
I will meet you on Wednesdays at noon in Celebration Park. Kissing only.
Um, yes. Yes, please. Shades of Ruthie Knox's Big Boy began to drift over me (Knox actually blurbed this one). And we all know how I felt about that little bit of perfection. So basically at that point nothing--but nothing--was keeping me from giving Mary Ann Rivers' debut novella a shot.
Carrie had a minor existential meltdown at work. Just a minor one. It involved her supervisor (and friend) at the library offhandedly remarking that an Alaskan cruise with Carrie's parents was a totally valid vacation for a thirty-something single woman to take. The conversation devolved from there, and Carrie wound up surfing the web at three in the morning picking out used furniture she doesn't need and questioning the series of life choices that brought her to that point. Then, in need of the kind of comfort only browsing the singles ads on Metrolink can provide, she ran across one that stood out from all the others. Kissing only, it said. He would be there every Wednesday without fail. Either party is free to back out at any time. Simply don't show up, and the other will understand it's over and they will part as indifferent strangers. And so just for a lark, just because she's alone and not actually interested in going on that Alaskan cruise with her folks anymore, Carrie answers the post. And so she meets Brian. And so she is soon on the receiving end of the kiss to end all kisses. And so begins a non-relationship that she might never want to let go. If she can only figure out how to be more than just Wednesdays.
THE STORY GUY is singularly addicting. The protagonist is a teen services librarian, for crying out loud. So obviously, she and I were like this from page one. Then she had to go and be all philosophical and perceptive about singles ads online and it was like my eyes had fastened on her plight and nothing could tear them away. It helps that I resonated with the way she narrates her life and, most of all, with the way she calmly assesses the rabbit hole she's gone down and goes about doing what she needs to in order to hold onto the wonder she finds there. For example:
I should take his kisses with me and go. But with a seeping, resolute calm, I decide to keep him. I am not losing these Wednesdays, even if I can't have anything else. "Stop. It's okay. Don't explain--I swear it's fine."
"It doesn't have to be." His flush is draining, his eyes clearing. The tendrils of heat between us lose their moorings in the breeze. I shiver.
"But it is." I straighten up. Fix my own glasses. He is looking at me with doubt. "It is." And as soon as I say it, it's true. I go back to feeling tender, but the feeling is overlaid with a new trust, which when I examine that trust later may feel misplaced, but I am fine to act on that trust now.
I have never been gladder for my own uncomplicated life, the simple love I've had from my family and friends, for my interesting daily work and the unencumbered lifestyle I created for myself. I have room for this.
It was that resolute calm that really got to me. Well, that and the kissing. Naturally. And, yes, in case you were wondering, this is a book where she saves him. She so saves him, you guys. And does he ever need it. The thing is, they're both just right down in the trenches of life. Right down in them. The loneliness and the doggedness and the relentlessness of every one of their days stole my breath they were so close to the surface. The similarities to Knox's Big Boy did hover around the edges of my mind as I read, although THE STORY GUY has a sweeter overall tone, flirting near the edges of precious particularly near the end. Gratefully, Rivers' sure way with words saves it from irrevocably crossing that line. So if you like quietly beating stories about girls who save their guys and guys who are actually so very nice but have convinced themselves they're not nice at all, then this book is undoubtedly for you. Lastly, just for you guys, my favorite passage:
My path is the nice one. The one filled with friends who will smile when I buy their children books for their birthdays. Who will take me out, sometimes, when I call on a random night because I can't settle down. The path with peaceful holidays with my parents, and reasonable work promotions at reasonable times.
The path with nice men, who take me on nice dates where I learn their last names the minute we shake hands at the bar.
A path clear of a man with eyes that drift into some private sorrow. A path that will never lead to a man whose hands shake when he holds my face for a kiss that feels like falling.
I've been sitting on a review of The Song of Achilles for some time now. And it's simply another case of me worrying I won't do justice not just to thI've been sitting on a review of The Song of Achilles for some time now. And it's simply another case of me worrying I won't do justice not just to the book, but to (perhaps even more importantly) my feelings for the book. I was attempting to do just that a number of nights ago with a friend, and wound up choked up and slipping the tears from my eyes as I touched on a scene of inevitable sorrow. My emotions continue to ride ever so close to the surface with this book, with Patroclus and Achilles. I stayed away from Madeline Miller's debut novel for awhile for several reasons, among them my fear of said sorrow as well as the usual concern when one comes to a retelling of characters and stories one loves. But eventually that cover—the gold foil, you guys, the glorious gold foil—and the parade of ecstatic reviews got to me enough that I grabbed a copy the next time I was at the library and settled down that night to see.
Patroclus has always led the uneasiest of lives. Disparaged for his slight build and his relative weakness in comparison to his father, he has been a somewhat second-class citizen in his own father's court. Then one day an accident occurs and a young nobleman dies as a result. Patroclus is deemed at fault and so is exiled to be fostered in the realm of the legendary King Peleus. It is there that he meets Peleus' song Achilles. Achilles is everything Patroclus wishes he could be, bright and brave and the most talented of warriors where Patroclus is dull and shy and physically inferior. Which is why no one is more shocked than Patroclus when Achilles takes him as his personal companion. And so the two young boys form the fastest of friendships as they live together, train together, and run wild through the olive groves together. But through it all they can never seem to escape the shadow of the coming war or the prophecy that Achilles would go on to become the greatest hero the Greeks had ever known.
If I had had words to speak such a thing, I would have. But there were none that seemed big enough for it, to hold that swelling truth.
As if he had heard me, he reached for my hand. I did not need to look; his fingers were etched into my memory, slender and petal-veined, strong and quick and never wrong,
"Patroclus," he said. He was always better with words than I.
This is the part where I confess I was vastly unprepared for the depth of feeling this novel would incite. I have been enamored of Greek mythology basically as far back as I can remember, and I recall with perfect clarity the chills that ran down my spine the first time I read the opening lines of The Iliad. I've read a number of retellings since, but I realized few of them worked hard to make Achilles sympathetic. Or at least more sympathetic than Hector. And while each incarnation left me impressed with Achilles' grandeur, I remained always firmly in Hector's camp. The Song of Achilles is told entirely from Patroclus' perspective, and his mind is as sharp and perceptive as his friend's body is honed and agile. The result is an extremely nuanced portrait of both young men. I savored the opportunity to watch them grow up together, to see Achilles handle the heavy layers of expectation and destiny, to watch how he dealt with his human father and his immortal mother. Thetis is a force to be reckoned with and I, like Patroclus, worried about the depth of her influence over Achilles. As ever with this epic tale, the question of which force will hold sway in the end is a desperate one. It's impossible to shake the feeling of dread while reading, but Miller does such a fine job of allowing you to soak up those golden moments leading up to the war, to come to know and love both Achilles and Patroclus enough that you understand why they make the choices they do in the end. And I can honestly say that my knowing what was coming in no way impeded my experience, the words were that expertly chosen and woven together with a level of skill that left my cup full to the brim.
The sorrow was so large it threatened to tear through my skin. When he died, all things swift and beautiful and bright would be buried with him. I opened my mouth, but it was too late.
"I will go," he said. "I will go to Troy."
The rosy gleam of his lip, the fevered green of his eyes. There was not a line anywhere on his face, nothing creased or graying; all crisp. He was spring, golden and bright. Envious Death would drink his blood, and grow young again.
He was watching me, his eyes as deep as earth.
"Will you come with me?" he asked.
The never-ending ache of love and sorrow. Perhaps in some other life I could have refused, could have torn my hair and screamed, and made him face his choice alone. But not in this one.
What an exquisite agony reading The Song of Achilles was. I wept more than once. But the sorrow was handled well, in such a way as to allow it its full and brutal impact before winding to a close so beautiful I felt the breath leave my lungs. How I loved them. Patroclus and his brilliant Achilles....more
WHEN YOU WERE MINE came and went across my radar after I took a brief glance at its cover and mentally relegated it to the JeOriginally reviewed here.
WHEN YOU WERE MINE came and went across my radar after I took a brief glance at its cover and mentally relegated it to the Jennifer Echols realm of contemporary YA romance. I enjoyed Going Too Far, but haven't loved her others or found myself in the mood for more of the same since. But that judgement was admittedly based entirely on the cover, font, tagline, etc. Then I read Carla's review over at The Crooked Shelf, and I took a second gander. Shakespeare, you say? Retelling? This is all exceedingly promising. Oh. Romeo and Juliet? Hm. Not sure I want to go there. Not that I don't enjoy R&J (I once saw it on stage, and Romeo's death scene was positively EPIC in scope. My brother-in-law and I were crying tears of mirth long before the poor boy let loose his final gasp and put us all out of our misery). And, as is so often the case, I was powerless to resist the call of a possibly excellent retelling. It was when I realized that it was told from Rosaline's point of view that the deal was sealed.
Rose Caplet is keeping her hopes on a very tight leash. Her best friend Rob has been gone all summer, but he's coming home today and Rose is trying pretty hard to keep it all together. They shared that one kiss, that one extended glance. That's all. And despite her best friends' insistence that the very first thing he'll do now he's back in town is declare his undying love for her, Rose is not so sure. They've always been friends. Rob helped her learn to ride a bike. He taught her how to swim. He knew her way back when. Even if he did have the kind of feelings for her that she seems to be developing for him, wouldn't it rock the boat of their friendship too much to be worth it? But then he is back. And he asks her out on a real date. And things are heading in a most promising direction. Until Rose's cousin Juliet comes to town. Rose hasn't had any contact with Juliet in years, though the two used to be close as kids. Now Juliet's back and trouncing all over Rose's life in her designer flip flops. But it's when she sets her sights on Rob that Rose really begins to worry. What is happening here? Why does her cousin seem to have it out for her? Surely Rob won't respond to Juliet's advances. Not after confessing his affections for Rose. Rob wouldn't do that. Would he?
I'll admit, it took me 100 pages to get into this one. I teetered on the verge of putting it down and moving on. But then I hit the following passage (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
Charlie puts her arm over my shoulder. Olivia stands on the other side, arms crossed, Ben behind her. They're flanking me, like human pieces of armor.
Rob can't see me from this angle, which is worse than if he could, because it means I can stare as hard and as long as I like. He whispers something to her, and she laughs, then brings her finger to her lips to tell him to be quiet. But it's in that cute way certain girls have that lets everyone know they don't really mean it. That she wants him to go on bothering her forever. Even while turning him down she's inviting him. Forget the lip biting. This is definitely her power move.
He's leaning so close to her that it takes everything in me not to run right over and tear them apart. And part of me wants to. Part of me wants to fight. To tell him to pick me. To beg him to stop what he's doing, erase the last three days, and just come back. But I'm already fading into the background, like a house in the rearview mirror. I can feel myself getting smaller and smaller, shrinking, so that when Mr. Johnson says, "Have a great day, everyone!" I think I might have just disappeared.
And that's all it took. From that sentence on, it was all systems go for me. Because that is exactly what happens in the play. Rosaline--the object of all of Romeo's formidable passion and desire--just . . . disappears . . . when Juliet comes on stage. And when this Rosaline experiences that precise moment, it called to the forefront of my mind every ounce of sympathy I had for her and for the singular horror of being overlooked, of being left behind in the wake of fickle infatuation. All these years I assumed Rosaline never gave Romeo a second thought. But what if she did? What if the loss of his love hurt like a brand pressed to her skin? The rest of the story following this moment has its share of ups and downs. I never completely warmed to Rose's flock of privileged, preening friends. There were hints at more depth than was shown, but I could have done with some actual exploration of those hints, especially when it came to Charlie and Olivia. I've heard that some readers felt the inevitable tragedy that comes lacked weight, but I actually thought it was incredibly thoughtfully done. I grieved with Rose. For the years wasted in enmity between the two families, for the deception between the generations, and for the senseless loss of two teenagers whose greatest sin was letting go of their senses so wildly, of losing sight of themselves in the name of each other. Because if I didn't love this Rob and Juliet as much as I did the originals, I loved Rose more. And her love and compassion for them (despite what they did to her) overshadowed any bitterness I might have harbored. All of this is helped, of course, by the fact that Rebecca Serle chose to give Rose another love interest who I admired wholeheartedly. I would have liked a bit more in the way of development in this arena as well, more than I got by the time the ending rolled around. As it was, the ending lacked the kind of weight I felt it needed in order to serve as a proper epilogue to the tragic events that preceded it. It felt a bit pat, a bit cute, when I wanted it to mean more. A contemporary retelling of this play is always going to run that particular risk, but given the excellence of Rose's point of view and the truly elegant moments Ms. Serle was able to craft, I was really pulling for a perfect end for WHEN YOU WERE MINE. An enjoyable, if uneven read, recommended for its interesting perspective and moments of insight....more
It was all the hype surrounding the release of Where She Went that actually got me interested in reading IF I STAY. I was awaOriginally reviewed here.
It was all the hype surrounding the release of Where She Went that actually got me interested in reading IF I STAY. I was aware of the love it received upon its publication a couple of years ago. But even though it appeared to be universally loved, I never picked it up, as I tend to be somewhat leery of coma/out of body experience stories. It's not that I've read a ton of them, but in the few that I have read, I've had a hard time connecting to the main character. What with them being . . . well, comatose and all. So I'd pretty much decided I wasn't going to try this one, until the blogosphere had a collective meltdown over there being a sequel at all and then at how awesome it apparently was. You know how hard it is to resist that promise of a sequel that lives up to (possibly even surpasses) its predecessor. I'm certainly not able to hold out against it for long. So I snagged a copy of IF I STAY and ignored my niggling concerns to see just what all the fuss was about.
Mia comes from a musical family. From her ex-rocker dad and groupie mom to her adorable drummer of a little brother, her family has music in its bones. And Mia does, too. But not in exactly the same way. You see, Mia loves classical music. She's a dedicated cellist and just waiting for that acceptance letter to Julliard. Her loving family supports her passion, if they remain a bit bemused at how straitlaced and determined she is. Then the unthinkable happens. Mia wakes up to find she's been in a car crash. Her entire family was in the car, and now she's in a coma and her parents and brother are . . . gone. From a foggy distance, Mia watches life go on and alternates between watching her body in the hospital and flashbacks to life before the crash, to her relationships with her family members and with her sweet musician boyfriend Adam. What will happen, Mia is not sure. Is there anywhere to go from here? Is she stuck in an eternal in-between? And most importantly, will she ever have the chance to tell her loved ones how much they meant to her?
My emotions about IF I STAY have not faded over time. It's a monumentally quiet story, and the reader drifts along with Mia on a gently wistful refrain of loss. In fact, it's so quiet and gentle that it borders on bland. Which is not to say that I didn't like Mia and Adam and the rest. I did. Very much. And I'm not sure what I was expecting, but what I got was much lower key than that. The writing was competent and unobtrusive, the characters sympathetic, and the situation (naturally) absolutely heartbreaking. But I wasn't consumed. I wasn't so attached that I couldn't put it down. But I kept reading because I did feel fond of these characters, and I really did want to find out how Gayle Forman would resolve Mia's story. And here's where things get interesting, my friends. Because IF I STAY has the best ending I've read in some time. And I am not even a little bit joking. I am seven kinds of serious when I say that this book ramps up to one humdinger of a climax. It was so good it took my breath away. And it sneaks up on you like nobody's business, so that when it does happen you immediately look back on the whole in wonder. Because it really was more than the sum of its parts. It was one of those not just a good ending, but the only one, you know? And all I could think was how well-crafted it was, how seamless and inconspicuous, how softly it crept, all so that you could experience the sheer magnitude of that ending. Honestly, I was just so impressed. It was the perfect ending, and truthfully I wasn't sure at all that I wanted a sequel. Which is actually how you ought to feel after finishing any book, isn't it? Bravo, Ms. Forman....more
I have Allison over at The Allure of Books to thank for this recommendation. I believe I had heard the title of tOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I have Allison over at The Allure of Books to thank for this recommendation. I believe I had heard the title of this Victorian mystery bandied about some and never did chase it down on account of the title itself. Something to do with a proliferation of the so-and-so's wife titles at the time, I would imagine. But. I'm so very glad I listened to Allie and gave it a shot. Anna Lee Huber's series (which stands at three novels at the present time with a fourth due out this summer) is excellent. As you might have guessed, this series is a straight shot for you Deanna Raybourn and Tasha Alexander fans out there. While the Lady Julia Grey series is a touch more dramatic and the Lady Emily Ashton one quite a bit lighter, Kiera Darby is compelling entirely on her own merits and I can't wait to further my exploits with her in future installments.
Lady Kiera Darby wants only to hide away and lick her wounds. Gone to her sister's estate in Scotland to recuperate from the tumultuous events of her husband's death and her own criminal trial, Kiera takes refuge in her painting and in the satisfactory distance she's finally put between herself and the prying eyes of London society. Unfortunately, her well-meaning sister and brother-in-law have planned a house party and invited some of the very elite members of society she so longs to escape. Knowing what they think of her and her role (albeit unwilling) in her husband's distasteful profession, each day becomes an endless struggle. But when a murder takes place on the premises, Kiera's skill is called upon by private inquiry agent Sebastian Gage. At first put off by Gage's somewhat pedestrian talent and clear suspicion of her, Lady Darby is reluctant to pursue the increasingly disturbing events at the estate. But determined to prove her own innocence, she concedes to work with Gage and the two fall into a competent and intriguing partnership.
How I love Kiera. I love that the story opens after the horrible spectacle has taken place. The whole opening has an exhausted, almost gun shy feel to it as we come to know Kiera and gradually find out just what led to her ostracizing from society and the slow death she suffered at the hands of the most indifferent and cruel of husbands. The entirety of The Anatomist's Wife is quiet. In the best sense. Quietly affecting. Quietly horrific. Quietly strong and hopeful. I was immediately fond of it and its occupants. Which brings us to Gage. I found him engaging (forgive me) from the beginning, though he does initially come off a bit of the fop to both Kiera and the reader. While unerringly confident, he doesn't ooze brooding arrogance in quite the same way that others of his ilk do. I wasn't sure which way the wind would blow with Gage. But I appreciated the healthy dose of skepticism that flourished between he and Kiera. And I unquestionably relished the accompanying slow, slow burn as their eyes were opened to how effective they could be as an investigative team, as well as how close they were growing as friends. Such partners they were. Such kindred spirits. I am with them. To the end....more
A very sweet, very short story. I liked everything about it and just wish it had been (much) longer so I could spend more time with the characters andA very sweet, very short story. I liked everything about it and just wish it had been (much) longer so I could spend more time with the characters and see where their story went....more
I'm pretty sure I originally became aware of Jandy Nelson's debut novel THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE when my trusty fellow Team Gale-er Adele of PersnicketyI'm pretty sure I originally became aware of Jandy Nelson's debut novel THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE when my trusty fellow Team Gale-er Adele of Persnickety Snark reviewed it last month. As she frequently does, Adele made me want to read the book right away by stating,
The Sky is Everywhere is an all encompassing study of grief, the strength of a sisterly bond, the power of attraction and love and ultimately the importance of being true to one's self.
I got a good vibe and immediately noted down the release date and put it on my TBR list. Then I was fortunate enough to win an ARC from the publisher in one of those awesome blink-and-you'll-miss-it Twitter giveaways. Thanks so much, Penguin tweeps! I blew through it in two short sessions and have been thinking about it on and off ever since.
Lennie Walker's life is a little unorthodox. Raised, along with her big sister Bailey, by her highly eccentric grandmother and uncle after her mother hit the road and didn't look back, Lennie's life has been pretty good all things considered. If a bit outside the box. Her grandmother tends a garden like unto the one in Eden, paints willowy green ladies on every available surface of their house, and believes one of her house plants is mystically linked to Lennie. When it sickens, Lennie sickens. When it thrives, she thrives. Her Uncle Big is the town lothario. Five failed marriages down and counting, he has a voice like God's, a marijuana habit, and a strange obsession with raising the dead. The insect dead, to be exact. But when Baily suddenly dies, Lennie's life is thrown off the tracks and she finds herself unable to cope without her larger-than-life sister's lead to follow. Bailey's boyfriend Toby is in a similar situation and the two of them find themselves drawn to each other for that new and unhappy bond they share. Even though they didn't really have much use for each other before. Bailey was the one thing they had in common and now they cling to each other as a means of not losing her completely. When she returns to school and band practice and her best friend Sarah, Lennie still fails to deal with life as it is now. And then Joe Fontaine comes into her life. Gorgeous, dorky, perpetually smiling Joe with his questions and his wanting to know. Why she climbs trees at lunchtime, why she plays the clarinet like a virtuoso yet determinedly sits second chair, and most of all why she's so sad.
Starting out I wasn't so sure. It's hard to get a grip on Lennie and her past right off the bat. And when things start escalating between her and Toby you do begin to wonder about this girl and whether or not she's going to fall all over herself throughout the novel and whether or not you'll be able to watch the train wreck. But then Jandy Nelson's lovely writing steps in and gracefully does away with your fears. And how could I not sympathize with a fellow clarinet player? I was the cliché band geek myself. And even though I got out before hitting high school (and marching band), I have always had a soft spot for my band geek clarinet girl counterparts in literature. That's part of why I enjoyed Lauren in Bloom so much. But Lennie's up against a whole mess of challenges I never faced. Like suddenly having the hots for my dead sister's boyfriend. And having him reciprocate in a seriously unhealthy way. But Nelson's almost rhythmic writing carries the reader through on a swirl of high notes and low and I sympathized with Lennie on so many levels by the time the song wound to a close. The zany characters and surprising humor sprinkled throughout the story played just the right counterpoint to the dirge of grief and regret that threaten to drown Lennie. With every fragment of memory she scrawled down on scraps of paper and the sides of coffee cups, my heart hurt for her. And with every encounter with the book's great lifesaver--Joe Fontaine--and her extremely likable grandmother and uncle, I wanted her to make it more. A favorite passage (one of many):
I find Gram, who is twirling around the living room with her sage wand like an overgrown fairy. I tell her that I'm sorry, but I don't feel well and need to go upstairs. She stops mid-whirl. I know she senses trouble, but she says, "Okay, sweet pea." I apologize to everyone and say good night as nonchalantly as possible. Joe follows me out of the room, and I decide it might be time to join a convent, just cloister up with the Sisters for awhile. He touches my shoulder and I turn around to face him. "I hope what I said in the woods didn't freak you out or something . . . hope that's not why you're crashing . . ." "No, no." His eyes are wide with worry. I add, "It made me pretty happy, actually." Which of course is true except for the slight problem that immediately after hearing his declaration, I made a date with my dead sister's boyfriend to do God knows what! "Good." He brushes his thumb on my cheek, and again his tenderness startles me. "Because I'm going crazy, Lennie." Bat. Bat. Bat. And just like that, I'm going crazy too because I'm thinking Joe Fontaine is about to kiss me. Finally. Forget the convent. Let's get this out of the way: My previously nonexistent floozy-factor is blowing right off the charts. "I didn't know you knew my name," I say. "So much you don't know about me, Lennie." He smiles and takes his index finger and presses it to my lips, leaves it there until my heart lands on Jupiter: three seconds, then removes it, turns around, and heads back into the living room. Whoa--well, that was either the dorkiest or sexiest moment of my life, and I'm voting for sexy on account of my standing here dumbstruck and giddy, wondering if he did kiss me after all. I am totally out of control. I do not think this is how normal people mourn.
Geez, I love that last line. It's so pregnant with everything that's going on in that girl. A moving and delightful read and recommended for fans of Julia Hoban, Sonya Sones, and Lisa Ann Sandell. THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE is due out today!
A Note: THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE is being compared to Sarah Dessen's novels, but I've noticed several early reviews seem to indicate Dessen fans are not that enthused with the comparison. Whereas those of us who don't seem to connect with Dessen's work find Nelson's book both fresh and compelling. There are, of course, exceptions but I'm interested to see if this trend continues or if it's merely conjecture on my part....more