March 26, 2015

Cover Reveal: All for You by Laura Florand

Forget what I said before about pacing ourselves when it comes to upcoming pretties. We are just gonna go ahead and switch over our regular programming to All Covers All The Time. And today's reveal is an absolute delight. You all know how I feel about Laura Florand's Amour et Chocolat books, which is to say roughly how I feel about a box of delicate macarons, a cup of rich hot chocolate, and a plane ticket to Paris—put them in my hands. So that's why I was over the moon to hear Laura is launching a whole new series set in Paris and featuring three young women attempting to make their way in the male-dominated world of French haute cuisine. All for You focuses on Célie who was Dom's chef chocolatier in The Chocolate Touch, which thing fills me with glee. Because snippets of Dom!
Some crushes aren’t meant to be

When her older brother’s best friend left to join the Foreign Legion, eighteen-year-old Célie moved on to make a life for herself as a Paris chocolatier. Now, five years later, the last thing she needs is another man to mess up her happiness.

Let alone the same man.

But five years in the Foreign Legion is a long time for a man to grow up, and a long time to be away from
the woman he loves.

Especially when he did it all for her.

Half strangers, more than friends, and maybe, if Joss Castel has his way, a second chance…

Coming May 5, 2015!
PRAISE FOR LAURA FLORAND’S NOVELS:
“Chocolate, Paris, and a Greek god for a hero; this delectable confection has it all!” – Library Journal Starred Review
“(Florand) captures the nature of love, its fierce, soul-warming necessity, in a way that will make you as happy as the finest bonbon could.” – Eloisa James, The Barnes & Noble Review, a Best Book of 2013 selection
“Florand outdoes herself with this exquisite confection… painstakingly crafted and decadent as the sweets it portrays, leaving the reader longing for just one little taste.” – Publishers Weekly Starred Review
“Adorable, charming, whimsical.” – Smexy Books
“Florand serves up a mouth-watering tale of slow-burning passion and combustible consummation that’s as perfectly crafted as the hero’s surprisingly complex confections and as silky and addictive as the heroine’s dark chocolat chaud.”–RT Book Reviews, 4.5 stars, TOP PICK!, RT Seal of Excellence, RT Reviewers Choice nomination Best Book of 2013
“A delectable summer bonbon.” – NPR Books
“This is one of the cleverest, most persuasive enemies-to-lovers stories I’ve read in a long time.” – Dear Author, RECOMMENDED READ 

March 24, 2015

A Curious Beginning Cover

Normally, I like to space out the book cover posts a tad. But I simply couldn't wait with this gorgeous cover (her dress . . . the fog . . . gah) just being revealed for A Curious Beginning—the first book in Deanna Raybourn's upcoming Victorian mystery series. The series follows Veronica Speedwell—a scientist with a taste for adventure. There is an enigmatic German baron, a bad-tempered historian named Stoker, murder, mayhem, oh my. A Curious Beginning is due out September 1st. Yippee!

March 20, 2015

Beastly Bones Cover


I have been on pins and needles ever since finishing Jackaby for news of the sequel, and now it's finally here! I love this cover, you guys. I love the colors, I especially love that it's Abigail's silhouette, and I can't wait to hold it and admire it on the shelf rubbing shoulders with its predecessor. I'm very much looking forward to finding out what beasties Abigail and Jackaby (and Charlie!) will be tracking this time around. I will confess to having been hoping the next one would be titled simply Rook. But, alas, it was a meager hope at best. Beastly Bones is due out September 22nd. Until then, we shall have to make do with dreaming.

March 18, 2015

Review | Carolina Home by Virginia Kantra

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.

Buy
 

Linkage
Chachic's Book Nook (series review) - "Virginia Kantra’s Dare Island series was one of my favorite discoveries last year."
Dear Author - "There’s enough conflict going on for this book to feel meaty yet still finished."
Fiction Vixen - "At first it seems like it will be a lighthearted contemporary romance but as the story goes on so many emotional elements come into play."
Romance Around the Corner - "It has that community feel to it, but it’s not a light read, and the focus isn’t just the romance but the overall storyline that comes from the family conflict at the core of the series."

March 17, 2015

Review | Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

All right. I can accept that I am coming monumentally late to the party with this one. And I have no excuses for myself. Plenty of you sang its praises, and that many award stickers plastered all over a cover generally indicate there is something of value inside. To say nothing of that ridiculously gorgeous cover declaring to all and sundry that herein lie beautiful things. Basically, everything pointed to win and I just failed to pick up on the signals. To the degree that I didn't even really know what Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was about. At all. Fast forward a couple of years to the present day when I run across Forever Young Adult's review and finally have my ah-ha moment. I ran to my local library, snagged their lovely copy, and took it home with me to see how these fancifully-monikered boys and I would get on. Spoilers: SPLENDIDLY.
I had all kinds of tragic reasons for feeling sorry for myself. Being fifteen didn't help. Sometimes I thought that being fifteen was the worst tragedy of all.
Aristotle narrates his life about as bluntly and intimately as an aggressively lackadaisical fifteen-year-old boy can. At least until that patently private boy meets one Dante Quintana and sees just how open and welcoming a boy (and his family) can be. It's the summer of 1985 and Ari spends most of each day struggling to find reasons to leave the house, ways to occupy himself aside from brooding about his father who seems to have dealt with his experiences in Vietnam by adopting a policy of silence. When he meanders over to the pool one day, Ari meets a boy with a squeaky voice and the kindred name of Dante who offers to teach him how to swim. Ari begrudgingly accepts. From that point on, a friendship develops that takes both boys by surprise and bids good to change their lives permanently. Accompanying them on this journey are their parents who love them unreservedly but who have their own struggles as they deal with their individual histories and the ways in which they reach into the present to shape their sons' lives as well as their own.
I have always felt terrible inside. The reasons for this keep changing.
Benjamin Alire Sáenz had me at Richie Valens. He had me somewhere amid the opening lines, at Ari going to bed wishing the world would be different when he woke up and then waking up to wonder what went through Richie Valens' head before the plane crashed. He had me at, "Hey, Buddy! The music's over." This book crushed me, it's that beautiful. I began it one night after tucking my kids into bed and—a few dozen pages later—blithely accepted the fact that I would be staying up however long it took to read it through to completion. The novel is told entirely from Ari's perspective, and it's difficult for me to tell you how much I grew to care for that boy. In simple and occasionally halting terms, he ruminates on his unease around other boys, his admiration for his mother, his longing to broach the subject of his imprisoned brother. The folding of lively, loquacious Dante into his life happens almost without Ari or the reader noticing, it is that seamless and that natural. Having some experience with friends coming into my life unexpectedly and yet at precisely the moment I so needed them to, my heart lodged itself firmly between these two boys and informed me it would be going nowhere. Since we mostly get our impressions of Dante through Ari's eyes, I occasionally worried a bit (perhaps taking my cues from Ari's deep seated anxiety) that he would flit away too soon. Before Ari or I had parsed out how to make room in our lives for such a bright star. Loving Dante is a foregone conclusion, with his inability to wear shoes, his love of reading, and his complicated relationship with his Mexican heritage.

I love how time passes in this novel, how the summers felt exactly as unlimited and free as they do in high school, how being separated from your dearest friend for a year can hurt in ways you've never experienced, and how you try to fill the hole with the distraction of work and smaller friendships. Perhaps the most beautiful experience of reading this book, though, was the privilege of watching Ari awaken (on so many levels), of watching his dual relationships—with Dante and with his father—grow and increase his understanding of himself and humanity in general. The nature of Ari's observations are always arresting, but by the end they become so very rich and simple in their beauty. Here, a lovely example taken from a moment when Ari struggles to convey his feelings when faced with a show of gratitude and love from Dante's parents:
"What am I supposed to do?" I knew my voice was cracking. But I refused to cry. What was there to cry about? "I don't know what to do." I looked at Mrs. Quintana and I looked at Sam. "Dante's my friend." I wanted to tell them that I'd never had a friend, not ever, not a real one. Until Dante. I wanted to tell them that I never knew that people like Dante existed in the world, people who looked at the stars, and knew the mysteries of water, and knew enough to know that birds belonged to the heavens and weren't meant to be shot down from their graceful flights by mean and stupid boys. I wanted to tell them that he had changed my life and that I would never be the same, not ever. And that somehow it felt like it was Dante who had saved my life and not the other way around. I wanted to tell them that he was the first human being aside from my mother who had ever made me want to talk about the things that scared me. I wanted to tell them so many things and yet I didn't have the words. So I just stupidly repeated myself. "Dante's my friend."
All four of the parents are such nuanced and present characters in this story and I adored that and them. Throughout the narrative, Sáenz explores the ways in which we need our parents, in which love between a parent and child is endlessly complex and often so difficult to encompass and express in any adequate way. This complexity resonated with me so profoundly, as did basically everything about this beautiful, beautiful love story. Finest kind.

Buy

Linkage
The Book Smugglers - "Aristotle and Dante is the kind of book that gives me hope that the universe might be still be an ok place to live."
Forever Young Adult - "Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a gorgeously-crafted portrait of two best friends exploring their identities."
Savvy Verse & Wit - " It is never forced, it is as easy as a friendship between two boys can be, but it also tackles that harder issues that we as a society continue to struggle with."
Wear the Old Coat - "If you ever find yourself craving a read that’s beautifully written, one that explores friendship and love in a gorgeously understated way then this book should be your first port of call."

March 16, 2015

Bibliocrack Review | Pairing Off by Elizabeth Harmon

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?"

"Isn't it?"

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.

Buy

Linkage
Bookaholics Not-So-Anonymous - "I loved the differences in cultures and how Anton and Carrie worked on their partnership, then their friendship, and then much later on, their relationship."
The Bookpushers - "I absolutely love when a book really incorporates it’s location into a book so deeply."

February 17, 2015

I Got 99 Problems But Books Ain't One, or Angie's Top Ten Five Book Related Problems

Top Ten Tuesday is a bookish meme hosted @ The Broke and the Bookish

The truth is that I never look at anything book related as a problem. Books (and everything they encompass in my life) are the bright spot. They save me on a daily, sometimes an hourly basis. They are where I go to recover from the 99 problems calling for my blood at any given moment. They're the plane, and the train, and the road, you know? What I'm trying to say is that when I do stress, it's never about the state of my mountainous TBR, or when I'll get around to picking up the seventh book in that series I love, or how I'll ever scrape together the money for those shelves I really need. 

That said. I know that the people near and dear to me would be able to slap together a list of my book related problems in no time flat. So I thought it would be fun to compile a list of ten five problems they would definitely say I have and that I would think fondly of their extreme patience with me (and my books) as I did it. So.


She would loan out the last surviving copy of Shakespeare's First Folio to a random stranger on the street if s/he asked just right
I freely admit this, and I flat out refuse to feel guilty about it. It's just that when I realize there is someone out there who has not read a book they clearly need to read, I am incapable of not moving heaven and earth to resolve the problem ASAP. I press the book into their hands and go to bed feeling all warm and fuzzy inside (and hoping they'll text me their favorite lines as they go).

She fails to keep good track of who she's loaned which book to
This is unfortunately true. Six months after calling mischief managed, I realize that signed, first edition never made it home again and blearily begin casting about for where in the world it could have disappeared to.

She will rec books all the livelong day. but when the tables are turned it's like pulling teeth
Sigh. Okay, I am the actual worst when it comes to other people's recommendations. I know I am. It's crazy because I never had a problem with required reading in school. Ask me to read a 1000-page classic and write a five page essay I was going to be graded on and I was your girl. And recommending books is like breathing to me. But someone slaps a book in my hand, tells me they loved it, and gives me that eager, expectant look and I am paralyzed by guilt and obligation. What if I hate it? What if I can't get through the first chapter and then am forced to return it shamefacedly? Never mind that it doesn't phase me at all when someone returns one of the books I handed them saying it just wasn't their cuppa. So I ask you—what is wrong with me??? 

*It's worth noting that this is true only of in-person interactions. Online recs are my jam and please to be keeping 'em coming, people!

When it comes to reading, she is a leaf on the wind
This goes along with the other people's recs problem. It appears I left formal schooling and can no longer be tied down. It's also why me and book clubs just never seem to make it off the ground. Tell me I have to read this book and only this book by this day and you will guarantee that book is the very last thing I pick up. These days I am entirely led by mood and, honestly? With my days as full as they are, full of my job, my kids, my husband, my house, etc? When I do finally climb into bed at night I am going to read just whatever the hell I please. You can check your guilt at the door.

She is a compulsive collector
I confess to the occasional smidgen of guilt about this (four copies of Jane Eyre and The Blue Sword, I'm looking at you), but on the whole I remain essentially unrepentant. I adore different editions of my beloved books. When a new and shiny one (or a previously unknown and beautifully old and worn one) flits across my radar, I become fixated on owning it. And really, given the above problems, it's in everyone's best interest if I have a couple or three lender copies of my favorite books. This is what I tell myself as I fork over the cash. 

Hm. I feel as though I may have come off a touch defiant when it comes to these "problems." But, as I hope I've made perfectly clear, when it comes to books—I sleep well at night.