February 14, 2017

Review | A Season of Daring Greatly by Ellen Emerson White

I think by now you're all familiar with my love for Ellen Emerson White's books. So you'll have no trouble understanding the level of excitement I've been living with ever since I heard she was writing a contemporary YA about the first girl to be drafted by a Major League Baseball team. Wild horses were having trouble keeping my anticipation within any sort of manageable proportions. It's difficult to believe that the release day has finally arrived, but it has, and I'm here to tell you you need to rush and grab your copy. Featuring White's trademark wit and understated class, this book is inyou'll forgive the puna league of its own.

Jill Cafferty is pretty sure she'll go. Yes, she's accepted a scholarship to play baseball for Stanford. And, yes, she's assured her mother that if she doesn't go early in the draft she'll head off to college and accept her fate. But. She's pretty sure she'll go. What she isn't sure is which team it will be and what in the world she'll do when it actually comes time to say goodbye to her mother and older brother and go live and work with a bunch of guys. Guys who will more than likely be none too pleased to have her around. But baseball is sort of it for Jill. Her entire life has led to this point, even if the realities of being the first girl to go pro induce a level of blind panic she's wholly unfond of. But if she doesn't try now, how will she ever know if she could really go all the way?

A Season of Daring Greatly is just everything I wanted it to be. I mean, every ounce of it. It resides in that unique space where young adult meets new adult, as Jill is eighteen years old and on her way to college (or the minor leagues) when our tale begins. If you've read even one of Ms. White's other books, you'll have an inkling of the kind of main character you're in for, which is to say the kind of girl who is simply more in all the ways that matter. Jill is smart, driven, determined, and self-exacting. She's private, though quite open with her two closest friends. She has a healthy, if quirky sense of humor. And while she has a truly gratifying confidence and pride in her abilities, she is not without a corollary set of very real fears, doubts, and concerns. In fact, where her confidence and skills meet the pressures and fears of actually playing professional ball is where this novel shines. Like Jill herself, the book feels almost shockingly natural—as comfortable as your favorite pair of jeans, despite its unprecedented setup. Jill may be the first of her kind (and she is 100 percent/24-hours-a-day aware of that and the expectations, both fair and unfair, that come with it), but she has made a commitment. And, come hell or high water, she will see it through to its finish,whether it be in ignominious defeat or in the breaking of barriers. She's really not certain from day to day which it will be.

This reading experience is very much focused on the day-to-day journey with Jill and her internal struggle with the internal and external ramifications of the life she's chosen. Watching her learn (and be forced) to balance her lifelong love of the game with the new and painful trappings of fame, league politics, team machinations, and the realities of sexism and gender stereotypes on every level is fascinating and timely. These deeper questions are balanced with that excellent humor and with Jill's determined, but shy forays into friendship on her team. I was particularly enamored of her relationship with her veteran catcher. A favorite scene (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
She managed to throw a strikea good one, sneaky fast, right on the inside cornerso, the batter swung at the next pitch, and sent a sharp grounder up the middle, which she didn't manage to get anywhere near.

Terrific. That meant two runs, andexcept the shy second baseman streaked over, flicked it backhanded from his glove to Raffy without missing a beat, and that was the third out.

What a great play! And he'd made it look easy.

She was so relieved that she intercepted him on his way off the field and couldn't stop herself from giving him a truly heartfelt hug.

He looked horrified, and extricated himself, speaking so rapidly in Spanish that she only managed to catch a few phrases, most of which were along the lines of "Holy Mother of God!"

So, she backed away from him raising her hands apologeticallybut, still, that had been a big league play. She was practically in love with him, for making that play. Deeply in love.

It felt as though a huge weight had lifted from her shoulders, and she suddenly felt so cheerful, that she almost wanted to bounce into the dugout.

She paused in front of Adler, waiting for his reaction.

He looked at her for a few seconds, with about eight expressions moving across his face, before settling on a small frown.

"Don't hug the infielders," he said. "They hate that."

Seemed that way, yeah.
I'm still grinning over that exchange. Because I am just am so fond of Jill and the team she sets on its ear. The team that also finds itself stretching enough to take her in and give her a new fabric and viewpoint from which to feel out and examine her life. While you won't be at all displeased where this novel lands, it's virtually impossible not to feel an immediate thirst for more. Please.

A Season of Daring Greatly is out today!

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January 5, 2017

My Year of Georgette Heyer | Book the First: The Convenient Marriage

This is not a drill. I repeat, THIS IS NOT A DRILL. I believe I am, in fact, upon the brink of accomplishing something that I have been meaning to do for years. I want you all to be the first to know that I just read my first very Georgette Heyer. That's right. I actually did it. After years of promising myself and countless others (many of you) that I would do it, I finally managed it! And I can tell that I'm about to dive headlong into a full-fledged binge.

After consulting all of your past comments on which Heyers are your favorites and why (and after some serious counsel from Beth and a well-timed trip to our local Barnes & Noble), I chose to start with The Convenient Marriage. I had no idea it would turn out to contain, without question, one of my favorite proposal scenes ever. The kind of proposal scene that makes you feel like nothing could ever go wrong after it. It takes place very early on, and it made me laugh and sigh repeatedly with delight. I know I will be yanking out my copy to reread that scene for years to come.
"It's v-vulgar to care about Settlements, but you are very rich, are you not?"

"Very," said his lordship, preserving his calm.

"Yes," nodded Horatia. "W-well—you see!"

"I see," agreed Rule. "You are going to be the Sacrifice."

She looked up at him rather shyly. "It c-can't signify to you, can it? Except that I know I'm not a Beauty, like L-Lizzie. But I have got the Nose, sir."

Rule surveyed the Nose. "Undoubtedly, you have the Nose," he said.

Horatia seemed determined to make a clean breast of her blemishes. "And p-perhaps you could become used to my eyebrows?"

The smile lurked at the back of Rule's eyes. "I think, quite easily."

She said sadly: "They won't arch, you know. And I ought to t-tell you that we have quite given up hope of my g-growing any taller."

"It would certainly be a pity if you did," said his lordship.

"D-do you think so?" Horatia was surprised. "It is a great trial to me, I can assure you." She took a breath, and added, with difficulty: "You m-may have n-noticed that I have a—a stammer."

"Yes, I had noticed," the Earl said gently.

"If you f-feel you c-can't bear it, sir, I shall quite understand," Horatia said in a small, anxious voice.

"I like it," said the Earl.

"It is very odd of you," marvelled Horatia. "But p-perhaps you said that to p-put me at my ease?"

"No," said the Earl. "I said it because it was true."
Which is not to say that the entire experience was perfectly smooth sailing. Horatia is a bit hysterical for my taste. Or rather, she starts off very promising indeed and then proceeds to be rather hysterical for the next couple hundred pages. And, yes, I grew impatient. And yes, I really would have loved it if she'd managed to see one single thing for what it was without Rule having to patiently explain it to her. But Rule. You guys. Rule. I loved him from beginning to end. He gives the impression that he is always withholding a smile when he is at his most decorous and that when he is smiling placidly at you is when you are actually in the most danger. Rule will always be dear to me. As will drunk Pel & Pom, roving the streets of London at the crack of dawn, trying to discern whether or not Horatia actually murdered someone with a poker. I'm still filled with helpless laughter when I think of those two, to say nothing of Pom's great aunt.
Glamour might still have clung to a rakehell who abducted noble damsels, but no glamour remained about a man who had been pushed into a pond in full ball-dress. 
The Convenient Marriage also includes two excellent duels, one hilarious and quite brief, the other magnetic and drawn-out. And, yes, I could definitely have done with a handful more scenes in which Rule and Horatia were, say, in the same room together (particularly at the end). But, on the whole, my time spent with these characters was utterly entertaining, and I will be cracking open my second Heyer tonight.

And in honor of this being the year I (finally) discovered Georgette Heyer, I thought I'd run a series here on the blog, updating you on my progress back through her body of work throughout the year. Are you in? I'm looking forward to it!

January 3, 2017

Review + Giveaway | A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn

I decided to start off the year with a read I felt was sure to satisfy. That's the space I'm occupying right now, guys. I need something new and I need something that's going to just make it right. Tall order, I know. But I've been a fan of the first Veronica Speedwell mystery for awhile now, and I was definitely eager to rejoin Veronica and Stoker's company to see what adventure they might find next. Deanna Raybourn has been my go-to author when it comes to Victorian mysteries for awhile now. Together with Sherry Thomas, Anna Lee Huber, and Laurie R. King, she brings the nuanced character development and effortless charm that I so enjoy to historical shenanigans and foul play.

Veronica Speedwell has been thwarted in her latest plans for further world exploration when her host trips over a tortoise (truly) and sustains a compound fracture, the likes of which make their journey to the South Pacific impossible for the foreseeable future. And so she and Stoker are stuck cooling their heels in the back gardens, cataloging museum items and generally trying not to get on each other's nerves. But their pasts (most definitely plural) and murder do tend to find them. Before long, Veronica has accepted a most mysterious request from a very royal source to investigate the grisly murder of a local artist and exonerate the man who is set to hang for the crime. Stoker (as per usual) is less than thrilled with Veronica's audacity on his behalf. But not so much that he isn't soon along for the ride.

A Perilous Undertaking starts off at just a cracking good pace. It was immediately excellent to be back with our intrepid leads, and I was intrigued by the ongoing exploration of Veronica's royal connection woven into this second mystery. Veronica is at her best, in my humble opinion, when she is at her most acerbic. Thus, her early interactions with both Scotland Yard and the mysterious Lady Sundridge assured me all would be well. The other genuine attraction of this series lies in the tempestuous but true relationship between Veronica and Stoker. And when it is just the two of them, things do feel right.
He shook his head. "You are mad. And I am madder still for letting you talk me into this."

I gave him a wry smile. "We will be like Arcadia Brown and her faithful sidekick, Garvin," I said, invoking our favorite literary detective. Stoker claimed not to enjoy popular fiction, but ever since I had introduced him to the lady investigator's adventures, he had devoured them while still pretending to be above such diversions.

He narrowed his gaze. "If you are expecting me to brandish a pistol and go haring off with you, crying 'Excelsior!,' you will be waiting until the crack of doom," he warned. "I am only doing this because I know there is no point in attempting to talk you out of it, and you will need someone to watch your back with a murderer on the loose."

I grinned at him and lifted my glass in salute. "It begins."
You see? And begin well it does. The problem for me arose soon after, once investigations truly got underway. Things simply . . . slowed down. Not that they weren't out and about in pursuit of their goal, but nothing truly seemed to progress. Not their relationship, not their roles within the larger picture, not the complexity of the mystery itself. I have always loved allowing mysteries to unfold in their own time, but the secret at the heart of this one was sort of glaringly obvious from the start. No matter how many players joined the fray, I knew who it was and why. And the problem wasn't so much that but the fact that they were tired reasons. In fact, so many of the elements of this jaunt felt tired to me. Every one of Stoker's actions was "lavish." Every new character on the scene remarked upon the very same set of Veronica's characteristics. Every new bit of "shocking" evidence hailed from a sort of laundry list of standard Victorian tropes. Opium den, check. Den of iniquity, check. Jealous wives, check. My dismay grew with each passing page. The thing is, we readers are already one book in at this point. We know the specific ways in which our heroine gleefully flaunts her society. We already love her for them. We do not need to be bashed over the head every other paragraph with why they make her unusual. We would like more in the way of introspection. And that is how it felt. Like all of the labels and the general exclaiming over them stood in for actual character development. Even between Veronica and Stoker, I felt cheated out of more depth. They bantered. They aided and abetted each other. But they never grew. There were a couple of moments that were clearly meant to accomplish this, but to me they felt manufactured in the extreme, particularly their timing and the way in which they were presented. I finished, but I finished disappointed on the whole. Mine is, I realize, a very personal reaction to this book. So if you enjoyed A Curious Beginning (as I very much did), I do think you ought to give A Perilous Undertaking a try. It might just be your cuppa.

A Perilous Undertaking is due out January 10th.

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And now for the giveaway! Berkley has kindly offered up a brand new copy to one lucky reader. The giveaway is open to U.S. addresses only and will run through Tuesday, January 10th. To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter. Good luck and happy reading!

January 1, 2017

2017 Must Be Mine List

Compiling my list of the best books of the past year inevitably fills me with anticipation for the coming books. And given how relatively short my best of list was, I was quietly thrilled to see how many books I'm genuinely looking forward to in 2017. I choose to take it as a good omen at this time of beginnings. Here are my most anticipated titles:






 And no covers on these yet, but I can hardly wait all the same:

Wildfire by Ilona Andrews
The Comfort Zone by Sally Thorne
Terra by A.C. Gaughen
Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore
Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley
One True Pairing by Cathy Yardley

 Do we share any titles? Which ones are on your list?

December 31, 2016

Angie's Best Books of 2016

Let's just lay our cards on the table, shall we, and agree that, on the whole, 2016 was an abysmal year.
And I'd just like to personally invite it not to let the door hit it on the way out.
This is me being as charitable as I can possibly be at this point. 

That said, I want to send a glorious shout out to the wonderful books that have come out this past year, and to all the authors (and readers) who have not given in to the anxiety, depression, anger, and fear that I know so many of us have felt throughout the past twelve months (or more). It is the last day of the year, and I have poured all of my gratitude (and hope for a better one to come) into my annual list of my favorite reads of the year. Just 17 this year. Fewer than the past few years, which indicates a healthy dose of necessary rereading in this year that has been what it was, as well as the fact that I just didn't get to as many new releases.

Photo by @aamith

(in the order in which I read them)

The Hating Game by Sally Hunter

FYI, that's 6 contemporaries, 5 historicals, 5 fantasies, and 1 scifi.
Essentially, the primary genres seem to have evened out a bit this year. 

Best New Discovery of 2016

It was uncontrollable love at first sight with V.E. Schwab's Darker Shades series. I mean to say, I haven't read fantasy of this caliber in some time. Every beautiful layer of her writing is to my taste. It makes me smile, it makes me wince, it makes me head over heels, achingly in love with each of the characters. In short, I won't be fit for polite company until the third and final book in the trilogy comes out in February.

Biggest Character Crush of 2016
Kell Maresh
fall-for-the-game.tumblr.com
I fell in love with Kell on page one, with his magical red coat, his quiet intensity, his fierce love for his brother, and his desperate quest. He is a hero. And I continue to reassure myself that everything will be okay. 

Book I Reread the Most in 2016
The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

Because it was the one I had the hardest time letting go of. And so I elected simply not to by rereading it as needed. Because its lines were the ones that ran through my head the most this year. I haven't cried over a book like that in some time. I may have even attempted to work through my emotions by creating a Portable Quotable Raven Boys for Beth. We do what we have to do to survive, right?
"Is it safe?" Gansey asked. "Safe as life," Adam replied.

Best Books I read in 2016 that were Published in a Different Year


Artistic License by Elle Pierson

Happy New Year!

December 29, 2016

Bibliocrack Review | Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

If you know me at all, you know that Crooked Kingdom was right behind The Raven King for my most anticipated book of the year. And I had to wait all the way to the end of September to get it. I suffer, guys. I suffer. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely. Am I utterly desolate that it's over? Oh my word, yes. Has it taken me awhile to process my emotions and be able to write about them somewhat coherently? Why yes, yes it has. Thanks for asking. A duology is a rare and beautiful thing. It is also a perilous thing. For there's no coming back from that second book, no third book to potentially wrap things up just right. All your money on that one book to make it well. In this case, it ended so perfectly I could only sit there in amazement at how right it was. For everyone. Which is not to say that things were not sacrificed (they were) and that it did not hurt (it did). But it was right. And so very full.

Be warned. Beyond this point there be potential spoilers for Six of Crows.

There was simply no time. No time for Kaz and the gang to rest and lick their wounds. No time even to celebrate the heist of the century. The Wraith was taken, and there would be rest for no one (least of all Kaz) until she was rescued from Van Eck and revenge (on several levels) was exacted. Of course, everything in Ketterdam runs on Kaz Brekker's clock, which is not nearly fast enough for a few of the crows, who each have their own set of troubles that will not wait for revenge plots or rescue missions. To say nothing of the myriad interested parties intent on their stake of the jurda parem profits and the potential that people like Kuwei possess. No plan is foolproof, though. And this one is even less than most, given that along the way the Barrel and its denizens cease to follow established rules and Kaz is beset by a whole other set of obstacles. It's a fight for the underworld, for the city, for the world itself and even Kaz may not have a firm grasp on all the players. But he didn't rise to be leader of the Dregs without fully enough ruthlessness and intelligence to power an entire city. And, as always, his motley crew are with him to the end.
Though Kaz's tone was easy, Matthias heard the dark anticipation in his words. He had often wondered how people survived this city, but it was possible Ketterdam would not survive Kaz Brekker.
It was possible I would not survive this book. But, like the other crows, it was always Kaz that held us together. Even when he didn't want us there. And it's worth mentioning that for the first good third of this book, I was not at all sure what sort of beast I was dealing with. Everything felt ever so off kilter from the first book. Not in a wrong way, just in a we might possibly not be in Ketterdam anymore way. Even though we are clearly in Ketterdam for the entirety of the book. But the repercussions of the wildly exciting adventure of the first book ripple ruthlessly through this, its sequel, through each of the players. And no one is meant to feel precisely comfortable, I don't think. Incredibly relieved and happy to be in one another's company once more, utterly charmed by each of the impossibly charming pairings within the group, but not precisely comfortable with the spaces each are forced to occupy now. Nor are we to be allowed to forget or even gloss over just how dark Kaz Brekker's world is. However. Once the action does get going (once Kaz has sufficiently schemed his way to a proper lather), it does not let up. And from start to finish, the dialogue is something to behold. Every exchange either put a smile on my face (Nina & Matthias, Wylan & Jesper) or tightened my heartstrings to the breaking point (Kaz & Inej). An example of the latter:
When she turned to him, her eyes were bright with anger.

"He was going to break my legs," she said, her chin held high, the barest quiver in her voice. "Would you have come for me then, Kaz? When I couldn't scale a wall or walk a tightrope? When I wasn't the Wraith anymore?"

Dirtyhands would not. The boy who could get them through this, get their money, keep them alive, would do her the courtesy of putting her out of her misery, then cut his losses and move on.

"I would come for you," he said, and when he saw the wary look she shot him, he said it again, "I would come for you. And if I couldn't walk, I'd crawl to you, and no matter how broken we were, we'd fight our way out together—knives drawn, pistols blazing. Because that's what we do. We never stop fighting."
Kaz and Inej. They're sort of it for me. And that is saying something in a novel that gave me so many more reasons than I ever needed to love each of these crazy criminals without reserve. I may have wished for more time together, more scenes exchanging looks and working out possible futures, more with each pairing. But loving them was locked in long ago. Which, of course, makes reading it that much more dangerous, when those fragile beings live and fight and breathe and bleed in a world that has little love for them, in a world of no mourners and no funerals. Which brings me to how brave I thought this novel was, to how marvelous a conclusion Ms. Bardugo wrought. It fairly blew me away with its perfection. Even with all of my accumulated, dogged hope, I didn't envision an outcome as satisfying as this one. And I say that holding the pieces of my heart in my hands. To say it is perfect is not to say it is without the highest of stakes and the purest of sacrifices. Everything about it hurt. Even as I was laughing at Jesper's quips, Nina's bravado, and Wylan's blushes, I had to remember to hold the pieces of my heart together. That is precisely what made it worth it. It mattered. So much. They fought together. They each stayed entirely true to themselves and true to their unwavering love and loyalty to each other. And that ending—that fiercely beautiful ending. My, what storytelling.

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Linkage
My Friends are Fiction - "Crooked Kingdom was an impeccable finish to Six of Crows."
Read at Midnight - "I felt like I aged about a decade in one day while reading this book, and I mean this in the best way possible."

December 15, 2016

Carry On Paperback Cover


I don't know about you, but I needed something excellent to lift my spirits. A huge thanks to St. Martin's and Buzzfeed for giving us the upcoming paperback cover of Rainbow Rowell's Carry On. The cover art is by none other than the incredible Kevin Wada. I mean, I purchased two copies of Leigh Bardugo's Crooked Kingdom just so I could get the one with his gorgeous illustrations inside the jacket. He captured Kaz and the gang so perfectly, I had to have them. And I think he's captured Simon and Baz so well here. Due out May 9th, it will make the perfect lender copy. I'm thinking it's time for a reread . . .
"You have to pretend you get an endgame. You have to carry on like you will; otherwise, you can't carry on at all."