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.

February 10, 2015

A Touch of Red Pretties


It's February and the color red is everywhere, in windows, on cookies, and threading through the most lovely of upcoming book covers. These three. They are so beautiful, they would grace any shelf. Two of these authors are new to me, and I'm really looking forward to getting to know their work.

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore
This one sounds almost like a magical realism take on Romeo & Juliet, and I am down with that, people. The two families are the Palomas and the Corbeaus. They operate rival traveling performance troupes. There's a touch of black magic. Then a Corbeau boy saves a Paloma girl's life, and well . . .
Due out September 15th

Sword by Amy Bai
Thanks to Li for the heads up on this one! Kyali is the only sword-wielding girl in the realm. Charged with the care of the heir to the throne, her life falls apart when the ancient nursery rhymes of her people begin to manifest themselves in reality. It sounds all epic and doomed and whatnot. That cover though.
Due out today!

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
I really cannot stress to you enough how perfect a book Stead's When You Reach Me is. I read it last year and have yet to review it because feelings. But. This new one looks fabulous. Three girls. Best friends. Seventh grade. Valentine's Day is involved. Ugh. Already I have shivers.
Due out August 4th

February 2, 2015

#LikeAGirl


I enjoyed a number of things about last night's Super Bowl, but this thing was the best thing. I had my arm around my 6-year-old girl as we watched it and, yes, that is what it means.

January 26, 2015

Review | Every Breath by Ellie Marney

Teenage Sherlock Holmes, Watson is a girl, and the story is told from her perspective. This is essentially all the information I needed in order to make the decision to dive into Every Breath at the earliest opportunity. But in case you're wavering, it's also fun to know that this is Australian author Ellie Marney's debut novel, that it is a YA contemporary mystery, and the first in a series to boot. Next up, I think we should just take a moment to talk covers. I have yet to purchase my own copy (that's earmarked for the next paycheck), but both the US (seen here) and Aussie covers have a lot going for them. The Aussie one gets tons of points for having Watts actually on the cover, for one thing. But in a very rare move, I'm leaning US if only because it's not a photo of actual people (never works out well for me) and because, well, his throat. Also his hair and his entire posture. But his throat. That's Mycroft. I love him this cover.

Rachel Watts' friendship with her neighbor James Mycroft is something of a full time job. Newly (and unwillingly) arrived from the countryside, Rachel struggles to find a place for herself in Melbourne. Unused to navigating city life after the loss of the family farm, she and her older brother and parents find themselves acting almost like strangers as they adjust to their new home and environment. But then Mycroft enters her life, with his jittery brilliance, his obsession with forensics, and his ongoing allergy to school. And soon her days are not quite as numb, filled as they are with contributing her powers of observation (and cooking skills) to the latest in a long line of Mycroft's investigations. But this most recent involves a murder. And not just any stranger, but that of Homeless Dave—a man they both knew. Unable to accept the official police verdict, Mycroft and Watts set themselves to the task of tracking down the truth behind Dave's violent death and bringing the mysterious killer to justice.

I'll admit, I was a little nervous at first. I was nervous the high school setting, and possibly the nature of the relationship between Watts and Mycroft, would pall too quickly or somehow not resonate with me in just the right way. As nerves go, basically your run of the mill stuff. But I've read one fantastic Sherlock Holmes adaptation and I was so keen to find another. Happily, Rachel herself was the first to set me at ease. Her transition to the city has been a particularly difficult one, and the dry but upfront way in which she expressed that difficulty struck a chord of sympathy within me:
I like it in his room—the starry lights, the feeling of sanctuary. I'm still not used to dealing with a lot of other people. I've known Mycroft, and Mai and her boyfriend, Gus, since last November, and they still feel like "a lot of other people." Actually, Mycroft alone could probably qualify as seeming like "a lot of other people." He does so much crazy stuff you could imagine more than a single offender.
That passage could just as easily been an entry from one of my high school journals. Other people, man. Not for the faint of heart. I love that the story is told from Watts' perspective. She has very honed powers of observation, though she herself might decry that claim. But it means that not only is she vital to Mycroft's ongoing efforts, she also does an incredibly effective job of introducing the reader to her singular friend. And if her focus is more frequently drawn to to Mycroft than it is anyone else in the room, it isn't any wonder as his magnetism and zaniness and pain fairly claw their way off the page. Gratefully, his presence never overshadows Watts. Not even a little bit, as we are firmly grounded inside her viewpoint and know just how hard she works to keep everyone in her life afloat and not lose track of her own needs, even if she is reticent about voicing them aloud. The mystery itself makes for a fun, often dark ride, and I enjoyed sitting back and accompanying them in their rounds. But the heart of Every Breath is, without question, the chemistry between Watts and Mycroft. Ms. Marney quite simply nails their need on the head. The pacing and development of Watts-and-Mycroft is one long and delicious thread running alongside the unfolding of the murder investigation. As the precarious hold they each have on their lives begins to unravel against the backdrop of Watts' uncertainty and Mycroft's desperation, the solace they take in being together, the rightness of their fit, is so soothing it is tangible. I currently have the sequel on order from Australia and am sitting here feeling antsy just thinking about what these two might be getting up to without me.


Buy

Linkage
Bookish Antics - "Those who love BBC’s Sherlock should definitely check out Every Breath."
Cuddlebuggery - "T
he quippy dialogue is fantastic."
Love is Not a Triangle - "
This book is a winner."

The Midnight Garden - "This book is a wonderful swirl of atmospheric, gritty mystery and Aussie contemporary and SHIPPY SHIP."
My Friends are Fiction - "The real driving force for me in this book was the relationship between Mycroft and Watts."
There Were Books Involved - "I ship it so hard."

January 22, 2015

Review | Fool Me Twice by Meredith Duran

I started a Meredith Duran book some time ago and stalled out early on for reasons I can no longer quite remember. I know it wasn't the writing, which definitely struck me as adept. I think it was more to do with the setting and I not clicking. Also the sense I was getting that the characters were going to hurt each other—possibly at some length—before they found any middle ground. Either way, I wasn't up for it at the time. And then I'm fairly certain I went on to mix Ms. Duran up with Tessa Dare and forgot to return after trying and sort of spectacularly failing to engage with Dare's Spindle's Cove series. Which is why I'm very glad Fool Me Twice was brought to my attention a few days ago. It jogged my memory and I remembered I'd always meant to go back and investigate Duran's work further to see if there might be a better fit among her backlist. As it turns out, her most recent novel and I were destined to get on in spades.

Olivia Mather has set her scruples aside in favor of staying alive. With her mother's husband's dangerous henchman lurking around every dark corner, she decides to use the only weapon she has and infiltrate the home of the Duke of Marwick. As a maid in the duke's home, she feels certain it won't take her above a week to root out his correspondence containing the evidence she needs to ensure the villainous Bertram will leave her alone for good. When she accidentally stumbles into the role of housekeeper, Olivia figures so much the better. But it quickly becomes clear that the home she has walked into is not so easily navigable as she presumed. For the duke is rumored to have run mad at the revelation of his dead wife's betrayal. He has not left his room in above a year. His terrified servants tiptoe about the house and shirk their duties. With time running short and her only hope residing in the duke's rooms, Olivia must take charge of the crumbling household and find a way to lure the crumbling man inside out into the light.

As you know, I can never resist a Beauty and the Beast tale and Fool Me Twice situates itself nicely in the genre with a wonderfully game, feisty heroine and a decidedly bitter, wounded beast. The novel itself is a study in contrasts. Duran's writing is light, often taking an elegant turn. The characters enjoy sparring with one another—verbally, physically, emotionally—you name it. There is much wit and teasing. But. These high and light emotions often run unchecked into much darker fare. Olivia and Marwick excel at demolishing one another, raging beautifully when the thread of their connection dances too close to the gaping lesions they so ferociously protect. While Alistair's injuries are clearly the fresher, Olivia makes a rather shattering command decision not to sidestep her goal in order to save him additional pain. The results are . . .  well, devastating for both of them. And I'm really not sure who I was more angry with. Or who I ached for more. I just wanted them to wash their hands of the pain of their pasts and agree to stop pouring salt into old wounds. An example of the light:
"Have you a death wish?" he snarled. "Or have you, perhaps, lost the ability to understand English?"

She backed away from him, angling toward the door. He matched her step for step, prowling like a lion on the scent of a lamb—not a comfortable analogy. But these innocent books. She was stumbling over them, gilt-edged, calfskin-bound, priceless. She must save them from him.

She had one foot out the door when she caught sight again of the illustrated manuscript. She could not abandon it here. The poor darling! She lunged forward and snatched it up.

"Put that down!" he roared.

"You may keep them all," she cried. "Move the entire library up here, but you will not keep them on the floor!"

She hopped backward and pulled the door shut in his face.
The dark:
It was no longer clear to him who was in control of this conversation. How absurd. He was not bound by her terms; in return for her answer, she could demand the moon, and it would make no difference to him. "Very well, then, answer me: why were you crying?"

"Because I am not the person I hoped to be. And I dislike myself for it."

That told him nothing. "What do you mean? Who had you hoped to be?"

"Someone better. Someone who abided by her ideals."

Christ. Blackly amused, he turned away from her toward the bookshelves. "Then we both were drawn here by the same mood. But I assure you, Mrs. Johnson, you will overcome your disappointment."

"As you have?"

He ignored that. "Good night to you."

"You haven't yet answered my question."

"Welshing," he said coldly, "is the duke's special privilege."

"Very well, don't answer. But I will ask it anyway: why do you read Austen if you lack all hope for yourself? Why torment yourself with happy endings if you don't believe one is possible?"

He stared at the books. This had gone too far. Why did she think she had the right to speak to him in this manner?

Why did he constantly invite it?

"You have every advantage." Her voice was fervent. "There is no reason you can't go back into the world, have everything you feel you've been denied. I tell you—if I had your advantages, I would remake myself!"
And the elegant:
Olivia took a long breath. It now sounded as if Marwick was banging things against the walls. Not his head, she hoped? Or perhaps she did. No, she couldn't wish harm to his brain. It might yet heal, and it had once been very fine.
One of my favorite aspects of the narrative is how it continually refers to what has been lost for both of these individuals, engaging with the agonizing question of whether or not those things can (or should) be regained. To say nothing of how far they will go to stave off danger (in Olivia's case) and exact revenge (in Marwick's). Duran's style, setup, and execution requires the reader be rooting for both Olivia and Marwick in order to make it through the utter hell they hand each other on an hourly basis. In order to reach the point where their eyes finally open enough to see beyond the surface implications of their actions, which are admittedly questionable in a number of cases. I wondered a moment or two whether I might lose my grip on my affection for one of them. But then I do like my protagonists flawed. And I am not at all certain I would have responded to Olivia if she had been a little less ruthless or Marwick had he been a little more malleable. And because their innate admiration for each other is unwavering, I remained with them lo, unto the end. Fool Me Twice is a decided highlight among historicals and of my reading year thus far.

Buy

Linkage
Dear Author - "I don’t often get the intense reads I adore in such a well constructed form."
Fiction Vixen - "
Ms. Duran has given her readers another wonderful, captivating love story."

Love Saves the World - "Her stories always pack an emotional wallop."
Miss Bates Reads Romance - " . . . 
a sensitivity to the class issues of the day, a complex heroine, a flawed and compelling hero, wondrously good writing . . . "

Smexy Books - "While I did get into their romance, I ended the book not 100% convinced they would be happy together forever."

January 19, 2015

Choose Your Own Edition: The Ruby in the Smoke

This Choose Your Own Edition comes to you via my thus far failed attempts to foist a copy of The Ruby in the Smoke off on my friend Beth. The Sally Lockhart series is my favorite of Pullman's work, and I am just so eager for her to read that first incomparable line. My own copy is currently on loan in a different city and won't be returning soon. I did run across an older library copy for sale with a somewhat dismaying pale blue 90s cover and naturally turned my nose up at it (I did go back later but it was gone, naturally). Full disclosure: I am such a snob sometimes about the cover that accompanies someone's first impression of a book I love. Honestly, someone needs to beat it out of me. It's the reason I own three editions of Sunshine and yet only ever loan out one (my favorite first edition), so that new readers come into the experience with the right (IMHO) packaging. SIGH


In any event, with no copies ready to hand, I've been browsing editions online and require your input. I actually like all three of these, though I am drooling rather most over that one on the left—a gorgeous new UK 30th anniversary edition. They've done the whole series, of course, and I . . . well, I need them all. My own copies are beloved and mismatched and the only cover of mine I really love is the first one. Because the Sally on it is Sally. And because it's smoky and threatening and atmospheric in just the right way. But I do like the sort of Dickensian Scholastic cover in the middle above (out of print, but fairly cheaply available), as well as the font and the red framing of the one on the right. And so. Which one would you gift had you the spare cash and the inclination?

January 16, 2015

Review | Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer

First review of the year, guys. I hereby promise you I chose a good one. In fact, I really feel as though I have exercised great restraint in waiting this long to review it. Due out in just under two weeks now, I decided I could wait no longer. It's not that I haven't made my feelings about Liza Palmer's books abundantly clear, because I know that I have. It's that her latest novel—Girl Before a Mirror—is so good it's giving her others a run for their money as my favorite (and I honestly didn't think my love for Nowhere But Home could be surpassed). So good I've already reread it once and am fending off a second reread even as I type this. There are other books out there, and they all deserve a chance. I know this, and I feel their call keenly. But. I had supreme difficulty letting go of this one, and I can see myself diving back in regularly and indefinitely just to spend time with these characters again and to experience Anna's hilarious and thoughtful journey along with her once more. It was just as good the second time around, and I know it will only wear better with time.

Anna Wyatt finds herself in the unenviable position of not having a clue what to wish for as she blows out the candle on her 40th birthday. Surrounded by her friends, their spouses, and her beloved (if beleaguered) younger brother Ferdie, Anna feels affectionate but a bit blank. A year into a self-imposed dating sabbatical, she's been taking stock of her life and cleaning house of anything (or anyone) extraneous. The result is she finds herself in an undeniably clean, but somewhat sterile place, in need of inspiration and not sure where to look. Hoping to advance at the ad agency where she works, she tracks down Lumineux Shower Gel—a dying product in need of revival. Saddled with hopeful newbie graphic designer/sidekick Sasha, Anna finds inspiration in the unlikely form of Sasha's well-read copy of bestselling romance novelist Helen Brubaker's new self-help book Be the Heroine, Find Your Hero. And before they know it, Anna and Sasha are on their way to Arizona and the annual RomanceCon. Pairing up with the con and Ms. Brubaker herself, Anna and Sasha wind up judging the Mr. RomanceCon competition, with the winner slated to be the new spokesman for Lumineux Shower Gel. Determined to seal the deal and make it out of Romance Land alive, Anna is in no way prepared for the exuberance of the convention, the viciousness of the Arizona heat, and the charming Britishness of one Mr. Lincoln Mallory with his blue oxford cloth shirts and his steady gaze.

The thing about Liza Palmer's protagonists is that they're all so very different, from each other and from me. They're in advertising, and they're pastry chefs, they work in prisons or in art restoration. And yet they are so very real, so full of the same questions and vague but earnest hopes and fears that I feel on a daily basis. And so we are comrades. And I care. I care so much from the very start. And Anna Wyatt, with her self-control and her clever mind and her Miss Marple Theory, was no exception. I had her back from page one, as she gazed around at the faces of her friends and tried not to let the gathering uncertainty show on her face. Her story is so compelling because it addresses, so humorously and with unadorned frankness, questions of control, empowerment, guilt, success, and love. Add in some seriously wonderful explorations of female friendship and sibling love and one truly epic romance convention, and you have got the kind of tale I couldn't look away from if my life depended on it. And then . . . there's Lincoln Mallory, who I love so much I start to drift when I think about him too closely. With those oxford cloth shirts and those tense hands in his pockets. At one point there are suspenders involved and . . . well. You'll meet him on your own, but here is one of my favorite of their hilarious and charming exchanges:
I stand in the lobby, flipping my phone around in my hands. I pull Lincoln's business card out of my purse. Again. I flip the card over and dial. My fingers are tingling and this terrified numbness pings throughout my body, settling in my toes. I swallow. And swallow. Blink my eyes. It's like I'm giving myself errands to run around my body so I won't—

"This is Lincoln Mallory." Vomit.

"Hey, hi. It's Anna. Anna Wyatt from the other night. From the . . . um . . . from the elevator? And the apple . . . breakfast time—"

"I'm going to stop you there, love. I know who you are even without the reminder of apple breakfast time," he says. His voice is even better than I remember it.

"I apologize for my late call," I say, still not having taken a breath now going on nine minutes.

"I assumed you were busy at your Booty Ball." Lincoln Mallory saying booty will go down in history as one of my favorite things in the world.

"You still hungry?" I ask.

"I've already eaten, but I did manage to get something for dessert."

"And what's that then?"

"It's a surprise," he says. My face flushes. "When your Booty Ball ran long—a sentence I never thought I'd say, quite frankly—I had to strike out on the field trip on my own."

"So you're holding this dessert hostage."

"You make it sound so devious."

I scan the lobby. The hotel bar. The kiss. I close my eyes.

And leap.

"What's your room number?"

"409."

"I'll be right up."

"Cheers," he says.

"But just for dessert."

"I do like a woman with her priorities in order." Silence. "Anna?"

"I didn't know if you'd hung up," I say.

"I hadn't."

"Right."

"But I will now."

"Sure. Okay," I say. Silence. "Hello?"

"It's never not funny, is it?"

"I mean . . . ," I say, unable to keep from laughing.
These two. I mean. And it's always like this with them. The entire time I was reading I alternated between helpless laughter and a sort of fierce longing for their fears to be allayed, for their paths to somehow continue intersecting despite . . . everything. Because, of course, Lincoln's history is as mesmerizing and complicated as Anna's, and I felt every ounce of their combined and individual uneasiness and wanting. It is endlessly relieving to read about characters you would genuinely want to know, would want to sit with in a hotel bar or on a Manhattan sidewalk and just talk to. And I will never not appreciate how these two said what they wanted to, even if it came out mangled and fumbling, how they pursued their truth with an intentness I admire. For example:
I shut the car off and take a second, the blistering heat sitting on the top of my head like I'm under a heat lamp. I am walking toward the meet and greet when the phone rings.

"Anna Wyatt," I say, knowing exactly who it is without even looking at the screen.

"This is my formal apology," Lincoln says.

"Go ahead then," I say.

"I'm sorry." I like that Lincoln doesn't elaborate or get lost in a maze of buts and excuses for why what he did was actually okay. A simple I'm sorry is the most beautiful thing in the world.

"Thank you," I say.
It's these simple, thoughtful moments that make me pause as I'm reading to mark their effect (and possibly read them aloud to the nearest warm body so that I'm not alone in my wonder). Girl Before a Mirror is filled with them. I've decided the only way to start a new year is with an instant and permanent resident on my beloved bookshelf. Done and done.

Girl Before a Mirror is due out January 27th.


Buy

Linkage
Love is Not a Triangle - "I'm not sure I can even articulate how amazing and affirming this book was for me."